September 1, 2014

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The class politics of pipeline resistance

Much environmentalism today is individualistic and lifestyle oriented, typified by choices to commute by bicycle or buy organic groceries. Jane-Finch activists, on the other hand, are more likely to see the negative impacts of environmental harm as part of the package of social marginalization to which their community is subject. … The environmental justice movement will not reach its potential if it continues to alienate some of the most marginalized and most politically radical sections of the population. - Umair Muhammad. Umair Muhammad is the author of Confronting Injustice: Social Activism in the Age of Individualism. He is a member of Jane-Finch Action Against Poverty and has recently been active in the campaign against Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline.

The class politics of pipeline resistance
Umair Muhammad Briarpatch Magazine Saskatchewan Canada September/October 2014 Webposted August 25, 2014

The Jane-Finch community is among the many neighbourhoods in Toronto that Enbridge’s Line 9 runs through. Standing at the geograph­ical margins of the city, Jane-Finch is a low-income, racialized community that faces many challenges, including chronic unemployment and underemployment, targeted policing, and substandard housing. Not surprisingly, the community is routinely stereotyped and vilified. It also happens to be a hotbed of activism.

Line 9 currently carries conventional oil from Montreal to southern Ontario but is slated to transport bulkier Alberta tarsands oil and less stable Bakken crude oil in the opposite direction. The proposal to reverse the flow of the 38-year-old pipeline has been the subject of significant activism across Ontario. The fact that Enbridge’s proposal was approved by the National Energy Board without there being an environmental assessment has also generated concern. Errol Young of Jane-Finch Action Against Poverty says: “The Line 9 reversal adds to the environmental concerns faced by the community, including tank farms [oil depots] that create air pollution and result in a constant movement of giant trucks carrying gasoline on our roads.” The prospect of a spill is highly distressing as the pipeline passes close to homes, shopping malls, schools, health centres, and a subway line under construction.

The potential environmental harm connected to the pipeline is not limited to the local perspective, however. The climate crisis, which is fuelled by projects like the Line 9 reversal, also concerns Jane-Finch residents. And climate change, now experienced in the form of increasingly powerful storms, droughts, and floods around the planet, can feel very close to home. Extreme weather events like last year’s devastating Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines routinely strike countries to which residents of Jane-Finch have intimate ties.

Despite the concerns about the pipeline that exist in Jane-Finch, it’s been tough to build links between the community and the anti-Line 9 work being done elsewhere in Toronto. It has been challenging, for instance, to convince community activists to attend meetings and events about Line 9 that take place outside of Jane-Finch. This is in part because Jane-Finch activists are busy organizing around multiple issues – including ever-impending cuts to the social safety net – that have immediate impact. To a significant extent, however, the difficulty in building links arises from differing terms of engagement with en­vironmental issues.


A girl walks along the Finch Hydro Corridor recreational trail. Every day hundreds of people traverse and use the area above the Line 9 pipeline.

Those taking up the cause of the en­vironment have traditionally had trouble getting on the good side of working-class people and racialized communities. The cause has suffered tremendously because of it. The challenges of building links between Jane-Finch activists and the wider anti-Line 9 campaign should be seen as an opportunity to tackle the matter. Issue-based activism of the kind many of us are involved in does not always produce opportunities for discussing underlying ideas and approaches to activism. Now that we have such an opportunity, we should take it.

“Activist culture is often alienating for the average person,” says Connor Allaby of Jane-Finch Action Against Poverty. “If we want to build a broader movement, it will help to resonate with common people.” In the case of en­vironmentalists, if they want to be taken seriously by marginalized communities, they need to become aware of their own individualism. We need to change the structures of our social system, not our light bulbs. Growing one’s own food, or even growing food collectively, is not on its own a means by which injustice can be confronted. Too often, only those with a relative amount of privilege can become involved in projects of this kind, and they can end up retreating from reality into a local utopia, which is no way to push for progressive social change. As the American political theorist Jodi Dean has said, “Goldman Sachs doesn’t care if you raise chickens.”

Looking at the historical record, from the civil rights movement to labour reforms, we can ask whether meaningful social change is created by relatively privileged minorities who attempt to create isolated utopias or whether it arises from the activities of the oppressed who work together to overcome their oppression. Surely the latter is most important. We need to recognize our common sources of oppression, understand their structural underpinnings, and work to overcome them.

A further word must also be said about the role of spirituality among environmentalists. There is an irony here within the environmental justice movement. White progressives who call themselves environmentalists have a troubling tendency to indulge in mysticism (through yoga, meditation, communicating with the world of plants, etc.) while losing sight of the social struggle. Meanwhile, Indigenous peoples the world over have, with their spiritual traditions intact, taken up a leading role in the struggle for social change. Rather than haphazardly trying to adopt their spiritualism, we should learn how to adopt their spirit of struggle. Efforts to create a coherent radical politics require a commitment to rationality, and falling into a patchwork of mysticisms is no way to establish that.

Posted at: September 1, 2014 - 10:38 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

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Happy Labour Day, Canada. Commentary on the dominant corporatist clique’s war on organized labour & Beyond the impasse of Canadian labour: Union renewal, political renewal


Photo: UFCW International Union/flickr. Our desk dictionary defines clique as “a small group of people who spend time together and who are not friendly to other people: a narrow exclusive circle or group of persons; especially : one held together by common interests, views, or purposes”.

Today, our Tea Party of Canada government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper is dedicated to signing “trade agreements” that ensure high-paying Canadian jobs are exported as quickly as possible to more efficient foreign jurisdictions, such as China, the role of public education is well on its way to being outsourced to corporate shills, and the final long weekend of our short Canadian summer is devoted to what might be called the Seventy-Two Hour Hate, a three-day frenzy of official- and media-sponsored loathing for the weakened vestiges of the labour movement. - David Climenhaga. David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

The push-polls prove it again, Canadians hate unions … really, really, really they do! Happy Labour Day
David Climenhaga Alberta Diary Alberta Canada September 1, 2014

Visit this page for its embedded links.


The past is a foreign country: Labour Day in Vancouver, not so long ago. Below: The workers, united, will never be defeated! The goal of union “transparency,” “worker choice,” “right to work” and other Orwellian right-wing buzzwords is to ensure the workers are never united and always defeated. Below that: Stephen Kushner, president of the anti-union Merit Contractors Association.

VICTORIA, B.C.

NOTE TO READERS: Since the Alberta chapter of the Merit Contractors Association, a group of non-union construction companies, seems to have recycled much of its past opinion survey and press release on union “transparency,” I thought I’d recycle most of my 2012 post responding to nearly identical claims made by the same group. Remember, it’s not plagiarism if you’re only plagiarizing yourself.

When I was a kid growing up in British Columbia in the 1950s, there was a holiday at the end of the summer called “Labour Day” on which Canadians celebrated the vast contribution of working people to the past, present and future of our great country.

Unions, groups of working people who pooled their modest individual strength to bargain collectively and ensure that a fair share of the great wealth they created ended up in the hands of ordinary families, would sometimes gather for picnics on this holiday, which was tinged with true patriotism, and sing songs.

One of those songs, a particular favourite in those long-ago days, went like this: “It is we who plowed the prairies; built the cities where they trade; Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid; Now we stand outcast and starving midst the wonders we have made; But the union makes us strong….”

Well, those days are gone — the part about “but the union makes us strong,” anyway — and I can almost hear many of you, dear readers, silently mouthing “Thank God!”

Today, our Tea Party of Canada government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper is dedicated to signing “trade agreements” that ensure high-paying Canadian jobs are exported as quickly as possible to more efficient foreign jurisdictions, such as China, the role of public education is well on its way to being outsourced to corporate shills, and the final long weekend of our short Canadian summer is devoted to what might be called the Seventy-Two Hour Hate, a three-day frenzy of official- and media-sponsored loathing for the weakened vestiges of the labour movement.

Oddly enough, though, this occasion is still known as “Labour Day.”

This year, as in the recent past, we are marking Labour Day 2014 with the traditional publication in the media of “studies” by right-wing think tanks that “prove” how we’d all be better off if there were no unions, no pensions and no public health care, as well as with a “new” poll that purports to show everyone is in agreement that unions are at best an irrelevant anachronism, at worst an outright menace.

OK, enough with the sarcasm. The survey was conducted for the Merit Contractors Association, a group that describes itself as “the voice of open shop construction in Alberta.” Open shop, in this context, means non-union and prepared to do pretty well anything to stay that way.

The poll was conducted by Innovative Research Group, Merit said in its press release on Friday, which otherwise was little different from statements it has made about similar polls conducted for the association by other pollsters in the past.

The survey purports to show, in the words of Merit President Stephen Kushner, that “Albertans have a strong desire for labour reform on union fiscal transparency, worker choice and a fair and equitable labour market.”

Related: Transforming unions demands creating structures from below and support beyond the workplace. This will require establishing networks of activists across workplaces backed by resources to facilitate sharing experiences, doing training, and a degree of collective strategizing. - Sam Gindin

Beyond the impasse of Canadian labour: Union renewal, political renewal
Sam Gindin Canadian Dimension Canada May 21, 2014

Canadian workers have been remarkably patient. For over three decades now—a generation—their wages have been restrained, workloads intensified and social benefits eroded, the promise being that this will ultimately bring security for themselves and their families. What they got was more of the same while class inequality reached the highest levels in over 80 years. Where is the anger? When the Great Financial Crisis hit, first and deeper in the US then in Canada, the Canadian state acted decisively to subsidize banks and imposed austerity on workers to pay for this. Where was the rage?

To take on their employers, whether private corporations or the various levels of the state, workers need a collective mechanism through which they can respond; as individuals, workers can’t substantively change their circumstances. Absent such a structure, any rage is manifested in relatively ineffective protests or internalized in often destructive ways. If we want to know why workers’ responses have been so muted, we need to ask about the status of their chosen form of collective representation: the unions that workers established, joined or just found themselves in.

Where then are unions at today? When, at the height of the financial crisis, Occupy signalled that audacious action could gain popular sympathy and that an articulation of class, however crude, could touch a popular chord, unions nodded in support and offered funds for water, toilets and tents. What unions didn’t do was pick up the real challenge and, inspired by their own history of workplace occupations in the 1930s, take over facilities that were more than symbolic—government buildings, schools, hospitals, and factories.

The inability to seize that moment reflected the fact that labour movements everywhere, in spite of sporadic and sometimes heroic struggles, are at an ebb. It isn’t just that union leaderships are overwhelmed and drifting (and in some cases even comfortable with the lowering of expectations because it makes their own job easier), but that signs of rebellion from below have also become rare or, at most, fleeting. The financial crisis, which exposed capital and neoliberal policies, should have been a turning point in labour’s long slide. Instead, labour was soon on the defensive again, confirming the depth of labour’s decades-long defeat. Getting a handle on that defeat is essential to understanding the possibilities and limits of the present.

There is a general narrative here, one depressingly common across most of the capitalist world. Unions are inherently sectional organizations, representing specific groups of workers based on their sector or skills, not the class as a whole. In the special circumstances of the postwar decades this didn’t seem to be a problem. Unions made gains that spread to others, and it seemed that progress was inevitable with only the pace of change in question. By the mid-1960s, however, those gains began to threaten profits (even if, in retrospect, the gains didn’t seem all that radical). As confident workers stood up to management authority and—even as the conditions for the postwar boom faded—assumed their right to ever-increasing compensation, corporations and especially governments countered with a series of policies dubbed “neoliberalism.” Four aspects of neoliberalism were crucial. First the emphasis on securing property rights, market freedoms and profits also contributed to the acceleration of globalization. Second, labour was not just attacked in covert ways but also via the “natural” discipline of competitive pressures and economic restructuring. Third, in the context of faltering unions and a weak Left, worker survival was expressed through individualized responses (longer hours and debt; looking to tax cuts, homes as assets that will hopefully rise in price, stock market gains to support pension increases; etc.). This led to an atrophy of collective capacities for resistance, undermined solidaristic sympathies and reinforced the zeitgeist of neoliberalism, further integrating workers into capitalism. And fourth, all this combined to make workers fatalistic about collective social change; fatalism became a central barrier to resistance and mobilization.

This narrative played out in an especially intriguing way in Canada. Neoliberalism came to Canada in the mid-70s, generally earlier than in the other developed countries, including the United States. The “anticipatory neoliberalism” was rooted in the fear among Canadian elites, ever sensitive to Canada’s economic integration with the US, that the continuing militancy of Canadian labour threatened the competitiveness and profits of corporations operating in Canada. The Central Bank moved to monetary restraint and the government imposed controls on collective bargaining, which brought on a one-day general strike on October 14, 1976—the first such action in Canada since 1919 and the first general strike in North America since the 1930s. However, as impressive as the protest was, it did not force a reversal in the trajectory of state policy.

In the mid-80s, Canada initiated free trade talks with the US, a move intended to consolidate Canada’s special access to US markets. This deeper economic integration tied Canada’s workforce even closer to the particularly weak American labour movement, with an expectation that this would further tame Canadian workers. Canadian unions launched, along with their movement partners, one of the most vigorous educational-political campaigns against free trade anywhere, but lost as the Liberals and NDP split the oppositional vote (whether a defeat of free trade would have ended or only postponed the free trade juggernaut is of course a different story).

And then, another decade later, in response to a right-wing Ontario government looking to accelerate the erosion of the welfare state, labour and its movement allies carried out a uniquely creative tactic: a series of rotating community-wide general strikes that came to eight communities over two and a half years, a highlight of which was shutting down Toronto’s core in the largest demo ever seen in the city (some 250,000 people). This too, however, only slightly slowed the right.

These responses on the part of Canadian labour demonstrated a remarkable capacity to go beyond the narrow confines of unionism and act politically, including a notable emphasis on popular education and recruiting young workers to activism. In so doing, informal political leadership shifted from the NDP to unions. In each case the NDP believed that labour’s actions misunderstood the public mood, hurt the NDP’s electoral chances and (heaven forbid) diverted labour activists from elections to the politics of the street. What seemed confirmed was the bankruptcy of the NDP as a political organization on the one hand, and on the other, the potential of the labour movement as an agent of social change.

And yet measured in terms of the stated goals, this politicization was disappointingly unsuccessful. In fact, as the “highs” turned to “lows” the demoralization of having done everything possible and still failing set the stage for even greater defeats. Some tried to channel the frustrations back to a more pragmatic social democratic politics (voting for the NDP), but that very emphasis on pragmatism pushed others to go further and make deals with the Liberals. A good many union leaders, concluding that industrial action and street politics were futile, turned to corporate deals with employers with some grumbling but little opposition from a disoriented and increasingly individualized rank and file.

Below: A new organizing model gives non-union workers a chance to engage and organize.

Community unionism
Roxanne Dubois Canadian Dimension Canada June 2 2014

At Unifor’s founding BC regional Council, a speaker stood up at the mic and shared an idea. As a member of the Vancouver-based Local 3000, representing workers at various White Spot locations and elsewhere in the service industry, the speaker shared thoughts about how to reach out to non-union restaurant workers and to engage them with the union, its services, and its knowledge.

Restaurant workers exemplify what precarious work is all about: many of them are young, but not exclusively; they work irregular shifts, have dodgy contracts at best, and certainly don’t have any backup if they have problems getting paid or issues with their boss.

The challenge is that the restaurant industry is one where the turnover is very high: workers often move from one restaurant to another. it is one of the reasons, amongst many others, why the industry is a challenge to organize in the traditional sense.

The local’s idea would allow workers at different restaurants throughout the city to organize a unit in which they could share experiences, articulate common issues and offer each other support. This would allow workers to stay connected to the union even if they change workplaces every so often. it would allow for some support where they may not have had any beforehand.

This is exactly the kind of project that Unifor is hoping to build through its community chapters. Like any organizing projects, these ideas take time to develop and the local will be strategizing the way forward on getting this chapter started in the coming weeks and months.

Although they are still a new model, Unifor’s community chapters have a lot of potential. The concept came out of the rigorous process undertaken by the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union (CEP) and the Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW) part of creating the blueprint of Unifor. Several working groups were struck to look at all aspects of how the union would operate to serve the best interest of members, one of which was dedicated to organizing. its premise: given the changing nature of work in Canada, how should the nature of organizing match up?

What came from it was a renewed commitment to organizing, which was endorsed by the membership during the Unifor founding convention. The commitment was partly on monetary terms, with 10 per cent of the union’s total budget going to organizing. The commitment was also on principle: to adapt the union’s traditional organizing ways to reach out to new groups of workers.

By “new groups of workers,” the union is referring to the increasing number of people working in what can be qualified as the new working conditions in Canada: contract, freelance, part-time, low-waged and shift work, as well as unemployed people, student-workers and others who find themselves in a situation where they could not get a collective agreement, even if they would like to.

Posted at: September 1, 2014 - 9:59 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

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On Labor Day, a significant social issue: Three reasons British Columbia teachers must keep picketing to keep pressure on BC gov’t & Do teachers have the right to negotiate class size and composition?

Three reasons teachers must keep picketing to keep pressure on BC gov’t
Bill Tieleman TheTyee.ca British Columbia Canada August 30, 2014


Staying out on strike gives Vince Ready a reason to push government for a better agreement for BCTF.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender has publicly suggested the BCTF take down teachers’ picket lines for a 2-week “cooling off period” while veteran mediator Vince Ready works with the government and BCTF negotiating teams to reach a collective agreement.

Don’t do it, is my strong advice to teachers — it’s a trap.

I am sure many teachers are running out of cash or into deeper debt without a pay cheque and the thought of some cash in hand is tempting, as well as the enormous pressure from media, parents and students to get school started on time.

But if teachers drop their picket lines and go back to work on Sept. 2, it will lead to a disastrous result.

No one should think veteran negotiator Peter Cameron, Fassbender or Premier Christy Clark want the two-week cooling off period to get kids back to school — they want it to get the BCTF into an impossible to get out of corner!

So teachers, don’t listen to the media, some of whom are putting out some amazingly uninformed, inexperienced and contrary to all labour-relations experience commentary.

It is not “reasonable” to give up the only strength you have to get a negotiated contract — a picket line that stops schools from opening.

Make no mistake, the BCTF will have to make some concessions to get a deal.

But bargaining from a position of strength — not weakness — is the only way to get an acceptable agreement.

Related audio: B.C. teachers continue strike advocating for size & composition over their classes but some say it’s a government decision
“The Current” CBC Radio One Canada September 1, 2014


Months on the picket line in British Columbia have exposed some stark divisions among the striking teachers. Some wonder whether their union may be asking for too much. Photo: bionicteaching via photopin cc. Visit this page for its embedded links. You can listen to this segment of the program (24:59) from a pop-up link on this page.

B.C. parents were told yesterday that Tuesday won’t be back-to-school day. The mediator has walked away and a teachers’ strike continues with issues of class size and composition… dominant and divisive. But is that a fight solely for any teachers union or does it demand a wider debate with more sides weighing in?

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Some kids look forward to Labour Day and the start of the school year, some kids dread it. But it doesn’t matter what kids in British Columbia think, because they’re not going back tomorrow.

The B.C. Teachers remain locked in a labour dispute with the province. On Saturday, veteran mediator Vince Ready walked away from talks, saying the two sides were still too far apart for a resolution. The provincial government says it won’t legislate the teachers back to work, leaving parents to wonder how long this impasse will last … and scrambling to make alternate arrangements.

Teachers have been on strike since mid-June and negotiations stalled over the summer.

“I didn’t get into teaching for the wages. I got into teaching for the rewarding experiences as funny as that sounds. So right now, we’re really fighting for the class size and composition. I had one class this year with 30 students. I had 14 students with designations in the class room. And it was so many that they couldn’t put enough CEAs in the room to help me with all the students with disabilities … It’s very difficult. I was very drained emotionally and frustrated I couldn’t get to everyone in the room.”

Gillian Kirk, high-school English teacher in Kelowna

The issue of class size and composition has long been contentious between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. Government:

B.C. Teachers Timeline

In 1998, the B.C. Teachers’ union bypassed the provincial school boards and negotiated a deal with the provincial NDP government. Among other things, it gave the union the power to bargain on class sizes, class composition and support for special needs students.

In 2002, the new Liberal government ripped up that contract and passed a law stripping the union’s ability to bargain on any of those things. The union fought back, taking the government to court.

The B.C. Supreme Court struck down versions of that law twice, once in 2011 and again in 2014.

The B.C. Government has appealed the latest ruling. The appeal is expected to be heard next month.

More than a decade into the fight, it’s a bitter one. Given the ongoing court battle … the province suggested last week that the issue of class size and composition should be set aside for now, so the teachers can return. The teachers union disagreed. But there are teachers who want the issue taken off the table for good.

“I think that class size and composition is very important for teachers. But it’s not just a teacher issue. It’s an issue for parents and I think it’s an issue for all British Columbians. At this particular point with teaches losing so much pay for fighting this issue, I think it’s time to reconsider whether the teachers themselves should be bearing this burden.”

Jacqueline Sheppet, Secondary school teacher in Vancouver.

So, is the negotiating table the right place to decide how classes are going to be made up? Or should that be an issue left to School Boards and the Government? It works differently in districts across the country, but as British Columbia schools remain closed over this issue,

  • Irene Lanzinger is the Secretary Treasurer of the BC Federation of Labour. She was the President of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation from 2007 to 2010 and started teaching in 1978.
  • Michael Zwaagstrais a Research fellow with the Frontier Centre for public policy and a high school teacher in rural Manitoba.

Posted at: September 1, 2014 - 9:08 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

August 31, 2014

Weimar: An absorbing history about the corruption of a once great artistic center

Weimar: Where Goethe and Schiller found a home, Liszt blossomed into a musical genius; Bauhaus became possible, and Nazism took hold. Below: Weimar, by Michael H. Kater. The book, an absorbing history about the corruption of a once great artistic center, and two reviews of the book.

Weimar: From Enlightenment to the Present, publshed by Yale University Press, September 2014, 480pp. ISBN: 9780300170566

Publisher’s description

Historian Michael H. Kater chronicles the rise and fall of one of Germany’s most iconic cities in this fascinating and surprisingly provocative history of Weimar. Weimar was a center of the arts during the Enlightenment and hence the cradle of German culture in modern times. Goethe and Schiller made their reputations here, as did Franz Liszt and the young Richard Strauss. In the early twentieth century, the Bauhaus school was founded in Weimar. But from the 1880s on, the city also nurtured a powerful right-wing reactionary movement, and fifty years later, a repressive National Socialist regime dimmed Weimar’s creative lights, transforming the onetime artists’ utopia into the capital of its first Nazified province and constructing the Buchenwald death camp on its doorstep.

Kater’s richly detailed volume offers the first complete history of Weimar in any language, from its meteoric eighteenth-century rise up from obscurity through its glory days of unbridled creative expression to its dark descent back into artistic insignificance under Nazi rule and, later, Soviet occupation and beyond.

Michael H. Kater is Distinguished Research Professor of History Emeritus at York University, Toronto, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He is the author of Hitler Youth.

Reviews: Weimar: From Enlightenment to the Present by Michael H Kater, book review
Marcus Tanner The Independent UK August 21, 2014

The little town of Weimar has long been seen as a symbol of the “other” Germany – the nice one, which Hitler buried but which rose again after the Second World War. Home to Goethe, Schiller and a brace of other big names from the Enlightenment, its name is still attached to Germany’s bittersweet experiment in liberal democracy after the end of the First World War.

Even those bruisers, the East German Communists, did not tamper with the myth of “enlightened” Weimar. When I visited in 1987, I was struck by the care that those notoriously hard men had bestowed on Goethe’s town. No Socialist makeover for Weimar. I wandered contentedly around the Liszt House, the Goethe House and the Wittumspalais – the last residence of Goethe’s patron, the Archduchess Anna Amalia – feeling struck by how well preserved it all was. The comparison to East Berlin, where the regime had simply dynamited the old Prussian royal palace, was evident.

I found leafy, mellow Weimar charming – not a word I would have applied to many other towns in East Germany. It reminded me of a cross between Bath and Cambridge. But was I just seduced? Kater would suggest the latter. He goes at Weimar’s iconic status as a temple to liberal virtues with a sledgehammer. Goethe emerges as a stuffed shirt who was miserly to his servants and helped put down a peasants’ rebellion. Not that enlightened, apparently. After his death, and perhaps before it, Weimar was little more than a museum, Kater writes. The author goes further, suggesting that Weimar’s iconic reputation eventually acted against the town’s own interests.

It became a form of curse, drawing a ragbag of anti-Semites, German ultra-nationalists and racial eugenicists to the one-time “Court of the Muses” on a mission to attach the Weimar tradition – the legacy of Goethe and the Enlightenment – to their own ends.

Chief among them, he says, was Nietzsche’s sister, Elisabeth, who ensconced herself in a villa, lived to the age of 90, and devoted herself to manipulating her late brother’s ideas and lending his name to unappealing ideas. When the Nazis seized power, Elisabeth was thrilled, sending Hitler an open invitation to come and have a vegetarian breakfast with her.

Germans see the best of their soul in Weimar. Everyone else, on the other hand..
Philip Hensher The Spectator UK August 30, 2014

Thuringia, a region of former East Germany, occupies a special place in the thoughts of Germans, who like to regard it as the origin of all their best virtues. It’s an alluring place, full of wonderfully untouched stretches of densely forested hills; the occasional small historic town seems hardly to have changed for decades, and the tourist can spend a happy week pottering from Schmalkalden to Ilmenau to Eisenach in the illusion that none of those unpleasant realities of the last century ever touched this place. I once asked the guide at the Wartburg, the magnificent medieval and mock-medieval castle on a snowy crop outside Eisenach, what this place meant to modern-day Germans. It was the castle where Luther holed up to translate the Bible, where the first idealistic students swore oaths to create a united Germany, and where Wagner set Tannhäuser. She had no doubt. ‘Tausend Jahre positive Deutsche Geschichte’: 1,000 years of positive German history.

The legal capital of Thuringia is actually Erfurt, an entrancing town of considerable grandeur. But no one can doubt that its spiritual heart — and perhaps of Germany’s idea of itself — is Weimar. Outside Germany, Weimar hardly suggests a town at all. When the Sunday Times once sent A.A.Gill to write about modern-day Germany, he confessed that ‘I had no idea that Weimar was a town. I thought it must be a district or piece of paper, the Weimar Republic and all that.’

For Germans, it is the court town that created Goethe and Schiller under the enlightened sponsorship of a great prince; where Wagner found refuge and understanding, and Liszt transformed himself from a shallow virtuoso into a great musical thinker; where the Bauhaus was made possible; where Cranach, Wieland and Busoni also walked. The association with the republic that was formed in a few months of constitutional assembly after the end of the first world war comes second. Primarily, this is the town that represents the best and noblest in the German spirit.

There is something in that, of course, and a few days in Weimar will display a town not just beautiful and wonderfully picturesque, but redolent of its greatest minds’ preoccupations. You can’t visit Goethe’s house on the Frauenplan without having a sense of being admitted to the full range of his preoccupations, from colour to minerals to the classics.

The problem is that over the last couple of centuries, as Michael H. Kater explains in a racy, detailed and absorbing history, there have been all sorts of people who liked to exalt what they saw as the best and noblest in the German spirit while not exactly wanting to continue that tradition. In 1938, a gathering of 250 German authors in Weimar paid homage to the ‘town of great German poetry’ in order to denigrate the ‘madness of so-called Expressionist poetry… the work of the Jewish world enemy.’ The Nazi period was not alone in manipulating the historic achievements of the great to its own ends, without showing any interest in contemporary writers.

Kater has written a fascinating account of this extraordinary city. It is highly readable, capable of great wryness and, considering the cultural and political ground it covers, mostly very convincing. He’s clearly out of his depth when it comes to music, especially in his account of Liszt’s innovations, but otherwise we’re on solid ground.

Posted at: August 31, 2014 - 11:00 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

Audio: Feature conversation with NATO’s Anders Fogh Rasmussen & International volunteers are fighting against attacking fascist forces in E. Ukraine—first a drip, now a trickle, next …? & Putin calls for ‘substantial’ talks on deescalating the crisis in eastern Ukraine

Feature conversation with NATO’s Anders Fogh Rasmussen
“The House” CBC Radio One Canada August 30, 2014

You can listen to the interview (13:50) from a pop-up link on this page.

Outgoing head of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, joins us for a feature conversation. How will the organization handle the unfolding crises in Russia, Syria, and Iraq? And what lessons does he think the world has to learn from the intervention in Libya?

Putin calls for talks between pro-Russian rebels and Kyiv
Euronews France August 31, 2014

Visit this page for its embedded video (1:33).

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for dialogue between pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine and the government in Kyiv to protect people living near the conflict zone.

“Substantive, meaningful talks, concerning not only technical issues but also relating to the issues of the society’s political organisation and statehood in southeastern Ukraine, should begin immediately,” said Putin, “to protect legitimate interests of people living there.”

A Kremlin spokesman clarified Putin does not want a separate state in the region and called the conflict a domestic one inside Ukraine.

Putin said his meeting last week with President Petro Poroshenko was “good” and called the Ukrainian president a “partner with whom it is possible to have a dialogue.”

On Saturday the Lithuanian president called on Europe to supply military equipment to Kyiv.

“I think the situation is getting worse. Russia is in open and direct involvement, and is in a state of war against Ukraine,” said Dalia Grybauskaite.

“And, it is clear,” she continued. “This means – against a country which would like to be closer with Europe, which means that Russia is practically in a state of war against Europe.”

She added that an arms embargo on Russia should be stepped up by stopping sales under existing contracts.

EU officials who met in Brussels on Saturday are set to draw up proposals for fresh sanctions within a week.

Update, September 1:

At talks in the Belarusian capital, the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics have urged Kiev to acknowledge their autonomy within Ukraine, but said they wish to remain an integral part of the country.

LNR and DNR representatives urged the Ukrainian government to end their military operation in the country’s east so that parliamentary and local elections can take place freely.

Related: August 28 in a post (New front opened in Ukraine’s civil war? It seems likely and militarily logical) we commented: “Shades of the International Brigades? The International Brigades were military units made up of volunteers from different countries, who traveled to Spain to fight for the Second Spanish Republic against the fascist rebel forces in the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939.” Jim comment: But the republic, in the end, was crushed by the pseudo-fascist armies of Francisco Franco, backed by Hitler and Mussolini. A large portion of the blame rests on the shoulders of the Western democracies, including Canada. Over the course of the war, the democracies refused to do anything to help the republic; indeed, they did a great deal to help sink it, short of openly supporting Franco. It is stunning how this Ukraine Civil War is coming to resemble a mirror-image of the Spanish Civil War. Let’s not replay that brutal ‘small’ war in Europe again anymore than already has been done. Or do Western Axis leaders have as little morality as Nazi Germany’s? Does Petro Poroshenko have as little compassion for his own people as Francisco Franco?

‘United Continent’: European volunteers fighting Kiev troops in Eastern Ukraine
RT Russia August 30, 2014

European volunteers are streaming into Ukraine to join the fighting on both sides. While Kiev’s forces are beefed up with mercenaries from private military companies, Europeans have also come to defend the rebel Donbass region of their own free will.


Commander of the French team in Ukraine Victor Lenfa. Screenshot from RT video

“It’s our war. It’s everybody’s war, it’s every European’s war,” Guillaume, a French fighter in Ukraine defending the Donbass region, told RT’s Paula Slier.

Another volunteer, 25-year-old Nikola, used to be a professional soldier with the elite French mountain troops for five years. Now he’s putting his skills to good use in Ukraine. Alongside a contingent of other foreign volunteers, he’s training anti-Kiev forces in urban guerilla warfare.

“These are people’s militias, these are not mercenaries or professional soldiers, so they need instruction,” Nikola told RT.

“They really have the motivation, whereas the Kiev army, which is a kind of puppet of NATO, they don’t have any motivation whatsoever,” Nikola said. “We have seen them before. They are very much unmotivated and they do not really know why they are fighting, and against whom they are fighting, so that is our main strength.”

The French volunteer explained that the presence of European volunteers among Ukraine’s rebels carrying out what they call “a military operation for protecting civilians” in the country’s east is symbolic.

“For many of these people from the west, it’s their first time to come and defend what is considered by western governments a bad cause, or the bad guys’ cause. So it’s very important to show that people from the west are distinct from their governments and they are ready to come and fight and risk their lives to defend another world,” Nikola said.

And more and more overseas fighters are signing up and joining the anti-Kiev troops.

RT’s Paula Slier found out that volunteers are coming to the Donetsk frontline not just from France, but also from Spain, Poland, Israel and the United Kingdom.

Aleksey Mozgovoy, the commander of ‘Prizrak’ (Ghost) brigade from the Lugansk Region said in an interview to the MK.ru news outlet that in his 1,000-strong battalion there are fighters from Bulgaria, Slovakia and Germany.


Milutin Malisic, a member of a Serbian Chetnik paramilitary group. Photo: Thomas Peter/Reuters

One of the largest international forces fighting against Kiev’s troops is a unit of volunteers from Serbia, according to the interview. The ‘Jovan Shevich’ squadron allegedly consists of 250 fighters and is actively operating in the Lugansk Region.

Earlier this week, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Aleksandr Zakharchenko, revealed in an interview to Russian media that up to 4,000 Russian citizens, many of them ex-servicemen, have joined anti-government fighters during Kiev’s crackdown in Ukraine’s east.

“Without them, it would hard for us to go on with our fighting,” Zakharchenko said, stressing that at the moment many of Russian citizens have already returned back home.

The latest developments in the warfare in Eastern Ukraine, where up to 7,000 Ukrainian troops and National Guards units have been entrapped in three separate encirclements, give hope to the rebel forces.

“We believe that the Ukrainian army will not be able to last until winter or even fall, because each day that goes by they lose money, they lose motivation, they lose manpower, they lose ammo. So each day that goes by, they grow weaker, while we grow stronger,” French fighter Guillaume told RT.

Europe now finds itself between a rock and a hard place: What to do as more of its young men sign up to fight against its ally?

And this mission is growing stronger as a brigade of Western volunteers is now being put together under the name “United Continent.”

Putin: Impossible to say when political crisis in Ukraine will end
RT Russia August 31, 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called on Kiev to start substantial talks on deescalating the crisis in eastern Ukraine. He added that it’s an illusion to expect that the rebels would calmly watch their homes being destroyed.

“We have agreed on a plan, so its realization must be pursued,” Putin told Channel 1 TV, adding that the Ukrainian government “must immediately start substantial talks – not a technical discussion – on the political organization of society and the state in southeast Ukraine so that the interests of people who live there are protected.”

The plan, according to Russia’s leader, puts negotiations at the center of the peace process. In a clear reference to the toppling of Viktor Yanukovich by the Maidan movement in February, Putin said that mistakes such as a power takeover should be avoided and called it the main cause of today’s crisis.

The Russian president called on Kiev to consider the upcoming autumn and winter period and think about the heating season. The devastated infrastructure of the southeast requires full repair otherwise people might just freeze to death, he said.

Putin said that, while the resolution of the crisis now mostly depends on Kiev, it is impossible to say when it may end. He said it could be explained by the upcoming Ukrainian parliamentary elections. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko dismissed the country’s parliament on August 25 and called parliamentary elections for October 26.

At the same time, it is an illusion that the rebels would sit and patiently wait for the promised talks to start, Putin said, especially when they see “cities and towns in southeast Ukraine shelled to the ground with direct fire.”

Posted at: August 31, 2014 - 10:57 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

Female fighters of the PKK may be the Islamic State’s worst nightmare & Sunni rebels ‘ready to turn on Islamic State’


Guerrilla, partisan. Zekia Karhan, 26, a female Kurdistan Workers’ Party guerrilla from Turkey says that she is treated as an equal by her male counterparts. Karhan and other members of the PKK are in northern Iraq, helping the peshmerga fight Islamic State militants. Photo: Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes

Female fighters of the PKK may be the Islamic State’s worst nightmare
Seth Robson Stars and Stripes USA August 27, 2014


Zekia Karhan, 26, front-left, and Felice Budak, 24, back-middle, speak with a journalist in Makhmur, Iraq, Aug. 23, 2014. Karhan and Budak are guerrillas in the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Photo: Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes. Visit this page for its photo gallery.

MAKHMUR, Iraq — It’s an Islamic State fighter’s worst fear: to be killed by a woman.

In northern Iraq, where Kurdish forces are rapidly regaining territory held by the Islamic State, that’s becoming real risk for the extremists.

There are plenty of female Kurdish soldiers on the front lines. They’re smaller than their male comrades, but they talk just as tough as they prowl the battlefield clutching automatic rifles and vowing vengeance for those victimized by the Islamic State.

“We are equal with the men,” said Zekia Karhan, 26, a female guerrilla from Turkey who is with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the PKK. “Every responsibility for a man is the same for a woman. We are treated equally, and that is why we are fighting.”

The female PKK troops accessorize their olive drab uniforms with colorful scarfs, but they’re as thirsty for battle as anyone.

“I fired on this position from the mountain,” said Felice Budak, 24, another PKK fighter from Turkey, as she stood next to a window pierced by several bullet holes in Makhmur, a town that the PKK helped recapture from the Islamic State this month.

Budak said she wasn’t scared during the battle.

Islamic State fighters “are very scared of death because they are only here to kill people,” she said. “I don’t mind doing it over and over again. I’ve already fought in Turkey, Iran and Syria.”

The leftist PKK has been fighting the Turkish government for decades and is classed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. But its fighters have been going into battle alongside Kurdish peshmerga in recent weeks and are credited by some locals with turning the tide of battle in Iraq.

The female PKK troops get fired up when they talk about the mass rapes and sex slavery that has been a hallmark of the Islamic State.

“Everywhere they go they kill and do bad things in the name of Islam,” Karhan said. “They captured a lot of women and they are selling them in Syria for $100. They rape women and behead them in the name of Islam.”

Karhan said she’d heard stories about the extremists’ fear of being killed by the opposite sex. In northern Iraq, it is said that the Islamic State fighters, who are exclusively male, believe that they won’t be admitted to heaven if they are killed by a woman.

At Makhmur, that may have been the fate of several Sunni extremists gunned down by the PKK.

“Nobody knows if there is heaven or hell,” Karhan said. “How can they know they will get 27 virgins? To me Kurdistan is heaven and Kurdish women are angels. Heaven is no place for terrorists.”

Iraq crisis: Sunni rebels ‘ready to turn on Islamic State’
Jim Muir BBC News UK August 29, 2014


Sunni militants initially co-operated with IS in an uprising against the Iraqi government. Visit this page for its map of IS-led Sunni rebel activity and its related links.

Irbil – Stifled by the Islamic State (IS) militants in their own areas, Iraqi Sunni rebels who took up arms against the Shia-dominated government of Nouri Maliki are signalling for the first time that they are ready to turn against IS if Sunni rights are enshrined in a reformed political order in Baghdad.

The rebels, including tribal militants and former army personnel organised in military councils throughout the Sunni areas, see American and international guarantees as crucial to any such deal.

“We don’t want guns from the Americans, we want a real political solution, which the US should impose on those people it installed in the Green Zone,” said Abu Muhammad al-Zubaai, referring to the Iraqi political leaders who took over after the US-led occupation in 2003.

“The IS problem would end. If they guarantee us this solution, we’ll guarantee to get rid of IS,” said Mr al-Zubaai, a tribal leader from Anbar province speaking on behalf of the rebels, using a nom de guerre.

The tribal and military rebels, who had been fighting government forces since January, played a role in the spectacular advances scored after IS – in its previous guise as Isis – erupted into Iraq from Syria in June and captured the second city, Mosul, among other mainly Sunni areas.

But since then, the Sunni groups have been suppressed, with IS ordering them to join its own ranks or disarm.

“Living with IS is like holding burning coals in your hand,” said Mr al-Zubaai. “They do not tolerate any other flag to be raised. They control all Sunni areas now.”

He said tribal militants from the military councils clashed with IS at Garma, near Falluja recently, killing 16 of the Islamic radicals.

“We had to choose between a comprehensive confrontation with IS, or ceding control of that area and keeping a low profile,” he said.

“We decided to stand down, because we are not ready to fight IS in the current circumstances – who would we be fighting for?”

Events of the past three weeks have heightened the dilemma of the Sunni rebels.

The lightning IS strikes on Iraqi Kurdistan have drawn the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters into the fray in many areas, imposing economic blockades on Sunni townships because of the IS presence there.

With the Americans and other powers becoming involved, the rebels fear they will simply be tarred as IS terrorists and the Sunni areas reduced to rubble.

“The Sunnis feel that everybody is ganging up on them, that they are targeted by everybody,” said Mr al-Zubaai.

“The worst thing is to realise that you have nothing to lose any more. The situation is very bad and getting worse. It’s enough to make you blow yourself up. This is where the political process has taken us.

“Our biggest concern now is a political solution. A security solution will achieve nothing. The bombing has to stop.”

Posted at: August 31, 2014 - 10:53 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

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What’s happening in Libya? Something new everyday

In 2011, NATO warplanes attacked Libya for eight months. But, as Paul Koring wrote last Friday, “the successful air war, commanded by Canadian Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, soured in the aftermath as Libya slid into a continuing civil war.”

What’s happening in Libya?
Mohannad Obeid Al Akhbar English Lebanon August 26, 2014


An Islamist fighter from the Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn) coalition flashes the V sign for victory at the entrance of Tripoli international airport on August 24, 2014, after capturing it from Zintan force, allies of rogue general Khalifa Haftar, following many days of clashes. Photo: Mohammed Turkia/ AFP

Nearly 2,500 years ago, famed Greek historian Herodotus proclaimed, in a book he wrote during his journey in Africa, “From Libya comes the new!” From that day on, the Libyan people have been using this saying, which became popular among young and old, boastfully. However, most people have used it in a negative context since the start of the era of Muammar Gaddafi and the calamities it brought upon the country.

When the uprising in Libya began in 2011, the main concern for the rebels was to acquire weapons and recruit fighters to battle Gaddafi’s forces. They ultimately found what they wanted in Gaddafi’s dungeons, where they stumbled upon large numbers of battle-ready Islamist fighters.

Today, all sides in that rebellion continue to play a role, whether militarily or politically. Indeed, groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), or Ansar al-Sharia in Libya had no intention to lay down their arms after Gaddafi was finished. For one thing, Qatar and its ally Turkey, who have long supplied such groups with weapons and money, realized that the most important part of the uprising was the post-Gaddafi phase, and that the only fruits worth picking are the ones that are ripe.

Qatar and Turkey had their way with the Islamist domination of the General National Congress that was elected in July 2012, after successfully turning their minority into a majority against Mahmoud Jibril’s faction. The fact of the matter was that “independent” MPs were actually supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood from day one.

Hence, the Islamists dominated the country. The militias affiliated to them were given official cover under the command of Abdelhakim Belhadj, who was a former LIFG leader. These militias consisted of jihadis who returned from Afghanistan, and are very close to Qatar and Turkey.

But Saudi Arabia would not tolerate the expansion led by its small neighbor in the Gulf into North Africa. Saudi Arabia could not tolerate for the Muslim Brotherhood, now its archenemy, to control an oil-rich country like Libya, and decided to press “the reset button” in regards to the situation there. Saudi and its ally the UAE thus began supplying the Zintan Brigades, which sporadically controlled Tripoli International Airport, with weapons and money.

Major General Khalifa Haftar was also eager to play a major role in Libya, and was waiting for any opportunity to be rehabilitated after having been forced to retire by the leadership of the new Libyan army. In Tobruk, a city on the border with Egypt, Haftar gathered former officers and soldiers, and proceeded to seize first his hometown, which contains a military airbase complete with old helicopters and fighter jets.

For its part, the Ansar al-Sharia extended its influence in the east of Libya, as Egypt, Saudi’s ally, began to sense the militant threat approaching its western border.

There were mutual grudges on both sides, and there was little need for a pretext to ignite this powder keg. At first, Haftar moved against Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi, carrying out strikes against its bases using the military helicopters he had captured. The Libyan public rallied behind him in the east of Libya, and the echoes of the “battle of dignity” he launched reached all the way to the Libya’s west, where this transformed into further unrest. Though Haftar did not have considerable military weight in Tripoli, his allies in the Civil Movement, particularly the Zintan Brigades, already had their fingers on the trigger in anticipation for the battle to come.

The Islamists retreated under pressure from Haftar and the Zintan Brigades, and the momentum of the supporters of the “battle of dignity.” Haftar called for sacking the government and holding legislative elections as soon as possible. Haftar failed in his first bid, but succeeded in the second, and in July, the Civil Movement, which supports Mahmoud Jibril and Haftar, won by a landslide.

Yet all this has proven to be insufficient in defeating the Islamist movements, which do have powerful militias backing them. Thus, Tripoli caught fire, and the battle spread to every street and neighborhood, destroying Tripoli’s airport, which was under the control of the Zintan Brigades. There are rumors that this destruction was preconceived, however, with the contract for the airport’s reconstruction and the restoration of its fleet having been signed in Washington in advance.

There is no doubt that the Islamists are the most numerous and best organized. The Haftar-Zintan alliance, despite its strength, will not be able to withstand the Islamists for long. Sources say that as the militants of the first side was on the verge of a rout against the fighters of Abdelhakim Belhadj and the commander of the current battle Salah Badi, who hails from Misrata, a certain regional power intervened directly, was involved in the “mysterious” airstrikes reported in Tripoli recently (Editor’s note: A report has come in that Egypt and UAE were suspected to be behind the airstrikes in Libya).

To restore the balance of power on the ground as well, there are contacts underway between the Zintan Brigades and Gaddafi’s supporters in Europe and neighboring countries. The pro-Gaddafi elements want to return and want their prisoners to be released, including Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. The Zintan Brigades accept these conditions, except for releasing Saif al-Islam, as they believe this could turn the Libyan public opinion against them.

Many pro-Gaddafi prisoners have indeed been released, before they joined the Zintan Brigades on the battlefronts. Pro-Gaddafi exiles have also been returning with the consent of the Zintan Brigades. This is no longer seen as a liability for the latter and its allies, because the real “revolution” has now started, and the past is now in the past.

In Libya as well, tribes play a pivotal role on the ground. Both sides know this very well. No side can prevail over the other without first controlling the tribes.

Related: As the situation in Libya is deteriorating and becoming more complicated by the day, the Egyptian government has already announced its support for the elected authorities, taking the side of General Khalifa Haftar. Meanwhile, it has been reported that Egyptian and Emirati jets have launched airstrikes against designated targets deep inside Libyan territory.

Egypt seeks a bigger role in the ‘new Libya’
Ahmad Jamaleddine Al Akhbar English Lebanon August 28, 2014

Cairo – According to a high level political source in Egypt, who spoke to Al-Akhbar, “Egypt is taking measures to reach common grounds with all Libyan factions without giving any party leverage over the other, especially since the political establishment is seeking an active role for Egypt in Libya.”

He reiterated the official Egyptian position, saying “the army has not taken any actual action until this moment but it will not hesitate to launch an airstrike if deemed necessary.”

The source stressed that “any discussion about military intervention will always be based on whether Egyptian interests are being threatened, and will not be related to anything else and will have nothing to do with other conflicts between military commanders, with some of them possessing sophisticated weapons.”

He also ruled out any military engagement in the near future “unless an Egyptian consulate or the Egyptian embassy is harmed,” assuring that “any military action will be public and targeted and in coordination with the Libyan authorities.”

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, former Egyptian Chief of Staff General Abdel Menhem Said dismissed the idea of UAE planes carrying out airstrikes in Libya from Egyptian territory.
“Egypt does not need to use UAE jets to take military measures in Libya, especially since the Egyptian air forces own enough military jets which would enable them to conduct such operations if they choose to.”

Said explained that for UAE aircrafts to reach Egypt, they will have to pass over a number of countries first, adding “the excellent political relations between the two countries do not necessary mean allowing (the UAE) to use Egyptian airports,” to carry out military strikes.

The general stressed that “the Egyptian army has a well-established doctrine regarding conflicts in neighboring countries, and Cairo will not resort to military actions unless there were Egyptian targets that should be protected and secured.”

“Military commanders in Libya have already issued statements welcoming the Egyptian army’s assistance to maintain security; it was the Egyptian side that has refused. Therefore, if the army had indeed carried out the airstrikes, it would not have had to deny it,” he added.

For Said, “conducting the airstrikes, in the way it has been reported, makes no sense and does not fit with any military theory. It, however, has political and regional dimensions, involving the position of Western states regarding the events in Libya.”

He further explained that “Egypt is supporting the legitimate authorities in Libya and will provide them with all assistance to rebuild their collapsed state.” He also described the series of meetings held between the Egyptian and Libyan military leaderships as “reasonable” since Libya is very important to Egypt’s national security, and the chaos in the country is threatening Egypt’s stability.

Also speaking to Al-Akhbar, former Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Arabi said “the position regarding Libyan factions and tribes is rather complicated, and Egyptian foreign policy usually refrains from interfering in the internal affairs of other states.”

He, however, pointed out that the Egyptian interest in Libya is normal, since the two countries have a special relationship and share long borders. In addition, Libya is a large importer of Egyptian labor. Therefore, any military action should be well-calculated in order not to harm the jobs of many Egyptians still living in the country, despite the mass returns that took place in the last few weeks.

According to the Egyptian diplomat, Egypt’s vision for disarming and training Libya’s army and police forces is linked to Cairo’s wish to restore peace and security to the country.

Posted at: August 31, 2014 - 10:49 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

‘Thanks’, Vlad? Why Stephen Harper should thank Vladimir Putin & How Vladimir Putin reinvigorated NATO

Why Stephen Harper should thank Vladimir Putin
Thomas Walkom Toronto Star Ontario Canada August 29, 2014


Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks with Brig. Gen. Greg Loos of the Joint Task Force North as they make there way to speak to troops on Tuesday. Photo: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Stephen Harper denounces Vladimir Putin. In his secret heart, he should thank the Russian president.

For Canada’s Conservatives, the reappearance of the Russian bear and the subsequent resurrection of the Cold War are politically most useful. They give new clarity to Ottawa’s often confusing approach to foreign affairs.

Harper took power eight years ago promising a clear moral direction in Canadian foreign policy.

Yet almost immediately, things became murky.

Under the Conservative government, Canada ramped up its support for the war in Afghanistan. The prime minister promised not to cut and run.

Then he did exactly that.

He made much of supporting democratic values, sending Canadian warplanes to help overthrow Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

But shortly after that adventure, he threw Canada’s tacit support behind a military putsch against Egypt’s democratically-elected government.

On Syria, Canada has been all over the place.

First, Ottawa pronounced a pox on all sides in that country’s civil war. Then, when it looked as if the U.S. might intervene against dictator Bashar Assad, the Conservative government insisted that Assad must be removed.

Now Canada is calling for a political compromise among the various sides.

Even Harper’s approach to Israel is not as cut and dried as it seems. Rhetorically, he has presented himself as Israel’s firmest friend.

Yet Canada and Israel still differ on key issues. Ottawa does not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem. Canada also insists that Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank violate the Geneva Conventions.

China? At times, the Harper government has wooed Chinese investment. At times, it has rebuffed it.

Such flexibility does not necessarily translate into bad policy (Harper was wise to change his mind on Afghanistan).

But for a government that does best when it can present the world in stark black and white terms, it can make for bad politics.

Which is where the Russian bear comes in.

Russia makes an ideal enemy. It is big, remote and vaguely menacing. Since the time of the czars, the West has viewed it as a dangerous Asiatic despotism.

Related: How Vladimir Putin reinvigorated NATO
Paul Koring Globe and Mail Canada August 29, 2014

Visit this page for its related links.

WASHINGTON — For decades, as the world perched on the brink of nuclear Armageddon, NATO had more than a million troops pressed against the Iron Curtain, ready and capable of waging war against the Soviet Union.

Until the 1970s, pairs of Canadian Starfighter warplanes, armed with nuclear bombs, were on 15-minute readiness, part of the North Atlantic Treat Organization’s “quick reaction” strike force that was ready to obliterate Russian tank columns in the Fulda Gap before they could reach the Rhine. More than 6,000 Canadian troops were permanently stationed in Germany. It was an era when the stark reality of NATO’s mutual defence pact meant Canadians and Americans were poised – not just pledged – to fight and die to keep Communist legions out of Western Europe.

Now, as NATO leaders gather for what was originally billed as an “Out of Afghanistan” summit, they face the worst military crisis in decades in Europe. Finding a response to Moscow’s incursions in Ukraine – and finding the money to make it credible – poses a grave test for the alliance.

“We take our Article 5 commitments to defend each other very seriously, and that includes the smallest NATO member,” U.S. President Barack Obama vowed as he headed for Estonia and then on to the summit. But whether Russian President Vladimir Putin believes NATO has the political will to back its tough talk with action remains uncertain.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, NATO spent most of the next quarter-century seeking new roles in far-off conflicts and nearly doubling in membership – from 16 to 28 nations – while dwindling in combat capability and overall defence spending. The alliance, still the world’s most powerful, fought its first “hot” war over Balkan skies in 1999 as warplanes from a dozen nations, including Canada, pounded Serb targets for months, setting the stage for an independent Kosovo.

In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, NATO nations collectively waged a long-running counter-insurgency campaign against the Taliban while attempting to prop up the Afghan government in Kabul. Almost all NATO nations, and a dozen non-members, were involved – with the number of foreign troops peaking at more than 150,000. But after more than a decade in Afghanistan, the outcome of NATO’s biggest war remains murky and most nations, including Canada, have packed up and left.

In 2011, NATO warplanes were back in action for eight months of air strikes that eventually toppled Libya’s ruthless dictator Moammar Gadhafi. But the successful air war, commanded by Canadian Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, soured in the aftermath as Libya slid into a continuing civil war.

With its expeditionary wars at best a mixed success, NATO was still struggling to find a 21st-century reason to exist. “In some ways, NATO should thank Vladimir Putin because it was really searching for its purpose,” said Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. “[It] was having a fairly significant identity crisis and now has now not only been repurposed, it’s been reinvigorated.”

Noted: Euronews (a multilingual news television channel, headquartered in Lyon-Écully, France) reports today: Putin said his meeting last week with President Petro Poroshenko was “good” and called the Ukrainian president a “partner with whom it is possible to have a dialogue.”

Putin: Impossible to say when political crisis in Ukraine will end
RT Russia August 31, 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called on Kiev to start substantial talks on deescalating the crisis in eastern Ukraine. He added that it’s an illusion to expect that the rebels would calmly watch their homes being destroyed.

“We have agreed on a plan, so its realization must be pursued,” Putin told Channel 1 TV, adding that the Ukrainian government “must immediately start substantial talks – not a technical discussion – on the political organization of society and the state in southeast Ukraine so that the interests of people who live there are protected.”

Commenting on the new batch of sanctions against Russia threatened by western countries, Putin advised his counterparts to think again about what they are advocating.

“What are the so-called European values then? Support for an armed coup, suppression of opponents with armed forces – so these are ‘European values’? I believe our colleagues should be reminded of their own ideals,” the president said.

As for the countermeasures Russia has taken, imposing a ban on certain food imports from the US, EU and several other countries, Putin believes the sanctioned European countries might find it hard to return to the Russian market. He expects new importers from Latin America, China and Russia’s eastern neighbors to secure the market during the year, and then it would [be] “very difficult, almost impossible to budge them.”

Posted at: August 31, 2014 - 10:46 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

August 30, 2014

Weekly Headlines

Click on a headline below to go to that news item

Friday, August 29, 2014

World News

UN: Ukraine conflict death toll hits 2,600; civilians ‘trapped inside conflict zones’ and targeted & As EU and North American farmers suffer, Russia continues to seek new food sources

Commentary

You can’t understand ISIS if you don’t know the history of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia

Commentary

British Columbia’s morally bankrupt government: Commentary on resource exploitation and (insincere, weak) regulation & The province is deeply divided between those who see education as the publicly subsidized means to personal advancement (read private schools), and those who see it as the way to advance us all as a society (read public schools)

Regional News

If they can’t protect Grace Islet, what can they protect? It is a legal and moral imperative that BC’s provincial leaders move away from old prejudices that First Nation burial sites containing human remains are less worthy of protection than settler cemeteries

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sovereignty

Business leaders (including financial sector CEOs) and crony capitalist, David Cameron, tell Scots to vote no in independence referendum; even more business leaders tell Scots to vote yes & Better Together campaign video patronizes female Scots nationalists

World News

New front opened in Ukraine’s civil war? It seems likely and militarily logical

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Commentary

In the offing? Maybe, but a Saudi-Iranian thaw will take time

Commentary

US flags China as a maritime outlaw

National News

Harper again raises spectre of Russian threat in speech to troops & NATO chief eyes more bases in E. Europe to confront Russia

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Commentary

Extractivism – B.C. as third world economy. The end result of extractivism is “high levels of underemployment, unemployment and poverty, while the distribution of income and wealth [becomes] even more unequal”

World News

Old grudges never die. Celebrating the White House burning; trying to stifle Scotland’s differing vision of what a society should be

Monday, August 25, 2014

Commentary

Employing both military art and science: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the theory and practice of jihad

Commentary

The disease of North American democracy: We have to establish a new countervailing power. Our own jihad?

Agriculture

Behind the U.S.-backed coup that ousted the democratically elected president of Ukraine are the economic interests of giant US corporations which see Ukraine as a potential “gold mine” of profits from agricultural and energy exploitation

National News

Prime Minister Harper on wrong side of history in opposition to aboriginal inquiry: Premiers to press Ottawa on inquiry into missing, murdered aboriginal women & Canada’s premiers will attempt this week to tackle the unacceptably high rate of aboriginal kids in government care

Commentary

When First Nations burial sites and development collide: Grace Islet dispute is harbinger of many more, unless BC makes changes

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Commentary

Paranoia vs Pragmatism: Stephen Harper and Sergei Glaziev

Posted at: August 30, 2014 - 7:01 am -- Posted by: SSNews -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post