January 28, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Publisher’s description

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

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

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

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

About the author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 27, 2015


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

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

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

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

Visit this page for its embedded and related links.

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s crisis

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

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

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

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

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

Careening towards collapse?

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

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

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

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

Elites won’t save us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intro: Notes on Nationalism” is an essay completed in May 1945 by George Orwell and published in the first issue of Polemic (October 1945). In this essay, Orwell discusses the notion of nationalism, and argues that it causes people to disregard common sense and become more ignorant towards factuality. Orwell shows his concern for the social state of Europe, and in a broader sense, the entire world, due to an increasing amount of influence of nationalistic sentiment occurring throughout a large number of countries. Orwell begins his essay with these two following paragraphs and concludes with the final paragraph also posted below.

Somewhere or other Byron makes use of the French word longeur, and remarks in passing that though in England we happen not to have the word, we have the thing in considerable profusion. In the same way, there is a habit of mind which is now so widespread that it affects our thinking on nearly every subject, but which has not yet been given a name. As the nearest existing equivalent I have chosen the word ‘nationalism’, but it will be seen in a moment that I am not using it in quite the ordinary sense, if only because the emotion I am speaking about does not always attach itself to what is called a nation — that is, a single race or a geographical area. It can attach itself to a church or a class, or it may work in a merely negative sense, against something or other and without the need for any positive object of loyalty.

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

The reason for the rise and spread of nationalism is far too big a question to be raised here. It is enough to say that, in the forms in which it appears among English intellectuals, it is a distorted reflection of the frightful battles actually happening in the external world, and that its worst follies have been made possible by the breakdown of patriotism and religious belief. If one follows up this train of thought, one is in danger of being led into a species of Conservatism, or into political quietism. It can be plausibly argued, for instance — it is even possibly true — that patriotism is an inoculation against nationalism, that monarchy is a guard against dictatorship, and that organised religion is a guard against superstition. Or again, it can be argued that no unbiased outlook is possible, that all creeds and causes involve the same lies, follies, and barbarities; and this is often advanced as a reason for keeping out of politics altogether. I do not accept this argument, if only because in the modern world no one describable as an intellectual can keep out of politics in the sense of not caring about them. I think one must engage in politics — using the word in a wide sense — and that one must have preferences: that is, one must recognise that some causes are objectively better than others, even if they are advanced by equally bad means. As for the nationalistic loves and hatreds that I have spoken of, they are part of the make-up of most of us, whether we like it or not. Whether it is possible to get rid of them I do not know, but I do believe that it is possible to struggle against them, and that this is essentially a moral effort. It is a question first of all of discovering what one really is, what one’s own feelings really are, and then of making allowance for the inevitable bias. If you hate and fear Russia, if you are jealous of the wealth and power of America, if you despise Jews, if you have a sentiment of inferiority towards the British ruling class, you cannot get rid of those feelings simply by taking thought. But you can at least recognise that you have them, and prevent them from contaminating your mental processes. The emotional urges which are inescapable, and are perhaps even necessary to political action, should be able to exist side by side with an acceptance of reality. But this, I repeat, needs a moral effort, and contemporary English literature, so far as it is alive at all to the major issues of our time, shows how few of us are prepared to make it.

Audio: Sanctions on Russia fail to stop interference in Ukraine
‘The Current’ CBC Radio One Canada January 27, 2015

The United Nations says at least 262 people have died in Ukraine just this month — and at least 5,000 overall since the conflict broke out nine months ago. Photo: Gleb Garanich/Reuters. Visit this page for its embedded and related links.

In Ukraine, everyday people are losing their lives. Russia’s Vladimir Putin seems immune to sanctions. The rebels he’s backing aren’t backing down and Ukraine is bringing in its own punitive measures. Today, we look at what can be done about a conflict some say is fast becoming a full-blown civil war.

The latest recent attack in the heart of the densely-populated, and hotly contested, Ukrainian city of Mariupol has killed 30 people, including 2 children, and injured 100 more.

According to the U.N.’s political affairs chief, speaking at an emergency Security Council meeting yesterday, the attacks on Mariupol are deliberately targeting civilians — making them crimes of war.

It’s not only happening in Mariupol. Last week an attack on a bus in Donetsk left 13 people dead. The United Nations says at least 262 people have died in Ukraine just this month — among the thousands overall since the conflict broke out nine months ago.

For all the murkiness of what’s happening along the border with Russia, what does seem increasingly clear is that the local ceasefire is not holding… and the many sanctions imposed on Russia have simply failed to calm the conflict.

Shaun Walkeris the Moscow correspondent for The Guardian. He was in Donetsk, Ukraine.

Canadian Michael Bociurkiw is the spokesperson for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The OSCE has an ongoing monitoring mission in Ukraine. He was Kiev.

Getting a clear understanding of the violence unfolding in eastern Ukraine right now can be difficult given the circumstances on the ground.Trying to put an end to that violence introduces a whole new layer of complexity.

We brought together a panel now to help unpack the situation there, and consider solutions that just may work.

Steve Levine is Washington Correspondent for Quartz and the author of “Putin’s Labyrinth: Spies, Murder, and the Dark Heart of the New Russia.” He was in Washington.

Piotr Dutkiewicz is a professor of Political Science at Carleton University in Ottawa.

You can listen to this segment of the program (27:28) from a pop-up link on this page.

Related: The Ukrainian army is essentially a ‘NATO legion’ which doesn’t pursue the national interests of Ukraine says Putin; Chief of the US Army in Europe hands out trinkets to maimed soldiers in Kiev’s Central Military Hospital & Renewed hostilities in Donbass see Ukrainian fighters suffer huge losses
Salt Spring News British Columbia Canada January 26, 2015

Six links. Here from one of those links:

Amid the devastation of yesterday’s Mariupol artillery strikes which killed or wounded dozens, which was promptly blamed by both sides on the “adversary” – and has been proclaimed by both ‘sides’ (more on that later) as more violent than before the truce – an ‘odd’ clip has emerged that appears to provide all the ‘proof’ a US intelligence officer would need to surmise that US military boots are on the ground in Ukraine. As the following clip shows, a Ukrainian journalist approaches what she thinks is a Ukrainian soldier (since he is wearing a Ukrainian military uniform and is carrying an AK) and asked him as they run through the battlezone, “tell me, what happened here?” His response, which requires no translation, speaks for itself. … With daily reportage of the ‘invasion’ of Russian military forces into Ukraine territory (admittedly unconfirmed by NATO), this clip raises many questions about American involvement in the ongoing conflict….

Posted at: January 27, 2015 - 11:27 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post


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

Either Canada’s political leadership little understands the Iraq/Kurdistan mission or the pure cowboy political comments made by Stephen Harper and others are deliberately designed for political effect. The Conservatives are playing the nationalism card — and it’s a move that should worry every Canadian.

Did Stephen Harper just find his Falklands moment?
Tasha Kheiriddin iPolitics Canada January 26, 2015

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In 1982, the Conservative government of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was in trouble. Three million Britons — one in every eight workers — were out of work. Manufacturing firms shut their doors and the economy slid into a deep recession.

Trade unions demanded wage increases and engaged in acts of violence. Critics, including members of Thatcher’s own party, accused the PM of being obsessed with cutting public spending instead of supporting ailing industries. Her party was trailing in the polls, an election was looming, and most pundits predicted Thatcher and the Tories would be out of government before long.

Then, on April 2, after a simmering diplomatic conflict, Argentine troops invaded the British-controlled Falkland Islands. On April 5, under Thatcher’s orders — and against the advice of many experts — Her Majesty’s warships set sail to do battle. Two months of hostilities ensued, with nearly nine hundred casualties, one third of them Britons. On June 14, the Argentines formally surrendered and the islands were returned to U.K. control. And one year later, Thatcher returned to office with 397 seats to Labour’s 209.

The war didn’t just ensure the Conservatives’ election victory. It gave the government the mandate — and the confidence — to bring about deep socioeconomic change. The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins wrote: “The Falklands changed everything. The miners were confronted, left-wing local government crushed, Europe riled and universities humbled. Most crucial of all, the patrician Tory moderates were diluted and eventually driven from power. The now-familiar Thatcher came into her own and ‘the Eighties’ began.”

The question for Canadians today is: Will our conflict with Islamic State be Stephen Harper’s Falklands War? There are many parallels: an economy plunging into recession in parts of the country, a government accused of seeking to balance the books at all costs after trailing in the polls for a year. In this environment, the Tories sorely need an issue that can rally voters.

For Harper, as for Thatcher, war appears to be a winner. While Harper must respond to the terrorist threat — he is the prime minister, after all, and that’s part of the job — the fact remains that the more the Islamic State conflict remains in the news, the higher his numbers go. If an election were held today, the Tories would eke out a victory — and the Trudeau Liberals would form the opposition.

In a rational world, Ottawa’s response to the terrorist threat would be judged by objective criteria. But war makes people irrational. War evokes emotions, passions — national pride. If the Tories succeed in embodying those volatile emotions in 2015, it will be Britain 1982 all over again.

Related: A likely scenario: The real Canadian ISIS mission—get Stephen Harper re-elected & The film, ‘American Sniper’, illustrates Western Axis’ morality blind spots
Salt Spring News British Columbia Canada January 26, 2015

Five links. Here from one of those links:

Just what, exactly, did people think would go on when Canada sent some of its most hard-core soldiers to the most dangerous place in the world?

Did people really think that Canadian special forces operators would spend all their time in Iraq giving seminars and supervising target practice?

Apparently, we did think that, judging from the reaction to the news that Canadian soldiers got into a deadly gunfight with ISIS militants, contrary to expectations. Somehow, we were all surprised.

But then, the Conservative government told us that the ground mission was going to be pretty low-key, a training adjunct to the mission for the air force fighter-bombers deployed there. Canada would hit the ISIS army from the air and send in ground troops, but that wouldn’t count as a combat mission.

The Chief of the Defence Staff, Gen. Tom Lawson, said the Canadians would be there solely to “advise and assist” the locals fighting their own war.

But if that really was the mission, Ottawa could have sent just about any infantry unit in the army. All have qualified trainers, many with combat experience from Afghanistan.

The government chose to send the elite members of the Canadian Special Operations Forces, the most aggressive war fighters in the army. They are the best trained forces in the army, and the most ready.

The only way to keep soldiers like that out of combat is to base them far away from the fighting, with orders not to engage. You generally don’t need special forces for non-combat roles far from the enemy.

Just musing. Is Canada’s role in the Western Axis war becoming defined and settled? From the highly intensive mission in Afghanistan to the shorter and quicker style air support contribution in Libya, Canada’s current mission in Iraq is meant to be another of those nimble campaigns. That’s notwithstanding the fact that many Canadians were surprised last week to learn what the so-called “advise and assist” role has already entailed … like calling in air strikes, and a sniper killing in a front line fire fight. Still, the current mission in Iraq—like our military support in Ukraine and logistical help in Mali—may just represent the future of how Canada deploys its armed forces — raising the question — are these types of smaller, more nimble missions effective? If they help in the short term, can they really have a lasting impact?

Posted at: January 27, 2015 - 11:23 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

January 26, 2015

Commentary on the Saudi palace coup

Below: Pepe Escobar’s take on the Saudi succession, written just before King Abdullah’s death.

What game is the House of Saud playing?
Pepe Escobar RT Russia January 16, 2015

Photo: Lucas Jackson/Reuters. Visit this page for its embedded links.

The House of Saud now finds itself in times of extreme trouble. Their risky oil price war may eventually backfire. The succession of King Abdullah may turn into a bloodbath. And the American protector may be musing a change of heart.

Let’s start with oil – and some background. As much as US supply has increased by a couple of million barrels a day, enough oil from Iran, Kirkuk in Iraq, Libya and Syria has gone out of production; and that offsets extra US oil on the market. Essentially, the global economy – at least for the moment – is not searching for more oil because of European stagnation/recession and the relative China slowdown.

Since 2011, Saudi Arabia has been flooding the market to offset the decrease in Iran exports caused by the US economic war, a.k.a. sanctions. Riyadh, moreover, prevented OPEC from reducing country production quotas. The House of Saud believes it can play the waiting game – as fracked oil, mostly American, is inexorably driven out of the market because it is too expensive. After that, the Saudis believe they will regain market share.

In parallel, the House of Saud is obviously enjoying “punishing” Iran and Russia for their support of Bashar Assad in Damascus. Moreover, the House of Saud is absolutely terrified of a nuclear deal essentially between the US and Iran (although that’s still a major “if”) – leading to a long-term détente.

Tehran, though, remains defiant. Russia brushed off the attack because the lower ruble meant state revenues remained unchanged – so there will be no budget deficit. As for oil-thirsty East Asia – including top Saudi customer China – it’s enjoying the bonanza while it lasts.

Oil prices will remain very low for the time being. This week Goldman Sachs lowered their 2015 WTI and Brent Crude forecasts; Brent was slashed from $83.75 a barrel to $50.40, WTI was cut from $73.75 to $47.15 a barrel. Prices per barrel could soon drop as low as $42 and $40.50. But then, there will be an inevitable “U-shaped recovery.”

Nomura bets that oil will be back to $80 a barrel by the end of 2015.

US President Barack Obama, in this interview, openly admitted that he wanted “disruptions” in the “price of oil” because he figured Russian President Vladimir Putin would have “enormous difficulty managing it.” So that settles the argument about hurting Russia and US-Saudi collusion, after US Secretary of State John Kerry allowed/endorsed King Abdullah in Jeddah to simultaneously raise oil production and embark on a cut price strategy.

Whether Kerry sold out the US shale gas industry out of ignorance or incompetence – probably both – is irrelevant. What matters is if the House of Saud were ordered to back off, they would have to do it in a flash; the ‘Empire of Chaos’ dominates the Persian Gulf vassals, who can’t even breathe without at least an implicit US green light.

What is way more troubling is that the current bunch in Washington does not seem to be defending US national and industrial interests. If humongous trade deficits based on currency rigging were not enough, now virtually the entire US oil industry runs the risk of being destroyed by an oil price racket. Any sane analyst would interpret it as contrary to US national interests.

Anyway, the Riyadh deal was music for the House of Saud’s ears. Their official policy has always been to slash the development of all potential substitutes for oil, including US shale gas. So why not depress oil prices and keep them there long enough to make investments in shale gas a lunatic proposal?

But there’s a huge problem. The House of Saud simply won’t get enough in oil revenues to support their annual budget with oil at below $90 a barrel. So as much as hurting Iran and Russia may be appealing, hurting their own golden pocketbooks is not.

The long-term outlook spells out higher oil prices. Oil may be replaced in many instances; but there isn’t a replacement – yet – for the internal combustion engine. So whatever OPEC is doing, it is actually preserving demand for oil vs. oil substitutes, and maximizing the return on a limited resource. The bottom-line: yes, this is predatory pricing.

Once again, there’s an immense, crucial, complicating vector. We may have the House of Saud and other Persian Gulf producers flooding the market – but its Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Citigroup who are doing the shadow, nasty work via leveraged derivative short futures.

Oil prices are such an opaque racket that only major oil trading banks such as Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley have some idea who is buying and who is selling oil futures or derivative contracts – what is called “paper oil.” The non-rules of this multi-billion casino spell out “speculative bubble” – with a little help from those friends at the Gulf oil pumps. With oil futures trading and the two major London and New York exchanges monopolizing oil futures contracts, OPEC really does not control oil prices anymore; Wall Street does. This is the big secret. The House of Saud may entertain the illusion they are in control. They’re not.

As if this was not messy enough, the crucial succession of the House of Saud is propelled to the forefront. King Abdullah, 91, was diagnosed with pneumonia, hospitalized in Riyadh on New Year’s Eve, and was breathing with a tube. He may – or may not, this being the secretive House of Saud – have lung cancer. He won’t last long. The fact that he is hailed as a “progressive reformer” tells everything one needs to know about Saudi Arabia. “Freedom of expression”? You must be joking.

So who’ll be next? The first in the line of succession should be Crown Prince Salman, 79, also defense minister. He was governor of Riyadh province for a hefty 48 years. It was this certified falcon who supervised the wealth of private “donations” to the Afghan mujahedeen in the 1980s jihad, in tandem with hardcore Wahhabi preachers. Salman’s sons include the governor of Medina, Prince Faisal. Needless to add, the Salman family controls virtually all of Saudi media.

To get to the Holy Grail Salman must be proven fit. That’s not a given; and on top of it Abdullah, a tough nut to crack, already survived two of his crown princes, Sultan and Nayef. Salman’s prospects look bleak; he has had spinal surgery, a stroke and may be suffering from – how appropriate – dementia.

It also does not bode well that when Salman was promoted to Deputy Defense Minister, soon enough he was shown the door – as he got himself mixed up with Bandar Bush’s atrocious jihadi game in Syria.

Anyway, Salman already has a successor; second Deputy Prime Minister Prince Muqrin, former governor of Medina province and then head of Saudi intelligence. Muqrin is very, very close to Abdullah. Muqrin seems to be the last “capable” son of Ibn Saud; “capable” here is a figure of speech. The real problem though starts when Muqrin becomes Crown Prince. Because then the next in line will be picked from the grandsons of Ibn Saud.

Enter the so-called third generation princes – a pretty nasty bunch. Chief among them is none other than Mitab bin Abdullah, 62, the son of the king; cries of nepotism do proceed. Like a warlord, Mitab controls his own posse in the National Guard. Sources told me Riyadh is awash in rumors that Abdullah and Muqrin have made a deal: Abdullah gets Muqrin to become king, and Muqrin makes Mitab crown prince. Once again, this being the “secretive” House of Saud, the Hollywood mantra applies: no one knows anything.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Reuters

Abdullah’s sons are all over the place; governor of Mecca, deputy governor of Riyadh, deputy foreign minister, president of the Saudi Red Crescent. Same for Salman’s sons. But then there’s Muhammad bin Nayif, son of the late Crown Prince Nayif, who became Interior Minister in 2012, in charge of ultra-sensitive internal security, as in cracking down on virtually anything. He is the top competitor against Mitab among the third-generation princes.

So forget about family “unity” when such juicy loot as an oil hacienda impersonating a whole country is in play. And yet whoever inherits the loot will have to face the abyss, and the same litany of distress; rising unemployment; abysmal inequality; horrendous sectarian divide; jihadism in all its forms – not least the fake Ibrahim Caliphate in “Syraq”, already threatening to march towards Mecca and Medina; the unspeakably medieval Council of Ulemas (the lashing/amputating/beheading-loving bunch); total dependency on oil; unbounded paranoia towards Iran; and a wobbly relationship with His Masters Voice, the US.

And it so happens that the real ‘Masters of the Universe’ in the Washington-New York axis are debating exactly the erosion of this relationship; as in the House of Saud having no one to talk to but the “puppets”, from Bush Two minions to Kerry at most on occasion. This analysis contends that any promises made by Kerry over the House of Saud “cooperation” to damage Russia’s economy really mean nothing.

Rumbles from ‘Masters of the Universe’ territory indicate that the CIA sooner or later might move against the House of Saud. In this case the only way for the House of Saud to secure its survival would be to become friendly with none other than Moscow. This exposes once more the House of Saud’s suicidal present course of trying to hurt Russia’s economy.

As everyone is inexorably an outsider when faced with the totally opaque House of Saud, there’s an analytical current that swears they know what they’re doing. Not necessarily. The House of Saud seems to believe that pleasing US neocons will improve their status in Washington. That simply won’t happen. The neocons remain obsessed about the House of Saud helping Pakistan to develop its nuclear missiles; some of them – once again, that’s open to speculation – might even be deployed inside Saudi Arabia for “defensive purposes” against that mythical Iranian “threat.”

Messy? That doesn’t even begin to describe it. But one thing is certain; whatever game Riyadh thinks it’s playing, they’d better start seriously talking to Moscow. But please, don’t send Bandar Bush on another Russian mission.

Below: David Hearst is editor-in-chief of Middle East Eye. He was chief foreign leader writer of The Guardian, former Associate Foreign Editor, European Editor, Moscow Bureau Chief, European Correspondent, and Ireland Correspondent. He joined The Guardian from The Scotsman, where he was education correspondent.

The Saudi palace coup
David Hearst Middle East Eye UK January 23, 2015

New king Salman has moved rapidly to install allies from his Sudairi clan and begun shifts in policy but time is not on his side. Visit this page for its embedded links.

King Abdullah’s writ lasted all of 12 hours. Within that period the Sudairis, a rich and politically powerful clan within the House of Saud, which had been weakened by the late king, burst back into prominence. It was a palace coup in all but name.

Salman moved swiftly to undo the work of his half-brother. He decided not to change his crown prince Muqrin, who was picked by King Abdullah, but he may choose to deal with him later. However, he swiftly appointed another leading figure from the Sudairi clan. Mohammed Bin Nayef, the interior minister, is to be his deputy crown prince. It is no secret that Abdullah wanted his son Meteb for that position, but now he is out.

More significantly, Salman, himself a Sudairi, attempted to secure the second generation by giving his 35-year-old son Mohammed the powerful fiefdom of the defence ministry. The second post Mohammed got was arguably more important still. He is now general secretary of the royal court. All of these changes were announced before Abdullah was even buried.

The general secretaryship was the position held by the Cardinal Richelieu of Abdullah’s royal court, Khalid al-Tuwaijri. It was a lucrative business handed down from father to son and started by Abdul Aziz al-Tuwaijri. The Tuwaijris became the king’s gatekeepers. No royal audience could be held without their permission, involvement or knowledge. Tuwaijri was the key player in foreign intrigues, subverting the Egyptian revolution, sending in troops to crush the uprising in Bahrain, financing ISIL in Syria in the early stages of the civil war through his previous ally, former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

The link between Tuwaijri and the Gulf region’s fellow neo-con Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, was close. Tuwaijri is now out, and his long list of foreign clients – starting with the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi – may well feel a cooler air blowing from Riyadh. Sisi failed to attend the funeral on Friday. Just a matter of bad weather?

Salman’s state of health is cause for concern, which is why the power he has given his son is more significant than other appointments announced. Aged 79, Salman is known to have Alzheimers, but the exact state of his dementia is a source of speculation. He is known to have held cogent conversations as recently as last October. But he can also forget what he said minutes ago, or faces he has known all his life, according to other witnesses. This is typical of the disease. I understand the number of hospital visits in the last few months has increased and that he did not walk around, as he did before.

So his ability to steer the ship of state, in a centralised country where no institutions, political parties or even national politics exist is open to question. But one indication of a change of direction may lie in two attempts recently to establish links with Egyptian opposition figures.

It is too early to tell whether King Salman is capable of, or even is aware of, the need for changing course. All one can say with any confidence is that some of the key figures who stage-managed the kingdom’s disastrous foreign intrigues are now out. Meteb’s influence is limited, while Tuwaijiri is out.

There are two theories about the slow train crash which the Middle East has become. One is that dictatorship, autocracy and occupation are the bulwarks against the swirling chaos of civil war and population displacement. The other is that dictators are the cause of instability and extremism.

Abdullah was evidence in chief for the second theory. His reign left Saudi Arabia weaker internally and surrounded by enemies as never before. Can Salman make a difference? It’s a big task, but there may be people around him who see the need for a fundamental change in course. It will be the only way a Saudi king will get the backing of his people. He may in the process turn himself into a figurehead, a constitutional monarch, but he will generate stability in the kingdom and the region.

Posted at: January 26, 2015 - 4:03 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

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

Intro: Putin: Ukraine army is NATO legion aimed at restraining Russia
RT Russia January 26, 2015

The Ukrainian army is essentially a ‘NATO legion’ which doesn’t pursue the national interests of Ukraine, but persists to restrict Russia, President Vladimir Putin says.

“We often say: Ukrainian Army, Ukrainian Army. But who is really fighting there? There are, indeed, partially official units of armed forces, but largely there are the so-called ‘volunteer nationalist battalions’,” said Putin.

He added that the intention of Ukrainian troops is connected with “achieving the geopolitical goals of restraining Russia.” Putin was addressing students in the city of St. Petersburg.

According to Putin, the Ukrainian army “is not an army, but a foreign legion, in this case a foreign NATO legion, which, of course, doesn’t pursue the national interests of Ukraine.”

Kiev has been reluctant to find political solutions to the crisis in eastern Ukraine and only used the ceasefire to regroup its forces, the president stressed.

“Unfortunately official Kiev authorities refuse to follow the path of a peaceful solution. They don’t want to resolve [the crisis] using political tools,” Putin said, adding that first Kiev authorities had first used law enforcement, then security services and then the army in the region.

“It is essentially a civil war [in Ukraine]. In my view, many in Ukraine already understand this,” Putin added.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has reacted to President Putin’s words, calling his statement “nonsense.”

“The statement that there is a NATO legion in Ukraine is nonsense. There is no NATO legion,” Stoltenberg told reporters.

Already tense situation in eastern Ukraine gone downhill in past 2 weeks. The escalation of violence came after a controversial incident at a Kiev-controlled checkpoint near the town of Volnovakha, where 12 passengers were killed on January 13.

Western countries reiterated accusations of Russia backing the rebel forces, and so being partly responsible for violations of the Minsk agreement. They called for more sanctions against Moscow.

On Monday, US President Barack Obama promised the United States would examine options to “ratchet up the pressure on Russia” on the Ukraine issue.

Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov called fresh threats of anti-Russian sanctions “an absolutely destructive and unjustified course that would eventually prove to be shortsighted.”

“Instead of stepping up the pressure on those who refuse to start a dialogue and to solve the conflict in a peaceful way, we hear they want to resume this economic blackmail against Russia,” Peskov noted in his statement.

Items: A new low? Even worse than Victoria Nuland and her Maidan cookies?

“Thank You for Your Service!” says Chief of US Army in Europe while awarding medals to maimed Ukrainian soldiers
Damir Marinovich Russia Insider Russia January 23, 2015

Visit this page for its embedded links and video (5:40).

General Ben Hodges, Chief of the US Army in Europe, awarded US army medals to Ukrainian soldiers in Kiev’s Central Military Hospital on January 22.

The video was made by “independent” Hromadske TV, a station that publicly admits it is funded by money coming from the US and Dutch embassies—and George Soros.

The General said the medal is “a symbol of the US army in Europe” and is given “for excellence”. Interesting choice of words.

And actually these coins are not even medals, they are unit coins for a coin challenge. The coins are the “NEW U.S. Army Europe – Sword of Freedom Challenge Coin. 60335.” priced at $8.79 from ebay. In description of the coin it is stated: “This coin pays tribute to the tireless commitment and outstanding dedication to duty demonstrated by every member of U.S. Army Europe.”

The general finished his visit by thanking the soldiers for their service.

Does this even need comment? This is more patronizing and degrading than Victoria Nuland with her Maidan cookies.

These Ukrainian soldiers are mostly lower class folks who are dying for Western ambitions in Eastern Europe and Eurasia. Once there’s no use for them anymore, they will be forgotten. But at least they’ll have a US Army challenge coin?

“Out of my face please” – are US soldiers in Mariupol?
Tyler Durden Zero Hedge/Information Clearing House USA January 25, 2015

January 25, 2015 “ICH” – “Zero Hedge” – Amid the devastation of yesterday’s Mariupol artillery strikes which killed or wounded dozens, which was promptly blamed by both sides on the “adversary” – and has been proclaimed by both ‘sides’ (more on that later) as more violent than before the truce – an ‘odd’ clip has emerged that appears to provide all the ‘proof’ a US intelligence officer would need to surmise that US military boots are on the ground in Ukraine. As the following clip shows, a Ukrainian journalist approaches what she thinks is a Ukrainian soldier (since he is wearing a Ukrainian military uniform and is carrying an AK) and asked him as they run through the battlezone, “tell me, what happened here?” His response, which requires no translation, speaks for itself.

Forward to 2:36 for the ‘Ukrainian’ soldier’s response:

Here is a clip which focuses just on the exchange in question:

With daily reportage of the ‘invasion’ of Russian military forces into Ukraine territory (admittedly unconfirmed by NATO), this clip raises many questions about American involvement in the ongoing conflict – most of all, was the US involved in the “staging” the Mariupol massacre, and if so it is clear who should be blamed (and isolated).

Of course, US troops, or at least mercs, on the ground, should not be a total surprise, since just 2 months ago, we discussed the hacked US documents that revealed the extent of undisclosed US “lethal aid” being given to the Ukraine army. What was apparently left unleaked was the part of the US aid also includes US-speaking soldiers. The only question is whether US taxpayers are paying their wages.

‘If an American General thanks Ukrainian soldiers for fighting, that means he is their general as well’
RT Russia January 26, 2015

American General Ben Hodges handed out medals to wounded Ukrainian soldiers, thanking them for fighting for their country, which means the US openly says it is involved in the Ukrainian conflict, political analyst Aleksandr Pavic, told RT.

After the Mariupol shelling, videos appeared on the internet showing armed men wearing uniforms who spoke English sparking allegation that foreign military contractors might be fighting among Ukrainian troops.

According to foreign affairs expert Nebojsa Malic, videos circulating on the web prove there are Western servicemen involved in activities in Ukraine.

“It could theoretically be Canadian, but it sounds to me like American military. This is perfectly in line with mainstream NATO policy of intervening in Ukraine providing ammunition, weapons and even advisors to the Kiev junta,” he said.

Last week, Malic said Bosnian Minister of External Trade and Economic Relations Boris Tucic “resigned over pressure to sell weapons and ammunition to the Kiev government.”

“So again we’ve got this concerted effort in the West to aid the junta’s repression of the population in the East combined with this propaganda war basically blaming everything on this phantom Russian invasion for which no evidence has ever been produced,” the analyst said.

“Considered that US advisors were working with the Croatians back in the 1990s and that the Kiev government has repeatedly invoked this precedent as something they would like to see there. And considered persistent rumors that former Blackwater, now calling itself Academi, has been involved exactly in that particular area from Odessa to Mariupol,” Nebojsa Malic says that he wouldn’t be surprised if these English-speaking soldiers in East Ukraine are mercenaries.

However, according to the analyst, these people “have some very poor operational security practices otherwise nobody would have spoken English to a local TV reporter if they were trying to keep a secret.” As opposed to “a combat role of various Western volunteers who joined that volunteer battalions out of some personal Nazi sympathies,” these mercenaries are playing “a sort of advisory guidance role.”

Related: Below: Dmitry Orlov is a Russian-American engineer and a writer on subjects related to “potential economic, ecological and political decline and collapse in the United States,” something he has called “permanent crisis”. The following was originally post to his blog, ClubOrlav.

“Panic in Kiev: Ukrainian forces surrender Donbass”
Dmitry Orlov Information Clearing House USA January 26, 2015

The following article appeared briefly at this URL on censor.net.ua and was quickly pulled down. Ironic? It would seem so. My translation. I bring it to you because it succinctly lays out the situation as I’ve been able to piece it together from multiple Russian- and Ukrainian-language sources, and because you are unlikely to come across anything this truthful from cough Western media cough.

January 26, 2015 “ICH” – International observers report of growing panic in Kiev in connection with the successful counteroffensive of the separatists near Donbass.

Over a week of fighting the partisans have delivered a heavy blow to the Ukrainian forces. The group of Ukrainian fighters in Donbas suffered huge losses, the soldiers are demoralized, the officers are confused and unable to control the situation.

Ukrainian military leadership is seriously concerned of a new encirclement near Debaltsevo, as well as in other areas.

The situation is made worse by the fact that army and national guard reserves are almost completely depleted, and plugging the gaps in defense using small formations cannot stabilize the front. Besides, the Ukrainian forces are running low on ordnance, food and medical supplies.

In turn, the partisan field commanders report 752 killed Ukrainian military personnel, 59 destroyed tanks and a large number of people taken prisoner. In view of their combat successes, the partisans are refusing to take part in any further negotiations in the format of the Minsk agreements and threaten to continue the counterattack.

Local authorities in Ukrainian-controlled districts near the front report that Ukrainian soldiers are deserting with their weapons and taking to looting the countryside in increasing numbers.

In this critical situation the military is afraid to report to president Poroshenko the real situation in the southeast of the country, hiding from him the full scale of the catastrophe.

The head of state is still convinced that the situation is under control, and hopes that in case of a real threat he will still have the chance to ask the West for help.

And then there is this video evidence: American “boots on the ground” have invaded Eastern Ukraine. How do you say “Get out of my face, please!” in Ukrainian? I guess the grunts aren’t taught that in Basic Training… are they too busy learning how to shell civilians and then blame the other side?

Kiev introduces state of emergency in Donbass, high alert across Ukraine
RT Russia January 26, 2015

Visit this page for its related links and video.

The Ukrainian government has introduced the state of emergency in the war-torn south-eastern Donetsk and Lugansk Regions, and put all other territories on high alert, Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk announced.

“In accordance with the Ukrainian Code of Civil Protection, the Cabinet of Ministers has adopted a decision to recognize an emergency situation at a state level. The Ukrainian government has decided to impose the state of emergency in the Donetsk and Lugansk Regions,” Yatsenyuk is cited as saying by Interfax-Ukraine.

According to the PM, the move is aimed at providing the most efficient coordination of all government agencies in order to ensure civil protection and the safety of the population.

The statement was made after the field meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers, which took place at the headquarters of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Kiev on Monday.

Posted at: January 26, 2015 - 3:25 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post


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

Syriza and Anel outrightly reject the commitments the previous government signed up to with creditors – outlined in the onerous bailout accords that Athens agreed with the EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Why the whole world is watching Greece
Lee Sustar Canadian Dimension Canada January 22, 2015

Visit this page for its embedded links.

Why is so much attention focused on the Greek elections?

It may seem surprising that an election in a small country of less than 12 million people could create high anxiety in government ministries in Berlin and Paris and at the European Union (EU) headquarters in Brussels. But as the Russian revolutionary Lenin once wrote, the chain of imperialism is only as strong as its weakest link, and Greece certainly fits that description.

The crisis in Greece emerged in the aftermath of the financial panic of October 2008, when the government was no longer able to make payments on its outstanding debts. The European Commission – the executive arm of the EU – stepped in, along with the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Known collectively as the “Troika,” they agreed to bail out the Greek financial system, but only if the country slashed government employment and salaries, made deep cuts in social spending, and privatized government services. At the same time, regressive taxes that hit workers hardest were actually increased. The revenues going to the government immediately flowed out of the country to repay foreign debt.

Austere Bailout

The austerity-mongers insisted that these methods would work by lowering labour costs in Greece, which would, they said, revive investment in the Greek economy. It didn’t work. The first bailout had to be followed by a second. A third bailout was under discussion when the conservative government of Antonis Samaras unraveled in December. The money was needed simply to enable the Greek government to keep its debt payments flowing. Greece’s economy plunged in a way unseen since the Great Depression, even as the amount of debt continued to increase relative to the size of the economy, reaching 175 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013 and remaining at 168 per cent today.

In 2012, the specter of Greece’s potential exit from the euro – the common currency shared by 19 countries – created waves of financial panic when Syriza nearly won national elections.

Greece’s economy is fairly small by European standards, with a gross domestic product (GDP) of $242-billion in 2013, compared to $2.1-trillion for Italy or $1.4-trillion for Spain, countries also mired in low growth. A run on Greek banks or a default on Greece’s debt could have had a domino effect on other European banks and lead investors to dump Italian or Spanish government bonds, creating huge problems for those countries.

More recently, the Greek economy has seen a small recovery from its catastrophic collapse, achieving what’s known as a “primary surplus” – economists’ jargon for a government budget surplus prior to the repayment of debt. European banks and their regulators at the European Central Bank now claim that they’re far healthier and thus no longer at risk of a possible “Grexit” from the euro. But the bankers can’t be trusted. This is the same bunch who told the world that everything was sound just before the financial crash of 2008. Given the interconnectedness of international finance, there’s no way to know just how banks would be affected by Syriza’s demand to renegotiate the debt.

There’s another big worry for EU bureaucrats and European corporate bosses: The possibility that Greece could set a precedent for other countries by encouraging further left-wing protest against austerity policies that have seen governments across the EU slash budgets and push the costs of the economic crisis onto working people.

More than six years into the economic crisis, most European economies are stagnating. The political fallout has hit establishment parties of the center left and center right – for example, with the National Front making huge electoral gains amid dissatisfaction with the Socialist Party government of François Hollande. Far right and nationalist groups in other countries have also gained in recent elections by scapegoating immigrants in general, and Muslims in particular.

In Spain, by contrast, the left-wing Podemos party, barely one year old, emerged as the most popular party in that country as the result of popular anger against the conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. A Syriza victory would boost Podemos’ prospects and revive the left across the continent.

As the major economic power in the EU, the German capitalist class and its supporters claim that Greece brought the crisis on itself by lying about the weakness of its economy and failing to live “within its means.” Is this true?

The Greek crisis is the extreme form of a crisis at the heart of the European Union – and, within it, the German capitalist class’s attempt to drive the economic organization of the EU.

The European common currency, the euro, was launched in 1999. German capitalists favoured the move, since it consolidated the continent as an export market for German business and rationalized a fragmentary financial system anchored by the biggest European banks, along with the newly created European Central Bank. As a currency, the euro was weaker than Germany’s former currency, the deutschmark, would have been on its own. This made German exports cheaper to the rest of the world outside the EU. The problem was that the ECB lacks anything like the powers of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank. While the Fed can basically print money to cover U.S. government debts, the ECB can’t do this – and German officials would be against it if it could.

But if the ECB lacks power, the central banks of the individual EU governments have even less. Previously, a country with big debts to pay would slash interest rates and devalue its currency to make its economy more competitive on the world market. Greece – like other euro countries – lacks that power under the terms of its agreement to participate in the eurozone.

Instead, austerity was supposed to achieve a kind of “internal devaluation” – a drastic cut in living standards that would rekindle economic growth, with lower costs of production attracting new investment.

Just how bad is the social and economic crisis in Greece today?

We know the horror stories of social collapse caused by wars and military invasions in countries like Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria. But Greece has endured an almost unimaginable amount of privation without any such armed conflict.

Although the Greek economy returned to growth for the first time in six years in 2014, the economy remains 30 per cent smaller than it was six years ago. In human terms, that translates to millions of lives shattered – and a whole generation of young people deprived of any prospect of a stable and secure life.

According to researchers for the Greek parliament, some 2.5 million people (in a total population of 11 million, remember) live under the poverty line, with another 3.8 million at risk for doing so. Some 26.6 per cent of people are jobless – and for those aged 15 to 24, the figure is 52 per cent. Wages have fallen by 5 per cent every year since 2009.

Poverty and unemployment are only part of the suffering of the Greek working-class. According to researchers from the British medical journal The Lancet, some 47 per cent of Greeks say they could not obtain medically necessary treatment. Public education has been savaged, too, with a 33 per cent cut in education spending between 2009 and 2013 and a further 14 per cent cut scheduled by 2016. Thousands of teachers have lost their jobs, and class sizes have exploded.

During recent winters, a large number of people died of carbon monoxide poisoning due to the use of wood stoves – since heating has become unaffordable for millions. Countless numbers of people struggle to make do with a barter system, offering whatever skills or services they can in exchange for other services – or merely for food. There has been nothing like this in the economically advanced world since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

What can the left in the U.S. and the rest of the world do in solidarity?

A Syriza government will have to contend not only with the Greek bosses, but with the international capitalist class.

As the elections neared, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European heads of state were keeping their cards close to their vest. One can expect a mixture of bribery and bullying, in the hopes of driving a wedge into Syriza and demoralizing its electoral base. According to this scenario, New Democracy will wait for a Syriza government to implode and make a triumphant return, with an even harsher austerity program.

That’s why international solidarity with the Greek left and a defense of the Syriza government will be crucial. From public meetings explaining what’s happening to organizing campaigns against governments and bankers to protest the efforts to bleed Greece dry, the left can play an important role.

At a time when mainstream parties worldwide continue to squeeze workers to protect the profits and privileges of a tiny minority, a Syriza victory will give voice to the left-wing alternative that we urgently need.

Below: Spyros Economides is Associate Professor of International Relations and European Politics at London School of Economics and Political Science. He is cautious and concerned: “If Greece’s international creditors don’t come through with quick concessions, or if radical opposition rears its head against Syriza’s more moderate approach, this could trigger an uncontrollable reaction based on fear of uncertainty. That could lead to an accidental default, which would have disastrous consequences for Greece.”

Syriza sweeps to victory in Greek election, promising an end to ‘humiliation’
Spyros Economides The Conversation International January 25, 2015

As had been widely predicted, the left-wing party Syriza has secured a victory in the Greek election. Having finished with just short of enough seats in parliament for a majority, leader Alexis Tsipras has agreed to form an anti-austerity coalition with the right-wing party Greek Independents.

Throughout the short campaign, it appeared the relative newcomer to Greek politics, led by the charismatic Tsipras, would win. Now it appears he has done so by a significant margin.

Speaking in the wake of the victory, Tsipras said the vote would end years of “destructive austerity, fear and authoritarianism” and that his country could now leave behind the “humiliation” it has suffered.

The last half of 2014, which became essentially a prolonged general election campaign, saw the Syriza leadership (especially Alexis Tsipras) toning down its extreme rhetoric. Instead of pushing for radical reform, it focused on promising simply to abandon austerity and challenge Greece’s external debt commitments.

Syriza has pledged to tackle what it calls Greece’s “humanitarian crisis”. It plans to feed and house the worst affected by the crisis, providing them with free electricity and medication, and reintroducing a higher minimum wage.

Internationally, it has promised to bring Greece’s creditors to the negotiating table, with the intention of thrashing out a deal more favourable to Greece. In essence, this will amount to requesting debt redemption, or a “haircut”.

This toned-down platform may have won Syriza the election by attracting enough of the political centre, but it may not be enough to sustain the support of the more radical elements in the party’s leadership and political base.

The worry is that the whiff of power may not be strong enough to placate radical elements, who really do want radical domestic policies. They would like to see austerity abandoned and replaced by increased government spending across the board, and the restitution of public salaries and pensions. The public sector workers made redundant over the past four years would be re-employed and state property nationalised.

They also want a more confrontational policy towards Greece’s creditors and the so-called troika (the EU, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund). This could ultimately result in the dreaded Grexit.

If Syriza’s more radical elements feel betrayed by watered-down policies, the party faces the prospect of internal division, and Greece could soon see social unrest and demonstrations. That would weaken the new government dramatically, and could further destabilise the country at a very delicate moment.

Despite the scene of triumph, Greece is entering a period of deep uncertainty, and Syriza’s victory may indeed turn out to be pyrrhic. It is confronted by the immense task of governing at a time when Greece may be ungovernable, while also facing a potentially divisive internal struggle. International partners have also made it clear that the new Greek government, whatever its makeup, will have to honour the country’s existing agreements and commitments.

If Greece’s international creditors don’t come through with quick concessions, or if radical opposition rears its head against Syriza’s more moderate approach, this could trigger an uncontrollable reaction based on fear of uncertainty. That could lead to an accidental default, which would have disastrous consequences for Greece.

Greece elections: Merkel has lost, hope has won
Bryan MacDonald RT Russia January 25, 2015

Syriza’s landslide victory in this weekend’s Greek elections has immediately been called a ‘political earthquake’. It’s more accurate to say that Greek voters have gatecrashed the Euro elites’ party and let off a grenade.

Megalomania is a condition characterized by delusional fantasies of power and relevance, combined with inflated self-esteem. There are sufferers all over Europe but they can most frequently be spotted in Brussels, at the EU’s headquarters. There’s something about the institution; contact with it can turn a perfectly decent person into an eminently dislikable sort in short order.

In the aftermath of Greece’s seismic election, I assumed the eurocrat elite would follow the diktat, “if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.” So, I cranked up the Twitter machine and within 5 seconds, I encountered this ‘gem’ from our old friend Carl Bildt. Bildt was the the Swedish Foreign Minster – and one of America’s favourite European poodles – until his own electorate voted him out last year.

Bildt’s Tweet is important because it reveals a mindset among the elite. They extol the benefits of democracy for others, while pouring scorn on the results, if they fail to suit their own agendas. An example was when they forced Ireland to vote again (twice) after initial rejections of EU treaties. Or when they speak of bringing free elections to the Middle East while refusing to deal with Palestine’s elected government, or even recognise the state’s existence.

For decades, the eurocrats had it their own way. Every member state operated a ‘Tweedledee and Tweedledum’ system, where both dominant parties expressed fealty to the EU ‘project.’ Hence, when the former were voted out, Tweedledum would only make superficial changes, largely restricted to domestic matters. As national elites benefited from the Brussels’ gravy train, with its fat pensions and perks, they system was designed so that ‘important people’ wouldn’t rock the boat.

That tradition changed on Sunday. Greece’s establishment parties, New Democracy (ND) and PASOK were knocked off their perch by Syriza, founded only 11 years ago. …

Below: The rise of Syriza can’t just be explained by the crisis in the eurozone. A youthful generation of professionals has had enough of tax-evading oligarchs says Paul Mason, economics editor at Britain’s Channel 4 News.

Greece shows what can happen when the young revolt against corrupt elites
Paul Mason Guardian UK January 25, 2015

This page contains a video report (6:25).

At Syriza’s HQ, the cigarette smoke in the cafe swirls into shapes. If those could reflect the images in the minds of the men hunched over their black coffees, they would probably be the faces of Che Guevara, or Aris Velouchiotis, the second world war Greek resistance fighter. These are veteran leftists who expected to end their days as professors of such esoteric subjects as development economics, human rights law and who killed who in the civil war. Instead, they are on the brink of power.

Black coffee and hard pretzels are all the cafe provides, together with the possibility of contracting lung cancer. But on the eve of the vote, I found its occupants confident, if bemused.

However, Syriza HQ is not the place to learn about radicalisation. The fact that a party with a “central committee” even got close to power has nothing to do with a sudden swing to Marxism in the Greek psyche. It is, instead, testimony to three things: the strategic crisis of the eurozone, the determination of the Greek elite to cling to systemic corruption, and a new way of thinking among the young.

Of these, the eurozone’s crisis is easiest to understand – because its consequences can be read so easily in the macroeconomic figures. The IMF predicted Greece would grow as the result of its aid package in 2010. Instead, the economy has shrunk by 25%. Wages are down by the same amount. Youth unemployment stands at 60% – and that is among those who are still in the country.

So the economic collapse – about which all Greeks, both right and leftwing, are bitter – is not just seen as a material collapse. It demonstrated complete myopia among the European policy elite. In all of drama and comedy there is no figure more laughable as a rich man who does not know what he is doing. For the past four years the troika – the European Commission, IMF and European Central Bank – has provided Greeks with just such a spectacle.

As for the Greek oligarchs, their misrule long predates the crisis. These are not only the famous shipping magnates, whose industry pays no tax, but the bosses of energy and construction groups and football clubs. As one eminent Greek economist told me last week: “These guys have avoided paying tax through the Metaxas dictatorship, the Nazi occupation, a civil war and a military junta.” They had no intention of paying taxes as the troika began demanding Greece balance the books after 2010, which is why the burden fell on those Greeks trapped in the PAYE system – a workforce of 3.5 million that fell during the crisis to just 2.5 million.

The oligarchs allowed the Greek state to become a battleground of conflicting interests. As Yiannis Palaiologos, a Greek journalist, put it in his recent book on the crisis, there is “a pervasive irresponsibility, a sense that no one is in charge, no one is willing or able to act as a custodian of the common good”.

But their most corrosive impact is on the layers of society beneath them. “There goes X,” Greeks say to each other as the rich walk to their tables in trendy bars. “He is controlling Y in parliament and having an affair with Z.” It’s like a soap opera, but for real, and too many Greeks are deferentially mesmerised by it.

Over three general elections Syriza’s achievement has been to politicise the issue of the oligarchy. The Greek word for them is “the entangled” – and they were, above all, entangled in the centrist political duopoly. Because Syriza owes them nothing, its leader, Alexis Tsipras, was able to give the issue of corruption and tax evasion both rhetorical barrels – and this resonated massively among the young.

Alexis Tsipras of Syriza in Athens on January 22. Photo: AGF/Rex

And here’s why. In a functional market economy, the classic couple in a posh restaurant are young and close in age. In my travels through the eurocrisis – from Dublin to Athens – I have noticed that the classic couple in a dysfunctional economy is a grey-haired man with a twentysomething woman. It becomes a story of old men with oligarchic power flaunting their wealth and influence without opprobrium.

The youth are usurped when oligarchy, corruption and elite politics stifle meritocracy. The sudden emergence of small centrist parties led by charismatic young professionals in Greece is testimony that this generation has had enough. But by the time they got their act together, Tsipras was already there.

From outside, Greece looks like a giant negative: but what lies beneath the rise of the radical left is the emergence of positive new values – among a layer of young people much wider than Syriza’s natural support base. These are the classic values of the networked generation: self-reliance, creativity, the willingness to treat life as a social experiment, a global outlook.

When Golden Dawn emerged as a frightening, violent neo-Nazi force, with – at one point – 14% support, what struck the networked youth was how many of the political elite pandered to it. People who had read its history could see a replay of late Weimar flickering before their eyes: delusional Nazis feted by big businessmen craving for order.

I’ve reported the Greek crisis since it began, and what changed in 2015 was this: Syriza had already won the solid support of about 25% of voters on the issues of Europe and economics. But now a further portion of the Greek electorate, above all the young, are signalling they’ve had enough of corruption and elites.

Greece, though an outlier, has always been a signifier, too: this is what happens when modern capitalism fails. For there are inept bureaucrats and corrupt elites everywhere: only the trillions of dollars created and pumped into their nations’ economies to avoid collapse shields them from the scrutiny they have received in Greece.

We face two years of electoral uncertainty in Europe, with the far left or the hard right now vying for power in Spain, France and the Netherlands. Some are proclaiming this “the end of neoliberalism”.

I’m not sure of that. All that’s certain is that Greece shows how it could end.

Below: James Meek is a British novelist and journalist.

Syriza’s victory
James Meek London Review of Books blogs UK January 26, 2015

Syriza’s victory in the Greek general election is a hopeful moment for Europe. It shows how a radical left-wing political movement, brought together in a short time, can use the democratic system to attack three menaces: the rentier lords of jurisdiction-hopping private capital, the compromised political hacks of the traditional parties who have become their accomplices, and the panphobic haters of the populist right.

Nationalist-conservative movements, it turns out, don’t have a monopoly on the anti-establishment wave. The future doesn’t have to belong to Golden Dawn, Ukip, the Front National, Pegida, the Finns Party, Partij voor de Vrijheid or the Sweden Democrats. It could belong to Syriza, or Podemos, or Die Linke, or to an as-yet non-existent British movement – anti-austerity, pro-Europe – which would scoop up votes from Labour, Liberals, the Scottish National Party, Ukip and the Greens.

And these left-wing movements – so it seems now, savour it while you can – don’t have to rely on street protests to get what they want. They can get it through an instrument long considered by socialist radicals to be redundant: the ballot box.

The ascent of Syriza signifies the emergence of a trans-European politics in a way the previous rise to prominence of the likes of the Front National and Ukip haven’t. The eurosceptics want to push the European Union away. They want their politics to be more national. What makes Alexis Tsipras radical is not what he wants to do in Greece, but what he wants to do in Europe.

Tsipras’s programme will work only if he manages to ignite the Syrizification of the entire Eurozone; if he can win the implicit support of voters in enough national elections across the continent to force Angela Merkel and her fellow pro-austerity north Europeans into the position of isolation that Greece is in now.

Related: Who are the Independent Greeks? Party differs on many issues with Syriza, but the two are united by a mutual hatred for bailout program.

Who are the Independent Greeks?
Helena Smith in Athens Guardian UK January 26, 2015

Panos Kammenos, leader of Independent Greeks (Anel). Photo: Michael Kappeler/dpa/Corbis

Syriza just missed out on the 151 MPs it needed to govern alone after Greece’s election, winning 149 seats with a 36.3% share of the vote. The party has formed a coalition government with Independent Greeks, who took 13 seats.

The populist, rightwing Independent Greeks (Anel) would at first sight make for a strange bedfellow for the radical leftists Syriza and the deal makes an unusual alliance, but they are brought together by a mutual hatred for the bailout programme keeping Greece afloat.

The two parties have vastly diverging world views, standing well apart on issues such as illegal migration, Greece’s ever-fractious relationship with Nato rival Turkey, gay marriage and the role of the Greek Orthodox church.

Under their leader Panos Kammenos, who defected from the centre-right New Democracy party to form Anel at the height of the crisis in February 2012, the group has proved to be rabidly nationalistic in foreign affairs.

The politician is particularly virulent on the issue of the need to reclaim war reparations that he argues were never properly dealt with after the Nazis’ brutal occupation of the country. He was accused of being antisemitic when he claimed last month that Greek Jews paid less tax than other citizens.

His party is part of the European Conservatives and Reformists political group in the European parliament, which was founded at the behest of David Cameron.

Both Syriza and Independent Greeks agree on the need to end austerity. And both hold strident views on the especially sensitive issue of Greek sovereignty having been denuded as a result of six years of stewardship under Athens’ hated “troika” of creditors. Anel, like Syriza, says foreign lenders have turned the debt-crippled country into a “debt colony”.

In opposition, the two political forces collaborated to block the election of a new head of state, which ultimately triggered Sunday’s snap polls. With Syriza and Anel outright rejecting the commitments the previous government signed up to with creditors – outlined in the onerous bailout accords that Athens agreed with the EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund – they will make an extremely tough negotiating team when stalled talks resume this month.

Kammenos’s appointment will not be welcome news to Berlin, which has provided the biggest share of the €240bn (£180bn) in rescue funds to Athens.

Posted at: January 26, 2015 - 1:39 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post