Sunday, January 31, 2016

In The Absence Of Hope

                                                  http://www.macleans.ca/

Canadians were shocked by what happened in 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 our 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.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Is This Where It All Leads?

                                              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?"



Friday, January 29, 2016

Devious And Dishonest


                                               beapatriot.wordpress.com/

Stephen Harper kept a lot of things under wraps. Now what he covered up is being uncovered. This week we learned that the Communications Security Establishment has been delving into the private lives of Canadians -- which is specifically forbidden by law. Michael Harris writes:

The real bottom line? It’s not a failure to communicate. It is a grotesque example of overreach by people permitted to operate in almost total secrecy. CSE is only supposed to monitor foreign communications for information of intelligence interest to the federal government. So under what authority had it been collecting the communications of Canadians to the tune of millions of downloads a day? We can thank Edward Snowden for even being able to ask that question.
So Canada’s privacy laws were being egregiously broken, Stephen Harper knew it — and yet never released the report documenting the illegality.

Cindy Blackstock knows what it's like to have the spooks looking over her shoulder:

No story exemplifies that better than that of Cindy Blackstock, the Canadian-born Gitxan and First Nations child welfare advocate. Despite warrantless government surveillance involving 189 federal officials “stalking” her, and more than $5 million in federal legal fees spent to derail the social worker’s case in front of the Human Rights Tribunal, this amazing citizen persevered.

This week the Human Rights Tribunal ruled the First Nations child welfare system was discriminatory:

The Conservatives tried to turn her activism into a crime, while talking about an historic reconciliation with native peoples out of the other side of their mouths. The only thing ‘historic’ was the size of the lie.

Mr. Harper told us that the long form census invaded our privacy.  He was devious and dishonest. You can bet that there will be more examples to follow.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

His Base Instincts


                                                 http://www.nydailynews.com/

Stephen Harper lost the last election because he catered to his base. He made the niqab a big issue and it backfired on him. But, behind the scenes, the same instincts that drove Harper to demonize the niqab also shaped his position on Syrian refugees. Stephanie Levitz, of the Canadian Press, reports:

Newly released government documents paint the clearest picture to date of how the Conservative government’s controversial approach to Syrian refugee resettlement played out last year.

Before last winter, the previous government had only committed to take in 1,300 Syrian refugees from the millions fleeing the civil war there and spilling into surrounding countries
Former prime minister Stephen Harper had been under intense pressure — including froinside his own cabinet — to increase that total, but only agreed to accept a further 10,000 provided that religious and ethnic minorities were prioritized.

The vast majority of Syrians are Muslims. If Harper wanted to allow only religious and ethnic minorities into Canada, it's clear that Harper's minions were cherry picking the population for Christians. His base wanted nothing to do with either Islam or Muslims, even though that policy flew in the face of United Nations policy:

The refugees the Canadian government accepts for resettlement are chosen by the UN. They do not use ethnicity or religion as a basis for determining whether someone requires resettlement to a third country.

But documents tabled in the House of Commons this week in response to a question from the NDP show how the Conservatives found a workaround.

In February 2015, visa officers in Jordan and Lebanon were instructed to track “areas of focus” for Syrian refugees, which included tracking whether someone was a member of a vulnerable ethnic or religious 
They applied that criteria to the files they were receiving from the UN.

There was a reason we lost our seat at the Security Council. At the UN, they knew that Stephen Harper catered to his base instincts.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Ghosts From The Past



"History doesn't repeat itself," Mark Twain wrote, "but it rhymes." This week, in the House of Commons and in Quebec, politicians were replaying golden oldies. Susan Delacourt writes:

Here was interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose, for example, telling reporters on Monday why people in the West were getting fired up about Energy East.

“I’m hearing from Albertans, and from people in Saskatchewan, that this is just like the (National Energy Program),” Ambrose said at the Monday news conference. “That’s what they say. That this is just like back in the 80s when the last government … put strict measures in place that deflated the Alberta and Saskatchewan and British Columbia economy, that affected the resources sector.”

And Denis Cordere, the Mayor of Montreal and a former Liberal MP, was channelling separatist ghosts from the past:

Though Coderre is a federalist, on this issue he’s on-side with Quebec separatists, who have cast the Energy East pipeline as an unwanted intrusion by the rest of Canada into the province — kind of like the 1981 Constitution.

“Independence is also being able to say no to a pipeline,” a spokesman for Parti Québecois leader Pierre-Karl Péladeau said last year about Energy East. “Like all the other bad decisions taken by the government in Ottawa.”

The reason one studies history is to avoid the mistakes of the past, not to repeat them. But, when we exorcize ghosts we may well repeat those mistakes.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

How Long?

                                            http://www.businessinsider.com/

In the wake of Justin Trudeau's trip to Davos, Gerry Caplan  assembles -- you'll excuse the pun -- a wealth of data on inequality in Canada and around the world:

The average full-time Canadian worker in 2014 was paid $48,636. The average minimum wage worker got $22,010. By contrast, the average top-100 CEOs had earned the average worker’s pay by 12:18 p.m. on Jan. 4, 2016 – the second paid day of the year – and the average minimum-wage worker’s pay by 2:07 p.m. on New Year’s Day itself.

In 2008, the top 100 CEOs in Canada made on average $7.3-million – 174 times more than the average full-time wage earner. By 2014, Canada’s top 100 CEOs were taking home on average $8.96-million, or 184 times the average worker.

What has happened in Canada has happened almost everywhere:

According to An Economy for the 1 per cent: How Privilege and Power in the Economy Drive Extreme Inequality and How This Can Be Stopped, the poorest half of the world’s population have seen their wealth drop by one trillion dollars, or 41 per cent, since 2010 while the richest 62 people have seen their wealth increase by half a trillion dollars. How can they even count it?

Five years ago, 388 people owned as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population. Now, it’s 62 people who own as much as 3.5 billion of their fellow citizens. This tiny band could fit onto a single bus, as Oxfam says, though I’m guessing super-plutocrats don’t use buses that much.

In 2015 five Canadians held the same amount of wealth as the bottom 30 per cent of Canadians, say 11 million people. The total wealth of Canada’s top five billionaires was $55-billion, the exact same amount – $55-billion – held by the bottom 30 per cent.

The wealth of those five richest Canadians has risen by $16.9-billion since 2010 – a 44-per-cent increase. Yet the bottom 10 per cent in Canada make only $2.30 more a day than they did 25 years ago. 

One wonders why Canadians haven't taken to the streets. And one wonders how long  it will be before they do take to the streets.



Monday, January 25, 2016

Tipping Over The Edge

                                                   http://www.sodahead.com/

Last week, Justin Trudeau appointed Michael Wernick Clerk of the Privy Council, replacing Harper appointee Janice Charette. The change caused a great deal of weeping and gnashing of teeth among Conservatives, who claimed the Trudeau appointment was partisan. Michael Harris writes:

That was Jason Kenney’s cue to morph into Jason Fallon and crack up the Twitter-sphere.

“The CPC government never appointed a partisan to a PCO position. We would have been (rightfully) pilloried had we done so.”

One wonders what planet he is living on:

Reality check? The public service under Harper was about as independent as Paul Calandra practising his non sequiturs in front of a mirror. Harper wanted senior civil servants to remember who appointed them and to do what they were told, full stop.

Now there is no question that Ms. Charette is intelligent, qualified, likeable and highly respected; after all, she had been deputy clerk of the Privy Council before her elevation to the top job in 2014.

But it is also public record that Ms. Charette was once Chief of Staff of then federal Conservative leader Jean Charest, that charming chameleon of Canadian politics who can’t quite decide between spots or stripes. Before that, Charette worked in the offices of senior Mulroney cabinet ministers Don Mazankowski, Michael Wilson, and Kim Campbell. Partisan? Maybe a teenie bit?

But Kenney wasn't fooling anybody:

The Twitter-sphere’s BS-o-meter twitched like a bisected snake. For two hours, the “reminders” of a decade of the Harper government’s sins and peccadilloes rained down on Banquet Boy like a monsoon. This was now not about the PCO, it was about everything. The bodies popped out of the ground like extras in a zombie flick.

The CPC was scorched for deleting all gun registry data and then backdating legislation to make it legal; blasted for falsely accusing the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of doing something “unseemly” on the illegal appointment of Mark Nadon to the court; ripped for greeting Chinese panda bears at Pearson Airport instead of native walkers who endured a two-month march through the dead of winter from Hudson Bay to Ottawa; and denounced for keeping Green Party leader Elizabeth May out of climate conferences and TV debates….

On and on it went, a deluge pouring down on a man without an ark. And it was all well deserved.

Last week, south of the border, Donald Trump claimed that he could shoot someone and remain a popular choice for president.

Insanity is generally defined as losing touch with reality. Clearly, modern conservatism has tipped over the edge and become a cult.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Take A Pass

                                                http://www.citizen.org/TPP

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. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Forcing The Decision

                                                        http://www.cbc.ca/

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. 


Friday, January 22, 2016

That Harper Stain

                                         https://twitter.com/ladymacbeth1233

The Conservatives were hypocrites when they were in government. Now they are hypocrites in opposition. Consider the journey interim leader Rona Ambrose has taken. Michael Harris writes:

Now, Rona has asked for a pre-budget meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Does she want to offer him advice on how to run budgetary deficits? Does she want to show him how to hide the bad stuff in an omnibus bill? Whatever the reason, Rona now believes in the government should consult the Opposition Leader. Where was the outreach when Rona’s bunch ruled the roost? The only thing Stephen Harper ever consulted was his navel.

Then there’s Rona’s volte face on a royal commission into missing and murdered aboriginal women. While in power, she was dead against the idea, just like Steve. Now that Steve has taken to hanging out incognito in Vegas and Fort Myers, Rona’s compassion needle is jumping like a Geiger counter at Fukushima.

During the Harper Occupation, when Ambrose was health minister, marijuana was the devil’s weed. Minister Ambrose made it a moral and “scientific” issue: no legal doobies on her watch, and no support for municipally-run marijuana dispensaries either. Otherwise, all the kids would be stoned before they got to finger-painting.

The Cons put our money where their mouths were — all $7 million of it. They spent the numbers off the credit card on an anti-marijuana-legalization drive, pimping out Health Canada in the process. It was, of course, really just an anti-Justin Trudeau campaign — and people noticed.

And those members of the caucus who are rumoured to be applying for the permanent job all have pasts that make it difficult to believe any change of heart they may confess to:

[Peter] MacKay led his previous party into oblivion through the merger with the Canadian Alliance. Progressive Conservatives like David Orchard have not forgotten how that happened.

The past has such a long reach. How does Pierre Poilievre live down the cash-for-kids gambit, or his partisan-inspired Fair Elections Act, the Harper government’s non-answer to robocalls?

How does Erin O’Toole champion the cause of veterans when his government closed down their service centers and told them they were a bunch of union dupes?
I ask you, how does Kellie Leitch run for leader after standing beside Chris Alexander in front of a sign that said, “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices”?

They are a collection of Lady Macbeths. No matter how hard they scrub, that Harper stain won't be washed clean.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Who Are They?


                                                   http://www.c2cjournal.ca/

You may not like the Conservatives, Tom Walkom writes. But they know who they are. In the last election, Canadians decided that they didn't like the New Democrats, either -- but for a different reason: the Dippers didn't know who they were:

By comparison, the New Democrats are fuzzy. Party insiders might be able to decipher the amalgam of prairie populism, left-liberalism and Swedish-style social democracy that informs the NDP.
But most voters can’t. Indeed, as New Democrat stalwart Tom Parkin wrote for the Postmedia chain this week, too many “promiscuous progressives” think the Liberals and NDP are interchangeable.

Ironically, the NDP itself is to a large extent responsible for this confusion. In an effort to attract voters, it has downplayed its historical connections to democratic socialism and its ties to unions.
Instead, it has deliberately embraced policies — such as balanced budgets and low taxes for small business — that it thought would appeal to centrists.

In their quest for power, the New Democrats sold theirs souls. Tom Mulcair didn't begin the sellout. That started under Jack Layton. Layton's sunny disposition allowed him to get away with it. But people realized what was going on when Angry Tom took over. Angry Tom was perfectly suited for opposition. Canadians just couldn't imagine him as prime minister.

The Dippers will have to take a good look at themselves. And they can only do that under another leader.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

From Peacekeeper To Arms Dealer


                                         http://www.vancouverobserver.com/

Stephen Harper claimed that his government  was all about free trade. But recent data begs the question, "What kind of trade?" Elizabeth Thompson, at ipolitics, reports:

Canada’s arms exports shot up while Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government was in office, fuelled by higher sales to countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Mexico and Austria.

Between 2006 and 2013, the last year for which numbers are available, Canada’s exports of military goods to countries outside the United States rose 89 per cent. However, that number is likely to hit a new high once figures for 2014 become available and a controversial $15 billion General Dynamics armoured vehicle sale to Saudi Arabia is added to the totals.

While the United Kingdom was the top destination outside of the United States for military equipment manufactured in Canada when the Liberals left office in 2005, that title now goes to Saudi Arabia, whose human rights record — particularly the recent beheading of a Shiite cleric — has made the armoured vehicle deal a target for opposition critics, including the Conservatives who approved of it in government.

The Middle Eastern country accounts for near a quarter of the military goods exported by Canada to countries other than the U.S. in 2013. In 2012, a year that Canada set a record for arms exports with $1 billion worth of sales, Saudi Arabia accounted for 40 per cent of military exports.

Harper used to castigate countries like Russia for  exporting arms and tyranny. But the destination of those arms sales calls into question everything Harper said about Canada standing on the side of Freedom and Justice.

Clearly, Mr. Harper stood on the side of Profit -- at any cost.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Some People Are Slow Learners. Some People Never Learn.

 
Rona Ambrose has embarked on a cross country sales tour. But what, exactly, is she selling? The product is not "new and improved." Gerry Caplan writes:

They have learned nothing. They have understood nothing. They are the Bourbons of our time, though with rather less monarchical glamour.

They are Canada’s own Conservative Party, already making clear their determination to recover what only months ago they believed might be theirs in perpetuity. So blinded are they by this sense of entitlement that they remain heedless of their own uncontrollable drive to self-destruction.

Caplan believes the evidence for this conclusion is in the party's tone deafness. Consider potential leadership hopeful Tony Clement: 

This week Mr. Clement was at it again. He is insisting the Liberals release a report that ostensibly justifies why they’re not cancelling the reprehensible $15-billion arms deal the Harper government signed with Saudi Arabia. I’m with him here, of course. But this would be the exact self-same report that Mr. Clement and his colleagues themselves refused to release publicly back in their day.

For those who enjoy hearing politicians make fools of themselves, listen to Mr. Clement’s As It Happens interview with host Carol Off. His bottom line: “I’m saying that if the judgment of the public was that we [the Harper government] weren’t transparent enough and that they elected a government that promises to be more transparent, I’m calling on the government to live up to their promises.”

And, of course, there is Ambrose herself, who has vowed to stop electoral reform dead in its tracks unless there is a referendum. And she's prepared to use the Conservative dominated Senate to do it:

More obviously bizarre is the party’s vow to use the Senate to help force a referendum on the government. Can they even be serious when they threaten this option? Have they been stuck with Matt Damon on Mars for the past couple of years? Is there a more discredited, undemocratic institution in all of Canada than our Senate? Does it have a jot or tittle of legitimacy left? Dare the Conservatives actually mobilize this misbegotten chamber to thwart the will of the elected House of Commons?

Some people are slow learners.  Some people never learn.


Monday, January 18, 2016

What Has Happened?


                                                  http://www.cnn.com/

While Barack Obama is trying to ensure that everyone who purchases a gun in the United States undergoes a background check, another kind of melodrama is playing out in Oregon. Michael Harris writes:

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was taken over by a band of armed men led by Ammon Bundy on January 2. They have occupied public buildings, destroyed government property, and seized government heavy equipment and trucks, claiming they are now the property of the people. They call themselves Citizens for Constitutional Freedom. They are about 25-strong, give or take a firearm or two.

Bundy, a former rancher, says God told him to occupy the government facility. It is not known if God had earlier advised his father, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, not to pay fees for grazing his cattle on federal land. 

Bundy and his followers see themselves as latter day Davy Crocketts and Jim Bowies making their last stand against tyranny. And Obama knows with whom and what he is dealing:

The last thing the outgoing president wants before the November presidential elections is a replay of Waco, Texas on his watch. Eighty-two members of the Branch-Davidians religious sect died there after a 51-day standoff with federal authorities back in 1993.

Ruby Ridge might also be on Obama’s mind. Back in northern Idaho in 1992, there was a deadly standoff between Randy Weaver and federal authorities at Ruby Ridge. When the shooting was over, Weaver’s son, Sammy, and wife Vicki were dead, along with Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan. A Ruby Ridge task force subsequently found serious flaws in the use of deadly force by law enforcement, and a Senate subcommittee called for reforms to prevent a repeat of the shoot-out in Idaho.

Some Republican presidential candidates are lending their tacit support to Bundy:

The protesters also enjoy the support of Republican presidential candidates, though it is usually expressed with a token criticism of the armed takeover. The bottom line is that people like Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Florida Senator Marco Rubio support the militia movement in the United States. Even presidential candidate Ben Carson has said that the “ranchers” have “legitimate grievances.”

Those of us who live north of the 49th parallel are asking, "What has happened to the United States?"


Sunday, January 17, 2016

When Artists And Public Intellectuals Sell Out


American neo-liberalism  has become a juggernaut, Chris Hedges writes, because it has successfully convinced citizens to forget their intellectual heritage:

America’s refusal to fund and sustain its intellectual and cultural heritage means it has lost touch with its past, obliterated its understanding of the present, crushed its capacity to transform itself through self-reflection and self-criticism, and descended into a deadening provincialism. Ignorance and illiteracy come with a cost. The obsequious worship of technology, hedonism and power comes with a cost. The primacy of emotion and spectacle over wisdom and rational thought comes with a cost. And we are paying the bill.

What we used to call "the arts" and a "liberal education" have been targeted as enemies of the people:

The decades-long assault on the arts, the humanities, journalism and civic literacy is largely complete. All the disciplines that once helped us interpret who we were as a people and our place in the world—history, theater, the study of foreign languages, music, journalism, philosophy, literature, religion and the arts—have been corrupted or relegated to the margins. We have surrendered judgment for prejudice. We have created a binary universe of good and evil. And our colossal capacity for violence is unleashed around the globe, as well as on city streets in poor communities, with no more discernment than that of the blinded giant Polyphemus. The marriage of ignorance and force always generates unfathomable evil, an evil that is unseen by perpetrators who mistake their own stupidity and blindness for innocence.

Artists and public intellectuals used to serve as our social consciences -- the people who championed social reform:

There was a time, a few decades ago, when the work and thought of intellectuals and artists mattered. Writers and social critics such as [C. Wright] Mills, Dwight Macdonald, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Noam Chomsky, Susan Sontag, Mary McCarthy, Ralph Nader, Howard Zinn and Jane Jacobs wrote for and spoke to a broad audience. Authors William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Flannery O’Connor, Gore Vidal, Toni Morrison, Ken Kesey, Russell Banks and Norman Mailer, along with playwrights such as Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, Lorraine Hansberry, Tennessee Williams, August Wilson, David Mamet, Ntozake Shange, Sam Shepard, Marsha Norman, Edward Albee and Tony Kushner, held up a mirror to the nation. And it was not a reflection many people wanted to see. Orson Welles and Stanley Kubrick in film, Allen Ginsberg and Amiri Baraka in poetry, Bob Dylan, Curtis Mayfield, Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith in music shook the social, cultural and political landscape.

These artists and intellectuals, who did not cater to the herd, were nationally known figures. They altered our perceptions. They were taken seriously. They sparked contentious debate, and the elites attempted, sometimes successfully, to censor their work. It is not that new independent, brilliant and creative minds are not out there; it is that nearly all of them—Tupac Shakur and Lupe Fiasco having been two exceptions—are locked out. And this has turned our artistic, cultural and intellectual terrain into a commercialized wasteland. I doubt that a young Bruce Springsteen or a young Patti Smith, or even a young Chomsky, all of whom exhibit the rare quality of never having sold out the marginalized, the working class and the poor, and who are not afraid of speaking truths about our nation that others will not utter, could today break into the corporatized music industry or the corporatized university. Sales, branding and marketing, even in academia, overpower content.  

Those who find a platform have sold out. Those who refuse to sell out have no voice. And the problem of how we dig ourselves out of the hole we find ourselves in has become immensely more difficult.



Saturday, January 16, 2016

Reorienting The Canadian Economy


                                           http://www.stgeorgesonline.com/

Last year was full of bad economic news. Jim Stanford writes:

By any definition, 2015 was a lousy year for Canada's economy: complete with a technical recession, plunging oil prices, and big stock market losses. Lurking in the statistics, however, is an unreported but encouraging good news story. There is growing evidence that the national economy is starting to pivot away from past over-reliance on the extraction and export of raw natural resources (and energy in particular). Instead, Canada's high-technology industrial base is starting to flex its muscles once again. And the first place this economic reorientation is becoming visible is in recent data on international trade.

We reaped the whirlwind of a resource dominated economy which sought to make us, once again, hewers of wood and drawers of water. But, if you look more deeply into the numbers, there is some good news:

In particular, the data indicate impressive growth over the last two years in all of the five value-added sectors (led by a 42 per cent two-year compound expansion in other transport equipment, mostly aerospace). This expansion has offset much of the decline in primary exports. By mid-2015, value-added exports surpassed primary exports as the largest component of Canada's exports. By the end of the year, those five sectors were accounting for around half of all exports, compared to just over one-third in early 2014. (Back at the turn of the century, value-added exports were worth twice the primary exports, and accounted for two-thirds of all exports.)

The trade deals which the Harper government signed were focused on the export of resources. But the future is in value added manufacturing:

We all know that energy and mining have been hammered by the global commodities collapse. But other exports are now starting to fill the gap. Statistics Canada defines five broad categories of "value-added" merchandise exports: industries that rely primarily on technology, productivity, and skilled labour, instead of just the availability of natural resources. These sectors include industrial machinery, electrical and electronic products, motor vehicles and parts, aircraft and other transportation equipment, and consumer goods. These technology-intensive products typically command premium prices on global markets (in contrast to depressed commodity prices).

Based on the most recent trade data (up to October), Canada's exports in these five sectors are growing like gangbusters: up nearly 15 per cent year-over-year, on top of impressive 12 per cent growth recorded in 2014. In just two years, therefore, Canadian value-added exports surged by a compounded 28 per cent. In contrast, exports of "primary" products (minimally processed resources, including agricultural, energy, mineral, and forestry products) declined nine per cent over the same time -- dragged down by slumping commodity prices.

In January 2014, the five value-added categories accounted for just 35 per cent of total Canadian merchandise exports. By late 2015, they accounted for half. In fact, once the year-end numbers are in, it seems certain that Canadian value-added exports will set a new annual record (about $240 billion), finally surpassing the previous peak set back in 2000.

There is a lot of bad news in the air. But opportunity is the flip side of crisis -- if our government is wise enough to reorient our economy.


Friday, January 15, 2016

Mutually Exclusive

                                                    
This week, Kevin O'Leary offered to invest a million dollars in Alberta if Rachel Notley would resign. Michael Harris writes:

In offering to give Alberta’s premier a million dollar investment in the oilpatch in return for her resignation, O’Leary declared both what he and his class stand for — and, more importantly, what they think of democracy.

What they stand for is the greedy, reflexive urge to run everything to the financial advantage of the one per cent. As for society at large — and especially for those who wonder why there’s so much month left at the end of their money — a Great White shark has more social conscience than O’Leary and his ilk.

O'Leary blames Notley for a mess Conservative blowhards, like himself, created:

In fact, all of Alberta’s fundamental problems were created over decades of PC leadership by a bunch of self-styled market messiahs who gave away most of the treasure of the tar sands to foreign corporations — while severely under-taxing them. They virtually ignored the people’s stake in their own energy resources, while fouling other, more precious public commodities, like fresh water.

Nor did these oil-junkies, who passed themselves off as solid fiscal managers, ever ask the most basic “what if” questions about their economic stewardship of non-renewables.

What if cheaper alternatives to tar sands oil could be found — like improved solar? What if new oil and gas supplies were to be discovered in the U.S. using new technologies — like fracking? What if the Saudis drove down the world price of oil to preserve their market share from the threat of plentiful but more expensive crude?

There was another alternative:

Knowing how much Kevin likes numbers, here are a few for him to chew on. Both Norway and Alberta have sovereign wealth funds from sales of their non-renewable energy resources. Norway’s fund — the largest in the world — holds over a trillion dollars. In Alberta, the fund was valued at $17.9 billion in 2014. Chump change.

The main difference between the two approaches and their staggeringly different outcomes is that Norway taxed oil companies at a rate that expressed the public ownership of the resource. Oslo also salted away 100 per cent of the government’s share of revenues from North Sea oil.

Mr. O'Leary and his ilk like to think they're the smartest guys in the room. That conclusion is based on the false premise that wealth is a sign of intelligence. Obviously, the two can be mutually exclusive.

Image: quotesgram.com

Thursday, January 14, 2016

It's All About How The Money Is Spent

                                                http://calgaryherald.com/

Oil dipped below $30 a barrel yesterday. And the loonie is headed south of 70 cents. But, Alan Freeman writes, it's not the Apocalypse:

If the federal government is forced to run deficits in the range of $20 billion (rather than the promised $10 billion) over the next few years, those deficits will be manageable — and nobody outside the Tory caucus and a few right-wing op-ed pages will complain. As Flaherty discovered in 2009, Canadians don’t care much about the size of the federal deficit when they feel their jobs and personal finances are at risk.

As for the new government’s rookie budget, Morneau — and Canadians — should try not to panic. This isn’t 2008, when we were facing the very real threat of the global financial system collapsing entirely. This is just an old-fashioned economic downturn — even if it will be quite painful for some in the short term.

Stephen Harper inherited the best debt to GDP ratio among the G7 countries. Canada still boasts the lowest debt to GDP ratio among the seven countries. The markets will not go crazy if Canada runs deficits for awhile.

The problem is how that deficit money should be spent:

 Infrastructure spending is a great idea — but unless the federal government throws money at poorly conceived make-work projects (the sort of thing I like to call “paving the snow”) it can’t possibly get $5 billion out the door in time for the summer 2016 construction season. Short-term spending — money for summer student jobs or speeding up construction projects already underway — might be a smarter form of instant stimulus. The new infrastructure program can wait a year.

One thing that could help would be for the Trudeau government to stop Conservative-mandated government austerity in its tracks — by reversing the mindless cuts to veterans services and First Nations. The government also should halt the Harper-era practice of budgeting billions of dollars in spending and purposely allowing much of the money to lapse, unspent, before returning it to the treasury.

The federal government’s lapsed spending hit $8.7 billion in 2014-15 — an underhanded way of cutting the budgets for Veterans Affairs, International Development and National Defence, for example. Reinstating that money would allow it to flow quickly into the economy.

Spending money isn't the problem. It's all about how the money should be spent.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

What Gives In North Korea?

                                               http://www.theguardian.com/

We in the West look at Kim Jong Un as a madman -- young though he be. And perhaps he is mad. But the story isn't that simple. Tom Walkom provides some context:

There is an armistice signed by North Korea and the U.S. But there is no peace treaty. When North Korea sabre-rattles, or when South Korea responds in kind, each believes it is responding rationally to the provocations of an implacable enemy.
Neither side is blameless in this. The U.S. never did agree to the political talks required by the armistice. For its part, North Korea has behaved in a manner that beggars belief — at one point randomly abducting Japanese citizens to fill its need for language instructors, at another trying to assassinate the entire South Korean cabinet.

Still, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions can be understood only in the context of this unresolved war.
To Pyongyang, the fate of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi provide a stark warning: leaders who relinquish nuclear weapons in order to placate the U.S. leave themselves open to being deposed by the U.S.

So, Walkom writes, what's going on in North Korea is all about unfinished business. After North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, the Harper government did nothing -- as was its want -- to help resolve the situation:

During the early 2000s, Canada and many other Western nations were open to North Korea. Ottawa and Pyongyang established diplomatic relations in 2001. There was talk of a North Korean embassy in Canada’s capital.
Then came Pyongyang’s 2003 decision to withdraw from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Relations chilled. In 2010, Canada announced it would severely limit contacts with the Communist regime. In 2011, Ottawa banned virtually all trade with North Korea.

We used to have a tradition of acting as an honest broker between nations which did some pretty horrible deeds. We've lost that cachet. And that is tragic.  Two of our sons sons taught English as a second language in South Korea. One of them visited the Hermit Kingdom. He says it's a pretty austere place, where much as gone amiss. 

But we make a mistake if we turn a blind eye to it.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Hard To Establish And Easy To Destroy

                                             http://www.businessinsider.com/

Alexis de Tocqueville was impressed with the new United States of America. One wonders what conclusions he would reach today. Gerry Caplan writes that American democracy has always been fragile:

Way back during the Great Depression, an American writer named Sinclair Lewis wrote a novel about the fragility of democracy in the United States and how easily the country could end up being run by a fascist dictator like Italy and Germany. Most Americans scoffed at the possibility, which is why Mr. Lewis ironically titled his book It Can’t Happen Here. In his plausible and chilling fable, it did happen. In real-life 1930s America, it came perilously close.

And, today, that democracy is threatened in the person of Donald Trump:

The crazier Mr. Trump’s statements, the more outrageous, provocative, sexist and bigoted, the more he is embraced by tens of millions of Americans. And not just loyal Republicans. It’s true, according to a recent poll, that 76 per cent of Republicans feel that the values of Islam are “incompatible with the American way of life.” More appallingly, a majority of the general public, 56 per cent, agree. A dangerous sickness has taken hold across the United States and Mr. Trump is its main beneficiary and its embodiment.

The woman who will probably be his Democratic opponent is very vulnerable:

Ms. Clinton has always been on the very edge of landing in deadly quicksand, almost deliberately tempting fate to see how much she could get away with. We can take for granted that in the election campaign she will have great quantities of mud thrown at her every single day, deserved or fabricated. While much of the media seems mesmerized by Mr. Trump’s shamelessness, many loathe Ms. Clinton with a bottomless passion. That is why she has a very good chance of being defeated. Indeed, what many of us have refused to understand is that the very shamelessness of Mr. Trump is what attracts so much support.

Lest we get too smug, Caplan reminds Canadians that they have met Mr. Trump in another guise. His name was Rob Ford:

Canadians, at least, should grasp this phenomenon. We’ve been through the identical syndrome with former Toronto mayor Rob Ford. Everything that most readers of this column hated about Mr. Ford made him a winner to countless Torontonians. So it is with Mr. Trump. It’s precisely his recklessness, his outrageousness, his bigotry, his ignorance, his indifference to reason and evidence that have made him a hero to tens of millions of Americans, enough to make his election as president perfectly plausible.

Democracy is hard to establish and easy to destroy. All it takes is one person -- and ignorant citizens.



Monday, January 11, 2016

Seeking Revenge Through The Courts


                                                    http://www.ctvnews.ca/

If you're wondering why the Liberals haven't cancelled the armoured cars deal with Saudi Arabia and why they haven't simply dismissed Stephen Harper's raft of future appointments, think the courts and think money. Michael Harris writes:

So here is Trudeau’s dilemma. His preoccupation these days seems to be avoiding costly lawsuits. He is refusing to cancel the $15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, which I am certain offends every bone in his body. There was a contract involved and cancellation would have certainly led to a major court battle.

So far, he has not moved precipitously on Harper’s conniving and reprehensible “future appointments” because that too would almost certainly lead to major lawsuits. He is hoping at least the honourable ones might step aside without having to be forced out. But let’s face it, the Harper Conservatives and honourable behaviour are not often found in the same area code.

It's all about honouring contracts and paying when you don't honour them. The same principle applies to Harper's appointments to the National Energy Board:

One of the people appointed to the NEB was Steven Kelly, a Calgary oil executive. Kelly was a former consultant on contract to Kinder Morgan. According to Mychaylo Prystupa writing in the National Observer, Kelly authored Kinder Morgan’s report to the NEB justifying the $5.4 billion Trans-Mountain pipeline expansion.

Unless Kelly voluntarily steps down from this misbegotten appointment, he will be advising the Trudeau government on the same project he was paid to promote. Thanks to Harper’s devious and unethical appointments, the NEB is now fossil-fuelled for years to come. Harper has appointed all but one of the Board’s members.

It will cost a lot of money to negate the contracts Mr. Harper signed. And, when it comes to wasting money in court, the Harper government has an unenviable reputation. The CBC reported back in April that the Conservatives spent $4.7 million losing 15 court cases.

It appears that  Mr. Harper will use the courts to even up the costs of his legal battles.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

We Shall See


                                                 http://beforeitsnews.com/

Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz pulled no punches this week. The economy is in bad shape. And it will get worse before it gets better. Tom Walkom writes:

Falling oil and commodity prices have made the overall Canadian economy unambiguously worse, [Poloz] said.
That’s not just because of job losses in the oil-producing provinces. It is also the result of the falling loonie.

The decline in the Canadian dollar associated with falling oil prices makes imports more expensive. And that in turn, he said, is costing every Canadian man, woman and child about $1,500 a year.
Poloz noted that the central bank could alleviate this by hiking interest rates so as to attract money into short-term Canadian-dollar assets (thus pushing the loonie up).

But that would choke off jobs and investment, he said, ultimately making matters worse.
The best solution, he said, is to keep interest rates and the dollar low in order to spur manufacturing and other non-energy exports.
 
This, he acknowledged, “can take years to play out.”

The public will cut Justin Trudeau some slack. But their patience is probably a lot shorter than the scenario Poloz outlined. The Liberal Party has its deficit hawks just as the Conservative Party has.

And Trudeau has promised to balance the books in three years. Will he be spooked by the economy? Or will be put economic news in perspective?

We shall see.


Saturday, January 09, 2016

We Should Think Very Carefully

                                                http://www.knowledge.info/

A lot has been written recently about electoral reform -- which option is best, and whether a not the proposed reforms should be put to a national referendum. Duff Conacher writes that electoral reform is about a lot more than holding a referendum:

The first important question is the makeup of the committee of politicians that will lead the public consultation. Normally, the Liberal majority would mean a majority of Liberals on all committees. However, no more than half the committee should be Liberal MPs in order to ensure they can’t just push through whatever system they want. (The Liberals should have no concerns about giving up their majority on the committee, given that Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc has said voting-system reform should have “broad support in Parliament.”)

The committee should also undertake a “deliberative judgment” process as the “national engagement” process the Liberals have promised, as it is the best practice for meaningful public consultation. Such a process would involve either several meetings of one large citizen assembly (as B.C. and Ontario did in the past to review their voting systems) or of many small focus groups across the country – learning about the issue, deliberating and then deciding what changes (if any) to recommend.

Most importantly, there should be a number of options for consideration:

As the Liberals’ election campaign promised, the process should cover “a wide variety of reforms” – including the right to vote none-of-the-above (as voters in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan can do by declining their ballot), and the right to file complaints and have politicians penalized by an independent watchdog for unjustifiably breaking election promises.

As well, when the deliberative judgment process is ending and people are asked what changes they support (if any), best-practice methods should be used to record their choices. These methods don’t offer take-it-or-leave-it choices (which can be easily biased) but instead let people indicate the level of their support of various options.

And Conacher adds this caveat:

That public consultation process, done properly, can produce a road map for change (if change is supported by most people) that is just as democratically legitimate as a referendum result.

Referendums seems straightforward. But as someone lived through the first Quebec referendum, I can testify that they can become  hornet's nests. Conacher warns:

The difficulty with a national referendum in a federation is the rules. What proposal should be on the ballot, or should there be multiple, detailed proposals? Should a minimum national percentage of voters be required to vote – or a minimum in each province or each region? Should politicians be allowed to campaign using public funding or should their parties pay?

If a referendum is held, given that the Constitution guarantees each province a specific percentage of seats in the House of Commons, the same rules for amending the Constitution - a majority of voters in seven out of 10 provinces representing 50 per cent of the total population - should be required to approve any proposed change.

When you're changing the way a country votes, a simple majority of fifty percent plus one won't do.  We should think very carefully about how we will go about electoral reform.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Excuses Won't Do


                                                      http://www.nola.com/

Undoing the damage Stephen Harper did will be neither easy nor quick. But make no mistake: Canadians expect Justin Trudeau to get to work and clear out the crud. Michael Harris writes:

While people voted for Justin Trudeau in large numbers because of the ‘positive’ things he promised to do, they also have a long list of things they expect him to undo. In the Westerns, it’s called ‘cleaning up Tombstone’. Trudeau is Wyatt Earp.

One of the true measures of success or failure for the new prime minister in his first year (not his first two months) will be how faithful he remains to the commitment to systematically reverse the worst of the Harper legacy. Steve was a bird who soiled the nest knee-deep. Justin must put on his rubber gloves and get scrubbing.

There's work to be done on all fronts. Consider Harper's foreign policy legacy:

His bomb-and-bombast policy in the Middle East has been an unmitigated disaster. It did nothing to bring peace to that part of the world, or to make this country safer. In fact, it put Canada on the map as a terror target.

And the arms deal he negotiated with the Saudis leaves Trudeau in a bind:

The young Trudeau government has declared that it will not cancel this dubious contract. Given Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human rights record — which includes that country’s use of Canadian military hardware in Bahrain to quell public protests against the government in 2011 — Ottawa’s stance is flatly contradictory. It’s turning Canada into a Dictator’s Little Helper in the Kingdom.

Worse still, closing Canada's embassy in Iran gives Canada no leverage in the current dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Things are looking better for veterans and for government scientists who Harper gagged. But Trudeau's real test will be reversing Harper's legislative legacy:

But far more important than any contract cancellation or program restoration is the question of what Trudeau will do with bad Harper laws — from the surveillance state overreach of Bill C-51 to punitive labour laws like Bill C-377, designed to make running a union more difficult and expensive.
As for the Fair Elections Act, it’s about as democratic as a frozen boot in the ass.

Trudeau's repair job will require perseverence and patience. But excuses won't do.


Thursday, January 07, 2016

It Will Make Sure Its Interests Are Met


                                                      http://danahey.com/

Stephane Dion announced this week that the deal to sell armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia will go ahead as scheduled -- presumably because Canada wants to be known internationally as a country that keeps its word. But Crawford Killian reminds us that the Saudis have played us for suckers for a very long time now:

Recall the Saudi oil embargo imposed on the West after the Yom Kippur War of 1973. America, Europe and Japan staggered under the soaring cost of oil and gasoline. Then we saw the Saudis spend their new wealth by investing in Western businesses and real estate — and by funding Wahhabist schools all over the Muslim world and the anti-Soviet fighters who evolved into al Qaida and now the Islamic State.

More recently, they’ve been fighting to control their world market share by driving down the price of oil, making American fracked oil too expensive to compete. The Alberta oilpatch has suffered the collateral damage from that move.

 We've played dumb because we wanted cheap oil. And we've tolerated just about anything to get it:

Internally, Saudi Arabia is not a nice place. The 2015 World Press Freedom Index ranks it #164 out of 180 nations. (Canada ranks #8; the U.S. ranks #49.) Death is the punishment for a range of crimes, from terrorism to “sorcery”. Like the Islamic State, the Saudis generally prefer beheading, with prison sentences and flogging reserved for less serious offences — like running a liberal blog. The religious police, known as Haia, solemnly warn Saudis that most practitioners of witchcraft are Africans.

You might think that such behaviour would have earned them a nice brisk regime change long before now, but the Saudis have our number and know our price. With a population of only about 31 million Saudi citizens, Saudi Arabia has the third- or fourth-largest military budget in the world (depending on whose numbers you prefer). The 2014 Saudi arms budget was $80.8 billion — over 10 per cent of GDP — and the Saudis spent much of it on hardware from Western defence corporations. The $14 billion they’re spending on Canadian armoured fighting vehicles over four years is chump change, but it’s enough to mute the criticism coming from Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion.

You might think that -- if we really believed our own rhetoric -- we'd cancel the deal. But, obviously, the military-industrial complex is alive and well. And, regardless of which party is in power, it will make sure its interests are met.


Wednesday, January 06, 2016

All Is Not Well In Dipper Land


                                            http://www.thestar.com/

We have now heard the first public call for Tom Mulcair's head. Cheri De Novo, an NDP member of the Ontario Legislature, is calling for Mulcair's resignation. Tom Walkom writes:

“He’s got to go,” says Cheri DiNovo who, as MPP for Toronto’s Parkdale-High Park, is one of only two elected New Democrats left standing in Canada’s largest city.
“He’s tainted.”

Critics like DiNovo don’t necessarily blame Mulcair for everything that went wrong in the Oct. 19 election — one that saw the NDP lose more than half its seats nationally including all eight in Toronto.
But they blame him for quite a bit.

Until now, Mulcair's critics have remained silent. But those who believed that the New Democrats should be unshakably committed to social democracy are rising in revolt:

A former United Church minister, DiNovo has never been shy about confronting the authorities in her party — including her own provincial leader, Andrea Horwath.
In December she told Star columnist Desmond Cole that Mulcair’s NDP did badly in October largely because it had lost its way — that in its effort to win power, it had abandoned any commitment to social democracy.
A few days later, she made the same points on CBC Radio.

It remains to be seen if the New Democrats under Mulcair have permanently moved to the right. But one thing is certain: all is not well in Dipper Land.



Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Keep Your Eye On Burundi


 The Rwandan Massacre haunts us to this day. Gerry Caplan writes:

In all the years I’ve been consumed with the Rwandan Genocide, I’ve rarely met a Canadian who didn’t feel some guilt about his or her failure to do something – anything – about it. Yet why should Canadians have done anything? In conventional terms, Canada had few interests in the country, and most Canadians knew next to nothing about it. So, along with the rest of the world, the government of the time decided this distant, little-known place simply wasn’t the business of Canada. This failure ended up shaming many Canadians.

But the personal relationship so many Canadians feel with Rwanda can be explained in two words: Roméo Dallaire – a Canadian lieutenant-general and the force commander of the United Nations mission to Rwanda. Unlike almost every other outsider with a significant role in Rwanda in 1994 – the French, the Catholic Church, the Belgians, U.S. President Bill Clinton – Lt.-Gen. Dallaire did all in his limited power to stop the killings. That he largely failed, admitted his failure and suffered very publicly from post-traumatic stress disorder made him a Canadian hero. Despite his best efforts, perhaps a million people of the Tutsi minority were slaughtered in 100 days without the world raising a finger.

Caplan warns that Burundi -- which borders Rwanda -- is displaying the same kind of  symptoms Rwanda did twenty years ago:


Twenty years later, the Tutsi minority in Burundi allowed a democratic election in which a Hutu became president. But he was soon assassinated by Tutsi soldiers, leading to years of terrible conflict in Burundi while helping to precipitate the genocide in Rwanda. Burundi escaped a full-blown genocide but the country descended into civil war. Eventually, after 12 years and hundreds of thousands of deaths on both sides, a peace process seemed to bring some calm to the country. Elections were held and agreements reached for the armed forces to be integrated – half-Tutsi and half-Hutu – and for national and local governments to represent both groups. These arrangements were expected to bring real stability, and some observers insist they do.

Yet there are warnings that something terrible may erupt once again in Burundi – maybe even another Rwanda. The UN and the African Union are keeping a close eye. All kinds of mediators are standing by. From conflicting interpretations, it’s hard to know how dangerous the situation really is. The provocative decision of President Pierre Nkurunziza to change the Constitution so he can serve a third term has greatly exacerbated tensions, leading to violent protests and an aborted coup. Some 280,000 Burundians have fled their homes – an astonishing number. The ruling party’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure, is frighteningly similar to the notorious Hutu Interahamwe of the Rwandan Genocide. Still, the killing to date has been relatively limited – 277 people – and not necessarily based on ethnicity. Many Hutu oppose the President, a Hutu.

There is enough brutality and ugliness to go around. But, once in awhile, we may be able to prevent more ugliness, if we read the warning signs and act.