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It's Time America and Her Posse Had a New Mideast Policy. Enough of This "Fool's Errand."

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 02/01/2016 - 10:07



The Sheriff (USA) and his posse (Canada and our fellow minions) are not doing all that well in the Middle East these days. Fact is we haven't been doing much good at all for the past 16 years. Stephen Walt, Harvard professor of international relations, thinks it's time for a change, radical change.

For most of the past half-century, U.S. leaders knew who their friends and enemies were and had a fairly clear sense of what they were trying to accomplish. No longer. Today, there is greater uncertainty about U.S. interests in the region, more reason to question the support it gives its traditional partners, and no consensus on how to deal with the dizzying array of actors and forces that are now buffeting the region.

One thing is clear: The playbook we’ve been using since the 1940s isn’t going to cut it anymore. We still seem to think the Middle East can be managed if we curry favor with local autocrats, back Israel to the hilt, constantly reiterate the need for U.S. “leadership,” and when all else fails, blow some stuff up. But this approach is manifestly not working, and principles that informed U.S. policy in the past are no longer helpful.

...When the Cold War ended, one might have expected that U.S. involvement in the region would decline, because there was no longer a significant external threat to contain. Instead, the U.S. role deepened, beginning with the 1991 Gulf War. Instead of its earlier balance-of-power approach, the Clinton administration’s strategy of “dual containment” cast Washington in the role of regional policeman. Unfortunately, this ill-conceived strategy required the United States to keep substantial ground and air forces in Saudi Arabia, infuriating Osama bin Laden and helping to convince him to attack the United States directly on 9/11.
America’s military role increased even more after the 9/11 attacks — after George W. Bush and Dick Cheney drank the neocon Kool-Aid and embarked on their delusional effort at “regional transformation.” The results were disastrous, and Barack Obama was elected on promises to end the Iraq War, rebuild America’s relations with the Muslim world, achieve a two-state solution, and put U.S. relations with Iran on a new footing. Although he eventually reached a nuclear agreement with Iran, the rest of his Middle East policy has been no more successful than that of his inept predecessor. Syria is in ruins; al Qaeda remains an active force; the Islamic State is sowing violence around the world; Libya and Yemen are war-torn failed states; and the peace process is in tatters.

Why is the United States having such trouble? Because it has failed to take account of the dramatic changes that have transformed the Middle East’s strategic landscape.

Today ...there is no single overarching threat to the region and thus no clear organizing principle to guide U.S. policymakers. Some people would like to cast Iran in that role, but as an actor, it’s still far too weak and internally hamstrung to serve as the organizing focus of U.S. strategy. And on some issues — such as the Islamic State — the United States and Iran are largely on the same side. In short, what we are grappling with today is a fiendishly complicated array of actors pursuing a variety of objectives, and who is on our side and who is against us varies from issue to issue.

U.S. relations with all of its traditional Middle East allies are at their lowest point in years. Turkey has drifted back toward authoritarianism under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP, and its policies toward the crisis in Syria and the Islamic State are frequently at odds with U.S. preferences. Israel continues to move to the right, while still rejecting the two-state solution that Washington favors, and actively tried to sabotage the nuclear deal with Iran. Egypt is again in the hands of a thuggish military dictatorship with few redeeming features, and relations with Saudi Arabia have been strained by the partial U.S. détente with Iran, disagreements about the proper approach to the Syrian civil war, and by growing concerns over the Saudi role in promoting a version of Islam that has inspired a generation of anti-Western extremists. The CIA may still have close ties with Saudi intelligence, but I’m not sure if that is a good thing or not.

America’s track record in the region over the past 20-plus years also raises serious questions about its ability to identify realistic goals and then achieve them. Global influence rests in part on an image of competence, and the past three administrations have done little to burnish that image. Indeed, when it comes to the Middle East, the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations have been King Midas in reverse: Everything they touch turns not to gold but to lead or, even worse, into a violent conflagration.
If you can stand it, just look at the record: 1) “Dual containment” in the Gulf helped convince bin Laden to launch the 9/11 attacks; 2) two decades of U.S. stewardship over the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” has killed off the “two-state solution” that Washington favored; 3) the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a policy blunder of vast proportions whose ill effects continue to multiply; 4) U.S. interference in Libya, Somalia, and Yemen helped create failed states there, too; and 5) Washington has not exactly covered itself in glory in Syria either. Given that record, it is hardly surprising that Americans and Middle Easterners openly question what the U.S. role should be and why some of us think trying to “manage” the Middle East is a fool’s errand.
Finally, it is hard to figure out what the U.S. role should be because the policy instruments that are easiest for Washington to use are increasingly irrelevant to the problems now convulsing the region. The United States’ most readily usable instrument is its still-powerful military, whether in the form of material aid, training, airstrikes, naval task forces, drones, Special Operations Forces, or in extreme cases, the full Rapid Deployment Force. Unfortunately, the central problem facing most of the Middle East is not a powerful conventional army (i.e., the kind of enemy we’re good at defeating) but the lack of legitimate and effective institutions of local governance. As we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military is not designed for or good at creating local political institutions, and the more we use this tool, the more fragile, fractious, and violent local politics usually become.
The Middle East is shifting before our very eyes, and the old verities of U.S. policy no longer apply. Our most potent tools of influence are of little value, and our strategic interest in the region is declining. And none of our current allies there deserve unconditional support on moral grounds either.
Well, here’s a radical thought: If the strategic importance of a region is declining, if none of the local actors deserve unvarnished U.S. backing, if our best efforts make both friends and foes angry at us, then maybe — just maybe — the United States ought to stop trying to fix problems that it has neither the wisdom nor the will to address. In the end, the fate of the Middle East is going to be determined by the people who live there and not by us, though we might be able to play a constructive role on occasion. And the sooner Americans recognize that they’re better off coaching from the sidelines, instead of getting bloodied on the field, the better off they’ll be.

A Well Of Humanity

Politics and its Discontents - Mon, 02/01/2016 - 09:21
Sometimes the world seems to be a cold and uncaring pace. But at other times, it proves itself to be anything but:

Recommend this Post

Now, Sit Still While I Shoot You Down

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 02/01/2016 - 09:05


Lockheed has spent years, many years, telling the world that its F-35, supposedly stealthy, light attack bomber is unlike any warplane in the sky today. Turns out they're right.

Recent reports have focused on how 'buggy' the F-35's software, unmatched in complexity, is turnout out to be. While the US Marine Corps may have declared the F-35 operational, apparently the USMC hasn't let the all-important software in on that secret.

A new report from the Pentagon's director of operational test and evaluation released to Aviation Week paints another unflattering picture of the Joint Strike Fighter in action.

...the DOT&E states that “the F-35B Block 2B aircraft would need to avoid threat engagement… in an opposed combat scenario, and would require augmentation by other friendly forces.”

Most of the same limitations will apply to the U.S. Air Force’s initial operational capability (IOC) version, the F-35A Block 3i. “Since no capabilities were added to Block 3i, only limited corrections to deficiencies, the combat capability of the initial operational Block 3i units will not be noticeably different.”

Giving more details on the software deficiencies mentioned in a December memo, ...11 out of 12 weapon delivery accuracy (WDA) tests carried out during Block 2B developmental testing “required intervention by the test and control team to overcome system deficiencies and ensure a successful event,” Gilmore says that the F-35’s performance in combat “will depend in part on the operational utility of the workarounds” that were used in testing.

At the root of the difficulties in the WDA tests, Gilmore said, was that component tests in the run-up to the WDA events were focused “on contract specification compliance, instead of readiness for combat.” Those tests required only that the subcomponent should work. The actual WDA tests involved the entire kill chain and “highlighted the impact of deficiencies.” The F-35 program leadership altered some of them to achieve a “kill” – for example, by restricting target maneuvers and countermeasures.

Specific technical problems continue to impose speed and maneuver limitations on the F-35, the report says. The weapon bay temperatures exceed limits during ground operations at on days warmer than 90-deg. F, and at high speeds below 25,000 feet, if the weapon bays are closed for more than 10 min. (The F-35 is not stealthy with the doors open.) On the F-35A, the time limit is applied at speeds from 500 to 600 kts, depending on altitude.
Overall, the report says, “the rate of deficiency correction has not kept pace with the discovery rate” – that is, problems are being found in tests faster than they can be solved. “Well-known, significant problems” include the defective Autonomic Logistics Information System, unstable avionics and persistent aircraft and engine reliability and maintainability issues.

Combined with poor aircraft availability, this record leads DOT&E to conclude that the program cannot speed up flight testing enough to deliver Block 3F – the IOC standard for the Navy and export customers and the exit criterion for the systems development and demonstration (SDD) phase – on schedule. Block 3F developmental flight testing started 11 months late, in March 2015. The planned 48 WDAs in Block 3F – most of them more complex and challenging than the Block 2B weapons tests – cannot be accomplished by the May 2017 schedule date “unless the program is able to significantly increase their historic completion rate.”

What this means for Canada is that, if a competitive fly-off exercise was held today or next year or the year after that, the F-35 would probably be self-eliminating. The less-costly, less-sparkly, more capable alternatives are all flying and in service around the world. They can be at Cold Lake tomorrow to strut their stuff. The F-35 has never gone head to head with the competition and that's because it is years away from that level of development. Meanwhile the F-35's electronic wizardry just gets longer in the tooth with each passing year.

Justin Trudeau and the Very Different Prime Minister

Montreal Simon - Mon, 02/01/2016 - 06:26


It's hard to believe that Justin Trudeau has now been in power for just over a hundred days.

For although I'm sure it seems longer than that to him, it still seems to me like  yesterday that he brought down Stephen Harper's foul  Con regime.

I'm still celebrating.

And in that short time Trudeau already has quite a list of achievements.
Read more »

Monday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Mon, 02/01/2016 - 05:52
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Paul Krugman writes that we're far closer to a major energy transformation than many people realize - but that public policy decisions in the next few years may make all the difference in determining whether it materializes:
According to a recent report by the investment firm Lazard, the cost of electricity generation using wind power fell 61 percent from 2009 to 2015, while the cost of solar power fell 82 percent. These numbers — which are in line with other estimates — show progress at rates we normally only expect to see for information technology. And they put the cost of renewable energy into a range where it’s competitive with fossil fuels.

Now, there are still some issues special to renewables, in particular problems of intermittency: consumers may want power when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. But this issue seems to be of diminishing significance, partly thanks to improving storage technology, partly thanks to the realization that “demand response” — paying consumers to cut energy use during peak periods — can greatly reduce the problem....I’d argue that the kind of progress now within reach could produce a tipping point, in the right direction. Once renewable energy becomes an obvious success and, yes, a powerful interest group, anti-environmentalism will start to lose its political grip. And an energy revolution in America would let us take the lead in global action.
Salvation from climate catastrophe is, in short, something we can realistically hope to see happen, with no political miracle necessary. But failure is also a very real possibility. Everything is hanging in the balance.- Ian Welsh argues that the 2008 bank bailout - which effectively prioritized financial gambling over real economic development - is largely responsible for the lack of any real recovery afterward.

- Jim Stanford explains why Canada's auto sector in particular stands to suffer under the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And Shachi Kurl finds that Canadians in general are rightly concerned about what the TPP means for jobs.

- Finally, Laura Tribe comments that we shouldn't have to wait indefinitely to change the civil rights abuses pushed through in Bill C-51:
[Ralph] Goodale has said that reforms on C-51 won't likely be introduced until the fall at the earliest. Sadly, in the meantime, Canadians' rights are being violated everyday C-51 remains in place.
Oversight can't retroactively undo the damage that current legislation is doing. Each day, we're being subjected to excess surveillance. Our data is being shared without any checks and balances in place. There is no recourse for innocent Canadians.

C-51's overreaching powers are being normalized.

Many of the effects of this legislation won't be felt for years to come -- but in the meantime, we go on with our lives. Canadians remain on no-fly lists. Our private data is being collected. Information is being shared and compiled between government agencies. Rights are being violated. And all of this is happening without the oversight to ensure it's being done legally, effectively and safely.
...
It will take some time for public consultations, expert input, and analysis to determine the best policies and legislative solutions for Canada's security mechanisms. But we do know that right now, C-51 is quite simply incompatible with our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Why do we have to spend the best part of yet another year subject to laws that even the Liberals, the party ruling with an overwhelming majority, thinks are problematic?

Misplaced Admiration

Northern Reflections - Mon, 02/01/2016 - 05:44
                                               http://pursuitchannel.com/

Those who pay most dearly for the neo-liberal binge we have been on are children. Chris Hedges writes that, in the United States

Violent criminals are socialized into violence. And a society that permits this to take place is culpable. Over 15 million of our children go to bed hungry. Every fifth child (16.1 million) in America is poor. Every 10th child (7.1 million) is extremely poor. We have 25 percent of the world’s prison population. We have scaled back or cut social services, including welfare. Our infrastructures—including our inner-city schools, little more than warehouses—are crumbling. Police regularly gun down unarmed people in the streets. The poor spend years, sometimes lifetimes, without meaningful work or nurturing environments. And these forms of state violence fuel acts of personal violence.  
Consider the rising murder statistics in the neighbourhoods that Neo-liberalism has left behind:

The United States has a homicide rate of 4.5 per 100,000. But when you look at impoverished inner cities you find homicide rates that are astronomical. St. Louis has a homicide rate of 59.23 per 100,000, Baltimore 54.98 per 100,000, and Detroit 43.89 per 100,000. Some impoverished neighborhoods within American cities have even higher homicide rates. West Garfield Park in Chicago, for example, with 18,000 people, had 21 murders last year. This gives the neighborhood a homicide rate of 116 per 100,000 people.

The country’s 10 largest cities have seen murder rates climb by 11.3 percent in the last year.  
Criminologist Larry Athens writes that this phenomenon is preventable:

The slashing of state and federal programs for children and the failure to address the poverty that now grips half the country are creating a vast underclass of the young who often live in constant insecurity and fear, at times terror, and are schooled daily in the language of violence. As Athens has pointed out, “[T]he creation of dangerous violent criminals is largely preventable, as is much of the human carnage which follows in the wake of their birth. Therefore, if society fails to take any significant steps to stop the process behind the creation of dangerous criminals, it tacitly becomes an accomplice in creating them.”
Until recently, we had a government which emulated the American model.  Most assuredly, its admiration was misplaced.

The Republican Nightmare and the Canada Party

Montreal Simon - Mon, 02/01/2016 - 02:44


Well today is Iowa Caucus day in America, and I must admit I'm a little concerned about the mental state of many of our neighbours, and where they might be going.

Because in their current fevered state ANYTHING could happen.

And to make matters worse I'm also worried about being horribly embarrassed. 

For having confidently predicted that Donald Trump would NOT bring fascism to America.

Because he's too much of a blustering dickhead...
Read more »

dispatches from ola 2016, part 1: choosing to walk a path

we move to canada - Sun, 01/31/2016 - 15:00
I attended OLA* for only one day this year, partly because I'm already missing so much work for bargaining and other union business, and partly because one day is often enough. There's a huge lineup of presentations, poster sessions, book signings, vendors, keynote speakers, tours, receptions, etc. - lots of etc. - but the presentations are the meat of the conference. Four presentations a day for three days is just too much.

As it happened, three of the four talks I attended shared a theme: bringing library services to underserved, marginalized, and socially excluded communities.

My first of the day was Choosing to Walk a Path: Library Services with Indigenous Peoples on Purpose. Monique Woroniak, from Winnipeg, a city with a significant indigenous population, first set the social and political context. It was a bit like being at our annual socialist conference: the presenter using the expression the Canadian state, as opposed to Canada, and speaking about settler colonialism as an ongoing structure, rather than an event in the past.

Woroniak showed an old family photograph from a few generations back, when her own forebears - as for many Canadian-born Canadians - were "settling" the prairies. She set the current context as the marked increase in "public expressions of indigenous sovereignty," beginning with Idle No More, but echoing through Canada with a heightened presence of indigenous literature, and in Winnipeg, with social spaces, a magazine, and other events.

I liked her explanation of the difference between diversity and anti-racism initiatives. Diversity programming celebrates multiculturalism - a commendable goal, and better than its opposite - but it leaves power structures unchanged. Anti-racism programming and services seek to create conditions to transform that power imbalance.

That can only happen with (what is now called) a "community development" model. Rather than think of ourselves and our institutions as experts - the holders of special knowledge or at least the keys to that knowledge - telling the community what we have to offer, we work to build relationships, so the community can tell us what they need.

What this looks like in practical terms, as far as I can tell, is not substantially different than a purposeful and meaningful attempt to be more inclusive, combat racism, and educate the public at large about a marginalized community. The difference, it seems, is how one arrives at that goal. And in a field where we are measured by statistics - how many materials circulated, how many people attended a program - this shifts the focus from end result to process.

The most important thing - something we talk about all the time in relation to youth, older adults, or any other population we serve - is not to tell people what we're doing for them, but ask them what they want us to do for and with them. Sounds simple, right? The reality is remarkably elusive. In the context of austerity budgets and skeletal staff, taking time to build relationships and focus on process might as well be a unicorn ride on a rainbow.

One minor note I found interesting was Woroniak`s take on the use of the word "ally". She said (I paraphrase), "You don't call yourself an ally. If a person from the community you are serving calls you an ally, then accept that as a great compliment, but you don't decide that." I'm not sure what to make of that, given that Idle No More shares "I am an ally" badges online.

Next up: Prisons and Libraries: A Relationship Worth Incubating.





* Officially the Ontario Library Association Super Conference, but always referred to as O-L-A, as if we are attending the organization.

what i'm reading: the invention of air by steven johnson

we move to canada - Sun, 01/31/2016 - 13:00
How do we know that the oxygen exists, and that oxygen is different from carbon dioxide? Well, we know it because we've been taught those facts. But how did that knowledge enter the scientific record? Air is invisible to our eyes. How did humans first understand that invisible gases exist, and have predictable properties?

Answering that question, The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America by science historian Steven Johnson, is at its most interesting. The body of experiments that led to the "discovery" of oxygen, carbon dioxide, the properties of gases, and other foundational principles of chemistry were completely unknown to me. (Indeed, I doubt I had ever considered the question.)

This book introduced me to one Joseph Priestly, considered the father of modern chemistry, and a towering thinker of his era, yet largely unknown to the public today.

As Priestly was a contemporary of several of the American "founding fathers", the author illustrates Priestly's importance with these statistics.
In their legendary thirteen-year final correspondence, reflecting back on their collaborations and their feuds, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams wrote 165 letters to each other. In that corpus, Benjamin Franklin is mentioned by name five times, while George Washington is mentioned three times. Their mutual nemesis Alexander Hamilton warrants only two references. By contrast, Priestley, an Englishman who spent only the last decade of his life in the United States, is mentioned fifty-two times.One reason (of many) that Johnson greatly admires Priestly was that he valued open inquiry and the sharing of knowledge more than personal credit or financial gain. Priestly was a dedicated open-source man. He would share his ideas, writing, and data with anyone who was interested. This probably resulted in less fame, and definitely resulted in less income, but those were not Priestly's goals.

The Invention of Air is much more than a biography of Priestly or an account of his experiments. Priestly's work helped define and solidify scientific method, and his political and religious ideas influenced the birth of the American republic. I found these areas more challenging and less interesting. Johnson assumes a degree of knowledge of the history of science that I lack. And the book gets bogged down in biographical detail that seems trivial or irrelevant.

I loved Johnson's The Ghost Map - I'm at least partly responsible for it being promoted widely in our library system - and I've enjoyed (on Netflix) several episodes of Johnson's PBS series, "How We Got to Now". So it was a little disappointing not to love this book, too. But The Invention of Air is often fascinating, and it's well worth the read.

As I did when I reviewed Soul Made Flesh, I caution readers about grisly details of experiments on animals.

This Does Not Sound Good

Politics and its Discontents - Sun, 01/31/2016 - 12:46
Given that the government of Justin Trudeau is in favour of trade deals such as the TPP, its approval seems a foregone conclusion, despite its many grave potential drawbacks:



For a fuller discussion of the above graphic, please click here for both text and links.Recommend this Post

As the World Burns

The Disaffected Lib - Sun, 01/31/2016 - 08:38



When you're roaring toward the cliff edge does it really matter if it's a jackboot or a Gucci loafer smashing the gas pedal into the floorboards? That's kind of how I feel about the body politic in my country these days.

Maybe the Gucci loafer isn't the problem. Maybe the gas pedal is simply jammed. Perhaps it was hammered too many times by the jackboot and now it's stuck. Does it really matter? Do we have time to waste figuring out who is to blame and for how much of what ails us?

I read a truly dreadful interview with a couple of climate scientists in The Guardian recently. There really wasn't much new in it but it presented a stark reminder of how detached from reality our leaders have become on the greatest existential threat ever faced by mankind.

You might recall how, at the Paris climate summit in December, the nations of the world tabled their emissions reductions promises which, if all those promises are honoured (yeah, cross your fingers), they'll result in warming/heating of 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures by 2100. The target has, for years, been 2C. We're promising, maybe, 3C - maybe more.

One highlight of the Paris summit was a tacit recognition that the old 2C target was simply wrong. If we're to have a reasonable (not great, reasonable) chance of avoiding the worst impacts, i.e. runaway global warming, by 2100, we must not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius. Yippee, we agree! We've seen the light. 1.5C it is, maybe.

Except for one little snag.

As of now we're already at 1.5C (deferred). Without another tonne of atmospheric CO2, we've already 'baked in' warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius. We don't have to lift another finger to get there. It's in the bag. And so, as we haggle over how many more gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions this country or that country should have, we're negotiating to blow straight through 1.5C,  way past it. All this talk, it's gibberish. Utterly disconnected from reality. Hogwash of the particularly lethal sort.

Professor Andy Ridgwell of Bristol University puts it this way:

We have 1.5°C already programmed in, so even if we bring emissions right, right down, immediately, now, we already have 1.5 degrees! So how we’re keeping to a 1.5-degree threshold isn’t clear.

So a fun thing we’re doing now with our very fast warming is the ocean surface warms up and the deep ocean is still cold, which is partly why we have this programmed-in warming that we haven’t seen yet. The deep ocean hasn’t yet noticed that the planet at the surface is rather warmer. If we just sit here at current CO2 levels and let the system equilibrate, it’s 1.5°C anyway. Which comes back to COP21 - what is this 1.5°C target? We’ve emitted the CO2 to reach 1.5°C already, so I don’t know what they’re thinking of!

I wonder if this awkward fact was on the table when our newly-minted federal environment minister met with her provincial counterparts last week. Did they have a "Holy Shit, we've really got to rein in these emissions if our grandkids are to have a snowball's chance" moment? Somehow I doubt it.
As we race toward the cliff edge we've got our eyes glued on the rearview mirror. No one wants to see what lies ahead. No point glancing at the speedometer either.
Maybe the gas pedal isn't stuck. Maybe we're just on cruise control. I expect it really doesn't matter unless we intend to do something about it.



Sunday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Sun, 01/31/2016 - 08:06
This and that for your Sunday reading.

- The Guardian's editorial board comments on the role public entrepreneurship should play in fostering economic development and avoiding bust cycles:
The state’s only legitimate economic role is often seen as patching up discrete failures in particular markets. But Ms Mazzucato stresses how proactive policy is often required to create the markets in the first place. She stresses the role of public agencies in advancing industry’s frontiers. The iPhone may be an archetypal example of entrepreneurial brilliance, but it draws on numerous government-funded technologies including the internet, GPS, touch-screen displays and even Siri, the voice-activated operating system-cum-butler. From Nasa to the BBC, public organisations have created private opportunities. The entrepreneurial state should embrace its unsung role as a venture capitalist, be bullish about the need to run risks to secure returns. New institutions, such as national investment banks, might need to be part of the mix.

Ms Mazzucato points out that the crisis-hit states in Euroland were also all countries where the pre-crisis state failed to innovate. That fostered a frail prosperity, depending less on progress in industry than on booming house prices. When the emergency cures look inadequate, economists interested in fending off future slumps should reconsider the preventative role the state can play.- Michal Rozworski's proposed solutions to Canada's housing crisis include a strong dose of public investment. And Chelsea Vowel duly criticizes Scott Gilmore's attempt to force First Nations and residents of remote areas into cities, rather than working on building existing communities.

- Chris Malsano draws a sharp distinction between socialism and statism. And Greg Sargent notes that Donald Trump's presidential candidacy may be exposing the large number of Republican voters who aren't inclined toward austerity or corporatist economics. 

- Teuila Fuatai documents the gap between the low wages paid to many Canadian workers and the cost of living.

- Finally, the New York Times' editorial board slams corporate tax evasion.

On delayed rectification

accidentaldeliberations - Sun, 01/31/2016 - 07:54
I'll largely echo David Climenhaga's take on Alberta's oil and gas royalty review (PDF). But it's well worth highlighting the difference between the two main interpretations of the review's recommendations - and what they mean for future resource policy.

By way of comparison, some of the media spin includes statements along the lines of the following:
The key points of the report are:
  • Albertans are receiving their fair share.
  • Oilsands royalties won't change.
Contrast that against Rachel Notley's message (which matches the actual comments from the review panel, and indeed from Brian Jean in gloating about the lack of changes):
“The fact of the matter is the environment has changed profoundly, even in the last 12 months, and so that is what is driving our decision-making at this point,” Ms. Notley told a news conference in Calgary yesterday morning. “It is not the time to reach out and make a big money grab. That just is not going to help Albertans over-all right now, and so I feel quite confident that this is the right direction to take.” There's thus a stark contrast between the claim that Alberta's royalty structure is in fact sufficiently fair to stay in place indefinitely, and the view that a period of low prices isn't the time to alter it to improve its level of fairness.

Indeed, anybody looking to the report to confirm or refute the first point will find plenty of conflicting information. Yes, it suggests that Alberta's royalty rates are "comparable with other jurisdictions". But it also recommends annual reporting and further reconsideration as to whether royalties paid meet a number of goals, including "returns to Albertans" - meaning there's ample room for further review as circumstances change. And we'd expect the gap between costs and royalties to be much higher when prices and profits are up.

So the answer on an improved return for the public is best seen as a "not now" rather than a "not ever". And while that's still disappointing compared to the prospect of ensuring improved public benefits in the long term (which could be palatable if paired with supports to cover a short-term downturn), it doesn't close the door to a more fair system in the future.

The Killing of Sammy Yatim: Should Another Cop Be Charged?

Montreal Simon - Sun, 01/31/2016 - 04:12


It's been almost a week since the Toronto police officer James Forcillo was found guilty of the attempted murder of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim. 

Even though he killed him, and it was murder.

And now there are calls for another police officer to be charged for what he did to Yatim after he was shot.
Read more »

In The Absence Of Hope

Northern Reflections - Sun, 01/31/2016 - 03:13
                                                  http://www.macleans.ca/

Canadians were shocked by what happened at La Loche a little over a week ago. Jeff Sallot writes that the kid with the gun had been picked on:

We’re not surprised to read that the 17-year-old boy accused of rampaging through the small town of La Loche last Friday — shooting 11 people, four of them fatally — had been bullied in school.
The bullies teased the boy relentlessly about his big ears, Jason Warick of Postmedia News tells us in a heartbreaking report from La Loche.

Three people who were inside the school when the teenager arrived with a gun claim the youth dared people to tease him about his ears. Witnesses report the youth passed by some people and fired at others — as if he knew his quarry, who he wanted dead.
Those of us who have spent their teaching careers in high schools have taught maybe a thousand kids like this kid. For him high school was hell. The truth is that, for most kids, high school is hell. Only a chosen few become president of the student's council. Most students dream of escaping -- and eventually they do.

But, what if you live in a community from which there is no escape?

People in La Loche have known for a long time that their children are at risk of falling into despair. Many are suicidal. Residents have been trying for years to establish a youth centre where young people might hang out doing kid stuff, under adult supervision. In such settings — a YMCA, an ice rink, a youth centre — a caring adult just might notice the quiet kid in the corner, take him aside and get him to open up.

Social workers, school nurses and psychologists know that merely having a sympathetic adult to listen can change the life of a troubled kid. But social workers, school nurses and psychologists are too scarce in remote First Nations’ communities. They’re found down south, in larger and more prosperous parts of the country.This was the point Perry Bellegarde, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, tried to make when talking to reporters in La Loche on Sunday.
Justin Trudeau says his government will set course for a new relationship with Canada's First Nations. If he is to do that, he must give native communities real hope that their citizens can lead productive lives.

Because, in the absence of hope, those with nothing to lose turn to violence.

Rex Murphy: Who Needs An Environmental Review?

Montreal Simon - Sun, 01/31/2016 - 02:07


In my last post I argued that the CBC should fire the Con clown Rex Murphy, for promoting the Energy East pipeline.

While being paid by Big Oil to give speeches glorifying their dubious achievements.

And for attacking Justin Trudeau, and acting like Rona Ambrose's spokesman, on the CBC's flagship news show The National.

Well now in the National Post, Murphy has taken his deranged campaign one step further.
Read more »

Saturday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Sat, 01/30/2016 - 09:03
Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Duncan Brown discusses the connection between precarious work and low productivity. And Sara Mojtehedzadeh examines how Ontario's workers' compensation system is pushing injured individuals into grinding poverty by setting impossible requirements for claimants.

- Jim Balsillie worries that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will only increase the tendency of profits from Canadian ideas to flow elsewhere. And Cory Doctorow criticizes the Trudeau Libs for blindly following the Harper Cons when it comes to corporate control agreements.

- Stephanie Levitz reports on the Cons' cherry-picking of Christian refugees contrary to Canada's international obligations. And Fram Dinshaw exposes the Cons' willingness to keep pesticides in regular use long after they were known to be toxic.

- Nora Loreto discusses the state of Canada's media, including the need for both public and activist support for alternative news-gathering as corporate newspapers are slashed. And Thomas Frank points out the role of elite media in limiting political choices, particularly by presenting special treatment for the wealthy as an inevitability.

- Finally, Alison Crawford reports on CSIS' pattern of unauthorized intrusion into Canadians' tax information. Andrew Mitrovica situates that violation in the broader context of intelligence abuses, while Colin Freeze discusses how substantially more oversight could serve as at least a partial solution. And Cara Zwibel argues that it's time to put Charter rights at the forefront of how laws are made (which we can also extend to how government functions are carried out):
Clearly there are critical accountability and transparency gaps in our law-making process, which enable the advancement of arguably unconstitutional laws, such as Bill C-51. Indeed, at no point in the process are parliamentarians required to publicly defend the constitutionality of the laws they pass.

That job seems to have been left to our already overburdened courts, and to affected individuals and public interest organizations, such as CCLA, who, in recent years, have been compelled in some cases to launch Charter challenges as the only viable recourse. This is unfortunate given that these particular challenges — which come at a significant cost not only to the applicants, but also the public — could likely have been avoided had Parliament done its duty. And of even greater concern, as these lengthy court battles play out, the laws challenged remain on the books, restricting the fundamental rights and freedoms of Canadians, and risk becoming normalized.

Furthermore, the limited safeguards we do have are simply not working. Typically, the Department of Justice (DOJ) provides legal opinions to the justice minister regarding the constitutionality or legal vulnerabilities of government-proposed legislation. However, the government has refused to make these opinions public, stating that they are subject to solicitor-client privilege. The minister is also required to report Charter inconsistencies to Parliament, but the DOJ has suggested that the minister need only report when there is no credible argument in favour of a bill passing the Charter test. This standard is simply too low and, in practice, has meant that not a single report relaying concerns about Charter compliance has ever been made to Parliament.

Proactive accountability and transparency measures are sorely needed to help compel our government and parliamentarians — both present and future — to honour their fundamental duty to uphold the Charter throughout the law-making process. This is why CCLA has launched a new campaign called Charter First, which calls for the reform of our legislative process such that Charter rights are prioritized and Canadians are informed about the constitutionality of proposed bills.

To Serve And Protect Who?

Politics and its Discontents - Sat, 01/30/2016 - 06:12


Were I so inclined, I could probably devote this blog solely to police misconduct, so extensive does it seem. Perhaps it is due to the Forcillo conviction for the attempted murder of the late Sammy Yatim that we are more sensitive to the issue, but each day seems to bring new information about police behaving badly. A crisis of public confidence is not too strong a phrase to describe the public's growing distrust of those sworn to protect and serve.

And to make matters worse, as I observed in a post earlier this week, the police, or at least their unions, are reacting with outrage rather than humility at these charges and convictions, a fact that does not bode well for changing the culture and profile of our protectors.

In its letters section today, The Toronto Star features an entire page of public reactions to the Forcillo conviction. Each letter is worth reading, but I reproduce just a few below to offer you a sampling of sentiments:
.... Police spokespeople have publicly worried that the verdict will “send a chill through the force.” But if a chill is what it takes to soothe the itchy trigger fingers of cops like Forcillo, then it’s exactly what we need. These men and women are given public permission to patrol our streets armed with increasingly deadly force. It’s time they understood that public scrutiny is part of that privilege – scrutiny that will become a bit uncomfortable now and then. Or are we supposed to look the other way when a citizen is killed?

As your editorial notes, the verdict will be small comfort to the Yatim family, but at least it’s something. And the Star deserves credit for its excellent series on police abuse and accountability in the GTA, “Breaking badge.” I believe that it has helped to shift our outdated attitudes towards the police.

Andrew van Velzen, Toronto

The TPS police union boss, Mike McCormack said he is “disappointed with the guilty finding and it sends a chilling message to other cops.” I agree. Indeed, disappointing the original charge was reduced and chilling that the blue wall choose to close ranks to protect a criminal in their midst rather than “serve and protect” the public.

Time for handlers at the senior police levels and politicians to take note. No more impunity for bad cops who have previously executed the emotionally or mentally upset among us. Rather than deescalating the situation. A overdue message to any cop who may wish to play fast and loose with civilian lives. Now consequences attached.

This is the first time in Ontario history a out of line cop actually has been convicted. Now the question is, will his legal weasels continue to attempt to subvert justice by their gyrations allowing this soon to be ex-thug in blue to escape?

Paul Coulter, Kincardine

Forcillo’s lawyer spoke of “trial by YouTube.” How about “trial by seeing is believing” or “trial by a picture is worth a thousand words.”‎

Let’s be clear here; no video, no conviction. All on-site police testifying in court would have backed and supported their brother’s need to use the excessive force repeatedly delivered on a dead or dying individual.

Tim Strevett, Hamilton

As in countless other trials, no one has emerged a winner here. Both Forcillo and Yatim’s family have lost.

I have to wonder, however, at the defence decrying the video shot that night, and suggesting it precluded a fair trial. When the police install cameras in the city and seek greater powers to snoop, we are told, if you are not doing anything wrong, you should not fear this surveillance. It seems, in this unhappy case, the police have learned they, too, are being watched and recorded.

Video evidence is virtually unrefutable; that’s why law enforcement wants it. Now, however, it seems the shoe is on the other foot.

G.P. Wowchuk, Toronto

...what should be most disturbing to the public is Mike McCormack’s reaction that the verdict is sending a “chilling message” to the police. The police still don’t get it. This reaction is itself sending a cold blooded warning to the public.

Torontonians have reason to beware the police when their spokesperson insists on their right to remain above the law.

Tony D’Andrea, Toronto
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Is This Where It All Leads?

Northern Reflections - Sat, 01/30/2016 - 06:10
                                              https://hwaairfan.wordpress.com/

Rick Salutin asks an interesting question in today's Toronto Star: Is the rise of Donald Trump connected to the decline of public education in the United States? Salutin has Trump's number:

I’m not saying Trump is stupid nor is everything he expresses; his blasts against trade deals that undermine U.S. jobs are on point. Rather, it’s the willingness to unconditionally embrace someone so boorish, bullying, lacking self-awareness, childishly vain and demagogic — who says repeatedly: Don’t bother thinking, I’ll do it for you. (And “You’ll love it.”) In their dreams his Canadian analogues — Stephen Harper, Jason Kenney, Mike Harris — never came close.
He wonders if the fact that so many Americans don't see Trump for who he is has anything to do with their inability to think:

A chunk of the answer lies in the state of public education in the U.S. and its obsession with testable, measurable skills in reading, writing and math. But isn’t that what schools there were always about — the 3Rs? No, actually. The U.S. founding fathers were offspring of the Enlightenment. They believed public schools should allow everyone, regardless of station, to learn to think well, in order to act wisely as citizens and voters. That was their aim and main “test.”
An 1830 state report said poor kids needed more than “simple acquaintance with words and ciphers” — i.e., literacy and numeracy; above all they needed what we’d today call a “citizenship agenda.” A century later educational philosopher John Dewey said it was important not just to be able to read but to distinguish between “the demagogue and the statesman.” Sounds vaguely useful in 2016. When did all that citizenship/thinking go out of vogue?
Advocates for education -- particularly on the Right -- have become obsessed with standardized testing. But passing a standardized test measures how well you can follow instructions -- not how well you can think. And, they insist, the best way to teach kids how to pass standardized tests is in charter schools. The Bush and Obama years have been:
the age of expanding inequality and the rise of the billionaires. They — with Bill Gates in the lead — promoted “disruption” of public schools and their replacement by publicly funded, basically private, charter schools. Netflix founder Reed Hastings is now pouring money in. He laments that California is only at 8 per cent of kids in charters while New Orleans, where he was CEO, is at 90 per cent. Meanwhile, all the evidence says the huge stress on testing failed; even Obama acknowledges it. His education secretary, Arne Duncan, recently resigned and returned to Chicago.
The men who wrote the American constitution knew that democracy could not survive without a public education system. Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virgina in 1819. Next door, the University of North Carolina opened its doors in 1789. Both institutions were devoted to the principle that informed, critical thinkers would be able to identify a demagogue when they saw one.
In Ontario, we have also gone through the mania of standardized tests. They were introduced by Mike Harris' government under the supervision of a Minister of Education who dropped out of school after grade 11.
Salutin rightly asks, "Is this where it all leads?"


The Con Clown Rex Murphy's Ghastly Anti-Trudeau Campaign

Montreal Simon - Sat, 01/30/2016 - 02:48


Once upon a time I used to fly though the air like Peter Pan in search of the remote control, whenever the ghastly Rex Murphy popped up on my big TV.

In a desperate attempt to change the channel, before his oily fumes started pouring out of every orifice, and before that scary bulging eye started following me around the room.

But now I just sit there staring numbly at the screen and wondering: why is that Con teabagger on the CBC? Is this Canada or Trumpville?

And this is just the latest reason why I think he should be fired.
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