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The ideological roots of Stephen Harper’s vendetta against sociology

From the Toronto Star by Jakeet Singh

Stephen Harper really seems to have it out for sociology. In 2013, in response to an alleged plot against a VIA train, Harper remarked that we should not “commit sociology,” but pursue an anti-crime approach. And last week, in response to the death of Tina Fontaine, Harper argued that an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women is not needed, because this is not a “ sociological phenomenon ” but simply a series of individual crimes.

Of course, not only is all crime a sociological phenomenon , but also without a broader sociological analysis we can’t begin to understand why the rates of missing and murdered indigenous women are tragically high compared to non-indigenous women. Furthermore, it’s clear that if rates of violence against non-indigenous women climbed as high as those of indigenous women, this government (even with its woeful record on women’s issues) would be more likely to announce not only a public inquiry but a full-scale national strategy. (This double-standard in how we value human lives is what sociologists call “racism.”)

Harper’s two disparaging comments about sociology, however, also need to be understood alongside his gutting of the long-form census in 2010. It is widely accepted that this action fundamentally undermined Canada’s ability to understand its own demographics, long-term social trends, and inequalities — in short, its sociology.

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.

This ideology is so seductive not only because it radically simplifies our world, but also because it mirrors the two social institutions neo-liberals actually believe in — the “free” market and law and order. Everything is reduced to either a simplistic market transaction or a criminal case. In the former, you either have the money to buy stuff, or you don’t and it’s up to you to get more. In the latter, a lone individual is personally responsible for a crime and is punished for it. Easy peasy. No sociology needed.

But there’s yet another reason this ideology is so hostile toward the kind of sociological analysis done by Statistics Canada, public inquiries and the like. And that has to do with the type of injustices we can even conceive of, or consider tackling, as a society.

You see, sociologists often differentiate between “personal injustices” and “systemic” or “structural injustices.” Personal injustices can be traced back to concrete actions of particular individuals (perpetrators). These actions are often wilful, and have a relatively isolated victim.

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.

What should be clear, then, is that Harper’s seemingly bizarre vendetta against sociology is actually an ideological attempt to prevent Canadian society from being able to identify, and tackle, its structural injustices. Without large-scale sociological analyses, we can’t recognize the pervasive, entrenched social inequalities that these analyses reveal. And because structural injustices are actually generated by our social systems, both their causes and solutions are social.

The World Has Changed

And the United States finds itself between a rock and a hard place

Deep into this summer of global turmoil, with the United States once again seeking to steer the course of events in Iraq with precision-guided missiles, my thoughts have turned to the late historian Tony Judt. In a brief but brilliant essay written for The New Republic hours after the 9/11 attacks (not available online), Judt described gazing out his downtown-facing New York University office window that late summer morning to watch the 21st century begin.

The prevailing geopolitical dynamic of the coming century, he argued, would be disintegration.

And so it has been. Nearly 13 years later, the international order painstakingly constructed by the United States in the years following World War II has begun to crumble. That order survived and expanded its reach throughout the Cold War because both superpowers played by the traditional rules of international relations, despite the intensity of their ideological conflict. The U.S. and the Soviets were engaged in a national rivalry on an international scale, with nearly all the countries of the world compelled to join sides. And as the American side flourished, so, too, did the institutions it founded and funded throughout the West and in those regions of the developing world that joined the anti-Communist side of the Cold War.

It was partially inertia that led this order to persist and expand further for more than a decade following the collapse of the USSR. But by September 2001 (if not before), we had turned a corner into a new reality, one in which insurgent forces throughout the Middle East, northern Africa, and South Asia would attack key elements of the international order. Not laterally, as the Soviets once did and Vladimir Putin’s Russia is doing now in Ukraine, but from below, using the asymmetrical warfare of mass terrorism.

From al Qaeda to ISIS, these groups have had two main targets. One is America and its global leadership as expressed through international institutions (the U.N., IMF, World Bank, USAID, NGOs, etc.). Another is the nation-states created by the colonial powers after World War I, long ruled by autocrats and dictators who were sustained by those American-led international institutions.

The question is how the U.S. should respond to this challenge to the international order. To judge by our words and actions from 9/11 right down to President Obama’s latest statements and policies, we haven’t got a clue.

On one side are the neoconservatives. One might think that their identification with the Iraq War and the bloody, unpopular, nearly decade-long occupation that followed it would have discredited the neocons. But to judge by the influence they continue to exercise on Republicans and Democrats alike, it hasn’t.

There are at least two reasons. As military maximalists, the neocons are always able to respond to a failure by suggesting that things would have turned out better if only more force had been used. The problem, then, is never the policy itself but merely its insufficiently tough-minded execution. In this respect, neocon ideas are empirically unfalsifiable.

Then there’s the simplicity and coherence of the neocon reading of history — qualities that were on full display in Robert Kagan’s much-discussed cover story in The New Republic last May. The essay elegantly (and flatteringly) portrayed the U.S. as the singular guarantor of world order since the end of World War II. Without the ample use of American military might to impose and sustain that order, chaos would have reigned in the past — and will reign again in the future, if Barack Obama and his successor fail to fight it militarily. As events this summer have spun out of control from Kiev to Mosul, Kagan’s late-spring predictions have appeared to receive lightning-fast confirmation.

So is more active military engagement the answer? Can the United States use force to bring stability to Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and thereby prop up the crumbling international order?

Sure. All it would take is millions of troops and an occupation of indefinite duration. Think of George W. Bush’s Iraq surge times 10 — or 20.

Needless to say, America has neither the will nor the resources to attempt anything remotely like this. Especially because the occupied Muslim populations would be exceedingly unlikely to appreciate the humiliation of long-term occupation by a foreign, Western, Judeo-Christian power. Our very efforts to bring peace and order would fuel the very insurgency we’d be trying to combat. (This is of course precisely what happened in Iraq from 2003 to 2007.)

So what does a President do?

Unless we are willing to depose Maliki, reoccupy the country with hundreds of thousands of troops, impose order with overwhelming force, and accept the resulting casualties and blowback, the situation is exceedingly unlikely to improve in any serious way.

Short of that, we could of course focus on protecting Iraq’s Kurdish regions. But that might hasten the dissolution of the nation, leading to an increase in violence throughout the rest of the country. Renewed calls for outright Kurdish independence could also end up stirring unrest and violence in Kurdish areas just over the Turkish border.

One definition of tragedy is a situation in which there are no good options, in which every conceivable course of action — no less than the choice to do nothing at all — seems to make things worse or merely defer inevitable heartbreak and suffering.

Americans, incorrigibly optimistic, are famously averse to tragedy. Which means that we’re unlikely to respond well to the rapidly multiplying tragedies of our time.

But that doesn’t mean the tragedies can be waved away with bombs and good intentions.

So again tell me why invading Iraq and getting rid of an already isolated and neutered Saddam Hussein only to have him replaced by Al Qaeda 2.0 was a good idea?  This is all related to the incredibly flawed foreign policy (if we can call it that) of the W. administration and as bizarre as it is, the fulfillment of Osama Bin Laden’s goal in attacking the World Trade Centre.  According to CIA reports, he wanted to provoke a disproportionate response by the United States that would turn the Middle East against it militarily and domestically.  It’s too soon to tell but in some weird way, this could be happening.

When confronted with the problem, Gulf leaders often justify allowing their Salafi constituents to fund Syrian extremist groups by pointing back to what they see as a failed U.S. policy in Syria and a loss of credibility after President Obama reneged on his pledge to strike Assad after the regime used chemical weapons.

That’s what Prince Bandar bin Sultan, head of Saudi intelligence since 2012 and former Saudi ambassador in Washington, reportedly told Secretary of State John Kerry when Kerry pressed him on Saudi financing of extremist groups earlier this year. Saudi Arabia has retaken a leadership role in past months guiding help to the Syrian armed rebels, displacing Qatar, which was seen as supporting some of the worst of the worst organizations on the ground.

Susan Delecourt talks about Stephen Harper

but is largely describing how Saskatoon City Council operates in Saskatoon.  It’s really depressing.

Kansas was supposed to be the GOP’s tax-cut paradise. Now it can barely pay its bills.

Kansas’ tax cuts haven’t worked out as planned

Brownback’s tax cut proposal came as Kansas’s revenues were on an upswing. Spending cuts and a one-cent sales tax passed by Brownback’s Democratic predecessor had combined with economic growth to give Kansas a surplus. Now, Brownback argued, his tax cuts would lead to even more success. “I firmly believe these reforms will set the stage for strong economic growth in Kansas,” he said.

The governor proposed to cut income taxes on the state’s highest earners from 6.45 percent to 4.9 percent, to simplify tax brackets, and to eliminate state income taxes on most small business income entirely. In a nod to fiscal responsibility, though, he proposed to end several tax deductions and exemptions, including the well-liked home mortgage interest deduction. This would help pay for the cuts.

Yet as the bill went through the state Senate, these deductions proved too popular, and legislators voted to keep them all. The bill’s estimated price tag rose from about $105 million to $800 million, but Brownback kept supporting it anyway. “I’m gonna sign this bill, I’m excited about the prospects for it, and I’m very thankful for how God has blessed our state,” he said.

Democrats, and some Republicans, weren’t buying it. “It bankrupts the state within two years,” said Rochelle Chronister, a former state GOP chair who helped organize moderate Republicans against Brownback’s agenda. And the House Democratic leader, Paul Davis, laid down a marker. “There is no feasible way that private-sector growth can accommodate the price tag of this tax cut,” he said. “Our $600 million surplus will become a $2.5 billion deficit within just five years.” In return, Brownback’s administration claimed the bill would create 23,000 jobs by 2020, and would lead 35,000 more people to move to Kansas.

After the cuts became law, it was undisputed that Kansas’s revenue collections would fall. But some supply-side analysts, like economist Arthur Laffer, argued that increased economic growth would deliver more revenue that would help cushion this impact.

Yet it’s now clear that the revenue shortfalls are much worse than expected. “State general fund revenue is down over $700 million from last year,” Duane Goossen, a former state budget director, told me. “That’s a bigger drop than the state had in the whole three years of the recession,” he said — and it’s a huge chunk of the state’s $6 billion budget. Goossen added that the Kansas’s surplus, which had been replenished since the recession, “is now being spent at an alarming, amazing rate.” 

This is crazy.  His paid for bill went from $105 million to $800 million and he still signed it.  No wonder Brownback’s popularity has hit rock bottom. 

Look but don’t touch

I know most of us are more concerned with the roads but have any of you noticed the condition of many of our light standards in the city.  Some are almost completely rusted through.  I have poked at more than one and had my finger go right through.  Others are really swaying in the recent wind. 

According to city reports, City Council has not only ignored city roads but also our electrical grid.  I know, I know, marking priorities is hard.

There were roads, bridges, and snow to neglect and now we have light poles that are not structurally safe and are rusting out. It’s actually remarkable that council could let so many things at the same time.

Oh wait, amidst all of our infrastructure falling, we have a clear goal.  In case you have ever wondered what drives the Mayor and council’s desire to keep taxes low when our city needs revenue, it is Calgary.

This is from 2011.

Saskatoon’s mayor is eyeing a property tax increase of one per cent per year less than Cowtown’s over the next decade.
In 10 to 15 years, Saskatoon’s tax rate could equal that of Alberta’s biggest city, where ratepayers have the lowest property taxes among major cities in the country, he said.

Calgary has fun with this.

To help set its mill rate, Calgary relies on a so-called municipal inflation rate, a combination of costs for salaries, service contracts, fuel and materials. Saskatoon’s administration is coming up with a formula to calculate its own municipal inflation rate and Atchison has said in the past it makes sense to try to tie property tax hikes closely to that amount rather than the consumer inflation rate.

Property tax increases since Atchison became mayor have averaged 3.7 per cent annually. During the same period, Calgary’s property tax has gone up by an average of 4.2 per cent with the municipal portion jumping an average of 6.5 per cent.

Atchison’s wish already has a fiscally prudent Calgary alderman, Andre Chabot, chuckling.

He notes this spring council chose to boost the education portion of the property tax by a onetime whopping 10.4 per cent to take advantage of the province’s move to cut its portion of the property tax.

By comparison, Saskatoon’s property tax rose by a relatively small four per cent in 2011.

“For the mayor of Saskatoon to make a claim like that, it certainly is a politically astute kind of selling feature for his proposed tax increases,” Chabot said, “because he can always make the argument that it was at least one per cent lower than Calgary’s increase.

So how many miles of roadways does “politically astute” pay for?

Of course there is a reason why Calgary’s mill rate is lower.  They collect more business tax.

Jack Vicq, professor emeritus of accounting at the University of Saskatchewan Edwards School of Business, said there are differences between how Saskatoon and Calgary are funded that need to be accounted for. The amount in business tax collected in Calgary keeps its property tax rate lower, he said.

More from Vicq

“Let’s make sure the framework we’re in is the same,” Vicq said. “I would go at it from the perspective of really, what is it we should be doing in the city of Saskatoon and how are we going to do that? And maybe that takes a property tax that is higher than Calgary. You can get into trouble by just looking at Calgary and saying, ‘I want to be there.’

“You might lose sight of what you should be doing as a city or what residents expect as a city.”

As an aside, as the video below shows, I am not sure that our mayor even understands basic tax policy.

Back to what we are talking about.

First of all, the reason we have a lower rate is that we don’t fund the city the same way.  We have inferior snow removal and road repair policies to Calgary.  We also do things like underfund transit and force them to purchase worn out busses from places like Edmonton.  Parts of our bus fleet are so old that people come from all over North America to ride them.  The reason we keep using them, they are cheap to run (but you knew that already).

We don’t repair things like light poles is no big shock but now we have the cost of replacing them that is going to be a big shock to the bottom line.  Either that or we will just watch them fall over.

If you are ever in budget review meetings, you hear city managers say, “If you cut this amount, I can’t afford to do maintenance on parks” or “We won’t have enough for fuel”.  Those things are cut anyway.  You know because why do city vehicles need fuel budgeted for properly.  In many ways I think you can say that Calgary is getting far more bang for their tax dollars than we do.

Instead of funding the city the way it needs, we have actually developed our own spin that blames “freeze thaw” for bad roads (we don’t have a freeze thaw cycle, it just freezes) or that rain wrecks our roads (because we are too cheap to use rock base and instead only use sand).  My favourite is listening to council talk about how brave and hard working our city workers are doing instead of talking about how underfunding is creating this mess.  My favourite was when Pat Lorje suggested that city council was under siege last winter because of the lack of snow removal which was something she voted against.

The whole things reminds me of Winston Churchill underfunding the defences of Singapore in 1937 while First Lord of the Admiralty and then calling the British general performance there abysmal when Japan invaded in 1942 and they had no defences to work with.

We have roads that are brutal because the Mayor and council stopped funding the roads years ago.  We have light posts that aren’t safe because the city doesn’t have the cash (because of our desire to beat Calgary) and our city is dirty and grimy into July because it is cheaper to clean the streets slowly rather than quickly.  We get upset that we don’t have enough swim lessons but underfund leisure services as the city has grown.

Jack Vicq is right.  Instead of playing political games, we need a council (who can override the mayor) and fund the city properly.  Instead we get a Twitter feed that is constantly tweeting power outages because they take large dividends out of Saskatoon Light & Power, a #BetterRoadsYXE hashtag, new pylons and lots of emails from the city telling me how much they are doing (that’s another topic).

While the 2011 article mentions the mayor, it is also the fault of city council.  Darren Hill, Pat Lorje, Charlie Clark & Tiffany Paulsen have all been there at least two terms and are working on their third terms.  Mairin Loewen, Ann Iwanchuk, Randy Donauer have all been re-elected once.  They are all there when the council pulls a mill rate out of Calgary and agree to it.  When you are as integral part of the problem, can you be part of the solution?

Sadly repairing the grid or maintaining the Traffic Bridge doesn’t get people elected.  New bridges and low taxes do.  This problem isn’t going to go away and if we don’t do something about it in 2016, the mess will be just huge when we do.

GOP Candidate Charges Opponent Is Dead, Represented By A Body Double

Best political accusation that I have ever heard

Political opponents accuse each other of lying all the time, but one Oklahoma congressional candidate took his accusation to a new level this week when he claimed his opponent was actually dead and being represented by a body double.

KFOR in Oklahoma reports that Timothy Ray Murray believes Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), his opponent in the congressional Republican primary, was executed three years ago and is being represented by a look-alike. Because he believes Lucas is really dead, Murray said he will challenge the results of Tuesday’s Republican primary, in which Murrayreceived 5.2 percent of the vote. Lucas won the primary with 82.8 percent of the vote.

“It is widely known Rep. Frank D. Lucas is no longer alive and has been displayed by a look alike. Rep. Lucas’ look alike was depicted as sentenced on a white stage in southern Ukraine on or about Jan. 11, 2011,” Murray said in a statement posted on his campaign website.

“I am contesting that this matter has happen [sic] since his election was blocked, because of the U.S. Defense Department’s use of Mr. Murray’s DNA. To my knowledge, the U.S. Defense Department has not released to the public that information, as it is their confidential information about many people,” the statement said.

Brian Dean, a spokesman for the Oklahoma State Election Board, told The Huffington Post that Murray had sent the board a copy of the statement posted on his website but had not formally filed a petition asking for a recount or alleging election irregularities. He has until 5 p.m. Friday to do so.

In the statement, Murray, who did not respond to an interview request, also reassured voters that he is not a body-double.

“I, Timothy Ray Murray, am a human, born in Oklahoma, and obtained and continue to fully meet the requirements to serve as U.S. Representative when honored to so. I will never use a look alike to replace my (The Office’s) message to you or to anyone else, as both the other Republican Challengers have,” he said.

Lucas, who has served in Congress for the last 20 years, told KFOR that he’s never been to Ukraine.

“Many things have been said about me, said to me in the course of all my campaigns. This is the first time I’ve ever been accused of being a body double or a robot,” Lucas said. Lucas also added that Murray ran against him as a Democrat in 2012.

Any growing interest in soccer a sign of nation’s moral decay

This crosses the line in so many ways

If more “Americans” are watching soccer today, it’s only because of the demographic switch effected by Teddy Kennedy’s 1965 immigration law. I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer. One can only hope that, in addition to learning English, these new Americans will drop their soccer fetish with time.

This is so offensive.  The fact that “Americans” is in quotation marks is offensive as if immigrants from around he world are citizens.  Plus, my grandfathers were born in Canada (I know, not “America”) and if alive, they’d be watching England stink up the joint like the rest of the nation.  They’d also be making Suarez puns like the rest of the world.

So again, Ann Coulter is being offensive while talking about something she knows nothing about.

The Rise of Ted Cruz

The New Yorker has a long profile on Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz, the Republican junior senator from Texas, has heard the line about how the Party needs to become more moderate to win Presidential elections. “It is amazing that the wisdom of the chattering class to the Republicans is always, always, always ‘Surrender your principles and agree with the Democrats,’ ” he told me. “That’s been true for my entire lifetime. The chattering classes have consistently said, ‘You crazy Republicans have to give up on what you believe and become more like Democrats.’ And, I would note, every time Republicans do that we lose.” Cruz then offered a short history of recent Presidential politics. Richard Nixon ran as a conservative, twice a winner; Gerald Ford, moderate, loser; Ronald Reagan, also twice a winner. “President George Herbert Walker Bush ran as a strong conservative, ran to continue the third term of Ronald Reagan, continue the Ronald Reagan revolution,” Cruz went on. “Then he raised taxes and in ’92 ran as an establishment moderate—same candidate, two very different campaigns. First one won, second one lost. In 1996, you got Bob Dole; 2000 and 2004, you have George W. Bush; 2008, John McCain; 2012, Mitt Romney. And what does the entire D.C. Republican consulting class say? ‘In 2016, we need another establishment moderate!’ Hasn’t worked in four decades. ‘But next time will be the time!’ ”

Great speech but factually incorrect.  If Reagan was in power now, he would be lambasted by guys like Cruz for being too liberal and a RINO, a Republican in Name Only.

Pew Survey: Liberals Want Walkability, Conservatives Want a Big Lawn

Liberals want walkability

From Streetsblog

The dynamic reinforces Nate Silver’s observation after the 2012 elections: “if a place has sidewalks, it votes Democratic. Otherwise, it votes Republican.”

Among those who identified as most conservative, 75 percent reported they’d prefer to live in a place where “the houses are larger and farther apart, but schools, stores and restaurants are several miles away.” Only 22 percent said they’re prefer to live in a place where “the houses are smaller and closer to each other, but schools, stores and restaurants are within walking distance.”

The situation was reversed for the most liberal class of respondents. Among this group, 77 percent said they preferred a smaller house, closer to neighborhood amenities. Only 22 percent would opt for the larger, more isolated house, Pew found. The proportions were roughly reversed for conservatives.

Americans overall were roughly evenly split, with 49 percent saying they’re prefer the bigger, more remote house, and 48 percent saying they’d prefer the walkable community. Interestingly, both classes of respondents — conservatives and liberals — showed little love for the suburbs. Just 21 percent of liberals and 20 percent of conservatives said they would prefer living in the suburbs.

Among the factors that were important to liberals and conservatives in choosing a place to live, there were some consistencies and some inconsistencies. Both liberals and conservatives rated living near extended family and strong schools highly. But access to museums and theaters was particularly important to consistently liberal respondents: 73 percent said these amenities were important to them, compared to just 23 percent of consistent conservatives. Liberals were also more likely than conservatives to say it was important to live in a community with a mix of people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds.

Protecting the Brand

I love this column by Gerry Klein.

The province now hires an army of communications consultants and flacks – many of whom were at one time colleagues of mine – to make sure its message stays on track. These ranks far exceed the number of journalists whose job it is to give the public a balanced view of how their institutions work.

Concern about branding has these hired guns twisting themselves in knots to make sure the message the media gets conforms to an artificial identity they have created for these public institutions.

The City of Saskatoon has also fallen into this trap. For many years I reported on civic affairs along with Art Robinson. We would routinely roam the offices at city hall, visiting all from the senior administration to the cubicles of engineers, and these committed public servants would speak openly and freely about what they were doing, including explaining errors and prescribing corrections.

Former city commissioner Marty Irwin recently reminded me that the reason the administration had no concern about our impromptu visits was it had confidence in the quality, intelligence and dedication of civic employees, even if they may have wished at times we didn’t ask the questions.

Today, civic employees are restricted from talking to reporters unless they have undergone media training – that is, lessons in how to spin the message to protect the brand. Reporters are asked not to approach staff directly but to vet their inquiries through the communications office.

This strategy, by the way, is doomed to failure. Rather than protecting the brand, these public institutions are shrouding it in cynicism and suspicion. 

Obama: Politics is a game for the ultra-rich

This is depressing

In their private question-and-answer session, Obama let his guard down and eventually shared some thoughts that revealed more about his view of American politics than perhaps anything he said publicly during the entire campaign. Election Day was still more than eight months away. But Obama, in a previously unreported riff, signaled surrender on one of the fights that had drawn him to politics in the first place: the effort to limit the flow of big money. It was a remarkable concession, one that would have stunned the campaign volunteers who believed so deeply in his promise to change the way politics works. It wasn’t just that he was admitting that his own election prospects would be disproportionately influenced by super-rich donors like those he was addressing. He had already done that 11 days earlier, when he blessed a so-called super PAC collecting million-dollar checks to boost his reelection. What really distinguished his remarks to Gates and company from his carefully calibrated official position was the admission that the grassroots, people-powered politics he had long glorified might never again trump the swelling political buying power of the very richest donors.

“You now have the potential of 200 people deciding who ends up being elected president every single time,” Obama told the group in response to a question about the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in a case called Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, which gutted campaign finance restrictions and marked the beginning of a new big-money era in American politics.

Unless things changed dramatically, Obama predicted, “I may be the last presidential candidate who could win the way I won, which was coming out without a lot of special-interest support, without a handful of big corporate supporters, who was able to mobilize and had the time and the space to mobilize a grassroots effort, and then eventually got a lot of big donors, but started off small and was able to build. I think the capacity for somebody to do that is going to be much harder.” He continued, “In this election, I will be able to, hopefully, match whatever check the Koch brothers want to write,” referring to the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. “But I’m an incumbent president who already had this huge network of support all across the country and millions of donors. I’m not sure that the next candidate after me is going to be able to compete in that same way.”

Obama turned to face Gates, who stood awkwardly, his hands stuffed in his suit pants pockets. “And at that point, you genuinely have a situation where 10 people—hey, you know, Bill could write a check.” And, Obama pointed out, it wasn’t just Gates, whose fortune, then estimated at $61 billion, Democrats had been hoping to tap in a big way. “Actually, there are probably five or six people in this room,” Obama said, gesturing to Ballmer and others, as nervous laughter spread through the crowd. Obama plowed ahead insistently, eyebrows raised, his voice rising with agitation as he stepped toward the donors. “I mean, there are five or six people in this room tonight that could simply make a decision—this will be the next president—and probably at least get a nomination, if ultimately the person didn’t win. And that’s not the way things are supposed to work.”

The leader of the free world—the man who had built so much of his identity around the idea that average people could band together to change the world, the politician who once boldly declared that it was time to take government back from “the cynics, and the lobbyists, and the special interests who’ve turned our government into a game only they can afford to play”—had become one of the biggest cynics of all. Here he was, freely admitting that American politics had fundamentally changed in a way that made it, at the highest levels, a game for the ultra-rich. And he was right.

Bike Lanes in Saskatoon

Francois Biber joins David Kirton to talk about bike lanes on the Saskatoon Afternoon Show.

Listen

Excellent summary of the issues by both of them.

Just previous to this segment, Kirton expressed his frustration with city councillors, the mayor, and city administration being pro-car.  Listen below.

Listen

Bruce Carson: Vic Toews Scares People

Breaking news!  People were freaked out when Vic Toews talked of jailing 12 and 13 year olds

Carson gives an entertaining picture of Harper’s first few cabinet shuffles, starting with the story of an attempt to move Jim Flaherty from Finance to Industry, and Flaherty’s dramatic refusal to be budged.

He also relates how Harper decided Rona Ambrose was “spending too much time doing other things than looking at her [Environment] portfolio.

“He [Harper] couldn’t understand the media’s interest in the fitness regime of this cabinet minister, and why she would take time away from work to discuss such ‘trivial matters’ with the media,” Carson writes.

The other problem was Vic Toews in the Justice portfolio, says Carson, adding that Toews scared people when he talked of jailing 12- and 13-year olds.

“The prime minister was quite tired of morning meetings where the main topic was Vic Toews going off message,” he writes.

Why Public Transit is Under Funded

The reason that public transit (and bike lanes) are underfunded is that the rich don’t rely on them

Another report has come out in support of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), an innovative way to provide public transit at a low cost with dedicated bus lanes, stops, and schedules.

The study (PDF), from pro-transit group Embarq, found that BRT drastically reduced commute times, improved air quality, and cut road fatalities in congested cities like Bogota, Istanbul, Johannesburg, and Mexico City. And we already know that BRT is one of the most cost-effective public transit investments a municipality can make.

The catch? In most cities examined in the report, those benefits only extend to low- and middle-class residents. (In Johannesburg, the poorest residents did not use BRT).

“Since the dominant benefit is travel time savings,” the study’s authors wrote, “the majority of benefits tend to accrue to the strata most represented by BRT users — typically lower- and middle-income.”

While it’s great to have a system that improves transportation access for the majority of a city’s population, BRT’s mass appeal could — ironically — be a political concern that prevents its adoption, at least in the U.S. As Alex Pareene wrote in Salon, public transit often suffers because politicians and donors rarely rely on it. The results show in the states, whose existing BRT systems lag behind those in cities around the world.

Even in densely populated and traditionally liberal cities like New York and Minneapolis, politicians neglect transit. And “because they don’t know or interact with or receive checks from people who rely on it every day, there’s almost no hope for cheap, efficient mass transit options anywhere,” Pareene wrote.

Indeed, the Embarq report echoes the public transit wealth gap, and cites that most BRT systems are often paid for by tax revenue collected from those who may never ride it. Bogota’s famed TransMilenio was financed by increased gasoline taxes, and all the systems required both substantial investment and support from municipalities.

But the Embarq report also showed that BRTs benefited cities with environmental and productivity gains more than they strained financial resources. For example, the average commuter in Istanbul now gets to and from work about an hour faster thanks to the Metrobüs, and Mexico City’s BRT system reduced air pollution enough to save 6,000 sick days a year.

As cities continue to grow and congestion increases, the benefits of BRT may become impossible to ignore — even to the rich and powerful folks who are stuck in traffic.

You see the same thing here in Saskatoon.  After last night’s City Council meeting, you could almost say the same things about bike lanes.

Mayors don’t create jobs or grow the economy

The next time you hear Don Atchison or any civic politician try to take credit for the economy or job creation, read this article.

It always rings false when political candidates promise to create heaps of new jobs. Conservative Tim Hudak claims he would wave his magic wand and create no less than one million, just like that.
When candidates for mayor vow to spin jobs out of straw, the boast sounds especially hollow. Most job creation comes from economic growth, and mayors have very little power over that. Even prime ministers and premiers exaggerate their influence over the business cycle and they have far more than mayors.

That hasn’t stopped this year’s crop of mayoral candidates from posing as magicians of job creation. Start with John Tory, a former Conservative leader and business executive who should know better.

On Wednesday his staff sent a bulletin to the media: “John Tory to unveil plan to create 70,000 jobs.” When the promised unveiling came the next day at an east-end coffee wholesaler, it turned out that he was merely expressing support for a private company’s existing proposal to develop some industrial land near the mouth of the Don River.

First Gulf wants to build a new business hub on the site, an ambition it announced a couple of years ago. Its chief executive says the development could bring “as many as” 70,000 jobs to the city. In other words, up to 70,000 people could work there one day. Making a place for 70,000 people to work is not the same as creating 70,000 jobs.

Though the proposal is promising, there are big hurdles to jump before it can happen. Making the land usable would require rerouting the east end of the Gardiner Expressway and running new roads and transit lines into the area at the cost of many millions. All of this is already being studied at city hall. Mr. Tory’s endorsement of someone else’s proposal that is years from fruition hardly amounts to “a plan to create 70,000 jobs.”

His other job promises are almost as implausible. He wants to start a new medical school at York University, exploiting the coming subway link with Humber River Regional Hospital and creating a “high-tech employment corridor.” Mayors don’t create medical schools. That is a provincial responsibility.

He wants to lean on companies to hire more young people, a plan that, according to his website, would “result in thousands of new youth-employment jobs in his first term.” He would use his personal connections, too, calling business contacts to remind them of their “civic responsibility” to hire the young. Even a man as plugged-in as Mr. Tory is unlikely to create many jobs just by picking up the phone.

How to cities encourage economic growth?

Rather than pressuring or forcing companies to hire, city hall should be creating the conditions that make them want to hire. That means keeping taxes reasonable, cutting red tape, providing good services, building and maintaining infrastructure – all the things that make a city an attractive place to live, work and do business.

Saskatoon has the tax part down, now if we could just cut red tape, provide good services, and maintain our infrastructure, we could become something some day.