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Take A Pass

Northern Reflections - Sun, 01/24/2016 - 03:15

Soon, Justin Trudeau's Liberals will have to decide whether Canada will join the Trans Pacific Club. Murray Dobbin writes that recent studies indicate that the cost of membership in these so called free trade clubs is high:

By focusing exclusively on exports and abandoning any policy initiative aimed at strategic industrial development, Canada's economy has been going backwards in terms of value-added industries. According to the National Post's John Ivison, "the oil and gas sector's share of total exports has increased to 23 per cent in 2014 from 6 per cent a decade earlier, just as a manufacturing industry like the automotive sector has slipped to 14 per cent from 22 per cent." The trade deficit for 2015 was dismal. From October 2014 to October 2015 it reached $17.4 billion, the worst one-year total on record.
That's because, despite all the hype about free trade, these deals have always been -- first and foremost -- about investor protection:

Investment protection agreements are not primarily about trade -- they provide "investors" (that is, transnational corporations) with extraordinary rights that trump the sovereignty of those countries that sign them. But it only works at all if you have a capitalist class that actually takes advantage of these rights -- by taking risks, investing in innovation and engaging in aggressive overseas marketing -- such as the nine non-North American countries that are partners in the TPP. Otherwise we simply agree to become a punching bag for transnational corporations doing business here in Canada.

Rather than investing in other countries, Canadians have lost control of their own companies to foreigners:

As for foreign direct investment (FDI) positive numbers presented by "free trade" supporters are also extremely misleading. While most people assume that foreign investment means new production and jobs, in Canada it doesn't. In 1998, the Investment Review Division of Industry Canada prepared a report that looked at FDI in Canada. In 1997, it reached $21.2 billion -- the second-highest total on record. However, according to the study, fully 97.5 per cent of that total was devoted to acquisitions of Canadian companies. And 1997 was not an aberration. On average, between June 1985 and June 1997, 93.4 per cent of FDI went to acquisitions. In 2001 the figure was 96.5 per cent (Mel Hurtig, "How Much of Canada Do We Want to Sell?" Globe and Mail, 5 February 1998).
History tells us that, on balance, free trade has not been good for Canada. The simple truth is that the big countries -- most importantly, the United States -- set the rules in their favour. Some don't dispute this fact. But they insist that Canada still needs to join the club for defensive reasons.

Gus Van Harten, who teaches trade law at Osgoode Hall, disagrees. There are, he writes, seven good reasons for Canada not to sign on to the TPP:

1. The TPP would give special protections to foreign investors at significant public cost, without compelling evidence of a public benefit.

 2. When the TPP refers to "foreign investors," we should understand that to mean large multinationals and the super-wealthy.

3. The TPP is worse than existing agreements such as NAFTA.

4. Anything new and apparently better in the TPP, compared to NAFTA, is very likely lost because the TPP adds to, instead of replacing, existing trade agreements. 

 5. The TPP would make it easier for global banks to resist regulation.

6. The TPP is incompatible with the rule of law.

7. The TPP is disrespectful of domestic institutions, including the courts. 
Put simply, Mr. Trudeau and Company should take a pass on the TPP. 

Donald Trump: I Could Shoot Somebody and Still Be Popular

Montreal Simon - Sat, 01/23/2016 - 22:54

Lordy. If Donald Trump's head keeps swelling I'm afraid he is going to have to get a new comb over or caterpillar.

For there he was today shooting his mouth off, trumpeting his lead over all the other Republican candidates.

And actually claiming that he could kill someone, and STILL not lose any votes.

Read more »

Time travel: #LaLoche 2009

The Regina Mom - Sat, 01/23/2016 - 11:23

In 2009, The Sasquatch, a spin-off of the progressive, Briarpatch Magazine, published a piece the regina mom wrote about youth suicide in La Loche, Saskatchewan.  Yesterday’s tragedy in the remote northern Saskatchewan Dene community, La Loche, prompted trm to remember that story.  And then, she learned that Premier Wall’s SaskParty government and its LEAN-thinking business initiatives helped to kill programs set up by the community for the community and had to repost it here.  So much sadness here.


Youth suicide “epidemic” ravages northern Saskatchewan

By Bernadette Wagner

About 40 teens have attempted suicide in the past 18 months in the northern Saskatchewan community of La Loche. More than half have died.

“It’s an epidemic,” says Laura Petschulat, a high school teacher at La Loche Community School. “They’ve lost hope.”

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) cites suicide as the leading cause of death among First Nations people between the ages of 10 and 24.

“When young people lose hope, suicide becomes a reality,” says Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) Vice-Chief Glen Pratt. “Too many of our children experience tragedy in their lives and that injures the spirit.”

Pratt says the current system is set up to make First Nations fail. “Our traditional First Nations health system has been oppressed,” he says. “Western medicine is very tokenized toward First Nations. We need to find a way to give them strength and not label them as sick.”

“It’s tragic,” says Warren McCall, NDP critic for First Nations and Métis Affairs, referring to the high rate of suicide among Aboriginal youth. “It’s the cutting edge of what the province is doing wrong.”

Minister Responsible for First Nations and Métis Affairs June Draude declined to comment on this story. Draude is also the minister responsible for Northern Affairs.

On the Clearwater River Dene Nation just a mile outside La Loche, 70 per cent of the 1,400 band members living on the reserve are under the age of 18. In the village of La Loche, about 50 per cent of the residents are under 18. In both communities, many families live 10 or more to a house, some of which are substandard. Alcohol and drug abuse, physical and sexual violence and teen pregnancy rates are high. The welfare rate sits around 70 per cent.

“It’s hard to find positive role models in a community that’s still coping with the legacy of residential schools and colonialism,” says McCall. “The community lacks the resources for positive change. There are hugely limited resources in the north.”

Vice-Chief Pratt says there are role models in every community but sometimes kids choose the wrong ones. Young people and elders don’t always connect the way they should.

“There has got to be a revival of First Nations medicine,” he added.

Pratt says the FSIN is encouraging that revival. This past winter, it brought together 300 youth from across the province for a suicide prevention conference in Saskatoon. Survivors of suicide spoke about their “second chance at life.” Youth had opportunities to learn about the traditional ways from Elders and to share their own stories.

According to Pratt, the suicide prevention strategy in Saskatchewan lacks a co-ordinated approach. His organization is calling for a youth forum on the matter. “We need a strategy built by youth themselves and supported by partnerships with youth, First Nations elders, schools and the health system. We need to invite youth to circles,” he says.

Some suggest that northern development, including a road connecting La Loche to Fort MacLeod, Alberta, is the key to fixing the problems in northern communities, but Petschulat disagrees. “A lot of people here think that will only bring drugs and prostitution,” she says. “There are already too many problems here.”

Residents also wonder how development in the future will help the youth now.

“It’s hard for these kids to avoid gangs and drugs, alcoholism and abuse,” says one resident who asked not to be named. “They live with abuse, alcoholism, poverty and can’t escape it. Despite how bad it is, this is where the people they love live.”

NDP Health Critic Judy Junor wants to know what the Sask Party government is doing about the situation in La Loche. “What immediate programs are they putting in place to stop this cycle of hopelessness?” she asks.

Health Minister Don McMorris did not respond to requests for comment.

On World Suicide Prevention Day in September 2008, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine called for a doubling of the number of suicide prevention projects taking place in First Nations communities. One hundred and forty projects are ongoing at the present time. La Loche is not currently a site for one of those projects.

In the meantime, Petschulat says that the only hope some troubled youth have is that someone will post a video featuring images of the youth and a favourite song or two on YouTube after their death.

“Still,” says Vice-Chief Pratt, “many young people are thriving despite the injustices their people face – poverty, racism, oppression. The stronger the spirit, the stronger the nation, the stronger the youth.”

c. 2009 Bernadette Wagner

Sidebar: Holistic health & suicide prevention

A federal government publication, Acting On What We Know: Preventing Youth Suicide in First Nations, suggests that prevention programs are most successful when they bring together health, school and community.

In First Nations communities where cultural traditions have been lost, “the development of programs to transmit traditional knowledge and values, usually by respected elders, is also a crucial component of any suicide prevention program,” the report suggests.

At their recent conference on health issues, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations held sessions on Shiatsu Therapy and the Bowen Method – two methods of healing which are more holistic than western medicine. Both are based in the belief that the human body has an innate ability to heal itself.

Shiatsu is hands-on, finger-pressure therapy, which has evolved from aspects of Japanese massage traditions, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western anatomy and physiology and works to release blocked energy in the body.

The Bowen Method stimulates a sense of deep relaxation, which acts on the nervous system to create metabolic equilibrium at the cellular level. This resets the autonomic nervous system and frees the body to find its own natural balance. By embracing not only the psychological or the physical, the treatments can work on the whole individual.

First Nations medicine is similar in that it also works on the whole individual by looking at the physical, the psycho-emotional, the cultural and the spiritual. According to FSIN Vice-Chief Glen Pratt, “The spiritual is the foundation for the other three. Once we become strong in spirit . . . we become very balanced in a healthy way.”

c. 2009 Bernadette Wagner

A Quick End to the Pipeline Debate

The Disaffected Lib - Sat, 01/23/2016 - 10:10

I got a chilling reminder yesterday that the federal Liberals are probably still Conservative-Lite when the Liberal Loudmouth came out in support of the Alberta Wildrose Party's Brian Jean's attack on Quebec politicians' opposition to the Energy East pipeline passing through la Belle Province.

Liberal/Wildrose - sure, what's the difference? Maybe not all that much anymore.

LL, as usual light on facts and oh so long on opinion, endorsed Wildrose Jean's tweet in which he wrote “You can’t dump raw sewage, accept foreign tankers, benefit from equalization and then reject our pipelines.”

It was a caustic, abrasive, even toxic remark which, by sheer coincidence, also describes what that Energy East pipeline is intended to convey across Eastern Canada, diluted bitumen, i.e. "dilbit."

Dilbit is all levels of nastiness. It's chock full of abrasive particles, corrosive acids, heavy metals and carcinogens. It's not oil. There's synthetic oil in there but it's travelling with some very bad company and a lot of it.

Did I mention "petcoke"? This is another bit of nastiness and one that the traffickers of this crap don't want anybody to mention. It's sold under the table a lot like the dealer who hangs around the schoolyard.  Petcoke is granular coal but it's super high in carbon and most places won't let it be used for energy generation because it gives off so much greenhouse gas.

There's only one outfit I know that openly sells petcoke. Ready? Brace yourselves. It's Koch Carbon. Yeah - that Koch, as in The Brothers. Eventually the stuff finds its way onto a barge to Asia where, out of sight/out of mind, it's sold and burned.

So, with all this stuff making dilbit so dangerous. Did I mention Kalamazoo?  So, with all this stuff making dilbit so dangerous, isn't there a safer, cleaner even better way to achieve the same objective of getting this stuff to market?

Sure there is.

The better way is simple. Refine the bitumen in Alberta. No, not upgrading, refining. It's going to be refined at its destination anyway so let's turn that sludge into real, synthetic crude right on site, in Alberta. Let's strip away all the sludge - the abrasive sands. Let's get out the acids, heavy metals and carcinogens. And, for sure, let's get that petroleum coke out and return it safely to the deep underground where it too can do no harm.

Then when Big Oil and Alberta have done the responsible thing, when they've eliminated the most dangerous, environmentally catastrophic aspects of what they're so eager to ship, then there should be more room to talk.

A couple of years ago I discussed this at length with my veteran Tory friend. I inventoried all the problems associated with bitumen and shipping it as dilbit and, the minute I finished, he chimed in with "Why don't they just refine it right there? That's a new industry, jobs, revenue."

Yes, indeedy. Processing bitumen into synthetic, relatively safe, crude oil would be a new industry for Alberta, more jobs, more revenue (word I'm getting is that they're running below capacity in these things at the moment). It would also make transporting the synthetic crude far less costly and dangerous than moving dilbit and, refined, it would fetch a much better price.

So, how do you explain the inexplicable? That's a sad story that can only be told by admitting a few awkward facts that really shift the narrative.

One is that margins are so meagre on bitumen that extreme measures such as transporting it in its most dangerous form are necessary to protect the bottom line. Yes that subjects every jurisdiction it crosses to significant environmental risks and costs but, in the lingua franca of conventional economics, those are "off the books", externalities. That's something you've offloaded on someone else. Suckahs!!!

The second reason is that somebody would have to build the refineries capable of processing several hundreds of thousands of barrels of bitumen per day that the industry wants to get to market. Right now Big Oil is becoming gun shy of the Tar Sands. They know the very real prospect that Athabasca bitumen could become a 'stranded asset.' Running this lethal crap through a pipeline is one thing. Cleaning it up first - that's too much of a gamble.

A third reason, and I'm speculating here, is that selling the petcoke to Asia is an essential part of their bottom line.  The mere mention of petcoke to these Fossil Fuelers is like tossing a vampire out into the noonday sun. Three or four seconds and you can see the smoke coming off them.

The fourth reason is carbon emissions. Yes, Alberta has announced a genuinely ambitious carbon pricing initiative. It should. It is, hands down, the province with the biggest carbon emissions and that's poised to go nowhere but up, up, up. The added energy used in refining means even more greenhouse gas emissions leaving Alberta looking worse, worse, worse. Best to outsource those inevitable emissions overseas.

The saddest thing is that these issues never surface in the pipeline debates. You won't hear them from Trudeau or Mulcair. You won't hear them from Notley. You sure as hell won't hear them from Mona. Why won't we have this "refine in Alberta" option discussed? Because it ends the debate and everyone knows it.

The decent, responsible option is off the table. It will not be opened for discussion. What else can be expected when the Tar Sanders have them all - Liberal, New Democrat, Conservative - all lined up like so many trained seals slapping their flippers on command.

Saturday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Sat, 01/23/2016 - 08:56
Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Andrew Jackson offers his prescription for Canada's economy in the face of plunging oil prices and a sinking dollar. And Murray Dobbin argues that the Libs' handling of trade agreements reflects a fundamental economic choice between a socially-oriented economic outlook which has worked in the past, and a neoliberal one which hasn't:
Even if these agreements actally enhanced trade, international trade will almost certainly remain in the doldrums for the foreseeable future. This is the case not just because of the slowdown in growth in China but because most developed countries are struggling and following neoliberal policies of austerity and suppression of wages -- the same deadly combo Canada has experienced. It all adds up to chronic low demand and diminished world trade.

One can only hope that Trudeau and his advisers will conclude that when approaching economic growth they should focus on the things they can change and avoid those they can't. Between 75 and 80 per cent of our economy is domestic: good and services produced and consumed here. If the government actually wants to grow the Canadian economy it has to find a way out of its trade straightjacket and stimulate the domestic economy. The country that rejects the ideological extremism of neoliberalism first will have a huge advantage over the next 10 years.

But to do so requires an actual rejection of some key neoliberal policies -- including, of course, rejection of any more investment protection agreements. Additionally, as I argued in a recent column, a return to fair and robust taxation sufficient to bring the government share of the economy back to 1980 levels -- levels necessary to permanently stimulate the domestic economy. - And in a similar vein, David Lane makes the case for market socialism as an alternative to neoliberal economic assumptions.

- Maude Barlow writes that nobody wins when businesses are able to dictate public policy on all sides of a trade deal. And PressProgress points out the absurdity of reopening the CETA to slightly reduce its level of corporate control while refusing to do the same with the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

- Bruce Cheadle reports that the Harper Cons' political attacks on charities are finally being wound down, though it's not clear whether the Libs are willing to reverse the damage already done. And Richard Murphy discusses how the UK's tax authorities are inexplicably allowing Google to bargain away its tax obligations - leaving the public to pick up the tab.

- Finally, Susana Mas notes that the Cons' attempt to sell Canadian residency to plutocrats has run into a lack of interested buyers.

Gender fascism and the justice system

Dawg's Blawg - Sat, 01/23/2016 - 08:15
The creepy Gregory Alan Elliot, above, has been acquitted of criminal harassment after a three year legal proceeding. (Main deets here, including the judgement in full.) This sort of thing is what was immediately vomited up by the gender fascists.... Dr.Dawg

A Progressive Vision

Politics and its Discontents - Sat, 01/23/2016 - 08:06
Although I rarely attend a church service, this is the kind of vision I heartily approve of.

Recommend this Post

Forcing The Decision

Northern Reflections - Sat, 01/23/2016 - 06:34

There has been a lot of chatter recently about whether or not Kevin O'Leary should make a bid for the leadership of the Conservative Party. Linda McQuaig thinks it's a good idea -- because it would put inequality squarely on the Canadian political map:

What perhaps distinguishes O’Leary from Rob Ford, Stephen Harper and Tim Hudak is the sheer openness with which he advocates greed and making Canada safe for billionaires.Ironically, if O’Leary enters the federal Conservative leadership race, his candidacy could shine light on inequality and the emergence of a class of billionaires in Canada — although not likely in the way the bombastic businessman wants.
The number of billionaires in this country has risen more rapidly than the average Canadian salary:
In 1999, Canadian Business magazine reported 31 billionaires in Canada (in inflation-adjusted dollars). By 2015, only a decade and a half later, the number of billionaires here had almost tripled to 89, according to the magazine.South of the border, U.S. Democratic contender Bernie Sanders is surging in the polls as he denounces the wealth and power of billionaires. Meanwhile, in Canada, the subject of concentrated wealth and excessive corporate power is rarely mentioned in political debate.Certainly there’s no talk of taxing it or reining it in.
And that kind of talk should be taking place -- particularly as the deadline for sign the Trans Pacific Partnership looms. But domestically there is good reason to raises taxes on billionaires:
Canada could certainly use the extra revenue. The right argues that raising taxes on the very rich wouldn’t make much of a difference. But it would. Even the $3 billion extra in corporate taxes advocated by the NDP would have gone a long way toward paying for a national child-care program or reducing homelessness across the country.Just as important, higher taxes would help curb the political power of the corporate elite, which effectively holds veto power over our economic policies, undermining our democracy.The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis noted: “We can have democracy … or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of the few. We cannot have both.”
Brandeis was right. We can't have both. O'Leary could force us to make a decision. 


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