Monday, September 01, 2014

Labour Day 2014


                                                              http://www.cp24.com

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

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

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

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

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

Our action as collective consumers and citizens can have an especially transformative impact here. In Canada, the federal government spends millions annually on imported garments, while the government of Ontario also purchases significant amounts, $66 million over the last five years.

While as citizens we pay for these garments, we have little or no information on how or in which countries they are produced. Other public institutions — schools, universities and hospitals — also purchase and sell garments. Our governments and public institutions can adopt purchasing that supports more ethical production. Indeed, some already do. Various universities and municipalities in Canada have “no-sweat” policies for the apparel they buy and sell, and an increasing number have also adopted “fair trade” polices.
These policies can be modified or extended to add best practice clauses that support worker-owned firms and co-operatives. However, none of this would happen without our active input. Changes such as these require that we think and act as members of different collectives, institutions, communities and democracies — and not simply as individual consumers.

The Harperites believe citizens are individual consumers. Labour's vision is a collective vision.It has always stood for the concept of community. And, even after almost a decade of Harperian balderdash, that vision persists.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Petro Goose Is Getting Cooked


                                                            http://eatocracy.cnn.com/

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

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

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

The math is simple. The 127 firms generated $568 billion in cash from their operations during 2013-2014 while their expenses totalled $677 billion. To cover the difference of $110 billion, the energy giants increased their debt load or sold off assets.

The reason for the cash squeeze is that oil is harder to find and harder to get at:

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

It's not only the firms deploying fracking that are racking up high debt loads. Chinese state-owned corporations, for example, plopped down $30 billion to develop junk crude in the oilsands over the last decade.

And the oil companies are making these investments as demand for oil is flattening:

But given that oil demand in places like Europe, the United States and Japan is flattening or declining, many analysts don't think that high-carbon, high-risk projects (which all need a $75 to $95 market price for oil to break even) make much economic sense in a carbon-constrained world.

Yet our present government has put all its eggs in the bitumen basket. This is a not government known for its foresight. Mr. Harper gave his full throated support to the American invasion of Iraq. That didn't work out so well. And he also didn't see the 2008 recession around the bend.

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

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

The petro goose is getting cooked.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Ignoring The Obvious

                                                           http://www.breitbart.com/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Friday, August 29, 2014

What Do They Do Now?


                                                               http://www.pinterest.com/

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

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


That is because most Tory MPs come from very practical, real-world career backgrounds in small business (Joe Preston), policing (Rick Norlock), or farming (Gerry Ritz), to name a few. Others have track records of governing (John Baird) or legislating (Jason Kenney). They have painstakingly built their reputations and livelihoods over decades of work.”

Which is curious. Trudeau the Younger holds two Bachelors degrees -- in literature and education. It's true he lacks "real world" experience. Stephen Harper also holds two degrees -- in economics. But his only "real" job  was working in the mail room for Imperial Oil. Blind is the operative word.

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

Harper wrote that he had passed the elder Trudeau in the street a year earlier and been struck by “a tired out, little old man” who had once “provoked both the loves and hatreds of my political passion.” The loves came first for Harper, he wrote, the hatreds as he matured. He called Trudeau “a distant leader who neither understood, nor cared to understand, a group of people over whom his actions had immense impact,” a man who “flail[ed] from one pet policy objective to another,” whose government “created huge deficits, a mammoth national debt, high taxes, bloated bureaucracy, rising unemployment, record inflation, curtailed trade and declining competitiveness.”

The op-ed always said more about Harper than it did about Trudeau. In fact, with a couple of exceptions, it's a pretty good description of Harper. But, most of all, the piece revealed that Stephen Harper was -- and is -- a thoroughly nasty piece of work.

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

What do they do now?


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ignorance Is Strength

                                                http://socioecohistory.wordpress.com/

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

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

He lacks a moral conscience when he comes to people he dislikes or distrusts. And that's the definition of a sociopath."

Harper's attack on "elites" is classic Orwellian inversion. And that's why Harper has declared war on sociologists. They reveal that, as Harper attacks elites, he serves their interests. Businesses don't need tax cuts to survive. They need customers. Crime is not just about personal responsibility. It's about social responsibility. Harper claims to support our troops, as he cuts services to veterans.

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


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Simple Solutions Come From Simple Minds

                                                              http://brane-space.blogspot.ca/

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

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

Harper recognizes only one kind of injustice -- personal injustice. Sociologists recognize personal injustices. But they also recognize systematic injustice:

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

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

Simple solutions are for simple minds.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Our Essential Illness


                                                              http://beachsideblues.com/

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

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

Captialism has now become hyper-competitive. And the consequences are truly disturbing:

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

It's that psychopathology which is a the root of our democratic crisis:

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

If we want to reclaim our democracy, Dobbin writes, we need to discover an old human trait -- kindness:

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

21st century capitalism sees kindness as a weakness. Certainly our prime minister regards it as such. But our prime minister -- unlike Dobbin -- doesn't believe in "committing sociology."  He believes in our essential illness.