March 31, 2015

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Message management: Has Google in practice changed its motto from “Don’t Be Evil” to “Don’t See Evil?” & Leave Facebook if you don’t want to be spied on, warns EU

Originally the ultimate enemy of gatekeepers, Google now seems on the verge of itself becoming the greatest gatekeeper of them all. - Dan Sanchez

Don’t see evil
Dan Sanchez Medium USA March 29, 2015

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What happens when a dynamic company, started by a couple of idealistic friends in grad school, succeeds so wildly that it becomes a mega-corporation that pervades the lives of hundreds of millions? In imperial America, it would seem, it eventually becomes corrupted, even captured. Tragically, that seems to be the unfolding story of Google.

By being the first dot-com to really get the search engine right, Google unlocked the nascent power of the internet, greatly liberating the individual. It is easy to take for granted and forget how revolutionary the advent of “Just Google it” was for the life of the mind. Suddenly, specific, useful knowledge could be had on most any topic in seconds with just a quick flurry of fingers on a keyboard.

This was a tremendous boost for alternative voices on the internet. It made it extremely easy to bypass the establishment gatekeepers of ideas and information. For example, I remember in the mid-2000s using Google to satisfy my curiosity about this “libertarianism” thing I had heard about, since the newspapers and magazines I was reading were quite useless for this purpose. In 2007, by then an avid libertarian, I remember walking through the campus of my former school UC Berkeley, seeing “Google Ron Paul” written in chalk on the ground, and rejoicing to think that hundreds of Cal students were doing just that. A big part of why today’s anti-war movement is more than a handful of Code Pink types, and the libertarian movement is more than a handful of zine subscribers, is that millions “Googled Ron Paul.”

In its early years, Google, ensconced in Silicon Valley, seemed to blissfully ignore Washington, D.C. It didn’t have a single lobbyist until 2003. Partly out of the necessity of defending itself against government threats, it gradually became ever more entangled with the Feds. By 2012, as The Washington Post reported, it had become the country’s second-largest corporate spender on lobbying.

And now, as Julian Assange of Wikileaks details, Google has become incredibly intimate with the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon, and the US intelligence community. As The Wall Street Journal recently reported, Google employees have visited the Obama White House to meet with senior officials on average about once a week.

As Assange also discusses, Google has become a major defense and intelligence contractor. And a recently leaked series of friendly emails between Google executives (including Eric Schmidt) and the NSA (including Director Gen. Keith Alexander) indicates that Google’s allegedly “unwilling” participation in the government’s mass surveillance program (revealed by Edward Snowden) may not have been so unwilling after all.

In one email, Gen. Alexander referred to Google as “a key member of the Defense Industrial Base”: security state newspeak for the Military Industrial Complex.

As it turns out, the national security state has been involved with Google from the very beginning: even in those fabled grad school days when Google was nothing but a research project, as investigative reporter Nafeez Ahmed has shown. Founder Sergey Brin’s work at Stanford University on what would later become Google received funding and even oversight from the CIA and the Pentagon through a program created to seed and incubate technology research that could later prove useful for information warfare.

Now, as discussed below, Google may even be actively taking part in that information warfare, especially the branch known as “perception management,” and in addition to its participation in mass surveillance.

Originally the ultimate enemy of gatekeepers, Google now seems on the verge of itself becoming the greatest gatekeeper of them all. Most foreboding in this regard is the recent revelation that Google is working to make “trustworthiness” a major new factor in its search results. How will anti-government and anti-establishment perspectives fare once Google takes on the mantle of arbiter of truth?

Related: The Safe Harbour Framework that is meant to protect the data of EU citizens when sent to the US by American technology firms including Facebook are not adequate the European Commission has admitted.

Leave Facebook if you don’t want to be spied on, warns EU
Samuel Gibbs Guardian UK March 26, 2015

The European Commission has warned EU citizens that they should close their Facebook accounts if they want to keep information private from US security services, finding that current Safe Harbour legislation does not protect citizen’s data.

The comments were made by EC attorney Bernhard Schima in a case brought by privacy campaigner Maximilian Schrems, looking at whether the data of EU citizens should be considered safe if sent to the US in a post-Snowden revelation landscape.

“You might consider closing your Facebook account, if you have one,” Schima told attorney general Yves Bot in a hearing of the case at the European court of justice in Luxembourg.

When asked directly, the commission could not confirm to the court that the Safe Harbour rules provide adequate protection of EU citizens’ data as it currently stands.

The case, dubbed “the Facebook data privacy case”, concerns the current Safe Harbour framework, which covers the transmission of EU citizens’ data across the Atlantic to the US. Without the framework, it is against EU law to transmit private data outside of the EU. The case collects complaints lodged against Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Microsoft-owned Skype and Yahoo.

Schrems maintains that companies operating inside the EU should not be allowed to transfer data to the US under Safe Harbour protections – which state that US data protection rules are adequate if information is passed by companies on a “self-certify” basis – because the US no longer qualifies for such a status.

The case argues that the US government’s Prism data collection programme, revealed by Edward Snowden in the NSA files, which sees EU citizens’ data held by US companies passed on to US intelligence agencies, breaches the EU’s Data Protection Directive “adequacy” standard for privacy protection, meaning that the Safe Harbour framework no longer applies.

Poland and a few other member states as well as advocacy group Digital Rights Ireland joined Schrems in arguing that the Safe Harbour framework cannot ensure the protection of EU citizens’ data and therefore is in violation of the two articles of the Data Protection Directive.

The commission, however, argued that Safe Harbour is necessary both politically and economically and that it is still a work in progress. The EC and the Ireland data protection watchdog argue that the EC should be left to reform it with a 13-point plan to ensure the privacy of EU citizens’ data.

“There have been a spate of cases from the ECJ and other courts on data privacy and retention showing the judiciary as being more than willing to be a disrupting influence,” said Paula Barrett, partner and data protection expert at law firm Eversheds. “Bringing down the safe harbour mechanism might seem politically and economically ill-conceived, but as the decision of the ECJ in the so-called ‘right to be forgotten’ case seems to reinforce that isn’t a fetter which the ECJ is restrained by.”

An opinion on the Safe Harbour framework from the ECJ is expected by 24 June.

Facebook declined to comment.

Posted at: March 31, 2015 - 12:14 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

March 30, 2015

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Police state Canada: The reason all of those prisons are being built?

Joyce Nelson is an award-winning Canadian freelance writer/researcher and the author five books.

Police state Canada?
Joyce Nelson CounterPunch USA March 13-15, 2015

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Back in 2006, the newly elected Prime Minister of Canada, right-wing Conservative Stephen Harper warned that “You won’t recognize Canada when I’m through with it.” After nine grueling years, that’s already true in many ways. But now, Harper is going even further in his re-make of the country. Under new and pending legislation, Canada is moving rapidly towards the creation of a police state, with major curtailments of civil liberties. In recent weeks, the Harper Conservatives have introduced and/or passed several pieces of legislation that run roughshod over Canadians’ Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Constitutional rights, giving draconian powers to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

There’s Bill C-13, the highly unpopular online spying legislation, which received Royal Assent on Dec. 9, 2014. The Bill allows warrantless internet surveillance through the collection by CSIS of Canadians’ everyday internet use. The Bill contains broad new police powers, including several new warrants for surveillance, tracking and gathering of bank information. Bill C-13 has been vehemently opposed by more than 60 Canadian organizations. OpenMedia’s David Christopher says that “important parts of this legislation have already been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.” [1]

There’s Bill C-44, which expands the surveillance powers of CSIS globally, while granting anonymity protection to CSIS informants and allowing for new conditions under which Canadian citizenship can be revoked. This bill passed third reading on February 2 and is now with the Senate. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) has called this bill “highly problematic.” [2]

There’s Bill C-639, introduced on Dec. 3, which impinges on the Constitutional right of assembly and would criminalize people exercising their democratic right to public protest. And there’s Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015, introduced on Jan. 30, containing draconian measures that verge on the creation of a police state. These two bills are the focus in this article because they both refer to protection of “critical infrastructure.”

They are therefore crucial with regard to ongoing Canadian protests against tarsands export pipeline proposals: Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline (from Alberta to northern B.C.); Enbridge’s Line 9 reversal (from southern Ontario to Montreal); TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline (from Alberta to New Brunswick); and Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (from Alberta to southern B.C.).

Being In the Way

On December 3, Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Wai Young (Co-chair of the Canada-China Legislative Association) introduced Bill C-639, a private member’s bill to amend the Criminal Code.

The Bill creates a new criminal office for anyone who “destroys or damages any part of a critical infrastructure; renders any part of a critical infrastructure dangerous, useless, inoperative or ineffective; or obstructs, interrupts or interferes with the lawful use, enjoyment or operations of any part of a critical infrastructure.”[3] This amendment would criminalize peaceful and (currently) lawful protests if they interfere even temporarily with broadly defined “critical infrastructure.” The Bill imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of two to 10 years and fines of $500 to $3,000.

Bill C-639 defines “critical infrastructure” as “services relating to energy, telecommunications, finance, health care, food, water transportation, public safety, government and manufacturing, the disruption of which could produce serious adverse economic effects or endanger the health or safety of Canadians.” The bill received backing from Minister of Justice/Attorney General Peter MacKay, who said it would “help secure all facets of critical infrastructure.” [4]

Toronto lawyer Ed Prutschi told the National Post in December the fact that energy infrastructure was including in this definition has one obvious purpose: “It would have application for pipeline protests.” [5] He noted that the legislation doesn’t necessarily require any damage to have been done, just that a person be in the way – as many people were during a protest in Burnaby, B.C. late last year against Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline expansion. As the National Post noted, Wai Young is the MP for the Vancouver South political riding, which is adjacent to Burnaby Mountain, where protests occurred.

From November 19 to 27, at least 100 protesters were arrested for crossing a police line in a municipal conservation area on Burnaby Mountain where Kinder Morgan crews have been doing preliminary work – even before approval of the pipeline project – in preparation for tunneling.

During Question Period on Dec. 8, New Democratic Party (NDP) justice critic Francois Boivin, MP for Gatineau, Quebec, called Bill C-639 “scary” and said it “bans protests” and “has obvious constitutional problems. It defines critical infrastructure as being just about anything. In this country, people have a right to lawful protest and assembly. Legal experts are already raising concerns about the constitutionality of Bill C-639.” [6]

Borrowing Tactics from Dictators

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) considers Bill C-639 a direct attack on the Canadian Constitution and Charter rights, and says the Harper government is “borrowing tactics from dictatorial governments.” [7]

The BCCLA slammed Bill C-639 while its Executive Director Josh Paterson was in Bangkok, having been invited to a UN meeting. “We are at the United Nations to cry foul on Canada’s latest attempt to criminalize peaceful protest,” Paterson said in a news release of Dec. 15. “Now striking flight attendants and kids protesting pipelines on Burnaby Mountain could be considered criminals? Either of these lawful protests could count as a crime under this law if they interfere with something of economic value. That is simply ridiculous and it violates the fundamental freedoms of Canadians.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on the freedom on assembly and association is conducting a global investigation examining how the freedoms of peaceful assembly are being violated around the world to smooth the path for corporate resource development.

Paterson further stated, “We are meeting in Bangkok with representatives from non-democratic countries where protest is a serious crime. It is humiliated for Canada to be borrowing tactics from dictatorial governments.” He added, “Canada has not only broken with our own constitution in criminalizing protest, spying on First Nations, and denouncing community groups, it’s also breaking its international commitments to protect the freedom of expression and freedom of assembly of Canadians.”

RCMP Team

Justice Minister MacKay said in the Dec. 3 press release that Bill C-639 “is the product of extensive, cross-Canada consultation, consistent with our Government’s priority to create safer communities.” [8] But the bill is obviously based on a March 2011 report written by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Critical Infrastructure Intelligence Team, which consulted primarily with private energy companies.

The document, recently obtained by Carleton University criminologist Jeff Monaghan, warned, “Environmental ideologically motivated individuals including some who are aligned with radical, criminal extremist ideology pose a clear and present criminal threat to Canada’s energy sector…The Canadian law enforcement and security intelligence community have noted a growing radicalized faction of environmentalists who advocate the use of criminal activity to promote the protection of the natural environment.” [9] This is the same RCMP Critical Infrastructure Intelligence team that spied on Quebec residents opposed to shale gas/fracking development, among others.

The RCMP report, and Wai Young’s proposed legislation – which she said she crafted at the urging of industry [10] – dovetail with the Canada-U.S. Beyond the Border Action Plan. That Plan is the result of perimeter security and economic integration talks launched by Canada and the U.S. in 2010. The protection of shared critical infrastructure is listed as a priority in security documents on the government’s Beyond the Border website.

The documents state: “Canada and the United States share a significant quantity of critical infrastructure assets and systems, including pipelines, the electric grid, and transportation systems. It is imperative that our countries work together to protect these assets. To effectively do this, our governments will require a close collaboration with the private sector, as they own much critical infrastructure in question. It makes sense to start with a pilot project, in this case New Brunswick-Maine, to learn how best to work together on each of the elements.” [11]

That cross-border pilot project policing effort has been delayed since July 2013 because the U.S. requested that its cross-border police officers be exempt from Canadian law. Coverage by Canadian Press of internal RCMP briefing notes regarding this “sovereignty issue” temporarily stymied the project. [12]

But on October 28, 2014, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Ottawa to express condolences for the loss of two Canadian soldiers killed in separate “lone wolf” attacks (deemed “terrorist”) in Canada. Kerry said the U.S. and Canada would “work quietly and carefully” to strengthen security between the two countries, “making certain that every possible stone is turned over, every possible policy is reviewed because our obligation is obviously to protect our citizens.” [13]

After Kerry’s October visit, the Harper government had apparently been waiting for the right time to introduce a “critical infrastructure protection bill.” That came during the Burnaby Mountain protests, leading to the tabling of Bill C-639.

Then came the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris on Jan. 7. Just weeks later, on Jan. 30, the Harper government introduced Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015.

Bill C-51

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association says this bill “broadens CSIS’s powers significantly” and “may criminalize legitimate speech.” [14] The bill authorizes CSIS to block Canadian websites, and it defines “terrorist propaganda” as “any writing, sign, visible representation or audio recording that advocates or promotes the commission of terrorism offences in general.” Because of the vagueness of the phrasing, the CCLA notes it could have a “potential chilling effect on academics and journalists and bloggers,” who could face up to five years in prison if their writing is judged to have somehow encouraged “terrorism.”

Bill C-51 vaguely defines “terrorism” as any “activity that undermines the security of Canada,” including “interference with critical infrastructure,” but also “interference with the capability of the Government of Canada in relation to…the economic or financial stability of Canada.”

C-51 exempts “lawful advocacy, protest, dissent and artistic expression” from being considered as threat to the security of Canada, but as a Globe & Mail editorial (Feb. 1) stated, “…how well do governments define those things in times of ‘great evil’?” [15]

The bill also lowers the threshold for “preventive arrests;” makes it easier to place people on no-fly lists; gives authorities the power to hold suspected “terrorists” without charge for seven days (instead of three); allows a judge to impose up to a year of house arrest on someone who has not been charged or convicted of any crime; and it allows CSIS agents to “disrupt” threats to Canadian security – a blatant extension of CSIS powers beyond intelligence-gathering and into policing.

Bill C-51 also allows people to be detained if they “may” have terrorist plans. As the BCCLA’s policy director Michael Vonn warned in a news release, “Criminalizing people’s words and thoughts is misguided and won’t make Canadians any safer.” [16] Vonn and others have said the bill is likely unconstitutional.

In Parliament on Feb. 2, Green Party leader Elizabeth May asked Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney if the new anti-terrorism Bill C-51 “will apply to nonviolent civil disobedience, such as that against pipelines?” Blaney did not directly answer the question, saying only that terrorism “is a criminal act and those who goes [sic] against the Criminal Code will meet the full force of the law.” May told MPs they “must not allow the Conservatives to turn CSIS into a secret police force.” She has written that Bill C-51 is not about terrorism, it’s “about creating a secret police. It’s the death of freedom.” 17]

Current Hearings

On March 10, the federal Public Safety Committee began hearings on Bill C-51, with dozens of witnesses scheduled to give expert testimony on the bill during nine meetings in March. The Harper government is hoping to pass the legislation before summer.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has just released (March 11) its “Six Things Protesters Need to Know about Bill C-51” – a useful warning for people across Canada. [18] Their analysis notes: “When you think of being secure, you likely think of being safe from physical danger. But Bill C-51 defines security as not only safeguarding public safety, but also preventing interference with various aspects of public life or ‘the economic or financial stability of Canada.’ With this definition, a separatist demonstration in Quebec that fails to get a proper permit, a peaceful logging blockade by First Nations, or environmentalists obstructing a pipeline route could all be seen as threats to national security.” Whether or not a group is deemed a national security threat “may hinge on whether their cause is politically popular or in line with the views of the government.”

Regarding freedom of expression, the BCCLA states: “It’s unclear even to experts exactly what kinds of speech and protest activity may be considered threats to national security if the bill passes; the average Canada has little hope of feeling confident that their legitimate political activity hasn’t inadvertently crossed the line. Bill C-51’s expansive language means many Canadians will likely choose not express themselves – even in completely legal ways – rather than risk prosecution. Legitimate speech will be chilled, and our democracy will be worse off for it.”

Regarding “preventative arrests and detention,” the BCCLA notes, “Innocent people could be arrested and detained on mere suspicion of future dangerousness.”

Now we know why the Harper government has been building all those new prisons.

Posted at: March 30, 2015 - 1:56 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

Is Stephen Harper a cause or symptom of Canada’s ailing democracy? What’s really needed is a national conversation about what we want from our political system rather than the politicians within it

Sean Holman is a journalism professor at Mount Royal University, an award-winning investigative reporter and director of the documentary Whipped: the secret world of party discipline. You can find more of his writing at Unknowable Country.

Is Harper a cause or symptom of our ailing democracy?
Sean Holman TheTyee.ca British Columbia Canada March 30, 2015

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Since coming to power, the administration of Stephen Harper has made headlines for undermining government opennesses and accountability, introducing divisive if not outright unpopular laws, and ignoring or intimidating critics, including the fourth estate.

On such foundations dictatorships are built, leading to concerns about the state of our democracy. But how much of that foundation was actually laid by Harper, and how much was there before he even became prime minister?

Two recent books on the Conservative leader appear to have somewhat different answers, with our country’s future dependent upon how citizens respond to that question.

In Party of One, author Michael Harris recounts a 1997 speech in which a younger Harper essentially described our system of government as a dictatorship run by the prime minister of Canada.

For Harris, that description was “inept,” ignoring the “opposition’s role in bringing out public information,” as well as the work of all-party committees in “holding the government to account.” Given such context, many readers might assume the speech was instead simply a foretelling of Harper’s approach to government — an approach Harris appears to frame as anomalous.

Harris didn’t respond to an email I sent requesting comment. But Mark Bourrie, the author of Kill The Messengers, confirmed he thinks the future prime minister’s description of our political system was simply truthful.

In that book, which was released about three months after Party of One, Bourrie acknowledges the prime minister “harnessed the [political] system to suit his own agenda and personality” and has created a “new, undemocratic way of ruling Canada.”*

Yet that system, as well as our society, is suited to being harnessed. After all, according to Bourrie, “Once we install a new regime, usually to punish the last bunch of rogues, most Canadians feel the country is in the hands of the winners until the next election.”

Our political system then turns that feeling into fact, with the biggest winners of them all being the country’s prime ministers who have often worked to fortify and expand their magisterial powers over both the citizenry and its representatives.

Indeed, I would go further and suggest the principal difference between Harper and many of his predecessors may be that he has been more likely to use the iron fist of his office and less likely to cover it with a velvet glove.

But the best we can probably hope for is a Government of the Few. And, in any case, the rules that have made it, in most cases, completely legal for Harper to do what he has done, will remain — something Canadians might not find out until his successors almost inevitably exploit them.

What’s really needed then isn’t an election, but a national conversation about what we want from our political system rather than the politicians within it.

Otherwise our democracy will continue to crumble, and in the process bury what little say we still have in this country between elections.

Posted at: March 30, 2015 - 12:23 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

Conservative government now calling criticisms of Bill C-51 “conspiracy theories” & Harper and his ideologue minions reason enough to fear C-51


Cartoon: Patrick Corrigan, Artizans.com/National Newswatch

Intro: Conservatives are now calling criticisms of Bill C-51 “conspiracy theories”
PressProgress Canada March 24, 2015

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Pop quiz!

Your government’s controversial anti-terror bill is plummeting in public opinion polls. A lot of people are concerned the bill is too vague and too broad, and that it will erode civil liberties and result in unintended consequences. Do you:
(a) Acknowledge their concerns and work speedily to improve the bill?
(b) Claim there’s a “widespread misinformation” campaign of “conspiracy theories” at work and that your critics haven’t bothered to “read the bill”?

If your answer was (a), you wouldn’t just be wrong — you’d be dead wrong!

Tuesday morning at the Public Safety Committee’s ongoing Bill C-51 hearings, Conservative MP LaVar Payne dismissed criticisms of the bill as “conspiracy theories.”

That sentiment was echoed by the committee chair, Conservative MP Daryl Kramp, who told a Belleville newspaper on Monday that critics of C-51 have their, “information dead wrong… They’re quoting rumours and they’re quoting mistruths.”

Then there’s Treasury Board President Tony Clement, who suggested C-51 criticism is an “esoteric debate for law professors” in a Parry Sound newspaper.

And speaking at Monday night’s hearings on C-51, Public Safety Parliamentary Secretary Roxanne James floated the idea that critics of C-51 have been fooled by “misinformation.”

“I find it unfortunate there’s been such misinformation put out about this bill,” James said, suggesting this “unhelpful information” has “taken away [from] what is actually important, which is the national security of Canada.”

Below: Tasha Kheiriddin is a political writer and broadcaster who frequently comments in both English and French. After practising law and a stint in the government of Mike Harris, Tasha became the Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and co-wrote the 2005 bestseller, Rescuing Canada’s Right: Blueprint for a Conservative Revolution. Tasha moved back to Montreal in 2006 and served as vice-president of the Montreal Economic Institute, and later director for Quebec of the Fraser Institute, while also lecturing on conservative politics at McGill University.

Harper is losing the argument on C-51 … with Conservatives
Tasha Kheiriddin iPolitics Canada March 26, 2015

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Bill C-51 was supposed to unite conservatives in the latest round of the War on Terror™. Instead, it’s dividing them — both on and off Parliament Hill.

This week, Conservative MP Michael Chong, never one to blindly toe the line, criticized the bill’s lack of oversight in a statement to the House of Commons: “However, while I fully support Bill C-51, I also believe we need greater oversight of Canadian security and intelligence agencies by a parliamentary committee of elected MPs, who are directly and democratically accountable to Canadians. That greater oversight is even more important as we give these agencies new powers to combat terrorism.”

That same day, at committee hearings on the bill, Connie Fournier, founder of the former conservative online forum FreeDominion, criticized the bill’s infringements on privacy and freedom of speech. Fournier is going a step further, reviving her website to fight Bill C-51 — and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“I feel like we’re in some kind of alternate universe,” she recently told the Tyee. “You spend your life working for the Conservative party, and the Conservative party finally gets in, and (now) you’re saying, ‘I hope the NDP really steps up and protects us from our Conservative government.’”

The committee has heard criticism from others on the right as well. Former Conservative senator Hugh Segal supported the bill but called for more independent oversight. Former Security Information Review Committee chair Ron Atkey predicted the bill could not survive a constitutional challenge. So did Brian Hay, chair of the Mackenzie Institute, who said “… permitting a judge to break a law, or to ignore the Charter to uphold the law or to protect a society which is to be based on law, seems, at best, contradictory.”

Sheldon Clare, president of the National Firearms Association, who had publicly described Bill C-51 as “being a sort of creeping police state bill”, was supposed to appear before the committee, but mysteriously pulled out at the eleventh hour.

What’s curious is that the government seems completely uninterested in addressing the bill’s obvious shortcomings — even though doing so would appeal to parts of the Tory base. Additional oversight, for example, is a no-brainer that would actually reinforce the Tories’ security agenda in the long run. If you’re going to champion a law and order agenda, people need to believe that no one is above the law — and that they can trust law enforcement to respect them and their rights.

Another smart change to the bill would be to enhance privacy protection. It’s an issue important to libertarians and freedom-lovers of all right-wing stripes — so you’d think the Conservatives would address this, if only for partisan reasons.

Conservatives, beware: The closer your supporters look at C-51, the less they seem to like it. If the Tories are planning on campaigning on this bill at election time, they’d better make some changes — or risk the wrath of their own people.

Items: List of protests tracked by government includes vigil, ‘peace demonstration’
Alex Boutilier Toronto Star Ontario Canada March 29, 2015

OTTAWA—What do Canadian veterans, advocates for the disabled and the country’s largest union have in common? Their activities were monitored and reported on by police and government agencies over the last year.

Documents show the central Government Operations Centre received reports on more than 160 protests, community events, and demonstrations between May 2014 and February 2015. The RCMP, Public Safety Canada, and the Privy Council Office prepared reports for the GOC — which co-ordinates the federal government’s response to national emergencies and natural disasters.

While much of the monitoring focused on First Nations causes and environmental activism, the GOC showed a diverse set of interests, including:

But Wayne Easter, a former solicitor general and the Liberal MP who obtained the documents, said the agency seems to have strayed from its original mandate.

“They’re supposed to be there in terms of co-ordinating operations for the safety and security of Canadians and the need for an initial response to, whether it’s a natural disaster or a man-made disaster, in the most effective and efficient way possible,” Easter said Tuesday. “That’s what they’re supposed to be doing.”

A June 2014 letter leaked to the Ottawa Citizen asked all government departments and agencies to help the operations centre build a comprehensive list of demonstrations across the country.

An operations centre analysis obtained by The Canadian Press earlier this month found that few demonstrations actually meet the criteria for events in the “national interest,” leading to questions about why seemingly innocuous gatherings are being recorded by the centre.

“It’s a really ridiculous way to go about doing something,” said Michael Vonn, policy director at the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. “The notion that there might be something that could happen, an eruption if you will … in the context of any of these demonstrations, constitutionally-protected exercises of people’s rights, are so rare that the sense that we’re going to survey the landscape for the purpose is instantly suspect.”

The Star reported in September that the centre has received reports on around 800 demonstrations, community events, and protests since 2006. The reports vary from “open source” intelligence (such as newspaper reports), to information provided by the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Activists have raised concerns the Conservative government’s new anti-terror law, Bill C-51, would allow CSIS even greater powers to spy on their activities.

Conservative MPs, including Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, have repeatedly said that “lawful” protests do not fall under C-51’s purview. But numerous internal documents reported by the Star and other outlets show law enforcement agencies already have a keen interest in “lawful” protests.

“We asked about this some time ago, and the government assured us that they were concerned these groups were about to turn violent, and they were going to keep monitoring them,” said Randall Garrison, the NDP’s public safety critic. “I just can’t understand how they could continue to waste public resources on this.”

Harper and his ideologue minions reason enough to fear C-51
Michael Harris iPolitics Canada March 29, 2015

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As Stephen Harper transforms Canada into a nation of suspects and self-censors while holding a match to the Charter of Rights, the Conservative party robots are blowing their circuits coming up with justifications for Bill C-51.

Their excuses have gone from the lame to the ludicrous. Justice Minister Peter MacKay proclaimed that our allies are doing it, so we are too. (Pssst, Petey, did you hear that Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, recently advocated the beheading of disloyal Arab Israelis? Israel is our ally, right? Thoughts? Should we be grinding the blade for Pat Martin?)

And then Public Safety Minister Stephen Blaney declared that “the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers, it began with words.”

Two things come to mind. First, Blaney obviously has never read a history of the Holocaust. If he had, he never would have compared Canada’s minuscule terror problem with one of the greatest crimes against humanity in all of our bloodstained history.

Second, Jewish supporters of the CPC should reconsider their allegiance to a party that exploits their people’s devastating experience in Nazi-occupied Europe to advance a dubious political agenda in a country where ISIS will never be seen. Someone should tell Jason Kenney and his communications commandos that Islamic State has Toyotas, not Tornados. Ever try invading North America from the Middle East in a pick-up truck?

But my favourite line in defence of Bill C-51 came from LaVar Payne. He’s the Conservative MP from Medicine Hat who apparently needs a little medicine. He famously wondered in committee why anyone who was not a terrorist would be against anti-terror legislation like C-51. He proceeded to tell the head of Greenpeace, whose reasoned criticisms of the bill prompted his outburst, that he now wondered whether her group was a national security threat. You get the picture: all hat, no cattle.

Which brings me to the saga of Franke James. It’s a parable about government’s deep tendency toward deception and abuse of power. Franke is a world-famous Canadian artist, author and environmentalist. Back in 2011, she was planning a travelling exhibit of her work in Europe — a show aimed at providing climate-change education.

Franke James was not sunk by Foreign Affairs for being controversial, but for “wrong-thinking,” a high crime in the deadly Harper orthodoxy that Canada has become. If the existing legislation can turn an artist into a threat, just imagine what could happen under C-51.

C-51 hearings end with suggestion government erred in drafting bill
Stuart Trew rabble.ca Canada March 30, 2015

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Like university students cramming for an exam, Thursday night the parliamentary public security committee (SECU) finished the last of nine hearings (over only six days) into the government’s anti-terrorism bill (C-51). It’s now up to the committee to perform a clause-by-clause review of the omnibus legislation and draft recommendations to the House, including possible amendments, before third reading, which is expected to happen quickly. The NDP and the Liberals have announced the amendments they will be seeking.

On Wednesday I asked what C-51 was for if not stopping terrorism. There are no new resources for the RCMP or CSIS built into the omnibus bill, just new responsibilities and a wider net of possible security threats to cover, including legitimate protest activities. Statements to committee from police witnesses that the RCMP, CSIS and local police have better things to do than spy on low-level protests are contradicted by recent leaks and much of the historical record. Promises by those same people, and lecturing Conservative members on committee, that the new powers in C-51 won’t be used to suppress dissent among Indigenous communities and environmentalists ring hollow.

One possible reason we’re seeing this specific legislation at this specific time was never mentioned: ongoing perimeter security talks with the United States. “The Beyond the Border Action Plan”, launched in December 2010, called for Canada and the U.S. to “improve information sharing, including developing clear and responsible channels or mechanisms for cross-border sharing of information and intelligence.” It’s part of a suite of measures to increase co-ordination of customs, security and immigration policy, including the collection and sharing of biometric data in an effort to better track flows of “legitimate” versus threatening goods and people into and out of North America based on a common set of criteria for what constitutes a threat. The two countries just signed a pre-clearance agreement that had been in the works for about a decade, delayed by White House demands for U.S. customs agents at Canadian pre-clearance sites to be able to search, investigate and fingerprint people, even when they choose not to cross into the United States.

Things seem to be moving forward, though without all the details yet (the pre-clearance deal will need new legislation) it’s hard to know if, for example, privacy is being compromised in the process. We know privacy is definitely threatened by C-51 because Canada’s privacy commissioner, Daniel Therrien, said so in a written submission (he was prohibited from appearing before the SECU committee):

I don’t want to imply that Canada’s only or even most important reason for introducing C-51 was to satisfy the endless U.S. hunger for data. (What would new Walrus editor Jonathan Kay think of this “spurious intrusion of Yankee bogeymen?”) But I don’t think it’s inconsequential either. There must be a reason why neither the Liberals nor Conservatives will act on the recommendations of the O’Connor and Iacobucci Commissions with respect to sharing intelligence with foreign governments, one of which was that it should happen in accordance with clearly established policies respecting screening for relevance, reliability and accuracy, and that these activities should be carefully monitored by a centralized unit with expertise in national security. As lawyer Paul Champ said in his presentation to SECU committee on C-51:

There are also very specific dangers associated with information sharing that can have devastating consequences for individuals. It can lead to damaged reputations, loss of employment, being barred from flying or crossing the border, and worse. As two public inquires found, in the wake of 9/11 fears, four Canadians were detained and subjected to torture due in part to erroneous or improper information sharing by Canada with foreign countries… One could conclude that the government appears to have not learned the lessons of the Arar debacle, were it not for the inclusion of s. 9 in the new Act. That provision protects the government from future civil liability for information sharing, which would likely prevent Maher Arar from suing if he were to experience the same terrible ordeal today.

Many witnesses presented on the threats and inconveniences that C-51’s information-sharing provisions will create for totally innocent people without improving the ability of Canada’s security agencies to stop potential terrorist attacks. It is unfortunate that there was not more time at committee to discuss the ways that the Beyond the Border negotiations might compound these threats. On the other hand, I’m sure there will be an excellent section in the committee’s final report on Muslim Brotherhood infiltration of Canadian universities, community centres and other public institutions. Lock up your children!

Federal anti-terrorism bill changes not enough to satisfy concerns
The Canadian Press/National Newswatch Canada March 30, 2015

OTTAWA – A Conservative plan to amend the federal anti-terrorism bill hasn’t squelched opposition to the sweeping security legislation.

A handful of proposed government amendments don’t alleviate Green party Leader Elizabeth May’s concerns about what she calls a dangerous and undemocratic bill.

May said Monday she plans to present five dozen amendments when the House of Commons public safety committee begins examining the 62-page bill clause-by-clause on Tuesday.

Seven leading human rights groups, including Amnesty International Canada and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, issued a joint statement Monday calling on the government to withdraw the legislation.

The NDP and Liberals have also called for changes to protect civil liberties and improve oversight of security agencies.

The government bill, tabled in response to the murders of two Canadian soldiers last October, would give the Canadian Security Intelligence Service more power to thwart suspected terrorist plots — not just gather information about them.

It would allow CSIS to violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms with a judge’s permission, expand the sharing of federal security information, broaden no-fly list powers and create a new criminal offence of encouraging someone to carry out a terrorism attack.

In addition, the bill would make it easier for the RCMP to obtain a peace bond to restrict the movements of suspects and extend the amount of time they can be kept in preventative detention.

Sources have told The Canadian Press the government plans to introduce four changes to clarify or curtail elements of the bill, including an assurance the information-sharing powers do not apply to protesters who demonstrate outside the letter of the law.

But the amendments do not remedy several key concerns of opposition MPs and rights advocates.

“The reality is this bill will make us less safe,” May told a news conference.

She denounced the legislation as vague, badly drafted and, ultimately, “dangerous garbage.”

The NDP and Greens plan to vote against it, while the Liberals intend to support the bill despite their desire to see changes.

“I still hope the bill can be defeated,” May said.

Elizabeth May and Bruce Hyer announce 60 amendments to Bill C-51
elizabetmaymp.ca Canada March 30, 2015

Visit this page for a video of the May/Hyer press conference to announce their amendments to Bill-C51 (22:36). The Green Party proposed amendments to each of the 5 parts of the omnibus terror bill. This page also contains links to “Backgrounder on Green Party amendments to Bill C-51″ and the “Text of C-51 Amendments”.

OTTAWA – Elizabeth May, Green Party Leader and Member of Parliament for Saanich – Gulf Islands, along with Deputy Leader Bruce Hyer, Member of Parliament for Thunder Bay – Superior North, announced their amendments to Bill C-51 at a press conference this morning. Ms. May and Mr. Hyer, who have been vocal critics, will table 60 amendments during clause-by- clause consideration of the bill.

“While there is no way to fix this deeply flawed bill, our duty as elected legislators compels us to protect Canadians from its most egregious faults,” said Ms. May. “Our amendments seek to protect Canadian’s Charter rights and make this country safer by eliminating the reckless and dangerous Conservative policies in C-51.”

While Ms. May was a regular attendee of committee hearings during its study of Bill C-51, Conservative MPs blocked her every attempt to ask a single question. Although any MP has a right to sit at committee, participation is at the discretion of the Chair. During these hearings, the Chair chose to put Ms. May’s requests to the floor for unanimous consent, which was summarily denied by her Conservative colleagues.

The process by which Green MPs submit amendments to committee is one created by PMO to deprive Green MPs from‎ presenting amendments to the House of Commons at Report Stage. Ms. May used this right effectively in opposing Bill C-38 in spring 2012. Since the fall of 2013, due to identical motions passed by Conservatives in every committee, Green amendments are deemed to have been moved at committee. Ms. May and Mr. Hyer will be given time to present each amendment but are not allowed to vote.

Posted at: March 30, 2015 - 11:26 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

March 28, 2015

Weekly Headlines

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

SaltSpringNews.com

No posts today or Friday. Back on Sunday

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

National News

China’s international payments system ready, could launch by end-2015 & Canada’s export agency signs deal to promote the use of the yuan as a settlement currency

World News

Ditching US dollar: China, Russia launch financial tools in local currencies & China eclipses Europe on Russian e-commerce market

Commentary

The new Chinese dream: Westward Ho on China’s Eurasia BRIC Road

Commentary

China’s infrastructure bank initiative (the AIIB) addresses the failures of Bretton Woods: A discussion & A massive U-turn in Washington’s stance on the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Commentary

The return of Dr. Strangelove: If the Russians and Chinese do not expect a pre-emptive nuclear attack from Washington, they will be destroyed

Monday, March 23, 2015

World News

Embracing the ‘game’ of war: Clinton and Kagan families accepting monies and the US Army as it parades 118-vehicle armored column 1800 km across Europe

Commentary

Spitting in the face of Israel’s Arab citizens

World News

Syria: What was once a land steeped in history and diverse culture is now a war-torn nation reduced to rubble & News consumers cannot stand to hear anymore, they are ground down by the carnage, choosing not to hear more

Posted at: March 28, 2015 - 7:01 am -- Posted by: SSNews -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

March 25, 2015

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China’s international payments system ready, could launch by end-2015 & Canada’s export agency signs deal to promote the use of the yuan as a settlement currency

China’s yuan became one of the world’s top five payment currencies in November 2014, overtaking the Canadian dollar and the Australian dollar, according to global transaction services organization SWIFT.

China’s international payments system ready, could launch by end-2015 – sources
Michelle chen and Koh Gui Qing Thomson Reuters Canada/UK March 9, 2015

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HONG KONG/BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s long-awaited international payment system to process cross-border yuan transactions is ready, and may be launched as early as September or October, three sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

The launch of the China International Payment System (CIPS) will remove one of the biggest hurdles to internationalizing the yuan and should greatly increase global usage of the Chinese currency by cutting transaction costs and processing times.

It will also put the yuan on a more even footing with other major global currencies like the U.S. dollar, as CIPS is expected to use the same messaging format as other international payment systems, making transactions smoother.

CIPS, which would be a worldwide payments superhighway for the yuan CHN= CNY=CFXS, will replace a patchwork of existing networks that make processing renminbi payments a more cumbersome process.

“The CIPS is ready now and China has selected 20 banks to do the testing, among which 13 banks are Chinese banks and the rest are subsidiaries of foreign banks,” said a senior banking source who is involved in the matter.

The official launch will be in September or October, depending on the results of the testings and preparation, the source said.

A second source with direct knowledge of the matter said authorities want to launch the first phase of CIPS before December.

“If it’s all smooth, (the launch) will be in September or October. If there is a need for a bit more time, we are still confident about (rolling it out) before the year-end,” said the source, who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

The system was expected to be launched in 2014 but was delayed by technical problems, with most market participants anticipating it would not come on stream before 2016.

Currently, cross-border yuan clearing has to be done either through one of the offshore yuan clearing banks in the likes of Hong Kong, Singapore and London, or else with the help of a correspondent bank in mainland China.

“Misunderstandings under the current clearing system happen from time-to-time due to different languages and codings. The CIPS is a breakthrough since it will offer a united platform and enhance efficiency,” said Raymond Yeung, an analyst at ANZ in Hong Kong.

The launch of CIPS will enable companies outside China to clear yuan transactions with their Chinese counterparts directly, reducing the number of stages a payment has to go through.

“This is a big development for the small and medium enterprise sector operating in China as their correspondent banks can now access a wider network for settling payments in yuan, leading to lower costs,” said the head of treasury solutions at a large European multinational company based in Hong Kong.

For large international companies, CIPS will remove operational inefficiencies as companies will no longer have to worry about ensuring yuan transactions are processed at certain times of day, as they do now, he added.

Related: Canadian export agency signs deal to promote yuan use
Reuters Canada Canada March 23, 2015

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada’s export agency signed a deal with China’s biggest bank on Monday to promote the use of the yuan as a settlement currency in trade-related transactions, as officials in Toronto launched the first yuan trading hub in the Americas.

Export Development Canada (EDC) signed the memorandum of understanding with the Canadian subsidiary of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd, the hub’s clearing bank.

The two institutions will be “looking at ways to make the transactional aspect of Canadian and Chinese trade a little less cumbersome,” EDC Senior Vice President Mairead Lavery said in a statement.

The trading hub and clearing center launched on Monday in Toronto.

Canadian banks currently have to convert from Canadian dollars into U.S. dollars before settling trade payments in yuan. The trading hub will eliminate costs to clients by enabling settlements to be made directly in yuan.

Still, offshore clearing may become less important down the line. Sources told Reuters earlier in the month that China’s international payment system to process cross-border yuan transactions is ready and may be launched as early as September or October.

Posted at: March 25, 2015 - 1:49 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

Ditching US dollar: China, Russia launch financial tools in local currencies & China eclipses Europe on Russian e-commerce market

Ditching US dollar: China, Russia launch financial tools in local currencies
RT Russia December 29, 2014

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China and Russia have effectively switched to domestic currencies in trading using financial tools as swaps and forwards, as they seek to reduce the influence of the US dollar and foreign exchange risks.

The agreement signed in the end of October comes into force Monday, December 29, and provides a currency swap of CNY150 billion (up to US$25 billion).

he country’s Foreign Exchange Trade System will carry out similar transactions with the Malaysian ringgit and the New Zealand dollar.

From now on yuan swaps are available for 11 currencies on the foreign exchange market.

“China won’t stop yuan globalization or capital account opening because of the volatility in emerging market currencies,” Ju Wang, a senior currency strategist at HSBC Holdings Plc in Hong Kong told Bloomberg.

China has set up bilateral currency swap lines with more than 20 countries and regions since 2009, including Switzerland, Brazil, Hong Kong, Indonesia and South Korea, Xinhua News reported in July.

A swap is a financial tool to ease transactions by exchanging certain elements of a loan in one currency, like the principal or interest payments into an equivalent loan in another currency.

Currency forward is an obligation of two parties to convert an agreed amount of one currency into another by a certain date at an exchange rate specified at the moment of signing the deal.

Russia and China have long been looking for ways to cut the dollar’s role in international trade. The question is significant for China as 32 percent, or $4 trillion of its foreign exchange reserves are in US bonds, which means there is a vulnerability to fluctuations in the exchange rate.

Russia’s foreign exchange reserves are worth $398 billion, and the US dollar accounts for about $162.45 billion.

The country’s economic growth has slowed amid a standoff with Western countries over the Ukrainian conflict. After the country’s financial sector faced EU and US sanctions it became hard for Russian businesses to raise finance in the West.

Chinese authorities are particularly interested in currency swap lines with developing countries, mainly from the Asia-Pacific region. Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Singapore, Hong Kong, Argentina, and Malaysia are actively involved in transactions with China.

Related: The Paypers is the Netherlands-based leading independent source of news and intelligence for professionals in the global payment community.

China advances into Russia’s ecommerce market
The Paypers Netherlands August 12, 2014

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The China-Russia cross-border ecommerce market represents almost half of international e-retailers’ total sales to Russia, accounting for up to USD 1.5 billion in 2013, according to a study by East-West Digital News.

Alibaba, a Chinese ecommerce company, stands out as a frontrunner, as it prepares its introduction on the NASDAQ.

Also, in July 2014, AliExpress, the group’s B2C platform made Yandex.Money available as a new payment option. This Russian electronic currency allows its users to pay via mobile phone as well as in cash via 170,000 offline locations across Russia. This includes the Sberbank cash-in kiosks and Russian mobile retailer outlets.

China eclipses Europe on Russian e-commerce market
Delphine d’Amora The Moscow Times Russia December 18, 2014

Europe is rapidly losing its share in the Russian e-commerce market to Chinese firms whose steady growth in the region has been fueled by this year’s headlong devaluation of the ruble.

About 70 percent of packages shipped to Russian consumers from abroad this year came from China, up from 40 percent in 2013, a report by industry watcher East-West Digital News (EWDN) found.

China’s growth in the sector was driven by massive Chinese online marketplace AliExpress and Chinese sellers operating through Internet auction house eBay, the report by EWDN found.

AliExpress is now the single largest foreign player on the Russian e-commerce market with 35 percent of cross-border sales, business daily RBC reported last month, citing data from analytics company RBC Research.

In second place came eBay with 30 percent of the market followed by U.S. e-commerce titan Amazon with 7.5 percent, the report said.

Russia and China to open joint e-commerce platform in summer
RT Russia March 19, 2015

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Russian online payment system Yandex.Money is to start processing payments for China’s online platform TradeEase, which is aimed at increasing cross-border trade between the two countries.

The project is expected to have a turnover of $830,000 in the first 3 months after it starts in the summer.

The platform will be launched by China’s PayEase payment service, Bank of China, China’s Heilongjiang province and the border city of Suifenhe, Vedomosti reported on Thursday.

The new platform will allow Chinese shops operating on the border with Russia to sell their goods online. Trade between the Chinese province of Heilongjiang and Russia exceeded $23 billion in 2014, accounting for about a quarter of the total trade turnover between Russia and China. Nevertheless, the fall of the ruble has led to a decline in tourist traffic in Suifenhe, which is the most popular shopping city in the province, so the e-commerce platform will help Chinese businesses maintain Russian customers; the CEO of PayEase was quoted as saying by Vedomosti.

Last month China’s ambassador to Moscow said the Russian ruble’s slump would not significantly affect China-Russia trade and cooperation. The ruble lost almost a half of its value against the dollar in 2014 due to plummeting oil prices and Western economic sanctions. In late 2014, Russia and China agreed to switch trading settlements to local currencies to reduce dependence on the US dollar and create an alternative within the global financial system.

Chinese online stores are the most popular foreign e-commerce platforms among Russia’s online customers, according to the results of the recent survey by Yandex.Market and Germany’s Research Institute.

Last week China announced the setting up of a pilot cross-border e-commerce zone to improve the country’s overseas e-commerce industry.

China is Russia’s second largest trading partner after the EU, after hitting a record $59 billion in the first half of 2014. The two countries are planning to increase bilateral trade to $200 billion by 2020.

Posted at: March 25, 2015 - 1:45 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

The new Chinese dream: Westward Ho on China’s Eurasia BRIC Road

China’s plans for land and maritime “silk roads” constitute a foreign policy initiative that has huge potential for cooperation between China and India and with other countries in the region. It can work only if China can reassure the countries and communities involved that their past as well as future interests will be respected. China’s record on this score is far from reassuring asserts Jabin T Jacob. Jacob is Assistant Director and Fellow at the Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi, India.

Pothole potential on China’s silk roads
Jabin T Jacob Asia Times Online Hong Kong March 13, 2015

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Communist Party of China (CPC) General Secretary and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the Silk Road Economic Belt (sichouzhilu jingjidai) in a speech on September 7, 2013, at the Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan [1] and the Maritime Silk Road (haishang sichouzhilu) during his visit to Indonesia the following month. [2]

The two initiatives – collectively termed the “one belt, one road” (yidai yilu) initiative – taken together with his declaration of a new neighborhood policy in October 2013 at the first work forum (zuotan) on diplomacy towards China’s periphery(zhoubian), [3] constitute a major Chinese foreign policy initiative.

It is designed not just to increase China’s influence but also to put forward a new way of doing business, different from the Western/American approaches and tries also to assuage fears of an impending Chinese regional and global hegemony.

The “one belt, one road” initiative has several implications for China’s immediate neighborhood that includes India. The Silk Road Economic Belt connecting China with Central Asia and onwards to Europe with Xinjiang at its core is of a piece with similar initiatives such as the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Along all three economic corridors India is a directly or indirectly influential presence. In the case of the BCIM Economic Corridor, India is a formal member.

In the case of the Silk Road Economic Belt through Central Asia, India enjoys enormous goodwill and soft power in the region that transcends political developments and economic relations. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor meanwhile, will inevitably have to develop and draw on connections with the large Indian market in order to reach its full economic potential.

Pakistan’s infrastructure currently is woefully inadequate and its economy short of maturity to develop and provide the returns that Chinese investors seek. Even if political stability through economic development within Pakistan were the objective, this could be achieved much faster and sustainably through an opening up to the Indian economy.

Pakistan could thus avoid the roundabout and wasteful current situation of routing Indian imports through third-countries instead of receiving them directly over its land borders and direct sea links with India. As Pakistan’s Minister of Finance and Revenue Mohammad Ishaq Dar has himself noted while praising China’s Silk Road projects, “international trade is the only option to sustain economic growth and development”. [4]

At least one Pakistani commentator has, in fact, conflated the Silk Road Economic Belt with a “China-Pakistan-Afghanistan-India Economic Corridor’ and the Maritime Silk Road with the “China-Myanmar-Bangladesh-India sea route”. [5] According to official Chinese sources, too, the Silk Road Economic Belt through Xinjiang and Central Asia is seen as having a population of “nearly 3 billion” [6] and therefore, must also include India in its calculations.

Therefore, it is clear that the Chinese government and its state-owned and private enterprises must see the benefits of including India as part of any long-term and sustainable Silk Roads strategy.

Clearly, the “one belt, one road” initiative offers huge potential for cooperation between China and India and for the two countries to develop their relations with third countries. The issue for New Delhi is of how willing China is to acknowledge India’s historical role and influence in the areas it now seeks to service through the “one belt, one road” initiative. How capable is China of understanding Indian interests and sensitivities on both continental Asia and its waters?

The “Asian Century”, after all, will have to be one in which both India and China have to work together – and not just with each other but also together with their neighbors – to establish, if it is to be truly a source of peace, development and prosperity for its peoples.

Finally, from a purely historical perspective, the “silk” in the Silk Roads while referring to a Chinese product should not lead to the interpretation that the road itself was Chinese.

This is far from being historically true. In fact, it was the many ethnic groups of Central Asia and West Asia that constituted the trading communities linking China with the rest of the world, carrying European, Indian and West Asian products to China and Chinese products to the other regions.

It also needs to be remembered that cotton from India has an equally long, if not longer, history of being traded along the ancient trade routes as silk. It is well-known of course that the name “Silk Road” was originally coined by the German explorer Ferdinand von Richthofen only in the late 19th century, but less known is the fact that his explorations and studies also covered the spread of Buddhism from India into China along these Silk Roads. [9]

The modern Silk Roads need to also acknowledge this legacy of serving both as a means and metaphor for the exchange of ideas and dialogue between peoples and communities.

Similarly, the “sound historical basis” that Chinese commentators seem to find for the Maritime Silk Road might not be all that sound, or at the very least might just as well be true of other nomenclature for ancient maritime routes. For example, the Maritime Silk Road might just as well be called the Maritime Spice Road, referring to Indian products that also found transport to distant markets in China, Southeast Asia and Europe through history.

There is, in fact, a new tourism initiative launched by the state (provincial) government of Kerala in India – like Fujian, a coastal province with a long history of maritime trade and commerce – called the Spice Route Initiative, started in 2014. Here too, it was mainly Arab and Indian traders who connected China and Southeast Asia with India, West Asia and Africa, in the past.

The point of this brief digression into history is to underline the fact that China’s modern-day initiative of the “one belt, one road” must remember to take on board all the peoples along these routes. It can work only if China can reassure all the countries and communities involved that not only is their present and future well-being taken care but that their past, too, will be respected. China’s record on this score, however, is far from reassuring.

Indeed, China might actually be engaged in a larger exercise of historical revival than of just the Silk Roads. China has recently created institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Roads Fund or promoted others like the BRICS New Development Bank, even as it has increased its hard line or assertiveness on issues of territory, sovereignty and image.

Taken together these developments appear to constitute a new version of the ancient Chinese political governing philosophy of tianxia. While the concept has been variously defined over history, at its most basic, it represented the rule over peoples with different cultures and from varied geographical areas by a single ruler.

In effect, it represented a Chinese conception of political and moral superiority, to go with economic and cultural dominance over China’s neighbors, including its prominent role in arbitrating disputes and conflicts between them.

Under a CPC dedicated to preserving its rule at home and using the assertion of China’s rights and influence abroad as a means to this end, it is possibly this ancient historical concept that might be a more useful framework to understand what China’s current foreign policy intentions are.

Below: Brazilian Pepe Escobar is a globetrotting investigative reporter. He writes, “Of course China’s new drive may be interpreted as the stirrings of a new tributary system, ordered and centered in Beijing. At the same time, many in the U.S. are uncomfortable that the New Silk Road may be a geopolitical, “peaceful development”, “win-win” answer to the Obama administration’s Pentagon-driven pivoting to Asia.”

The new Chinese dream
Pepe Escobar CounterPunch USA March 24, 2015

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“…it is imperative that no Eurasian challenger (to the U.S.)

emerges capable of dominating Eurasia

and thus also of challenging America”

Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard, 1997

What’s in a name, rather an ideogram? Everything. A single Chinese character – jie (for “between”) – graphically illustrates the key foreign policy initiative of the new Chinese dream.

In the upper part of the four-stroke character – which, symbolically, should be read as the roof of a house – the stroke on the left means the Silk Road Economic Belt, and the stroke on the right means the 21st century Maritime Silk Road. In the lower part, the stroke on the left means the China-Pakistan corridor, via Xinjiang province, and the stroke on the right, the China-Myanmar-Bangladesh-India corridor via Yunnan province.

Chinese culture feasts on myriad formulas, mottoes – and symbols. If many a Chinese scholar worries about how the Middle Kingdom’s new intimation of soft power may be lost in translation, the character jie – pregnant with connectivity – is already the starting point to make 1.3 billion Chinese, plus the overseas Chinese diaspora, visualize the top twin axis – continental and naval – of the New Silk Road vision unveiled by President Xi Jinping, a concept also known as “One Road, One Belt”.

In practical terms, it also helps that the New Silk Road will be boosted by a special, multi-billion-dollar Silk Road Fund and the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which, not by accident, has attracted the attention of European investors.

The New Silk Road, actually roads, symbolizes China’s pivot to an old heartland: Eurasia. That implies a powerful China even more enriched by its environs, without losing its essence as a civilization-state. Call it a post-modern remix of the Tang, Sung and early Ming dynasties – as Beijing deftly and recently stressed via a superb exhibition in the National Museum of China consisting of rare early Silk Road pieces assembled from a range of regional museums.

In the past, China had a unifying infrastructure enterprise like the Great Wall. In the future it will have a major project of unifying Eurasia via high-speed rail. When one considers the breadth of this vision, depictions of Xi striving to be an equal of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping sound so pedestrian.

Of course China’s new drive may be interpreted as the stirrings of a new tributary system, ordered and centered in Beijing. At the same time, many in the U.S. are uncomfortable that the New Silk Road may be a geopolitical, “peaceful development”, “win-win” answer to the Obama administration’s Pentagon-driven pivoting to Asia.

Beijing has been quick to dismiss any notions of hegemony. It maintains this is no Marshall Plan. It’s undeniable that the Marshall Plan “covered only Western nations and excluded all countries and regions the West thought were ideologically close to the Soviet Union”. China, on the other hand, is focused on integrating “emerging economies” into a vast, pan-Eurasian trade/commerce network.

It’s no wonder top nations in the beleaguered EU have gravitated to the AIIB – which will play a key role in the New Silk Road(s). A German geographer – Ferdinand von Richthofen – invented the Seidenstrasse (Silk Road) concept. Marco Polo forever linked Italy with the Silk Road. The EU is already China’s number one trade partner. And, once again symbolically, this happens to be the 40th year of China-EU relations. Watch the distinct possibility of an emerging Sino-European Fund that finances infrastructure and even green energy projects across an integrated Eurasia.

It’s as if the Angel of History – that striking image in a Paul Klee painting eulogized by philosopher Walter Benjamin – is now trying to tell us that a 21st century China-EU Seidenstrasse synergy is all but inevitable. And that, crucially, would have to include Russia, which is a vital part of the New Silk Road through an upcoming, Russia-China financed $280 billion high-speed rail upgrade of the Trans-Siberian railway. This is where the New Silk Road project and President Putin’s initial idea of a huge trade emporium from Lisbon to Vladivostok actually merge.

In parallel, the 21st century Maritime Silk Road will deepen the already frantic trade interaction between China and Southeast Asia by sea. Fujian province – which faces Taiwan – will play a key role. Xi, crucially, spent many years of his life in Fujian. And Hong Kong, not by accident, also wants to be part of the action.

And Eurasia – contrary to perennial Brzezinski wishful thinking – will likely take the form of a geopolitical challenge: A de facto China-Russia strategic partnership that manifests itself in various facets of the New Silk Road that also bolsters the strength of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

By then, both Iran and Pakistan will be SCO members. The close relations between what was ancient Persia and China span two millennia – and now they are viewed by Beijing as a matter of national security. Pakistan is an essential node of the Maritime Silk Road, especially when one considers the Indian Ocean port of Gwadar, which in a few years may double as a key transit point of the IP or Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. It may also be the starting point of yet another major Chinese Pipelineistan gambit parallel to the Karakorum highway, delivering gas to Xinjiang.

Beijing values both Iran and Pakistan – the intersection of Southwest Asia and South Asia – as fundamentally strategic nodes of the New Silk Road. This allows China to project trade/commerce power not only in the Indian Ocean but the Persian Gulf.

Got vision, will travel.

Posted at: March 25, 2015 - 1:42 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

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China’s infrastructure bank initiative (the AIIB) addresses the failures of Bretton Woods: A discussion & A massive U-turn in Washington’s stance on the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank

China’s infrastructure bank initiative addresses the failures of Bretton Woods
Francesco Sisci Asia Times Online Hong Kong March 25, 2015

The problem is not with the AIIB and the U.S. participation or not in it or its governance: the real problem is with the legacy of the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement which is still shaping the financial and economic order of the world. The AIIB is an instrument that will be able to intervene as the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank (both children of Bretton Woods) do to finance necessary infrastructure projects in Asia, and thus will sustain demand and financial stability and growth in a region which badly needs it. In fact, the AIIB can do it because the legacy of Bretton Woods is wobbling and many countries in Asia and in the world believe this legacy is not working well enough.

The early signs of crisis came at least during the 1997 Financial Crisis. Then many countries in the region objected to the IMF interventions and played with the idea of setting up an Asian Monetary Fund (then Japan, crisis stricken, agreed with China on it). The idea of the AMF was rejected by the U.S., but the problem stayed and came back again in 2008. Then China wanted to use more an instrument of international monetary stability, the basket of currencies set aside by the IMF, which have been not fully used. Again, America refused the idea.

Those rejections may have been right, and the concern about the AIIB governance may also be right. However the problem is: the pillars of Bretton Woods are not working, they are under huge criticism, not only from China, and China with the AIIB is moving cautiously to try to address some of the issues. Now, either the US will start thinking about a new international financial and economic architecture or the Chinese and other countries will start building competing structures further undermining the pillars of Bretton Woods. The Chinese answers may be not the best, but they are answers, the U.S. can’t any longer be defensive about it: it needs to be pro-active: propose different architectures.

Of course part of the issue is also political. Bretton Woods was done by U.S. and U.K., with the U.K. as the junior partner. U.S. and U.K. then, and now shared a lot politically. The same can’t be said between US and China. But if that is the real problem why do not bring it up openly? The US, the EU and Japan (the three main economic powers) are concerned about the Chinese political system, so do they have any recommendation, request about it? Why not set up an international dialogue on the long-term political concerns of the developed countries about the Chinese political system and how it (the present Chinese political system) could impact the global economic/ political order? This is a legitimate concern, which I think the Chinese are well aware of and would discuss.

The Asian infrastructure bank and Bretton Woods — Spengler responds to Francesco Sisci
David P. Goldman Asia Times Online Hong Kong March 25, 2015

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Francesco Sisci’s effort to put China’s infrastructure bank initiative in context of the failure of Bretton Woods seems like a stretch: Bretton Woods, after all, was a currency stabilization mechanism that collapsed when the US de-linked the dollar from gold in 1971, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is a development vehicle; it competes with the World Bank, but not the International Monetary Fund. China wants to enhance the international use of its currency, but in the context of the IMF for the time being, for example, by including the yuan in the calculation of the value of Special Drawing Rights. China is cautious about the use of the yuan as a reserve currency, because that would open China’s still-primitive capital markets to global pressures. Currency and investment issues appear to run on separate tracks.

In the broader context, though, I think Francesco’s point worthy of close consideration. Paul Volcker observed years ago (in a seminar I attended at the summer home of Robert Mundell in Siena) that economic factors in rich countries could insulate themselves against currency fluctuations by hedging (rich countries have developed derivative markets and yield curves going out several years). Poor countries without derivatives markets, not to mention the credit quality to make swap agreements practicable, and without multi-year yield curves, can’t hedge. It’s always the poorer countries that get whipsawed by currency fluctuations, e.g., Asia after the mid-1990s dollar depreciation (which pushed hot money flows into their economies and set up the 1997 crash), or most of the emerging markets after the big dollar appreciation of the past eight months.

An alternative lender with a long horizon, such as the new AIIB, would go a long way to ameliorate the effects of monetary policy whipsaw on developing countries. That outcome would of course enhance China’s global influence considerably.

Related: Support of China’s development bank is ‘gigantic concession’ by US
RT Russia March 24, 2015

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Washington and the World Bank have no choice but to co-operate with Beijing on the new China-led development bank. The US has changed its tune after first opposing its allies cozying up to China.

“This is a gigantic concession on the part of the US, that it is not the world’s only superpower,” Jeffrey Albert Tucker, CLO of the Foundation for Economic Education, told RT.

Instead of fighting the new China-led development bank, the US was forced to add its support to the development bank after allies jumped ship to join the $100 billion China-led project that could rival the World Bank.

“This represents a dramatic shift on the part of Washington and a concession to its allies in Europe,” Tucker said.

US officials had voiced displeasure when the UK, Germany, France and Italy agreed to work with the Bank, but now, in an apparent concession, the US will work with, and not against, the new global development fund. The White House wants to co-finance projects with Beijing along with existing banks such as the World Bank, the WSJ reported Monday.

The offer is a massive U-turn in Washington’s stance on the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The tone quickly changed last week after an unnamed US official told the Financial Times that America was “wary about a trend toward constant accommodation of China.”

Chinese state newspaper lambasted the comment, calling the attitude towards China childish paranoia.

“Essentially there was no more of this cold war attitude that the US was having towards China. Was boycotting the AIIB, but it received massive pushback from very important governments around the world, so the US did not get its way,” Tucker said.

The British government was the first to announce that they would be a founding member of the financial institution, which is largely seen as a rival to the World Bank. Luxembourg and Switzerland were the latest to sign up along with France, Germany, and Italy.

Austria wants to be part of China-led infrastructure bank
RT Russia March 25, 2015

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Austria is looking to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), Xinhua news agency reported, citing a top official. It is the latest European nation to invest in the bank, which is seen as the future rival of the US-based World Bank.

“Austria has already had close economic and political ties with the Asian region and has always been so far very positive about international projects,” Johannes Frischmann, a spokesman for Austrian Finance Minister Hans Joerg Schelling, told Xinhua, adding that the nation “now checks for the membership.”

Posted at: March 25, 2015 - 1:37 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post