April 22, 2014

Until Earth Day is buried—and a day of reckoning begins—let this Earth Day be the last

Let this Earth Day be the last
Wen Stephenson The Nation USA April 22, 2014

Over 20,000 people attended the first Earth Day observance in Philadelphia, April, 1970. Photo: Bill Ingraham/AP

“If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle.”

- Frederick Douglass, 1857

Fuck Earth Day.

No, really. Fuck Earth Day. Not the first one, forty-four years ago, the one of sepia-hued nostalgia, but everything the day has since come to be: the darkest, cruelest, most brutally self-satirizing spectacle of the year.

Fuck it. Let it end here.

End the dishonesty, the deception. Stop lying to yourselves, and to your children. Stop pretending that the crisis can be “solved,” that the planet can be “saved,” that business more-or-less as usual—what progressives and environmentalists have been doing for forty-odd years and more—is morally or intellectually tenable. Let go of the pretense that “environmentalism” as we know it—virtuous green consumerism, affluent low-carbon localism, head-in-the-sand conservationism, feel-good greenwashed capitalism—comes anywhere near the radical response our situation requires.

So, yeah, I’ve had it with Earth Day—and the culture of progressive green denial it represents.

* * *

But why Frederick Douglass? Why bring him into this? And who am I to invoke him—a man who was born a slave and who freed himself from slavery, who knew something about struggle, whose words were among the most radical ever spoken on American soil? Who the hell am I? I’ve never suffered racial or any other kind of oppression. I’ve never had to fight for any fundamental rights. I’m not even a radical, really. (Nor am I an “environmentalist”—and never have been.) All I want is a livable world, and the possibility of social justice. So who am I to quote Frederick Douglass?

Let me tell you who I am: I’m a human being. I’m the father of two young children, a 14-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter, who face a deeply uncertain future on this planet. I’m a husband, a son, a brother—and a citizen. And, yes, I’m a journalist, and I’m an activist. And like more and more of us who are fighting for climate justice, I am engaged in a struggle—a struggle—for the fate of humanity and of life on Earth. Not a polite debate around the dinner table, or in a classroom, or an editorial meeting—or an Earth Day picnic. I’m talking about a struggle. A struggle for justice on a global scale. A struggle for human dignity and human rights for my fellow human beings, beginning with the poorest and most vulnerable, far and near. A struggle for my own children’s future—but not only my children, all of our children, everywhere. A life-and-death struggle for the survival of all that I love. Because that is what the climate fight and the fight for climate justice is. That’s what it is.


The following arrived in our inbox this morning.

For Immediate Release
April 22, 2014
Earth Day is also a time to celebrate our accomplishments

Earth Day is usually a day to commit to protecting our planet and conserving our precious natural habitat, but at an Earth Day event on Salt Spring Island, Gary Holman, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands wanted to focus on the progress already being made on the island.

“It’s not about one day, it’s about everyday” said Gary Holman at a gathering on Salt Spring Island on April 21st to celebrate Earth Day. “We all need to, as best we can, take the message of earth day and … try to live our lives in a way that reflects those principles.”

MLA Holman recounted some of the remarkable accomplishments on Salt Spring Island, by citizens and community groups, working with governments at all levels. Since 2001, nearly 5000 acres of land have been protected on Salt Spring, including efforts spearheaded by The Land Conservancy of BC and the Salt Spring Island Conservancy – both organizations on which Holman has served as a Board member.

Holman congratulated the Salt Spring Island community bus, which he established as Capital Regional District Director in 2008 and operated by Ineke de Jong for BC Transit, which recently celebrated its 100,000th rider trip, more than quintupling the initial feasibility estimates. He also commended the Capital Regional District and the Islands Trust for supporting a number of affordable housing units close to, or in Ganges, reducing car use and their greenhouse gas impacts.

Holman also noted that “in terms of climate action, growing our own food is really important, it reduces greenhouse gas emissions that are embodied in transportation.” Food production on Salt Spring is growing quickly, in part because of the implementation by the local Agricultural Alliance of its Area Farm Plan, resulting in the establishment of an abattoir, a Farmland Trust now operating a large community garden, and a soon to be established food processing and cold storage centre.

“My main message is that Salt Spring should be proud of its environmental accomplishments. We are a model for British Columbia. And if a relatively small, rural community like Salt Spring can do it, any community can do it.”

Posted at: April 22, 2014 - 2:39 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

Happy Earth Day! Ottawa downgrades North Pacific whales from ‘threatened’ to ‘special concern’; decision removes a major legal hurdle to two proposed pipelines and related oil tanker traffic increase on BC coastal waters

Ottawa says North Pacific humpback whale population has recovered and no longer needs protection. The North Pacific humpback’s range extends along the entire B.C. coast to northern Alaska. “Not yet completely secure”, the humpback whale faces a variety of threats, including entanglement in fishing gear, displacement from noise pollution and collisions with vessels.

Humpback whales removed from ‘threatened’ species list
Peter O’Neil Vancouver Sun/Victoria Times Colonist British Columbia Canada April 22, 2014

OTTAWA — The Harper government is downgrading the protection of the North Pacific humpback whale despite objections from a clear majority of groups that were consulted.

Critics say the whales could face greater danger if two major oilsands pipeline projects get the go-ahead, since both would result in a sharp increase in movement of large vessels on the West Coast that occasionally collide with, and kill, whales like the humpback.

The decision was made under the Species At Risk Act, and declares the humpback a “species of special concern” rather than “threatened.”

The reclassification means the humpback will no longer be “subject to the general prohibitions set out in SARA, nor would its critical habitat be required to be legally protected under SARA,” states the federal government notice published this month in the Canada Gazette.

The decision removes a major legal hurdle that the environmental group Ecojustice said stood in the way of the $7.9-billion Northern Gateway pipeline project that would bring 550,000 barrels of diluted bitumen crude from Alberta to Kitimat.

Ecojustice said in December that a federal review panel’s conditional approval of the project flies in the face of the humpback’s protections under the federal legislation.

The fate of the humpback was a major issue during the Northern Gateway public hearings that concluded last year, with many groups fearing that collisions, potential spills, and excessive noise would be a serious threat to the whales.

The endangered species legislation declares that “no person shall destroy any part of the critical habitat of any … listed threatened species.”

The humpback was listed as threatened in 2005, based on a 2003 assessment by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, an independent scientific advisory body for the federal government, which concluded its population was in the “low hundreds,” according to the Canada Gazette notice.

The government sent out 312 consultation letters and got 22 responses back.

Only five were in favour of the new designation — a total made up of two unidentified B.C. government ministries, one tourism organization, one environmental non-government organization, and one “unknown source.”

Of the other 17, six environmental groups, three academics, two tourism industry organizations, one First Nations organization and a single “unknown source” were opposed. Another four — two academics, one First Nations, and another “unknown” — were undecided. In several instances, the undecided said insufficient information was available.

Northern Gateway proponents say that while the likelihood of whale strikes is “low,” there is no way to guarantee there will be no whale strikes along the route of the 250 huge tankers expected to enter and leave Kitimat annually.

B.C. humpbacks lose ‘threatened’ status, opening door for Northern Gateway
Andrea Janus CTV News Canada April 22, 2014

A humpback whale breaks through the water of Hartley Bay along the Great Bear Rainforest, B.C., on Tuesday, Sept, 17, 2013. Photo: Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

The federal government has stripped the North Pacific humpback whale of its status as a “threatened” species, removing a potentially significant legal hurdle out of the way of the multi-million-dollar Northern Gateway pipeline project.

The humpback, which wows whale watchers off the B.C. coast, will be downgraded to a “species of special concern,” thereby losing the protections it receives under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA). The government outlined its decision in the latest edition of Canada Gazette.

Under SARA, the federal government must protect the natural habitats of “threatened” species, and develop plans for their recovery.

The reclassification means that the North Pacific humpback “would no longer be subject to the general prohibitions set out in SARA, nor would its critical habitat be required to be legally protected under SARA. However, other provisions of SARA would continue to apply.”

A “management plan” for the humpback, which includes measures for the species’ conservation, must be prepared within three years of its reclassification, the government notes.

Following the report, the government sent out 312 notices for public consultations regarding the potential change in the humpback’s status. It received 22 responses.

Four respondents were undecided, while five respondents were in favour of reclassifying the humpback, citing improving population numbers, the government says. Thirteen respondents were opposed, “the general concern was that the prohibitions were a deterrent against industry harming the individuals.”

“Some of the respondents indicated that the reclassification of the species could lead to increased activities in the waters along the British Columbia coast. These activities could result in increased tanker traffic, entanglements, and hazardous petroleum product spills.”

The move comes ahead of a pending decision by the federal government on the proposed $7.9 billion Northern Gateway pipeline project, which would move more than 500,000 barrels of Alberta bitumen from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C. If approved, the project will see increased tanker traffic off the B.C. coast as that oil gets shipped to markets overseas.

Environmental groups had previously warned that the government was obligated under SARA to protect the humpbacks against tanker traffic, which can lead to an increased risk of oil spills, noise pollution and collisions.

Late last year, a National Energy Board review panel approved the project with 209 conditions. Earlier this month, residents of Kitimat voted against the proposed project in a non-binding plebiscite.

The federal government is expected to release its final decision on the project by summer.

Humpback whale removed from North Pacific endangered list
The Canadian Press/Toronto Star Canada April 22, 2014

VANCOUVER – Ottawa no longer considers the North Pacific population of humpback whales a threatened species, which lifts many legal protections for the whales’ habitat.

In an amendment released Saturday in the latest Canada Gazette, the Environment Department says the status of humpback whales off the British Columbia coast has been upgraded from “threatened” to “species of special concern.”

The revision follows a 2011 report from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada which determined the whale’s numbers have increased annually since the early 1990s, and now include more than 18,000 adults.

Reclassification under the Species At Risk Act removes legal protection for humpback habitat, which includes Johnstone Strait off the northeast end of Vancouver Island, a region that would also see increased oil tanker traffic if the Northern Gateway Pipeline project is approved.

The whale is central to a lawsuit brought by B.C. environmental groups trying to force Ottawa to abide by its own Species At Risk legislation.

The United States is also considering upgrading the status of Pacific humpback populations after the whales were hunted to near extinction in the early part of the 20th century.

Below: Received in our inbox this morning.

Sierra Club BC responds to downgrading of protection for humpback whales

VICTORIA – Sierra Club BC released the following statement from campaigns director Caitlyn Vernon in response to the downgrading of protection for humpback whales:

“The continued recovery of humpback whales is completely incompatible with a massive increase in oil tanker traffic on B.C.’s coast, which is what they will face if the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipeline and tanker proposals proceed.”

“The federal government is excusing itself from any legal obligation to protect humpback whale habitat, which conveniently makes it easier to approve the Enbridge pipeline and oil tanker proposal.”

“British Columbia’s humpback whale population is still fragile. One oil spill in the middle of their habitat could be devastating.”

“Twenty-five years after the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, two resident orca pods still have not recovered. Both pods lost significant numbers; one still has not reached pre-spill numbers and the other is not recovering at all and may be headed for extinction.”

“The risks from a massive increase in oil tanker traffic on our coast are not confined to humpback whales. Dozens of other species, as well as sensitive ecosystems, would be jeopardized, as would coastal communities dependent on tourism, fisheries and other economic activity that benefits from a healthy sustainable environment.”

“The threat to humpback whales is just one of many reasons the federal government must reject the Enbridge pipeline and shift away from fossil fuel exploitation to a low-carbon, clean-energy future.”

Related: Jim comment: The First Nations are the last line of Canada’s defense of our environment. Citizens must work with them and support them in resisting the relentless assault on our environment, a tragedy of the commons. The following, also received this morning, was sent by Seit-cha (One who swims in the Water).

First Tribal Park in BC/Indigenous relations, Meares Island, turns 30 Years Old and is expanded
Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations Tribal Parks continue to Inspire Aboriginal Communities across BC and the World

Vancouver Island, Canada – Yesterday, April 20th 2014, the 30 year anniversary of the Meares Island Tribal Park Declaration was celebrated by the Nuu-Chah-Nulth people of Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island along with their various friends and supporters, and a new Tribal Park declaration was made by Tla-o-qui-aht which effectively protects the rest of their territory including the resort municipality of Tofino.

The Meares Island Tribal Park was the first Tribal Park declared in British Columbia, and resulted in keeping the island’s majestic old-growth red-cedar forests still standing to this day. Since that time the Tribal Park model has not only been expanded by Tla-o-qui-aht in their own territory, but has also inspired First Nations’ protected areas across British Columbia and increasingly, around the world.

“The declaration of Meares Island as a Tribal Park 30 years ago set in motion an idea that has caught and spread throughout indigenous communities, that we can sustain our cultures by safeguarding the land and living things that provide for us,” stated Eli Enns, Tla-o-qui-aht co-founder of the Ha’uukmin (Kennedy Lake Watershed) Tribal Park in Clayoquot Sound. “We can assert our own management plans for our territories, as we have been doing for thousands of years, so that we can continue to live in harmony with the land that sustains us – and all of humanity.”

30 years ago, on April 21, 1984, the Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht First Nations bands declared Meares Island as Canada’s first “Tribal Park” in a bid to stop logging plans of its old-growth forests. Protests were organized in Tofino, Victoria, and eventually on Meares Island in 1984, when the Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht people were joined by non-First Nations allies at BC’s first logging blockade. The protests successfully fended off MacMillan Bloedel’s logging plans until March 27, 1985, when the BC Court of Appeal ruled that no logging could occur on Meares Island until aboriginal land claims had been settled in the region.

Recently, the declaration of the Tranquil Valley near Tofino as a Tribal Park has been making headlines in light of a proposed gold mine there, which the Tribal Park forbids. See: Tofino-area First Nation declares ‘tribal park’ to protect land

While tribal parks have not been recognized by the province of British Columbia, Parks Canada worked with the Tla-o-qui-aht on a “tribal parks establishment project” in one of its declared parks in 2009. Last week, Victoria’s city council passed a motion supporting the First Nation’s call for a moratorium on mining in its territory in Clayoquot Sound. The District of Tofino council earlier passed a similar motion.

Posted at: April 22, 2014 - 11:27 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

Conservatives lead Liberals, NDP among both eligible and likely voters in April & Thirty new ridings, plus now fifteen retiring MPs and counting, adds up to a lot of open seats in the next election

Conservatives lead Liberals, NDP among both eligible and likely voters in April
Angus Reid Global Canada April 22, 2014

Visit this page for its embedded link to a PDF – “detailed party & regional results, tables and methodology”

The Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) continues to garner higher levels of backing among likely voters than the federal New Democrats and Liberals, according to the latest monthly poll from Angus Reid Global (ARG) measuring support for Canadian political parties.

A drop in support for the Liberal Party of Canada in vote-rich Ontario also means the CPC is leading among eligible voters this month.

The Conservatives now hold a two-point lead over the Liberals among eligible voters, but their advantage increases to five points when voting turnout factors are applied.

The latest survey in this series went into field as MPs were heading back to their ridings for a two week parliamentary break, following raucous debate over Elections Act changes, headlines concerning candidate selections for the Liberal and Conservative parties, and the sudden death of former finance minister Jim Flaherty.

Below: Alice Funke graduated from Carleton University in Political Science, and is a business intelligence specialist for the federal government in Ottawa. During the 2008 election, she took a leave of absence and worked as a computer-assisted reporting consultant for the Parliament Hill bureau of the Canwest News Service. She is also the programmer for the PACS Canada Media & Legislator databases.

Fifteen MP Retirements and Their Impact in 2015
Alice Funke Pundits’ Guide to Canadian Federal Elections Canada April 22, 2014

Visit this page for its embedded links.

Thirty new ridings, plus now fourteen fifteen retiring MPs and counting, adds up to a lot of open seats in the next election. And without the incumbency advantage, open seats always come with a higher risk of turnover. That means a lot of competitive races to watch in 2015.

[UPDATE: Mike Allen also announced his retirement this past March, so that's fifteen, now. Thanks to a reader for pointing this out, though I would have got the post updated earlier had not our power gone out at nearly the same time.]

In addition to the 12 MPs who have resigned from the House of Commons since the 2011 general election plus the two who died in office (9 of whom have already been replaced in by-elections), a further 14 15 MPs (10 Conservatives and 2 each NDP and Liberals) have already announced they won’t be running for re-election in 2015.

According to the Conservative Party strategy documents obtained by the Toronto Star in February, 11 caucus members did not intend to re-offer in 2015, and 16 others were “unsure”. Given that document would have been written after the Ted Menzies and Brian Jean resignations, but before Jim Flaherty’s sudden passing, the 10 Conservatives listed below plus Jim Flaherty would account for the 11. I take this to mean that if any of the unsure 16 are to announce their retirements, it may not come until closer to the expected election date in October, 2015.

But since we’re about to spend lots of time looking at the by-election ridings over the next few months, let’s look at the retiring MPs’ seats now instead, and see what impact their leaving could have, by looking at the new ridings that will wind up being open seats.

Posted at: April 22, 2014 - 10:40 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

Canada’s failing democracy: How did one of the world’s most functional democracies go so very wrong?

This important book draws on the personal experiences of former Members of Parliament to illustrate the growing central control of party leadership—in all major parties—and how this has distorted the democratic process. Offering useful suggestions to address the resulting alienation of voters from the political process, Tragedy in the Commons is mandatory reading for all MPs and Canadians. — Michael Wilson, former Minister of Finance and Canadian Ambassador to the United States

Tragedy in the Commons: Former Members of Parliament Speak Out About Canada’s Failing Democracy by Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan. Published Random House Canada, April 2014, 288 pages. ISBN: 978-0-307-36129-5. (Also available as an eBook.)

Publisher’s Synopsis

In Tragedy in the Commons, Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan, founders of the non-partisan think tank Samara, draw on an astonishing eighty exit interviews with former Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum to unearth surprising observations about the practice of politics in Canada.

Though Canada is at the top of international rankings of democracies, Canadians themselves increasingly don’t see politics as a way to solve society’s problems. Small wonder. In the news, they see grandstanding in the House of Commons and MPs pursuing agendas that don’t always make sense to the people who elected them.

But elected officials make critical choices about how this wildly diverse country functions today and how it will thrive in the future. They direct billions of dollars in public funding and craft the laws that have allowed Canada to lead the way internationally. Even with so much at stake, citizens—voters—are turning away. How did one of the world’s most functional democracies go so very wrong?

In Tragedy in the Commons, MPs describe arriving at their political careers almost by accident; few say they aspired to be in politics before it “happened” to them. In addition, almost without fail, each MP describes the tremendous influence of their political party: from the manipulation of the nomination process to enforced voting in the House and in committees, the unseen hand of the party dominates every aspect of the MP’s existence.

Loat and MacMillan ask: Just what do we want Members of Parliament to be doing? To whom are they accountable? And should parties be trusted with the enormous power they wield with such little oversight or citizen involvement?

With unprecedented access to the perspective and experience of Canada’s public leaders, Tragedy in the Commons concludes by offering solutions for improving the way politics works in Canada, and how all Canadians can reinvigorate a democracy that has lost its way, its purpose and the support of the public it is meant to serve.

This page provides graphic information about the 80 MPs interviewed. It also contains a video trailer (3:22) for the book. Yes, they make trailers for books now.

Michael MacMillan and Alison Loat: Charity founders
Ann Douglas Canadian Living Canada

Photo: John Hryniuk. This story was originally titled “Meet the Dreamers” in the December 2013 issue.

The founders of Samara were just two regular Canadians with a dream. Learn how they turned their dream into a national nonprofit organization.

When Alison, a nonprofit entrepreneur and strategist, met Michael, the former CEO and chairman of the media company Alliance Atlantis, and heard about his desire to reignite the passion for democracy amongst his fellow Canadians, she promised to help him. The two went on to launch Samara in 2009 (the name is inspired by the winged “helicopter” seeds that fall from maple trees).

“We became fellow travellers in this enterprise. It wasn’t just my idea anymore; it was our idea,” Michael recalls.

Below: Steven Lee is a freelance blogger living in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, and is the author of the Orange Tory blog. Steven holds a Master of Arts degree in History, Bachelor of Arts Honours in History, and a Bachelor of Education – Intermediate/Senior Level. His Major Research Paper was on Aboriginal resistance in the Northwest Territories in the 1970′s to the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline project. Steven first became politically active in the 2005-2006 federal election for the NDP campaign in Brampton West at the age of 17. Between the 2007 and present Steven has voted for both the New Democratic and Conservative Party.

Book Review: Tragedy in the Commons by Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan
Steven Lee The Orange Tory Canada April 15, 2014

Visit this page for its embedded link.

Disclosure: I was given an early copy of Tragedy in the Commons in order to help Samara Canada put together supplemental materials and I am a volunteer with the organization.

Tragedy in the Commons is an expanded compilation of the MP Exit Interview report produced by Samara Canada which offers a distinct insider view to life in Canada’s Parliament through the eyes of former parliamentarians.

Through dozens of intense interviews the authors collected an image of the life for Canadian politicians in our national body. What Loat and MacMillan discover is in no way particularly flattering to our grand national institution and in fact hints a deep rot or dysfunction in Canadian democracy.

The title of the book is a direct allusion to the economic concept of the tragedy of the commons. To briefly summarize the idea, with a common good there is a benefit for all to preserve the resource for the future, but none of the stakeholders have the incentive to not exploit the resource to full advantage contrasted to his/her peers. As a result the resource is exploited to its complete ruination because the best interest of the individual is so completely at odds with the long-term interest of the collective.

This reference is emphasized by Loat and MacMillan. As they detail the litany of problems in the House of Commons, arguably building towards crisis, they refer to the simple fact that any one politician is powerless to influence the current political culture despite the fact that it serves their own interests. The forces of status quo keep Members of Parliament from obeying their own consciences and upholding their own rights.

Each chapter of the book addresses an area of political life that any MP must navigate: winning nominations, elections, conduct within the House of Commons, committee work, relations with their party and leadership, and even the basic understanding of what an MP is. The MPs interviewed are drawn from all political parties, from government, from opposition, and come from many different walks of life.

I experienced a number of strong emotions while reading this book. The two that stand out the most is a profound anger and sadness. Anger stemmed from both my normal frustration at our calcified House of Commons, but also the seemingly futile efforts of good men and women toiling away with little recognition. For example, Gary Meratsy (LPC – Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River, SK) a strong MP who represented his community well and left the House of Commons after a very short career because he felt he could make a bigger difference in the private sector. The authors paint a picture of well-meaning public servants thwarted time and time again by party leadership and the gamesmanship of politics. Current practices do not foster good governance or oversight, such as the treatment of committee memberships, but serve to centralize power.

The book is a shocking revelation to the true nature of our democracy. …

The chief criticism, it seems to me, that the authors level at our political system is that our political culture no longer supports the idea of politicians or public service and that our servants in the form of MPs no longer actually understand their duty. It is a frightening revelation that offers stark reminder of the erosion of democratic life.

Noted: PMO paid more than $4.1 million to departing employees
Jason Fekete Canada.com Canada April 21, 2014

Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Photo: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The Prime Minister’s Office coughed up $4.1 million in severance and separation pay over the first seven years of Stephen Harper’s tenure for 196 departing PMO employees, according to government documents.

The high turnover rate in the PMO between 2006 and 2013 saw between roughly one-third and one-fifth of staff leave each year, often with both severance and discretionary separation payments.

Approximately $57 million in salary was paid between 2006 and 2013 to staff in the Prime Minister’s Office. The office ranged in size from 82 to 105 employees during that time. The $4.1 million taxpayers shouldered for exiting PMO employees was part of an overall total of $31 million in severance and separation pay that shelled out to staff in all ministers’ offices since the Conservative government won power in 2006.

The payouts to political staff in the PMO and ministers’ offices came as the Conservative government spoke of the need to rein in lucrative public sector benefits. …

Of the $4.1 million, more than $1.5 million was for severance payments automatically paid to the 196 departing PMO employees between 2006-07 and 2012-13 — or an average payment of about $7,800 each — regardless of whether they were laid off, fired, resigned on their own, or retired.

Another $2.4 million was discretionary separation payments for 93 departing PMO staff between 2006-07 and 2012-13 — an average payment of about $26,300 each — according to documents and figures obtained by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin using the access to information law.

The largest total PMO severance payments came in 2010-11, when more than $402,000 was paid to 31 departing employees from a staff of 99, according to figures obtained by Rubin. The largest total PMO separation payments also came in 2010-11, when more than $613,000 was paid to 21 staff who left the Prime Minister’s Office.

There is some expectation that there will be regular turnover in the PMO and ministers’ offices because the positions are not public service jobs. Rather, they are political jobs and are subject to much more uncertainty.

Lack of funds keeps Statscan study from public
James Bradshaw and Tavia Grant Globe and Mail Canada April 22, 2014

Visit this page for its related links.

A survey of 25,000 employers that cost $4.6-million and was commissioned by the federal government could shed light on the extent of the country’s skills gap, but it has sat idle for two years due to lack of funding to make it public.

In 2011, Employment and Social Development Canada – then known as HRSDC – contracted Statistics Canada to do a new survey of 25,000 employers on topics such as workplace demographics and future skills shortages. Firms were asked about whether they used temporary foreign workers, hired for any “green jobs,” and which positions were toughest to fill and why.

Statscan collected the surveys over the first three months of 2012, but the funding ended there, before the data could be analyzed. Business and education experts have been eager to see the results, but even as Employment Minister Jason Kenney has been giving speeches saying “we must do a much better job” collecting detailed labour market information to help steer Canada’s economy in a better direction, budget resources to do so have shrunk.

A spokesperson for ESDC said “there was no funding cut for the Workplace Survey.” But in prior surveys, Statscan moved to analyze and disseminate what they learned in partnership with ESDC. This time, “as time allows, because we have no funding for it, we’re reviewing the data so that we can document how well the survey worked,” said Alison Hale, Statscan’s director of labour statistics.

Two years on, those efforts haven’t yet yielded much progress. “We’re more than willing if someone has some funding and wants to carry it forward to that next stage of making it available,” Ms. Hale added.

Statscan’s budget has fallen by $29.3-million in the past two years, and its staffing has fallen by 767 people, or 18.5 per cent, in the same period, excluding the census and surveys paid for by outside clients.

As a result, it has cut a wave of surveys, such as data on university teaching salaries. It has also discontinued or changed other studies, including the survey of labour and income dynamics, so that they’re not as comparable with prior years. The percentage drop in Statscan’s workforce is higher than the average for other large federal departments and agencies, Treasury Board data for 2012 and 2013 show.

Posted at: April 22, 2014 - 9:52 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

April 21, 2014

Overthrowing other people’s governments is a central tenet of US foreign policy. Dispatches concerning American plans for post-Gaddafi Libya & A call for a real “democracy revolution in the “Homeland’

A failure to imagine the consequences of the last major U.S. intervention in Libya has, perhaps irreparably, fractured the country and sent it into a spiral of violence leading to the deaths of Americans, among others, while helping to destabilize neighboring nations, enhance the reach of local terror groups, and aid in the proliferation of weapons that have fueled existing regional conflicts. - Nick Turse

Since World War II, Americans have overthrown governments in Italy (1947), Costa Rica (1948), Syria (1949), Lebanon (1952), Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954, and 1982), Laos (nonstop coups 1957-1975), El Salvador (1960 and 1984), Congo (1960), Dominican Republic (1961, 1965), Ecuador (1961, and 1981), South Korea (1961), South Vietnam (1963), Iraq (1963 and 2003), Brazil (1964), Indonesia (1965), Greece (1967), Cambodia (1970), Egypt (1970), Chile (1973), Uruguay (1973), Australia (1975), Saudi Arabia (1975), Portugal (1975), Thailand (1976), Argentina (1976), Turkey (1980), Panama (1981 and 1989), Chad (1982), Grenada (1983), Sweden (1986), Pakistan (1988), Afghanistan (1980s and 2001), Rwanda and Burundi (1994), Yugoslavia (2000), Somalia (2006), Sudan (2011), Libya (2011) and Ukraine (2014). And these are only some of the better-known cases where the US successfully used force or fraud to put its puppets in power or remove leaders it didn’t like. … The USA should stop sponsoring phony “democracy revolutions” around the world. The world – and the American people – should sponsor a “democracy revolution” in the USA. - Kevin Barrett

NATO considers Libyan training mission
Adam Entous Wall Street Journal USA June 3, 2013

BRUSSELS—The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is considering a mission to train Libyan security forces, amid concerns that Islamist militants are expanding their foothold two years after the alliance helped topple Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi, U.S. officials said.

The government of Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan recently approached the U.S. and other countries to ask about assistance, a senior U.S. defense official said. The prime minister visited NATO headquarters in Brussels last week and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen discussed the issue with President Barack Obama during a recent trip to Washington, the official said.

The proposed training mission is expected to be discussed further Tuesday and Wednesday, on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels, including in a meeting between U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his French, British and Canadian counterparts, U.S. defense officials said. …

U.S. military working on plan to train thousands of Libyans
Phil Stewart Thomson Reuters Canada/UK November 17, 2013

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. military is working on plans to train 5,000 to 7,000 members of the Libyan security forces and also special operations forces who can carry out counter-terrorism missions, a senior U.S. military official said.

Libya’s government is struggling to keep order as rival militias and hardline Islamists refuse to disarm two years after Muammar Gaddafi was ousted in a NATO-backed uprising. Tripoli has seen deadly clashes over the past several days.

Admiral William McRaven, who heads the U.S. military’s Special Operations Command, declined to go into details about the training plan, saying these were still being negotiated.

McRaven said there would be extensive vetting of Libyan personnel trained by the United States.

However, he acknowledged vetting could only do so much in Libya, where militiamen and former fighters are often employed by the government to protect ministries and government offices. Those gunmen remain loyal to their commanders or tribes and often clash in rivalries over control of territory.

“Right now as we go forward to try and find a good way to build up the Libyan security forces so they are not run by militias, we are going to have to assume some risks,” McRaven told the forum late on Saturday.

“There is probably some risk that some of the people we will be training with do not have the most clean records. But at the end of the day it is the best solution we can find to train them to deal with their own problems.”

Here’s a National Post report, dated January 6, 2014, that is germane to these plans. Notorious Canadian lobbyist signs $2M contract to promote Libya militants aiming to divide country.

The Pentagon, Libya, and tomorrow’s blowback today
Tom Englehardt and Nick Turse TomDispatch USA April 15, 2014

Visit this page for its embedded links and reproductions of briefing slides.

Be careful what you wish for. In 2011, a Libyan rebellion began against autocrat Muammar Gaddafi. It undoubtedly reflected the wish of many Libyans for a new world of their own without his heavy hand or that of his secret police and secret prisons. Wishing to be rid of a ruler long seen as a nemesis, Washington, in tandem with its NATO allies, joined the fray at a moment when it looked like the rebels might otherwise be going down. Without consulting Congress, and so of course without a declaration of war, President Obama brought in the planes, drones, and Tomahawk missiles. Air power certainly helped turned the tide and then hasten the fall of the autocrat. Only one problem: what came next.

The aftermath proved to be a slowly devolving Libyan nightmare filled with militias of every sort, including jihadist ones. The results have been grim, including of course the death of a U.S. ambassador. In the meantime, weaponry from Gaddafi’s looted arsenals, ranging from modern assault rifles to antitank weapons and even shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, soon began spreading to Mali, elsewhere in North Africa, and later as far as Egypt and Syria, as well as into the hands of “extremists and criminals.” The result has been a regional boost for exactly the jihadist forces the U.S. opposes most fervently, while for Libyans, it was the saddest story of all. A recent poll indicates that, with a desperately weak central government and marauding militias, “more than one-third of Libyans report feeling unsafe going to the market, school, or work,” while 40% of women feel that way simply leaving their houses heading anywhere. In response, Libya has been transformed into a gun-toting society, with firearms in nearly 30% of Libyan homes (though, according to that same poll, most Libyans “would happily give up their arms in an environment of a well functioning military and police and with an improvement in general security”).

Given the unsettling results of the 2011 intervention thus far, you might imagine that Washington and the Pentagon would think twice about what in the world to do next and perhaps adjust their approach. As events of the twenty-first century have made all too clear, however, there is no genuine learning curve in Washington when it comes to such things. The only response is always, in some fashion, more of the similar, if not the same. Today, Nick Turse explores a new Pentagon scheme to train up a force whose Libyan recruits will be drawn from already existing and often notorious militias as a supposed future bulwark for the weak central government. It’s one of those plans that may sound sensible in Pentagon briefings but has “cockamamie” written all over it. It practically comes with a bound-to-fail guarantee stamped on it and an assurance that it will increase the misery of Libyans. Writ small, it seems to go to the heart of the distinctly underreported U.S. pivot to Africa which, as Turse has so vividly and repeatedly shown, is proving to be largely a machine for destabilizing the continent, stoking extremism, and creating the conditions for blowback. Of course, given the way Washington thinks, those results offer a guarantee of their own: a self-perpetuating employment program for the U.S. military into the distant future. Tom

Washington Fights Fire With Fire in Libya
How Not to End Violence in a War-Torn Land

By Nick Turse

Ever since the U.S. helped oust dictator Muammar Gaddafi, with air and missile strikes against regime targets and major logistical and surveillance support to coalition partners, Libya has been sliding into increasing chaos. Militias, some of them jihadist, have sprung up across the country, carving out fiefdoms while carrying out increasing numbers of assassinations and other types of attacks. The solution seized upon by the U.S. and its allies in response to the devolving situation there: introduce yet another armed group into a country already rife with them.

After Gaddafi’s fall in 2011, a wide range of militias came to dominate Libya’s largest cities, filling a security vacuum left by the collapse of the old regime and providing a challenge to the new central government. In Benghazi alone, an array of these armed groups arose. And on September 11, 2012, that city, considered the cradle of the Libyan revolution, experienced attacks by members of the anti-Western Ansar al-Sharia, as well as other militias on the American mission and a nearby CIA facility. During those assaults, which killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, local armed groups called on for help or which might have intervened to save lives reportedly stood aside.

Over the year that followed, the influence of the militias only continued to grow nationwide, as did the chaos that accompanied them. In late 2013, following deadly attacks on civilians, some of these forces were chased from Libyan cities by protesters and armed bands, ceding power to what the New York Times called “an even more fractious collection of armed groups, including militias representing tribal and clan allegiances that tear at the tenuous [Libyan] sense of common citizenship.” With the situation deteriorating, the humanitarian group Human Rights Watch documented dozens of assassinations of judges, prosecutors, and members of the state’s already weakened security forces by unidentified assailants.

The American solution to all of this violence: more armed men.

In November 2013, U.S. Special Operations Command chief Admiral William McRaven told an audience at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library that the United States would aid Libya by training 5,000 to 7,000 conventional troops as well as counterterrorism forces there. “As we go forward to try and find a good way to build up the Libyan security forces so they are not run by militias, we are going to have to assume some risks,” he said.

Not long after, the Washington Post reported a request by recently ousted Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan that the U.S. train his country’s security forces. In January, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which coordinates sales and transfers of military equipment abroad, formally notified Congress of a Libyan request for a $600 million training package. Its goal: to create a 6,000 to 8,000-man “general purpose force,” or GPF.

The deal would, according to an official statement, involve “services for up to 8 years for training, facilities sustainment and improvements, personnel training and training equipment, 637 M4A4 carbines and small arms ammunition, U.S. Government and contractor technical and logistics support services, Organizational Clothing and Individual Equipment (OCIE), and other related elements of logistical and program support.”

In addition to the GPF effort, thousands of Libya troops are to be trained by the militaries of Morocco, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and Italy. The Libyan Army also hopes to graduate 10,000 new troops at home annually.

While Admiral McRaven has emphasized the importance of building up “the Libyan security forces so they are not run by militias,” many recruits for the GPF will, in fact, be drawn from these very groups. It has also been widely reported that the new force will be trained at Novo Selo, a recently refurbished facility in Bulgaria.

The U.S. has said little else of substance on the future force. “We are coordinating this training mission closely with our European partners and the U.N. Support Mission in Libya, who have also offered substantial security sector assistance to the Government of Libya,” a State Department official told TomDispatch by email. “We expect this training will begin in 2014 in Bulgaria and continue over a number of years.”

There have been no reports or confirmation of the plan to also train Libyan militiamen at a facility in Spain’s Canary Islands mentioned along with Novo Selo in that Fall 2013 briefing document prepared for AFRICOM chief Rodriguez, which was obtained by TomDispatch.

Related commentary: The following first appeared on Iran’s Press TV website, April 18, 2014.

US needs ‘pro-democracy revolution’
Kevin Barrett Veterans Today USA April 20, 2014

Visit this page for its embedded links.

What does “democracy” mean?

To US leaders, it means overthrowing other people’s governments.

Since World War II, Americans have overthrown governments in Italy (1947), Costa Rica (1948), Syria (1949), Lebanon (1952), Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954, and 1982), Laos (nonstop coups 1957-1975), El Salvador (1960 and 1984), Congo (1960), Dominican Republic (1961, 1965), Ecuador (1961, and 1981), South Korea (1961), South Vietnam (1963), Iraq (1963 and 2003), Brazil (1964), Indonesia (1965), Greece (1967), Cambodia (1970), Egypt (1970), Chile (1973), Uruguay (1973), Australia (1975), Saudi Arabia (1975), Portugal (1975), Thailand (1976), Argentina (1976), Turkey (1980), Panama (1981 and 1989), Chad (1982), Grenada (1983), Sweden (1986), Pakistan (1988), Afghanistan (1980s and 2001), Rwanda and Burundi (1994), Yugoslavia (2000), Somalia (2006), Sudan (2011), Libya (2011) and Ukraine (2014).

And these are only some of the better-known cases where the US successfully used force or fraud to put its puppets in power or remove leaders it didn’t like. There have also been dozens if not hundreds of unsuccessful attempts (such as the current war on Syria). And there have undoubtedly been many successful US-supported regime changes we don’t know about. After all, such operations are called “covert” for a reason: They are designed to remain secret forever.

And then, there are the so-called color revolutions: Ukraine (Orange), Lebanon (Cedar), Georgia (Rose), Kyrgyzstan (Tulip), Myanmar (Saffron), Thailand (Red), and Malaysia (Yellow). The US State Department, USAID, and George Soros apparently like their coups d’état in a pleasing array of hues.
All this in the name of democracy.

Overthrowing democratically-elected leaders such as Ukraine’s Yanukovych – and Chile’s Allende, Iran’s Mosaddeq, and so many more – is a very strange way of spreading democracy.

But there is one country that really does need a pro-democracy coup d’état: the United States of America.
Today, America’s phony democracy is rotten to the core. The US has had stolen presidential elections in 1980, 2000, and 2004. It has had nothing but CIA presidencies since 1988. And now the Supreme Court has ruled that elective offices are for sale to the highest bidder. From now on, the Court says, the public cannot put any limits whatsoever on political bribery.

And don’t get me started about assassinations. In 1963, when Americans allowed CIA operators (including Cord Meyer, Allen Dulles, James Angleton, E. Howard Hunt, David Atlee Phillips, Richard Helms, David Morales, Frank Sturgis, George H.W. Bush and others) to assassinate President John F. Kennedy in broad daylight with complete impunity, they for all intents and purposes gave up even the pretense of living in a democracy. Less than five years later, the same criminals killed JFK’s brother Robert – and added an exclamation point. The American people, drugged by television, emitted a collective yawn.

Today, when a courageous, intelligent, idealistic American like the late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone is elected to federal office, his life expectancy (and later his plane) takes a nose-dive.

The situation is unacceptable. …

Posted at: April 21, 2014 - 3:34 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

Malaysia Airlines MH370: No meaningful report on the progress of the investigation given, not a single answer to questions. Did the United States shoot down Flight MH370, either accidentally or deliberately? & Whatever happened, it must have been extremely sudden says retired pilot

After almost two months without finding any wreckage, Malaysia said Sunday the search is at a “very critical juncture” and has asked for prayers for its success.

Below: John Chuckman is former chief economist for a large Canadian oil company. He has many interests and is a lifelong student of history. He writes with a passionate desire for honesty, the rule of reason, and concern for human decency. John regards it as a badge of honor to have left the United States as a poor young man from the South Side of Chicago when the country embarked on the pointless murder of something like 3 million Vietnamese in their own land because they embraced the wrong economic loyalties. He lives in Canada. John’s writing appears regularly on many Internet sites. He has been translated into at least ten languages and has been regularly translated into Italian and Spanish. Several of his essays have been published in book collections, including two college texts. John Chuckman believes it’s possible the US gunned down the jetliner, either deliberately or accidentally, and now wants to keep it secret.

The second mystery around Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370
John Chuckman English Pravda Russia April 18, 2014

A second mystery around the disappearance of Flight MH370 has largely gone unnoticed: why hasn’t the United States been in the forefront of providing information about it? The implications of this question are massive.

Then again, the American military has some of most sophisticated radars on earth, and there is, without a doubt, an installation of the highest capability at the secret base on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. How could there not be? But we have read of no data from them, only from others less capable of telling us what happened.

I have no idea what event (a rogue pilot, a hijacker?) led to Flight MH370 turning off its communications, changing course, and flying low, but I do know that the event could not have gone unnoticed by America’s military-intelligence eyes and ears, especially when its new course showed any possibility of Diego Garcia as a destination, a place which is top secret and from which America forcibly removed the locals when it leased it from Britain.

It will likely remain one more “riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” as Winston Churchill once described the Soviet Union, an expression now entirely suitable to a great many of the activities of the United States.

MH370 conspiracy: Did America shoot down missing Malaysia Airlines plane?
Chris Richards Mirror Online UK April 20, 2014

A former oil company executive turned author has suggested America could have shot down missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 – and is now trying to cover it up.

Writing on OpEdNews.com, John Chuckman, a former chief economist for a large Canadian oil company, asked: “Could it be that the United States shot down Flight MH370, either accidentally or deliberately, and now wants to keep it secret?

“The possibility of recovery of the full wreckage, even if its location were found, from four miles under the sea amongst underwater mountains is extremely remote at best, so the United States can remain confident that physical evidence will never emerge.

Mr Chuckman, who is originally from Chicago, continued: “There would be nothing unprecedented in such an act: on at least three occasions, regrettably, America’s military has shot down civilian airliners.

“I have no idea what event (a rogue pilot, a hijacker?) led to Flight MH370 turning off its communications, changing course, and flying low, but I do know that the event could not have gone unnoticed by America’s military-intelligence eyes and ears.”

MH370 disappeared while flying between Kuala Lumpur and Beijiing on March 8 with 239 people on board.

A six week search of the Indian Ocean, where experts believe the plane crashed, has yet to yield any trace of the jetliner.

Malaysia Airlines MH370: Families want proof with financial help
The Associated Press/The Canadian Press/CBC News USA/Canada April 20, 2014

Visit this page for its related links.

Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Hamzah Zainuddin met with the passengers’ relatives in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday to talk about where to go next. Financial assistance was discussed and family members were urged to submit a plan for consideration. He declined to elaborate further, but said a fund could possibly be set up by the government or Malaysia Airlines.

The relatives, however, expressed dissatisfaction with the meeting, saying in a statement that until they have “at least a tiny bit of concrete evidence” that the plane crashed, authorities should not try to settle the case with final payoffs.

“No meaningful report on the progress of the investigation was given” at the meeting, the relatives said, adding that “not a single one” of their questions was answered.

We realize this is an excruciating time for the families of those on board,” said Zainuddin, who heads a committee overseeing the needs of the next of kin. “No words can describe the pain they must be going through. We understand the desperate need for information on behalf of the families and those watching around the world.”

He added that he would soon visit Beijing to shore up bilateral relations between Malaysia and China. Two-thirds of the missing plane’s 227 passengers were Chinese, and many of their family members have been angered by Malaysia’s handling of the investigation, with some accusing the government of lying, incompetence or participating in an outright coverup.

After nearly a week of sweeping the bottom of the ocean with sonar, a robotic submarine continued it search. The yellow device has already covered about half of its focused search area, but has yet to uncover any clues that could shed light on the mysterious disappearance.

Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein has stressed the importance of the weekend submarine missions in the southern Indian Ocean, but added that even if no debris was recovered, the scope of the search may be broadened or other assets may be used.

Radar and satellite data show the jet mysteriously veered far off course for unknown reasons and would have run out of fuel in the remote section of the southern Indian Ocean where the search has been focused. Not one piece of debris has been recovered since the massive multinational hunt began.

There have been numerous leads, but all have turned out to be false. …

The search co-ordination centre has said the hunt for floating debris on the surface will continue for at least the next few days, even though the Australian head of the search effort, Angus Houston, had earlier said it was expected to end sooner.

Related: Below: Captain Lim Khoy Hing is an ex-airline pilot who is passionate about flying, having worked all his life high above the clouds since leaving college. Prior to his retirement from flag-carrier Malaysia Airlines, he was fortunate enough to fly the latest fly-by-wire planes such as the Boeing 777 and Airbus A320, A330 and A340. Capt. Lim started his flying career in the Royal Malaysian Air Force, having been trained by the Royal Air Force in the United Kingdom in 1967. He served for about 12 years in the service before joining Malaysia Airlines and finished his career with the carrier AirAsia before retiring in 2011.

How does the fly-by-wire in Boeing 777 differs from the Airbus system?
Captain Lim Khoy Hing Ask Captain Lim Malaysia January 7, 2008

The first flying machine to use this digital fly-by-wire concept successfully was the Lunar Module. This Module, using the concept, was able to take men from orbit to the surface of the moon in 1969 as landing a rocket on its own required a deftness and control that no human being could master. This concept was also applied on the new-generation military aircraft such as the very successful F-16 and the F-117 Stealth fighter.

Even though the military had adopted the fly-by-wire concept by the early 1980′s, the commercial sector was less enthusiastic. The argument then was that, the commercial jet did not need the agility required to fly a fighter nor did they have to worry about designing for stealth. But the fact is that, fly-by-wire concept did offer lower fuel costs and smoother flights through bad weather.

Boeing continued to the chose conventional control systems for its 757 and 767 aircraft but Airbus Industries went ahead and introduced digital fly-by-wire in its A320 airplanes. It was only on the Boeing 777 that the Company finally decided to introduce the digital fly-by-wire controls. Thus, this concept which is basically the result of wanting to put a man on the moon, have today become an accepted part of modern aviation design.

Although the Boeing 777 and the Airbus 320 series and later, adopted this new concept, there are slight differences in their applications. Airbus has taken a much different philosophical approach to using computers than Boeing. The European airplane maker designed its new fly-by-wire jets with built-in protections or hard limits.

The Boeing Company, on the other hand, believes pilots should have the ultimate say, meaning that on the Boeing jets, the pilot can override onboard computers and their built-in soft limits. The issue is, should pilots or a computer have the ultimate control over a commercial jetliner as the plane approaches its design limits in an emergency? There were strong arguments by pilots on both sides of the debates. Some pilots were of the opinion that computer protection of the A320 is very good whereas other pilots support the Boeing philosophy that they must have the final say in controlling the airplane.

Both have valid arguments. In 1995, a Boeing 757 crashed into a mountain while trying to land at Cali in Columbia, killing 159 people on board. In this accident, the warning system on board had alerted the crew that they were about to crash onto the mountain. The Captain executed a climb but forgot to retract the speed brake. On an A320, Airbus points out, the protection in the computer would have retracted the speed brakes automatically. But Boeing argues that, the jet would have hit the ridge even if the speed brakes had been retracted. Airbus planes with their fly-by-wire technology and ‘automatic protections’ have also crashed. In fact, six of the A320s have so far been lost. One of the very first A320 jets crashed shortly after the jet entered service in 1988, raising many questions about the Airbus philosophy.

Missing MAS flight: There are many methods for communicating SOS, says retired pilot
Isabelle Lai The Star Online Malaysia March 8, 2014

PETALING JAYA: Whatever happened to the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 plane, it must have been extremely sudden because pilots have several ways of calling for help, said retired pilot Capt Lim Khoy Hing.

He said that they normally used VHF radio communication, which has a limited range of up to 402km.

For long distance communication, he said they used HF radio communication which had a much wider range of over 1,609km.

Another option was to use the Controller-pilot data link communication (CPDLC) to declare an emergency.

“In this case, the B777-200 is equipped with the CPDLC. The pilots would have been able to communicate and overcome range problems, so this tells you something must have impeded them from making the mayday call,” he told The Star Online.

Capt Lim said that at the reported 35,000ft that the MH370 flight had lost contact, the pilots would need around five minutes to bring it down to a safe level of 10,000ft.

He said that at this height, passengers would not need to use an oxygen mask, adding that this would have also given the pilots time to make the distress call.

“Pilots are trained to make the mayday call as soon as they encounter an emergency. Everyone in the same airspace on the same frequency will hear it and the first priority will be given to the plane so it can land safely,” he said.

Capt Lim, who has nine years experience flying the B777-200 model for MAS, agreed with American aviation experts interviewed on CNN that the aircraft’s disappearance had happened during the safest point in the flight.

Posted at: April 21, 2014 - 3:27 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

Psychologist who designed CIA’s post-9/11 torture program insists he has nothing to apologize for. I’m just a guy who got asked to do something for his country by people at the highest level of government, and I did the best that I could

Perhaps one day, Mitchell said, he will write a book, “just to get my point of view out there”. In the meantime, he said, he’s not losing any sleep over the Senate intelligence committee’s report. “I don’t care what [Dianne] Feinstein thinks about me,” Mitchell said. “I’m retired. I do a lot of adventurous stuff now. I served my country and now I’m done. I did what I did for whoever I did it for, and now I’m done with that stuff.” - Jason Leopold reporting

James Mitchell: ‘I’m just a guy who got asked to do something for his country’
Jason Leopold Guardian UK April 18, 2014

Dr James Elmer Mitchell has been called a war criminal and a torturer. He has been the subject of an ethics complaint, and his methods have been criticized in reports by two congressional committees and by the CIA’s internal watchdog.

But the retired air force psychologist insists he is not the monster many have portrayed him to be.

“The narrative that’s out there is, I walked up to the gate of the CIA, knocked on the door and said: ‘Let me in, I want to torture people, and I can show you how to do it.’ Or someone put out an ad on Craigslist that said, ‘Wanted: psychologist who is willing to design torture program.’ It’s a lot more complicated than that,” Mitchell told the Guardian in his first public comments since he was linked to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program seven years ago.

“I’m just a guy who got asked to do something for his country by people at the highest level of government, and I did the best that I could.”

Mitchell is featured prominently in a new report prepared by the Senate select committee on intelligence, which spent five years and more than $40m studying the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.

The findings, according to a summary leaked to McClatchy, are damning: that the agency misled the White House, Congress and the American people; that unauthorised interrogation methods were used; that the legal opinions stating the techniques did not break US torture laws were flawed; and perhaps most significant, that the torture yielded no useful intelligence.

But Mitchell said the program’s successes had been deliberately ignored.

“I’m sure there are people out there who believe that if the United States acknowledged that coercion worked, there is an increased probability that people would use coercion against our people,” Mitchell said. “Never mind that they do anyway. In the fairyland they live in, all you have to do is give somebody some tea and a cookie, and everything will be OK.”

Posted at: April 21, 2014 - 3:23 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

Ukraine: The charge of ‘hypocrisy’ can be directed everywhere; we cannot still ignore the perils of intervention & Who are the ‘little green men’ helping Ukraine’s eastern rebels?

Below: Most commentators have turned a blind eye to some of the more unsavoury aspects of either Putin and the Maidan, depending on their ideological background. Hypocrisy is everywhere, but that doesn’t mean we should be ambivalent about what’s happening in Ukraine says Charles Turner. Charles Turner is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick.

Taking sides in Ukraine
Charles Turner openDemocracy UK April 21, 2014

The current Ukrainian crisis has seen blind eye turning on all sides. Much of it has been directed by left liberals at or away from Russian foreign policy, on the basis that open criticism of Russia might make one a bedfellow of those hypocrites in the White House. Hence Russia’s armed seizure of Crimea and organisation of a farcical referendum is regarded as troubling, but not something we need to shout too loud about because Crimea is really Russian anyway (or at least has been since 1783); hence Putin’s support for the despotic regime of Bashar-al-Assad is passed over in silence for fear that criticism of it will make one a supporter of the Syrian opposition, and hence the United States that is arming it; and when Putin calls the extremists in Kyiv who ousted President Yanukovych ‘fascists’, it rings alarm bells loud enough to cancel out the sound of those that Putin himself triggers.

From the other side there is not so much blind eye turning as dewy-eyed romanticism, led by the Yale historian Tim Snyder: where Putin saw only extremists in Maidan square, Snyder implies that Ukraine is already ready to join the EU because the leader of a group of frightening looking men in combat fatigues is really a gay hairdresser from the Donbas, while the new deputy minister for whatever is a Jewish transvestite whose mother was a disabled German preacher. I was never much impressed by this sort of argument: in 2000 a Polish friend tried to impress me with the fact that in that Catholic country the president was a former communist (Aleksander Kwaśniewski), the prime minister a Protestant (Jerzy Buzek) and the foreign minister a Jew (Bronisław Geremek). Five years later it was being ruled by a coalition of the surreal Kaczyński twins, Andrzej Lepper’s thuggish Self-Defence party and the far-right League of Polish Families.

I have also seen articles that begin with questions like ‘how should people on the left respond to events in Ukraine?’, but these are worse than useless: the real task is, with old Kant, to think for oneself. In the current crisis I think that that entails more than seeing faults on all sides, easy though that is. The charge of ‘hypocrisy,’ for instance, can be directed everywhere: John Kerry invokes the sanctity of territorial boundaries while approving drone attacks in Pakistan, Vladmir Putin warns that the (temporary) Ukrainian government might wage war on its own people while he himself supports Assad in Syria, and the new EU-friendly Ukrainian prime minister was on television a few years ago advocating a blanket ban on the use of the Russian language.

So here, for what it’s worth, is what I think. …

Below: Patrick Cockburn is an Irish journalist who has been a Middle East correspondent since 1979 for the Financial Times and, presently, The Independent. He won the Martha Gellhorn Prize in 2005, the James Cameron Prize in 2006 and the Orwell Prize for Journalism in 2009. In 2013, Cockburn was awarded Foreign Commentator of the Year (Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards). He warns, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and now Ukraine. Catastrophe follows where US and EU meddle.

We cannot still ignore the perils of intervention
Patrick Cockburn The Independent UK April 20, 2014

‘In the little moment that remains to us between the crisis and the catastrophe, we may as well drink a glass of champagne,” said Paul Claudel, the French poet, dramatist and ambassador to the United States in the early 1930s. He was downplaying hopes of averting financial disaster, but his words felt like good, if despairing, advice for Ukraine in the past few days as it approached its “champagne moment”.

Catastrophe in the shape of civil war, Russian invasion and partition are not yet inevitable, but they are just around the corner. The deal reached between Russia, US, the European Union and Ukraine on Thursday, whereby protesters in east Ukraine would vacate public buildings they had occupied and give up their arms in return for greater autonomy for pro-Russian districts, has only slowed the momentum towards civil strife. The demonstrators are insisting that they have as much legitimacy as what they call “the Kiev junta” since it came to power through street demonstrations overthrowing a corrupt, incompetent but elected government.

Western media has focused obsessively on how far pro-Russian militiamen in east Ukraine obey orders from the Kremlin, but such attention obscures a more significant feature of the Ukrainian political landscape. Every election in Ukraine since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 has shown that the country is almost equally divided between pro-Russians and pro-Westerners with each side capable of winning closely fought elections. Pretending that the revolt in east Ukraine is phony and stage-managed by Russia is dangerous self-deception.

Different though Ukraine is from Iraq and Afghanistan there are some ominous similarities in the Western involvement in all three countries. The most important of these common features is that each country is deeply divided and to pretend otherwise is to invite disaster. …

But it is not Western diplomats and politicians alone who make mistakes. The foreign media has presented an over-simplified picture of what is happening in Ukraine much as it did in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. The old regime in all cases was demonised and its opponents glorified, so the picture of events presented to the public was often close to fantasy.

Much the same is happening in Ukraine. Media focus is all on the credibility or lack of it of the separatists in east Ukraine and very little on the new government in Kiev. In fact, what is most striking about both sides is their almost comic ineffectiveness: Three months ago, Yanukovych acted as if he had the political and military strength to steamroller the opposition only to find himself forced to flee almost alone across the Russian border. Last week Kiev was confidently sending troops to crush “terrorists” and re-establish its authority in the east only to see its troops tamely surrender their vehicles and defect. When government security forces did kill protesters at Mariupol it turned out they belonged to recently formed National Guard units recruited from ultra-nationalist protesters.

A result of this lack of organised support, however deep and real the popular divisions, is that power vacuums develop which are filled by shadowy militias. …

Related: Sunday pro-Moscow separatists controlling the east Ukrainian town of Slovyansk called for Russian peacekeepers to deploy and announced a curfew after a gun battle nearby that killed at least two of their militants.

A man applauds an armed pro-Russian activist standing guard at a barricade outside the regional state building seized by the separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk, on April 18, 2014. Photo: AFP

A pro-Russian participant takes a photo as armed men wearing military fatigues gather around armoured personnel carriers as they stand guard outside a regional state building seized by Kremlin-backed separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk. Photo © Kostyantyn Chernichkin via Kyiv Post

The following Agence France-Presse story has been picked up by editors all around the globe.

Who are the ‘little green men’ helping Ukraine’s rebels?
Germain Moyon and Nicolas Miletitch AFP/Yahoo News France/USA April 18, 2014

Donetsk (Ukraine) (AFP) – The expertly armed, masked men in matching camouflage stripped of all insignia are tough, taciturn and tactically devastating.

And according to President Vladimir Putin, they are not — absolutely, categorically not — elite Russian special forces.

So who are the members of this mysterious military or paramilitary force operating in eastern Ukraine, nicknamed “little green men” by many here?

For Kiev and its Western backers, the units, observed moving in lightning-fast and cohesive team formation, are indisputably Russian commandos sent by Moscow to sow trouble, no matter what Putin says. They also appear to be almost identical to those who operated in Crimea before the peninsula’s annexation by Russia last month.

For separatist insurgents whose fealty lies with the Kremlin, they are simply preternaturally good examples of their rag-tag, homegrown “self-defence volunteer brigades”.

In many of the 10 towns in the east controlled by the rebels, the fearsome fighters guard seized public buildings and offer few, if any, words to the curious.

They do, however, easily stand out from their less disciplined brothers in arms.

They wear camouflage uniforms, black ski masks, sports shoes and bullet-proof vests. That is a far cry from the hodge-podge of military surplus and camping attire thrown on by the ordinary separatists — who are also more likely to chat proudly.

On Wednesday, when the Ukrainian military sent an armoured column to confront the rebels, it was the (not so) “little green men” who sprang into action after the vehicles were stopped by angry locals.

The capable fighters quickly took control of six of the armoured personnel carriers and drove them into the centre of the town of Slavyansk — where one of them displayed his mastery of the tracked machine by sending it spinning in high-speed doughnuts.

The same day, when another armoured column was stopped by a crowd and agreed to render its weapons inoperable in return for being allowed to return home, three of the professionals stepped forward to order the locals into a corridor providing an orderly exit worthy of a parade ground.

Posted at: April 21, 2014 - 3:20 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

A rupture between Russia and the West, 14 years in the making & On Ukraine, Stephen Harper as useful idiot — but for whom?

… the demonization of Putin and Russia is having a major influence on an issue that has barely been mentioned in the media: Putin’s plan to create the petroruble and decouple Russia’s energy exports from the dollar. It is arguable that push for the petroruble is a global issue many times more important to the U.S. than anything that happens in the Ukraine, but American efforts to isolate Russia is actually accelerating the process. The desire is also driving Russia to look to the east instead of Europe for its future prosperity — aligning with China as both a market for its gas and a partner in undermining the petrodollar. … [Canada's] war mongering prime minister will continue to aid Mr. Putin by demonizing him and justifying [Putin's] eastern “pivot.”- Murray Dobbin

How America lost Vladimir Putin
David Rohde and Arshad Mohammed The Atlantic US April 19 2014

This post originally appeared on Reuters.com, an Atlantic partner site.

A portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, painted by former U.S. President George W. Bush, at the Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas. Photo: Brandon Wade/Reuters

In September 2001, as the U.S. reeled from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Vladimir Putin supported Washington’s imminent invasion of Afghanistan in ways that would have been inconceivable during the Cold War. He agreed that U.S. planes carrying humanitarian aid could fly through Russian air space. He said the U.S. military could use airbases in former Soviet republics in Central Asia. And he ordered his generals to brief their U.S. counterparts on their own ill-fated 1980s occupation of Afghanistan.

During Putin’s visit to President George W. Bush’s Texas ranch two months later, the U.S. leader, speaking at a local high school, declared his Russian counterpart “a new style of leader, a reformer … a man who’s going to make a huge difference in making the world more peaceful, by working closely with the United States.”

For a moment, it seemed, the distrust and antipathy of the Cold War were fading. Then, just weeks later, Bush announced that the United States was withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, so that it could build a system in Eastern Europe to protect NATO allies and U.S. bases from Iranian missile attack. In a nationally televised address, Putin warned that the move would undermine arms control and nonproliferation efforts.

“This step has not come as a surprise to us,” Putin said. “But we believe this decision to be mistaken.” The sequence of events early in Washington’s relationship with Putin reflects a dynamic that has persisted through the ensuing 14 years and the current crisis in Ukraine: U.S. actions, some intentional and some not, sparking an overreaction from an aggrieved Putin.

As Russia masses tens of thousands of troops along the Russian-Ukrainian border, Putin is thwarting what the Kremlin says is an American plot to surround Russia with hostile neighbors. Experts said he is also promoting “Putinism”—a conservative, ultra-nationalist form of state capitalism—as a global alternative to Western democracy.

It’s also a dynamic that some current and former U.S. officials said reflects an American failure to recognize that while the Soviet Union is gone as an ideological enemy, Russia has remained a major power that demands the same level of foreign-policy attention as China and other large nations—a relationship that should not just be a means to other ends, but an end in itself.

“I just don’t think we were really paying attention,” said James F. Collins, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Moscow in the late 1990s. The bilateral relationship “was seen as not a big deal.”

Officials from the administrations of Presidents Bush and Barack Obama said American officials initially overestimated their potential areas of cooperation with Putin. Then, through a combination of overconfidence, inattention, and occasional clumsiness, Washington contributed to a deep spiral in relations with Moscow.

Bush and Putin’s post-2001 camaraderie foundered on a core dispute: Russia’s relationship with its neighbors. In November 2002, Bush backed NATO’s invitation to seven nations—including former Soviet republics Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—to begin talks to join the Western alliance. In 2004, with Bush as a driving force, the seven Eastern European nations joined NATO.

Putin and other Russian officials asked why NATO continued to grow when the enemy it was created to fight, the Soviet Union, had ceased to exist. And they asked what NATO expansion would do to counter new dangers, such as terrorism and proliferation. “This purely mechanical expansion does not let us face the current threats,” Putin said, “and cannot allow us to prevent such things as the terrorist attacks in Madrid or restore stability in Afghanistan.”

Thomas E. Graham, who served as Bush’s senior director for Russia on the National Security Council, said a larger effort should have been made to create a new post-Soviet, European security structure that replaced NATO and included Russia. “What we should have been aiming for—and what we should be aiming for at this point,” Graham said, “is a security structure that’s based on three pillars: the United States, a more or less unified Europe, and Russia.”

But Vice President Dick Cheney, Senator John McCain, and other conservatives, as well as hawkish Democrats, remained suspicious of Russia and eager to expand NATO. …

Another core dispute between Bush and Putin related to democracy. What Bush and other American officials saw as democracy spreading across the former Soviet bloc, Putin saw as pro-American regime change. The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, without UN authorization and over the objections of France, Germany, and Russia, was a turning point for Putin. He said the war made a mockery of American claims of promoting democracy abroad and upholding international law.

Putin was also deeply skeptical of U.S. efforts to nurture democracy in the former Soviet bloc, where the State Department and American nonprofit groups provided training and funds to local civil-society groups. In public speeches, he accused the United States of meddling.

Jack F. Matlock, who served as U.S. ambassador to Moscow from 1987 to 1991, said that years of escalating protests by Putin made it clear he believed the West was surrounding him with hostile neighbors. And for centuries, Russian leaders have viewed a friendly Ukraine as vital to Moscow’s defense.

“The real red line has always been Ukraine,” Matlock said. “When you begin to poke them in the most sensitive area, unnecessarily, about their security, you are going to get a reaction that makes them a lot less cooperative.” American experts said it was vital for the U.S. to establish a new long-term strategy toward Russia that does not blame the current crisis solely on Putin. Matthew Rojansky, a Russia expert at the Wilson Center, argued that demonizing Putin reflected the continued failure of American officials to recognize Russia’s power, interest, and importance.

“Putin is a reflection of Russia,” Rojansky said. “This weird notion that Putin will go away and there will suddenly be a pliant Russia is false.” A senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, called for a long-term strategy that exploits the multiple advantages the U.S. and Europe enjoy over Putin’s Russia.

Related: Putin, Petrorubles and our PM’s bad posture
Murray Dobbin TheTyee.ca British Columbia Canada April 21, 2014

Visit this page for its embedded links.

Stephen Harper’s embarrassing behaviour regarding the crisis in Ukraine — demonizing Vladimir Putin and upping the rhetoric — must be welcomed in the U.S. which created the crisis in the first place and apparently believes it still has something to gain by isolating Russia. But it is not clear that Harper even realizes — or cares — what the larger game is.

And that game may include a Russia-driven shift in global currency allegiance that could devastate the economies of the U.S. and Canada.

The generals surrounding Harper in the ridiculous war-room setting where he announced Canada was sending six fighter jets to bolster NATO’s military buildup in eastern Europe looked very uncomfortable. Who likes being used as a prop for a faltering politician? The setting was a bad case of over-acting — as if we were joining the Allies in another world war rather than engaging in what one expert called “incremental posturing.”

Is Harper just a useful idiot to the U.S. — ranting and raving about Russian expansionism and imperialism so that the U.S. position looks more reasonable by comparison? He declared:

“When a major power acts in a way that is so clearly aggressive, militaristic and imperialistic, this represents a significant threat to the peace and stability of the world, and it’s time we all recognized the depth and the seriousness of that threat.”

It is difficult to know what is going on in the fevered imagination of the prime minister, but this time one has to really wonder if he has become genuinely unhinged — always a possibility with someone both paranoid and narcissistic. While it is clear that genuine foreign policy execution always plays a distant second role to micro-managing the electorate, it is still possible that Harper’s domestic framing of foreign policy vis-a-vis Ukraine could inadvertently play a role that he didn’t intend.

In the meantime, the demonization of Putin and Russia is having a major influence on an issue that has barely been mentioned in the media: Putin’s plan to create the petroruble and decouple Russia’s energy exports from the dollar.

It is arguable that push for the petroruble is a global issue many times more important to the U.S. than anything that happens in the Ukraine, but American efforts to isolate Russia is actually accelerating the process. The desire is also driving Russia to look to the east instead of Europe for its future prosperity — aligning with China as both a market for its gas and a partner in undermining the petrodollar. China is already headed there. Its yuan is the second most used currency, ahead of the euro, in international trade settlements. China recently “opened two centers to process yuan-denominated trade flows, one in London and one in Frankfurt.”

The emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are grouped under the acronym BRICS. According to journalist Peter Koenig: “Other countries, especially the BRICS and BRICS-associates (BRICSA), may soon follow suit and join forces with Russia, abandoning the ‘petrodollar’ as trading unit for oil and gas. This could amount to tens of trillions in loss for demand of petrodollars per year.” In which case, “leaving an important dent in the U.S. economy would be an understatement,” says Koenig. “Along with the new BRICS(A) currency will come a new international payment settlement system, replacing the SWIFT and IBAN exchanges, thereby breaking the hegemony of… the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Basle.”

The prospect of the U.S. dollar losing its status as the world’s trading currency is far and away the greatest threat to U.S. hegemony in the world as it would turn the country’s $17-trillion (not counting unfunded liabilities) virtual debt problem into a real one. Until now, the huge external demand for U.S. dollars has allowed it to accumulate enormous debts without defaulting. With Russia, China and the rest of the BRICS countries moving in this direction, the U.S is panic-stricken. It used to be said that the U.S. dollar was backed by the Pentagon. Indeed, plans to decouple from the dollar was a common feature of three countries that experienced the wrath of U.S. foreign policy and military intervention. Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi was planning a gold-standard currency for all of Africa; Iraq was planning to quit using the dollar for its oil exports, as was Iran. Sanctions against the latter had as much to do with this plan as any other issue.

But Russia, China, Brazil and India are countries of a whole different order and out of reach of the Pentagon’s threats. …

If that were not a big enough headache for the U.S., Russia is well placed to detach Germany from the EU and U.S. efforts to isolate Russia. While Russia will suffer economically in the short term from sanctions, the longer term looks brighter. At the same time that BRICSA is planning its new international payment system, China and Germany are negotiating another initiative that guarantees Russia a prominent role in one of the world’s most ambitious economic development schemes: the New Silk Road linking China and Europe. This initiative is intended to provide enormous impetus for development of western China and everything from there to Germany.

Posted at: April 21, 2014 - 3:16 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

April 20, 2014

In the age of Hirst and Koons, businessmen artists and biennales thrive while museums struggle. Every era gets the art it deserves

Below: Harald Falckenberg is a Doctor in Law and Professor of Art Theory at the Hamburg Academy of Art. His collection of contemporary art, which comprises more than 2,000 works, is shown in co-operation with Deichtorhallen/Hamburg. “In celebration of Art Basel’s 44th year – the first to include three shows on three continents – we have published a new book documenting the dynamic experience of last year’s Basel, Miami Beach and Hong Kong shows.” What follows is an edited version of Falckenberg’s essay in the book Art Basel/Year 44.

The art world we deserve?
Harald Falckenberg Financial Times UK April 11, 2014

The term “art world” was coined in the mid-1960s by Arthur Coleman Danto, the influential American critic and pioneer of art theory who died in October 2013. Unlike the traditional art of representation, which sought to manifest the power and influence of the Church, the aristocracy and the haute bourgeoisie as beautiful, good and true, today’s art world stands for the complex referential system of contemporary art that is only explicable in its economic, sociopolitical, academic and philosophical contexts. Art’s transgressive orientation found its programmatic expression in Joseph Beuys’ notion of an “expanded concept of art”.

Posted at: April 20, 2014 - 4:06 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post