News for progressives

Syria the day after Putin’s speech; Who’s Doing What in Syria Part III

by Ghassan Kadi for the Saker blog Much has been said about Putin’s 1st of March 2018 speech; a speech that should well and truly be known in the future
Categories: News for progressives

The myth of a neo-imperial China

by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with the Asia Times by special agreement with the author) The geopolitical focus of the still young 21st century spans the Indian Ocean from the Persian
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Who saw Donald Trump coming? Not Simon Reisman, but maybe Ed Broadbent and John Turner

Rabble News - Thu, 2018-03-15 12:39
David J. Climenhaga

Circa 1986, I recognized Simon Reisman one afternoon on a street in Toronto, just across Bloor Street from the Royal Ontario Museum.

Reisman was the former senior civil servant who acted as chief negotiator for the Canadian side in the talks that would result in the so-called Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. Those negotiations were initiated by Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney, the well-known Irish baritone who has been so hard at work lately trying to polish up his tarnished reputation.

Pretty boldly for a lad of 34, I stopped Reisman, introduced myself and expressed my skepticism about the still-uncompleted treaty, which was highly controversial at the time.

Whatever the American negotiating team made of him, I was no match for Reisman's blarney skills. I still remember his answer quite clearly, although I can't guarantee my transcription's accuracy is quite up to Postmedia standards of stenography, what with more than 30 years having passed and everything.

At any rate, he told me, "Free trade is gonna be great! Canadians are gonna make so much money they're not gonna know what to do with it all!"

But, I asked, what if some crackpot ends up running the United States and tears up the deal after we've integrated our economy into theirs? (There was nothing particularly original about this thought at the time. Lots of people raised it as a concern. And I've probably edited my paraphrase of my own words with the benefit of hindsight. Readers will just have to forgive me.)

I can't recall Reisman's exact words as clearly, but the general theme of his riposte was as follows: "Oh pish-posh. It'll never happen…"

Well, and this is the point in this long exercise in name dropping, here we are 30 years after the deal was done -- the anniversary of the signing by Mulroney and U.S. president Ronald Reagan was Jan. 2 this year -- and, lo and behold, a crackpot resides in the White House, just as prophesied. Our Canadian economy, which was never in danger of not trading with the United States, is so closely integrated into our neighbour's it is impossible to contemplate setting back the clock. NAFTA, the successor to CUSFTA, is in grave danger, and fear stalks the land.

Maybe, just maybe, we should have listened to John Turner, Liberal leader in the 1988 federal election, and Ed Broadbent, the leader of the NDP, both of whom warned against the deal. Turner, indeed, accused Mulroney of "selling out Canada."

In a typical Canadian outcome, a majority of Canadians voted for the parties that opposed the deal, but Mulroney's Conservatives won a big majority, and the deal was done. It was the last time, significantly, a Progressive Conservative government would ever be elected in Canada.

Unceasing propaganda ever since has painted "free trade" with the United States as a huge success. "The overall benefits to Canada are manifest, although the initial costs for some sectors and some regions was (sic) heavy," wrote lobbyist and former NDP national director Robin Sears in October 2012, at the same time as he was working as a lobbyist rehabilitating Mulroney's reputation.

If one raised the issue of the human toll of those "initial costs," the answer was, as often as not, that things would have been even worse without the FTA, a dubious proposition but a difficult one to refute, as it involved describing events that never took place.

This propaganda has been relentless, which makes Thomas Walkom's column in the Toronto Star Monday all the more remarkable for telling the unblinkered truth about Mulroney's free trade deal.

"There's one upside to Donald Trump's use of bully-boy tactics against Canada," Walkom wrote. "They may force us to rethink our failed trade strategy with the U.S."

He argues that our efforts to integrate our economy seamlessly into that of the United States got us into the doomed Afghan war, subjected Canadian citizens to grave human rights violations, and laid waste to our manufacturing sector.

Walkom continued: "The assumption behind this drastic restructuring of Canada's political economy was that America would keep its word -- that it would grant special status to Canada."

Alas, Trump, who never keeps his word, has changed all that. We are in a far worse position that we would have been without CUSFTA and NAFTA. This is a courageous argument for Walkom to make in the face of 30 years of relentless propaganda, which through tireless repetition has taken on the air of unassailable truth.

As for Reisman, he was around to watch good Canadian industrialized jobs disappear into the United States with, to borrow a phrase from U.S. Reform Party presidential candidate Ross Perot, "a giant sucking sound going south."

But I expect he would have viewed that with his characteristic optimism and argued it was all just a period of adjustment and things were bound to get better and better later. God knows, the man had chutzpah.

Neoliberals aren't so cheerfully optimistic about the outcome when they administer bad economic medicine nowadays. Their tone has changed: "It always tastes bad. Now shut up and swallow." It's no longer our business to ask whether or not it's good for us.

Reisman, at least, had the good fortune not to be around to witness the presidency of Donald Trump. He died a decade ago last Friday. The anniversary appears to have passed unremarked by Canadian media, notwithstanding the current trade contretemps with Trump the United States of Chaos.

Reisman talked on so long, and so enthusiastically, that day in Toronto, that eventually I made my excuses and went on my way.

He gave me his business card, which I have to this day. I'll give the man this much, he clearly believed in his task.

God only knows what we're going to do about his legacy now.

This post also appeared on David Climenhaga's blog,

Photo: Government of Alberta/flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

When dealing with a bear, hubris is suicidal

[This analysis was written for the Unz Review] Assuming mankind finds a way not to destroy itself in the near future and assuming that there will still be historians in
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Budget 2018: The Most Disappointing Budget Ever

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives - Thu, 2018-03-15 03:36

Premier Pallister’s Trump-esque statement that budget 2018 was going to be the “best budget ever” has fallen a bit flat.

Instead of a bold plan to deal with climate change, poverty and our crumbling infrastructure, we are presented with two alarmist scenarios to justify further tax cuts and a lack of decisive action: the recent tax cuts in the US and our provincial debt.  

Ever since the Conservatives have been elected, they’ve been ringing the alarm bells about our deficit, and much of the media and business sector lobbyists have been uncritically echoing their concerns, with one recent report labelling the deficit as ‘massive’. 

Manitoba does not have a massive deficit. It has a manageable deficit that is decreasing at the same time the economy is growing.  In other words, the two elements of our Debt/GDP (Gross Domestic Product) ratio are both moving in the right direction. The top numerator is decreasing and the bottom denominator is increasing.

The ratio tells us how much our total debt is as a percentage of the size of our economy. According to this year’s budget analysis, our Debt/GDP ratio is 34.3%, down from last year’s 35.7%.

Very few economists would argue that a Debt/GDP ratio of 34.3% is of great concern. Nonetheless, we continue being distracted by debt alarm bells and missing other important issues that should be dealt with. In fact, many important problems like poverty and our infrastructure deficit could be greatly improved by deficit spending. In a low interest rate climate, it makes sense to invest in programs that will, in the long run, reduce spending on healthcare, incarceration and the increased cost to repair rapidly deteriorating infrastructure.

Critics will point to the growing possibility that interest rates will continue to increase, raising our debt servicing costs. We have a long way to go before the cost of investing outweighs the benefits, but it is true that there is another way to reduce our deficit.

A deficit is affected by both expenditures and revenues. Maybe revenues need to increase, but few governments consider this possibility.  Even the former NDP government reduced taxes by a cumulative $1 billion over its mandate.  But this race to the taxation bottom is dangerous because without resource royalties from oil to fill the tax revenue gap - such as enjoyed by Alberta and Saskatchewan – constantly falling revenues can only mean cuts to services and dis-investment in social programs and infrastructure maintenance.  Consider what is happening in the US.

The budget speech points to the huge tax cuts in the US as a justification for lowering taxes here.  There are many reasons why one would not want to hold up the US as an example to be followed, with the highest rate of income inequality in the G8 countries as the main concern. In some states, ultra-low taxes are wreaking havoc across the board. According to The Economist magazine, Oklahoma and Kansas have cut their education budgets so deeply that teachers have to take part time jobs to make ends meet, and school districts are only able to offer classes 4 days a week. There is an exodus of teachers to higher-paying states.  Police cannot fill the gas tanks in their cars and under-resourced prisons are close to the breaking point.    

We are far from that point in Manitoba, but it is worrisome that we have to compete with that level of underspending.  At some point, Canadian jurisdictions have to say enough to tax cuts. The best budget ever would explain why responsible taxation is needed to provide adequate services to citizens and to implement policies that deal with big issues: crumbling infrastructure, an ageing population, educating children.

 Instead we will have, by the end of 2020, an estimated $250 million cut resulting from the indexing of the personal tax brackets ($10 million/year) and the increase of the Basic Personal Exemption ($230 million by end of 2020).  The change in the indexation lowers everyone’s taxes, even those who could afford to pay more, and Manitobans in the lowest tax bracket will realize a $42 benefit by 2020; higher income Manitobans will see a $255 benefit over the same period.   The end result is less to spend on a variety of programs that could help Manitobans whose income is so low they don’t pay any income tax. Does the individual benefit really offset the cumulative loss of revenues that pay for services we all use?

Also of great concern is the promise to reduce the PST by 1 per cent by 2020.  This decrease will remove a further $300 million from revenues, an amount that is awkwardly touted as offsetting the carbon tax.

The carbon tax is not just a mechanism to remediate the negative effects of climate change, it should discourage us from polluting.  Most of Manitoba’s GHGs are produced by our cars and trucks, so it makes sense to tax gasoline. The Conservatives should not try to sugar coat that policy by suggesting that the increase in the basic personal exemption or coming reduction in the PST will offset the carbon tax.  It’s unlikely that Manitobans will connect those dots, and they shouldn’t: if you pollute, you should pay. True, if you’re low-income, you do need an offset, but you also need a reliable, publically funded transportation system. Such a system should be supported by the carbon tax.   

The less-than-inflation increase in healthcare and education spending represents a cut in these departments, despite the more than $200 million increase in health, social and equalization transfers.

In contrast, the best budget ever would have used the carbon tax to fund bold programs that would electrify our transit system, and reward green industries while lowering GHGs. It would have introduced programs to help low-income Manitobans deal with heating costs, and at least covered inflation in healthcare and education spending.

The best budget ever would not have fixated on the budget deficit at the expense of helping low income Manitobans and infrastructure spending. It would not have presented the increase in the basic personal exemption as the best way to help Manitoba’s poorest. Instead, the best budget ever would have increased EIA rates so Manitoba’s most vulnerable could make ends meet.

The best budget ever would have had the courage to explain why taxes are a much needed tool that allows governments to support a healthy society, and why our debt level is not unreasonable.

Unfortunately, the best budget ever remains somewhere in our future.

Lynne Fernandez holds the Errol Black Chair in Labour Issues at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Mb.

Categories: News for progressives

Theresa May's 'Novichok' Claims Fall Further Apart

The British government claims that 'Novichok' poisons, developed 30 years ago in the Soviet Union, affected a British double agent. Such substances may not exits at all. The 'whistleblower' for the 'Novichok' program and poisons published some chemical formulas that...
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Syrian War Report – March 14, 2018: Government Forces Liberate Key Area In Southern Damascus On March 13, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) entered the area of al-Qadam in southern Damascus after local militants had been evacuated from it. Militants had been forced
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South Africa – The Real Current Event vs Rolling over of The President (a 3 Parts analysis)

by Anon for the Saker Blog Part One: The Real Current Event Part Two: Rolling Over of the President – Musical Chairs Part Three: History for Perspective a) Short notes
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Measuring the pace of progress with technologies of the past

Rabble News - Wed, 2018-03-14 21:58

Recently my wife was cleaning out the shelves and cabinets of our spare bedroom. Over time it had become the way station of forgotten gadgets, office supplies and memorabilia -- the neglected rag and bone shop of the house. 

In the process we discovered a treasure trove of technologies that filled us with amazement and nostalgia. There were a couple of shoeboxes full of cassette tapes. And, of course, a portable cassette player that only managed to play the first 30 seconds of a tape before it wheezed to a halt, dragging the music down three octaves as it died. 

We couldn't remember the last time we'd played a cassette. But, back in the '70s, it was how we recorded and listened to most of our music. We even made custom mix tapes, which really, is adorable.

My wife also discovered a thin sheaf of carbon paper. Youngsters, this was a sheet you placed between two leaves of typing paper so you could make a real-time duplicate of words you typed on a manual typewriter. Which had no screen, or plug, or memory. 

We marvelled at the acetates she found beneath the carbon paper. Kids, these clear sheets were placed on an overhead projector so you could present notes for a course. They were interactive multimedia in that you could draw on them with colour markers as you presented. Again, we hadn't used acetates since before Fleetwood Mac released Rumors

Then my wife struck gold -- airmail paper. This, young padawan, was gossamer-thin parchment on which you would write letters to relatives across the ocean. Letters delivered by plane. Because international postage was so expensive, and you paid by weight, the invention saved you money. 

In a forgotten drawer she found her first digital camera, an Olympus Camedia. When she purchased it in 2003, the device cost $1,400. It could take five-megapixel images that were stored on a 256K memory card the size of a Triscuit. 

To put that in perspective, look at your smartphone. See those icons on the screen? The graphic for just one of those icons would fill up the memory card that came with the camera. And you can't find a smartphone today that would take a paltry five-megabyte image unless you discover one at the bottom of an antique store remainder bin.

It's easy for us to look back on the technologies of the past: cassettes, carbon paper or acetates and shake our heads in wry amusement. And, it's natural for us to look at the pathetic digital cameras of the day and despair that something that cost as much as a contemporary laptop is just junk in a zip-locked bag destined for Value Village. 

But the shape of the obsolescence curve hasn't changed over centuries, just the slope.

In the past, manual technologies were supplanted by industrial ones. Take oil paint, for example. Painters from cave dwellers to Vermeer ground their own inorganic pigments. Then, in 1890, pre-mixed pigmented oil paints became available, then acrylics.

Some technologies were replaced because of mechanical advantage, some by economies of scale or a need for speed, still others because of advances in science. After the development of the transistor in 1947, vacuum tubes everywhere found their way into computer lab storage closets.

We might look back on older analog technologies like film cameras and bemoan how much longer useful life they have than the Olympus my wife bought and junked 15 years later.

But, a film camera from the '70s easily outstripped a film camera from the '40s and all but collectors would have chosen the '40s version. There is no question of the quality, workshop and style of the earlier cameras, they are things of beauty. But function as well as form is a metric of commercial success and adoption.

Look in the window of any pawnshop and you'll see what were once expensive SLRs collecting dust even though dirt cheap.

It would be great if my wife's old Olympus was still useful. But then, we don't regret that we don't need carbon paper, acetates or cassettes. 

And, in 20 years we'll clean out a room and laugh at the thick, slow "smartphones" we actually once used to take pathetically low-resolution pictures, listen to music and "browse" the "internet." So, we can't both decry the pace of progress and obsolescence and benefit from its slope.

But still, airmail paper was pretty damned cool.

Wayne MacPhail has been a print and online journalist for 25 years, and is a long-time writer for on technology and the Internet.

Photo: Nathan/flickr

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Bye-bye, Rex Tillerson. Hello deepening nightmare at the State Department

Rabble News - Wed, 2018-03-14 11:46
March 14, 2018Politics in CanadaUS PoliticsWorldNew U.S. secretary of state Pompeo is bad for peace -- and CanadaRex Tillerson was Trumpian in his disdain for the foreign service and support of America First. But he was willing to listen to allies and diplomats. By contrast, his successor looks like a fanatic.Rex TillersonDonald TrumpChrystia FreelandDepartment of Foreign Affairs
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New U.S. secretary of state Pompeo is bad for peace -- and Canada

Rabble News - Wed, 2018-03-14 11:40
Karl Nerenberg

A mere two months ago, Canada hosted a foreign ministers’ meeting on security and stability on the Korean Peninsula. The featured participant was U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Canada’s Global Affairs minister Chrystia Freeland has been fond of pointing to that conference and to her easy rapport with Tillerson as a sign of Canada’s good relations with the U.S.

Now Tillerson is gone.

President Donald Trump has replaced the former globetrotting business executive with his Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director, and onetime Tea Party congressman, Mike Pompeo. That is not good news for Canada, nor for the world.

Tillerson and Trump did not get along personally. In fact, Tillerson never denied calling the 45th president a moron.

However, their important difference was not personal. The problem was that Tillerson was something of a voice of moderation and reason in an administration that has precious few such voices.

As Trump himself explained to journalists -- in a brief, shouted scrum as he prepared to leave for California to inspect border wall prototypes -- what pushed him to fire his secretary of state was that fact that Tillerson was not enthusiastic about tearing up the Iran nuclear arms deal.

Tillerson had come to the conclusion -- influenced by his own officials and by U.S. allies such as the U.K. and Germany -- that the arduously negotiated agreement with Iran was good for stability in the North Africa/Middle East/Western Asia region, and good for world peace.

An advocate of bombing Iran

The new secretary, Mike Pompeo, has unwaveringly abhorred the Iran deal since his days as a hard-right member of the Kansas congressional delegation.

In 2014, while the Obama administration and U.S. allies were in delicate talks with Iran, then congressman Pompeo advocated air strikes against Iran, rather than negotiations.

“It is under 2,000 sorties to destroy the Iranian nuclear capacity,” Pompeo told a roundtable of reporters and right-wing house and senate members, “This is not an insurmountable task for coalition forces….”

Tillerson will not go down in history as one of the U.S.’s greatest secretaries of state. In many ways he was a Trump-style wrecking ball. Almost immediately upon taking office, he set out to ruthlessly gut the department he was supposed to lead, depriving it of generations’ worth of expertise and experience. But it was Tillerson’s saving grace that he was amenable to reason and argument.

Tillerson’s replacement is, to all appearances, an immovable ideologue and fanatic, despite his West Point and Harvard Law School pedigrees.

There is no record of Pompeo ever having displayed any interest in Canada. He represented a House of Representatives district in the U.S. rural heartland and was a close ally of the billionaire Koch brothers, who have been among the biggest financiers of Tea Party politicians.

The only glimmer of hope Canada’s Chrystia Freeland might detect in Pompeo’s appointment is that he is not on record as being an ardent protectionist.

The folks of Wichita, Kansas, and its surrounding area who sent Pompeo to Congress are more likely to benefit from relaxed trade barriers than from tariffs on basic goods. To the extent the new secretary of state has anything to say about the NAFTA negotiations, it may be to advocate a certain measure of moderation in dealings with the U.S.’s North American neighbours.

On the other hand, Trump and his chief trade adviser Peter Navarro seem to be fully in charge of the NAFTA file. And Pompeo will have his hands full with Iran, North Korea and other hot spots.

The bottom line for Canada is that the new, hardline, climate-change-denying, war mongering U.S. secretary of state is the last thing we need, at this time. 

Photo: U.S. State Department/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

Syrian War Report – March 13, 2018: US Officially Threatens To Strike Syrian Army On March 12, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley actually threatened that the US will strike Syrian government forces if they don’t halt their operation against terrorists in
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James Laxer in conversation

Rabble News - Wed, 2018-03-14 01:04
March 13, 2018NDPPolitical ActionJames Laxer on Canadian social democracy A 2014 interview with the late political thinker, academic and writer on the NDP, the Waffle, and social democracy in Canada.NDPsocial democracysocialismneoliberalism
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“On Nationalism and Patriotism” by Metropolitan Antoniy (Khrapovitskiy)

by Metropolitan Antoniy (Khrapovitskiy) Translation and notes by Edvin Buday While we conclude our prayer about our comrades who died for their love of the fatherland and begin our hymn
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Trump Votes For Rexit - Torture Queen Will Head CIA - (Updated)

U.S. President Donald Trump just fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump - 12:44 PM - 13 Mar 2018 Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic...
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West Virginia labour actions inspire educators nationwide

Rabble News - Tue, 2018-03-13 21:01
EducationLabourUS Politics

In West Virginia, striking public school teachers and staff celebrated a victory last week, inspiring educators outside their state to take action for better pay and working conditions. Their nine-day wildcat strike -- the longest in recent West Virginia history -- put in stark relief another national debate on teachers: President Donald Trump's plan to arm teachers with concealed firearms in the aftermath of the Valentine's Day school massacre in Parkland, Florida. As the Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said at a CNN town hall after that mass shooting: "We don't need to put guns in the hands of teachers. … We need to arm our teachers with more money in their pocket." That's exactly what teachers in West Virginia went on strike for, and why teachers from England to Oklahoma, are doing the same thing: organizing, engaging in collective bargaining and, if needed, striking for decent pay, benefits and a properly funded education system that serves their students, as well.

West Virginia is Trump country; he won with 68 per cent of the vote, beating Hillary Clinton by more than 40 percentage points. Yet the Mountain State has a long history of militant labour activism, dating back to the coal wars in the early 20th century. "Almost every West Virginian knows somebody who's been on strike -- parents, grandparents, friends, aunts, uncles, just somebody," striking middle school teacher Jay O'Neal, from Charleston, West Virginia, told us on the Democracy Now! news hour. "People know what it means to be on strike."

The wildcat strike, illegal under West Virginia law, involved more than 20,000 teachers and 13,000 school staffers. Strikers were concerned that many West Virginia schoolchildren, one in four of whom lives in poverty, are dependent on meals provided at school. "At my school something like 70 backpacks full of food were sent home with kids," O'Neal explained. "We also sent home flyers for churches and community centers that had organized food and meals for them. We are in a high-poverty state. Most of our kids depend on breakfast and lunch coming from school." The writer Barbara Ehrenreich, known for her perennial best-selling book on American poverty, Nickle and Dimed, wrote about the food backpacks, "This is our dystopian welfare state: severely underpaid teachers trying to keep poverty-stricken kids alive."

After nine days on strike, the teachers won. The Republican-controlled House of Delegates, Senate and governor agreed to a five per cent raise and a freeze on health insurance costs, while a task force that includes teachers and union members works on a health insurance funding plan. The five per cent raise applies not only to teachers, but to all state employees in West Virginia. Gov. James Justice also agreed to another demand of the strikers, pledging not to cut the state Medicaid budget in order to pay for the raise.

Speaking to us from Pittsburgh, labour journalist Mike Elk talked about the strike's impact elsewhere: "The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers voted to strike last Monday. … By that Wednesday, the school district had folded and given them everything they wanted." Graduate students at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, are in their second week of a strike. Across the Atlantic, tens of thousands of lecturers and other university workers are on strike. Priya Gopal, university lecturer in Cambridge, England, told us, "We were very, very heartened to see that striking teachers in West Virginia posted a picture of themselves holding up a placard sending us solidarity … there is a kind of collective awareness now in Britain and in America that these struggles are really against the erosion of the idea of education as a public good."

The West Virginia strike inspired teachers in Oklahoma, where, by many measures, teachers earn the lowest in all 50 states. Teresa Danks, a Tulsa elementary school teacher, made headlines last year by panhandling on the street to raise money for schools. "On top of our low salaries, our high insurance and all the other problems that are happening in the classroom," she told us, "teachers are paying out of pocket for everything." A Facebook group calling for a statewide teacher walkout in Oklahoma quickly grew to 45,000 members. A strike is scheduled for April 2. Similar labour actions are brewing in Kentucky.

Many student walkouts will be happening as well this spring, in response to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Teachers nationwide are now armed -- not as President Trump would have them, with concealed firearms, but with collective bargaining power and the willingness to strike.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,300 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan, of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times bestseller. This column originally appeared on Democracy Now!

Photo: Rich McGervey/flickr

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What's the relationship between democracy and populism? It's complicated.

Rabble News - Tue, 2018-03-13 20:39
ElectionsPolitics in CanadaWorld

Is "democracy" dying? I put democracy in "scare quotes" -- literally here -- since it implies that democracy has one, unambiguous meaning: a system in which "the people" vote every few years, then recede, leaving their interests in the control of elected representatives and parties.

The prime suspect in this death by murder is populism. Panic among the respectable classes hit a new high after last Sunday's Italian election, when populist parties routed the traditional ones on the left and right. The New York Times called the vote "a tidal turn of anti-immigrant, anti-European Union and anti-democratic fervour." I don't quite see why anti-democratic gets included in the list, since no party advocated eliminating elections.

Academic Yascha Mounk's new book is called The People vs. Democracy. He calls "the very survival of liberal democracy in doubt … From Great Britain to the U.S. and from Germany to Hungary," at the hands of populism.

What I fail to see is any inherent opposition between democracy and populism. Populism isn't the enemy of democracy; it springs from it and yearns for it. The "people" don't have to be bullied into "democracy" by bright journalists and academics. They're the ones who demanded and fought for it. Populism is democratic, that's why they call it populism.

In fact it's a kind of slander on the people to accuse them this way. They put up with an unconscionable amount of crap from our liberal forms of democracy. Take Greece, a good example of a battered populous.

For years it choked economically on measures imposed by unelected Eurocrats in Brussels. Then the people tossed out the old parties and elected a brand new one, Syriza. It had a tinge of populism. The EU got more vindictive.

So Syriza held a referendum asking the people, in effect: Are you serious? To everyone's surprise, they said they were -- but Syriza backed down anyway. So if you're the people, who you gonna turn to? There's despair there, disillusion, demoralizing emigration -- but, at least so far, no anti-democratic momentum.

Take Honduras, where the last election was blatantly stolen (with U.S. and Canadian approval). Or Mexico, where Manuel Lopez Obrador is running a third time, having had victory swiped last time and likely to happen again, despite a huge lead. He's a "fiery populist."

What stands out in these cases, isn't that the people occasionally grow weary with the frustrations of elections, but that they stick with them doggedly despite all the bad experience. Why? They know the alternatives may be even worse. They don't require lectures, thank you

The U.S. of Trump may be the best example of anti-democratic populism. He has disdain for elections and alternatives. ("I alone can fix it.") But it wasn't their fault -- or at least those in the rust belt states that gave him his victory -- that he was the only candidate who voiced their hard-won insight that "free trade" deals were vast deceptions destroying lives and communities. Many, probably most, would've voted for Bernie Sanders, had he been on offer.

Some populist leaders are anti-democratic; some followers are racists and haters. But at populism's core is the common human need to speak out and be heard. Populism is more like the symptom of a disease in the heart of democracy, attempting to heal itself, with potentially lethal side effects.

OK, but what if the worst happens and liberal democracy as we know it does succumb? It would be mourned, but would it mean the end of democracy?

That depends on whether you take a Eurocentric view of democracy or a broader, anthropological one. Most of us grew up learning that democracy was "invented" or "discovered" in Greece -- a sort of political eureka moment. It stirred again with Magna Carta and the British parliamentary tradition; then was refined by the U.S. founding fathers. Hmm, that does sound a tad Eurocentric.

The late British anthropologist Jack Goody had a different view. Based on his field work, he felt democracy was a universal human impulse that expressed itself in various forms in different eras and locales. Where others saw "Asiatic despotism," he perceived alternate versions of democracy, as in Confucius', "Anyone who loses the people loses the state." That's almost populist.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

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Categories: News for progressives

Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney find common ground, sort of … on dubious pipeline posturing

Rabble News - Tue, 2018-03-13 10:43
David J. Climenhaga

I guess we can understand why Jason Kenney acts like Alberta has all the powers of a sovereign nation.

After all, the leader of the Opposition United Conservative Party was one of former prime minister Stephen Harper's chief henchmen in the Conservative government that ran the federation through the long decade the Alberta tail wagged the Canadian dog.

But what's Rachel Notley's excuse?

The New Democratic Party Premier of Alberta is a lawyer, and a smart one. She understands Canadian provinces don't have jurisdiction over interprovincial operations of "Canals, Telegraphs and other Works and Undertakings connecting the Province with any other …" Even if she didn't, the Alberta government's lawyers would tell her.

Any court would rule interprovincial pipelines in general and the controversial Trans Mountain Pipeline in particular fall into this constitutional catchall for obvious reasons. That question was settled in London in 1867, before Alberta was even a province.

So it seems clear Alberta would be far outside its constitutional envelope if it tried to interfere with the operation of a pipeline to prevent shipment of gasoline to British Columbia to punish that province's government for … ummmm … operating outside its constitutional jurisdiction in exactly the same way.

But Notley and Kenney seem to be in complete accord on this one point at least: If British Columbia unconstitutionally and illegally dares to try to interfere with what goes through a pipeline that passes through its territory, then Alberta can constitutionally and legally interfere with what goes through the same pipeline when it passes through its territory.

Specifically, they both suggest they could cut off supplies of gasoline that flow through the existing Trans Mountain Pipeline to Vancouver if B.C. tries to restrict the volume of diluted bitumen that can go through it, or slow down the current controversial Kinder Morgan Inc. line expansion mega-project that was approved by the National Energy Board last year.

What's wrong with this picture? Constitutionally, that is.

Well, it's far enough off base that, were this not the Age of Trump, we'd just laugh it off. But the American Caligula seems to think he can just make up the law as he goes along, and that idea appears to be contagious.

Andrew Leach, the University of Alberta economics and business professor, was wonkishly tweeting about this on Friday. His commentary, while technical, is illuminating.

His bottom line: "… there isn't a space for AB gov intervention, provincial shipping permits on TM are not a thing which exists and so cannot be revoked, etc."

I believe Dr. Leach is right about this, notwithstanding all the sound and fury his Tweets generated.

Furthermore, Leach said, the bottom line of the bottom line is this:

"Finally, and this is important: if you believe that @RachelNotley or @jkenney can restrict flows on the pipeline, so can @jjhorgan. And @PremierScottMoe. It's open season on NEB pipelines and Alberta loses." This is obviously true.

By the way, when premier Peter Lougheed restricted exports of natural gas from Alberta during his fight with prime minister Pierre Trudeau over the National Energy Program in the 1980s, he did it by reducing total gas exports, within Alberta's jurisdiction, not by somehow cutting off certain products in an existing pipeline under Ottawa's jurisdiction.

Then there is the matter of trade agreements, domestic and international, that govern trading relationships among jurisdictions.

I have always held the cynical view such deals are essentially "corporate rights agreements," designed to privilege the rights of corporate persons over us natural humans.

But speaking of U.S. President Donald Trump, who seems determined to upset the trade agreement applecart, New York Times economics columnist Paul Krugman articulated an alternative interpretation of their purpose Thursday that is directly applicable to the threats emanating from Alberta these days.

"There's a reason we have international trade agreements, and it's not to protect us from unfair practices by other countries," wrote Krugman, who once won the Nobel Prize for Economics. "The real goal, instead, is to protect us from ourselves."

That is, he argued, they don't only make us play by the rules, they restrict the ability of special interests with access to political decision-makers to influence policy to the detriment of other job-creators. In other words, "to limit the special-interest politics and outright corruption that used to reign in trade policy."

Either way, it is not an inconsequential matter that what is proposed by Alberta, and what has been done in the case of the notorious two-week B.C. wine embargo, clearly violates internal trade agreements, and possibly international ones as well.

We can count on it, moreover, that corporations that use pipelines to ship their products will assert their rights under such agreements if provinces violate them to fight intramural trade wars. As a commenter in this space observed recently, how do you think corporations will react if government tries to tell them to whom they can sell their products? This is something both Notley and Kenney also understand, and a state of affairs Kenney has worked tirelessly to encourage, moreover.

None of this is good for the country, it goes without saying. If provinces can interfere with essential supplies to another region because of trade disputes and Ottawa sits on its hands, the argument for being maîtres chez nous will grow stronger.

This is not just true in British Columbia, but in Quebec as well, where a new generation of separatists is no doubt watching with intense interest.

While B.C. seems to have a weak constitutional case for blocking shipments of bitumen from Alberta by using its partial jurisdiction over environmental matters, it seems quite possible Alberta has an even weaker one for embargoing gasoline to B.C. through a pipeline over which it has no jurisdiction at all. This is true whether the threat is made by the NDP or the UCP.

This fight can be resolved by recourse to the courts, or by the federal government. It won't be resolved by belligerent threats by Alberta politicians.

As for the pipeline posturing by all parties in the Alberta Legislature, I'm no constitutional lawyer, so I might be mistaken. But I was an agriculture reporter for many years, so I do recognize the smell of manure.

I'll bet B.C. Premier John Horgan does too.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog,

Photo: Peg Hunter/flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

Moveable Feast Cafe 2018/03/13 … Open Thread

2018/03/13 03:30:03Welcome to the ‘Moveable Feast Cafe’. The ‘Moveable Feast’ is an open thread where readers can post wide ranging observations, articles, rants, off topic and have animate discussions of
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