Posts from our progressive community

While Slick is Up In Fort Mac...

The Disaffected Lib - Fri, 05/13/2016 - 10:45

When our prime minister finishes his photo-op standing in the now cold ashes of Fort Mac maybe he should make his way to the air base at Cold Lake. From there he could commandeer one of those Hercules transports and wing his way up to the Beaufort Sea to witness the astonishingly early break up of the Beaufort sea ice. Wowser, it's months ahead of normal!!

Hmm, I wonder what that's all about? Maybe the villagers of Fort Yukon, Alaska could help Slick out on that one. Of course they're probably larking about. It's 75F up there now, 24 degrees above normal. They might be working out recipes for a delicious perma-defrost souffle.

Over the past 365 days, temperatures over the Arctic have been much higher than the rest of the world. Arctic sea ice is in a bad shape, ocean heat is very high... and rising, and high temperatures are forecast to hit the Arctic over the next week. Chances are that the sea ice will be largely gone by September 2016.

Arctic Sea Ice gone by September 2016?

Fort Mac's Lingering Demise. End of the Road for Canada's Petro-Pimps?

The Disaffected Lib - Fri, 05/13/2016 - 10:12

The fire is a separate matter. Fort Mac was going terminal well before the blaze began. The Tyee's Andrew Nikiforuk writes of the other fire, "a slow economic burn" that's been smouldering, unmentioned for some time.

Although the chaotic evacuation of 80,000 people through walls of flame will likely haunt its brave participants for years, a slow global economic burn has already taken a nasty toll on the region's workers.

That fire began last year when global oil prices crashed by 40 percent and evaporated billions of investment capital in the tarsands.

As the project's most high cost producers started to bleed cash, corporations laid off 40,000 engineers, labourers, cleaners, welders, mechanics and trades people with little fanfare and even less thanks.

Many of these human "stranded assets" endured home foreclosures and lineups at the food bank.

Worker flights to Red Deer and Kelowna got cancelled and traffic at the city's new airport declined by 16 per cent. Unemployment in Canada's so-called economic engine soared to nearly nine percent.

...What resembles a string of bad luck may actually be the unfortunate consequence of rapidly developing a high risk and volatile resource with no real safety net.

The first undeniable factor is weakening demand for oil, the engine of global economic growth. China's economy, the world's largest oil importer, is faltering as its industrial revolution peaks and fades.

Europe, Japan and the United States are also using less oil, and their economies are stagnating too.

In such a world, little if any bitumen will be needed in the international market place. In fact economists now trace about 50 per cent of the oil price collapse to evaporating demand.

...Murray Edwards, the billionaire tycoon behind Canadian Natural Resources, one of the largest bitumen extractors, has decamped from Alberta to London, England.

Edwards and company slashed $2.4-billion from CNRL's budget in 2015.

Since the oil price crash, by some accounts, Murray's company has lost50 per cent of its market value.

(Cenovus, another oilsands player, got cursed with junk bond status.)

...In addition Carbon Tracker, a market friendly group, now informs investors that low oil prices will favor existing production from low carbon and low cost conventional sources.

That's a terrible forecast for Alberta's oilsands and its product which is neither low cost to produce nor low carbon to refine.

...In February the Alberta government set a minimum value for bitumen at $10 per cubic metre. That equates to a value of about $1.50 per barrel of bitumen.
But in 2014 the government's monthly report valued bitumen at $421 per cubic metre. The data suggests that bitumen has lost 97 per cent of its value during the price collapse. In other words companies once worth billions are now worth millions.

Could that be why Edwards sailed to England?

...When oil prices stood at $100, rash bitumen development made some sense. But when prices fell below $45 the gamble turned into Russian roulette.
Unlike Saudi oil, most bitumen projects require prices of at least $60 to $70 a barrel to survive.

And so most tarsands extractors (except those who own refineries) are now bleeding cash; many banks have developed nervous twitches; and thousands of workers have found themselves unemployed.

The overproduction of bitumen explains why, says [former CIBC chief economist, Jeff] Rubin, "the oilsands morphed from an engine of economic growth into the epicenter of a made-in-Canada recession."

...The wise course of action for Alberta and Canada, therefore, rather than being caught by surprise, would be to plan for an orderly transition that protects communities and oilsands workers, and rewards them for the economic contributions they've made by providing funds for retraining and industry diversification.

It'll be interesting to hear what prime minister Slick has to say when he shows up for his photo-op in Fort Mac today. He'll probably go all Churchillian with grand promises of how we'll rebuild Fort McMurray bigger and better than ever, new pipelines and a great future for "the beating heart of the Canadian economy for the 21st century." Sorry, that quote was from the previous Liberal petro-pimp, Ignatieff.

Oh, yes, one other thing. Do make sure those energy giants clean up all those tailing ponds and restore those pits before they switch off the lights. Please? 

Friday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Fri, 05/13/2016 - 09:11
Assorted content to end your week.

- Ben Casselman writes that rather than looking to manufacturing jobs alone as a precondition to gains for workers, we should instead focus on the unions which helped to make the manufacturing sector the source of stable, higher-wage work:
Why do factory workers make more in Michigan? In a word: unions. The Midwest was, at least until recently, a bastion of union strength. Southern states, by contrast, are mostly “right-to-work” states where unions never gained a strong foothold. Private-sector unions have been shrinking across the country for decades, but they are stronger in the Midwest than in most other parts of the country. In Michigan, 23 percent of manufacturing production workers were union members in 2015; in South Carolina, less than 2 percent were.

Unions also help explain why the middle class is healthier in the Midwest than in the Southeast, where manufacturing jobs have been growing rapidly in recent decades. A new analysis from the Pew Research Center this week explored the state of the middle class in different parts of the country by looking at the share of households making between two-thirds and double the national median income, after controlling for the local cost of living. In many Midwestern cities, 60 percent or more of households are considered “middle-income” by this definition; in some Southern cities, even those with large manufacturing bases, middle-income households are now in the minority.
For all of the glow that surrounds manufacturing jobs in political rhetoric, there is nothing inherently special about them. Some pay well; others don’t. They are not immune from the forces that have led to slow wage growth in other sectors of the economy. When politicians pledge to protect manufacturing jobs, they really mean a certain kind of job: well-paid, long-lasting, with opportunities for advancement. Those aren’t qualities associated with working on a factory floor; they’re qualities associated with being a member of a union.- Meanwhile, Hanna Brooks Olsen writes that we should be looking to recognize that service work is skilled work which should be compensated accordingly - a point which is emphasized by Canada's high demand for labour in areas where employers expect to get away with paying less. Christine Saulnier points out how a fair minimum wage represents a broad, bottom-up solution to both inequality and economic stagnation.

- But Nadia Prupis writes that economic trends are headed in the wrong direction, with workers falling further behind both past standards of living and (especially) the current upper class. And Jim Hightower offers his take on how the gig economy makes matters worse for workers.

- Jeff Spross highlights how a housing first system represents a simple starting point in combating both homelessness and numerous other related problems. And Carol Off interviews Marni Brownell about the effectiveness of small cash investments in improving child health.

- Finally, Linda McQuaig makes the case for postal banking to improve both the sustainability of Canada Post, and public access to needed financial services.

They're Perseverating

Northern Reflections - Fri, 05/13/2016 - 05:14
Just before Mike Duffy's acquital,  the leader of the Conservative caucus in the Senate, Leo Housakas, released the following statement:

“In the event Senator Duffy is acquitted on all counts, he will immediately be reinstated to the Senate as a member in full standing with full pay and access to all office resources. Senator Duffy will be allowed to take his seat in the Chamber at the next scheduled sitting.”
Now he's changed his tune. Even though Justice Viallancourt found his expenses legitimate, Housakas wants to review them. Michael Harris writes:

Instead of turning the page, Housakos is trying to turn the page back. Here’s what is on the table: Out of the $124,000 in travel expenses and contracts examined by the RCMP — the spending that provided the foundation for its charges against Duffy — Housakos wants his committee to review $56,546 in travel and $16,995 in contracts.
Why? Harris speculates that:

The operative idea here seems to be that if Conservatives in the Senate can find Duffy guilty of something — anything — it will have a restorative effect on Harper’s soiled reputation, and take the sting out of Judge Vaillancourt’s otherwise devastating verdict.
The Conservatives are perseverating -- which, by the way, is one of the indicators of brain injury.


The Cons and the NDP Go After Sophie Trudeau

Montreal Simon - Fri, 05/13/2016 - 03:57

Well I suppose it was inevitable, she's young, she's smart, she's Justin Trudeau's princess.

So first the Cons went after Justin, then they went after their children, then they went after Margaret Trudeau.

And now they're going after Sophie.
Read more »

March for Lies 2016, Part 2: UMPTY-GAZILLION ATTENDEES!

Dammit Janet - Fri, 05/13/2016 - 03:40
There were great expectations for this year's March for Lies. First, its traditional organizer, Catholic Campaign Life, graciously invited all anti-choice groups to participate.

And second, Parliament is debating and will pass the tragically flawed medical assistance in dying act, which one would have thought would rev up the "womb to tomb" gang.

So the turn-out was going to be MASSIVE, yes?

In Part 1 of our annual Delusion Watch, we compared the size of yesterday's rally to April's 4/20 marijuana rally.

Doing this again. Compare rallies. 4/20 on left #MarchforLife #m4l on right.

— Fern Hill (@fernhilldammit) May 12, 2016

So how many people were there?

The Ottawa Citizen had veteran fetus freak watchers, Kady O'Malley and David Akin, live blogging/tweeting the event.

This really doesn't look quite as big as last year. #m4"

— kady o'malley (@kady) May 12, 2016

Kady reported that an on-stage speaker claimed 20K in attendance and added "I'd put it closer to 6K, but we'll see what the RCMP says."

What did the RCMP say? CFRA Radio:
Rough RCMP estimates indicate more than 10,000 people participated in the march.
But that's not what David Akin reported.

Also: my count of crowd - and I walk through crowd actually counting — is 4,500. Smallest #M4L I can recall

— David Akin (@davidakin) May 12, 2016

He added in another tweet that "police" said 3,000.

We were still breathlessly awaiting LieShite's outrageous inflation estimate and today we found out.


So, there you have it. Somewhere around 3,000 (RCMP officer to Akin), 4,500 (Akin), 6,000 (O'Malley), 10,000 (RCMP), 20,000 (from the stage), or 22,000 (LieShite) people attended this year's Futility Bunfest.

Akin made a 40-second Facebook video with this introduction:

Here's my March For Life crowd in 40 seconds. Smallest turnout I've seen at this event. I actually count myself - takes about 20 minutes -- and I got 4,500 at 1230 ET (and I might be a little generous) RCMP officer told me: 3,000. Organizers from the stage said there were 20,000.
We called it in April. The anti-choice movement in Canada is *snerk* dying.

Even with the widening of the tent and the extra impetus of imminent government action on assisted dying, the ranks of forced birthers are thinning remarkably.

But the bald-faced lying is as strong as ever.

Last year's report.

The Incredible Gall of Postmedia's Paul Godfrey

Montreal Simon - Fri, 05/13/2016 - 00:53

I knew that the Postmedia boss Paul Godfrey is absolutely desperate, as his sinking media empire takes on more water, or debt, with every passing hour.

But who knew that after turning Postmedia into a branch of the Con propaganda machine, that attacks Justin Trudeau and his Liberals every single day of the year.

Godfrey would have the gall to ask the government to give him a tax break.
Read more »

Should the Summer Olympics Be Called Off?

The Disaffected Lib - Thu, 05/12/2016 - 17:15

There's a perfect storm raging in Brazil. The country is in a catatonic state over the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff. Social unrest is growing. The government, meanwhile, is doing virtually nothing to curb Brazil's particularly virulent strain of the Zika virus.

Amir Attaran, a biologist and lawyer at the University of Ottawa who recently argued for canceling the 2016 Rio Olympics, told Foreign Policy that the “on-again, off-again impeachment” has hampered the government’s already-flawed efforts to control Zika.

Are we going to have a problem going into the coming few months with Zika and other infectious diseases in Brazil? Most definitely,” Attaran said in an interview hours before Rousseff was stripped of her presidential duties ahead of the impeachment process.“And that is most definitely caused by the political dysfunction reminiscent of a soap opera, and the long-term structural inequalities and failures of the Brazilian state.”

And now, the Olympics could help a dangerous strain of Zika go global. Attaran, who has served as an advisor to Brazil’s Ministry of Health, argued in the Harvard Public Health Review that Zika in Brazil is much more serious than previously acknowledged, and that allowing Rio to host the 2016 Olympics will speed up a global health crisis.

Rio has the highest number of probable Zika cases in the country, and the virus is more dangerous than previously thought — and not just for pregnant women, Attaran said.

If Attaran is right, Canada shouldn't be sending our athletes to Brazil and it shouldn't be allowing ordinary Canadians to go either.
Would we have hesitated to act if, instead of zika it was ebola, and, instead of Brazil it was Guinea hosting the Olympic games?
The name is the giveaway - Olympic games. They're games. They're important games, sure, but even important games aren't worth the risk of speeding up a global health crisis. 
I know. Let's find another country with usable Olympic facilities that has a functional government and isn't beset with the zika virus. Give them an extra month or two to get the facilities ready as best they can and then just head there.
Brazilian cities are terrible for humans but wonderful for disease,” Attaran said. “The reality is that you would not have a Zika outbreak if you had a properly governed country where there weren’t open pools of water where mosquitoes could breed. Where people did not live in ramshackle housing where mosquitoes could enter at will.”

Meanwhile, Rousseff’s efforts to control the virus through mosquito eradication appear to have been a failure, despite a military mobilization that Attaran calls “the single-biggest foray the country has had militarily, including during the military dictatorship.”
While it is impossible to compare the 2016 cases of Zika to 2015’s due to a lack of data, dengue fever rates suggest that the military eradication strategy was a failure. Dengue is spread by the same mosquito as Zika, so if the mosquitoes had been diminished, dengue rates would also have lowered. Instead, the first quarter of 2016 has seen a sixfold increase in dengue from last year.

Donald Trump's Longtime Butler Says Obama Should Be Killed

Montreal Simon - Thu, 05/12/2016 - 16:55

About a week ago I saw a British TV documentary where Donald Trump's former butler Anthony P. “Tony” Senecal, talked about the man he served for almost two decades.

And revealed that Trump likes everything gold, and lots and lots of mirrors.

Surprise, surprise.

And while at the time Senecal appeared to be a nice old man.

I'm sorry to say appearances can be deceiving.
Read more »

A Step Back for the West Coast.

The Disaffected Lib - Thu, 05/12/2016 - 16:18

One step forward, another step back.

Just as I heaped praise on the federal government for re-opening the Kitsilano Coast Guard station in Vancouver, it's time to dock a few points for the closure of the Coast Guard radio facility in Comox on Vancouver Island.

That leaves us with two radio facilities for the Pacific coast - Prince Rupert up in the north and Victoria in the south. Kitsilano in vote-rich Vancouver provides ready response and rescue to the south coast.

What's so important about Comox? For starters that Coast Guard station was adjacent to Canadian Forces Base Comox, the only military airfield in British Columbia which, by default, makes it the province's search and rescue centre. That's where the Cormorant helicopters and the Buffalo and Orion search aircraft are based. That's where the searches are organized and co-ordinated. Think of it as the epicentre of British Columbia's rescue operations.

Vancouver and Victoria are pretty close so there'll be a fair bit of overlap in coverage. Then there's a long stretch of empty ocean before you reach Rupert on the north coast. That gap used to be filled by Comox. Not any more.

But coast guard workers say running two communication stations is not enough to ensure the waters are safe.

"At times there will be one person covering the entire coast for safety which we feel is quite unsafe," said Scott Hodge, vice president of the coast guard union, Unifor 2182.

...But mariners have reported frequent outages and problems with the quality of the coast guard radio signal on the West Coast.

Hodge recalls one time when the signal was intermittent for hours.

"The entire west coast of the Island was unmonitored for about 14 hours — they were having interrupted communications there," said Hodge.

"This sort of thing has happened quite a bit. And we're worried this could happen in Victoria."

More worrisome yet is that prime minister Slick seems to have become increasingly amenable to the idea of an armada of dilbit-laden supertankers plying the waters of the BC coast. Hell of a time to lose radio coms.

Where is Anonymous Now That We Need Them?

The Disaffected Lib - Thu, 05/12/2016 - 14:47

Cyber vigilantes Anonymous need to get busy. They need to take down the web site of United Gun Group.

UGG has stepped in to conduct the online auction of the automatic pistol George Zimmerman used to execute Trayvon Martin.

The online website, Gun Broker, initially had the weapon for sale but took the listing down when the owners realized what was going on.

In a statement on Facebook, United Gun Group says that their stance is that as long as Mr Zimmerman "is obeying the letter of the law, his personal firearm sale will be permitted on our network."
Todd Underwood, who owns United Gun Group, confirmed the listing and told theWashington Post that "I don't support it, I don't condone it, I don't have anything against it. It's his property, it's his decision."And, as for that asshole, Zimmerman, he says he'll use the proceeds of the sale  "to 'fight' the Black Lives Matter movement and oppose Democrat Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign."

They're Killing Our Country. It's Only a Matter of Time.

The Disaffected Lib - Thu, 05/12/2016 - 11:13

The thing is they don't even think of themselves as neoliberals. They see themselves as Conservatives or Liberals or, yes, New Democrats. They're not identical, of course not, but they are in general free traders and free market fundamentalists.

It's reached the point where to not be neoliberal would be to become revolutionary. And there's nothing revolutionary about the Liberals or the NDP. Nothing. They all seek, with varying degrees of success, to run the existing neoliberal state and to perpetuate it.

They don't seek to dislodge the forces of corporatism that have come to co-govern our nation. They don't seek to reclaim the elements of our national sovereignty that were yielded much like the natives who traded Manhattan for beads.

Canadians are like other nationalities. We're tribal people. We identify ethnically, socially, and politically. A lot of us want to belong to a team and so we choose the Liberals or the Tories or perhaps the New Democrats. Many of us, once enjoined, become intensely loyal even when that loyalty turns out to be just one way. It takes a lot for most of us to leave.

A lot of us self-identify as progressive. It's a nice word - progress. Surely that's good, eh? Yes, that's for us! Only, for a lot of self-styled progressives, it means very little. Perhaps to them it's anything to the Left of Conservative. There are some who think the Liberals are a progressive party. Many New Dems are convinced their party is decidedly progressive.

Reality check. Neoliberalism is the antithesis to progressivism. Neoliberalism is corporatism. It is our modern political dynamic. None of our major parties has any interest in reverting to progressivism. That doesn't prevent us from wishing they did, even pretending they did. We cling to this empty notion that progressivism still dwells somewhere within the body politic. Okay, show me where.

Nobody fights for labour any more, not even the NDP. Addressing social issues has degenerated into how to tweak tax policy. Empty gestures.

Nobody seeks to drive the moneylenders out of the temple. With each successive free trade deal, which usually has little to merit either "free" or "trade", we yield a little more sovereign authority to our steadily growing corporate co-governor. This defeats the very essence of progressivism. In the progressive state corporations have no vote, no voice in government. The progressive state regulates commerce for the benefit of its people, not for the benefit of the government - real or perceived. That is a distinction we have lost sight of and we're paying for it. The progressive state balances the competing interests of capital and labour to ensure that individuals can provide their state, their communities and their families with the fullest benefit of their efforts. We lost sight of that too and, with it, our once vibrant, robust middle class. A progressive state wouldn't tolerate today's corporate media cartel that utterly confounds any hope of achieving an informed electorate capable of choosing how best they shall be governed.

In today's neoliberal reality, the interests of the state are not coterminous with the interests of the people. I can give you proof positive of that.

My interests and yours are long term. They're the measure of my life and my kids' lives and their kids' lives and generations to follow them.

My government's interests rarely extend beyond the next electoral cycle. What do I need to do to achieve a result in four or five years hence? What policies will do that for me? Those are the policies I shall implement as though they were the best policies for the nation, the best policies for the people. Who can help me and what do they require in return?

Neoliberal governments don't actually govern. They administer. Too much of the sovereign power has been yielded to permit actual governance as it was once known. Neoliberal government is purposefully diminished governance. We have allowed ourselves to be inextricably knitted into a global fabric in which commercial interest and sovereign power must co-exist in a power sharing relationship.

We even have regulators and referees from the World Trade Organization to the IMF to the secret courts of investor-state dispute settlement pacts. In this way governments subordinate the public interest to commercial interests - effectively forever.

Don't look to the Liberals or even the New Democrats to extract us from this. They're invested in it right up to their eyeballs. They'll have no answers for you, my Sunny Jim.

We're on the path to illiberal democracy that has already claimed other friendly nations. We may not be there yet, not fully, but we are going in that direction. You might expect electoral reform to miraculously cure this contagion but if that's your delusion of choice I suppose you're welcome to it.

What do I think we need? A new political movement, a very broad-based effort not limited by left or centre or right. A movement anchored not by some narrow band of the political spectrum but by a dedication to the restoration of progressive democracy (which, coincidentally, seems to be the title of this blog). It has to be broad based, as inclusive as possible, for it faces a daunting challenge of throwing over the existing neoliberal scourge and that is not going to happen without a fight.

I don't know. Are you up for a fight?

March for Lies 2016, Part 1

Dammit Janet - Thu, 05/12/2016 - 11:04
Clever me. I saved screen shots of the 4/20 marijuana rally from the Hill Cam to compare with March for Lies, Futility on the Hill Bunfest.

Top image today at 1:26, just before the marching, at max attendance.

Bottom image 4/20 at 4:20.


Speakers at today's bunfest claimed there were 20,000 people there.

David Akin, veteran reporter of these events, estimated 4,500, adding that that might be generous.

Or as I said:

If that's 20K people I'll eat a Knights of Columbus hat. #MarchforLies #m4l

— Fern Hill (@fernhilldammit) May 12, 2016

Part 2 will be a report on the fetus freaks' inflation of this sparse event to SEVEN GAZILLION!

I know, I Know - It Sounds Ridiculous. Still...

The Disaffected Lib - Thu, 05/12/2016 - 10:04

There are two much different ways to look at severe weather events. One is to take the small view and look at the event either as a local or national issue. The other is to go for the big picture and look at what's happening with that type of event globally.

Looking at the Fort Mac fire as a Fort McMurray or Athabasca region issue allows a guy like prime minister Slick to say "there have always been fires." Right. Looking at the devastating wildfires sweeping the world invites you to wonder if there's not something more to this than Slick wants to talk about.

Right now drought is a major issue in many regions of the planet. It's become a multi-year critical threat in the arc stretching from Bangladesh through to Vietnam. It seems our prairie provinces will be in for it again this summer. The coast too, apparently.

When you have leadership like we have in Slick, they can and often do the funniest things. There's a lot of unrest building in India over drought and water shortages. The Monsoon isn't due for another month but it hasn't been punctual or reliable lately and it's unclear whether parts of India will be able to hang on until precipitation returns. Seriously, they're talking about no water - not just for crops, not just for livestock but for people. If you're out of water it doesn't make a damn bit of difference if rains are coming in six weeks or two months. Might as well be two years.

I came across a report out of India that a member of parliament from the BJP is recommending that the Indian people organize yagyas for rain. Took a bit of digging to find out what a yagya is. Now I know. It's this:

A yagya is a Hindu ritual involving fire and sacrifice to invoke some blessing, in this case rain. Those crazy buggers, eh?

Well they're no crazier than Georgia governor, Sonny Perdue. In November, 2007, Sonny organized an official state prayer vigil for Divine intervention in the form of rain. It was a bust. In 2011 it was then Texas governor, Rick Perry's turn. Perry decided to up the ante. He didn't settle for a one or two hour prayer vigil. Perry declared a 3-day official Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas. That too was a bust and it's hard to imagine yagyas doing much better.

But I guess when you've exhausted all rational options, why not pray for rain?

Half of this is true already

The Winnipeg RAG Review - Thu, 05/12/2016 - 08:00
Painting of Cassandra in front
of Troy by Evelyn De Morgan

Obtained from Wikipedia.
Throughout the election members of Manitoba's pundit class have denounced concerns over cuts and comparisons to the Filmon administrations of the 1990s. A lot of this shade on Filmon comparisons did the admirable job, for the Pallister CONs at least, of obscuring the likely differences in governing approach between the two parties and giving the (without consideration of past governments) track record free Tories a clear advantage. Manitobans let Brian Pallister off the hook mostly on ambiguous promises of a "better Manitoba" and finding efficiencies, though in the latter days of the campaign Pallister announced plans to change labour relations in our province.

Making the last time Manitoba's had a Tory government not up for legitimate consideration was particularly strange. The man from yesterday the Conservatives chose as leader and who is now Premier of this province was a member of the Filmon cabinet. He has said "I think the Filmon government's record was admirable and I think historians will say that was one of the finest governments that Manitoba has been blessed with". There hasn't been a sharp lurch, ideologically, in the Manitoba Conservative Party away from the Right since the 1990s. Given the prominence of very rightwing figures from southern rural Manitoba in the Tory caucus and even hard right members representing Winnipeg ridings the party may even be more conservative than it was in the 1990s.

Left-progressives have been doing some preemptive organizing. Geoff Bergen, a spokesperson for the grassroots movement Solidarity Winnipeg, told The Winnipeg RAG Review the following:

Its extremely likely that if they win they will look at the books and announce that they have less money then they thought (true or not) and will institute austerity measures that will effect social services and workers livelihoods in Manitoba.- Geoff Bergen, Solidarity Winnipeg spokesperson
From the Winnipeg Free Press yesterday

"It’s worse than we thought. It’s definitely worse than we thought," he [Pallister] told reporters after his 40-member caucus was sworn in on Wednesday in a ceremony at the Legislative Building.

("Budget coming in just over two weeks: Pallister". Kusch, Larry. Winnipeg Free Press (May 11, 2016)) 
It is clear, regardless of whatever spin assuaged people that there wouldn't be a fundamentally distinct direction taken by the Pallister Government, things are playing out as skeptics predicted. This leaves us with the question of how long will it take Manitobans to recognize that the Cassandras were right? 

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Thursday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Thu, 05/12/2016 - 06:42
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Neil MacDonald discusses the unfairness in allowing a wealthy class of individuals to set up its own rules, while Jeffrey Sachs notes that the U.S. and U.K. are among the worst offenders in allowing for systematic tax evasion. And Alex Hemingway rightly points out that the recognition that a privileged few are able to flout the law makes it more difficult to establish the trust needed for society to function.

- Meanwhile, Jared Bernstein highlights the costs of trade agreements in transferring wealth and power to those who already have the most, while noting there are other factors which need to be counterbalanced as well:
There are a lot of forces other than global trade suppressing the earnings and opportunities of large swaths of workers, but trade is often the most visible one. Most economists think the lion’s share of wage inequality and stagnation is because of changes in technology that have increasingly tilted against noncollege educated workers, and Froman is saying that there’s nothing much in the way of technology dynamics against which opponents can rally.

In fact, there’s less in the way of solid, ADH-style evidence that technology is a lead culprit here. The decline of unions, eroding minimum wages, the rise of non-productive finance, and especially the persistent absence of full employment labor markets all reduce worker bargaining power, and that is the fundamental force driving wage stagnation amid growth. But Froman’s point that trade bears a disproportionate share of the public’s anger is a good one.

Still, the main message from ADH, Bivens, and the rest of us who’ve been trying to raise this cost side of the equation for decades is that these costs are real. They’re acute for many people and places and diffuse to some degree for others. Economic platitudes about how trade is always worthwhile as long as the winners can compensate the losers are an insult in the age of inequality, where the winners increasingly use their political power to claim ever more winnings.

If we don’t deal with these costs by creating real, substantive, remunerative opportunities for those hurt by trade, some demagogue is sure to come along Trumpeting a case for xenophobia, walls, tariffs and protectionism. If he’s not … um … here already.- Matthew Yglesias theorizes that work is getting safer and more fulfilling with time - which may explain in part the lack of a concerted effort to further reduce the time spent on the job.

- David Wheeler offers his take on a universal basic income, while Allan Pall writes that social programs are instead headed toward exclusion of youth among other groups.

- Finally, Thomas Walkom reminds us of the importance of putting extreme weather events such as the Fort McMurray wildfire into the context of the environmental factors which cause them. And Martin Lukacs suggests that the cost of cleaning up and rebuilding should be borne by the industry most responsible.

New column day

accidentaldeliberations - Thu, 05/12/2016 - 06:26
Here, on how Justin Trudeau's control over the federal electoral reform committee looks to extend a familiar pattern of top-down government into the design of our electoral system. (And I'll add one point here which didn't make it into the column: the committee design features a bare Lib majority which is itself likely to create strong pressure against any of their MPs acting with any independence.)

For further reading...
 - Ed Broadbent, Alex Himelfarb and Hugh Segal make their case as to what we should want from our electoral system:
The central problem with our winner-take-all system is that the composition of our elected parliament does not reflect how we actually voted. A candidate who receives a plurality of the votes wins, even if a majority of the voters chose others. The majority of the votes in such a case have no impact on the outcome of the election.
That means a party that receives only a minority of votes, say less than 40 per cent, can form a majority government, taking full control of the policy agenda. In fact, this is the norm in Canada. But this cannot continue. In a representative democracy, representativeness surely should matter....While some are pushing preferential ballots – where we rank candidates – this is not an improvement over winner-take-all. Ranked ballots can be introduced in either our current system or in a proportional system, but, on their own, they do not solve the problems. Indeed, if introduced into our current system they will create even larger false majorities and make things even less representative, as they inevitably disadvantage parties challenging the status quo whose voters deserve as much fairness as any others.
Electoral reform is not about what works for any particular party or parties in general. It’s about the public interest, what works for voters, what makes our democracy stronger. The only alternative to what we have now is a proportional system. - Meanwhile, Andrew Coyne is rightly suspicious that the Libs are conning us on electoral reform, while Chantal Hebert theorizes that the committee has been set up to fail. And Ryan Maloney reports on the Libs' continuation of the Cons' omnibus legislation and time limits.

In The Service Of Truth

Politics and its Discontents - Thu, 05/12/2016 - 06:09

There are many truths today that, thanks to the almost reflexive, visceral response of an often vitriolic social media, few dare to speak. Most recently, linking the terrible fires in Fort McMurray with climate change has been one of them. Is it insensitive and opportunistic to draw such a connection, or is it only stating the obvious?

In a recent column, Thomas Walkom did just that:
If the world’s leading climate scientists are correct, global warming raises the probability of extreme weather conditions occurring – from drought to ice storms to floods to the kind of unseasonably high temperatures experienced this spring in Fort McMurray.

To say that the inhabitants of Fort McMurray brought this disaster on themselves is dead wrong. But to say that climate change played a role is not.

The Fort McMurray wildfire is not just a freak accident. Neither was the 2013 ice storm that crippled much of Toronto.

True, these things can happen without global warming. But climate change dramatically increases the probability of their occurring.

So perhaps the politicians should get over their squeamishness and begin to ask the tough questions.Fortunately, Toronto Star readers show no such squeamishness, as the following letters amply demonstrate:
I’ve been accused of being insensitive for talking about the climate irony of the Fort McMurray wildfire, which continues to dominate the news in Canada. Many people have argued that now is not the time to discuss global warming and climate change.

I insist that now is precisely the right time to make the link between epic wildfires and climate change. Once the fire is over it will be too late. People will move on with their lives and the Fort McMurray climate disaster will be remembered as just another freak of nature as were the 2013 floods in Calgary.

Experts believe that the Fort McMurray blaze could be the new norm for wildfires as global warming continues to heat up the planet causing earlier and longer fire seasons with more severe and destructive fires. A warming climate has extended the duration of fire seasons – now 78 days longer than in 1970 according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Fort McMurray exists because of the tar sands, which produce a carbon-intensive bitumen that is adding to the world’s carbon problem. We are all consumers of oil products. This means we are all responsible for this raging inferno that has produced 88,000 climate refugees.

The climate irony continues to build. Premier Rachel Notley is now calling for the fastest possible return to full oil production by oil companies that have temporarily suspended operations. The circle is complete.

Rolly Montpellier, Ottawa

Congratulations of the highest order are due to Thomas Walkom for this column. At last we have a prominent journalist acknowledging that climate change “played a role” in this disaster.

Why political leaders, Elizabeth May excepted, have failed to admit the link is best known to themselves, but one wonders if Justin Trudeau fears that pressure may be brought to bear on him to get on quickly with transitioning from fossil fuels to electricity. This would put him at odds with the “international community,” which has, against common sense, agreed to delay action on climate change until after 2020.

What we must, regrettably, bear in mind is that the Fort McMurray fire is not a unique incident. It is part of a chain of disasters, some past, with many more to come. It seems that we cannot reduce the global temperature.

Even if the entire world switched to sustainable electricity at once (impossible), the Earth would go on warming for two more decades, then remain at the elevated temperature for 1,000 years, according to the Australian Academy of Scientists.

That’s all the more reason for drastic action, right now!

Ken Ranney, Peterborough

This discussion also begs the question of whether tar sands oil production is causing the temperature in that region to soar so high in the spring. I bet native groups would have an interesting opinion on this.

Rather than spending billions to rebuild Fort McMurray, so tar sands oil production can start up again, perhaps the federal government should be investing that money in renewable energy, wind and solar power.

Max Moore, TorontoRecommend this Post

Who Should They Serve?

Northern Reflections - Thu, 05/12/2016 - 04:42

Your local post office used to be a bank -- until 1968. That's when Canada Post got out of the banking business. But, Linda McQuaig writes, there are good reasons for restoring banking services to Canada Post's mandate:

As they’ve turned their attention to catering to the wealthy, Canada’s six big banks have shut down more than 1,700 branches across the country in recent years. In many rural communities today, you’re no more likely to see a bank than a buffalo.
This has left hundreds of thousands of Canadians without bank accounts, including many low-income city dwellers – notably young people with poor credit ratings and lack of identification – who now rely on pay-day loan companies charging annualized interest rates well above 300 per cent. 
As email cut into its profits, the executives at Canada Post suggested to the Harper government that getting back into banking could solve Canada Post's woes:
But if the idea seemed like a sure winner, it ran into a major roadblock – the fierce ideological objections of Stephen Harper’s Conservative cabinet. After all, postal banking would be public banking, and the Harperites were hell-bent on shrinking government, not expanding it.
So instead of opting for a win-win strategy, the Harper cabinet came up with a lose-lose strategy for the post office: dramatic increases in the cost of postage stamps and the elimination of home delivery.
But the proposal is back on the table. And it offers distinct advantages -- not just to the post office, but to all Canadians:
A postal banking system could even inject some competition into Canada’s highly concentrated banking sector, one of the least competitive in the world. According to a 2014 IMF report, Canada is among a handful of countries where the three largest banks control as much as 60 per cent of banking assets.
This uncompetitive situation has left Canadian bank customers – even those lucky enough to locate a branch – facing some of the world’s highest banking fees.
If postal offices throughout the country offered a range of banking services – savings accounts, low-fee chequing accounts, low-interest credit cards, small business loans – the big banks might be forced to compete, novel as that sounds.
The CEO's of the five major banks will howl. After all, "even in last year’s sluggish economy, they collectively enjoyed $35 billion in profits – about $4 million per hour per day – with bank CEOs among Canada’s top-paid executives." 
 But who should the banks serve?



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