Posts from our progressive community

U.S. Military Takes Steps to Ensure There'll Never Be Another Disaster Like the F-35

Politics and its Discontents - 5 hours 32 min ago

As far as the US military is concerned, the F-35 has broken the bank. With the American people on the hook for what is estimated to be up to 1.5-trillion greenbacks for a warplane, a gimmicky bomb truck, that keeps failing to live up to expectations, the military is determined to see that something like the F-35 fiasco never happens again.

A new US Air Force report, "...paints a future of the Air Force that resembles an innovative 21st Century company as opposed to a traditional fighting force. The document says that it's now impossible for the United States to build a strategy advantage with large, expensive programs that take years — in the case of the F-35, 14 years and counting to complete.

'"We believe rapid change is the new norm and has serious implications for the Air Force," the document states.' The pace at which disruptive technologies may appear and proliferate will result in operational advantages that are increasingly short-lived. Dynamic and increasingly frequent shifts in the geopolitical power balance will have significant implications for basing, posture, and partner capabilities that may favor flexibility over footprint.'"

The F-35 isn't mentioned by name in the forecast, but the program's greasy fingerprints are all over it. The Air Force is apparently concerned that it is pricing itself out of the weapons market because it is spending so much time and money on large programs.

"Large, complex programs with industrial-era development cycles measured in decades may become obsolete before they reach full-rate production," the authors added.

"Operational advantages that are increasingly short-lived."
That's Air Force code for the F-35's supposed stealth invincibility. The very adversaries for which the F-35 is said to be needed have already knocked the snot out of the stealth threat. They know its weaknesses and they've developed sensors, weapons and tactics to defeat it. What's more, they're already fielding their own stealth fighters, warplanes the F-35 was never designed to combat. Even Israeli defence planners gave America's stealth advantage a mere 5-year shelf life.

Return of the Dogfighter

The July 7 edition of Aviation Week focuses on a new emphasis on air-to-air combat capability instead of the air-to-ground focus that western nations have had for the last couple of decades. The shift is the result of Russia's intervention in Ukraine and its overall superiority in air combat capability.

Bomb trucks, like the glorified F-35, are great when you're taking out ground targets or blowing up wedding parties disguised as insurgents but they're seriously compromised against a state of the art fighter.

The F-35 is even more compromised because, unlike leading multi-role fighter-bombers on the market, it lacks super cruise. That means it can only go fast in fuel-guzzling afterburner. This is a huge disadvantage when you're trying to intercept a distant target and an even huger disadvantage when you're trying to evade pursuers. This is what caused the RAND Corporation to conclude that the F-35 won't out turn, out climb or out run its potential adversaries.

But the F-35 has stealth cloaking, right? Sort of but it's only frontal aspect stealth. Enemies approaching from the front will have a harder time finding you. That does not apply, however, to fighters scanning you from the sides, above or below, or from behind. They can see you just fine. So, in the turning, climbing, diving world of air-to-air combat, the F-35's strength is gone and its weaknesses shine through.

Will the CF-35, as the USAF warns, be obsolete before it ever appears in a Canadian hangar? Yes, quite possibly. Will it remain a mediocre warplane with degraded performance? Likely. Will that be enough to make Harper steer clear of it and find something more suitable to Canada's actual needs? Hell no. Buying the F-35 is a political decision. It's American politics that has kept it on life support for so long. Canada's military wants a nice pat on the head from their American big brothers and that means flying American hardware. That means the F-35. Harper too wants to remain a member in good standing of America's aerial foreign legion. The Brits are in. Australia's in. America's in (over its head). We're in. It's what we do.

MoS, the Disaffected Lib

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Trapped In a Whirlpool - 6 hours 42 min ago
Three little letters that have been used to justify great evil.
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Harper's Policy On Gaza: The Canadian Toll

Politics and its Discontents - 8 hours 27 min ago

While the cost of the Israeli invasion of Gaza is almost incalculable in turns of human suffering and loss of life, there is another casualty in all of this, one that is far less obvious and, in the eternal scheme of things, I suppose, of lesser consequence: Canada's psyche and reputation, both of which have been perhaps irremediably scarred.

The Mound of Sound has written a great deal lately on the ongoing carnage, and he has been hard-hitting in his condemnation of the leaders of all three major Canadian federal parties. All have either overtly or implicitly consented to the slaughter of the innocents, and for the worst of all possible reasons: political expediency.

And by that complicity, they have compromised all Canadians as they invite us to share their warped perspective that Israel is committed to peace, and that the casualties in Gaza are solely the fault of Hamas's rocket fire. Of Israel's grossly disproportionate response to those rockets, nothing is said. "Harden your hearts" seems to be the message, one that will be received with gratitude by some and confusion by others.

As well, of course, our long-reputed neutrality and honest-broker reputation is in tatters internationally.

Earlier this week The Star's Thomas Walkom offered this evaluation of the Harper regime's position on the bloody conflict:

Canada’s bully-boy approach to Gaza may be politically expedient for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

But in terms of bringing peace to the Middle East it is not helpful. If anything, it makes matters worse.

To this Canadian government, events in the Palestinian territory are black and white. On one side are those that Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird calls Hamas “terrorists.” They are uniformly bad.

On the other is the state of Israel trying to protect its civilians from Hamas rocket attacks. It is uniformly good.

There is no room for nuance and little for history. The Canadian government approach does not take into account the bitter war that led so many Palestinians to flee the newly created state of Israel in 1948.

Nor does it contemplate Israel’s equally bitter occupation of the West Bank since 1967, an occupation carried out in defiance of the United Nations Security Council.

Walkom, I believe, accurately and concisely gets to the heart of Harper's motivation:

This prime minister has two types of foreign policy. Both are short-term. Both focus on immediate, domestic political goals.

His first approach is to favour countries useful to Canadian resource companies. Resources explain Harper’s otherwise inexplicable free-trade deal with Colombia, a country of little importance to Canada except for the fact that Canadian mining companies operate there.

Not to mention, of course, Columbia's abysmal human-rights record, a pesky detail of no apparent consequence when it comes to Harper's promotion of mining interests.

It also explains Ottawa’s decision to focus foreign aid on Mongolia. Vancouver-based Turquoise Hill Resources (formerly Ivanhoe Mines) is majority owner of a gigantic copper and gold mine in that Central Asian nation.

Harper’s second foreign affairs strategy is to take hardline positions that will win favour with specific voting blocs in Canada. This explains his vigorous support of Israel. It also explains his equally vigorous opposition to Iran.

And so the Canadian people have become pawns and victims in Harper's unholy quest to bolster his sagging popularity and movtivate his base to turn out at the next election.

Domestically, you will be hard pressed to find another such transparent example of true evil than that.Recommend this Post

Friday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - 9 hours 11 min ago
Assorted content to end your week.

- Colleen Flood writes that our health care system is more similar to the U.S.' than we'd like to admit - and that many of the most glaring inefficiencies within it are already the result of services funded through private insurance rather than our universal public system:
The latest Commonwealth Study ranked Canada's health care system a dismal second to last in a list of eleven major industrialized countries. We had the dubious distinction of beating out only the Americans. This latest poor result is already being used by those bent on further privatizing health care. They argue -- as they always do -- that if only Canada allowed more private finance, wait times would melt, emergency rooms would unclog and doctors, nurses, patients and the public would all be, if not quite utopia, then at least better off than now.
(W)hat most commentators weighing in on the health debate don't understand is that we already have a mix of public and private care. What distinguishes Canada's health system from others is not how little private finance we have but how much private finance we already endure. Canadians have their health needs covered by the public system only 70 per cent of the time, much less than the UK (84 per cent) or Norway (85 per cent) or even France (77 per cent).

Indeed, Canadians actually hold more private health insurance than Americans do. How is this possible?

Our health system fails to offer universal (public) coverage for prescription drugs, unlike the coverage provided in nearly every other developed country in the world. Canada also has inadequate coverage for home care and long term care, which are more comprehensively covered in many other health systems, such as Japan, Germany, Belgium and Sweden.

Unfortunately, our health system is more like the U.S. system than most of us know. Just like the U.S., our approach to prescription drugs, home and long-term care is to have some people covered through private health insurance via their employer. Some people covered by governments because they are on welfare or elderly, and a big chunk of the population going without.
The jewel of Canada's health care system is the commitment to restrict private finance for medically necessary hospital and physician care. We don't let our doctors double dip, and we keep essential health services available to all, regardless of means. Yet it is this commitment that is being threatened with the legal challenge in B.C., and blamed for the problems that have beset Canada's health system -- with some pretty clear vested interests ready to profit from the outcome.

Instead of having Canada's health system compete with the United States for last place, we need to start addressing the real issues that plague our system. We could start by looking at the expansive policies of European systems that perform better than our own, starting with a universal health system that includes drug coverage, home care and long-term care. - And Carol Goar notes that the Ontario Libs' spin about a progressive budget is being proven false - promised benefit increases for recipients of social assistance are being clawed back immediately.

- Karen Kleiss reports that a Alberta's public-sector pay freeze for senior officials was summarily scrapped as soon as it had served its purpose of offering an excuse to attack other workers' wages. Vaugh Palmer notes that the B.C. Libs can apparently find plenty of money to bribe parents even as they refuse to invest in the province's education system. And David Cay Johnston discusses Chris Christie's belief that public servants shouldn't expect their employers to be honest about what pension benefits will be available for them. 

- Meanwhile, Claire Cain Miller makes the seemingly obvious point that improved paid leave can encourage parents to stay in the workforce. And David Cain suggests that we look at different models for our work week rather than one which seems designed to maximize consumption and minimize meaningful activity outside of work.

- Finally, Paul Krugman explains why we should be careful which "experts" we trust to inform us in shaping public policy:
One of the best insults I’ve ever read came from Ezra Klein, who now is editor in chief of In 2007, he described Dick Armey, the former House majority leader, as “a stupid person’s idea of what a thoughtful person sounds like.”

It’s a funny line, which applies to quite a few public figures. Representative Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, is a prime current example. But maybe the joke’s on us. After all, such people often dominate policy discourse. And what policy makers don’t know, or worse, what they think they know that isn’t so, can definitely hurt you.
Am I saying that the professional consensus is always right? No. But when politicians pick and choose which experts — or, in many cases, “experts” — to believe, the odds are that they will choose badly. Moreover, experience shows that there is no accountability in such matters. Bear in mind that the American right is still taking its economic advice mainly from people who have spent many years wrongly predicting runaway inflation and a collapsing dollar.

All of which raises a troubling question: Are we as societies even capable of taking good policy advice?

Economists used to assert confidently that nothing like the Great Depression could happen again. After all, we know far more than our great-grandfathers did about the causes of and cures for slumps, so how could we fail to do better? When crises struck, however, much of what we’ve learned over the past 80 years was simply tossed aside.
(M)acroeconomics, of course, isn’t the only challenge we face. In fact, it should be easy compared with many other issues that need to be addressed with specialized knowledge, above all climate change. So you really have to wonder whether and how we’ll avoid disaster. 

The Law Of Unintended Consequences

Northern Reflections - 11 hours 18 min ago


On the environment, Stephen Harper's record is appalling. Rick Smith summarizes the damage he has done:

The Fisheries Act no longer protects most fish.

The Navigable Waters Protection Act no longer protects most lakes and rivers.

The federal Environmental Assessment Act was repealed in its entirety and replaced with a law so cursory it might as well have been drafted on a cocktail napkin.

Canada remains the only country in the world that signed the Kyoto agreement on carbon pollution, only to withdraw from the treaty.

Even the impressive environmental achievements of previous Conservative governments have been dismantled, such as the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy

But ordering the audits of environmental charities may be the tipping point. And Smith speaks from experience:

I can tell you from personal experience (because I ran one of the country’s major environmental organizations for nearly 10 years) that, to a one, Canada’s environmental charities have always been extremely serious about complying with the letter and the spirit of CRA charitable rules. To have that sincere attempt thrown in its face by a tax agency that clearly isn’t playing straight has galvanized the environmental community in a way it never has been before.
Harper's attacks on his enemies have a way of boomeranging on him. And Smith believes that is precisely what is happening. Harper could well become a victim of his own war:

Of course it’s true that the obvious environmental impact of the Harper years will be measured in increased levels of pollution and real damage to precious land and waters. The less obvious and possibly longer lasting impact will be the creation of a country energized to decisively break with the failed environmental policies of the past in favour of a better future for us all.
It would be more than fitting if the prime minister sealed his own fate through the law of unintended consequences.

Buy *prolife* propaganda or a doctor gets shot. In the head.

Dammit Janet - 11 hours 22 min ago

That is congruent with the violent ideology and vicious intolerance of organizations that have incited violence against healthcare professionals, as DJ! pointed out here.

But Holy Obfuscation Batman!
Jack Fonseca [...] a Campaign Life project manager and the author of the blog post in question, decided to wade into the comments section on his blog Tuesday afternoon to clear up any lingering confusion about the photo of a handgun pointed at a doctor.
His explanation? That's not a handgun pointed at the doctor; it's a proverbial handgun:
"In the graphic you referenced, the proverbial gun is clearly being held by the College of Physicians. The supporting graphic is a clear condemnation of the brute force that the CPSO is threatening to use against doctors. If a historical scholar were to publish an article in which he condemns the NAZI extermination of Jews, and includes in the article a photo of a mass grave filled with murdered Jews, it would be ludicrous to argue that he supports the killing of Jews. Clearly he's reinforcing the message that the Nazi actions were evil. Likewise, our blog post reinforces the message that the brute force being threatened by the CPSO against physicians (in the form of a policy of coercion) is evil."This is a typical anti-choice sophism: If a credible academic writes a scholarly article, condemns the Shoah and uses verifiable photographs as documentation, then Campaign Life can claim with a disingenuous graphic that the CPSO might do the *same evil*.

(Never mind the decades of anti-abortion terrorism: clinics bombed, doctors and staff murdered or injured, women criminally harassed.) 

Who is this Jack Fonseca?  DJ! has posted articles about his tactics, here and here.

Fonseca's job is to organize rallies and spout the usual propaganda.  (This peer-reviewed article provides actual facts and scientific research about the cost of terminating a pregnancy.)

Besides being paid to campaign against women's reproductive rights, Fonseca has also mobilized the usual bigots against same-sex marriage, lobbied against a fundraising event in his home town because ... fundamental Catholicism, AND gotten quite testerical about Ontario's "Accepting Schools Act".

But enough about Fonseca the dissembler.  Juxtapose his slimy rhetoric with the actions of a real hero, Doctor Willie Parker.
Inspired by Gandhi's idea that the Gospel should appear to a hungry man in the form of bread, he went to work in a food pantry. But gradually, the steady stream of women with reproductive issues in his practice focused his mind. He thought about his mother and sisters and the grandmother who died in childbirth and began to read widely in the literature of civil rights and feminism. Eventually he came across the concept of "reproductive justice," developed by black feminists who argued that the best way to raise women out of poverty is to give them control of their reproductive decisions. Finally, he had his "come to Jesus" moment and the bell rang. This would be his civil-rights struggle. He would serve women in their darkest moment of need. "The protesters say they're opposed to abortion because they're Christian," Parker says. "It's hard for them to accept that I do abortions because I'm a Christian." He gave up obstetrics to become a full-time abortionist on the day, five years ago, that George Tiller was murdered in church.

[...]he grew up a few hours away in Birmingham, the second youngest son of a single mother who raised six children on food stamps and welfare, so poor that he taught himself to read by a kerosene lamp and went to the bathroom in an outhouse; that he was born again in his teenage years and did a stint as a boy preacher in Baptist churches; that he became the first black student-body president of a mostly white high school, went on to Harvard and a distinguished career as a college professor and obstetrician who delivered thousands of babies and refused to do abortions. They certainly don't know about the "come to Jesus" moment, as he pointedly describes it, when he decided to give up his fancy career to become an abortion provider. Or that, at fifty-one, having resigned a prestigious job as medical director of Planned Parenthood, he's preparing to move back south and take over a circuit roughly similar—for safety reasons, he won't be more specific—to the one traveled by Dr. David Gunn before an antiabortion fanatic assassinated him in 1993. Or that his name and home address have been published by an antiabortion Web site with the unmistakable intent of terrorizing doctors like him. Or that he receives threats that say, "You've been warned." Or that he refuses to wear a bulletproof vest, because he doesn't want to live in fear—"if I'm that anxious, they've already taken my life"[...]

He remembers what it's like to be terrorized. That fueled the search for social justice that led him, eventually, to theologians like Paul Tillich, Dr. King, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor who wrestled with "Thou shalt not kill" before joining a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. "He said the kind of Christianity that does not radicalize you with regard to human suffering is inauthentic—cheap and easy grace."
His "come to Jesus" moment occurred in Hawaii. He was teaching at the university when a fundamentalist administrator began trying to ban abortions in the school clinic, throwing students with an unwanted pregnancy into a panic. One day, he was listening to a sermon by Dr. King on the theme of what made the Good Samaritan good. A member of his own community passed the injured traveler by, King said, because they asked, "What would happen to me if I stopped to help this guy?" The Good Samaritan was good because he reversed the question: "What would happen to this guy if I don't stop to help him?" So Parker looked in his soul and asked himself, "What happens to these women when abortion is not available?"

[Dr Willie Parker] knew the answer.It's a long, informative article well worth the time spent reading it.

Harper, Trudeau and Mulcair - Soft on Terrorism

Politics and its Discontents - 11 hours 39 min ago
Let's begin with the definition of "terrorism." Merriam-Webster offers up a fairly standard definition: "the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal."

That sounds exactly like what is going on in Gaza right now. That is exactly what is going on in Gaza right now. It's terrorism. Deliberately planned and precisely executed terrorism. And our prime minister and his government and our opposition Liberal and New Democrat leaders and all their parties are just fine with it. Trudeau even praises the terrorist government for its "commitment to peace." Thanks, Justin, now sit down.

Israel tries to mask its terrorist campaign as "self defence." Harper, Trudeau and Mulcair parrot that line. The Gang of Four - Netanyahu, Harper, Trudeau and Mulcair - maintain that Israel is going after Hamas, not targeting Gaza Palestinians.

They don't want to connect the dots between Israel's attack on Lebanese civilians in 2006 and its working over of Palestinian civilians in Gaza in 2008/2009 and the sequel now underway. Yet they're all the same, all straight from the same IDF playbook. There's even a name for it, the Dahiya Doctrine. It was named after the Beirut suburb that Israel demolished in 2006.

This technique deliberately targets civilians. They are the intended victims - the old and the young, women and children, those least able to get out of the way. The attack on the civilian population begins by taking out their essential services - water plants (check), sewage plants (check), electricity plants (check). Then you go at the civilians directly by bombarding their homes (check), hospitals (check), schools (check), and markets (check). You really work them over and you just keep at it all the while pretending that you're really targeting someone else.

The steady reduction of Gaza is blatant, deliberate terrorism. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s something even worse. Maybe what Netanyahu has in mind this time is enhanced terrorism, 'terrorism plus', - ethnic cleansing. Maybe he wants to render Gaza uninhabitable. Already some 90% of what passes for freshwater (it's actually a mild brine) is unfit for human consumption. The destruction of the sewage system almost guarantees there'll be a cholera epidemic before long. Taking down the power grid is the icing on the cake. It's positively medieval.

If you're a Liberal or a New Democrat, this is on you too. It's your party that is supporting this, absolving Israel of its campaign of terrorism, condoning the reduction of Gaza that will lead, must eventually lead to the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population from the Gaza strip.

MoS, the Disaffected Lib

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Is Stephen Harper's War on Marijuana Going Up in Smoke?

Montreal Simon - Thu, 07/31/2014 - 18:02

He has made the Great War on Marijuana the main weapon in his assault on Justin Trudeau.

Making it sound like Trudeau's plans to legalize weed would corrupt Canada's youth and turn us into a nation of junkies...

But sadly for Great Leader most Canadians don't seem to share his reactionary views. 
Read more »

The Deliberate Ambiguity of Occupation

Rusty Idols - Thu, 07/31/2014 - 13:23
Israel has a policy of deliberate ambiguity about whether its control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is 'occupation'. Every other country on Earth including their closest ally the US says it is an occupation, Israel coyly argues it both is and isn't depending on which definition gives them the most flexibility under international law in any given scenario. 

In practice this leaves the Palestinians dispossessed, discriminated against and in the West Bank without recourse to the law when bands of violent, fanatical settlers descend from their hilltop bandit nests to attack Palestinian homes and crops and savagely assault any Palestinians who resist. 

 The Israeli police stand and watch.

It's time to stop coddling this sleazy little semantics game.

Le Monde diplomatique argues giving them three more years to the 50th Anniversary of the Occupation to once and for all define what they are doing as occupation or not. If its an occupation they are legally required to begin the process of withdrawal, if its not an occupation they are legally required to give full and equal legal citizenship rights to all the population under their control.

They have been allowed to be vague on this subject for almost FIFTY YEARS.

No longer.sdnxry5z7g

Dahiyeh - It's How Israel Wages "Peace"

Politics and its Discontents - Thu, 07/31/2014 - 13:19
“We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction. This isn’t a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorized.” - Major-General Gadi Eisenkot, IDF.

That was Israeli strategy in the 2006 invasion of southern Lebanon. It's Israeli strategy today in Gaza. Disproportionate power.. immense damage and destruction... by plan. It's a strategy not targeted at an armed opponent. This is a strategy targeted directly at civilians - the young, the elderly, women and children - the cannon fodder that are least able to get out of the way when you come calling.

C'mon, Justin. Remind me again about Israel's "commitment to peace."

There's even a name for it. It's called the Dahiyeh Doctrine, named for the Beirut suburb that Israeli warplanes carpet bombed.

It's all about inflicting civilian casualties, destroying their homes and depriving them of essential services - electricity, water, sewage plants - hospitals, schools - all of which Israel has destroyed in the past month in Gaza as part of its "commitment to peace."

Israel waged this sort of peace in Gaza before and it became the subject of the 2009 Goldstone Report commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council. I expect our parliamentary greaseballs - Steve, Justin and Tommy Boy - never got a copy. That the very same doctrine is happening again - today - according to the very same game plan - is no coincidence. It's also a war crime unless, that is, your name is Harper, Trudeau or Mulcair.

MoS, The Disaffected Lib

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Canada-Israel Solidarity Rally

Creekside - Thu, 07/31/2014 - 09:15

Yesterday while this carnage was going on and Chris Gunness from UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, was breaking down in tears on live TV after 19 were killed and 125 wounded in the latest attack on a UN school in Gaza, which the UN accused Israel of carrying out after being warned 17 times that civilians were seeking shelter there ...

[Gunness : "UNRWA is overwhelmed in #Gaza  - we have reached breaking point, our staff are being killed, our shelters overflowing. Where will it end?]

... fifty miles away at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, Liberal MPs Carolyn Bennett and John McCallum, Con MPs David Sweet and Ted Opitz, Liberal Senator Grant Mitchell, and former Liberal Senator Jerry Grafstein were leading the Canada-Israel Solidarity Rally in singing O Canada and Hatikva.

Con MP Randy Hoback not shown in photo.

The Jerusalem Post reported in advance that the event would also include a broadcasted appearance by John Baird

For all I know they may have also broadcast this :

The Solidarity Rally Lib/Con MPs and senators did not, needless to say, visit Gaza or the West Bank.

But prior to the group giving their "fact-finding mission" report to the Government of Canada, here are some of their advance observations from the trip. 

Con MP Randy Hoback : ‘An opportunity to ask tough questions
“How often do you get the chance to get firsthand information about what’s going on in Israel in regards to both the rocket bombs coming out of Gaza and reaction from Israel.”"It’s very interesting, there’s a lot of things that people don’t understand. Hamas is the issue here, it’s not the Palestinian people. Hamas is a terrorist organization, their whole goal is [getting] Israel off this earth. This group isn’t a group that you can sit down and talk with and negotiate a peace settlement. It isn’t a group that wants to be your friend, they basically want to annihilate Israel which is very sad. They are willing to put children in front of bombs and willing to put rocket launchers inside of schools and inside of mosques, basically do whatever they have to do to win their so called war. So it makes it tough when they do these things.”Senator Grafstein
“I’m absolutely amazed about how strong and how supportive Israel has been in this war effort, but more important than that at how united they’ve been and how calm, cool and collected they’ve been.”Mark Regev would be so proud


Harper's Reign Of Terror - Part Five

Politics and its Discontents - Thu, 07/31/2014 - 08:27

As in the previous installments, this post examines the Harper regime's unrelenting attacks on nonprofits that in any way oppose or criticize its agenda. The latest target is CoDevelopment Canada (CoDev), whose website lists the following as its mission:

CoDevelopment Canada is a B.C.-based NGO that works for social change and global education in the Americas. Founded in 1985 by a group of activists who wanted to go beyond financial aid, CoDev builds partnerships between like-minded organizations in Canada and Latin America to foster learning, social change, and community empowerment. These partnerships educate Canadians about Latin America and allow them to directly support the region. Such connections build solidarity, mutual understanding and ultimately improve prospects for a fairer global order.

For most people, those would seem to be commendable and progressive goals. For Stephen Harper and his cabal, they are reflective of a subversive organization that needs to be frightened into silence.

As reported in today's Star, CoDev has passed its two recent CRA audits, one in 2009, its first in 25 years and one last year, the latter conducted by three auditors — two of them political-activity specialists. Both appear to be part of the pattern discussed in previous posts:

Many of the charities under audit have been critics of government policy, including CoDev, a trade union-funded group that has raised questions about Canada's free-trade deal with Colombia, among other issues.

Indeed, on its website, CoDev offers a trenchant critique of Canada's free-trade deal with both Honduras and Colombia entitled Honduras deal: Another example of Canada’s poor record on trade and human rights

So is CoDev in the clear, after passing two audits? Not at all. Here is the latest cudgel from the Harper toolbox of intimidation as it continues its direction of the CRA investigations:

[CoDev] faces the crippling prospect of translating every scrap of paper it receives from 17 partners in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and elsewhere from Spanish into either English or French.

The demand, set out in a January compliance letter from the CRA, will start to bite this fall as the tiny four-person shop begins to receive banker's boxes full of Spanish-language documents from its Latin American projects, including taxi chits and bus fare receipts.

The group's executive director, Barbara Wood, says the newly imposed requirement will drain away scarce resources, yet must be carried out or CoDev risks losing its charitable status.

The CRA demands suggest the vexatious nature of the persecution:

Among CRA's new demands: the official CoDev mission statement had to be rewritten to cite each human rights law in all 11 Latin American countries that CoDev's partners try to uphold. That meant a lengthy four-page annex to the statement, in English translation.

But the most onerous condition, Wood said, is the major translation project ahead, which involves thousands of receipts.

“The amount of work is unbelievable,” she said. “The rules seem to have been applied differently in 2009 than they were now . . . We're a really small team and this is a huge amount of work.”

Typically, the CRA has turned aside inquiries, citing the confidentiality provisions of the Income Tax Act.

For anyone following the Harper pattern of harassment and intimidation, no further explanation is needed.Recommend this Post

New column day

accidentaldeliberations - Thu, 07/31/2014 - 06:56
Here, on how we should take Germany's rightful concern over investor-state dispute settlement provisions as an opportunity to reevaluate what we expect to accomplish through trade and investment agreements such as CETA.

For further reading...
- Peter Clark, Michael Geist and Scott Sinclair discuss Germany's objections to new trade agreements with Canada and the U.S. in particular, while reminding us why we should be wary of handing undue power to the corporate sector as well. And Nathalie Bernasconi-Osterwalder and Rhea Tamara Hoffmann discuss (PDF) Germany's past experience with ISDS in detail.
- Meanwhile, Patricia Ranald notes that similar issues are developing as Australia debates an agreement with South Korea.
- Finally, Thomas Walkom and Jim Stanford weigh in with their own concerns about CETA, while the Council of Canadians applauds Germany's stance.

Thursday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Thu, 07/31/2014 - 06:30
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Linda McQuaig discusses how a burgeoning wealth gap is particularly obvious when it comes to retirement security:
Quaint as it now seems, not long ago this was considered a good basic plan: Work hard all your life and then retire with a comfortable pension.

In recent times, a new plan has replaced it: Work hard all your life and then all bets are off.

The notion of retirement security in exchange for a lifetime of hard work — a central element in the implicit social contract between capital and labour in the postwar years — has been effectively tossed aside, as corporations have become more insatiable in their demands and governments have increasingly abandoned workers.
In what amounts to a radical overhaul, [the Con government] announced last April that it intends to change long-standing legislation governing workplace pensions in ways that would allow employers (private sector and Crown corporations) to walk away from pension commitments they made to employees, even after those employees have paid into the plans throughout their working years.
Workplace pensions were always expected to be a key part of that retirement security. Unlike many European countries, where public pensions were generous enough to serve as the centerpiece of a retiree’s income, the Canadian government kept public pension benefits low and encouraged workers to rely on workplace pensions.

That worked fine for those who were able to negotiate workplace pensions with an employer — generally those who had a union to represent them. In such cases, both the employer and the employees typically contributed to the plan, under terms that specified what benefits would be paid out to employees in their retirement.

Employers now want to be able to fundamentally rewrite the terms of those workplace pension deals so that, if the market plunges and the pension fund declines, the pay-outs will be less — in effect, shifting the risk from the company to the retiree.
It’s striking, however, that a bold embrace of risk is only expected of those in the lower echelons of the corporate world. At the top, executives cling to old-world notions — like securing comfortable retirements. - And Regina civic workers are taking action to make sure the city keeps its pension promises - rather than either demanding concessions now, or changing the rules so it can unilaterally slash benefits later.

- Brian Iler suggests that the Cons' charity crackdown could have been avoided if Canada adopted a definition of charity work which included promoting public debate on political issues. But while that change might have given current charities more confidence as to the result of the current round of government-directed audits, it wouldn't have done much to avoid the needless expense of going through the audit process in the first place.

- Meanwhile, Kaylie Tiessen is hopeful that Ontario is ready for a serious conversation about the need for more revenue to fund public services.

- Kayle Hatt studies the federal government's cuts to summer student programs. And CBC reports that Calgary's decision to outsource park maintenance work has led to temporary foreign workers taking the place of students who would otherwise be able to use a summer income to fund their education.

- Finally, the Ottawa Citizen identifies one of the surest signs of an ethically bankrupt government - while noting that the Harper Cons and Alberta's PCs are just two of the governing parties who seem to be treating that lack of ethics as a goal to be pursued:
There seems to be an epidemic in Canada of rogue staffers doing unethical things their political bosses would never, ever sanction.

The most famous is Nigel Wright, the former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who wrote a large cheque to a sitting senator. Then there’s the OPP search-warrant document alleging that David Livingston, the chief of staff for former Premier Dalton McGuinty, hired someone to purge emails during the transition to Kathleen Wynne’s premiership. There is the ongoing mystery about the voter-suppression phone calls in several federal ridings in 2011 “by a person or persons currently unknown to this court,” in the words of Federal Court Judge Richard G. Mosley.

Now there is a leaked, draft auditor’s report about former Alberta Premier Alison Redford, suggesting her staff manipulated airplane bookings so that she could treat the planes as personal limos.
An ethical organization does not build plausible deniability into its hierarchies and relationships; it does not have any reason to. The fact that it seems to be built in to Canadian political culture, in more than one party, in more than one province, is sickening.

Retirement Is For The Rich

Northern Reflections - Thu, 07/31/2014 - 06:06


There used to be a social contract in this country. One of the clauses in that unwritten document was,"if you work hard all your life, you can retire in comfort." But neo-conservatives have shredded that contract. Linda McQuaig writes:

The notion of retirement security in exchange for a lifetime of hard work — a central element in the implicit social contract between capital and labour in the postwar years — has been effectively tossed aside, as corporations have become more insatiable in their demands and governments have increasingly abandoned workers.
Stephen Harper has relentlessly spearheaded the corporate agenda:

Stephen Harper’s government hiked the eligibility age for Old Age Security benefits to 67, effectively depriving all future Canadian retirees of two years of basic retirement income.And it has steadfastly refused to strengthen the Canada Pension Plan, leaving retired Canadians with an average income of $18,000 a year in public pension benefits — far less than what a full-time minimum wage earner makes in Ontario.
The prime minister has no intention of halting the juggernaut:

And now, the Harper government is engaging in a fresh frontal assault on the retirement incomes of beleagured Canadian workers.

In what amounts to a radical overhaul, it announced last April that it intends to change long-standing legislation governing workplace pensions in ways that would allow employers (private sector and Crown corporations) to walk away from pension commitments they made to employees, even after those employees have paid into the plans throughout their working years.
All of this has been done under the radar. And the Harperites intend to keep it that way. It makes it easier to serve their clientele:

Employers now want to be able to fundamentally rewrite the terms of those workplace pension deals so that, if the market plunges and the pension fund declines, the pay-outs will be less — in effect, shifting the risk from the company to the retiree.

When it comes to new hires, many employers now offer only the new-style pensions. But the legislation proposed by Harper would create a way for employers to open up existing pension deals — effectively changing the rules in mid-stream, after workers have spent years paying into their plans.
While employees wont be able to afford retirement, CEO's will do just fine:

The Royal Bank, the country’s largest bank, switched over to the new-style pension system in 2011, so that all new employees will be obliged to face a risky pension future.

RBC CEO Gordon Nixon didn’t see the need to modify his own pension deal, however. When he retires later this week at the age of 57, he’ll receive a pension of $1.68 million a year, which will rise to an even more comfortable $2 million a year when he turns 65.
It's another example of how the champions of accountability are doing everything they can to remain unaccountable.

The new rule is: only the rich get to retire.

The Blinkered Worldview of Stephen Harper

Politics and its Discontents - Thu, 07/31/2014 - 04:27

Recently, I wrote a series of posts on Stephen Harper's misuse of the Canadian Revenue Agency through the orchestration of audits on nonprofits that criticize his policies. For Dear Leader, life is uncomplicated: you are either with him or against him, and if you fall into the latter category and have a certain public prominence, the knock on the door may not be far off.

One of my readers, Troy Thomas, made the following comment:

You know, this is how First Nations have been treated for decades, so I'll share what usually happens to First Nations.

Audits aren't the end. They're a means.

A First Nations band which is getting uppity, i.e. publicly complaining about not getting properly funded or complaining about interference, will get audited.
The auditor, that bribe-able one from the USA, Delasomething, [Deloitte] will find in its report what the government asked for it to find.

The government, using the fictitious audit as an excuse, will force the uppity First Nations band to take on the expense of the audit, and then force the uppity First Nations band to take on the expense of a private for-profit third-party firm, which will do what the band used to do for a third or a quarter of the cost.
So, from experience, expect more than the audits. Expect the government to slide its own people into these charities, by using the audits as its reasons: "Oh, these charities are improperly run! They need experience from the private sector in order to do as they're supposed to!"

Something like that.

It now appears that Mr. Harper has yet another weapon with which to further undermine opposition and divide Canadians even further: the new First Nations Financial Transparency Act, which, as reported in The Toronto Star, requires First Nations communities across the country to publish a range of annual business and financial records, including salaries and benefits.

The communities were previously only required to submit these records to the government without sharing them with the public.

While the average remuneration reported is quite modest, there are exceptions:

- the Snuneymuxw First Nation in B.C., revealed that Eric Wesley, a councillor, received $307,201 in contracts for construction related services in the last fiscal year from his own community.

- Chief John Thunder of the Buffalo Point First Nation in Manitoba earned $129,398 for the year in salaries and benefits. The community he represents is made up of less than 200 people.

So what might be the strategic value of making this information public, as opposed to simply making it available to band members?

Given the government's distasteful paternalism toward aboriginals, vilification of their leaders will create even greater disharmony than already exists within their communities; the greater the disunity, the less chance of speaking with one voice.

Given First nations' concerns over Harper's pipeline obsession and his total disregard for environmental concerns, undermining aboriginal leadership will work in favour of the Prime Minister's monomania.

And how have First Nations' people reacted to this latest attempt to discredit them?

“Everything points to (an attempt) to build on the propaganda that aboriginal governments are dishonest,” said Ghislain Picard, interim chief of the Assembly of First Nations, in an interview. “That’s the thinking that’s out there and that’s what they keep building on.”

Picard said the government is always trying to find ways to discredit First Nations people in Canada.

“It reflects the ideology of this government since 2006,” said Picard. “They’re already working very hard to find that one community that might be outside what they would (describe) as the model First Nation and then just pass that brush over to all First Nations.”

While Stephen Harper insists it is all about transparency, about the only thing really transparent here are his motives.Recommend this Post

The Children of Gaza and the Bestiality of Stephen Harper

Montreal Simon - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 20:03

It was an act of unspeakable barbarity. One that has been condemned by governments all over the world. 

The US and UN have condemned the shelling of a school housing displaced civilians in Gaza. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the attack, which killed 16, was "outrageous".

"I condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms. It is outrageous. It is unjustifiable, and it demands accountability and justice. "Nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children."

And defended only by those who carried it out, and by the monstrous beast Stephen Harper. 
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