Friday, September 30, 2011

Killing machines have no conscience

Is there irony in America's rush to deploy drones and remote controlled weaponry around the world?

From Joseph Nevins at the Boston Review, Robocop:
In September 2010 the House Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) Caucus held a technology fair. In the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building, dozens of people hovered around tables covered with literature, video screens showing images of the earth’s surface, and models of UAVs—popularly known as “drones.” The crowd was almost exclusively male. Most were conservatively dressed in the dark suits and ties that dominate Capitol Hill, though a handful wore the desert-brown jumpsuits of UAV pilots.

In his opening remarks to the gathering, Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, the California Republican who co-chairs and cofounded the bipartisan caucus, spoke of its mission: “To advocate for unmanned systems and ensure we continue to invest in the future..."
From Tom Engelhardt at Tomgram, Sex and the Single Drone:
In the world of weaponry, they are the sexiest things around. Others countries are desperate to have them. Almost anyone who writes about them becomes a groupie. Reporters exploring their onrushing future swoon at their potentially wondrous techno-talents. They are, of course, the pilotless drones, our grimly named Predators and Reapers.

As CIA Director, Leon Panetta called them “the only game in town.” As Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates pushed hard to up their numbers and increase their funding drastically. The U.S. Air Force is already training more personnel to become drone “pilots” than to pilot actual planes. You don’t need it in skywriting to know that, as icons of American-style war, they are clearly in our future -- and they’re even heading for the homeland as police departments clamor for them.

They are relatively cheap. When they “hunt,” no one dies (at least on our side). They are capable of roaming the world. Someday, they will land on the decks of aircraft carriers or, tiny as hummingbirds, drop onto a windowsill, maybe even yours, or in their hundreds, the size of bees, swarm to targets and, if all goes well, coordinate their actions using the artificial intelligence version of “hive minds.”

“The drone,” writes Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service, “has increasingly become the [Obama] administration's 'weapon of choice' in its efforts to subdue al-Qaeda and its affiliates.” In hundreds of attacks over the last years in the Pakistani tribal borderlands, they have killed thousands, including al-Qaeda figures, Taliban militants, and civilians. They have played a significant and growing role in the skies over Afghanistan. They are now loosing their missiles ever more often over Yemen, sometimes over Libya, and less often over Somalia. Their bases are spreading. No one in Congress will be able to resist them. They are defining the new world of war for the twenty-first century -- and many of the humans who theoretically command and control them can hardly keep up.
From Brian Montopoli, Political Hotsheet, Ron Paul, ACLU condemn Anwar al-Awlaki killing:
White House hopeful Ron Paul and the American Civil Liberties Union each condemned the United States' killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who has never been charged with any crime.

Al Qaeda's Anwar al-Awlaki killed in Yemen

Paul, a staunch Libertarian, said in New Hampshire Friday that it's "sad" if "the American people accept this blindly and casually," adding that "nobody knows if he ever killed anybody," According to the Wall Street Journal. the Texas Republican lawmaker said United States officials "have never been specific about the crime."

The ACLU said the killing was a violation of both U.S. and international law...
From the Christian Science Monitor:
"A terrorist attack on the nation’s capital using remote-control model airplanes to deliver bombs, as an American Al Qaeda sympathizer arrested in Massachusetts this week is alleged to have planned, may seem far-fetched or silly.

"But perhaps not for long. The US, after all, has already been using unmanned planes to attack Al Qaeda targets with deadly accuracy for years.

"And now the emerging international market for unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, is exploding, bringing down the cost and expanding the availability of highly capable drone aircraft that could be rigged to deliver explosives, biological or chemical weapons with extreme accuracy – and be difficult or impossible to stop, experts on the subject say..."

Recommended reading:
ACLU, CCR seek to have Obama enjoined from killing Awlaki without due process, by Glenn Greenwald, Salon

Ralph Nader, CommonDreams.org, As the Drone Flies...

Peter Finn, Washington Post, Justice Dept. Memo Sanctioned Killings, But Officials Avoid 'Due Process' Concerns

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Shouts may begin with whispers

"Wall Street's fear is understandable. If the public is ever given a voice to express its outrage, their party train will have to stop and some people will pay for their crimes. But when Americans can only express their right to free speech after they've been coralled into a "free speech zone," one that's far from the subject of the protests, that's not free speech at all.

And it's not America."


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"You can talk at your own town hall meeting"

Terrance Heath produces an excellent piece on the American 'Tea Party' movement brought to life by the Koch brothers and other plutocrats and apparatchiks. Is The Tea Party Over? Maybe. - published by The Campaign for America's Future :
"It's always struck me as odd that the media could portray the tea party as a "grassroots movement." From its corporate origins on CNBC to its corporate PR backing and its even more corporate agenda, not much about it has ever seemed grassroots to me. Odder still was the portrayal of the tea party as a history-based movement, when its political icons don't understand the history of the original Tea Party or the history it wants to appropriate..

"But nothing has been stranger to me than the portrayal of the tea party as a popular popular with whom? Poll after poll has shown that the tea party agenda is incredibly unpopular with the majority of Americans. Recent surveys show that the tea party movement itself is deeply unpopular..."
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And when do they bell the cats?

Rod's Mickleburgh's B.C. NOTEBOOK in the Globe and Mail, After his one bright insight, Bloy gets left in the dark:
"After nine years languishing on the government’s dusty backbenches, the former Boy Scout leader had the remarkable wisdom – alone among the 46 or so members of the B.C. Liberal caucus – to realize that talk-show host Christy Clark was the best person in all B.C. to replace boss Gordon Campbell.

"With that demonstrated depth of sagacity, Ms. Clark can be forgiven for thinking that her lone caucus supporter had the smarts to manage a cabinet post as well.

"Alas, matters did not go swimmingly. On Day 1 of his appointment, Mr. Bloy told reporters he would have more to say about his social development portfolio once he “got a handle” on it. He never did..."
A fun piece taking well directed shots at deserving targets. I wonder why MSM writers covering Victoria let the Bloy story go untouched for so long. It was well known to anyone with an ear to the ground that the Minister was over his head and sinking deeper with each passing week. To people in his department, he was a source of amusement and embarrassment. Why was that not written about before Premier Clark finally admitted her mistake and demoted him?

I wonder how many more incompetents are shielded by writers and broadcasters too polite to relate the entire stories behind elected officials. Maybe its also time for journalists to call out their own press gallery colleagues who let cronyism and financial conflicts interfere with honest reporting.
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BC Municipalities already audited

News item, September 29, 2011
"Municipal politicians voted overwhelmingly Thursday to tell the provincial government they don't want a Municipal Auditor-General's office...

"The local politicians said they’re already prohibited from running deficits, and they’re already audited every year..."
The following is from the article BC Liberals guided by hidden interests, published August 14, 2011:

Postmedia, CKNW and other partisan or naive commentators have been applauding the BC Liberal aim of creating a Municipal Auditor General. This is part of a strategy of distraction being developed to shift political attention from the BC Liberal government — the level with the real authority — to local councils, which, by no coincidence, are often influenced by NDP politicians.

The fact is that municipalities are already audited by independent experts. I know because long ago I often worked on municipal audits when I was employed with a firm of Chartered Accountants. In a bit of checking today, I noted that KPMG is the independent auditor for Vancouver City, Victoria and North Vancouver, among others. Audit reports are typically published on municipal websites.

The argument that a municipal Auditor General could ensure that best practices are being shared among municipalities is codswallop. Firms like KMPG already do that as part of the review of management practices. Although, the independent auditor's job is to cast an opinion of the municipal financial statements, the auditor goes through a very detailed examination of operations and offers many points of advice directly. The audit staff is highly experienced and knowledgeable of municipal operations and management.

Additionally, top municipal staff regularly attend conferences, such as those at the UBCM, where exchange of information and identification of best practices is the raison d'etre. A municipal Auditor-General could add nothing but bureaucratic duplication of services already provided.

In the next election, BC Liberals will pretend that economic problems in the province result from anti-business local governments, administrations so incompetent that a municipal Auditor-General became necessary.
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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Finding tax sources that fit today's economy

Financial Transaction Tax: Making the financial sector pay its fair share
Brussels, 28 September 2011 – Today the Commission has presented a proposal for a financial transaction tax in the 27 Member States of the European Union. The tax would be levied on all transactions on financial instruments between financial institutions when at least one party to the transaction is located in the EU. The exchange of shares and bonds would be taxed at a rate of 0.1% and derivative contracts, at a rate of 0.01%. This could approximately raise €57 billion every year. The Commission has proposed that the tax should come into effect from 1st January 2014.

The Commission has decided to propose a new tax on financial transactions for two reasons.
"First, to ensure that the financial sector makes a fair contribution at a time of fiscal consolidation in the Member States. The financial sector played a role in the origins of the economic crisis. Governments and European citizens at large have borne the cost of massive taxpayer-funded bailouts to support the financial sector. Furthermore, the sector is currently under-taxed by comparison to other sectors. The proposal would generate significant additional tax revenue from the financial sector to contribute to public finances.

"Second, a coordinated framework at EU level would help to strengthen the EU single market. Today, 10 Member States have a form of a financial transaction tax in place. The proposal would introduce new minimum tax rates and harmonise different existing taxes on financial transactions in the EU.. This will help to reduce competitive distortions in the single market, discourage risky trading activities and complement regulatory measures aimed at avoiding future crises. The financial transaction tax at EU level would strengthen the EU's position to promote common rules for the introduction of such a tax at global level, notably through the G20..."
The proposal to tax financial transactions has been fiercely attacked by speculators, hedge fund traders and wealthy investors.

Business attacks transaction tax plan
José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, said the tax could raise some €55bn ($75bn) a year to replenish government coffers.

“It is a question of fairness,” he said, arguing that the public sector had already contributed more than €4,000bn in guarantees to help banks through the crisis. “It is time for the financial sector to make a contribution back to society.”
Icap paints Tobin tax grimly to fend off evils
"More to the point, transactions tax would need unanimous approval from the 27 member states of the European Union. The UK government would surely veto it. Mr Spencer, a Tory with a taste for the film noir-influenced paintings of Jack Vettriano, said the very discussion was “borderline laughable”.

"The City’s big beasts will trust the government to forestall the Tobin tax. But they fear George Osborne could in the process be pressured into smaller concessions that would be damaging..."

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Union guy stealing my cookie


From BNET,
Today’s CEOs think Henry Ford was a chump. Case in point: Larry Young, the CEO of the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group. In 2009, DPS made $555 million in profit and has never been in better financial shape. Young’s strategy going forward: cut the pay and benefits of the company’s factory workers.

...According to SEC filings, in 2009 Young received a combined salary and stock awards of over $6.5 million a year. He also receives a free automobile for both business and personal use, an annual allowance for financial planning and tax preparation, and the right to “travel by corporate jet (chartered or company-owned) for all business and personal air travel.” As an extra perk, the company even pays Young an extra $150,000 “to cover the taxes accruing to Mr. Young as a result of this benefit.”

This is the guy who thinks that it’s unreasonable for a factory worker to earn $19 an hour.

Where is the outrage? Where is the anger?


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Canadian media is unsustainable

Hochstein in his flower garden
Phil Hochstein, head of the ICBA, a construction industry lobby group, has long been an articulate tool given red carpet access by media that fear we might go a day without hearing from a pro-business spin doctor. Today Hochstein is selling the results of a poll his organization sponsored. Not surprisingly, the survey report matches ICBA's view of the world. Angus Reid's sham research was designed to produce the results it did.

ICBA concludes "grossly inflated wages and benefits are burdening taxpayers" and as a result, “Civic spending in B.C. has become unsustainable." That is an interesting term used by people who want to see government services privatized and a fair wage economy suppressed. We hear frequently that Canadian healthcare is unsustainable. The preferred solution involves an Americanized system that presumably would be sustainable although functioning with less effectiveness and higher cost.

Peter Ewart at Opinion 250 makes a good point:
"Hochstein and the ICBA who appear to want to divert people away from the fact that, for the last ten years, certain sections of the construction industry in this province have been very much attached to the teat of government spending and have played a big role in running up municipal and provincial debt.

"Indeed, the government of British Columbia could give ancient Egypt a good run for its money in terms of the palaces, monuments and edifices it has built over the last decade, whether it has been the massive spending on Olympic infrastructure, the Sea to Sky Highway, the Richmond Skating Oval, the Port Mann Bridge, the Vancouver Convention Centre, the BC Stadium roof, and so on..."
Recently Ipsos Reid executives Darrell Bricker and John Wright penned an open letter to journalists. They complained about inferior polls — like this one by Angus Reid — being distributed without critical examination:
"...all polls are NOT created equally. And, in spite of what you may assume, pollsters are never held to account for their indiscretions, incompetence and mistakes (there is no “polling police”)...

"Some marginal pollsters count on your ignorance and hunger to make the news to peddle an inferior product. ...We've also seen a disturbing trend of late in which questionable polls find their way into an outlet’s coverage because they appear to match an editorial line, or present a counter-intuitive perspective."
The ICBA poll was a product of Angus Reid's online forum, a methodology not universally respected. Read the poll's opening statement, my criticism is self-evident. The shameful effort is almost equivalent to this example:
Question:

How do you feel about blatant abuses being foisted upon lawful, peaceable gun owners by crooked politicians and biased media?

Answers:
A: Angry
B: Frustrated
C: Sad
Polling Report Sept 272011
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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Scapegoats. Do we have ours chosen?

Human nature leads us seemingly to need scapegoats in times of trouble and hard times. When a full economic meltdown occurs, when the one percenters have gained near the entire wealth of our civilization — the end point of current trends — people will need scapegoats to blame, weak people to punish for the misfortunes. Maybe it will be the newest immigrants, maybe it will be those of North America's most ancient race. It will be someone from among ourselves. Human nature demands it.

Spiegel Online, Governments Turn Blind Eye to Violence Against Roma
"It is a tragedy taking place in the heart of Europe. In many countries, Roma are being bullied by right-wing extremists, and racism against them is considered acceptable in mainstream society. There is no sign of a strategy to solve the problem."
March against Roma, Czech town of Varnsdorf, Sept 2011
From the fabulous film by Tony Gatlif, Latcho Drom, a powerful history without dialogue deals with Romani culture throughout the world around the theme of their music and dance:



Another brilliant film by Tony Gatlif, Mondo, starring Ovidiu Balan

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

First Hahn, now Hayes and the rest must go

David Hahn's lucrative reign as BC Ferries CEO is ending but more substantial change is needed at the company. The Board failed in its governance role and BC Liberals should now scuttle the directors as well. Purblind overseers allowed Hahn and senior executives to reward themselves well more than the sums paid ferry managers elsewhere. This despite operations, contrary to public claims, being managed poorly, with steeply rising fares, unprecedented traffic declines, acquisition of deficient Super C ferries and growing unreliability of a poorly maintained fleet.

BC Ferry directors are less diligent in oversight of the hirelings because they are enjoying their own tasty bites of the public wealth. All behave like furtive cookie thieves raiding the pantry, each silent when goodies are snatched by others. Complimentary ferry passes for entire families, priority boarding, on-board staterooms and NHL hospitality suites are just some of their perquisites. Directors collect an annual retainer – up to $100,000 – plus meeting fees – $1,200 per – plus travel time – another $600 to $1,200 per – plus expenses. Individuals are not even required to show up; they "may attend a meeting by means of any telephonic, electronic, or other communications facility."

This self-perpetuating sinecure is for most a political reward for BC Liberal loyalists. The Chair of BC Ferry Services Inc., Donald P. Hayes, whose family's prosperity has pivoted on provincial policy for three generations, donated $57,500 to the BC Liberals in two years recently through Hayes Forest Services Limited. Another director, Brian Kenning was a loyal BC Rail board member who had selective memory difficulties during the Basi/Virk trial. Ian Reid wrote a rather devastating piece following Kenning's testimony. Ex-Liberal cabinet minister Geoff Plant has his own connections to the BC Rail fraud and is a substantial financial contributor to the party, personally and through his employer, law firm Heenan Blaikie.

Washington State Ferries carries 23 million passengers and 10 million vehicles annually while BC. Ferries carries 21 million passengers and 8.3 million vehicles.(Ref) The head of WSF earned $144,768 and the head of BCF earned $1,128,139 in 2010. Wayne Follett, CEO of Marine Atlantic Inc., operator of ferry services on Canada's east coast is paid within the range $169,900 - $199,900. (Ref)

Unfortunately, senior officers of BC Ferries used the corporation for personal gain while colluding with politicians to serve the BC Liberals. Each understood that one hand washes the other. Although influential individuals prospered, the coastal economy stands damaged.

The province's ship building capacity has been almost eliminated and ferry services are little improved over a decade ago. With recent revenue shortfalls, maintenance has been deferred and replacement of the aging fleet suspended. Most importantly, the three German-built Super C ferries have been major disappointments. Last week, I travelled from Vancouver Island to Horseshoe Bay on board the 30-year old Queen of Oak Bay. Left sitting idle in Nanaimo was the near new Coastal Renaissance, where it spends most days tied to the dock. The Super C's are only used on days of extraordinary demands. Only one of the reasons is their 22,000 HP engines are fuel guzzlers compared to ships such as the BC built Oak Bay which carries almost the same capacity at the same speed with 12,000 HP engines.

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Families? Maybe, not.

Sean Holman asks a great question but unfortunately, we all know the answer:
Does Christy Clark want to put British Columbia families first or businesses?

Read the entire article HERE.

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Party with the plutocrats

From Sister Sage's Musings
"Local right-wing gadfly and embarrassment to the city, Vancouver’s Paris Hilton, Leah Costello, is hosting war criminal Dick Cheney at her very elite, very right wing Bon Mot book club. It is appropriate however that a member of the cocktail wienie set is responsible for inviting such a ‘controversial’ criminal to our country and fair city. Protests are being organized and a healthy turnout is expected."
For anyone wondering, Leah Costello has had a long connection with the Fraser Institute and the Conservative Party of Canada.

Of course, heavy money fronted Dick Cheney’s visit and we’re safe to say it comes from Canada's small circle of plutocrats. From the list of sponsors noted here, oil patch exploiters like FirstEnergy and ARC Resources, are involved, along with Postmedia, that objective publisher of "fact" in its dailies and community newspapers.

We can be certain that Harper Conservatives gave quiet assurances and directives that Canada would not be arresting war criminals this month, at least not evildoers who, through the Halliburton Loophole, helped enrich so many ground-destroyers in the energy business.

When Canadian politicians call for “reduction of red tape” they have Cheney as the role model. He pushed through the 2005 energy bill that exempted hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act. There was no red tape for gas well drillers, but there was poisonous firewater in the taps of homeowners.

Leah Costello with Republican friend, Karl Rove

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Keep business happy: no red tape, no taxes

Some believe that businesses should pay no taxes and HST serves part of that purpose. A remaining aim of business is to pay no income tax but, because ruling parties find that politically difficult, the objective is pursued surreptitiously. It is done by silent use of loopholes and reliance on wink-wink, nudge-nudge enforcement. Billions of dollars shift jurisdictions without tax consequences in ways that would net commoners lengthy jail sentences but corporations and agencies of the aristocracy shuffle money to tax havens without consequence.

From Propublica:
"A simple rule meant to cut paperwork for U.S. companies has grown into one of the biggest multinational tax breaks around, costing the United States and other governments billions of dollars in lost taxes each year.

"...The rule is dubbed “check-the-box.” It allows U.S. companies to strip profits from operations in high-tax countries ..

  "...annual revenue losses from check-the-box have hit almost $10 billion. Other countries are also said to lose billions as income is shifted to places with low or no taxes...

"...The rule, along with other tax provisions, has helped fuel explosive growth in foreign investment by American corporations. Since 2004, the earnings that U.S. companies keep overseas have doubled to about $1.8 trillion, U.S. Department of Commerce data show..."
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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Insatiable appetites

An apothegm repeated often in programs treating alcohol abuse:
"One drink is too many and one thousand is not enough."
The statement also applies to business leaders and their lobbyists. No matter the subsidies and tax relief gained and the political influence exercised, exploits are insufficient. Canadians have come to expect, if not accept, the command of business over old line parties, whose members supplicate themselves regularly before economic masters.

However, despite holding sway over senior levels of government, BC's free enterprisers want more. The Chamber of Commerce demands municipal voting rights be extended to businesses. Without the vote, according to Chamber CEO John Winter, his commercial constituents have shouldered an "unfair tax burden."

Corporate voting privileges is only one part of a Chamber policy priority: local government reform. Their platitude-rich statement of policy is fundamentally a call for elimination of local government powers because "rules vary from community to community and are subject to change based on local political considerations." Business leaders prefer certainty in regulations, certainty their initiatives can proceed without regard to local aims and objectives.

Municipal reform is but one of the initiatives pursued by British Columbia's business leaders. After losing the HST referendum, they want a "new and improved PST" to replace it. First, the Chamber suggests delays,
“Now is not the time for decisions, now is the time for reflection and a pause before we determine the best type of tax.”
A pause, no doubt, to consider alternative ways to achieve that which HST had given business, which was freedom from about $2 billion a year in BC sales tax payments. At any rate, each month of delay puts more than $150 million into pockets of business such as Goldcorp, Teck Cominco, Spectra Energy, Teekay or other mega-corps.

Another initiative the BC Chamber promotes is Road Pricing, a system in which motorists pay tolls for driving on particular roadways or in a particular areas. The helpful Chamber realizes that government needs revenue sources and, since they hold that businesses should pay nothing and higher income taxes are intolerable, innovative levies on citizens are needed.

It is fair for business organizations to present their opinions and objectives to government but this should be done openly, always in the public eye. BC Liberals, although they once promised a "New Era of Accountability" and "The most open, accountable and democratic government in Canada", have fallen into the habit of being accountable only to favoured lobbyists, usually behind doors barred to ordinary citizens and media.

Tuesday, Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Kevin Falcon appears before a private breakfast meeting with Chamber members at Vancouver's Terminal City Club. Falcon will discuss the elimination of HST and reinstatement of PST, or some form of it. Two weeks later, Christy Clark and the entire Liberal Executive Council present themselves to the Chamber for "face-to-face consultation."

Consider again my opening statement about business lobbyists behaving like insatiable addicts. Being a little further down the road toward complete business obeisance, our southern neighbours provide examples of  what Canadians can expect. Businesses in this country do not want to pay taxes but American corporations have gone a step further.

David Cay Johnson, in a Reuters blog item, provided details in Paying taxes your employer keeps
"...Instead of paying for police, teachers, roads and other state and local services that grease the wheels of commerce, Illinois workers at these companies will subsidize their employers with the state income taxes they pay.

"The deal to let employers keep half or all of their workers' state income taxes represents a dramatic expansion of a little-known trend in the law: diverting taxes from public purposes to private gain.

"Throughout the United States, big box retailers like Wal-Mart (WMT.N), Lowe's (LOW.N) and Cabela's (CAB.N), and in some cases entire shopping malls, often negotiate deals to keep sales taxes that customers pay at the cash register, using the money to finance construction of their stores. This gives them a huge advantage over retailers without such subsidies, while reducing revenue to local governments, which in turn creates pressure for higher taxes.

"...The Illinois deal shows how competition between the states, and with other countries, helps big corporations wring subsidies from state governments even as the states are being forced to fire teachers and other public workers because of a weak economy that has cost jobs and tax revenue."
Premier Cabinet Lunch 2011 Brochure Web
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The master of red tape reduction

Humanists associate Dick Cheney with war crimes but his legacy of malevolence is broader. In 2005, the U.S. Congress passed legislation exempting hydraulic fracturing from oversight under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The "Halliburton Loophole" was inserted through demands of Vice President Cheney, a former CEO of Halliburton who retained substantial interests in the company, which reportedly now earns about $1.5 Billion annually from hydraulic fracturing.

2009 editorial of the New York Times, provided information about the 2005 energy act:
"It stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to regulate a drilling process called hydraulic fracturing. Invented by Halliburton in the 1940s, it involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals, some of them toxic, into underground rock formations to blast them open and release natural gas.

"Hydraulic fracturing has been implicated in a growing number of water pollution cases across the country."


Dick Cheney is due in Vancouver Monday night to promote his recently published memoir. The Toronto Star reports
"Human Rights Watch claims that overwhelming evidence of torture by the Bush administration, including at least two cases involving Canadian citizens, are grounds for Canada to investigate Cheney and comply with the Convention Against Torture.

"In addition, the New York-based group said that Canadian law expressly provides for jurisdiction over an individual for torture and other crimes if the complainant is a Canadian citizen, even for offences committed outside of Canada.

"It said in a news release issued Saturday that Canada had ratified the Convention Against Torture in 1987 and incorporated its provisions into the Canadian Criminal Code..."
Meanwhile, local antiwar activists are planning to give Cheney "the welcome he deserves". The StopWar Coalition is calling for a protest starting at 5:30 p.m. outside the event at the Vancouver Club.


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Callow victims support billionaires' coup

Coup: A quick, brilliant, and highly successful act; a triumph. By extension, a takeover of one group by another.

Guardian columnist George Monbiot provides his view of a coup against democracy in How the Billionaires Broke the System. The campaign, apparently successful in the USA, inspires similar movements in Canada and other nations that experimented with democracy in the 20th and 21st centuries.
"...The Tea Party movement mostly consists of people who have been harmed by tax cuts for the rich and spending cuts for the poor and middle. Why would they mobilise against their own welfare? You can understand what is happening in Washington only if you remember what everyone seems to have forgotten: how this movement began.

"...a group called Americans for Prosperity (AFP) set up a Tea Party Facebook page and started organising Tea Party events(7). The movement, whose programme is still lavishly supported by AFP, took off from there.

"So who or what is Americans for Prosperity? It was founded and is funded by Charles and David Koch(8). They run what they call “the biggest company you’ve never heard of”(9), and between them they are worth $43 billion(10).

"Koch Industries is a massive oil, gas, minerals, timber and chemicals company. Over the past 15 years the brothers have poured at least $85m into lobby groups arguing for lower taxes for the rich and weaker regulations for industry(11). The groups and politicians the Kochs fund also lobby to destroy collective bargaining, to stop laws reducing carbon emissions, to stymie healthcare reform and to hobble attempts to control the banks. During the 2010 election cycle, Americans for Prosperity spent $45 million supporting its favoured candidates(12).

"But the Kochs’ greatest political triumph is the creation of the Tea Party movement...


"AFP mobilised the anger of people who found their conditions of life declining, and channelled it into a campaign to make them worse. Tea Party campaigners appear to be unaware of the origins of their own movement. ... they take to the streets to demand less tax for billionaires and worse health, education and social insurance for themselves.

"Are they stupid? No. They have been systematically misled by another instrument of corporate power: the media. The Tea Party movement has been relentlessly promoted by Fox News, which belongs to a more familiar billionaire. Like the Kochs, Rupert Murdoch aims to misrepresent the democratic choices we face, in order to persuade us to vote against our own interests and in favour of his.

"What’s taking place in Congress right now is a kind of political coup. A handful of billionaires has shoved a spanner into the legislative process. Through the candidates they’ve bought and the movement that supports them, they are now breaking and reshaping the system to serve their interests. We knew this once, but now we’ve forgotten. What hope do we have of resisting a force we won’t even see?"
A complete and fully referenced version of this article can be found on George Monbiot's website.

After reading the following article, consider if the corporate media reports the news or creates it.

What if the Tea Party Occupied Wall Street? Corporate media skip anti-corporate protests.

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Taking on Goliath

Salt Spring Forum and Salt Spring Island Conservancy hosted noted western Canadian journalist Andrew Nikiforuk Wednesday to hear details of his new book, Empire of the Beetle. It is an examination of "how human folly and a tiny bug are killing North America's great forests."

My wife and I were part of Nikiforuk's capacity audience at Artspring, the island's centre for the arts. By chance, I sat next to Dr. Michael Byers, a legal scholar and author who is Canadian Research Chair in International Law and Politics at the University of BC. Self-described environmental activist Byers is widely recognized for expertise in Arctic sovereignty and international relations. Last April, I wrote a short profile of the professor in this piece: Addition to list of blogs I follow.

Andrew Nikiforuk contributes regularly to The Tyee. Last year, founding editor David Beers appointed Nikiforuk the journal's first writer in residence, calling him:
"Canada's leading muckraker about Canada's most controversial muck: the tar sands of Alberta."
His book, Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent is an astonishing document. Until reading it, I had no accurate sense of my own ignorance about the tar sands. Nikiforuk says,
"To extract the world's ugliest, most expensive hydrocarbon, we are polluting our air, poisoning our water, destroying vast areas of boreal forest, and undermining democracy itself."
Clearly, I should have been more contemptuous of the industry's high powered public relations campaigns. The author says that when his book's first edition was published in the fall of 2008, Alberta government officials and industry lobbyists condemned it, charging the book was grossly inaccurate, despite Tar Sands being largely based on data created by government and the petroleum production industry. Others claimed it was hate literature aimed at oil executives or a lie that did not differentiate between fact and opinion. However, many insiders admit the book is an accurate, if unpleasant, portrait of disorderly development of the tar sands.

Empire of the Beetle examines another disaster in nature; one that is partly anthropogenic. The death of 30 billion trees and the unsettling of North American forests has something in common with the ravaging of Canadian fisheries, first on the Atlantic coast and now, the Pacific. I recently spent time listening to scientific testimony at the Cohen Commission, where both government and the fish farm industry focused on limiting the inquiry to the decline of one species within one river. The Commission's terms of reference direct it to examine Fraser River Sockeye and proceed,
"without seeking to find fault on the part of any individual, community or organization..."
That charade is no effort to identify comprehensive and interrelated factors threatening west coast fisheries. The insincere effort will enrich limos full of lawyers and spin doctors and the ocean environment will decline until wild salmon are merely memories held by senior citizens. Had the government of Canada commissioned Andrew Nikiforuk to put west coast fisheries under his microscope, the public would have gained a concise, thorough and readable report explaining failures and lost opportunities in ocean resource management. Additionally, he would have been able to point his finger at those organizations deserving labels of fault.

Nikiforuk generates a mixture of moods in Empire of the Beetle. Perhaps surprisingly, the author maintains a sense of natural wonder and optimism. He acknowledges the role of insects in natural forest renewal but there is fault to be shared for uncontrolled outbreaks of destruction that began in the late 20th century. The book claims,
"Misguided science, out-of-control logging, bad public policy, and a hundred years of fire suppression created a volatile geography that, with the advance of global warming, released the world's oldest forest manager from all natural constraints."
My comparison with fisheries holds true for the science of bark beetle infestation in Canadian forests. At the Cohen Commission, testimony repeatedly referred to science that was inadequate for an understanding of fish stock declines or even year to year variability. In one example, Nikiforuk recounts beetle attacks affecting trees in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. Two million acres of largely inaccessible wilderness seemed to be outside the range of the insects yet hundreds of thousands of lodgepole trees were fatally affected. Initially, authorities burned sections of forest but they came to realize that their efforts were in vain. They also learned that Tweedsmuir was only one outbreak among tens of thousands. Nikiforuk indicates why protectors of the forest were utterly impotent. They lacked necessary science.
"Normally, a fading forest on Tweedsmuir's scale would have grabbed the attention of someone at Canada's Forest Insect and Disease Survey (FIDS). "I think FIDS would have noticed it by 1995 at least," says [Allan] Carroll, [one of Canada's foremost insect ecologists]. But by then the federal agency no longer existed. Although trees cover a third of Canada, the world's largest exporter of forest products decided in 1996 that it no longer needed a national insect intelligence or forest health service."
Readers, if you want a better understanding of two of the largest environmental issues affecting western Canada, buy Andrew Nikiforuk's books and dedicate time to read them carefully. Oil industry spin doctors have put considerable energy into an effort to discredit Tar Sands and, with hundreds of billions of dollars at stake, their offence has been well financed.

The Calgary writer is an extraordinary example of a dedicated journalist unafraid of confronting powerful economic and political forces. If you have the opportunity to meet and talk with Nikiforuk, take advantage; you will be proud you did.

Addendum:

Two years ago, The Toronto Star published A public tarring in Saudi Canada, Andrew Nikiforuk's rather shocking account of appearances before the House of Commons standing committee on environment and sustainable development. Excerpts:
"We [A.N. and family physician Dr. John O'Connor] didn't ask to appear; the committee invited us. As such, we naively assumed that we were doing our duty as Canadians to speak to the House about the impact of world's largest energy project on water: 130 square kilometres of waste water, acid rain, fish deformities, rare cancers and city-scale withdrawals of freshwater.

"We assumed that all committee members would be interested in rigorous dialogue regardless of political affiliation. But that's not what Ottawa delivered. Instead, several Tory MPs subjected us to abusive Republican tactics geared to dismiss, discredit and dishonour.

"... four Conservative MPs on the committee, Peter Braid [Kitchener-Waterloo, ON], Mark Warawa [Langley, BC], Blaine Calkins [Wetaskiwin, AB] and Jeff Watson [Essex, ON], spent most of their time attacking our credibility. They didn't want to talk about water.

"...they expressed no interest in the conservation of trees and water. They simply belittled me for writing an opinion piece about how oil hinders democracy. They couldn't even hear the irony in their own frat-boy mockery.

"At the end of the session, both O'Connor and I reflected on the hearing in disbelief. In Norway, we civilly engaged investors, politicians and environmental groups. We had the right to express differing opinions. We enjoyed the great freedom of association. Yet in Canada, several so-called parliamentarians openly belittled these basic freedoms."


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Friday, September 23, 2011

Liberal scorn for sustainability

Before joining the Vancouver Sun, Fazil Mihlar was Senior Policy Analyst at The Fraser Institute. In his years with the newspaper's editorial board, Mihlar has continued to serve goals of the reactionary foundations that finance his former employer. Additionally, he ensures uncritical echoes are published in the Vancouver Sun whenever the Fraser Institute or similar think tanks promote unfettered corporate power or champion friendly politicians as they did with "Campbell judged best premier for financial management."

After examining Mihlar's collection of writings, one can make a certain conclusion that he holds a senior newspaper position, not for cogent analysis or deft word construction, but for reliable parroting of talking points from obscurantist 'research' facilities. Mihlar is not one to provide graceful penetration of complicated economic questions. Instead, we get repetition of chatter from the right-wing information machine.

One of Mihlar's roles at the Fraser Institute was to promote industrial and commercial deregulation so his response to the roll out of Christy Clark's Jobs Plan was predictable. Mihlar applauds BC Liberals' willingness to get out of the way — other than the public paying for necessary infrastructure of course — so the private sector can produce jobs. He is very happy with Clark for being,
"re-focused on what is called the dirty industries because that's where our bread and butter lies."
His message reminded me of statements by June Kunka, a booster of Taseko Mine's 'New Prosperity Project.' Her central argument was,
"Without growth, there is nothing."
The principle is one that most would dispute. For the high profile Prosperity mine proposal, a more sophisticated view was expressed by Tsilhqot’in tribal chair Joe Alphonse and Xeni Gwet’in chief Marilyn Baptiste. They argue that,
"...proceeding further with this [New Prosperity] rebid will detract from efforts to pursue more sustainable developments in the region, the sustainable developments that B.C. Mines Minister Rich Coleman earlier this year said was his new priority.”
Fazil Mihlar would classify Alphonse and Baptiste as part of the "banana crowd,"
"The naysayers who want to say no to anything which creates jobs and income."
Mihlar adds,
"This is not an issue of saying you are going to relax environmental standards and so on. No, British Columbians care about the environment; we all do.... Its a question of proportion and balance. You have to look at the risks. Life is not risk free, ok? ...We have to take calculated risks in order to build the Enbridge pipeline, build the Kitimat LNG, build the Prosperity Mine. You need to take certain risks."
He makes a perfunctory wave to ecological standards but dismisses the need for them because we need "to take certain risks." Risk taking is exactly what Christy Clark's government proposes as part of the promise to wipe away delays in granting water permits and approvals for whatever the province's extractive industries aim to do.

*  *  *  *  * 
I recommend reading the presentation of Communications professor Donald Gutstein and The Tyee, in which Fazil Milhlar's sources and inspirations are examined. Fazil Mihlar's Monday Morning Sermons.

By the way, Elections BC records show that Prosperity promoter Taseko Mines Ltd. donated $33,650 to BC Liberals. Taseko CEO Russell Hallbauer contributed $50,000 to the BC Liberals In November 2010, mere weeks before Christy Clark took office as party leader. In the same month, RCMP began an investigation into allegations of illegal insider trading involving a sudden drop in Taseko Mines shares about 2½ weeks before the federal government delayed construction of its main mining project.

RCMP to probe complaint of insider trading of Taseko Mines, LUANN LASALLE, Canadian Press, November 26, 2010.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Our neighbour devours its greatness

The Fall of the United States, CommonDreams.org, John Atcheson
"Welcome to the late great United States – a country in economic and moral free fall. A country in thrall to a cult of greed, selfishness, and ignorance.

"A country that is trying to hold onto its belief in its own 'exceptionalism,' even as it rejects the very forces that made it exceptional.

"Once, the US was a leader in science. Today, most Americans are scientifically illiterate and one of the major political parties — Republicans — largely rejects science and scientists as 'elitist'...

"Once, US infrastructure was the envy of the world... Now, it is a crumbling punch line to a tragic national joke.

"Once, the US system of laws and regulations was recognized as the pre-requisite of a civilized and prosperous society...

"Once, the US educational system was the preeminent model for educating the populace...

"...At the Republican Tea Party debate, a cheering jeering crowd supported the idea that a man who didn’t get health care insurance should be allowed to die. Meanwhile, the Census Bureau reported that ... In absolute terms, more Americans are below the poverty level than at any time in our history.

"These events are connected. When greed becomes our moral compass, then tolerance and humanity die, and prosperity is a casualty."
Troy Davis execution goes ahead despite serious doubts about his guilt, The Guardian, Ed Pilkington in Jackson, Georgia
"...In the final gruesome hours of waiting, the American judicial system at its very highest echelons was involved – including the US supreme court, which issued the decisive final ruling. The decision to press ahead with the death sentence despite serious doubts over Davis's guilt drew accusations that this was the system at its most grotesque.

"...After the execution, Davis's lawyers lamented what one described as a "legal lynching". Thomas Ruffin said that the execution was "racially bigoted".

"In the state of Georgia 48.4% of people on death row this morning were black males, and in Georgia they make up no more than 15% of the population."

"Ruffin said that seven of the nine witnesses at Davis's 1991 trial had since recanted. They included a man who said under oath that he had seen MacPhail being killed, and that it was not Davis who shot him but another man called Sylvester Cole.

"Another witness said under oath that she had heard Coles confess three times to killing MacPhail and using Davis as the fall guy..."
Murder Is Good Politics, Bad Justice, Robert Scheer, Truthdig:
I don’t know if Troy Davis was innocent, but I do know that the evidence for demanding a re-examination of his conviction, including the recanted testimony of most of the witnesses against him, was overwhelming. But of course that is now beside the point, which is exactly what is so wrong about the use of the death penalty. No matter what evidence of innocence might be produced in the future, it is of consequence no longer.

That is a compelling argument against the death penalty—no room for correction—but there are others...
Troy Davis, victim of judicial lynching, The Guardian, Amy Goodman
...Troy Davis has three major strikes against him. First, he is an African American man. Second, he was charged with killing a white police officer. And third, he is in Georgia.

More than a century ago, the legendary muckraking journalist Ida B Wells risked her life when she began reporting on the epidemic of lynchings in the Deep South. She published Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All its Phases in 1892 and followed up with The Red Record in 1895, detailing hundreds of lynchings. She wrote:

"In Brooks County, Georgia, 23 December, while this Christian country was preparing for Christmas celebration, seven Negroes were lynched in 24 hours because they refused, or were unable to tell the whereabouts of a colored man named Pike, who killed a white man … Georgia heads the list of lynching states."
The planned execution of Davis will not be at the hands of an unruly mob, but in the sterile, fluorescently lit confines of Georgia diagnostic and classification prison in Butts County, near the town of Jackson. The state doesn't intend to hang Troy Davis from a tree with a rope or a chain – to hang, as Billie Holiday sang, like a strange fruit:

"Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees."
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Cut that red tape again, please

Premier Clark is barnstorming around the province celebrating jobs week. Not wanting to incur more debt and commit new spending, she intends to repurpose planned expenditures. Of course, she also repeats the standard refrain about deregulation:
“Government often puts numerous barriers in the way of people creating jobs and we have to find ways we are trying to get out of the way..."
It is hard to believe there is any mileage in the old red tape reduction shibboleth. Liberals have been bulldozing barriers and slashing red tape for more than a decade. Who can forget:
  • "Red Tape Reduction Task Force" of 2001 to recommend priorities for the review and elimination of regulations in BC.
  • Rich Coleman's 2002 announcement that red tape had been slashed by 41 per cent under BC Liberals.
  • In 2004, Alberta Premier Ralph Klein noted he and Campbell have been working together to cut red tape.
  • Energy Minister Richard Neufeld's 2007 announcement that red tape had been slashed for entrepreneurs in British Columbia.
  • The Fraser Institute's 2007 congratulations for the BC government introducing "numerous progressive policies" to cut red tape "to make BC more competitive."
  • In 2008, Small Business Minister Rick Thorpe announced "BizPaL is a user-friendly, time-saving tool designed to cut red tape and reflect our government's commitment to making British Columbia Canada's most small-business-friendly jurisdiction,"
  • The Vancouver Sun's 2008 celebration that Gordon Campbell had been "elected premier to rid us of government red tape."
  • The BC Government's declaration in January 2011 of ‘Red Tape Awareness Week’ to celebrate the province’s leading role in “reducing regulatory requirements.”
The mantra about cutting red tape will be repeated forever and it seems relatively harmless. No one wants unnecessary barriers placed by government before any activity, except initiatives that might harm persons or property. If someone wants to build a chemical factory upstream of my house, I sure as hell want a great number of meaningful routines confronting them before they proceed. Christy Clark's mentor Gwyn Morgan and the oil billionaires want no barriers or red tape preventing them from putting oil and gas pipelines between Kitimat and the Alberta tar sands. Most British Columbians would disagree.

ProPublica examined red tape and regulatory barriers in "Do Regulations Really Kill Jobs Overall? Not So Much. It is a good read:
“The effects on jobs are negligible. They’re not job-creating or job-destroying on average,” said Richard Morgenstern, who served in the EPA from the Reagan to Clinton years and is now at Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan think tank.

Almost a decade ago, Morgenstern and some colleagues published research on the effects of regulation [PDF] using ten years’ worth of Census data on four different polluting industries. They found that when new environmental regulation was applied, higher production costs pushed up prices, resulting in lost sales for businesses and some lost jobs, but the job losses were also offset by new jobs created in pollution abatement.
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Next we sell off naming rights for schools

Private business promoters aim to eliminate public enterprises through privatization, contracting out and outsourcing. They promote the myth that delivery of services by private, often multinational, companies gains cost and service efficiencies. Thus, BC Liberals, obedient clients to business masters, degrade public agencies and support quasi-public mongrels such as Community Living BC, author of the Ridge Meadows recycling fiasco.

Accountability is unclear so politicians believe they are shielded from blame for failures. Agencies serve another political purpose because loyal party supporters can be rewarded at public expense with untendered contracts and lucrative sinecures outside the professional civil service.

Preference for services to be delivered to the public by private corporations is a matter of bias, often founded on selective evidence. There is no intrinsic reason why a global business with foreign headquarters and a shady history, Accenture for example, should be more efficient and effective than a crown corporation or public agency, provided the latter is not crippled by people or policies imposed for non-business reasons.

Private enterprises, perhaps because of their focus on maximizing profits, have been associated with wrongdoing in delivering essential social services. For example, ProPublica reported on:
"how two [Pennsylvania] judges there carried out a scheme in which they took $2.8 million in kickbacks from a private juvenile prison company in exchange for lengthy sentences."
The Economist examined the operation of private prisons in the USA and found:
"that firms in the prison business reap profits by billing government for rather more than their initial lowball estimates while scrimping in ways that may make prisons less secure."
A generation ago, public education was intended to provide universal access, allowing roughly equal prospects for betterment to citizens. Now, according to Christy Clark, the government's focus will not be on delivering the best possible education to learners, instead it will promote a market driven, for-profit education industry, recruiting wealthy students from overseas.

We already have substantial private initiatives in secondary level schooling. For example, West Vancouver School Board offers academic and sports programs to international students. Regular students may be subsidizing this effort through foregone services and attention. There is so little transparency that taxpayers can not be certain whether the focus on fees paying foreign students is hurtful to resident children. It is clear though that ancillary social costs for policing, transit, healthcare and other public services are excluded from WVSB's financial analysis, the burden simply left for taxpayers at provincial and federal levels to shoulder. Other school districts pursue similar commercial objectives.

This week Premier Clark announced that more BC students will be elbowed aside in a campaign to further commercialize our schools. She aims:
"to increase the number of post-secondary students from other countries studying in B.C."
The intended commercialization of schools is not a considered program of educators, it is a wedge, created for the future benefit of private entrepreneurs. It is the dream of some to covert British Columbia's public school system into an agency to educate only the poor and disadvantaged, the children of little commercial value, while the remaining children take taxpayer provided payment vouchers to private schools of choice.

Last year, Donald Gutstein, wrote in his Georgia Straight article War on public schools rages:
"Supporters of public education need to realize they’re in the middle of a war for its future, and they’re losing.

"The Fraser Institute’s school report-card program is merely the opening salvo in a campaign to strip public education of its funding and direct the resources to the private and nonprofit sectors.

"...Lost in the debate are the goals of universally accessible, publicly funded education, such as preparing children for citizenship, cultivating a skilled work force, and developing critical-thinking skills."
The next step in the BC Liberal plan may be to sell naming rights to school buildings and school programs. You won't send your child to grade one at Adams Road Elementary School. It will be to the McDonalds Introduction to School Program at the Walmart Family Education Center of North Cloverdale.
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