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Alberta PC + Wildrose Votes ≠ Victory

Rusty Idols - Thu, 02/09/2017 - 11:10
It is the confidently stated certainty of right wing Albertans that the NDPs win in 2015 was a PC collapse fluke and will not be repeated.  That a protest vote spiraled, the result wasn't what people expected and it couldn't happen again.

Which rewrites what we all remember, a surging leading NDP from the moment the leaders debate ended, until an election day result that had become a clear certainty for weeks before it happened.

Albertans knew full well exactly what they were doing.

The shred of hope the Albertan right clings to, is the belief that if they could just merge the two right wing parties their combined vote would drive the socialist heathens from the temple and God would be back in his Heaven and 'shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.'

It's not much of a hope.

There's reasons the right wing movement in Alberta fractured into two different parties, just as it did federally back in the 80s and 90s.  Those reasons, which largely boil down to rising right wing extremism in the North American conservative movement, have not gone away.  They have not been resolved.  They have not eased, to the contrary they are more raw and inflamed than ever.  The conservative movement has become captive to an extremism that is both a reactionary response to massive demographic progressive cultural change and an accelerate for that same change.

Assuming it is even possible that the two parties could merge into one vehicle - by no means a certainty even if Kenny's takeover of the PCs is at this point - that vehicle will be instantly compromised.

The unavoidable, impossible to avoid bedrock certainty is that either Wildrose voters abandon an entity they consider too moderate or PC voters one that seems too extreme. The only choice is where to take the electoral bullet, in the heart or in the head.

If the PCs and Wildrose merge a big chunk of their own right and moderate wings memberships immediately decamp to either new or existing right wing or moderate parties.  They will be, pardon the imagery, bleeding from both ends.  Wildrose extremism doesn't play in the cities, PC social liberalism, such as it is, is unacceptable to the Wildrose base.  This is the same unyielding iceberg right wing hopes in Alberta are sailing for at top speed that they were in 2015.

Could the NDP lose the next election?  Certainly, anything is possible and this is a diverse province made up of diverse interests.  Is monolithic right wing dominance returning for another generation?  Almost certainly not.  The demographics simply make that impossible.

The NDP is now and forever the progressive voting option for Albertans and a choice they will pick again if not this election than the one after that or the one after that.  Conservatives will come back to power in Alberta some day but likely not until the constantly changing demographics of both urban and rural Alberta blunt the power of the extremists sufficiently to return a moderate conservative option to the fore.

Until then the conservative True Believers are the permanent wall between the movement and power.sdnxry5z7g

Here's What Global Weirding Looks Like

The Disaffected Lib - Thu, 02/09/2017 - 10:23
It's hard to use the word "weird" these days except in a comment about America's Great Orange Bloat. However this animated gif shows another "dark of winter" heatwave hitting the north pole this week. Temperatures soared from -30 Celsius to zero in the span of one day.

White Privilege and Moral Indignation. . .

kirbycairo - Thu, 02/09/2017 - 08:30
I am disappointed about recent political/social events. Ok, disappointment is far too week a word. Perhaps existential dread is a better word for my prevailing emotion. But then I think to myself, if I feel so overwhelmed by these events, what must racialized and marginalized people be feeling? I am a well-educated, white man. In social terms, it doesn't come more privileged than that. If I feel a sense of dread, I can't imagine the anger and disappointment of those who don't enjoy such privilege.

I grew up in the US in the 60s and 70s so I am certainly no stranger to open and overt racism. I heard the "N" word hurled at kids and adults and I understood, even as a child, its import and implications. But my youthful experiences in the US were mostly in Santa Monica, California and a mostly white neighborhood of Denver Colorado, and as racist epicentres go these were hardly crawling with racist sentiment, (at least not overly). When I came to Canada I actually saw more open racism among my peers, aimed almost exclusively at indigenous people and those whose "heritage" was Indian or Pakistani. But despite all of this, I assumed (I suppose like most privileged, white liberals) that we were on the road to a society where racism was vanishing. Now, I've always understood how painful the process was, and with what snail-like slowness it was proceeding. But I assumed, perhaps naively, that we were on the way down that path.

Suddenly the ground of that naive certainty has been pulled out from people like me. Again, this is probably itself a form of white privilege. While I blithely assumed things were genuinely changing, those who suffered the effects of real racism knew the score; they knew that blatant and structural racism continued in many cases unabated.

But I have never been particularly sanguine about progress or the goodness of human beings. So, at some level, I am not that surprised to see a resurgence of white supremacy, nor am I surprised at the cavalier attitude of many people at what amounts to a supremacist takeover of the White House. But what I suppose I am disappointed at is the way that structural racism has so insidiously seeped into people's consciousness, to the degree that self-professed liberals often hide their racism behind security concerns or, even more insidiously, behind moral indignation concerning black activism.

A case in point is the moral indignation that white liberals hurl at Black Lives Matter in general and at the Toronto chapter co-founder of that organization Yusra Khogali in particular. Now, I am very consciously not going to rehash white people's criticism of BLM or Khogali because that would be to fall into the very white privilege that I so despise. What amazes me is the ease with which white liberals make these criticisms, even to the point that a prominent white blogger on the Huffington post openly called for Khogali to resign in a recent post.

Here's the thing - it has always been a central element of racism and white privilege that white people feel that they can tell racialized or oppressed groups how they should protest, be politically active, or who they should chose as their leaders. But telling racialized people what to do is the very problem that racialized activists are reacting against, it is the very thing they are protesting. For white liberals to tell BLM who they should choose as a leader is a grand confirmation of racism and white privilege! As a white person you may not like who BLM (or any such activist organization) chooses as their leader, and my response is, tough luck, get over it! For centuries white people have brutalized and enslaved racialized people, raped them, imprisoned them, and lynched them. In the US this process continues almost unabated. The system of slavery and lynching has been replaced with a national prison system that is as brutal and de-humanizing as slavery ever was. In the face of this kind of violence and brutalization (here and abroad), moral-indignation at the actions of BLM and Khogali is the height of white privilege. Such indignation is like someone subjecting their neighbors to daily verbal and physical abuse and then being righteously upset if the neighbors or their kids egg the abuser's house.

Struggling against oppression has always been a messy, sometimes violent, business. That's because oppression is itself a messy and violent business, and the desire of liberal white people to keep it nice and tidy is a massive element of their privilege. It's easy to call for calm forgiveness and gentle inclusiveness when you're on the winning side of history. My answer to white people who have a sense of moral indignation at BLM is, get your own house in order and remember you have little or no sense what a daily ubiquitous experience of racial oppression feels like.

If Yusra Khogali hates me, I don't blame her. White people have given her plenty or reasons to hate us. Even if I disagree with BLM strategies, I'm not going to white-splain some notion of "appropriate" political action. When white Americans elect a white supremacist government, it amazes me to hear white people tell racialized groups to "calm down" and play nice.

A Change of Pace

Politics and its Discontents - Thu, 02/09/2017 - 06:35

Perhaps I am in a bit of a mood, but I don't feel like writing about politics today. Instead, today's subject is death, which we all must confront at some point. But this post is not about quotidian deaths, you know, the kinds that come as a result of long illness or random violence. Rather, this is about demises that occur under, to say the least, unusual, even absurd circumstances, circumstances that one can hardly anticipate.

While I probably have something of a macabre sense of humour, today's subject is prompted by a story I read this morning of a rather ignoble end:
Judith Permar drove to a clothing drop-off box at about 2 a.m. Sunday, her black Hummer shrouded in the darkness of the Natalie, Pa., night.

It doesn’t appear the 56-year-old was fueled by a late-night desire to help the poor, though. When she arrived at the box, she jumped out of her enormous SUV, leaving the engine running.

At that point, it seems that she pulled a stepladder up to the drop-off box. No one can say for sure — the next time anyone saw Permar, she was dead.

After allegedly removing several bags filled with clothes and shoes, she slipped as the stepladder collapsed, her arm catching in the door.

The fall broke her arms and wrists, which were trapped in the box. Her feet, meanwhile, didn’t quite touch the ground, leaving her hanging.

There she dangled until 8:30 the next morning, when she was finally found.

Permar was pronounced dead at the scene. The county coroner James F. Kelley listed the cause of death as blunt force trauma and hypothermia.And while we are on this subject, allow me to share with you some of the opening sequences of one of my all-time favourite shows, Six Feet Under, an HBO series which dealt with the mortuary business.

Enjoy, or not, as your sensibilities permit.

Recommend this Post

Ambassador Palin?

Northern Reflections - Thu, 02/09/2017 - 05:59

Ashifa Kassam reports in The Guardian that Sarah Palin is being considered for the post of American Ambassador to Canada.  Presumably, her main qualification for the job is that, from Alaska, she can see Canada. Be that as it may, rumours of her appointment have sparked typically acerbic Canadian criticism:

“Sarah Palin as ambassador?” New Democrat MP Charlie Angus asked on Twitter. “Well that would show how little Steve Bannon and his pal @realDonaldTrump think of Canada.”

“Appointing Sarah Palin as the US ambassador to Canada is, like, ultimate trolling,” noted one. “If he makes Sarah Palin the US Ambassador to Canada. I say we keep our oil and hockey players. BTW … does she speak Canadian?” Asked another.
 One particularly glum commentator weighed in with this request:

"Dear Mr. Trump: Rather than appoint Sarah Palin as ambassador to Canada, please bomb us. Signed, all intelligent life in Canada.”
The story may just be fake news. There's a lot of that going around.

Image: Rex/Shutterstock

Kellie Leitch and the Redneck From Wasilla

Montreal Simon - Thu, 02/09/2017 - 05:40

If you see Kellie Leitch galloping past you screaming hysterically, don't panic.

She's not warning us about an American invasion, or warning us that Kevin O'Leary has left his home in Boston and coming after the job she craves so badly.

It's just her way of telling us how incredibly happy she is.
Read more »

The Scary Corruption of Donald Trump

Montreal Simon - Thu, 02/09/2017 - 05:38

It's not like it was impossible to predict what might happen when the Trump mob took over the White House.

Or guess that they might make the Sopranos look like angels.

So who can be surprised that the stench of corruption now hangs heavily in the air?

And that el capo de tutti is now totally out of control.
Read more »

The Word from Germany - "Resist"

The Disaffected Lib - Wed, 02/08/2017 - 16:28

Since it's founding in 1947, Der Spiegel has rarely pulled punches when it comes to politicians, German and foreign, across the political spectrum. However, when it comes to Donald Trump, the news magazine's criticism have reached a new level.

Spiegel's editor in chief, Klaus Brinkbaumer, has written an editorial calling Trump a latter day Nero.

It is literally painful to write this sentence, but the president of the United States is a pathological liar. The president of the U.S. is a racist (it also hurts to write this). He is attempting a coup from the top; he wants to establish an illiberal democracy, or worse; he wants to undermine the balance of power. He fired an acting attorney general who held a differing opinion from his own and accused her of "betrayal." This is the vocabulary used by Nero, the emperor and destroyer of Rome. It is the way tyrants think.

A Serious Threat

Donald Trump and his fire-starter Stephen Bannon discriminate against certain people by decree, but not against those from countries in which Trump does business. The contempt the president of the United States and his most important adviser have for science and education is so blatant that it's almost difficult to write. But their disdain for climate and environmental policies has to be stated, because four or eight years of it could become a serious threat.

Brinkbaumer calls on Germany to forge a coalition to stand up to and resist the American president and his regime.
...it is Germany, the country that is politically and economically dominant in Europe, that will now have to fill in many of the gaps created by America's withdrawal from the old world order, the one referred to by former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer as "Pax Americana." At the same time, Germany must build an alliance against Donald Trump, because it otherwise won't take shape. It is, however, absolutely necessary.

...under President Trump, both the justified and the contemptible will be melded. Injustice is a major issue of our times, as are fears of digitalization and globalization -- and rightfully so given that the division of society and the speed of modern life is, in fact, extreme. Trump fuses these worries of his voters with nationalism and xenophobia. That's how demagogues work and it is how they become effective. The fact that the United States, a nuclear superpower that has dominated the world economically, militarily and culturally for decades, is now presenting itself as the victim, calling in all seriousness for "America first" and trying to force the rest of the world into humiliating concessions is absurd. But precisely because this nonsense is coming from the world's most powerful man, it is getting trapped by him.
This is not a threat that will somehow resolve itself. The German economy has become the target of American trade policy and German democracy is ideologically antithetical to Trump's vision. But even here, in the middle of Germany, right-wing extremists are trying to give him a helping hand. It is high time that we stand up for what is important: democracy, freedom, the West and its alliances.

This does not mean escalation or that we must abandon our contacts with America and all the working groups between our governments. What is does mean, though, is that Europe must grow stronger and start planning its political and economic defenses. Against America's dangerous president.

Trump's New Judge Calls President's Remarks "Demoralizing" and "Disheartening."

The Disaffected Lib - Wed, 02/08/2017 - 16:19

America's new supreme court justice, Neil Gorsuch, has criticized Trump's attack on the independence of the judiciary as "demoralizing" and "disheartening."

Justice Gorsuch did, however, stop just short of calling Trump a total asshole.

cairo, day two

we move to canada - Wed, 02/08/2017 - 11:58
I was very pleased to have slept a full night last night. The time difference is so much easier going east. We hear the Muslim call to prayer very loudly, but I went back to sleep afterwards. Each room in this hotel is equipped with earplugs!

We had breakfast on the rooftop patio; all the seats face the pyramids the way Parisian cafes face the sidewalk. Breakfast consisted of breads, some herbed white cheese, a few hardboiled eggs, some fig pastries, plain yoghurt (really creamy and delicious) and bananas. Two highlights were halawa, a sweet made of sesame (my grandmother used to bring us this when I was a kid), and a few falafel. The falafel were delicious and different from the ones we see in North America. Here they are made from ful (fava beans). These also contained some pistachio. They were light and fluffy, and right off the skillet. I managed to get by with only two cups of coffee, half of my usual morning need. Our host has to walk downstairs for each cup. I couldn't ask him to do that more than twice!

After breakfast we headed down the street to the entrance to the Giza plateau, where the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx stand. It was a bit surreal, walking up past the Sphinx towards this crazy-huge structure, something we've seen pictures of all our lives. We've seen the pyramids in Mexico, and they are impressive and wondrous -- and these are almost twice the size.

We walked around all three pyramids. As we finished the furthest one and walked back towards the first, it had gotten considerably more crowded. The tour buses and the selfies and the screaming kids are bad enough, but it's not the crowds that grates. It's the touts. Men approach you constantly, trying to get you to buy things, or ride a camel, or ride in a horse cart, or whatever. And they do not take no for an answer. If you ignore them, they hound you. "I'm speaking to you. Do you not hear me? Most people say 'no thank you'." Then if you say "No thank you," that is taken as a sign of interest and it all starts up again. Sometimes a sharp "no thank you" will work, other times I resorted to "Please go away!" It is obnoxious, and tiring -- and it's constant. People have to earn a living. I get that. But these methods are extremely off-putting -- and for me, not at all conducive to buying!

The other thing I found difficult was the animals. Camels are adapted to the desert, and they move slowly. But are horses equipped for day-long exercise in the hot sun? They pull carts often loaded with people, and the drivers make them gallop. They appear to rest between rides, but they have no access to water and no shade. On our way out, we saw lines of horses pulling carts up and down a long hill. Some of the horses seemed strong and able, but I saw some who were really struggling. The pavement is worn smooth, and I saw one old-looking horse sliding down the hill, the cart behind it. It appeared terrified.

Before writing this, I looked for information about animal welfare or standards. I found some other travelers concerned about the welfare of the animals, and the Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals, who endeavoured to feed starving animals when businesses were devastated from the sudden disappearance of tourism after the revolution in 2011. Other than that, I didn't see anything about standards of treatment.

So the experience at Giza alternated between breathtaking, irritating, and disturbing.

There's almost no interpretative signs, so groups have their tour guides and we used our guidebook. Allan has read a lot about the pyramids, and I studied ancient Egypt when I was writing children's nonfiction about ancient civilizations. Besides walking around the three pyramids, and the Sphinx, two other items are worth noting here.

In 1954, four huge wooden ships -- 43.6 meters (143 feet) long each -- were discovered under giant limestome blocks, buried under the sand. One ship was in more than 1200 pieces, plus miles of rope. Over a period of 13 years, one ship was re-assembled using the original materials and is on display. There's a gallery that gives an excellent view. You can also see the original pit it was buried in, and the 41 limestone blocks that guarded it, each weighing 18 tonnes. Wikipedia says that some scholars believe the ships were symbolic only, for the Pharaoh Cheops to sail to the afterlife, and others think the boats transported his funerary haul to the pyramids on the Nile flood plain. Factoid: in the boat museum, you are given canvas coverings to put over your shoes, to keep the sand out of the museum.

The other thing of note was literally a nonevent: our failure to get into the tombs. We had read that the passageways were very narrow, and that even a touch of claustrophobia would render the tombs impossible. We waited in line... only to learn there was a separate admission ticket. Then we waited in line for those tickets. Three different people told us to stand in three different lines. Then we waited in line again to enter. You cannot enter with a camera, and we were not about to leave our camera on the ground next to the ticket-taker, so we thought we'd take turns. I can handle those kinds of things better than Allan, I could give it a try and report back.

When you first enter, you're in a wide passageway, and air is circulating. (Everyone was taking pictures with their cell phones.) Soon after, there is a narrow, uphill passage. Small guide rails have been put in for your hands and feet, and you climb up at about a 20 degree angle. There is very little clearance over head, or on either side. And it's crowded. I started up, and someone a few people ahead of me started freaking out. She tried to turn around, and couldn't, and panicked even more, forcing her way backwards. I had only taken three or four steps, but it was already very hot and humid, and I was starting to sweat.

I stood in the wider part of the passage, trying to decide if it was worth it. When it was clear of people, I tried looking up the climb to see how far it went. It went a very long way. If it had been all in one direction, so you climbed in and then continued climbing out, I could have done it. But this passage wasn't built for tourists. There is one passage, and long lines of people are going both in and out. As I stood there considering my options, many people exited -- drenched in sweat. It just seemed not worth it.

Outside, I told Allan he wouldn't want to do it either, but I encouraged him to go see for himself. He came out shortly, smiling at the folly of even trying.

Although seeing the Pyramids was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it was also a difficult one. I imagine it will be like this at every stop on the trip. Although hopefully without the animals.

We walked back to the room, our boots white with dust. We cooled off and cleaned up, then headed to a restaurant that sounded great. We hadn't eaten since breakfast, and somehow I was still doing ok at 3:30 p.m. (No idea why. Adrenalin?) Our hosts were very excited about our choice of restaurant and called a cab for us.

The restaurant, Andrea, is far off in a newly developed area called New Giza. There are billboards promoting it all over Cairo -- all in English. The restaurant was a knock-out -- a large patio of beautiful wood tables overlooking a valley, with colourful sails and sheets designed both for beauty and protection against sun and sand.

The food is simple but perfect. We had baba ganoush and tahini, then the flame-grilled chicken they are known for. And everything is eaten with this delicious fresh puffy bread. (Apparently good restaurants here all bake their own bread.) As we were eating, the patio was filling up with families and large groups. Servers went by carrying platters piled high with chicken and mountains of puffy bread.

On our way out, we saw women sitting on rugs, making the dough and sliding it in and out of brick ovens. They were colourfully dressed and obviously an attraction. They gave me a bread right out of the oven, and we took a few pictures, and tipped them. The bread... oh boy.

Then we had one of those ridiculously difficult times getting back, the kind that make you wonder why you went out in the first place. But we did make it back, in time to get our jackets (it is cold at night) and sit on the roof for the Pyramid sound and light show. You can see and hear it perfectly from the rooftop patio here.

Seeing the giant pyramids lit up against the night sky was an impressive sight. The narration was completely corny and ridiculous, with pompous music that sounded like something out of an old Hollywood newsreel. But it was lovely sitting on the roof, drinking tea and looking at the Sphinx!

* * * *

Readers may be wondering if I'm using the Arabic I've been studying. People here are speaking to us in English, and it seems pretentious and silly to reply in my beginners' Arabic. But I am understanding a lot of what I hear! That is pretty cool. I can pick out a lot of words, and I can hear the words used in context. I can tell you that Mango is as advertised: the speakers sound exactly like what I'm hearing. Maybe later in the trip I'll get to speak more? Whether or not that happens, I'm hooked on learning this language and want to continue.

Another question people will ask is about women -- how they are dressed, if they wear hijabs. Most girls over a certain age and women do wear headscarves, but some do not. Almost everyone is in modern dress. The girls look exactly like the Muslim girls in Mississauga -- jeans, sneakers, cute tops, cell phones, hijabs. We have seen a few older women wearing galabeyas, and a couple of women in niqabs. I saw more women in niqabs in Malton then I have here.

Personally I find hijabs either completely unremarkable, or pretty. In the tradition I was raised in, men cover their heads for worship, and many men cover their heads at all times. If a man with a little beanie on his head is unremarkable, then surely a woman with a scarf should be, too.

Wednesday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Wed, 02/08/2017 - 07:53
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Louis-Philippe Rochon writes that while American voters had to know what they'd get in casting their most recent ballots, far too many Canadians may have believed the Libs' promises of something else:
On this side of the 49th parallel, however, when Canadians elected Trudeau a little over 15 months ago, on Oct. 19, 2015, we were led to believe he was some sort of a progressive politician with respect to social and economic issues, which essentially is what got him elected.

What a difference a year makes.

In recent months Trudeau has behaved very little like a progressive economist and has instead embraced with great fanfare some oddly conservative policies. In doing so, has Trudeau revealed himself to be a conservative wolf in liberal clothing? If so, it would appear the fix is in: Canadians voted for one guy but got another.  It was the classic political bait and switch: the great Canadian hoodwink.
[Under a privatized structure,] any infrastructure project will easily cost twice as much over a 30-year period. In other words, for any project, Canadian taxpayers will end up holding the fiscal bag through higher fees and taxes, whereas the government could finance the project at much cheaper rates. This makes no economic sense, which raises the question, is the government doing this simply as a way of thanking their financial supporters?

There is a more sinister argument looming under all this, and it regards the role of public spending and the privatization of the state. Indeed, with all these musings about privatizing airports, ports and public spending, Trudeau is in fact championing the privatization of the state itself, robbing it further of its powers to create jobs and regulate unstable markets. This is clearly not what Canadians were expecting when they elected him last year. - Christopher Majka highlights how Justin Trudeau's choice to break a core promise on electoral reform can only be explained by his taking Canadian voters for fools, while Scott Baker and Mark Dance write that it's bound to fuel voter cynicism. Tom Parkin discusses Trudeau's dishonesty on the issue, while Lawrence Martin emphasizes the damage the decision will do to Trudeau's core brand. And Karl Nerenberg points out how the retention of first-past-the-post is a gift to the right wing.

- Meanwhile, Michael Taube rightly observes that the Liberals' choice to nix electoral reform doesn't mean the issue will disappear. And Michael Morden and Michael Crawford Urban comment on the need for improved voter turnout as a means of ensuring better governance.

- Jugal Patel reports on a giant crack in Antarctica's ice shelf as yet another vivid reminder of the drastic effects of climate change.

- Finally, Andre Picard rightly questions why the Quebec City mosque massacre hasn't led to a discussion of gun control.

Another Global Recession?

Northern Reflections - Wed, 02/08/2017 - 06:06

North American stock markets are booming. The conventional wisdom is that -- economically -- happy days are here again. But Joseph Ingram isn't so optimistic. The election of Donald Trump and the rise of European authoritarians cast dark shadows:

Both Trump’s election and the June Brexit vote in Britain are fueling the growth of European populist movements. Combined with his skepticism as to the European Union’s desirability — a sentiment he apparently shares with Russian President Vladimir Putin — these movements constitute an existential threat to its existence, the break-up of which would surely result in the end of the liberal international order that we have known for the past seventy years.

The consequence would be a leap into an abyss of policy chaos, adversarial trade and geo-strategic relationships (including among former allies) and an instability that likely would produce a global recession — or worse. President Trump’s tiffs with the leaders of two of the U.S.’s closest allies — the Prime Minister of Australia and the President of Mexico — are a sign of things to come, as was this week’s meeting of European leaders in Malta.
Things do not bode well for the world economy:

To successfully counter these ominous trends will require economic policies that seek to promote the interests of the many rather than the few. Obscene gaps in income must be narrowed. The task of pressing governments to adopt such policies needs to be animated by a popular response — not one seen as elitist, nor driven by any particular political party or ideology. Nor should the response be inspired by failed neo-liberal or neo-Marxist policies of the past.

The concerns of organized labour, rural communities, small towns and the young will need to be addressed directly, thereby shifting the impact of public policy away from the asymmetric benefits it has been extending to the corporate sector and its elites. Governments also will need to consider limits on the application of new technologies that risk creating massive structural unemployment or destructive de-industrialization.
Trump's cabinet of billionaires makes it clear that what is need will not be delivered. And his deregulation of Wall Street suggests that history will repeat itself:

It will be equally important to remind people that the deregulation of the financial and industrial sectors now advocated by President Trump’s government, and many of Europe’s populists, is what brought the U.S. economy double-digit unemployment, a housing crisis, a critically weakened financial system and the great recession of 2008.
The fools are in charge.

Image: takemygist

The Horror of Syria and the Human Slaughterhouse

Montreal Simon - Wed, 02/08/2017 - 03:18

I must admit I didn't think that anything that happened in Syria could shock me more than it already has.

The more than 400,000 dead, the countless wounded and traumatized, the sea of desperate refugees, the indifference of the world.

But if Amnesty International is right about what has been happening at the Saydnaya military prison in Damascus, it must surely be what it has been called "the worst place on earth."
Read more »

Steve Bannon and the Undermining of Pope Francis

Montreal Simon - Wed, 02/08/2017 - 03:15

Much has been written recently about Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's closest adviser, and the man many believe is the real president of the United States.

The alt-right fanatic who believes that an apocalyptic "cleansing war" is coming, and is obsessed with global destruction.

But did you know that Bannon's fascist tentacles also reach into the Vatican?
Read more »

cairo, day one

we move to canada - Tue, 02/07/2017 - 11:27
Greetings from the Pyramids View Inn, Cairo, Egypt. Although I don't post photos until after we return (sometimes well after!), this is one photo you have to see now. This is the view from the window of our hotel room!

Seriously: the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx are immediately across from us. From our window we can see people seeming ant-size beside these mountainous structures, walking around, some on camels and horses.

So to backtrack. The flight was kind of crappy, the plane very crowded, with minimal room and not much in the way of comforts. But I prefer not to focus on those things, and not lose sight of the big picture. I don't want to become a traveler who forgets how lucky we are and can't tolerate minor discomforts. On the plus side, we flew nonstop to Cairo without delays.

It took a bit of doing to navigate the airport routine, and perhaps gave us a taste of the culture. First we waited in line at passport control, only to learn we should have purchases entry visas first. At the visa window, the staff -- smoking a cigarette, while at work! -- told us it was shift change time, could we go next door. Not another window -- a different company. That guy told us cash only, and we didn't have cash yet, so we had to get some Egyptian pounds, and start all over. It would have been funnier if we weren't so exhausted.

Passport control and customs asked us zero questions, just waved us through. And after retrieving our luggage, we saw a driver with the hotel sign, waiting for us. Yay!

And then: our first wild Egyptian cab ride. Friends who are nervous drivers and passengers, if you ever come here, you'll have to be blindfolded to avoid heart failure. The lines between lanes are only suggestions. Cars weave in and out of lanes, and between lanes, and around and through, passing and re-passing and re-re-passing, at highway speed. And our driver was answering his phone and texting most of the time! We gasped repeatedly, holding our breath as we came within a whisper of scraping cars on either side. Our driver was completely unfazed, of course. And lest you get the wrong idea, we were laughing and enjoying it.

It was a long ride, past zillions of huge blocks of apartments, and zillions of billboards in both Arabic and English. Every so often we would pass a cluster of cars and people on the shoulder, often with a large number of white transport vans. After a while we realized these were bus stops for commuters.

Once off the highway, we drove very slowly through an impoverished area. There was a lot of garbage and seemingly abandoned construction, but also many tiny cafes and food joints that were just opening for the day. We saw several people riding carts pulled by donkeys, both human and animal looking thin and tired. We saw this off and on all day -- including on the highway shoulder.

I saw a man on a traffic island stirring a huge cook pot, ready to feed people on their way to work. I was about to point this out to Allan, thinking it was a lovely sight, when he gasped and pointed. A pyramid. The Pyramid -- larger than life and visible between two buildings! We drove through some police check gates, to the hotel, with the pyramids and the Sphinx visible on the other side of the street. To quote Allan, holy shit!

It was very early, and we didn't expect our room to be ready, but our hosts carried all our things -- they wouldn't let us carry anything -- up a few flights to a small room they said we could lie down in while our room was prepared, assuring us that our real room was much nicer. We were tired and a bit cranky, and with a sleep mask on, I managed to sleep for a couple of hours.

We were woken by knocking on our door, profuse apologies, and more people moving our bags for us. A boy led us to our room, and with a practiced flourish, flung aside the curtain, revealing an unobstructed view of the Pyramids and the Sphinx.

I was desperate for a shower, so it was disappointing to discover we had no hot water. More conversations with our hosts revealed the hot water heater had been turned off, and would now need another half hour to warm up. (That is, a half hour longer than the 20 minutes we had already given it.)

The Pyramids View Inn is a bit lower budget than we usually do, the lower end of the "mid-range" scale. Our Lonely Planet guide tells us that Cairo is full of both high-end chain hotels and dingy crashes, but it can be challenging to find quality places in the middle. But the place is very clean, the hosts could not be friendlier or more helpful, and did I mention the Pyramids are right outside? It's the equivalent of about $75/night Canadian, including breakfast.

After showers and more bottled water, we asked our hosts to call us a taxi, and headed to Zamalek, a neighbourhood on an island in the Nile. Allan read that it was a great place for local eating, drinking, and people-watching. ("Allan read" will be a big theme on this trip. He's done almost all the research for the whole trip. Lucky me!) This was another long cab ride, slightly less crazy. Our driver charged 47 Egyptian Pounds (EL)... the equivalent $3.30 CAD. We did not haggle.

We quickly spotted one of the places we were looking for, a local chain with a fresh and gourmet take on traditional street food. This place -- Zööba -- was awesome. The decor, the music, the whole vibe was smart and hip but friendly and laid back. They have a huge takeout business, and they deliver, but in the middle of the small room was a long table, with pairs of people eating across from each other. We thought there was no room to sit, until one of the servers asked two women to move their bags for us. Everyone else at the table was young, female, and hip. And eating from stainless steel bowls with gusto. We were very hungry, and the menu -- in both English and Arabic -- was mouthwatering.

We ordered a bowl of koshari for each of us, and kofta and hawawshi to share. Everything was so good. Koshari is classic Egyptian street food -- a bowl of lentils, pasta, rice, and corn, in a tomato-based sauce. I had no idea what to expect, but it was totally delicious. The kofta, which is like a long meatball, very dry and flavourful, was amazing. Hawawshi is a grilled bread pocket filled with meat and ful (fava beans), with a coriander taste, similar to a meat somosa, but in freshly baked and grilled bread. We were very happy!

We asked some of the lovely young women near us about the condiments they were shaking into their koshari. One was obviously hot sauce, and the other was a lemon-garlic-olive oil dressing. After some of the w‪omen left, a large group of young men came in, very friendly and polite. It was just an awesome place at the exact time we needed it.

After eating, we walked down the Zamalek main drag, 26 of July Street. It is lined with funky shops and eateries, very obviously middle class, and everything in English. On some side streets, we passed many quiet coffee houses where people were relaxing, smoking sheesha. Lonely Planet tells us there's a coffee house and a sheesha flavour for every type and taste. I've decided that with my crazily sensitive respiratory system, I shouldn't be smoking anything. It's disappointing, as I'd like to try both the sheesha and the experience, but the idea of triggering a possible allergy or asthma attack while in Egypt is quite a deterrent.

Even in this neighbourhood among the more upscale shops, there was a lot of garbage, and random construction, and a lot of loud, noisy traffic. Kind of like the Upper West Side or Park Slope used to be! We passed a painting crew working on "scaffolding" -- sticks of raw wood lashed together with rope -- a guy standing on a rickety platform wearing no protective gear of any kind, trying to balance while rolling on paint. I could hear my union peeps all yelling "Health and Safety!" in unison. It's sad and awful that workers risk their lives like this every day, all over the world.

In the cab on the way back, the streets were even more congested and the traffic even crazier. We passed at least a dozen donkey carts walking on the highway shoulder, and once a man was driving his horse cart across at least eight lanes of snarled traffic.

Our driver wanted 100 LEs for the same trip we had paid 47 for earlier. I offered 50, and when he moaned about it, I gave him 20 more. If you're a wmtc reader, you may remember that Allan and I hate haggling of any kind ("the only good bargaining is collective bargaining"), but we are told that in certain situations here -- in the markets and in cabs -- you are expected to come back with an offer of half of what you've been asked for.

Tomorrow: the Pyramids, the Sphinx, and the rest of the Giza Plateau.

Facebook's Community Standards

Politics and its Discontents - Tue, 02/07/2017 - 10:11
Some time ago, I wrote about my disappointing experience with Facebook after I complained about what was essentially hate speech by a FB group. The response I got was that the racist anti-Muslim group did not violate their community standards.

Since then, it would appear that little has changed.

Yesterday I happened upon a video by a FB group entitled Refugee Resettlement, below which was an invitation to learn more at Act For America, which describes itself as "the NRA of national security." Take a look if you want to get a flavour of their 'concerns.' I watched the group's video which, in my view, is an exercise in fear-mongering and anti-Muslim sentiment. In my view, it does violate my standards, but apparently not those of Facebook. Here is the reply I got about my complaint:
Thank you for taking the time to report something that you feel may violate our Community Standards. Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment. We reviewed the video you reported for displaying hate speech and found it doesn't violate our Community Standards.

Please let us know if you see anything else that concerns you. We want to keep Facebook safe and welcoming for everyone.Well, perhaps not everyone, as the video below makes clear:

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