Posts from our progressive community

When Overshoot Meets Inequality

The Disaffected Lib - Sun, 08/24/2014 - 09:54
Tuesday marked Earth Overshoot Day, 2014.  August 19th was the day by which humankind had consumed an entire year's production of renewable resources. Overall that means we're using resources more than 1.5 times the rate at which the Earth can replace them.  EOD is a moving target that, unfortunately, keeps moving in the wrong direction.

Overshoot Day got me thinking of a study that came out in March that found abrupt societal collapse was and will be triggered by two factors - overconsumption and inequality.  The researchers concluded that today's global civilization is in the throes of these very forces.

Among the findings, an egalitarian society that limits consumption to less than the natural carrying capacity of its environment can achieve an equilibrium.  Failure to live within our environment's limitations (see Overshoot above) inevitably leads to collapse.  Likewise, inequality, if not held in check, grows exponentially, also leading to collapse.  The rapid rise in inequality over the past three decades suggests we're also in the end-game phase envisioned in this research.

And so the question is, now that we've got the data and this research, what are we going to do about it?  Steady State or Full Earth economics specifically addresses what we need to restore our society to a state of equilibrium but we're saddled with a political class (in Canada, all three major parties) that are absolutely obsessed with perpetual, exponential growth.  There are two locomotives racing toward each other headlong on the same track.  One is being driven by our political class. The other is being driven by reality.  How do you think this ends?  Abruptly?

      Charts show possible scenarios for collapse of civilization.

This Is What Happens When You Run Out of Water.

The Disaffected Lib - Sun, 08/24/2014 - 09:11

Could you get by for three weeks with 12-gallons of water?  That's a smidge over 45-litres which works out to about 2 litres per day.

In Porterville, California, the county Office of Emergency Services, has delivered bottled water to 182 households where wells have now run dry.  12-gallons of water per head.  Three weeks rations.  Two litres per person per day.

East Porterville resident Angelica Gallegos fought back tears as she described being without water for four months in the home she shares with her husband,, three children and two other adults."It's hard," she told The Bee. "I can't shower the children like I used to."Farmworker Oliva Sanchez said she still gets a trickle from her tap, but dirt started coming out with the water about a week ago."I try to use the least possible. I'll move if I have to," she said.Along with experiencing inconvenience and thirst, some residents have been reluctant to speak up about being waterless because they are afraid their landlords will evict them or social workers will take their children away.
Minimum daily requirements for basic hydration are about 3-litres per day.  The UN says the daily minimum requirement per person for drinking, cooking, hygiene and sanitation is 20-litres per day.

To put that in perspective, the per capita water consumption for domestic purposes in Canada is 329-litres per day.

Meanwhile Texas is still holding out hopes for a long overdue El Nino to develop to bring "drought buster" rains this fall.

Update -

I somehow stumbled across an editorial in the Porterville Recorder dealing with the drought relief programme.  The op-ed laments that the local municipal council is using the emergency as a political football.  It seems there's an election campaign underway.

I was also struck by the libertarian views of the editors to a situation they describe as a "humanitarian crisis."

"While we strongly support efforts to help those residents who are without water, we do not feel taxpayer money should be used.  This needs to be a community effort and the city's role should stop at helping to coordinate all efforts, especially by volunteers."  

The disconnect between the municipal government and the "community" is bizarre.  The municipal government surely is the political embodiment of the community and it acts on behalf of the community.  If "the community" was going to respond to this "humanitarian crisis", chances are it would have done just that long before the muni had to purchase and distribute bottled water.

Then again, this ad appeared just beside the op-ed.

Sunday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Sun, 08/24/2014 - 08:51
Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- James Meek writes about the UK's privatization scam, and how it's resulted in citizens paying far more for the basic services which are better provided by a government which actually has the public interest within its mandate:
Privatisation failed to demonstrate the case made by the privatisers that private companies are always more competent than state-owned ones – that private bosses, chasing the carrot of bonuses and dodging the stick of bankruptcy, will always do better than their state-employed counterparts. Through euphemisms such as "wealth creation" and "enjoying the rewards of success" Thatcher and her allies have promoted the notion that greed on the part of a private executive elite is the chief and sufficient engine of prosperity for all. The result has been 35 years of denigration of the concept of duty and public service, as well as a squalid ideal of all work as something that shouldn't be cared about for its own sake, but only for the money it brings. The magic dust of the market was of little use to the bosses of the newly privatised Railtrack in the mid-1990s. They thought they could sack people with impunity – not just signalling and maintenance staff but expert engineers and researchers – and carry out a massive line-upgrade cheaply with the most advanced new technology. Unfortunately the people who could have told them that the new technology didn't exist were the people they had sacked. As a result, the company went bust in 2002, and had to be renationalised.

Privatisation failed to make firms compete or give customers more choice – said to be the canonical virtues of privatisation. Pretty hard, you would think, to privatise water companies, when they are all monopolies, with nobody to compete with, and can't offer customers a choice – neither the choice of which supplier to use nor the choice of whether to take a service or not. And yet the English water companies were privatised, and in such a way that customers have been overcharged ever since. The privatisers loved competition, but the actual privatised competitors hate it. The competitive vision of those who designed Britain's electricity privatisation – a rumbustious, referee-supervised free-for-all between sellers and makers of electricity old and new, large and small – has degenerated into an opaque oligopoly of a handful of giant players.
A tax is generally thought of as something that only a government can levy, but this is a semantic distortion that favours the free market belief system. If a payment to an authority, public or private, is compulsory, it's a tax. We can't do without electricity; the electricity bill is an electricity tax. We can't do without water; the water bill is a water tax. Some people can get by without railways, and some can't; they pay the rail tax. Students pay the university tax. The meta-privatisation is the privatisation of the tax system itself; even, it could be said, the privatisation of us, the former citizens of Britain. By packaging British citizens up and selling them, sector by sector, to investors, the government makes it possible to keep traditional taxes low or even cut them. By moving from a system where public services are supported by progressive general taxation to a system where they are supported exclusively by the flat fees people pay to use them, they move from a system where the rich are obliged to help the poor to a system where the less well-off enable services that the rich get for what is, to them, a trifling sum. The commodity that makes water and power cables and airports valuable to an investor, foreign or otherwise, is the people who have no choice but to use them. We have no choice but to pay the price the toll-keepers charge. We are a human revenue stream; we are being made tenants in our own land, defined by the string of private fees we pay to exist here. - Meanwhile, Paul Watson compares Norway's well-planned savings and use of oil resources for public benefit to Canada's increasingly reckless rush to give away every resource a multinational corporation can rip out of the ground:
They’re succeeding because Norway holds an unshakable principle, one that has survived political shifts to the right and left since huge offshore oil reserves were discovered in 1969.

The canon was set four decades earlier in a national debate over ownership of hydro-electric projects, and it bridged a generation, from waterfalls to oil wells: Norway’s natural resources belong to the people.

“International companies resisted the model very much, but they had no choice. They had to accept it,” says Terje Hagen, an economist at the University of Oslo. “I think the agreement in parliament was quite broad.” Norway’s current Conservative-led coalition government justifies one of the world’s highest tax rates on oil company profits this way: petroleum and natural gas are finite resources that generate higher profits than other enterprises and therefore command higher taxes.
Norway’s government takes 78 per cent of oil company profits in tax, which quickly runs to billions of dollars a year. The fund multiplies through investments in stocks, bonds and property holdings.

It is quickly closing in on $1 trillion, just 18 years after Norway made an initial investment of around $345 million in 1996.

The government spends a portion of the profits each year on improving people’s lives while staying true to the earlier generation who decided it would be wrong to splurge on themselves.

By Norwegian standards, Canada has squandered a lot of its resource riches instead of locking up the royalties and taxes oil companies pay into long-term investments and enjoying the benefits of steadily growing profits.

A small but growing group of policy analysts think Canadians should overcome their history of provinces often jealously guarding resource revenues and do more sharing for the long-term, national good.- The Vancouver Sun reports on BMO's study into the cycle of debt and stress facing younger Canadians.

- And speaking of gratuitous stress on workers, Don Pittis recognizes the fundamental unfairness of allowing Quebec's government to wriggle out from under agreed pension benefits at the expense of employees who have counted on what they've been promised, while Honour Our Deal has an update on the similar attack on Regina civic pensions. But the CP reports that the New Brunswick NDP is taking a stand to protect needed retirement income from other parties who would gleefully legislate it out of existence.

- Finally, James Surowiecki discusses the economics behind the development of prescription drugs - and how the lack of incentive to develop effective new antibiotics may prove just as deadly for us in the future as the similar neglect in combating Ebola is in the developing world today.

We Need To Do What These Guys Are Doing

The Disaffected Lib - Sun, 08/24/2014 - 08:46

"These guys" are the Brits.  What they're doing is taking an inventory of their transportation infrastructure to assess its vulnerability to severe storm events caused by 'early onset' climate change.  The good news is that the Brits get it. They know climate change is real and that they're going to have to adapt or else.  In other words, the Brits have concluded that infrastructure designed for Halocene conditions just can't cut it in the Anthropocene.

Britain's crumbling rail network is not built to "modern standards" and is at risk of a repeat of the severe disruption of last winter unless urgent action is taken, according to a major new report being considered by ministers.
A review of the transport network's resilience was commissioned in the wake of the storms and floods of last winter. Cornwall and much of Devon were cut off and rail services west of Exeter suspended for two months after storms washed away the main line at Dawlish.
The report warns that it is a case of when, not if, disruption happens again. The severe winter of last year will be a regular fixture, it says.
But that sort of thing could never happen here, right?  Right?  Wrong.  This happened in Calgary last summer.

Over the summer we've witnessed how climate change impacts are overwhelming infrastructure across North America.  For example, storm sewer systems we designed and built to handle 19th and 20th century conditions can't handle the heavy downpours we get today and, for some, it's getting very, very expensive.
Jeff and Joanna Stefanek are homeowners in the Chicago suburb of Burbank. They know a thing or two about flash floods.  You might even say that, by now, they're pros.  They knew what to do when floodwater began pouring into their home Friday morning.
The Stefaneks got hit hard, but they were not alone.Not that that was any solace. They dashed around the house, moving high-priced electronics such as a sound system and TV to higher ground atop sofas and tables. Jeff tried to save improvements such as new doors and woodwork he has installed since the last bout of flooding.He was unable to “and now we have about $15,000 in damage,” he said.It flooded in 2010 and we gutted the house. It flooded again in 2013. It was like taking five steps back. And this is the second time it flooded this year,” he said.The regional authority in Cook County is working on a flood relief plan that's due in five years.  Five years.  I expect the Stefaneks will be long gone by then.  The US National Weather Service has just issued another flash flooding advisory for their region.

Finding Vivian Maier: A Documentary Recommendation

Politics and its Discontents - Sun, 08/24/2014 - 08:32

I feel like taking a break from writing about politics today, so I will briefly turn to another of my favorite topics, documentaries, two posts about which I have written in the past.

Like politics, documentaries at their best deal with nature - either the nature that we are part of, or human nature. Today's recommendation deals with the latter, exploring both the life and the work of amateur photographer Vivian Maier, whose prodigious output was discovered only after her death.

Although there remains much to be digitized, many of her pictures can be viewed here. In my mind, her eye is reminiscent of legendary photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson's; both are able to capture those telling moments in life that say so much about us in often subtle, understated ways.

TVO recently showed the documentary Finding Vivian Maier. Here is its introduction:

This fascinating documentary shuttles from New York to France to Chicago as it traces the life story of the late Vivian Maier, a career nanny whose previously unknown cache of 100,000 photographs has earned her a posthumous reputation as one of America's most accomplished and insightful street photographers. When Vivian Maier died in 2009 at age eighty-three, she left behind more than 100,000 negatives of her street photography -images that she'd scarcely shared with anyone. She had spent most of her adult life as a nanny with no spouse, no children of her own and no close ties. Her photographs and belongings were hidden in storage, until the rent came overdue and the facility auctioned them off. They might have vanished into obscurity were it not for the intervention of John Maloof, a twenty six- year-old amateur historian in Chicago, who purchased a box of her unidentified photographs and became obsessed by what he discovered.

You can watch the film by clicking here. If your computer has an hdmi output, I would recommend watching it on your television.Recommend this Post

The Relentless Advance of the Surveillance/Security State

The Disaffected Lib - Sun, 08/24/2014 - 08:06
I'm not sure how this can be abused but I expect clever minds will be exploiting it very soon.

How about a smartphone app that allows cops to zero in on a specific area and see what everyone's up to?  It's called Geofeedia.

By tuning in to social media, police can see what’s happening in their community in real time with live surveillance of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Flickr, Picasa and Viddy and with location-based monitoring platforms like Geofeedia, a subscription-based service now used by Chicago police and 200 other departments as well as corporations and the news media, according to Ted Motley, Geofeedia’s account executive.Police can zero in on a geographic area and see what people are talking about on social media, find out exactly where they are and who their friends are. They can find witnesses, establish timelines, identify suspects and monitor specific sites for potential threats.“It’s a fast, easy way to see what is happening in a specific location,” Geofeedia office manager Geneva Malagutti said.And it seems there's no need for a warrant either.  You put it out there, Geofeedia vacuums it up and hands it over to those interested in learning a lot more about you.

libraries and ebooks: a good fit, but a very bad deal, or why library users should just say no to ebooks

we move to canada - Sun, 08/24/2014 - 08:00
Do you ever borrow ebooks from your public library? Do you have any idea how your library adds ebooks to its collection, or at what cost?

The number of library customers who borrow ebooks is growing all the time. How many of them, I wonder, are aware of how their library gets screwed every time they do.

Even some library staff is unaware of the raw deal libraries are getting when it comes to ebooks. Library-themed journals, blogs, and conferences are filled with talk about digital technology and resources. Yet in this deluge of discussion, there is too little exposing - and opposing - the unfair and unnecessary economics of ebooks for public libraries.

Here it is simply. Digital access to a single title - one ebook - costs the public library $85. That $85 is good for only 26 downloads. And only one customer can borrow the ebook at a time.

Under this arrangement, publishers have the best of both worlds. For borrowing purposes, the ebook is treated like a single copy of a print book: only one customer can borrow one title at any given time. But for licensing purposes, the ebook is treated as a controlled digital resource that must be licensed and continually renewed.

Libraries already pay more than full price for print books. There's no volume discount, or non-profit discount. But in the case of ebooks, libraries pay exorbitant fees, anywhere from eight times to 500 times as much as the general public. A print book is available to a theoretically infinite number of library customers, until it physically falls apart. An $85 ebook is available for 26 downloads. After that, the library has the option of licensing it again - essentially re-buying it - for another $85, good for another 26 customers.

This is a blatant ripoff and a terrible use of public funds.

Canadian author and blogger Cory Doctorow has been instrumental in trying to focus attention on this issue.
While I was in Chicago, I sat down with some of the ALA strategists to talk about how libraries are getting a raw deal on e-books. When libraries want to buy an ebook from the publisher, they find themselves paying as much as five times the price you or I pay for the same book. Literally – librarians are paying $60-80, and sometimes more, to include current release frontlist titles in their collections. Each of these ebooks can only be lent to one patron at a time, which means that libraries are sometimes buying a dozen – or more – of these overpriced text-files.

Not only that, but libraries have to buy these books with DRM on them, and invest in expensive, proprietary collection-management software from companies like Overdrive in order to ensure that only one patron at a time can check out any given ebook. These ebooks come with restrictions that don’t appear on regular print books; they can’t be sold on as used books once their circulations drop below a certain threshold; neither can they be shared with another library’s patrons though standard practices like interlibrary loan, a mainstay of libraries for more than a century.

To add insult to injury, HarperCollins insists that libraries delete their ebooks after they are circulated 26 times. This has been pitched as having some parallel to the fact that many library books eventually disintegrate and have to be discarded. But this is both wrong and perverse. Wrong because the 26-circulation cutoff bears no relationship to how many times a book can circulate before it falls to bits. It amazes me to think that HarperCollins wants to frame its products as so badly manufactured that they can’t withstand being read 27 or more times. But beyond the factual problems with a 26-circ cap, there is the fundamental perversity of celebrating and importing the limitations of physical media into the digital world. It’s like insisting that electric bulbs be limited to outputting no more than one lumen of light, since that’s all a comparably-sized candle would manage. The fact that books don’t last forever is not a feature to be preserved through the digital transition: it’s a bug, and the sooner we eliminate it, the better.The American Library Association, the parent organization of all North American library associations, formed a group called Authors for Library Ebooks (@Authors4LE on Twitter), which seeks to enlist writers to the cause.
Did you know that many ebooks are not available to most libraries at any price? Of those we can buy, libraries frequently pay 150 to 500% more than the consumer price, forcing us to purchase fewer copies for library readers to discover. As more books appear only in electronic form, the situation will become intolerable for our nation’s readers. . . .

The Authors for Library Ebooks campaign seeks to add author voices to those of librarians and readers in support of equitable access to digital content through libraries. There are many ways you can support this effort:

Sign on to the Authors Stand with Libraries statement.

Help us raise awareness of this issue with publishers, other authors and the general public.

Learn more about what’s at stake.Art Brodsky, in an excellent piece in Wired, explains how the "collusion of large ebook distributors in pricing...contribute[s] to the ever-growing divide between the literary haves and have-nots."
How do such restrictions reinforce the divide between haves and have-nots?

Imagine walking into a library or bookstore and needing three or four pairs of different glasses to read different books manufactured to specific viewing equipment. Or buying a book and then having to arbitrarily destroy it after say, two weeks. That’s just nuts. But it’s the current situation we’re in with ebooks. . . .

Sadly, pricing changes the game for library access altogether because ebook distributors have radically changed the pricing from that of regular books.

Take the example of J.K. Rowling’s pseudonymous book, Cuckoo’s Calling. For the physical book, libraries would pay $14.40 from book distributor Baker & Taylor — close to the consumer price of $15.49 from Barnes & Noble and of $15.19 from Amazon. But even though the ebook will cost consumers $6.50 on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, libraries would pay $78 (through library ebook distributors Overdrive and 3M) for the same thing.

Somehow the “e” in ebooks changes the pricing game, and drastically. How else does one explain libraries paying a $0.79 to $1.09 difference for a physical book to paying a difference of $71.50 just because it’s the electronic version? It’s not like being digital makes a difference for when and how they can lend it out.

In another wrinkle: Random House jacked up its ebook prices to libraries 300 percent last year, and HarperCollins limits the number of check-outs per ebook. This means libraries have to lease another “copy” when they reach a certain threshold … as if the ebook had died or something. In fact, that’s the problem some authors have with ebooks — not just that they earn less money on them, but that “They never degrade. They are perpetual. That harms writers directly,” as historian and novelist David O. Stewart has observed.

These authors don’t mind the high prices charged to libraries because they don’t even like libraries to begin with. Stewart has called libraries “undeniably socialist” because books can be loaned out (for free!) many times, costing writers money from presumably lost sales. This is the same justification book publishers use for their distorted ebook pricing.

But that’s just wrong. Most physical books in libraries aren’t tattered and worn out, particularly hardbacks. And just because an ebook may last forever doesn’t mean it will be read. Reader demand changes with the cultural context: When The Help was at the top of the Times’ fiction best-seller list for 15 weeks in 2011, readers had to wait weeks for copies to come back to their libraries; but now, 39 out of the 79 copies of the book in my local library system are available for checkout.

There are some enlightened authors, like Jodi Picoult and Cory Doctorow, who have joined the Authors for Library E-books campaign, which adds author voices to those of librarians and readers in support of equitable access to digital content. As their site notes, not only are many books not even available to libraries at any price, but those that are can only be purchased at 150 to 500 percent more than the consumer price — “forcing us to purchase fewer copies for library readers to discover.”Once I learned how ebooks were gobbling up library budgets, I wished the library world had turned its collective back on ebooks altogether. I would rather see the entire ebooks budget spent on print resources, or even on DVDs and videogames. That would certainly bring more resources to more people, which is part of our mission. But that ship has sailed. Libraries cannot afford to be perceived as antiquated or anti-technology, and library customers deserve access to all available formats. The problem is not ebooks: it's publishers and distributors - and overly restrictive digital-rights management.

Way back when, when wmtc featured "we like lists" posts, there was a post called "it was the best of lists, it was the worst of lists". We identified both the good and the bad in the same thing. One of those lists, courtesy of M@, was about ebooks.
I like that:

1. They tend to be cheaper.

2. There's an opportunity, currently being somewhat fulfilled but possibly to improve, for authors to be better compensated for their work.

3. The democratization of publishing is possible in the way that the democratization of music happened in the last 10 years or so.

4. They really are very convenient to buy and read.

5. Every book can be available to every internet-connected person on earth.


1. I like the tangible properties of books.

2. I love browsing bookshelves, both in stores and in people's homes. Browsing virtual bookshelves doesn't even compare.

3. Book prices have not stabilized. Currently many e-books cost more than their trade paperback equivalents, not less. There is no good reason for this.

4. I find flipping through reference books a great way to find things I didn't know I wanted to learn; I find flipping through any book a good way to get a sense of whether it's worth reading or not. There is no equivalent in an e-book.

5. I can't figure out how to sign electronic copies of my books.I agree with everything on this list, although I have grave concerns about a democratization movement that depends on access to and comfort with technology, since those are not democratically distributed.

But for me personally, I wouldn't care if I never read another ebook again. The only advantage I find is the ease of carrying them around: they lighten the load on my shoulder or in my backpack. Other than that, I agree with the more than 60% of young readers surveyed in the UK: I prefer print books.

I get 100% of my news and other reading online - no broadcast or cable TV, no print newspapers, no print magazines. But when it comes to books, I prefer print. And when it comes to libraries, I prefer our budgets not be held hostage to profit-driven digital-rights-management schemes.

Ditching It

Northern Reflections - Sun, 08/24/2014 - 06:15

Stephen Harper spent the week wandering around the North, crowd testing his stump speech for the 2015 election. Chantal Hebert writes that, before decides to take the plunge, Harper faces two challenges.

The first is Michael Chong's parliamentary reform bill -- which would put significant curbs on his power. Because Chong and former Conservative M.P. Brent Rathgeber seem to be the only Harper M.P.'s courageous enough to think for themselves, the prime minister will probably swat aside that potential problem.

But he faces a bigger problem -- a by-election for Jim Flaherty's Oshawa-Whitby seat:

For as long as the former finance minister was its MP, the riding of Whitby-Oshawa was not on anyone’s list of top seats at play and that likely would not have changed had the Conservatives succeeded in bringing Flaherty’s widow, Christine Elliott, over to the federal arena.
But Elliott, who was reelected to the Ontario legislature in the spring, has set her sights on the provincial Tory leadership and Tim Hudak’s succession.Whitby-Oshawa landed in the Conservative column in 2006 and Flaherty increased his share of the vote to more than 50 per cent over the two subsequent elections. But it was previously in Liberal hands and the party has been on a bit of a by-election roll since Justin Trudeau became its leader.

In the recent Ontario election -- where provincial and federal ridings are congruent -- politics took a distinctly anti-Harper turn. And it's worth remembering that Flaherty's seat used to belong to former NDP leader Ed Broadbent. Voters in that riding could prove to be far more independent than Harper's caucus.

If Harper loses Oshawa-Whitby, it could serve as a bell weather for what will happen in Ontario. If Ontario turns against Harper, he will have no majority. And, if a majority is out of reach, Harper will have to ditch his stump speech -- and, perhaps, politics altogether.

Stephen Harper's Great Paranoid Tour of the North

Montreal Simon - Sun, 08/24/2014 - 04:02

Well it's hard to know what exactly Stephen Harper is doing up north. 

Whether he's there to make more promises he never keeps. Or hide from the media.

Or warn us the Russians are coming.

Or just share a quiet crazy moment with his wife Laureen...

But one thing is for sure eh?

He's using the trip, and our hard earned tax dollars, to attack the opposition parties. 
Read more »

Tina Fontaine and the Utter Bestiality of Stephen Harper

Montreal Simon - Sun, 08/24/2014 - 00:54

They held a funeral service for Tina Fontaine yesterday and how sad it was was. 

"Our sweet girl is now reunited with her daddy and the angels," long-time family friend Sandra Longford said during the eulogy. Longford went on to sing Never Alone, the same song she sang at Tina's father's funeral just four years earlier.

And my sorrow over the death of yet another young aboriginal woman, is only matched by my hatred for her bestial killer, and my contempt for Stephen Harper.

"It's very clear that there has been very fulsome study of this particular … of these particular things. They're not all one phenomenon," said Harper. "We should not view this as a sociological phenomenon. We should view it as crime."

The bestial leader who would show us yet again why he is unfit to be a Canadian Prime Minister.
Read more »

Wrong side of history

Cathie from Canada - Sun, 08/24/2014 - 00:26
Well, in one sense, I guess you could argue that Harper is right when he says that bringing to justice the murderers of Aboriginal women is a law enforcement matter. Ultimately, of course it is.
The problem has been that Canadian law enforcement hasn't been finding out why so many Aboriginal women are missing or murdered, and who is doing it.
And the Harper Cons have zero credibility on this issue, anyway, with their funding cuts to the Sisters in Spirit initiative and transferring the money to the RCMP.  If our justice system isn't part of the solution, that means it is part of the problem. And this is why an inquiry is needed, to find out why it has been too easy for Aboriginal women to disappear in our society, and why their murderers are not being brought to justice.
As Trudeau says:

The prime minister has shown himself not to be simply . . . just out of touch with Canadians on this issue, but also on the wrong side of history.”

On broken connections

accidentaldeliberations - Sat, 08/23/2014 - 16:01
The CP reported here on Sana Hassainia's resignation from the NDP caucus and the immediate aftermath. And it's worth taking a look at both the narrow view that seems to have led Hassainia (among others) to choose to be isolated from party politics, and the unfortunate response from the NDP.

I haven't commented much personally on the Gaza crisis, so I'll quickly summarize my take on the NDP's official position. Initially, Mulcair did seem all too eager to take the same line as the other federal leaders: the NDP's position included no questioning whatsoever of Israel's incursion into Gaza, and gave little voice to Palestinian humanitarian considerations. But to be clear, that position doesn't seem to have been forced on other NDP MPs, who have taken at least some of their own action from the beginning.
And that wasn't the end of the matter either. In no small part in response to what seems to have been some strong internal pressure, the NDP's official position has come to include both far more recognition of the Gaza humanitarian crisis, and direct criticism of the IDF's most galling actions.

Now, that position doesn't go as far as some within the NDP - including Hassainia herself - would like to see. But it's well worth noting that internal influence seems to have had a real effect on the party's public position - an area in which the NDP stands alone among federal parties. And one would think an MP hoping to shape the course of events would recognize the opportunity offered by a place within that type of caucus and party.

Instead, Hassainia resigned from the NDP caucus - making for a particularly interesting choice in light of the normal pressures on MPs. 

The best explanation as to why most MPs toe the party line is the need for party support and leadership approval in future elections. And Hassainia's decision not to run again in 2015 would have eliminated any perceived need to curry Mulcair's favour - or indeed to remain within the caucus at all.

But by the same token, Hassainia's intention not to run again also left her effectively immune to the most obvious forms of leadership control over an individual MP. And it's hard to see how she'd expect to have more influence as an independent with no plan to run for office again than as a caucus member for the next year.

Which leads to a more general problem for many of the people who are (at times rightly) frustrated with top-down party politics. To my mind, the only practical means of reversing that unfortunate trend is to ensure that parties themselves are forced to be responsive to members through effective internal mechanisms. And the choice to walk away from the most significant group of reasonably like-minded people in the country hardly seems likely to build the movement needed to ensure that check is in place.

Meanwhile, Mulcair's response to Hassainia's departure unfortunately seems to reflect the worst of politics as sport. Just as individual activists should have every reason to want to maintain a relationship with like-minded people within the party structure, so too should any party want to maintain the best possible relationship with people who agree on most issues - as appears to be the case for Hassainia.

Instead, the choice to personally criticize Hassainia as she departed - particularly on questionable grounds - merely ensures that somebody who was willing to run for the NDP an election ago (and the people around her) will have reason to carry a grudge long after the immediate context of her departure would otherwise have been forgotten. And all to accomplish little more than to entrench as "us versus them" mentality.

In sum, then, Hassainia's resignation should serve as a cautionary reminder of what should be obvious points. Activists are best served cultivating party connections rather than withdrawing from the only system that can possibly effect the change they seek; likewise, parties are best served working to build and maintain positive connections among people of all levels of involvement and connection (including those who have raised tough questions), rather than going out of their way to attack anybody who dares to wander out of their tent. And the more we forget those simple principles, the harder it will be to build a people-powered alternative to the politics we recognize as problematic.

The Washington Post Asks - Was Putin Right?

The Disaffected Lib - Sat, 08/23/2014 - 11:08

It was last September when Vladimir Putin penned an op-ed about Syria that ran in The New York Times.  The West rejected Putin's views then but now The Washington Post asks whether Putin was right all along.

Putin argued against American airstrikes on the Assad regime. 

"A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance."

"Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country," Putin wrote, suggesting that the nominally secular Assad regime, despite its misdeeds, was a stabilizing force preferable to what could possibly replace it.

Putin decried the growing Islamist cadres in the Syrian rebels' ranks: "Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria?"
It's plain that Putin's position was not purely altruistic.  Russia has a relationship with Assad that extends to naval basing rights for the Russian navy.  Despite that he did foresee the problem of Islamist extremism infiltrating the Syrian rebel movement.  The Americans, however, believed that the Syrian regime would go the way of the Arab Spring and so we repeated the cardinal mistake we also made in Libya.

Now, like a zealous malignancy, ISIL has morphed into ISIS, threatening both the Iraqi and Syrian states and, in turn, possibly the stability of the entire Middle East. 

It's Not That We Disagree, It's That I Despise Your Ideas

The Disaffected Lib - Sat, 08/23/2014 - 10:20
When ever I read another article and view another series of photographs of the carnage Israel has inflicted on the civilian population of Gaza and then think of the Netanyahu apologists, Trudeau and Mulcair, I despise them and any party that would tolerate much less follow their views.  That these two greasy opportunists haven't been tossed to the street for their blatant pandering tells me all I need to know about the Liberal Party and the New Democrats. 

Our general election is less than a year away, possibly much sooner if Harper sees a window of opportunity in which to catch the opposition off balance.  Trudeau is said to be the odds-on favourite and the ranks of non-Conservatives fairly swoon at the idea of someone "less worse" to replace Harper in ruining Canada.

We have, for years, been ruled by a despotic, manipulative, chronically secretive and dishonest, bully boy. Stephen Harper set out to dislocate Canada's political centre far and permanently to the right.  Fulsomely aided and abetted by the parliamentary lap dogs we still call Liberals and New Democrats, Stephen Harper has succeeded.  With the shameless collaboration of the so-called "opposition" parties, Canada is now firmly in the grasp of neoliberalism.  It's all free market capitalism from here on in and democracy and social justice be buggered. 

It is the fundamental duty of the Liberal and New Democrat leaders to campaign to restore Canada's political centre to its natural place.  Polls and studies show that, despite occasional claims to the contrary, the public remains slightly centre-left.  The Canadian people have been abandoned not just by the Conservatives but also the Liberals and New Dems.

"Less worse" is not an acceptable standard on which to support anyone and certainly not for the sake of replacing Harper with a Harper-lite.  That's merely substituting a coward for a fiend.  At the end of the day it may be a difference devoid of much distinction.

I understand all the arguments about how it is unwise for opposition parties to unveil policy in advance of an election campaign.  What puts the lie to that is the Green Party whose clear and sensible platform is available for all to see on its web site.  That platform sets a useful standard by which to measure both Liberals and New Democrats in the election that draws ever closer.  Prepare to be abjectly disappointed.

The 2015 election is not one that I look forward to if only because I expect disappointment on a grand scale from Harper's rivals. 

They'll make vague promises about electoral reform and call for more studies and position papers but the reform they can and should make if we're foolish enough to hand them the keys is voting reform in the Commons.  Anything that's not a confidence vote should be a free vote.  Whipped votes should be a last resort.

They'll probably support the already unviable bitumen mining industry with energy policies that are inconsistent, contradictory and unrealistic.  Mulcair says "no tankers" but I don't believe him for a minute.  If Canada is to make a meaningful effort to mitigate the impacts of climate change we will have to make hard decisions about the very future of Athabasca. 

They will ignore that other grave threat to Canada's democratic freedom - our corporate media cartel.  Only the Greens are honest enough to recognize this threat and call for a break up of the cartel through divestiture, the only effective way to undo toxic concentration of ownership and monopolistic cross-ownership of media outlets.  The Canadian people need the greatest diversity of voices expressing opinions of the widest range across the entire political spectrum.  That's how ideas and information are conveyed to nurture a genuinely informed public capable of exercising their political franchise. 

Inequality, that wrecking-ball of the middle class that corrodes social cohesion leaving the many vulnerable to the few, is getting scant attention from Trudeau or Mulcair.  I've not heard either of them acknowledge that most inequality has very little to do with merit or market-forces but is a largely legislated outcome arising from tax policy, subsidies and deferrals of all sorts, and the surrender of natural resources, the property of all Canadians, either free or at far-below market value.

I have yet to hear Mulcair or Trudeau acknowledge that fighting the scourge of inequality entails more than narrowing gaps in wealth and income but, even more, depends on bolstering equality of opportunity that requires rehabilitating our public education and healthcare systems.  If we want productive young people, we must ensure that they are able to access advanced education that is affordable.  We have to see funding health care and education not as a cost but as an investment.

They will avoid mentioning the urgent need to restore the balance between labour and capital so fundamental to the maintenance of social cohesion and prosperity.  Labour didn't abandon Andrea Horwath because it preferred Wynne's table manners.

They will not commit to the sort of national works programme Canada so badly needs to construct essential infrastructure capable of withstanding climate change impacts throughout this century.  We are struggling with infrastructure designed and built to cope with the climate we enjoyed in the 19th and 20th centuries.  The Halocene is over.  The Anthropocene is here to stay.  Even 'early onset' climate change is already visiting us with severe storm events of increasing frequency, intensity and duration.  We have to invest an enormous sum of money into this because, if we don't, the costs and losses will be even greater.

We need a foreign policy more akin to what we had in the post-WWII decades, not the 'muscular' foreign policy so admired by Ignatieff and Harper.  The world is awash in guns and soldiers to wield them. It doesn't need Canada's paltry warfighting ability.  We can do far more good furnishing what has become so scarce today - superlative peacekeeping forces and global, "honest-broker" mediation.  We've gone the "All the King's horses and all the King's men" route.  We did it in Libya and Afghanistan.  Just marvel in awe at our grand successes.

These are all matters that speak to the future of Canada and the wellbeing of our people, both today and for generations to come.  These are matters beyond the myopia of neoliberalism.  We have lost invaluable time during Harper's machinations.  We don't have the luxury of squandering even more time on those who are in line to succeed him.

Missouri situation: -"St. Louis cop: 'If I need to, I will kill whole bunch more"

LeDaro - Sat, 08/23/2014 - 09:44
(CNN) -- A Missouri police officer involved in maintaining security in troubled Ferguson was put on administrative leave Friday after a video surfaced showing him railing about the Supreme Court, Muslims, and his past -- and perhaps, he said, his future -- as "a killer."

Watch the video and read the story here

Saturday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Sat, 08/23/2014 - 09:10
This and that for your weekend reading.

- Matthew Yglesias writes that while increased automation may not eliminate jobs altogether, it may go a long way toward making them more menial. And Jerry Dias recognizes that we won't see better career opportunities emerge unless we make it a shared public priority to develop them:
(I)ncreasingly, the people I meet – both in the labour movement and outside (including in some business circles) – talk about the need for greater dialogue on the issues of the day, particularly as they relate to jobs and the economy. People have expressed to me an urgent need to bring the best ideas together to come up with real solutions to us move out from under the dark shadow of long-term chronic underemployment. People are also expressing their frustration that we are being told that good jobs are a thing of the past. We know good jobs are possible. And people are telling me they want labour, business and government leadership to work together to ensure we all have access to good jobs.
The Good Jobs Summit will bring together seemingly disparate parties – industry, government, NGOS, students, academic institutions, workers and trade unions – to discuss the need for decent jobs and come up with solutions. Up for discussion will be the chronic underemployment of young, overqualified workers; growing precarity in the labour market; how we can make ‘bad jobs’ better and where the good jobs will come from in the economy of today and in the future.
I’m confident that we can do better, that we can create an economy that churns out far more good jobs than bad, that creates an environment where precarious employment is a thing of the past, and that everyone who is able to work can find a decent job that helps support themselves and their family. - But Graham Lanktree notes that the Cons are instead looking to push CETA on the country - which figures to both drive away existing jobs, and limit the ability of Canadian governments to support new ones. Which means that it's no wonder Canadians are increasingly pessimistic (PDF) about both their own positions, and the overall prospects for workers. And Andrew Jackson observes that tax giveaways to businesses - likely the only public policy tool not taken off the table by the corporate trade movement - don't do anything at all to boost innovation or development.

- John Thompson rightly slams Stephen Harper for rejecting an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women based on nothing more than wilful stupidity. And Catherine Latimer comments on the Cons' elimination of factual research into criminal justice policy lest their "tough on crime" posturing be exposed for its ineffectiveness.

- The New Republic weighs in on the Cons' silencing of climate scientists, while the Ottawa Citizen editorial board calls on the Cons to let them speak. And Michael Spratt discusses the Cons' broader fight against inconvenient reality and the evidence which tends to expose it.

- Finally, near the top of the list of areas where we have reason to worry about the Cons' aversion to facts lies their willingness to ignore safety standards for Arctic deep-water drilling. And Lana Payne reminds us what happened last time the Cons figured they could let the oil industry handle public safety for itself.

At War With Reality

Northern Reflections - Sat, 08/23/2014 - 07:15


In a recent speech to the Canadian Medical Association, Health Minister Rona Ambrose told her audience:

“At the end of the day, for policymakers like me, it’s the medical science and data-based evidence that must guide our decisions on health sector regulation and allocation of resources.”

It was a remarkable statement. In October, she announced that her government would no longer allow doctors to prescribe medical heroin because:

There is no evidence at this point that heroin … giving heroin to heroin addicts … is any way an effective treatment … As I said, there is no evidence that this is an effective, safe treatment … no clinical evidence … There is no clear evidence to suggest that this a safe treatment and it’s not a good idea for Health Canada to be supporting giving heroin to heroin addicts when there’s no scientific evidence that this is a safe treatment …

But Michael Spratt writes:

Actually, there’s copious evidence supporting the use of medical-grade opiates to treat addiction. The European Monitoring Centre for Drug and Drug Addiction released a 176-page study on the use of doctor-supervised medicinal heroin. Here’s what the study found:

Over the past 15 years, six RCTs have been conducted involving more than 1,500 patients, and they provide strong evidence, both individually and collectively, in support of the efficacy of treatment with fully supervised self-administered injectable heroin, when compared with oral MMT, for long-term refractory heroin-dependent individuals. These have been conducted in six countries: Switzerland (Perneger et al., 1998); the Netherlands (van den Brink et al., 2003); Spain (March et al., 2006); Germany (Haasen et al., 2007), Canada (Oviedo-Joekes et al., 2009) and England (Strang et al., 2010).
For Harperians, when facts get in the way of ideology, facts lose. This is particularly true at the Ministry of Justice:

In May the federal government cut Justice’s research budget by $1.2 million. According to an internal government report, the Justice Department’s research budget was slashed just as an internal report for the deputy minister was warning its findings “may run contrary to government direction” and have “at times left the impression that research is undermining government decisions” and is not “aligned with government or departmental priorities.”

And, so, the they continue their war on reality. And, when reality gets in the way, they create their own.

Explaining Justin Trudeau

Politics and its Discontents - Sat, 08/23/2014 - 06:12

No matter what the Liberal leader says or does, his popularity ranks at a consistently high level. While part of the explanation for his standings in the polls surely lies in the Canadian people's weariness with the Harper regime, a regime that has shown itself, through its practices of division, neoliberal politics and fear/hate-mongering, to be unworthy of public office, there must be more to it than that.

Rick Salutin, writing in The Star, offers up an interesting perspective in a piece entitled Paradoxical public art of seeming human. His thesis is that the more a person appears like one of us, i.e., flawed and fallible, the more we will identify with him or her.

He uses as an example the televised debate between Kathleen Wynne, Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath. Young Tim pretended to be just an ordinary, folksy kind of guy:

“Look, I’m not gonna be the best actor on the stage. I’m not gonna get up here and give a great performance.” It was a rehearsed shtick, a shucks/shtick. He did it with the rictus grin that others — NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, U.S. neo-con Bill Kristol — paste on, presumably because experts tell them they look too stern.

Contrasting that studied 'ordinariness' was Kathleen Wynne, who

sounded bad and looked flustered answering questions on corruption in that debate, but flustered is human, so she also made ground, by contrast with the “human” effects well-prepped by her opponents.

Salutin then examines Trudeau, pere et fils:

Human is human. There’s no formula. Pierre Trudeau looked human by not seeming to give a crap whether anyone cared if he looked human. It was effective.

Now Justin is pulling off the same thing though not in his dad’s way, which would be fatal. He’s warm, ebullient, spontaneous. It seems real, which is as much as we’ll ever know. When he apparently improvised a new anti-abortion policy at a scrum, he looked befuddled by the questions. “Uh, that is an issue that, uh” — then he takes a really long pause as if lost in thought, remembers the press are there, tries again: “I’ve committed in my . . . ” Then cheerily gives up: “Well, it is a tough one.” Says he’ll give it more thought.

While this apparent ineptitude should be reflected in poll results, it is not. Salutin's explanation?

Faced with candidates none of whom is discernibly human, voters will look for something to judge on: sunniness, mellifluousness, square jaw. What the candidates say is never enough since it’s all obviously calculated. But faced with one candidate who’s discernibly human, they’ll tilt in that direction for, well, human reasons. It’s like spying a fellow creature in the wilderness. It may not suffice but it’s a sizable advantage.

The adorable thing about that abortion clip is it could appear in Conservative or Liberal ads: as proof the guy’s in over his head or that he’s a certifiable human.

While electoral behaviour, like all human behaviour, will likely never give up all of its mysteries, Rick Salutin has perhaps provided us with one more tool by which to analyse it.
Recommend this Post

Scottish Independence and the Struggle for a Con Free Country

Montreal Simon - Sat, 08/23/2014 - 02:09

It's now less than a month before the people of Scotland will vote YES or NO to independence.

And some Canadian newspapers have been running stories, mostly comparing the campaign to the one during the last Quebec referendum.

But after spending a couple of weeks in Scotland recently, I have to say that while there are some strong similarities.

It's also very very different.
Read more »


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