Monday, May 31, 2010

Trevor Herriot: Saskatchewan Environmental Champion

Saskatchewan Environmental Champions

Trevor Herriot is best known to the Saskatchewan public for his encyclopedic knowledge of Saskatchewan birds on the popular monthly CBC radio phone in show, "Birdline". He is also a well-known naturalist, writer and illustrator.

Herriot has published two books, feature articles in Canadian Geographic and Nature Canada magazines as well as many other personal essays in anthologies that explore the landscape and the human relationship to the land. His first book about the Qu'Appelle River Valley, River in a Dry Land: a Prairie Passage was highly acclaimed by reviewers when it was first published in 2000 and went on to win four awards: the Writers' Trust Drainie-Taylor Biography Prize, the Libris Award for Best First-Time Author, the Saskatchewan Book of the Year Award, and the Regina Book Award. It was also shortlisted for the Governor General's Award for Non-fiction.

Israeli murder on the high seas

Murray Dobbin's Blog

More people murdered by Israel. It is so commonplace now that hearing it takes you to the place you were the last time you heard of such an outrage. And you know that there will be no justice. The impunity and the casual excuses for the action follow on like night follows day – with a terrible certainty.

No other nation on the planet, save for the US imperial regime, gets away with murder like the state of Israel. This is what happens when a heavily armed and sophisticated state like the Zionist regime is guaranteed its protection by that same empire. It is, like the US, described by the term exceptionalism: in other words, everybody else has to live by the normal rules and ethics of the community of nations – except Israel.

Business unionism vs workplace democracy

By Wanda Pasz
New Unionism Blog

There is a general assumption that workplace democracy is achievable through unionization. But this isn’t so. Unionization, in North America at least, doesn’t even create representative democracy in the workplace, much less real participatory democracy. Indeed, in North America, the objective of the legal framework that governs union-management relations is to control workers and ensure that they accept their subordinate status in the workplace.

Yes, the law does give workers certain rights, but there’s a big trade off – freedom, equality, democracy. I think it’s important for people to understand that this misconception of the unionized workplace as a workplace democracy, is a major impediment to people getting their heads around what workplace democracy really is.
Read more here.

Lost

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Thailand's red shirts are not who you think they are

Written by Trish Elliott
ActUpinSask
Sunday, 30 May 2010

Because I have journalistic and research connections to Thailand, a number of friends have asked me about the red shirt protests that rocked Bangkok for several months and are now spreading underground around the country. Many are surprised when I mention some of the extreme right wing language used by the protest movement’s political leaders.

Most Canadians have come to understand the crisis by following western media coverage. For the most part, this coverage has presented a political crisis stripped of its politics. Instead, we’ve been given a broad-brush, easy-to-explain narrative of ‘rich versus poor.’ As a result, many of my progressive friends assume the recent protests fit under the same tent as Tiananmen Square, Burma’s democratic resistance, or Thailand’s pro-democracy movement of the early 1990s. The reality is far different.

A closer comparison would be the U.S. Tea Party movement.
Read this article here.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Saskatchewan Left History

 Saskatchewan New Left Leaders Join Young Socialists

From the Socialist History Project

The mid-to-late 1960s saw the rise of the "new left" on Canadian university campuses. The term was used broadly to describe a variety of groups that held a wide range of radical views, united only by their refusal to support existing political parties and by their rejection of Marxism. It was a short-lived phenomenon: by the end of 1970, most new left groups were falling apart.

The most important new left group in Saskatchewan was the Committee for a Socialist Movement. In July 1970, five leading members of CSM resigned to join the Young Socialists/Ligue des Jeunes Socialistes. Three of the five — Richard Thompson, Howard Brown, and Paul Kouri — became prominent leaders of the Trotskyist movement in the 1970s. The articles below provide insight into their decision to join the YS.
Read these articles here.

Lisbon: Massive Demonstration Against Government

Source: Pravda.Ru

Over three hundred thousand people (more than three per cent of the Portuguese population) marched today in central Lisbon in a mega-demonstration against the socially insulting policies of the conservative, right-wing Government provided by the Socialist Party, an insult to Socialism, an insult to Government and the epitome of laboratory politics practised by professional politicians who have never had a real job.

The Social Basis of the "Woman Question"

CounterFire

When will someone make a film about the incredible life of Alexandra Kollontai? Born into a rich family, she rebelled with an 'unsuitable' marriage, was radicalised by visits to textile factories, became a political campaigner in the late 1890's and then left her husband and child to study Marxism in Europe.
Alexandra Kollontai

Returning to Russia she became a leader in the movement of women workers, a role that put a price on her head and forced her into exile in 1908. Whilst in exile, Kollontai continued her political work in England, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, America and spent 1914 in Germany and Austria fighting against the impending world war.

Returning to Russia in 1917 Kollontai was elected to the executive committee of the Petrograd Soviet. Whilst in prison she became the only woman elected to the Central Committee of the Bolsheviks and, with the Revolution of October 1917, was appointed by Lenin as People's Commissar for Social Welfare.

TV Interview: Naomi Klein on oil spill

Friday, May 28, 2010

Relations Between the Catholic Church and the CCF in Saskatchewan, 1930s to 1950s



Relations between the Catholic church and the CCF in Saskatchewan -


Oliver Stone's latest film premieres in Venezuela

Hugo Chavez's Blog

South of the Border


The eyes of the world are in Latin America and their struggle to achieve the complete independence of their peoples. Philosophers, writers, politicians and citizens of the world in general look at us with amazement, even perhaps with a little heat. We are involved in a new heroic in history that my sister again, and the diligent eye of documentary film has also been at his.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Southern Africa: The liberation struggle continues

John S. Saul
http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/64746
2010-05-27, Issue 483

Fifty years on from the beginnings of liberation in Africa, John S. Saul finds there is still much work to be done, especially in southern Africa where the final triumph over colonial and racial domination occurred. In each of the five sites of the overt struggle against domination – Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa – there are clear signs of recolonisation, this time by capital.Many of us came to southern Africa from the starting-point of support for the peoples there who were struggling, in the 60s, 70s and 80s, against the white minority/colonial regimes that dominated them and shaped so negatively their life chances.

Socialism in the 21st Century World

What to Learn from Failed Past Experiences

Salvador Aguilar
Daniel Singer Millennium Prize 2009

This essay tries to establish a simplified balance sheet of the trajectory taken by the socialist movement during the last 150 years. It focuses specifically on attempts which arose from the very core of the movement aimed at getting rid of capitalism and building instead societies strongly infused with equality and democracy.



Downloadable PDF version here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Divide and Conquer: Diversification is the Way Forward for the Left

By Gabor Gyori
Social Europe

For social democrats, the decline from parties that regularly poll over 40% and dominate the left-wing of the political spectrum to 20-30% parties that uneasily cohabit with a mix of green and far-left upstarts has been marked. And it has been one of struggle, too: the intra-left contest has often been as intense as the social democrats’ engagement with right-wing parties. Sometimes it is also marred by the bitterness – and irrationality – that is often characteristic of fraternal feuds.

Social democracy competes for roughly the same group of voters as other left-wing parties do, and this explains why the relations are bound to be fraught with conflict. Yet, there is good reason to think that the emerging fragmentation of the European left is in fact beneficial, on both ideological and strategic grounds.
Read this article here.

Tommy's Team

Tommy's Team: The People Behind the Douglas Years

Bill Waiser and C. S. Houston
Fifth House Ltd.

In 2004, Tommy Douglas easily topped a CBC television poll as "The Greatest Canadian" because of his pre-eminent role in the introduction of Medicare in the 1960s. But Tommy Douglas did not accomplish all that he did on his own. Regrettably, the people who helped make his accomplishments possible have been largely overlooked, forgotten, or simply ignored.

Tommy's Team offers an unprecedented look at the people who played a significant, and often influential role in his path to become one of the most successful political leaders of his era. Tommy Douglas and his achievement have long been recognized. It is time to turn the spotlight on the people behind the stage and in the wings. This book is their curtain call.

Book is available here.

Human Nature: What drives us?



Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Trouble with Winning

The Trouble with Winning: A Series of Five Essays on the Democratic Socialist Idea
Michael Laxer
Ontario Ginger Project

Please note that this is the introduction to a series of essays. Many of the obvious questions it raises I will attempt to deal with in the other, longer, five parts to be published over the next two weeks.

Karl Marx once remarked that the generations of the dead weigh like a nightmare upon the brains of the living.

Never has this been truer than in the history of the socialist left. Our decades of grasping failure from the jaws of victory have left us, as a movement, in a weaker position than ever, despite the reality that at the dawn of the last century, and with the coming of the economic crisis in this one, many felt that the future was and is ours to inherit.

And yet, somehow, we repeat the errors of our forebears. Errors compounded by the fact that they have been repeated so often.

Peter Tomkins Jr.: Metis socialist

Peter Tomkins Jr. (1899-1970)
by Leah Dorion
December 1999/January 2000

Peter Tomkins Jr. was born on January 1, 1899 at Poundmakers Reserve. He was the son of Peter Tomkins and Marie Essawakapiw from Poundmakers Reserve. Pete Tomkins Jr. was raised on various reserves and spoke Cree fluently as his father was an Indian Department farm instructor at reserves such as Saddle Lake, Sweetgrass and One Arrow.

His father had a great influence on his life and told him stories about the 1885 resistance at Batoche. Pete Tomkins Sr. worked as a cut line worker on the telegraph line near Duck Lake. During this government contract the Metis took him as a prisoner of war at Batoche. Pete Sr. was sympathetic towards Riel and felt the Metis were not treated justly by government officials. In an 1969 interview with Pete Jr. he explains his father's perspective on Riel, "...he used to say, "Pete, some day these scissor-bills that they've got who put Riel to hang him, they'll be gone and another outfit will spring up and they'll see the mistake that these guys made. They should never have hanged Riel. He never did anything worse than a good Union man would do to his group and some day they'll build a monument." And look what they've done."

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Sinking of the Cheonan: Another Gulf of Tonkin incident?

An alternative view of the events in Korea. Unfortunately the byzantine politics of North Korea undermines their credibility, regardless of  the what actually happened - NYC

By Stephen Gowans

While the South Korean government announced on May 20 that it has overwhelming evidence that one of its warships was sunk by a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine, there is, in fact, no direct link between North Korea and the sunken ship. And it seems very unlikely that North Korea had anything to do with it.

That’s not my conclusion. It’s the conclusion of Won See-hoon, director of South Korea’s National Intelligence. Won told a South Korean parliamentary committee in early April, less than two weeks after the South Korean warship, the Cheonan, sank in waters off Baengnyeong Island, that there was no evidence linking North Korea to the Cheonan’s sinking. (1)

South Korea’s Defense Minister Kim Tae-young backed him up, pointing out that the Cheonan’s crew had not detected a torpedo (2), while Lee Ki-sik, head of the marine operations office at the South Korean joint chiefs of staff agreed that “No North Korean warships have been detected…(in) the waters where the accident took place.” (3)

Notice he said “accident.”

Soon after the sinking of the South Korean warship, the Cheonan, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young ruled out a North Korean torpedo attack, noting that a torpedo would have been spotted by radar, and no torpedo had been spotted. Intelligence chief Won See-hoon, said there was no evidence linking North Korea to the Cheonan’s sinking.

Defense Ministry officials added that they had not detected any North Korean submarines in the area at the time of the incident. (4) According to Lee, “We didn’t detect any movement by North Korean submarines near” the area where the Cheonan went down. (5)

When speculation persisted that the Cheonan had been sunk by a North Korean torpedo, the Defense Ministry called another press conference to reiterate “there was no unusual North Korean activities detected at the time of the disaster.” (6)

A ministry spokesman, Won Tae-jae, told reporters that “With regard to this case, no particular activities by North Korean submarines or semi-submarines…have been verified. I am saying again that there were no activities that could be directly linked to” the Cheonan’s sinking. (7)

Rear Admiral Lee, the head of the marine operations office, added that, “We closely watched the movement of the North’s vessels, including submarines and semi-submersibles, at the time of the sinking. But military did not detect any North Korean submarines near the country’s western sea border.” (8)

North Korea has vehemently denied any involvement in the sinking.

So, a North Korean submarine is now said to have fired a torpedo which sank the Cheonan, but in the immediate aftermath of the sinking the South Korean navy detected no North Korean naval vessels, including submarines, in the area. Indeed, immediately following the incident defense minister Lee ruled out a North Korean torpedo attack, noting that a torpedo would have been spotted by radar, and no torpedo had been spotted. (9)

The case gets weaker still.

It’s unlikely that a single torpedo could split a 1,200 ton warship in two. Baek Seung-joo, an analyst with the Korea Institute for Defense Analysis says that “If a single torpedo or floating mine causes a naval patrol vessel to split in half and sink, we will have to rewrite our military doctrine.” (10)

The Cheonan sank in shallow, rapidly running, waters, in which it’s virtually impossible for submarines to operate. “Some people are pointing the finger at North Korea,” notes Song Young-moo, a former South Korean navy chief of staff, “but anyone with knowledge about the waters where the shipwreck occurred would not draw that conclusion so easily.” (11)

Contrary to what looks like an improbable North-Korea-torpedo-hypothesis, the evidence points to the Cheonan splitting in two and sinking because it ran aground upon a reef, a real possibility given the shallow waters in which the warship was operating. According to Go Yeong-jae, the South Korean Coast Guard captain who rescued 56 of the stricken warship’s crew, he “received an order …that a naval patrol vessel had run aground in the waters 1.2 miles to the southwest of Baengnyeong Island, and that we were to move there quickly to rescue them.” (12)

So how is it that what looked like no North Korean involvement in the Cheonan’s sinking, according to the South Korean military in the days immediately following the incident, has now become, one and half months later, an open and shut case of North Korean aggression, according to government-appointed investigators?

South Korean president Lee Myung-bak is a North Korea-phobe who prefers a confrontational stance toward his neighbor to the north to the policy of peaceful coexistence and growing cooperation favored by his recent predecessors. His foreign policy rests on the goal of forcing the collapse of North Korea.

The answer has much to do with the electoral fortunes of South Korea’s ruling Grand National Party, and the party’s need to marshal support for a tougher stance on the North. Lurking in the wings are US arms manufacturers who stand to profit if South Korean president Lee Myung-bak wins public backing for beefed up spending on sonar equipment and warships to deter a North Korean threat – all the more likely with the Cheonan incident chalked up to North Korean aggression.

Lee is a North Korea-phobe who prefers a confrontational stance toward his neighbor to the north to the policy of peaceful coexistence and growing cooperation favored by his recent predecessors (and by Pyongyang, as well. It’s worth mentioning that North Korea supports a policy of peace and cooperation. South Korea, under its hawkish president, does not.) Fabricating a case against the North serves Lee in a number of ways. If voters in the South can be persuaded that the North is indeed a menace – and it looks like this is exactly what is happening – Lee’s hawkish policies will be embraced as the right ones for present circumstances. This will prove immeasurably helpful in upcoming mayoral and gubernatorial elections in June.

What’s more, Lee’s foreign policy rests on the goal of forcing the collapse of North Korea. When he took office in February 2008, he set about reversing a 10-year-old policy of unconditional aid to the North. He has also refused to move ahead on cross-border economic projects. (13) The claim that the sinking of the Cheonan is due to an unprovoked North Korean torpedo attack makes it easier for Lee to drum up support for his confrontational stance.

Finally, the RAND Corporation is urging South Korea to buy sensors to detect North Korean submarines and more warships to intercept North Korean naval vessels. (14) An unequivocal US-lackey – protesters have called the security perimeter around Lee’s office “the U.S. state of South Korea” (15) – Lee would be pleased to hand US corporations fat contracts to furnish the South Korean military with more hardware.

The United States, too, has motivations to fabricate a case against North Korea. One is to justify the continued presence, 65 years after the end of WWII, of US troops on Japanese soil. Many Japanese bristle at what is effectively a permanent occupation of their country by more than a token contingent of US troops. There are 60,000 US soldiers, airmen and sailors in Japan. Washington, and the Japanese government – which, when it isn’t willingly collaborating with its own occupiers, is forced into submission by the considerable leverage Washington exercises — justifies its troop presence through the sheer sophistry of presenting North Korea as an ongoing threat. The claim that North Korea sunk the Cheonan in an unprovoked attack strengthens Washington’s case for occupation. Not surprisingly, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has seized on the Cheonan incident to underline “the importance of the America-Japanese alliance, and the presence of American troops on Japanese soil.” (16)

Given these political realities, it comes as no surprise that from the start members of Lee’s party blamed the sinking of the Cheonan on a North Korean torpedo (17), just as members of the Bush administration immediately blamed 9/11 on Saddam Hussein, and then proceeded to look for evidence to substantiate their case, in the hopes of justifying an already planned invasion. (Later, the Bush administration fabricated an intelligence dossier on Iraq’s banned weapons.) In fact, the reason the ministry of defense felt the need to reiterate there was no evidence of a North Korean link was the persistent speculation of GNP politicians that North Korea was the culprit. Lee himself, ever hostile to his northern neighbor, said his “intuition” told him that North Korea was to blame. (18) Today, opposition parties accuse Lee of using “red scare” tactics to garner support as the June 2 elections draw near. (19) And leaders of South Korea’s four main opposition parties, as well as a number of civil groups, have issued a joint statement denouncing the government’s findings as untrustworthy. Woo Sang-ho, a spokesman for South Korea’s Democratic Party has called the probe results “insufficient proof and questioned whether the North was involved at all.” (20)

Lee announced, even before the inquiry rendered its findings, that a task force will be launched to overhaul the national security system and bulk up the military to prepare itself for threats from North Korea. (21) He even prepared a package of sanctions against the North in the event the inquiry confirmed what his intuition told him. (22) No wonder civil society groups denounced the inquiry’s findings, arguing that “The probe started after the conclusions had already been drawn.” (23)

Jung Sung-ki, a staff reporter for The Korean Times, has raised a number of questions about the inquiry’s findings. The inquiry concluded that “two North Korean submarines, one 300-ton Sango class and the other 130-ton Yeono class, were involved in the attack. Under the cover of the Sango class, the midget Yeono class submarine approached the Cheonan and launched the CHT-02D torpedo manufactured by North Korea.” But “’Sango class submarines…do not have an advanced system to guide homing weapons,’ an expert at a missile manufacturer told The Korea Times on condition of anonymity. ‘If a smaller class submarine was involved, there is a bigger question mark.’” (24)

“Rear Adm. Moon Byung-ok, spokesman for [the official inquiry] told reporters, ‘We confirmed that two submarines left their base two or three days prior to the attack and returned to the port two or three days after the assault.’” But earlier “South Korean and U.S. military authorities confirmed several times that there had been no sign of North Korean infiltration in the” area in which the Cheonan went down. (25)

“In addition, Moon’s team reversed its position on whether or not there was a column of water following an air bubble effect. Earlier, the team said there were no sailors who had witnessed a column of water. But during [a] briefing session, the team said a soldier onshore at Baengnyeong Island witnessed ‘an approximately 100-meter-high pillar of white,’ adding that the phenomenon was consistent with a shockwave and bubble effect.” (26)

The inquiry produced a torpedo propeller recovered by fishing vessels that it said perfectly match the schematics of a North Korean torpedo. “But it seemed that the collected parts had been corroding at least for several months.” (27)

Finally, the investigators “claim the Korean word written on the driving shaft of the propeller parts was same as that seen on a North Korean torpedo discovered by the South …seven years ago.” But the “’word is not inscribed on the part but written on it,’ an analyst said, adding that “’the lettering issue is dubious.’” (28)

On August 2, 1964, the United States announced that three North Vietnamese torpedo boats had launched an unprovoked attacked on the USS Maddox, a US Navy destroyer, in the Gulf of Tonkin. The incident handed US president Lyndon Johnson the Congressional support he needed to step up military intervention in Vietnam. In 1971, the New York Times reported that the Pentagon Papers, a secret Pentagon report, revealed that the incident had been faked to provide a pretext for escalated military intervention. There had been no attack. The Cheonan incident has all the markings of another Gulf of Tonkin incident. And as usual, the aggressor is accusing the intended victim of an unprovoked attack to justify a policy of aggression under the pretext of self-defense.
1. Kang Hyun-kyung, “Ruling camp differs over NK involvement in disaster”, The Korea Times, April 7, 2010.
2. Nicole Finnemann, “The sinking of the Cheonan”, Korea Economic Institute, April 1, 2010. http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/kei/issues/2010-04-01/1.html
3. “Military leadership adding to Cheonan chaos with contradictory statements”, The Hankyoreh, March 31, 2010.
4. “Birds or North Korean midget submarine?” The Korea Times, April 16, 2010.
5. Ibid.
6. “Military plays down N.K. foul play”, The Korea Herald, April 2, 2010.
7. Ibid.
8. “No subs near Cheonan: Ministry”, JoongAng Daily, April 2, 2010.
9. Jean H. Lee, “South Korea says mine from the North may have sunk warship”, The Washington Post, March 30, 2010.
10. “What caused the Cheonan to sink?” The Chosun Ilbo, March 29, 2010.
11. Ibid.
12. “Military leadership adding to Cheonan chaos with contradictory statements”, The Hankyoreh, March 31, 2010.
13. Blaine Harden, “Brawl Near Koreas’ Border,” The Washington Post, December 3, 2008.
14. “Kim So-hyun, “A touchstone of Lee’s leadership”, The Korea Herald, May 13, 2010.
15. The New York Times, June 12, 2008.
16. Mark Landler, “Clinton condemns attack on South Korean Ship”, The New York Times, May 21, 2010.
17. Kang Hyun-kyung, “Ruling camp differs over NK involvement in disaster”, The Korea Times, April 7, 2010.
18. “Kim So-hyun, “A touchstone of Lee’s leadership”, Korea Herald, May 13, 2010.
19. Kang Hyun-kyung, “Ruling camp differs over NK involvement in disaster”, The Korea Times, April 7, 2010; Choe Sang-Hun, “South Korean sailors say blast that sank their ship came from outside vessel”, The New York Times, April 8, 2010.
20. Cho Jae-eun, “Probe satisfies some, others have doubts”, JoongAng Daily, May 21, 2010.
21. “Kim So-hyun, “A touchstone of Lee’s leadership”, The Korea Herald, May 13, 2010.
22. “Seoul prepares sanctions over Cheonan sinking”, The Choson Ilbo, May 13, 2010.
23. Cho Jae-eun, “Probe satisfies some, others have doubts”, JoongAng Daily, May 21, 2010.
24. Jung Sung-ki, “Questions raised about ‘smoking gun’”, The Korea Times, May 20, 2010.
25. Ibid.
26. Ibid.
27. Ibid.
28. Ibid.

Most of the articles cited here are posted on Tim Beal’s DPRK- North Korea website, http://www.vuw.ac.nz/~caplabtb/dprk/, an invaluable resource for anyone interested in Korea.

Also read:
Who Sank the South Korean Warship Cheonan? Destabilization of the Korean Peninsula

The Regina Riot - A Documentary (Trailer)

Saskatchewan Federation of Labour

This is the trailer to a documentary film by independent film maker, Ben Lies of Badlands Productions, entitled "The Regina Riot."

It is being released this year (2010) in recognition of the 75th Anniversary of the "On To Ottawa Trek" of 1935,

The Trek, which started in Vancouver B.C., came to an end following a bloody melee between trekkers and police in the Saskatchewan capital city of Regina.
 
Also from NYC on the Regina Riot
75th Anniversary of the On-To-Ottawa Trek and Regina Riot Events
Regina Riot: Police infiltrators exposed
THE ON-TO-OTTAWA TREK and the Regina Riot  
 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Why Dummies Can't Build a Tea Party Future

Don't get caught in a bad hotel

 This video of worker's creativity has been going around. Well worth viewing!

Do We Want Saskatchewan to become a Nuclear Dump ?

By Jim Harding
R Town News

The Sask Party government can’t make up its mind whether it wants Saskatchewan to become a nuclear waste dump. In March 2009, when the Uranium Development Partnership (UDP) recommended we take nuclear wastes from afar, several Ministers were quick to distance the government from this. But on December 17th, Energy and Resources Minister Bill Boyd reversed this, saying the government is open to considering a geological repository if a “willing community” steps forward. This off-again, on-again approach Is no way to make a decision with such ramifications. The public deserves to get solid background on the matter, and we might ask: why isn’t the mainstream media supplying this so that an informed decision can be made?

EUROPEAN BACKGROUND

The European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) was formed in 1957 to establish safety standards for nuclear power plants. Since then accidents, near accidents, spills and the build-up of wastes have made the public increasingly wary about the safety of nuclear power. After the Chernobyl catastrophe, which is far worse than previously officially claimed, several countries decided to phase out nuclear power to prevent future accidents and stop the further build-up of radioactive wastes.

But the industry fought back with subtle new “public acceptance” campaigns. In June 2009 the EU became the first region to make the safety principles of the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA legally binding for all member states. These pertain to construction, operation, decommissioning, waste management and “preparedness for radiation incidents”. The decision was a double edged sword. While it may help the industry take another run at regaining public trust, the need for such measures implies that nuclear power is inherently risky.

Nuclear proponents support standardized regulations as a way to get nuclear power accepted as a UN “Clean Development Mechanism” for addressing the climate crisis. But it is also part of a financial and export strategy. Speaking at the March 2010 OECD conference on nuclear power, French President Sarkozy complained “I do not accept the shunning of nuclear projects by international financing.” With 58 nuclear plants providing 80% of its electricity, France has gone farther down the nuclear path than any country, and is less flexible to shift to cheaper renewables. Its state corporation Areva, the largest nuclear consortium on the planet, which operates uranium mines in Saskatchewan’s North, wants a nuclear export market for its European Pressurized Reactor (EPR). Facing huge cost overruns with its EPR mega-projects in Finland and France, and having a growing nuclear debt, French authorities want to spread the financial risk more widely. Meanwhile France prefers to remain mostly silent about its nuclear waste build-up.

Things differ in Germany, where a Social Democratic-Green alliance decided to stop nuclear waste build-up and reduce the chance of accidents by phasing out its 17 nuclear plants. The government announced a ten-year moratorium on its nuclear waste repository in old salt mines at Gorleben when collapsing walls had to be shored up with tones of concrete, costing taxpayers $1.5 billion. This year the Centre Right government of Angela Merkel announced it would restart the project while admitting it could take 25 years before a final decision is made on whether this plan was feasible. The German Minister announcing this said “we simply can’t use excuses for what’s the best alternative to avoid taking responsibility”, which might ring true if the government maintained its commitment to phasing out nuclear power. Government “moralism” is exposed however, as reopening the Gorleben repository is being used as an excuse to extend the time-line for Germany’s operating plants, creating even more nuclear wastes. This decision just pushes the burden and costs for nuclear wastes onto yet another generation.

Britain is even more hypocritical. The previous Labour government approved a new fleet of ten nuclear plants, the first one to come on stream at Hinkley Point in 2017. This expansion was done without any plan for dealing with wastes from existing plants, which will face decommissioning soon. The UK’s only “plan” is to let nuclear wastes accumulate for 160 years at new reactor sites. However, people in nearby communities were never consulted; the government was more concerned about fast-tracking its mega-energy projects than involving the public. This expansion of nuclear power without any plan for wastes undercuts the quest for sustainable energy and end-runs democracy. The Chair of the Parliamentary Energy and Climate Change Committee called the approach “bizarre.” Greenpeace added, “The National Policy Statements say nothing about nuclear waste because government and industry plans for dealing with highly radioactive spent fuel are non-existent.”

FROM YUCCA TO THE GNEP

The US is also engaging in nuclear double-think. Soon after being elected Obama pulled the plug on the Yucca Nevada nuclear waste repository on which $19 billion had already been spent. This put the US back to the starting line over what to do with its accumulating wastes. Meanwhile the US is considering licensing up to 30 new nuclear plants, none of which will be self-financing. Without tax credits, loan guarantees and other federal incentives these would all be non-starters. Why not fund cheaper renewable, which don’t create toxic, radioactive wastes?

Obama has also continued the Global Nuclear Energy Project or GNEP, started by his predecessor George Bush, to find a way to expand nuclear power while keeping nuclear weaponry out of the hands of non-allies. Uranium enrichment and nuclear waste reprocessing can be used to develop weaponry; that’s how existing nuclear powers got theirs. To Obama’s credit he cancelled Bush’s plan to restart nuclear waste reprocessing. However the GNEP’s proposal that uranium-producing regions take back nuclear wastes should be of uppermost concern for us. This would be great for the US, which has guaranteed access to Canada’s uranium under NAFTA, and no longer has a viable domestic nuclear waste project in the works. Saskatchewan becoming a nuclear dump would also be great for Ontario which has created over 90% of Canada’s nuclear wastes.

Was it pure coincidence that the UDP recommended that Saskatchewan “add value” to its uranium industry by becoming a nuclear waste dump? After UDP consultations showed 80% opposed nuclear power, the government rightfully rejected Bruce Power’s plans for nuclear plants along the North Saskatchewan River. But there was the same level of opposition to us becoming a nuclear dump. So why is the Sask Party government still supporting the industry-run, Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), locating a “willing community” to take radioactive wastes here?

When you look at all the smoke and mirrors going on about nuclear wastes in Europe and the US, why would we want to leave ourselves open to this? Does the industry think we are a push-over? Apparently, to settle this once and for all, Saskatchewan’s grass-roots will have to win a legislative ban on nuclear wastes, along the lines of what Manitoba and Quebec have already done. This work needs to begin very soon.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Canadian ‘good banks’ myth

By Murray Dobbin
Murray Dobbin's Blog

The sorry spectacle of Conservative cabinet ministers flying around the world defending banks from a tax to cover their next, inevitable, meltdown is bad enough. What is perhaps worse is that it is being largely justified by the perpetuation of the myth that Canada did not have to bail out its banks.

Wrong.

We are, according to the IMF, actually the third worst of the G7 countries, behind the US and Britain, in terms of financial stabilization costs.

First, we put up $70 billion to buy up iffy mortgages from the big five banks, through the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, taking them off the banks’ balance sheets. That is almost the exact equivalent the US bailout – it spent ten times as much, $700 billion, and its economy is about 10 times as large.

Secondly, the Harper government established a fund of $200 billion to backstop the banks – money they could borrow if they needed it. The government had to borrow billions – mostly from the banks! – to do it. It’s euphemistically called the Emergency Financing Framework – implying that our impeccable banks might actually face an emergency. It is effectively a line of low-interest credit and while it has not all been accessed, it’s there to be used. Could it help explain why credit has not dried up here as much as it has in the US?

Third, the government now insures 100% of virtually all mortgages through CMHC eliminating risk for the banks – and opening the door to the ridiculous flood of housing loans we have seen over the past few years. The result: housing has become unaffordable for tens of thousands of Canadians and new rental housing has dried up.

Why all this extraordinary effort?

If Canadian banks are such paragons of conservative virtue and prudent behaviour why did the federal government have to relieve them of mortgages that, presumably, were all carefully vetted and the borrowers scrutinized?

And why is Mr Flaherty not making any connection between the growing housing bubble (which he now reluctantly acknowledges) and the banks which lend virtually all the money (backed by CMHC) that is growing that bubble?

One of the reasons that Canadians (and international commentators, other finance ministers and global financial institutions) buy this Canadian banking fairy tale is the way the government accounts for the money borrowed to support the banks.

As Bruce Campbell of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives explained in 2009:

“These measures are considered ‘non-budgetary’ or ‘off book.’ They do not show up as expenditures, which increase the federal deficit and debt. Rather, they appear on the books of CMHC and the Bank of Canada. But they have increased the government’s borrowing from $13.6 billion in 2007-08 to $89.5 billion in 2008-09, or double the fiscal deficit now projected for 2009.”

Not only has the Harper government felt it necessary to prop up Canadian banks it was this same government which created financial system risk in the first place. In 2007 the Harper government allowed US competition into Canada which prompted the CMHC to dramatically change its rules in order to compete: it dropped the down payment requirement to zero per cent and extended the amortization period to 40 years. In August 2008 Flaherty moderated those rules in response to the US mortgage meltdown. CMHC then “securitized” an increasing number of its loans into bond-like investments (if you have a typical Canadian mutual fund, you’ve got some.)

At the end of 2007 there were $138 billion in securitized pools outstanding and guaranteed by CMHC –17.8 per cent of all outstanding mortgages. By June 30, 2009, that figure was $290 billion and by the end of 2010 it was $500 billion.

In an effort to prop up the real estate market in 2008 (when affordability nose-dived), the Harper government directed the CMHC to approve as many high-risk borrowers as possible to keep credit flowing. CMHC described these risky loans as “high ratio homeowner units approved to address less-served markets and/or to serve specific government priorities.” The approval rate for these risky loans went from 33 per cent in 2007 to 42 per cent in 2008. By mid-2007, average equity as a share of home value was down to six per cent — from 48 per cent in 2003. At the peak of the U.S. housing bubble, just before it burst, house prices were five times the average American income; in Canada in late 2009 that ratio was 7.4:1 — almost 50 per cent higher.

While it was CMHC that insured these loans it was still the banks that put up the money. And they knew they were effectively sub-prime. How do we know? Because they avoided direct risk like the plague - in the two years from the beginning of 2007 to January 2009, the banks themselves took on virtually no new risk. According to CMHC numbers Canadian banks increased their total mortgage credit outstanding by only 0.01 per cent. But they were happy to put Canadian taxpayers at risk by lending to high-risk borrowers knowing their money was protected by CMHC.

Conservative? Prudent? Responsible? In a pig’s eye.

M. J. Coldwell Poster


I have one of these framed in my study.

M. J. Coldwell (wikipedia)

Visitor statistics


It's pretty neat to look at where people have been viewing your website from. Google statistics shows this for the last 30 days...


Blog comments can be revealing

I don't get a lot of comments on my posts. Most are reflectful, some are spam and then there was this one.

Anonymous commented on my SGEU website post. (This is the same website that the Sask Party hacks tried to hijack by posting anti-NDP, pro-privatizatiion names on the "I Love Saskatchewan" map and made sure they were listed at the top by putting AAA or numbers in front of their comment "names". If the Sask Party were upfront about their privatization agenda, they would set up their own pro-privatization "Let's Sale Saskatchewan" website).

Anyway, here is the comment and my response:

Anonymous said...

for all my life i have lived on a farm. We don't go to the lake, we don't go to provincial parks we don't use the services that are going to be privatized. WHY DO WE HAVE TO PAY FOR SOMETHING WE DON'T USE, NEVER HAVE AND NEVER WILL

My Response:

Next Year Country said...

Rural idiocy is a phrase coined by Karl Marx to describe the attitude of 19th century peasants that included hidebound conservatism, parochialism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia, ignorance, distrust, economic risk aversion and the inability to cooperate with others in collective endeavors. He was convinced that such attitudes prevented peasants from acting as a revolutionary class.

The modern usage describes a related phenomenon. Contemporary rural idiocy appears in small towns whose residents' encounters with the outside world are largely mediated by television or radio. As a consequence their social and political attitides are shaped by a misperception of their relative importance in the world and by televised images and soundbytes of the threatening Other. The ethnic or racial Other usually reflects the threatening images offered in electronic mass media, especially television.

The attitudes and mistrust of strangers also exhibit themselves in urban areas, where self imposed isolation from the local community in favor of television and other forms of electronic media become the primary means that people use to gather information about their fellow man. If the routine of life (home, work, home, work) limits people's interaction with social circles and expanded circles of family and friends, these people are not able to judge others beyond the criteria established by the representatives of humanity that exist on a two dimensional screen.

Friday, May 21, 2010

U.S. Terrorism in Vietnam

Jeremy Kuzmarov
Monthly Review
May 2010

In late 1970, prompted by the debate over the exposure of U.S. atrocities in the village of Mỹ Lai, an anonymous GI wrote a letter to Army Chief of Staff William Westmoreland, claiming to have witnessed hundreds of acts of terrorism by U.S. soldiers during Operation Speedy Express. The campaign, intended to reclaim portions of the Mekong Delta, purportedly killed over ten thousand enemy but seized only seven hundred weapons.

“In the ambushes we killed anything or anybody and a lot of these weren’t VC. We used claymores on any people, on any boat that passed even if sometimes it would be loaded with bananas and a couple of women, or a papasan [male Vietnamese] with a hoe. No big thing, they were VC as soon as we killed them.” The GI went on to state that there was random shooting from helicopters at anything that moved on the ground and that the “snipers were the worst killers who were responsible for at least 600 murders per month [during the Operation].” The Battalion commander [Lieutenant Colonel David Hackworth, among the most decorated soldiers in U.S. history], told his company commander that “pretty soon there wouldn’t be any rice farmers left because his snipers would kill them all. And he laughed.”

Such revelations provide a pivotal component of Bernd Greiner’s compelling new book, War Without Fronts: The USA in Vietnam, which vividly details the genocidal nature of the warfare carried out by the U.S. Army in Vietnam, based on evidence drawn from Army criminal investigation division reports into alleged war crimes. These records were declassified in 1994 but largely ignored by scholars until recently. Greiner’s findings and analysis are especially pertinent, given the historical revisionism and cultural amnesia that have taken root in U.S. society about the Vietnam War, paving the way for the current military aggression in the Middle East.

Much of the voluminous literature on the Vietnam War focuses on the decision-making process of policy elites, and not the real-life consequences of U.S. policies on the ground. Most disturbingly, several recent books and articles have sought to exonerate the U.S. record, either by rehabilitating the U.S.-backed client Ngo Dinh Diem, or by minimizing the scale of U.S.-backed atrocities. Right-wing historian Mark Moyar has gone so far as to claim that U.S. soldiers who testified about tortures and other abuses were mentally unbalanced and hence not credible sources. Along with the recently published work of Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Deborah Nelson and Nicholas Turse, Greiner’s book provides a corrective to these spurious notions.

After the Mỹ Lai massacre (in which troops under the command of Lieutenant William Calley killed five hundred villagers) was publicly exposed, the Nixon administration and military were increasingly concerned about the public relations ramifications and conducted secret investigations of alleged war crimes in Vietnam. The reports provide an important window into the massive scope of the atrocities, and confirm the charge of the antiwar movement and Winter Soldier hearings that Mỹ Lai was the tip of the iceberg. The reports further shed insight into the racist mentality of the U.S. military toward the Vietnamese and into the obsession of senior ranking officers with obtaining a high-body count, which underlay much of the barbarism.

The most disturbing facet of the book is its revelation of just how callous the treatment of Vietnamese civilians was by the U.S. military and of how human norms break down in war. Building on previous literature on the topic, Greiner documents incident after incident in which soldiers shot down peasants for sport, burned villages in so-called free-fire zones, tortured prisoners, mutilated the bodies of their victims, collected body parts, and carried out the wide-scale rape of women, often as a means of punishing collaborators with the enemy or to relieve the stresses of combat. Amid the violent social environment of the war—what psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton termed the “counterfeit social universe of the Nam”—many of the soldiers actually saw killing as a means of affirming life by defying their own death. For others, killing was undertaken for pleasure purposes or, like rape, to prove their masculine prowess before their comrades. One GI commented: “The trouble is nobody sees the Vietnamese as a people.” Another said, “they’re all VC or at least helping them—same difference.”

Besides the insights into the psychology of violence, Greiner provides a devastating indictment of the military senior command, which openly embraced a strategy of terrorizing the population into submission. In routine instances, officers encouraged indiscriminate slaughter by giving orders—which soldiers dutifully obeyed—to take no prisoners and kill “anything that moves.” When some brave GIs tried to report incidents of abuse, they were often threatened with murder by platoon members. Commanding officers often valued the most bloodthirsty individuals who could amass a high body count total. When one soldier was threatened with removal for war crimes in the notorious Tiger Force death squad, his commanding officer reported to headquarters: “We’re in the middle of a war. And you want me to take [him] out for killing gooks?” Another GI commented: “The Captain liked you better if you were a rough son of a bitch who hated dinks.”

Some of the worst atrocities during the conflict were committed under the banner of the Phoenix program, which was designed to liquidate the leadership of the National Liberation Front (the southern-based resistance movement), and by South Koreans subcontracted by the U.S. military. According to the RAND Corporation, after the Korean forces arrived in 1965, they were reputed to “burn everything down, to destroy everything, to seize everything and kill everyone.” In one incident in a village near Mỹ Lai, which appears to have been quite typical, they forced thirty-six villagers to dig graves, and executed them, one after another, by shooting them in the head. The Vietnamese peasants were deathly afraid of the Koreans and refused to work in their fields for fear of attacks.

At the end of the book, Greiner provides an interesting discussion of public reaction to the Mỹ Lai massacre, which many in the United States rationalized as justified under the conditions of war or as a response to worse transgressions supposedly committed by the “Vietcong.” The Nixon administration became inundated with letters from the so-called “Silent Majority” who saw Calley as a scapegoat for broader administrative and bureaucratic failures and, in some cases, as a hero unfairly punished for carrying out his patriotic duty. For Greiner, these letters exemplify the enduring quality of the “Victory Culture,” or myth of American exceptionalism, which posits that the United States only fights wars for defensive purposes, and generally acts humanely unless responding to a savage enemy. These letters, also, in turn, foreshadowed the rise of an assortment of postwar myths claiming that the United States was stabbed in the back by treasonous antiwar protestors and liberal politicians who betrayed the troops in their unwillingness to go “all out” to achieve victory. Memory of the war was, in the process, distorted, as the culture sought to avenge the “Vietnam syndrome” through renewed projections of force, in Grenada, Panama, and now Afghanistan and Iraq.

On the whole, Greiner has written a powerful and well-documented account of the dark side of U.S. military policy and conduct in Vietnam. He sheds much insight into the barbarism inherent in the waging of modern warfare, whose principal victims are almost always civilians. War Without Fronts is especially relevant today, as the U.S. Army continues to fight in blood-soaked conflicts where, sadly, history is being repeated.

Great Prairie Postcards

Peel's Prairie Provinces website, from the University of Alberta, has a great selection of on-line vintage postcards.

Look for your hometown here.


Bolivia: Elections Deepen Local Democracy

Emily Achtenberg
NACLA

While the results of Bolivia’s April 4 regional and local elections are now officially certified, their significance—who really won and lost—continues to be debated. For President Evo Morales, the vote confirms the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party as the sole political force with strong support throughout the nation. For re-elected Santa Cruz governor Rubén Costas, leader of the regionally-based conservative opposition, his victory means that “the forces of democracy have defeated tyranny.”

However, the elections have exposed a diverse political reality in Bolivia that is more complex than these competing official claims suggest. While MAS has extended the geographic reach of its support, the vote shows that it is far from a hegemonic political machine. Moreover, the major political challenge confronting MAS today is coming not from the largely discredited right, but from emergent new forces on the left, including the growing national Movement Without Fear (MSM) party as well as local grassroots initiatives.

In April, voters elected governors (formerly known as prefects) and legislative assemblies in each of Bolivia’s nine departments, as well as mayors and local councils in 337 municipalities. These will be the first elected regional and local bodies with the power to legislate within the autonomy (decentralization) framework established by the 2009 Constitution. Departmental assemblies are now elected based on a system of mixed popular, provincial, and indigenous representation determined by each department.

For the past five years, opposition to Evo Morales’ government has been headed by prefects of the four lowlands departments, where Bolivia’s natural resource wealth (especially natural gas) is concentrated. In occasional alliance with their counterparts from other regions, this anti-MAS power bloc exploited the regional autonomy issue to bring Bolivia to the brink of a “civil coup” in 2008, demanding departmental control of land and hydrocarbons revenues to benefit local elites. The crisis was eventually contained by adoption of the new Constitution.

In the elections, MAS showed impressive strength by capturing six out of nine governorships, up from three in 2005. In addition to prevailing easily in the western highlands strongholds of Oruro and Potosi, MAS consolidated its hold in La Paz, Cochabamba and the contested department of Chuquisaca by comfortable margins.

The most significant victory for MAS was the governorship of Pando, a lowlands department controlled by the right for the past 28 years. Pando’s ex-prefect Leopoldo Fernández, accused of spearheading the massacre of a dozen MAS supporters in September 2008, has been in jail for the past 19 months. The MAS gubernatorial vote in Pando increased from 6% in 2005 to 50% in 2010.

This victory, along with substantial MAS gains in the other lowlands departments (Tarija, Beni, and even Santa Cruz) has significantly fractured the hold of the regionally based conservative opposition. Except for a strong win in Santa Cruz, the margin of opposition victories in these departments was less than 10%. This will allow significant MAS representation in all nine legislative assemblies, where new statutes clarifying how autonomy will work will soon be up for consideration.

Despite these successes, nationally, MAS won only 50% of the gubernatorial vote, compared to 64% of the presidential vote in last December’s election. This represents a loss of one million votes in just four months. MAS gained the two-thirds vote necessary for control of important legislative assembly matters only in the five western departments.

Locally, while MAS mayoral candidates prevailed in two-thirds of Bolivia’s 337 municipalities—up from 30% in 2004—they were defeated in seven out of 10 major cities (although none who lost were incumbents). In the capital city of La Paz, MAS lost the mayoralty with 35% of the vote—‘14 points behind the victorious MSM party, a center-left progressive force that broke with MAS earlier this year. In comparison, Morales won 80% of the La Paz vote last December.

In the neighboring indigenous city of El Alto, whose voters backed Morales last year by a margin of 90%, the MAS mayoral candidate prevailed but with only 39% of the vote. A 29-year old indigenous female candidate—political outsider “La Sole”—captured 30% of the vote, followed by the MSM candidate with 24%. The MSM—a regional urban party virtually unknown outside La Paz before the elections-also won unexpected victories in Oruro and in indigenous mining communities north of Potosí, which have long been bastions of MAS loyalty. The MSM has been critical of MAS for perceived anti-democratic tendencies, which it claims are subverting the principles of the new Constitution. In total, MSM elected 20 mayors and emerged as a presence in 120 municipalities, drawing many successful candidates from the ranks of popular ex-MAS dissidents. It is now the second largest party in Bolivia.

In many cases (both urban and rural), MAS candidates were defeated by emergent new micro-local political organizations. In the western highlands community of Achacachi, home of the militant indigenous Ponchos Rojos (Red Ponchos)—where Morales won 98% of the vote in December—the MAS mayoral candidate placed third behind a local party and the MSM. In the coca-growing Yungas region, a new party led by dissident local coca farmers (and an ex-MAS Senator) prevailed in six localities. MAS also lost in Plan Tres Mil, a poor indigenous district of Santa Cruz whose residents led massive demonstrations in support of the government in 2008.

Many of these local defections—and MSM gains or victories—occurred where the MAS party hierarchy imposed unknown or unpopular candidates on its base organizations, ignoring grassroots preferences. In Santa Cruz, MAS promotion of a former opposition leader as mayoral candidate and recruitment of ex-fascist Santa Cruz Youth Union members as party cadre alienated many indigenous supporters. A former beauty queen imposed by the party leadership in Beni lost a key gubernatorial race for MAS after proposing that convicted murderers should work in the mines (threatening the job security of the existing labor force).

Another MAS tactic that backfired was the party’s ferocious attack on the MSM for its decision to campaign independently, including accusations of a “neoliberal conspiracy” and charges of corruption against MSM leader Juan del Granado. Del Granado, the former La Paz mayor, is a respected human rights lawyer who successfully prosecuted dictator Luis Garcia Meza in the early 1980s at great personal risk. As political scientist Miguel Centellas has commented, the “heavy-handed MAS rhetoric that tarnishes all opponents with one brush” alienated many local voters.

Whether the strong MSM showing in April signals the rise of a “democratic left opposition” in Bolivia, as some analysts have suggested or merely reflects a transitory protest vote, remains to be seen. Del Granado has denied future presidential aspirations. Moreover, he emphasizes that MSM will not be a traditional opposition to MAS “because we are part of the process of change and transformation.” If the MAS government acts in accordance with the new Constitution, del Granado says, the MSM will support them.

More fundamentally, the April vote can be viewed as demonstrating the persistent independence and political diversity of the Bolivian electorate, especially at the local level. As Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network told NACLA, “Bolivian voters build in their own checks and balances by electing leaders from different parties at different levels of government.” The same voter may have different priorities in national and local elections.

In the past, Ledebur says, this vote-splitting practice has frequently led to stalemates and blocked governmental initiatives. In the major cities and departmental capitals, where close April races have resulted in divided representation on municipal councils, third-place candidates will now have crucial “swing votes” and effective veto power. Whether these new configurations will lead to compromise or paralysis, she notes, remains to be seen.

Ledebur cautions against viewing the diversity of voters’ regional and local preferences as a rejection of the MAS government. While Bolivians are not inclined to give MAS or Evo Morales a “blank check,” they have repeatedly ratified the advance of the government’s political and economic project, including in the most recent election. This is not inconsistent with the vote for MSM, which largely supports the MAS program.

But the April vote raises a warning signal about how the process of change is being carried out. The electorate clearly wants less concentration of power, more dialogue, and more respect for local initiative. How the MAS government chooses to respond to this challenge is an important issue for the future.

If there is a clear message from the April elections, it is that local democracy is alive and well in Bolivia.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Emily Achtenberg is an urban planner and a NACLA research associate

The Insidious Bureaucracy in Venezuela: Biggest Barrier to Social Change

By Tamara Pearson
Venezuelanalysis.com

For some reason, it was important to society to know how many grains of sand there were on a beach. A Venezuelan, Antonio Aponte, told this story. Four people were assigned the task of counting the sand. The first started to count the sand, grain by grain. The second went to his office and imagined the beach, wrote poems about it then wrote a thesis, then gave lectures, and became very busy. The third named a commission, which solicited offices for the work, created teams to order computers, then nominated a leadership and tried to get that leadership elected to the management of the ministry, and didn’t have much time in the end to count sand. The forth counted the number of grains in a cubic centimetre, then used maths and measuring to arrive at a rough, but close figure.

Aponte says that the first person is a pragmatist, or one who prefers to act without theory, the second is an intellectual who prefers only theory, the third is a bureaucrat and the forth a scientific revolutionary.
Read this article here.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Oilsands Project Near La Loche A Step Closer

MBC Network
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Calgary-based Oilsands Quest announced earlier this week that it has filed for approval to build a project in northwestern Saskatchewan that could produce up to 30,000 barrels of bitumen per day.

The company sent a proposal to Saskatchewan Environment for approval to build a steam-assisted gravity drainage project at its Axe Lake oilsands project near La Loche.

It also filed for a second one-year extention of its Saskatchewan oilsands permits.

Oilsands Quest also served notice it plans to relinquish two of its northernmost land permits as it focuses on lands where recent exploration activity looks promising.

Also read Carbon Copy: Peventing Oil Sands Fever in Saskatchewan

"Everybody Draw Muhammed" Day

Thanks to Head Tale.

Municipal Malaise: Neoliberal Urbanism and the Future of Our Cities

Carlo Fanelli and Justin Paulson
Socialist Project Bullet

The 2008 Annual Report by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, written when the Federal government was pulling in nearly $14-billion in budget surpluses, paints a grim picture of the coming collapse of Canada's municipal infrastructure. The report found that Canada has used up 79 per cent of the service life of its public infrastructure and has set the price of eliminating the infrastructural deficit at $123-billion. While that figure is already large, the chronic underfunding of municipal projects appears much worse when framed not in terms of the cities we have, but the cities we want to live in: the funding gap would have to take into consideration a range of issues including poverty and affordable housing, environmental protection, urban redesign and renewal, and expansion of the arts, cultural centres and other public spaces. Of course, fiscal crises in our cities are nothing new; the last three decades have been characterized by increased service demands, population growth, tax-shifting, pressures brought on by amalgamation, and federal and provincial offloading. Yet the ongoing recession has become a pretext for consolidating and intensifying processes of “neoliberal urbanism.”

Neoliberal urbanism broadly refers to a range of punctuated and uneven urban processes taking place in the communities where we live and work. This includes the privatization, restructuring, and elimination of public goods and municipal services; the shifting of the cost of maintenance of public resources onto the working class; the increasing precariousness of work; the devolution of responsibilities onto local governments without matching fiscal supports; the scaling of regulatory capacities upwards to regional or international institutions (characterized by little transparency, accountability, or public consultation); the reining in of the power of municipal unions and community groups; the scaling back of social entitlement programs; and expansion of so-called “public-private partnerships” that aim to create new zones of accumulation and shift a significant part of the responsibility for urban governance to corporations.
Read the rest of this article here.