October 19, 2014

The healing power of silence


Two wooden armchairs stand on a lake shore in Finland, where marketers have rebranded the Nordic country with a slogan, “Silence, Please.” Photo: veer.com

Freedom from noise and goal-directed tasks, it appears, unites the quiet without and within, allowing our conscious workspace to do its thing, to weave ourselves into the world, to discover where we fit in. That’s the power of silence. - Daniel A. Gross, a freelance journalist and public radio producer who writes about history and science.

This is your brain on silence
Daniel A. Gross Nautilus USA August 31, 2014

One icy night in March 2010, 100 marketing experts piled into the Sea Horse Restaurant in Helsinki, with the modest goal of making a remote and medium-sized country a world-famous tourist destination. The problem was that Finland was known as a rather quiet country, and since 2008, the Country Brand Delegation had been looking for a national brand that would make some noise.

Over drinks at the Sea Horse, the experts puzzled over the various strengths of their nation. Here was a country with exceptional teachers, an abundance of wild berries and mushrooms, and a vibrant cultural capital the size of Nashville, Tennessee. These things fell a bit short of a compelling national identity. Someone jokingly suggested that nudity could be named a national theme—it would emphasize the honesty of Finns. Someone else, less jokingly, proposed that perhaps quiet wasn’t such a bad thing. That got them thinking.

A few months later, the delegation issued a slick “Country Brand Report.” It highlighted a host of marketable themes, including Finland’s renowned educational system and school of functional design. One key theme was brand new: silence. As the report explained, modern society often seems intolerably loud and busy. “Silence is a resource,” it said. It could be marketed just like clean water or wild mushrooms. “In the future, people will be prepared to pay for the experience of silence.”

People already do. In a loud world, silence sells. Noise-canceling headphones retail for hundreds of dollars; the cost of some weeklong silent meditation courses can run into the thousands. Finland saw that it was possible to quite literally make something out of nothing.

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board released a series of photographs of lone figures in the wilderness, with the caption “Silence, Please.” An international “country branding” consultant, Simon Anholt, proposed the playful tagline “No talking, but action.” And a Finnish watch company, Rönkkö, launched its own new slogan: “Handmade in Finnish silence.”

“We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing,” explains Eva Kiviranta, who manages social media for VisitFinland.com.

Silence is a peculiar starting point for a marketing campaign. After all, you can’t weigh, record, or export it. You can’t eat it, collect it, or give it away. The Finland campaign raises the question of just what the tangible effects of silence really are. Science has begun to pipe up on the subject. In recent years researchers have highlighted the peculiar power of silence to calm our bodies, turn up the volume on our inner thoughts, and attune our connection to the world. Their findings begin where we might expect: with noise.

The word “noise” comes from a Latin root meaning either queasiness or pain. According to the historian Hillel Schwartz, there’s even a Mesopotamian legend in which the gods grow so angry at the clamor of earthly humans that they go on a killing spree. (City-dwellers with loud neighbors may empathize, though hopefully not too closely.)

Dislike of noise has produced some of history’s most eager advocates of silence, as Schwartz explains in his book Making Noise: From Babel to the Big Bang and Beyond. In 1859, the British nurse and social reformer Florence Nightingale wrote, “Unnecessary noise is the most cruel absence of care that can be inflicted on sick or well.” Every careless clatter or banal bit of banter, Nightingale argued, can be a source of alarm, distress, and loss of sleep for recovering patients. She even quoted a lecture that identified “sudden noises” as a cause of death among sick children.

Surprisingly, recent research supports some of Nightingale’s zealous claims. In the mid 20th century, epidemiologists discovered correlations between high blood pressure and chronic noise sources like highways and airports. Later research seemed to link noise to increased rates of sleep loss, heart disease, and tinnitus. (It’s this line of research that hatched the 1960s-era notion of “noise pollution,” a name that implicitly refashions transitory noises as toxic and long-lasting.)

Studies of human physiology help explain how an invisible phenomenon can have such a pronounced physical effect. Sound waves vibrate the bones of the ear, which transmit movement to the snail-shaped cochlea. The cochlea converts physical vibrations into electrical signals that the brain receives. The body reacts immediately and powerfully to these signals, even in the middle of deep sleep. Neurophysiological research suggests that noises first activate the amygdalae, clusters of neurons located in the temporal lobes of the brain, associated with memory formation and emotion. The activation prompts an immediate release of stress hormones like cortisol. People who live in consistently loud environments often experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

Just as the whooshing of a hundred individual cars accumulates into an irritating wall of background noise, the physical effects of noise add up. In 2011, the World Health Organization tried to quantify its health burden in Europe. It concluded that the 340 million residents of western Europe—roughly the same population as that of the United States—annually lost a million years of healthy life because of noise. It even argued that 3,000 heart disease deaths were, at their root, the result of excessive noise.

So we like silence for what it doesn’t do—it doesn’t wake, annoy, or kill us—but what does it do? When Florence Nightingale attacked noise as a “cruel absence of care,” she also insisted on the converse: Quiet is a part of care, as essential for patients as medication or sanitation. It’s a strange notion, but one that researchers have begun to bear out as true.

Posted at: October 19, 2014 - 9:29 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

The western model is broken: Ideas like development and progress have swept the world and left ruin in their wake, taking with them the West’s moral authority

Ideas like development and progress have swept the world and left ruin in their wake, taking with them the West’s moral authority. The West has lost the power to shape the world in its own image – as recent events, from Ukraine to Iraq, make all too clear. So why does it still preach the pernicious myth that every society must evolve along Western lines? Pankaj Mishra is an Indian author and writer of literary and political essays. His books include Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan and Beyond. His newest work, From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia, was published in 2012.

The western model is broken
Pankaj Mishra Guardian, The Long Read UK October 14, 2014

“So far, the 21st century has been a rotten one for the western model,” according to a new book, The Fourth Revolution, by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. This seems an extraordinary admission from two editors of the Economist, the flag-bearer of English liberalism, which has long insisted that the non-west could only achieve prosperity and stability through western prescriptions. It almost obscures the fact that the 20th century was blighted by the same pathologies that today make the western model seem unworkable, and render its fervent advocates a bit lost. The most violent century in human history, it was hardly the best advertisement for the “bland fanatics of western civilisation”, as the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr called them at the height of the cold war, “who regard the highly contingent achievements of our culture as the final form and norm of human existence”.

Niebuhr was critiquing a fundamentalist creed that has coloured our view of the world for more than a century: that western institutions of the nation-state and liberal democracy will be gradually generalised around the world, and that the aspiring middle classes created by industrial capitalism will bring about accountable, representative and stable governments – that every society, in short, is destined to evolve just as the west did. Critics of this teleological view, which defines “progress” exclusively as development along western lines, have long perceived its absolutist nature. Secular liberalism, the Russian thinker Alexander Herzen cautioned as early as 1862, “is the final religion, though its church is not of the other world but of this”. But it has had many presumptive popes and encyclicals: from the 19th-century dream of a westernised world long championed by the Economist, in which capital, goods, jobs and people freely circulate, to Henry Luce’s proclamation of an “American century” of free trade, and “modernisation theory” – the attempt by American cold warriors to seduce the postcolonial world away from communist-style revolution and into the gradualist alternative of consumer capitalism and democracy.

The collapse of communist regimes in 1989 further emboldened Niebuhr’s bland fanatics. The old Marxist teleology was retrofitted rather than discarded in Francis Fukuyama’s influential end-of-history thesis, and cruder theories about the inevitable march to worldwide prosperity and stability were vended by such Panglosses of globalisation as Thomas Friedman. Arguing that people privileged enough to consume McDonald’s burgers don’t go to war with each other, the New York Times columnist was not alone in mixing old-fangled Eurocentrism with American can-doism, a doctrine that grew from America’s uninterrupted good fortune and unchallenged power in the century before September 2001.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 briefly disrupted celebrations of a world globalised by capital and consumption. But the shock to naive minds only further entrenched in them the intellectual habits of the cold war – thinking through binary oppositions of “free” and “unfree” worlds – and redoubled an old delusion: liberal democracy, conceived by modernisation theorists as the inevitable preference of the beneficiaries of capitalism, could now be implanted by force in recalcitrant societies. Invocations of a new “long struggle” against “Islamofascism” aroused many superannuated cold warriors who missed the ideological certainties of battling communism. Intellectual narcissism survived, and was often deepened by, the realisation that economic power had begun to shift from the west. The Chinese, who had “got capitalism”, were, after all, now “downloading western apps”, according to Niall Ferguson. As late as 2008, Fareed Zakaria declared in his much-cited book, The Post-American World, that “the rise of the rest is a consequence of American ideas and actions” and that “the world is going America’s way”, with countries “becoming more open, market-friendly and democratic”.

One event after another in recent months has cruelly exposed such facile narratives. China, though market-friendly, looks further from democracy than before. The experiment with free-market capitalism in Russia has entrenched a kleptocratic regime with a messianic belief in Russian supremacism. Authoritarian leaders, anti-democratic backlashes and rightwing extremism define the politics of even such ostensibly democratic countries as India, Israel, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Turkey.

The atrocities of this summer in particular have plunged political and media elites in the west into stunned bewilderment and some truly desperate cliches. The extraordinary hegemonic power of their ideas had helped them escape radical examination when the world could still be presented as going America’s way. But their preferred image of the west – the idealised one in which they sought to remake the rest of the world – has been consistently challenged by many critics, left or right, in the west as well as the east.

Posted at: October 19, 2014 - 9:25 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

Vanishing beauties


Photo: Alan Wight, Speyeria zerene puntareyes, Marin County, 2009. The Zerene Fritillary (Speyeria zerene) is a species of butterfly found in the western portions of the United States and Canada. The Speyeria zerene is a medium sized butterfly whose length ranges from 25–28 mm, and the wingspan is about 55 mm. The body of the butterfly is black with orange-brown on the upper side of the wings. Also on the underside are black veins with black spots. The undersides of the wings have silver metallic spots. The wings and the body are both covered in fine hairs.

Butterflies are among the most beautiful, delightful, fascinating, and charismatic creatures on earth. They are an integral part of our biodiversity, the poster child for the invertebrate world, and one of the intangibles that make our world such a wonderful and interesting place to live. At one time, the Vancouver Island region was a North American mecca for butterflies. In the Victoria area alone, nearly forty species could easily be found in abundance. Sadly, today you would be lucky to find four species in abundance.

The demise of the butterflies is not surprising. It is a challenge for them just to survive natural enemies such as parasites, predators, and extreme weather conditions. Those that survive the natural dangers must face the gauntlet of human hazards like habitat destruction, pesticide spraying, and human-introduced invasive plants and pests. It is not surprising that 18 out of the 60 (30%) of native breeding wild butterflies documented on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands are blue or red-listed—which means they are species of concern, mainly because of shrinking habitats and declining populations. Ten species are red-listed, meaning they are the most endangered and either extirpated, extinct, or close to it.

Although little can be done about the natural problems, much can be done for the human situation. … Mike Yip, Island Tides (PDF) October 16 – 29, 2014, page 11

Right: Zerene Fritillary (subspecies bremnerii). Photo: Mike Yip, Salt Spring Island. Four of the most endangered butterflies, the Zerene Fritillary, Propertius Duskywing, Common Woodnymph, and Dun Skipper, are still found on Salt Spring Island. In fact, the Zerene Fritillary (subspecies bremnerii) on Salt Spring is the last remaining population in BC. Salt Spring Island has a conservancy organization that is proactive in acquiring conservation areas to protect sensitive ecosystems as well as working with landowners to create preserves on private land. Although the survival of endangered species isn’t guaranteed, the efforts of community conservancies give the butterflies their best chance for survival and provide an example of stewardship that should exist in every community.

Posted at: October 19, 2014 - 9:21 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

October 18, 2014

Weekly Headlines

Click on a headline below to go to that news item

Friday, October 17, 2014

Commentary

Ukraine: Two commentaries, one from Ukrainian-British actress, Vera Graziadei, and the other from American film director, Oliver Stone

World News

Let them eat bombs: The cost of ignoring Syria’s humanitarian crisis & Fleeing Kobane: Only the things they could carry

Agriculture

‘Food doesn’t come from a grocery store’: Food isn’t just food. Food is a system

Civil Society

Corporatist governments attempt to stymie their people’s anti-fracking-pipeline-tarsands movements: Colorado, British Columbia, Summer/Fall, 2014

Thursday, October 16, 2014

National News

Neoliberalism & the City, the view from Canada

Commentary

Canada is in a big economic stall: What to do?

Commentary

Another Harperite human rights issue? IS and the IDF: Canada’s double standard & Why is Canada joining the anti-ISIL coalition?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

World News

Just who or whom did this? An unpleasant dish, a muddled mess: Syria, Iraq, the Kurds, Lebanon, Turkey and the Islamic State takfiris

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Commentary

Turkey’s double game in Syria

National News

Continue to go hungry Canadian children, our Dear Leader has his priorities. Canadian military may get its $3.1-billion back

Monday, October 13, 2014

Commentary

Iron ore revolution to benefit China? Looks possible. An attempt to end commodity price-fixing by just three corporations whose governments are tied to the US and the NATO alliance

Commentary

Delegitimizing Uyghur grievances: Uyghurs said to be looking to Indonesia for ‘terror’ guidance & Resistance, repression, and the cycle of violence in the Uyghur Struggle

Commentary

Hong Kong’s war for democracy gets dirtier

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Living

Its never really been only a man’s world

Living

Original Irish Jack-o-Lanterns were truly terrifying and made of turnips

Arts

Siege, Symphony and War: Book reviews: “Leningrad: Siege and Symphony”

World News

What will it take to achieve a lasting peace? Dispatches from the Federal State of Novorossiya or, if you prefer to call it by its former name—Dec. 1991-Aug. 2014—the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine

World News

First Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga female officer killed in clashes with Islamic State & Canada supplies Kurdistan with robots to find bombs but hands off necessary training of Kurdish forces to private sector

Posted at: October 18, 2014 - 7:01 am -- Posted by: SSNews -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

October 17, 2014

Ukraine: Two commentaries, one from Ukrainian-British actress, Vera Graziadei, and the other from American film director, Oliver Stone

Russia Insider is a new website. Charles Bausman is the Editor and Publisher. This is what he writes about the site:

This site got started this past summer when a group of expats living in Russia for many years began thinking about what we might do to address a worsening and dangerous problem.

The problem is that the western media present an inaccurate, incomplete, and unrealistically negative picture of Russia, and an incorrect narrative of the past 20 years, since the fall of communism.

It seems to us that this has led to profound policy mistakes by the US and Europe, confusion and misperception.

Russia is a much more appealing, compelling, and complex story than what is being reported.

We are private publication, funded by its founders, independent of any governments or institutions.

Our core contributors come from business, finance, journalism, academia and diplomacy, and we tend to be slightly right of center, in an American and European context.

The site reflects my personal views, but we endeavor to be reasonable and fair, providing as many facts as possible.

We believe objectivity is a worthy ideal, yet opinion makes for more interesting journalism, and seek to strike a balance between the two.

Below Vera Graziadei (right) introduces her blog thus:

Thank you for visiting and reading my blog. I’m sad that I have started writing it through pain and tears for East Ukrainian people and I hope that one day there will be something to smile about. For now my conscience demands that I use all the skills and knowledge I have, as well as memories of growing up in Donbas and my intimate knowledge of it’s unique history and culture, to try and outline the unique position that an educated East Ukrainian might have in the Ukrainian conflict. I’m not anti-American or pro-Putin. I’m anti-violence and war, and I’m pro-dialogue, referendum, mutual respect and understanding between Euromaidan and anti-Maidan sides.

Before going into acting, I achieved a degree in Philosophy and Economics and a Masters in Philosophy and Public Policy (Thesis: Social Capital and Critique of the World Bank’s Development Report) from London School of Economics. I continued studying Philosophy, while working as an actress, focusing on Existentialism, and completed a foundation course in Psychotherapy/Psychoanalysis. My other passions are Comedy and Literature (esp. Russian classics).

Kiev’s war crimes are not in doubt. Why the silence?
Vera Graziadei Russia Insider Russia October 17, 2014

The author contributed this comment to Russia Insider. It originally appeared on her personal blog on Wednesday. Visit this page for its embedded links.

A day after winning the Nobel Peace Prize last Friday, Kailash Satyarthi, in an interview with RIA News, urged the Ukrainian government to protect Ukrainian citizens and especially children: “It is the responsibility of the Ukrainian government to save their citizens, particularly children. Safety of children will be their utmost priority. I will appeal to the Ukrainian government so as to ensure that such incidents against children will not occur in future.”

According to the recent UN report as many as 3,660 people have been killed and over 8,756 have been wounded in Donbass since Kiev launched its military operation in April. Even though a ceasefire was announced on September 5th, more than 330 people have died since, including 20 children. UNICEF stated that at least 35 children have been killed in the Ukrainian conflict and 87 have been wounded.


She didn’t survive.

Human Rights Watch already called on Ukraine’s international supporters to “urge the Ukrainian government to strictly adhere to international humanitarian law, including by ending all use of Grad rockets in populated areas by Ukraine’s army”.

Amnesty International also urged the Ukrainian government to “stop abuses and war crimes by volunteer battalions operating alongside regular Ukrainian armed forces”, such as Aidar. All these appeals, urges and calls are likely to remain voices in the wilderness.

Firstly, Kiev repeatedly denies responsibility for war crimes, even when it’s proved by independent observers that the Ukrainian Army has carried out the atrocities, e.g. OSCE confirmed that on June 2nd the Ukrainian air force bombed a public building in Lugansk , killing 8 civilians – Kiev claimed separatists mishandled a portable anti-aircraft missile system.

Secondly, even though the government keeps blaming ‘the rebels’, they don’t seem to be that motivated when it comes to investigating these crimes. Moreover, even international organisations seem to not be that keen on uncovering any new atrocities. For example, the UN promised to investigate reports of mass graves in areas near Donetsk, which were controlled by the Ukrainian Army, but when the report came out the issue of mass graves was intentionally omitted.

Thirdly, after this week’s Reuters’ special report about flaws found in Ukraine’s probe of the Maidan massacre, there are plenty of reasons to believe that even if Kiev decided to carry out investigations of crimes, they are unlikely to be unbiased and fair.

Right: An East Ukrainian bombing victim with her child. Deliberate shelling of civilians has been relentless.

In such a context, all the 3,360 dead Eastern Ukrainians and their families, including the victims of the Odessa massacre, can expect similar justice from the Ukrainian government. It is clear that without pressure from the international community and other organisations, Kiev’s regime is neither going to stop the Ukrainian Army and other battalions from committing war crimes, nor is it going to investigate them.

Undoubtedly, all involved would make more effort to not commit atrocities, like targeting schools, if there was a serious risk of being indicted for war crimes from a recognised tribunal, but even the International Criminal Court (ICC) ignored the people who died from sniper shootings on Maidan, the Odessa massacre victims, and other civilians who died from indiscriminate shelling.

Russia is the only country, who is taking active steps towards bringing justice to East Ukrainian victims. Moscow has called on the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to take responsibility for investigations into crimes committed in Ukraine. The Public Chamber of the Russian Federation filed 30 petitionsin EHCR over war crimes in Ukraine and will file several hundred more by the end of the year. Ten petitions were already declined.

Finally, as human rights lawyer, attorney and member of the International Criminal Bar Dr. Jonathan Levy wrote in his independent legal analysis: Novorossiya itself ‘must bring Kiev’s war criminals to justice’. According to him, whether we like it or not, ‘under international law, Novorossiya has the same status as any other member of the community nations – it is a sovereign independent nation.’

Dr.Levy proposes that Novorossiya sets up its own International Tribunal and gives it independence to act in lieu of the UN, ICC, and Council of Europe, giving a chance to lawyers and jurists from around the world, who seek to advance the cause of justice, to participate using the Internet and other technologies. He argues, that “it is international participation and support that will give the proposed tribunal substance”.

If this ever happens, it will be a remarkable step towards creating a real international civic society with its own justice system, powered by modern technology (more details here), which would be independent of international leaders and their lackey organisations, which so far showed little signs of being concerned about bringing justice for killed East Ukrainian civilians.

An RI exclusive, Oliver Stone’s full Moscow interview on Russia and Ukraine
Russia Insider Russia October 17, 2014

Visit this page for its embedded links.

Oliver Stone, one of America’s most celebrated film makers, was in Moscow in September, working on his upcoming biopic of Edward Snowden and a new documentary about the Ukraine catastrophe.

He gave this long interview to a major Russian newspaper. Small parts of it have been published in English elsewhere, but we got our hands on the original transcript, and are delighted to share it with you here, in full, for the first time.

In the interview, Stone slams America’s foreign policy, media and historical revisionism.

Stone is a remarkable phenomenon on the American cultural scene. Best known for a slew of iconic films like Wall Street, Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July, he has also created many films that are harshly critical of the US – about the JFK assassination, 9/11, US funded terrrorism in Latin America, Richard Nixon, Vietnam, corruption on Wall Street, and Cuba. He is an ardent defender of Edward Snowden, which is why he’s making a movie about him.

He is an outspoken and relentless critic of much that is wrong with America today.

His latest film, which aired in the US in 2012, is a 10-part documentary about the history of the US since WW2, which he describes as the most important thing he has ever done. In the film, he seeks to debunk what he sees as lies which are widely taught to Americans, and largely accepted as true. The series will air on Russian television in the near future.

This is an extraordinary interview. We agree wholeheartedly with most of what he says. We found ourselves wondering, how is it possible, that this man, not a professional journalist or historian, understands what is going on in Ukraine and Russia and the mess the US has gotten itself into, better than the combined western media and Washington policy makers?

Posted at: October 17, 2014 - 3:55 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

Let them eat bombs: The cost of ignoring Syria’s humanitarian crisis & Fleeing Kobane: Only the things they could carry

Let them eat bombs: The cost of ignoring Syria’s humanitarian crisis
Aron Lund Carnegie Endowment for International Peace USA October 17, 2014

Visit this page for its embedded and related links.

Winter is coming, and the humanitarian situation in Syria has never been so dire, with more than 3 million refugees abroad and some 6.5 million internally displaced—nearly half of the country’s population.

According to UN figures, more than 10 million Syrians now need outside aid to survive, nearly half of them stuck in areas under siege or otherwise hard to access. The power infrastructure and agricultural sector are breaking down due to the strains of war and a lack of upkeep. Across Syria, the prices of fuel, food, and everyday goods are skyrocketing due to systemic failures in the power supply structure, war, and bombings. Millions of Syrians are left to face the winter cold in appalling conditions, at a time when wealthy Western and Arab nations spend billions on counterterrorism and renewed rebel training missions.

This is not simply callous neglect. Even if the Syrian conflict were to be viewed solely through a security prism, the international community’s tepid response to this humanitarian crisis is clearly counterproductive. The spiralling poverty, social breakdown, and despair is precisely what has paved the way for extremist sectarian militias, not only inside Syria but also among refugees scattered in countries like Lebanon and Jordan, and there is little hope for a solution for as long as the humanitarian crisis persists.

Yet while funds are readily available for military interventions of last resort—such as “Operation Inherent Resolve,” the U.S.-led coalition striking jihadi targets in Syria and Iraq—the international community remains unwilling to summon up a humanitarian coalition to get Syrians through the winter.

Related: Fleeing Kobane: Only the things they could carry
Sheren Khalel and Matthew Vickery Middle East Eye UK Last updated October 17, 2014


Many refugees from Kobane have to deal with knowing their home is only a few kilometres away. Photo: AA

SURUC, Turkey – When Islamic State militants began to close in on Kobane, the town erupted into chaos.

Most fled with just the clothes they were wearing, and any money stashed away in the house they could grab quickly.

Taking the time to pack bags was a gamble, especially for families living on the outskirts of the town, who had long heard about the notoriety of the advancing militants that have captured world attention for the particular brand of cruelty they unleash on their opponents.

Yet, even amid the chaos, a few individuals managed to take an object of sentimental value, an item that in their mind could not be left behind and could not be replaced. In disarray and terror, a small piece of comfort was nonetheless carried over the Syrian border to safety.

As mortars rained down on their hometown, and the fighting between the Peoples Protection Unit (YPG) Kurdish forces and Islamic State militants descended from the rural outskirts into the city, Khaled Khalil Bisiki and his family made the decision to flee Kobane.

Two weeks ago in the middle of the night, as they hurryingly packed their lives into the family’s small battered car, Bisiki ran back inside to grab the deeds to his lands in Kobane. His wife, Maram, quickly followed, grabbing precious family photos.

“We left so fast we couldn’t bring anything with us really, it was all so fast, so you just grab the things you think you can bring with you,” Khaled told Middle East Eye.

“When you remember something is important, it becomes so important. I remembered our land deeds, I want to always have proof that this is my family’s place – to never lose that – and my wife grabbed the family photos.”

Stories like that of the Bisiki’s can be found throughout the refugee encampments in the Turkish border town of Suruc where many families – despite the current hardship – have sought sanctuary and found at least a little bit of comfort by saving a personal belonging that amids the destruction still helps remind them of the home.

Jihan Isliman, is one of those refugees. The 21-year-old, arrived at the camp two weeks ago with her family. She was engaged six months earlier, but her fiancé has been working as a contractor in Iraq for the past three months.

In the rush to flee the city, there was only one prized item she felt compelled to bring with her – her engagement ring.

“Wearing the ring is new to me and I didn’t always have it on. When my family said it was time to run we didn’t take much with us, it all happened very quickly, but I ran to my room and grabbed my ring,” Jihan told MEE as she turned the small golden band around her ring finger.

“I may not wear it always but it means so much to me. Since I got here to the camp I haven’t taken it off.”

As the rain lashed down on the small refugee outpost in the middle of Suruc, Isliman appeared happy to ignore the downpour to show off the ring, an item that promised a future that she can still look forward to despite her current predicament.

Posted at: October 17, 2014 - 12:36 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

,

‘Food doesn’t come from a grocery store’: Food isn’t just food. Food is a system

Third in the series. In this ongoing series, Grow, Eat, Learn: School from the Plate Up, Tyee Solutions Society reporter Katie Hyslop visits farms, schools, full-length mirrors and our own kitchen cupboards to examine how we lost our way when it comes to feeding our kids, and how we can get back on the path to wholesome, healthy eating. Find the series so far here.

‘Food doesn’t come from a grocery store’
Katie Hyslop Tyee Solutions Society British Columbia Canada October 15, 2014

Visit this page for its related links.

On a sunny but blustery late May morning, Doug Palylyk’s Grade 4/5 class begins in an atypical classroom: a greenhouse on the University of British Columbia farm, 24 hectares of land located on the south end of the Point Grey campus.

Seated four or five students to a picnic table, arranged in two rows, each group also has two “farm friends”: adults, some with farming experience, some without, who volunteer to help the students plant and manage their own small vegetable gardens.

Today, they’re all going to visit one of the farm’s active beehives and are getting a crash course on the busy bugs. But it’s pretty clear from the beginning that the students already have the buzz on bees.

“How do you guys think we should talk when we approach the hive?” asked Nicole Read, a 20-something woman sporting a straw hat and black T-shirt with cartoon bees and “whisperer” printed underneath.

Hands shoot up. “Quietly,” responds the boy she picks. Why? “Because if we talk too loudly it might bother the bees.”

“Where do you guys think we should stand when we’re around the hive?” Read asks.

Before she can pick a hand a student pipes up: “Not in the bee highway!” All the adults laugh with delight and surprise.

“What, may I ask, is the bee highway?” Palylyk prods, smiling.

“Where the bees come in and out, in and out,” comes the singsong reply.

This is the class’s seventh trip to the farm this school year, and every trip is followed by a farm-related science lesson back at Graham Bruce Community Elementary. The last class was all about the important pollinators.

Bees aren’t a mandatory part of the Grade 3 and 4 curriculum in B.C., and while plant reproduction is taught in K-12, it’s not often done in a way that sticks, according to Jolie Mayer-Smith, co-founder of the Intergenerational Landed Learning on the Farm Project that Graham Bruce participated in at the UBC Farm last year.

“People know shockingly little about plants: they don’t know how they grow, they don’t know what they need, they don’t know that if you pull the flowers you’re not going to get any fruit,” Mayer-Smith said. It’s that lack of knowledge, she added, that leads people to disrespect plants, allowing industrial food production to flourish despite the high toll it often takes on the environment and our health.

In fact, as part of their participation, Palylyk and other teachers involved in the program must create lesson plans to complement the students’ participation in the year-long program designed to bring elementary students together with adults of varying ages to learn how to grow, harvest and cook food.

“It’s a cutting edge program for kids,” Palylyk said of the Intergenerational Landed Learning on the Farm Project. “It’s all hands-on. The science they learn out there in the open-area classroom is phenomenal.” Palylyk has participated in the program for six of the eight years Graham Bruce has been involved.

Intergenerational Landed Learning brings students to the farm 10 times over a normal school year, starting in September when they observe the growth and harvest of gardens planted by the previous year’s class.

After a two-month break in the winter, the “farm friends” visit Graham Bruce in February to help students plan their gardens. The students spend the rest of spring until June planting and tending their plants, and harvesting some of the early maturing crops while leaving the rest for next year’s class.

During the summer break, a camp started by the Landed Learning Project, but now run by the UBC Farm, tends to the gardens to make sure they fruit in the fall.

This is the 12th year the project has run in a handful of Vancouver elementary schools, starting with a private girls school and eventually moving into public schools. There were four public schools involved in the program last year, and four are again lined up this fall.

It isn’t just about growing and eating food, said Mayer-Smith, a professor in UBC’s curriculum and pedagogy department in the education faculty. It’s also teaching kids why to care for your environment, and how to do it when procuring food. “We’re trying to help them make informed decisions about food,” she said.

Those are lessons that take a full year to impart, and sometimes even that isn’t enough time. UBC education students have been researching Landed Learning’s successes and failures, following up with teachers, farm friends and former students about their experience. Six years after the project began they discovered that kids from York House, the first school that adopted the program, hadn’t connected it with environmentalism.

That led to more emphasis on the environment now, but Mayer-Smith acknowledges that changing kids’ food choices for the long run could be even harder.

“It’s not easy to change a culture of attitudes towards food, and I think here we plant seeds [in their minds],” she said, recalling one student who began the project refusing to eat anything that came from the ground.

“Talking to kids later on in their lives is really important,” she suggested, “because you aren’t going to see the fruits of our labour until quite a bit later.”

Parents, however, are already reporting positive results: kids are asking for more fresh fruits and vegetables at home, and commenting on how different — and much better — fresh food from the garden tastes compared to grocery store produce.

Begun as a way to incorporate food security into the curriculum of local K-12 schools, Think & Eat Green provides funding — through government and academic grants — and the expertise of undergrad students, to start food gardens at schools, while teaching teachers and students how to seed, tend and harvest the gardens. The whole process demonstrates that “food isn’t just food. Food is a system,” said Alejandro Rojas, principal investigator for Think & Eat Green.

“It’s a system that begins in the soil, that impacts the air, the water; that continues with transportation [of the food], and has economic dimensions. It affects the health of the people and the biological communities that sustain us,” he explained, adding the cycle of food runs from seed to food waste providing the necessary conditions for new food to flourish.

“People often talk about ‘from the farm to the table,’” Rojas observes. “For us, that misses the entire other half: from the table back to the soil” through composting.

[T]he message Landed Learning and Think & Eat Green are trying to implant in every participant: we’re all stewards of the land. And while we work to provide healthy food for ourselves today, we’re also responsible for ensuring the next generation has that opportunity, too.

Posted at: October 17, 2014 - 11:50 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

,

Corporatist governments attempt to stymie their people’s anti-fracking-pipeline-tarsands movements: Colorado, British Columbia, Summer/Fall, 2014

Dictionary.com’s 21st Century Lexicon defines civil society as: “noun the aggregate of non-governmental organizations and institutions that manifest interests and will of citizens; individuals and organizations in a society which are independent of the government”

The headline should have read, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and U.S. Representative Jared Polis deny public vote on fracking with last minute deal giving backyard fracking the continued green light in Colorado. … [The media] has the tendency to turn political reporting into society page puffery, where all the political elite are portrayed in gauzy society colors, not as slaughter-house workers collecting floor renderings to feed a growingly rebellious, democracy-demanding public. - Coloradan Phillip Doe, who writes, “I am cosponsoring a public trust initiative that would be added to the state constitution requiring all levels of government to protect the public’s air, land, and water against substantial impairment, with the requirement that the best science available be employed in all permitting processes. It would also turn the tables on proof, the corporate trump card, by requiring petitioner’s to demonstrate their proposals would not unduly harm the environment, rather than the other way around, as is now the case.”

Let’s be clear – the BC Government has created and perpetuated a system that pits industry against First Nations. It divides communities and negatively impacts the investment climate in BC. … We will never let LNG pipelines or related activities onto our Territory, it is simply too destructive and short-sighted. The state of our Gitxsan nation has become very disheartening as people are desperately trying to protect what traditional territory we have left. … The voices of our hereditary Chiefs, matriarchs (mothers & grandmothers) are being told that they are not able to share what is weighing heavy on their hearts because they haven’t been given an opportunity or a platform to do so. … We may not have control of the world; but as a nation, community and as a House group with aboriginal rights and title, we can stand together to protect the natural resources and all that connects us. We are the caretakers of the Territory. It is not only our right to protect and gather our resources without damaging or destroying any lifecycle, it is our responsibility. - Gitxsan tribe protest leaders, contained within a published op/ed

I think in local elections, the debate should be between local candidate versus local candidate. It should not be candidates debating with giant Texas oil companies. - British Columbia NDP Member of Parliament Kennedy Stewart

In other words, environmental non-profit groups better watch their step because they’re in the cross-hairs. Premier Clark is handing the legal hammer to Enbridge, Kinder Morgan, ExxonMobil, Koch, Encana, Chevron, Sinopec, Suncor and the entire B.C. LNG sector to tie non-profits up in court for years. - Sandy Garossino commenting/reporting on the British Columbia government’s proposed overhaul of the province’s Societies Act

Fracking diaries
Phillip Doe CounterPunch USA October 17-19, 2014

The headline should have read, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and U.S. Representative Jared Polis deny public vote on fracking with last minute deal giving backyard fracking the continued green light in Colorado.

Instead Lynn Bartels, reporting in the hedge fund-owned Denver Post, gushed that a grand compromise had been struck. We were to believe from her front-page story that while the negotiating might not have been fully worthy of Talleyrand (a man once described as a turd wrapped in silk), it was surely ballpark, for all the political rainmakers in the state agreed. Something great had happened. The nasty, unwashed public with its concerns about backyard fracking had been silenced once again.

Bartels has the tendency to turn political reporting into society page puffery, where all the political elite are portrayed in gauzy society colors, not as slaughter-house workers collecting floor renderings to feed a growingly rebellious, democracy-demanding public. So, naturally, Bartels missed the real event.

In a nutshell, Polis, the 3rd richest man in the U.S. House, had agreed to pull two initiatives he had bankrolled. They were designed to offer some minimum controls on fracking. He did not think it necessary to seek consent from the more than 100,000 registered voters who had signed up to get the initiatives on the fall ballot. Neither did he deign to consult with the countless volunteers who had worked to get the required voter signatures. In return, the Governor agreed to establish a “blue ribbon” committee to study the fracking issues. Yep, that’s the grand compromise stripped to an irreducible minimum. As a friend of mine said, “Polis as negotiator makes Neville Chamberlain look like Attila the Hun.”

It is important to remind readers that the initiative process, or direct democracy as it’s sometimes called, is an important feature of Colorado’s constitution. It was adopted at the constitutional convention as the people’s protection against unresponsive or overreaching centralized government. It has been under assault by the ruling class ever since.

One of Polis’ initiatives would have required 2000-foot drilling setbacks from dwellings. This, the industry said, would make fracking impossible and cause the loss of thousands of jobs to state workers. When the going gets tough the industry always trots out the jobs gambit. But oil and gas development is a boom and bust business that brings its skilled workforce with it.

The second Polis initiative would have reasserted the rights of local communities to self-determination, or home rule, if you will. This right is already guaranteed explicitly in the state constitution. It states in part that “…the people of all municipalities” have “the full right of self-government in both local and municipal matters” and nothing shall ever be construed to deny them “any right or power essential or proper to the full exercise of such right.” Article XX, section 6h.

Is there anything more local than 8 to 16 oil wells in your backyard or in a park or school playground? Still, with regard to oil and gas development, the state legislature, apparently unable to read or reason, went rogue and took these rights away from the people and gave them to state government through legislation. The state supreme court lined up to back this legislation. Home rule is supreme except when it comes to oil reasoned they. The constitution must bow to the realities of oil, jobs, and money.

This ugly piece of Colorado political history is the source of much of the unrest in the Colorado cities threatened by the oil invasion.

As is well known, five Colorado front-range cities have passed bans or moratoria. Each is threatened by lawsuits, from both the state and the industry acting in tandem against the rights of the people. Collectively these cities, though among the larger in the state, represent a small fraction of the state’s land mass. In fact, if all of the incorporated cities and towns in the state were to enact bans through the initiative process, less than 2 percent of the state’s land base would be off limits to the industry.

As to Polis and Hickenlooper, Polis has done himself major damage. He is almost certain to face primary opposition in 2016 since cities with well over half the voting population in his district had already voted to ban or delay fracking within their city limits.

Hickenlooper seems to be coming progressively unhinged. Just the other day he said the public was wrong in voting for marijuana legalization since we couldn’t be sure yet of marijuana’s health consequences. What? The scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the assertion that fracking is a health threat to local populations, and the planet itself, yet he forges on against moratoria that would allow for a reasoned assessment of fracking’s impact on the very people he has taken a constitutional oath to protect.

Note, for the past two years Joann Ginal, a state representative from Ft Collins has introduced legislation to conduct a survey of documented medical reports from people claiming adverse health effects from fracking. Though extremely modest in range and intent, it has twice failed, thanks to the governor’s lack of support and the surprising number of troglodytes in her own party who have been won over by the industry or the reporting in the Denver Post.

The ancient philosopher wrote that character is destiny. If this be true, Polis and Hickenlooper are destined to spend eternity together, voiceless in that mysterious place where even the sun is silent.

Related British Columbia content: Why Gitxsan built a camp to blockade an LNG pipeline in BC’s north
Mychaylo Prystupa Vancouver Observer British Columbia Canada September 15, 2014

In late August, an Aboriginal protest group with the Gitxsan tribe in northern B.C. constructed a permanent camp in their territory to oppose LNG pipelines that they say do not have their hereditary chiefs’ approval. They call it “Camp Madii Lii” and their members block all “LNG traffic and other unauthorized industrial activity.” TransCanada is proposing the $5-billion Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline, to transport fracked gas from the northeast to B.C.’s coast.

What follows is an op/ed from the leaders of this camp.

Kinder Morgan TV ads attacked as influencing city elections in B.C.
Mychaylo Prystupa Vancouver Observer British Columbia Canada October 9, 2014

Multinational oil pipeline giant Kinder Morgan is being formally challenged with Elections BC as seeking to influence the outcome of November municipal elections in British Columbia with a new ad campaign – a charge, the company disputes.

The Texas-headquartered corporation is running TV, radio, online and print ads just six weeks before civic election races in cities and towns across the province.

NDP Member of Parliament Kennedy Stewart filed the complaint Wednesday with Elections BC.

“I think in local elections, the debate should be between local candidate versus local candidate.”

“It should not be candidates debating with giant Texas oil companies,” said Stewart, outside the House of Commons in Ottawa Thursday.

Several city politicians up for re-election — including Vancouver’s and Burnaby’s mayors – have staked their political reputations on advancing strong positions against the $5.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

Kinder Morgan said the timing of its ads is coincidental, and part of a PR campaign underway for two years, to win over citizens to the Edmonton-to-Burnaby pipeline expansion proposal, to triple the flow of Alberta oil sands bitumen to the coast.

“These [advertising] efforts are really nothing to do with any election, and are in fact, spread across many B.C. communities,” said Ali Hounsell, spokesperson for Trans Mountain on Wednesday.

“They do not advocate for any policy, candidate or position. So, no, it’s part of our ongoing information and engagement efforts,” she added.

Hounsell also said Kinder Morgan does not fund any political campaigns in B.C.

Oil company interests in the U.S. are well known for funding candidates in city election races south of the border.

The billionaire Koch Brothers, who are big players in the Alberta oil sands, also fund the Americans for Prosperity – a group that spends millions on influencing elections.

The Washington Post reported that the Koch brothers have moved from funding oil-friendly candidates in federal and state election races — to those in “hyper local races” all across America.

Likewise, the New York Times found that the same two industrialists had helped back mayoral candidates in cities as small as Iowa’s Coralville, population 18,000.

Burnaby’s Mayor said at a recent B.C. municipalities convention in Whistler, Kinder Morgan was seen buying drinks and lobbying candidates for office.

Christy Clark’s proposed Societies Act overhaul is breathtakingly stupid
Sandy Garossino DeSmog Canada Canada October 14, 2014

Visit this page for its embedded links.

B.C.’s Christy Clark government is proposing to overhaul the Societies Act, and they’ve distributed a snoozer of a White Paper to let you know all about it.

If you’ve dozed off already, WAKE UP, because there’s a massive zinger quietly planted deep inside. You can do something about it — more on that at the end of this post. But unmentioned in any preamble or executive summary, Section 99 allows any person (including corporations) to take any registered society to court that they believe is acting contrary to the public interest — whatever that is.

Here it is:

In other words, environmental non-profit groups better watch their step because they’re in the cross-hairs. Premier Clark is handing the legal hammer to Enbridge, Kinder Morgan, ExxonMobil, Koch, Encana, Chevron, Sinopec, Suncor and the entire B.C. LNG sector to tie non-profits up in court for years.

Section 99 looks like Clark’s close advisor Gwyn Morgan drafted it up during half-time at last year’s Grey Cup. Not a single competent lawyer within the Ministry of Justice could say with a straight face that it’s constitutional. The clear intent is to silence and intimidate Canadian conservation and environmental non-profits with the threat of litigation. And if mere threat doesn’t work, this legislation enables the corporate sector to bludgeon them into lawsuit bankruptcy.

This proposal is one of the most ill-conceived and draconian initiatives to see the light of day in a modern democracy, and reveals the extent of Clark’s captivity by the oil and gas lobby. (And one more reason B.C. political leaders should be prevented from funding their election campaigns at the Petroleum Club in Calgary).

The real backdrop, of course, is that the Harper [federal] government has been on a tear against environmentalists for years, muzzling our scientists and attempting to discredit Canadian environmental NGOs.

The government has spent millions in fruitless CRA revenge audits hunting for a wholly imaginary conspiracy involving Canadian environmental organizations and U.S. scientific and charitable foundations. This vendetta has cost both the charitable sector and public purse untold funds in accounting and legal fees, over nothing.

Agree or disagree with the environmental movement, its members are entitled, as are all of us, to contribute vigorously to public debate over resource development. No one in a free and democratic society should be silenced or censored by fear of government-sanctioned reprisal. But that is precisely the purpose of this legislation.

Christy Clark would do well to remember that Canada is a free nation — our constitution says so. British Columbians, including non-profits, are free to do what we want, express ourselves freely and associate with whomever we choose to, unless it’s for an unlawful purpose.

If government wants to limit that freedom it must abide by the Charter of Rights, not force citizens to meet a vague test like “public interest,” which doesn’t mean the same thing to any two people in the province. That would be the same Charter of Rights that Justice Susan Griffin pounded the B.C. government with during the teachers’ dispute.

Posted at: October 17, 2014 - 11:16 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

October 16, 2014

Neoliberalism & the City, the view from Canada

This article appeared in the July/August 2014 issue of Canadian Dimension ( Politics in the City).

Neoliberalism & the City
Carlo Fanelli Canadian Dimension Canada September 5, 2014

Municipalities have long been sites of neoliberal policy experimentation and contestation. Since the onset of the 2008 recession, the local state has come under new pressures to privatize social services and reduce the costs of public administration, often through seeking wage and benefit concessions from unionized municipal workers. For proponents of neoliberalism, states ought to be limited to securing the institutional preconditions for a competitive market and, once established, remolding state practices in order to ensure market rule. New fiscal constraints upon municipalities from national and provincial spending cuts have intensified competitive pressures and demands for austerity. Although municipalities have limited ability to generate revenue, they are often left to deliver services formerly provided by other tiers of government, such as social welfare, infrastructure and environmental protection.

As such, municipal governments, especially in the larger cities, have often borne the brunt of neoliberal restructuring and efforts to reassert the power base of the capitalist classes. Regardless of the social costs, local public policy increasingly reinforces conditions favourable to capital accumulation. These policies include cost-cutting measures aimed at so-called administrative efficiencies, cuts to public services, state subsidies to private capital and attacks against labour. In short, municipal neoliberalism can be understood in three ways: as an uneven process of political and economic restructuring in a matrix of multi-scalar institutional relationships with other levels of government; as an urban policy regime promoting local processes of marketization, public-sector austerity and flexibilization of work relations; and as a process of internationalizing the local economy.

Under Section 92(8) of the Constitution Act, municipalities are essentially creatures of provincial governments, which have the capacity to create, modify or eliminate a local government at will. Provincial governments also determine which powers a local government is entitled or obligated to exercise. Unlike the federal and provincial scales of administration, municipalities lack the power to implement a broad range of tax measures such as income, corporate, sales, resource and import taxes. Municipalities are also limited in their ability to incur debt.

Consequently, they find themselves increasingly unable to meet their fiscal requirements in the context of devolution and withdrawal. For some three decades, provincial and federal governments sought to “solve” their own budgetary impasses by shifting the costs of social and physical infrastructure downward onto lower tiers of government. Federal involvement in urban and municipal affairs has fluctuated over time. Although the federal government has no constitutionally prescribed municipal powers, almost all of its decisions affect municipalities in one way or another. However, except for some grants, bilateral agreements and emergency relief, the federal role in municipal affairs over the last 40 years has generally revolved around ad hoc agreements. There is a complete absence in Canada of a national policy for cities or for urban funding of crucial infrastructure, transportation, housing, immigration and poverty.

Municipalities are overwhelmingly dependent on property taxes to raise revenue outside of federal and provincial transfers, from which monies they must provide for general government administration, social assistance and health services, social housing, fire, policing and so forth. As a result of dwindling transfers to municipalities, the 1990s saw renewed calls for greater federal involvement in municipal affairs, particularly that related to revenue transfer. However, the federal government has continued to limit its role to providing one-time fiscal injections rather than long-term intergovernmental planning boards.

In 1995, with the replacement of the Canada Assistance Plan by the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST), a significant decrease ensued in provincial transfers in the realm of social assistance, post-secondary education and health care funding. The new block funding replaced the previous 50/50 cost-sharing arrangement with a combination of cash and tax points transfers that were frozen at 1995 levels for the next five years, significantly eroding service level provisioning due to inflation and population growth. This unilateral devolution of social welfare provisioning not only cut and decentralized federal funding, it also led to an erosion of national enforcement standards as provinces, often via municipalities, looked to further shed a broad range of services. While municipal funding received a brief influx in the early 2000s, the period since the election of the Harper Conservatives has seen the continued erosion of initiatives aimed at rectifying decades of divestment.

Municipalities’ current reliance on property taxes is unsustainable in the long run and merely shifts the burden of responsibility for infrastructure and social well-being away from capital and from one generation to the next. Breaking the cycle of austerity and retrenchment that has characterized the last four decades of municipal neoliberalism will require the development of initiatives that propose alternative funding and institutional arrangements. This will necessarily be premised on an alternative political vision which challenges the continued reliance on tax cuts as a substitute for a pay raise and attempts to spur private-sector-led economic growth. A first imperative is simply to raise revenue to counter decades of federal and provincial offloading of services and responsibilities and provide consistent and secure funding, which could begin to redress decades of underinvestment and neglect across Canadian municipalities. This would entail reversing the continuous cuts to corporate and personal income taxes since 2008, and raising the GST back to 7 percent, with dedicated funding to municipalities. A progressive municipal agenda also needs to consider a broader range of options for mobilizing revenues, especially if the aim is to reduce or eliminate user fees for many services. Internationally, the heavy reliance on property taxes as the major source of revenue is rare. Canada’s local governments receive over 95 percent of their own-source tax revenues from property taxation, whereas the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average is 36 percent. The Nordic countries, Germany and Switzerland, for example, receive over 90 percent of their tax revenue from income taxes,

Other levels of government have partly recognized the urban fiscal impasse but have done very little to address it in a fundamental way. Thus pressures for Canadian municipalities to find cost-savings have while Hungary and the Netherlands collect between 50 and 75 percent of local revenue from various sales taxes. The same is true in France, Japan, Korea and the US where sales taxes comprise about 20 percent of local revenue. There is no natural law dictating that local governments be exclusively dependent on the property tax. A multiplicity of revenue streams is needed to ensure diversity, balance and stable, long-term funding to Canadian municipalities. While this is not the place for a detailed examination of the pros and cons of various revenue sources and financial tools, some ideas include an employer payroll tax, high-occupancy lane and highway tolls, land-value capture, parking space levies, municipal sales taxes, downtown congestion fees, corporate and municipal income taxes, hotel levies and an increase in development charges. Since the federal and provincial tiers of government possess the major powers of taxation, they have a responsibility to ensure that the needs of municipalities can be met by appropriate fiscal capacities. But municipalities cannot resolve issues related to climate change, public transportation, housing, wastewater and so forth on the local level alone. These challenges require developing new coordinated state planning capacities with, at a minimum, dedicated funding to launch a national transit strategy, a national clean water fund, community development strategies in self-governing northern and Aboriginal communities, and long-term municipal funding for social and physical infrastructure. There is also a need for more thinking about anticapitalist alternatives to the market imperatives of capitalist urbanism. “Rights to the city” campaigns are raising new demands such as free public transit, public spaces that are explicitly anti-commercial, universal recreation programs and many others. But only new organizational capacities will make such ideas politically viable. Making the case for an expanded public sector challenges private capital accumulation as the engine of economic growth in opposition to the prevailing orthodoxy of neoliberalism, while raising a set of demands for non-commodified labour and services. This means expanding the redistributive role of the state and also taking the lead in ensuring access for all to housing, public transit, community centres and other public goods and services. In the absence of organized municipal political parties, trade union and community activists must fill that void. Our challenge is to move left of social democracy or risk increasingly becoming an impediment to rather than a catalyst of a renewed urban politics that challenges the decaying state of Canadian municipalities.

Posted at: October 16, 2014 - 12:13 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

Canada is in a big economic stall: What to do?

Into: Richest 1% of people own nearly half of global wealth, says report
Jill Treanor Guardian UK October 14, 2014


A model on a luxury yacht at a boat show in the port of Dalian. China now has more people in the top 10% of global wealth holders than any other country except for the US and Japan. Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images. Visit this page for its embedded links.

The richest 1% of the world’s population are getting wealthier, owning more than 48% of global wealth, according to a report published on Tuesday which warned growing inequality could be a trigger for recession.

According to the Credit Suisse global wealth report (pdf), a person needs just $3,650 – including the value of equity in their home – to be among the wealthiest half of world citizens. However, more than $77,000 is required to be a member of the top 10% of global wealth holders, and $798,000 to belong to the top 1%.

“Taken together, the bottom half of the global population own less than 1% of total wealth. In sharp contrast, the richest decile hold 87% of the world’s wealth, and the top percentile alone account for 48.2% of global assets,” said the annual report, now in its fifth year.

The report, which calculates that total global wealth has grown to a new record – $263tn, more than twice the $117tn calculated for 2000 – found that the UK was the only country in the G7 to have recorded rising inequality in the 21st century.

Its findings were seized upon by anti-poverty campaigners Oxfam which published research at the start of the year showing that the richest 85 people across the globe share a combined wealth of £1tn, as much as the poorest 3.5 billion of the world’s population.

“These figures give more evidence that inequality is extreme and growing, and that economic recovery following the financial crisis has been skewed in favour of the wealthiest. In poor countries, rising inequality means the difference between children getting the chance to go to school and sick people getting life saving medicines,” said Oxfam’s head of inequality Emma Seery.

Other calculations by the Credit Suisse team “hint at raising global wealth inequality in recent years” and show that overall wealth in the US has grown at a faster pace than incomes. The authors warned it was a trend that could point to recession.

“For more than a century, the wealth income ratio has typically fallen in a narrow interval between 4 and 5. However, the ratio briefly rose above 6 in 1999 during the dotcom bubble and broke that barrier again during 2005–2007. It dropped sharply into the “normal band” following the financial crisis, but the decline has since been reversed, and the ratio is now at a recent record high level of 6.5, matched previously only during the great Depression. This is a worrying signal given that abnormally high wealth income ratios have always signaled recession in the past,” the report said.

China now has more people in the top 10% of global wealth holders than any other country except for the US and Japan, having moved into third place in the rankings by overtaking France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.

America has HALF of the world’s dollar millionaires – but wealth inequality in the U.S. is at its highest level since the Great Depression, report reveals
Kieran Corcoran MailOnline UK October 14, 2014

Visit this page for its related links, charts and video (2:44).

A key metric of wealth inequality in the United States has reached levels unknown since the Great Depression, a new study into global finances has found.

It was also revealed that almost half of the assets in the world are owned by just 0.7 per cent of the world’s population, as the world’s economy powers ahead.

Authors of the report, by investment bank Credit Suisse, described the results as ‘a worrying signal’ which could lead to a new recession.

The report, by three international economic experts, presented data comparing levels of wealth in the country with its disposable income.

High levels of wealth – associated with millionaires, company owners and major shareholders – tend to be a sign the rich are doing well. High levels of income, meanwhile, are associated with wage earners and more even gains.

[The report] found that the world’s millionaires, who make up 0.7 per cent of the world’s adults, now control 44 per cent of global assets – some $116trillion.

More than 40 per cent of the group – some 35million people – are U.S. citizens.

The next-richest 7.9 per cent – 373million people – are in charge of 41.3 per cent of global wealth.

That leaves just 14.7 per cent of all wealth on the planet to its other 4.3billion adult inhabitants.

The poorest segment of the world population – the 3.28billion with less than $10,000 to their name – have just 2.9 per cent of global wealth between them, while the 1billion richer than they control around 12 per cent of global funds.

Item: Canada is in a big economic stall: What to do?
Duncan Cameron rabble.ca Canada October 14, 2014

Visit this page for its embedded links.

Are we supposed to accept “normal” is a stagnating economy?

In 2011 median earnings in Canada were $30,000. That means one-half of Canadian workers earned less than $30,000. What is more to the point is that earnings in 2011 were $1,800 below the level attained in 1977 (inflation adjusted 2011 dollars)! The pay packet for workers shrunk over that 24 year period.
It’s a big stall — an awful lot of Canadians are not getting ahead.

If the years since 1977 have not produced pay gains that equal those in the glory years from 1946 to 1976, does this have to continue into the future? Was the 30 years of economic expansion after World War II an accident?

No. The quality of life for many Canadians can be improved markedly. All it would take is a government ready to make some changes, and take the heat from those who prefer the status quo. While some of us would prefer a revolution, a government bringing some positive change would be most welcome.

What has escaped economic stagnation, and gone up in value is what Thomas Piketty called patrimonial capital: inheritances, tax sheltered investments, ownership of private companies, public stock holdings, real estate and private art collections.

Piketty shows that patrimonial capital is not just inherited from parents. Important as inherited wealth is in the upper reaches of the Canadian economy — think Thompson, Irvings, McCains, Desmarais, Péladeau, where new generations have taken over from wealth accumulators — Piketty shows wealth also grows out of high incomes like those paid in the FIRE sector: finance, insurance and real estate.

Wealth accumulation is outpacing income growth. This is an overall trend in Western economies according to statistics collected by Piketty through extensive research in tax returns around the world. This trend is what the big stall is about.

It should be obvious to anyone (other than the very rich) that it is good idea to take additional money from those who have much more than they need, or could ever spend, and transfer it to people who are barely surviving on social transfers.

In Canada we could [be] doing this, and improve the quality of life for many at bearably noticeable costs to the wealthier. Instead we have doing less income redistribution than in the good post-war years, through eliminating or reducing taxes on wealth, and cutting back on the share of national income going to transfers.

Instead of taking more money out away from wealth holders (say through re-introducing an inheritance tax) and making higher transfer payments to the destitute on welfare, or students, or pensioners struggling to get by, or the unemployed with reduced access to benefits, we have let the wealthy keep more and reduced access to welfare, unemployment insurance, old age pensions, family benefits payments, and student bursaries. How dumb is that?

Canada has not had a major new social programme since medicare in 1968. What is the hold-up?

Posted at: October 16, 2014 - 11:57 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post