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Saturday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Sat, 05/14/2016 - 08:33
Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Ed Finn comments on the history of neoliberalism - but notes that while the public is rightly skeptical of corporate spin, that awareness hasn't yet translated into a strong alternative:
(S)cores of well-known thinkers, writers, economists, and activists have vociferously denounced the many abuses of large business empires driven by their greed and unchecked power. The upsurge of Occupy Wall Street, Idle No More, and other public protest movements have all specifically targeted the big investment firms, banks, and other corporate giants.

Corporations and their CEOs are now commonly portrayed as villains in movies, TV shows, and books. The proliferation of insider trading and other "white-collar" crimes make front-page news. Many thousands of people have had a personal bad experience with an insurance or investment firm. And most are now also aware that the worst pollution of the environment comes from the chemicals and effluents spewed out by the big industrial complexes.

The majority of the populace realizes that there is something seriously wrong with the prevailing political and economic systems. They may not trace their unemployment, low wages, or shoddy living conditions to the inequities of laissez-faire capitalism, but they know that sweeping changes of some kind need to be made.
So it's clear now that simply exposing big business atrocities will have no deterrent effects, either by governments or the corporate scoundrels themselves. Even the opposition parties in our legislatures rarely, if ever, mention corporate malfeasance during election campaigns or Question Periods. And since the politicians we vote for are the only ones with the authority to stop the titans of capitalism from further impoverishing billions, worsening inequality, and eventually wrecking the planet, we find ourselves at an impasse. - Meanwhile, Jason Stahl makes the case for a socialist think tank to put workers' interests on a more level playing field with the corporate voices amplified by dozens of well-funded astroturf organizations.

- Lana Payne notes that the effort assembled in response to the Fort McMurray fire offers a reminder of the power and positive effect of collective action.

- Andrew Jackson discusses how a transition to clean energy could form the basis for a global economic recovery. And Bartley Kives offers a bleak look at how our climate could change in the absence of such a shift - with the Canadian prairies taking on the dry, stifling climate patterns now associated with the southern U.S.

- Finally, Karl Nerenberg highlights how the Libs are refusing to allow for a fair study of electoral reform. And PressProgress points out that if the Libs are at all serious about gender equity, they should be ruling out preferential or ranked ballots as options.

This One Might Hurt.

The Disaffected Lib - Sat, 05/14/2016 - 08:02

There are some arguments that come along every now and then that seem so shocking, that so confront our sense of order or decency that we are instantly repelled by them. We may denounce the argument as inflammatory, spurious and deeply offensive. With time, however, a few of these affronts will survive our anger and resentment.

A case in point comes from The Guardian's Canadian correspondent, the ever abrasive Martin Lukacs.

In 1972, Townes Van Zandt, penned lyrics that spoke of an old cowboy who had "breath as hard as kerosene." Lukacs reminds me a lot of that.

Anyway, cut to the chase. Lukacs opinion piece has the title, "The arsonists of Fort McMurray." Unlike prime minister Slick who isn't that interested in root causes of the Fort Mac fires, Lukacs points a finger not just at climate change but at the fossil energy giants which have knowingly done so much to contribute to it.

"These arsonists have a name and they’re hiding in plain view—because their actions, at the moment, are still considered legal. They’re the companies that helped turn the boreal forest into a flammable tinder-box. The same companies that have undermined attempts to rein in carbon emissions. The same companies that, by their very design, chase profits with no mind for the ecological and human consequences."

That might have you reeling. It certainly did me. The problem is that his condemnation of the bitumen barons doesn't stop there. It reaches all of us. This happened on our watch with the assistance of governments we elected and that goes well before and after Stephen Harper.
Maybe we didn't know early on but we sure as hell knew later on. And we know that the fossil energy giants have known for decades, probably a lot longer than you or most anyone you know on a first name basis.
There's an important principle of criminal law that a person is deemed to intend the logical and foreseeable consequences of his acts. That's a principle that applies to the mens rea, the mental element of any crime, intent. Okay, that brings Lukacs closer to his point.
Now I realize that argument is going to infuriate Slick, it has to. He was damned quick off the mark to try to distance the reduction of Fort McMurray from the notion that climate change had anything to do with it. Hell, he's a petro-pimp, that's his job. Can't fault him for doing his job, I suppose. Well, maybe you can. Of course you can.
I've made the point recently a few times that, when it comes to climate change, don't take events in isolation. Get your eyes up. Look up and out. Take in the big picture, what's happening around the world. If "once in a century" events keep popping up here and there and there - all over the place - chances are pretty good there's a common thread that connects them all. Lots of dots, connect the dots, see what picture emerges. 
Eyes down, Slick-style, and Fort Mac is a solitary dot. Who can say what happened? Best not to dwell on it. Eyes up, looking around, Fort Mac is one of a mess of dots popping up around the world - dots of greater frequency and intensity and duration than we've experienced in the past. Some of those dots represent massive wildfires. Some designate droughts or floods. Others depict severe storm events, cyclonic stuff. Red dots, blue dots, green dots, yellow dots, a palette of dots. Biblical stuff all over the place.

Connect the dots, look at the picture.

Lukacs hammers home his case with this:

Yet in the fire’s aftermath, it has seemed impossible to name them: fossil fuel corporations. Of course they’re not the only ones who have fuelled climate change: all of us consume oil at every level of our lives. But the record is clear that we are not equally responsible: an astonishing 90 companies alone have caused two-thirds of global carbon emissions. And all the oil giants involved in the Alberta tar sands are among them: ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Total, CNRL, Chevron.
Anyone who has followed the course of climate change over the past 15 years or more knew that we would get to a point where we would begin having to face some hard truths, things we didn't want to hear or read or feel. Canadians have been extraordinarily lucky. With the exception of the Arctic, it's mainly been a hearing and reading exercise for us. Nothing that we haven't been able to put behind us so that we can return to business as usual.
For us, even wildfires are largely spectacle. Fires + in the wild = dramatic TV readily forgotten. When those fires take our homes it becomes a little more important. We'll remember the Fort Mac fire for a good long while unless it gets eclipsed by ever more climate change catastrophes that render it somehow mundane, almost commonplace. What then?
In other corners of the world, people are more into the feeling part. They're feeling thirsty or feeling hungry, some of them feel angry, angry enough to rise up, sometimes angry enough to kill.
“We have loaded the dice for more extreme wildfires,” says Mike Flannigan, a wildfire scientist at the University of Alberta. “We attribute the increase in wildfires and their severity and intensity to human-caused climate change. We’ve been saying it for years. Many of us saw a Fort McMurray-like situation coming, but none of us expected anything as horrific as what has happened.”

Today, twice as much land in Canada is being devoured by fires as in the 1970s—and that will double or quadruple again in the decades to come. Climate change is putting such pressure on the boreal, which covers most of northern Canada, that a study published last year in the journal Science issued a stark warning: “this forest will convert to a type of savannah.”

To remain mute about those responsible for this devastation is not an act of sensitivity toward the citizens of Fort McMurray. It is to stand idly by while these corporations move on to claim their next victims. To argue, as prime minister Justin Trudeau has, that making the connection between climate change and this infernal fire isn’t “helpful,” is not a gesture of statesmanly maturity. It is the prevarication of political cowards.

Corporate Recognition Of Climate Change

Politics and its Discontents - Sat, 05/14/2016 - 06:15
When the insurance industry starts worrying, we should all be very, very afraid.

Bill Adams, Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) vice-president of the Western and Pacific Region, says the rising costs of insurance claims leaves no doubt that climate change is largely responsible:
"It’s happening. The wake-up call is now. There has been a radical shift in the frequency, severity and nature of insurance claims that we’re seeing as an industry in Canada."

According to IBC, insurance payouts from extreme weather have more than doubled every five to 10 years since the 1980s [emphasis mine], and since 2010, claims have hovered between $1 billion and a historic $3 billion, compared with an average of $400 million per year from 1983 to 2008.

Our head-in-the-sand approach is clearly counterproductive:
"I don't think we are adapting to our new weather reality nearly as quickly as we need to," Adams insisted. "I think most Canadians are largely if not (completely) oblivious. Those who are paying attention are those who have either always been engaged and had an understanding of it, or people who have been affected."And besides the existential peril climate change presents, higher insurance premiums are on the way:
While the Fort McMurray fire alone is not enough to raise insurance premiums, he explained, a rash of wildfires across the country certainly could. It could take anywhere from one to three years to establish a trend, and once a trend is established, the costs will likely rise.

They certainly did after the 2013 floods in southern Alberta, he said, where some insurance companies are reported to have raised their average home insurance premiums by up to 20 per cent.The Bureau predicts that things are only going to get worse, much worse, over the coming decades, and suggests all homeowners take measures to protect their properties. These measures include installing back-flow valves, using fire-resistant shingles, making sure wall cracks are sealed, etc.

It is a somewhat sad commentary that only when climate disaster strikes do most people take climate change seriously. Long-term planning and vision, it would seem, have never been our species' strong suits.Recommend this Post

Is Stephen Harper Preparing To Return From The Dead?

Montreal Simon - Sat, 05/14/2016 - 05:25

I seems hard to believe it could happen with Stephen Harper in such a dilapidated condition.

But a strange story has been circulating in the political cemetery where the Cons hang out these days.

And it would have Stephen Harper rising from the dead.

And beginning a shadowy campaign to become the next Premier of Alberta.

Read more »

The Ball Is In Trudeau's Court

Northern Reflections - Sat, 05/14/2016 - 04:46

Justin Trudeau has done an admirable job of tending to his image, Murray Dobbin writes. But his real test as prime minister will be how he deals with the Isle of Man Tax Dodgers:

By now most people are familiar with the KPMG tax "sham" uncovered by CBC News. The scheme involved at least 26 wealthy clients (minimum contribution, $5 million) for whom KPMG set up shell companies in the Isle of Man, one of many tax havens for the rich and large corporations.

The Canada Revenue Agency initially said the scheme was "grossly negligent" and "intended to deceive."

But 15 of the 26 participants would end up getting special treatment. Some of the first ones caught were assessed huge penalties, but later KPMG clients were offered a secret deal. The "amnesty" agreement granted rich KPMG clients immunity from civil and criminal prosecution and freedom from any penalties, fines or interest as long as they paid the taxes they had dodged. Secrecy was written into the agreement: "The taxpayer agrees to ensure the confidentiality of the offer and will not inform any person of the conditions of the offer..."
It's interesting that this story came to light just as the Panama Papers fiasco was surfacing. The root of the problem, Dobbins writes is the cozy relationship which exists between top executives at the CRA and Canada's major Accounting firms:

The practice of making deals and providing amnesty for the biggest offenders seem rooted in the cozy relationship between senior CRA officials and senior management figures from the accounting firms that facilitate the scams. The CBC uncovered five years of expensive receptions hosted by KPMG and other accounting and law firms for senior agency executives -- including those involved in overseas compliance.

"Senior enforcement officials from the Canada Revenue Agency were treated to private receptions at an exclusive Ottawa club, hosted by a small group of influential tax accountants that included personnel from KPMG -- even as the firm was facing a CRA probe for running a $130-million tax dodge in the Isle of Man," the CBC reported.

Despite strict rules stating employees must "not accept gifts, hospitality, or other benefits that will, or could, have a real, apparent or potential influence on your objectivity and neutrality in performing your CRA duties," these unseemly get-togethers became routine. One that took place at the exclusive Rideau Club in June 2014 saw more than 20 "high-ranking CRA executives" wined and dined by accountancy and law firms including KPMG. CRA executives were actually "required" to attend by the agency. The same day they had been treated to a luncheon followed by a session where they were lobbied by KPMG and other firms.

Little folk pay penalties. But the big fish continue to swim unimpeded. The ball is in Trudeau's Court.

Image: msmoem.com

Jason Kennedy and the Con Apocalypse

Montreal Simon - Sat, 05/14/2016 - 04:21

As you must have realized by now, there is nothing but nothing that scares the Cons more than electoral reform.

Because they know it would be the death of their Zombie Party.

And now that the Liberals have kicked off the process, they're absolutely desperate.

So desperate in fact they've even recruited Andrew Coyne.
Read more »


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