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Mr. Trudeau Goes To Washington

Northern Reflections - Sat, 02/11/2017 - 06:29

Justin Trudeau has been consulting with other world leaders before he takes his trip to Washington on Monday. Presumably, when he deals with Trump, he doesn't want to deal with him alone. That's a good idea. But, Andrew Coyne writes, it's not a new idea:

For forty-odd years after World War II, the policy of the free world towards the Soviet Union was one of containment: a strategy of collective resistance, rather than (on the one hand) appeasement or (on the other) open conflict. We now face the sad reality that, for the next four years at least, some version of containment will have to be our policy towards the United States.

It is one of history's great ironies that a policy once championed by the United States will be used against it. But there are good reasons for adopting a policy of containment:

To be sure, the prime minister has the particular task of dealing with a leader who, to speak precisely, presents with a variety of known personality disorders; who knows less about foreign policy, or any policy, than the average doorman or taxi driver; who has no visible moral compass, is unconstrained by any norm of personal, political or presidential conduct, and seems determined to avenge any slight to his monstrous vanity.

To defend our interests, as much as our values, we will have to start setting boundaries early — picking our battles, yes, but firmly and patiently asserting our rights. And if we are to do so effectively, we will need to do so in concert with other countries. The widely varying reaction to the travel ban, with some world leaders, like Germany’s Angela Merkel, speaking out clearly against it, while others, like our own, couched their response in cleverly ambiguous tweets, must not be repeated. Neither was it sensible for Canada, in its first flustered response to Trump’s demands to renegotiate NAFTA, to appear so eager to abandon Mexico to its fate.

We're going to have to stand behind Mexico and our other allies. Trump's strategy is classically authoritarian: Divide and conquer. Watching things fall apart suits his purposes just fine. Trudeau -- and the rest of us -- can't allow that to happen.

Image: Slide Share

Scenes From The Apocalypse

Politics and its Discontents - Sat, 02/11/2017 - 06:13
Just another day in the life of our warming planet:

Recommend this Post

Bill Maher on Donald Trump's Horrible Week

Montreal Simon - Sat, 02/11/2017 - 06:03

I must confess that after only three weeks of President Donald Trump, I am being forced to contemplate a horrible possibility: 

I might go completely bonkers before he does.

Because although at the present time he has a good lead over me...

According to the resistance INSIDE the White House.

I don't know how much more of Trump or Kellyanne Conway I can take...
Read more »

Musical interlude

accidentaldeliberations - Fri, 02/10/2017 - 14:59
Tame Impala - Feels Like We Only Go Backwards

Dear Justin. Better Inside the House Than Outside.

The Disaffected Lib - Fri, 02/10/2017 - 14:38

Justin Trudeau has come up with yet another explanation of why he turned tail on electoral reform.

The Dauphin says it was his decision to make and he made it.

"This was my choice to make and I chose to make it with full consequence of the cost that is possibly going to come to it. But I will not compromise on what is in the best interest of Canada."

In his 7½-minute answer, Trudeau outlined his own preference for ranked ballots and said either a referendum or proportional voting would be too divisive for Canada.

"Too divisive for Canada." That's pretty rich. What were we going to do - explode, burst into flames? Where did Slick come up with that idea? Have we been smouldering again? 
As for his previous excuse - that proportional voting might let extremists gain seats in the House of Commons, where better for them than in Parliament where they can be exposed and denounced? 

cairo: markets

we move to canada - Fri, 02/10/2017 - 13:58
This is going to sound like a bad day -- but it wasn’t a bad day. It was a crazy day, a day that we’ll probably talk about in amazement for a long time to come.

Out here with the Great Pyramids across the street, we are not really staying in Cairo proper. We’re in Giza, and it’s not near or convenient to many other Cairo sights. It’s not a problem for us -- taxis are everywhere and very inexpensive. We’ve read great things about the Cairo metro, and there is a stop in Giza, so we thought we’d use it to get in and out of town. It turns out the metro stop is quite far away, but a cab ride to the metro is still much shorter and less expensive than going all the way to the Egyptian Museum or Tahrir Square by taxi.

When we told our hosts we would take the metro, they went nuts. “Subway?! No, you cannot do that! That is crazy!” We wondered, had we read the guidebook wrong? But no, Lonely Planet highly recommends the Cairo metro. We also found some great posts like this one: Nine Things You Should Know About The Cairo Metro. Then we realized our hosts are suburban guys who drive or take taxis everywhere. They’ve never been on the subway! So we told them, no, we checked it out, and we are going to do it. They thought we were very adventurous -- which I find a bit hilarious.

Today is Friday, the day most people have off from work and spend with their families. We had a leisurely breakfast and walked over to the entrance gates of the Pyramids. There were throngs of people, all appearing to be local, all queuing up to go in. I find it interesting to see, in one family or group of friends, women wearing hijabs, women wearing niqabs, and women without their heads covered. I also see some women wearing their hijabs a bit farther back on their heads with some hair showing, which (I have been told by some Canadian friends) is a bit more relaxed.

We got a cab to the Giza metro station easily enough. Subway tickets are 1 LE each, the equivalent of $0.07 Canadian. The stations are clean, the signage is excellent, and the platforms are wide and well lit. We jumped on a car right away. Only then did I start looking around, and realized Allan was the only adult male in the train car. In the post linked above, we learned that a few cars are reserved for women only. At the next stop, two women got on, said something to each other, then one said to me, “Ladies only”. I nodded, we jumped off, and waited for the next train, which came in less than five minutes. On the platform, I kicked myself for not being able to pull the Arabic “I’m sorry” out of my brain fast enough.

On the next train, there were a few women with families, but mostly men. I noticed for the first time that no one is in short sleeves in public, neither men nor women. I was glad to be wearing the black flyaway sweater -- the only long sleeves I brought -- over my standard brightly coloured tee.

Our plan was to see the big souk -- the market, or bazaar -- and along the way see some old Islamic architecture, find a cafe, and wander a bit. Three things you have to know for this to make sense. Caireans rarely use maps. It is extremely difficult to find a map of the city. Since we knew this in advance, Allan made good use of the small maps in the guide book and maps online. However -- the second thing to know -- there are very few street signs. You see them occasionally -- erratically. And third, it is Friday -- market day.

We came out of the metro stop and couldn’t get oriented, because there were no street signs. I said min fadlik -- excuse me, to a female -- to a passing woman, and she looked right through me, not exactly filling me with confidence. I tried again with another woman, saying in Arabic, “Excuse me, where is the Khan Al-Khalili market? Is it near here?” She looked bemused but helped me. She talked fast and used too many words for my vocabulary, but she did gesture in a direction, and she repeated the name of a street several times. I thanked her and off we went.

We walked up a narrow sidewalk with stores and stalls on one side and insane traffic on the other. There were people selling everything you can possibly imagine -- ordinary, everyday items, not stuff for tourists -- and all of them seemed to be yelling prices and hawking their wares. Some have recordings blasting: khamsa! khamsa! khamsa! (five, five, five). The tables are often blocking most of the sidewalk, forcing everyone into the street, where cars and buses are constantly honking in a giant snarl of traffic (which is the case at all times on all streets).

And people. People, people, people. Imagine everyone in Times Square all trying to work on a tiny bit of sidewalk in both directions. I’ve seen nothing in Canada that I can compare this to. The closest thing I’ve seen is in our old neighbourhood in Washington Heights -- West 181st Street, but on steroids. It was so crazy. And little did we know, as the saying goes, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

At some point, we started to see smaller streets that were pedestrian only, coming off this main crazy street we were on. We took one just to get out of the crush. From there we wandered a bit, seeing stalls selling hookahs, jewellery, scarves, galabiyas, and on and on. We also saw some archways or street entrances that were obviously very old, a very old mosque, some obviously historic buildings. Here’s what we didn’t know: most people weren’t out yet.

Soon after we got there, stalls starting closing up and the streets became much emptier. I remembered our host mentioning Friday midday prayers, and I assumed that’s what was happening. We wandered more, took some photos. I bought a scarf, clearly paying too much, but when the guy lowered the price, he said, “But you give me something, too.” “I give you...?” “Yes, you give me a present, any little thing, I will give it to my daughter.” I looked in my backpack and pulled out a pink CUPE pen. “This is for your daughter.” He liked that... and said, “But I have a son, too.” Amazing. I gave him a black pen, hoping it was the one that wasn’t working. It was pretty funny.

Then it started to get busier. And busier. And busier. The narrow street was becoming impassable. We could see there was an open area ahead, probably a big square. We thought, let’s go there and re-group. Oh boy. There was packed. Hundreds of men and boys were streaming out of a mosque, into the already full square. We were in a crush. We saw a narrow side street, and jumped into it.

This street was fairly empty and quiet-ish. Men hawking items in their stalls would recognize tourists and call out: “Smile! Do you want to buy?” or amusing things like “Let me take your money!” or “Scarf for one million dollars! No? OK, five thousand!” If there were other tourists around, I didn’t see them.

Allan knew of a very old, historic cafe in the area that he really wants to find. (We may yet find it, with the help of a guide.) It has no street address, and I felt it was a bit needle-in-haystack or random chance, but who knows, we might stumble on it. Now we don’t know how this happened, but we found ourselves in a complete human crush. Imagine a narrow cobblestone street, small cubicles of stores on either side, but every store has an outer stall sticking out into the street. All the salespeople are yelling, and some have those recordings going. And down a tiny, narrow center lane, all the people in Times Square are moving -- in both directions.

You will think that I am exaggerating, and yet no matter what I write, it is understatement. We were absolutely crushed from all sides. Every so often a space would open up, perhaps a stall was closing up or momentarily empty. We jump aside and just stand there catching our breath, then steel ourselves to re-join the human river.

Being short, I sometimes find crowds very unpleasant, but I am not afraid of crowds. However, I am terrified of being separated from Allan and not knowing where he is. We once lost track of each other in The Strand, a big used bookstore in New York. When we found each other, I was so shook up, I burst into tears and couldn’t stop crying. Today, in that market, I found it impossible to walk ahead of Allan unless I put my hand in back of me and he held it, or even just linked fingers. I felt more comfortable with him walking ahead of me, and me holding on to the strap of the camera bag. Because, oh yeah, we have the camera bag and a backpack with us. But if Allan’s ahead of me, then people are behind me, and they are too close, and it’s giving me the creeps.

This went on for blocks and blocks and blocks. There were so many people. Every so often someone would be pushing a hand-truck or wheelbarrow loaded with bales through the crowd, so everyone had to somehow move over to let him pass. And every once in a while, a young man would pass carrying a tray like a waiter, with a coffee or a bottle of water and a glass. We had no idea where they came from or where they were going.

The stores we were passing were mostly the same, and total overkill. Walls of scarves and galabeyas. Mountains of cheap plastic beads. Socks, sheets, towels, shirts, pants, shoes, bras, slippers. I cannot imagine actually shopping in this environment.

In one of our momentary breathers, we both said, this is quite an experience, something we’ve never seen before -- and now we’ve had enough, can we get out of here, please?

After maybe 30 minutes of this, I looked ahead and saw a bus drive by. That meant we were headed to a main street! It gave us hope. We slogged onwards, and finally, Allah be praised, we were out.

We just stood there, trying to catch our breath. And where were we? We had no idea. We walked a little ways -- back to crazy honking blaring traffic on one side and shops on the other -- hoping we would see a cafe, but never did. In fact, the entire time we were in the market, we never passed one place to eat or have a cup of tea.

After a few blocks down this larger street, I had the idea of getting a cab -- to anywhere. We decided to go to Tahrir Square, just to name a place we knew, and because we knew there would be cafes and restaurants in the area. We got a cab, and all my hard-earned Arabic was wasted. I forgot all of Mango’s lovely “cultural notes” and blurted out where I wanted to go and asked how much. Only as we were driving along did I realize I should have and could have been much more polite and friendly.

But we were sitting. We were moving. It was nice.

At Midan Tahrir (Tahrir Square), we actually found a map. Although there were no street signs, Allan figured out where we might go. We stuck close to some locals to cross the traffic circle -- definitely the best approach -- and after a short walk, found Cafe Riche. It’s supposed to be a Cairo institution, although mostly frequented by ex-pats and foreigners. We were very happy to be sitting, and eating.

I had a Turkish coffee -- which I must say is something like drinking sand, and we had beer, and some nondescript food which was very wonderful. More walking, which did not please me, and we found another cafe Allan had read about, called Kunst Gallery, “books, art, coffee”. Everyone there was young and hip. More tea with mint, which I’ve discovered is very good with a touch of sugar. (I don’t normally drink anything with sugar in it.)

From there we wanted to find a metro stop, but we also wanted to get something else to eat, or at least pick up something to bring home. I was so tired of walking, and so completely sick of not knowing where we were, that I was almost ready to just take a cab all the way back to Giza. But this time when I asked a woman for directions, she was very nice, I understood her directions, and we were very nearby!

And then food appeared! A stand selling feteer, kind of like a flat bread pizza that is rolled up for easy handling. We got one of those, then smelled the unmistakably delicious smell of meat on a grill. A man was grilling koftas and kebabs, in the street, next to two tiny tables and some plastic chairs. We ordered some, and they came two kebabs and two pitas per order. We had a really hard time understanding how much they cost. It sounded like 62 LEs for two orders. This seemed like a lot of money in this context, but on the other hand, I’ve never had anyone selling street food try to rip me off, anywhere. This is my problem with a culture of haggling. I don’t want to be ripped off, but I also don’t want to insult you. Just tell me the price! If it’s worth it to me, I’ll pay it. If I can’t afford it, I’ll walk away. We were very surprised at being asked for 62 pounds for 2 orders of take-away food, but if the price was special, then everyone around the cart, including other locals buying the same food, kept their faces perfectly deadpan while they watched a bit of theatre.

The subway was indeed nearby! We hopped on a train easily, and were in Giza very quickly. Tell your friends, the Cairo metro is great. From there, we got in a cab... who was very nice, but didn’t know the way. We had the hotel business card with us, but I couldn’t find it in my backpack. The cab driver pulled over, turned off the meter and waited patiently while I looked, but in the end, we paid him, thanked him, and waited for another cab. (And yes, found the business card.) The second cab got us back to the hotel. We picked up some water and chips (more special tourist prices), then headed to the roof with our kebabs -- catching the end of the sound and light show, in French.

Today we felt like we spent a lot of money. While I was writing this, we tallied our spending for the day. Two subway rides, four long cab rides, two pashima scarves, 4 cups of tea and coffee, 2 beers, 2 appetizers, an entree, four kebabs, 2 two-litre bottles of water and a bag of chips. Grand total: 765 Egyptian pounds, or $53.55 Canadian.

What Do Canada's British Submarines and Britain's British Submarines Have In Common?

The Disaffected Lib - Fri, 02/10/2017 - 11:43

The RCN's Brit subs, like the RN's Brit subs, are rubbish. They don't work. They're Drydock Queens, the lot of them.

Canada's Upholder-class attack subs are the older boats the Brits got rid of to make way for their Trafalgar and Astute class boats. The newer Brit boats, like Canada's older subs, are now tying up dockyards.

Sources told The Sun the Trafalgars, the last of which was built in 1986, were “on their last legs”.

HMS Ambush, one of the newer Astute-class, made headlines last summer after it collided with a ship off the coast of Gibraltar and sustained damage to its outer hull. Its nuclear plant was not affected and no crew were injured.

The three Astute boats, of seven planned, cost nearly £4bn to build with construction delayed by more than four-and-a-half years and costs exceeding the original budget by more than 50 per cent.

Well fortunately we have the world's dominant sea power, the United States Navy, right next door. Only the USN is so cash strapped that nearly two-thirds of the F-18 fighters are unflyable, waiting for maintenance.
Additionally, there isn’t enough money to fix the fleet’s ships, and the backlog of ships needing work continues to grow. Overhauls — “availabilities” in Navy parlance — are being canceled or deferred, and when ships do come in they need longer to refit. Every carrier overall for at least three years has run long, and some submarines are out of service for prolonged periods, as much as four years or more.
The US Air Force is also struggling to keep its aging fighters airborne as F-35 purchases eat up an increasing share of the budget.  Similar readiness problems are spreading across NATO partners in Europe.

Friday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Fri, 02/10/2017 - 07:46
Assorted content to end your week.

- Bruce Campbell points out how Donald Trump's blind hatred toward any type of regulation can impose costs in Canada and elsewhere to the extent we're bound by trade deals which make "harmonization" an expected standard. And Pia Eberhardt recognizes that there's no point in locking ourselves into the CETA as a response to Trump's view of trade - though that excuse should ring particularly hollow given that the same voices pushing it were demanding exactly the same corporate privileges when Barack Obama was setting the U.S.' trade policy.

- Meanwhile, the Tax Justice Network highlights the latest revelations from the Panama Papers showing that thousands of U.K. intermediaries have been facilitating offshore tax evasion.

- Sheila Block examines the effects of Ontario's increased taxes on the 1%, and concludes that they substantially increased public revenues without doing anything to affect gross incomes.

- The Star's editorial board makes the case for Canada to suspend its "safe third party" agreement with the U.S. until there's some reason to think refugees are actually going to receive a fair hearing under the Trump administration.

- Finally, Tom Parkin writes that Justin Trudeau's broken promise of electoral reform was exactly what made him seem different from his failed predecessors. And Laurin Liu calls out Trudeau for using women as political cover for his most dubious choices.

The White House Inc. (a division of Trump Enterprises) . . .

kirbycairo - Fri, 02/10/2017 - 07:45
I think that one of the most fascinating aspects of the Trump presidency thus far is the general confusion that is generated by the blurring of lines between the private and the public (or one might say "strictly" political) aspects of the Trump White House. I think that many mainstream politicos (in both parties) assumed to some degree that once Trump took the oath of office, his tendency to blur those lines, which had been one of the most marked aspects of Trump the campaigner, would abate someone and that the Americans would still have a so-called "commander in chief." Not only has this abatement not occurred but the lines between the personal aspects of Trump and his family (and his minions) has become almost inextricable from the office of the president.

This blurring of lines has been on full display in the last few days, particularly in the fallout from the decision by Nordstrom, an up-market retail chain, to stop selling Ivanka Trump's line of clothing and accessories. This decision incensed the president, and what incenses the president must necessarily anger his minions too. Thus on Thursday morning, presidential advisor and spokes-demon Kellyanne Conway, appeared on Fox News and as she spoke with reporters about the Nordstrom decision she took a moment to explicitly and shamelessly plug Ivanka's clothing line, telling Americans to "Go buy Ivanka's stuff." Well, this little plug is a clear violation of the US Code of Federal Regulations (Specifically 2365.702) which states that "An employee shall not use his public office for private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service of enterprise." Ms. Conway's endorsement, one might even say promotion, of Ivanka Trump's products is such a gross violation of a fairly simple CFR code that it seems almost comical if it weren't so terribly sordid.

The lines of personal and political blurred further when Donald Trump himself used Twitter to disparage Nordstrom for its business decision. Trump had Tweeted on Wednesday morning, telling us that his "daughter Ivanka has been treated unfairly" by Nordstrom, and that she is "a great person." This Tweet is arguably also a violation of the same CFR code, though a more ambiguous one. What is most startling, however, is the degree to which this has already become the new normal. The idea of a President using personal time and presidential power to publicly argue about a business decision that financially impacts his daughter is totally amazing. And the silence on the part of congressional Republicans is deafening in this regard. If President Obama had issued such a Tweet concerning a family member of his, the impeachment hearing would have already begun.

But specific ethics code violations and impeachment issues aside, this blurring of the lines of the political and the personal at the very top of the US government should be deeply troubling to anyone. Of course, politicians (particularly executive one) are able to routinely enrich their friends and associates through public appointments. This phenomenon is so rife that even in the most tightly controlled democracies it seems almost impossible to stop. And after politicians leave elected office they commonly enrich themselves through things like paid speaking engagements etc. However, with the Trump administration the US has now entered the realm of the "banana republic" or modern autocratic nations like Russia in which wildly unqualified political donors are rewarded with federal cabinet positions, the President's children have found their way into the highest level international meetings, the President continues to have his hand in business processes directly affected by government decisions, the President is attempting to delegitimize other branches of government, and he and his minions are actually using their positions to directly promote the financial interests of the Trump family. And and troubling as these facts are, they don't even touch upon the way that the Trump administration has made lying a matter of course. And we are not talking about traditional political "spin" here, we are talking about simple, readily verifiable, falsehoods. The cult of personality that has so defined the autocracies and dictatorships of the past century has truly come to roust in Washington.

And if the US (and the rest of us) survives the Trump era intact, it seems clear that democracy has been severely (if not mortally) wounded in the process. Once the line between personal and public interests has become so blurred is very hard to see clearly again.

L'Etat C'est Donald

Northern Reflections - Fri, 02/10/2017 - 06:22

The Trump administration is only three weeks old, but already its character is easy to define. It's all Donald, all the time. Paul Krugman writes:

It’s already clear that any hopes that Mr. Trump and those around him would be even slightly ennobled by the responsibilities of office were foolish. Every day brings further evidence that this is a man who completely conflates the national interest with his personal self-interest, and who has surrounded himself with people who see it the same way. And each day also brings further evidence of his lack of respect for democratic values.

You might be tempted to say that the latest flare-up, over Nordstrom’s decision to drop Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, is trivial. But it isn’t. For one thing, until now it would have been inconceivable that a sitting president would attack a private company for decisions that hurt his family’s business interests.

Mr. Trump’s attack on Judge James Robart, who put a stay on his immigration ban, was equally unprecedented. Previous presidents, including Barack Obama, have disagreed with and complained about judicial rulings. But that’s very different from attacking the very right of a judge — or, as the man who controls 4,000 nuclear weapons put it, a “so-called judge” — to rule against the president.
But worst of all is Trump's suggestion that retraining his power will lead to a terrorist attack:

Never mind the utter falsity of the claim that bad people are “pouring in,” or for that matter of the whole premise behind the ban. What we see here is the most powerful man in the world blatantly telegraphing his intention to use national misfortune to grab even more power. And the question becomes, who will stop him?
So far, two courts have stopped him. But, ultimately, it will be up to Americans to stop him -- if they want to. Until then, it's going to be all about Donald, all of the time.

Image: nebraskaenergyobserver

Rona Ambrose and the Pit of Hypocrisy

Montreal Simon - Fri, 02/10/2017 - 03:57

The other day I said that I had been struck by the strange way Rona Ambrose had been behaving. How she had practically gone to ground.

After accusing Justin Trudeau of being unable to "resist the billionaire lifestyle" by vacationing at the Aga Khan's private island.

Only to have it revealed that she had been attacking him, while sailing through the Caribbean on a billionaire's yacht.

And now that observation has been confirmed.
Read more »

Samantha Bee On The Original Trump Haters

Montreal Simon - Fri, 02/10/2017 - 03:57

Scotland is a small, peaceful country, but one with a proud history of resistance dating back about two thousand years.

The people of that land have had to battle all kinds of invaders, from the Roman legions of the Emperor Hadrian, to in more modern times, the vulgar presence of the mad would be Emperor Donald Trump.

So these days when we too are called to resist him, and all can appear so dark and gloomy.

I thought you might enjoy Samantha Bee's humorous look at the original Trump haters.

Read more »

Even Joe Says, "This is Fascism"

The Disaffected Lib - Fri, 02/10/2017 - 00:07
Everything he's saying is true and deeply frightening

post about saqarra now coirrected

we move to canada - Thu, 02/09/2017 - 21:51
Yesterday's post contained a coding error that rendered five or six paragraphs invisible! Please see below; scroll down to [update].

Thursday Evening Links

accidentaldeliberations - Thu, 02/09/2017 - 17:57
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Simon Enoch explains why the Sask Party's plans to inflict an austerian beating until economic morale improves is doomed to failure:
It is now abundantly clear that the Saskatchewan government’s “transformational change” agenda is in reality a not-so-subtle euphemism for provincewide austerity in response to the current economic downturn. Premier Wall’s recent comments suggesting “very deep cuts” to education, health care, municipal revenue sharing and civil service salaries make it clear that the government’s plan for the economy is to “cut its way to growth.”

The problem with this plan is that it is exactly the worst possible course of action to take while the province is still mired in economic stagnation.

As a latecomer to economic downturn, Saskatchewan has the advantage of being able to assess the efficacy of policy responses by those who have gone before us, as national and state-level governments across North America and Europe have sought to effectively respond to the economic downturn inaugurated by the 2008 financial crisis. What this wealth of examples clearly demonstrates is that austerity measures undertaken during an economic downturn have the perverse effect of prolonging economic stagnation, increasing unemployment, exacerbating deficits and hindering economic recovery.
In addition to the economic argument against austerity, there is also a moral one that governments must consider. Austerity assumes that everyone shares in the pain of cuts equally. This is simply not true. Given that austerity measures primarily target public spending for programs and services, the effect will be to punish those who rely on these programs and services far more than those who do not — in particular the poorest and most vulnerable in the province. It seems particularly cruel to put the burden of cuts on those at the bottom of the income distribution who were least likely to have shared in the province’s prosperity during the boom period, and may have even been negatively impacted by the rising living costs associated with the boom years.

The sad truth is that the government relied far too much on inflated resource prices as a major source of revenue during the boom period. These resource revenues were effectively used to subsidize tax cuts that with the end of the commodity boom now appear unwise and unsustainable. The decline of revenues now has the government contemplating certain tax increases. As the government considers new sources of revenue, we would ask the government to consider the moral argument of austerity — ensuring that those least able to absorb tax increases are not asked to bear the majority of the burden for the rest of us.
The Saskatchewan government is in its current fiscal position because it made certain choices during the economic boom that have now come back to haunt us. The government needs to seriously consider the available evidence on austerity and recognize that the path it has set upon — while perhaps politically the easiest — is not necessarily the wisest. - Meanwhile, Jeff Labine reports on some of the effect of the Sask Party's cuts - including limiting the ability of school divisions to work on ensuring higher graduation rates.

- But Geoff Leo's latest revelations about the Global Transportation Hub scandal signal that good advice to the Wall government from anywhere - including from officials pointing out the foolishness of lining donors' pockets at the public's expense - tends to be ignored and buried.

- Marc Lee highlights B.C.'s giveaway of natural gas resources. And Brad Plumer points out that solar energy is new far outperforming coal in generating jobs, while being well on its way to doing the same in terms of power sources.

- Finally, Thomas Walkom notes that Bill Morneau seems to be following the all-too-familiar pattern of confusing the concept of free money for rich people (and an attitude of "let them eat cake" for everybody else) with a viable economic plan. And Michal Rozworski goes into more detail about the bad ideas on tap from Morneau's hand-picked advisory council.

New column day

accidentaldeliberations - Thu, 02/09/2017 - 16:06
Here, expanding on this post about the Libs' electoral reform betrayal - and the likelihood that it will encourage future Stephen Harpers to exploit the distortions created by first-past-the-post.

For further reading...
- I've linked to plenty of other commentary on the Libs' broken promise here, here and here. And we can add new material from the Council of Canadians and Shawn Garbutt, along with a useful refresher from Max Fawcett.
- The Government of Canada page highlighting the problems with first-past-the-post was once here - though it (along with other related content) seems to have now been removed. But fortunately Jason Wagar has preserved it for posterity.
- And finally, the formal petition sponsored by Nathan Cullen pushing for the Libs to live up to their promise is here - and rapidly approaching its 100,000th signature.

Another Swing and a Miss for Trump Muslim Ban

The Disaffected Lib - Thu, 02/09/2017 - 15:22

This is probably enough to turn the Great Orange Bloat inside out with rage. A federal appeals panel has refused to fast track Trump's travel ban. The stay stands.

Now it's expected that Trump will appeal the appellate decision directly to the US Supreme Court where it faces a 4-4 stalemate.

SNAFU to FUBAR to... ? 16 Years On Afghanistan is Still Going All to Hell.

The Disaffected Lib - Thu, 02/09/2017 - 14:21
John Nicholson says that with an infinite amount of time and an infinite number of soldiers it is possible to win the war in Afghanistan against al Qaeda and ISIS.

The US army general, top commander in Afghanistan, showed up before Congress asking for another "few thousand" troops and time, more time, lots more.

Nicholson also hinted that Russia is busy muddying the waters, making America's job more difficult.

Nicholson contended that Russia has been publicly legitimizing the Taliban by claiming that the militants are fighting Islamic terrorists while the Afghan government is not. He called that a “false narrative” and argued that Moscow’s goal is to undermine the United States and NATO in Afghanistan. ...

He said declined to say in the open hearing whether Russia is providing support for the Taliban and in what way. Afterward, Nicholson told The Associated Press he was referring to classified intelligence. He would not discuss the matter further.

saqarra, dahshur, memphis

we move to canada - Thu, 02/09/2017 - 12:17
I had a bit of a rough night -- what am I doing drinking strong tea at night?? -- but I must be running on a travel high, because we were up and out early. Yesterday, when we asked our hosts about arranging a driver and guide for us to see more local ancient sites, they advised doing that right away, and saving more urban sightseeing in Cairo for later in the week. They quoted us a price for the whole day -- three sites, including all admission fees, plus lunch, and all gratuities. And, they said, the greatest guide. And they were right!

We had our lovely little breakfast on the roof, looking out at our friends the Pyramids and the Sphinx. While we were eating, our guide dropped by to introduce himself. He said his name was Abdul, and he wanted to make this the best day of our holiday. He told us to take our time, we had all day and he would go according to our pace.

So off we went with Abdul. First stop, a papyrus "museum", as many retail stores call themselves. A charming young man brought us drinks (Turkish coffee for me and hibiscus for Allan), then demonstrated how papyrus is made, by making some in front of us. We also learned how the imitation papyrus sold on the street is made and why it is inferior. And thus began my first lesson in shopping, Egyptian style.

Papyrus Guy showed me a small sample, with my name on it. What a coincidence! So now I know that Abdul has a deal with this shop, and possibly our hotel is in on it, too. We saw some truly beautiful painted papyri, and I started to get sucked into the idea of buying one. We’re not huge shoppers, but we always buy one really special thing on each trip, then a bunch of less expensive items like earrings, bookmarks a such. The “one nice thing” from this trip could be a beautiful papyrus painting.

When Allan and I conferred privately, I discovered I had completely misread the price of the painting. I thought it was 98.00 LE; it was 9,800 LE. That is almost $700, almost what we paid for air fare to Egypt. I apologized to Papyrus Guy, explaining what I misunderstood, and went to find another, less expensive paintings. To my surprise, Papyrus Guy was unfazed. He said, “You have a budget, and this is outside your budget.” I said, yes, well outside our budget. And suddenly the painting was 4,000 LEs! Still more than our “one nice thing” usually costs, but much closer!

And so we began negotiating. I noticed that once we got down to 3,500 or less, PG now offered to throw in other smaller paintings for free, or to not charge us tax or credit card fees. I could get more stuff, but I couldn’t get it for less than 3,200. In the end, we bought the painting I loved best, plus a smaller painting, and a third even smaller painting, for the equivalent of about $225 Canadian. This is not out of line with our handmade Aran sweaters from Ireland or our mates burilados from Peru. Buying it on the second day of our trip was disconcerting. But oh well! It was done. Papyrus Guy rolled it and wrapped it and taped it within an inch of its life, made sure Allan was still breathing, and off we went.

On our way to Saqarra, Abdul recounted the history of Egypt from the Old Kingdom to present times. He’s a good storyteller, and his English is perfect (spoken with a slight Australian accent), and it was enjoyable. He brought us all the way to Morsi, who he called “the greatest man for Egypt,” and the military coup that overthrew him.

And then we were at Saqarra. Abdul gave us these instructions: talk to no one but me, don’t even say ‘no thank you’ to anyone else, don’t take pictures of animals (because the owners will try to get money), don’t take out your money, take all the time you want, if you want photos where you are not supposed to take them, I will tell you when to shoot.

Inside, there were a few other scattered tourists and a school group, but it was mostly empty, especially compared to Giza. Everyone knew Abdul -- which would be the case all day. As we walked around Saqarra, I told him about our experience at Giza, and he was visibly upset. He said passionately, “I hate those men! I hate them. They make life so much harder for tourists, and that means harder for everyone who runs a legitimate business.” When I told him the different ways I had tried to avoid them, he said, “They love to hear ‘no’. ‘No’ is gold to them...” and I said, “Because now you are having a conversation”. Abdul put up his hand for a high-five. He said, “Say nothing. Focus and say nothing. Do not say ‘go away’. Do not say a word."

our new wide-angle lens!

A few temples at Saqarra were a short drive away, and those tombs were even more richly decorated. Abdul did his thing, then told us one of the hangers-on -- more tout than actual guard -- would bring us down into the tomb. Through a similar non-scary passageway, and into a room with a sarcophagus. And the guide is telling us to go inside -- in the sarcophagus! I wouldn’t, but he practically forced Allan in! So Allan is in a tomb, and the tout says to me, “Do not tell Mr. Abdul! He will be angry! Do not tell him!” and he goes on and on. “Promise not to tell him? Promise?” I’m thinking, why would I not tell Abdul? And who is this guy that I should protect him? And didn’t Abdul pay off these clowns? After Allan emerged from the coffin, the tout expected to be paid. That was unsurprising, although against Abdul’s instructions.

But here’s where this tout made a big mistake. I gave him a 20 LE note, and he said, “This was very special! Very, very special! You must pay me dollars. Only dollars!” (More on this obsession with dollars later.) I told him I have no dollars, only Egyptian pounds. “I must have dollars! This is not enough!” And he went on and on, trying to badger me into giving him more money -- in other words, trying to extort me.

Outside, Abdul was waiting, and we went into a few more beautiful hieroglyphic-covered tombs. On our way out, I asked Abdul, did you pay those guys to let us take photos? He was immediately on guard. “Did they ask you for money??” I said, yes, but that was not a big deal. I didn't mind tipping him; it was attitude.

Abdul is a big man with a bald head. He looks stronger and more imposing than any of the older men hanging around the site in galabeya and kafiyeh. Abdul called out to the man in sharp barks, holding his hand out, demanding the return of the money. I said, “No, it’s ok, it’s ok,” but Abdul wouldn’t hear of it. He took the 20 LE note and berated the man for his greed and stupidity, the put it in my hand.

In the car, driving to Dahshur, Abdul told us his philosophy of service. He feels very strongly that part of his job is to protect his clients from unwanted attention, and to make sure there are no hidden costs, that the agreed-on price is the real price. Abdul pays the entrance fees, the bribes, the gas -- that is all his overhead. I understand that is taken into account in his price, but he is self-employed and takes pride in his work, and in great customer service -- something I truly respect.

At Dahshur, about 10 kms away, there are two failed pyramids -- one built at a weird angle, and another that is falling apart (relatively speaking). From there, you can see the stepped pyramid at Saqarra. Dahshur is just a quick stop.

Memphis, the long-time capital of ancient Egypt, houses an outdoor museum with many statues and pieces of statues. The highlights are a Sphinx for Queen Hatsupshet, the only female pharaoh, and a monumental statue of Ramses II, lying horizontally in a room, with a gallery for better viewing. It is enormous, and carved out of a single block of limestone. Here, too, and on the way -- everyone knew Abdul and welcomed him like the return of a conquering hero.

On the drives between sites, we passed through tiny main streets, with poor-looking stores and a few cafes. We also passed shocks of bright-green fields, growing alfalfa, the occasional man on a donkey cart, children in school uniforms, boys leading horses. There was a lot of garbage. And many scavengers -- dogs, children, old people.

We went to a huge, simple restaurant. I knew that Abdul had called ahead -- I can understand enough Arabic to get that -- so our lunch moments after we did. Abdul told us he would give us privacy and disappeared. First came tahini, hummus, baba ganoush, and grilled eggplant, and of course puffy bread. Then came plates of grill chicken, koftas, and chicken livers. We were quite hungry and the food was so good.

On the way back, we drove through a lot of poverty. There’s a huge amount of garbage, which is obviously connected to the absence of healthy drinking water. Perhaps that’s the first great divide of a world of haves and have-nots -- access to sanitation and drinkable water.

We were almost back at the Pyramids View when Abdul told us he’d be back in “an Egyptian minute”. (He said this is like 30 Canadian minutes.) He popped in to a store, and soon came out with a wrapped take-out container, urging us to eat a bit now, and save the rest for later. It was an Egyptian desert called kunefah, and it is awesome. It’s something like baklava, but substitute tiny shredded wheat noodles instead of phyllo leaves, and add shredded coconut. If you like honey and coconut, you’ve got to eat this.

Back at Pyramids View, we had to reserve our overnight train from Cairo to Luxor. We tried numerous times to do this online, but it was impossible. Literally impossible. There is the appearance of a website, but it simply does not function. Emailing for support is useless. Anyone posting on Trip Advisor or Lonely Planet forums confirms this. We figured we would do this while in Cairo, and our hosts are happy to help. However...

It became a bit complicated. The hosts offered to send someone to the station with copies of our passports and money, to buy tickets for us. But we can’t pay in cash; for large purchases like that, we need to use a credit card. We thought we could do that tomorrow while sightseeing in Cairo, but today would be the last day to reserve for a Sunday night train. After some discussion, our hosts called the train station, confirmed that we can pay by credit card there, and sent us in a cab. The cab would wait while we bought the ticket, and then drive us back.

The traffic was crazy, but in some places the road was relatively open, so we were back to the crazy races between cars, vans, tiny two-person cab scooters, and horsecarts. At the train station, the “sleeping car train” office took our reservation with a pen and paper. There was no computer. Aaand... cash only. Fortunately there was an ATM nearby. Factoid: the ticket agent has a sister in Toronto. She is a doctor. He loves Canada -- in the summer.

The ride back was quick. We saw a lot of dogs, who must come out in the evening to forage. We saw a family of five riding one motorbike -- two small kids squeezed up front with dad, and mom and baby riding on the back -- the baby in a blanket, held in the crook of the mother’s arm, off to the side of the bike. We saw a lot of sad things. When I see these things, I rage inside about the injustice of capitalism. All these things are preventable.

Back at the hotel, we were tired but happy. We couldnt thank Abdul enough, and hoped we tipped him appropriatel. It's so hard to know!

Yesterday we couldn’t see Diego on the webcam -- the dogs were out, but he was not there, prompting Allan to email Dogtopia. They said he’s doing great, and tonight we saw him.

The whole time I’ve been writing this, the sound and light show of the Pyramids has been going full-tilt, over and over, in three or four different languages.

America Needs to Get Over the "Victim" Nonsense

The Disaffected Lib - Thu, 02/09/2017 - 11:12

Jack Ma is one of the wealthiest men on the planet. The founder of retail giant, Alibaba, is said to have a net worth upwards of $30 billion. Predictably, Ma has had a meeting with Donald Trump, the guy who denounces China for stealing American jobs and manipulating its currency to disadvantage US business.

Ma's position is that America needs to get over itself and its victim mentality. It's not that the United States lost out on globalism, it's more a question of where the money went, the 1%.

You can pick up the commentary at the 3 minute mark.


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