January 31, 2015

Weekly Headlines

Click on a headline below to go to that news item

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Commentary

A story from a real ‘American Sniper’

National News

ISIS fight: Tom Lawson reassures MPs about risk to special forces

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

World News

News from Davos. Getting ready to run: Ruler elites’ fear of those they dominate growing. They are planning their escapes from the inevitable

Commentary

Broken Britain: Stop voting in fear. Start voting for hope

Arts

Kill all the messengers! Stephen Harper’s assault on your right to know. Ottawa has become a place where the nation’s business is done in secret, and access to information—the lifeblood of democracy in Canada—is under attack

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Commentary

Does the Western Axis’ 40-year program of downsizing democracy entail the collapse of the world as we know it?

Commentary

The Greek gauntlet: Syriza offers a serious challenge to Greece’s oligarchy and the EU technocrats; to neoliberals and neo-fascists alike & Is Canada ripe for a Syriza movement?

World News

The Ukraine war: One must recognize that some causes are objectively better than others, even if they are advanced by equally bad means

Commentary

Does Stephen Harper see his conflict with Islamic State as his Falklands War? & A likely scenario: The real Canadian ISIS mission—get Stephen Harper re-elected

Monday, January 26, 2015

Commentary

Commentary on the Saudi palace coup

World News

The Ukrainian army is essentially a ‘NATO legion’ which doesn’t pursue the national interests of Ukraine says Putin; Chief of the US Army in Europe hands out trinkets to maimed soldiers in Kiev’s Central Military Hospital & Renewed hostilities in Donbass see Ukrainian fighters suffer huge losses

Commentary

From outside, Greece looks like a giant negative: But what lies beneath the rise of Syriza is the resurgence of positive classic values & Talks to watch: Syriza’s coalition partner makes them an extremely tough negotiating team when bailout talks resume

Commentary

The origin of modern terror and crumbling Western values? Israel’s illegal and agonizingly long occupation of the Palestinians

Commentary

A likely scenario: The real Canadian ISIS mission—get Stephen Harper re-elected & The film, ‘American Sniper’, illustrates Western Axis’ morality blind spots

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Commentary

Just as rape and sex have nothing to do with each other, pictures shared with and without consent are completely different things

Social Ideas

Bonfire of the Humanities: The writing of history, what is to be done?

Commentary

In response to Europe’s lapse of reason, Greece, which way forward? & Preliminary election results: Greece’s Syriza set to sweep election

Commentary

Russia won’t go ‘begging’ for better relations with Canada: Ambassador & Imperial invective and confrontation: Axis’ anti-Russia propaganda campaign shows no sign of abating

Posted at: January 31, 2015 - 7:01 am -- Posted by: SSNews -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

January 30, 2015

,

Lessons from Greece. The Greek earthquake: Putting a scare into the halls of the rich and powerful, if people prevail, austerity fails

Spain, Italy, Ireland, Portugal—are you listening, watching? The tyrants must be overthrown.

‘Greece-EU clash over anti-Russia statement: others may follow Athens’ suit’
RT Russia January 28, 2016


Photo: Yannis Behrakis/Reuters. Vist this page for its audio and related links.

Greece’s discontent with the EU over an anti-Russian statement may give new momentum to other European countries, and make it easier for them to have courage to say “no” to Brussels dictate, foreign affairs analyst Srdja Trifkovic told RT.

RT: How come the EU issued this strong statement without the consent of all the members?

Srdja Trifkovic: Because it is very difficult in the EU to be the first country to break ranks. Now that the Greeks have made the move I confidently expect that, the Hungarians in particular, but perhaps also Slovakia and Cyprus, will find it easier to have courage and say “no” to the dictate from Brussels. I believe that the move such as announced by the government in Athens today can have momentum. Once you have the first voice countering the dictates and ‘faits accomplis’ from Brussels then maybe some other countries will follow suit. In particular Budapest, Bratislava and Nicosia are to be watched in this respect.

RT: Is this the first time the Council of the EU has issued a statement like this without seeking consent?

ST: To my knowledge this is the first such occasion. It reflects above all the ideological commitment of the Polish President of the EU, Donald Tusk, who has been well known during the 7 years of his prime ministership of Poland as an enemy of Russia, to impose these sanctions against [Russia]… Obviously in order to do so because of his deep commitment he is prepared to cut corners. But I believe that Greeks and maybe some others will call him to task for that.

RT: Is this the beginning of strained relations between Greece and the rest of the EU?

ST: The real test will come on Thursday when several countries, including the UK in particular, will be asking for additional sanctions against Russia in the wake of the Mariupol deaths. If the Greeks decidedly act against this then it will herald a crisis, because in March there will be a need for unanimity when the first package of sanctions against Russia comes up for renewal, and then in June and July – the second package. Without the Greeks they simply cannot be renewed because all 28 [EU countries] have to be in favor. Donald Tusk will not be able to pretend that unanimity does exist when it doesn’t.

RT: Some sources suggest that Greece has even tried to remove a line which blames Russia for the Mariupol shelling. Does Moscow have a new friend in Europe?

ST: Moscow has quite a few friends in Europe. One of them is the Prime Minister of Hungary, [Viktor] Orban. Also there are many other parties all over Europe that are aware that the policy of sanctions is harming Europe more than it’s harming Russia, and that it’s only serving the interests of the US and its fellow travelers within the EU. The task for Russia is to apply its soft power skillfully and in a carefully measured way, because I believe that both on the left and on the right of the political spectrum in Europe it has actual and potential friends – in particular on the left as we’ve seen now with Greece, and on the right with the Front National in France and with the Freedom Party in Austria, and in various other places. So far Europe has been governed for too long with central-left and central-right parties, such as the German Social Democrats and Christian Democrats, who do not offer anything substantially new. With these new parties both on the left and on the right I believe that the attitude to Russia will be changed.

Greece won’t cooperate with ‘troika,’ rejects aid extension
RT Russia January 30, 2016

Visit this page for its audio links.

The new left-wing Greek government has said that it will not cooperate with the ‘troika’ of international lenders, and does not plan to seek an extension for its aid package which is set to expire at the end of February.

Without the aid, Greek banks could face being shut off from European Central Bank funding.

Rejecting cooperation with the ‘troika’ from the EU and IMF, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said he would rather negotiate the debt in direct talks with eurozone leaders.

“This position enabled us to win the trust of the Greek people,” Varoufakis said Friday during a joint press conference with Jeroen Dijsselbloem, head of the eurozone finance ministers’ group.

“Our first action as a government will not be to reject the rationale of questioning this program through a request to extend it,” Varoufakis said. “We respect institutions but we don’t plan to cooperate with that committee.”

The meeting between Varoufakis and Dijsselbloem is to lay the groundwork for visits by newly-elected Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the finance minister to London, Paris, and Rome next week. The new Greek leadership has voiced its intention to attempt to loosen the terms of the massive €240 billion (US$271 billion) bailout.

The new government has fueled panic among creditors and investors by promising to freeze privatizations and re-hire state workers, in addition to rolling back other reforms that were mandated by the bailout.

Varoufakis said he had told Dijsselbloem that although Athens plans to make the economy more competitive and balance its budgets, the country refuses to accept deflation and non-viable debt.

Dijsselbloem, meanwhile, warned Greece against taking unilateral measures and cautioned the new finance minister against rolling back progress.

Germany, Greece’s biggest lender, has said it will not consider writing off the country’s debt. Berlin expects Greece to implement structural reform in exchange for support.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble said Berlin is not willing to radically renegotiate current agreements.

“We’re prepared for any discussions at any time but the basis can’t be changed,” he said. “Beyond that, it is hard to blackmail us.”

First they took Athens, now it’s time for Berlin
Rick Salutin Toronto Star Ontario Canada January 29, 2015


Greeks celebrate the election victory of anti-austerity Syriza party in Athens on Jan. 25, 2015. Photo: AP

The Canadian connection. I find it touching that the song line starting most Syriza rallies during the Greek election was Leonard Cohen’s, “First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin.” I might’ve preferred Cohen’s “Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.” But Germany plays a special role; it’s been the source of the most brutal pressures on Greeks in the name of economic dogma, a.k.a. austerity. It’s behind the overall crash with 60 per cent youth unemployment — and also the fact that the young haven’t just given up on owning a home, they despair of ever being able to marry.

Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras’s first act after winning the election was visiting a memorial to Greeks slaughtered during the Nazi occupation. Syriza is demanding reparations from Germany which go far beyond the debt it owes the EU. They’re also reminding everyone of the fact that Germany itself was forgiven its entire debt in 1953 — basically because it was insupportable.

Why Syriza won. The short answer is: they put people first. I know all parties say that but (a) they only say it and (b) they only say it at elections. Syriza said and did it. Because they’re not just a party but a coalition of parties, groups and movements, they naturally extended into communities and helped people with real needs. This in turn proved they weren’t like other parties, just in it for power. That near cliché translated into real policies.
The EU/Germany clearly put numbers (of euros owed) first, as Greece’s new finance minister says. So the debate was over priorities. If people prevail, austerity fails. It turns out austerity wasn’t inevitable, like a law of nature; it was a question of values.

Syriza and the NDP. Idealistic leftists everywhere always ask if they should work in the current parties (NDP, UK Labour, Democrats) or create a new one. The argument for leaving is: they’re unreformable. The argument for staying is: it’s too hard to create an institution from scratch. Apparently no longer. Syriza didn’t exist 15 years ago. Six years ago they were at 4.6 per cent. Their Spanish equivalent, Podemos (means “Yes We Can”) formed a year ago. It’s now tied with the governing party.

Neither Syriza nor Podemos are a media creation. The mass media scorned and mocked both. They have more to do with digital media, social networks and an ability to bypass the mainstreams. They are, at their core, not bureaucratic electoral machines but coalitions, so their identity isn’t solely built on winning power. They also reek of newness. They’re cut from a new cloth, even in the clothes they wear (Tsipras without a tie, Spain’s Iglesias in T-shirts. Now think of Tom Mulcair).

PASOK, Greece’s traditional left party, was in the government that imposed austerity. It often governed in the past and has “socialist” in its very name, yet everyone there unselfconsciously says that Syriza is the first left-wing government Greece has ever had. That’s pretty damning. PASOK is down to 4.7 per cent of votes.

What Syriza and Podemos proved, against all expectations (including mine), is that you can reject the dominant neoliberal consensus re austerity, balanced budgets, etc., and succeed in the tired old electoral arena. But not if you’re one of the tired old parties.

Where was the coverage? I expected wall-to-wall news about Sunday’s Greek election. Monday morning it was almost nowhere. We got the blizzard in the U.S. and the red carpet at the SAG awards. CBC had the usual arrests and traffic jams. Yet this was the first successful electoral challenge to 30-plus years of a dominant political mentality. And it happened, as it were, here. Such challenges have been mounted in Latin America, they’ve become normal there. But Greece is First World (or almost, it’s also pretty Middle Eastern). I think what’s lacking is the mere vocabulary to think in new, non-neoliberal terms. When you don’t have the language, it doesn’t really exist. Not yet anyway.

Bonus fact on austerity. When Greek dockworkers struck to protest privatization of the historic port of Piraeus, their own government, at EU urging, conscripted them into the military en masse so that they could be jailed for refusing orders to work. Still wonder why so many of them hate those bastards?

The Greek earthquake
Conn Hallinan CounterPunch USA January 30-February 1, 2015

Visit this page for its embedded links.

Almost before the votes were counted in the recent Greek elections, battle lines were being drawn all over Europe. While Alexis Tsipras, the newly elected Prime Minister from Greece’s victorious Syriza Party, was telling voters, “Greece is leaving behind catastrophic austerity, fear and autocratic government,” Jens Weidmann, president of the German Bundesbank, was warning the new government not to “make promises it cannot keep and the country cannot afford.”

On Feb. 12 those two points of view will collide when European Union (EU) heads of state gather in Brussels. Whether the storm blowing out of Southern Europe proves an irresistible force, or the European Council an immovable object, is not clear, but whatever the outcome, the continent is not likely to be the same after that meeting.

The Jan 25 victory of Greece’s leftwing Syriza Party was, on one hand, a beacon for indebted countries like Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland. On the other, it is a gauntlet for Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, and the “troika”—the European Central bank, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—the designers and enforcers of loans and austerity policies that have inflicted a catastrophic economic and social crisis on tens of millions of Europeans.

The troika’s policies were billed as “bailouts” for countries mired in debt—one largely caused by the 2008 financial speculation bubble over which indebted countries had little control—and as a way to restart economic growth. In return for the loans, the EU and the troika demanded massive cutbacks in social services, huge layoffs, privatization of pubic resources, and higher taxes.

However, the “bailouts” did not go toward stimulating economies, but rather to repay creditors, mostly large European banks. Out of the $266 billion loaned to Greece, 89 percent went to investors. After five years under the troika formula, Greece was the most indebted country in Europe. Gross national product dropped 26 percent, unemployment topped 27 percent (and over 50 percent for young people), and one-third of the population lost their health care coverage.

Given a chance to finally vote on the austerity strategy, Greeks overwhelmingly rejected the parties that went along with the troika and elected Syriza.

Now it gets tricky, starting with the internal situation within Greece.

Posted at: January 30, 2015 - 4:59 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

Stephen Harper feeds his base: Canadian Security Intelligence Service powers to be expanded under Harper’s new omnibus bill

Jim comment: Harper feeds his base. Guter Deutscher. Good Canadian. Salute! As for me, I cultivate white roses in my garden.

CSIS powers to be expanded under Harper’s ‘Anti-Terrorism Act’
Karl Nerenberg rabble.ca blogs Canada January 30, 2015

The government has tabled its massive new prevention of terrorism legislation.

It includes a new offence: knowingly “advocating” commission of terrorism offences “in general.”

The key words here are: “in general.”

Currently, it is a crime to advocate or promote a specific terrorist act. Now it will be a crime to more broadly promote something at once more general and more ephemeral, in ways the law does not define.

Government officials say this provision does not include what they call “glorification” of terrorism — that is, praising the acts of “terrorists” but not encouraging others to commit such acts.

However, the legislation itself is not specific on that point.

The guarantees against abuse of these new and broader criminal code provisions, officials say, are in the fact that the Attorney General of Canada and a judge must agree that an advocacy offence has been committed.

The law will significantly expand the powers of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), Canada’s ‘spy agency’.

CSIS currently is primarily an information gathering organization. It is supposed to analyze and identify actual and potential foreign or foreign-directed threats to Canada. It is not mandated to spy on Canadians or engage in law enforcement actions.

The new law will give CSIS the power to act, not merely analyze.

The law is vague on the nature of CSIS’s new powers to act, but government officials cite the example of a young, radicalized man who might be tempted to join an active terrorist group.

The new law will give CSIS the power to not only interview such an individual in order to gather information, but also to intervene to prevent the young man from engaging in notional terrorist activity. CSIS officers could also now report this supposedly dangerous young person to the RCMP and the RCMP could arrest him.

The new legislative package — it is in fact an omnibus bill that includes a number of significant measures bundled under the title of the “Anti-Terrorism Act” — will also expand the capacity of the police to hold suspected “terrorists,” without charge, fromthe current three to seven days, and it will lower the legal threshold for such detentions.

Currently the authorities must be convinced that terrorist activity will happen; now they will only have to establish that such activity may happen.
There is lots more, and the bill raises many questions about protection of fundamental freedoms.

For now, the government has had its big and highly controlled media show, complete with ringing rhetoric from the Prime Minister at a carefully staged event in suburban Toronto.

Parliament will have to deal with this bill, but the government didn’t think it necessary to introduce it there.

No, instead of a statement in the House of Commons, you will be seeing the Prime Minister’s face all over the media today and tomorrow, looking straight at the camera, surrounding by adoring Conservative partisans, pledging to be “vigilant” and keep Canadians “safe.”

This is an election year after all, and this initiative is as much about politics as it is about protecting us all from the threat of “terrorism.”

Spy service to get new anti-terror powers
Jim Bronskill Canadian Press/National Newswatch Canada January 30, 2015

Prime Minister Stephen Harper makes an announcement in Richmond Hill, Ont., on Friday, Jan. 30, 2015. Photo: Frank Gunn/Canadian Press

OTTAWA – Canada’s spy agency could soon have the power to derail terrorist plots — not just gather and analyze information about them — as the government moves to confront radical threats with an array of new legal tools.

Legislation tabled Friday would allow the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to thwart a suspected extremist’s travel plans, disrupt bank transactions and covertly meddle with jihadist websites.

The plan to boost the spy service’s ability to counter terrorism flows from a review of fatal attacks on two Canadian soldiers last October — incidents the government believes were fuelled by Islamic extremism.

The Conservatives say the new powers are needed to help keep Canadians safe in an increasingly dangerous world.

Initial reaction from opposition parties was cautious and muted. Privacy advocates and civil libertarians expressed fears about trampled rights and inadequate oversight.

The proposed expansion of CSIS powers also conjured memories of past misdeeds — such as burning a barn to prevent a meeting of radicals — by the old RCMP security service, the scandal-plagued outfit from whose ashes CSIS rose three decades ago.

As expected, the bill would also make it easier for police to obtain a peace bond to restrict the movements of a suspect and it extends the period for preventative arrest and detention.

In addition, the legislation would expand the no-fly regime to cover those travelling by air to take part in terrorist activities, whereas currently there must be an immediate risk to the plane.

The bill proposes giving the RCMP power to seek a judge’s order to remove terrorist propaganda from the Internet. It would also create a new criminal offence of encouraging someone to carry out a terrorist attack.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper told a gathering in Richmond Hill, Ont., the Conservative government is prepared to both condemn and confront extremism.

“Jihadist terrorism is not a future possibility, it is a present reality,” Harper said.

“It seeks to harm us here in Canada, in our cities and in our neighbourhoods through horrific acts.”

Existing law requires a fear that someone “will commit” terrorism before police can obtain a peace bond — a tool that can mean jail unless a suspect abides by strict conditions, for instance that they surrender their passport and regularly report to police.

The new, lower threshold would be reasonable grounds to fear a person “may commit” a terrorism offence.

Current anti-terrorism law allows police to arrest someone without a warrant and hold them for up to three days before a hearing. Under the bill, the maximum period would be seven days.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said there must be a balance between security and civil liberties. “We are capable of doing both at the same time and we’ll make sure that this bill ensures that and we’ll ask the appropriate questions.”

Under existing law, CSIS may interview someone with the sole aim of collecting information, not dissuading that person from, for example, travelling to Syria to join militants.

With its new mandate, CSIS would need “reasonable grounds to believe” there was a security threat before taking measures to disrupt it. The spy agency would require a court warrant whenever proposed disruption measures violate the charter of rights or otherwise breach Canadian law.

Threat disruption warrants would be limited to 120 days, with the possibility of limited renewal if a judge agreed.

The new powers would allow CSIS to engage in a joint operation with a foreign partner to divert a shipment of dangerous chemicals, keeping it out of extremist hands.

CSIS could also ask the overseeing court to issue an “assistance order” that would, for instance, require a landlord to allow the spy agency to plant listening devices in a tenant’s apartment. Currently CSIS cannot force a building owner to comply with such a warrant.

In addition, the spy agency could provide online “counter-messaging” or even “disrupt radical websites and Twitter accounts” to protect impressionable young Canadians, says a federal background document.

The Security Intelligence Review Committee, which keeps an eye on CSIS, would report annually on threat disruption warrants.

The government is giving CSIS more powers less than three years after abolishing another watchdog — the inspector general’s office — meant to be the minister’s early-warning system on CSIS, noted Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa law professor.

“The combination of more power — and explicitly disruptive power — but less oversight for CSIS is ultra-dangerous.”

Other proposed measures would:

— Allow for more information-sharing when the material — such as passport or immigration information — is relevant to an agency’s national security mandate;

— Give the government more power to object to disclosure of classified information in immigration proceedings.

Related” From Twitter to Question Period, some nasty talk in Canadian politics
Bruce Anderson Globe and Mail Canada January 30, 2015

Visit this page for its related links.

No sooner did I say, on national TV, that Canadians were going to see more Jekyll and less Hyde from the federal Conservatives this year, than they proved I was out to lunch.

This week’s tone as the Prime Minister returned to the House of Commons made me sense that he had given up snarling, at least for 2015. Irrational exuberance, as it turned out.

No matter what party is in office, I wish a Canadian Prime Minister wouldn’t stand up in the House of Commons and say the kinds of things Stephen Harper chose to say to opposition leaders earlier this week.

In answering a question from Thomas Mulcair about Canada’s mission in Iraq, he suggested that New Democrats feel compassion for jihadist killers, and indifference to Canadian troops.

Appalling accusations, and beneath the office of the Prime Minister. This is someone he hugged in solidarity, mere weeks ago. Back then: “We may be across the aisle from one another, but when faced with attacks on the country we all love and the things we all stand for, I know we will all stand together.” This week: “I know the opposition thinks it’s a terrible thing that we’re actually standing up to jihadists. I know they think it’s a terrible thing that some of these jihadists got killed when they fired on the Canadian military.”

Similarly, the Prime Minister didn’t like a line of questioning from Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau about income splitting tax changes. He could have used the question to proclaim the merits of his tax break and resume his seat. But he thought better of that, and took aim below the belt.

He commented on the fact that Mr. Trudeau inherited money when his father passed away. As though the Conservative Party considers receiving an inheritance some sort of character handicap, and that anyone on the receiving end of a bequest should just shut up and let others decide things?

I know. The jaded and cynical will say: politics is a blood sport, toughen up. But the jaded and cynical are the problem. Following their lousy advice has coarsened our politics, driven away good potential candidates, and caused a steady decline in turnout at elections. Moreover, privately, pretty much any politician I’ve talked to in the last decade bitterly laments this race to the bottom, and yearns for leadership that will set a different tone, a better standard.

So what makes it so hard to turn things around?

One newish reason is the bad chemistry that happens when you mix rabid partisanship and a social media platform like Twitter.

On any given day, Twitter does a lot of good. A fine example this week is the #BellLet’sTalk campaign to promote a more open approach to mental illness. Does it matter how much money it raises? Not to me. It promotes thoughtfulness and compassion. It reminds us there are people who need our help, but are afraid to say so. It encourages policy makers to embrace their responsibilities to help, too.

I appreciate social media, including Twitter, for the sense of community it can build.

But when it comes to politics, Twitter can also create some pretty nasty neighbourhoods. Places where the ultra-cynical come to spit and spew, often hiding behind fake names, making juvenile arguments, and indulging in pathetic name-calling. There are lots who hate Liberals, or New Democrats, and many who hate Conservatives. Some loathe the media.

If you wander into this neighbourhood, you’ll find a seething, stinking place. And it’s getting worse. For people who get up in the morning hoping to insult others, success is about shock value and provocation. Ignore them and they come back with a worse insult. Reveal annoyance and they’ll double down, overjoyed at the thought they’ve drawn blood.

And so the floor keeps getting lowered.

Stephen Harper is probably appalled at some of the things that are said about him on Twitter. He should be – there’s a lot of awful garbage thrown his way.

But as the politician with the biggest podium in the country, he has a lot to do with setting the tone and the standard for political discourse. He can deliver an argument with style, wit, incisiveness and impact. But he also knows how to get the blood boiling among the angriest people in his party.

So “to be clear,” as the PM likes to say, it’s a choice.

It’s possible that Mr. Harper and Conservative strategists see merit in lighting up their most hostile partisans, as this week’s call to invective did. Maybe they believe it will scare and demoralize their opponents and improve turnout among their base.

But what this Conservative Party needs to win re-election isn’t more evidence that it likes to travel on the low road. Or that this Prime Minister is capable of insults.

Through the fall and beginning of winter, Mr. Harper’s approval ratings were on the rise, and his party more competitive as a result. The question now is whether he can stick with an approach that was working, or revert to a style that wasn’t.

Posted at: January 30, 2015 - 3:17 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

January 29, 2015

,

A story from a real ‘American Sniper’

Video interview: Jim comment: I have followed the media controversy surrounding American Sniper. I doubt I will ever have the opportunity to watch it. But I judge, based on America’s angst demonstrated , that that old ramrod, Rowdy Yates, has produced and directed another first rate film about the ambiguities of war. And not hesitated to show its savagery and its multi-faceted destruction, both apparent and private.

Below: Garett Reppenhagen is the Rocky Mountain West Coordinator of the Vet Voice Foundation. He is the son of a Vietnam Veteran and the grandchild of World War II Veterans. Garett enlisted in 2001 as a Cavalry Scout in the US Army. He was stationed in Vilseck Germany, with 2-63 Armor Battalion 1st Infantry Division, where he deployed to a peace keeping mission in Kosovo for nine months in 2002-2003. Garett completed International Interdiction Training at the NATO Special Forces school in Steton Germany in 2003 and deployed to Iraq in January of 2004. He was stationed at FOB Scunion near Baquaba Iraq for one year completing sniper missions in the Diyala region. Garett was Honorably Discharged in June 2005. He says, “I was a US Army Cavalry/Scout (with the 2-63 Armor Battalion) and completed a nine month peace keeping mission in Kosovo and then I served as a Sniper in Baquaba Iraq. I joined IVAW in 2004 while deployed. I was honorably discharged on May 31st 2005 after being involuntarily extended by a ten month Stop-Loss. Since returning from Iraq I have been an advocate for veteran’s rights and benefits and served on the Board of Directors for the Iraq Veterans Against the War.”

A story from a real ‘American Sniper’
MSNBC USA January 28, 2015

A former American sniper, Garett Reppenhagen, joins Lawrence to discuss the Clint Eastwood film, American Sniper, and his time serving in Iraq.

This video interview runs 16:07.

Posted at: January 29, 2015 - 5:47 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

ISIS fight: Tom Lawson reassures MPs about risk to special forces

When will the Harperites reveal the truth? This mission is Stephen Harper’ Falklands war. It is all about this year’s election. Canadian advisers are guiding airstrikes but U.S. troops are barred from doing same. The sad truth is this bit of theater seems to be working.

ISIS fight: Tom Lawson reassures MPs about risk to special forces
Laura Payton CBC News Canada January 29, 2015


Defence Minister Rob Nicoholson is followed by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson as they make their to appear at the House foreign affairs committee to discuss Canada’s response to ISIS on Jan. 29, 2015. Photo: Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press. Visit this page for its related links.

Chief of Defence Staff Tom Lawson says Canada’s special forces aren’t put into places where they expect to come under fire.

Speaking to MPs at the House foreign affairs committee, Lawson said despite spending 20 per cent of their time near the front lines, the special forces have had to return fire only three times.

“So although the risk is low, and we continue to think it is low in that role, it is not zero,” Lawson said.

“We in no way put our special operations troops anywhere near where we believe they will come under fire.”

Lawson was at committee to brief MPs on the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Defence Minister Rob Nicholson.

MPs questioned Lawson, Baird and Nicholson on the scope of the mission and whether Canadian soldiers are involved in ground combat, leading at times to some testy exchanges. Government MPs accused the opposition of not supporting the Canadian Armed Forces and NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar at one point heckled Nicholson when he didn’t feel Nicholson was answering his questions.

Defence officials recently revealed that special forces operators who had been described as working in an “advise and assist” role have actually exchanged fire with ISIS forces three times.

On Thursday, NDP defence critic Jack Harris lodged a formal complaint against Prime Minister Stephen Harper for providing “misleading information” to the House of Commons on the scope of Canada’s military efforts in Iraq.

Liberal MP Marc Garneau read the Canadian Armed Forces’ definition of a combat operation, which includes the necessity of lethal force, and asked whether that is what the military is doing in Iraq.

“It is not,” Lawson said.

The Canadian special forces operators, he said, are providing Peshmerga, the Kurdish forces with whom the Canadians are working, the ability to “heighten the accuracy of the weapons” used.

Accompanying troops has a different meaning in military doctrine than in normal language, Lawson added.

“In military terms, as you are quoting doctrine, it has a very clear other meaning. And that is that you are now up front, with the troops that you have been assigned to, with your weapons being used to compel the enemy. So there is no confusion with our special operators on that accompany role.”

Speaking to MPs at the House foreign affairs committee, Lawson said despite spending 20 per cent of their time near the front lines, the special forces have had to return fire only three times.

“So although the risk is low, and we continue to think it is low in that role, it is not zero,” Lawson said.

“We in no way put our special operations troops anywhere near where we believe they will come under fire.”

Lawson was at committee to brief MPs on the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Defence Minister Rob Nicholson.

MPs questioned Lawson, Baird and Nicholson on the scope of the mission and whether Canadian soldiers are involved in ground combat, leading at times to some testy exchanges. Government MPs accused the opposition of not supporting the Canadian Armed Forces and NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar at one point heckled Nicholson when he didn’t feel Nicholson was answering his questions.

Defence officials recently revealed that special forces operators who had been described as working in an “advise and assist” role have actually exchanged fire with ISIS forces three times.
Not combat, top soldier says

On Thursday, NDP defence critic Jack Harris lodged a formal complaint against Prime Minister Stephen Harper for providing “misleading information” to the House of Commons on the scope of Canada’s military efforts in Iraq.

Liberal MP Marc Garneau read the Canadian Armed Forces’ definition of a combat operation, which includes the necessity of lethal force, and asked whether that is what the military is doing in Iraq.

“It is not,” Lawson said.

The Canadian special forces operators, he said, are providing Peshmerga, the Kurdish forces with whom the Canadians are working, the ability to “heighten the accuracy of the weapons” used.

Accompanying troops has a different meaning in military doctrine than in normal language, Lawson added.

“In military terms, as you are quoting doctrine, it has a very clear other meaning. And that is that you are now up front, with the troops that you have been assigned to, with your weapons being used to compel the enemy. So there is no confusion with our special operators on that accompany role.”
Calling in targets

Canadian officials have said the special forces are calling in, or painting, targets for the Iraqi forces, though Nicholson wouldn’t say when that happened.

“This has been an evolutionary process, working with them right from the start,” Nicholson said.

“They’re moving forward and that’s what we are very, very proud [of].”

Harris said the real issue is whether Canadians were misinformed by the prime minister.

“Canadians have to be able to trust what they’re told by the prime minister. If we see evolution, what we call mission creep and potential escalation, the question is what’s next and what’s this going to lead to. That’s very concerning here when we don’t really trust what this government is telling Canadians and telling Parliament.”

The House of Commons voted in support of a six-month air bombing mission in October (the government doesn’t need parliamentary approval to deploy the military).

The government committed 600 troops, one CC-150 Polaris air-to-air refuelling aircraft, two CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft, and the necessary air crews and support personnel. Canada also sent six CF-18 fighter jets and one dedicated airlift plane to enhance the refuelling, air surveillance and transportation capacity of coalition members.

Those are in addition to a commitment of up to 69 special forces troops who work on the ground with Iraqi forces.

Posted at: January 29, 2015 - 5:36 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

January 28, 2015

News from Davos. Getting ready to run: Ruler elites’ fear of those they dominate growing. They are planning their escapes from the inevitable

Jim comment: I’m glad this phenomenon is finally showing up in our news somewhere. Its been all over the Western Axis denominated ‘enemy’ newscasts for a few days, RT and Press TV to name just two. Hedge fund managers and others of the ruling elite are buying up remote ranches and land in places like New Zealand to flee to in event of wide-spread civil unrest.

Panicked super rich buying boltholes with private airstrips to escape if poor rise up
Alex Wellman Mirror Online UK January 26, 2015

This page contains an embedded video interview with Robert Johnson (4:58).

Super rich hedge fund managers are buying ‘secret boltholes’ where they can hideout in the event of civil uprising against growing inequality, it has been claimed.

Nervous financiers from across the globe have begun purchasing landing strips, homes and land in areas such as New Zealand so they can flee should people rise up.

With growing inequality and riots such as those in London in 2011 and in Ferguson and other parts of the USA last year, many financial leaders fear they could become targets for public fury.

Robert Johnson, president of the Institute of New Economic Thinking, told people at the World Economic Forum in Davos that many hedge fund managers were already planning their escapes.

He said: “I know hedge fund managers all over the world who are buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand because they think they need a getaway.”

Mr Johnson, said the economic situation could soon become intolerable as even in the richest countries inequality was increasing.

He said: “People need to know there are possibilities for their children – that they will have the same opportunity as anyone else.

“There is a wicked feedback loop. Politicians who get more money tend to use it to get more even money.”

His comments were backed up by Stewart Wallis, executive director of the New Economics Foundation, who when asked about the comments told CNBC Africa: “Getaway cars the airstrips in New Zealand and all that sort of thing, so basically a way to get off. If they can get off, onto another planet, some of them would.”

He added: “I think the rich are worried and they should be worried. I mean inequality, why does it matter?

Posted at: January 28, 2015 - 5:59 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

Broken Britain: Stop voting in fear. Start voting for hope

Below: Margaret Thatcher wanted to privatize Britain; David Cameron’s ambition went further. Assessing his legacy for their new book, Polly Toynbee and David Walker document the Tory leader’s assault on the state.

Cameron’s five-year legacy: Has he finished what Thatcher started?


David Cameron with Margaret Thatcher on the steps of Number 10 Downing Street in 2010. Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images. Visit this page for its embedded links.

On 12 May 2010, in the sunlit rose garden of No 10, David Cameron and Nick Clegg announced the creation of Britain’s new coalition government. In a flawlessly stage-managed performance, Cameron proclaimed the birth of a “new politics”. His coalition government would, he said, be underpinned by the principles of “freedom, fairness and responsibility”.

This cosy launch, it turned out, was a bluff. Under Cameron’s leadership the country has become harder and meaner, more divided by class and region. Readers of thinktank reports and those acute enough to hear the behind-the-hand remarks, knew what to expect. But Cameron is dextrous, emotionally intelligent, like Tony Blair. In the runup to the 2010 election, he sprinkled speeches and photo-opportunities with new flavourings – green trees, social enterprise, the “big society”, free schools, hug-a-hoodie, vote-blue-go-green, the-NHS-is-safe-with-me. Such posturing irritated Conservative backbenchers, some of whom disliked his metrosexual manner and support for gay marriage. But Cameron’s style was no handicap: that easy, upper-class air dispelled any suggestion he was driven by zealotry.

The coalition agreement that was hashed out in the days before the rose garden show was a strange magna carta. It promised a national tree-planting campaign, “honesty in food labelling” and a pledge to “encourage live music”. These turned out to be distractions – only the thundering final clause mattered: “Deficit reduction takes precedence over any of the other measures in this agreement.” From then on, the Liberal Democrats were a sideshow, passively approving the most brutish cuts and offering negligible contributions of their own.

Cameron seized the 2010 “crisis” to realise his ideological ends. By exaggerating the parlous state of national finances, he was able to pursue his longstanding ambition to diminish the public realm. Margaret Thatcher privatised state-run industries; Cameron’s ambition was no less than to abolish the postwar welfare state itself. The Office of Budget Responsibility recently announced Cameron’s victory – by 2018, it forecast, we would have a state the size it was in the 1930s.

This was a coup, though Cameron, unlike Thatcher, would never triumphantly produce from his pocket a crumpled copy of a pamphlet by the rightwing economist Friedrich Hayek; the swivel-eyed stuff was left to backroom guru Oliver Letwin, former special adviser to Keith Joseph, the man who said Conservatives should no longer conserve but instead demolish all that stopped the flowering of individualism. Cameron was guided by the groupthink of his generation of young Tories, inspired by the Thatcher posters on their college walls. From Tory central office, where he worked for two years before his heroine’s fall in 1990, he breathed in the accepted wisdom that the state is an impediment, the market solves all ills and individualism trumps collective endeavour. “Frankly, I don’t like any taxes,” Cameron told the Federation of Small Business a year ago.

Toryism is now in deep intellectual disarray. What is the party for, beyond cosseting corporate interests, the much‑praised “wealth-creators”? Shrinking the state is a reflex, not a vision. Business goes on demanding public investment – and rightly so. Businesses, like everyone in Britain, depend on the state to maintain the roads, promote the health and education of a useful workforce, manage the police who provide security, and ensure the quality of air they breathe and the water they drink. The desirability of Britain as a place to live, work and invest all depends on the strength of the state.

At a deeper level, what kind of nation do Tories now believe in, at home or abroad? They profess faith in markets – but not in the UK’s biggest market, the European Union. If by design or bungling, they were to succeed in what so many of them ardently desire and secure UK withdrawal, that would precipitate Scotland’s departure, dismembering the UK and making England very little indeed. As with the related question of migration, Cameron is incoherent, simultaneously for fortress and freedom. His foreign policy has been a kind of armed voyeurism, more worried about Russian money than incursions into Sevastopol. The RAF’s air-sea rescue service has been privatised and the UK has no aircraft to patrol its maritime borders. We “found it difficult to divine any strategic vision”, said MPs on the Commons defence committee, several times.

Cameron bequeaths a country that is fractious and anxious. He has proved to be the great separatist. Once his party were unionists, now Wales never escapes prime ministerial mention without a sneer; under him Scotland came close to dissolving the United Kingdom. Us and them has been his governing style. His macroeconomic policy failed; national debt has kept rising; productivity and investment levels are as dismal as the trade balance. Unpicking the values of the welfare state has meant undermining the idea that people should care for others beyond their own. The big society is hardly spoken of these days.

As recovery takes hold, the indices of inequality resume their upward flight: the top 1% has flourished in the great recession. Social mobility depends on opening up the closed spaces of elite Britain but they remain, as they were, stuffed with ex-public schoolboys. Social policy has ossified, no longer attuned to families with young children. The government has shrunk or shut Sure Start children’s centres, abandoning a great evidence-based experiment in improving the life chances of disadvantaged families.

Before Margaret Thatcher’s era, the Tories had a penchant for muddling through, avoiding confrontations and sharp edges; they were conservators, not wreckers. Cameron has gone much further than Thatcher dared. The survival of the United Kingdom itself is in doubt and it’s an open question who “the British” now are. An election result leaving the Tories at the helm would see more destruction, financial, social and moral. What they offer as a vision of who we are, what we value and where we belong in the world is small and mean.

Related: Follow your convictions – this could be the end of the politics of fear
George Monbiot Guardian UK January 28, 2015


‘Parties would be obliged to work together, rather than engage in perennial willy-waving.’ Illustration: Sebastien Thibault. Visit this page for its embedded links.

Here is the first rule of politics: if you never vote for what you want, you never get it. We are told at every election to hold our noses, forget the deficiencies and betrayals and vote Labour yet again, for fear of something worse. And there will, of course, always be something worse. So at what point should we vote for what we want rather than keep choosing between two versions of market fundamentalism? Sometime this century? Or in the next? Follow the advice of the noseholders and we will be lost forever in Labour’s Bermuda triangulation.

Perhaps there was a time when this counsel of despair made sense. No longer. The lamps are coming on all over Europe. As in South America, political shifts that seemed impossible a few years earlier are now shaking the continent. We knew that another world was possible. Now, it seems, another world is here: the sudden death of the neoliberal consensus. Any party that claims to belong to the left but does not grasp this is finished.

Syriza, Podemos, Sinn Féin, the SNP; now a bright light is shining in England too, as the Green party stokes the radical flame that Labour left to gutter. On Tuesday morning, its membership in England and Wales passed 50,000; a year ago it was fewer than 15,000.

Here is the first rule of politics: if you never vote for what you want, you never get it. We are told at every election to hold our noses, forget the deficiencies and betrayals and vote Labour yet again, for fear of something worse. And there will, of course, always be something worse. So at what point should we vote for what we want rather than keep choosing between two versions of market fundamentalism? Sometime this century? Or in the next? Follow the advice of the noseholders and we will be lost forever in Labour’s Bermuda triangulation.

A survey by the website voteforpolicies.org.uk reports that in blind tests (the 500,000 people it has polled were unaware of which positions belong to which parties), the Green party’s policies are more popular than those of any other. If people voted for what they wanted, the Greens would be the party of government.

There are many reasons for this surge, but one of them must be a sense of popular ownership. Green party policies are determined democratically. Emerging from debates led mostly by younger members, they feel made for their time, while those of the major parties appear trapped in the 1980s.

Fearful voting shifts the whole polity to the right. Blair’s obeisance to corporate power enabled the vicious and destructive policies the coalition now pursues. The same legacy silences Labour in opposition, as it pioneered most of the policies it should oppose. It is because we held our noses that there is a greater stink today. So do we keep voting for a diluted version of Tory politics, for fear of the concentrate? Or do we start to vote for what we want? Had the people of this nation heeded the noseholders a century ago, we would still be waiting for the Liberal party to deliver universal healthcare and the welfare state.

Society moves from the margins, not the centre. Those who wish for change must think of themselves as the sacrificial margin: the pioneering movement that might not succeed immediately but which will eventually deliver sweeping change. We cannot create a successful alternative to the parties that have betrayed us until we start voting for it. Do we start walking or just keep talking about the journey we might one day take?

Power at the moment is lethal. Whichever major party wins this election, it is likely to destroy itself through the pursuit of policies almost no one wants. Yes, that might mean five more years of pain, though I suspect in these fissiparous times it won’t last so long. And then it all opens up. This what we must strive for; this is the process that begins in May by voting, regardless of tactical considerations, for parties offering a genuine alternative. Change arises from conviction. Stop voting in fear. Start voting for hope.

Posted at: January 28, 2015 - 4:37 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

,,

Kill all the messengers! Stephen Harper’s assault on your right to know. Ottawa has become a place where the nation’s business is done in secret, and access to information—the lifeblood of democracy in Canada—is under attack

Kill the Messengers: Stephen Harper’s Assault on Your Right to Know by Mark Bourrie. Published by Patrick Crean Editions, Harper Collins Canada, January 27, 2015, 320 pages. ISBN: 9781443431064; ISBN 10: 1443431060

Publisher’s description

Ottawa has become a place where the nation’s business is done in secret, and access to information–the lifeblood of democracy in Canada–is under attack.

It’s being lost to an army of lobbyists and public-relations flacks who help set the political agenda and decide what you get to know. It’s losing its struggle against a prime minister and a government that continue to delegitimize the media’s role in the political system. The public’s right to know has been undermined by a government that effectively killed Statistics Canada, fired hundreds of scientists and statisticians, gutted Library and Archives Canada and turned freedom of information rules into a joke. Facts, it would seem, are no longer important.

In Kill the Messengers: Stephen Harper’s Assault on Your Right to Know, Mark Bourrie exposes how trends have conspired to simultaneously silence the Canadian media and elect an anti-intellectual government determined to conduct business in private. Drawing evidence from multiple cases and examples, Bourrie demonstrates how budget cuts have been used to suppress the collection of facts that embarrass the government’s position or undermine its ideologically based decision-making. Perhaps most importantly, Bourrie gives advice on how to take back your right to be informed and to be heard.

Kill the Messengers is not just a collection of evidence bemoaning the current state of the Canadian media, it is a call to arms for informed citizens to become active participants in the democratic process. It is a book all Canadians are entitled to read–and now, they’ll get the chance.

About the author

Mark Bourrie holds a PhD in Canadian media and military history; he is a National Magazine Award–winning journalist and has been a member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1994. He has written hundreds of freelance pieces for most of the country’s major magazines and newspapers, which have resulted in several awards and nominations.

Bourrie lectures on propaganda and censorship at the Department of National Defence School of Public Affairs; media history and propaganda at Carleton University; and Canadian studies at the University of Ottawa, where he is also working on a Juris Doctor degree.

Bourrie’s book The Fog of War: Censorship of Canada’s Media in World War Two was the first examination of Canada’s wartime news-control system. It reached number six on the Maclean’s bestseller list. His academic paper “The Myth of the ‘Gagged Clam': William Lyon Mackenzie King’s Press Relations,” published in Global Media Journal in 2010, is considered the authoritative analysis of the media strategies of Canada’s longest-serving prime minister. In 2011, Bourrie was invited to contribute to a collection of papers written by Canada’s top military historians. His essay “Harnessing Journalists to the War Machine” was published in 2012 in Canada and the Second World War.

Bourrie lives in Ottawa and is married to Marion van de Wetering, a corporate lawyer working for the federal government. They have three children.

Review: Mark Bourrie’s Kill the Messengers “one of the most damning books ever written about a sitting prime minister”
Paul Gessell Ottawa Magazine Ontario Canada January 23, 2015

It’s all about “the base,” that 30 per cent or so of voters who are on the right-leaning flank of the electorate, the people who can be counted on to support Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, as long as the prime minister continues to give them what they want. With that 30 per cent locked up, Harper only has to woo another 10 per cent of voters. In our multi-party, first-past-the-post system, winning 40 per cent of the vote at election time can be enough to form a majority.

The Mike Duffy Senate scandal was supposedly all about “the base,” according to the man at the centre of the expense controversy. Duffy told the Senate that he had a meeting with Harper and his then-chief of staff, Nigel Wright, soon after news reports surfaced alleging the senator had fudged his expense accounts.

“I said that despite the smear in the papers I had not broken the rules,” Duffy claims he told Harper and Wright. “But the prime minister wasn’t interested in explanations or the truth. It’s not about what you did. It’s the perception of what you did that has been created by the media. The rules are inexplicable to our base.”

In other words, the Conservative “base” would disapprove of Duffy living high on the hog at taxpayers’ expense, even if the senator had broken no rules. The verdict: Duffy had to go.

Now Duffy is hardly an unbiased person in this story. But his version of events plays into widespread attitudes about Stephen Harper — namely that, right or wrong, his main concern is to nurture that 30 per cent of the electorate.

Such sentiments are at the heart of Mark Bourrie’s tough, new book, Kill the Messengers: Stephen Harper’s Assault on Your Right to Know. The book paints Harper as ruthlessly attacking and even silencing journalists, scientists, judges, environmentalists, and intellectuals in a drive to remake Canada, rewrite our history, and keep the Conservatives in power. It is one of the most damning books ever written about a sitting prime minister.

“Harper is intent on changing the way Canadians see their own country,” Bourrie writes. “He once said Canadians would not recognize the country after he was finished with it, and he’s done a lot to make sure that they do see it in a different light: as an energy and resource superpower instead of a country of factories and businesses, as a ‘warrior nation’ instead of a peacekeeper, as an Arctic nation instead of clusters of cities along the America border, as a country of self-reliant entrepreneurs instead of a nation that shares among its people and its regions.”

Bourrie is an Ottawa-based journalist, historian, and contributing editor at Ottawa Magazine. Earlier books include The Fog of War: Censorship of Canada’s Media in World War II and Fighting Words: Canada’s Best War Reporting.

Messengers sizzles and crackles with indignation. Most of the anecdotes he uses to buttress his criticisms of Harper are familiar to anyone who religiously follows the news. But putting them altogether in one harsh wallop will undoubtedly cause many readers, even the news junkies, to feel shocked and angry over what is happening to their country.

The book is unabashedly one-sided, this being an exercise in criticizing, not praising, Harper. But doth the author protest too much? Has Harper done nothing good since becoming prime minister in 2006?

Harper is also not the first prime minister to rile huge segments of the population for trying to remake Canada. Pierre Trudeau was reviled by many, especially in the West, for bilingualism, the metric system, the National Energy Program, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Brian Mulroney was attacked for trying to force free trade, the Meech Lake constitutional accord, and the GST onto Canada. Both these prime ministers may have remade Canada more extensively than has Harper. It’s just that Harper’s tactics have angered different demographics, including members of the Ottawa-centric parliamentary press gallery who have to work harder these days to cover the government.

The Conservative base will not be alarmed by this book. These voters may love Harper even more. Bourrie quotes Ian Brodie, a former Harper chief of staff, as telling a Montreal conference that Conservatives applaud when the prime minister is attacked by intellectuals.

“Every time we proposed amendments to the Criminal Code, sociologists, criminologists, defence lawyers, and liberals attacked us for proposing measures that the evidence apparently showed did not work,” Brodie is quoted as saying. “That was a good thing for us politically, in that sociologists, criminologists, and defence lawyers were and are held in lower repute than Conservative politicians by the voting public. Politically it helped us tremendously to be attacked by this coalition of university types.”

Harper has even personally attacked the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverley McLachlin, despite the office of the country’s top judge being one of the Canada’s most sacred cows. The “university types” were appalled. The base was undoubtedly pleased.

Audio: The battle between the Harper government & the Ottawa Press Corp
‘The Current” CBC Radio One Canada January 28, 2015


Journalist and historian Mark Bourrie says Prime Minister Stephen Harper has managed to teach this country’s watch dog Press Gallery a brand new trick — rolling over, and playing dead. Photo: Henry Romero/Reuters. You can watch the puff-piece video with Laureen Harper produced by the PMO (3:46) and listen to the three-way interview with Anna Maria Tremonti, Mark Bourrie and Stephen Maher (27:25) from links on this page. The page also contains other embedded links.

Longtime Parliamentary Press Gallery member Mark Bourrie says Prime Minister Stephen Harper has used a defanged Ottawa press corps, among other things, to keep the Canadian public in the dark about the way his government rules. Bourrie lays out his case in his book, Kill The Messengers: Stephen Harper’s Assault on Your Right to Know.

The Q&A with the Prime Minister’s wife Laureen Harper was billed as an exclusive last week for the YouTube show 24 SEVEN. But the show’s access may seem a little less impressive once you learn that 24 SEVEN is actually produced by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Mark Bourrie, for one, is not impressed with 24 SEVEN. In fact, he’s not impressed with much about the way the Harper government has handled communicating with Canadians.

The journalist and historian takes on the Prime Minister and the Ottawa media in his new book, “Kill the Messengers: Stephen Harper’s Assault on Your Right to Know.” Mark Bourrie was in Ottawa.

Stephen Maher is National Political Columnist for PostMedia, and a director of the Ottawa Press Gallery. He was in Toronto.

We did contact the Prime Minister’s Office to see if it wanted to comment on the issues raised in Mark Bourrie’s book. We were told they would get back to us. We will let you know when they do.

Posted at: January 28, 2015 - 4:02 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

January 27, 2015

,

Does the Western Axis’ 40-year program of downsizing democracy entail the collapse of the world as we know it?

Notes on Nationalism” is an essay completed in May 1945 by George Orwell and published in the first issue of Polemic (October 1945). In this essay, Orwell discusses the notion of nationalism, and argues that it causes people to disregard common sense and become more ignorant towards factuality. Regarding the Western Axis’ founding and sustaining ideology, Orwell’s words of 70 years ago are relevant.

By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’(1). But secondly — and this is much more important — I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.

Downsize democracy for 40 years, here’s what you get
Murray Dobbin TheTyee.ca British Columbia Canada January 26, 2015

Visit this page for its embedded and related links.

If you are searching for significant anniversaries for 2015 one that you might find illuminating is the publication of a book published 40 years ago entitled The Crisis of Democracy. The title would seem fitting today but that’s not the crisis its authors had in mind. It was commissioned by a new international boys’ club of finance capitalists, CEOs, senior political figures (retired and active) and academics from Europe, North America and Japan. The Trilateral Commission (TLC) could be described as the birthplace of neoliberalism, advancing the theory that progress depends upon “liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade.”

Alarmed by the spread of the liberal state and its economic and social interventions, the TLC was founded to reverse the welfare state and re-establish capital to its “rightful” place at the pinnacle of economic and political power. (It still exists but has been supplanted to some extent by the World Economic Forum.)

The TLC book concluded, in the words of American author Samuel Huntington, that the industrial countries suffered from “an excess of democracy.” He wrote, “…the effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy… on the part of some individuals and groups.” He bemoaned the fact that “marginal groups, as in the case of blacks, are now becoming full participants in the political system.”

The TLC was just one of a growing number of institutions — forums, think-tanks, academic clusters, major media outlets — focussed on the same theme: that expectations of what government could provide had risen to a level that was now threatening the proper functioning of capitalist democracies. In Canada the most prominent and aggressive of these would be the Fraser Institute (FI), headed up Michael Walker (retired). Walker told a group of worried corporate CEOs from B.C. that “if you want to change society you have to change the ideological fabric of society.” In short, you had to launch a culture war against the activist state. It would be a war against democratic “excess.”

The Fraser Institute (founded in 1973, the same year as the TLC) has been engaged that process ever since — on countless fronts and funded generously by well-endowed foundations and corporations. The guru for the FI was Milton Friedman, eventually the world’s pre-eminent neoliberal economist. At an FI forum on democracy, Friedman declared: “I believe that a relatively free economy is a necessary condition for a democratic society. But I also believe that…a democratic society, once established, destroys a free economy.”

Today’s crisis

At the time these political declarations were widely ridiculed, dismissed even by conservative politicians and writers. After all, the West was characterized by mixed economies (government and private investment) that were doing very well in terms of growth and profitability. High taxes on wealth did not prevent the rich from investing, government revenues were robust, unemployment was low, social strife in Canada was rare.

Fast forward 40 years and any new book with the title The Crisis of Democracy is likely to be chronicling the result of four decades of systematic assaults on the liberal/social democratic state. Indeed in contrast to Huntington’s “excess of democracy” complaint, the phrase “democratic deficit” has now been used by scores of writers and commentators. It is easy enough to chronicle the long list of attacks on democracy carried out by Stephen Harper as many have, and in the U.S. the domination of corporate money (backed by the U.S. Supreme Court) and outright theft of elections has democracy in that country on the ropes.

But it is the consequences of this decline and erosion of democracy that should be the most important focus of critics and citizens alike. The exceptionally successful four decades campaign to change the “ideological fabric” of society has put western civilization on a track to irreversible collapse according to a major study sponsored by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The study focused on population, climate, water, agriculture and energy as the interrelated factors that determine the collapse or survival of civilizations going back 5000 years.

According to a Guardian report on the study, these factors can coalesce and lead to civilization’s collapse if they create two critical social features: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity… and… the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or ‘Commoners’) [poor].”

According to the study these two developments played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse” in the demise of the Roman, Han, Mauryan, Gupta and multiple Mesopotamian Empires as well as the Maya. The study provides convincing “testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”

Careening towards collapse?

How far down the road to collapse are we? For my generation not so far that we will see the worst of it. But what is alarming is that all the signs are so dramatically obvious. And while the mainstream media isn’t yet talking about the end of our world, the issue of grotesque inequality and unsustainable resource depletion are somewhere in the media almost every week. Indeed inequality in particular has been a hot topic ever since the Occupy movement briefly swept the planet. Yet if you monitor the political debate in this country the two most important trends in our society and the world are virtually never mentioned except rhetorically. There are no serious policy prescriptions. Mass denial reigns. Or, as Freud stated, we are “knowing without knowing.”

Regarding income (and wealth) inequality, a 2010 study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives revealed that the top one per cent claimed close to a third of all income growth during the decade from 1997 to 2007. “That’s a bigger piece of the action than any other generation of rich Canadians has taken,” said Armine Yalnizyan, CCPA’s senior economist and author of the report. “The last time Canada’s elite held so much of the nation’s income in their hands was in the 1920s. Even then, their incomes didn’t soar as fast as they are today. It’s a first in Canadian history and it underscores a dramatic reversal of long-term trends.”

Internationally, the picture is just as bad or worse. Earlier this month Oxfam released a report revealing: “The combined wealth of the world’s richest one per cent will overtake that of the remaining 99 per cent by 2016…. ” The wealthiest one per cent — amounting to 72 million people — already owns 48 per cent of all global wealth. This trend continues to accelerate, flying in the face of all the evidence that it could ultimately be fatal for capitalism.

Is this really what the geniuses at the Chicago School of Economics like Milton Friedman had in mind? Did he really believe that “a democratic society, once established, destroys a free economy”? Would he have had any qualms about his policy prescriptions resulting in capitalism devolving into neo-feudalism or into Plutonomies? The term Plutonomies was first used by analysts at Citigroup in 2005 to “describe a country that is defined by massive income and wealth inequality.” The analysts singled out the U.K., Canada, Australia and the United States.

Elites won’t save us

Theoretically, of course, neoliberalism says the state should not intervene in the efficient functioning of the market — resulting in prosperity for everyone. But the theory, according to neoliberalism authority David Harvey, was simply hijacked by the elites to fleece the system — bailing out the financial sector with trillions of taxpayers’ dollars and failing to re-regulate, while gutting labour and environmental regulation. Government actions reveal neoliberalism as “more of a practical attempt to restore elite class power than as a theoretical project driven by the works of [Friedrich von] Hayek or Friedman.”

The NASA study is not optimistic about our chances of avoiding eventual collapse given the failure of other civilizations. It says “collapse is difficult to avoid…. Elites grow and consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society.”

Warnings go unheeded. The NASA reports says “historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases).”

How close are we to collapse? The study points out that the process can extend over decades and even centuries. Yet some of the supporting empirical studies (by KPMG and the British Office for Science) suggest a perfect storm that involves food, water and energy could occur within 15 years.

The NASA study highlights two trends — resource depletion and inequality — as the key factors in civilization collapse. But there is a third and it explains why historically elites have been “oblivious” to their unfolding catastrophes. That factor is the political system of the particular civilization. Designed to govern and manage social and economic life before it became corrupted, and still in the hands of the benefiting elites, these governing systems were simply incapable of incorporating the idea of collapse into their thinking.

What would have to happen for us to escape the same fate?

Posted at: January 27, 2015 - 3:31 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

The Greek gauntlet: Syriza offers a serious challenge to Greece’s oligarchy and the EU technocrats; to neoliberals and neo-fascists alike & Is Canada ripe for a Syriza movement?

Whereas the noun gauntlet names a type of glove once thrown down as a challenge (which Syriza has done), to run the gauntlet means (in the case of Syriza) to go through a series of criticisms or harsh treatments at the hands of one’s detractors.

There will neither be a catastrophic clash nor will continued kowtowing be accepted. We are fully aware that the Greek people haven’t given us carte blanche but a mandate for national revival. - Alexis Tsipras, addressing crowds of cheering supporters in central Athens late Sunday. See Boomberg January 25: “Tsipras Wins and Sets Greece on Collision Course With Euro Partners”


Alexis Tsipras. Photo by Arvnick via Shutterstock. Tsipras leads The Coalition of the Radical Left (Greek: Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς, Synaspismós Rizospastikís Aristerás), known colloquially by its acronym SYRIZA ((Greek: ΣΥΡΙΖΑ), is a left-wing political party in Greece, originally founded as a coalition of left-wing and radical left parties. The North American media have in general been hostile to the “left” and “radicals” since the 19th century, when the terms were associated with dangerous immigrants and crazy people who wanted to abolish slavery and give blacks the vote. But in the last 40 years or so the framing of our political debate has carefully pushed such terms literally out of sight and out of mind.

Greece says to Europe: Drop austerity
Duncan Cameron rabble.ca Canada January 27, 2015

Visit this page for its embedded links.

The victory in the Greek elections Sunday of the anti-capitalist Syriza (coalition of the radical left) led by Alexis Tsipras is being celebrated by Europeans rejecting policies that have produced over 11 per cent unemployment across the Eurozone.

The new direction for economic policy that Syriza is calling for will be opposed by the powers-that-be that imposed austerity across Europe: the so-called Troika: the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt; the European Commission in Brussels; and the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C.

Interviewed in 2010, the ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet said, “the idea that austerity measures could trigger stagnation is incorrect.” Greece has proven that statement to be as wrong as it can be.

The Greeks succeeded in creating the largest government primary surplus (tax revenues less program spending) in the EU. In other words, through reductions in spending and increases in taxation they have implemented austerity, and outdone every other EU country in doing so.

As a result of successful austerity, the Greek economy has lost one million jobs, the unemployment rate rose from eight per cent in 2008 to 25 per cent, one in two young Greeks are unemployed, the Greek economy has shrunk by 22 per cent, and 400,000 people in Athens rely on free food to exist. And, yes, the debt that was being paid down went up as a share of GDP.

As a policy designed to facilitate debt repayment, austerity is insane, unless a government can count on huge foreign trade surpluses, which is the case with Germany, but not Greece.

Cutting back government makes the economy smaller, lessening its ability to generate the income needed to repay loans. Enough Greeks rejected the austerity efforts of two previous governments, one social democratic (PASOK) and one conservative (New Democracy) to elect Syriza, the anti-austerity alternative.
With 40 per cent of the electorate staying home, the Syriza party won 37 per cent support at the ballot box.

It owes its near majority (149 seats out of 300 in the Hellenic Parliament) to Greek election law designed to promote stability: the party with the most votes gets a bonus of 50 seats.

Syriza has decided to form a curious legislative alliance with the 13 elected members of the Independent Greeks group, a right-wing protest party that agrees with Syriza on the need to oppose Troika policies, but little else. This relationship is unlikely to be stable.

Alexis Tsipras can expect domestic opposition to his government policies to be strong. The powerful oligarchy of wealthy families which dominate the economy and public life represent serious adversaries for the new government.

The new prime minister has described Greece as a kleptocracy. Favours and sweetheart deals created political relationships dependent on bribes and corruption. Syriza has pledged to root out corrupt practices and bring in policies of transparency and public consultation.

In the months leading up to the election, Syriza has multiplied its contacts with official European agencies and authorities. Alexis Tsipras and his economic adviser Yanis Varoufakis have been explaining the policies Syriza will be bringing in to turn the Greek economic and social situation around.
Known as the Thessaloniki program, it has four pillars: confronting the humanitarian crisis; restarting the economy and promoting tax justice; regaining employment; and transforming the political system to deepen democracy.

The Syriza government lays down a series of challenges to Europeans, beginning with the failure of austerity policies imposed on Greece as a condition of debt re-structuring.

Austerity led to a butchering of public budgets, drove professionals out of the country, and destroyed public health.

Having a healthy population is a basic goal in any democratic society. Cutbacks to Greek health services have had appalling consequences. Withdrawal of mosquito-spraying has seen the re-introduction of malaria in a country that relies on tourism. The long-term reduction in infant mortality has been replaced by an increase of over 40 per cent in the two years following cutbacks. The suicide rate has gone up by 45 per cent. Scientific evidence on health conditions has been denied by governments and international agencies.

It is time to acknowledge the wisdom of debt forgiveness as a strategy for Europe. After all, it was the 50 per cent debt write-off fashioned by the U.S. and implemented 61 years ago in West Germany that got that country back on its feet.

As a result of debt re-structuring arrangements undertaken under the auspices of the Troika, governments or EU institutions now hold 80 per cent of the Greek debt. A new round of debt negotiations focusing on linking debt repayment to Greek ability to pay has the potential to succeed. Syriza has pledged to pay privately held debt; European governments have the means of re-scheduling the balance.

A deterioration of public life promotes flourishing conditions for extreme-right quasi-fascist parties such as the Greek Golden Dawn or the French National Front.

The future of Europe lies in the direction laid out by Alexis Tsipras in his victory speech in Athens. Knowledge, science and artistic creation are what need to be fostered in Greece and Europe.

Related: Is Canada ripe for a Syriza movement?
Crawford Kilian TheTyee.ca British Columbia Canada January 27, 2015

Visit this page for its embedded and related links.

Last Sunday’s election of a new Greek government has been portrayed in the media as an ominous development. After all, “Syriza” is an acronym for “Coalition of the Radical Left,” which for most of our media might as well be “League of Maniacal Evildoers.” Few commentators have actually discussed whether Syriza’s policies might actually be good for Greece; by definition they’re the fruit of a poison tree.

The North American media have in general been hostile to the “left” and “radicals” since the 19th century, when the terms were associated with dangerous immigrants and crazy people who wanted to abolish slavery and give blacks the vote. But in the last 40 years or so the framing of our political debate has carefully pushed such terms literally out of sight and out of mind. Whatever solutions we may come up with, they will have to come from a narrow spectrum known as the “centre-right.”

Since the Second World War, that framing has kept the left out on the fringe with the lunatics and terrorists. Inconvenient governments, however democratically elected, could be safely overthrown if only they could be shown to be “communist,” “leftist,” or even just “left-leaning.”

An old Chinese saying advises, “Kill the chicken to scare the monkey,” meaning you kill the weaker enemy to scare the stronger enemy. Such ousters were intended as a deterrent to anyone who might think their country would be better off with left-wing policies. With Chile it was finally clear: no serious left-winger would be allowed to take power democratically in any region where the U.S. felt it had strategic interests.

Almost 45 years after Allende, that unwritten doctrine was challenged in Greece on Sunday. Syriza won the election with 36 per cent of the vote — pretty close to the 39.62 per cent that got Stephen Harper a majority in 2011. With 149 seats, just two short of an absolute majority, Syriza has become the government with the aid of a populist far-right party, Anel, noted for its anti-semitism and German-focused xenophobia.

Alexis Tsipras, Syriza’s leader and Greece’s new prime minister, is only 40. Wikipedia says he was born on July 28, 1975, “three days after the fall of the Greek military junta.” He started as a Young Communist but stayed in the left-wing coalition Synaspismos after the Greek Communist Party left it. He is clearly a very smart man with a lot of political experience.

But his experience on the Athens city council has not equipped him to deal with neoliberals in the European Union like Angela Merkel. The economic powers in Europe have been locked into austerity as the only thinkable response to the meltdown of 2007-08; seven years of failure have not weakened their resolve to continue the beatings until morale improves.

Tsipras’s victory has already encouraged others. Spain’s Podemos (an ironic translation of Obama’s “Yes we can”) has grown in less than six months from nothing into the country’s second-largest party, with 300,000 members. Like Greece, Spain has taken a beating from its E.U. partners, and morale has not improved.

Least of all has morale improved among the young southern Europeans who have paid the costs of the meltdown and E.U.-decreed austerity — in careers lost, families struggling, educations wasted. For Greeks, Italians and Spaniards born since Tsipras, economic depression is the basic condition of life. Ireland is exporting its young people again. Even social democracies like Sweden and Finland are struggling to make ends meet, and neo-fascist groups are raising the spectre of job competition from immigration to attract new members.

So Syriza offers a serious challenge to the neoliberals and neo-fascists alike, and to the whole economic order of the European Union. The Americans are likely alarmed as well, but regime change hasn’t worked out well in recent years.

More likely, the E.U. will gamble on giving Tsipras enough rope to hang himself. Tsipras, as a onetime Red, no doubt recalls Lenin’s wisecrack about the “capitalists selling us the rope we will hang them with.” As he and the E.U. try to rope and hogtie one another, Europe’s economy will teeter: will Spain go next, and then Italy? If they do, can Merkel and her German austerians survive?

Meanwhile, leftist governments elsewhere must be paying close attention. Ecuador and Bolivia are by western terms “far left,” but don’t really count. Venezuela is far left too, but evidence suggests that oil can wreck any petro-state, left or right. Cuba’s geriatric Reds must worry about taking fire on their left flank from young Cubans like what they were 50 years ago. In Chile, young Communists like Camila Vallejo are now elected members of a coalition government, busy improving that country’s education system from within.

Could we see a Syriza or Podemos in Canada? It’s clear that our dismal voter-turnout numbers reflect a political alienation far deeper than we would like to admit, especially among our young people. But as bad as their experience has been since 2008, it hasn’t been as brutal as that of young Greeks and Spaniards. Even our Occupy movement was more a fad than a coherent political challenge to the status quo.

Young leftists like Tsipras and Vallejo are smart enough to know you don’t storm the Winter Palace on the spur of the moment, and expect to win. You go patiently from street demonstrations to election campaigns to legislative committees. You don’t lose your temper, you don’t give up, and you do win elections.

In the process, you also draw “radical left” back into the frame of political discourse, and open up a new range of solutions to political problems. That may have already begun with Tsipras. In a recent New York Times column, economist Paul Krugman damned and blasted the austerians and said, “If anything, the problem with Syriza’s plans may be that they’re not radical enough.”

Radical or not, Syriza and Podemos pose a powerful challenge to the narrow centre-right spectrum of acceptable thought. That could encourage some of our cautious Liberals and New Democrats to try out some ideas that are radical only by comparison with the dull orthodoxy of Stephen Harper. If they do, they might find that many Canadians are way ahead of them — including the two out of five who didn’t even bother to vote in the last election.

Posted at: January 27, 2015 - 2:34 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post