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Paul Dewar was a true champion of the little guy

Thu, 2019-02-07 22:20
February 7, 2019Paul Dewar was a true champion of the little guyThe longtime Ottawa area MP died Wednesday of brain cancer. His career on Parliament Hill was marked by his passion for human rights.
Categories: News for progressives

Paul Dewar was a true champion of the little guy

Thu, 2019-02-07 22:18
Karl Nerenberg

Longtime Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar succumbed to brain cancer on February 6. He was 56 years old. He was the NDP's foreign affairs critic from 2011 to 2015. In that capacity, he took positions on all the major international issues of the day, including whether or not Canada should support renewed U.S. military action in Iraq.

But Dewar's passion was human rights. He doggedly championed the causes of people in far-flung places who were not always at the top of the media or political agenda.

In 2010, Dewar took on an initiative started by his colleague, former Winnipeg MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis, to make costly, patent-protected prescription drugs available to people suffering from HIV/AIDs in some of the world’s poorest countries.

Dewar wanted generic drug companies to get, in effect, an exemption from patent rules so they could make life-saving medicines available to thousands of desperate and sick people in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world. Dewar introduced a private member's bill to that effect, and got it through the House of Commons. Most opposition MPs and a number of Conservatives support the intiative.

The bill never passed the Senate, however, and died when an election was called in 2011. When the NDP's Hélène Laverdière tried to get a reworked version of Dewar's bill through the House in 2012, the Conservative majority blocked it.

Conservatives praised the humanitarian motives of the NDP’s measure but worried about its potential negative effects on pharmaceutical research and development in Canada. They also feared any weakening of drug patent protection would annoy the European countries with which Canada was negotiating a giant trade deal. The pharmaceutical industry is huge and influential in Europe.

When he spoke in the House of Commons to Laverdière’s bill, Dewar demonstrated the grass-roots compassion and humanity that was characteristic of his entire career in public life.

The Ottawa MP started by describing a recent visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he witnessed advanced testing that allowed people to know whether or not they had HIV/AIDs, without shame or stigma. The next stop on his itinerary was not so encouraging, however. It was to a warehouse that was supposed to store drugs that combat HIV/AIDs

"That warehouse was half-empty," Dewar told the House. “This was the place where the medicines were stored for the people who had been tested and identified as having the HIV virus, in some cases full-blown AIDS, and other diseases, were reliant upon. I was stunned. I asked where all the medicines were. They said that they could not get any. I asked why not, and they said it was because there were problems with patent barriers.”

"I will never forget it because we essentially gave people false hope," Dewar concluded. "We gave them the indication that we were going to be helping them out, but without providing treatment, we are essentially giving people notification of a death sentence."

Encouraging Canadian mining companies to do the right thing

A couple of years after his failed attempt to get life-saving medicines to AIDs suffers, Dewar put forward another private member's measure focused on forgotten, abused and exploited people far from his home riding.

This bill was designed to help curtail trade in what are called conflict minerals. Those are the precious minerals, some of them very rare, that warring factions in unstable and strife-afflicted regions use to finance their bloody and brutal activities.

Dewar's bill would have obliged Canadian companies operating in conflict regions, and most notably in central Africa, to follow due diligence when dealing with minerals that finance civil war and terror. Companies would have to conduct independent audits to determine the source of the minerals they acquire, in order to assure that none came from armed militia groups.

In speaking to his bill, Dewar again evoked his experience in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"For the record, here are some of the facts," the NDP’s foreign affairs critic said. "The conflict that has been raging in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1998 is the deadliest conflict since World War II. In 2011, the number of rapes was estimated at 48, not per year, per month or per day, but per hour. Rape is used as a weapon of war. In 2012, 2 million people were displaced. That is approximately the equivalent of the combined population of Manitoba and Saskatchewan."

As for the significance of the minerals his measure sought to regulate and control:

"Conflict minerals generate $180 million per year for armed groups, literally keeping some militias in business. Up to 40 per cent of those working in the mines are children. These children, who are exploited and abused, are then prime targets for recruitment by armed groups."

Dewar's private member’s bill was moderate and pragmatic. It would not force Canadian companies to do anything. Its only weapon was moral sanction. 

Still, it was too much for the governing Conservatives, who voted it down

Dewar had little to gain politically from championing the causes of AIDs victims and exploited child miners in Africa. Few voters in his Ottawa Centre riding were preoccupied with those far-away issues.

Dewar took up those causes, and invested considerable energy in them, because he had witnessed abuse, exploitation and injustice first hand and could not bear to sit by and do nothing about it.

That was the kind of person he was.

Photo: Paul Dewar/Flickr

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble's politics reporter.

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Categories: News for progressives

Daffodil Day's dark secret

Thu, 2019-02-07 01:13
Penney Kome

The Canadian Cancer Society wanted to launch “Dry February” in this year’s Cancer Prevention Month. Oddly enough, the public seized on “Dry January” as sort of a hang-over cure. "Dry February" is going ahead anyway, but quietly. Too bad. The Canadian Cancer Society has a frightening message for drinkers: every drop of liquor you drink, increases your risk for seven kinds of cancer.  

Since 2016, organizations like the World Health Organization, the  American Institute for Cancer Research and the Canadian Cancer Society have been sounding the alarm: alcohol consumption is the third leading cause of cancer, and consumption is rising. Whether wine, beer, whiskey or eau de vie, every millilitre of alcohol increases a person’s risk of cancer.

Doctors already knew that the active ingredient in alcohol is a dangerous toxin. As the American Society of Clinical Onocologists reported, “approximately 88,000 deaths were attributed to excessive alcohol use in the United States between 2006 and 2010. Approximately 3.3 million deaths worldwide result from the harmful use of alcohol each year.” 

Now, recent research has proved a direct link between drinking alcohol and mouth cancer, pharyngeal (upper throat) cancer, oesophageal (food pipe) cancer, laryngeal (voice box) cancer, breast cancer, bowel cancer and liver cancer. When alcohol consumption rises in a population, so does the incidence of these lethal disorders. 

Alcohol breaks down into acetaldehyde, says the American Institute for Cancer Research. In mice that were given alcohol, “the acetaldehyde broke and damaged DNA within blood stem cells leading to rearranged chromosomes and permanently altering the DNA sequences within these cells,” according to the AICR. "The damaged DNA blueprint within these stem cells can give rise to cancer." 

Most Canadians are exposed to this risk. Eighty per cent of adult Canadians say they drink alcohol, and of those, more than half say they drink beer.

"In Canada,” says Statista, the Statistics Portal, "approximately 19.5 per cent of consumers were reported as heavy alcoholic drinkers in 2017, with men consuming five or more drinks per sitting and women consuming four or more drinks, at least once per month for 12 months."  And consumption is increasing.

The incidence of cancer is also increasing. "About one in two Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetime,” according to the Canadian Cancer Society, "and about one in four Canadians will die of cancer. In 2017, it is projected that 206,200 Canadians will develop cancer, and 80,800 will die of the disease."  

Booze is big business here, especially beer. In 2017, Canadians spent more than $22 billion on alcoholic beverages. The Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) estimates tourism brings $88 billion to Canada's hospitality industry -- much of it lubricated by alcoholic drinks. 

People know alcohol can be dangerous, but think that it can be safe and fun in moderation. "It turns out that what you don't know can kill you,” says the DrinkTank website, established to encourage Australians to re-think their drinking habits. 

"Alcohol industry executives don’t want you to know that alcohol causes cancer. That's because if people buy less alcohol, they make less profit. As a consumer, however, you have the right to know when a product has the potential to cause you serious harm so that you can make an informed choice.... Like tobacco, alcohol is a class 1 carcinogen -- that's the highest level given to a substance that can cause cancer." 

DrinkTank says there are several reasons that this danger is not common knowledge. First, the causal relationship was nailed down only about a decade ago, with a 2007 World Cancer Research Fund, confirmed by the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer, and reconfirmed by WCRF in 2018. Second, third and fourth, says DrinkTank, the alcohol industry has fought tooth and nail to conceal and obsfucate the facts. 

On the other hand, governments have reasons of their own to hesitate, starting with reluctance to dismantle the multi-billion-dollar alcohol industry, which employs milions of people and supplies thousands of stores, restaurants and bars. On a strictly financial basis, cancer care costs Canada "only" about $8 billion a year. 

Furthermore, promoting alcohol awareness could also mean promoting decades of class-action suits, as U.S. consumers especially seek to recover their exorbitant medical costs from liquor manufacturers.  

Or maybe trying to promote awareness is just swimming against the current. Alcohol is ingrained in our culture. "It’s Wine O’Clock somewhere," we joke. As the Canadian Cancer Society website says, "We've all heard about the benefits of drinking alcohol: red wine is good for your heart health, whiskey can cure the common cold, and vodka can freshen breath, among others. It can be easy to believe what we want to hear, but alcohol consumption can actually cause many health concerns, including cancer.

"The sobering news is that alcohol is one of the top three causes of cancer deaths worldwide. Last year, it is estimated that as many as 10,700 Canadians were diagnosed with cancer linked to their alcohol consumption."  

Although six in 10 women and four in 10 men drink more than recommended, the cancer society found, only three in 10 Ontarians know about the cancer link. "Two-thirds of Ontarians say they would likely reduce their consumption of alcohol if they learned that drinking alcohol increased their risk of cancer...."

The logical way to increase awareness would be to put a warning label on every liquor, wine or beer bottle, just like tobacco package warnings. Of course, that would require governments to stand up to the liquor industry. So brace yourselves for a series of nudges, public activities, campaigns and celebrity endorsements for sobriety, rather than a frank acknowledgement that science has proven that people who drink a lot of alcohol increase their risk of cancer with every sip.   

© Penney Kome 2019. All rights reserved.                                                                                            Image: Wikimedia commons, public domain

Categories: News for progressives

Winter weather doesn't disprove global warming

Wed, 2019-02-06 22:29
February 6, 2019EnvironmentWinter weather doesn't disprove global warmingWhile parts of North America are experiencing record cold, places like Australia are seeing record-breaking heat. Globally, the past four years have been the hottest on record.
Categories: News for progressives

Portrait unveiling for former Alberta premier provides warm non-partisan moment

Wed, 2019-02-06 13:52
David J. Climenhaga

A dignified official portrait of Jim Prentice, the last Progressive Conservative premier of Alberta, was unveiled in the Alberta Legislature on Monday.

It's a very nice piece of official portraiture that does justice to the beautiful third-floor hallway of the legislature's rotunda, where portraits of the province's former premiers hang. Its unveiling was accompanied by warm words untainted by the usual pre-election partisanship.

Prentice, who was premier from September 2014 until the general election in May 2015, died in an airplane crash in October 2016. His widow, Karen Prentice, spoke at the unveiling, which was also attended by many members of the family.

It almost seems as if the occasion of hanging former premiers' official portraits in the legislature has become under the NDP government an opportunity for saying the kind words about the PC leaders who recently preceded them that many in the current generation of conservatives are disinclined to utter.

It was really too bad Prentice couldn't be there to hear what was said at the unveiling. It was too bad that Dave Hancock, the PC premier who bridged the gap between Alison Redford's troubled premiership and that of Prentice, was not at his portrait unveiling as well. Both events were presided over by an NDP Speaker, but the words spoken were no less fond for that.

Speaker Bob Wanner described Prentice as "a man of integrity guided by a good balance of passion and pragmatism" and "a selfless leader who worked tirelessly to make life better for the people of Alberta" -- both as an MLA and first minister and as an MP and federal minister before that.

Wanner reminded his listeners that Prentice was "a strong advocate for Indigenous rights and was steadfast in his commitment to resolving many of the issues affecting the community."

Premier Rachel Notley praised Prentice for his dedication to reconciliation with Canada's Indigenous peoples and gave him credit for creating the foundation of last fall's historic settlement with the Lubicon Cree.

And, to be fair, Opposition Leader Jason Kenney -- who was once Prentice's cabinet colleague in Ottawa -- praised him, too, for his "penetrating intelligence, dignity and collegiality."

The rotunda's really grown a little crowded with the portraits of the 16 Alberta premiers who have left office, and they're going to need a new home soon if the recent rate of turnover continues. And that doesn't count the portraits of the province's former Speakers, which occupy another set of walls nearby.

But it must be said, Prentice's portrait -- by British-born B.C. artist David Goatley -- is a more worthy contribution to the collection than several of the recent additions. It's been argued here that if Albertans are going to pay for them, former premiers ought not necessarily be allowed to pick their own artists, although in this case, Prentice seems to have done well even if he reached outside Alberta's borders.

Nobody seems to have said how much the portrait cost the province, but recent premiers' portraits of rather less inspiring quality were reported to have cost between $12,000 and $14,000.

Goatley has also painted such luminaries as former prime minister Kim Campbell, former B.C. lieutenant governor and Liberal cabinet minister Iona Campagnolo, Prince Andrew, and the Maharaja of Jaipur. In addition, he has painted portraits of many members of Canada's Indigenous communities, which may be why Prentice chose the artist for this portrait, although the work began after the former premier's death.

This post also apears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Categories: News for progressives

Obituary: Remembering Canadian activist David Vasey

Wed, 2019-02-06 01:18
rabbe staff

Environmental activist and anti-fascist David Vasey passed away on January 27. He was 40 years old.

Vasey was a committed fighter against injustice. He was first thrown into the public spotlight in 2010, when he was arrested and detained under the Public Works Protection Act during protests against the G20 summit in Toronto.

Vasey was the first person to be charged under this bylaw. Following his arrest, he was held in a wire cage that served as a temporary detention area during the summit protests.

However, when Vasey later appeared in court, he found his charge had mysteriously vanished from the court's computer system.

"We were all excited to go to trial," Vasey said at the time. "That it was lost was pretty convenient for the powers that be."

This run-in with heavy-handed policing didn't hinder Vasey's commitments to social and environmental activism. He stepped back into the public eye in 2011, when he played a leading role in organizing the Occupy Toronto demonstration.

"Don't underestimate the power of the 1,000-plus cities that are doing this," Vasey told a reporter at the time.

When former mayor Rob Ford issued an eviction order against the protest, Vasey was among the few activists who stayed put and filed an injunction application against the city's order. The camp was eventually forcibly dismantled by police.

"The encampment is an expression of the permanency of our convictions and a movement and symbolic of the commitment that we have to addressing these systemic issues within our society," he told the Toronto Star.

Vasey was a regular contributor to rabble.ca. In 2012-2013, he reported on community mobilizations against the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and criticized the company's lack of proper consultation with First Nations.

"For local First Nations, Enbridge continues a pattern of ignoring, marginalizing and tokenizing community concerns," he wrote.

In 2014, Vasey penned an article slamming the National Energy Board’s approval of Enbridge's Line 9B reversal project.

"Rather than prioritizing detailed health and environmental monitoring for downstream communities affected by current oil and gas projects," he wrote, "both government and industry have increasingly shifted resources to ‘public relations.' "

"Communities in Treaties 6 and 8 have witnessed massive environmental contamination and loss of traditional lands over the course of 60 years of tar sands expansion. Health concerns, wildlife impacts and an increasingly difficult time maintaining traditional practices has compromised Treaty Rights to maintain culture and protect land-based economies," he added.

Vasey also recognized the importance of uniting the various movements of which he was a part. For example, he wrote a piece for Media Co-op last year calling for environmentalists to participate in mobilizations against the far right.

"On the streets, mobilizations by the far right represent an important fulcrum for the environmental justice movement. The far right are the manifestation of colonialism, toxic masculinity, racism and nihilistic capitalist consumption," he wrote.

Jane Finch Action Against Poverty released an obituary last week praising Vasey's work campaigning against austerity in Toronto.

"Dave has taught loving each other is intrinsically part of our revolutionary work," the statement read.

Vasey passed away at home. He will be remembered by the activist community for his dedication and tenacity in combatting environmental, social and economic injustices.

Vasey is survived by six siblings, his stepmother, Cathy Vasey, and 10 nieces and nephews.

According to Vasey's funeral notice, donations to WES For Youth Online and Canadian Mental Health Association would be appreciated by the family. A celebration of his life was held on February 2 in Walkerton, Ont.

Photo: Courtesy Cameron Funeral Homes

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Categories: News for progressives

State of the Union 2019: Chaos and a glimmer of hope

Wed, 2019-02-06 00:21
February 5, 2019US PoliticsState of the Union 2019: Chaos and a glimmer of hope Donald Trump’s state of the union can only be described as being in chaos. Many important facts will not be mentioned in his speech. But despite it all, there are still signs of hope.Donald Trumpstate of the union
Categories: News for progressives

State of the Union 2019: Chaos and a glimmer of hope

Tue, 2019-02-05 19:51

The American constitution provides for a report to Congress by the U.S. president. Beginning with George Washington in 1790, all presidents have sent a message, or spoken before a combined session of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

As Donald Trump takes the podium for his State of the Union address 2019, the United States of America is in political chaos. The president is under official investigation, partisan divisions over immigration shut down government for weeks and public policy failures abound.

When Trump speaks, three dozen freshly elected Democrats will be seated in Congress; their presence amounts to a glimmer of hope.

Among the first time elected, the youngest, 29-year-old democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stands out for her ability to articulate another vision of America. Ocasio-Cortez is one of 90 women taking seats in the 234-member Democratic majority.

Vocal support from the new caucus members for a “green new deal” has captured the imagination of progressive Americans, if not yet the support of veteran Congressional Democrats.

Appalling social conditions for many Americans are the reality in the U.S., the wealthiest nation in the world. The following social indicators will not feature in the State of the Union Address.

U.S. life expectancy has fallen since 2015 to 78.6 at the end of 2017, the first three-year decline in four decades.

According to David Bishai of John Hopkins University, opioids are a main reason: “every U.S. state is seeing epidemics of drug overdoses, suicide and alcohol-related deaths despite better access to health insurance.”

Maternal mortality is rising in the U.S. while falling in other countries. American women who are pregnant face a greater likelihood of dying than their mothers, or pregnant Saudi Arabian or Chinese women.

Since the 1980s, children have been dying more often in the U.S. than in the other 19 wealthiest Western countries.

With 4.4 per cent of the world’s population, the U.S. has 20 per cent of the world prison population.

A new generation of American feminist economists is shaking up economic thinking with their insistence that “social reproduction” and not just market transactions constitute economic life.

Facing gender barriers, sexual harassment and long-time discrimination within the economics profession, women and feminist thinkers are slowly gaining recognition through high-quality economic analysis and research.

Since 1988 the Economic Policy Institute has published The State of Working America, a report about the lives of the American people that tells many important stories. For example, it has a chart http://stateofworkingamerica.org/charts/productivity-and-real-median-fam... showing a significant gap in the growth rates of median family income, and industry productivity, which emerged in the 1990s.

Workers produced more, but pay increases did not follow.

Denying American workers the benefits of their labour, created conditions for the populist revolt that propelled Trump to the presidency.

This same contradiction between efforts made and rewards distributed fuelled Senator Bernie Sanders' 2016 campaign for the Democratic nomination.

When Sanders told the American people "the economy is rigged," he spoke a truth that many could recognize, and few would try to refute.

Ocasio-Cortez and her young colleagues have certainly noted that his campaign was undermined by the Democratic National Committee (as attested by internal documents released by WikiLeaks).

U.S. foreign policy continues to terrify friends and foes alike. News that the U.S. administration has withdrawn from the Intermediate Nuclear Weapons treaty with Russia because it wants to build new weapons to face down China, was particularly unwelcome in a world that has no need for more U.S. military spending.

 With U.S. military spending already equal to the next eight big spending countries, in 2018 the U.S. added $80 billion to its military budget, more than what every other country except China will spend on the military in a year.

In 2001, the “Bush Doctrine” announced that the U.S. had the right to strike any country, anywhere, without forewarning if the U.S. president decided a country harboured a terrorist threat.

The U.S. invaded Afghanistan, Iraq (again), bombed Libya and armed Saudi Arabia for a proxy war with Iran in Yemen. John Bolton, a National Security adviser to Trump, has given every indication of his willingness to see the U.S. bomb Iran.

The U.S. continues to engineer regime change in Latin America. The sanctions campaign against the socialist government of Venezuela -- including freezing government banks accounts -- is leading to public starvation, and population exodus, largely because the U.S. is determined to restore control over the world’s largest oil reserves to U.S. companies.

Thomas Jefferson, thought to have been the most intelligent of U.S. presidents once said: "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just …."

Duncan Cameron is president emeritus of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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Donald Trumpstate of the unionCADuncan CameronFebruary 5, 2019
Categories: News for progressives

Honduran journalist Dina Meza faces danger to report on human rights abuses

Tue, 2019-02-05 19:12
Brent Patterson

Dina Meza is a journalist in a country where it can be deadly to report on injustices.

At least 62 journalists have been killed in Honduras between 2006 and 2017, making it one of the most dangerous countries in the world for reporters.

Journalists are also regularly threatened when they report on vested interests.

For example, Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams, who led a group of women that included Sarah Harmer and Tantoo Cardinal to Honduras in 2012, has written, "Our delegation met with women who have been impacted by the San Martin mine in the Siria Valley. The mine is owned by a subsidiary of Canadian Goldcorp. The women talked about how the mining operation has contaminated local water supplies."

Williams then highlighted, "A few days before we arrived in Honduras, Gilda Carolina Silvestrucci -- a local journalist who was talking to environmental activists about the problems with mining in the Siria Valley -- received threats against her life and those of her children."

And she noted, "A journalist in Santa Rosa de Copan, where the Canadian company Aura Minerals operates, also reported receiving threats for having reported on concerns over mining operations in the area."

It is in this context that Meza works.

IFEX has explained, “Meza's fight for justice was sparked in 1989, when her brother, a campaigner for agricultural rights, was abducted [by the military].”

The Guardian adds, "Victor Meza, who suffered terrible injuries in prison, was eventually released during a political amnesty in 1992, along with 17 fellow prisoners, thanks to a campaign by Meza and others."

Those who tortured Victor and inflicted life-altering injuries on him were never held accountable for their crimes. That experience informed Meza’s deep commitment to justice.

Peace Brigades International-Honduras Project highlights, "Committed to defending freedom of expression and information, Dina has spent years investigating and reporting on human rights violations across the country."

It adds, "She is currently the director of ASOPODEHU and the president of PEN Honduras, an organization that supports journalists at risk.”

ASOPODEHU (La Asociación por la Democracia y los Derechos Humanos/ The Association for Democracy and Human Rights) defends and promotes human rights.

Its mission (translated from Spanish) is "to accompany victims of violations of their fundamental human rights, with emphasis on vulnerable groups: journalists, social communicators, women, youth, indigenous people, blacks and the community of diversity sexual.”

And PEN, which stands for 'Poets, Essayists and Novelists,' "believes that the necessary advance of the world towards a more highly organized political and economic order renders a free criticism of governments, administrations and institutions imperative."

The Guardian has reported that in Honduras, "The organization has taken on cases of high-profile writers charged with defamation, and of students criminalized after protesting against reforms at their university."

Meza has also set up an online magazine, Pasos de Animal Grande (which translates as "steps of a big animal"), that documents human rights abuses in Honduras.

Meza explained the title of the magazine to The Guardian by noting, "There is a saying in Honduras. When you say you can feel the steps of a big animal, it means you can feel there’s going to be radical change."

Al Jazeera has reported, "[Meza] has repeatedly suffered threats of sexual violence and against her life, as well as surveillance and other forms of intimidation, such as unusual late-night phone calls."

Threats have also been made against her son and teenage daughters.

That article adds, "As a safety precaution, Meza often is flanked by a pair of international human rights observers provided by Peace Brigades International when she works in the field on investigations or reporting outside of the capital, Tegucigalpa."

PBI has provided protective accompaniment to Meza since May 2014.

Meza has commented, "I can do my work only thanks to the support of PBI. If it wasn’t for the accompaniment I get, it would be much more difficult to do my job."

Categories: News for progressives

What the mainstream media doesn’t tell you about Venezuela

Tue, 2019-02-05 00:15
Yves Engler

The corporate media is wholeheartedly behind the federal government’s push for regime change in Venezuela. The propaganda is thick and, as per usual, it is as much about what they don’t, as what they do, report. Here are some important developments that have largely been ignored by Canada’s dominant media:

  • At the Organization of American States meeting called by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on January 25, the Canadian-backed interventionist resolution was defeated 18-16.
  • The “Lima Group” of governments opposed to Venezuela’s elected president was established 18 months ago after Washington, Ottawa and others failed to garner the votes necessary to censure Venezuela at the OAS (despite the head of the OAS’s extreme hostility to Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro).
  • Most of the world’s countries, with most of the world’s population, have failed to support the U.S./Canada push to recognize National Assembly head Juan Guaidóas president of Venezuela.
  • The UN and OAS charters preclude unilateral sanctions and interfering in other countries’ affairs.
  • UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur for sanctions, Idriss Jazairy, recently condemned U.S./Canadian sanctions on Venezuela.

As well, here are some flagrant double standards in Canadian policy the media have largely ignored:

  • "Lima Group” member Jair Bolsonaro won the recent presidential election in Brazil largely because the most popular candidate, Lula Da silva, was in jail. His questionable election took place two years after Lula’s ally, Dilma Rousseff, was ousted as president in a ‘parliamentary coup’.
  • Another “Lima Group” member, Honduras president Juan Orlando Hernandez, defied that country’s constitution a year ago in running for a second term and then ‘won’ a highly questionable mandate.
  • "At the same time” as Canada and the U.S. recognized Juan Guaidó, notes Patrick Mbeko, "in Democratic Republic of Congo they refuse to recognize the massive recent victory of Martin Fayulu in the presidential election, endorsing the vast electoral fraud of the regime and its ally Félix Tshisekedi.”

Beyond what the media has ignored, they constantly cite biased sources without offering much or any background. Here are a couple of examples:

  • The Globe and Mail has quoted Irwin Cotler in two recent articles on Venezuela. But, the decades-long anti-Palestinian and anti-Hugo Chavez activist lacks any credibility on the issue. At a press conference in May to release an OAS report on alleged rights violations in Venezuela, Cotler said Venezuela’s "government itself was responsible for the worst ever humanitarian crisis in the region.” Worse than the extermination of the Taíno and Arawak by the Spanish? Or the enslavement of 5 million Africans in Brazil? Or the 200,000 Mayans killed in Guatemala? Or the thousands of state-murdered "subversives" in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil?
  • CBC and Canadian Press (to a slightly lesser extent) stories about former Venezuelan Colonel Oswaldo Garcia, whose family lives in Montreal, present him as a democracy activist. But, notes Poyan Nahrvar, Garcia participated in a coup attempt last year and then launched raids into Venezuela from Colombia until he was captured by the Venezuelan military.
  • The media blindly repeats Ottawa’s depiction of the “Lima Group,” which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described as an organization established to "bring peace, democracy and stability in Venezuela.” One report called it “a regional block of countries committed to finding a peaceful solution” to the crisis, while another said its members "want to see Venezuela return to democracy.” This portrayal of the coalition stands its objective on its head. The "Lima Group” is designed to ratchet up international pressure on Maduro in hopes of eliciting regime change, which may spark a civil war. That is its reason for existence.

As part of nationwide protests against the "Lima Group” meeting taking place in Ottawa on Monday, activists in Montreal rallied in front of Radio Canada/CBC’s offices. They decried not only Canada’s interference in Venezuela but the dominant media’s effort to “manufacture consent” for Canadian imperialism.

Photo: Beatrice Murch/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

As Lima Group meets in Ottawa, Canadians remain divided on Venezuela

Mon, 2019-02-04 22:46
February 4, 2019As Lima Group meets in Ottawa, Canadians remain divided on VenezuelaAs representatives of Lima Group countries prepare to meet in Ottawa, turmoil and pressure mounts in Venezuela.
Categories: News for progressives

As Lima Group meets in Ottawa, Canadians remain divided on Venezuela

Mon, 2019-02-04 22:36
Ryan Donnelly

As Canada plays host to foreign ministers from a number of Lima Group countries to discuss the ongoing political turmoil in Venezuela, the issue remains contentious within Canada just as it does around the world.

Notably missing from the Lima Group conference will be a representative from Mexico. Under its new left-wing president, Mexico was the lone country in the Lima group that did not sign the agreement recognizing the National Assembly as the legitimate governing body. Despite not being a member, reports indicate that the United States will have its Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, participate.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke directly with declared president Juan Guaido ahead of Monday’s meeting and reaffirmed his support for him. But the government’s position is not sitting well with many Canadians.

"By first recognizing Guaido as the new president, and then demanding 'free and fair' elections take place, with an arbitrary deadline, Canada is illegally interfering with the democratic rights of all Venezuelans," said NDP candidate Jessa McLean last week. "Can you imagine what would happen if the roles were reversed? If another state declared their unwavering support for a presidential candidate before an election, then determined exactly when that election would take place, and hosted a summit designed to further meddle in those elections? And all of this was done under economic sanctions and the threat of military action."

These comments came after a demand for an apology from Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

"Canadians need an apology," Freeland said, for what she termed McLean’s "defence of a dictatorship that has killed hundreds and injured thousands of peaceful protesters."

However, McLean, feels that she owes no apology for her criticism of Canada’s declaration that Guaido, and not Nicolas Maduro, is the rightful president of Venezuela. "It is, in fact, Minister Freeland and Prime Minister Trudeau who need to apologize to the Venezuelan people for contributing to the political and economic instability in Venezuela."

McLean’s original comment and that of NDP MP Niki Ashton, came on the heels of Canada’s decision to recognize Juan Guaido as the rightful president of Venezuela. Canada has joined the United States and around two dozen other countries in recognizing Guadio, while Mexico, Bolivia, Nicuragua, El Salvador and a handful of traditional international Venezuelan allies continue recognize Chavez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro.

In a statement from Global Affairs Canada, the ministry said “As stated in the January 4 Lima Group Declaration, Canada rejects the Maduro regime’s illegitimate claim to power and has called upon Nicolás Maduro to cede power to the democratically elected National Assembly.”

"We reiterate that a resolution of the crisis in Venezuela can only be achieved through the leadership and courage of Venezuelans themselves. We remain committed to working with our partners, particularly through the Lima Group of countries, and with Venezuela’s democratic opposition," the statement continued.

To date, both Guaido and the United States have rejected offers from Mexico, Uruguay and the Vatican to mediate the situation and negotiate between Guaido’s supporters and Maduro’s.

One of the largest remaining questions in Venezuela is the role that the military will play. While they currently remain supportive of Maduro, if it switched its allegiance and decided to support Guaido, the situation in Venezuela could quickly change.

"I would not want to characterize the views of other people, but I would agree with anyone who condemns U.S. intervention or coup-mongering, while also recognizing that the military remain the key player at this moment, " said Dr. Max Cameron, a professor at the University of British Columbia who specializes in Latin America. "Is Guaido conniving for a coup? Not expressly. It seems fair to say, however, that part of his strategy is to use a pincer of domestic and international opposition to force the military to choose whether to back or abandon Maduro. My hope would be that this would create an opportunity for a negotiated settlement, but I am not naïve about the kind of people who are backing Guaido."

“An overt military coup would be dangerous and unwelcome, but one could imagine the military retiring their support from Maduro, thereby, creating the opportunity for a pluralistic interim government leading to internationally monitored elections in which there would be a role for the forces of chavismo, and an opportunity for those who have committed crimes to avail themselves of amnesty. That is probably the best possible outcome. The alternatives are more repression, a costly stalemate or a breakdown of order and civil war."

Traditional supporters of Maduro argue that this is another attempt at a coup orchestrated by the U.S. government, just as they charge that the failed 2002 coup to remove Chavez was also an American plot. The coup lasted less than 48 hours when Venezuelans stormed the capital and demanded that Chavez be reinstated. The Trump administration has been very vocal in its support of Guaido and has continued to exert economic pressure on the nation.

There are those who remain critical of Maduro’s governance and policies but who maintain that Canada should not be interfering in the domestic politics of another country. Trudeau, however, reaffirmed at a town hall that he does not believe Maduro is the legitimate president and that he is recognizing what he believes is the constitutional authority in the country.

Photo: OEA - OAS/flickr

Ryan Donnelly is a freelance writer from Southern Ontario with an academic background in Canadian public policy. He's also a former human rights worker and adovcate who has written on issues of Canadian foreign policy.

 

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Categories: News for progressives

What gives? Polite crowd, no visible security, no official UCP critics at Edmonton open house for Bighorn Park proposal

Mon, 2019-02-04 13:27
David J. Climenhaga

I can't tell you about the one in Drayton Valley on Friday, but everything seemed copacetic at the Bighorn Wildland Provincial Park proposal open house in Edmonton on Saturday afternoon.

But what would you expect? As is the case in most of Alberta, one suspects, support is pretty strong in Alberta's Capital Region for the Kananaskis-Country-style approach proposed by the NDP government for managing the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains between the Kananaskis region and Banff National Park in the south and Jasper National Park in the north.

All the trouble that caused the province to temporarily back away from public information sessions on the proposal seemed to take place in smaller central Alberta centres in or near United Conservative Party Jason Nixon's Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre riding, where a cadre of all-terrain-vehicle operators determined there must be no limits on their destructive hobby was accused of trying to silence anyone who disagreed with them and bully public servants at the initial public events.

When Environment Minister Shannon Phillips decided to suspend the public information sessions in January and rely on on-line consultations instead, the Opposition UCP loudly accused the government of trying to suppress widespread popular opposition to the plan.

But when the government announced early last week that a new series of open houses would go ahead immediately after all, the UCP seemed more subdued.

Maybe they did some polling and discovered just how popular the idea is of a Kananaskis-style management scheme for the region, even among their own voters.

Maybe some of their own supporters in the farm and business communities had a quiet word with the UCP's leadership about the destruction the worst of the ATVers have been wreaking on the area, including degradation of watersheds important to farmers and ranchers and damage to forestry and oil and gas corridors. Expert opinion is certainly on side with the NDP proposal.

Maybe they had an epiphany that forestry and oil and gas corporations operating in the region were more concerned about what off-highway vehicle operators were getting up to than the UCP claim a wildland park plan, which originated back in the days of Alberta's Progressive Conservative Dynasty, would shut down industrial operations in the area.

But the UCP opponents of the Bighorn plan do seem to be downplaying the hysterical myths they were peddling a few weeks ago, like the claim on social media that "livelihoods and lifestyles are at stake." The Bighorn Country plan makes it crystal clear repeatedly that industry will continue to be allowed to operate in Public Land Use Zones, three-quarters of the area affected by the plan.

As for the ATV crowd, they're still at it at their rallies and on social media, persisting with their false claim they will be denied access to all of the land in Bighorn Country. But even they seem to have switched their public ire to the consultation process, saying their views aren't being paid enough heed.

This much can be said: the crowd of 100 or so at any given time during the three-hour event in inner-city Edmonton's Polish Hall seemed well behaved enough, probably made up of a majority of conservation types with a smattering of curious Edmontonians just trying to figure out what's going on, but with plenty of ATV enthusiasts spouting slightly stale-sounding UCP talking points last heard circulating during last month's uproar.

While there were senior officials of the public service there, including an assistant deputy minister of environment and parks, no high-profile opponents of the Bighorn plan from the UCP appear to have showed up to take advantage of the presence of media. Leastways, not while I was there.

And if there was much security yesterday, it wasn't particularly obvious. There was no shortage of Environment Department civil servants and Stantec contractors on hand to explain the displays and sign people up for emails. And some of the public employees on site were normally uniformed parks and wildlife peace officers in civvies, but there was obviously no need for a heavy-handed law enforcement presence.

The NDP government of Premier Rachel Notley has an opportunity to push this forward in a final session of the legislature before the spring election, providing itself with a success that will prove popular regardless of the outcome of the 2019 election, one that is unlikely to be undone for the reason noted above even in the event of a UCP victory.

The UCP might file out of the legislature and hide like they did during the abortion clinic bubble zone debate a year ago, but here's a little bet many of them wouldn't want to be caught actually voting against it.

That is how future electoral victories are won in provinces that have a real political culture in addition to the mere trappings of democracy, as Alberta now does thanks to the NDP victory of 2015.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Categories: News for progressives

Impunity for human rights violations must be challenged from Guatemala to the Wet’suwet’en territories

Mon, 2019-02-04 08:25
Brent Patterson

The term "impunity” is often used in reports about human rights violations in Latin America, but it should also be more commonly part of our political vocabulary in North America.

The word itself has Latin origins (im poena -- not punished) and has been defined as “Exemption from punishment or freedom from the injurious consequences of an action.”

Impunity can refer to organized crime, government officials, the police and military, and corporations committing crimes and offences without being held accountable or brought to justice for them.

Their human rights violations can include criminalization and intimidation, threats, torture, disappearances, forcible displacement, political imprisonment and killings.

For example, Reuters has reported, “Activists and United Nations investigators have accused Mexican security forces of crimes. including murder, torture and disappearances. since the military was sent to tackle its powerful drug cartels in 2007.”

Peace Brigades International-UK has highlighted, “PBI has provided protection to at-risk human rights defenders in [Mexico] since 2000, an experience that has shown us that in the federal states where a security strategy based on militarisation has been implemented, attacks against activists have increased significantly.”

In November 2017, The Guardian reported, “The vast majority of human rights abuses allegedly committed by soldiers waging Mexico’s war on drug gangs go unsolved and unpunished despite reforms letting civilian authorities investigate and prosecute such crimes, [says a study by the Washington Office on Latin America].”

And on January 29, Amnesty International stated, “The Guatemalan Congress will shortly discuss a draft law (Law 5377) which seeks to grant amnesty for serious human rights violations perpetrated during the internal armed conflict” between the military dictatorship and leftist rebel groups supported by the Maya indigenous people.

If passed, they say it would lead to the immediate release of dozens of people convicted of genocide, torture and enforced disappearance, among other crimes.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, says, “The Guatemalan Congress must refrain from continuing discussion of a law that seeks to guarantee impunity for the perpetrators of these atrocities and that violates Guatemala’s international obligations to investigate, prosecute and punish such crimes.”

A major technical report on impunity published in 2017 concluded that, “Impunity worsens when there is no respect of the basic rules for social coexistence and where there are large impunity and corruption pacts in the political and economic elites.”

That report ranked countries on their levels of impunity.

It found that, for example, Croatia had a very low level of impunity (measured at 36.01 points), that Guatemala had an intermediate level of impunity (at 62.40 points), and that Mexico had a very high level of impunity (at 69.21 points).

Canada was ranked as "intermediate,” with a measurement of 55.27 points.

In January, APTN reported that the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability had found that Indigenous women accounted for 36 per cent of the estimated 148 women killed in 2018 even though they make up just 4.9 per cent of the population.

Myrna Dawson, the director of the Guelph, Ontario-based centre, commented that, "There is growing recognition of impunity for perpetrators particularly for some victims and in Canada those are indigenous women and girls.”

Furthermore, there are concerns about the level of impunity particularly with respect to police violence against Indigenous peoples and people of colour.

The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) in Ontario is "a civilian law enforcement agency which investigates incidents involving police officers where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault.” Its reports do not include race-based statistics.

In 2014-15, the SIU opened 266 cases. But Toronto-based writer Andray Domise has highlighted in Maclean’s magazine that, "In the 2014-15 reporting year, 94.9 per cent of officers investigated by the SIU were cleared."

In 2015, Rodney Diverlus, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, told The Toronto Star, “For us to not have [race-based] data is a crucial piece of the puzzle that’s missing to actually hold police accountable and to actually have meaningful discussions about how police can better serve and protect our racialized communities.”

And notably there are concerns about the criminalization of Indigenous peoples and environmentalists by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

A January 2014 RCMP intelligence assessment report concludes, “There is a growing, highly organized and well-financed anti-Canada petroleum movement that consists of peaceful activists, militants and violent extremists who are opposed to society's reliance on fossil fuels.”

The Globe and Mail has noted, “The report extolls the value of the oil and gas sector to the Canadian economy, and adds that many environmentalists ‘claim’ that climate change is the most serious global environmental threat…”

This gives some context for the RCMP actions against the Wet’suwet’en peoples and their support for Coastal GasLink (CGL) in the initial construction activities of the fracked gas pipeline on Wet’suwet’en territory.

The Wet’suwet’en have not given their free, prior and informed consent for the project that crosses their territory as required under the international legal norms outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In Canada Hates Indigenous People, the Unist’ot’en Camp website highlights, “We see daily how RCMP permits CGL to break Canadian laws, while we are threatened with arrest for exercising our rights and title.”

This Unist’ot’en Camp video provides just one example of what they are experiencing.

This ongoing impunity must be challenged.

Categories: News for progressives

Global warming is unstoppable while capitalism blocks prevention

Sat, 2019-02-02 01:14
Ed Finn

The tenacious refusal of the world’s business and political leaders to heed the warnings of climate scientists about global warming raises the stark possibility that it may already be too late. The tipping point beyond which concerted preventive action becomes impracticable is just 12 years away, according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

That’s all the time the IPCC scientists give us to keep the global temperature from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius. If it rises higher than that, they warn, the consequent intensity of extreme heat, pollution, droughts, floods, hurricanes, wildfires, rising sea levels, and consequent mounting hunger, poverty, and mass displacements will annihilate billions of people.

Realistically, what are the odds that the scientists’ latest warning about global warming will be heeded, any more than their many previous alarms have been in the past?

I’d put the odds against at 100-to-1, perhaps even 1,000-to-1.

Starting with the Club of Rome’s seminal study on The Limits of Growth in 1972, climatologists, ecologists and other scientists have been trying to stop the economic folly of pursuing infinite growth on a finite planet. They have repeatedly called for curbs on carbon dioxide emissions, air and ocean pollution, resource depletion, deforestation, armed conflict, poverty, inequality, and overpopulation -- each successive plea differing only in its mounting urgency as it fails to spur preventive corporate and political action.

This apparent indifference of CEOs to a looming climate catastrophe is often mistakenly attributed to their dismissal of global warning as a hoax. Some of them undoubtedly are deniers, but most, though they may be avaricious and heartless, are not stupid. They can’t dispute the overwhelming scientific evidence that global warming is real and that, left unchecked, it will make the planet unlivable for billions of people, possibly even wipe out human civilization.

The entrenchment of capitalism 

Why, then, you may ask, do business executives stubbornly continue to maintain a ruinous economic system whose contamination of the environment is clearly the chief cause of global warming?

The obvious answer is that neoliberal capitalism is now so deeply entrenched in both law and practice that even the most intelligent and ethical corporate officials dare not try to reform it on their own. Their legal charters and business mandates oblige them to make the maximization of profits and shareholder dividends their overriding objective. That fixation trumps everything else (no pun intended), including the broad public interest, a clean environment, and even humankind’s survival.  

The enshrinement of profit maximization is built into Canada’s business legislation, as it is in the United States and elsewhere. Our courts uphold this principle. In a noteworthy case in 2004 (the People vs. Wise), Canada’s Supreme Court ruling was based on the Canadian Business Corporations Act. The relevant section of this Act states that corporate directors and officers “owe their fiduciary obligations to the corporation, and the corporation’s interests are not to be confused with the interests of creditors or any other stakeholders.”

And there you have it. Any CEO or board of directors rash enough to deviate from the pursuit of profits for any reason – for the benefit of employees, customers, society as a whole, or even the planet – would be severely chastised. Either they’d be sued by major shareholders under the Act, or the subsequent decline in profits would leave them vulnerable to a hostile takeover.

So the corporations, in effect, are compelled by the law, by the greed of their investors, and by the very nature of their unbridled capitalist economic system, to continue their destructive assault on the environment. Capitalism is inherently dependent on maintaining the lunacy of perpetual economic growth, and hence opposed to any limits being placed on its virulent pursuit of profits. Capitalism and a clean climate, in short, are clearly incompatible.  

As for the world’s governments, who hypothetically have the obligation and potential ability to restrain the corporate environment-wreckers, they have also been effectively hamstrung. The far superior financial and economic might amassed by the big business barons now empowers them, in effect, to dictate most governments’ policies and priorities.

Certainly, any political attempt to seriously hobble the dominant capitalist system is now unthinkable. Even the corporations’ power to retaliate by shifting factories, jobs and investments to more compliant low-wage, low-tax countries is in itself a strong deterrent to would-be political planet-savers.

Is resistance now futile?

With both corporations and complicit governments thus locked into a perpetuation of environmentally destructive capitalism, it is not surprising that some scientists and activists have become deeply discouraged, and a small but growing number forlornly conceding that further resistance is probably futile.

Among the stalwarts who adamantly remain convinced that the struggle is not yet lost is climatologist Bill McKibben. In a recent New Yorker essay, he admits that “we are on a path of self-destruction, but argues that “there is nothing inevitable about our fate. Solar panels and wind turbines are now among the least expensive ways to produce energy. Storage batteries are cheaper and more efficient than ever. We could move quickly if we chose to, but we’d need to opt for solidarity and co-ordination on a global scale.”

He admits, however, that “the chances of that look slim.” One wonders, as time passes through the relatively brief 12-year deadline set by the ICCP, how much longer McKibben’s optimism will last.       

One of the eminent experts on the environment who is not at all sanguine about humanity’s chance of survival is Elizabeth Colbert, a staff writer for the New Yorker and author of a recent best-selling book, The Sixth Extinction.

She lists the five major extinction events that have occurred since complex animals evolved on Earth more than 500 million years ago, first quoting from a plaque in the Hall of Biodiversity in the Museum of Natural History in New York:

“Global climate change and other causes, including collisions between Earth and extraterrestrial objects, were responsible for the previous five extinctions. But today we are in the midst of the Sixth Extinction, this time caused solely by humanity’s transformation of the ecological landscape.”

“In an extinction event of our own making,” Colbert muses, “what will happen to us?” Her blunt answer: “Most likely, we will cause our own extinction.”

She reminds us that, “Having freed ourselves from the constraints of evolution, humans still remain dependent on Earth’s biological and geochemical systems. By disrupting these systems -- cutting down tropical rainforests, altering the composition of the atmosphere, acidifying the oceans -- we are putting our own survival in danger.”

In her book, she describes how humans have already driven hundreds of species into extinction, and many more into near-extinction. On a planet where most forms of life are interdependent to some extent, this mass slaughter is disastrous.

She quotes Paul Ehrlich, an ecologist at Stanford University: "In pushing other species into extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches."

Colbert concludes her book with this somber epilogue: “Right now we are deciding, without meaning to, which evolutionary pathways will remain open and which will forever be closed. No other creature has ever managed this, and it will unfortunately be our most enduring legacy. The Sixth Extinction will continue to determine the course of life long after everything people have written and painted and built have been ground into dust and giant rats have inherited the Earth.”

Prominent pessimists

An even more pessimistic writer on the environment is William T. Vollmann, whose latest book, Carbon Ideologies, was recently reviewed in Harper’s by Nathaniel Rich. He describes it as "one of the most honest -- and fatalistic -- books about global warming yet written."

Rich notes that nearly every book about climate change that has been written for a general audience contains within it a message of hope, and often a prod toward action. But Vollmann declares from the outset that he will not offer any solutions because he does not believe any are possible:

“Nothing can be done to save the world as we know it; therefore, nothing need be done.”

Rich says that anyone who begins reading Carbon Ideologies in a hopeless mood will finish it hopeless. “So will the hopeful reader. But there exist other kinds of readers. Those who do not read for advice or encouragement or comfort. Those who seek to understand human nature, and themselves. Because human nature is Vollmann’s true subject -- as it must be.

"The story of climate change hangs on human nature, not geophysics. Vollmann seeks to understand ‘how we could not only sustain, but accelerate the rise of atmospheric carbon levels, all the while expressing confusion, powerlessness, and resentment.’ Why did we take such insane risks? Could we have behaved any other way? If not, what conclusions must we draw about our lives and our future?"

Rich sees Carbon Ideologies as being “in the vanguard of the coming second wave of climate literature -- books written not to diagnose or solve the problem, but to grapple with its moral consequences.”

One of the climate commentators already in this vanguard is author Jonathan Franzen, whose latest book from Farrar, Straus and Giroux is titled The End of the End of the Earth. He bluntly compares the state of our planet to “a patient with bad cancer” whose death is certain and whose main concern is maintaining as good a quality of life as possible before the end.

"Drastic planetary overheating is a done deal," Franzen declared in an article he wrote in 2015. "No head of state anywhere, even in places most threatened by flooding or drought, has committed to leaving carbon in the ground." The essay was angrily denounced at the time, especially by environmentalists and critics on the left.

In an interview with Postmedia, Franzen said that, if the essay had been published today, he wouldn’t expect it to have had such a furious reaction. “I think in the last three-and-a-half years that it has become much more apparent to many more people that we are not stopping climate change. We’re not even coming close to stopping it. In fact, we are continuing to accelerate it.”

He says that his foremost aim is to encourage people to live responsibly in the face of our all but certain extinction as a species. “Our world is poised to change vastly, and mostly for the worst. I don’t have any hope that we can stop this change from coming. My only hope is that we can accept the reality in time to prepare for it."

In much the same vein, Postmedia’s David Reevely, in a column last fall titled "Let’s prepare for climate change if we’re not going to fight it," urged that Canadian governments should at least make it a priority to help people adapt to a much warmer future.

Among his suggestions were: conserve city water and get used to brown parks and fields during the summer; renovate public buildings, especially schools and nursing homes, to cope with hotter weather; add air-conditioning, improve ventilation, and plant more shade trees; increase our capacity to fight forest fires; enhance medical research and training to cope with tropical diseases that don’t yet afflict us here; start building

high flood walls around our coastal cities to protect them from rising sea levels; build more and wider roads to the Far North, so that, “when the Russians start eyeing our Arctic (as a safer residence), we can stop them with something other than pickup trucks."

"All of this, Reevely admits, “will make for a more expensive, more precarious, more cruel world. But, if we aren’t seriously trying to stop global warming, we should at least be getting ready for it."

Plutocrats plan for survival

Ironically, that is what many of the main propagators of global warming are doing. Corporate executives who are locked into the capitalist system’s suicidal pursuit of profits are secretly preparing to survive the catastrophic outcome.

This activity was revealed last year by the New Yorker’s Evan Osnos in an article aptly titled Survival of the Richest, and subtitled Why some of America’s wealthiest people are preparing for disaster.

Osnos tells us that “survivalism -- the practice of preparing for a crackup of civilization -- has spread among many of the CEOs, financiers, bankers and big investors: the same capitalist kingpins whose devastation of the planet is causing the catastrophe they now plan to outlive.”

He says it’s difficult to find out how many wealthy people have become survivalists, but notes that it has certainly taken root in Silicon Valley and New York among technology executives and hedge-fund managers.

Osnos was told by Steve Huffman, co-founder and CEO of Reddit, that he and at least half of the Silicon Valley billionaires have acquired some "apocalypse insurance" in the form of "a hideaway somewhere in the U.S. or abroad." One of them has bought five wooded acres on an island in the Pacific Northwest and stocked it with generators, solar panels and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Others have bought houses or cabins in New Zealand, which has become a favoured refuge from a global cataclysm.

Other wealthy would-be survivalists have built luxury complexes underground in abandoned nuclear missile silos. One of them, Larry Hall, paid $300,000 for a silo and another $20 million to create 12 private apartments that he has sold for $3 million each. They are stocked with enough food to sustain 75 people for five years, mainly by raising tilapia in fish tanks, and growing hydroponic vegetables under glow lamps.

"Opulent survival shelters like this, of course, are beyond the financial capacity of most victims of an apocalyptic event,” Osnos points out. “It is bitterly ironic that those most likely to live through such a calamity are the ones whose greed and power precipitated it."

Extinction may yet be averted

Despite these bleak and depressing forecasts, most people continue to reject rather than accept them. Perhaps they are right to remain optimistic about the future and continue to “eat, drink and be merry” as long as they can. But will the wisest and brightest of them belatedly be motivated by the increasing violence of Nature’s wrath to build the equivalent of Noah’s ark?

That will depend on whether and when enough people come to realize that the oncoming climate catastrophe is being caused primarily by the ravagement of Earth’s air, water and soil by the world’s big corporations. Specifically, by the dominant cancerous capitalist economic system that they have inflicted on the planet.

Regrettably, this pernicious corporate cancer will not be “cured” before the ICCP’s 12-year deadline elapses in 2020. But it’s not inconceivable that it will be detected and the first essential survival measures taken by that time. 

It depends on how long it will take for the planetary vandalism  of unfettered capitalism to become so glaringly obvious that the exposure of its colossal carnage will spark a worldwide revolution and the overthrow of global plutocracy. Capitalism would then be replaced by some form of progressive democracy dedicated to saving as many people as possible from the devastation of an overheated planet.

The world's most brilliant thinkers and scientists would then be assigned the imperative mission of devising ways and means of preventing humankind’s extinction.

Even such a tardy endeavour would almost certainly succeed in saving millions of people -- many more than the wealthy few thousand hunkered in their underground bunkers. Certainly enough of them with the knowledge and dedication to undertake the monumental task of restoring some semblance of civilization for the survivors.

This optimistic prospect of humanity’s rescue from oblivion may seem as unlikely as the pessimistic outlook of the prominent skeptics quoted above. It will all depend on how much longer the corporate oligarchs and their political lackeys are permitted to keep poisoning and despoiling the planet. On how long, in effect, corrosive and unchecked capitalism is allowed to keep dragging us toward the abyss.

That nightmare looks like it will continue for at least another decade, until after the climatologists’ tipping-point deadline has passed. We can only hope, therefore, that humankind’s extinction will ultimately be forestalled by the too-long-delayed extinction of capitalism.

Photo: Tim J Keegan/Flickr

Ed Finn grew up in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, where he became worked as a printer’s apprentice, reporter, columnist, and editor of that city’s daily newspaper, the Western Star. His career as a journalist included 14 years as a labour relations columnist for the Toronto Star. He was part of the world of politics between 1959 and 1962, serving as the first provincial leader of the NDP in Newfoundland. He worked closely with Tommy Douglas for some years and helped defend and promote medicare legislation in Saskatchewan.

 

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Categories: News for progressives

Kingston arrest shows terrorism charges are exclusively for Muslims

Fri, 2019-02-01 22:09
February 1, 2019Anti-RacismCivil Liberties WatchKingston arrest shows terrorism charges are exclusively for Muslims There is a double standard in the application of terrorism legislation in cases of Muslims versus non-Muslims in Canada.terrorismislamophobia
Categories: News for progressives

Isn’t it time to curb the danger posed by heavy trucks on Toronto’s streets?

Fri, 2019-02-01 02:08
Albert Koehl and Michael Black

After John Sweeney’s death, proposals to deal with the danger of heavy trucks on city roads got significant public attention. Sweeney was one of several road casualties or near misses involving trucks that year but his young age and death in broad daylight made the tragedy particularly shocking. The Toronto Daily Star even published an artist’s conception of a ‘child-catcher’ to be affixed around truck wheels. The trucking industry appeared ready to act. The year was 1952.

Almost seven decades have passed since Sweeney’s death – more than enough time, especially given the many advances in technology, to solve the problem of a truck driver’s poor view of the road, including blind spots, and the resulting danger from a massive vehicle. Yet, in the first weeks of this year, three Toronto residents have been killed by heavy trucks, while in 2018, two cyclists were killed within weeks of each other by trucks. In the period 2007-2017 in Toronto, there were 243 fatalities and serious injuries of road users in collisions involving trucks. The same tragedies occur each year across Canada and beyond our borders.

Sweeney was only 14 when he was killed in April 1952, bicycling home along Queen St. after stopping at city hall to pick up his annual bike licence (a requirement in place until 1956). After the truck passed, Sweeney looked back to make sure that his friend, who was following, was safe -- but when the driver later made a right turn, he ran over Sweeney. “The kids must have come from nowhere. I never saw them,” the driver said.

In his 2012 road safety review, Ontario’s chief coroner found that in almost half of deaths involving trucks, the cyclist or pedestrian impacted the side of the truck, resulting in the person “being dragged, pinned or run over by the rear wheels.” He recommended truck side-guards to prevent such deaths. After side-guards were made mandatory in the U.K., there was a 61-per-cent reduction in cycling deaths from side-impact collisions with trucks.

Transport Canada, responsible for safety standards for trucks, hasn’t shown any inclination to action -- content instead to raise doubts about the effectiveness of side-guards but without requiring alternatives, like electronic detection systems already in place on some cars or being developed for autonomous vehicles. These technologies, in conjunction with side-guards and better designed truck cabs that give a driver a better view of the road, are the way forward.

A recent Transport Canada report about truck safety simply surveyed available safety measures without recommendations or timeframes for implementation. The federal report concluded: “In time, benefits may be achieved by a properly developed electronic warning system capable of alerting drivers to the presence of vulnerable road users.”  

An inability by truck drivers to detect pedestrians and cyclists can’t be used as an excuse. If average citizens with smart phones can monitor their homes from a great distance, why are our fellow residents still being crushed under truck wheels because the driver can’t see them from a distance of a few metres?

Many cities no longer passively accept the casualty toll inflicted by trucks, instead delivering a simple message: fix the safety deficiencies on your vehicles or face restrictions on public roads. In London, England, trucks will be soon be banned from the city unless they meet safety criteria that ensure the driver has a good view of the road. In Brussels, Belgium, heavy trucks will be prohibited from the city centre where pedestrian and cycling traffic is high.

Last year, Toronto city council approved two studies – one about ‘protected’ intersections that improve a driver’s ability to see the road on right turns and the other about equipping city trucks with side-guards as is already the case in other cities. But more action is needed now. 

Toronto’s ‘community safety zones,’ which provide for lower speeds and higher penalties for violations, should be expanded to include restrictions on trucks. For instance, trucks that aren’t equipped with side-guards, lack collision avoidance systems, or limit the driver’s view of the road should be prohibited or restricted during the hours of heavy foot and bicycle traffic. Where existing municipal authority falls short, the province should be eager to help -- after all, road safety is not a partisan issue.

Six decades after John Sweeney’s death, it’s finally time to ensure that the life of a person walking or cycling home isn’t cut short by a heavy truck.

Albert Koehl is a road safety advocate and founder of Bells on Bloor. He was on the expert panel of the Ontario coroner’s 2012 pedestrian safety review. Michael Black is a founder of Walk Toronto.

Photo:  KomUnew/Flickr
 

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Categories: News for progressives

Provincial NDP victory in Nanaimo is a defeat for pollsters

Thu, 2019-01-31 22:26
January 31, 2019Politics in CanadaProvincial NDP victory in Nanaimo is a defeat for pollstersTwo days before the byelection vote, polls had the Liberal candidate ahead 13 points. But the vote gave the NDP a win by nearly 10 points – a 23-point difference.
Categories: News for progressives

Provincial NDP victory in Nanaimo is a defeat for pollsters

Thu, 2019-01-31 22:23
Karl Nerenberg

On January 28, as the voters in British Columbia’s provincial riding of Nanaimo prepared to vote in a crucial byelection, Mainstreet Research came out with a poll showing the B.C. Liberal candidate ahead by 13 points.

If the byelection had turned out that way, the combined forces of the NDP and the Greens would have lost their one-seat majority.

But that is not what happened. On January 30, the NDP candidate, former federal MP Sheila Malcolmson, won by nearly 10 points. The Mainstreet poll from two days before the vote was wrong. In fact, it was 23 percentage points off the mark.

The B.C. NDP minority government is safe, for now at least. As long as Premier John Horgan can keep the support of the Green Party, and his own caucus, he can stave off a new election.

The Nanaimo result is important because it maintains a certain measure of stability in B.C. politics, at a time when the province has many challenges, not the least of which is to forge a healthier and more respectful relationship with its First Nations.

But the byelection result, so at variance with the most recent poll, is also important for another reason. It should give those of us who play at political punditry pause.

We tend to treat public opinion polling data as solid fact, based on what appears to be a scientific methodology. In reality, polls give us, at best, an incomplete and hazy view of the state of public opinion.

And so, when they depict the challenges facing the political players and the choices facing the electorate, it is dangerous and unfair for journalists and analysts to give excessive weight to polling data.

Do polls accurately tell the current federal political story?

Currently, the pundits’ consensus on the federal political state of affairs is very much poll-driven.

Most recent polls show the Trudeau Liberals neck-and-neck with Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives. Pundits attribute this result to the prime minister’s missteps, such as his ill-fated trip to India, and to public resistance to the Liberal government’s modest carbon tax.

Polls also show the Greens to be on the ascent, somewhat, vis-à-vis their result in the last federal election, which does not quite square with the view that there is widespread backlash against measures to deal with climate change.

As for the New Democrats, most polls have them well below their 2015 election score of just below 20 per cent. Some polls have them in the low teens.

Those numbers have led to the consensus view among professional observers that NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is not catching on with the electorate, does not connect with voters and, overall, is dragging down his party.

There may be some truth to that view. The polls might, in fact, be capturing part of the real picture -- but, at best, it is almost only a small part. Not only are polls merely snapshots in time, they are limited in their view and scope. They can never accurately and fully reflect the complex and multi-layered texture of public opinion.

To know what is going on in the public mind, we who work in what is becoming an endangered profession -- journalism -- must talk to and pay attention to real live members of the public, not just pollsters. And we should pay heed to the issues real people care about, and not focus exclusively on the horse-race numbers, the matter of who’s up, who’s down, who’s ahead and who’s a behind.

The Nanaimo byelection was not an opinion poll. It entailed actual voters making a real choice.

The poll-defying result is a bucket of cold water over the heads of the too-often smug and over-confident pollster community, and it should be a warning to those who base their political analyses to too great a degree on poll numbers.

Headlines after the Mainstreet poll came out two days before the actual vote focused on the fragility of the NDP’s hold on power.

The morning after the byelection, the story, and the conversation around it, had completely changed. The headline in the Vancouver Sun, to cite just one example, read: “NDP tightens grip on power with byelection win."

There are federal byelections coming at the end of February and they, too, just might change the conversation – in this case about the state of play on the federal political stage.

Photo: Sheila Malcolmson/Facebook

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble's politics reporter.

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Categories: News for progressives

Medically assisted death in Canada: A firsthand account

Wed, 2019-01-30 23:46
January 30, 2019Medically assisted death in Canada: A firsthand account In this second part of a three-part series on medically assisted death in Canada, Celia Chandler writes about her partner's terminal illness and the development of assisted dying legislation.CA
Categories: News for progressives

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