Posts from our progressive community

Why Has Accepting Scientific Fact Become A Matter Of Choice?

Politics and its Discontents - Thu, 02/26/2015 - 09:23
Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean. They speak different languages and use different powers of the brain.

-Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Great Partnership

As the quotation above suggests, the schism between scientific fact and religious belief is, in fact, one that shouldn't exist. Yet, given the kinds of absolutist thinking that permeate the world today, demagogues and zealots suggest the two are mutually exclusive, an invalid proposition if one's belief in transcendent truth manages to rise above seeing the narratives of the world's religions as literal truths.

It is always unseemly when people parade and exult in their intellectual limitations, often presenting them as virtues. For example, in Ontario, people like Progressive Conservative MPP Rick Nicholls has suggested that evolution should not be taught in schools, as he doesn't believe in it.

Sadly, such benighted positions, masquerading as informed opinion, do a disservice both to science and religion, not to mention public discourse in general. And it seems to be spreading, despite the fact that we live in an age unprecedented in its access to knowledge. Consider the almost religious fervour with which people disavow climate change, despite these facts: The debate over climate change is over. The U.N.‘s Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report, written by 800 scientists from 80 countries, that summarized the findings of more than 30,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers and concluded: “Human influence on the climate system is clear; the more we disrupt our climate, the more we risk severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts; and we have the means to limit climate change and build a more prosperous, sustainable future.”Like the facts that make evolution irrefutable, the facts of climate change are treated by some as optional, a matter of belief, based on all kinds of specious reasoning, including religious ones such as asserting that God is in control of the planet. Perhaps people take living in a supposedly democratic age as license to suggest that any view is valid. Perhaps the right wing, emboldened by their ability to stir up emotion and hysteria, and enjoying so much influence in North America, feel that they have the politicians cowed. Perhaps the truly rational see little profit in getting down to their level to dispute with them. Perhaps it is because the uninformed and unsophisticated comprise such a large part of our population and show no interest in learning how to think critically, dismissing those who do as elitist leftists and alarmists.

I really have no answers here, but to countenance ignorance in any form, in my view, is to abdicate our responsibilities as both human beings and as citizens, and these are obligations we cannot afford to shirk.

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Bill C-51 - Conservative 'values'

Creekside - Thu, 02/26/2015 - 08:54

Uncanny resemblance, isn't it?  Your 'values' not looking too good at the moment, Mr Blaney.
Having rushed the 62 page omnibus anti-terrorism bill C-51 through Parliament, the Cons are now demanding it be rushed through committee as well. They wanted to restrict expert testimony to three committee meetings - with one of them taken up entirely by Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney - but a successful NDP committee fillibuster has now ratcheted it up to eight .
Among the expert witnesses proposed by the NDP are former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci (Almalki, Abou-Elmaati, and Nuredinn inquiry) and former associate Chief Justice of Ontario Dennis O'Connor (Arar inquiry).

Now why wouldn't the Cons want to hear from them?

A report in the Ottawa Citizen yesterday details new documents on how in 2001 the RCMP talked up Ottawa's Abdullah Almalki to the CIA and Syria as a terrorist threat despite having been given CSIS intelligence to the contrary.An RCMP memo, dated Sept. 5, 2001, generated after a meeting with Canadian Security Intelligence Service officials, said that “CSIS have not uncovered information that would lead them to believe the subject (Almalki) is doing something illegal.”On Oct. 2, 2001, the RCMP sent a fax to its liaison officers in Islamabad, Rome, Delhi, Washington, London, Berlin and Paris, reporting that CSIS had described Almalki as an “important member” of al-Qaida. Days later, the RCMP liaison officer in Rome sent letters to agencies in several countries, including Syria, labelling Almalki as an “imminent threat” to Canada’s national security.
After Almalki was arrested and was being tortured in Syria, the RCMP helpfully sent along three pages of questions for them to ask him.
One of the provisions of Bill C-51 allows government departments to share private information more widely. 
Maher Arar was likewise renditioned to Syia and tortured based on bad RCMP intel and then RCMP Commissioner Zaccardelli and CSIS Asst Director Jack Hooper tried to cover it up.
Hill Times Oct 2, 2006 : CSIS didn't want Arar returned to Canada"In May and June 2003, the Canadian government intended to send a letter to Syria indicating that it spoke with "one voice"–seeking the powerful support CSIS and the RCMP–to call for Mr. Arar's release. But according to Justice Dennis O'Connor's report, CSIS "was uncomfortable" with a statement in the letter that there was "no evidence" that Mr. Arar had links to al-Qaeda. The agency argued "very strongly" against a letter that it saw as sending the wrong message to U.S. authorities."CSIS wanted to make it clear to the Solicitor General that there was 'political jeopardy' in signing a joint letter and that bringing Mr. Arar back to Canada was going to be a political 'hot potato' with American authorities," Justice O'Connor wrote in the report, which cleared Mr. Arar.Justice O'Connor also revealed in his report that CSIS, "for reasons of its own, preferred that Mr. Arar not return to Canada." While DFAIT drafted its letter to argue for Mr. Arar's release in June 2003, Jack Hooper, assistant director of operations for CSIS, called an assistant deputy minister at DFAIT to explain why it opposed the return of Mr. Arar. CSIS feared that if Mr. Arar returned with a public story of torture it could "impair" deportations from Canada to Syria, according to the report."Perhaps the committee should hear from Mr. Arar. As he points out, if C-51 were in place when he was in Syria, it could have been used legally to prevent his return to Canada.
In the House on Tuesday, Harper termed Thomas Mulcair's calls for greater oversight and a full review of evidence "ridiculous" :"I would urge the committee to study the bill as quickly as possible in order to ensure the adoption of these measures to ensure the security and safety of Canadians."while Blaney "slammed Mulcair for 'attacking the credibility' of CSIS officers".
"These people respect the law, and I call on him to present arguments, and not lies to defend his position."Greg Fingas provides excellent C-51 links and a post on "the risks of allowing CSIS to self-assess the scope of Canadians' Charter rights under C-51". 
From Stephen Lautens : For those of you keeping score at home :

. .

A Cabal Of Fools

Northern Reflections - Thu, 02/26/2015 - 06:52

You may have missed it. But, recently, the Harper government pulled funding for the Palestinian organization, MIFTAH, which is headed by Hanan Ashrawi. Paul Adams provides some context:

For more than twenty years, Hanan Ashrawi, an ethnic Christian and a moderate, has been a prominent Palestinian leader. In 2006 she was elected to the Palestinian parliament as a member of the Third Way, an almost laughably small party which has tried to provide a democratic, centrist alternative to the corruption of Fateh and the violent Islamism of Hamas — the two dominant Palestinian political factions.

She founded a non-governmental organization called MIFTAH; its mandate is human rights but it has carved out a role primarily as a promoter of women in Palestinian life.

But Ashrawi ran afoul of John Baird:

On his farewell tour of the Middle East a few weeks ago, Baird said Palestinians were crossing a “red line” — a favourite expression in the region when laying down an ultimatum — by accusing Israel of war crimes before the International Criminal Court.

In a press release, Ashrawi fired back that the red line Baird was trying to draw was a form of impunity for Israel, and she called Baird an apologist (that word again) for those complicit in war crimes.

In a strange little episode, Canadian officials abruptly demanded a letter of thanks from Ashrawi for their $27,000 contribution to MIFTAH. When it was not forthcoming, they cancelled the grant.
Adams points out that MIFTAH  receives the bulk of its funding from the Republican Party in the United States. It's not a left wing love child. But when John Baird said something stupid -- as he has done frequently -- Ashrawi called him out.

Our present government is petty and mean spirited. That's because it's led by a cabal of fools.

Thursday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Thu, 02/26/2015 - 06:35
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson link inequality and climate change as massive problems which are generated by political choices (and thus amenable to correction through the political system):
Rising inequality is no more natural than global warming. And just as with global warming, our biggest fear should be that it becomes increasingly self-reinforcing — not because of some “natural” economic process, but because economic power begets political power, which can be used to further increase economic advantage. Look around, and the evidence that this is a real threat abounds. To cite just one example of many, the Koch brothers network, led by businessmen who are committed libertarians opposed to any effort to reduce inequality, are planning to spend almost $1 billion in next year’s election.

In other words, read beneath the headline of Leonhardt’s article and you have an argument for greater alarm about the toxic relationship between rising inequality and the dysfunction of the federal government — a message exactly opposite of the one that the inequality deniers want to hear.- Frances Woolley writes that tax-free savings accounts - and particular the expanded version which the Cons are planning to push soon - represent both a deliberate choice to exacerbate inequality, and one of the most devastating attacks yet on Canada's federal revenue system:
RRSPs leave a legacy of tax revenue to future governments. Increasing TFSA contribution limits does just the opposite – it creates an investment vehicle that is ripe for abuse, whether by generating super-normal returns, or by sheltering income in a TFSA while claiming government benefits. At the same time, it deprives future governments of the opportunity to tax investment income.
There’s a saying in policy circles: “the costs are the benefits.” For some, the revenue foregone by expanding TFSAs is a cost. For others, it’s a benefit. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is on the record as believing in small government. One sure-fire way to shrink governments is to deprive them of revenue. Doubling the TFSA limit will do that. Not now, and not in a year from now. But in 10, 20, or 30 years’ time, the doubling of the TFSA limit will gradually erode the ability of Canadian governments to raise revenue, redistribute income, and pay for public services. - But then, individual savings likely aren't the best means of ensuring retirement security in any event, as David MacDonald finds that a retirement system based on mutual funds diverts massive amounts of savings toward financial sector compared to the alternative of effective pension plans. 

- Michal Rozworski notes that while Canada's wage picture isn't quite as bad as the U.S.' over the past two decades, it's most certainly nothing to celebrate - particularly since any gains were tied up almost entirely in since-deflated oil prices.

- Finally, Haroon Siddiqui laments the Cons' wilful stupidity in dealing with the Middle East. And Paul Adams calls out the tantrum-based foreign policy which includes pulling funding from friendly service providers for having the nerve to question John Baird.

New column day

accidentaldeliberations - Thu, 02/26/2015 - 06:09
Here, condensing this post on the risks of allowing CSIS to self-assess the scope of Canadians' Charter rights under C-51.

For further reading...
- Again, the go-to source for analysis of C-51 is Craig Forcese and Kent Roach's site here.
- Clayton Ruby and Nader Hasan's analysis is here.
- John Mueller and Mark Stewart duly reject the attempt to invent some existential terrorist threat.
- Dale Smith muses about the Cons' rush to ram C-51 through without analysis here. PressProgress challenges the conventional wisdom as to the supposed popularity of the bill here. And the Star appeals for a thorough study of the bill before it gets pushed through Parliament.
- Jorge Barrera reports on the bill's impact on First Nations here, while Peter O'Neil notes that indigenous activists are already being singled out for extreme state interference. And Geoffrey York highlights how security services around the world spend far more time tracking and interfering with peaceful domestic dissent than anything which could be plausibly considered "terrorism".
- Finally, for more on the warped standard being applied to evaluate the constitutionality of federal legislation, see again Simon Fodden's post here, along with Justin Ling's story here.

Stephen Harper and the Terrorist Hysteria

Montreal Simon - Thu, 02/26/2015 - 04:07

I have absolutely no doubt that when historians look back at this dark period in Canadian history, some will compare the reigning terrorist hysteria to the equally insane hysteria of the Salem witch trials.

A collective act of temporary madness fomented and encouraged by evil men like Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney, for their own sinister purposes.

For it is madness, and it is hysteria, and it is being aided and abetted by the some in the MSM.
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Stephen Harper and the Fatal Polar Vortex

Montreal Simon - Wed, 02/25/2015 - 22:49

He is using his Great War on Terror to try to scare Canadians into voting for him, even as he turns the country into a police state.

He is using fear and bigotry as a blunt weapon against his own people. He couldn't sink any lower.

But of course that foul campaign isn't just intended to appeal to the most bestial instincts of Canadians.

It's also The Great Distraction.
Read more »

Oh, This Is Rich. Stephen Harper Wants Us to Listen to Scientists.

The Disaffected Lib - Wed, 02/25/2015 - 16:04

"get the facts from the ...scientific community, and if you're not a ...scientist yourself, listen to the people who are. It's that simple."
You heard it right, straight from the lips of Stephen Joseph Harper.  Get the facts from the scientific community and, if you're not a scientist yourself, listen to the people who are.  Who could argue with that sort of logic except, of course, the man who said it, Stephen Harper.
Memo to Steve:  There are many, many scientists who would dearly love to give you oodles of facts so why aren't you listening to them?  We could pack an auditorium with top scientists in fields such as climatology, meteorology, hydrology, atmospherics, biology, botany, oceanography, glaciation, geology, chemistry, medicine and epidemiology, and many, many more scientific disciplines who would love to explain to you things like climate change, and the host of imminent threats it poses to our country - if only you would listen.  
You put it perfectly, Mr. prime minister:  "But we have a responsibility to set an example, for God's sake. ...And as an advanced, educated society, it's completely irresponsible of people in this society to communicate anything other than that anywhere else in the world."

So, for God's sake (as you put it, Steve) get the facts, listen to the scientists and act on their advice.  Do it Steve - or the cat gets it.

Maybe When Obama is Finished Mauling Netanyahu He Could Give Us a Hand With Harper

The Disaffected Lib - Wed, 02/25/2015 - 11:59
It's widely thought that Barack Obama is working to engineer regime change in Israel.  He's had a snootful of Benjamin Netanyahu and his underhanded ways and, in the process, confirms that the best way to deal with a bully is to stand up to him and fight back.

But wait.  We've got a bully boy here too, one every bit as devious and manipulative as the Israeli prime minister.  What's more, as a people, Canadians really like Obama - and by a good measure more than we like Stephen Harper.

Harper has been a pain in the White House backside over the Keystone XL pipeline, regularly crossing the line to cajole and embarrass the president.  Add to that Harper is just about the only head of government still in bed with his Israeli counterpart.

So, c'mon Barack.  Make like a good neighbour.  We need regime change too.  Is that too much to ask?

When the Taps Run Dry, Where Do You Go?

The Disaffected Lib - Wed, 02/25/2015 - 11:24
Sao Paulo Riots
Imagine telling the residents of Toronto that they have to flee the city and travel elsewhere in search of water.  Well something along those lines may be in store for the millions of residents of Brazil's largest city, Sao Paulo.

As south-east Brazil grapples with its worst drought in nearly a century, a problem worsened by polluted rivers, deforestation and population growth, the largest reservoir system serving Sao Paulo is near depletion. Many residents are already enduring sporadic water cut-offs, some going days without it. Officials say that drastic rationing may be needed, with water service provided only two days a week.

Behind closed doors, the views are grimmer. In a meeting recorded secretly and leaked to the local news media, Paulo Massato, a senior official at Sao Paulo's water utility, said that residents might have to be warned to flee because "there's not enough water, there won't be water to bathe, to clean" homes.

"We're witnessing an unprecedented water crisis in one of the world's great industrial cities", said Marussia Whately, a water specialist at Instituto Socioambiental, a Brazilian environmental group. "Because of environmental degradation and political cowardice, millions of people in Sao Paulo are now wondering when the water will run out."

For some in this traffic-choked megacity of futuristic skyscrapers, gated communities and sprawling slums, the slow-burning crisis has already meant no running water for days on end.

...Experts say the origins of the crisis go beyond the recent drought to include an array of interconnected factors: the city's surging population growth in the 20th century; a chronically leaky system that spills vast amounts of water before it can reach homes; notorious pollution in the Tiete and Pinheiros rivers traversing the city (their aroma can induce nausea in passers-by); and the destruction of surrounding forests and wetlands that have historically soaked up rain and released it into reservoirs.

Deforestation in the Amazon River basin, hundreds of kilometres away, may also be adding to Sao Paulo's water crisis. Cutting the forest reduces its capacity to release humidity into the air, diminishing rainfall in southeast Brazil, according to a recent study by one of the country's leading climate scientists.

Officials also point to global warming. "Climate change has arrived to stay", Geraldo Alckmin, the governor of Sao Paulo state, said in February. "When it rains, it rains too much, and when there's drought, it's way too dry."

Imagine going three days at a stretch without fresh water.  The UN calculates we need 20-liters a day just for basic hydration, cooking and sanitation.   Studies have found that we in the developed world use the toilet about 5-times daily which consumes 34-liters per day for low-flow toilets up to 72-liters per day for older toilets (some are much higher).  That makes it pretty tough for a family living in a high-rise apartment to just meet their basic sanitation needs unless everyone starts emptying their chamber pots over the balcony.  
Protesters Swarm RioUnrest is building as would be expected, anti-government riots breaking out every now and then in Sao Paulo, Rio and more than 100-other Brazillian towns and cities.. 20-million people can't live this way.  How do you relocate many millions of internally displaced people?  Where do they go?  Where will they find services and housing much less jobs and schools and everything else that supports modern life?  
Brazil may become the poster child for this sort of First World problem.  And the Third World is also reeling from water shortages.
When Khawaja Muhammad Asif, [Pakistan's] Minister of Defense, Power, and Water (yes, that is one ministry), warned that the country’s chronic water shortages could soon become uncontrollable, he was looking on the bright side. The meagre allotment of water available to each Pakistani is a third of what it was in 1950 . As the country’s population rises, that amount is falling fast.

...Nowhere, however, is the situation more acute than in Brazil, particularly for the twenty million residents of São Paulo. “You have all the elements for a perfect storm, except that we don’t have water,” a former environmental minister told Lizzie O’Leary, in a recent interview for the syndicated radio show “Marketplace.” The country is bracing for riots. “There is a real risk of social convulsion,” José Galizia Tundisi, a hydrologist with the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, warned in a press conference last week. He said that officials have failed to act with appropriate urgency. “Authorities need to act immediately to avoid the worst.” But people rarely act until the crisis is directly affecting them, and at that point it will be too late.

Feeding a planet with nine billion residents will require at least fifty per cent more water in 2050 than we use today. It is hard to see where that water will come from. Half of the planet already lives in urban areas, and that number will increase along with the pressure to supply clean water.

...The result of continued inaction is clear. Development experts, who rarely agree on much, all agree that water wars are on the horizon. That would be nothing new for humanity. After all, the word “rivals” has its roots in battles over water—coming from the Latin, rivalis, for “one taking from the same stream as another.” It would be nice to think that, with our complete knowledge of the physical world, we have moved beyond the limitations our ancestors faced two thousand years ago. But the truth is otherwise; rivals we remain, and the evidence suggests that, until we start dying of thirst, we will stay that way.

Netanyahu's High-Risk Gambit

The Disaffected Lib - Wed, 02/25/2015 - 10:36
What?  I Stepped In What?
With just three weeks to go, Israel's national election has turned into a real nail-biter.  The governing Likud party of Benjamin Netanyahu is in a dead heat tie with the rival Zionist Union party, each of which stands to collect 24-seats according to the latest polls.  Of course it's not all that simple.  With 11-parties expected to meet the 4-seat party threshhold, forming a government coalition really is a matter of herding cats.

Being tied for first isn't an enviable position for Netanyahu's Likud, not when the prime minister is about to stage his potentially explosive appearance before a far-less-than-joint session of the US Congress.  Many Democrats are expected to boycott the speech which is seen as an effort by Netanyahu to undermine the White House.  That's worrisome to voters in Israel who hate to see anything that harms Israel's relationship with Washington.  Both Barack Obama and Joe Biden are giving Bibi the cold shoulder.  He won't be received at the White House and Biden won't attend the speech although he's the president of the Senate.

Some of Israel's strongest Democratic supporters tried to reach out to Netanyahu, offering to arrange a separate meeting but Netanyahu returned the snub and rejected their offer.  That'll go over - not well - either on Capitol Hill or in Israel.

The White House is fighting back:

The Obama administration has engineered a series of highly visible snubs of Netanyahu – from refusing a White House invitation and levelling accusations that the Israeli government is not trustworthy to a humiliating leak about new limitations on intelligence sharing – just weeks before the Israeli leader faces a tight general election.Top administration officials, including Vice-President Joe Biden and the US secretary of state, John Kerry, have made a point of meeting Israeli opposition leaders who have seized on the dispute to characterise Netanyahu as jeopardising relations with Israel’s most important ally.Aaron David Miller, who served six US secretaries of state as an adviser on Arab-Israeli negotiations, said the confrontation marks a further deterioration in an already dysfunctional relationship between Obama and Netanyahu. But Miller, who is now a vice-president at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, said the Israeli leader’s divisive handling has handed the administration an opening “to try to demonstrate how much the US-Israeli relationship is dysfunctional at the top because of Netanyahu” and an opportunity to press for “regime change”....Last week, the White House made an unusually direct attack on the Israeli government, accusing it of dishonesty in selectively leaking information about the Iran nuclear talks to the Israeli press in an attempt to discredit the negotiations.“We see that there is a continued practice of cherry-picking specific pieces of information and using them out of context to distort the negotiating position of the United States,” said the White House spokesman, Josh Earnest. “There’s no question that some of the things that the Israelis have said in characterising our negotiating position have not been accurate.”That led the US not only to take the unusual step of limiting the intelligence it shares with Israel about the Iran talks but to embarrass Netanyahu by leaking the move.Bibi's credibility took another body blow with the leak of documents showing that Netanyahu has been dishonest about the state of Iran's nuclear programme.  The focus has been on his appearance before the UN General Assembly when he claimed that Iran was on the cusp of production of nuclear weapons.  He used a red marker pen to show that Iran was all but ready to go nuke.
Bibi's problem is that even Israel's own and highly-respected intelligence service, Mossad, has a much different opinion.  Mossad's assessment is that Iran is years away from producing a bomb.  In other words, Netanyahu has been freely lying to anyone and everyone about Iran and the imagined threat it poses to Israel.Well, now that he's pissed off Obama and pretty much every other world leader, that leaves Netanyahu with just one unquestioningly loyal friend, Mr. "Bring on Armageddon" himself, Stephen Harper.

Stephen Harper and the Values That Will Destroy Him

Montreal Simon - Wed, 02/25/2015 - 06:14

I always knew he was a political thug. I wouldn't have fought him so hard and so long if I didn't think he was the worst Prime Minister this country has ever known.

But now of course he is even worse.

For as Jeffrey Simpson points out, now he is exploiting personal tragedy and making terror his monstrous mantra.
Read more »

On Hatred And Fear

Politics and its Discontents - Wed, 02/25/2015 - 05:44

Those of us who follow Canadian federal politics with a critical eye and mind will likely glean nothing new from Carol Goar's article in today's Star, yet it is nonetheless comforting to know that the depredations and demagoguery of Stephen Harper et al. are not being lost on the national press stage.

They hate our values, Goar notes, has become a new tagline in the Harper narrative. He used it on a Richmond Hill audience when talking about terrorists.

He used it when talking in Quebec about employees of Radio Canada.

He had his pull toy, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, use it in Washington.

As Goar points out, the language is all of a piece, to be placed alongside of past gems used against those who dare question Harper policy: imprecations such as 'soft on terrorism,' 'Taliban Jack', 'siding with child pornographers' all attest to the manifest unworthiness of this regime to lead Canada.

The sinister effect of such language is extensive, as Goar points out:
It has already migrated from the realm of terrorism to the practice of journalism. It could easily be applied to pipeline opponents (already branded “environmental terrorists”). It could be used to deport unwanted immigrants or foreign-born citizens (already warned “citizenship is not a right; it’s a privilege”). It could be employed against parliamentarians who challenge the scope and constitutionality of government legislation (already labelled the “black helicopter brigade”).Such demagoguery has other effects as well:
-It yanks out a piece of the national mosaic, subjecting Canada’s 1.1 million Muslims to unwarranted suspicion and drawing a direct link between their religion and terrorism.

-It lowers the standard of political discourse. Canadians don’t normally use words such as hate, despise and abhor in the public arena.

-It precludes rational debate. It is entirely possible that ISIS and its followers are targeting Canada because its warplanes are bombing them in Iraq, not because of its values. But who would dare suggest that in the current us-versus-them atmosphere?

-It legitimizes the kind of discrimination that is surfacing at lower levels of government. In Shawinigan, city councillors blocked an application by local Muslims to build a cultural centre .... Across the country, people who know little about Islam are angrily impugning Muslim women who cover their faces.Being a demagogue is easy. History amply demonstrates this. Real leadership, cultivating the best in people's natures, is long and hard work. The Harper regime is clearly not up to the latter, as it has amply demonstrated time and time again.
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They Own Him

Northern Reflections - Wed, 02/25/2015 - 05:32

It's been a relatively silent coup. The wealthy have successfully bought our political system. If you have doubts, consider two key pieces of Harperian policy -- income splitting and Tax Free Savings Accounts. Both policies amount to robbery of the federal purse. Rhys Kesselman writes:

Income-splitting has been extensively assessed and widely criticized for its revenue cost, its tilt toward higher-income families, and its failure to accomplish anything beneficial for the economy.

Soon the other shoe may drop: The Conservative Party of Canada’s second major tax promise from the last election was to double the contribution limits for Tax-Free Savings Accounts. 
The Conservatives market TFSA's as the salvation of the little man and they now propose to double contribution limits:

Yet doubling the TFSA limits would share the deficiencies of income-splitting as public policy — or even surpass them. It would drain revenues from both federal and provincial treasuries, with deceptively small initial sums adding up to costs far greater than those incurred through income-splitting. The long-run benefits would be far more sharply skewed toward the wealthy and high-earners. And doubling the TFSA limit would not benefit the economy in tangible ways.

Once the existing TFSA provision has fully matured in 40 to 50 years, it’s estimated to cost the federal treasury up to $15.5 billion annually — more than seven times the cost of income splitting. Provincial treasuries were insulated from the revenue impacts of income-splitting; they will not be so lucky with TFSAs, losing up to $9 billion per year when the scheme matures.The government’s vow that TFSAs will never be considered in federal income tests for tax and benefit provisions carries further revenue costs. By mid-century, TFSAs will raise the Guaranteed Income Supplement’s cost by $2.8 billion annually and reduce recovery tax from Old Age Security by $1.2 billion annually. These figures are the official estimates; the sums projected by an independent analyst run far higher.
Stephen Harper argues that the age for Old Age Security must be raised because we don't have the money to pay for it. But he doesn't tell you why the money won't be there.

The wealthy could not ask for a better servant. And they will see that he is properly compensated. They own him.

Wednesday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Wed, 02/25/2015 - 04:55
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Lee-Anne Goodman reports on studies from both the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PDF) and the Broadbent Institute (PDF) showing that enlarged tax-free savings accounts stand to blow a massive hole in the federal budget while exacerbating inequality. And PressProgress documents and refutes the pitiful response from the right.

- But then, I suppose we shouldn't expect the Cons' actions on TFSA to differ from their usual mismanagement. And Scott Clark and Peter DeVries write that the Cons' tax baubles in general have accomplished nothing useful, while Ricarda Acuna notes that Alberta (as the exemplar of the Cons' low-tax, high-inequality philosophy) is paying a heavy price for a PC government's refusal to collect appropriate revenue or preserve the value of public assets.

- Tim Dickinson writes that Stephen Harper's bluster about "superpower" status has officially fizzled out. And Karl Nerenberg outlines the main themes of the Cons' stay in power - and how they reflect a fundamental clash between Harper's whims and Canadian values.

- Bryce Covert reports on the billions of dollars siphoned out of middle-class retirement funds every year by the U.S.' financial services industry, while also pointing the difficulties in reining in such a lucrative rent-seeking operation. And Bill Black exposes how HSBC's CEO used tax evasion techniques to hide his own pay from his peers (h/t to Cory Doctorow).

- Finally, Tim Harper highlights the irony in the Cons' reliance on the courts to be the sole arbiters as to the validity of CSIS actions up to and including targeted killings when the same government doesn't believe judges are qualified to deliver criminal sentences. And Justin Ling reports on the NDP's efforts to make sure C-51 isn't rammed through Parliament without serious scrutiny, while Kady O'Malley notes that the Cons' plan is to avoid letting experts be heard.

Of Sex Ed and Dickheads...

Dammit Janet - Tue, 02/24/2015 - 18:48
On Monday the Ontario government released its comprehensive Health and Physical Education curriculum for grades 1 through 12, which includes a component on human sexuality.

Some people got sidetracked. This woman opined that her own children are too clever or savvy for the topics addressed. Though Soupcoff is a parent and a non-practicing lawyer, she lacks pedagogical training as well as an understanding of cognitive development-appropriate teaching methods. She also forgets there are adults who flail, fail and suffer from a dearth of basic life skills and knowledge.

Nadine Thornhill read it ALL. And she shared her observations, too.

Our friend Rick at Queer Thoughts also blogged about the new curriculum.

Premier Wynne was subjected to implicit homophobic baiting in the legislature; this is how she responded:
Bravo Kathleen, you go grrrl! we say.

Tuesday a protest against the curriculum was held at Queen's Park, attended by upset parents, religious extremists and an assortment of right-wing nut-job misogynists, homophobes and bigots. 1800 people were expected.  Less than 200 showed up, though the exact number was disputed.  My co-blogger wondered if hundreds of school kids would get bused in, as the Catholics do for the annual March for Lies. They were not.

Speakers demanded that media not portray them as fringe religious zealots, and blamed the media for putting pressure on the government to update the curriculum (last version was 1998, way before mobile devices were available to children).  

Sadly, this is how some protesters expressed their concerns:

Oh, remember (ex)Trustee Sam?  His pathetic, delusional rantings have become testerical.

He appears oblivious to documented facts about pedophilia; namely that 68% of cases of child sexual abuse are perpetrated by family members.  The curriculum will provide kids with information about being respected and respected - a big part of consent - and what to do if adults transgress their personal boundaries.  Now why would that make Sam anxious?

Here is Nadine Thornhill again, this time providing parents with ways for broaching the issue of consent with their children. Her website is an amazing resource for parents who want to address the topics covered by the Ontario curriculum with their children, in advance of its September 2015 implementation.

And not unconnected to our provincial brouhaha, this happened in the Excited States:

Whoa!  Does someone lacks basic knowledge of the human physiology?  Did Republican politician Vito Barbieri attend creationist abstinence anti-sex ed summer camp? Which led someone to wonder:

As it turns out, Barbieri was only using tactical trickery, adding to the treasure trove of dumb metaphors and analogies (whoops! I said anal) that anti-abortion crusaders deploy: parrots in cages, kidneys, balloons and many many others, as catalogued here by fern hill.
"I was being rhetorical, because I was trying to make the point that equalizing a colonoscopy to this particular procedure was apples and oranges," he said. "So I was asking a rhetorical question that was designed to make her say that they weren't the same thing, and she did so. It was the response I wanted."oookay.

THIS by the way, is a very, very good analogy.  These two sketch the epidemiological effect of anti-sex Ed parents and their children on other families. This one is another take on the harmful consequences of anti-sex Ed, like anti-vaccination believers. 

The last word on Sex Ed (Ed suggestive of Edwardian) belongs to Sir Francis:

The Germans Get It. When Will We?

The Disaffected Lib - Tue, 02/24/2015 - 17:07
Sixty per cent of Germans believe that capitalism is the cause of poverty and hunger and that real democracy can't be realized under that economic system.  It seems they're not fond of market fundamentalism and neoliberalism.  In fact, they see straight through it.

You might have thought that Germans who live in Europe's economic powerhouse would be true free market capitalists.  You would be wrong.

The survey found that more than 60 percent of Germans believe there is no genuine democracy in their country because industry has too much political influence and that the voice of the voters plays only a subordinate role.

Gee, does any of that sound familiar?

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

accidentaldeliberations - Tue, 02/24/2015 - 16:46
Cats on guard.


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