Agrégateur de flux

Is Canada Going the Way of Greece?

The Disaffected Lib - il y a 1 heure 2 min
A report from PBS contends the Canadian economy is "headed off the cliff."

Vikram Mansharamani, a lecturer in the Program on Ethics, Politics & Economics at Yale University and a senior fellow at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, is concerned about rising home prices and falling oil prices.

Canada is in the midst of an unprecedented housing boom that seems likely to bust. I was recently in Canada and noticed a schizophrenic oscillation between housing exuberance and oil-price despair. What did it mean for the Canadian economy’s outlook? Upon returning to the U.S., I did some research. What I found leads me to the conclusion that Canada is now among the most vulnerable large economies in the world. Here’s why.

First, household credit. The seemingly conservative Canadian population has been voraciously consuming debt at a breakneck pace. Total household debt (C$1.82 trillion) now exceeds GDP (C$1.6 trillion), approximately C$1.3 trillion of which was for residential mortgages. Further, household debt is now greater than 160 percent of disposable income – meaning it would take about 20 months for a family to pay off its debt if interest rates were 0 percent and they spent 100 percent of their disposable income to do so.

Second, housing prices. Home prices continue their basically uninterrupted rise that began in the mid-late 1990s. Unlike the United States real estate markets, which have corrected, Canadian prices continue to rise. Detached single-family homes in Toronto now average more than C$1 million and Vancouver is now deemed the second least affordable city in the world – thanks to Chinese buyers.

Third, crude oil. The impact of lower oil prices is rippling through the economy at breakneck speed. Since 2011, Alberta, the oil-rich home of the oil sands, was responsible for more than 50 percent of all jobs created in Canada. It has been the locomotive of job creation pulling Canada forward, but it is now in reverse. Employment growth has stopped in Alberta and is now shrinking.

Finally, craziness. Yup, not sure how to better categorize what I’m about to say. Here’s the situation, as told to me by Seth Daniels of JKD Capital, one of the most astute Canada-watchers I know. Daniels told me that there is now a booming private mortgage market in which ordinary citizens are borrowing from their home equity lines to lend money to desperate borrowers. Specifically, he noted “a homeowner acts as a subprime lender by drawing his home equity line at ~3%, and lends it to a subprime borrower at 8-12% for one year.”

I honestly didn’t believe him when he first mentioned this to me, but I then confirmed it myself. In fact, if you’re a Canadian and interested, here’s a sales pitch from one vendor. It’s only a matter of time before this shadow mortgage banking market slows, and the ramifications are likely to be enormous as defaults skyrocket, housing prices plummet, and consumer spending rapidly slows.


Net net, the ending of the Canadian credit binge, combined with an oil-driven economic slowdown, is likely to crush consumer sentiment. In this Looney Tune, it seems our Crazy Canadian Coyote has run off the cliff, his feet are still moving, but he has yet to look down. He’s suspended in air, and it’s only a matter of time until gravity exerts its force.
Unfortunately Mansharamani doesn't offer any suggestions about reforms our governments can implement to fend off collapse.  Nothing at all.


Struggling with the Big Dilemmas. . . .

kirbycairo - il y a 1 heure 31 min
Just before Christmas I stopped painting and have not really been able to go back to it. Perhaps it is something like a midlife crisis, I don't know, but over the past few months I have struggled to do anything productive. In the face of what seems like a existential crisis, I began to write again. I haven't written much since I finished the draft for my book on Mary Mitford which is now in the hands of my daughter as she attempts to complete it to a finished version. I started writing about art and aesthetics but that slowly turned to directly personal issues concerning the various artistic, political, and philosophical dilemmas that have haunted me all my life. I have psychologically relived the strange events that led to my commitment to largely disengage from most of the traditional aspirations of life. I won't go into the specifics of this philosophical decision because, for one, I am writing about them, and for another, they are too troubling and off colour for this blog. But the struggle itself can be expressed this way - Imagine that you are in some past society/empire. Let's say for the sake of argument you find yourself in the Aztec empire in Mexico at the height of its power in the 1400s. But unlike most of those around you, you reject pretty much all the cornerstones of your society. You don't believe in Sun worship, you don't believe in the aristocratic structure, you reject their slavery and their militarism, and you don't believe in the gender relations. What does one do in this situation? This is what I more or less have experienced in my own society. I don't believe in the major religions of our society, I reject capitalism, I don't believe in competition or organized sports, I reject the hierarchy of the education system, I reject much of the institutional structures of modern science and the technical-rational ideology that motivates it, I totally reject the militarism of our society, and I reject the gender inequalities that I see around me and to which my daughters will be subjected. In the face of all of this, I have spent much of my life disengaged from the ambitions and desires of those around me. I did a master's degree but I couldn't bring myself to stay in academia because I didn't believe in the hierarchy of the university system. As a white male, I rejected a great deal of career notions because I don't want to be another white male seeking worldly success when the gender inequalities demand that men step back from many ambitions so that we don't just perpetuate these inequalities. This is the reason that when I was in university I eventually began to consciously stay quite in many situations. As a white male, I had been trained from youth to speak up in almost any situation, and I eventually began to realize that women and racialized people had been more or less trained to be more reticent. I didn't want to perpetuate those relations. (I admit that I wasn't always successful in this effort, but I tried and continue to try). The upshot of all of this is that, right or wrong, I have lived outside of much of the traditional efforts of society. I have stood up for things that I believe are right and have sometimes been an activists, but I admit that in the light of the forces gathered against different beliefs, I have often hidden myself away from a society from which I feel so alienated. I might be indicted for not doing enough to change a society that I so thoroughly rejected. Perhaps, as the English would say, 'It's a fair cop.' But this has been my survival mechanism. Now that I have turned 50, I feel disheartened and troubled by my life-choices but feel that I have made the only choices that I could. Other dilemmas have also been part of my explorations, such as my conflicting philosophical beliefs. When I was still young I studied buddhism and meditation at the Naropa Institute (Now Naropa University). And even here I have always been conflicted. I understand the goals of Buddhism's core beliefs of peacefulness of mind, but I have also felt that passion, and sometimes anger can play a central role in creativity. Buddhism looks for a transcendence from suffering, but I think pain and suffering can be a central part of life and an essential part of experience. I have studied philosophy (Buddhist and Western as well) but have found no way out of these dilemmas.

My conflicts continue. Perhaps by writing about them I will find some answers. I don't know. I guess everyone has to find their own way through such dilemmas in life.

Featured Today at the Dawgtion: "Emergency Measures", Autographed First Edition

Dawg's Blawg - il y a 4 heures 44 sec
Lot 1: “Emergency Measures” (Sono Nis, 1976). “‘Emergency Measures’ establishes John Baglow as one of the few North American poets with vision, intelligence, wit, linguistic equipment and technical competence to command serious reading and response anywhere on Earth. In... Balbulican http://stageleft.info

Deliver Us From Evil

The Disaffected Lib - il y a 4 heures 14 min
Why do we tolerate Saudi Arabia when the kingdom, and its Sunni state allies, seems determined to deliver Yemen into the control of ISIS and al Qaeda?

Gwynne Dyer writes that, while we wage an air war against ISIS, the Saudis are undermining our effort with their war on the Yemeni Houthi.

They’ve all shown up for this war. Saudi Arabia and the other monarchies of the Arab world (Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and even Morocco) have all committed aircraft to bombing Yemen. Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and Pakistan have offered to send ground troops. And the United States (which just pulled the last American troops out of Yemen) promises to provide “logistical and intelligence support.”

In practice, however, this coalition of Sunni Arabs and Americans is unlikely to commit large numbers of ground troops to Yemen: the country has been the graveyard of foreign armies from the Romans to the Ottomans. But if they don’t do that, the (entirely unintended) result of their bombing may be to facilitate the take-over of most of Yemen by al-Qaeda and/or ISIS

Sunni paranoia about the rise of Shia power has its roots in the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. So long as the Sunni minority ruled Iraq, it limited the influence of Iran, the paramount Shia power, in the Arab world. With the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the destruction of Sunni supremacy in Iraq, Iran’s power automatically soared – and so did its influence in Shia parts of the Arab world.

Iran didn’t have to do anything particularly aggressive for paranoia to take off in the Sunni countries of the Gulf. Of the 140 million citizens of countries that border on the Persian/Arabian Gulf, about two-thirds are Shias. With a Shia-dominated government in Baghdad, Saudi Arabia and the smaller Sunni Arab monarchies felt terribly exposed and began to see Shia plots everywhere.

...The “coalition” is now bombing the Houthis all over the country. How intensively and how accurately remains to be seen, but if they really succeed in breaking the Houthi grip on central and southern Yemen, they will create a power vacuum that will NOT be filled by the “legitimate” president of Yemen, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, whom they are allegedly trying to restore to power.

Hadi’s forces have utterly disintegrated, and Houthi fighters now occupy the temporary capital that he established in his home city, Aden. (The real capital, Sanaa, has been in Houthi hands since September.) Hadi left Aden by boat on Tuesday, which suggests that he has left the country entirely – unless he plans to create another provisional capital on, say, the island of Socotra.

So if the coalition bombs the Houthis out of Aden, but does not commit ground troops of its own, the real winners will be the al-Qaeda forces that wait just outside the city. Much the same goes for Taiz, the third city, and even for Sanaa itself: it is al-Qaeda or ISIS jihadis who stand to profit most from a Houthi retreat.


Perfect, Mr. Harper.  Just what in hell have you gotten us stuck into?  One thing is sure, if you really do intend to "defeat ISIS" as your supposed defence minister claims, you're going to need a lot more than a sixpack of CF-18s.  And don't forget to bring your chequebook.





Monday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - il y a 6 heures 2 min
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Jim Pugh argues that we should take a serious look at a basic income, while Livia Gershon examines how even a small amount of guaranteed income has made an immense difference in the lives of families in one North Carolina town. And Walter Frick observes that strong social supports are exactly what people need to be able to take entrepreneurial risks:
In a 2014 paper, Olds examined the link between entrepreneurship and food stamps, and found that the expansion of the program in some states in the early 2000s increased the chance that newly eligible households would own an incorporated business by 16 percent. (Incorporated firms are a better proxy for job-creating startups than unincorporated ones.) 

Interestingly, most of these new entrepreneurs didn’t actually enroll in the food stamp program. It seems that expanding the availability of food stamps increased business formation by making it less risky for entrepreneurs to strike out on their own. Simply knowing that they could fall back on food stamps if their venture failed was enough to make them more likely to take risks.

Food stamps are not an isolated case. In another paper, Olds looked at the creation of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which offers publicly funded health insurance for kids whose families don’t qualify for Medicaid. By comparing the rate of entrepreneurship of those who just barely qualified for CHIP to those whose incomes just barely exceeded the cutoff, he was able to estimate the program’s impact on new business creation. The rate of incorporated business ownership for those eligible households just below the cutoff was 31 percent greater than for similarly situated families that could not rely on CHIP to care for their children if they needed it. 
The same is true of recent immigrants to the United States. Contrary to claims by the right that welfare keeps immigrants from living up to their historic role as entrepreneurs, CHIP eligibility increased those households’ chances of owning an incorporated business by 28 percent. 
The mechanism in each case is the same: publicly funded insurance lowers the risk of starting a business, since entrepreneurs needn’t fear financial ruin. (This same logic explains why more forgiving bankruptcy laws are associated with more entrepreneurship.)- Meanwhile, Anna Mehler Paperny reports on the serious restrictions on access to health food for poorer families, with a third of all single-parent families in Saskatchewan lacking the ability to count on the availability of basic food.

- Michael Hiltzik discusses the growing recognition that a concerted attack on unions has resulted in worsening inequality. And Jake Rosenfeld offers a detailed look at the state of the U.S. labour movement.

- Ryan Meili and Carolyn Nowry note that ambulance fees represent a needless and significant barrier to health care in cases where it's needed most.

- Finally, Craig Forcese and Kent Roach confirm that the Cons' intended amendments to C-51 are designed to leave the worst elements of unaccountable secret policing in place. And Andrew Mitrovica is duly stunned by the possibility that the Cons would allow CSIS to operate outside the law in light of the abuses it's committed under a far more limited mandate.

Moral Clarity?

Northern Reflections - il y a 6 heures 18 min
                                                    https://www.youtube.com/

Minister of Defence Rob Nicholson has declared that extending Canada's war effort into Syria is a matter of "moral clarity." After reviewing the results of military incursions into Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, Gerald Caplan writes:

Lesson learned? We’re living them. They’re in the headlines every day. The consequences expected of military intrusions are rarely achieved. On the contrary: overwhelmingly, when the west has intervened in foreign lands with little understanding of local conditions and no strategy or plan beyond military force – we should add here Vietnam and Cambodia, though they aren’t Muslim like all the others – the result has been increased violence and chaos there and increased danger to ourselves as shown by al-Qaeda, 9/11 and the Islamic State.
Perhaps, Caplan writes, these military interventions provide another kind of moral clarity:

Canada’s mission involves collaboration with war criminals, mass murderers, ethnic cleansers and deadly fanatics of various kinds. How else to describe the rulers of Syria and Iran, our tacit allies against IS? Or the Iraqi militias – also allies – described by the United Nations as guilty of war crimes and perhaps crimes against humanity? Or Kurd fighters from an organization listed as terrorist by NATO? We’re already tight with Saudi Arabia, which can teach IS lessons about serious beheadings.The truth is many of our allies are hardly better than IS itself. That’s what’s morally clear. We throw around accusations of genocide against ISIS when we ourselves collaborate with war criminals and terrorists. Is it moral to send our troops into Syria when we haven’t been invited by its government, a clear violation of international law despite the government’s flimsy rationalizations? (Ask Putin about the Ukraine.)
Nicholson's moral clarity is the same moral clarity that burned witches in Salem.

Stephen Harper's Possibly Fatal Syrian Mistake

Montreal Simon - il y a 7 heures 16 min


On CTV's Question Period yesterday Craig Oliver reminded viewers of Theodore Roosevelt's famous quote: "Speak softly and carry a big stick."

And he said Stephen Harper's views on military power, and his new war in Syria, are exactly the opposite: "Speak loudly and carry a twig."

But goodness knows Harper is desperate, and he can't wait to wave it. 
Read more »

Some Inspiration From A Clear-Thinking Citizen

Politics and its Discontents - il y a 7 heures 17 min


That's what I derive from Donald Crump's Star letter. It is a shame more of our fellow citizens are not possessed of such critical faculties:

Increasing risk of terror in Canada
When a government starts making decisions based primarily on getting re-elected, with little regard for what is best for the country, we should all take notice. In Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s view, the fact that a majority of voters support his “war on terrorism” is reason enough for his government to increase the risk that terror will come to our shores. I think we have learned since 9/11 that terrorists cannot be defeated through the normal rules that apply to wars between countries. Rather than feeling safer because our Armed Forces are fighting in the Middle East, we now have a large target painted on our country, a target that gets larger and more tempting with each passing day to those who would do us harm.

I understand the political motivation for our leaders to show decisiveness in the face of a threat, but I don’t understand the blind pursuit of a political strategy that can have no outcome other than to make us less safe and secure. If, as Harper professes, the terrorists hate our freedoms, the measures under Bill C-51 to restrict those freedoms seem to be giving ISIS et al. exactly what they want. Coupling that with attempting to bomb them into submission through military excursions that may be illegal if they include Syria is the height of folly — and arrogance — and will inevitably anger those terrorist organizations and motivate more to join them.

For my part, I would rather live my life in freedom, accepting that occasionally bad things will happen. That is the price of being free and is a price we should all be willing to pay. The remote risk that a terrorist act would affect any individual Canadian should not justify a government creating fear and exaggerating that risk.
It’s time for our government and opposition parties to show leadership and consider effective means to combat terrorist organizations rather than knee-jerk revenge measures and totalitarian restrictions on our rights to be free.

David Crump, TorontoRecommend this Post

Bill C-51 and Stephen Harper's Latest Scam

Montreal Simon - il y a 8 heures 54 min


Well surprise, surprise, it was a false flag after all. 

The other day it looked like Stephen Harper had surrendered to reason, by finally agreeing to change his police state bill C-51. 

Even though him and his Cons had claimed, or squawked for weeks, that it was perfect and if you didn't like it you must be a terrorist.

But now the experts have taken a closer look at those proposed changes, and sure enough they are just an illusion. 
Read more »

The Dawgtion!

Dawg's Blawg - il y a 10 heures 44 sec
In just one week, Dr. Dawg’s friends, fans, and even a few appreciative foes have come through magnificently, contributing almost $3,000 to help our host defray his legal expenses. For some of you, it was a gesture of support for... Balbulican http://stageleft.info

Harper's Perps with Perks #15

Creekside - dim, 03/29/2015 - 23:20

Welcome Vic Toews to Stephen Harper's Perps with Perks for "giving patronage a bad name", as Dan Lett wrote in the Winnipeg Free Press two days ago, .

Appointed to the Queens Court by Justice Minister Peter MacKay in March last year eight months after leaving the Cons cabinet, Toews - a former Justice Minister, Public Safety Minister, and head of the Treasury Board - has spent his time on the Manitoba bench making his presumed future appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada next year a tad more tricky for the Cons. 
"Toews has had his wages garnisheed under an order from a Quebec tribunal for failing to pay thousands of dollars in back rent on a Gatineau condominium.Toews claimed he did not pay the back rent because he could not understand the tribunal's order and supporting documents, which were written in French."I'm guessing not recognizing a court order as a legal document is not a strong supporting argument for appointing even a former Attorney-General of Canada to the Supremes.

As to possible conflict of interest guidelines he transgressed last year while lobbying as an employee of his wife's company on behalf of a First Nation he dealt with while in cabinet, and a subsequent court case which revealed his wife allegedly received $50K in compensation, a court official explained to CBC on behalf of Toews :"As a sitting judge, it would not be appropriate for Justice Toews to comment on your inquiry."  Quite. Pity though because he's usually so lucid. Here he is three years ago defending his online surveillance bill C-30, the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act, a bill which amusingly mentioned neither children nor predators aside from in its title :


.

This was a little more than "abrupt"

Cathie from Canada - dim, 03/29/2015 - 22:49
Air Canada says “hard landing” — passengers say “crash landing”



A minor quibble in the larger scheme of things, but I found it offensive that Air Canada would try to "spin" the Halifax crash as merely a "hard landing".
The plane came in too low and slow, touched ground behind the runway, hit a landing guidance tower that sheered off the landing gear and the nose, bounced onto the runway, then skidded through the snow losing engines and breaking the wing. If it hadn't been for the snow, the plan might well have caught on fire.
And the RCMP apparently heard about it when one of the passengers called 911.


I think in any other universe that "hard landing" would be considered a crash. #Halifax #halifaxairport

— Peggy Blair (@peggy_blair) March 29, 2015

Montreal Pegida March Didn't Go So Well.

Anti-Racist Canada - dim, 03/29/2015 - 16:50
When Pegida began to organize in Montreal, we began to keep an eye on what was happening. Unfortunately Quebec remains a bit of a problem area for us in that we have no active ARC members in the province and all the members we do have are hopelessly unilingual.

We did notice though that Pegida announced that it was going to hold a March in Montreal on March 28. The usual suspects on Stormfront were giddy with excitement in the lead up to the event:





Ron Banerjee, our favorite little misogynistic, homophobic, Islamophobic, organization of one chimed in to state that he.... er.... we mean Canadian Hindu Advocacy would also be in attendance in the most charming way a lonely shut-in knows how:


Well Ron, that's a bit of a problematic claim considering there wasn't a march:

Read more »

On transition planning

accidentaldeliberations - dim, 03/29/2015 - 15:33
I've previously highlighted the need for media and citizens alike to press our opposition parties on how they're willing to cooperate to replace the Harper Cons after the next federal election. But let's note that there's a similar question which still needs to be directed at Stephen Harper at every available opportunity - even if we can't expect much more than instructive non-answers.

As Andrew Coyne notes, it's still an open question how far Harper would go in trying to cling to power under all kinds of circumstances:
As prime minister, Mr. Harper would retain a number of prerogatives as he looked for ways to hang on to power, one of which would be to avoid recalling Parliament for as long as he could. After the 1979 election that returned a Conservative minority, Joe Clark did not recall the House for five months.

Mr. Harper might use the interval to curry favour with voters, or to sow divisions in the opposition, the better to deter them from defeating him. (I do not hold with those who think that, merely for having been reduced from a majority to a minority, Mr. Harper would resign as leader or be pushed out. “The longer I’m prime minister” and all that.) But eventually Parliament would have to sit, which is where the governor general comes in.

If the opposition did wish to replace the government, they would have to move fast. The longer they waited, the more that Mr. Harper might make the argument to the governor general that his defeat required the dissolution of the House and the calling of a new election. Whereas an immediate defeat in the House would seem to make another election, so soon after the last, dilatory. The way would be open for the opposition to propose instead that power be transferred to them.

I say “would seem to,” because it’s not a given Mr. Harper would concede the point. Power, once possessed, is not easily given up. Indeed, everything he has said publicly has been to pour scorn on the idea as fundamentally undemocratic, a kind of coup, launched by a “coalition of the losers.” The “highest principle of Canadian democracy,” he said at the height of the 2008 crisis, “is that if one wants to be prime minister one gets one’s mandate from the Canadian people.”

In other words, the prime minister would be tempted to “do a King-Byng” — to re-enact the crisis of 1926, when Mackenzie King, rather than accept defeat in the House as the cue to yield power to Arthur Meighen’s Conservatives (who, after all, had 15 more seats than King’s Liberals), insisted the governor general, Byng, call new elections. Byng refused, Meighen took over (briefly) as prime minister, and King used the issue to win the next election. The precedent can’t be far from the current prime minister’s mind. But even worse, it's far from clear that Harper would be prepared to accept the judgment of the Governor-General even for the moment in allowing some combination of other parties to form a government.

Remember that in 2008, Harper was prepared to demand that the Queen override any decision of the Governor-General to the effect that his government was accountable to Parliament - and planned to accompany that course of action with an attempt to shut down the country, holding the Canadian public for ransom. And in 2011, Harper refused to offer any answers whatsoever as to whether he'd accept a constitutional transfer of power.

Of course, the 2011 example makes it clear that we may not be able to get answers in the midst of an election campaign, particularly from Harper himself. But there's plenty of time now to push Harper and his slate of candidates to tell us exactly how much damage they're willing to do to stay in power. And the fact the answer looks to be "as much as it takes" itself offers a compelling reason not to leave anything to chance.

Got DNA evidence of Bigfoot? Don’t peer review, write a book!

Terahertz - dim, 03/29/2015 - 12:26

Science Editor Jonathan Leake skewered Bryan Sykes in The Sunday Times today [paywalled] over bigfoot claims. Sykes is publishing a new book in which he’ll present the DNA evidence he claims to have for the existence of yetis and bigfoot. This claim comes despite the lack of any good photographic evidence in the era of cameras in everyone’s pockets.

Sykes previously hosted The Bigfoot Files on the UK’s Channel 4. Leake has some sharp comments on Sykes’ credibility:

Bryan Sykes, who describes himself as a ‘professor of human genetics at Oxford’…

Sykes has not published any research on these creatures…

Sykes is a fellow of Wolfson but he admitted [his Institute of Human Genetics at Wolfson College, Oxford] was mythical. “The journal required some sort of additional address in the college and, hey presto, I became an institute!”

Sykes’s book says he has been professor of human genetics at Oxford since 1997, but university officials said he had not held that post for a decade or so.

My favourite piece is the final comment from another scientist:

Tom Gilbert, professor of geogenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, said: “Bryan’s data highlights that a lot of people strongly believe they have evidence for them (yetis etc), but none of it holds up under scrutiny.”

Why Syrzia Matters. It's About a Good Deal More than Austerity. It's About Salvaging Democracy.

The Disaffected Lib - dim, 03/29/2015 - 11:40


Le Monde reminds all of us why Syrzia matters not just in Greece, but across Europe and even on our side of the North Atlantic.

The Greeks don’t need to have the meaning of the word “democracy” explained to them. Even so, they have been given countless lectures since voting in a leftwing government determined to end the austerity policies that have made their lives a misery for six years. The schoolmasterly reprimands have come from people who know what they are talking about: they are people who imposed treaties their electorates had voted against and reneged on campaign promises as soon as they came to power. They are now in a trial of strength with Syriza, which has been trying, against terrible odds, to stick to its promises and beliefs. That trial was all the tougher since those beliefs may spread thoughts of resistance to those hitherto resigned to powerlessness. This confrontation has been about more than just the fate of Greece: the future of European democracy is at stake.

...Though Syriza is isolated in the EU, hounded by its creditors and faced with capital flight, it is in fact trying to rehabilitate concepts that have become alien to democratic life, such as “sovereignty”, “dignity”, “pride” and “hope”. But how could it do so in a state of permanent financial crisis when it is forced to back down in each successive negotiation? And do so all the more painfully as the means designed to throttle the will of a restive populace were shown publicly, while the tormentors chuckled as they recounted the most recent confrontations.

...As its finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has made clear, Greece is “determined not to be treated like a debt colony that should suffer”. What is at stake goes beyond the right of a people to choose their destiny, even when a judge of democratic niceties as fine as German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble reckons that they have “elected a government which is acting somewhat irresponsibly”. Because the question also concerns the possibility of a state extricating itself from destructive policies, rather than having to further toughen those policies each time they fail.

....
Greece’s economic collapse, which has now lasted six years, is comparable to the damage that four years of military destruction and foreign occupation inflicted on France in the first world war.  Which explains why Tsiprias's government gets enormous pupular support — even from the right — every time it refuses to prolong such a destructive policy, and why it is unwilling to survive “like a junkie waiting for his next fix”. But Syriza has few friends outside Greece. As in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, to investigate the potential killers of Greece’s hopes would mean interviewing every EU government, and the chief suspect would be Germany: the failed disciplinary strictures are German, and it intends to squeeze those — especially in Mediterranean countries — who refuse to endure them indefinitely. In Spain, Portugal and Ireland, the governments’ motive for the crime is more sordid. Their citizens would benefit if the iron fist of austerity stopped pounding them. But their governments are afraid, especially when they feel threatened by a domestic challenge from the left, that Greece will demonstrate that it is possible to refuse to follow “a well-marked path, a known path, a path that the markets and the institutions and all the European authorities know,” the path that French finance minister Michel Sapin claims must be “explored right to the end”. The prospect of Greece breaking free would show that all these governments were gravely mistaken to make their people suffer needlessly.

Everyone knows that getting Greece’s debt repaid would be like “extracting blood from a stone” (Paul Krugman, The New York Times, 29 January). So why isn’t it equally clear that Syriza’s economic strategy to finance urgent social expenditure through a determined fight against tax fraud could draw on a young, determined, popular, political force, originating in social movements and free of the compromises and corruption of the past? Even if not marked out, the path is discernible. The uncertain future brings to mind what the philosopher Simone Weil wrote about workers’ strikes in France in June 1936: “No one knows how things will turn out. There is reason to fear a range of disasters. ... But no fear can erase the joy of seeing those who have always had to bow their heads, by definition, standing up for themselves. ... Whatever may happen next, we will always have had this. For the first time, and forever, there will be other memories floating around these heavy machines than silence, coercion and submissiveness”. The Greeks’ struggle is universal. Our good wishes no longer suffice. The solidarity it deserves calls for action. Time is still, as always, running out.


Want Canada to Make a Difference? Let's Back Tunisia.

The Disaffected Lib - dim, 03/29/2015 - 11:19


Face it.  There's not much hope that we're really going to achieve anything significant from our air war in Iraq, regardless of whether we get stuck into Syria also.

All ISIS needs to survive is a nation in chaos.  They weren't in on the ground floor in Syria.  ISIS moved in after the civil war was well underway.  Same thing for Libya.  ISIS moved in once the anti-Gaddafi forces had established a viable resistance.  Iraq, same same.  Yemen, ditto.

ISIS is into turf, acquiring control.  Muslim countries that are destabilized are the organization's preferred hunting ground.

Our approach to ISIS - bombing - is futile.  It amounts to "we'll bomb ISIS here but not there, there, there, there or there."  Sounds pretty rational, doesn't it?  Sort of like the Brits figuring to defeat Hitler by liberating the Channel Islands.  Then again, you can never underestimate a government that has Harper at its head and Jason Kenney as its defence minister.

If we wanted to give ISIS a setback, we could begin with Tunisia.  That's a great place to draw the line, to stop the spread of radical Sunni Islamists.   We might not get to bomb anybody but sometimes you have to sacrifice for the greater good.

Why Tunisia?  Because it has a population ready to turn out by the tens of thousands to denounce extremism. And these people know a thing or two because they're the same crowd that sparked the "Arab Spring" and achieved a stable democratic system for it.

Let's back Tunisia.  Let's give them at least as much support as we're squandering on Iraq to make sure they have everything they need to anchor their democracy and deny ISIS the power vacuum so instrumental to its spread.  Draw the line, stop the fanatical brigands here, and then slowly begin rolling them back.

It's Degrading. Right Before Your Eyes.

The Disaffected Lib - dim, 03/29/2015 - 10:34


What if somebody told you that, globally, mankind has about 60-years of farmland left. It's hard to grasp how farmland, something that goes back to prehistory, could be in such peril.
It's already happening and it's gathering steam with each passing year.  It is the degradation of farmland around the world.

We've got 7+ billion mouths to feed today.  Some expect that to swell to 9 billion in coming decades and possibly 11 or 12-billion by the end of the century.  That's a lot of mouths to fill and an increasing percentage of those mouths want to get filled with the good stuff, especially meat.
What with wastage - spoilage, loss and contamination mainly - mankind has developed a potentially lethal dependence on industrial agriculture.  That means crazy volumes of water and even crazier amounts of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.  Those chemicals, in turn, degrade the soil.  It's a linear process that goes from rich soil to dirt to desert which may have something to do with it being called "desertification."
This may sound novel to you but there's been a good deal of research into the productive decline of farmland around the world.  Even the good stuff - our own farmland with the latest agricultural techniques - is measurably degraded. Elsewhere, it's a far more grave problem.
Indeed one reason our numbers have swelled so enormously so quickly is that the Green Revolution allowed historically food-insecure countries to produce bumper crops through the intensive use of groundwater irrigation, chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.  Unfortunately no one worried about how all good things must end - until recently that is.
Generating three centimeters of top soil takes 1,000 years, and if current rates of degradation continue all of the world's top soil could be gone within 60 years, a senior UN official said on Friday.

About a third of the world's soil has already been degraded, Maria-Helena Semedo of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) told a forum marking World Soil Day.

The causes of soil destruction include chemical-heavy farming techniques, deforestation which increases erosion, and global warming. The earth under our feet is too often ignored by policymakers, experts said.

"Soils are the basis of life," said Semedo, FAO's deputy director general of natural resources. "Ninety five percent of our food comes from the soil."

Unless new approaches are adopted, the global amount of arable and productive land per person in 2050 will be only a quarter of the level in 1960, the FAO reported, due to growing populations and soil degradation.


There are strategies to slow and at least partially reduce the soil problems but not without some disruption of the food supply and the difficult process of breaking our attachment to industrial agra.  Can it be done?  The wildly optimistic response would be "possibly, maybe if."







Sunday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - dim, 03/29/2015 - 10:06
This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Simon Wren-Lewis connects the UK's counterproductive austerity program to the lack of any wage growth. And Gary Lamphier observes that Alberta is serving as a case in point that jobs generated through public policy rigged in favour of the wealthy are no less precarious than any other type, while Erin Anderssen comments on the connection between public-sector work and greater wage equality.

- Adam Liptak writes that the First Amendment's protection for speech - like so many other rights which have been redefined to suit the powerful - is now serving primarily to benefit the corporate sector at the expense of the public.

- But we shouldn't accept perpetual corporate encroachment on the common good as inevitable. On that front, Paul Krugman reminds us that George W. Bush's attempts to push privatized Social Security failed miserably - and in a way which only proved the point of his opponents.

- Paul Kershaw highlights how the Saskatchewan Party's budget does nothing for a younger generation that's already being squeezed by a combination of massive costs and minimal opportunities. And Joe Friesen discusses David McGrane's study on the strong support for progressive policies among Canada's younger adults:
Prof. McGrane said one of the most interesting results is that the gap between older and younger people is relatively consistent across regions and education levels.

As one might expect, young people with a university education, those who live in big cities, and those in Ontario and British Columbia tend to be further to the left than those with lower levels of education and those in small cities and rural Canada, the study found, but over all, their differences are outweighed by what they hold in common.

“Young Canadians from nearly all of the socio-demographic groups and provinces examined were more likely than older Canadians to desire an activist government; want more social spending; be socially liberal; and favour higher taxes in exchange for better public services,” Prof. McGrane says in the study’s conclusion.- Finally, Gerald Caplan calls out the immorality and irrationality of the Cons' plan for endless war in Iraq, Syria and anywhere else they can think to bomb.

Because You Really Can't Tell the Players Without a Programme

The Disaffected Lib - dim, 03/29/2015 - 09:57

The Duffy trial is just about a week away.  It seems like forever since the scandal broke plunging Harper's PMO and the Senate into a fearful rout.

To get you back up to speed on the scandal and all the players, National Post has published a dandy primer on the Who's Who of the witnesses expected to be called at trial.

There's a big bag full of names some of which, by the time this trial is over, you'll probably hope never to hear again.

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