Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Petro Goose Is Getting Cooked


The oil industry has stopped laying golden eggs. Its profits are being squeezed. That news has not been widely reported. But, Andrew Nikiforuk writes, it has been hiding in plain sight on the U.S. Energy Administration website:

Last July the government agency, which has collected mundane statistics on energy matters for decades, quietly revealed that 127 of the world's largest oil and gas companies are running out of cash.

They are now spending more than they are earning. Profits have lagged as expenditures have risen. Overburdened by debt, these firms are selling assets.

The math is simple. The 127 firms generated $568 billion in cash from their operations during 2013-2014 while their expenses totalled $677 billion. To cover the difference of $110 billion, the energy giants increased their debt load or sold off assets.

The reason for the cash squeeze is that oil is harder to find and harder to get at:

Most companies are now investing in high-cost and high-risk projects to mine difficult hydrocarbons such as bitumen or shale oil, according to Carbon Tracker. Hydraulic fracturing, the land equivalent of ocean bottom trawling, adds to the cost of oil, too.

It's not only the firms deploying fracking that are racking up high debt loads. Chinese state-owned corporations, for example, plopped down $30 billion to develop junk crude in the oilsands over the last decade.

And the oil companies are making these investments as demand for oil is flattening:

But given that oil demand in places like Europe, the United States and Japan is flattening or declining, many analysts don't think that high-carbon, high-risk projects (which all need a $75 to $95 market price for oil to break even) make much economic sense in a carbon-constrained world.

Yet our present government has put all its eggs in the bitumen basket. This is a not government known for its foresight. Mr. Harper gave his full throated support to the American invasion of Iraq. That didn't work out so well. And he also didn't see the 2008 recession around the bend.

Others, however, saw this price squeeze -- and its economic consequences -- coming long ago:

Marion King Hubbert, a Shell geologist, predicted this development decades ago and presented the cultural conundrum clearly: "During the last two centuries we have known nothing but an exponential growth culture, a culture so dependent upon the continuance of exponential growth for its stability that is incapable of reckoning with problems of non-growth."

The petro goose is getting cooked.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Ignoring The Obvious


Stephen Harper has just completed his ninth tour of the North. These tours provide the prime minister with an opportunity to serve up warm rhetoric. On this occasion, Harper saved his most heated words for Vladimir Putin. But he said nothing about the North's increasingly warm atmosphere. Jeffrey Simpson writes:

Nowhere in Canada is the impact of climate change more increasingly evident than the North. And yet, the words “climate change” are never heard from Mr. Harper in the North, as if the idea they connote are so distasteful that he cannot bring himself to utter them.

Every summer, surrounded by the evidence of Northern climate change – melting ice, widening sea lanes, disruption of traditional hunting patterns, shifting tundra, increased sun reflection, changing weather patterns – the Prime Minister spends a week in the region without ever drawing attention to the impact and challenges of climate change.

Global warming doesn't fit into the prime minister's frame:

The surrealism of a Harper visit is like that of an explorer who lands in an unknown place, takes careful note in his diary of the animals, flora, fauna, rocks and trees but misses all the human inhabitants. Mr. Harper’s refusal even to speak the words “climate change” in the North cannot be from ignorance or inadvertence; it must be by design, like everything he does.

That design is evidently to draw as little attention as possible to an issue he has found uncomfortable since even before he became Prime Minister.

As an economist, Mr. Harper believes most measures to combat the problem of global warming will be too costly. As a Conservative politician, he believes no votes are to be gained by resolute action, given that so many of his core supporters are doubters and deniers of the reality of climate change. As an Albertan, he will protect the fossil fuel industries, and in particular bitumen oil, at all costs and by all means. As an international leader, he sees some other countries talking a better game than they play, and does not wish Canada to be made the fool by doing anything dramatic.

Mr. Harper is a man who sees what he wants to see and hears what he wants to hear -- as he ignores the obvious. It is truly remarkable that a man whose chief talent is ignoring the obvious is also Prime Minister of Canada.

Friday, August 29, 2014

What Do They Do Now?


Justin Trudeau said recently that the biggest threat to global security is "the kind of violence and misunderstandings and wars that come out of resource depletion—concerns of lack of hope for generations growing up in a world that is getting smaller and seemingly less and less fair.”

Alberta MP Michelle Rempel took to her Facebook page, writing that Trudeau's statement sent her into a "blind-rage." Justin has that effect on Harperites. Paul Wells writes that there are at least a couple of reasons for that. First, as one Tory said in an email,

That is because most Tory MPs come from very practical, real-world career backgrounds in small business (Joe Preston), policing (Rick Norlock), or farming (Gerry Ritz), to name a few. Others have track records of governing (John Baird) or legislating (Jason Kenney). They have painstakingly built their reputations and livelihoods over decades of work.”

Which is curious. Trudeau the Younger holds two Bachelors degrees -- in literature and education. It's true he lacks "real world" experience. Stephen Harper also holds two degrees -- in economics. But his only "real" job  was working in the mail room for Imperial Oil. Blind is the operative word.

The second -- and the real reason -- for Conservative rage is Trudeau's name. Harperites still rage at Trudeau the Elder. Two days after Justin delivered the eulogy at his father's funeral, the future prime minister published an op-ed in The National Post:

Harper wrote that he had passed the elder Trudeau in the street a year earlier and been struck by “a tired out, little old man” who had once “provoked both the loves and hatreds of my political passion.” The loves came first for Harper, he wrote, the hatreds as he matured. He called Trudeau “a distant leader who neither understood, nor cared to understand, a group of people over whom his actions had immense impact,” a man who “flail[ed] from one pet policy objective to another,” whose government “created huge deficits, a mammoth national debt, high taxes, bloated bureaucracy, rising unemployment, record inflation, curtailed trade and declining competitiveness.”

The op-ed always said more about Harper than it did about Trudeau. In fact, with a couple of exceptions, it's a pretty good description of Harper. But, most of all, the piece revealed that Stephen Harper was -- and is -- a thoroughly nasty piece of work.

Conservatives have done everything they can to bury PierreTrudeau. Petro Canada is a now a private corporation and they have consistently refused to recognize the Charter of Rights and  Freedoms -- in both history and in legislation. Still, the Son has risen to haunt their dreams.

What do they do now?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ignorance Is Strength


The central theme of Stephen Harper's re-election campaign has emerged: Harper against the elites. In his tour of the North, Harper called Justin Trudeau an elitist. And, this week, Fred DeLorey sent out an email to conservative supporters, complaining about Heather Mallick's reference to Harper's sociopathic tendencies:

"If you ever had any doubt that the urban media elite are mobilizing against us, this ridiculous piece should end it," he wrote.
In her defence, Mallick told the Vancouver Observer:

He lacks a moral conscience when he comes to people he dislikes or distrusts. And that's the definition of a sociopath."

Harper's attack on "elites" is classic Orwellian inversion. And that's why Harper has declared war on sociologists. They reveal that, as Harper attacks elites, he serves their interests. Businesses don't need tax cuts to survive. They need customers. Crime is not just about personal responsibility. It's about social responsibility. Harper claims to support our troops, as he cuts services to veterans.

George Orwell knew how it worked. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. But, most of all, ignorance is strength. As long as voters remain ignorant, Harper can remain prime minister.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Simple Solutions Come From Simple Minds


 What is behind Stephen Harper's war on sociology? Jakeet Sing writes:

So what does Harper have against sociology? First, Harper is clearly trumpeting a standard component of neo-liberal ideology: that there are no social phenomena, only individual incidents. (This ideology traces back to Margaret Thatcher’s famous claim that “there is no such thing as society.”) Neo-liberalism paints all social problems as individual problems. The benefit of this for those who share Harper’s agenda, of course, is that if there are no social problems or solutions, then there is little need for government. Individuals are solely responsible for the problems they face.

Harper recognizes only one kind of injustice -- personal injustice. Sociologists recognize personal injustices. But they also recognize systematic injustice:

Structural injustices, on the other hand, are produced by a social structure or system. They are often hard to trace back to the actions of specific individuals, are usually not explicitly intended by anyone, and have collective, rather than isolated, victims. Structural injustices are a result of the unintended actions of many individuals participating in a social system together, usually without knowing what each other is doing. Whereas personal injustices are traced back to the harmful actions (or inactions) of individuals, structural injustices are identified by differential societal outcomes among groups. Sociologists call these “social inequalities.”
And therein lies the rub. Perhaps the key difference between personal and structural injustices is that the latter are only clearly identifiable through macro-level societal analysis — that is, sociology. This is because a) there are no clear perpetrators with whom to identify the injustice and assign responsibility; and b) while structural injustices do generate concrete harms and victims, we often only learn about the collective nature of the injustice through statistical inquiry, or by identifying social/demographic patterns over time.

Structural injustices are harder to remedy because they are immune to simple solutions. And Mr. Harper favours simple solutions.

Simple solutions are for simple minds.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Our Essential Illness


Murray Dobbins' analysis is never superficial. He looks for root causes. In his latest column, he notes that two television shows -- House of Cards and Breaking Bad -- were tremendously popular. He suspects that,  just as science fiction movies of the 1950's were about Cold War paranoia, these two shows were really about the psychopathy of 21st century capitalism. He quotes Canadian author Patricia Pearson:

The celebration of remorselessness is everywhere. Friends on Facebook have lately been reporting their scores on widely circulating psychopathy quizzes that ask users to agree or disagree with statements such as, 'I never feel remorse, shame or guilt about something I've said or done.'  'I'm 19-per-cent psychopath!' they announce. Or: 'I scored five out of 10!' As if the chilling absence of human empathy I witnessed as a crime reporter in covering trials like that of serial killer Paul Bernardo had become a fun little personality quirk.

Captialism has now become hyper-competitive. And the consequences are truly disturbing:

The stronger the imperative to compete, the weaker become family, community and friendship connections because in rampant consumer capitalism -- promoted and reinforced by television culture -- such connections are seen as irrelevant. Or worse, they are seen as weak and inefficient means, if not actual barriers, to the end of achieving more stuff. We are competing in a zero-sum game whose rules are written by those with psychopathic tendencies.

It's that psychopathology which is a the root of our democratic crisis:

It is not first-past-the-post voting systems, or the cancellation of government funding for parties, or even the role of TV advertising. It is at its core our gradual acquiescence "to things that are contrary to our individual and communal interests." This acquiescence, says [Fred] Guerin, is the "consequence of very gradual political and corporate indoctrination that consolidates power not only by inducing fear and uncertainty, but also by rewarding unbridled greed, opportunism and self-interest."

If we want to reclaim our democracy, Dobbin writes, we need to discover an old human trait -- kindness:

British writer Barbara Taylor has suggested in her essay "On Kindness" (co-authored by Adam Phillips) that the missing ingredient is just that: kindness. The authors point out that for almost all of human history, people considered themselves naturally kind. Christian philosophy called on people to "love thy neighbour as thyself." But by the 17th century, kindness was under attack by competitive individualism. Today, says Taylor, "An image of self has been created that is utterly lacking in natural generosity." This is in spite of numerous studies that show giving provides far more pleasure than taking. People involved in these studies are astonished by the results -- and simply don't trust them.

21st century capitalism sees kindness as a weakness. Certainly our prime minister regards it as such. But our prime minister -- unlike Dobbin -- doesn't believe in "committing sociology."  He believes in our essential illness.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Ditching It


Stephen Harper spent the week wandering around the North, crowd testing his stump speech for the 2015 election. Chantal Hebert writes that, before decides to take the plunge, Harper faces two challenges.

The first is Michael Chong's parliamentary reform bill -- which would put significant curbs on his power. Because Chong and former Conservative M.P. Brent Rathgeber seem to be the only Harper M.P.'s courageous enough to think for themselves, the prime minister will probably swat aside that potential problem.

But he faces a bigger problem -- a by-election for Jim Flaherty's Oshawa-Whitby seat:

For as long as the former finance minister was its MP, the riding of Whitby-Oshawa was not on anyone’s list of top seats at play and that likely would not have changed had the Conservatives succeeded in bringing Flaherty’s widow, Christine Elliott, over to the federal arena.

But Elliott, who was reelected to the Ontario legislature in the spring, has set her sights on the provincial Tory leadership and Tim Hudak’s succession.
Whitby-Oshawa landed in the Conservative column in 2006 and Flaherty increased his share of the vote to more than 50 per cent over the two subsequent elections. But it was previously in Liberal hands and the party has been on a bit of a by-election roll since Justin Trudeau became its leader.

In the recent Ontario election -- where provincial and federal ridings are congruent -- politics took a distinctly anti-Harper turn. And it's worth remembering that Flaherty's seat used to belong to former NDP leader Ed Broadbent. Voters in that riding could prove to be far more independent than Harper's caucus.

If Harper loses Oshawa-Whitby, it could serve as a bell weather for what will happen in Ontario. If Ontario turns against Harper, he will have no majority. And, if a majority is out of reach, Harper will have to ditch his stump speech -- and, perhaps, politics altogether.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

At War With Reality


In a recent speech to the Canadian Medical Association, Health Minister Rona Ambrose told her audience:

“At the end of the day, for policymakers like me, it’s the medical science and data-based evidence that must guide our decisions on health sector regulation and allocation of resources.”

It was a remarkable statement. In October, she announced that her government would no longer allow doctors to prescribe medical heroin because:

There is no evidence at this point that heroin … giving heroin to heroin addicts … is any way an effective treatment … As I said, there is no evidence that this is an effective, safe treatment … no clinical evidence … There is no clear evidence to suggest that this a safe treatment and it’s not a good idea for Health Canada to be supporting giving heroin to heroin addicts when there’s no scientific evidence that this is a safe treatment …

But Michael Spratt writes:

Actually, there’s copious evidence supporting the use of medical-grade opiates to treat addiction. The European Monitoring Centre for Drug and Drug Addiction released a 176-page study on the use of doctor-supervised medicinal heroin. Here’s what the study found:

Over the past 15 years, six RCTs have been conducted involving more than 1,500 patients, and they provide strong evidence, both individually and collectively, in support of the efficacy of treatment with fully supervised self-administered injectable heroin, when compared with oral MMT, for long-term refractory heroin-dependent individuals. These have been conducted in six countries: Switzerland (Perneger et al., 1998); the Netherlands (van den Brink et al., 2003); Spain (March et al., 2006); Germany (Haasen et al., 2007), Canada (Oviedo-Joekes et al., 2009) and England (Strang et al., 2010).

For Harperians, when facts get in the way of ideology, facts lose. This is particularly true at the Ministry of Justice:

In May the federal government cut Justice’s research budget by $1.2 million. According to an internal government report, the Justice Department’s research budget was slashed just as an internal report for the deputy minister was warning its findings “may run contrary to government direction” and have “at times left the impression that research is undermining government decisions” and is not “aligned with government or departmental priorities.”

And, so, the they continue their war on reality. And, when reality gets in the way, they create their own.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Randian


The death of Tina Fontaine has once again sparked demands for a public enquiry into the epidemic of murdered and missing aboriginal women. But, yesterday, Stephen Harper again rejected those demands:

"We should not view this as sociological phenomenon," the prime minister told a news conference Thursday. "We should view it as crime. It is crime against innocent people, and it needs to be addressed as such."

Mr. Harper has never been interested in the causes of crime. He cares only about punishment, thinking -- with his usual tunnel vision -- that  stiffer punishment will put an end to it.

But there's more to it than that. He is adamantly opposed to any and all public enquiries -- because he knows that the opposition can use an enquiry to ride to power. Just as he did. A public enquiry would inevitably find fault with public policy -- his public policy -- starting with his ditching of the Kelowna Accord.

So it in Mr. Harper's self interest to refuse to hold a public enquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women. For, despite his claim that he is a Conservative, the truth is that Mr. Harper is a Randian. Both he and the dour Russian emigré stand four square for the notion that selfishness is a virtue.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Refusing To Follow The American Model


From the start, the F-35 was a testosterone fuelled dream. Jonathan Manthorpe writes:

The F-35 concept was born of fantasy fertilized by hubris. The idea was to design and build a single plane that could perform a multitude of air warfare tasks, and which also would incorporate all the technological wizardry of stealth, sensor fusion and manoeuvrability. The F-35 was intended to be an aerial combat fighter, equally at home on land or aircraft carrier bases, also capable of performing the very different role of close air support for ground troops. And there are to be three versions: one for the Navy, a conventional Air Force model and a short takeoff and landing version for the Marine Corps.

To cover the costs, the United States assumed that its NATO partners would buy into the dream. However, things have not worked out that way. Canada has put a hold on its purchase of the jet. So have a host of other NATO countries:

While Canada has put the purchase of the F-35s on hold pending reports from a National Fighter Procurement Secretariat, Italy and the Netherlands already have announced sharp cutbacks in the number of the planes they plan to buy. Denmark is holding a competition that will test the F-35 against other fighters, such as Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet. Canada may well take the same route.

The U.K., Norway, Turkey and Israel also are tempering their initial enthusiasm for the F-35 project and have cut back on the numbers they planned to order a decade ago.

And the cost of the jets keeps rising:

When the programme was started in 2001, the Pentagon signed on for 2,852 planes at a cost of $233 billion. But as design problems mounted and costly delays continued, the Pentagon reduced its order by 409 fighters. Just to hold the lifetime cost of the programme to the gargantuan $1.5 trillion now forecast, 3,000 of the F-35s will have to be built and sold.

The United States may fly the F-35. But the country's deficit will rise. And NATO countries do not wish to follow the American model.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

One Turn Deserves Another


The time has come, Lawrence Martin writes, for Michael Sona to name names. If he doesn't, the Harper party will get away with what was clearly an organized attempt to steal an election. In fact, what happened in the robocall scandal was standard Harperian practice. Consider the record:

We have a party that got caught staging a deceptive phone campaign against Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, an act that the Conservative Speaker of the Commons called “reprehensible.” We have a party that first denied, then admitted involvement in a deceptive robocalls campaign involving a Saskatchewan riding redistribution dispute. A Conservative MP pointed the finger at senior party organizer Jenni Byrne, now the Prime Minister’s deputy chief of staff. We have a party that pleaded guilty in 2011 to Elections Act charges relating to exceeding spending limits in the so-called “in and out” affair from the 2006 campaign.

Perhaps, facing five years in jail, Sona will pull the plug. It's clear that Elections Canada -- under Mr. Harper's appointee, Yves Coté -- has no intention of reopening his investigation into the 2011 election. That's exactly what the Conservatives want.

It was those same Conservatives who turned on Sona. One turn deserves another.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Acknowledging the Irrational

At the centre of classical economics is the notion that man is a rational decision maker. Thus, economics is all about creating incentives. If you lower taxes, people will have more money to spend and the economy will become a virtuous cycle. But the "dead money" sitting atop the Canadian economy gives the lie to the notion that man always makes rational decisions.

Worse still, the only explanation classical economics has for unemployment is that it is a moral failure. The unemployed simply have not taken advantage of economic incentives. Shipping jobs overseas, or bringing in temporary foreign workers to replace the already employed has nothing to do with unemployment.

The same model of man as rational decision maker applies to Canadian Conservative drug policy. Create stiffer penalties for drug use, and it will decline. It's called the War on Drugs and it's been going on in the United States for forty years and filling American prisons beyond capacity.

The problem with Conservative drug policy is the same as its problem with economic policy. Man does not always make rational decisions. Devon Black writes:

The philosophy behind this approach to drug policy blends overly-simplistic thinking with moral judgments and a fundamental misunderstanding of addiction. In theory, harsh penalties for drug trafficking and drug use should have a deterrent effect. Alongside tough drug penalties come government campaigns which teach that drugs are a choice – one it’s possible to “just say no” to. And so any rational person, understanding the consequences of drug use, would obviously choose to stay away.

The fatal flaw, of course, is the assumption that everyone will respond to the same incentives. The whole nature of addiction is that addicts keep seeking out the focus of their craving, no matter the consequences. It’s not a matter of choice; addicts can no more say no to drugs than I can say no to the flu. Trying to change the behaviour of a person suffering from addiction by creating more consequences is an exercise in futility.

Compounding the problem is the fact that, for many heavy drug users, drug use does have a twisted rationality. There’s a strong correlation between experiencing trauma and developing problems with substance abuse. For teens with post-traumatic stress disorder, the problem is particularly acute: Up to 59 per cent of them go on to develop problems with substance abuse. When there’s no adequate mental health care available, it’s little wonder that many people coping with the after-effects of trauma turn to illegal drugs to manage their pain.

And so, while throwing drug users in jail might seem like a solution on the surface, it only compounds the problem. Eighty per cent of offenders have substance abuse or addiction problems. Prisons have tried to address this – primarily by introducing methadone replacement therapy for inmates with opioid addictions.

We have a self-fulfilling prophecy. The War on Drugs is one of the causes of the problem it seeks to eradicate. The fatal flaw in Conservative ideology is its failure to acknowledge the irrational. And the solutions it proposes become, by extension, irrational.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bad Moon Rising


You know the Conservatives are in trouble when Ian MacDonald says they are. No Liberal or Dipper, MacDonald got into politics as a spokesman for Brian Mulroney and as an ardent supporter of his high school classmate, Jim Flaherty. But now he is worried. The latest EKOS poll is bad news all around:

This isn’t the one bad poll in 20. And it wasn’t a one-night stand.

The Liberals now lead the Conservatives by 38.7 to 25.6 per cent, with the NDP at 23.4 per cent. In effect, the Liberals have doubled their vote from the 18.9 per cent they received in the 2011 election, while the Conservatives have plummeted from 39.6 per cent to the mid-20s. The Liberal brand is back.
The Liberals lead in every province except the Tory heartland of Alberta and Saskatchewan. And where it matters most — British Columbia and Ontario — the Liberals lead not by a little but by a lot: 37 to 22 in B.C., where the NDP is actually in second place at 26 per cent, and 46 to 28 in Ontario. Those are blow-out numbers, pointing to a Liberal sweep of the lower B.C. mainland and the Greater Toronto Area.

In Quebec, the NDP lead with 37 per cent, with the Liberals at 30 per cent, the Bloc at 16 per cent and the Conservatives at a measly 12 per cent. This means the Liberals would re-gain most of the Montreal and Outaouais regions, with the NDP retaining most of their seats in the rest of the province. The Bloc would disappear and the Conservatives would be shut out, except perhaps for a couple of seats in the 418 Quebec City region.

In the Atlantic zone, the Liberals lead the Conservatives 53 to 29, with the NDP at 21 per cent. What the Conservatives are getting Down East is pushback from voters on employment insurance reforms, much as the Liberals did in the 1997 election. These numbers point to the Liberals winning all but a handful of the 32 seats in the region.

And it's not just the regions that are turning against the Harperites. Demographics show that the political winds are changing:

Not only do the Liberals lead the Conservatives among men (40-28, with the NDP at 20 per cent), the Tories fall to third place among women (Libs 37, Dippers 27, Cons 23). And the Liberals lead in every age demo — even in the 45-64 and 65+ segments, traditional Tory strongholds.

So far, the Harper Party seems not to be concerned. They apparently believe that marijuana will be the wedge issue that brings Justin Trudeau down. But when party loyalists like MacDonald start to worry publicly, you know there is a bad moon rising.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

They Call That Stupid

Droves of baby boomers -- myself included -- have lamented the political disengagement of the young. But, in the light of Michael Sona's conviction for election fraud last week, it strikes me that perhaps the young are on to something. Chantal Hebert writes:

Electoral politics is a blood sport and an intoxicating addictive one at that, especially in an era of permanent campaigning.

To work in federal politics these days is to breathe in partisan helium 24/7. Short-term strategic gaming matters more than long-term policy outcomes and consensus has become a poor cousin to finding a wedge to pry voters off a rival.

In public, that translates into a culture of mutual disrespect that is on exhibit daily in question period.
In private, it leads to an adversarial climate that makes it easier to rationalize making the most of the grey zone between what is ethical and what is legal.

Justice Gary Hearn wrote that Sona's arrogance -- and his willingness to talk about it -- got him into trouble. Arrogance is not confined to the young. But it's clear that Sona's arrogant elders got away scot free.

Perhaps the young have figured out that, when they get involved in politics, they will be used by their elders and then abandoned when they become a liability.

Smart folks -- young or old -- call that stupid.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Very Dark Place


Gerry Caplan has a sober piece in this morning's Globe and Mail. Its thesis is bleak: "No matter what leaders do, there won't be peace in the Middle East." There will be no two state solution, he writes, because both sides are not prepared to give what would be required for peace:

Whatever outsiders think, in practical terms none of the Middle East disputants are in a position to offer the others anything like an acceptable peace deal. Or, to put it the other way, no one is likely to buy a deal the other offers. If Israel offers a certain set of proposals, both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, not to mention even more radical Palestinian groups, are certain to find it too pro-Israel. And from their perspective they’d be right. For given the politics of Israel, no Israeli government, now or ever, would consider offering anything that wasn’t in the best interests of Israel.

And, so, the region is in perpetual conflict:

The present confrontation, seen in proper perspective, is just another in the endless violent conflicts between Israelis and Arabs that began when Israel was first created as a nation 66 years ago and has never stopped: 1947-49, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, 1991, 2006, 2008-9, 2012, 2014. Why should they stop now – or ever?

Over all that time, positions have hardened and hate has exploded:

It was equally predictable that over time Israeli-Palestinian attitudes towards each other would steadily harden. Instead of making good neighbours, virtually all circumstances conspired to turn the two peoples into irreconcilable enemies. Some time back, renowned Israeli Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer told me that he believed about 25 per cent of each people held genocidal attitudes towards the other. It seems a safe guess that these shocking figures are now considerably higher on both sides. When you dehumanize the other, the potential for evil knows few boundaries.

If Caplan is right, we are in a very dark place.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Not Just One Bad Apple


So Michael Sona is guilty of election fraud, even though the crown prosecutor and the judge both agree that he did not act alone. The Harperites will continue to insist that Sona was just one bad apple. But that meme has become the punchline of a national joke. Michael Den Tandt writes:

There was the “in and out” affair in 2007, related to spending-limit violations in the 2006 election, which the Conservatives minimized for years but to which the party ultimately pleaded guilty.

In-and-out amounted to a series of money transfers in which central campaign ad dollars were routed through accounts belonging to dozens of MP candidates. Elections Canada’s investigation, Mr. McGregor and Mr. Maher later reported, cost taxpayers more than $2-million.

There was former intergovernmental affairs minister Peter Penashue, who was found to have overspent and accepted illegal contributions in his winning 2011 campaign in Labrador. Mr. Penashue eventually resigned his seat, sought re-election, and lost in a 2013 byelection to Liberal Yvonne Jones.

There’s Dean Del Mastro, formerly Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s parliamentary secretary and a key player for the Conservatives on the Commons floor, now an independent on trial for exceeding spending and donation limits, and filing a false return. Mr. Del Mastro has pleaded not guilty. Closing arguments are expected in September.

The Harper Party rode into Ottawa full of sound and fury, outraged by the Adscam affair. However, all this putrefaction makes Adscam look like small potatoes.

Mr. McGregor and Mr. Mahar -- rest assured -- will keep digging. And Senator Duffy will be hell bent on revenge. There are all kinds of rotten apples in the Tory silo.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Hot Air And Bad Law


Steve Sullivan writes that Stephen Harper's obsession with PR makes for bad laws. Consider the recently passed "Increasing Offenders Accountability For Victims Act:"

The latter bill, which came into effect in October 2013, requires judges to impose $100 or $200 surcharges on convicted offenders. Prior to the law, judges had the discretion to waive the surcharge for offenders who could not pay. Across the country, provincial governments rely on surcharges to fund services for victims of crime, such as sexual assault centres.

Recently, Ontario Court Justice David Paciocco convicted Shaun Michael of nine offences, including theft, assault and breaching probation. Michael is a drug-addicted alcoholic Inuit man; he had to steal food before he was 10 and started abusing alcohol when he was 13. He lives on $250 a month.

Paciocco could have imposed $900 in victim surcharges but he noted that each of the surcharges represents 40 per cent of Michael’s monthly living allowance. Paciocco found the mandatory surcharge law to be “cruel and unusual” punishment and ruled it unconstitutional. He will no longer impose the surcharge in any cases, even when an offender can pay. Although the ruling is not binding, other judges are following suit; an offender who volunteered to pay the surcharge was told he did not have to.

By removing judicial discretion in the application of the law, Mr. Harper is crippling services for the very people he says he is working for. As is the case with so many other files, the prime minister's take on criminal justice makes things worse.

Hot air makes for bad law.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How Many Canadians Still Read?


Mark Kennedy reports that one of the pillars of Stephen Harper's 2015 election campaign will be an all out assault on what he and his minions call "media elites." Harper stands everything on its head and creates enemies wherever he can. During his last election campaign, it was those very media elites who overwhelmingly endorsed him.

However, several of his critics have sharpened their pens. And they intend to take on the prime minister. There is, of course, Justin Trudeau's forthcoming autobiography. But, Lawrence Martin writes, there are other books in the pipeline:

There’s one from journalist Michael Harris who, with a twist on Shakespeare, has described Mr. Harper as the “Merchant of Venom.” His book is entitled Party of One. The theme, as described in the book’s promo literature, is that Mr. Harper is “a profoundly anti-democratic figure” who has “made war on every independent source of information in Canada.”

And the theme of shutting down sources of information will be the subject of another book:

This will be followed by an offering from Mark Bourrie, another member of Mr. Harper’s beloved Ottawa Press Gallery. It’s called Kill the Messengers: Stephen Harper’s Assault on Your Right to Know. Mr. Bourrie provides chapter and verse on how the Harper machine has tried to shut down the free flow of information through intimidation and smear campaigns. He examines the range of anti-democratic measures taken to override the checks and balances in the system. If Mr. Harper wins again, writes Mr. Bourrie, “he’ll have created a new undemocratic way of ruling Canada.”

So the PMO will be busy dealing with journalists who are now armed with evidence -- mountains of it. Expect Harper's Ministry of Truth to deny everything. The tactic has worked before -- all the way back to Chuck Cadman.

The really important question is: How many Canadians still read?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Time To Hit The Road?


Conservatives -- at least those  who are capable of sustained thought -- are beginning to wonder if now is the time for Stephen Harper to exit, stage right. The immediate cause of their inquietude is the latest EKOS poll. Tasha Kheiriddin writes:

EKOS finds that the Liberals continue to ride high at 38.7 per cent overall support, while the Tories and the NDP jostle for second place at 25.6 and 23.4 per cent, respectively. The Greens take 7.1 per cent, while the Bloc has 3.7 per cent, representing an anemic 16.4 per cent of the Quebec vote.

And, though they keep trying to pull the same stunt that worked on Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, it isn't working against Justin Trudeau:

So while its ‘Reefer Madness’ campaign pulls in cash from the Conservative base, the Conservative party itself still can’t pull in votes from its rivals. As with other attacks on Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, the campaign succeeds in hitting everything apart from its target: Criticizing Trudeau for supporting marijuana legalization appears to be hardening the base, not growing it. And that is a pattern the Tories will have to reverse before the next election if they want a fourth term in office.

The Conservative strategy from the beginning has been to energize its base and pull in votes from key ridings across the country. Now those key ridings are unimpressed. EKOS reports that the Harperites are behind in eight of the ten provinces.

And, so, the Conservatives face an existential crisis:

The biggest unanswered question, however, is whether the Tories can win with the leader they’ve got. The Conservative base certainly seems to think so: eighty-six per cent would like Prime Minister Stephen Harper to remain as leader, while only 9 per cent want him to quit and 5 per cent don’t know or didn’t answer. These levels dovetail with Harper’s approval rating among Conservative supporters, which sits at 89 per cent in favour, 8 per cent against and 4 per cent undecided or unresponsive.

Among supporters of other parties, it’s an entirely different story. Overwhelmingly, they disapprove of Harper’s performance; 86 per cent of Liberals, 90 per cent of New Democrats, 81 per cent of Greens and 88 per cent of Bloquistes think he is doing a bad job. But when it comes to whether he should resign, the numbers are lower. Sixty-three per cent of Liberals, 71 per cent of New Democrats and Greens, and 67 per cent of Bloquistes think he should quit.

Still, when your approach to governing is "my way or the highway," inevitably, there will come a moment when the voters tell you to hit the road.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Oil And Democracy


Oil and Democracy -- like oil and water -- don't mix. And, when oil is allowed to call the tune, democracy suffocates. That, Andrew Nikiforuk writes, is the lesson behind premier Allison Redford's resignation:

Every petrostate, including Texas and Russia, suffers from an exclusive form of narcissism: oil exporters think they are better than everyone else because they are sitting on piles of the world's most lucrative commodity. In turn, that feeds an arrogant culture of entitlement.

It's really not that hard to understand:

When 30 per cent of a government's revenue stream comes from the activities of the world's most entitled industry (the salaries for oil and gas workers are the highest in the world), citizens pretty much turn into apathetic recipients of petroleum welfare, because they don't pay much in taxes.

When oil companies pay for 30 per cent of the province's roads and schools, more than 60 per cent of the population ultimately stops voting. When citizens become subjects, they don't worry about representation. But, like Redford, they quickly learn how to spell "entitlement."

And what has happened in Alberta has happened elsewhere:

Alberta's elites and media, a petroleum culture not prone to introspection, haven't read Stanford political scientist Terry Lynn Karl, because they haven't reached the bottom yet.

But no one understands petrostates better than Karl. For 30 years, she has documented how petroleum revenues poison democracies (Alberta), strengthen autocracies (Russia), and spread the contamination of entitlement in public life.

"Oil states can buy political consensus," wrote Karl in a 2007 essay, because petroleum revenue "facilitates the co-optation of potential opponents or dissident voices."

But that's not all. "With basic needs met by an often generous welfare state, with the absence of taxation, and with little more than demands for quiescence and loyalty in return, populations tend to be politically inactive, relatively obedient and loyal and levels of protest remain low -- at least as long as the oil state can deliver."

It all sounds familiar. And it echoes the career of another Alberta politician, who claims that Calgary is his hometown -- even though he was born and brought up in Toronto.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Princes Of Hot Air


The Harper government has been slashing government spending. But, if you take Deep Throat's advice, and follow the money -- to where it's spent and not spent --  Gregory Thomas writes that you get a real portrait of who these people are:

Despite the Harper government’s avowed objective to reduce the federal public service by 19,000 positions, the ranks of communications staff have grown by 163 since the Conservatives took office, while costs have risen by $48 million.

The combined payroll of federal spin doctors rivals the $329-million payroll of the House of Commons, the beating heart of our democracy, the institution we rely upon to keep hundreds of thousands of federal officials accountable.

But the avowed objective of the communications staff is to make sure that the government is not held accountable:

Now, $263 million might be a reasonable price to pay — it might even be a bargain — if the federal government actually provided Canadians with public information in a timely manner.

But anybody who has actually tried to phone or email someone in the federal government in order to get an answer to a question knows that this is not the case.

The days when federal government officials would return the telephone calls of Canadians, or even better, answer their phones, are rapidly fading memories.
Canadians are seeing a quarter-billion dollars of their money used against them: not to provide them with information, but rather to delay, conceal and spin the information to enhance the image of the party in power.

We can't afford to keep Veterans Affairs offices open. But we can afford propaganda from the Ministry of Truth. The title of this show is The Princes (and Princesses) of Hot Air.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Is "Trickle Up" Back?

On Thursday, Paul Krugman wrote that evidence is mounting to support the notion that inequality can sabotage a market economy. There will always be some inequality in market economies. But gross inequality is a drag on economic growth:

It’s true that market economies need a certain amount of inequality to function. But American inequality has become so extreme that it’s inflicting a lot of economic damage. And this, in turn, implies that redistribution — that is, taxing the rich and helping the poor — may well raise, not lower, the economy’s growth rate.

Neo-Conservatives, of course, believe redistribution is immoral. However:

Earlier this week, the new view about inequality and growth got a boost from Standard & Poor’s, the rating agency, which put out a report supporting the view that high inequality is a drag on growth. The agency was summarizing other people’s work, not doing research of its own, and you don’t need to take its judgment as gospel (remember its ludicrous downgrade of United States debt). What S.& P.’s imprimatur shows, however, is just how mainstream the new view of inequality has become. There is, at this point, no reason to believe that comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted is good for growth, and good reason to believe the opposite.

And the IMF has reached the same conclusion:

Specifically, if you look systematically at the international evidence on inequality, redistribution, and growth — which is what researchers at the I.M.F. did — you find that lower levels of inequality are associated with faster, not slower, growth. Furthermore, income redistribution at the levels typical of advanced countries (with the United States doing much less than average) is “robustly associated with higher and more durable growth.” That is, there’s no evidence that making the rich richer enriches the nation as a whole, but there’s strong evidence of benefits from making the poor less poor.

Krugman cites Food Stamps -- the bugbear of conservatives -- as an example of redistribution that works:

Consider, for example, what we know about food stamps, perennially targeted by conservatives who claim that they reduce the incentive to work. The historical evidence does indeed suggest that making food stamps available somewhat reduces work effort, especially by single mothers. But it also suggests that Americans who had access to food stamps when they were children grew up to be healthier and more productive than those who didn’t, which means that they made a bigger economic contribution. The purpose of the food stamp program was to reduce misery, but it’s a good guess that the program was also good for American economic growth.

And, if Krugman seeks more evidence that inequality is a drag on the economy, he need look no further than Canada. Since Stephen Harper gained a majority of seats in the House of Commons in 2011, he has taken a knife to government spending. This week, Canadian employment numbers were released. In the month of July, the Canadian economy produced 200 jobs -- that's not a misprint, those are two zeroes.

Perhaps "trickle up" is making a come back.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Friday, August 08, 2014

It's Not Working


Justin Trudeau's autobiography will soon hit the bookstores. It's probably been ghost written and -- because it's appearing now -- it's a blatantly political document. Predictably, Conservatives are not impressed. Tasha Kheiriddin writes:

Writing an autobiography at a young age is fine if your experiences give you something valuable to teach others. Malala Yousafzai is 16, but she survived getting shot in the head while campaigning for girls’ education rights in Afghanistan. Anne Frank was only 13 when she went into hiding from the Nazis during the Second World War.

The problem, she writes, is that Trudeau hasn't done anything:

He owes his current position in federal politics to the cachet of his family name; those who pretend otherwise are kidding themselves. While Trudeau has matured as a politician over the past few years, his resume remains woefully thin for someone aspiring to the highest office in the country. Had he not been the son of the most revered Liberal politician of the past fifty years, he wouldn’t have gotten the chance.

To become a true leader — his own man — Trudeau needs to transcend his past, not venerate it. Which is why his book’s title, and its subject matter, are so perplexing.

I'm old enough to remember when the same complaint was made about Justin's father. And, even though I'm not old enough to remember, the same complaint was made about Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  I'm not sure what kind of leader the younger Trudeau is. Truth be told, I'm unhappy about his support for KeystoneXL and his one sided take on what has been happening in Gaza.

But Kheiriddin's knock against Trudeau is getting stale. And it's not working.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

The Nut Gallery


They tried, "He's in over his head." That didn't work. They tried,"He'll sell pot to your kids." That went up in smoke. Now they're floating the message that Justin Trudeau "consorts with religious extremists." According to the Huffington Post:

Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, who recently circulated flyers making questionable claims about Trudeau's position on pot legalization, took to Twitter Wednesday to launch a different kind of attack on the Liberal leader.

Fantino's jab about religious extremists is likely related to a story from Sun News that the Liberal leader visited the al-Sunnah al-Nabawiah mosque in his Quebec riding. According to the network, "American government sources" say the mosque "has been an al-Qaeda recruitment centre."

In what was obviously a coordinated attack, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney chimed in:

Steven Blaney also took to social media on Wednesday and, in posts that were retweeted by the official Conservative Party account, criticized Trudeau for associating with a group that allegedly "radicalizes" Canadians.

Even National Post columnist Jonathan Kay is having a hard time buying this barrage. Sun News, he writes, has gone over the line:

But am I the only observer who is unsettled by Sun News’ casual suggestion that visiting congregants at a mosque is morally akin to visiting convicted criminals in a prison? Or the network’s strategy of scaremongering confused viewers about the number of Muslims in this country? Or libelling a Trudeau advisor as some sort of al-Qaeda cheerleader because his geopolitical views happen to lie to the left of John Baird and Stephen Harper?

Fantino and Blaney have happily joined Sun in crossing that line, forgetting that:

Justin Trudeau’s riding of Papineau is one of the poorest and most diverse in Canada. It is full of immigrants who are wrestling with the process of integrating into Canadian life. What sort of MP would we want for such a riding — one who brags to Sun News viewers about how he wouldn’t set foot within 50 feet of this or that house of prayer, lest he be tainted by association with the teeming Muslim hordes who pray therein … or someone who actually seeks to engage with these people and draw them into the political mainstream?

Fantino, Blaney and Sun -- the government's unofficial  mouthpiece -- have confirmed once again that the Harper government truly deserves the sobriquet, "The Nut Gallery."

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Caught In A Rut Of His Own Making


Stephen Harper claims that his is a steady hand at the economic tiller. But now even the conservative C.D. Howe Institute disputes that claim. Carol Goar writes:

But as the government heads into the last year of its mandate, even the prime minister’s ideological allies are beginning to question his judgment. The latest to call for a course change is the C.D. Howe Institute, a fiscally conservative think-tank supported largely by businesses.
In a study released last week, the 56-year-old research organization called on federal policy-makers to recognize Canada is experiencing a slow-growth recovery that requires different tools than the fiscal and monetary standbys of the past. “A significant rebound in Canadian private demand is unlikely in the near future,” says author Christopher Ragan, a professor of economics at McGill University. “Policy-makers should recognize the challenges that emanate from a slow-growth recovery: longer unemployment spells, more part-time employment and increased incidence of long-term unemployment.”

The report's author is Christopher Ragan, an economics professor at McGill. But Ragan is more than an academic. He has also worked for the federal finance department. And he simply points out that Harper's insistence on austerity isn't working:

His depiction of the current state of affairs — presented in language a non-economist can easily grasp — matches what Canadians see around them: a dearth of jobs, a precariously high level of household debt, a hyper-charged housing market, a risk-averse business climate and sub-par growth.
None of these trends is likely to change in the short term, Ragan argues. Cutting interest rates won’t juice growth; they’re already as low as they can go without harming the economy. And stimulative spending is out; Harper refuses to carry a deficit into the next election.

Ragan favours balanced budgets -- but not now. And he offers some suggestions on how to fix the economy:

  • A new income support program for unemployed workers. Unlike employment insurance, which covers less than half of Canada’s jobless workers, the temporary unemployment assistance that Ragan recommends would be a loan repayable, contingent on income, when the individual found work.

  • An all-out effort to eliminate barriers to labour mobility. On Ottawa’s part, the primary impediment is EI, which discourages individuals in high unemployment regions from moving. On the provinces’ part, it is incompatible certification procedures for skilled trades and professions.

  • A renewed effort to improve job training. Ottawa’s last attempt, the Canada Job Grant, was undercut by provincial hostility, wildly exaggerated estimates of skill shortages and a massive influx of temporary foreign workers. 

  • None of these suggestions are radical measures. They're the kind of things C.D. Howe would recommend. But what they do suggest is that the so called "steady hand" may be a stupid hand -- caught in a rut of its own making.

    Tuesday, August 05, 2014

    One Hundred Years Later


    Yesterday, the prime minister attended a ceremony to mark Canada's entry into the First World War. The standard interpretation of Canada's part in that war is that we blindly followed Britain to war. But we emerged from it a mature, independent nation. Andrew Cohen writes that the one hundredth anniversary of that war is a good time to ask some hard questions. After all,

    It was a wasting conflict – a slaughterhouse, really – killing more Canadians than all of Canada’s wars before or since. As the superb historian Tim Cook says: “It was a total, unlimited war … felt all the way back through Canadian society.”

    Some 620,000 Canadians served, of whom 60,000 died. It was devastating in a country of eight million; today, the equivalent would be 250,000 dead.

    But was it worth it? And would we do it again?

    In a fine essay in the current Maclean’s, Peter Shawn Taylor puts some of these questions to leading historians and commentators. He comes up with some hard truths.

    One is that the Great War evoked a depth of sacrifice in a conservative, Christian, rural, lily-white, Anglo-Saxon country that seems “unfathomable” today. Canada was a more deferential society, half its population of British descent, willing to follow the mother country into the killing fields.

    In reflecting on the Great War a century after its outbreak, what is striking is the consensus that Canada could mount no such effort today, that we lack the kind of pride, attachment or national honour that that enterprise demanded.

    These days, our patriotism is rather facile:

    These paroxysms around the Olympics or other boasts (the strength of our banking system, our successful multiculturalism) inevitably bring a predictable breathlessness. We’re the best in the world! We’re the greatest!

    This is what passes for patriotism in Canada in 2014. It demands nothing of us. Our pride in country, however real, does not seem to manifest itself in anything very substantial, such as volunteerism, voting, or national service, community or military.

    Our prime minister talks like General Patton. But he treats voters as consumers:

    Balance the budget, keep cell-phone rates low, fill in the potholes. No big ideas or no national projects, please.

    On the other hand, that very attitude might have kept us out of World War I. And, one hundred years later, the whole enterprise seems rather futile.

    Monday, August 04, 2014

    Netanyahu's Big Lie


    History is full of ugly ironies. Among the ugliest is the Netanyahu government's use of the Big Lie to justify what is happening in Gaza. Chris Hedges writes that, while covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

    I saw small boys baited and killed by Israeli soldiers in the Gaza refugee camp of Khan Younis. The soldiers swore at the boys in Arabic over the loudspeakers of their armored jeep. The boys, about 10 years old, then threw stones at an Israeli vehicle and the soldiers opened fire, killing some, wounding others. I was present more than once as Israeli troops drew out and shot Palestinian children in this way. Such incidents, in the Israeli lexicon, become children caught in crossfire. I was in Gaza when F-16 attack jets dropped 1,000-pound iron fragmentation bombs on overcrowded hovels in Gaza City. I saw the corpses of the victims, including children. This became a surgical strike on a bomb-making factory. I have watched Israel demolish homes and entire apartment blocks to create wide buffer zones between the Palestinians and the Israeli troops that ring Gaza. I have interviewed the destitute and homeless families, some camped out in crude shelters erected in the rubble. The destruction becomes the demolition of the homes of terrorists. I have stood in the remains of schools—Israel struck two United Nations schools in the last six days, causing at least 10 fatalities at one in Rafah on Sunday and at least 19 at one in the Jebaliya refugee camp Wednesday—as well as medical clinics and mosques. I have heard Israel claim that errant rockets or mortar fire from the Palestinians caused these and other deaths, or that the attacked spots were being used as arms depots or launching sites. I, along with every other reporter I know who has worked in Gaza, have never seen any evidence that Hamas uses civilians as “human shields.”

    Truth is always the first casualty of war. And so it is in Gaza -- which exists in another world:

    This is the world Franz Kafka envisioned, a world where the irrational becomes rational. It is one where, as Gustave Le Bon noted in “The Crowd: A Study of the Public Mind,” those who supply the masses with the illusions they crave become their master, and “whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.” This irrationality explains why the reaction of Israeli supporters to those who have the courage to speak the truth—Uri Avnery, Max Blumenthal, Noam Chomsky, Jonathan Cook, Norman Finkelstein, Amira Hass, Gideon Levy, Ilan Pappé, Henry Siegman and Philip Weiss—is so rabid. That so many of these voices are Jewish, and therefore have more credibility than non-Jews who are among Israel’s cheerleaders, only ratchets up the level of hate.  

    Hate is at the root of what is happening in Gaza. And the Big Lie justifies hate. It turns history on its head; but it also destroys history:

    As Hannah Arendt pointed out, the ancient and modern sophists sought to win an argument at the expense of the truth, those who wield the Big Lie “want a more lasting victory at the expense of reality.” The old sophists, she said, “destroyed the dignity of human thought.” Those who resort to the Big Lie “destroy the dignity of human action.” The result, Arendt warned, is that “history itself is destroyed, and its comprehensibility.” And when facts no longer matter, when there is no shared history grounded in the truth, when people foolishly believe their own lies, there can be no useful exchange of information. The Big Lie, used like a bludgeon by Israel, as perhaps it is designed to be, ultimately reduces all problems in the world to the brutish language of violence. And when oppressed people are addressed only through violence they will answer only through violence.

    Martin Luther King suggested that the only legitimate response to force was "soul force." At the moment, there is precious little of that -- anywhere.

    Sunday, August 03, 2014

    The World Is Catching On


    Rumour has it that CETA -- the Canadian-European Trade Agreement -- is in trouble. The problem is the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism. Germany doesn't like it. Jim Stanford writes:

    Germany's limited experience with ISDS (it was recently sued by a Swedish company for billions in lost profits resulting from its phase-out of nuclear power) has heightened these concerns.

    Canada has had lots of experience with ISDS -- and it has not been good:

    As Scott Sinclair has demonstrated through his detailed, careful research for the CCPA, Canada has been sued far more under NAFTA's Chapter 11 than its North American neighbours: some 35 times in total, with claims totalling many billions of dollars. Enough of those claims have been successful (either through awarded judgments or through out-of-court negotiated settlements) to make any politician think twice before passing a measure which could spark this corporate counter-attack.  Indeed, Canada may be the nation most targeted by ISDS actions. The docket of cases against Canada under Chapter 11 constitutes an offensive grab-bag of corporations' willingness to put their own profits ahead of the public interest. On topics as diverse as regulations on harmful gasoline additives, to generic drugs, to handling of toxic substances, to Quebec's recent ban on gas fracking -- in every case, the ISDS system is another potent club with which business can intimidate governments into accepting their economic and political dominance -- and punish those which do not.

    Yet the Harper government has insisted that such a mechanism be included in all of its trade agreements. And if if ISDS were to be taken out of the agreement with Europe, Harper's other trade agreements would be in trouble.

    Harper has always been dedicated to making the world safe for capital. But the world is catching on.