Saturday, January 30, 2016

Is America Ripe for a Green President?

Jill Stein's Platform More Viable Than Bernie's

by David Swanson - American Herald Tribune


January 30, 2016

I asked Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein about her platform this week and came away believing it had a better chance of winning than Bernie Sanders'. I know that platforms don't run, people do, and they do so within a two-party dominated system. But this already crazy presidential election could turn into a crazier five-way race. And, even if it doesn't, or if it does but still nobody ever learns that Jill Stein exists, there is nonetheless much for us and for the other candidates to learn from her platform.

If you think free college is popular, you should see what young people think of free college and erasing all existing student debt.

If single-payer healthcare with raised taxes (but net savings, if you make it to that fine print) excites voters, how do you think they'd respond to single-payer healthcare with no raised taxes?

If fewer wars and asking Saudi Arabia to do more of the funding and fighting sounds promising, what would you say to no more wars, a 50 percent cut in the $1 trillion/year military spending, no more weapons sales to Saudi Arabia which is doing more than enough killing, thank you, no more free weapons for Israel either, and investment of some of the savings in a massive green energy jobs campaign producing a sustainable energy policy and a full-employment economy?

Senator Bernie Sanders' domestic proposals have got millions excited, but the (unfair and misleading) criticism that he'll raise taxes may be a tragic flaw, and it's one he opens himself up to by refusing to say that he'll cut the military. Stein would cut at least half of the single biggest item in the discretionary budget, an item that takes up at least half of that budget: military spending. She'd cut fossil fuel subsidies, as well, and expect savings to come from healthcare, including as a result of cutting pollution and improving food quality. But the big immediate item is the military. Cutting it is popular with voters, but not with Democratic or Republican presidential candidates. Sanders will be labeled the Tax Man by the corporate media, while Jill Stein will have to be attacked in a different way if she gets mentioned.

"Cutting the military budget is something that we can do right now," Stein told me, "but we want to be clear that we are putting an end to wars for oil – period. And that is part of our core policy of a Green New Deal which creates an emergency program, establishing twenty million living wage jobs, full-time jobs, to green the economy, our energy, food, and transportation systems, building critical infrastructure, restoring ecosystems, etc. This is an emergency program that will get to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. So this is a war-time-level mobilization in order to completely detoxify our energy system, and that means both nuclear and fossil fuel. In doing that, we deprive the empire of this major justification for wars and bases all around the world. So we want to be clear that that emphasis is gone, and goading the American public into war so as to feed our fossil fuel energy system – that ends and makes all the more essential and possible the major cutting of the military budget."

Which 50 percent of the military would Stein cut? Two places she named that she would start with (there would have to be much more) are foreign bases (she'd close them) and the U.S. nuclear weapons program. Would she unilaterally scrap U.S. nukes? I asked.

"We don’t even need to do it unilaterally," Stein said, "because the Russians have been begging to revive the process of nuclear disarmament, which the U.S., in its wisdom, undercut. ... The Russians have been persistently trying to restore those nuclear talks for the purpose of disarmament. And that would be step one – is to make major reductions between the U.S. and Russia and then to convene a world forum to put an end to nuclear weapons altogether."

The "war on terror," Stein pointed out, has only created more terror, while costing each U.S. household $75,000. "That’s not going to make people terribly enthusiastic for it, particularly when you point out that all this has done is create failed states, worse terrorist threat, whether you look at the Taliban, the globalization of al-Qaeda, the creation of ISIS. This has been an utter, unmitigated disaster, and the massive refugee crisis which is threatening to tear apart the European Union. This is absolutely unsustainable by any count."

To change U.S. foreign policy, Stein proposed financial reforms unheard of in any presidential debate thus far. She suggested that military and other government contractors should face "pay to play protections" preventing them from "buying their way into policy." Stein explained: "If you establish that anyone who contributes, who provides campaign contributions, or who lobbies is not eligible for contracting with the government, the minute you break that umbilical cord, then the industry loses its power to corral Congress and dictate foreign policy." Stein said such protections could also block U.S. government facilitation of weapons sales to foreign buyers.

"War profiteering should not be allowed," Stein explained, "in the same way that energy profiteering is not compatible with our survival." Ultimately, the big profits, Stein said, are in healthcare:

"We spend a trillion dollars plus on the military industrial complex every year, but we spend three trillion and counting every year on the sick care system, which doesn't make us well. It just enables us to tread water while we cope with these disastrous health impacts of the war economy and the fossil fuel economy."

Stein did not hesitate to highlight differences when I asked her about Bernie Sanders. She cited his "support, for example, for the F-35 weapons system which has been an incredible boondoggle." While Sanders would keep killing with drones and "fighting terrorism," Stein calls "fighting terrorism" an oxymoron and points to counterproductive results:

"Terrorism is a response to drones that sneak up on you in the night and to night raids and this is where we recruit and we enable ISIS and al-Qaeda to continue expanding ... something Bernie hasn't quite gotten straight by saying the solution here is to turn the Saudis loose; the Saudi's need to 'get their hands dirty'."

"We can actually begin to rein in the Saudis with a weapons embargo and by impounding their bank accounts," Stein said. The same goes for Israel, she added, stressing the need to respect the law. Should the United States join the International Criminal Court, I asked. "Oh, my god, of course!" was Stein's reply. "And the treaty on land mines?" "Of course! My god. Yes. ... There are all sorts of treaties that are ready to move forward. In fact the Soviets and the Chinese have been prime movers in expansion of treaties to prohibit weapons in space and to establish the rule of law in cyberspace."

So, what would President Jill Stein do about ISIS? She answered that question with no hesitation: "Number 1: we don't stop ISIS by doing more of what created ISIS. This is like the elephant in the room that none of the other presidential candidates are willing to acknowledge, even Rand Paul, I might say, surprisingly. So we don't bomb ISIS and try to shoot ISIS out. We've got to stop ISIS in its tracks by ending the funding of ISIS and by ending the arming of ISIS. How do we do that? We do that with a weapons embargo. And so the U.S. can unilaterally move forward on that, but we need to sit down and talk with the Russians as well, and Putin tried to do this.

"You know, Putin, our arch enemy Putin, was actually trying to create a peace process in Syria. ... We need to begin talking with Russia and with other countries. We need to build on our relative d├ętente with Iran to engage them, and we need to bring our allies into the process. Right now, the peace process, as I understand it, is held up by, guess who -- Saudi Arabia, who wants to bring in known terrorist groups as the representatives of the opposition. The Saudis should not be defining the way forward here ... Our ally Turkey needs to understand that their membership in NATO or their position with the U.S. and other allies around the world should not be taken for granted, and that they cannot be in the business either of funding ISIS and related groups through the purchase of their oil [or of] shipping weapons. They also need to close down their border to the movement of the militias."

Stein was sounding an awful lot like the leader of the Labour Party in Britain, Jeremy Corbyn, and I asked her about him. "I have already met with Jeremy Corbyn," she said, "when I was in Paris for the climate talks, ... and we had a surprising amount of time to talk and we agreed completely on collaborating on this 'peace offensive,' which is the name we have given to our solution to the problem of ISIS. Peace is not passive. We need an active, interventionist program based on peace which means to stop the flow or arms and money, etc. So, we've already agreed that we see eye-to-eye on foreign policy."

But Corbyn is in office with a shot at becoming prime minister. With the U.S. public completely sold on the hopelessness of third-party bids, at least by non-multi-billionaires, what is Stein's plan for actually becoming president?

"First of all," she says, "there are 43 million young people and not-so-young people who are trapped in debt, in student debt. My campaign is the only campaign that will be on the ballot that will abolish student debt. We did it for the bankers who plunged us into this economic crisis that persists in spite of what they say. And they did that by way of their waste, fraud, and abuse. Yet we bailed them out to the tune of $16 trillion and counting.

"So, isn't it about time we bail out the victims of that waste, fraud, and abuse -- the young people of this country whose leadership and whose civic engagement is essential for blazing the trail to our future? It has always required a fresh generation to re-envision, you know, what our future looks like. So, we need to bail out the young people, for their benefit and for ours. That can be done through another quantitative easing which is relatively simple, does not cost us, essentially expands the money supply in a way that works as a stimulus to the economy, unlike the bailout that they provided to Wall Street which has only created a stimulus for more reckless gambling – waste, fraud, and abuse. ... I have yet to find a young person in debt who doesn't become a missionary for our campaign the minute they learn that we will cancel their debt. ... The 43 million young people – that is a plurality of the vote. In a three-way race, that's enough to win the vote."

Stein also pointed to 25 million Latinos who, she said, "have learned that the Democrats are the party of deportation, of night raids, and of detention, of refugees who are fleeing a crisis in their home countries that we created. How? Through NAFTA, though illegal coups and CIA-sponsored regime changes, and through the drug wars. ... If people want to fix the immigration problem, the answer is, 'Stop causing it.'"

But will Stein be in the debates for the general election? "In my experience," she told me, "all you have to do is have a real conversation, have an open mic, a true presidential debate that actually allows presidential candidates to debate who have broad enough support that they are on the ballot for a majority of Americans and could numerically win the election. We are challenging the Commission on Presidential Debates in court and we will be challenging them soon with a direct action campaign, so stay tuned, because the American public deserves to know about the issues. The American public deserves the right to vote. And they have a right to know who they can vote for and what they are voting about."

David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson's books include War Is A Lie.

Betraying the Great Bear: British Columbia's Primaeval Forest Announcement: "Open for Business"

On Today's GBR Announcement at Bella Bella

by Ingmar Lee


January 30, 2016

I spent 21 years of my life planting trees. I have planted more than a million trees and supervised the planting of ten million more. I have crawled through the entrails of once ancient forests all across BC and Alberta planting trees.

I am not under any illusion that treeplanting, as a PR facet of industrial logging, replaces what is lost when a primaeval forest is destroyed.

I love primaeval forest.

Humanity, for the most part evolved under a lush forest canopy, as symbiotic participants in the ever unfolding evolution of their biodiversity.

More recently, deserts began appearing across this planet, as forests were mowed back to make way for "civilization."

In the epicentre of every desert, there is a failed human enterprise which metastasized and consumed itself to extinction. 

I began planting trees 37 years ago, and contrary to the oft-repeated promise of "sustained yield" forestry, -where a watershed would be logged according to an 80 year "rotation" -that is, having started in at "tidewater" 1/80th would be taken every year, so having made it to the end of the valley after 80 years, then they could start at the beginning again- trees that I planted are being logged today. And as they always take out the biggest and best timber first, Big Logging keeps on cutting down the timber profile into ever more inaccessible, marginal and younger forests.

In the Lillooet area, where I ended my career, having exhausted all the forest within 3 hours of town, the cutting face was up in the subalpine parkland, where they were mowing into 300-year-old spruce stands, with trees only 1 foot diameter at the butt. Recently I visited Merritt, where the mill yard is loaded with logs barely the size of fenceposts.

On this planet, primaeval forest has been virtually exterminated. Almost daily we hear of yet another forest-dependent mega-fauna extinction. Just to the south of here on Vancouver Island, industry is not only finishing off the final veterans of its once stupendous primaeval forest, but is cutting down through the age profile of all of its subsequent-growth, post-primaeval forest at a most voracious rate, with a majority of the logs being exported in the round, as raw logs. Currently in Japan, British Columbia logs are milled there, and the planks are sold in lumberyards cheaper than they can be bought right here.

I mourn for the tragic, wanton, wasteful loss of these magnificent forests.

I'm not fooled by government/industry promises, or "world-class" Great Bear Rainforest agreements. I watched today as Premier Christy Clark and her entourage of professional environmentalist Greenwashers announced their latest "groundbreaking" agreement which will see 2,000,000 cubic metres a year, for 10 years of primaeval forest helicoptered out, and exported away from here. I kept my mouth shut, out of deference and respect for the Heiltsuk leadership and I accept their difficult decision.

Personally, I have no confidence at all in "Ecosystem-Based-Management" or its Forest Ethics/Greenpeace/Sierra Club and Big Logging architects.

I believe that, bottom line, it is unethical to destroy any more primaeval forest on this planet. Such forest is at the zenith of its evolutionary, primordial complexity, and already, what shockingly little remains of primaeval forest on Earth already mourns the loss of its apex inhabitant, the human element which has now virtually disappeared from its whelm.

Humans are now completely alienated from their once forested home. I feel so sorry and helpless that I cannot do more to preserve these irreplaceable places.

Ingmar

Lying Behind the Green Door

Behind the Green Door

by Papergrrl


 Published in the November 2013 issue of CounterPunch magazine.


The float plane ducked from the heavy clouds, gliding over Whale Channel. We left Prince Rupert, on British Columbia’s coast, and cut deep through the Inside Passage. Our destination, Princess Royal Island, home of salmon-eating wolves and white Kermode bears, who prefer just the fish’s eyes and brains for a snack. The aircraft skidded across the glassy water to a dock on a barge.

On that barge sat a luxury resort, and in front of that luxury resort stood two athletic waiters with trays of champagne. I was handed a flute: “Welcome to King Pacific Lodge. No, no. Leave your bags here. I’ll show you the spa.”

It was Week Two at my new job in a new country. My husband and I had recently left Chicago for Vancouver, where he was to study anthropology and I was the communications advisor for a new environmental campaign.

I stared at coffee-table books documenting this place, dubbed the Great Bear Rainforest by photographer Ian McAllister. I quoted Edward Abbey in my journal:

“There are some places so beautiful they can make a grown man break down and weep.”

The contrast was huge. My last night in Chicago was on deadline at the lefty magazine where I worked as an editor. This time, some guy tried to break into the office through the roof access.

Three days prior to my first campaign retreat, I suited up and met my colleagues in the Vancouver boardroom of Weyerhaeuser. Staff from the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and Forest Ethics had formed the Joint Solutions Project with Weyco and three other logging companies when they agreed to stop sawing down old-growth after boycotts. But civil disobedience was now out the door. We had a different way of doing conservation – collaborative. Win-win. And the stakes were high: 21 million acres, hungry markets in China and the United States. It was September 11, 2001. We watched the towers fall on CNN as we sat around an exquisite cedar table.

I worked that job for two years. And by the time I left, I rarely saw my colleagues. We communicated via email, mostly, about ghost-writing PowerPoints. Executive staff flew in and out of Vancouver weekly, working from a conference room in our office in the financial district. Chanel was across the street. I never met an ordinary resident of the Great Bear Rainforest involved in the campaign.

That conference room door was rarely open. Foundation officers and consultants plump with high finance backgrounds jetted in from San Francisco and New York.

Now, if you want to visit King Pacific Lodge, it costs $4,999 for three nights. The best suite, with a view of the harbor, runs $12,600.

Now, if you want to work for an environmental, non-governmental organization, or ENGO, here are some typical phrases to log for interviews, which I’ve skimmed from recent job ads: “looking for a rock star organizer”… who can “increase our program and fundraising effectiveness” … and “support our organization’s thought-leadership.”

The foundation greenbacks are focused on climate change. But, in early November, the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta agreed to allow pipelines to empty on the Great Bear Rainforest. In a few weeks, oil will flow through TransCanada’s Gulf Coast pipeline.

A publicity video – titled “Strange Bedfellows” – by the mega-foundation Tides Canada, goes for the money shot. We see a beautiful woman wake up in a bedroom with posters of clearcuts and “Eat Local” taped to the walls. There’s a bongo drum. She’s clearly disoriented, and a bit disgusted, presumably after a one-night stand, as a lanky, cute, hippie boy sleeps next to her.

Beautiful Woman puts on her black suit and panty hose, grabs her briefcase, and dashes off to her Mini. She texts Hippie Boy: “Sorry I had to run. We should do that again sometime.”

“Yes,” Hippie Boy replies. “Thanks to Tides Canada for bringing us together.”

We can only assume that they put in a long night of high-powered, closed-door negotiations.

Now, that suit I wore to Weyco on September 11 doesn’t fit. I prefer the jeans and boots and advice of old man Abbey.

“Yes, there are plenty of heroes and heroines everywhere you look. They are not famous people. They are generally obscure and modest people doing useful work, keeping their families together and taking an active part in the health of their communities, opposing what is evil (in one way or another) and defending what is good. Heroes do not want power over others.”

Great Bear to Open for Business

Province, First Nations set to sign land-use deal for Great Bear Rainforest

by Gordon Hamilton  - Business Vancouver


 Jan. 28, 2016

Agreement aims to protect 70% of coastal old growth, sets rules for logging, mining in other areas 
 
After almost 20 years of environmental protests, conflict and negotiation, the B.C. government and coastal First Nations are poised to ratify a sweeping land-use order for the Great Bear Rainforest aimed at protecting 70% of the area’s old-growth trees. The Great Bear land-use order is expected to be signed by the B.C. government and First Nations in the first week of February and made into law during the spring session of the legislature.

The Great Bear Rainforest was at the centre of 
conflict between environmental groups and 
resource companies in the 1990s | Kathryn 
Burrington/travelwithkat.com 

 It is the final step in balancing the economic, social and environmental objectives of a 6.4-million-hectare stretch of rugged B.C. coast extending from Kitimat in the north to Knight Inlet in the south.

The land-use order has its origins in the “war in the woods” that began in 1997 when environmental activists coined the name Great Bear Rainforest, chained themselves to logging equipment on remote islands, targeted industry customers in a sophisticated marketing campaign and brought global attention to the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world.

Before that, the designated government name for the region was the Mid-Coast Timber Supply Area.

The forest companies and environmental groups agreed to sit down to negotiate when they wearied of fighting each other.The industry players, Interfor (TSX:IFP), Western Forest Products (TSX:WEF), BC Timber Sales, Catalyst Paper (TSX:CYT) and Howe Sound Pulp and Paper, called themselves the Coast Forest Conservation Initiative. On the other side of the table, negotiating under the name Rainforest Solutions Project, were ForestEthics, Greenpeace and Sierra Club BC.

Those negotiations resulted in a plan that included development and conservation. That plan was forwarded to government and the region’s First Nations in 2014.

Since then, the government has sought public input and negotiated specifics on how the region is to be managed with the 26 First Nations living there.

Details on what the government and First Nations have agreed upon remain shrouded until the final documents are signed, but it is expected to bring a major transformation to the central coast.

Three key elements are known:

•The province and the region’s First Nations are to share decision-making in determining future economic and social development of the Great Bear Rainforest. A cash component and/or revenue-sharing package is expected to be part of the joint agreement.
•Timber harvesting, the region’s main economic activity, will be guided by an innovative approach called ecosystem-based management, which focuses on lowering ecological risk by setting aside large areas of undisturbed forest.
•Human well-being, a concept that encompasses health and a higher quality of life within local communities, will be as important as ecological integrity. It is expected to include greater First Nation involvement in economic development with a goal of achieving an employment rate similar to the rest of Canada.

The Great Bear agreement will also bring what are essentially stringent zoning requirements on development to the entire rainforest. The land-use orders are expected to preserve 70% of the old-growth forest by setting aside 85% of the land base in large, contiguous areas for ecological purposes. Within that area, there will be opportunities for activities like tourism and mineral exploration. Logging will be permitted and managed on the remaining 15% of the land.

“Instead of fragmenting the forest, there will be areas where we are harvesting and areas where we are not harvesting. It’s a managed forest with a very stringent operating environment,” said Coast Forest Conservation Initiative representative Rick Jeffery.

He said by setting aside large, contiguous areas, both environmental benefits and economic benefits can be maximized. For example, larger areas of wildlife habitat will remain undisturbed, while industry will benefit from having all logging activity within a smaller area, reducing road-building and other development costs.

“This is a globally unique area and it required a globally unique solution,” Jeffery said, noting that the environmental and economic objectives are both sustainable over time.

Valerie Langer, one of three negotiators representing the three environmental groups, said stakeholders have been told the orders will be signed soon. She said she won’t know until she sees the final document whether the 70% old-growth target will be part of the order, but she is hopeful.

“I am waiting to hear back from the First Nations and the province that we actually get the kind of scope and scale of conservation and the new rules that we have been working on,” Langer said.

“The goal is 70%. That has been the goal since 2006 and it remains the goal.” 

The province released a draft of the plan last summer that proposed the 70% old-growth target. Of the 6.4 million hectares within the boundaries of the land-use plan, ecosystem-based logging is to be restricted to a managed forest area of 550,000 hectares, according to the draft plan.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Canada's Concentrated Media Players Shed Workers in Concert

The Capitalist Model of Journalism is Failing

by Rabble.ca


January 21, 2016

The news this week that Rogers will send 200 of its TV, radio and publication workers packing is just the latest in a series of corporate media contractions that are bringing the entire system to the brink of collapse and forcing hundreds of media workers out of jobs across the country.

Just five companies -- Bell, Rogers, Shaw, Quebecor, and TELUS -- control nearly 90 per cent of Canada's media landscape.

Every job cut, merger and acquisition by corporate media magnifies the need for non-profit, independent media alternatives:

rabble.ca's kind of media


  • Our content is free, not hidden behind paywalls.
  • rabble.ca is a registered non-profit. We don't have shareholders. We have grassroots support of people like you.
  • We don't endorse conservatives, we expose them.

Rather than promoting the neoliberal business tactics you see in corporate-owned media, at rabble, we push back against multinational corporations that try to smooth over their image problems with cheap fundraising tactics. This is what you get when you support rabble.ca.

Your contribution right now means that together, we can report the news that has working people's interests at heart -- not CEOs.

2016 is rabble's 15th anniversary. It all started with a committed group of activists including Judy Rebick, Margaret Atwood and David Suzuki. We've since grown to a half million readers a month, making rabble Canada's most visited progressive news site.

We've always believed the capitalist business model for journalism would fail. Wealthy corporations bought up already concentrated newspaper chains and squeezed out their last drops of profit, hacked and slashed jobs, and are now picking the carcasses clean while walking away with outrageous personal profit.

Right-wing newspapers take over media markets in four more cities

David Molenhuis - Rabble.ca

First, the Halifax Chronicle Herald management locked out its workers. Then we learned that Global News is being sold to a company that specializes in children's entertainment.

And now Postmedia, Canada's biggest news chain, has announced mass layoffs and a newsroom merger that puts Sun News editors at the helm of several respected local newspapers.

The free press in Canada is under attack.


Layoffs, lockouts and the forced resignations of many respected reporters, editors and photojournalists in recent days should be alarming. But you won't hear, see or read much about it from mainstream news sources. Independent media needs your support more than ever.

Recent developments surrounding Postmedia's layoffs and restructuring are particularly unsettling. Postmedia, which is largely U.S. owned, prints both the National Post and the Toronto Sun separately. But in its restructured form, newspapers like the Edmonton Journal and the Edmonton Sun will have one editor with roots in the Sun news side.

Good newsrooms with balanced editorial policies will likely be replaced with right-wing automatons like Lorne Motley, the figure responsible for transforming the Calgary Herald into an attack dog for the oil and gas industry.

This same structure will be replicated across Postmedia-owned newspapers in Calgary, Ottawa and Vancouver. The Province, the Citizen, the Herald, the Journal will now be in essence the Sun, Sun, Sun and Sun, respectively.

None of these corporate-backed media chains were ever known for their progressive views. But it's bad news for democracy when Canadian news ownership is even more concentrated than in 2012: when Canada ranked first place in the G8 for concentrated media ownership.

Fewer journalists, fewer editors and more monopolizing of Canada's news-gathering organizations mean independent media needs to step up our coverage -- and this is where your role is absolutely critical.

Put corporate media on ice! Support independent media with a donation today!

Your donation right now will help cover the news stories corporate media executives ignore.
Follow Teulia Fuatai, rabble's labour beat reporter's coverage, here and read more from David Climenhaga on the unsettling changes at Postmedia here.

Technically Speaking: Environmentalists Missing Forest for the Trees

Reductio ad absurdum: Why we environmentalists are missing the boat with sham hearings, technical arguments

by Rafe Mair - Common Sense Canadian


January 28, 2016

I have had the chance recently to sit back and look at what Damien and I and indeed others like Erik Andersen have written over the last four or five years on environmental matters and I wonder whether or not we haven’t fallen into the trap of debating serious social and safety issues strictly on the basis of technicalities.

Governments and industry throw out statistics and we dutifully match those with some of our own while we are forgetting more important issues such as do we want pipelines and tankers in the first place?

From BC’s point of view – which is my home – there are two intertwined issues.

I will be criticized no doubt for taking the BC point of view but why in the hell shouldn’t I if Christy won’t?

 

Democracy deficiency


First, I have no say in all this. I’m up against the federal government plus Victoria and hundreds of billions of dollars from them and industry to put their side of a debate I can listen to but not take part in.

Thus, my first point is that there has been, throughout, a democracy deficiency which makes a mockery of the word. It’s said, of course, that democracy is practiced on our behalf by the people we elect to the legislature and the House of Commons. Anyone with half a brain knows that that’s rubbish. None of the MLAs or MPs we elect have any more influence on these events than does a stray cat. If we can’t get our minds around that – if we cannot understand the truth of that, then we might just as well pack it in and accept whatever is meted out to us by our “betters”.

 

Phoney assessments ignore public


Let’s just look for the moment to two areas in greater Vancouver, Burnaby and Howe Sound. Have any citizens ever been asked to vote on whether or not they want either the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion or an LNG plant?

The honest answer is more than negative because instead of democracy, phoney assessment processes have been set up with an illusion of citizen participation – mockeries of justice.

We know that if authorities tell big enough lies often enough then people will believe them. As if that needed further demonstration, we have countless examples being bombarded into our lives every day.

 

Nothing to worry about


Let’s look at pipelines. The federal government particularly wants pipelines to the BC coast and in fact agreed with China that with the new trade agreement (FIPPA), one will be built. (I don’t remember being asked about that, do you?)

What about government’s obligation for our safety and well-being? They tell us over and over again that pipelines are safe and – this is good for a wry laugh – if perchance they do leak, why, they will do no damage because the company will clean it up in no time! The same about LNG tankers. Nothing bad can possibly happen and, again, even with some unbelievable bit of bad luck and something leaked somewhere, why the company and the authorities would have that out-of-the-way before you could say “Shazam!”

This means, of course, that there are no concerns about using passages like the Fraser River, Howe Sound, or Juan de Fuca because accidents can’t happen and, forgive the repetition, in the extremely unlikely event a tiny little one did occur, why, the authorities would have that fixed up in no time.

During the time of the more aggressive Enbridge debate a few years ago, over and over the company and politicians assured us that there was no danger of accidents with Northern Gateway and in the unlikely event…blah, blah, blah. The same time, we read on a daily basis what had happened to an Enbridge spill on the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. I was scarcely the only one to ask what the devil would happen if that kind of a spill occurred, say, in the Rocky Mountain trench or the Great Bear Rainforest.

 

A mathematical certainty


So, before I go further, I submit to you that the evidence is overwhelming on the subject of pipelines, oil and LNG tankers: The companies and governments simply lie through their teeth and are prepared to say anything, no matter how preposterous, to support their demand to use our land and safety for their profit.

In all of this, there’s a shining truth that cannot be denied. There will be accidents with pipelines and tankers as a matter of plain mathematics. It’s a statistical question – the law of probabilities. And the more you do something, the more likely a bad thing is going to happen. One of the major factors is, of course, human error. This will never be eliminated no matter how modern and computerized our activities become.

Therefore, let us take this as a given: pipelines are going to burst, tankers are going to hit things and on and on it goes, no matter what we do or the safety precautions we take.

If that point is made, the companies and the government barely pause to change gears as they go into their “we can fix anything” mode. It doesn’t matter that the Kalamazoo River is still full of Bitumen five years after the spill – why, spills can be easily handled. It doesn’t concern them that many of the locations are out of reach of help or, as we know from Kalamazoo, there isn’t really any help anyway.
Don’t forget Paris

There is a third string to the bow – according to all experts including those at the recent Paris Conference, we’re not supposed to be producing, moving and using this stuff anyway! These fossil fuels are the cause of our climate problems and our poisoned atmosphere. Why, then, are we going through these hoops to increase the use and transportation of the very thing that’s causing us all the trouble and that we have sworn to get rid of?

 

“No” means “no”


Now let’s get down to cases. I have no right to speak for British Columbians individually or collectively and I am not doing that. I am speaking just for me.

I don’t want any pipelines into British Columbia. Never mind why I don’t want them, I just don’t and insist upon my democratic privilege to stop them. Going further I don’t want them because they destroy the beautiful environment in which I have always lived and that I wish to leave to my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I have no wish to screw up my homeland to make money for people who shouldn’t be trafficking in fossil fuels in the first place.

Having said that, I don’t want to take the risks that are associated with this industry. These are not fiddling little risks but enormous certainties. The tendency of industry is to expand, so the damage will expand as well. I don’t want to rely upon self-serving governments and industry telling me that they can clean things up as if nothing had happened when I know that’s bullshit.

I deny utterly the right of any other Canadians to put me, my family, community, and my environment at the certainty of ongoing disasters just so they can make money off something which is an internationally recognized poison.

Pipelines and fossil fuel tankers are ever-present, ongoing, serious dangers that contribute nothing but misery to the world at large.

I ask only that we treat these fossil fuels as we in British Columbia treat uranium mining and recognize that they are too dangerous to hand over into the hands of the greedy.

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at rafeonline.com.

More articles by Rafe Mair

Oil Market Fundamentals May Be Out the Window, But No Need for Traders to Jump - Yet!

Fundamentals Are Lost, But Upside Visible For Oil

by Inside Investor with Dan Dicker - Oilprice.com

The oil market has become nothing but a rumor mill – rumors of Fed hikes to come, or even Fed cuts – and, over the last few days, a stubborn rumor about a Russian/OPEC summit to cut oil production.

Rumors suck, but this time the fix may be in – I think it’s time to put some money into some oil stocks for the quick blast up.

I’ve got oil stocks, and it’s been painful. I’ve been waiting for the inevitable short-covering rally of overloaded speculators to come since December and wash away a lot of my losses, give me a chance to get closer to even for this, so far, horrible year and have another look at the timing of the crude bust and next boom to come.

I’ve been waiting for a time to add some money into favorite oil stocks to help turbocharge that short covering rally, and now looks like the time to take that last shot: Having seen a low of $26, oil could go lower, but is bounded by zero – and ludicrousness. Fed dovishness tends to lend at least some support to a few less rate hikes than they might have been leaning towards before stocks fell off a cliff.

And then there’s Russia – now twice intimating a willingness to talk about a concerted production cut of 5 percent - first floated through the Iraqi oil minister on Tuesday and today hinted at by the Russian oil minister himself, Alexander Novak. OPEC, and the Saudis have both denied floating a plan, or talking about a meeting.

Oil goes up on these rumors, but tellingly, doesn’t go back down quite as much - The Russians are telling the truth – Saudi Arabia has proposed concerted production cuts to the Russians three times previously, most notably before both Vienna OPEC meetings in 2014 and 2015, with nothing more than a terse dismissal from the Russians. This time is different, at least from a Russian willingness to talk.

And Saudi opposition to a calculated production cut is also a wrong media meme – they have been more than willing to talk about an effort to curb production – provided they are not alone in it.

There is one previous incident of a Russian production deal with OPEC in the past, in 2001, which the Russians almost immediately cheated on.

Iran is also entirely unlikely to agree to any production cuts of their own, having suffered sanctions and now hoping to benefit from their first real access to global markets in almost a decade.

OPEC itself is a cartel with a clear history of cheating on its own production quotas, even in the best of times, which this certainly is not.

Is there any chance that a deal will work? Almost none.

Does that matter? Probably not.

With the Russians now behind the rumor mill, they’ll keep the pressure on for a meeting, even one that is doomed to fail, putting increasing pressure on speculative shorts and algorithmic momentum sellers that have been unrelentingly pushing prices lower. They’ll cause some of them to break ranks, if they haven’t begun to do so already.

That should result in an oil rally above $40, maybe as high as $45 – still a ridiculously low price, but enough to make for a solid rally in some oversold oil stocks.

Pick your own favorites – I’m going with Hess (HES), Pioneer Natural Resources (PXD) and Devon (DVN) – looking for the ones that have been beaten down the most, or more than I think their balance sheets deserve. They’re also the ones I think will bounce back the strongest.

Do I think the Russians will make a deal? Nah. But it’s worth a trade.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Keynes Making Fools of the Fed, Again

Seven Years of Monetary Quackery; Can the Fed Admit it Was Wrong Yet?

by Mike Whitney  - CounterPunch


 January 28, 2016

America’s richest investors are betting trillions of dollars that the US economy will stay lousy for years to come.

Who are these wealthy investors?

Bondholders. And their views on the state of the economy are reflected in the yields on long-term US Treasuries. At present, the yields on long-term debt are very low which means that investors think the economy will continue to underperform while inflation remains in check.

This pessimistic outlook is not new for bondholders, in fact, yields have remained stubbornly low since the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, which means that investors were never swept up in the hype about “green shoots” or an “economic recovery”. They knew it was baloney from the get-go and their opinion hasn’t changed. There’s no sign of recovery anywhere except for the fake government payroll numbers that don’t jibe with any of the other data. By any rationale measure, the economy is stuck in a long-term slump that shows no sign of relenting anytime soon. Bondholders seem to grasp that fact and have made a ton of dough betting on crappy growth and perennial stagnation, which are the logical corollaries of the Fed’s goofy monetary policies. (Stephen Roach explains low yields on 30-year USTs here.)

In any event, bond yields are a heckuva lot more helpful in forecasting the future than the cheerleading pundits on the business channel. Yields–which are the amount of return that bondholders receive for lending the government their money–reveal investors expectations of future economic activity and inflation. They are a barometer for measuring the health of the economy. If growth is strong and the future looks rosy, yields will rise as the demand for money increases and the prospects of higher inflation seem more likely. But if investors expect growth to fall-short and disappoint, then yields are going to drop reflecting lower expectations for future activity. The fact that the yields on 30-year USTs are below 3 percent at this phase of the game suggests that policymakers either don’t understand how the economy works or simply refuse to initiate the changes that will spur growth. Either way, it’s a damning indictment of the Central Bank’s role as steward of the system.

At present, (Jan 26) the yield on benchmark 10-year Treasuries is just a whisker below 2 percent at 1.98 percent. That means that investors will get 1.98 dollars annually per every $100 invested, which is nearly nothing. Think of it this way: Let’s say your buddy Ernie wants to borrow $5,000 to open a Gelato stand in Granite Falls. So you’re wondering how much you need to charge him above the price of the loan to be fairly compensated for the risk you’re taking. (since Ernie has had a few bad ideas in the past that blew up in his face.) If you decide to charge him 2 percent per year, then you’re barely making ends meet since inflation is currently running at roughly 1.5 percent. So you need to charge something above 2 percent or you won’t even break-even.

The point is, when you lend your money to the USG for a paltry 1.98 percent, you’re basically getting bupkis on your investment. The only upside to the deal is that you can be reasonably certain that the government will pay you back, unlike Ernie.

The focus on interest rates as the only means for fixing the economy should have run its course by now, but, of course, it hasn’t because the Big Money that runs the country likes things the way they are. Low rates and easy money mean bigger profits for Wall Street regardless of their impact on the real economy. What matters most to bondholders is not growth or inflation, but policy. That’s what keeps the boodle flowing into the coffers. Policy. And as long as they’re confident that the Fed’s “accommodative” policies are going to be coupled with fiscal belt-tightening (which has been adopted by both Dems and Republicans), then they can rest assured that the economy will continue to sputter while bonds “rip the cover off the ball”.

But the Fed’s loosey goosy monetary policies do come at a cost, and that cost is borne by businesses and working people alike. For example, there was an op-ed in last week’s WSJ about the knock-on effects of low rates on capital investment by Michael Spence and Kevin Warsh. The title of the article tells the whole story: “The Fed Has Hurt Business Investment.” Here’s an excerpt:

“Extremely accommodative monetary policy, including the purchase of about $3 trillion in Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities during three rounds of “quantitative easing” (QE), pushed down long-term yields and boosted the value of risk-assets. Higher stock prices were supposed to drive business confidence and higher capital expenditures, which were supposed to result in higher wages and strong consumption. Would it were so.

Business investment in the real economy is weak … In 2014, S&P 500 companies spent considerably more of their operating cash flow on financially engineered buybacks than real capital expenditures for the first time since 2007 … We believe that QE has redirected capital from the real domestic economy to financial assets at home and abroad. In this environment, it is hard to criticize companies that choose “shareholder friendly” share buybacks over investment in a new factory. But public policy shouldn’t bias investments to paper assets over investments in the real economy.” (The Fed Has Hurt Business Investment, Michael Spence And Kevin Warsh, Wall Street Journal)

This is a fairly typical complaint, that the Fed’s policies have lifted asset prices but hurt business investment which requires strong demand for their products. The fact is, businesses can’t grow unless people are employed, wages are rising, and money is exchanging hands. None of that is happening currently, in fact, according to the Atlanta Fed, the Forth Quarter (4Q) GDP is expected to come in below 1 percent. (.06 percent) which means the US economy should probably be wheeled down to the morgue ASAP so the embalming process can begin pronto. For all practical purposes, the economy is kaput.

Of course, President Obama rejects that type of negativity outright. In the State of the Union Speech in January, Obama waved his finger threateningly at the teleprompter saying: “Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.”

Fiction?? Not according to economist James Hamilton. Here’s what he said this week on the Oil Price website:

“The global economy is slipping into recession. The evidence is showing up in all the usual ways: slowing output growth, slumping purchasing-manager indexes, widening credit spreads, declining corporate earnings, falling inflation expectations, receding capital investment and rising inventories. But this is a most unusual recession– the first one ever caused by falling oil prices.” (Could Low Oil Prices Cause A Global Recession?, Oil Price)

And then there’s this from the Wall Street Journal:

“Every U.S. recession since World War II has been foretold by sharp declines in industrial production, corporate profits and the stock market. Industrial production has declined in 10 of the past 12 months, and is now off nearly 2% from its peak in December 2014. Corporate profits peaked around the summer of 2014 and were off by nearly 5% as of the third quarter of last year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 7.6% so far this year…

unlike past declines in industrial production, today’s decline has been driven primarily by the collapse in the oil industry…. mining output has fallen over 10%, driven by a 62% decline in oil- and gas-well drilling…

“Manufacturing tends to lead the economic cycle and it tends to be an indicator of the swings,” said Thomas Costerg, senior economist at Standard Chartered. “Manufacturing is struggling.” (Recession Warnings May Not Come to Pass, Wall Street Journal)

The truth is that the economy is still very weak and the Fed’s monetary hanky-panky hasn’t produced the credit expansion that was expected. Adding excess reserves at the banks was supposed to boost lending which would lead to stronger growth, but it hasn’t happened mainly because households and consumers aren’t borrowing like they did before the crisis. Instead they’re setting more money aside and trying to pay down their debts. Take a look at the chart on bank loans which illustrates how lending is basically flatlining. (See here.)

No bank loans means no borrowing. No borrowing means no credit expansion. No credit expansion means no new activity, no new spending, no new hiring, no new business investment, no stronger growth. Nomura’s chief economist Richard Koo summed it up succinctly saying, “When no one is borrowing money, monetary policy is largely useless.”

Bingo. It is useless. We know that now. Neither QE nor zero rates promote growth. The ‘Grand Experiment’ has failed. Keynes was right and (Milton) Freidman was wrong. Here’s Keynes:

“For my own part I am now somewhat skeptical of the success of a merely monetary policy directed towards influencing the rate of interest. I expect to see the State, which is in a position to calculate the marginal efficiency of capital-goods on long views and on the basis of the general social advantage, taking an ever greater responsibility for directly organizing investment; since it seems likely that the fluctuations in the market estimation of the marginal efficiency of different types of capital, calculated on the principles I have described above, will be too great to be offset by any practicable changes in the rate of interest.” (John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, marxists.org, 2002)

Keynes is just stating the obvious, that you can’t pull the economy out of a severe slump by tinkering with interest rates or pumping up bank reserves. It doesn’t work. What’s needed is ‘good old fashion’ fiscal stimulus mainlined into the economy through ambitious federal infrastructure programs that stimulate activity, boost employment and keep the economy moving forward until private sector balance sheets are repaired and personal spending returns to normal.

The Fed has wasted the last seven years trying to reinvent the wheel when the solution was always right under its nose. Are we really going to waste another seven implementing the same failed strategy?


MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.
More articles by:Mike Whitney

Scot-Free: Lies, Damned Lies, and LIBOR

LIBOR Traders Get Off Scot-Free in Rate-Rigging Scandal 

by TRNN


January 28, 2016  

James Henry, former chief economist at McKinsey & Co., says the ruling demonstrates that there is no systemic or institutional accountability to prevent interest rate manipulation.
 
 
 


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Gaza Speaks: Not Silent Behind the Siege

Gaza Speaks: This Is What the Decade-long Siege Has Done to Us

by Ramzy Baroud  - PalestineChronicle.com

(with reporting from Yousef Aljamal in Gaza)

Whenever Mariam Aljamal’s children hear the sound of thunder at night, they wet their beds. Their reaction is almost instinctive, and is shared by a large number of children throughout the Gaza Strip.

Mariam’s three children – Jamal, Lina and Sarah - were all born a few years after the Gaza siege was first imposed in 2006, and all of them have experienced at least one Israeli war.

“My kids feel scared when the electricity goes off, which is most of the time,” says the 33-year-old mother from Nuseirat Refugee Camp, who has a degree in Communication and is currently pursuing her MA.
“They are still living the trauma of the 2014 offensive. War is still haunting my family, and life has become so hard for us.”

Indeed, after years of trying, Mariam is yet to find work. Unemployment in Gaza is the highest in the world, according to the World Bank.

The siege on Gaza was imposed in stages, starting January 2006, when the Hamas movement won the legislative elections in the Occupied Territories. Donors’ money was immediately withheld, so the new Government could not pay the salaries of its employees. The conventional wisdom, then, was the new Government would soon collapse, and Hamas’ rival, Fatah, would quickly resume its control over the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The Israeli hope, which was reinforced by the US and also shared by PA President Mahmoud Abbas and many in his party, never came to fruition. To speed up the projected collapse, Israel began sporadic bombardment of Gaza and carried out a sweeping campaign to arrest many of its elected MPs, coupled with a Fatah and Hamas dispute, which eventually turned into street battles in the summer of 2007.

It was then that the siege became complete, now ongoing for ten years. During this time, Fatah resumed its control over the PA in the West Bank, reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah largely failed, the Rafah border has been mostly sealed, and Israel has launched three major wars that have killed thousands.

The destruction in Gaza as a result of three consecutive wars (2008-9, 12 and 14) has been so severe, it has affected almost every aspect of the Strip’s already dilapidated infrastructure. Power outages, for example, have become part of life in Gaza. If all goes according to plan, Palestinians here have only 8-10 hours, per day, to utilize electricity, and for the rest of the day they suffer in darkness. The UN had already declared that life in Gaza will become ‘uninhabitable’ by 2020.

But there are aspects of this drama that do not receive a fair share of attention, such as how the siege is hindering human development for an entire generation.

When the siege was imposed, Ahmad Ghazal was only 13-years-old. Now, he is 23 and works at a local library in Gaza City. “Life here is not pleasant,” he says.

“In the last ten years my family has suffered the lack of food, clean water, proper medical care and the most basic of human needs. But what frustrates me most is the fact that I am not able to move freely. The Israeli-Egyptian shut down of border crossings has brought our life to a standstill. I feel trapped.”

Maher Azzam is 21 years of age and he, too, feels imprisoned. He teaches English at Smart International Centre for Languages and Development and aspires to be a writer. However, he sees life in Gaza as a slow death.

“The number of martyrs in the Strip over the course of 10 years has exceeded 4,000, but those innocent people only died once,” he says.
“People who are still alive in Gaza, have been dying every day for a whole decade. But we must stay optimistic and hopeful. We have learned to be creative to survive, to express ourselves and to carry on without submitting, despite Israel’s ongoing crimes and the silence of the international community.”

Heba Zaher, a 21-year-old graduate from the Islamic University, also understands the centrality of hope to the Gaza narrative. She says, “We have survived all of these years without losing hope, we certainly can’t lose it now. Ten years of hardship have taught us to be stronger, to cope with life and to defeat the siege.”

But defeating the siege is not an easy endeavor, as it has “affected all aspects of our life,” according to Heba.

“Many students have lost their opportunities of studying abroad. Many patients have died, waiting for the crossings to open so that they may get proper treatment. Construction is tied to the crossings, and life is now more expensive than ever.”

The consequences of the siege are far-reaching to the extent that Anas Almassri, a student-intern at the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor in Deir al Balah, says that whatever remained of Gaza’s middle class is now dwindling. “The middle class in Gaza continues to shrink as a result of the diminishing economic opportunities, and this affects the income of families terribly, who cannot send their kids to universities and, therefore, cannot maintain their standard of living.”

For Ghada Abu Msabeh, 20, also from Deir Al-Balah, the siege has now become so rooted in the collective psyche of Gazans that it has grown to become the new norm. “I think that we have come to the point that the siege has become a part of our daily life and routine,” she argues. “I honestly cannot imagine what life would be if we are able to move freely or even go for an entire day without power outage. It is honestly difficult to remember how life used to be before the siege.”

Hana Salah, 25, a writer and humanitarian worker with Oxfam Italy, tried to seek an opportunity outside Gaza, but she was not successful. “I didn't try again because seeing others' attempt and fail was enough to depress me,” she says. “I feel that we are living in a cage and have no idea what is transpiring outside this cage. I don’t know what will happen, but can only hope and pray for God’s mercy.”

Some of those who were able to leave to pursue their education outside Gaza, were stuck when they attempted to return for a visit. Rafaat Alareer, a writer and lecturer, embarked on his PhD studies at Universiti Purra Malaysia in 2012, but has been trapped in Gaza since 2014. He came to visit his family as the 2014 offensive destroyed their home and killed his brother. “It's been a year and a half now, and I cannot go back because of the siege and the closure of the Rafah crossing,” which has been practically shut down for a year.

The same was experienced by Belal Dabour, a young doctor at the Shifa Hospital, who is unable to leave Gaza to gain more experience and attend conferences, which he had hoped could bolster his academic qualifications. “I had just graduated when the 2014 war started,” he says. “It was very traumatic. What I have experienced in one month at Al-Shifa is more than what other doctors would experience in many years of their practice. But now I have no job and like many of my colleagues have no source of income.”

Walaa Al-Ghussein, a 23-year-old student at Al-Azhar University, concludes that, although more people now acknowledge the existence of a cruel siege on Gaza, life for Gazans remains the same. “We need more than just protests; real pressure needs to be exerted on Israel so that this siege ends. Hundreds of patients are dying, students are losing their opportunities of studying abroad and a whole people are stranded.”

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include ‘Searching Jenin’, ‘The Second Palestinian Intifada’ and his latest ‘My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story’. His website is: www.ramzybaroud.net.

Building Blocs: Continentalists Erecting Fortress North America One Trade Deal at a Time

Rebuilding and Expanding the North American Relationship

by Dana Gabriel - Be Your Own Leader


January 27, 2016
 
A major priority for Canada’s new prime minister is to reset the relationships with both the U.S. and Mexico. There is a real opportunity for all three countries to recommit to building a North American community. This includes expanding political, security and economic cooperation, as well as greater coordination on issues such as energy and the environment. Further deepening Canada-Mexico ties is one of the keys to strengthening continental relations. The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which builds on the commitments of NAFTA could also help take North American trilateral integration to the next level.

During a foreign policy speech before he became Prime Minister, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau emphasized the importance of North America and outlined his plans to improve Canada’s relationship with its NAFTA partners. He discussed some of the problems facing Mexico and how Canada could help solve them. Trudeau noted, “In many areas, Canadians have the necessary expertise to address Mexico’s needs, from the building of public institutions to infrastructure development to civil policing. We should see in Mexico opportunities to develop our relations and our economies.” He went on to say, “What does this mean for Canada and the Canada-U.S. relationship? In my view, it means that we must once again look at the relationship in a continental context. We must see our own future in the future of North America.” Trudeau also proposed creating a special cabinet committee to manage Canada-U.S. relations and promised to work towards reducing barriers to trade and commerce between both countries. Furthermore, he pledged to push for a North American agreement on clean energy and the environment.

In June 2015, the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade issued its report, North American Neighbours: Maximizing Opportunities and Strengthening Cooperation for a More Prosperous Future. The policy paper recommended, “The Government of Canada explore opportunities for Canada-Mexico cooperation on governance, security and rule of law issues of mutual interest, such as law enforcement and judicial capacity building.” It also identified energy, supply chain infrastructure and harmonizing regulations as some of the areas that should be addressed trilaterally. A news release described how, “Trilateral cooperation between Canada, the United States and Mexico on issues of mutual interest holds great promise for increasing North America’s future competitiveness and prosperity.” At the same time, the Committee conceded, “Geographic, linguistic and other factors have prevented the Canada-Mexico relationship from reaching its full potential. Canada’s relationship with Mexico should be an important focus.” They concluded that, “A stronger partnership with Mexico is a key way to strengthen the trilateral approach to North American relations.”

After becoming Canada’s new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau reaffirmed his commitment to building better continental relations. Some of the key objectives highlighted in the Minister of International Trade Mandate Letter are to, “strengthen our relationship with our North American partners, advance bilateral and trilateral initiatives to reduce impediments to trade between our countries and to strengthen North America’s global competitiveness.” An important part of the Canada-U.S. relationship is the Regulatory Cooperation Council and the Beyond the Border deal, which promotes economic competitiveness and a perimeter approach to security. In March 2015, both countries signed an Agreement on Land, Rail, Marine, and Air Transport Preclearance, but it has yet to be implemented. Trudeau will get an opportunity to discuss border security, energy, climate change and trade, along with other bilateral issues when he meets with President Barack Obama on March 10 in Washington.

Some of the important priorities listed in the Minister of Foreign Affairs Mandate Letter are to, “Improve relations with the United States, our closest ally and most important economic and security partner, and strengthen trilateral North American cooperation.” This includes working to lift the Mexican visa requirement, which was imposed by the previous Conservative government and deeply resented in Mexico. Also high on the agenda is developing a continent-wide clean energy and environment agreement, as well as preparing for the next trilateral leaders summit that will be hosted by Canada sometime this year. At the 2014 North American Leaders Summit, the U.S., Canada and Mexico agreed to enhance energy collaboration, develop a continental transportation plan and establish a North American trusted traveler program. Last year, they announced an agreement to expand trusted traveler programs, which is the first steps toward the creation of a North American Trusted Traveler network. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper was scheduled to host the 2015 leaders summit, but he postponed the meeting amid tension between Canada and the U.S. over the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which was pending at the time.

On November 6, 2015, President Obama formally rejected the Keystone XL Pipeline, arguing that project would not serve the country's national interests and how it would undercut U.S. climate global leadership. While Obama admitted Prime Minister Trudeau was disappointed by the decision, he also pointed out how both leaders, “agreed that our close friendship on a whole range of issues, including energy and climate change, should provide the basis for even closer coordination.” A statement by Prime Minister Trudeau insisted, “The Canada-U.S. relationship is much bigger than any one project and I look forward to a fresh start with President Obama to strengthen our remarkable ties in a spirit of friendship and co-operation.” Although the decision is a setback in enhancing North American energy integration, it does nevertheless provide an opportunity for both countries to reset relations. Just days after TransCanada was denied a permit for the Keystone XL, they were awarded a contract to build the Tuxpan-Tula Pipeline in Mexico. The company also recently launched a lawsuit over the Keystone decision. Under Chapter 11 of NAFTA, corporations have the power to challenge governmental laws and regulations that restrict their profits.

Before the Obama administration rejected Keystone, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton came out against the pipeline. She stressed that, “Building a clean, secure, and affordable North American energy future is bigger than Keystone XL or any other single project.” Clinton followed this up by unveiling her, Vision for Modernizing North American Energy Infrastructure, which links the continent’s energy and climate objectives. If elected president, she has vowed to, “launch negotiations with the leaders of Canada and Mexico to secure a North American Climate Compact that includes ambitious national targets, coordinated policy approaches, and strong accountability measures.” With the creation of the Trilateral Working Group on Climate Change and Energy back in May 2015, the North American partners have already laid the foundation for closer cooperation on energy and the environment.

During his presidency, George W. Bush pursued deeper North American ties through the Security and Prosperity Partnership. Now the Bush Institute’s Economic Growth program is continuing with this agenda. They’ve launched a North America Competitiveness Initiative, which aims to further strengthen continental economic integration. In November 2015, they released the North America Competitiveness Scorecard, “as a tool to compare the competitive position of the United States, Canada, and Mexico, as a region, relative to other major economic regions and countries with large economies.” While North America earned a B+, the scorecard also identified areas where improvements could be made. A working group is currently developing a list of policy recommendations on issues regarding energy, human capital, and border infrastructure. The Bush Institute's Director of Economic Growth Matt Rooney stated, “The key to the prosperity and security of the American people lies in a closer North American economic relationship — in embracing the de facto North American community that has long existed and shaping it to ensure that it continues to enhance our security and prosperity.”

As part of efforts to encourage trilateral cooperation at a state and provincial level, the first-ever Summit of North American Governors and Premiers was held in October 2015. Mexican State Governor, Eruviel Avila Villegas acknowledged, “We are living at an historic juncture, where local governments are becoming key transformation agents and the source of international cooperation efforts. The origin of this summit represents a big step toward the building of a North American community.” When the event was first announced, a press release explained that the summit would, “focus on promoting economic development and trade through improvements and innovations in infrastructure and supply chain management, education, energy technology and culture.” Regional collaboration is already taking place through forums such as, the Council of the Great Lakes Region and the Annual Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers. In an effort to expand economic relations and advance cross-border trade, U.S. ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman has sent letters to the governors of all 50 U.S. states urging them to visit Canada. In the coming years, subnational governments will play a even greater role with respect to North American integration.

On October 5, 2015, negotiations concluded on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which includes Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S., and Vietnam. The massive Pacific Rim trade pact is scheduled to be formally signed on February 4 in New Zealand, but it will still need to be ratified by each of the member nations. Like other trade agreements that have come before it, the TPP will ultimately fail to deliver on the promise of economic growth and prosperity. The controversial deal poses significant threats to internet freedom, food safety, public health and the environment. It includes NAFTA-style investor rights that allows corporations to sue governments over decisions that may affect their future profits. The agreement contains thousands of pages of legal text and technical language, which covers a lot more than just trade. With the U.S., Canada and Mexico all a part of the TPP, it amounts to a complete renegotiation of NAFTA through the backdoor.

The TPP marks another step towards greater regional cooperation and integration. The U.S.-driven trade deal changes how member countries manage their economies and businesses. It sets the rules for a new global economic order, which would further erode national sovereignty. The TPP together with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership are part of plans to merge North America with Asia and Europe.

Dana Gabriel is an activist and independent researcher. He writes about trade, globalization, sovereignty, security, as well as other issues. Contact: beyourownleader@hotmail.com Visit his blog at Be Your Own Leader


Related articles by Dana Gabriel:
The Renewed Push for Deeper North American Integration
Building a New North American Partnership for the Future
NAFTA Partners Pushing North American Competitiveness Integration Agenda
Trilateral Defense Ministers Meeting Continues to Build North American Security Framework

 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What Donald Knew We Didn't Know About What He Knew

What Donald Rumsfeld Knew We Didn’t Know About Iraq

by James Walcott - Politico

 The document reveals gaps of intelligence on WMD. Why didn’t the Pentagon chief share it?


On September 9, 2002, as the George W. Bush administration was launching its campaign to invade Iraq, a classified report landed on the desk of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It came from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and it carried an ominous note.

“Please take a look at this material as to what we don’t know about WMD,” Rumsfeld wrote to Air Force General Richard Myers. “It is big.”

The report was an inventory of what U.S. intelligence knew—or more importantly didn’t know—about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Its assessment was blunt:

“We’ve struggled to estimate the unknowns. ... We range from 0% to about 75% knowledge on various aspects of their program.”

Myers already knew about the report. The Joint Staff’s director for intelligence had prepared it, but Rumsfeld’s urgent tone said a great deal about how seriously the head of the Defense Department viewed the report’s potential to undermine the Bush administration’s case for war.

But he never shared the eight-page report with key members of the administration such as then-Secretary of State Colin Powell or top officials at the CIA, according to multiple sources at the State Department, White House and CIA who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. Instead, the report disappeared, and with it a potentially powerful counter-narrative to the administration’s argument that Saddam Hussein’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons posed a grave threat to the U.S. and its allies, which was beginning to gain traction in major news outlets, led by the New York Times.

While the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iraq was at the heart of the administration's case for war, the JCS report conceded:

“Our knowledge of the Iraqi (nuclear) weapons program is based largely—perhaps 90%—on analysis of imprecise intelligence.”

The rationale for the invasion has long since been discredited, but the JCS report, now declassified, which a former Bush administration official forwarded in December, nevertheless has implications for both sides in the 2016 presidential race, in particular the GOP candidates who are relying for foreign policy advice on some of the architects of the war, and the Democratic front-runner, who once again is coming under fire from her primary opponent for supporting the invasion.

Then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, whose military assistant was on the short list of people copied on the JCS report, is one of Jeb Bush’s foreign policy experts. Other supporters of the war, though they do not appear to have been aware of the JCS report, are involved in the various advisory roles in the 2016 campaign. John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is advising Ted Cruz; and Elliott Abrams and William Kristol are supporting Marco Rubio, whom Reuters reported is also briefed regularly by former Cheney adviser Eric Edelman.

The rise of ISIL and recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have given Democrat Bernie Sanders the ability to draw a straight line from the current Middle East chaos straight back to Clinton’s vote in favor of what he calls “one of the worst foreign policy blunders in the modern history of the United States,” a conflict that has claimed the lives of 4,500 Americans and some 165,000 Iraqis.

Rumsfeld was not under any legal or administrative obligation to circulate an internal DoD report, but not doing so raises questions about whether the administration withheld key information that could have undermined its case for war. Time and again, in the fall of 2002 and into early 2003, members of the administration spoke forcefully and without qualification about the threats they said Saddam Hussein posed. The JCS report undercut their assertions, and if it had been shared more widely within the administration, the debate would have been very different.

***

The report originated with a question from the man whose obsession with “known unknowns” became a rhetorical trademark. On August 16, 2002, Rumsfeld asked Air Force Maj. Gen. Glen Shaffer, head of the Joint Staff’s intelligence directorate, “what we don’t know (in a percentage) about the Iraqi WMD program,” according to a Sept. 5 memo from Shaffer to Myers and three other senior military officials.

On September 5, Shaffer sent Myers his findings, titled “Iraq: Status of WMD Programs.” In a note to his boss, he revealed: “We don’t know with any precision how much we don’t know.”

And while the report said intelligence officials “assess Iraq is making significant progress in WMD programs,” it conceded that “large parts” of Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs were concealed. As a result, “Our assessments rely heavily on analytic assumptions and judgment rather than hard evidence. The evidentiary base is particularly sparse for Iraqi nuclear programs.”

What Myers said when he received the report is not known, but by September 9, it had made its way across Rumsfeld’s desk, where it elicited his terse, typed summation: “This is big.”

But it wasn’t big enough to share with Powell, who in five months would be asked to make the U.S. case for war to the United Nations. Nor was it shared with other members of the National Security Council, according to former NSC staff. An intelligence official who was close to CIA Director George Tenet said he has no recollection of the report and said he would have remembered something that important.

Did President Bush see it? Or Vice President Dick Cheney? If they did, it didn’t temper what they said in public. Cheney had already kicked off the administration’s campaign in Nashville on August 27, saying,

“The Iraqi regime has in fact been very busy enhancing its capabilities in the field of chemical and biological agents. And they continue to pursue the nuclear program they began so many years ago.”

"Many of us," he added, "are convinced that Saddam Hussein will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon."

This was the beginning of what White House chief of staff Andrew Card later called a campaign to “educate the public” about the threat from Iraq.

Rather than heed the JCS’s early warning — as well as similar doubts expressed by some CIA, State Department and Defense Intelligence Agency officers — and seek more reliable intelligence, Rumsfeld and Cheney turned to a parallel intelligence apparatus they created that relied largely on information from Iraqi defectors and a network of exiles led by the late Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress.

On Sunday, September 8, 2002 — three days after Shaffer reported that evidence on Iraq’s nuclear program was sparse — the Times’ Judith Miller and Michael Gordon led the newspaper with a report with the headline, “US Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts.”

“Mr. Hussein’s dogged insistence on pursuing his nuclear ambitions, along with what defectors described in interviews as Iraq’s push to improve and expand Baghdad’s chemical and biological arsenals, have brought Iraq and the United States to the brink of war,” the Times wrote. The piece repeatedly cited anonymous senior Bush administration officials and Iraqi defectors.

Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice cited the Times story on talk shows that Sunday morning. Rice repeated a sentiment, credited in the Times story that “The first sign of a 'smoking gun' ... may be a mushroom cloud."

Chalabi later described himself and his supporters as “heroes in error.” One of the people relying on those errors was President Bush himself.

A month after Rumsfeld’s note to Myers, on October 7, Bush appeared at a VFW hall in Cincinnati, where he declared without reservation: Iraq “possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons.”

Asked whether Rumsfeld had sent the cautionary intelligence report to the president, one senior member of the Joint Staff who was copied on it said he wasn’t certain, but added, “That’s the last place they would have sent it.”

The threat of Iraqi nuclear weapons was central to the administration’s effort to drum up public and political support for an invasion. “Mushroom clouds” were a leitmotif of speeches from Cheney and Rice. But the JCS report reveals the extent of the intelligence experts’ doubt and confusion on that subject:

“We think they possess a viable weapon design,” the report says, but qualified it repeatedly. “We do not know the status of enrichment capabilities”, it says, and: “We do not know with confidence the location of any nuclear-weapon-related facilities.”

No matter what aspect of Saddam’s WMD program was being discussed, the ambivalence in the report was the same. Was Iraq secretly reconstituting its biological weapons program, as Cheney had asserted in Nashville? The report’s answer: “We cannot confirm the identity of any Iraqi facilities that produce, test, fill, or store biological weapons.”

As for administration officials’ repeated claims that Iraq had mobile bioweapons plants, which in one especially colorful version were disguised as milk and yogurt trucks, the report says: “We believe Iraq has 7 mobile BW agent production plants but cannot locate them.” It summarizes the knowledge of Saddam’s germ warfare programs by saying: “Our knowledge of what biological weapons the Iraqis are able to produce is nearly complete our knowledge of how and where they are produced is nearly 90% incomplete.”

United States’ knowledge of Iraq’s chemical weapons, according to the JCS intelligence report was just as sketchy. “Our overall knowledge of the Iraqi CW program is primarily limited to infrastructure doctrine. The specific agent and facility knowledge is 60-70 percent incomplete.”

“We do not know if all the processes required to produce a weapon are in place,” the report says, adding that the Iraqis “lack the precursors for sustained nerve agent production” and “we cannot confirm the identity of any Iraqi sites that produce final chemical agent.”

This did not prevent the president from telling his audience at the Cincinnati VFW hall in October, “We know that the regime has produced thousands of tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, sarin nerve gas, VX nerve gas.” He added: “And surveillance photos reveal that the regime is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons.”

The JCS report, however, says U.S. intelligence was unable to "confirm the identity of any Iraqi sites that produce, test, fill or store biological weapons."

Finally, while advocates of an invasion also claimed that Iraq was developing longer range ballistic missiles capable of hitting Israel with weapons of mass destruction — Bush had made the claim before the U.N. General Assembly three days after Rumsfeld sent the report to Myers — the report says: “We doubt all processes are in place to produce longer range missiles.”

In February 2003, Powell appeared before the same body of foreign dignitaries to make the administration’s case, with CIA Director George Tenet sitting behind him:

“My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What were giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.”

***

Though it is easy to conclude the report was buried because it contained inconvenient truths, the precise reason it wasn’t circulated remains unclear. It was partially declassified (eight of nine pages) in January 2011, more than eight years after it was written. Efforts to reach Rumsfeld, directly and through an intermediary, were unsuccessful. Wolfowitz, his former deputy and a major advocate of toppling Saddam Hussein according to the 9/11 Commission report, did not return calls for comment. Myers, who knew as well as anyone the significance of the report, did not distribute it beyond his immediate military colleagues and civilian boss, which a former aide said was consistent with the role of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

The report could have been divulged in a briefing by his staff to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, but it wasn’t, probably because none of them was aware of its existence, according to former members of that committee.

Instead, on October 1, 2002, less than a month after the JCS report, the intelligence community produced a 92-page National Intelligence Estimate, or NIE, on Iraq’s WMD programs that made no mention of the report and instead claimed in its “Key Judgments” that: “We judge that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs in defiance of UN resolutions and restrictions. Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions; if left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon within this decade.”

Later, the NIE, an unclassified summary of which was made available to reporters two days after the Top Secret report was circulated, says: “We assess that Baghdad has begun renewed production of mustard, sarin GF (cyclosarin), and VX . . . .” It adds: “We judge that all key aspects — R&D, production, and weaponization — of Iraq’s offensive BW program are active and that most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf war. Baghdad has mobile facilities for producing bacterial and toxin BW agents.” The NIE’s red flags and dissents, and it had a number, were subtle or tucked into footnotes.

Paul Pillar, at the time the national intelligence officer for the Near East who was involved in producing the NIE, said in a phone interview that he had never seen Shaffer's September 5 Pentagon report. When it was read to him, he called it an excellent summary of the limits of the U.S. intelligence community's knowledge about Saddam's WMD programs.

But just because the JCS report wasn’t seen by key officials who might have benefited from its more cautious tone, doesn’t mean it wasn’t available for inspection. Its middling “Secret” classification meant that, in theory, nothing would have prevented sharing the report's contents had any member of Congress requested a briefing from the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

For Clinton, then the junior senator from New York and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the new evidence of early doubts raises a different question: How might her vote have changed if she and other lawmakers had known of the report's existence? Would she have taken it into account? The depth of her inquiry into the evidence has been called into question before. According to Her Way, a biography by New York Times reporters Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta, Jr., Clinton never read the classified NIE. Clinton has never disputed that account, but she was not alone.

The Washington Post reported on April 27, 2004, after the invasion had begun going sour, that in the fall of 2002, before the vote on whether to invade Iraq, no more than six senators and few House members had logged into the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility where they had to go to read the Top Secret estimate.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the JCS memo had never been publicly released. Rumsfeld made it available on his website in 2011.

John Walcott is an adjunct professor in the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and was the inaugural recipient of the I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University for his role in leading the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau’s critical coverage of the Bush administration’s case for attacking Iraq.