Sunday, December 27, 2009

Quote of the Day - Dec 27

What policymakers keep failing to grasp is that the Earth’s climate won’t negotiate with us. Nature has drawn a line, and we’ve already crossed it. That line is 350 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. We’re at 390 ppm now, and glaciers are receding at an alarming rate. - Marshall Saunders

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Extremism, Dishonesty and Dishonour

A year in the life of Glenn Beck, as endured and collected by Media Matters:

Glenn Beck's well of ridiculous was deep and poisonous before he launched his Fox News show, but the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States -- and the permissive cheerleading of his Fox News honchos -- uncorked the former Morning Zoo shock jock's unique brand of vitriol, stage theatrics, and hyperbolic fright, making him an easy choice for Media Matters' 2009 Misinformer of the Year.

When he wasn't calling the president a racist, portraying progressive leaders as vampires who can only be stopped by "driv[ing] a stake through the heart of the bloodsuckers," or pushing the legitimacy of seceding from the country, Beck obsessively compared Democrats in Washington to Nazis and fascists and "the early days of Adolf Hitler." He wondered, "Is this where we're headed," while showing images of Hitler, Stalin, and Lenin; decoded the secret language of Marxists; and compared the government to "heroin pushers" who were "using smiley-faced fascism to grow the nanny state."

Like his predecessor, Beck spat on scruples, frequently announcing his goal to get administration officials fired. He increasingly acted not as a media figure, but as the head of a political movement, while helping to bring fringe conspiracies of a one-world government into the national discourse.

This was also the year that he started getting watched a lot more closely after moving to Fox News and making it clear how unscrupulous and dishonest he actually was. Beck is either a deeply dangerous demagogue, a deeply cynical and opportunistic televised rodeo clown, or most likely of all, an incredibly dangerous combination of both.

The story that best demonstrated his cavalier and contemptible race-baiting and utter cynicism was when he accused Obama of 'hating white culture'.

The story that came out this year that best demonstrated his character was of his early days as a radio shock jock DJ when he called up the wife of a competing DJ on the air and mocked her recent miscarriage.

Friday, December 25, 2009

It's a Wonderful Life: Escape from Potter's Field



One of the great stories of the Twentieth Century was the story of the working class in North America entering the middle class. Massive industrialization spurred by world wars along with the rising power of unionization and education and loan programs for returning soldiers all combined to make standards of living sky rocket.

The Savings and Loans of the 30's and 40's often were the idealistic working man's co-ops portrayed in It's a Wonderful Life, helping workers escape slum lords and, more problematically, setting the template for the suburban sprawl that surged in the 50's and 60's.

Unfortunately in real life Jimmy Stewart usually wasn't there when Old Man Potter took over and Regan era deregulation and influential Republicans, including a member of the Bush clan, looted the savings and loans and the American taxpayer for billions.

History sure has a way of repeating itself.

UPDATE: Huffington Post plays off It's a Wonderful Life too, with a campaign to get Americans to abandon big Wall Street banks and move their money to smaller community banks.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Palin booted from hospital fundraiser

It's not like it ever made sense for a far right opponent of public healthcare who called for Canada to dismantle its universal system and let big business take over to help raise funds for a public hospital.

HAMILTON, Ont. - Sarah Palin has been given the boot as a celebrity fundraiser for hospitals in Hamilton, Ont., but she will come to town raise money for a local children’s charity instead.

Palin has brought the American health care debate to Canada and it is causing a storm of controversy as concerned hospital supporters have protested her appearance to raise money for two local institutions in April.

The former vice-presidential candidate was supposed to speak at a fund-raising event for the Juravinski Cancer Centre and St. Peter’s Hospital in Hamilton. But a backlash of negative publicity cancelled those plans.

The Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation received about 60 angry calls and e-mails from residents since the event was announced last week. About 10 people said they would not be donating to any event in which Palin has a role.

Palin is an out-spoken conservative critic of new public health care plans in the U.S. and is scornful of Canada’s universal health care system.

Corporatism and Anti-Corporatism

Glenn Greenwald explores the major fault line in the American Left, the corporatist and anti-corporatist wings of the Democratic Party:

As I've written for quite some time, I've honestly never understood how anyone could think that Obama was going to bring about some sort of "new" political approach or governing method when, as Kilgore notes, what he practices -- politically and substantively -- is the Third Way, DLC, triangulating corporatism of the Clinton era, just re-packaged with some sleeker and more updated marketing. At its core, it seeks to use government power not to regulate, but to benefit and even merge with, large corporate interests, both for political power (those corporate interests, in return, then fund the Party and its campaigns) and for policy ends. It's devoted to empowering large corporations, letting them always get what they want from government, and extracting, at best, some very modest concessions in return. This is the same point Taibbi made about the Democratic Party in the context of economic policy:

The significance of all of these appointments isn't that the Wall Street types are now in a position to provide direct favors to their former employers. It's that, with one or two exceptions, they collectively offer a microcosm of what the Democratic Party has come to stand for in the 21st century. Virtually all of the Rubinites brought in to manage the economy under Obama share the same fundamental political philosophy carefully articulated for years by the Hamilton Project: Expand the safety net to protect the poor, but let Wall Street do whatever it wants.

In Canadian terms, this is the heart of the division between the Liberals and the NDP, and the reason why the occasional calls for mergers or pacts between the two parties are unlikely to ever come to anything while the Liberals base all their policies on 'letting Bay Street do whatever it wants.'

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

More cheerful Christmas Music

Continuing the theme from the Tom Waits Christmas card from last week here's the classic Pogues tune Fairytale of New York:

Can you spot the Matt Dillon guest appearance?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Of Tentacles and Tools

African or European Swallows Octopuses?

Lots of people who know my interests are sending me this amazing video of an octopus who carries a coconut shell around with him in case he ever needs a quick portable hiding place:



I've devoted a fair amount of space here in the past
to the confounding intelligence of the octopus. They should not be as intelligent as they are. They're invertebrates, a genus that by and large can't generate enough brain power to float a soap bubble. They're isolationists. Antisocial loners that don't hang out with other octopuses and regard every other species as edible or something that thinks they are edible. Every other creature known for high intelligence develops and uses it by being very social.

Octopuses largely nurture their unusual braininess in splendid isolation hiding in rocky underwater crevices poking one suspicious, bulbous eyeball out only when hungry.

And yet the only limit on the potential intelligence of the Octopus appears to be a very limited life-span. How smart could an octopus get if it could live longer than five years?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Conservative Irresponsibility

For an ideology that makes such a fetish of personal responsibility, conservatism's followers are singularly unwilling to take responsibility for their cataclysmic errors - as Krugman expands on here.

Talk to conservatives about the financial crisis and you enter an alternative, bizarro universe in which government bureaucrats, not greedy bankers, caused the meltdown. It’s a universe in which government-sponsored lending agencies triggered the crisis, even though private lenders actually made the vast majority of subprime loans. It’s a universe in which regulators coerced bankers into making loans to unqualified borrowers, even though only one of the top 25 subprime lenders was subject to the regulations in question.

Oh, and conservatives simply ignore the catastrophe in commercial real estate: in their universe the only bad loans were those made to poor people and members of minority groups, because bad loans to developers of shopping malls and office towers don’t fit the narrative.

In part, the prevalence of this narrative reflects the principle enunciated by Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” As Democrats have pointed out, three days before the House vote on banking reform Republican leaders met with more than 100 financial-industry lobbyists to coordinate strategies. But it also reflects the extent to which the modern Republican Party is committed to a bankrupt ideology, one that won’t let it face up to the reality of what happened to the U.S. economy.

Living in the center of the Alberta Oilpatch's financial capital in downtown Calgary as I do, that Upton Sinclair quote is terrifyingly apt.

Canada Punk'd by the Yes Men in Copenhagen

For a brief shining moment it looked like we weren't going to be a global embarrassment in front of the whole world.

So, did you hear the one about Canada making a huge splash at the COP15 Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen by completely reversing its climate change policy and setting aggressive new carbon reduction targets?

The fun began this morning when the Yes Men put out the following release, purporting to come from the Assistant Press Secretary, of the Canadian Office of the Minister of the Environment. Here it is in full:

CANADA ANNOUNCES NEW AGENDA FOR CLIMATE AND WORLD DEVELOPMENT Plan includes stricter emissions reductions and immediate "climate debt" bailouts for most affected countries

COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- In a major development coming three days before the final round of UN climate change negotiations in Copenhagen, and responding to the recent concerns expressed by the G77 bloc of countries, Canada's Attache for Environment and Planning announced today an ambitious plan for a new climate change framework that answers vital concerns voiced by developing nations.

Dubbed "Agenda 2020," the plan sets strict new emissions-reductions guidelines for Canada and fast-tracks financing for vulnerable countries beginning in 2010.

"Today the G77 has again made their voice very clear," said Jim Prentice, Canada's Minister for the Environment. "This policy is our answer. Long in discussion, and slated for release later this week, Agenda 2020 is Canada's commitment to a science-based approach to climate change, and our way to assert our partnership with the developing world." Agenda 2020 sets binding emissions reductions targets of 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 and at least 80% by 2050, in line with the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and approaching the levels demanded by the African Group (link). The plan also introduces a new instrument, known as the "Climate Debt Mechanism" (CDM), committing Canada to much-needed funding to those developing countries facing the most dire consequences of climate change. CDM payments will begin with 1% and rise to the equivalent of 5% of Canada's GDP annually by 2030.

"We believe all people will benefit from an equitable climate deal that truly energizes the world economy," said Prentice.

The initial 2010 CDM outlay (representing 1% of Canada's GDP, or $13 billion) will be allocated to the African countries for emissions-reduction strategies and alternative-energy development programs. Payments will also finance resilience-building projects in specific communities already facing the results of climate change or threatened with its most dire consequences.

The CDM is the world's first financial mechanism that truly addresses the rising costs of climate change in developing countries. It follows a November announcement from Canada and its Commonwealth partners committing $10 billion to climate change adaptation for vulnerable countries (link). By providing quick access to adaptation finance, the CDM builds on this commitment and takes the global lead in supporting vulnerable countries. CDM payments will be completely separate from pre-existing development assistance and will be considered to be payments in a balance of trade.

"Canada is taking the long view on the world economy," said Prentice. "Nobody benefits from a world in peril. Contributing to the development of other nations and taking full responsibilities for our emissions is simple Canadian good sense. We want to show the world that Canada is a leader on climate change."

The full details of the CDM framework will be released when Prime Minister Stephen Harper attends the high-level session of the Copenhagen climate talks this Wednesday.

Sigh.

If only.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday Linkblast - Dec 13

Banking on Crime

What kept the banks minimally afloat as their irrational exuberance came home to roost and their fictitious billions went up in smoke? Drug money.

Drugs money worth billions of dollars kept the financial system afloat at the height of the global crisis, the United Nations' drugs and crime tsar has told the Observer.

Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said he has seen evidence that the proceeds of organised crime were "the only liquid investment capital" available to some banks on the brink of collapse last year. He said that a majority of the $352bn (£216bn) of drugs profits was absorbed into the economic system as a result.

This will raise questions about crime's influence on the economic system at times of crisis. It will also prompt further examination of the banking sector as world leaders, including Barack Obama and Gordon Brown, call for new International Monetary Fund regulations. Speaking from his office in Vienna, Costa said evidence that illegal money was being absorbed into the financial system was first drawn to his attention by intelligence agencies and prosecutors around 18 months ago. "In many instances, the money from drugs was the only liquid investment capital. In the second half of 2008, liquidity was the banking system's main problem and hence liquid capital became an important factor," he said.

This raises questions about organized crime's influence on everything from the financial world to politics and law enforcement. The Obama White House steadfastly opposes even discussing the prospect of legalization or decriminalization of any currently illegal drugs. How much of that is due to pressure from a banking industry with enormous influence over this administration?

Holders of large quantities of liquid assets can make out like...ahem... bandits during a collapse. Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the huge sell off of state assets is a good example. Has something similar occurred right before our eyes in the west?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Peter MacKay: Serial liar

So blatant and repeated a prevaricator even the Ottawa Citizen (A paper no one will ever describe as unfriendly to the Conservative Party) has no choice but to point out he has reputation for weaselly, faithless, deceptive behavior that at this point is set in stone.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay is a personable, good-looking, hard-working minister with a besetting flaw.

When caught in a tight spot, he has a tendency to change ground without apology, or even a blush. As a result, he suffers what might be charitably called a trust deficit -- and it pre-dates this week's unpleasantness over Afghan detainees.

Dissembling, distorting and spin are, lamentably, part of politics and have been forever. But MacKay's distortions are particularly blatant. He has a tendency to passionately advocate for some position, then, when contradicted by fact or logic, to lash out at opponents like a shrill boy backed into a corner.

Periodically some Conservative Party stenographer masquerading as a journalist promotes MacKay as the perfect choice for some greater task; running NATO for example, or of course, eventually replacing Stephen Harper.

There are politicians who can get away with being utterly shameless liars and blithe breakers of solemn promises. MacKay isn't one of them. He owes the security of his position purely to the shaky coalition of camps within the Conservative tent.

When Harper finally leaves, the auto-cannibalizing civil war within the ranks of Canada's right wing will begin and MacKay will be the first course.

The Copenhagen Scam

In a must read piece Johann Hari lists the many and sundry ways the backroom deals in Copenhagen are designed to look good, and accomplish absolutely nothing:

Trick One: Hot Air. The nations of the world were allocated permits to release greenhouse gases back in 1990, when the Soviet Union was still a vast industrial power - so it was given a huge allocation. But the following year, it collapsed, and its industrial base went into freefall - along with its carbon emissions. It was never going to release those gases after all. But Russia and the Eastern European countries have held onto them in all negotiations as "theirs". Now, they are selling them to rich countries who want to purchase "cuts." Under the current system, the US can buy them from Romania and say they have cut emissions - even though they are nothing but a legal fiction.

We aren't talking about climatic small change. This hot air represents ten gigatonnes of CO2. By comparison, if the entire developed world cuts its emissions by 40 percent by 2020, that will only take six gigatonnes out of the atmosphere.

Trick Two: Double-counting. This is best understood through an example. If Britain pays China to abandon a coal power station and construct a hydro-electric dam instead, Britain pockets the reduction in carbon emissions as part of our overall national cuts. In return, we are allowed to keep a coal power station open at home. But at the same time, China also counts this change as part of its overall cuts. So one ton of carbon cuts is counted twice. This means the whole system is riddled with exaggeration - and the figure for overall global cuts is a con.

Trick Three: The Fake Forests - or what the process opaquely dubs 'LULUCF' . Forests soak up warming gases and store them away from the atmosphere - so, perfectly sensibly, countries get credit under the new system for preserving them. It is an essential measure to stop global warming. But the Canadian, Swedish and Finnish logging companies have successfully pressured their governments into inserting an absurd clause into the rules. The new rules say you can, in the name of "sustainable forest management", cut down almost all the trees - without losing credits. It's Kafkaesque: a felled forest doesn't increase your official emissions... even though it increases your actual emissions.

Trick Four: Picking a fake baseline. All the scientific recommendations take 1990 as the dangerously high baseline we need to cut from. So when we talk about a 40 percent cut, we mean 40 percent less than 1990. But the Americans have - in a stroke of advertising genius - shifted to taking 2005 as their baseline. Everybody else is talking about 1990 levels, except them. So when the US promises a 17 percent cut on 2005 levels, they are in fact offering a 4 percent cut on 1990 levels - far less than other rich countries.

There are dozens more examples like this, but you and I would lapse into a coma if I listed them. This is deliberate. This system has been made incomprehensible because if we understood, ordinary citizens would be outraged. If these were good faith negotiations, such loopholes would be dismissed in seconds. And the rich countries are flatly refusing to make even these enfeebled, leaky cuts legally binding. You can toss them in the bin the moment you leave the conference center, and nobody will have any comeback. On the most important issue in the world - the stability of our biosphere - we are being scammed.

Note the dishonorable mention for Canada. The fake forest scam is of course, only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our malign influence on this issue. Hari ends his piece with a note of hope that people will ultimately force their governments to do more.

I'm not sure anymore, if we have enough time for the deliberately narcotized sleeping giant of public participation to awaken.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Story Must Be Told

I grew up in Vancouver in the 80's on a steady diet of Western Canadian hardcore. That meant DOA of course but it also meant The Dayglow Abortions, SNFU and US west coast acts like the Circle Jerks and The Dead Kennedys.

And it meant NoMeansNo. Intense drum and bass driven hardcore punk with the technical mastery you find in some thrash but at a punk tempo. Check it.

Quote of the Day

Chris Matthews to a Teabagger:

MATTHEWS: The national debt went from under $1 trillion to $3 trillion. He (President Reagan) did more to increase exponentially the size of the debt of any president in history.

And he's your role model.

This is a joke, right?

Sarah Palin. Coming to Canada. To attend a fundraiser for two Hamilton hospitals.

Did somebody dose my coffee this morning?

Gabe Macaluso, a member of the committee organizing the dinner at Carmen's Banquet Centre, said: "This is quite the coup. She's one of the hottest speakers on the Speakers Bureau. The demand is huge."

The former Alaska governor recently joined the Washington Speakers Bureau, which represents former president George W. Bush.

Palin will speak at a fundraiser for the Juravinski Cancer Centre and St. Peter's Hospital. Organizers hope to sell 1,000 tickets at $200 a plate, but raise more via photos with her.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Death of a Newspaper

Eric Boehlert's take on the fall of the far right Moonie newsletter the Washington Times, as spotted at Crooks and Liars:
At this time of reflection, it's worth pondering two rather astonishing facets about the Times and its bizarre life and looming death. The first is the deep irony of how the Times, a clarion voice of partisan right-wing values, was run as a charity for nearly three decades and whose business model made a mockery of the free-marketplace system supposedly cherished by conservatives. The second is the even deeper irony of how the Times was owned by a delusional prophet whose apocalyptic visions made an even bigger mockery of the Christian values supposedly cherished by conservative activists.
Just for giggles, substitute the words 'The National Post' for 'the Times' in that quote...

Flashback: The Market and The Western Standard

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Wildrose Leader a Proud Flat Earther

Danielle Smith, newly elected leader of Alberta's far right fringe party the Wildrose Alliance warns against wild unproven theories that the world is round.

"The science isn't settled," Smith said. "If we're going to embark on this path, we've got to be darn sure that the science makes sense." Smith said, in response to the consensus scientific view that the world is in fact an ovoid sphere rather than a flat disc.

"I'm worried about us embarking on costly schemes to try to behave as if we are living on some kind of globe, rather than doing the obvious things that will come easier to life on the flat disc solid conservative thought tells us we are actually living on." Smith said.

"How can anybody actually go to Copenhagen?' Smith fumed. "They'll fall off the edge of the world on the way there!"

See no Evil

It's the new mantra of Canadian Conservatives, both federal and provincial: If we haven't actually seen detainees being tortured with our own eyes and if our noses aren't being vigorously rubbed into definitive evidence that the tar-sands are dumping the equivalent of a major oil spill into one of Alberta's major watersheds every year - then hey, we can honestly say as far as we're concerned - it isn't happening.

But only by slapping their hands over their ears and chanting LALALALALALALA!!! at the top of their lungs can they maintain this blissful ignorance.

The report suggests more than a decade worth of monitoring and testing has failed to capture the scope of the pollution caused by oilsands operations and estimates some 34,000 tonnes of toxic particulates are being released from the two resource giants every year.

Studies were conducted by several monitoring stations along the waterways for two months in the summer of 2008.

Alberta Energy Minister Rob Renner, noting he and his staff haven't read the findings but will look at them, dismissed the suggestion that the heavy oil industry is having a detrimental effect on the environment.

"We've done an extensive amount of testing that tells us there's not (any) risk associated with development," he said.

"There are no obvious signs of impact from industrial development," Renner said.

Major government policy based on willful, deliberate ignorance to maintain plausible deniability. Cognitive dissonance as a governing strategy. It explains the very real anger with which they respond to critics pointing out unpleasant truths: 'Don't they understand how hard it is to maintain complete and blissful ignorance only to have some smart ass come along and blow it up with ugly truths?'

Aren't Conservatives the ones who preach the gospel of personal responsibility?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Calgary based mining company implicated in murder of Mexican activist

Canada, and Alberta specifically have already been labeled a corrupt petro-state recently. Now our dirty industries seem to be exporting criminality wherever they do business.

Three men with links to a Canadian mining company have been charged in the killing of a Mexican activist, threatening already strained relations between the countries on the eve of a visit to the same region by Governor-General Michaëlle Jean.

A spokesman for Calgary-based Blackfire Exploration Ltd. confirmed that an employee, a former employee and a one-time company contractor were arrested in the Nov. 27 murder of Mariano Abarca Robledo, who had led local opposition against Blackfire's barite mine in Chicomuselo, Chiapas.

...

Canada's miners are lobbying against a private member's bill that would impose sanctions on resource companies found to have committed human rights and environmental abuses in other countries. The government, including Peter Kent, the junior foreign minister for the Americas who is accompanying the Governor-General in Mexico, voted against Bill C-300 during its second reading in April.

The slain activist, Mr. Abarca, was a leader in an organization called Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining (REMA), that had publicly protested Blackfire's mine and made allegations that the operation was damaging the environment and contaminating a nearby river. He was gunned down in a drive-by shooting outside his home by a motorcyclist.

Caralampio Lopez Vazquez, who currently works as an operator and a shift supervisor at the mine, is among the three men facing charges in the killing.

Considering the Alberta approach to labour law, environmental protesters and any opposition of any kind - this seems just like an example of how they'd behave here if they thought they could get away with it.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The elites cut her loose

Matt Taibbi explains to her supporters that the media pile on means it's all over but the autopsy for Sarah Palin and the Teabaggers:

The press corps that is bashing her skull in right now is the same one that hyped that WMD horseshit for like four solid years and pom-pommed America to war with Iraq over the screeching objections of the entire planet. It’s the same press corps that rolled out the red carpet for someone very nearly as abjectly stupid as Sarah Palin to win not one but two terms in the White House. If there was any kind of consensus support for Palin inside the beltway, the criticism of her, bet on it, would be almost totally confined to chortling east coast smartasses like me and Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan.

What the people who are flipping out about the treatment of Palin should be asking themselves is what it means when it’s not just jerks like us but everybody piling on against Palin. For those of you who can’t connect the dots, I’ll tell you what it means. It means she’s been cut loose. It means that all five of the families have given the okay to this hit job, including even the mainstream Republican leaders. You teabaggers are in the process of being marginalized by your own ostensible party leaders in exactly the same way the anti-war crowd was abandoned by the Democratic party elders in the earlier part of this decade. Like the antiwar left, you have been deemed a threat to your own party’s “winnability.”

War on Hannukah

Saying something non-denominational like Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas, particularly in a generic institutional setting is a simple gesture of respect to non-Christians who don't celebrate Christmas like Jews, Muslims or Hindus. To loud mouths like the Big Giant Head, showing respect to anybody else is a sign of insult to Christians.

Why does Bill O'Reilly hate the Jewish people?

Bill O'Reilly has targeted an elementary school in Massachusetts for daring to have a non-religious holiday fair.

Byam Elementary School banned all religious decorations from its Gift Room. It's the way they've done it for years; when the Parent Teachers Organization held meetings encouraging new people to get involved in the event and brainstorm about new ideas, no one but past volunteers responded. Then, once planning was underway, some families started complaining about the secular nature of the fair -- and quickly got their ire broadcast on talk

Sunday Linkblast - Dec 6

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Death of Intensity

Quietly and without fanfare Canada's Conservative government accepted the need for absolute targets for greenhouse gas emissions today.

As late as just a few days ago the government was still relying on so called 'intensity targets' to pander to their Western oil money base. Intensity targets are a con job designed to allow emissions to increase steadily with no actual reductions and to give oil companies credit for squeezing as much profit as possible out of every individual barrel of sticky tar sands oil while the number of barrels actually increased and overall emissions continue to sky-rocket.

Today, in their ongoing campaign to outsource all Canadian policy and governance to the American White House the government acknowledged that targets would in fact have to be absolute in the context of a continental cap and trade market.
OTTAWA — The Harper government signalled a change on Thursday in its approach to tackling climate change by focusing on absolute caps on pollution from industry.
Appearing at a parliamentary committee, Environment Minister Jim Prentice said the government's strategy would call for a national cap-and-trade system with "absolute caps" to put a price on carbon, under a harmonized structure with the United States.
"We are talking about a cap-and-trade system, a continental cap-and-trade system that involves absolute emission reductions, not intensity targets," said Prentice in response to a question from Bloc Quebecois MP Bernard Bigras.
Prentice said the government's climate change policies previously had called for "intensity targets" for pollution from industrial facilities that require reductions per unit of production and would allow businesses to meet targets while their emissions were increasing. For example, under an intensity system, an oil company would be required to meet a target per barrel of oil, and could therefore achieve targets by increasing production and reducing the rate of growth of their emissions.
But numerous experts from industry and governments suggested this would not be compatible with a proposed U.S. system based on absolute reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Count on further chicanery, as this government continues to pull out all the stops to avoid coming to grips with the most important policy challenge in human history. History will not be kind.

UPDATE: As predicted, Chicanery.

Inside the Coalition

For the process fans who actually like to hear how the sausages are made, Brian Topp's Globe series on the coalition negotiations a year ago are indispensable and fascinating. I highly recommend this insightful series.
Part Six detailing how the whole idea fell apart (cough...Iggy) and the lessons learned will be tomorrow.

The money quote from today:
At about 3:00 p.m., we returned to the main boardroom to hear the Liberal counter-proposal. They had been drafting with a laptop and projector, and walked us through their counter-proposal line-by-line. Blakeney, Broadbent and Black asked detailed questions, paragraph by paragraph. Essentially all of our proposals were reflected in their version, in much less detail and with no spending commitments attached. There was one key omission – they did not want to include any reference to an enhanced child benefit or to childcare.
It was time for another Dawn Black moment.
Black picked up the cudgel, demanding to know what the Liberals had against families and children, especially given all the complaining they had done about the fate of their last-days-of-Martin press releases about childcare.
The Liberal front-line seemed extremely embarrassed to defend the position they were taking, and as the discussion proceeded more and more of the Liberal talking was being done by their leader’s office research staffer.
He argued, relentlessly and repetitively, that no spending commitments must be made that would be “structural spending.” Helping families and children, to his mind, was “structural spending,” and so nothing could be done about child poverty or the real-world consequences of unemployment to average Canadian families.
It was fascinating to look at the Liberal team during this exchange. They looked ashamed of themselves. They also looked defeated and powerless. How many times during their recent decade in office, I wondered, had elected Liberals had expressions like that on their faces, while staff and bureaucrats chanted neo-con blather? Permanent tax cuts for wealthy individuals and business were “investments.” Help for poor families was “structural spending.”
The Liberals will continue to wander the wilderness until they accept that trickle down is a completely discredited idea and start putting the needs of ordinary Canadians over the desires of Bay Street.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Conservative contempt for democracy

Political elites increasingly seem to view democracy as something to be subverted if the will of the people is for something they don't like. In the US, Republicans in the Senate are busily looking for any possible way to deny the wishes of the American public, a majority of whom, voted for a Democratic President, voted for a Democratic majority in the House and Senate and support the introduction of a public health care plan.

Sen. Judd Gregg, (R-NH) has penned the equivalent of an obstruction manual -- a how-to for holding up health care reform -- and has distributed the document to his Republican colleagues.

Insisting that it is "critical that Republican senators have a solid understanding of the minority's rights in the Senate," Gregg makes note of all the procedural tools the GOP can use before measures are considered, when they come to the floor and even after passage.

If you're getting a strong sense of Déjà vu - that's not surprising:

OTTAWA – The Harper government is being accused of a Machiavellian plot to wreak parliamentary havoc after a secret Tory handbook on obstructing and manipulating Commons committees was leaked to the press.

Opposition parties pounced on news reports Friday about the 200-page handbook as proof that the Conservatives are to blame for the toxic atmosphere that has paralyzed Parliament this week.

"The government's deliberate plan is to cause a dysfunctional, chaotic Parliament," Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale told the House of Commons.

New Democrat Libby Davies said the manual explodes the Tories' contention that opposition parties are to blame for the parliamentary constipation.

"So much for blaming the opposition for the obstruction of Parliament," she said.

"Now we learn, in fact, that the monkey wrench gang have had a plan all along and not just any plan, a 200-page playbook on how to frustrate, obstruct and shut down the democratic process."

Add in gerrymandering - the practice of carefully designing election boundaries to limit the worth of votes to aid one political party or another - both sides have done this but arguably the political right has done it more and more shamelessly. Factor in the long term neo-liberal/neocon project to 'democracy proof' the economy, limiting the power of voters to fundamentally change anything with corporate bills of rights disguised as trade agreements and is it any wonder we have such an increasing disengagement in the practice of democracy?

We are witness to a wide array of successful efforts to make sure the power of democracy is diminished to the purely symbolic, as anarchists say 'If voting could actually change anything, it would be illegal.'

More and more young people have internalized this drumbeat message, have never voted and never plan to.

Monbiot on the blue-eyed Sheiks

I'll be writing about George Monbiot's scorcher of a column about Canada's shameful abdication of any kind of environmental responsibility soon. As one of a handful of lefty bloggers in Alberta I pretty much have to.

I will say, describing Alberta as a corrupt oil Sheikdom is hardly a groundbreaking observation and should be no cause for shock to anyone who's been following Alberta politics and finance. I called it that back in one of my first blog posts back in 2006 and I've heard lots of folks, including some of the sheiks themselves use the term. Monbiot is just clarifying what it actually means.

All is Well!

Remain calm, insists Albert Health Minister Ron Liepert. Just because suddenly we are being told the Alberta Health care system is only months away from going completely broke is no cause to panic.

Albertans should not worry about reports that the province's health system will run out of money within three months because "this is not something new," Health Minister Ron Liepert said Tuesday.

"This has happened for probably going on 10 years now," Liepert said.

"We've been running deficits with the health regions for some 10 years now and, typically, what happens is there's an arrangement made that cash is advanced and, in some cases in the past, budget deficits have been picked up."

Liepert was reacting to reports that senior officials with Alberta Health Services made a presentation titled "The Great Alberta Experiment: The First Hundred Days" to a health-care conference in British Columbia six weeks ago.

According to the document, the conference was told Alberta's health system would run out of money by February.

It also suggests AHS could run billion-dollar deficits for the next two years — in addition to the $1.3-billion deficit currently faced by the board.

Lack of transparency unacceptable, NDP charges

The fact that Alberta health officials were being more transparent about their plans with colleagues at a conference, than with Albertans, is unacceptable, NDP Leader Brian Mason said.

"They're making presentations to their colleagues in British Columbia, but the people back home who are paying the bills for the health-care system are left in the dark," Mason told reporters while holding a copy of the report.

Mason called the message in the presentation "an engineered crisis" designed to justify further cuts.

"They're trying to scare people into accepting the kind of cuts and privatization that they want to see are deemed necessary by the public," he said. "But I don't think the public will be fooled at all."

Of course this deficit is completely artificial. It doesn't reflect that on a percentage of GDP basis healthcare costs in Alberta have been remarkably stable and predictable. The governing Tories deliberately set artificial, completely un-hittable budgets for healthcare that couldn't even sustain the system much less expand it the way this booming province requires and then when that budget inevitably becomes victim to simple reality as Mason says, we are expected to run howling in terror demanding draconian cutbacks to an already underfunded system.

The real solution is rational revenue collection and healthcare budgeting that isn't dominated by an ideological aversion to the public sector.

Don't hold your breath on any of that with this government.

UPDATE: What's behind it?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Flight from the Right

The leading lights of politically conservative thought in the US become ever more estranged from political conservatism itself. Andrew Sullivan still can't bring himself to be considered a liberal but he renounces the conservative movement once and for all here and notes the almost unimaginable departure of Little Green Footballs from the fold as well.

Other voices in the movement ranging from David Frum to David Brooks and George Will increasingly stake out positions of opposition to the crazed, reactionary hate beast the American political right has become.

Soon all that will be left is cynical careerists and the halfwit hordes of crazed tea-baggers they feed off.

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