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Sometimes people manage to crystallize a thought or a notion into a wonderful passage that is explicit, yet concise all at the same time.  The Cynical Romantic from an older discussion thread on Pharyngula manages to capture much about what Atheism plus is and why it has been formed.

[fixed formatting from the original post]

 

I totally dislike the idea of leaving the battleground on the sexism topic to the minority of offenders.

If there were a minority of offenders, that would indeed be a bad strategy.

Unfortunately, we have multiple stripes of “offenders.” The hardcore misogynist rape-threat-spewing hate-driven trolls are a minority. And if the rest of the community were against them, we might be able to drive them out.

However, regular old run-of-the-mill “I don’t hate women; that would require paying attention to them, and I’d rather spend my time talking about how smart I am” moderate sexists who don’t really give a shit about doing anything about the trolls… we appear to have a metric fuckton of those. They are really, really not a minority in the movement. They are likely the New Atheist base. And that sort of bullshit enables the really serious MRAs and trolls. Finding out that those people don’t care about us and don’t have our back in the face of mistreatment is disheartening. The oblivious, genteelly sexist types go all the way up to the “leaders” of the movement, to the degree that we have leaders (see: Dawkins mocking Rebecca Watson for pointing out that atheist men can do stupid shit too).

We cannot kick the hateful trolls out of the movement because not enough people in the movement give a shit. And we cannot kick the regular sexists out of the movement because they make up too much of the movement.

Hence the attempt to explicitly create a separate space within the movement where we all will have each other’s backs.

‘Nuff said.

 

Alberta is facing many challenges as the next boom approaches.  It is more than likely that bounty of this boom will once again only benefit the rich and the larger corporations while yet again the people of Alberta must take a few of the crumbs that slip off the head table.  The last part of the Parkland Institute report deals with what we can do make Alberta a better province for everyone, not just certain classes of society.

“1 STRENGTHENING COMMUNITY SERVICES:
Shift away from a business approach to one based on core service delivery and away from reliance on generosity and charity to one based on rights.

Recommendation 1: Develop a more inclusive and supportive attitude toward community service providers including:
• increased funding that is stable and longer-term;
• funding for staffing compensation equal to comparable direct public sector programs;
• accountability that is based on appropriate and manageable indicators and data collection; and
• funding and support to expand on community hub models for community-based service grouping and delivery.”

Accountable and based on data rather than whims of the rich?  Novel idea.

“2 A BETTER QUALITY OF LIFE FOR ALL ALBERTANS:
Improve access to quality social programs, increasing leisure time and reducing stress on families.

Recommendation 2: Provide greater support to improve the quality of life for all Albertans including: increased spending and program expansion related to culture and leisure, childcare and early learning, education, health care; and reduce working hours through shorter work weeks and increased vacation. Key recommendations include:
• expand community based public health services for Aboriginal communities and implement no child left behind policy;
• fully fund and deliver early learning programs based on the public school model (including junior and full-day kindergarten);
• fund universities to reduce tuition rates to $1,000 per year across all programs;
• increase paid leaves and reducing work hours to match European averages; and
• create adequate publicly funded, non-profit child care spaces at $7 per day.”

Will it be expensive to implement?  Oh yes, but no more expensive that paying for the results of our current societal choices in terms of health care, police and prisons.

“3 INVESTING IN HOUSING AFFORDABILITY
Recommendation 3: Fulfill promise to eradicate homelessness by 2019 by complying with commitment of $3.3 billion in spending and building the necessary 8,000 new housing units.”

Are we just 8,000 units of affordable housing away in Alberta from making it a reality that no person needs to die of exposure during the winter?  Instead of squabbling over powerlines and utility deregulation(still a bad idea) why isn’t this at the top of the political agenda?

“4 ENSURING DIGNITY AND AN ADEQUATE INCOME FOR THE MOST VULNERABLE
Recommendation 4: Strengthen the province’s social safety net through the development of programs that are universal, accessible and delivered in a non-stigmatizing manner. This includes:
• phase in a livable guaranteed annual income (GAI) to bring together programs for seniors, people with disabilities, unemployed workers, students and low income workers; and
• while working towards the GAI, social assistance rates need to be increased to the poverty line, rates must be indexed to inflation, asset levels increased, application process simplified, eligibility expanded and wait time shortened.”

Whot?  Free handouts for the lazy??  How dare they?  There will always be people who unfairly profit at societies expense, we stigmatize the poor because the rich do not want us to closely examine their privileged state and the dodges they are currently employing to game the system in their favour.  Better to hit the poor hard and then cry for more police and prisons to warehouse the poor, all the while neglecting the conditions responsible for a good portion of the criminality.

5 PROTECTING WORKERS:
Improve income security, equality and quality of life through expanded worker protections.

“Recommendation 5: Provide more comprehensive protection and assistance to those working full-time, full-year to ensure an adequate standard of living. This includes:
• implement a living wage policy;
• strengthen labour protections including both employment standards and labour organizing procedures; and
• abandon the temporary foreign worker program, and expedite and better support foreign credential recognition.

Nothing radical here, just making working conditions adequate for all Albertans, not just those lucky enough to be part of a union.

“6 DEMOCRACY AND GOOD GOVERNANCE
Recommendation 6: Reform the democratic process to ensure that it accurately represents Alberta’s population diversity and distribution. This includes:
• adopt a proportional representation electoral system;
• establish an independent body with representation from Aboriginal, newcomers and women’s groups;
• implement an accountability and reporting system based on well-being indices; and
• work with Aboriginal groups to increase funding for and expand a comprehensive, community-based, culturally appropriate policy agenda with targets for improving quality of life and reducing disparities.”

PR would be a breath of fresh air in the stagnant backwater that is Alberta politics.  Proof? The PC have been in power for longer than I have been alive, it really is time for a change.

“7 PROGRESSIVE REVENUE REFORM
Recommendation 7: Re-establish the link between taxes and public services. Revenues should be returned to levels that allow continued support commensurate with changing demographics and inflation for public goods like health care, education, and social programs that Albertans feel are citizenship rights. This includes:
• reinstate progressive taxes, with increased progressivity at the top end and brackets indexed to inflation;
• raise corporate taxes to the Canadian average;
• reinstate the liquor tax;
• remove gambling revenues from general revenues and instead adequately fund arts and culture, communities and early learning from progressive taxes; and
• collect all natural resource rents and keep them out of general revenues for use in building a future for the province.”

The first sentence is the most important – “Re-establish the link between taxes and public services.”  This linkage needs to be reestablished so people can see the results of their taxes working for them making their lives better.  The current decline in the standards of living in Alberta can be traced back to when this link was broken and we have been picking up the pieces ever since.

“Alberta is at a crossroad. This report has highlighted what it means to have economic growth at the expense of social cohesion. With over 80 per cent of incomes concentrated in only half of households and the lowest ranking in the nation for sense of belonging to their communities, Alberta needs a new policy framework. This report provides the framework for a new development path; one where economic growth serves social goals and where disparity is minimized, ensuring an adequate income, quality of life and dignity for all Albertans.”

Could not say it better myself.  :)

This is the middle third of a brief overview of the Parkland Institute report on the decline of equality in Alberta that will focus on the specific contributing factors mentioned but not enumerated in part one.  Starting with:

“a | The Tax Cut Agenda: The flat tax was a transfer of wealth to high-income Albertans. Middle-income Albertans actually pay more tax than in most other provinces, while the top income bracket pays by far the lowest taxes in the nation. Alberta also has the lowest corporate taxes in the nation and collects by far the lowest taxes in the nation, $10.7 billion less than BC, the next lowest province in 2008.”

Ah, Alberta where we penalize the middle class for daring to be successful.   The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well as long as you’ve already ‘made it’.

“b | Stalled Social Spending: Alberta spends less on average than many other provinces on a per capita basis. As a percentage of GDP, total spending of combined provincial and municipal governments in Alberta fell from a high of 21 per cent in 1991-1993 to only 13.4 per cent in 2007. For comparison, the OECD average was 21 per cent, while at the top end Sweden and France spend 29 per cent.”

We bleat and moan about our healthcare spending and then never think to look at the precursors to ill health,  that is the social conditions we face and the supports in place to ensure healthy living for everyone in Alberta.  As the statistics show, we spend less on the front-end social supports and then wonder why the back end is costing us so much.

“c | Labour markets: Jobs have become increasingly contingent – temporary, part-time and self-employed – while average wages have barely been keeping pace with inflation. A study of inequality trends in OECD countries found that the most important factor in equality was trade union membership. On this front, Alberta compares poorly with the lowest rate of unionization in Canada.”

Of course Alberta has the lowest rate of unionization, we need our workers free of the protections unions offer so they can be more easily exploited.

“d | Offloading of community services: In downsizing government many services were offloaded to the voluntary or community sector which has been shifted to a ‘contract culture,’ with insecure funding and low wages and benefits.”

Ah, the hallowed “Charities will pick up the slack” balderdash makes its appearance.  Private charities are not comparable to public institutions when it comes to taking care of the disadvantaged.  The private charities meme exists more to assuage the guilt of the wealthy of society rather than making a meaningful effort at tackling the conditions that presuppose the necessity of a private charity in the first place.

It is not all doom and gloom, we as Albertans can push to make Alberta better for everyone and here is how. How we can fix Alberta will be tomorrows post. :)

   The constant boom/bust cycle in Alberta allows the Tory government to evade the valid concerns of its citizenry and consistently mismanage the wealth of the province.  In a report by the Parkland Institute the failures of the current government are highlighted and summarized.  I’ll be commenting on the executive summary, but you can get it and the full report here.

“Alberta has been prone to booms and busts but overall has seen long-term growth in the size of the economy and a dramatic increase in wealth. However, along with this wealth has come disparity; inequality in both income and quality of life is creating problems across Alberta. Alberta’s economic growth has gone mostly to those in the higher incomes. Quality of life indicators such as income security, personal disposable income, social cohesion, food security, housing affordability, leisure and family time, and educational attainment show that middle and low-income Albertans are struggling to keep the status quo and many are being left behind.”

Funny how that works when you have a flat tax that absurdly favours the rich.  I’m not sure where we ditched the idea of progressive taxation, but it is a major coup for socialism for the wealthy.

“Research shows that the costs of this inequality cut across all of society. Some of the impacts visible in Alberta include: economic and social exclusion evidenced by increasing food bank usage and homelessness; Alberta has the highest rates of family violence in the country and leads the country in domestic assault, homicide-suicide and stalking; Alberta has record low voter turnout; Albertans rank the lowest in the nation for sense of belonging in their community; Alberta has low university participation; and Albertans have the lowest leisure time in the nation.”

Ah, the hardworking Albertan.  More likely to be abusive, poor and atomized within society.  Not exactly the cherished “Alberta Advantage” that was the talk of the town not so long ago.  Lets look at the inequalities the report mentions.

“• Aboriginal families, single parents, and newcomers in Alberta live in deeper and a more persistent state of poverty than in any other province in Canada. The unemployment rate for newcomers is double that of the general population. Women continue to earn 72 cents of the male dollar.”

Yep, a big thanks to the inherent Patriarchal and racist memes that are so prevalent in our culture.

“• Minimum wage does not pay enough to live and work at levels that allow people to realistically meet their costs.”

Is it really surprising that one cannot make it on 8.80/hr?

“• Middle income families have come under increasing pressure. Wages have barely kept up with inflation and in some cases fallen, they are working more hours, have less disposable income, higher debt loads and they pay amongst the highest out-of-pocket costs for services such as childcare, health care, education, utilities, recreation and vehicle insurance in the nation.”

Ah yes, enjoy all the benefits of the free market, you can in fact, pay more for less and be less well off as a result of your hard work.  Universal day-care, that is the ugly scourge of socialism that the people of Alberta will not stand for.

“• Albertans work 1,880 hours per year, the highest in Canada, and much higher than many other developed economies. Albertans work an additional 300 hours or about 7.5 weeks more than the OECD 15 average. This is because Alberta has a much longer work week and has less paid holidays and vacation entitlements (two weeks compared to six weeks for the EU).”

Because working harder not smarter is the paradigm that we have chosen for our little sweatshop of a province.

“• Social assistance rates are far below the poverty line and have not been keeping pace with inflation. Increasingly stringent asset and earnings exemption regulations make it difficult to escape from poverty. The current patchwork of different programs means people can fall between the cracks.”

I think we’ve channelled social-Darwinians to construct our social programs.  The delusional idea that helping people less makes for a better society remains proudly(?) emblazoned upon the Alberta boilerplate.

“• Alberta’s Aboriginal peoples experience the most extreme disparity: income disparities are severe (Aboriginal incomes at 2/3 the average income for men and ½ for women); levels of unemployment are triple the average; Aboriginal children are very over-represented in children in care; there is disproportionate representation of Aboriginal people at all stages of the justice system, both as victims and offenders; levels of educational attainment are much lower; health outcomes are much poorer; housing quality is lower; and food security is lower.”

It must be because they are lazy and just do not want to work.  It is almost like they have a victimhood complex and just want handouts from the government (insert anecdata about the lazy Indian you know about here).  Would they be in such a bind if they started out with the same privileges white males get in society?  It is about as fair as  running a 100 yard dash but some people have 50 pound sacks of potatoes strapped to their ankles.

So here are the problems, what are the causes?

“Key causes of Alberta’s disparity: The erosion of social infrastructure through the adoption of a flat-tax regime and 25 years of governments spending too little on social assistance programs have exacerbated inequalities as have labour market policies and offloading to community services agencies.”

It is almost like the rich are setting the agenda so that only they do well and a big hearty “frack-you” to the rest of us.  That gentle readers, is the political truth in Alberta.

The specifics of the mismanagement of Alberta will be covered on Tuesday as 900 words for a post is already well into TL;DR. territory.

The West has a long history of supporting autocratic regimes that are ‘stabilizing influences’ in various regions across the world.  The autocrats keep the inspirations of the local population in check by whatever means necessary (read violence and repression) to keep the doors open for (western) business.  This particular model crumbles eventually as people do eventually come together and throw out their oppressors.  Witness Tunisia, they are fighting for their country now and they may just win their freedom.

“The Tunisian uprising, which succeeded in toppling Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the Tunisian president, has brought down the walls of fear, erected by repression and marginalisation, thus restoring the Arab peoples’ faith in their ability to demand social justice and end tyranny.

It is a warning to all leaders, whether supported by international or regional powers, that they are no longer immune to popular outcries of fury.

It is true that Ben Ali’s flight from the country is just the beginning of an arduous path towards freedom. It is equally true that the achievements of the Tunisian people could still be contained or confiscated by the country’s ruling elite, which is desperately clinging to power.

But the Tunisian intifada has placed the Arab world at a crossroads. If it fully succeeds in bringing real change to Tunis it will push the door wide open to freedom in Arab word. If it suffers a setback we shall witness unprecedented repression by rulers struggling to maintain their absolute grip on power.

Either way, a system that combined a starkly unequal distribution of wealth with the denial of freedoms has collapsed. (italics mine)

The maldistribution of wealth is a one of the prime motivating factors for revolution.  It is a feature of many popular revolts and will continue to be so until the elites realize that insulating themselves from the rest of people ultimately leads to their ruinous downfall.  It is the actions of the elite that determine whether societies prosper and fail.  I suggest reading Ronald Wright’s short book – A Short History of Progress to see how this story plays out repeatedly through history.

The people of Tunisia are revolting against a regime that restricted, repressed and tortured them, it is a lesson being played out in the Arab world about what can be done about their own situations, it would be wise of the people of the west also watched what has been wrought in their names, and how it is being rejected.

“Tunis may have been an extreme example, but all Arab regimes are variations on the same model, which obediently follows Western-instructed economic ‘liberalisation’ while strangling human rights and civil liberties.

The West has long admired the Tunisian system, praising its “secularism” and “liberal economic policies”, and, in its quest to open world markets and maximise profit, has turned a blind eye to human rights violations and the gagging of the media – two functions at which the Ben Ali regime excelled.

But Tunis, under Ben Ali, was not a model of secularism but a shameless model of tyranny. It turned “secularism” into an ideology of terror – not merely in the name of countering Islamic extremism but in an attempt to crush the spirit of opposition – Islamic, secular, liberal and socialist alike.

As with previous examples of countries it deemed to have embraced ‘successful economic models’, like Chile under the late dictator Augusto Pinochet, the West, particularly the US and France, backed the Ben Ali regime – prioritising forced stability over democracy.

But even when such governments remain in power for decades, thanks to Western support and a security apparatus that suppresses the people with immunity, it is only a matter of time before they come to a humiliating end.

The West, and the US in particular, has always abandoned its allies – a memorable example is the way in which Washington dropped Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the late shah of Iran, when popular anger threatened the country’s stability.

Seems like the West is about to, once again, wash its hands of another abysmal failure successful economic model country.  The infection is spreading, that contagion the freedom of people to choose the destiny for their own country.

The people of Tunisia have spoken and, most significantly, the Arab people are listening.

The Tunisian protests have already triggered peaceful demonstrations in Jordan, where people have protested over inflation and government efforts to undermine political liberties and press freedoms and have demanded the departure of Samir al-Rifai, the prime minister.”

I imagine the planners in the West are fretting as they once did during the 1950’s where the stemming the “Red Tide” was so vitally important to Western Interests.  Blocking the dreaded domino effect some 2 million Vietnamese were slaughtered.  Thankfully, military resources are not available right now that would be allocated normally to crush revolutions the like of what is happening in Tunisia.

Arabs of all generations are also expressing their sentiments online – not only congratulating Tunisians but also calling for similar movements in their own countries.   And on Facebook, many have replaced their profile pictures with images of the Tunisian flag, as though draping themselves in the colours of an Arab revolution.

The failure of one of the Arab world’s most repressive security forces to quell people power has been met with jubilation. Bloggers have compared the event to the fall of the Berlin wall, suggesting that it will usher in a new era in which the Arab people will have a greater say in determining their future. Mohamed Bouazizi, the young Tunisian who set himself on fire in protest against unemployment and poverty, has become a symbol of Tunisian sacrifices for freedom. Activists across the region have called for the “Tunisation” of the Arab street – taking Tunis as a model for the assertion of people power and aspirations for social justice, the eradication of corruption and democratisation.

But the celebratory atmosphere dominating the blogosphere and wide sectors of Arab society is tainted by a prevailing sense of caution and fear: Caution because the situation in Tunis remains unclear and fear that there may be a coup d’état, which would impose security but stifle popular aspirations.”

Jubilation and caution all mixed together.  The people in the region have seen what happened in Iran and Iraq, how meddling Western Powers can quickly destroy a nation.  Is Tunisia flying high enough above the radar to warrant Imperial attention.  Many rightfully feel trepidation because of the threat of foreign intervention.

The article ends with a quote from a Tunisian poet:

“History has shown that security forces can silence people but can never crush the simmering revolt that lies beneath the ashes. Or in the words of the beloved Tunisian poet Abul-Qasim al-Shabi in his poem To the Tyrants of the World:

 

Wait, don’t let the spring, the clearness of the sky and the shine of the morning light fool you …

Because the darkness, the thunder’s rumble and the blowing of the wind are coming toward you

from the horizon

Beware because there is a fire underneath the ash

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