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"There is no greatness where simplicity, goodness and truth are absent." Leo Tolstoy
Updated: 59 min 38 sec ago

Labour Day 2014

Mon, 09/01/2014 - 06:19

                                                              http://www.cp24.com

Just what is the state of Labour on this Labour Day? If you were to use Harper government policy a a yardstick, the answer would be "not very good." After all, this is a government which ends strikes before they begin, and which has vastly expanded the Temporary Foreign Workers Program in the wake of the Great Recession.

But even Harper supporter Tasha Kheiriddin acknowledges that the majority of Canadians support unions:

What does the public think about unions?  A study conducted in late 2013 by Harris Decima for the Canadian Association of University Teachers found that 56% of Canadians “hold favourable views of unions.” Two-thirds believe that all employees of a unionized workplace should be obliged to join the union, versus giving them the right to opt out via right-to-work legislation. At the same time, 45% thought unions have too much influence over government and business, while 35% disagreed.

And one of organized labour's legacies -- a legacy which the Harperites refuse to acknowledge or do anything to improve -- is pensions. The recent Ontario election underscored the fact that pensions are on the public agenda, if not the Harper agenda.

And Canadians are not just concerned with  the state of domestic labour. The recent tragedy at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh -- and the part the Weston Empire played in it -- was not lost on Canadians. Ananya Mukherjee and Darryl Reed write:

Our action as collective consumers and citizens can have an especially transformative impact here. In Canada, the federal government spends millions annually on imported garments, while the government of Ontario also purchases significant amounts, $66 million over the last five years.
While as citizens we pay for these garments, we have little or no information on how or in which countries they are produced. Other public institutions — schools, universities and hospitals — also purchase and sell garments. Our governments and public institutions can adopt purchasing that supports more ethical production. Indeed, some already do. Various universities and municipalities in Canada have “no-sweat” policies for the apparel they buy and sell, and an increasing number have also adopted “fair trade” polices. These policies can be modified or extended to add best practice clauses that support worker-owned firms and co-operatives. However, none of this would happen without our active input. Changes such as these require that we think and act as members of different collectives, institutions, communities and democracies — and not simply as individual consumers.
The Harperites believe citizens are individual consumers. Labour's vision is a collective vision.It has always stood for the concept of community. And, even after almost a decade of Harperian balderdash, that vision persists.


The Petro Goose Is Getting Cooked

Sun, 08/31/2014 - 06:04

                                                            http://eatocracy.cnn.com/

The oil industry has stopped laying golden eggs. Its profits are being squeezed. That news has not been widely reported. But, Andrew Nikiforuk writes, it has been hiding in plain sight on the U.S. Energy Administration website:

Last July the government agency, which has collected mundane statistics on energy matters for decades, quietly revealed that 127 of the world's largest oil and gas companies are running out of cash.

They are now spending more than they are earning. Profits have lagged as expenditures have risen. Overburdened by debt, these firms are selling assets.

The math is simple. The 127 firms generated $568 billion in cash from their operations during 2013-2014 while their expenses totalled $677 billion. To cover the difference of $110 billion, the energy giants increased their debt load or sold off assets.
The reason for the cash squeeze is that oil is harder to find and harder to get at:

Most companies are now investing in high-cost and high-risk projects to mine difficult hydrocarbons such as bitumen or shale oil, according to Carbon Tracker. Hydraulic fracturing, the land equivalent of ocean bottom trawling, adds to the cost of oil, too.

It's not only the firms deploying fracking that are racking up high debt loads. Chinese state-owned corporations, for example, plopped down $30 billion to develop junk crude in the oilsands over the last decade.
And the oil companies are making these investments as demand for oil is flattening:

But given that oil demand in places like Europe, the United States and Japan is flattening or declining, many analysts don't think that high-carbon, high-risk projects (which all need a $75 to $95 market price for oil to break even) make much economic sense in a carbon-constrained world.
Yet our present government has put all its eggs in the bitumen basket. This is a not government known for its foresight. Mr. Harper gave his full throated support to the American invasion of Iraq. That didn't work out so well. And he also didn't see the 2008 recession around the bend.

Others, however, saw this price squeeze -- and its economic consequences -- coming long ago:

Marion King Hubbert, a Shell geologist, predicted this development decades ago and presented the cultural conundrum clearly: "During the last two centuries we have known nothing but an exponential growth culture, a culture so dependent upon the continuance of exponential growth for its stability that is incapable of reckoning with problems of non-growth."
The petro goose is getting cooked.

Ignoring The Obvious

Sat, 08/30/2014 - 07:03
                                                           http://www.breitbart.com/

Stephen Harper has just completed his ninth tour of the North. These tours provide the prime minister with an opportunity to serve up warm rhetoric. On this occasion, Harper saved his most heated words for Vladimir Putin. But he said nothing about the North's increasingly warm atmosphere. Jeffrey Simpson writes:

Nowhere in Canada is the impact of climate change more increasingly evident than the North. And yet, the words “climate change” are never heard from Mr. Harper in the North, as if the idea they connote are so distasteful that he cannot bring himself to utter them.

Every summer, surrounded by the evidence of Northern climate change – melting ice, widening sea lanes, disruption of traditional hunting patterns, shifting tundra, increased sun reflection, changing weather patterns – the Prime Minister spends a week in the region without ever drawing attention to the impact and challenges of climate change.

Global warming doesn't fit into the prime minister's frame:

The surrealism of a Harper visit is like that of an explorer who lands in an unknown place, takes careful note in his diary of the animals, flora, fauna, rocks and trees but misses all the human inhabitants. Mr. Harper’s refusal even to speak the words “climate change” in the North cannot be from ignorance or inadvertence; it must be by design, like everything he does.

That design is evidently to draw as little attention as possible to an issue he has found uncomfortable since even before he became Prime Minister.

As an economist, Mr. Harper believes most measures to combat the problem of global warming will be too costly. As a Conservative politician, he believes no votes are to be gained by resolute action, given that so many of his core supporters are doubters and deniers of the reality of climate change. As an Albertan, he will protect the fossil fuel industries, and in particular bitumen oil, at all costs and by all means. As an international leader, he sees some other countries talking a better game than they play, and does not wish Canada to be made the fool by doing anything dramatic.

Mr. Harper is a man who sees what he wants to see and hears what he wants to hear -- as he ignores the obvious. It is truly remarkable that a man whose chief talent is ignoring the obvious is Prime Minister of Canada.



What Do They Do Now?

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 06:05

                                                               http://www.pinterest.com/

Justin Trudeau said recently that the biggest threat to global security is "the kind of violence and misunderstandings and wars that come out of resource depletion—concerns of lack of hope for generations growing up in a world that is getting smaller and seemingly less and less fair.”

Alberta MP Michelle Rempel took to her Facebook page, writing that Trudeau's statement sent her into a "blind-rage." Justin has that effect on Harperites. Paul Wells writes that there are at least a couple of reasons for that. First, as one Tory said in an email,


That is because most Tory MPs come from very practical, real-world career backgrounds in small business (Joe Preston), policing (Rick Norlock), or farming (Gerry Ritz), to name a few. Others have track records of governing (John Baird) or legislating (Jason Kenney). They have painstakingly built their reputations and livelihoods over decades of work.”
Which is curious. Trudeau the Younger holds two Bachelors degrees -- in literature and education. It's true he lacks "real world" experience. Stephen Harper also holds two degrees -- in economics. But his only "real" job  was working in the mail room for Imperial Oil. Blind is the operative word.

The second -- and the real reason -- for Conservative rage is Trudeau's name. Harperites still rage at Trudeau the Elder. Two days after Justin delivered the eulogy at his father's funeral, the future prime minister published an op-ed in The National Post:

Harper wrote that he had passed the elder Trudeau in the street a year earlier and been struck by “a tired out, little old man” who had once “provoked both the loves and hatreds of my political passion.” The loves came first for Harper, he wrote, the hatreds as he matured. He called Trudeau “a distant leader who neither understood, nor cared to understand, a group of people over whom his actions had immense impact,” a man who “flail[ed] from one pet policy objective to another,” whose government “created huge deficits, a mammoth national debt, high taxes, bloated bureaucracy, rising unemployment, record inflation, curtailed trade and declining competitiveness.”
The op-ed always said more about Harper than it did about Trudeau. In fact, with a couple of exceptions, it's a pretty good description of Harper. But, most of all, the piece revealed that Stephen Harper was -- and is -- a thoroughly nasty piece of work.

Conservatives have done everything they can to bury PierreTrudeau. Petro Canada is a now a private corporation and they have consistently refused to recognize the Charter of Rights and  Freedoms -- in both history and in legislation. Still, the Son has risen to haunt their dreams.

What do they do now?


Ignorance Is Strength

Thu, 08/28/2014 - 06:42
                                                http://socioecohistory.wordpress.com/

The central theme of Stephen Harper's re-election campaign has emerged: Harper against the elites. In his tour of the North, Harper called Justin Trudeau an elitist. And, this week, Fred DeLorey sent out an email to conservative supporters, complaining about Heather Mallick's reference to Harper's sociopathic tendencies:

"If you ever had any doubt that the urban media elite are mobilizing against us, this ridiculous piece should end it," he wrote.
In her defence, Mallick told the Vancouver Observer:

He lacks a moral conscience when he comes to people he dislikes or distrusts. And that's the definition of a sociopath."
Harper's attack on "elites" is classic Orwellian inversion. And that's why Harper has declared war on sociologists. They reveal that, as Harper attacks elites, he serves their interests. Businesses don't need tax cuts to survive. They need customers. Crime is not just about personal responsibility. It's about social responsibility. Harper claims to support our troops, as he cuts services to veterans.

George Orwell knew how it worked. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. But, most of all, ignorance is strength. As long as voters remain ignorant, Harper can remain prime minister.


Simple Solutions Come From Simple Minds

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 07:40
                                                              http://brane-space.blogspot.ca/

 What is behind Stephen Harper's war on sociology? Jakeet Sing writes:

So what does Harper have against sociology? First, Harper is clearly trumpeting a standard component of neo-liberal ideology: that there are no social phenomena, only individual incidents. (This ideology traces back to Margaret Thatcher’s famous claim that “there is no such thing as society.”) Neo-liberalism paints all social problems as individual problems. The benefit of this for those who share Harper’s agenda, of course, is that if there are no social problems or solutions, then there is little need for government. Individuals are solely responsible for the problems they face.
Harper recognizes only one kind of injustice -- personal injustice. Sociologists recognize personal injustices. But they also recognize systematic injustice:

Structural injustices, on the other hand, are produced by a social structure or system. They are often hard to trace back to the actions of specific individuals, are usually not explicitly intended by anyone, and have collective, rather than isolated, victims. Structural injustices are a result of the unintended actions of many individuals participating in a social system together, usually without knowing what each other is doing. Whereas personal injustices are traced back to the harmful actions (or inactions) of individuals, structural injustices are identified by differential societal outcomes among groups. Sociologists call these “social inequalities.”And therein lies the rub. Perhaps the key difference between personal and structural injustices is that the latter are only clearly identifiable through macro-level societal analysis — that is, sociology. This is because a) there are no clear perpetrators with whom to identify the injustice and assign responsibility; and b) while structural injustices do generate concrete harms and victims, we often only learn about the collective nature of the injustice through statistical inquiry, or by identifying social/demographic patterns over time.

Structural injustices are harder to remedy because they are immune to simple solutions. And Mr. Harper favours simple solutions.

Simple solutions are for simple minds.


Our Essential Illness

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 06:05

                                                              http://beachsideblues.com/

Murray Dobbins' analysis is never superficial. He looks for root causes. In his latest column, he notes that two television shows -- House of Cards and Breaking Bad -- were tremendously popular. He suspects that,  just as science fiction movies of the 1950's were about Cold War paranoia, these two shows were really about the psychopathy of 21st century capitalism. He quotes Canadian author Patricia Pearson:

The celebration of remorselessness is everywhere. Friends on Facebook have lately been reporting their scores on widely circulating psychopathy quizzes that ask users to agree or disagree with statements such as, 'I never feel remorse, shame or guilt about something I've said or done.'  'I'm 19-per-cent psychopath!' they announce. Or: 'I scored five out of 10!' As if the chilling absence of human empathy I witnessed as a crime reporter in covering trials like that of serial killer Paul Bernardo had become a fun little personality quirk.
Captialism has now become hyper-competitive. And the consequences are truly disturbing:

The stronger the imperative to compete, the weaker become family, community and friendship connections because in rampant consumer capitalism -- promoted and reinforced by television culture -- such connections are seen as irrelevant. Or worse, they are seen as weak and inefficient means, if not actual barriers, to the end of achieving more stuff. We are competing in a zero-sum game whose rules are written by those with psychopathic tendencies.
It's that psychopathology which is a the root of our democratic crisis:

It is not first-past-the-post voting systems, or the cancellation of government funding for parties, or even the role of TV advertising. It is at its core our gradual acquiescence "to things that are contrary to our individual and communal interests." This acquiescence, says [Fred] Guerin, is the "consequence of very gradual political and corporate indoctrination that consolidates power not only by inducing fear and uncertainty, but also by rewarding unbridled greed, opportunism and self-interest."
If we want to reclaim our democracy, Dobbin writes, we need to discover an old human trait -- kindness:

British writer Barbara Taylor has suggested in her essay "On Kindness" (co-authored by Adam Phillips) that the missing ingredient is just that: kindness. The authors point out that for almost all of human history, people considered themselves naturally kind. Christian philosophy called on people to "love thy neighbour as thyself." But by the 17th century, kindness was under attack by competitive individualism. Today, says Taylor, "An image of self has been created that is utterly lacking in natural generosity." This is in spite of numerous studies that show giving provides far more pleasure than taking. People involved in these studies are astonished by the results -- and simply don't trust them.
21st century capitalism sees kindness as a weakness. Certainly our prime minister regards it as such. But our prime minister -- unlike Dobbin -- doesn't believe in "committing sociology."  He believes in our essential illness.


Ditching It

Sun, 08/24/2014 - 06:15
                                                          http://herdingcats.typepad.com/

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.


At War With Reality

Sat, 08/23/2014 - 07:15

                                                                       http://www.shift.is/

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.


The Randian

Fri, 08/22/2014 - 06:01

                                                                               http://chronicle.com/

The death of Tina Fontaine has once again sparked demands for a public enquiry into the epidemic of murdered and missing aboriginal women. But, yesterday, Stephen Harper again rejected those demands:

"We should not view this as sociological phenomenon," the prime minister told a news conference Thursday. "We should view it as crime. It is crime against innocent people, and it needs to be addressed as such."
Mr. Harper has never been interested in the causes of crime. He cares only about punishment, thinking -- with his usual tunnel vision -- that  stiffer punishment will put an end to it.

But there's more to it than that. He is adamantly opposed to any and all public enquiries -- because he knows that the opposition can use an enquiry to ride to power. Just as he did. A public enquiry would inevitably find fault with public policy -- his public policy -- starting with his ditching of the Kelowna Accord.

So it in Mr. Harper's self interest to refuse to hold a public enquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women. For, despite his claim that he is a Conservative, the truth is that Mr. Harper is a Randian. Both he and the dour Russian emigré stand four square for the notion that selfishness is a virtue.


Refusing To Follow The American Model

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 06:50

                                                            http://www.veteranstoday.com/

From the start, the F-35 was a testosterone fuelled dream. Jonathan Manthorpe writes:

The F-35 concept was born of fantasy fertilized by hubris. The idea was to design and build a single plane that could perform a multitude of air warfare tasks, and which also would incorporate all the technological wizardry of stealth, sensor fusion and manoeuvrability. The F-35 was intended to be an aerial combat fighter, equally at home on land or aircraft carrier bases, also capable of performing the very different role of close air support for ground troops. And there are to be three versions: one for the Navy, a conventional Air Force model and a short takeoff and landing version for the Marine Corps.
To cover the costs, the United States assumed that its NATO partners would buy into the dream. However, things have not worked out that way. Canada has put a hold on its purchase of the jet. So have a host of other NATO countries:

While Canada has put the purchase of the F-35s on hold pending reports from a National Fighter Procurement Secretariat, Italy and the Netherlands already have announced sharp cutbacks in the number of the planes they plan to buy. Denmark is holding a competition that will test the F-35 against other fighters, such as Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet. Canada may well take the same route.

The U.K., Norway, Turkey and Israel also are tempering their initial enthusiasm for the F-35 project and have cut back on the numbers they planned to order a decade ago.
And the cost of the jets keeps rising:

When the programme was started in 2001, the Pentagon signed on for 2,852 planes at a cost of $233 billion. But as design problems mounted and costly delays continued, the Pentagon reduced its order by 409 fighters. Just to hold the lifetime cost of the programme to the gargantuan $1.5 trillion now forecast, 3,000 of the F-35s will have to be built and sold.
The United States may fly the F-35. But the country's deficit will rise. And NATO countries do not wish to follow the American model.


One Turn Deserves Another

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 05:36

                                                            http://mypolice.qld.gov.au/

The time has come, Lawrence Martin writes, for Michael Sona to name names. If he doesn't, the Harper party will get away with what was clearly an organized attempt to steal an election. In fact, what happened in the robocall scandal was standard Harperian practice. Consider the record:

We have a party that got caught staging a deceptive phone campaign against Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, an act that the Conservative Speaker of the Commons called “reprehensible.” We have a party that first denied, then admitted involvement in a deceptive robocalls campaign involving a Saskatchewan riding redistribution dispute. A Conservative MP pointed the finger at senior party organizer Jenni Byrne, now the Prime Minister’s deputy chief of staff. We have a party that pleaded guilty in 2011 to Elections Act charges relating to exceeding spending limits in the so-called “in and out” affair from the 2006 campaign.
Perhaps, facing five years in jail, Sona will pull the plug. It's clear that Elections Canada -- under Mr. Harper's appointee, Yves Coté -- has no intention of reopening his investigation into the 2011 election. That's exactly what the Conservatives want.

It was those same Conservatives who turned on Sona. One turn deserves another.

Acknowledging the Irrational

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 06:30


At the centre of classical economics is the notion that man is a rational decision maker. Thus, economics is all about creating incentives. If you lower taxes, people will have more money to spend and the economy will become a virtuous cycle. But the "dead money" sitting atop the Canadian economy gives the lie to the notion that man always makes rational decisions.

Worse still, the only explanation classical economics has for unemployment is that it is a moral failure. The unemployed simply have not taken advantage of economic incentives. Shipping jobs overseas, or bringing in temporary foreign workers to replace the already employed has nothing to do with unemployment.

The same model of man as rational decision maker applies to Canadian Conservative drug policy. Create stiffer penalties for drug use, and it will decline. It's called the War on Drugs and it's been going on in the United States for forty years and filling American prisons beyond capacity.

The problem with Conservative drug policy is the same as its problem with economic policy. Man does not always make rational decisions. Devon Black writes:

The philosophy behind this approach to drug policy blends overly-simplistic thinking with moral judgments and a fundamental misunderstanding of addiction. In theory, harsh penalties for drug trafficking and drug use should have a deterrent effect. Alongside tough drug penalties come government campaigns which teach that drugs are a choice – one it’s possible to “just say no” to. And so any rational person, understanding the consequences of drug use, would obviously choose to stay away.

The fatal flaw, of course, is the assumption that everyone will respond to the same incentives. The whole nature of addiction is that addicts keep seeking out the focus of their craving, no matter the consequences. It’s not a matter of choice; addicts can no more say no to drugs than I can say no to the flu. Trying to change the behaviour of a person suffering from addiction by creating more consequences is an exercise in futility.

Compounding the problem is the fact that, for many heavy drug users, drug use does have a twisted rationality. There’s a strong correlation between experiencing trauma and developing problems with substance abuse. For teens with post-traumatic stress disorder, the problem is particularly acute: Up to 59 per cent of them go on to develop problems with substance abuse. When there’s no adequate mental health care available, it’s little wonder that many people coping with the after-effects of trauma turn to illegal drugs to manage their pain.

And so, while throwing drug users in jail might seem like a solution on the surface, it only compounds the problem. Eighty per cent of offenders have substance abuse or addiction problems. Prisons have tried to address this – primarily by introducing methadone replacement therapy for inmates with opioid addictions.
We have a self-fulfilling prophecy. The War on Drugs is one of the causes of the problem it seeks to eradicate. The fatal flaw in Conservative ideology is its failure to acknowledge the irrational. And the solutions it proposes become, by extension, irrational.