Posts from our progressive community

Christmas gift for Stephen Harper

LeDaro - Mon, 08/24/2015 - 09:37
Since he likes wars so much his gift should be to become military officer and leave the 24 Sussex Drive.

Young Stephen Harper

LeDaro - Mon, 08/24/2015 - 09:16

Who would have thought that this kid will screw up Canada some day. We are now dealing with his screw ups.Senate scandal, participation  in Iraq war and lot more.

The RCMP and the Banality of Evil . . . .

kirbycairo - Mon, 08/24/2015 - 07:53
There has been increasing anxiety among many of us that the corruption of Mr. Harper goes much deeper than most suspected and that the RCMP has become an extension of Harper himself. I, and many of my fellow bloggers, have written about this issue in recent days and now Michael Harris has added his voice to the growing chorus.

Of course, many have been suspicious that this was what was going on for a long time, years in fact. Ever since the RCMP, against its own protocols, announced in the middle of an election campaign that they were investigating Ralph Goodale, a fact that arguably brought Stephen Harper to power, many of us have thought that there is something rotten in the state of policing in this country.

I once lived in El Salvador and I spent years studying development and the corruption of so-called 'third-world' regimes, and I understand just how effective this kind of corruption can be. In the end, despite the fact that people tout the international success of 'democracy,' many countries that are hailed as democracies are nothing of the sort. Even countries like Mexico (which has a much higher profile as a democracy than countries like, say, El Salvador or Honduras) is a state with a government that so effectively controls, in political terms, the upper echelons of its national police that it can hardly be called a democracy at all.

Unfortunately, the lessons that we can derive from the corruption of 'third-world' states are not at all encouraging. The fact is that once a government effectively controls a national police force in its own political interest, there is almost nothing that a domestic population can do about it. The fairly simple, and depressing, fact is that a government in such a position can do almost anything it wants, all the while claiming to be a democratically legitimate force. Harper's control of the RCMP, coupled with his gutting of Elections Canada means simply that he can steal the election in  host of ways and we are absolutely helpless to stop him. The effectiveness of such a regime of corruption explains why corrupt 'third-world' governments can so effectively hang on to power for decades. And, more's the pity, it also means when an opposition party does sometimes take over a government they are very often, by that time, so steeped in the corruption themselves that they just maintain the status quo.

We will know in the next few weeks if our democracy is even vaguely salvageable. To what extent will Harper suppress votes and/or use just plain fraud to win this election? And if it looks like these efforts will fail, will he have his personal police force announce that they are investigating opposition leaders for spying or some other trumped up charge? Or will he throw caution to the wind and actually have Tom Mulcair arrested in the last week of the campaign? Or perhaps, as so many have suggested, Harper will opt for the politically less obvious tactic of announcing a major 'terrorist' plot in the closing weeks of the election? If any of these possibilities come to fruition we will have to face up to the painful fact that we have lost (for now) our democracy and that we will have to tell our children that we let a grey-haired, petty, self-interested, banally-evil man take away our country.

On cautionary tales

accidentaldeliberations - Mon, 08/24/2015 - 07:50
I've previously offered my take on why all opposition parties - including the Libs - should and will ultimately vote the Harper Cons out of power when given the chance. But I'll note that Don Lenihan's argument toward the same conclusion actually offers a reminder why there's reason for concern.

Whatever lesson one wants to take from C-51 and Eve Adams (among so many other stories), one can't claim for a second that they offer examples of Justin Trudeau and company valuing the support of progressive voters over cynical measures to appease the right. And there's been no evidence that the Libs have learned much in the meantime.

Of course, it would be for the best if the Libs decided that they should consider a "storm of anger...among friends and allies" as reason to think carefully about a choice. But in light of their track record, I wouldn't hold my breath - meaning that our best hope to get the Libs on board probably lies in political calculations rather than any newfound concern for progressive principle.

Monday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Mon, 08/24/2015 - 07:38
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Paul Krugman theorizes that our recent pattern of economic instability can be traced to a glut of accumulated wealth chasing too few viable investments:
On the surface, we seem to have had a remarkable run of bad luck. First there was the housing bust, and the banking crisis it triggered. Then, just as the worst seemed to be over, Europe went into debt crisis and double-dip recession. Europe eventually achieved a precarious stability and began growing again — but now we’re seeing big problems in China and other emerging markets, which were previously pillars of strength. 
But these aren’t just a series of unrelated accidents. Instead, what we’re seeing is what happens when too much money is chasing too few investment opportunities....What’s causing this global glut? Probably a mix of factors. Population growth is slowing worldwide, and for all the hype about the latest technology, it doesn’t seem to be creating either surging productivity or a lot of demand for business investment. The ideology of austerity, which has led to unprecedented weakness in government spending, has added to the problem. And low inflation around the world, which means low interest rates even when economies are booming, has reduced the room to cut rates when economies slump.
Whatever the precise mix of causes, what’s important now is that policy makers take seriously the possibility, I’d say probability, that excess savings and persistent global weakness is the new normal.
My sense is that there’s a deep-seated unwillingness, even among sophisticated officials, to accept this reality. Partly this is about special interests: Wall Street doesn’t want to hear that an unstable world requires strong financial regulation, and politicians who want to kill the welfare state don’t want to hear that government spending and debt aren’t problems in the current environment.
But there’s also, I believe, a sort of emotional prejudice against the very notion of global glut. Politicians and technocrats alike want to view themselves as serious people making hard choices — choices like cutting popular programs and raising interest rates. They don’t like being told that we’re in a world where seemingly tough-minded policies will actually make things worse. But we are, and they will.- Paul Weinberg reminds us that Canada is losing billions of dollars each year in tax avoidance, and hopes that our opposition parties can agree to combat the problem.

- Dean Beeby reports that the Cons know full well that Canada's retirement system is woefully inadequate compared to other development countries - even as they defiantly stand in the way of anybody trying to ensure income security for seniors. Sharon Murphy points out that the Cons' budgets have consistently worsened poverty and inequality. And Jerry Dias recognizes that the NDP's plan for a $15 federal minimum wage represents an important step in the right direction.

- Aaron Wherry traces both the origins and the spread of the Mike Duffy scandal to Stephen Harper's need for total control. Mohammed Adam argues that voters need to hold Harper accountable for both the crimes and the cover-up emanating from his office. And Don Butler reports on how the Cons steamrolled over any public discussion about an anti-communism memorial.

- Finally, Yves Smith contrasts rhetoric and reality when it comes to free trade, and points out that economic development in the U.S. and elsewhere has resulted from smart planning rather than laissez-faire dogma.

This And That

Politics and its Discontents - Mon, 08/24/2015 - 06:39
The start of a new week inspires me to look back on the one past; thanks to an array of editorial cartoonists, it was a week not kind to our outgoing (one hopes) prime minister:

Government for all Canadians, not just the wealthy, offers this intriguing clip from the past. Keep your eyes on the late Jim Flaherty:

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Watch Jim Flaherty's reaction when Steve tells the House of Commons that Nigel Wright didn't tell Ray Novak about the Duffy bribe.

Posted by Government for all Canadians, not just the wealthy on Sunday, August 23, 2015

Lest Angry White Guy be forgotten, The Star's Heather Mallick offers her views in today's edition:
#AngryCon, identified by the Star as “Earl Cowan,” was filmed in a tan suit, white shirt and, on a hot day, undershirt. His hair a limp version of Harper’s, he accessorized with a calculator watch and a Doug Ford for Mayor button, but no wedding ring. If there’s any man who needs a wife, it’s Earl. He has no one to say, “Earl that’s nuts,” which is one reason he watched himself shout in a high-pitched voice that the reporters were “lying pieces of s—t” and then accused them, a propos of nothing, of cheating on their taxes.And a Star letter-writer has this suggestion on how to deal with the unstable volatile Cowan:
The now known profanities shouter, Earl Cowan, should immediately be investigated by the Canada Revenue Agency because he, in all probability, must have been cheating on his income tax returns. He thinks it’s okay to do that — everybody does that, and Duffy has done nothing wrong.

Satendra Ganjoo, TorontoRecommend this Post

Under His Thumb?

Northern Reflections - Mon, 08/24/2015 - 05:46

Given evidence which emerged last week at the Duffy trial, the NDP's Charlie Angus has written to RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, asking why Nigel Wright was not charged with offering a bribe. Could it be that the Commissioner is under Mr. Harper's thumb? Given the record, Michael Harris writes, it's beginning to look like the entire force may be acting as Mr. Harper's private security detail:

The hallmark of the Harper era has been an attempt by the government to take ownership of all federal human assets in a degrading and political way. Civil servants have been used as props in fake TV news items. The justice department has drafted a string of unconstitutional legislation reflecting the CPC’s ideological agenda. Federal scientists have been muzzled like unruly dogs.

But one of the most disturbing elements of this tyrannical capture of every aspect of the machinery of government is the increasingly partisan behaviour of the RCMP. The Force has been used against

Harper’s political enemies, often without a shred of real misconduct on the table.
Helena Guergis was harassed for three months by a seven-member team of Mounties who found absolutely no truth to the criminal (and defamatory) allegations laid out in a letter written for the PM by Novak to the Commissioner of the RCMP.

The Force has never explained why that investigation got off the ground when all of the allegations were not only spurious but originated with highly dubious sources. In fact, Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson directly called the source of the allegations against Guergis and decided on the spot there was no grounds for an investigation.

Bill Casey, the former Conservative MP and now Liberal candidate was thrown out of caucus because he would not agree to changes in the Atlantic Accord made unilaterally by the Harper government. Casey wasn’t just being grumpy. He had consulted with officials in the department of justice and they provided him with written opinions that the agreement had in fact been altered.

In a personal meeting with Casey, Harper dismissed the legal opinions with the view that the words meant what he, the PM, said they meant. Either Casey voted for the budget or he was out. When Casey chose to run as an Independent, he was faced with an RCMP investigation alleging that he had stolen funds from his former Electoral District Association.

As with Guergis, it was an entirely baseless accusation. But neither the government nor the RCMP showed the slightest remorse, even though Casey the victorious Independent MP raised the matter in the House of Commons and demanded an apology. He is still waiting for it.
And, recently, we discovered that the Mounties had shredded documents from the gun registry, even though the Information Commissioner was conducting an active investigation which required access to those documents. The government's most recent omnibus budget bill contained a clause absolving the Mounties from any illegal activity.

If the national police force is the servant of the prime minister and not the servant of the people, we are in deep, deep trouble.

Police Expert: Re-Open the Duffy Case and Question Stephen Harper

Montreal Simon - Mon, 08/24/2015 - 04:05

Stephen Harper did something yesterday that he hasn't done before. He actually mentioned the name of Ray Novak.

But even though Novak has now been shown to be at the heart of the Duffy scandal.

Harper is still refusing to fire him.
Read more »

Michael Harris: Have the Mounties Become Harper's Private Police?

Montreal Simon - Mon, 08/24/2015 - 01:23

A few days ago I wrote a post where I wondered why the RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson has so far failed to explain the reason his investigators decided not to charge Nigel Wright for his role in the Duffy scandal.

Even though he promised to do that more than a year ago.

Now Michael Harris goes a step further and wonders whether the Mounties have become Harper's private police force. 
Read more »

On weak attempts

accidentaldeliberations - Sun, 08/23/2015 - 15:47
Following up on these earlier posts, here's a quick look at the last of the messages Bob Hepburn thinks the NDP may face from the Cons in particular as the election campaign progresses.
2) Tax-and-spend image: NDP loyalists consider this issue as “trite,” but already Harper is hammering away at it, claiming Mulcair would raise taxes and spend countless billions on programs such as a national $15-a-day child care plan. Already, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been mocking the NDP, saying it doesn’t know what the tax rates are, “it just knows everybody’s taxes have to be higher.” Expect lots more of this in the weeks ahead.Precedent: Very strong, as it represents the Cons' consistent message about all parties at all times. But that doesn't necessarily help in dealing with a specific opponent.
Relationship to Salient Issues: Strong to the extent it fits the Cons' economic message.
Credibility: Moderate due to the Cons' own propensity for spending money on far less worthwhile ends.
Likely Responses: Moderate to strong. Any criticism that figures to be neutralized by a party's platform is always risky, and nothing about the message would go beyond what the NDP is already preparing for.
Spillover Effects: The one major problem for the Cons is that they've similarly been using this message against the Libs. So it doesn't serve to single out the NDP - and the fact that it hasn't been enough to push voters into the Cons' column already suggests that it will have limited effect no matter how many times "NDP" is cut-and-pasted into existing ads and stump speeches.
3) Pipeline and oilsands projects: Mulcair is in a tough spot here, having to convince voters he is pro-development at the same time as having to deal with NDP voters who vehemently oppose oil pipelines and want to leave oil from the Alberta oilsands in the ground. Critics have already seized on this issue, suggesting Mulcair says one thing in Quebec about the proposal to move western oil through the Energy East pipeline to eastern refineries and another thing elsewhere in the country. Precedent: Strong due to the Cons' constant harping about oil development. And the Cons will surely have an eye to the most recent B.C. election as an example of opposition to pipelines opening a party up for criticism - though as noted below, the NDP has already distinguished that precedent.
Relationship to Salient Issues: Moderate to strong to the extent oil is seen as synonymous with the economy, though that itself is up for question.
Credibility: Weak to moderate - not because anybody doubts the Cons' desire to push oil development at every opportunity, but because they've utterly failed in the approach. If the worst one can say about the NDP is that it will match the number of pipeline projects completed under the Cons, that's hardly a compelling attack.
Likely Responses: Moderate. In addition to pointing out the Cons' record, the NDP will figure to continue with its message from the debates about approving and encouraging development where it fits with a credible environmental assessment.
Spillover Effects: Moderate. The hope for the Cons would be to force the NDP into responding at the same time to Green and Bloc demands to signal disapproval. But the danger is that as in the first leaders' debate, Mulcair and the NDP will only look reasonable and thoughtful compared to the "build everything!" and "build nothing!" positions on either side.  
4) Lack of an experienced, senior team: Mulcair wants to portray the NDP as a government-in-waiting, with a strong team of potential cabinet ministers. Mulcair has indeed recruited few high-profile candidates and Harper has already criticized the Quebec NDP caucus as ineffective and lacking any stars. In recent days, though, Mulcair has recruited Andrew Thompson, a former Saskatchewan finance minister, to run in Toronto against federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver and former MP Olivia Chow to run in Toronto against sitting Liberal MP Adam Vaughan.  Precedent: None to minimal. There's been little groundwork on this other than a few scattered comments, and I'm not sure of any precedent for a party with a popular leader and policies suffering electorally due to criticism of potential cabinet appointments. (Consider the relative strength of the federal NDP today compared to, say, the Alberta version before this year's election where the same criticism was raised.)
Relationship to Salient Issues: None to minimal. At best the message fits with the Cons' branding of Harper as a steady hand, but it's directly contrary to their primary criticism of Mulcair's political career.
Credibility: Minimal, particularly with most of the Cons' already-thin list of stars sitting this election out.
Likely Responses: Strong. As noted by Hepburn, the NDP is regularly unveiling new star candidates (with Anne Lagace Dowson joining the list today) - meaning that a focus on this message only sets a party up to be refuted.
Spillover Effects: None.
5) Internal splits within the NDP: The NDP is divided internally between old-style lefties dismayed by the party’s move to the mushy middle and by pragmatists, including Mulcair, who see a more centrist route as the only path to victory. So far, Mulcair has been able to keep this split under wraps, but if the polls start to slip then these divisions could start to crop up in a big, public way. Precedent: None. In fact this is inherently an internal factor, meaning there's little reason to think the Cons or any other party will be seen as doing anything other than trolling in trying to raise it.
Relationship to Salient Issues: None to minimal. (At best it might fit with a message of not yet knowing the NDP.)
Credibility: #weareearlcowan
Likely Responses: Minimal. Obviously the NDP will be working on holding its movement together as every party does, but as long as that proceeds as expected there would be nothing much more to do in response to this particular attack.
Spillover Effects: None.

In sum, the list of "weaknesses" presented by Hepburn consists of a couple of easily-foreseen policy choices for which the NDP has already prepared strong responses, and a few which fall short of passing the laugh test. So while it's worth preparing for the ones which might matter, there's no reason to consider them as new reasons for concern.

Now This Is Getting Ridiculous

Politics and its Discontents - Sun, 08/23/2015 - 13:35

Apparently, Stephen Harper feels that Canadians are real whores for tax cuts:
Stephen Harper is kicking off a quiet day on the federal election campaign trial by promising tax relief for service club members.

Harper says members of organizations such the Kiwanis, Lions and Royal Canadian Legion can claim a tax break for their membership fees if the Conservatives are re-elected.
I'm sure that will make the disaffected vets much, much happier.

Recommend this Post

On separation anxieties

accidentaldeliberations - Sun, 08/23/2015 - 12:44
Following up on this post, let's take a look at the first of Bob Hepburn's theorized lines of attack against the NDP - which gets its own separate post since it needs to be analyzed in radically different ways depending on the party who launches it:
Worse, the Conservatives are expected to unleash a furious barrage of attacks on Mulcair’s perceived weak spots, or vulnerabilities. 
These weak spots include:1) Quebec separation: Many Canadians could never vote for Mulcair because of the NDP’s policy that Quebec could split from Canada with a referendum vote of just 50-per-cent-plus-one. Mulcair insists he is “proud” of this policy and says he would rip up the federal Clarity Act that declares Quebec can start the process to separate only if a “clear majority” of voters in the province voted for secession. NDP supporters dismiss voter concerns over Mulcair’s position as “overblown.” The most significant bit of wishcasting by Hepburn is the concept that the Cons might be the ones to make this a main campaign issue. But to see why they wouldn't, let's first ask what would happen if they did.

Precedent: None. The Cons' consistent message - exemplified in their choice to preempt Michael Ignatieff's "nation" resolution, and repeated as recently as the most recent leadership debate - is that they'd rather not talk about sovereignty, rather than wanting to promote it as a key issue.

Relationship to Salient Issues: None. The Cons have branded themselves around the economy and security; a sudden turn to campaign on national unity would undermine that message entirely and require starting from scratch.

Credibility: Moderate. Again Harper has gone out of his way not to amass much of a track record one way or the other - but at the very least, this would be a rare issue where the Cons' history in office wouldn't work against them.

Likely Responses: Moderate. We know the NDP's answer from the exchange between Mulcair and Trudeau in the first debate. And while Harper might be able to introduce a few more twists by owning the issue himself, the most likely outcome of a two-way contest would be for Mulcair to fight the issue to a draw nationally by pointing to his own referendum involvement and the NDP's success in wiping out the Bloc.

But of course, there's more than one other party in the race. Which brings us to...

Spillover Effects: Potentially immense - and here's the reason why the Cons wouldn't figure to touch the NDP's Quebec policy as a core issue.

Aside from having all other parties and leaders drop out of the race, it's hard to imagine a single event that would favour the Libs more than for the Cons to use their superior war chest to turn the campaign into a contest with a Trudeau-led Liberal Party over who gets to play Captain Canada. And there's little reason to think the Cons' plan involves handing the Libs a path back to power they wouldn't enjoy otherwise.

In sum, the upside for the Cons in raising sovereignty as an issue would be minimal, while the downside would be massive. But let's look at the alternative scenario where the party which actually stood to benefit from changing the channel had to put its resources into doing so.

How would the test change in evaluating the Libs' option to put sovereignty front and centre?

Precedent: Moderate to strong. This is one of the few areas of the Libs' historic brand which hasn't been thoroughly eroded other than by the passage of time - though that's probably more of a factor than the Libs would want to admit.

Relationship to Salient Issues: None to minimal. Aside from the Bloc, no other party would have any incentive to talk about sovereignty any more than it absolutely has to - which means that if the Libs direct their resources toward the issue, they risk completely missing the factors which actually lead voters to make their decisions.

Credibility: Moderate to strong. To the extent the Libs and Trudeau feign outrage over connections to the sovereigntist movement their hands aren't clean either, but again this remains a relatively strong part of their brand.

Likely Responses: Moderate. The NDP would figure to both challenge Trudeau's own vagueness and defend its own position to the extent necessary, but wouldn't have much reason to match the Libs statement for statement if the rest of the campaign is being fought elsewhere.

Spillover Effects: Strong. Again, the crucial calculation for the Libs will be the opportunity cost of using their limited resources on this rather than other issues.

Even without another party raising the issue, a campaign focused on sovereignty could represent the Libs' best chance to turn the election toward more favourable terrain - particularly if they prefer a high-risk push for immediate power to a multiple-election strategy. But if the NDP can build its campaign around a largely uncontested appeal to promiscuous progressives who mostly want to see Harper gone while the Libs speak past voters on an issue seen as outdated and irrelevant, this could also be the Libs' speediest path to oblivion.

In sum, if we see sovereignty treated as a major issue in the balance of the campaign, it figures to be at the Libs' urging, and presents as much opportunity as it does risk for the NDP. Which isn't to say I'd be surprised to see it happen - only that we shouldn't presume it would reflect a weakness in the NDP's planning.

Dangers of fracking

LeDaro - Sun, 08/23/2015 - 12:36

Contamination of groundwater
Methane pollution and its impact on climate change
Air pollution impacts
Exposure to toxic chemicals
Blowouts due to gas explosion
Waste disposal
Large volume water use in water-deficient regions
Fracking-induced earthquakes
Workplace safety
Infrastructure degradation

Read more here.

Old Slowhand

Dawg's Blawg - Sun, 08/23/2015 - 12:03
Tribute to George Harrison. Thought I’d share.... Dr.Dawg

Lifeboat Europe. Man the Oars!

The Disaffected Lib - Sun, 08/23/2015 - 11:56
You've got 20 people huddled in a lifeboat designed to hold 25.  There are 60 people in the water, swimming toward you, each of them intent on getting aboard.  The wind is freshening, the sea is rising and nightfall is approaching. What do you do?

Do you do nothing and let the lifeboat be overwhelmed, casting the 20 already aboard into the water to share the fate of the others?

It's a tough choice, isn't it, but it's a dilemma now besetting Europe.  Waves of refugees are in the water, swimming for Lifeboat Europe, hoping to get over the gunwales via Macedonia. Many are fleeing the devastation in Syria. Others, trying to find safety in Europe, are migrating through North Africa, heading for refuge in Mediterranean Europe.  They're drowning by the hundreds.

Many Europeans already feel austerity's boot on their necks.  What awaits them if their countries have to absorb waves of newcomers on a scale never before even imagined?

Tough decisions await Europe and you may find some of the answers hideously brutal, to us even cruel. Wait, our turn will come.

Meaning of life!

LeDaro - Sun, 08/23/2015 - 11:12
Please fill in the blank. 

First You Stabilize Your Population. Then You Stabilize Your Economy.

The Disaffected Lib - Sun, 08/23/2015 - 10:39

Humanity lives in a Petri jar. The vessel is called Earth. It has a diameter of just under 8,000 miles, pole to pole; just under 25,000 miles in circumference at the equator. That's remained fairly constant over the past couple of billion years or more.

Stable as the Earth is, its human occupants are not.  After the odd near-miss where our species was almost wiped out, over the course of the Holocene, the abbreviated geological epoch that lasted around 11,000 years, we gradually grew in numbers until we hit the one billion mark around 1814, give or take.

Then we discovered cheap, abundant fossil fuel energy that could be harnessed to generate first steam power and, as coal gave way to oil, internal combustion power.  It might have taken 11,000 years to grow to the billion mark but, thanks to cheap and abundant fossil fuel, it only took one century, about a hundred years, to double that billion.  Another half century, roughly, took it to three billion. Another half century of utterly rapacious fossil fuel consumption swelled three to more than seven billion hurtling to nine and, before this century is out, possibly twelve billion. Do you get the idea this might have become a problem?

Now the seven plus billion people today don't have a lot in common with the billion folks of 1814.  They didn't have fossil energy so they didn't have stuff. They had to make do with wind energy or animals for transport.  Factories were pretty much reserved for making muskets and pistols. People didn't have big screen TVs or toasters. There were no showrooms selling the latest SUVs. All that had to await the fossil energy's greatest creation, the Industrial Revolution that, in turn, ushered in the Age of Science. And, with that, we were away to the races.

Compared to our ancestors of 200-years ago, we've grown - we're taller, often far fatter, and, thanks to science, we live about twice as long.  We eat more foods, a lot of stuff our ancestors would have found exotic transported hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles to our local stores.  They raised and grew their food and that was pretty much their lot. When I lived in London, foodstuffs such as butter and lamb arrived in the holds of ships that had traveled from New Zealand and Australia. In Canada we still don't grow citrus but we sure use loads of it.

My mother told me that, in her childhood on the farm, a holiday was either a day trip to the lake or a visit to relatives. My dad's family took a trip, by car, to Chesapeake Bay and that was an odyssey in their time. My father didn't have anything we would consider travel until he boarded a troop ship in Halifax. In later years, entirely thanks to cheap and abundant fossil fuels, they toured Australia, Asia, and Europe (north, south, and west). As they grew older they wintered in Florida.

It hasn't been easy to keep this going. After all there's only so much stuff on our very finite planet. We burn fossil fuels with abandon but we're not making any fossil fuels, just consuming them. It'll take the cataclysms of hundreds of millions of years to make new fossil fuels but there's a snowball's chance in hell our species will be around to mine them once again.

Fossil fuels are ultimately a form of solar energy.  They represent the power of the sun over the span of a billion years to grow organic material that ultimately, through a variety of processes, became coal, oil and natural gas.  Hydrocarbons. And we have taken it upon ourselves to dig and pump out that residue of hundreds of millions of years of solar energy and burn it, releasing its products of combustion as greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.  What could possibly go wrong?

Then there's what fuels us. Abundant, cheap fossil fuels led to mechanized agriculture (when my dad was young they actually used a horse to draw their plough) that allowed one farmer to plant a hundred acres where once he could handle only ten or, if he was lucky, twenty.  And, as those machines of industrial agriculture improved, that farmer might be able to plant several hundred acres.

It wasn't enough. Never enough. We developed work-arounds for that too. Mechanical irrigation was introduced. Not enough. Chemicals - fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides - became de rigeur for modern farming. As we began sterilizing the soil with increasing applications of chemicals, the ground subsided beneath our feet as we drained our aquifers some of which contained water thousands of years old.  Easy come, easy go. The operative word was "ease." So long as it was easy enough, if we could, we would.

And so, today, we produce plenty of food for our seven plus billion mouths although we waste too much and distribute it inefficiently. We're assured that we'll be able to feed nine billion, no problem, even twelve billion maybe.  So long as you don't factor in climate change and the heatwaves, droughts and floods it now visits upon us or the collapse of our groundwater resources or the exhaustion of our overworked farmland, that's believable.  A believable fantasy. But, when hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of lives depend on a fantasy, it probably isn't going to end well.

Who says? Who says we're heading for an agricultural apocalypse? Who? Well, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says - and they're not alone.  The UN FAO released a widely overlooked report in March that warned at the rate we're degrading farmland worldwide, most of it will be exhausted within just sixty years.  This isn't some revelation that struck the UN FAO like lighting out of the blue. There's been plenty of research, both before and since, that upholds the same conclusion. This is sort of like the captain of the Titanic who took the iceberg warning and tucked it in his pocket, unread, only on a global, civilizational scale.

On a related note, let's hear it for the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.  Think of it as El Nino on steroids. It has a hot tap and a cold tap. The bad news is that it oscillates very slowly, in cycles that last twenty to thirty years.  For the past 15-years the PDO or, more specifically, the powerful trade winds it has generated, have been burying heat in our oceans.

Strong tropical Pacific trade winds serve as an air conditioner for the world, scientists are concluding. They mix warm equatorial surface water into greater depths, and help bring cooler waters to the surface. But, like the window-mounted AC unit that cools your living room during summer, all the while heating the air outside, the strong winds aren’t cooling the planet. They’re just moving heat-wielding energy to where it will bother us less.

Diane Thompson of NCAR, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who led the PDO study described what happens when the switch flips.
“When winds weaken, which they inevitably will, warming will once again accelerate,” Thompson said. “The warming caused by greenhouse gases and the warming associated with this natural cycle will compound one another.”

Here's the thing. We have no control over climate phenomena such as the PDO. All we can do is understand it and try to find means of adapting to it, absorbing the blow when it comes and that could be sooner than anyone would like.
There are no "magic wand" solutions but there are policies we can implement that will make absorbing the blows that are coming survivable for as many people as possible. 
A good start is to reduce our global population.  Half of today's numbers, well under four billion would help immensely. There are only two options within our power -  a) killing off billions of people or b) arresting reproduction. I'd sooner skip the killing off billions of people option.
Bear this in mind. If we do nothing and, like lemmings, multiply to impossible numbers, nature will kill off billions of people, just not enough to make life enjoyable for the survivors.  Droughts, floods and heatwaves will do in a lot of us. War, yeah that'll take plenty more, maybe even all of us. Then there's famine from the terminal degradation of our farmland. These prospects are not trending as we might hope.
We might look into what it would mean if we trimmed current reproduction rates by, say, fifty percent or even eighty percent. Start reproducing to a level geared to sustaining a viable population.  We'll still need scores of millions of babies every year to continue our species, just not hundreds of millions of babies. Once we fix a target for an ideal global population, the rest is math.
Of course you can't get population under control without doing something remarkably dramatic to the economy. It, too, has to be stabilized. We've embraced this model of perpetual, exponential growth far too long.  Even Adam Smith when he wrote The Wealth of Nations foresaw a limit to exponential growth of about  two centuries and he had no idea of the rise of cheap, abundant fossil fuel energy and the onset of the Industrial Revolution.  After those two centuries of growth, Smith believed we would move into what would today be called a "steady state" economy.
So, what's this steady state economy. An easy way to think of it is switching from the constant pursuit of more to a focus on better.  Quality instead of quantity. Instead of having to replace your kitchen stove every five or seven years, how about one that will last fifty years and is upgradable and will offer a plentiful supply of spare parts?
Growth does exist in a steady state economy but it's growth geared not to production and consumption. It's growth in knowledge through which we find ways to make life more enjoyable and less demanding on both us and our environment.  Buy less stuff but stuff that works and lasts and does things we need and like and can grow as our knowledge base grows.  Build stuff that lets more people have the stuff they really need. That's the approach you would have to have for deep space exploration requiring multi-generational crews only applied to Spaceship Earth.
A steady state economy is a state of equilibrium that extends to population, where reproduction is regulated so that births match deaths.  It extends to resources where consumption is not allowed to exceed regeneration. That may sound Orwellian unless you reach the conclusion that we live on a finite planet that can support a finite number of us.
What would a steady state economy look like? It would be a world in important ways much smaller than what we have today. It would be a world in which humanity, our economy and our lives, existed as a subset of the environment.
We're already far bigger than our environment. When Earth Overshoot Day arrived on the 14th of this month, we had reached the point where we had exceeded the planet's resource carrying capacity by a factor of 1.6.  It would take 1.6 planet Earths to meet our resource consumption (which, remarkably, is still growing).  
We don't have 1.6 planet Earths any more than in another ten years we'll have 1.7 planet Earths. The evidence of our excess is all there. It's tangible, measurable and some of it is visible to the naked eye from space. It's manifest in spreading deforestation and desertification. Satellites measure surface subsidence from rapidly draining aquifers. We're fishing down the food chain. Oceanic dead zones and algae blooms that now beset our lakes, rivers and even our coastlines. The staggering loss of species and life over the past forty years.
How do we get back within the planet's safety limits? One answer is sustainable retreat, growing smaller, using less, choosing stuff that last longer, making do. That sounds awful, especially to those of us accustomed to a life of comfort and plenty, but what is the alternative? What awaits us with virtual certainty if we don't?
This sounds socialist and it is but what alternative is there that permits a transition from an exponential growth based economy to what of necessity is an allocation based economy?  Free market fundamentalism has brought us to this abyss and, if unchecked, it will carry us over the edge.
This is not about reverting to mud huts and scavenging for berries. It is about growing and advancing our society in a way that isn't self-extinguishing. And it's also about improving quality of life through accelerating the pursuit of knowledge and sustainable technological advancement.
What are the chances that, even at this stage, these solutions would still work? I don't know but I know they're probably slim.  Some would say they're already foreclosed. That's the wrong way of thinking about this. The healthy way to think of it is what have we got to lose? Nothing. We have nothing to lose by shedding our lethal addictions and much to gain even if those gains fall short of the goal. Failure is a possibility right up until it turns into a certainty. Until then you still have something to fight for.  That fight starts with making a choice.

Stephen Harper dancing

LeDaro - Sun, 08/23/2015 - 10:19
I don't know what is he celebrating.

On messaging tests

accidentaldeliberations - Sun, 08/23/2015 - 10:13
Following up on yesterday's post, I'll make clear that nobody should hold any illusions that the NDP's opponents will abandon their own efforts to pursue seats simply because the NDP holds a strong position for the moment. And on that front, Bob Hepburn floats a few trial balloons as to messages which the NDP's opponents may try to use against it.

It's certainly worth discussing and being prepared for the attacks we're most likely to see. But while Hepburn merely labels a laundry list of possible messages as "weak spots" without any critical evaluation of their effectiveness, the likelihood that somebody will try to use a particular theme is a radically different question from whether they'll succeed.

For now, let's discuss some of the factors which we should take into account in making that assessment - to be followed in a later post by an evaluation of Hepburn's mooted messages.

Precedent: There's a reason why the Cons' attacks on Lib leaders have regularly started years before the next federal election campaign. People (and particularly those not making a concerted effort to follow a subject) tend to remember negative messages while eventually forgetting the identity of the messenger - meaning that a message will likely have a far greater effect if it can draw on some pre-existing theme. In addition, precedents can also tell us something else about the actual resonance of a particular message: if a message has managed or failed to achieve its intended purpose before, that offers an important indication as to whether it's likely to succeed if tried again.

Relationship to Salient Issues: Any new attack on the NDP will have to be made in the context of the political scene as it stands now. We have plenty of polling as to what voters are concerned with at the moment - and while a party can certainly try to shift the public's attention, it will face a more difficult task if it has to first change the subject before making its pitch.

Credibility: As I note above, over a longer time frame people tend to forget the source of negative messages. But that doesn't hold true in the short term - and in distributing a message widely for the first time during a campaign, a party would take a grave risk in ignoring the likelihood that its own credibility on an issue will be challenged. (To be clear, this category can include both accuracy and plausibility - it obviously includes the question of whether a statement is factually wrong, but also whether the message is likely to be believed in light of its source.)

Likely Responses: Just as we can't assume anybody will give the NDP a free pass, nor can anybody launching a new attack pretend that the NDP's experienced campaign team won't have some replies at the ready. And one can't assess the strength of one without taking the other into account.

Spillover Effects: Finally, a line of criticism may have radically different effects on different voter pools, and may also influence views of different parties beyond the intended target. While a message is likely to raise questions within a particular group, it surely can't be labeled a success if it does anywhere near as much to crystallize the NDP's support elsewhere or to help its ultimate strategic interests.

Obviously there are plenty of other factors which can be taken into account. But I'll apply this test to Hepburn's list of supposed weaknesses to start with - and it's worth keeping it in mind as new themes are introduced throughout the campaign.


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