2. Reasons for Despair

Dec-20-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Sam Beckett said it best, “Do not despair; one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume; one of the thieves was damned.” Some people look at America and see a crumbling empire headed for ruin; some see a country that has still great potential. The next two sections offer some of the more eloquent visions of each.

* A Metaphor for America Chris Hedges The Walrus (Thanks, Terry)

The country’s 716 overseas military bases, some the size of small cities, will eventually become too costly. Many will close. But, unlike the British, who methodically dismantled an empire, we will not retreat in time to save ourselves. We will go down like ancient Rome. Our traditional allies in the Middle East and Asia, smelling blood, will look elsewhere for alliances and protection. The US dollar will no longer be the reserve currency, meaning we will be unable to pay for the huge deficits that fund military adventurism by selling depressed Treasury notes to China and other foreign investors. Climate change, with its droughts, heat waves, freak storms, and flooding, will hammer crop yields and tax emergency services. The US, like the city of Scranton, will teeter back and forth with insolvency. I do not know when the collapse will come. A year. Two years. A few years. But America has about it the smell of mortality.

…And the contagion will spread. Destabilized by the collapse of the American dollar, rising prices, and declining exports, Canada will also suffer, although yours will be a less virulent strain than the one that infects us. But what is happening to us will happen to you, because there is no way out. The corporate forces that doomed us will doom you, too. Canada will become to a disintegrating America what Hungary was to Nazi Germany. But for us, the fall will be swifter, harder, more terrifying, and far more violent, because we retain the capacity, like a wounded animal, to lash out irrationally, to use our bloated military in reckless endeavours. We are not psychologically, emotionally, or intellectually prepared. We lack the self-reflective mechanisms to understand. Our national identity and sense of omnipotence will be inexplicably taken from us. The tragedy, however, is not that the American empire is dying. It is that we will bring so many people like you down with us.

* Some Personal Thoughts   Ian Welsh

Recently I had a day where I burned out on anger.  Oh  yes, when it comes to public affairs I’ve been angry for years, though I think rage is the more applicable word.  I don’t think this rage was misplaced, and I still get spasms of it.

The reason for the rage is simple enough: we’re killing and making a lot of people suffer who don’t need to with our political policies, economic policies just being a subset of politics.  The financial collapse was foreseen by many, myself included and we told the powers that be what to do to avoid it.  The rise of economic inequality, which is correlated with pretty much every bad thing you can imagine, from heart attacks to infant mortality to bad performance in school and crime (read the Spirit Level if you need this proved in tedious detail), has been going on since the mid 70s at the latest, and was clearly visible by the mid eighties.  It was, and is a clear policy choice.  It was chosen in response to a real problem, the end of cheap oil and the rise of the oligarchy rich, but it was a choice, there were other ways of dealing with the problem available.  First the Brits, then the Americans, then the Canadians and then various other nations chose the policy option which would lead to increased inequality.  This was combined with a concerted assault on civil liberties, in this case I believe starting in America with the War on Drugs.  Society became more totalitarian, whatever the trappings, and less free, not just in government, but in every part of our lives.  I find the way we treat our children today, with virtually no freedom, particularly odious (no your precious children are not in more danger than children in the 60s and 70s who were allowed to run free).  Police in schools are routine now, we imprison people in stunningly cruel prisons for minor crimes and so on.  Visiting Britain was like visiting a starter project for Orwell’s 1984, with CCTV cameras everywhere.

Our response to the financial crisis, a totally optional crisis which was based almost entirely on fraud, was to make the poor and the middle class pay through austerity, while bailing out the rich with trillions and trillions of dollars. 

 * A Failed Experiment Nicholas Kristof  New York Times

Time and again, we see the decline of public services accompanied by the rise of private workarounds for the wealthy.

Is crime a problem? Well, rather than pay for better policing, move to a gated community with private security guards!

Are public schools failing? Well, superb private schools have spaces for a mere $40,000 per child per year.

Public libraries closing branches and cutting hours? Well, buy your own books and magazines!

Are public parks — even our awesome national parks, dubbed “America’s best idea” and the quintessential “public good” — suffering from budget cuts? Don’t whine. Just buy a weekend home in the country!

Public playgrounds and tennis courts decrepit? Never mind — just join a private tennis club!

I’m used to seeing this mind-set in developing countries like Chad or Pakistan, where the feudal rich make do behind high walls topped with shards of glass; increasingly, I see it in our country. The disregard for public goods was epitomized by Mitt Romney’s call to end financing of public broadcasting.

A wealthy friend of mine notes that we all pay for poverty in the end. The upfront way is to finance early childhood education for at-risk kids. The back-end way is to pay for prisons and private security guards. In cities with high economic inequality, such as New York and Los Angeles, more than 1 percent of all employees work as private security guards, according to census data.

4. Canada, Québec, and People who are Mad as Hell

Sep-28-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Howard Beale famously said, in Network, “I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth; banks are going bust….” Things are bad in Canada, as the view from the UK makes clear…but people are fighting back, and as in Quebec , winning.

* Maple Leaf Ragged: What Ails Canada?  The Guardian

There’s trouble brewing in Canada.

It’s difficult to perceive on first glance. In Toronto, the air is clean, crime rates are low and healthcare is universal. Yet an undercurrent of anxiety courses through the country’s public discourse and its media; it dominates conversations in coffee shops and university hallways. A volley of recent polarizing political developments has led many Canadians to ask whether their country’s reputation as a tolerant,environmentally conscious international peacemaker is suddenly in doubt.

A harsh crackdown on illegal immigrants has belied the notion of a country open to incomers. Quebec has elected a separatist provincial government, triggering political violence. The extraction of oil from the vast tar sands of Alberta has proven hugely controversial, as has the marginalization of the country’s First Nations indigenous people. In foreign policy, Canada is increasingly toeing the US line, most recently cutting diplomatic ties with Iran. And its Afghanistan deployment has been tainted by allegations of complicity in the torture of detainees.

* Rick’s Rant – Omnibus Bill II: The Sequel Rick Mercer YouTube 

* Marois Scraps Tuition Fee Hikes First Day On The JobThe Globe and Mail

Her first day on the job and Premier Pauline Marois didn’t lose any time scrapping former Liberal government policies: University tuition fee hikes were cancelled, a law restricting public demonstrations was repealed, Quebec’s only nuclear power plant will be closed and shale gas development in the province was put on hold permanently….The Parti Québécois government also repealed the controversial law banning demonstrations, which opponents called a violation of the right to free speech and public assembly.

“These two decisions [cancelling tuition increases and repealing the legislation] will allow us to bring back peace and re-establish rights and freedoms,” Ms. Marois said.

* Quebec Students Hail Their Movement’s Victories C. Robert, J. Reynolds, CLASSE

Many mocked us, many vilified us, many told us we would achieve nothing.

But after a wave of student mobilization in Quebec through the spring and summer, we can count our victories: on the first day of the new PQ government’s term, it cancelled a tuition hike and repealed an anti-protest law that curbed basic freedoms of expression and assembly.

If the PQ yielded so quickly to some of our demands, it is because we organized a strike movement whose support was popular and broad, which allowed people of all ages and walks of life to express their grievances about our political and economic system, and which helped defeat the Charest Liberal government.

That might be hard to believe, going by the depictions of us in English Canada: halfwitted hooligans, spoiled brats or frightening extremists. But if we are guilty of anything, it is of questioning the dogmas of the rich and powerful, who have spent the last decades trying to lower our expectations for what is politically possible.

The purveyors of such dogmas insisted we be quiet and content, because our tuition was already the lowest in Canada. But it remains lowest precisely because we have fought our government every time it tried to raise it. As with education, the fundamental rights we value today — of abortion, collective bargaining, health care and many more — are not gifts from politicians, but a legacy of the struggles of ordinary people.

2. Iran, Other Countries, (and Canada)

Sep-14-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: A fascinating look at what happened in Iran when it hosted the recent NAM (Non-Aligned Movement), which includes ⅔ of the UN’s countries and 55% of the world’s population. And why, as even the US is trying to dial down the rhetoric on Iran, did Canada dial it up? What was Harper thinking?

* The Non-Aligned Movement Meeting Strengthened Iran Armin Azad Informed Comment

Although it was largely ignored by the Western media, the Teheran Non-Aligned Summit concluded its work last Friday. It approved a statement supporting Iran on the nuclear issue; opposing unilateral economic sanctions (i.e. US-led sanctions against Iran), and; condemning any attack or threat of attack against peaceful nuclear facilities (an indirect reference to Israeli threats of attack against Iranian nuclear facilities). Iran claims that it has scored a big diplomatic victory by securing the support of all NAM members on these issues. Against the background of the strong campaign carried out by the US and Israel prior to the conference to discourage Non-Aligned leaders as well UN Secretary General from participating in the meeting, it arguably seems so – at least to informed Iran observers!

To the delight of the Iranian authorities, all 120 Members of the Movement sent representatives to the conference and about 50 of them at the head of states level. From the perspective of the Iranian authorities, the conference and its final statement provided a convincing argument to counter the claims by U.S and the West that in their accusations against Iran over nuclear and other issues they speak for international community.

* A Rebuke to the American-Israeli Economic War on Iran Juan Cole NationofChange

In his acceptance speech in Charlotte, N.C., President Barack Obama said, “The Iranian government must face a world that stays united against its nuclear ambitions.” It wasn’t much noted in the Western press, but in fact the recent Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Tehran last month delivered a slap in the face to the Israeli-American financial and commercial war on Iran over its nuclear enrichment program. The 120 countries of the movement, representing some two-thirds of United Nations member states and 55 percent of the world’s population, refused to boycott Iran. More, they upheld Iran’s right to pursue nuclear-powered electricity. But given that the U.S. and Europe constitute half of the world’s gross domestic product and maintain its most powerful standing armies, does the meeting’s symbolic gesture really matter?

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon defied severe pressure from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and attended the Tehran summit. Some reports suggested that Ban went because he was annoyed by the vehemence of the Israeli government. India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh not only insisted on attending but brought a big delegation of businessmen with him looking for deals with Iran. For the first time since 1979, an Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, flew to Tehran, signalling an end to Cairo’s decades of obsequiousness toward the U.S.

The final communiqué upheld Iran’s right to pursue the enrichment of uranium for energy purposes and rejected the United States’ boycotts and sanctions on Iran. It further warned that any attack on nuclear facilities would be illegal under international law and a violation of basic human rights. It stressed Palestinian rights, including the right of Palestinian refugees to return home to what is now Israel. In other words, the Non-Aligned Movement document contained the opposite of everything Netanyahu and Hillary Clinton say on each of these points.

What Has Prompted Canada’s Move Against Iran? Tony Burman Toronto Star

Tony Burman, former head of Al Jazeera English and CBC News, teaches journalism at Ryerson University.

Although his swearing-in at Rideau Hall must have happened in the dead of night, Canada appears to have a new foreign minister. His name is Benjamin Netanyahu. His day job may be prime minister of Israel, but Canada’s abrupt actions against Iran seem to confirm that the Harper government’s outsourcing of Canada’s Middle East policy to Jerusalem is now complete.

There is little else to conclude from Canada’s unwise decision to move unilaterally on Iran at this moment. All sorts of crucial issues are in play with Iran. They involve the future of its nuclear program, the impatience of Israel’s leadership to attack Iran, the shape of a new Middle East as the heinous Syrian regime implodes and several delicate life-and-death issues involving Canadians on death row in Iran. Surprisingly, Western nations have held together on how to approach these key challenges — except, now, for Canada.

So why would Canada indulge in a meaningless poke in the eye that will only be dismissed by Tehran and serve to push the Canadian government even further to the extremes of diplomatic irrelevance?

* Canada’s Diplomatic Disaster  Eric Walberg

On 7 September, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced that Canada is suspending all diplomatic relations with Iran, expelling all Iranian diplomats, closing its embassy in Tehran, and authorizing Turkey to act on Canada’s behalf for consular services there. Baird cited Iran’s enmity with Israel, its support of Syria and terrorism. “Canada views the government of Iran as the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today,” Baird said at the Asia Pacific Economic Conference in Vladivostok, Russia. 

While indeed Iran has been the nation most outspokenly critic of Israel, and is actively working to thwart the Western-backed insurgency in Syria, there is no evidence of its support for “terrorism”. It is in fact the victim of terrorism on the part of Israel and the US, which boast about assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists and destroying Iranian computers with viruses made-to-order, among other officially-sponsored acts of subversion.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast suggested that the real reason for Harper’s latest targeting of Iran was because of Iran’s successful hosting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Tehran in August. Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says Tehran’s hosting of the 16th NAM Summit was a “humiliating defeat” for the West. 

Humiliation is indeed the operative word for Canada in particular. The past five years of Conservative rule in Canada under the fiercely pro-Israeli Prime Minister Stephen Harper have brought nothing but disgrace to Canada internationally, and this present move adds further humiliation. 

…“It’s hard to find a country friendlier to Israel than Canada these days,” chirped Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on his official visit in 2010. 

Sept 6th, 2012 :: Year 9, Issue 30

Sep-07-2012 | Comments (2)

1. The Shape of the Economy

Bird’s Eye: The economy is lopsided. Those at the top get a disproportionate share, and as money equals power, they have the power to remain at the top. This is particularly so in the US, in which corporations are allowed unlimited donations. And wealthy corporations want governments who will help them to become wealthier, whatever the cost to other parts of society. The three folks below get this. Pass it on.

* 21 Basic Points On The Economy  Ian Welsh

4) The upper middle class job market has recovered, which is why those folks are no longer panicking and are telling you that the economy isn’t so bad as all that.

5) The failure to force the rich to take their losses and to break up the banks means that the same people who caused the 2007/8 financial crisis still control the economy and the government.

10) Austerity is a means by which the rich can buy up assets which are not normally on the market for cheap.

11) the wealth of the rich and major corporations has recovered and in many countries exceeded its prior highs.  They are doing fine. Austerity is not hurting them. They control your politicians.  The depression will not end until it is in their interest for it to do so, or their wealth and power is broken.

* Elizabeth Warren Speech at the DNC HuffPo

We’re Americans. We celebrate success. We just don’t want the game to be rigged. We’ve fought to level the playing field before. About a century ago, when corrosive greed threatened our economy and our way of life, the American people came together under the leadership of Teddy Roosevelt and other progressives, to bring our nation back from the brink.

We started to take children out of factories and put them in schools. We began to give meaning to the words “consumer protection” by making our food and medicine safe. And we gave the little guys a better chance to compete by preventing the big guys from rigging the markets. We turned adversity into progress because that’s what we do.

…The Republican vision is clear: “I’ve got mine, the rest of you are on your own.” Republicans say they don’t believe in government. Sure they do. They believe in government to help themselves and their powerful friends. After all, Mitt Romney’s the guy who said corporations are people.

No, Governor Romney, corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance. They live, they love, and they die. And that matters. That matters because we don’t run this country for corporations, we run it for people. And that’s why we need Barack Obama.

* America’s Prosperity Requires A Level Playing Field  Joseph Stiglitz L.A. Times

Despite what the debt and deficit hawks would have you believe, we can’t cut our way back to prosperity. No large economy has ever recovered from serious recession through austerity. But there is another factor holding our economy back: inequality.

Any solution to today’s problems requires addressing the economy’s underlying weakness: a deficiency in aggregate demand. Firms won’t invest if there is no demand for their products. And one of the key reasons for lack of demand is America’s level of inequality — the highest in the advanced countries.

Because those at the top spend a much smaller portion of their income than those in the bottom and middle, when money moves from the bottom and middle to the top (as has been happening in America in the last dozen years), demand drops. The best way to promote employment today and sustained economic growth for the future, therefore, is to focus on the underlying problem of inequality. And this better economic performance in turn will generate more tax revenue, improving the country’s fiscal position.

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