News for progressives

Climate and the Infernal Blue Wave: Straight Talk About Saving Humanity

Counterpunch - Tue, 2018-11-13 15:56

Photo Source Ninara | CC BY 2.0

Let me tell you about why I woke up crying today. It has to do with just how close we are to full-blown climate disaster. I was thinking about children who are already experiencing the horrible consequences of global warming, and I was thinking about particular children I love and what’s in store for them. Most of all, I was thinking about the unthinkable: that we are on the verge of ensuring that most, if not all, life on Earth will be snuffed out.

Everyone should be tossing and turning in their beds unable to sleep, experiencing the raw emotions that led me to tears this morning.

This is not a joke, or a drill. This is it. Decision-point for humankind. The UN says we have to turn things around within 12 years to avoid catastrophe. Others give us even less time.

We need to act.  And we need to act quickly. But we need to act rationally as well. It won’t help to run out and just “do something, anything” to fight for our future. We need to look honestly at whether the things we’ve been doing so far are effective. They aren’t.

The Sierra Club sent me a message a few minutes ago, about how we need to redouble the sorts of efforts they’ve been leading, and in particular, the effort to elect Democrats.  They want to mail me a “Make America Green Again” bumper sticker, which I’m supposed to use to persuade others to vote Democrat.

I can’t do that. We can’t do that. Because Democrats take us backwards on climate. Make America green again? It wasn’t green before! Electing Democrats and pursuing the incremental agenda they and their fawning environmental groups put forth, is literally suicidal.

Moonwalking:  The Years of Living Delusionally

Lots of people believe that prior to Trump we were on the correct course. While things weren’t perfect, we did make overall progress under Obama and the Democrats, they say. And now we need to fight to preserve and expand that climate “legacy”.

This thinking is plain wrong, and it’s dangerous. To save ourselves, we’ve got to understand that we were moonwalking all those years. We talked as if we were winning; we thought we were moving forward bit by bit, but in truth, we were losing ground dramatically. Like Michael Jackson, we faced forward, and we moved our arms and legs resolutely as if moving in that direction, while we slid rapidly backwards.

Yes, Obama eventually talked about climate change and the need to address it. Yes, he adopted fuel efficiency standards and a “Clean Power Plan”.  He signed the Paris Agreement.

But each of these measures and Obama’s other climate “actions” were very weak, as the links above attest.  More importantly they were overshadowed and completely undone by his staggering promotion of fossil fuels.  Obama wantedto massively increase oil and gas production and infrastructure.  And he did. The statistics are truly mind-boggling. For example, he:

+ Proudly oversaw the biggest increase in oil production in U.S. history.

+ Dramatically expandednatural gas production.

+ Avidly promoted fracking. Obama handed out vast numbers of drilling permits that authorized this particularly destructive method of fossil fuel extraction. His much-touted fracking regulations were explicitly designed to reduce pollution “without slowing natural gas production.”

+ Massively expanded offshore drilling. Obama bragged that he had opened up “more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore,” and “quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high.”

+ Approved the construction of tens of thousands of miles of fossil fuel pipelines. By 2015, there were 207,800 miles of fossil fuel liquids pipeline in the United States, a 13% increase over 2011.   By 2014, 16.2 billion barrels of crude oil and petroleum products were delivered by pipeline annually, a 20% increase over 2010.

+ Gave initial approvals for all sorts of other pipelines which are now receiving final go-aheads from Trump.

+ Issued giant new leases to coal corporations in the Powder River Basin, ensuring that coal has by no means gone away completely, despite Obama’s rules preventing construction of new coal-fired power plants. It has been estimated that Obama’s Powder River Basin leases will add 4 billion tons of carbon pollution to the atmosphere, the equivalent of 200 new coal-fired power plants.

+ Oversaw a huge expansion of coal exports.

+ Facilitated a 1000 percent increase in U.S. oil exports between 2009 and 2016, resulting in an estimated additional 12 million to 22 million metric tons of C02 emissions per year due to increased oil production. Obama’s removal of restrictions on oil exports in December of 2015, led to an all-time high of nearly 2 million barrels exported per day by October of 2017.

+ Massively expanded natural gas exports, leading to a record high in 2016. It is estimated that by 2020 60 million mt of liquid natural gas will be exported each year.   Obama’s support for numerous Liquid Natural Gas projects has been key to this expansion.

+ Directed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to pressure other countries to support fracking.

+ Authorized the Export-Import Bank to hand out almost $34 billion worth of low-interest loans and guarantees for fossil fuel projects abroad. This was about three times the amount provided under George W. Bush, and almost twice that provided under Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton combined.  The Bank backed two of the biggest coal-fired power plants in the world, for example, facilitating combined annual carbon emissions of more than 56m tons. (Average U.S. coal-fired plants emit “only” 3.5m tons, and the biggest U.S. coal plant emits “only” 19m tons per year.)

The Party’s pro-fossil fuel approach was carried out at the state level as well as the federal level. Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, former head of the Democratic National Committee, enthusiastically supported the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.  The same Governor JerryBrown, who was praised for denouncing Trump’s proposed expansion of offshore drilling in federal waters, himself greatly increased offshore drilling in state waters. He eased restrictions on drilling and fracking, fired regulators who sought to make drilling safer, and ignored pleas to close the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility despite the massive leak there.

We lost eight precious years when Obama was President.  Instead of moving forward, we hurtled backwards, both in terms of flooding the world with fossil fuels that have led to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and in terms of locking ourselves into more of the same via massive infrastructure. It is even possible that Obama’s actions and inactions have already pushed the climate to the point of no return.

How We Get Fooled

People get confused about what the Democrats actually do in office because many environmentalists and other Party loyalists play up token advances as monumental gains.  At the same time, they downplay or completely ignore climate-destroying actions.

They also play games with statistics.  An Obama fan gushes in 2016 that “solar power has increased by 30 times since he [Obama] took office.”  He doesn’t mention that solar power was such a miniscule part of the U.S. energy landscape to begin with that it still represents less than 1% of the U.S. energy mix after that leap forward.  Obama enthusiasts make much of the fact that  Obama expanded renewables capacity, without noting that fossil fuels still thoroughly dominate the U.S. energy mix despite that expansion. They overlook the unpleasant fact that mass production of fossil fuels leads to lower prices that directly undermine renewables.  And fossil fuel infrastructure put in place with Obama’s enthusiastic support locks in the very fossil fuels we need to eliminate.

Emissions graphs are also used to spread confusion.  By showing only the years 2005 onward, people can emphasize seeming declines in emissions during the Obama years—declines likely associated with the economic downturn of those years.  U.S. emissions remain well above levels for 1990—the year that is supposed to be used as the baseline.

More importantly, graphs used to imply climate progress in the U.S. don’t account for the emissions associated with the huge volumes of oil, gas and coal we export, or the fossil fuel facilities we have financed abroad.   Nor do they reflect emissions associated with all those products Americans import.  If we only look at greenhouse gases generated within our nation, U.S. emissions increased by 9% between 1990 and 2014.  If we add in the emissions associated with the products we import, the increase becomes 17%.   (Approximately 22% of global CO2 emissions are associated with goods that are produced in one country but consumed in another.)

What really matters is what’s happening globally.  The overall trend for greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere has been up up up for decades.  Global temperatures have been going up up up.  All of this means that we, as a species, are going down down down.   Democrats, as well as Republicans, are to blame.

Leaving Dead-ends and Delusions Behind

It is clearly suicidal to continue the long-time dominant strategy of major environmental groups:  striving to get Democrats elected and working with them for incremental reforms.

Here’s the truth.  Carbon taxes, divestment, fuel efficiency standards, tax credits for solar panels, setting nice goals, and similar policy measures are not going to work.  Nor is begging people to drive less, eat lower on the food chain, and otherwise tread more lightly on the planet.  And doing all of these things at the same time won’t make them magically add up to salvation.

To halt global warming, we need to rapidly stop fossil fuel production, period.  At the same time, we need to develop and implement comprehensive plans that i) directly deploy renewables, mass transit and other climate solutions at the necessary grand scale,  ii) provide economic security for all workers, including in particular, those displaced by climate mitigation, and iii) ensure that every person has the capacity and resources to live healthy lives for themselves and the planet.

To be able to do these things, we need to have:

+ Direct control over fossil fuel production, and over the deployment of climate solutions.

+ Ample financial resources to implement climate solutions and to cover associated costs, such as ensuring full employment in a fossil-fuel-free economy.

This means that we need:

+ Public ownership of the major industries, starting with the energy and financial industries, so we can make the decisions ourselves, and do what needs to be done directly and immediately.

+ Vibrant systems for democratically managing those industries, and for developing and implementing plans that are just and effective.

+ Guaranteed economic rights for all including the right to a good-paying job, dignified well-paid retirement, free health care, and free education.

In other words, we need to move beyond capitalism.  We need socialism.  Instead of ceding decision-making authority and resources to a few oligarchs, we need to keep these for ourselves.

Neither the Democratic nor the Republican Parties are going to move us beyond capitalism.  They’ve made that abundantly clear.

Both parties are happy with the current inherently undemocratic capitalist system.  Under that system, major industries are privately owned, which means a few people get to make decisions that affect everyone.  (Exxon’s and Chevron’s owners get to decide whether to pull oil and gas from the ground, for example.)

We’re supposed to be able to steer those decisions through policies adopted by our elected officials and government agencies, but things don’t work that way.  Corporate profits flow to corporate owners creating giant piles of money which they use to thoroughly distort everything.  Big Money buys elections, legislation, news media outlets, public relations strategies, nonprofit groups, school curricula, lawsuits, smear campaigns against activists, violence, scientific research, control over enforcement agencies, and more.

Because profits flow to corporate owners rather than the working people who generate those profits, we find ourselves without the wealth to do what needs to be done.    Moreover, because big corporations control so many jobs, they can extort concessions out of us as individuals, communities and a nation.

Solutions to global warming are sitting right in front of us, but we can’t implement them.  We don’t hold the reins, we lack the money that our labor created, and our jobs are threatened if we challenge the corporations. This insane, unjust set-up has got to go.

But the Democrats and the Republicans are united in blocking real change.  They’re both heavily funded by oligarchs, they firmly uphold the economic system that creates oligarchs, and they do the oligarchs’ bidding.  A lot of elected officials from both parties are oligarchs themselves.

We need to organize a movement that demands system change.   And we need to help that movement birth a new political party, of, by and for working people, that is truly democratic.

We must get beyond futilely trying to get corporate owners to do the right thing.  We must get beyond a system that funnels wealth to the few, thereby creating massive inequities, and Big Money distortion of every aspect of our lives.  We must get beyond political parties that prop up capitalism and serve the wealthy few.

Is there a place for seeking incremental reforms in our struggle to save humanity?  Yes.  But strategies involving support for such reforms must be developed and carried out in the context of our larger goal:  securing and using real power through democratically managed public ownership and guaranteed economic rights.  That’s what we need to keep front and center.  Everything we do needs to feed into that goal.

The Power to Survive

Some say it’s crazy to fight for system change, leaving the Democrats and incrementalism behind.  “System change is impossible” they maintain.  “We can’t possibly achieve it in time to stave off disaster.”  But which is crazier really?  Fighting for actual control over our destiny, or continuing to fight within the very system that produced global warming, a system that thoroughly disempowers us?

We have not yet seen what can happen when we fight for real change that can make people’s lives truly better.  For a long time, all the oxygen has been sucked out of the room by Democratic Party apologists and incremental reform-focused nonprofits.  What if all the energy, time, and money poured by unions, activist organizations, and individuals into dead-ends went to the real fight instead?  What if instead of saying, “that’s impossible, we can’t change the system,” we believed we could, and we fought that way?

What if people fighting losing battles on all sorts of huge problems engendered by capitalism—global warming, the economic distress endured by most people, endless war, underfunded education, racism, other forms of oppression, and more—united to take on the common root of those problems?  What if we were honest about the abysmal record of the Democrats, not just on global warming, but on most of these other issues as well?

We–the working people of the world who are screwed by the current set-up—are many.  They—oligarchs who hoard society’s wealth and maximize corporate profits at our expense—are few.

There are abundant signs that people are disgusted with the status quo.  Everyone sees that big corporations call the shots.  Except for a very few people at the top, no one likes that arrangement.  Change is in the air.

Because we do the work of society, we really do have power.  It’s time to recognize and use that power.  If we unite and have each other’s backs, we can engage in strategic broad strikes, and in pouring into the streets in a systematic and effective way.  We can win this fight.  We can put obvious solutions to global warming swiftly in place.  The main thing holding us back is false hope in dead-end reforms and in capitalist parties that do not represent us.

One can argue about whether Democrats are better than Republicans, i.e. we can engage in the age-old “lesser evil” comparison.  But that is a diversion from the vital reality we must grasp.  Neither party deserves our support.  Both have reprehensible records and agendas.  Both are in the pockets of the oligarchs who control society and deny us our most basic rights, including even our right to ensure the survival of humankind.  We can no longer passively accept as our lot that our only choices are Democrats and Republicans, and that working for ineffective reforms within the confines they set, is the best we can do.

Finding Strength.  Finding Each Other.

I’m tired.  The oligarchs have huge power, and it’s been such a hard slog already.  Those of you who are older, who have been fighting all these years, know what I mean about how it wears you down over time.   And everyone, young and old, who’s paying the slightest bit of attention, knows how disheartening it all can be.  We are up against massive Big Money forces that manipulate information and much more.

But life and justice are simply too precious to give up on. Let’s dig deep and rise together at last.

Each of us needs to tell the truth, everywhere we can, even though that can be uncomfortable and frightening.   Stand up and explain unapologetically that incremental changes are a dead-end.  The Democratic and Republican Parties are dead-ends.  We have the power to win fundamental changes and must unite to demand them.

The other thing we need to do is find each other.  If you are lucky, there is an organization near you that understands what I’m talking about in this article.  It fights for system change and is part of building the movement and the political party we need.   If no such group exists, start something new.  Engage in the simple yet radical act of bringing people together to talk. Have them over to your home.  Or convene a meeting at your workplace or campus. Please contact me about your efforts, particularly if you are in the Pacific Northwest.

Roadmaps already exist laying out how current renewable technologies can swiftly replace fossil fuels.  There are more than enough resources to create the world we want—one in which everyone’s needs are met, and we live in harmony with our environment.  When we no longer cede the reins and our wealth to the few, we, the many, will find our way forward.

Categories: News for progressives

Germany on a Political Seesaw

Counterpunch - Tue, 2018-11-13 15:56

Photo Source European People’s Party | CC BY 2.0

While Americans teetered, arguing as to which side gained more in the elections, Germans have been balancing on a seesaw of their own – which can also have decisive consequences.

Seated precariously on the descending side are the ruling parties of the Grand Coalition – GroKo in German journalese. When on October 14th the Christian Social Union (CSU) in Bavaria, the unique one-state subsidiary of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU),” got the worst result anyone could recall in a state election, the blow sent shock waves through the whole country. It was  still the strongest party in this biggest German state but must now share cabinet seats with an equally conservative local breakaway party. All exertions of its fading king-pin, Horst Seehofer, who tried to win points by attacking and insulting his ally Angela Merkel from the right, failed miserably. So did his attempts – he’s still Federal Interior Minister – to save the head of the Bureau to Protect the Constitution (like the FBI), who had become all too openly pro-fascist. It looks as if the amused-smiling Seehofer will soon follow his appointee into involuntary retirement and right-wing Bavarian loud-voiced pride – recalling old Texas in a way – was reduced to a rather hoarse croak.

Two weeks later came the next blow. The wealthy state of Hesse, with its center in Frankfurt/Main, was a stronghold of the Social Democrats (SPD) for decades. Then they were pushed out by the Christian Democrats, often using racist stereotyping propaganda. The state elections on October 28th shocked them both. The SPD was reduced to a pitiful relic, under 20 %, while the CDU got its worst result in 50 years.

These state-level shocks were no less staggering at the federal level. Merkel, seeing her personal aura dwindle like a fading rainbow, took a step fully unthinkable just a few years ago. She has always been both chancellor and head of the CDU, an indispensable tie she always claimed. But at its congress next month she will step down as party leader. She can remain “queen mother” of the national government until 2021, if it stays in power, but the odds against it and her are grating downward. With its current rating of 27 % the CDU-CSU is still the strongest but not by much.

Three main rivals are pushing to succeed her as party leader – and maybe even more? Jens Spahn, 38, currently Minister of Health, has always been a major right-wing opponent of Merkel. Never popular despite all his efforts, the public has spurned him in the polls.

Annegret Kamp-Karrenbauer, 56, from Saarland, is the party’s general secretary and closest to Merkel’s center-leaning position on many issues. (Her name makes her no favorite with headline writers – the end part was added with her husband – it’s his name. They often call her AKK.

She is running neck and neck with Friedrich Merz (62). Back in 2002 Merkel jockeyed him out of his leadership hopes and he switched from politics to business, where he did far better. He is chairman of the board of the German section of BlackRock, Inc., the global investment management corporation, the world’s largest asset manager with $6.29 trillion in assets in 30 countries. It’s called the world’s largest shadow bank. Its German section faces charges of covering up millions – or billions of tax frauds. But Mertz is backed by powerful men in finance, politics, the media. Criticism too: “If he wins out there needn’t be any more lobbyists – he’s Mr. Lobbyist in person.” He’s also on the board of HSBC, Europe’s largest bank, which has had more scandals than it can count – in Mexico, South Africa, South Asia, the USA. It paid a $1.9b fine for a drug scandal in 2012 (about five weeks of its annual profit) but Obama’s Attorney General Holder saved the culprits from jail cells.

Friedrich Merz as the knight in shining armor rescuing Germany’s slithering economy while strengthening its armed forces; what a frightening nightmare!

On state and federal levels the other partner in the Grand Coalition, the SPD, is sinking  so quickly it threatens to fall off my metaphor see-saw entirely. After barely reaching 20 % in last year’s election it now stands at 14 %. And though the membership of Germany’s oldest party – who haven’t yet quit – are  desperately calling for a change in policy if not in leadership, the latter, headed by Andrea  Nahles, 48, stubbornly orders them, like the captain in Pete Seeger’s song, “to push on!” But quitting the coalition, as they demand, could mean new elections – and new dangers.

If the ruling parties, CDU, CSU and SPD, are losing so rapidly, who is on the upward-swing? The bigger menace is the Alternative for Germany (AfD), now with representatives in every state legislature after its gains in Bavaria and Hesse. They were not as big as the AfD hoped and most people feared – but there were no big Hurrahs! In national polls it is surpassing the Social Democrats. While some of its leaders try to sound civilized and win points in the all too generous media, others betray again and again its fascist nature; ranting against Muslims and immigrants but promoting big business goals like lower estate taxes or more weaponry and soldiers. If people like Merz take over the CDU and the economy falters, they could form a coalition with the AfD in a frightening parody of 1931-33 events.

But the main winners in the shift of voters in Bavaria, Hesse or nationally have amazingly been the Greens. Readers in the USA or elsewhere should not see them as an almost radical group, well to the left. They started off like that, but that was decades ago, before seven years in the government with the SPD tamed them fully, with both passing some of the worst anti-working class legislation in years and taking Germany into its first post-unification war – against Serbia. It has not been in the government since 2005, but it has not changed much in those past fifteen years.

The Greens stress environment above all, but have decided that this does not require conflict with big business, which must simply be convinced that ecology and profits can be combined. One need not look over to the Koch Brothers to question this; Volkswagen-Daimler-BMW emission cheating and the merger of Monsanto and Bayer, two of the world’s worst killers of butterflies, salamanders and songbirds (and both companies once among the world’s worst murderers of human beings – from Auschwitz to Danang in Vietnam) – should give rise to a few doubts.

True, the Greens are for women’s and LGTSB rights, usually good on immigrant questions – at least until they lead governments, as in their happy bond with Daimler in Stuttgart and with the forest-axing RWE energy giant near  Aachen. They have proved quite willing to join on state level with the right-wing CDU, as in Hesse, and can no longer claim a description as leftwing.

The cause for their sudden upward swing in popularity is because millions do not feel represented by the present government, but rather betrayed by both Merkel and the SPD. Right-wing protest leads then to the AfD. Others, for better or worse, turn in protest to the Greens.

A genuine alternative should really be the LINKE, the Left. The two state elections brought an increase in voters, but only a small increase, especially in Bavaria, where they again failed to reach the 5 % minimum for membership in the legislature.

A problem in western Germany rests in decade-old prejudices against any party connected with the East German GDR, a form of anti-Communism regenerated almost every evening by the media. In eastern Germany there are two special obstacles. Millions had high hopes that unification would bring the “blossoming landscapes”  promised by Helmut Kohl. But for many the blossoms are thistles and poison ivy. If any jobs then too often insecure, low-paid, part-time, and speed-up jobs plus worries about pension levels and their children’s future. Some are led to believe that alleged “advantages” for refugees and immigrants mean losses for themselves and their monolithic white German culture. All too few see the LINKE not as a fighter for their rights and needs but, often in state governments or eager to join them, rather as just another part of the “establishment”.

The correct answer to this, it would seem, would be a tough fight by the LINKE against the powers-that-be, the gentrifiers, exploiters, giant tax-cheaters and – indeed –their whole system.

A possible move in this direction was launched by a top LINKE leader, Sahra Wagenknecht, with a collective movement, Aufstehen (Stand Up) aimed at winning angry, dissatisfied people from all parties or no party. But instead of complementing the LINKE, it is currently facing a split, partly based on personalities, which threatens to break up the LINKE, leaving the national stage to the rightists. I, too, have been worried and skeptical.

Last Friday “Sahra” made a magnificent speech to a thousand adherents next the Brandenburg Gate. It was an amazingly important date in German history. One hundred years ago German sailors, then shipyard workers, then soldiers joined and, braving all odds and weapons, launched the German revolution which ended the rule of the Kaiser and World War One, but which was soon betrayed and beaten. In the years that followed the same forces which had beaten them back, the giant industrial and financial concerns, the 1 %, built up Hitler and his Nazis. 80 years ago, on November 9th 1938, they began the violent extermination of the Jewish population; a few years later they went on to kill up to 27 million people in the Soviet Union– plus tragic numbers of Roma people, Poles, Yugoslavs, Italians… and Americans.

On that same date 29 years ago, East Germans cheered as they poured through the Berlin Wall and rejoiced at unification. Their jubilation was fully understandable. Only a minority feared that new freedoms, far more commodities and travel chances also opened the barriers for the return of those same business interests they had ejected after 1945. Now back with greater strength than ever, they began again, slicing at working people’s rights and spreading eastwards, building armies, training parachutists and drone experts. And, while looking slightly askance at their crudity, as in earlier years, they allowed murderous bands of stiff-armed, Hitler-tattooed thugs to open the path to new rounds of killing. This see-saw game can find a very terribly finale.

Categories: News for progressives

Hey Right Wingers! Signatures Change over Time

Counterpunch - Tue, 2018-11-13 15:50

The Republicans, worried that the party may lose two Senate seats, a Governor’s mansion, and probably a bunch more close races for the House over the counting of disputed mail-in ballots and provisional ballots, are drumming up conspiracy theories now. I just drove through Trump Country last night and listened to Fox Radio as the host (I think it was Laura Ingraham) and her call-ins denounced the recount battles as Democratic corruption.

The biggest laugh was when Ingraham noted that Floridians had passed a law that will (finally!) permit non-violent felons who have served their time to vote. She snarkily said, “We’ll see how that works out!” This, of course, after Republican voters in Southern California elected to the House two convicted felons.

At any rate, it needs to be pointed out to these people, who are either simply incapable of logic or just grabbing at straws to attack a legitimate need for a careful count of all ballots, that there are good reasons why signatures when a person votes, and when they originally registered to vote, can be different looking. My father-in-law is 91, and has palsied hands. When we tried to get him a mail ballot so he could vote at the nursing home he lives in, he enthusiastically signed the ballot application as best as he could. It was rejected by New Jersey authorities (NJ is a heavily Democratic state by the way and he happens to be a Democrat) because they said his signature didn’t match the one he signed five years ago when he and my mother-in-law moved to New Jersey from Florida and registered to vote when they got their state ID cards at the state Motor Vehicle Dept.

Of course his signatures don’t match! His hands were steady five years ago.

But no amount of phone calling about it would convince the Bergen County registrar to send out a mail ballot to his address, and as we live in Pennsylvania, and he, while of sound mind but on oxygen and bed-bound, is physically unable to take an ambulette trek to county offices just to prove he is who he is.

So he didn’t get to vote.

My mother-in-law, incidentally, did receive a mail ballot, though her signature, always illegible like her handwriting, is now perfectly neat (and perfectly different from the one she signed when she registered). This is because she has arthritic hands and at this point has to work at writing, so she does her signature carefully now, not as a fast scrawl as she used to do. Nobody noticed the difference when she applied for her ballot, but if she were still living in Broward County, Florida, irate Republicans and the party’s lawyers would probably be trying to have her consistently Democratic vote voided.

And it’s not just old people. I look at my signature today, which has over the years lost the Jr. (I stopped using that after my father died, since I never liked it anyhow, and it made no sense any longer), and which has gradually evolved from what it was when I first registered to vote at 21 in 1970 (a year before 18-year-olds got the vote) from something fairly legible to a mere approximation of letters. We all change our handwriting.

Beyond this, Republican critics of the slow counting of provisional ballots like Ingraham are deliberately not mentioning the reason there are so many in states like Arizona, and especially Georgia and Florida, that masses of provisional ballots cast. This is because they are a direct consequence of a long history of increasingly desperate Republican voter suppression efforts, designed to compensate for the inevitable decline in their numbers as aging white males become an ever-smaller percentage of the nation’s population.

A big suppression tactic in Florida and Georgia has been running registered voter list name checks against an outrageous national list of felons developed by the Darth Vader of voter disinfranchisement: Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. As investigative journalist Greg Palast has proven, that list of Kobach’s includes huge numbers of John Smiths, Jim Johnsons, Tom Freemans or Freedmans, Carol Thomases etc. — all common names for African-Americans stuck with the surnames assigned to their forebears by the slaveowners who bought them.

The trick is, a corrupt Secretary of State like current embattled Georgia Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp (a man so corrupt he refused until forced yesterday by public pressure to step down from his current post as Secretary of State overseeing the count in his own election race), will alert county voter registrars that everyone on their lists who has “their” name appearing on the national felon-list should be scrubbed as a registered voter. When someone comes in to vote on Election Day with a suspect name, they are not allowed to vote but can request a provisional ballot, and then later prove they have no criminal record. In Florida, this dirty trick was applied so commonly and widely that it led to passage of the new law restoring citizenship rights to felons who have paid their “debt to society.”

Provisional ballots filled out as a consequence of such tactics should clearly be counted, not blocked from being counted by court action.

Another common Republican suppression tactic is to send postcards to registered voters at their last registered address, usually fairly close to an election, saying to return it if they live there. The cards look like junk mail, and require buying a stamp, so people receiving them may just toss them, and then later their names get wiped from the voter rolls, which they only discover when they try to vote. Or, since many low-income people, especially minorities, are renters and tend, much more than home owners, to move either to better digs if their income or family situation changes, or if they lose a job and have to downsize. That means they change addresses so the card never reaches them, and again they are wiped from the rolls. It’s a deliberate trick to deny the vote to people who have registered. Again, such people can demand a provisional ballot.

If they filled one out it should be counted.

Anyone who says otherwise is as corrupt as Kobach, who by the way managed to lose his race badly to a Democratic woman, who will now be the governor of Kansas, a state often described — but no more — as “the reddest of the red states.” (The state’s voters also elected a Democratic Native American lesbian to represent one of the state’s four Congressional districts — a huge and dramatic breakthrough in many ways.)

Voting may be over-rated as a way to effect change in this country, given our corrupted political system of two pro-corporate parties, and of unlimited money going to fund (bribe) candidates, but it is still important, and it is moreover a fundamental right of citizenship that was won for women and minorities as a result of major mass movement struggles, battles and blood. Those who deny it or who try to make it harder or impossible to exercise for certain classes or races of people are not just spitting on the Constitution, they are criminals far worse than most of the felons who are in most states being denied the right to vote.

Categories: News for progressives

Poetry and Barbarism: Adorno’s Challenge

Counterpunch - Tue, 2018-11-13 15:50

nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben, ist barbarisch

— Adorno

In the English speaking world, Adorno is famously thought to have said that poetry after Auschwitz was impossible. In point of fact though, he actually said something perhaps even more problematic that “writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric”.

Not surprisingly, these thoughts sprung from a deep sense of survivor’s guilt. Adorno often had dreams/hallucinations that his life post 1944 was a dead man’s dream that he had in fact perished in the war. His anguish was very real and is essential to understanding his life’s work.

The question for us however is whether or not Adorno was correct: was writing poetry after the Shoah an impossible, barbaric task?

Certainly any artistic production after the Shoah would have to be different.

Thinking deeply about the events that led to one of the great tragedies of Western civilization would lead to the gradual realization in the works of Todorov, Amery, Wiesel, Levi, Gide, Badiou, Finkielkraut, Sartre, Bauman and, of course, Adorno that something was generally and dreadfully wrong with that very same civilization; and that the German case was but an extreme example of a general trend.

Some of the famous commentators mentioned above felt that the fault variously lay with science, bureaucracy, instrumental reason, and capitalism. Others felt that the West, particularly through its experience with colonialism, generated a culture of genocide. Yet, whatever the ultimate reason or reasons for the Western urge to discipline, degrade, and finally destroy the other in their midst, one could argue that after Auschwitz many more people in the West became aware of this terrible destructive tendency and decided to take action.

Indeed, in a profound sense, the self-criticism of the West that gradually took place after the war could be said to have directly culminated in the events of 1968. Here after many years of painful self-examination a significant part of a whole generation of Westerners were to reject the past and in an act of Dionysian purification seek out new doors of perception and ways of being in the world.

Culturally, they were in part successful in that they were able to change the field of discourse having to do with the other whether black, gay, migrant, woman, Jew, Palestinian, or any other outsider or stranger. However, on the level of revolutionary praxis, the record is not so clear as hierarchic structures of domination and power lubricated by a global capitalist exchange system continues to prosper and thrive.

So what about the poets?

After Auschwitz, poetry perhaps must face two directions simultaneously. The elegiac and the hopeful.

With its mournful lyre attuned to the past, it should be mindful of the heinous crimes and helpless victims of the past.

With its inner strength for renewal, it should offer up paeans to the possible.

Thus, in the poetry of today, a critical self-consciousness of the past entwined with a hopeful Arendtian vision of regeneration could reopen a space for the rebirth of a new and vital civilization instead of an endless traumatic repetition of the barbaric.

Categories: News for progressives

Mining Conflicts Multiply, as Critics of ‘Extractivism’ Gather in Johannesburg

Counterpunch - Tue, 2018-11-13 15:50

Maiko Zulu just before arrest at British High Commission, Lusaka, 27 September 2018.

The World Social Forum’s ‘Thematic Forum on Mining and Extractivism’ convenes from November 12-15 here in Johannesburg, just after the Southern Africa People’s Tribunal on Transnational Corporations. In between, at the notorious 2012 massacre site on the platinum belt to the west, there’s a launch of a new book – Business as Usual after Marikana– critical not only of the mining house Lonmin but of its international financiers and buyers.

This is the moment for a profoundly critical standpoint to take root, unhindered by ineffectual reformism associated with Corporate Social Responsibility gimmicks and the mining sector’s civilised-society watchdogging at the mainly uncritical Alternative Mining Indaba. That NGO-dominated event occurs annually in Cape Town every February, at the same time and place where the extractive mega-corporations gather.

The Thematic Forum firmly opposes ‘extractivism.’ Unlike the Indaba, it aims to connect the dots between oppressions, defining its target as extraction of “so-called natural resources” in a way that is “devastating and degrading,” since mining exacerbates “conditions of global warming and climate injustice. It subjects local economies to a logic of accumulation that privately benefits corporations,” and represses “traditional, indigenous and peasant communities by violations of human rights, affecting in particular the lives of women and children.”

The last point is not incidental, as two of the main organisers are the Southern Africa Rural Women’s Assembly and the WoMin network: “African Women Unite Against Destructive Resource Extraction.” Inspired by Amadiba Crisis Committee activists in the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast, they’ve campaigned hard for the #Right2SayNo.

Last month, such rights language proved invaluable in the Constitutional Court here in Johannesburg, when the Itireleng community won a judgement against displacement from their farm, under attack by a local platinum mining house. (This was pleasantly surprising to many of us who are Court critics, given how much corporate power is hardwired into South Africa’s founding document.)

On the Wild Coast last month, South Africa’s Mining Minister Gwede Mantashe had shown how desperately he wants investment by the likes of aggressive Australian titanium mining firm MRC. But the Amadiba Crisis Committee and its allies have consistently shown their ability to say “No!”

No means no

The Forum’s opening morning features a demonstration at the nearby world headquarters of AngloGold Ashanti, the locally-listed firm shamed in 2005 by Human Rights Watch for its alliances with warlords during the minerals-related murder of millions of people in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 2011, AngloGold Ashanti won the title “world’s most irresponsible corporation” at the ‘Davos Public Eye’ ceremony organised outside the World Economic Forum by Greenpeace and the Berne Declaration.

Since then the firm has attracted even more intense community, labour, feminist and environmental protests from Chileto Colombia to Ghana to Guinea to Tanzania, as well as at home in South Africa over mass retrenchments, inadequate pay and delay of silicosis-related compensation payments. It’s a sick company, with its Johannesburg Stock Exchange price having fallen by more than half since a mid-2016 peak (and even further from its 2006-12 JSE valuations).

Criticised by investors who believe “AngloGold has not matched up to its global peers” in large part because of less profitable South African holdings, AngloGold Ashanti is rapidly exiting its home country. The firm made its fortune during the notorious 20thcentury era of extreme apartheid extractivism when it was run by the Oppenheimer family. Perhaps even worse is the new boss, Kelvin Dushnisky, who has presided over Toronto-based Barrick (the world’s largest gold producer, known in Africa as Acacia) during its recent reign of mining terrorism, including mass rape.

The mining corporations under fire at the Forum are not only the typical pinstriped, ethics-challenged cowboys from the London-Toronto-Melbourne-Joburg circuits. Next door in Mozambique, Rio-based Vale’s coal-mining operations at Moatize were disrupted last month, according to activist allies at the Associação de Apoio e Assistência Jurídica às Comunidades, due to “excessive pollution [and] acceleration of the decay of  houses due to explosion of dynamites.”

Albeit trying to “mask brutal exploitation with the language of South-South solidarity,” as documented by Canadian researcher Judith Marshall, Vale is brutal in numerous jurisdictions, judged by Berne Declaration and the Brazilian Movement of Landless Workers as worst company in the world in 2012 due to “its labour relations, community impact and environmental record.”

In Mozambique, Vale as well as the Indian firms Coal of India, Vedanta and Jindal have been criticised for displacement and destruction. Community protests against foreign companies are prolific in coal-rich Tete Province. Further east, on the Mozambican coastline, beach sands in some communities have been destroyed by the voracious Chinese firm Haiyu.

Complains a local resident who can no longer carry out fishing subsistence, Nassire Omar, “They owe us because they have taken our beautiful sand from us and left nothing. We don’t know the quantity of the sand that they took over seven years, but we know that they profited from it and we want our dues. They have taken all the riches here and left us with nothing.”

But it may be that Vedanta and its boss Anil Agarwal – who is also Anglo American Corporation’s largest single investor with more than 20% of shares – has witnessed the most sustained protest, including a mass protest in May against the ThoothukudiSterlite copper plant which his officials responded to with a massacre of 13 Indians demanding an end to pollution.

Protest against Africa’s largest copper mine, Konkola, centres on 1,826 Zambian farmers poisoned by Vedanta. Just before the London Stock Exchange delisting of Vedanta last month, popular reggae musician Maiko Zulu protested (and was arrested) at the British High Commission in Lusaka, demanding that authorities deny Agarwal his escape from London prior to justice being served. Agarwal bought that mine for $25 million in 2004 and a decade later bragged that ever since he had taken $500 million to $1 billion home from Konkola annually.

After extractivism

These sorts of Western+BRICS modes of super-exploitation exemplify the mineral, oil and gas looting underway across Africa. The uncompensated extraction of non-renewable resources amounts to an estimated $150 billion annually, far more even than the $50-80 billion Illicit Financial Flows and $50 billion in legal profit repatriation from Africa by mining and petroleum firms.

But increasingly, mining houses are pushing the people and environment too far, and resistance is rising. As Anglo American Corporation leader Mark Cutifani remarked in 2015, “There’s something like $25 billion worth of projects tied up or stopped” by mining critics across the world.

How activists can increase that figure is the topic of next week’s discussions, along with moving from these critiques to strategies for post-extractivist systems of political economy, political ecology and social reproduction.

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

The Kavanaugh Hearings: Text and Subtext

Counterpunch - Tue, 2018-11-13 15:34

When OJ was acquitted the reactions of white Americans and black Americans illustrated how divergent our world views were. White America was appalled that someone who seemed so obviously to be guilty had gotten off, where black America saw an African-American finally beating a justice system that was rigged against them. The Kavanaugh hearings provided us with a similar experience. We saw two much different views and sets of values on display. On one side were all the women who had been victims of sexual assault and other expressions of misogyny along with the liberal men who sympathized with them. On the other side were all those white males who may or may not have abused women but who identified with someone they saw as unjustly accused, and with them were wives and mothers who sided with them. Underlying those reactions was a subtext on abortion and the Supreme Court. Those on the right who had voted for Trump did so in part to get a conservative judge appointed who would support their anti-abortion views. They saw the Democrats engaging in stealth by using Dr. Blasey Ford as a pawn to prevent Kavanaugh from being appointed because of how views on abortion.

Since abortion is such a divisive issue in America, Republican Senators shifted the focus to a defense of Kavanaugh by framing the narrative as an attack on him and his family over what they termed a questionable case of sexual assault. Republican Senators allowed Blasey Ford to tell her story, but because they controlled the event, they were able to frame her story in a way that lessoned its impact. And since the other parties who were willing to appear and who would have substantiated her accusations were not invited, Americans had to base their reactions on Blasey Ford’s account alone when, in fact, the other accusations along with Ford’s, create a compelling case against Kavanaugh’s character.In addition, Blasey Ford’s story includes sexual assault, but that is just part of the story. She was actually, for a short period of time, abducted by two older boys who pulled her into a room and locked the door. One looked on while the other, Kavanaugh, climbed on top of her and covered her mouth. The fact that Judge and Kavanaugh locked the door and in essence, gagged Ford, shows they knew that what they were doing was wrong. To a fifteen-year- old girl, this must have been terrifying. She was taken, silenced, pinned and attacked. This is sexual assault as an expression of power. Yet supporters of Kavanaugh didn’t really consider what happened to Blasey Ford. It’s as if they compartmentalized Blasey Ford’s story, dismissing the objectionable elements and reducing it to “horseplay” and “boys being boys.”

The mistake the Democrats made was in not framing Ford’s story as more than that and in not having the other victims: Swetnick and Ramirez come forward as well. If all three women, along with Kavanaugh’s freshman roommate (James Roche), had appeared on The View, The Today Show, etc., Kavanaugh would have been toast. It’s obvious that the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee did not think this through. Of course, Kavanaugh should not have been confirmed on the basis of the plethora of lies he told in the hearings. Not to mention the partisan nature of his remarks and the disrespect he showed Democratic Senators.

Whether Feinstein and company were intentionally using Blasey Ford as a proxy to attack a pro-life candidate or not, it wasn’t a great idea. The hearings clearly demonstrated the continuing sexist nature of a country where victimized women are ignored or attacked (Blasey Ford is still being threatened and is unable to return to work) and dismissed by men in power.Republicans and Trump managed to tap into a fear that American males, and some of their wives, have of women who attempt to confront their attackers.

It is true that the law is not very good at dealing with sexual assault since there is often little evidence to support a victim’s accusations. It may be necessary for a cultural shift to take place through changes in policies at work and in schools to foment the type of changes in attitude that have occurred in regard to homosexuality. That shift is happening, but our government, run by old white males, hasn’t quite caught up to it.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Concepts of Nonsense: Australian Soft Power

Counterpunch - Tue, 2018-11-13 15:31

Soft power was always a term best suited for eunuchs.  It relies on persuasion, counsel and an air of seduction.  It does not imply actual force as such (often, that side of the bargain is hidden).  At its core are the presumed virtues of the product being sold, the society being advertised to others who are supposedly in the business of being convinced.  Joseph Nye came up with it in the groves of academe as the Cold War was coming to an end, and every policy maker supposedly worth his or her brief insists upon it.  (Since 1990, Nye has done another shuffle, attempting to market another variant of power: from soft, power has become erroneously sentient – or “smart”.)

Nye himself already leaves room for the critics to point out how the concept is, essentially, part of an advertising executive’s armoury, the sort an Edward Bernays of foreign affairs might embrace. It co-opts; it suggests indirectness; it is “getting others to want what you want” by shaping “the preferences of others”; it employs popular culture and concepts of political stability.  In a vulgar sense, it inspires envy and the need to emulate, stressing desire over substance.

The Australian Department of Trade and Foreign Affairs is currently chewing over soft power, having been taskedwith reviewing it by Julie Bishop when she was foreign minister.  Australian think tanks have been all praise for its mystical properties.  All rely on fictional measurements and surveys such as The Soft Power 30 index, which sounds awfully like a heavily carbonated soft drink.

The Australian Foreign Policy White Paper from 2017 also does its bit: it reads like a designer product flogged to the appropriate customers.  “Australia’s ability to persuade and influence others is underpinned by some enduring strengths.  Among these are our democracy, multicultural society, strong economy, attractive lifestyle and world-class institutions.”

This less than modest appraisal should immediately trigger the little grey cells of any sceptic.  Australia remains plagued by a policy towards refugees that would rank highly with most despotic states; it maintains, relative to other states, a low GDP-aid percentage and remains almost dangerously cosy to Washington. Then there is that issue of seasonal bloodletting of leaders that led the BBC to call the country the “coup capital of the democratic world.”

In truth, such concepts are frustratingly inchoate, the sort of piffle best kept in obscure management manuals and textbooks chocked with political sloganeering.  “Isn’t soft power like Fight Club?” came a seemingly puzzled foreign policy official to Caitlin Byrne, writing for The Strategist of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.  “And the first rule of Fight Club is that you don’t talk about Fight Club.”

Even Byrne concedes that soft power, in terms of language, is slippery and problematic. “Many equate ‘soft’ with ‘weak’ and ‘superficial’ or, worse still, ‘subversive’.  These terms rarely sit easily with those in the business of advancing national interests.” Recipients of such power can also be resentful, co-opted by the venture. (No one genuinely wants to be considered a case for charity.)

But such commentary is convinced there is a story to tell and, in the case of Canberra’s apparatchiks, Australia affords them ample opportunities.  “[T]he aim of soft power – to help shape an environment that is positively disposed to Australian foreign policy interests and values over the long term – is not to be dismissed if Australia is to navigate its way in a more contested region.”

Most recently, Australia’s tetchy Prime Minister Scott Morrison (daggy cap and all), has been busy pushing Australian credentials in the immediate region, throwing $2 billion at a new Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific.  Another billion is also sought for Australia’s export financing agency.

What is striking in this endeavour is the language of ownership, part proprietary and part imperial.  “This is our patch,” Morrison explained to those at Lavarack Barracks in Townsville on Thursday. “This is where we have special responsibilities.  We always have, we always will.  We have their back, and they have ours.”  These are the vagaries of power.  “Australia has an abiding interest in a Southwest Pacific that is secure strategically, stable economically and sovereign politically.” Diplomatic posts will be established in Palau, the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, Niue and the Cook Islands, all newly modelled sets of eyes.

In other instances, however, Australian policy makers want to do things on the cheap, showing a characteristic stinginess that praises Australian power and its institutional heft while trimming back services that might supply a “softer” edge.  Australia’s broadcasting capacity, notably in the short-wave sense, has diminished. Soft-power, note the propagandists, has been muted.

In January 31, 2017, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation ended shortwave broadcasts to the South Pacific, concluding a tradition that had lasted eight decades. “The choice is dumb,” suggested Graeme Dobbell, “because it misunderstands the central role radio still plays in the South Pacific.”  This has left the problematic question open as to what other Australian suppliers – of the commercial variety – will do to replace the content of the national broadcaster.

Most of all, and most critically, proponents of soft power in Australia fear a crowding, and crowding out threat: that of China, which operates as the putative cuckoo keen on pushing out the chicks of others.  This, aligned to the issue of creating more debt for the region, suggests potential exhaustion in the region.

Australia, ever sluggish and drugged by presumptions of allegiance from its Pacific neighbours (our backyard!), has previously ignored the increasingly important role Beijing is playing with the island states. A growing, even paranoid interest is now being shown towards the presence of Chinese aid and funded projects in the region.  There are also measures, tied to US strategic interests, of frustrating the efforts of such Chinese giants as Huawei, from achieving a greater measure of influence.

Morrison’s cavalier volunteering of taxpayer funded projects to lure Pacific neighbours away from Beijing’s “few-strings attached” load and aid program is something that will be looked at with enthusiasm if for no other reason that double dipping will be on offer.  From Papua New Guinea to Fiji, the options to milk the greed of powers have never been better, whatever nonsense soft power might entail. The problem of debt, however, will remain the lingering nuisance at the feast.

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

Israel to Police European Coastlines – Protecting the Continent from Refugees?

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Saudi plan to assassinate General Soleimani, NY Times reveals

Press TV reports: Saudi Major General Ahmed al-Assiri, who has allegedly been fired over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, took part at a meeting in Riyadh in 2017 that involved
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Souvenirs de Villingen

Jazz music is often famous for featuring amazing improvisations and that is absolutely fair: Jazz did re-vitalize the art of improvisation which almost disappeared with the end of the Baroque
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The Meaning of a Multipolar World

by Eric Zuesse for The Saker Blog Right now, we live in a monopolar world. Here is how U.S. President Barack Obama proudly, even imperially, described it when delivering the
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False Reports In U.S. Media Suggest A Great Deception

The New York Times is lying to its readers about the commitments of an adversarial state. It did not learn a single lesson from its fake reporting that led the Iraq War. It again furthers hostile aggression. bigger In a...
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Novorussian elections SITREP

by Auslander for The Saker Blog International press has pretty much ignored the ongoing civil war between 404 and Novorossiya for the last year. However, for those in Novorossiya, be
Categories: News for progressives

Quebec’s new government putting up barriers to cultural diversity and ignoring the environment

Rabble News - Tue, 2018-11-13 00:07
Will Dubitsky

Quebec’s new provincial government, formed for the first time by the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) under the leadership of Premier François Legault, brings with it a new approach that proposes to shift the way the province manages immigration, deals with minority religious groups, represents Montreal and addresses climate change.

These changes were outlined during the campaign.

The shift that has received the most attention so far deals with religious symbols, a matter that Legault said he will handle himself. The new government aims to restrict all public employees in a position of authority – judges, law enforcement officers, correctional employees and teachers – from wearing religious symbols. 

The move is based, Legault has said, on the need to separate religion and the state.

On October 3, new deputy premier Geneviève Guilbault announced that public officials would have a choice of removing their religious symbols or finding another job elsewhere in the public service.

But the current numbers of Quebec judges, police and correctional officers wearing religious symbols is practically nil and there are very few teachers who were such symbols. CAQ has created a problem where there is none, purely for opportunistic electoral reasons to target the xenophobic vote.

For teachers, imagine the implications in schools where some students wear headscarves while teachers who would want to wear the same, cannot. The message here is that it is legitimate to discriminate and have prejudices regarding such "aliens."

The irony is that the Quebec government heavily subsidizes religious private schools where teachers wearing religious symbols would be exempt – because they are not public institutions.

The leader of the opposition at Montreal city hall, Lionel Perez, wears a kippa and, to my knowledge, no one has criticized the neutrality of city council and the sky hasn't fallen. In a meeting with Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, Legault said elected officials would be exempt, a necessary position to avoid a head-on collision with Montreal.

If a public institution is truly secular, it recognizes that a handful of individuals would not get away with imposing their beliefs on Quebec institutions and would, therefore, pose no threat to the neutrality of these institutions. Neutrality also means no discrimination based an individual's private beliefs. In an open letter to Le Devoir, several Quebec jurists have substantiated this.

The likelihood is that the CAQ legislation would be struck down by the courts, to which the government would use the notwithstanding clause.  The litigation will take years, possibly beyond the current government mandate.

Reducing number of immigrants

The new government also wants to reduced the number of immigrants to the province from 52,338 in 2017 to 40,000 a year, a drop of 24 per cent. This would be done, the CAQ argues, to facilitate the integration of immigrants in Quebec, a move the party claims is supported by a majority of Québécois. They also claim 26 per cent of new immigrants end up leaving the province.

Two things are wrong with this line of reasoning.

Quebec has a crisis-level shortage of employees to fill vacant positions.  La Chambre de commerce de Montréal has been vigorously defending an increase in the numbers of immigrants to address this impediment to economic growth. The Chambre wants the quota to be increased to 60,000 immigrants per year.

As for the percentage of immigrants who leave the Québec, it is about the same percentage as those leaving the province of arrival in the rest of Canada.

During the election campaign Legault said new immigrants would be given French language competency evaluations three years after their arrival. Those who fail, would be deported.  The problem is that only the federal government has the authority to deport immigrants.

Legault eventually softened this position, and now suggest those who fail the test would be allowed to remain in Quebec but would lose their selection certificates for which they would have to apply again in order to become citizens.

In promoting these policies, Legault has capitalized on the wide-spread myths among francophone Quebecers that immigrants do not readily learn French. This myth implies that accepting too many immigrants would ultimately shift the linguistic balance in Montreal in favour of English, which, in turn, would threaten French language survival for the entire province.

In making his pitch, Legault noted that 75 per cent of Quebec immigrants establish themselves in Montreal and claimed that 59 per cent of them cannot speak French three years after their arrival.  This is a wilful half-truth.

The stats tell a different story: 90.5 per cent of economic immigrants, 77.1 per cent of family reunification immigrants and 84.3 per cent of refugees are able to speak French 10 years after their respective arrivals.

But facts don’t count when the issue is top priority.  Legault raised the matter of a transfer of authority on immigration at his first public meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Oct. 11 at the Sommet de l'Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. At this meeting, Legault requested a transfer of federal authority for matters concerning immigrant family reunions.

Climate change not a top priority

On climate change, the CAQ essentially ignored climate change in its election campaign and proposed the expansion and prolongation of highways, thus contributing to urban sprawl. But in his first speech after his cabinet was sworn in, Legault said he had heard the voices of the electors on the importance of environmental issues. Although, he added the caveat that the CAQ would be pragmatic. 

At this very same event, the new minister of Transport, François Bonnardel, said he has heard the voices of motorists and will respond to their needs. This statement totally discredits Legault’s claim.

Fittingly, Legault and his new Environment minister, Marie-Chantal Chassé, hesitated on a decision to attend the United Nations COP24 climate change conference in Katowice, Poland, December 3-14.  Pressure placed on them to attend by the opposition parties and environmental organizations resulted in a change of position. Now, Chassé will attend, but not the premier.  Legault’s absence represents a departure from past Quebec government delegations to COP meetings.

In addition, Legault does not exclude fracking and opposes a ban on internal-combustion vehicles by a specified deadline, unlike Norway (2025), India (2030) and the Netherlands (2030). An announcement from China on this subject is also expected (probable target 2030). 

The “icing on the cake” on how CAQ views environmental challenges is reflected by the statement of the MNA Nadine Girault, who said a CAQ government would approve a snowmobile trail through Mont-Tremblant provincial park.

The hypocrisy

The crucifix hanging in the National Assembly will remain in place because it is a heritage symbol. Christmas parties and Christmas trees with angels on top will likely be tolerated in government and public work spaces, while public transportation projects, like extending the planned electric train service to the North and South Shores and extending the métro blue line eastwards, are on the long-term horizon, over the next 10 years, after the next election.

Photo: François Legault/Twitter

Will Dubitsky is a resident of Quebec. A former federal government employee who focused on sustainable development policies, legislation, programs and project. He is currently a blogger on global and Canadian green economy matters and active in environmental causes.

 

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Categories: News for progressives

November 12, 2018: Clashes Erupt Between Militants And Syrian Army In Idlib De-Escalation Zone

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Categories: News for progressives

B.C. premier lauds health-care workers as discriminatory labour laws repealed

Rabble News - Mon, 2018-11-12 21:50
November 12, 2018LabourB.C. premier lauds health-care workers as discriminatory labour laws repealedConvention of the Hospital Employees Union celebrated the repeal of regressive health-sector legislation that have been on the books in British Columbia for 16 years.HEUJohn Horgan
Categories: News for progressives

B.C. premier lauds health-care workers as discriminatory labour laws repealed

Rabble News - Mon, 2018-11-12 21:41
Kim Elliott and Tania Ehret

It isn’t every day that a labour convention witnesses history being made – but it happened at the Hospital Employees Union’s convention in downtown Vancouver last week as two regressive Gordon Campbell-era laws that stripped health-care workers of job-security provisions and protection under provincial labour laws were repealed.

In an emotional statement last Friday British Columbia Premier John Horgan explained how, effective early next year, Bill 47, the Health Sector Statutes Repeal Act, will repeal Bills 29 and 94, which date back to 2002.

Bill 29, the Health and Social Services Delivery Improvement Act which was rammed into law over a weekend in January 2002, led to the firing of thousands of health-care workers and the privatized many health-care sector services. The following year, Bill 94, the Health Sector Partnerships Agreement Act, gave home-care operators and their subcontractors the ability to sidestep key provision of the labour code, and avoid restrictions on their ability to contract out care and support services.

As a result of these laws, thousands of health-care workers -- mostly women, many of whom were women of colour -- were fired as health authorities contracted out hospital cleaning, food services and other support services. Thousands more were laid off.

In 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that provisions of Bill 29, including those that nullified job security protection, were unconstitutional, and in so doing established collective bargaining as a charter-protected right for all workers.

In his emotional remarks November 9, Horgan teared up as he described campaigning for political office in 2005, finding HEU couples who had lost their jobs, who had taken a cut to keep their jobs “by a government who did not care.”

“You now have a government that cares,” he concluded.

Horgan shared the story of how former MLAs Joy MacPhail and Jenny Kwan (current MP for Vancouver East) were the two lone MLAs who stood their ground, fighting the legislation over an entire weekend in 2002.

“Had there been proportional representation then, it wouldn’t have been only two strong, passionate women fighting to stop the introduction of discriminatory laws -- there would have been 17 MLAs fighting for your rights,” Horgan explained. “Had proportional representation been in place then, we could have avoided the almost unanimous decision for these bills, with more accurate democratic representation.”

On Thursday, following a live video feed from the B.C. Legislature announcing the new Act, delegates took to the microphones in moving, candid testimony of the hardships they’ve faced following the introduction of bills 29 and 94. They shared personal accounts of losing their jobs with the privatization of services; of losing their homes when workers were forced to take minimum-wage rates in order to keep jobs. The HEU asserts that the repeal of discriminatory health labour laws will also help restore fairness and stability in health care in the province.

The heightened emotions carried into Friday as Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix, Mental Health and Addiction Minister Judy Darcy, Deputy Speaker Raj Chohan and Labour Minister Harry Bains joined the HEU convention at the front of the room, accompanied by so many MLAs that Horgan joked they would be going into a caucus meeting following his speech.

Link to soundcloud of Horgan’s speech

Photo: Josh Berson

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Categories: News for progressives

Poppy Fascism and the English Education System

Counterpunch - Mon, 2018-11-12 16:00

‘And still they teach you in your school, about those glorious days of rule’

What Jon Snow, the Channel 4 broadcaster (on English television), wisely discerned as ‘poppy fascism’ several years ago, reached its crescendo this weekend – as it does every year now it seems, with more vitality. However, this year, 2018, being the centenary of the Armistice of World War I, the crescendo’s pitch felt louder than usual.

As, mid-week, I watched Sky News Live on YouTube from my Philadelphia apartment, a seemingly unwitting child appeared on my screen and announced the importance of passing down the ‘knowledge’ of the First World War from those who had gone before him. This segment was aired alongside report on an ‘artist’ [read, ‘lunatic’] named Rob Heard who had carved thousands of wooden figurines, over a period of five years, of British soldiers killed in the conflict and laid them out on the ground somewhere in England to commemorate this centenary of futile slaughter. No context, ever.

Lest we get ahead of ourselves and assume that the fanaticism cease there, we’re reminded intermittently throughout the week from various English news sources that 10,000 torches (remember those torches carried by Trumpite fascists in Charlottesville last year?) are lit each night at the Tower of London to remember the ‘fallen’.

But the brief interview Sky had conducted with the young boy sparked a reminder in me of a line or two from Ireland’s chief political troubadour in present times, Damien Dempsey:

And still they teach you in your school
About those glorious days of rule
And how it’s your destiny to be
Superior to me

What must the history curriculum be of these children, in the country on whose empire the sun would never set? A cursory smidgín (smidgeon; a borrowed word from Irish aka Gaeilge) of research reveals that although the master curriculum of schools in England, and by forced extension Wales and Scotland, mentioned the history of colonisation of other countries, these aspects were not ‘statutory’. Essentially, there exists an aspirational wish list of what the general child and teenage populace of the UK might learn in school, but which we know in reality is reduced in the majority of cases to the banal study of royal lineage – or, in many cases, imperial/capitalist homage.

How can the Irish state, or those who reside in it, sustain a justifiable complaint without seeming hypocritical? Did we not allow the removal of history from the Junior Cert [middle school] cycle as a core subject? Without protest, without a murmur – really.

The chief protagonists in decolonial discourse in modern times appear to emanate not from Ireland, but from elsewhere; from other formerly colonised climbs. Shashi Tharoor, an Indian parliamentarian and academic, has spoken vociferously in recent years about the violent colonialism of Britain and the Raj in his country of origin. Yet, all the crimes of Britain have seemed to ring silent in Ireland – England’s first colony ‘lest we forget’ – as each November rolls around.

Indeed, not only does the so-called Irish state see fit to erect a garishly large World War I ‘haunting soldier’ sculpture in one of the crucibles of revolutionary republican resistance in 1916 (St. Stephen’s Green), its promoters such as Leo Varadkar (Taoiseach/Prime Minister) and Frank Feighan (TD/Minister/general West-British lickspittle) insist we wear a shamrock emblazoned with a blood-stained poppy. What a sham, indeed.

Opponents will trot out the usual defence; that, we ought to remember ‘all those who died’ in the past for humanitarian reasons. This, however, clearly glosses over the actual remembrance element of the poppy, which is supposedly so central to its symbolism. Current British soldiers – who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq – give regular media interviews for British media outlets that clearly link the senseless slaughter of yesteryear with contemporary imperial exploits.

Why is it never even mooted that the alternative white poppy (which is sans the British Legion baggage), symbolising peace and an end to all war, be worn? The simple, and the truest, answer is because the red – as opposed to the white – poppy, is utilised to advance a militarist agenda in Britain. One which is eerily reminiscent of the militarism of the early twentieth century in the lead-up to World War I.

The irony of all this, of course, is that sportsmen like James McClean, the ‘Republic’ of Ireland international soccer player, who dare to reject this rank poppy militarism/fascism, face the wrath of a large swathe of the British public whose very forbears supposedly fought to quell the advance of authoritarianism and intolerance between 1939-1945. Lest we forget, indeed.

Categories: News for progressives

Nuclear Treaties: Unwrapping Armageddon

Counterpunch - Mon, 2018-11-12 16:00

The decision by the Trump administration to withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear Force Agreement (INF) appears to be part of a broader strategy aimed at unwinding over 50 years of agreements to control and limit nuclear weapons, returning to an era characterized by the unbridled development weapons of mass destruction.

Terminating the INF treaty—which bans land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of between 300 and 3400 miles— is not, in and of itself, a fatal blow to the network of treaties and agreements dating back to the 1963 treaty that ended atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. But coupled with other actions—George W. Bush’s decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) in 2002 and the Obama administration’s program to upgrade the nuclear weapons infrastructure— the tapestry of agreements that has, at least in part, limited these terrifying creations, is looking increasingly frayed.

“Leaving the INF,” says Sergey Rogov of the Institute of U.S. and Canadian Studies, “could bring the whole structure of arms control crashing down.”

Lynn Rusten, the former senior director for arms control in the National Security Agency Council warns, “This is opening the door to an all-out arms race.”

Washington’s rationale for exiting the INF Treaty is that the Russians deployed the 9M729 cruise missile that the US claims violates the agreement, although Moscow denies it and the evidence has not been made public. Russia countercharges that the US ABM system—Aegis Ashore—deployed in Romania and planned for Poland could be used to launch similar medium range missiles.

If this were a disagreement over weapon capability, inspectionswould settle the matter. But the White House—in particular National Security Advisor John Bolton—is less concerned with inspections than extracting the US from agreements that in any way restrain the use of American power, be it military or economic. Thus, Trump dumped the Iran nuclear agreement, not because Iran is building nuclear weapons or violating the agreement, but because the administration wants to use economic sanctions to pursue regime change in Teheran.

In some ways, the INF agreement is low hanging fruit. The 1987 treaty banned only land-based medium range missiles, not those launched by sea or air —where the Americans hold a strong edge—and it only covered the U.S. and Russia. Other nuclear-armed countries, particularly China, India, North Korea, Israel and Pakistan have deployed a number of medium range nuclear-armed missiles. One of the arguments Bolton makes for exiting the INF is that it would allow the US to counter China’s medium range missiles.

But if the concern was controlling intermediate range missiles, the obvious path would be to expand the treaty to other nations and include air and sea launched weapons. Not that that would be easy. China has lots of intermediate range missiles, because most its potential antagonists, like Japan or US bases in Asia, are within the range of such missiles. The same goes for Pakistan, India, and Israel.

Intermediate range weapons—sometimes called “theater” missiles—do not threaten the US mainland the way that similar US missiles threaten China and Russia. Beijing and Moscow can be destroyed by long-range intercontinental missiles, but also by theater missiles launched from ships or aircraft. One of the reasons that Europeans are so opposed to withdrawing from the INF is that, in the advent of nuclear war, medium-range missiles on their soil will make them a target.

But supposed violations of the treaty is not why Bolton and the people around him oppose the agreement. Bolton called for withdrawing from the INF Treaty three years before the Obama administration charged the Russians with cheating. Indeed, Bolton has opposed every effort to constrain nuclear weapons and has already announced that the Trump administration will not extend the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) when it expires in 2021.

START caps the number of US and Russian deployed nuclear weapons at 1550, no small number.

The Bush administration’s withdrawal from the 1972 ABM treaty in 2002 was the first major blow to the treaty framework. Anti-ballistic missiles are inherently destabilizing, because the easiest way to defeat such systems is to overwhelm them by expanding the number of launchers and warheads. Bolton—a longtime foe of the ABM agreement—recently bragged that dumping the treaty had no effect on arms control.

But the treaty’s demise has shelved START talks, and it was the ABM’s deployment in Eastern Europe—along with NATO’s expansion up to the Russian borders—that led to Moscow deploying the cruise missile now in dispute.

While Bolton and Trump are more aggressive about terminating agreements, it was the Obama administration’s decision to spend $1.6 trillion to upgrade and modernize US nuclear weapons that now endangers one of the central pillars of the nuclear treaty framework, the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

That agreement ended the testing of nuclear weapons, slowing the development of new weapons, particularly miniaturization and warheads with minimal yields. The former would allow more warheads on each missile, the latter could increase the possibility of using nuclear weapons without setting off a full-scale nuclear exchange.

Nukes are tricky to design, so you don’t want to deploy one without testing it. The Americans have bypassed some of the obstacles created by the CTBT by using computers like the National Ignition Facility. The B-61 Mod 11 warhead, soon-to-be-deployed in Europe, was originally a city killer, but labs at Livermore, CA and Los Alamos and Sandia, NM turned it into a bunker buster, capable of taking out command and control centers buried deep in the ground.

Nevertheless, the military and the nuclear establishment—ranging from companies such as Lockheed Martin and Honeywell International to university research centers—have long felt hindered by the CTBT. Add the Trump administration’s hostility to anything that constrains US power and the CTBT may be next on the list.

Restarting nuclear testing will end any controls on weapons of mass destruction. And since Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires nuclear-armed powers to eventually disarm their weapons of mass destruction, that agreement may go as well. In a very short time countries like South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia will join the nuclear club, with South Africa and Brazil in the wings. The latter two countries researched producing nuclear weapons in the 1980s, and South Africa actually tested one.

The demise of the INF agreement will edge the world closer to nuclear war. Since medium range missiles shorten the warning time for a nuclear attack from 30 minutes to 10 minutes or less, countries will keep their weapons on a hair trigger. “Use them or lose them” is the philosophy that impels the tactics of nuclear war.

In the past year, Russia and NATO held very large military exercises on one another’s borders. Russian, US and Chinese fighter planes routinely play games of chicken. What happens when one of those “games” goes wrong?

The US and the Soviet Union came within minutes of an accidental war on at least two occasions, and, with so many actors and so many weapons, it will be only a matter of time before some country interprets a radar image incorrectly and goes to DEFCON 1—imminent nuclear war.

The INF Treaty came about because of strong opposition and huge demonstrations in Europe and the United States. That kind of pressure, coupled with a pledge by countries not to deploy such weapons, will be required again, lest the entire tapestry of agreements that kept the horror of nuclear war at bay vanish.

Categories: News for progressives

Tropical Trump Declares War on Amazonia

Counterpunch - Mon, 2018-11-12 15:58

When it comes to planetary carnage, Trump (Amerika’s president) is facing strong competition. Brazil’s new president Jair Bolsonaro aka “Tropical Trump” will likely outdo Amerika’s destroy the EPA Trump. Bolsonaro declared war on the Amazon rainforest. Thus, he’ll likely outpace Trump’s arbitrary efforts at eco annihilation because he has a much bigger target!

The Amazon Rainforest, affectionately known as “the planet’s lungs,” inhales CO2 and exhales precious oxygen (“O”), which serves as a life force for every living being on the planet. As a result, everybody from New Zealand to Finland is impacted by what happens to the global rainforests, as unlike Las Vegas, what happens in the tropical rainforest does not stay in the tropical rainforest.

Significantly, a University of Leeds study found forests absorb 35% of human-made fossil fuel emissions (CO2) every year. Dr. Simon Lewis, a tropical ecologist from the University of Leeds and co-author of the study, said trees are much more important to tackling climate change than previously thought. (Source: Forests Absorb One-Third of Global Fossil Fuel Emissions, University of Leeds, Environment News, July 15, 2011)

“The large uptake of CO2 by forests implies that the world’s agricultural lands, grasslands, desert and tundra each play a more limited role as globally significant carbon dioxide sources or sinks at present. This new information can help pinpoint where actions to conserve carbon sinks are likely to have most impact,” Ibid.

Coincidentally, at approximately the same time as Bolsonaro won election (Oct. 28th) to the presidency a group of UK scientists issued a Declaration of Rebellion (October 31st ) against the UK government “for criminal inaction in the face of climate change catastrophe and ecological collapse.” Thus, proving that eco turmoil reigns supreme all across the planet, as destructionists versus protectionists factions accelerate on both ends of the biosphere spectrum.

Meanwhile and in consideration of the aforementioned, Bolsonaro’s assault on rainforests is a declaration of war against all of humanity. Informed sources claim Bolsonaro deforestation of Amazonia will exceed 3xs current levels of obliteration. That’s impending disaster for global warming and a huge threat to ecosystems and life everywhere.

Bolsonaro’s war plan is exhaustive: (1) expand agriculture into indigenous lands (2) build Amazonia highways (3) infrastructure projects and (4) major mines, as “Amazonia transforms into a commodity for export.” But, that particular export is much more than a commodity; it is the life support system for the entire planet.

As such, the presidency of Brazil presupposes a special obligation to the world to husband 2/3rds of Amazonia for the benefit of humankind.

However, with the new presidency an ugly situation may develop. A worst-case basis could go so far as the Amazon morphing into a fantasyland with highways, gas stations, fast food, motels, souvenirs, Disneyland guided tours into the dark, deep mysterious forest, photographing indigenous people of 240 known tribes, as they dart from hiding spot to hiding spot. And, that’s only lightweight fantasy stuff whereas the heavyweight climate change consequences will be utterly disastrous for all life on the planet.

To ensure protection of rural properties Bolsonsaro intends to revise the country’s “disarmament law” and allow weapons to be carried for “protection of rural properties.” Undoubtedly, this will increase violence in Amazonia where there are already thousands of murders per year.

Not only that, Brazil is the world’s deadliest country for eco activists. According to At What Costs? in 2017 fifty-seven (57) activists were murdered. Agribusiness is the most dangerous industry for people who defend forests, rivers, and homesteads. With the Bolsonaro regime in charge a sharp increase in the murder rate is guaranteed. Activists beware!

Bolsonaro is the avatar of nationalism, authoritarianism, racism, misogyny, and anti-free press. Part of Bolsonaro’s raison d’etre involves conspiratorial fear of a global plot to take charge over Amazonia, thereby stepping on Brazilian sovereignty. In point of fact, that would be a blessing for the world.

On the campaign trail he called for an end to all activists and vowed to expel international environmental organizations, like Greenpeace and WWF. To help enforce law and order, he intends to alter Brazil’s anti-terrorism laws to reclassify as “terrorists” any organization involved in social movements, for example, Brazilia’s Landless Rural Worker’s Movement.

According to WWF, 20% of the Amazon has disappeared in just 50 years. With published numbers like that it’s little wonder that Bolsonaro wants to “ban the World Wildlife Fund from Brazil.”
Inspiring a group of supporters at a final campaign rally, Bolsonaro promised that “red leftist” political rivals “either go overseas or they go to jail… These red outlaws will be banished from our homeland. It will be a cleanup the likes of which has never been seen in Brazilian history.” (Source: Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro Threatens Purge of Leftwing ‘Outlaws’ The Guardian, Oct. 22, 2018)
The risks are enormous as deliberate deforestation of sizeable chunks of Amazonia enhances prospects of runaway global warming. Amazonia contains a large stock of carbon that releases greenhouse gases (GHG) with deforestation. Whereas, maintenance of carbon stocks in Amazonia helps considerably to avoid the curse of global warming.

Additionally, Amazonia recycles an enormous amount of water. Brazil’s Southeastern region, including São Paulo as well as neighboring countries, are major recipients of this transport. In fact, on a global scale, Amazonia hydrology impacts water precipitation as far away as the cornfields of Iowa and wheat fields of Canada.

Newly elected President Bolsonaro’s first foreign visits will be to Chile, Israel and the US. He describes them as countries that “share our worldview.”

Accordingly the world’s largest economy, the U.S. and the world’s 5th largest country, Brazil, share disdain for science and a nasty distaste for global efforts to confront global warming. The respective leaders are fanatical eco assassins.

Ever since 2016, the outlook for the health of the planet grows worse with every far right election victory. Strangely, citizens impulsively vote for the equivalence of seppuku or Japanese self-inflicted disembowelment.

Categories: News for progressives

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