Posts from our progressive community

The Old Order Changeth

Northern Reflections - Fri, 01/13/2017 - 06:08


Errol Mendes writes that the Post World War II Order is crumbling:

As a new year opens across the globe, the post-Second World War order and the global rule of law are losing out to the rule of individual men.

The trend is most evident in the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military, along with his Syrian, Iranian and Shia Iraqi and Lebanese allies, who have been trampling the most sacred rules of war and committing the most horrific crimes against humanity against civilians in Syria. In his own country, Putin maintains the façade of a ‘managed’ democracy by crushing all dissent, controlling the media and using his security and intelligence forces to suppress — or murder — opposition voices. And his actions aren’t limited to the domestic; he’s undermine liberal democracies in Europe by aiding far-right and neo-fascist parties, not to mention his ultimate adventure — the seemingly successful manipulation of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

 In China, the leadership is using its growing military and economic power to defy foundational rules of international law in the South and East China Seas, daring even the U.S. to challenge its claims over one of the most important sea lanes in the world — where $5 trillion worth of goods are transported annually. The Economist sums up how the Chinese leadership intends to ramp up its own crushing of internal dissent in an article titled, ‘China invents the digital totalitarian state’. The hundreds of lawyers and other pro-democracy activists who have either disappeared or are being held in secret jails seem to be just forerunners of what could happen to Chinese citizens in the coming years under the leadership of President Xi Jingping, as he seeks to assume all the major levers of power.

There are times in world history when everything seems to shift. This seems to be one of those times. But the shift does not look like it's for the better. If it is to be stopped, Mendes believes that nations committed to democracy and the rule of law must do three things:

First, they must use all their powers of political, economic and social persuasion to shine a bright light on the ‘post-truth’ fabrications fuelling the new authoritarianism — the terror, corruption and fraud perpetrated by this new generation of strongmen, perhaps by focusing on its undisputed leader: President Putin.
 
Second, they must examine their own glass houses to see how the so called Washington Consensus liberal order has produced too many losers, too many corporate robber barons, while creating a level of social inequality, job loss and poverty that begs the title “neo-feudal”.

Finally, to draw back the millions who may have wandered over to the authoritarian camp, progressive leaders, parties and governments must use the human rights agenda to promote the lives and interests of all. Martin Luther King put it best: “Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere.”
The clock is ticking.

Image: Robyn Waters

Friday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Fri, 01/13/2017 - 05:20
Assorted content to end your week.

- Per Molander examines new research on the sources of inequality which concludes that massive gaps in wealth and income inevitably arise purely out of chance rather than any individual merit:
Differences in income or assets that are based on differences in capabilities or effort are widely considered to be legitimate, but it is easy to verify that all observed differences cannot be explained in this way. In its 2016 report on the global distribution of wealth, Oxfam International reported that the richest 62 persons in the world own as much as the poorer half of the world’s population, about 3.5 billion people. Clearly, one person cannot be 100 million times as productive as another healthy and reasonably well-educated person. After all, a day and night comprises only 24 hours for all of us, rich or poor.

In a seminal paper on the drivers of inequality, Robert and Ricardo Fernholz have analysed the long-term distribution of wealth in an abstract growing market economy. They assume that the economy generates a surplus which is invested in a financial market. Even assuming that all individuals in this society are identical as far as capabilities, efforts, preferences, and initial assets are concerned, the distribution of assets will become increasingly skewed over time. In the long run, one household will own all the assets. The explanation for this is simple: small variations in return on assets will be magnified over time, because those who are lucky can afford to take somewhat higher risks and will be rewarded with even higher returns, and so on.

Simple as this mechanism may be, it has far-reaching consequences. Even in an imagined world of perfect equals, inequality will develop as a result of our innate tendency towards risk aversion – wealthy individuals can afford to take risks, whereas the less wealthy have to be more cautious. Equality is inherently unstable; even the slightest perturbation of a perfectly egalitarian equilibrium will cause it to degrade into a highly unequal society, where only the self-interest of the richer strata will set the limits.
...
In real societies, individuals differ in both capabilities and efforts. But, because of the self-reinforcing effect of differences, the inequalities that we observe will be completely out of proportion with differences in effort or capabilities. Inequality is largely a market failure. This is what makes the case for redistribution. - Meanwhile, Seth Klein, Iglika Ivanova and Andrew Leyland highlight the desperate need for a poverty reduction strategy in British Columbia.

- Lola Butcher discusses how a housing first strategy can more than pay for itself by reducing burdens on the health care system and other social programs. And Marc Lee points out that tax incentives and subsidies for landlords figure to be far less effective than direct investment in affordable housing.

- Timothy Sawa and Lisa Ellenwood report on the massive amounts of money wasted on high-priced prescription drugs. And to her credit, Jane Philpott is at least examining how to reduce the cost of inflated drug prices - though it remains to be seen when that will lead to actual policy changes.

- Finally, the CCPA's submission to the SaskForward consultation process examines the futility of austerity.

Samantha Bee On Trump and the Golden Shower Scandal

Montreal Simon - Fri, 01/13/2017 - 04:55


I hesitate to write another post about Donald Trump's so-called Golden Shower or Peegate scandal, for several good reasons.

One, it's so disgusting once was enough. 

Two, it sounds too good to be true. 

And three, and most importantly, I don't want to distract attention away from the fascist kleptocracy Trump is preparing to unleash on our neighbours, and the rest of the world.

But how can I ignore that shocking story when it's all over the American networks?
Read more »

I Know This Will Sound Strange, But I Almost Feel Sorry for the Bastard.

The Disaffected Lib - Fri, 01/13/2017 - 01:27

It's pretty obvious that Donald Trump is in over his head, way over.

It's one thing when you create your own world, a lavish bubble, and call all the shots within that gold-plated fantasyland. That's lousy preparation for taking over the oval office. The presidency isn't a business. You don't always get to call the shots and fire anyone who doesn't meet your every whim.

If there's one thing I wish I could have changed about Trump two years ago before he quested for the Republican nomination it would be his uncontrollable Pavlovian nature. He's exactly like Pavlov's dog. Show him the meat and he promptly drools all over the floor.

In Trump's case you can substitute provocation for the meat. Challenge Trump, mock Trump, criticize Trump and he compulsively responds.

Some dangerous people who have nothing but ill will for the United States have been watching the Great Orange Bloat for the last two years, observing, dissecting and analyzing his bizarre psychological tick, what Angela Merkel graciously calls his "thought environment." They've watched the video of every campaign rally, every debate, every press conference. They've logged every middle of the night tweet. It's their business to understand his every weakness and how he can be used to undermine the Great Satan. I'm betting they like what they see.

America's national security and intelligence agencies are shitting bricks. They've discretely run their own assessments of their incoming commander in chief. They know what America's enemies know and they know that America's enemies know what they know. They know the threat their new president represents to the United States, America's allies, the world. It's their job to serve the president but not at the expense of the safety, even survival of the country. There is a line that, until now, has never been in danger of being crossed.

In another time we used the term "the Great Game" to refer to Russian and British rivalry over Central and South Asia over most of the nineteenth century. Something along similar lines only this time targeting the United States of America could be unfolding.

My guess is that they want to exploit Trump's inclination to retreat, to withdraw America from its global hegemony. They may see this as their best, perhaps only chance to put the Uncle Sam genie back in the bottle.

How to do that? One way is to give Trump a crash course in reality. Demonstrate to him the very real limits of the power of the American presidency. What limits? Consider this. For the past fifteen years, presidents vastly more competent than Trump have abjectly failed to impose America's will as the U.S. had leading up to the glorious Desert Storm victory of George H.W. Bush. It's been downhill ever since. America still has All the King's Men and All the King's Horses  but, despite the expenditure of thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of Muslim lives and trillions of dollars of American treasure, they have achieved precisely no victories. Not one.

It's easy to vilify Putin but, in fairness, he has his reasons. Every president going back to and including Reagan has made a mess of the Middle East. Reagan facilitated the rise of radical Islam when it backed the Mujahideen resistance to the Soviets in Afghanistan. He incubated bin Laden and al Qaeda. Bush Sr. left a devastating power vacuum with the defeat of Saddam Hussein even as radical Sunni Islamists ran free. Clinton - more of the same only with sanctions that never harmed Saddam's people but caused hundreds of thousands of lives due to embargoed medicines and aid. Nice one, Bill. George w. Bush? 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, the restoration of al Qaeda. Enough said. Obama? Conflict returns to Iraq. ISIS consolidates and then spreads to Syria before metastasizing throughout the Muslim world from northwest Africa to Afghanistan to Southeast Asia. "The Troubles, Mk. 2," spreads to Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and parts distant and near including Europe.

Think of this from the perspective of a slightly different Vlad Putin, one who's not a thug. You're a little sensitive because those goddamned Westerners, this time the lot of them, have rolled another army right up to the Rodina's doorstep. You've been rolled back from Europe and run out of the Middle East. Now you sit back and watch your historical adversary falter, run out of steam and then elect an utter buffoon to the presidency. You're suddenly presented with a golden opportunity presented at your feet. Do you just say, "Oh no, I don't think that taking that opportunity would be right, not when they're down and in disarray"? Or do you take an opportunity that may never come your way again? No, you don't want to obliterate the United States. You just want to neutralize it so that you can restore your presence/hegemony in both Europe and the Middle East. Remember we're talking about Vladimir Putin, a guy whose entire career and rise to power were based on never missing or taking an opportunity.

Then you've got Beijing. China, a country whose economy is expected to grow larger than America's by 2025, latest. They know history. They know that there's rarely been a peaceful transfer of global economic dominance between countries.

Recall here the "Bush Doctrine" that was lifted wholesale from the bellicose manifesto of the Project for the New American Century, the knights' temple of neoconservatism. The Bush Doctrine, among other things, proclaimed that America reserved the right to use military force to defeat any nation or group of nations (hostile or friendly) that challenged America's military and economic domination. Hint: America needs muscle, loads of it, to keep other nations in line so that it can continue, indefinitely, to accrue ever more foreign debt while still running trade and payment deficits that will never be paid off.

China only continues to carry America's IOUs while it is not yet quite ready to ascend the throne. They want to be Number One and they do want to expand their global influence and hegemony as any dominant power wants, they want American-style preferential access to resources and money, but they don't want the Americans to get all nihilistic about it.

To grease the skids, China would be happy if America neutralized its political and military dominance of the East/Southeast Asia region. Seeing America descend into presidential chaos, perhaps even paralysis, must be massively enticing to Beijing.

Let's face it, these are powerful and sophisticated people with plenty of resources at hand, both cyber and conventional. By now they probably have a full run of tests on the heavy metals and other toxins in Donald Trump's hair follicles, the sugar count in his urine, and the evidence of malignancy and other chronic diseases in his stool.  And they've also got their psychological profiles. Couple that with the fact that he'll be 70 when he's sworn in, the oldest incoming president in America, and, unlike even Reagan, already demonstrating signs of mental issues they must see both danger and immense opportunity.

I remember as a kid, we used to test the ice out behind the house and onto the lake by taking it a step at a time. You would walk very gradually, listening to the cracks. You listened as the sound of the cracks changed as you kept going further out. Then you had to make a personal decision  on when you had gone far enough and would go no further.

America's enemies and its rivals are in much that same position. They have to test the ice, Donald Trump, and there's no better time to do it than when he first comes to the presidency with all his intellectual and psychological difficulties unresolved.

And so this is beginning to unfold. The Taliban are issuing demands, not to the White House, but to the president to be. They're speaking to Donald Trump. They're telling him to either release prisoners from Afghan cells or they'll decapitate American hostage, Kevin King.

The Chinese, meanwhile, are warning that the US risks war if, as Tillerson has has threatened, it blocks Chinese access to the South China Sea.

China has controversially built fortifications and artificial islands across the South China Sea. Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, said China’s “access to those islands … is not going to be allowed”.

China claims nearly the entire area, with rival claims by five south-east Asian neighbours and Taiwan.

ISIS, al Qaeda, China, what's next? Oh yeah. Moscow, the Kremlin, Vlad Putin.We know that every Russian premier going back to Gorbachev is thoroughly pissed with Washington for deigning to march NATO to Russia's front door while it was floundering and weak.
Obama just dispatched the makings of an armoured brigade to Poland. The deployment, said to be a message to Moscow, has infuriated Putin. He sees it as a provocation. That much has been splashed about our local media.
What hasn't been widely circulated in Canada or the United States is what's going on in Sweden. It's been in most of the European papers since December. Sweden has invoked its equivalent of DefCon 2. In its simplest terms, the Swedes are anticipating a potentially imminent attack from Russia. Sweden has re-activated its Cold War, "Total Defence Strategy." How much of Swedish apprehension is triggered by Putin and how much by the fears of a Trump presidency is unclear. 
There's another Trump button begging to be pushed. 
I do feel sorry for the bastard. He may not have time to take a proper crap on the Oval Office throne before America's enemies and its rivals beginning pushing Trump's buttons. I don' t think he's remotely ready to handle this.




Hiatus

Feminist Christian - Thu, 01/12/2017 - 20:22
Haha. Totally forgot about the photo challenge for Advent. Life got crazy. As usual. Crackle had a big clinic day in Vancouver, then Christmas happened. December and January aren't good months for me. I think seasonal affective disorder is a thing for me. Sucktastic, it is. Crackle too, maybe. He's sure as shit not sleeping! He's averaging about 4 hours a night (+/- 2 hours).

So I'm tired. I'm grumpy. I'm short-tempered and ill-mannered. And I have yet another fucking UTI. I'm pissing off friends and family, left and right. My husband is a saint (mostly!) He's out buying groceries right now.

I'll be back when I can be coherent again for more than a tweet or two.

In the meantime, if you're looking for family tree work, I'm doing it for charity money again. I can do anything from "find out if I'm related to Kevin Bacon" to "trace this line back as far as it goes" to the full family tree deal. NO CHARGE if I come up empty. If you're broke, but want some work done, talk to me! I'm in a bit of a funk and the work does me good. Find me on twitter @heading_west or email my headingwest account. It's my name (Luna), at that domain, dot ca. (That's me avoiding spam. Sorry.)

In Fairness

The Disaffected Lib - Thu, 01/12/2017 - 18:53

Wheels spinning within wheels. Glenn Greenwald, of The Intercept, rides to the defence of Donald Trump. As Greenwald sees it, the latest Trump scandal is a manufactured effort by America's intelligence agencies, the "Deep State," to take down a president they don't like, even before he's president.

It's definitely worth a read. Check it out.

Meanwhile, the RT news service, is running a piece claiming that Christopher Steele is still an operative of Britain's MI6 intelligence service. "Once MI6, Always MI6." I guess the Russians should know. Look at Putin. Once KGB, Always KGB.

Seriously, You Can't Make This Up.

The Disaffected Lib - Thu, 01/12/2017 - 14:36

Morgan, Lewis and Bockius - winner of Russia's 2016 "Law Firm of the Year" award.

That would be the same Morgan, Lewis and Bockius that serves as Donald Trump's legal team. What an incredible coincidence. Hmm, I wonder if they handle Vlad Putin's interests?

The Taliban are Already Playing Trump

The Disaffected Lib - Thu, 01/12/2017 - 13:09

The Taliban aren't waiting for the inauguration to test Donald Trump's presidential mettle.

They've released a video of their American hostage, Kevin King, and Australian, Timothy Weeks.

In the video, Weeks said the Taliban are demanding that the US release prisoners at Bagram airfield and at Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul in exchange for his and King's freedom.

"They are being held there illegally, and the Taliban has asked for them to be released in our exchange. If they are not exchanged for us then we will be killed," Weeks said.

"Donald Trump, sir, please, I ask you, please, this is in your hands. I ask you please to negotiate with the Taliban. If you do not negotiate with them, we will be killed," he added.

He Just Can't Stop Lying.

The Disaffected Lib - Thu, 01/12/2017 - 12:32

The latest. Donald Trump claims that America's Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, "called him to 'denounce the false and fictitious' report that Russia held compromising information about the president-elect."

The problem, for the Great Orange Bloat, is that Mr. Clapper says he didn't say that.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper merely said he had told Mr Trump that no judgment had yet been made on its reliability.

Mr Clapper rejected Mr Trump's claim that US intelligence leaked the report.

Mr Clapper's statement on the conversation came out on Wednesday evening and he has not yet commented on Mr Trump's version.

In his statement, the spymaster said he had "expressed profound dismay at the leaks that have been appearing in the press and we both agreed that they are extremely corrosive and damaging to our national security".

Director Clapper didn't "denounce" anything. Nor did he declare the dossier "false and fictitious." Maybe Trump senses he's in so deep that he has no choice but to keep lying, just making stuff up to feed his Gullibillies.

Coming Apart at the Seams. Can Trump Lie His Way Out This Time?

The Disaffected Lib - Thu, 01/12/2017 - 12:13

As scandals go, this one is really complicated. It involves a blowhard businessman/incoming chief of state of questionable mental stability and the sexual appetites of a goat; more than a couple of his closest aides (yes, that includes you, Rudy); a powerful and murderous foreign tyrant; espionage; the nation's top law enforcement agency and its director; the nation's intelligence and security services; foreign oligarchs and a broad range of crimes and perversions -for starters.

There is amazing scope for scrutiny. Details warranting investigation abound. Travel. Real estate deals. Financial transactions. Paper trails everywhere. Some of the allegations may never be entirely verifiable but the circumstances underlying them often can.

Here's an example. The dossier on Trump has cast a broad net. Among those caught in it are the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its director, James Comey. The US Justice Department has announced it will investigate Comey's curious behaviour during the election, acts that might appear to be politically motivated.

Among these is the disclosure of criminal investigations into the Democratic candidate's emails just nine days prior to voting day, while many Americans were going to advanced polls to cast their ballots. It beggars belief that would not have a significant impact on American voters, an impact not corrected when Comey sounded the "all clear" several days later.

Word is out that Comey acted due to threats from the New York FBI Field Office, the "Giuliani Brigade", that they would leak the details if he didn't announce them publicly. Rudy Giuliani went on FOX news  and practically cackled to let slip that a bombshell was coming that would turn the tide for Donald Trump. Of course, if Giuliani was either privy to these secrets or instrumental in them, he and several others may be facing felony charges. It would also support the argument that the FBI interfered in the election to throw the White House to Donald Trump.

Was the FBI, as widely suspected in the months prior to the election, in Trump's pocket?

Director Comey is also going to have to explain how he handled the Trump dossier, what he chose to reveal (nothing) and conceal (everything), and why.

Trump has already acknowledged that the Russians hacked the election to help him by damaging Clinton. If it now emerges that the FBI were corrupted to give him another leg up, his legitimacy as president is shaken to the ground.

At this point all Trump has to rely on is his credibility, his integrity. That's pretty scary.

Here's an Idea

The Disaffected Lib - Thu, 01/12/2017 - 09:56

Thank Loki I no longer work in a congested downtown core. From what I've heard it's gotten vastly worse since I took my leave. A new struggle has emerged, bicyclist versus motor vehicle - trucks, buses, cabs, cars, the lot.

Municipal governments like Vancouver's have struggled - and failed - to sort out the conflict. Already overtaxed roads are narrowed to accommodate bicycle lanes but still cyclists are being hit, sometimes killed.

They've tried deterring on street parking by commuters by upping the meters, I'm told, as high as $8 an hour. Oooh, that's steep. Yet that doesn't seem to have made cyclists much safer - or happier. Drivers aren't happy either but that probably goes without saying.

Here's an idea.  One of the big differences between cars and bicycles is weight. Motor vehicles weigh lots, bikes weigh little. Why not, then, elevated bicycle lanes running atop downtown sidewalks? A latticework of elevated cycle paths close enough so that cyclists would be able to get within two city blocks of their destination, walking their machines the final distance?

Cyclists could have unimpeded passage, probably with better views and some distance between their noses and offending tailpipes. Motor vehicles wouldn't have to dodge the odd careless cyclist or share their precious roadways. Ne'er the twain would meet.

Credibility

The Disaffected Lib - Thu, 01/12/2017 - 09:38
Steve Bell, The Guardian
Donald Trump will match his credibility against Christopher Steele's anytime. That's Trump's problem. He has none.

If there's anything that the last two years have proven, daily, it's that Donald J. Trump is a pathalogical liar. What comes out of his mouth has only the loosest connection with reality, fact, truth.

As German chancellor, Angela Merkel, put it, "It's interesting to see the thought environment he inhabits."

Now we have this other fellow, Christopher Steele, until this week a name unknown to almost all of us. Trump's antagonist. Information damaging to Trump has been credited to a dossier assembled by Mr. Steele who, by the way, has reportedly gone to ground along with his family. It's said that Steele is terrified of retaliation from Putin, a character he knows well. Perhaps he doesn't like his tea with polonium. Anyway, he left the family cat with the neighbour "for a few days" before vanishing.

What do we know of this Christopher Steele? Actually, quite a lot, and, so far, it's all blue ribbon stuff. It emerges that Steele has in abundance the qualities of which Donald Trump is utterly bereft.

Former colleagues of Steele describe him as “very credible” – a sober, cautious and meticulous professional with a formidable record.

One former Foreign Office official who has known Steele for 25 years and considers him a friend said: “The idea his work is fake or a cowboy operation is false, completely untrue. Chris is an experienced and highly regarded professional. He’s not the sort of person who will simply pass on gossip.”

The official added: “If he puts something in a report, he believes there’s sufficient credibility in it for it to be worth considering. Chris is a very straight guy. He could not have survived in the job he was in if he had been prone to flights of fancy or doing things in an ill-considered way.”

That is the way the CIA and the FBI, not to mention the British government, regarded him, too. It’s not hard to see why.

An Oxford graduate, Steele was one of the more eminent Russia specialists for the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). The Guardian understands he focused on Soviet affairs after joining the agency, and spent two years living in Moscow in the early 1990s.


...
Over a career that spanned more than 20 years Steele performed a series of roles, but always appeared to be drawn back to Russia; he was, sources say, head of MI6’s Russia desk. When the agency was plunged into panic over the poisoning of its agent Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, the then chief, Sir John Scarlett, needed a trusted senior officer to plot a way through the minefield ahead – so he turned to Steele.

It was Steele, sources say, who correctly and quickly realised Litvinenko’s death was a Russian state “hit”.


...
MI6 has been privately warning that Putin, unchallenged by the west, has grown in confidence and, of course, that the Kremlin has targeted Trump. It would be odd if it hadn’t. The consensus among British securocrats is that “Putin is a wolf … and he preys on the weakest sheep.”

What a mess. If Donald Trump really wants to drain the swamp, he should start with the one he's currently standing in, neck deep. Leave the kinky sex stuff out. Forget about it. Deal with the financial allegations, the accusations that Trump and his empire were bought and sold and are now in the pockets of Russian operatives, i.e. Vlad Putin.
We know when this is said to have begun - after Trump's 7th bankruptcy when his traditional sources of financing cut him off. Open the books from that point onward. Who financed his deals? How many of the financiers were Russian or , worse, unknown. Additionally, if Trump properties were used for money laundering, who was buying them at far above market prices? If they're just numbered companies, Trump should explain that too.
Why should Trump open his books? Because there's so much at stake in this. It's his duty to put this behind him, to restore the confidence of the American people in their president. He chose to put his credibility in the toilet and that can have consequences, especially when he's confronted by someone whose veracity and integrity is vouchsafed by so many at such high levels.




Thursday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Thu, 01/12/2017 - 07:32
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Alex Hemingway highlights the similarities between Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump in pushing infrastructure plans designed primarily to turn the promise of public services into long-term corporate profit centres:
But as I described recently in the Canadian context, these “partnerships” have proven enormously costly:
“P3s are simply less efficient – on average costing dramatically more than the public sector alternative. And it’s not hard to understand why…
Traditional publicly-funded and operated projects… don’t require paying out profits to private investors and, importantly, have lower financing costs, since government can secure much better interest rates than a private corporation.
This has all been well understood since the 1990s and documented over the years in a whole range of research on P3s.”In fact, the Ontario Auditor General recently reported that the province had lost a jaw-dropping $8 billion over a decade by building projects as P3s rather than as traditional public infrastructure projects.

To top it off, privatization tends to increase inequality by driving down wages and ramping up user fees, while eroding the capacity of our public sector. That’s why many cities across Canada and around the world have begun bringing services back in-house after failed experiments with P3s.

Now, ignoring this body of evidence, our own federal government is working from the same playbook as Donald Trump, planning a major privatization of Canadian infrastructure.
...
This should all be deeply worrying to Canadians. The push for privatization illustrates how neoliberalism is alive and well – in Trump’s America and Trudeau’s Canada. Yet the evidence is clear: selling out our public infrastructure is both unnecessary and incredibly costly. And it’s taking us in precisely the wrong direction at a time when we need a renewed public sphere to meet huge collective challenges. - Meanwhile, David Rider and Betsy Powell report on the fight against the privatization of Toronto's garbage collection. And D.C. Fraser reports that the Saskatchewan Party's first major move following from Brad Wall's attack on wages has been to threaten the jobs of over 250 custodial workers.

- While I'm still skeptical about what we can expect from Karina Gould as the minister of democratic institutions, PressProgress tracks down some past statements which would suggest she recognizes the need for a proportional electoral system.

- Finally, Andrew Potter discusses the de-institutionalism of media organizations as a means of ensuring reporting standards - while hinting that it may be possible to develop alternate ways to avoid being swamped by fake news.

Donald Trump's Other Big Russian Problem

Montreal Simon - Thu, 01/12/2017 - 07:12


It was Donald Trump's first press conference in six months, and it was all that I expected it to be and more.

There were more flags than I could count, he brought a bunch of paid staffers to act as cheerleaders.

He lied like a thief, admitted the Russians may have hacked the Democrats. But so what?

And the way he called the U.S. intelligence services "Nazis" or treated a CNN reporter when he tried to ask a question, had to be seen to be believed.
Read more »

New column day

accidentaldeliberations - Thu, 01/12/2017 - 07:05
Here, on how a change in government hasn't done anything to slow the spread of Canada's surveillance state - both in terms of intrusive new legislative proposals, and a continued determination to operate even outside the law.

For further reading...
- Again, Dave Seglins and Rachel Houlihan reported on the Cold War-era wiretapping approvals which are still being officially denied by the federal government.
- Justin Ling documented the history of "lawful access" legislation, along with the more recent effort of Ralph Goodale and the RCMP to repackage the same intrusions in a new message.
- Tonda MacCharles reported on both CSIS' admission that it too spied on journalists, and its subsequent broken promise to own up to its past surveillance - seemingly because it's still engaged in the same tactics now.
- Finally, Colin Freeze reports that CSIS has also been seeking bulk data collection mechanisms for years. Asha Tomlinson points out how many apps already collect far more data than they need for business purposes. And Sasa Petricic looks to China for a warning as to the implications for privacy and individual freedom when state power meets the centralized collection and use of data.

Unencumbered By The Thought Process

Northern Reflections - Thu, 01/12/2017 - 06:53
 
Wherever Donald Trump goes, salacious details follow. Jonathan Manthorpe doesn't believe the salacious stuff. He writes:

Intelligence reports don’t work that way. They’re usually a jigsaw puzzle of hints and scraps that require much sorting out by highly experienced analysts to form a consistent picture. Even then, the analysts can’t be sure they’ve got it right.

And there are many unbelievable elements within the documents themselves. For example, the repeated claim that Putin “fears” a Clinton presidency doesn’t ring true. It’s known that Putin despises Clinton, blaming her for inciting unrest in Russia after parliamentary elections in 2011 and in advance of his orchestrated return to the presidency in 2012. But Putin has survived as Russia’s leader since 1999, and is preparing for another six-year term in elections next year. There’s no reason to believe he truly feared Clinton posed a threat to his plans.
But that doesn't matter:

There are still good reasons to accept that Putin wanted Trump to win the U.S. presidency, and that the Kremlin’s spy agencies were put to work undermining Clinton’s campaign. The joint report published on January 6 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency is unequivocal on that point.

The conclusion that Putin preferred Trump in the White House is utterly logical. Trump has on several occasions expressed what sounds like admiration for Putin and his firm rule (most would call it ‘authoritarian’). Trump also has expressed the hope that relations between Washington and Moscow, which have been on a steady downward slide since Putin came to power, can be improved.

Putin’s big hope is that the Trump administration lifts or eases sanctions imposed on Moscow in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its occupation of large tracts of eastern Ukraine and its murder of Putin’s political opponents at home. Russia’s economy is overly dependent on oil and gas exports at the best of times. Low international prices for energy have hit Russia hard; the sanctions have made matters worse.
It's interesting that this information has been shopped around for months as opposition research for Trump's opponents -- both Republicans and Democrats. The CIA was not the source. But Trump -- with typical impulsiveness -- accused the intelligence community of leaking the material.

National Public Radio used to broadcast a show with two MIT educated auto mechanics, the Magliozzi Brothers. They joked about folks who they claimed were "unencumbered by the thought process." Regardless of whether or not the latest sound and fury is true, it's becoming more and more obvious that the president elect is one of the people they were talking about.

Image: ncse.info

The FBI, Director Comey, the New York Field Office and, Behind the Curtain, Rudy.

The Disaffected Lib - Wed, 01/11/2017 - 16:03


There may be no smoking gun yet but there's smoke, loads of smoke.

We don't know yet whether the PervertGate scandal is even real, or real enough, to leave the Great Orange Bloat mortally wounded but there's plenty of leads suggesting that Trump and others may be implicated in  wrongdoing.

Let's revisit this Giuliani moment of hubris from just before the election.



The Guardian adds this:

The FBI [after it had received the dossier] continued to refuse to comment on the issue, despite reports that it had requested and perhaps acquired a warrant for further investigation from the Foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) court. The silence was not altogether surprising. The FBI counter-intelligence division, headquartered in Washington, is extremely secretive, much more so than the New York field office, which had strong links to former prosecutor and mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was by then working for Trump. The threat of leaks from New York about Clinton emails had reportedly pushed Comey into making his October surprise announcement.

Was James Comey, the director of the FBI, pressured by Giuliani or his branch of the FBI, the New York Field Office, into the October scandal fiasco? Was Comey threatened, intimidated?
Somebody has some serious explaining to do.

A Backstory Fitting For a Le Carre Novel

The Disaffected Lib - Wed, 01/11/2017 - 10:53

The PervertGate scandal caught pretty much everybody by surprise. Pretty much everybody but not entirely. The Guardian has the backstory of the dossier on Trump and his dealings, how it came to be and how it spilled out in public yesterday.

It's fascinating reading. Oddly enough, it even involves a meeting in Halifax.

Meanwhile Trump is squealing like a snared pig. True or not, it's entertaining to see a guy who built his campaign on smears and innuendo now getting it back up his endo.

Lock him up, lock him up, lock him up!

This Won't Help - Trump - But It May End His Presidency

The Disaffected Lib - Wed, 01/11/2017 - 09:24

This won't help Donald Trump's sagging poll numbers. The PervertGate scandal that broke out yesterday contains unsubstantiated allegations of Trump being financially groomed by the Kremlin for years. The dossier claims he's been compromised - morally and financially. The FBI, it seems, is now investigating.

Others, it seems, haven't been as idle as the FBI. The Financial Times dug deep and produced an expose of Trump's links to shady Russian financiers, something that seems to have gone unnoticed prior to the election.


In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. attended a real estate conference, where he stated that , "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia."

As it turns out, that may have been an understatement. Human rights lawyer Scott Horton, whose work in the region goes back to defending Andrei Sakharov and other Soviet dissidents, has gone through a series of studies by the Financial Times to show how funds from Russian crime lords bailed Trump out after yet anther bankruptcy. The conclusions are stark.

"Among the powerful facts that DNI [Director of National Intelligence] missed were a series of very deep studies published in the [Financial Times] that examined the structure and history of several major Trump real estate projects from the last decade—the period after his seventh bankruptcy and the cancellation of all his bank lines of credit. ...

"The money to build these projects flowed almost entirely from Russian sources. In other words, after his business crashed, Trump was floated and made to appear to operate a successful business enterprise through the infusion of hundreds in millions of cash from dark Russian sources.

"He was their man."

...
Horton’s analysis comes from piecing together information in three Financial Times “deep reports.” One of these focused on Sergei Millian, the head of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce in the US at the time of Trump Jr.’s “money pouring in from Russia” claim.

Mr Millian insists his Russian American Chamber of Commerce (RACC) has nothing to do with the Russian government. He says it is funded by payments from its commercial members alone.

Most of the board members are obscure entities and nearly half of their telephone numbers went unanswered when called by the Financial Times. An FT reporter found no trace of the Chamber of Commerce at the Wall Street address listed on its website.

Why was RACC’s background filled with so many holes? The Financial Times quotes former Russian MP Konstantin Borovoi in tagging the chamber as a front for intelligence operations that dates back to Soviet times.

“The chamber of commerce institutions are the visible part of the agent network . . . Russia has spent huge amounts of money on this.”

Millian helped arrange for Trump to visit Moscow in 2007, and had other outings with Trump in the states, including a visit to horse races in Miami. Millian claims that he had the right to market Trump properties in Russia.
...
Despite documents and photos showing Trump with Millian, Trump denied their association during the campaign.
Hope Hicks, Mr Trump’s campaign spokeswoman, said Mr Trump had “met and spoke” with Mr Millian only “on one occasion almost a decade ago at a hotel opening”.

The second Financial Times article puts Trump at the middle of a money laundering scheme, in which his real estate deals were used to hide not just an infusion of capital from Russia and former Soviet states, but to launder hundreds of millions looted by oligarchs. All Trump had to do was close his eyes to the source of the money, and suddenly empty apartments were going for top dollar.

Among the dozens of companies the Almaty lawyers say the Khrapunov laundering network used were three called Soho 3310, Soho 3311 and Soho 3203. Each was a limited liability company, meaning their ownership could easily be concealed.

The companies were created in April 2013 in New York. A week later, property records show, they paid a total of $3.1m to buy the apartments that corresponded with their names in the Trump Soho, a 46-storey luxury hotel-condominium completed in 2010 in a chic corner of Manhattan.

Why would Trump’s organization make such a good means of laundering funds? Because real estate has an arbitrary value. Is that apartment worth $1 million? Two million? Why not $3 million for a buyer who really wants it? When the whole transaction is just one LLC with undisclosed ownership paying another LLC with undisclosed ownership, it’s even neater than hiding the money in an offshore account. And while some businesses require due diligence in looking at the source of funds, real estate is a bit more … flexible.
It gets worse, much worse. Read the entire article here. 

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