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A New Season Beckons, But Nothing Changes

Politics and its Discontents - 57 min 14 sec ago

Many people think of September as the real beginning of the new year: kids go off to school, summer transitions to fall, fall fashions appear in the stores, and new careers are embarked upon. Sadly, our political culture seems resistant to change. True, this year there are municipal elections pending in October in Ontario, but on the federal level, the status quo continues, and the abuses of power persist. In so many ways it is like the peculiar time-loop situation Bill Murray found himself in in Groundhog Day.

Yesterday provided a stark reminder of the ruthless vindictiveness of the Harper regime as Dean Beeby of The Canadian Press reported:

A left-leaning think-tank was targeted by the Canada Revenue Agency for a political-activities audit last fall partly because the research and education material on its website appears to be "biased" and "one-sided."

That partial rationale for launching the controversial audit appears on a newly released document that the think-tank, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, obtained under the Access to Information Act.

Significantly, none of the right-wing 'think-tanks' have been thus targeted:

Among right-leaning or pro-business think-tanks in Canada, two — the C.D. Howe Institute in Toronto and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa — have confirmed to The Canadian Press they are not currently under audit for political activities. Two others — the Fraser Institute in Vancouver and the Montreal Economic Institute — have declined to comment on the matter.

In his inimitable style, Dr. Dawg offers a trenchant commentary on this farce, so I offer no further observations here.

And what better way to start a 'new' year than to be reminded of the ever-present and always intrusive past? Star readers come through once again:

Re: Take the muzzle off government scientists, Opinion Aug. 26

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has something to hide from Canadians if he continues to muzzle scientists. He must be afraid of scientific evidence about carbon emissions, sea ice, and climate change, for it would challenge the conservative “free market” view of Canada’s economy in relationship to oil companies and corporations for whom profit is more important than environmental protection, animal habitat and the truth about Canada’s future.

One need only to look at the effects of the free market philosophy in Asia where cities are clogged by coal-fired air pollution and the populace wears face masks in an attempt to breathe. In the United States many have complained of health problems due to fracking. The purity of water is under threat globally, and the Alberta oil sands uses huge quantities of clean drinking water to create its end product. Recent industrial spills in rivers in B.C. threaten drinking water, fish and other wildlife. Is this the Canada people want?

Canadians citizens have a right to know the scientific truth about our country, before it is further degraded by rampant free market initiatives and the devious subterfuge perpetrated by the Harper Conservatives.

Diane Sullivan, Toronto

While claiming to be the most honest, transparent, accountable government Canada has ever had, the Harper government lies to us and consistently distorts and withholds the truth to which we are entitled.

They’ve gutted the long form census to dispense with the troublesome information it provided, apparently preferring to use Kijiji as an informational source — or better yet spending millions on self-serving polls, which are regularly followed up with millions more spent on self-serving propaganda.

Additional efforts, funds and even government agencies are directed against us with blatant attempts by the government to discredit or silence well-meaning charities, the media, our nation’s courts, aboriginals, environmentalists, scientists and even the Canadian public.

And while all this effort and devotion benefits the Conservative party and its supporters (big business, big oil, big banks), guess who’s paying for it. The “bigs” are the ones getting the tax breaks, not us.

Randy Gostlin, Oshawa
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Happy Temporary Foreign Workers Labour Day!

Creekside - 1 hour 19 min ago
Bloomberg, Dec 2010 : Europe’s largest oil-field service provider, Saipem, wins $1 Billion onshore contract from Husky for the Sunrise Energy Project in Canada.

Nine months ago, Fort McMurray Today reported that 270 unionized welders and pipefitters contracted to that Husky Sunrise tarsands project were laid off and replaced by cheaper temporary foreign workers from Mexico, Ireland, Portugal and Italy.

commenter under another FMT article explained:
"We had to conduct a handover to Saipem (a mostly Italian workforce), detailing to them where we had stopped work so that they may continue. In the final week, Saipem foreign workers were actually in the facility working side by side with us; a very uncomfortable situation for those of us about to be laid off."Yesterday CBC's Kathy Tomlinson revisited that story : Canadians expose foreign worker 'mess' in oilsands"
"Canadian tradesmen from a huge oilsands construction project are waving a red flag about safety hazards and near misses, which they blame on the use of foreign workers who aren't qualified and can't speak English.Stand-outs from that story include :
  • a foreign worker taking a blowtorch to a propane tank to defrost it
  • Canadians with better qualifications passed over for jobs while foreign workers from Europe continued to show up 
  • foreigner workers arrived without Canadian-standard trade certification but "under government rules, they have a year before they must take their test." after which they can take it again later if they fail,  and 
  • "Probably 75 per cent of [foreign] ironworkers on site were only at the level of a labourer."

But back up a bit. The company that brought in those workers - Italian oil and gas services contractor, Saipem.  Haven't we heard about them before?

Dec. 2012 : Saipem CEO resigns after Algeria corruption probe

July 2013 :Milan court rules Saipem guilty of corruption in Nigeria ...July 2013 : Jul. 2 - Saipem drilling rig sinks off Angola One person missing"The Italian oilfield services provider said that one of the jack-up rig’s three legs collapsed, causing the rig to suddenly tilt and start taking water. The incident, according to Saipem, occurred during the rig positioning on location between the coasts of Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, in approximately 40 meters of water. 6 crew members have sustained minor injuries. At approximately 10:30 am CET, the rig, with no personnel on board, capsized and sank. "Sept. 2013 : Milan prosecutors investigate Saipem for alleged market manipulation and insider trading
July 2014 : Australian unions fury at Coalition`s gas job sell-out
"Saipem's enormous pipelay vessel Castorone will start work soon off the Australia coast.  The Government issued a regulation eliminating the need for any worker on a craft not tethered to the Australian mainland to have a work visa. That would free foreign companies with the contracts to lay pipework and other vital infrastructure on huge projects such as the Browse Basin gas field to hire thousands of foreign workers instead of Australians."Gosh, just like here.
But no, not any of those stories ... 
Ah I remember - it was Arthur Porter, SNC-Lavalin, and Saipem!

In 2005, SNC-Lavalin "and its joint venture partner, Saipem ", were awarded a lump sum contract by Canadian Natural Resources Limited (Canadian Natural) to provide engineering, procurement and construction management services for the Horizon Oil Sands Project.

Four years later, SNC-Lavalin had signed a deal to award former CSIS watchdog Dr. Arthur Porter of Sierra Leone (currently on the lam from Canadian law in Panama) and his company Sierra Assets Management, 3 payments totaling $10-million for consultancy fees regarding a gas project in Algeria.  The $1.2 billion Rhourde Nouss gas project deal was awarded to SNC-L the same year by Sonatrach, Algeria’s national oil company.

In 2013,  Algerian police raided SNC offices in Algiers regarding "allegations of bribery and kickbacks involving Sonatrach and public officials and agents hired by SNC-Lavalin to procure a number of large infrastructure projects."
G&M February 2013 : SNC-Lavalin bribery probe widens to Algeria :
The investigation focuses on one of the company’s agents in Algeria, Farid Bedjaoui, a jet-setting money manager hired to help secure at least $1-billion in contracts with the country’s state-run oil company, Sonatrach. Mr. Bedjaoui was educated in Montreal and occasionally resides thereSources close to the investigations in Europe and Canada believe that SNC and the Italian oil services firm Saipem SpA relied on Mr. Bedjaoui, the nephew of former Algerian foreign affairs minister Mohammed Bedjaoui, to obtain contracts from Sonatrach.Mr. Bedjaoui is one of several foreign agents hired by SNC who have fallen under suspicion for allegedly paying bribes.Several Saipem executives are under investigation, including the construction unit’s recently suspended chief operating officer, Pietro Varone, who was so close with Mr. Bedjaoui that the two men launched a wine-making company together outside Naples.
Well, I'm sure when we sign off on those investor-state rights trade deals with Europe, CETA and TTIP, all this will go much more smoothly, right?

what i do, what i miss, and what are they thinking: answers to the question, "what do you do?"

we move to canada - 1 hour 58 min ago
When we moved to Canada (nine years plus a few days ago), I wondered what, if anything, I would miss about the US. Who would have guessed it would be watching "Baseball Tonight"? Yup, the only thing I miss about living in that crazy country is watching a baseball-highlights show on ESPN. Not bad!

In a similar vein, what do I miss about being a writer? A strange sound that I can't quite decipher.

When people would ask that inevitable question, "What do you do?", and I would answer, "I'm a writer," invariably, I would get this reaction: "Ooooo..." Their eyes would go wide, their lips would form an O, and out would come a sing-song sound of amazement. I don't know why this was. I don't know what it meant. But it would always happen!

Except in New York. No one "Oooos" over anyone's work in New York, and certainly not over writers. Writers in New York are more common than tourists in Times Square, or rats on the subway tracks.

But everywhere else, when I said I was a writer, I would get this "Oooo..." response.

Who would have known I would miss it?

I do miss writing professionally. I miss the writing life. When Allan and I talk about his next book project, about his research and his process, I miss it. A lot.

At the same time, I'm very aware that what I'm missing had become quite rare in my life. I'm missing when it was going well: when I was working on absorbing assignments that paid decently and would be published and distributed. And if that had been a more common occurrence, I would have stayed with my original intent for library school: a job as a part-time librarian, to replace my day-job, while I continued my (part-time) writing life.

But that wasn't the case. Good writing jobs had become far too scarce, and I got excited about librarianship, and so it goes.

But who would have guessed how I would miss the sound of that "Ooooo..."! It's the silliest thing, especially since I don't even know what they were Ooooing about, what romantic misconception about writing was at work there. But it was fun. I'd say I was a writer, the other person would Oooo, and it gave me a little buzz.

So how do people react when I say I'm a librarian?

They either reply with a tight little, "Oh, that's interesting," kind of like you would say, "What's that smell?" Or else they say one of these seven things, collected (with GIFs) by Ellyssa Kroski, the iLibrarian blogger (and Director of IT at the New York Law Institute).
1) “Do people still even go to the library now that there’s Google?”

It’s amazing how many people respond this way when I tell them I’m a librarian. I assure them however, that we are somehow soldiering on in the library field, along with all of the doctors who are still attempting to stay relevant in spite of WebMD.

2) “So, are you like, a volunteer?” Usually followed up with “What? You need to have a Master’s degree to be a librarian?!!”

Nearly everyone I’ve ever met has been astounded that librarians hold advanced degrees.

3) “But isn’t print dead at this point?”

Yes, this is still a thing people are saying.Click through to read the other four. I've been working as a librarian for only 14 months and I've heard all of these multiple times.

A Canadian Veteran Prepares to Go After Peter MacKay

Montreal Simon - 4 hours 14 min ago

A few weeks ago I told you how veterans are preparing to declare war on the Harper regime, that has treated them so shabbily.

And how they are planning to make their presence felt in the next election campaign.

A network of veterans across Canada is planning a co-ordinated campaign against the Conservative government during next year’s election.

“When the election is called, you’re going to see some large fallout, believe me,” said Sydney veteran Ron Clarke. “As soon as the writ is dropped, we are in action.”

Now one of them has announced plans to go after the ghastly Con buffoon Peter MacKay.
Read more »

The Harperland Summer and the Country Where Hope Lives

Montreal Simon - 6 hours 23 min ago

It's Labour Day. The Snowbirds are roaring over my house for the last time, heading for the CNE air show on the other side of the island. It feels like summer is over.

And the roar of the jets only reminds me of what a cataclysmic summer it has been. The summer of Gaza, ISIS, Ukraine, Ferguson and Ebola. A summer of death and destruction, hatred and despair.

And of course just another grim summer in the horror of Harperland, where hope goes to die.

So I'm really glad I spent much of July in a very different country...

Where hope is very much alive, and something incredibly beautiful is happening. 
Read more »

Mt Polley. Where is the Government?

Sister Sages Musings - Mon, 09/01/2014 - 19:31

Oh, that fickle news cycle! Bestie of Christy Clark, Bill Bennett, Mary Polak.

Where the fuck is the Federal Government, namely, Gail Shea, Minister Responsible for Fisheries and Oceans? Yes, Ms Shea, wild salmon spend a considerable portion of their time in our lakes and rivers. Why are you not out here, getting . . . → Read More: Mt Polley. Where is the Government?

The Canada Revenue Agency doubles down

Dawg's Blawg - Mon, 09/01/2014 - 17:11
According to a document newly obtained through an Access to Information request, the august Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is under audit scrutiny because, according to CRA officials, its research and educational materials are “one-sided.” I must admit I’m tickled... Dr.Dawg

A Timely Reminder

Politics and its Discontents - Mon, 09/01/2014 - 16:29
What Have The Unions Ever Done For Us? was produced in Australia after John Howard's conservative government went after collective bargaining rights.

H/t Press ProgressRecommend this Post

Stephen Harper the Chicken Hawk Gets his Feathers Plucked

Montreal Simon - Mon, 09/01/2014 - 16:00

Well as you know, no world leader has screamed as loudly about the crisis in Ukraine as has Stephen Harper.

If words were weapons the Russians would have surrendered by now.

But now NATO is demanding that he put his money where his mouth or his snout is.

And the chicken hawk has been plucked.

Canada's modest military might has always made it hard for its prime ministers to strut convincingly on the world stage. Stephen Harper is only the latest to offer stirring rhetorical contributions to the Western alliance, without having much firepower to back them up. 

Faced with a pressing need to offer more than ringing denunciations of Russian aggression, NATO's 28 members are being challenged to increase their defence budgets. Harper intends to do no such thing. As long as that's true, Harper will be speaking loudly, but carrying a small stick.

Because when it comes to choosing between defending Ukraine, and defending the deficit so he can bribe Canadians with tax cuts in the next election campaign. 

He'd rather bomb our defence budget. 

Stephen Harper has been one of the toughest-talking leaders throughout the Ukraine crisis, yet newly released figures show National Defence is expected to face an even deeper budget hole in the coming year than previously anticipated.

Annual spending on the military, when compared with 2011, is slated to shrink by a total of $2.7-billion in 2015, according to a briefing note prepared for the deputy defence minister.

And here's the best part eh?

What does Great Chicken Hawk Leader believe his most outstanding contribution to NATO should be?

More HOT AIR. 

According to the account of the Prime Minister's Office, Harper's goal at the NATO summit is to emphasize what Canada has already done, especially with its fine rhetoric: "Canada's main objectives for the Summit include highlighting its contributions to the Alliance, notably the role it has played since the onset of the Russia-Ukraine crisis by stressing the need for a strong international response to Russia's aggression against Ukraine..." 

So: our "main objective" is to "highlight" our role in "stressing the need" for a "strong response."

Because that should teach Putin a lesson he'll NEVER forget...

Oh boy. You know if I was a Ukrainian-Canadian I'd be looking for another champion.

If I was the Con clown Stephen Harper.

I'd be looking for another job...

Please click here to recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers.

London Has Denounced It. So Has Washington. Why the Complicit Silence from Canada?

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 09/01/2014 - 14:29
Israel has just taken another massive bite out of the Palestinian West Bank homeland.  Britain has condemned the land grab, so has Washington.

As for Canada, "what land grab?"  As Harper reminds us, we don't practice sociology.  It took Mulcair and Trudeau to demonstrate that we don't do integrity either, not when we're suckholing for votes.

On healthy proposals

accidentaldeliberations - Mon, 09/01/2014 - 14:13
Paul Wells seems quite disappointed not to have received more attention for his recent piece on Thomas Mulcair's speech to the Canadian Medical Association. So let's take a closer look at why the angle Wells took didn't seem like much of a revelation - and what might be more significant in Mulcair's plans.

At the outset, I don't see much basis for surprise that after consistently and rightly criticizing the Cons for their health-care funding choices, Mulcair would follow up by saying he'd act differently if he had the power to do so. Which means that the headline promise highlighted by Wells is best seen as the flip side of the NDP's oft-used policy currency, not some significant new discovery. 

Now to be fair, we may not be able to take for granted that a party's opposing a policy in opposition represents a commitment to reverse it while in government (see: cuts, GST, and their omission from subsequent opposition party platforms). And indeed the Libs are following that same pattern when it comes to Harper's health-care slashing: they won't hesitate to criticize the Cons' funding cuts explicitly and implicitly, but they apparently don't want to commit to doing anything differently.

But it's hardly news that the NDP has questioned the combination of cuts to anticipated health care spending, and the Cons' less equitable distribution of the money they'll deign to put into the health care system. And Mulcair is calling only for a return to the exact level of increases already offered by past Libs and Con governments alike - which, even if continued, still figured to do little more than restore the federal government to half of its past role in funding the existing health care system.

In other words, if we've defined a "big directional policy announcement" downward to the point where incrementally-increased federal funding qualifies (particularly if accompanied by no expectation of associated policy outcomes as suggested by Wells), that would say far more about how little we've been trained to expect from our federal government than about any drastic impact from Mulcair's speech.

Fortunately, it's not clear that Wells has any basis to suggest that Mulcair's plans don't involve some meaningful policy choices beyond turning on the funding taps slightly more:

Or for those who want part of the speech in writing, here's Barbara Sibbald's report from the same speech:
An anticipated budget surplus in 2015 should be used to cancel proposed cuts to health care, maintained Mulcair.
While money may not be the solution for problems facing health care, it is "definitely a necessary precondition," he said. "Mr. Harper, it's time keep your word to protect Canadian health care."
In keeping with an underlying theme of the annual meeting, Mulcair pointed to seniors care as a primary health care challenge and later told reporters that he favours a Royal Commission on physician-assisted suicide. The NDP is the only federal party with a national strategy for seniors care, including a policy on aging and palliative care.
In his speech to CMA, he quickly moved on to other challenges, criticizing federal cuts to refugee health as "cruel and thoughtless."  
He also decried the "awful" state of some First Nations' reserves and food security in Canada. "It's totally unacceptable… that 800 000 children go to school each day without having eaten." The NDP is the first federal party with a pan-Canadian food strategy.
On the topic of military health, Mulcair slammed the government for shutting down nine Veterans Affairs service centres this year and pledged to reopen them if elected. So no, Mulcair isn't talking about handing over more money to the provinces while otherwise following in the Cons' laissez-faire footsteps. Instead, he's treating increased funding to the provinces as only a "precondition" to systemic improvement - pointing specifically to Libby Davies' report which discusses how federal investments can be used to change health care delivery for the better by agreement with the provinces.

Meanwhile, Mulcair also highlighted a far more significant role for the federal government in meeting its own responsibilities. And he connected health funding to a number of other related issues which the Cons tend to keep in their own silos, reflecting the NDP's recognition that public health necessarily involves more than hospitals and doctors' offices alone (including a direct mention of studying the social determinants of health).
Which is to say that while restored transfer payments may reflect bigger headline numbers, they're far from the only departure from the philosophy of Canada's federal governments, in some cases dating back several decades or more. And if there's a clear point of distinction we should draw from Mulcair's speech, it's the NDP's belief that the federal government can and should play a positive role in creating a healthier society.

Busting the Cartel

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 09/01/2014 - 13:50

this country should no longer tolerate a situation where the public interest in so vital a field as information[is] dependent on the greed or goodwill of an extremely privileged group of businessmen” 

That was the seminal conclusion of the 1969 Davey Commission report into Canada's mass media.  It was a warning about the danger to ordinary Canadians and "the public interest" posed by press barons who dominated the media through concentration of ownership and media cross-ownership.

In today's neoliberal Canada, Davey's warnings are more valid than ever but of no moment whatsoever to either the corporate media cartel or the politicians of all stripes who collude with them.  That's not just Harper's Conservatives either.  You won't hear Justin Trudeau or Tom Mulcair rise to the defence of the public interest against the predations of the powerful media cartel, a powerful malignancy loose on the land that endangers our democratic freedoms.

For both Mulcair and Trudeau, the status quo suits them.  They court today's corporate media barons in hope that the favour will be reciprocated, that there'll be an electoral reach around for them at the end of the day, preferably when the public gets steered to the voting booths.

In 1990, just 17.3% of Canadian newspapers were independently owned. Troubling as that should be, by 2005 that had plummeted to just 1%.  One per cent, that's it.

A handy summary of the Davey Report and the 1981 Kent Commission report can be found here.  What is most telling about these reports is that almost nothing was done about them, their warnings went unheeded and the deplorable results they predicted have all come to pass.

In psychology it's sometimes called "triangulation" - the outcome that occurs when the relationship among three parties is altered so that two parties come together to the exclusion of the third.  The ousted party usually fares poorly at the hands of the other two.  In Canada, as in other increasingly authoritarian states, triangulation has occurred through the collaboration of powerful media interests and the political classes to the exclusion - and detriment - of the public.

The lone voice in Parliament to address this fiasco is the Green Party's.  That party's platform provides, "Access to information.  Seek true solutions to the increasing corporate control in Canadian journalism.  Whatever is "dumbed down" must be "smartened up." Call it trite, if you will.  Call it banal.  It is the only party to commit to at least easing corporate control in Canadian journalism.

Canada, like any other country, is facing a very challenging century that will require real social cohesion for us to see it through.  That, in turn, demands a highly-informed electorate, people with enough quality information to make the decisions real democracy requires of them.  Achieving that demands the breakup of the corporate media cartel and the compulsory divestiture of their holdings.

Paying the Bagpiper

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 09/01/2014 - 12:19
Few are more familiar with stealth that our own prime minister, Steve Harper. He's a master at incrementalism, the dark art of achieving unacceptable goals by a succession of steps, so small and seemingly innocuous that no one really notices in time to object.  Harper is also a master at saying one thing while doing just the opposite behind the scenes.

Harper is all for Canada having a muscular foreign policy and punching above its weight on the world stage or at least that's how he wants red meat Canadians to see him.  In reality, it's all so much self-serving hot air from our prime ministerial blowhard.

For years, Harper has been stealthily defunding Canada's armed forces.  Spending on the armed forces has now reached a low of just 1% of GDP.  That's half of defence spending levels under Pierre Trudeau.  Half.

The armed forces are paying the price of serving a miserly prime minister. Equipment is wearing out.  Replacement programmes are deferred repeatedly if not canceled outright.  Our CF-18s are nearing the end of their useful life and our naval capability is lower than at any time prior to WWII.  A lot of the army's equipment is beat up from a decade of service in Afghanistan.  To respond to all of this, Harper has gutted defence spending.  Neat trick, eh?

Now Harper wants to contribute Canadian air, naval and land forces to help build up NATO's rapid response force intended to stare down the Russian bear.  Of course what he wants even more is to balance the budget in time for the 2015 election with plenty of money left over for an orgy of pre-election goodies to help Canadians forget why they despise their prime minister.

So it sounds like, when it comes to Canada standing up to the Russian Czar, Vlad, someone has painted himself into a corner.  Think Steve is going to levy big taxes to pump up the defence budget?  Think again.

Besides, there is reason to question the resolve of the NATO alliance in facing up to Russia.  Old NATO, the original crew from the days where we squared off against the Warsaw Pact, is still doing the heavy lifting.  The new kids, who actually used to make up the Warsaw Pact but have since changed sides, haven't shown much interest in contributing to NATO's adventures whether in Afghanistan or in the skies above Libya or elsewhere.  These countries also live in the shadow of Vlad Putin and some of them haven't forgot what happens in their neighbourhood when you get caught on the wrong side of the Kremlin.

Some think this rapid reaction force is another NATO pipe dream:

Steve Saideman, an expert on NATO, is skeptical about how the force would work, given previous missions where countries have insisted on maintaining control over their own troops and imposed restrictions on what they could do.

That was the experience both in Libya, where some countries refused to conduct risky air-to-ground attacks, and in Afghanistan, which saw a handful of countries like Canada, the U.S., Britain, France, the Netherlands and Denmark do most of the fighting.

"I have a hard time imagining a rapid-reaction force being rapid," said Saideman, who is chair of the Paterson School of International Affairs at Ottawa's Carleton University.

"I don't feel confident they'll be able to overcome the problems that have existed and have been baked into NATO." 

Saideman is also unconvinced that Harper is really willing to put his money where his mouth is to cover the considerable costs of maintaining an all-forces contingent to NATO's new standing reaction force.

It sounds tailor-made for a phantom force funded with non-existant dollars, in other words - Harper stealth.

Could America Break Its Own Bank on a Russian Anvil?

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 09/01/2014 - 11:32

The sanctions being plastered on Russia by the US and her allies are already having a rebound effect, especially in Europe.  Russia is not only the major supplier of the natural gas the Europeans will need to get through this winter, it's also a key market for their exports.  In these matters the EU and US are in different boats.  Another key difference is that American sanctions are more heavily weighted on depriving Russia of access to credit - loans.

Here's the rub.  International finance is generally conducted in US dollars, the global reserve currency.  Throughout the post-WWII era that's been a huge advantage to the United States.  US monetary policy can be adjusted to suit America's international interests - think "quantitative easing".

If Russia finds its Western credit facilities cut off the question becomes if there's anyone else willing to meet Russia's loan needs.  China, perhaps?  This is the same China, Peoples Republic whereof, that has, from time to time, groused about the burden of having the US dollar as the world's reserve currency.

Asia Times' columnist, Pepe Escobar, thinks the US may be pushing its luck:

"Moscow, allied with the BRICS, is actively working to bypass the US dollar - which is the anchor of a parallel US war economy based on printing worthless pieces of green paper.  Progress is slow, but tangible' not only the BRICS but BRICS aspirants, the G-77, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the whole Global South is absolutely fed up with the Empire of Chaos' non-stop bullying and want another paradigm in international relations.  The US counts on NATO - which it manipulates at will - and mad dog Israel; and perhaps the GCC, the Sunni petro-monarchies partners in the Gaza carnage, which can be bought/silenced with a slap on the wrist.

With just over $400-billion in Euro-Russian trade at stake, the Euros, already enduring economic and political crisis, have more to lose than the US from an overplayed hand.  As for Ukraine, its gas reserves are running on empty and winter is coming.  If Moscow and Beijing choose to work in concert we could be looking at a new world order not to America's liking.

Restoring the Vox Populi

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 09/01/2014 - 10:29

Some thoughts for this, Labour Day.

The voice of the people.  Oh, how long has it been since that really meant anything?  In Canada and many other advanced countries, polls show that people are being governed without much if any regard to their views, their concerns.

It's sort of like standing, waiting at the civic bus stop for a bus that just keeps passing you by.

Canadians want action on climate change.  Are they going to get it?  No. Canadians want action on inequality.  Are they going to get it?  Don't be ridiculous.

The American people utterly loathe their federal government, their Congress. Does it matter?  Hell no!  The vox populi has been discounted to the point of near total irrelevance.

Governments don't do what we want them to do.  Governments don't deal with things we want dealt with, the things that cause us worry and insecurity.

There used to be a notion that at the heart of democracy lay the consent of the people to be governed.  To the extent that ever meant something it has been superceded by the ascent of neoliberalism and the corporatist state.

You get to vote and that's about all you get.  There is no longer much of a role for the vox populi.  There's still a vox, a voice alright and it is reaching the ear of the political or ruling classes only it's not your voice.  It's the voice of energy and commerce and high finance that has the ear of those you supposedly elect to office.

Think I'm kidding?  Go back four years to the reign of Ignatieff.  Do you remember when he summoned a "thinkers' conference" to map out a new strategy for a Liberal Canada?  The speakers list spoke volumes for it was massively dominated with CEOs and "management consultants."  Ignatieff wasn't there to formulate policies that would resonate with the voting public, solutions to their needs and concerns.  His focus was Bay Street, not Main Street.  As the Ignatieff Liberals turned their backs on ordinary Canadians, so did ordinary Canadians turn their backs in the next election sending the Liberals from Sussex Drive to Stornoway to Motel 6 out on the Gloucester highway.

The simple fact is that you can't consent to be governed without a reasonable understanding of how you're to be governed.  Without that understanding, there's no informed consent to be governed. You're simply consenting to be ruled.  And even that hollow consent is being coerced out of you through the application of misinformation, outright deceit and fear-mongering.

Your vote used to mean something back when parties offered up a real spectrum of vision and policy.  You knew what made one party distinct from the others and they worked to champion policies that might suit the voting public.

Today our body politic lies on the life support of neoliberalism.  Iron lungs all around.  Even the NDP has embraced neoliberalism.  There's a term for what's happening.  It's called "depoliticization."  Politics is being shut down, its place taken over by grey suits stuffed with wet cardboard.  Administrators, not leaders. Mere technocrats, doing sums.  The public, quite conveniently for the corporate state, is disengaging, tuning out. Why bother if no one will speak to your concerns?  Why bother if no one hears your voice?  Even before you begin to tune out you're already out of the loop.

How then do we reverse this?  How do we get their ear?  How are we to get our voices heard by those we elect, those who are duty bound to serve us?  How do we make them responsive to our concerns, our needs?

How indeed?  I don't know.  I do know that we need to get these people we elect to listen to us and that means they need to stop listening like attentive lap dogs to those who do not elect them.  We need to drum into their heads the prescient words spoken by Teddy Roosevelt more than a century ago.  These words:

...our government, national and State, must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests.  Exactly as the special interests of cotton and slavery threatened our political integrity before the Civil War, so now the great special business interests too often control and corrupt the men and methods of government for their own profit.  We must drive the special interests out of politics.

...every special interest is entitled to justice but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office.  The Constitution guarantees protections to property, and we must make that promise good, but it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation.

...The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have themselves called into being.

There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. 

We no longer "effectively control the mighty commercial forces that we have called into being."  Those mighty commercial forces too often have the ear of those we elect to represent us.

Wresting political control away from these commercial forces may be the key to reclaiming our democratic freedoms.  The thing is I just cannot see that happening under either Trudeau or Mulcair or any other Liberal or New Democrat.  Like others I'm coming to accept that if we cannot rehabilitate the Liberal and New Democratic parties, we need to stop wasting our efforts and put them into building a new party, a genuinely political party, one that speaks for Canadians and speaks to their concerns.  It's pointless to seek solutions in neoliberalism.

India - Superbug Time Bomb

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 09/01/2014 - 10:18

India is the worst but it's not alone.  All of the emerging economic superpowers share the same problem - the abuse of antibiotics.

For India, it's the result of a population coming into new wealth that still has just one doctor for every 1,700 people.  You get sick, you get pills, off you go.  Too often those pills are antibiotic.

Together with India, Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa account for 76% of the global increase in antibiotic use.

If the warnings we get from our medical establishment are accurate, these countries and their societies could be heading for real trouble.  This has the makings of a "perfect storm" - inadequate health care infrastructure, antibiotic abuse, the rise of antibiotic-resistant diseases and all the health impacts of climate change including a critical shortage of freshwater for sanitation and personal hygiene as well as pest and disease migration.

And, of course, given our globalized economy, we're hardly immune to what happens on the other side of the Earth.  If you don't understand this, take a look at the Spanish Flu of 1918, where it originated (it wasn't Spain) and how it spread around the globe.  Then remember back then we didn't have 7.6-million air passengers hopping around the world daily.

Monday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Mon, 09/01/2014 - 08:56
Miscellaneous material for your Labour Day reading.

- Andrew Jackson discusses the future of Canada's labour movement, while Gil McGowan highlights the fact that unionization can be no less important in Alberta and other booming areas than elsewhere. And Jerry Dias notes that there are some reasons for celebration this year.

- But Edward McClelland points out that far too many labourers who would benefit from organization are instead hostile to the idea of unions. And Timothy Noah finds another gap between labour and U.S. centrist liberals - which is mirrored by the relationship between unions and large-L Liberals in Canada.

- Speaking of which, Tracy Sherlock writes that disastrous past decade-plus for B.C.'s education system can be traced back to the Lib government's hostile response to the inclusion of special needs supports and other student priorities in teachers' collective bargaining agreements. 

- Kathy Tomlinson reports on how the Cons' efforts to undermine Canadian labour are leading to grossly unsafe working conditions for Canadian and imported workers alike. And Geoff Leo exposes yet another employer laying off qualified Canadian workers with help from the Cons' temporary foreign worker program.

- Steven Greenhouse addresses the epidemic of wage theft which is making living conditions all the worse for some of the U.S.' most vulnerable workers.

- Finally, Hedrick Smith (as adapted by Yes) documents how the spread of inequality in the U.S. is the result of deliberate policy choices. And Sean McElwee offers five reasons why politics haven't yet served to reduce inequality, particularly if voters have misplaced faith in upward mobility while ignoring its inevitable counterpart:
According to research from Carina Engelhardt and Andreas Wagner, around the world people overestimate the level of upward mobility in their society.

They find that redistribution is lower the when actual social mobility is [sic] but also lower where perceived mobility is higher. Even if voters perceive the level of inequality correctly, their tendency to overstate the level of mobility can undermine support for redistribution. In another study Alberto Alesina and Eliana La Ferrara find that, Americans who believe that American society offers equal opportunity (a mythology) are more likely to oppose redistribution. Using data from 33 democracies, Elvire Guillaud finds that those who believe they have experienced downward mobility in the past decade are  32% more likely to support redistribution. A relatively strong literature now supports this thesis. ... [A] massive public education campaign about the extent of income inequality is neither necessary nor sufficient to achieve the kind of redistributive policies liberals favor. The real obstacles to policy action on inequality are more deeply ingrained in the structure of American politics, demographics, and interest group coalitions. Insofar as there is a role for better information to play, it likely relates not to inequality but to social mobility which remains widely misperceived and is a potent driver of feelings about the justice of economic policy. As John Steinbeck noted, "Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires." Stronger unions, more lower income voter turnout and policies to reduce the corrupting influence of money on the political process would all work to reduce inequality. It will take political mobilization, not simply voter education to achieve change.

And Speaking Of Labour

Politics and its Discontents - Mon, 09/01/2014 - 08:16
All kinds of abuses continue under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. As reported by the CBC, an Italian company, Saipem, contracted by Husky Sunrise to build a multi-billion dollar plant 60 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, is employing 344 foreign tradespersons and others who are either unqualified, uncertified or cannot understand English, thereby putting lives at risk.

Despite complaints by supervisors and a surfeit of qualified Canadians who are being ignored in the company's hiring practices, almost nothing is being done about this dangerous situation:

Recommend this Post

Labour Day 2014

Northern Reflections - Mon, 09/01/2014 - 06:19


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.


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