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Madmen in the White House … this time it's a thing, not just a 'strategy'

18 May 2017 - 1:14am
David J. Climenhaga

Richard Nixon wasn't actually out of control -- he just pretended to be to suit Henry Kissinger.

This isn't a joke. The "Madman Strategy" was an actual thing. You can look it up.

If you could make the Russians believe Nixon was more erratic than a shithouse rat, Kissinger theorized, maybe they'd back down long enough for the United States to exit Vietnam with its pride and dignity intact. Since Kissinger served at various times as both Nixon's National Security Advisor and his Secretary of State, he had some pull with the president.

Because both the Russians and the Americans were armed to the teeth with hair-trigger A-Bombs, H-Bombs, Z-Bombs and the like, the whole idea was basically textbook outhouse-rodent material, or so it seemed once we learned what had really been going on in the Nixon White House during the gaps when the First Tape Recorder wasn't running.

On the other hand, President Donald Trump -- who reminds a lot of people of Nixon nowadays -- appears to actually be out of control and presumably does his recording digitally. However, we can’t really be certain as Trump is also taking advice from Kissinger, who is now 93 and may even have a more fragile grasp of what most of us would call reality than he did 45 years ago. How do you like having the fate of the world in that guy's hands again?

The summer and fall of 1972 was the first time I had a real job on a real newspaper. You just couldn't get away from the Watergate Scandal that summer, even in a literally insular place like Victoria, B.C. Every couple of days the White House sprang a new leak, often to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post, and the Nixon Administration settled lower in the water, metaphorically speaking. Journalism seemed like an honourable way to make a living.

If I learned anything from this applicable to the years I spent doing PR, it was that if you have bad news, you should publish it all at once and let the chips fall where they may. The damage is bound to be less severe than that of the incremental leakage that eventually sent President Nixon to the graveyard of history. I reckon if President Nixon had admitted everything right after the cops arrested G. Gordon Liddy and the other Watergate burglars in the wee hours of June 17, 1972, he would have served out his term.

With Trump now completely out of control in the White House -- sitting up late at night Tweeting, instead of sitting up late at night drinking, as a more sensible president like Nixon would have done -- the summer of 2017 sure has the same feeling to it.

Well, not exactly the same. For one thing, as noted above, Nixon may have been a crook, but it turns out he wasn't actually unstable, although perhaps Kissinger was.

Neither had the Republican Party yet completely taken leave of its senses and principles. In addition, Nixon had managed to get re-elected before the stuff really hit the fan, a feat unlikely to be duplicated by Trump.

There are other differences. Nixon may have opened the door to Communist China -- a deal that subsequently proved to be beneficial to both parties, Trump's views notwithstanding -- but I doubt he ever would have invited the Russian foreign minister and an SVR film crew into the White House to tell them stories. Plus, every time he did something truly awful abroad, President Nixon would appease his Quaker God by doing something pretty liberal at home. Indeed, there's a case to be made that as a result he was tied with Lyndon Johnson, who had his own foreign policy cross to bear, as America's most liberal president of the post-war era. He was a member of that reviled species many of us are starting to feel nostalgic for: the professional politician.

That said, like pretty well every other president since the end of the Second World War except Johnson, Gerald Ford, and George H.W. Bush, Nixon got into office by pretending to be a Washington outsider, which he wasn't. Bush was the only one of the three exceptions who got into office in an actual election.

Nixon was also pretty smart, which doesn't seem to be a claim Trump can make, although the latter is sort of an outsider from the Washington establishment, if not from the American plutocracy.

What is the same is that Trump seems clearly to be cruising toward impeachment, just as Nixon appeared to be headed for the same destination after the events of June '72. We know how that movie ended, even if we don't yet know how the remake will end.

Like Nixon, who wasn't as bad as he's remembered, Trump isn't really bad enough yet to be declared Worst President Ever, or even to join the bottom five. It's said here that James Buchanan, Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson, Warren G. Harding and Andrew Jackson were all worse, and there's a case to be made Martin van Buren was too. George W. Bush, who seemed pretty terrible at the time but who is remembered nowadays with increasing fondness, doesn't even rate membership in that undistinguished company.

No, if Trump has ambitions to fall lower than that lot, he'll have to try a lot harder. The possibility he might recast himself as an American Caligula is something to fret about, I suppose. Indeed, some of us are so worried by the prospect that, like the Toronto Star's irreplaceable Heather Mallick, we may have come unhinged.

"Trump could die in office, be impeached, be replaced because of mental incapacity or in a military coup, or drop a nuclear bomb that causes retaliation that kills the rest of us too," Mallick wrote yesterday. "Which will it be and when?"

Her answer: "Trump will go. But will he take the planet with him? I say yes. Maybe yes."

Me? I’m more optimistic. I see impeachment and removal from office in Trump's future, not because of the Democrats, who may shrewdly want to keep him around until 2020 the better to wipe the Republicans from the face of the earth, but because Repugs like John McCain and former tarsands tourist Lindsay Graham recognize he poses an existential threat to their party.

Still, if you are one of those like Karl Marx who believes history tends to repeat itself, first as tragedy, then as farce, perhaps you should be concerned by this summer’s ongoing lunacy south of the Medicine Line. Remember, Watergate itself was pretty farcical, which raises the possibility that this time things have gotten out of sequence and we're in for tragedy.

For one thing, there’s that 93-year-old war criminal hanging around the Imperial Capital dispensing bad advice again. Plus, it's possible the baby man in the White House could sometime in the wee hours simply mistake the nuclear button for one that says "Tweet."

But unlike 1972 when we all thought the world might end the same way because Nixon was mining Haiphong Harbour, at least this time there’s someone around who might be able to talk the president out of it. I give you: Vladimir V. Putin!

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

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RCMP labels anti-torture caravan a 'Criminal Act by Terrorists'

17 May 2017 - 9:34am
May 17, 2017RCMP labels anti-torture caravan a 'Criminal Act by Terrorists'According to recently released Access to Information documents, during the spring of 2008, Matthew Behrens became -- and not for the first time -- the subject of an RCMP terrorism investigation.

RCMP labels anti-torture caravan a 'Criminal Act by Terrorists'

17 May 2017 - 9:29am
Civil Liberties WatchPolitics in Canada

According to recently released Access to Information documents, during the spring of 2008, I became -- and not for the first time -- the subject of an RCMP terrorism investigation.

At the time, I was coordinating the Caravan to End Canadian Involvement in Torture, a group of about 40-45 people who hit the road in central and eastern Ontario for 10 days in May alongside Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin. These three Canadian citizens had been falsely accused of being state security threats and were set up for torture by proxy in Syria and, in one case, Egypt, with the complicity of the RCMP, CSIS, External Affairs, the Justice Department, and other Canadian agencies.

Their cases -- along with that of Maher Arar -- were documented by two judicial inquiries that cleared them of the false allegations and which also chronicled a disturbing, systemic Canadian involvement with torture. Almalki, Abou-Elmaati and Nureddin recently received a settlement from the federal government after an exhausting legal struggle.

The Caravan's goals were straightforward: education, public action, and putting pressure on a secretive federal inquiry examining the men's torture. Led by former Supreme Court judge Frank Iacobucci, it was only the second inquiry under the Public Inquiries Act to be held in complete secrecy. Neither the men, their lawyers, the media, nor the public could attend. It was hoped that public action would crack open the secret inquiry, which seemed designed to protect the reputations of the government agencies that were eventually found to be complicit in the torture of Almalki, Abou-Elmaati and Nureddin.

We were also calling for the return to Canada of Abousfian Abdelrazik, another Canadian then being refused a ticket home from Sudan, where he had been detained and tortured with Canadian complicity. Other cases of Canadian involvement in torture -- from Omar Khadr and Benamar Benatta to the Secret Trial Five and Afghan detainees -- were discussed along the Caravan route, as was Canada's ongoing failure to condemn Guantanamo Bay and Bagram Air Force Base, among other sites of torture.

The Caravan also highlighted a broader context of torture on North American soil: Indigenous survivors of the first rendition to torture program, known as residential schools, as well as women routinely brutalized in their own homes by the men in their lives. All this was talked about in our daily discussions walking through communities, in schools, and at evening events in churches and community halls.

It was clear federal officials were concerned that the rosy image of Canada was being tarnished by our ongoing exposure of Canadian criminality. (Incidentally, we received significant support in many so-called "conservative" areas once folks were informed about what was going on). And Iacobucci, who was cruelly keeping a tight lid on the inquiry to prevent further exposure of CSIS and RCMP misdeeds, was no doubt displeased that his "good guy" human rights image was also being questioned.

RCMP begins to investigate

Against this backdrop, the Ontario Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (OINSET) immediately got down to work by having its Mounties open a file on myself and the Caravan under the heading: "Criminal Act by Terrorists -- Protest/ Demonstrations/Marches."

The labelling of our work as terrorist is not only of historical interest. It's also a cautionary tale that, despite all the assurances by the RCMP and CSIS that they would never, never, ever consider protests to be terrorism under the notorious C-51 (The Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015), in all likelihood this remains standard operating procedure inside the bunkers of Canada's state security agencies, as it has been for the past 150 years (and long before Confederation as well). Such assurances were also bandied about as the Liberals hastily passed the notorious C-36 "anti-terrorism" legislation over 15 years ago. However, that did not stop the Mounties, among others, from continuing to monitor Indigenous rights groups like Idle No More as alleged security threats under Project Sitka.

Indeed, this equation of terrorism with protest is so ingrained as a given within state security culture that no one even thought to redact the phrase from these documents.

A wide range of agency inquiries

The investigation of the May 2008 Caravan appears to have begun two months earlier, with a preliminary conclusion that there was "no indication of violence." Nevertheless, the documents indicate a wide range of inquiries being made, curiously linking me to the Bank of Canada (which was labelled a "possible intended victim of fraud" and the Office of the Legal Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa.

Among the RCMP divisions involved in investigating the Caravan were the following: the Criminal Intelligence outfit in Kingston, the Toronto Airport unit, the Alberta RCMP headquarters, Montreal HQ, the Montreal National Security Investigations Section's Threat Evaluation Group, London, Ontario's Threat Assessment Group, National HQ, a division assigned to "Canadian Executives & Foreign Missions and Visits," the Federal Policing Protective Policing Unit, the national Criminal Intelligence division's Threat Assessment team, and the National Operations Centre.

While it is not surprising that the authorities went to such lengths to investigate us, it was also an incredible insult to the men whose lives were at the heart of the Caravan. After all, these was the same RCMP and CSIS that falsely named them as threats to state security based on nothing other than racist profiling. These were the same agencies that passed along questions to the men's overseas torturers based on those false, inflammatory allegations. That these agencies would continue treating Almalki, Abou-Elmaati, Nureddin, and their friends and supporters as threats -- even after the 2006 O'Connor Inquiry into Canadian complicity in the torture of Maher Arar called them out on such practices, and government officials solemnly said they would change their ways -- shows that nothing changed behind the scenes in the years leading up to the Caravan.

These are the same agencies that would have us believe that the expansive, dangerous, torture-enabling legislative mandate of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015 (the notorious Harper/Trudeau C-51, which remains unaltered two years after passage) will not be abused. Yet as history clearly shows, it is in these agencies' DNA to abuse and disregard the most basic of human rights in the name of the never-defined "national security interest."

Despite no known threat, investigation continues

On April 29, two days before the 2008 Caravan got under way, the Integrated Threat Assessment Centre called in to report "NO KNOWN THREAT." Despite this, the Caravan remained under intensive surveillance.

On the first day of the Caravan, OINSET received an important update that the Caravan was outside Skyservice, a charter airline being protested for its role in deporting refugees to the risk of torture. Two Mounties reported "the group was demonstrating the fact that 'the Canadian government is using their airline to deport detainees to a Country where they will be tortured and killed.'"

The report on "Criminal Act by Terrorists" further notes that "many of the demonstrators were elderly with some students present," and one particularly sharp Mountie said "the name of the group was determined to be 'Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture,'" though whether he gleaned this information from our brochure, our banner, or the dozens of placards with that slogan is unclear.

The RCMP then did some quick research and concluded, in an area of the documents that is fairly redacted, that "the subject identifying himself as Matthew is possibly Matthew BEHRENS, an individual very active as an organizer of demonstrations and participant in a number of causes related to the homeless and immigration." Clearly, the Mounties cross-checked their extensive files covering campaigns to end hunger and poverty as well as stopping arbitrary detention and secret hearings -- all no doubt under similarly designated terrorism activities -- to identify their target.

On May 2, 2008, we learned that "Cst Chad MCLEAMING from OINSET has been doing an excellent job monitoring the Caravan from the start, he advised that the Caravan has so many locations to attend that they will stop for a few minutes, if there is no media they will move to the next location." (The Caravan stopped at scores of sites of Canadian complicity along the way, from RCMP and CSIS offices to corporations and other government agencies complicit in torture. But the length of the stay at each location did not depend, as the RCMP concluded, on the presence of media.)

Another May 2 report notes that the Caravan stopped at an RCMP airport detachment "with camera and boom mike," but makes no further comment (There was a documentary crew following the Caravan from RAMZ Media, whose award-winning film on the Caravan, Ghosts, is available online).

Later that same day, the RCMP's Newmarket branch learned the Caravan would be stopping at their location. While numerous sections of the report are whited out, someone at that location "advised that they were aware of the situation and had contingency plans to deal with the situation." Reports also take note of vehicles observed with the Caravan.

It appears that Cst MCLEAMING did not have a complete handle on the dastardly activities of the Caravan group. Indeed, McLeaming is reported to have stated that "there was [sic] numerous vehicles that had joined the caravan. Cst MCLEAMING had no way of knowing if the vehicles were for local demonstrators or if they would follow the caravan all the way to Ottawa. Cst MCLEAMING will upload the information to this file at his earliest convenience."

Filing reports 'just in case'

An unnamed official reports that he called Cst MCLEAMING to inform him he would be liaising with the Kingston detachment, reasoning that "there is no information about the caravan demonstrating at the RCMP Detachment but just in case."

By the time the Caravan reached Ottawa, the RCMP was hurriedly trying to produce reporting on potential numbers for the final day's activities, a Torture Tour of Ottawa. The Integrated Threat Assessment Centre and the War Department were duly informed that as many as 150 individuals might be demonstrating, while someone from National HQ called to advise that a certain individual "at Bank of Canada Security advised that he was seeking more information in relating to the demonstration 'End the Torture.' I called [whited out] and left a message."

Also of interest in an age when charities are subject to political interference is a report from one officer who, under the same heading of Criminal Act by Terrorists, explores a "file review exempt bank status." It is unclear exactly what this means, though the remarks later on that "reviewed file exempt bank status requirements not met" leads one to conclude that our group itself was investigated to see whether it had charitable status.

Additional Orwellian disclosure

Mixed in with some of the access to information documents I received from the Mounties was an occurrence report from October, 2014 when, working with Homes not Bombs and the Ottawa group NOWAR/PAIX  (NOWAR stands for Network to Oppose War and Racism), a vigil of 40 or so individuals opposed to the Harper government's bombing of Iraq resulted in a fairly lengthy investigation and final report.

The Ottawa protective Investigative Unit "learned of a vigil that was to happen in the afternoon on Parliament Hill by a group called Homes not Bombs. The information was received from the news." The report notes that at 3 p.m., a startling number of individuals -- two in total -- approached the top of the stairs on the Hill with a banner.

The following narrative is full of the kind of irony that is lost on secret police forces, with my comments in brackets. The reporting officer was miffed that as an organizer of the vigil, I refused to provide personal details about myself or other individuals. At the time, as the officer insistently demanded that information, he also kept claiming that anything I might share would not be used to open files or beef up protester profile databases back at headquarters.

"The second [individual] would only provide his first name: Matthew. He said that he did not want to end up on a police database [not true, but that was the Mountie's interpretation]. After some somewhat unpleasant conversation [which he neglects to detail, a discussion on the complicity of the RCMP in torture at home and abroad against Muslims and Indigenous people] Matthew opened up about his organization and their goals. He does not believe that war is the answer to anything."

The report continues that one constable:

"[a]sked Matthew to move his group to the lower part of the stairs as is the normal practice with demonstrators [but which defeats the purpose of being seen!] He refused. Parliament Hill members were interested in moving Matthew and what was now a significant (approximately 20 people) group to the bottom of the stairs."

Portions of the document are then whited out, with the RCMP's legendary knack for inaccuracy coming through with the comment that "there was a banner from War not Paix in the group for much of the vigil." [The Mounties, who regularly monitor the NOWAR/Paix group, kind of muffed that one].

The report ends ironically, given that the RCMP had maintained there is no fear of sharing one's personal information with them because they do not keep databases on activists. Nonetheless, at the bottom of the report it reads:

"Cst Johnson subsequently looked at the homesnotbombs blog and noted that it is run by Matthew Behrens. Age and descriptions are the same as for the Matthew of the demonstration, and as such he was carded to the file, but this information was not confirmed with formal identification or a statement from 'Matthew.'"

In other words, somewhere in the RCMP database under my name is a report that is linked to me, even though their own report questions my identity (putting "Matthew" in quotes) and is unable to confirm who I really am. Notably, the Homes not Bombs blog does not mention my age or identity, so this reference is more about matching up "Matthew" with the guy already in their database.

The final words of the report state: "Paper file created."

C-51 becomes further entrenched

Anyone who works for social change will not be shocked that the role of Canada's state security agencies is to protect the powerful from what the Trilateral Commission identified over 40 years ago as "an excess of democracy." Those who exercise democratic rights have traditionally been viewed as threats to powerful, secretive systems of power that are dressed up as democracies because they have elections every once in a while.

Canada has long specialized in making its secret police forces part of the big, happy Canadian family, the subject of fawning TV shows, annual summertime musical ceremonies, cute teddy bears, and photo-ops at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Junos, where liberal musicians and actors think nothing of smiling for selfies with representatives of an institution complicit in torture and other acts of violence. In no other country are the secret police celebrated on postcards and T-shirts.

The "we're just here to help" approach they take at demonstrations is nothing more than a fishing expedition, where everything that is shared will not only be used against you, but probably written down in an inaccurate, inflammatory manner that could wind up in some database shared with some country that you no longer dare visit.

Meanwhile, the calls to abolish C-51 and other so-called "anti-terror" legislation have been smothered by the Trudeau government's answer to everything: a symbolic "consultation" designed to suck away the grassroots oxygen into discussion papers, briefings, and other distractions that allow them to stall and, eventually, either do nothing or introduce toothless, window-dressing changes. With each passing day, the expanded powers of C-51 become ever more entrenched in the state security bureaucracy.

Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. 'national security' profiling for many years.

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TortureRCMP Investigationanti-terrorismBill C-51state surveillancepolice surveillancesecurity agenciesMatthew BehrensMay 17, 2017Apologies for torture seem to be the hardest wordsThe wording and delivery of the Trudeau government's March apology for its role in the torture of Canadian citizens are clear indications that Ottawa is not willing to make much-needed changes.Canada's torture consumers and the faux national security consultationAnyone following discussions on the ultimate disposition of the Harper regime's C-51 "anti-terror" legislation will soon be hearing a lot about "SIRC" -- the Security Intelligence Review Committee.The God that fails: C-51, review committees and the dangers of window dressingInstead of questioning the mandates and core practices of secretive, unaccountable security agencies, efforts are underway to save the system by putting up some nice-looking window dressing.

CLC awards First Nations child advocate with human rights honour

16 May 2017 - 1:49pm
Meagan Gillmore

Indigenous child advocate Cindy Blackstock was awarded the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) award for Outstanding Service to Humanity at the congress's 2017 national convention in Toronto last week.

Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, has devoted her career to fighting for equal treatment for First Nations children.

Speaking to delegates on May 9, Blackstock dedicated the award to these children, calling them "the real heroes of this country." In one of the world's richest countries, children living in First Nations reservations often can't access education, health care or basics of life, like clean drinking water, because of racial discrimination.

Blackstock urged attendees to take action to end systemic racial discrimination against Indigenous children. The 150 anniversary of Confederation is a "crossroads," Blackstock said, that invites Canadians to consider the legacy of racial discrimination and how it keeps the country captive.

"Through all of these years, First Nations children have loved all of you enough to believe that you would do the right thing," Blackstock told the crowd. "That you are good people. That you won't stand for it anymore. And one day, you will do what's needed so that this country rises up."

The day to rise up is now, Blackstock said.

To help illustrate just how critical the need is, Blackstock talked about the time she recently spent with a mother who had to re-wash catheter tubes for her daughter because the government wouldn't give them enough money for new ones. Her daughter was getting urinary tract infections. Her kidneys were being scarred.

Children are not only more vulnerable to discrimination. They are often more perceptive to it. A girl, who wasn't Indigenous, once told Blackstock discrimination is "when the government doesn't think you're worth the money."

The government hasn't thought First Nations children are "worth the money" for years, Blackstock told the more than 2,000 delegates in attendance.

Blackstock said she thought things were going to change last year when the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found the federal government is discriminating against First Nations families and children living on reserve. Ineffective funding systems mean people living in these communities don't receive adequate child and family services. The government was ordered to end its discriminatory practices. It has not. The government has been issued two non-compliance orders since January 2016. Another order is pending, she said.

The government gives out "a teaspoon of equality at a time towards First Nations children," Blackstock said. The worst part of this "incremental inequality" is that, because people are discriminated against in so many parts of their lives, they feel they have to be thankful for whatever small things they receive.

"It's not enough to smile and discriminate. It hurts as much as when you scowl."

Current inaction is the next part of the federal government's long history of discriminating against First Nations children in care. Blackstock reminded delegates of Peter Henderson Bryce, a public health official who in 1907 criticized the federal government for failing to give children in residential schools proper medical care, even during the tuberculosis crisis. Government neglect continues today. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 Calls to Action, released in 2015, clearly show the need for improved child welfare for Indigenous children, Blackstock told her audience. The first five calls to action relate to improving child welfare.

Blackstock criticized popular ideas that ending racial discrimination against First Nations children is too complicated because they live in remote communities or because the leaders of those communities don't manage money they receive from the federal government well. Neither argument works, Blackstock said. The government sends teams to provide clean drinking water to countries around the world, so it should be able to do the same a few hours north of Toronto. She acknowledged some First Nations have issues with managing their budgets but, "I live in Ottawa," she told the crowd to growing laughter. "We are not alone."

Spending scandals routinely plague the federal government. At the start of the Idle No More movement in 2013, activists coined the Twitter hashtag #Ottawapiskat to compare the federal government's spending to how money is spent in First Nations communities, like the northern Ontario reservation Attawapiskat. The hashtag is still used today to describe such things as how much of their family vacation the Trudeaus expensed.

CLC president Hassan Yussuff told Blackstock the CLC will write to the government about its non-compliance with the 2016 human rights tribunal order. The congress is also donating $10,000 to Blackstock's organization, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.

Blackstock was one of several Indigenous women to address delegates during the week-long convention, whose theme was Together for a Fair Future. Indigenous CBC personality, comedian and former lawyer Candy Palmater spoke on Tuesday morning. Inuit climate-change activist and author Sheila Watt-Cloutier participated in a panel discussion about green jobs on Wednesday afternoon. Indigenous spoken word artist Mahlikah Awe:ri aka AngelHeart spoke at Wednesday evening's panel discussion about feminism.  

Meagan Gillmore is rabble's labour reporter.

Photo: United Church/flickr

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Thanks to Twitter diplomacy, Trump reminds us that dairy supply management works

16 May 2017 - 9:58am
Food & HealthPolitics in CanadaUS Politics

In late April, Canadian dairy farmers suddenly found themselves the focus of the character count emanating from U.S. President Donald Trump's Twitter account.

The Donald would have us believe that Canadian farmers are purposefully destroying the lives of American dairy farmers through unfair competition. Of course, dairy farmers here are concerned about the amount of attention the U.S. president is exposing them to. No matter that there is little basis or fact to the Twitter feed from Trumpland -- being the focus, even wrongly, of Trump's warped perspective is unnerving.

Like me, you are likely tired of the endless babbling from south of the border -- but I always work hard to try and find a silver lining in troublesome times. In this case, the president has helped to remind us why supply management is key to treating dairy farmers fairly.

The problem is that Canadian dairy farmers, with the help of supply management, are too competitive. In order to deal with cheaper, tariff-free imports of dairy coming in from the U.S. due to a NAFTA loophole and driving Canadian farmers out of business, our dairy producers and processors have agreed to lower the price of some dairy products in order to compete with cheaper U.S. products. Supply management allows for this type of collective decision.

This new strategy is effectively encouraging Canadian companies to buy domestic milk products. And it is working -- our dairy industry is growing. Now Canadian cheesemakers can buy the ingredients they need in Canada. This newfound competitiveness means that Canadian cheesemakers who had been importing U.S. milk ingredients tariff-free can now access what they need on the Canadian market.

And Canada's 12,000 dairy producers are benefiting from this price adjustment because of supply management. Still, Trump has little to complain about since the dairy trade surplus is about $450 million in favour of the U.S.

But to help Trump understand how implementing supply management could benefit American dairy producers, the National Farmers Union (NFU) President Jan Slomp tried a bit of Twitter diplomacy -- tweeting the president a link to a little bit of educational reading material.

Here is what Jan Slomp said in a recent media release:

"We have compassion for American family farmers who are experiencing record low farm-gate milk prices. We understand many are forced to take on terrible debt loads. Those who cannot survive this crisis are seeing their hopes and dreams dashed. This is the very situation our own farmers were in 50 years ago," said Jan Slomp, NFU President.

"In President Trump's speech on Tuesday (April 18), he said he wasn't just looking for answers, he is looking for a solution. We decided to share with the President the principles of a system that will work for dairy farmers, rural communities, processors, workers consumers and governments."

"American dairy farmers are facing the same problems dairy farmers in the European Union, New Zealand and Australia are struggling with: prices so low they don't cover the cost of production. When everyone tries to make up for low prices by producing more of a perishable product, it just makes the problem worse," explained Slomp. "The USA cannot solve its dairy crisis by taking over the Canadian dairy market and putting our farmers out of business. But if it adopts its own supply management system, it could begin to restore prosperity to rural America."

"This solution, which we call Supply Management, was created by Canadian farmers and governments in the late 1960s. Instead of exporting milk, we would be pleased to export this unique and successful dairy policy innovation," added Slomp.

Touché -- tweet for tat!

Read the full letter here to enrich your understanding of how supply management has made a difference for Canadian farmers -- and how the NFU is looking for the silver lining by taking advantage of what can politely be called a "teaching moment" with President Trump.

Lois Ross is a communications specialist, writer, and editor, living in Ottawa. Her column "At the farm gate" discusses issues that are key to food production here in Canada as well as internationally.

Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture/flickr

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supply managementDairy Farmersdairy supply managementDonald TrumpNational Farmers UnionAt the farm gateLois RossMay 16, 2017Ideas that work to promote sustainable small farmsThere are many layers to farming, but there are plenty of farmers who know what is required. And they have been trying to get the message across for a long time. Will the federal government get it?Make American dairy farms great again! Adopt supply managementWhile supply management gives consumers a quality product at a price that allows local farmers a living wage, the alternative is not cheaper milk, cheese, eggs and poultry.TPP threatens Canadian food sovereigntyTrade ministers from 12 countries reached agreement yesterday on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, creating the largest trading bloc in the world. Canadian dairy farmers are big losers in the deal.

Jagmeet Singh pumps up the NDP leadership race

16 May 2017 - 8:36am
May 16, 2017Jagmeet Singh brings excitement to the NDP leadership raceJagmeet Singh has joined the NDP leadership race and his long-anticipated candidacy creates a new dynamic in a contest that runs until the fall.

Jagmeet Singh brings excitement to the NDP leadership race

16 May 2017 - 8:32am
NDPPolitics in Canada

Jagmeet Singh has joined the NDP leadership race. His long-anticipated candidacy creates a new dynamic in a contest that runs until the fall.

In a town hall rally, live-streamed on Facebook from Brampton, Ontario, an impressive line-up of provincial New Democrats elected from Ontario, B.C., and Manitoba, along with a former Quebec MP, attested to why Singh, the local Ontario MPP (Member of Provincial Parliament) should lead the federal NDP.

Singh wants Canadians to embrace the NDP as the party of social justice. He champions an inclusive Canada, where everybody has an opportunity to succeed and to live their dreams.

His launch statement highlighted his background fighting injustice and his belief (learned from his mother) "that if we lift up the people around us, we all rise."

Any excitement generated by the Singh candidacy will benefit NDP leadership debates over issues facing Canada, the place of the party in federal politics, and will draw attention to the ideas of the other leadership candidates.

Singh connects with mainstream media normally indifferent to NDP political life -- when they are not outright hostile. The intelligence, charm and photogenic persona of the Ontario MPP mark him out for coverage.

Much of the media interest in Singh comes from measuring his appeal against that of Justin Trudeau. In a charisma versus charisma match Singh holds his own, it turns out.

In the House of Commons, the NDP has been eager to bring Justin Trudeau down to size. For this to advance NDP fortunes, it would help if the Conservative party were to choose a leader few are prepared to vote for.

With the Liberal Party turning out to govern like Conservatives "in a hurry," those progressives who voted Liberal in 2015 mainly to defeat Stephen Harper will be targets for NDP strategists in preparing for the 2019 election year.

Singh looks like the candidate party insiders want to lead the party and showcase to the country.

Trying to be like the Liberal party or be willing to replace them is a strategy that has produced NDP governments on the Prairies. There are no Liberals to speak of in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, or NDP-governed Alberta.

In recent elections the same thinking has failed in Ontario (where Singh is the deputy leader).

In France, Emmanuel Macron recruited for En Marche, the political movement that propelled him to the presidency, by insisting that potential candidates for office put their country ahead of their party, an approach that rang out loud and clear in a country consumed by partisanship.

NDP partisanship has been a serious problem for the federal party.

In the 2015 election the party adopted the Conservative take on fiscal policy, believing that being deficit-adverse would make their leader prime minister.

The public interest got lost in partisan calculations.

It is a constant challenge for a leader of the NDP to build a party people are excited to support and that voters will see as good choice to win an election.

Trying to make the NDP an instrument of social and economic "progress" can conflict with the aim of winning seats. 

While wanting to lead people to the Promised Land the party has its activists out on doorsteps canvassing voters' concerns.

Undoubtedly, the next leader of the NDP has to speak directly to the challenges facing Canadians in their daily lives. Fear of unemployment and lagging wages are real concerns.

The temptation to appear moderate on economic and social policy is one that NDP leadership candidates Niki Ashton, Guy Caron and Peter Julian have resisted.

In a race that's about winning over party members looking for serious change, not gathering editorial board support, Jagmeet Singh and Charlie Angus have to show they understand the challenges of an economy where half of the employed population in the Hamilton-Toronto corridor depend on precarious work for their livelihood.

Many NDP party members have Bernie Sanders envy, wanting a candidate who declares: "the economy is rigged, and we need a political revolution to fix it."

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

Photo: BGM Riding Association/Wikimedia Commons

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Jagmeet Singhfederal NDP leadership2017 ndp leadershipNew Democratspublic interestJustin TrudeauDuncan CameronMay 16, 2017What does the NDP have to offer Canadians?As the curtain goes up for the 2017 NDP leadership contest, the party needs to bring a distinct approach to what matters to Canadians.NDP leadership candidates will face big challenges in 2017Soon a number of aspirants will officially announce their candidacies for the NDP leadership. They will face an uphill battle to garner public attention and render their party a viable alternative.Leadership debate showcases NDP unity and a feisty spiritWhile the 14 Conservative leadership candidates squabble and attack each other, the four NDP aspirants agree on most issues.

'Worthwhile Canadian initiative': Rona Ambrose said to be departing politics to help out the Wilson Center

16 May 2017 - 1:24am
David J. Climenhaga

Well, that's no fun!

Rona Ambrose -- member of Parliament for the Alberta riding of Sturgeon River-Parkland on the west side of Edmonton and interim Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in the nation's capital -- will give a farewell speech this morning at which it is universally acknowledged she will announce her departure from federal politics.

Tout le monde political Alberta has been abuzz for ages with entertaining rumours Ambrose was about to take on Jason Kenney and Brian Jean for the leadership of the new, soon-to-be-united Alberta provincial conservative party or, perhaps even better, that she was ready to battle Calgary's popular Mayor Naheed Nenshi for the honour of serving as Cowtown's chief magistrate.

The first version always seemed a bit unlikely, since the man she so loyally served in Parliament in recent years, former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, is clearly part of Kenney's support apparatus in the conservative effort to wrest Alberta back from Rachel Notley's New Democratic Party and restore the province to climate villainy.

And the second version was widely mocked in social media yesterday evening, after it was rather apologetically mentioned in the Toronto Star, because Calgary is not Edmonton and the distance between the two was taken to be symbolic of eastern journalists' lack of understanding of western geographical and political realities.

In truth, though, this story was not as far-fetched as it might have seemed at first blush, Ambrose having been widely perceived to have given up on the Edmonton region not long after her divorce from her first husband, Bruce Ambrose, in 2011. Her present domestic partner, James Patrick (J.P.) Veitch -- who is inevitably referenced as a former rodeo bull rider but would probably be described better as a well-heeled and well-connected oilpatch insider -- is a Calgary guy, after all, and the couple would have to live somewhere after they move out of Stornoway.

This, by the way, is not mentioned as a criticism, except perhaps of over-sensitive Alberta journalists always on the lookout for some slight by their counterparts in the big smoke on Lake Ontario. As has been noted in this space before, both John A. Macdonald and Tommy Douglas, to name just two with easy-to-remember names, served electoral districts far from where they actually lived. (Indeed, prime minister Macdonald never even visited Victoria, B.C.)

Alas for everyone who follows politics here in Alberta, though, not to mention the myriad journalists he scooped, the capable Josh Wingrove of Bloomberg News reported that Ambrose is leaving politics to work on the free trade file for … the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars' Canada Institute based in Washington, D.C.

This is decidedly unexciting news -- and it fits well, as luck would have it, right under the most famously boring headline in history, "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative." Yet the report has the ring of verisimilitude, Wingrove having managed to get his hands on a copy of the think-tank's press release announcing Ambrose's appointment. She will confront the chaotic trade policies of President Donald Trump’s Administration as head of the Wilson Centre's “efforts to convene U.S. and Canadian officials to explore the benefits of an integrated and competitive North American economy that is focused on job creation and prosperity," said the presser quoted by Wingrove.

She is probably well qualified for the job, having confronted and successfully controlled the chaotic members of her own caucus, not to mention its leadership candidates, after the party's loss to Liberals led by Prime Minster Justin Trudeau in the 2015 Canadian election, a job that cannot have been restful. She did so with only one major stumble -- being caught aboard a billionaire's yacht the same week she was assailing the prime minister for being caught aboard a billionaire's helicopter. Ah well, it could have happened to any one of us.

The Wilson Center is tied closely to the U.S. government. It is housed in the Ronald Reagan Building. And so, if this report turns out to be correct, as a former Conservative Party leader Ambrose should feel right at home.

The Wilson Center is not related to the Wilson Climbing Centre at the University of Alberta. The former is named for President Woodrow Wilson, whose exploits are celebrated in the famous song by Warren Zevon, the latter after generous donors Dick and Carol Wilson.

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

Photo: Number 10/flickr

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Venezuelan people battle ongoing coup d'etat

14 May 2017 - 4:27pm
May 14, 2017The Venezuelan people are dying in the streets againThe government of Canada should make clear its support for constitutional government, electoral democracy, and the rule of law in Venezuela.

Labour activists take to the streets at hallowed ground of Canada's financial elites

12 May 2017 - 9:34am
May 12, 2017WATCH: Canadian Labour Congress street party delivers message to Bay StreetOn May 11, 2017 activists and delegates of the Canadian Labour Congress gathered at the most hallowed ground of Canada's financial elites, for a street party, and to deliver a message.

WATCH: Canadian Labour Congress street party delivers message to Bay Street

12 May 2017 - 9:14am
YouTubeHumberto DaSilvaEconomyLabourMay 12, 2017Features

On May 11, 2017 activists and delegates of the Canadian Labour Congress marched to the corner of Bay and King Streets. The activists gathered at the most hallowed ground of Canada's financial elites, for a street party, and to deliver a message.

street demonstrationslabour rightscanadian labour congresscorporate elite Labour activists take to the streets

James Comey debacle reveals a nation addicted to self-dramatization and myth

12 May 2017 - 8:37am
US Politics

I'd have fired James Comey too. The guy is delusional, grandiose and a drama queen (who does that remind you of?). The former FBI director thinks it's all about him, in the sense that he's the guardian of U.S. greatness.

When he testified to Congress about his Hillary Clinton botch, he said his choice was between "really bad" and "catastrophic" and "I said to my team we got to walk into the world of really bad."

This is Hooveresque in the sense of placing the FBI at the centre of history and its director at the centre of the centre. J. Edgar Hoover took a minor police agency after the First World War and magnified it into a core U.S. myth. This is unique for mere cops. The RCMP is a Canadian symbol but not a fundamental myth.

Hoover's FBI (in preliminary form) began then by suppressing anarchist dissidents and persisted in the role, through the Red Scare of the 1950s, antiwar activism in the 1960s, and especially the civil rights movement. Hoover spied on Martin Luther King Jr., labelling him America's "most notorious liar."

Hoover's brilliance lay in that mythmaking, something unmatched among political police elsewhere. They took down gangsters in the 1930s, such as Dillinger, making sure Hoover was there for the arrests.

As a kid I read The FBI Story and saw the movie with James Stewart playing a sort of Father Knows Best special agent (with a Hitchcockian cameo by Hoover). They countered negatives about civil rights with 1988's Mississippi Burning, portraying how the FBI led civil rights victories in the south. One Black leader grumbled, "These guys were tapping our telephones, not looking into the murders." Hoover also collected dirt on presidents and intimidated politicians for 50 years.

Comey had the genius to recast the FBI myth for this century with himself as the new Hoover. He even criticized Hoover on 60 Minutes. He took over the "mission of protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution."

I'm not saying he's insincere but he's self-aggrandizing. I admire people taking selfless moral stands, but the way King did, not as top cop of a bureaucratized, militarized national political police. That's what you look to grassroots leaders or firefighters for. When he told FBI agents in his final letter, "I will be fine," it sounded Christ-like: this is my destiny, which I'm happily fulfilling.

Granted, those weren't Trump's reasons. I have no doubt he fired Comey to blunt the FBI's Russia investigation, confirming that Trump has something to hide. But the trouble with accusations of treason or collusion is that they rely on another core U.S. myth: the evil Russians.

It stretches back 100 years, to the revolution, and applies to Lenin and modern capitalists alike. If Trump voters stay loyal, it's because these myths have started sounding "fake." Even pop culture has moved on, with sympathetic Russian spies, like The Americans.

So if it's not treason, what are Trump's Russian links? Business, mostly. Unlike all other presidents, he has no sense of separation between his identity as businessman, which is what he's always been, and anything else he does, like golfing or being president. It doesn't occur to him.

He and his billionaire cabinet pals, or "advisers," such as Carl Icahn, have never had much respect for politicians because they've customarily been able to buy them. All realms flow together in the pursuit of money. Did the Russians influence his election? He couldn't recognize an illegitimate step over the line because there is no line.

Ivanka Trump's in-laws lobby for tax breaks on luxury towers they're building in New Jersey and name-drop the "family" in China while recruiting investors. Icahn makes an unlikely fortune based on his "advice" to Trump about who to appoint environmental overseer and what policies to demolish. It's business.

What will happen? Democrats seem to feel certain Republicans will move cautiously toward an independent inquiry that would somehow pressure Trump from office. Surely, many in his party would be happier with Pence as president. Nailing him for attacking the hallowed FBI to hide treasonous collusion with evil Russians manages to capitalize on two core U.S. myths.

It's probably as good a pretext as they'll get. For those of us looking on from outside, this truly is a nation tragically addicted to self-dramatization and mythification -- even if that's what finally saves it from the more awful fate of President Trump.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Rich Girard/flickr

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james comeyU.S. politicsDonald TrumpfbiAmerican cultureAmerican HistoryRick SalutinMay 12, 2017Playing on desperation of the American people is key to Trump's successIn hard times populism, which basically embodies the comprehensible anger of the majority, stands ready, but requires an outlet.Behind Trump's headline-grabbing chaos, the FCC is quietly dismantling media democracyWhen Donald Trump ousted FBI Director James Comey, it was more than just another of his shocking executive actions. Decades of progressive policy achievements are being quietly undone.What is the antidote to Trumpism?How do we create a new politics that builds the basis of a citizen-based democracy to replace our hollowed-out institutions? To do so we first need to understand the roots of Trump's popularity.

Who needs old-time climate-change deniers when we've got the 'New Climate Denialism'?

12 May 2017 - 1:13am
David J. Climenhaga

VICTORIA, B.C.

Just because there are hardly any climate change deniers left any more doesn't mean there's no climate change denial, says Shannon Daub of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Indeed, Daub told about 60 participants in the 2017 Summer Institute of the Corporate Mapping Project at the University of Victoria this week, climate change denialism is playing a bigger role than ever as corporations, right-wing think tanks, Astro-Turf groups, conservative governments and others among the Usual Suspects shift from denying outright that climate change is taking place to conceding the science is real while doing what they can to delay meaningful change that might do something about it.

"They’ve decided to stop fighting the science," observed Daub, associate director of the CCPA's British Columbia office and co-director of the Corporate Mapping Project, a six-year research initiative jointly run by the University of Victoria, CCPA's B.C. and Saskatchewan branches, and the University of Alberta's Parkland Institute.

None of which is to say there aren't actual deniers of climate change science out there, of course. It's just that it's become sort of a legacy hobby activity engaged in by amateurs who write letters to their local newspapers. The smart money in climate change denial, as Daub explained, has moved on to new approaches.

So the days when the fossil fuel industry paid big bucks to get think-tanks, foundations, friendly academics and lobbyists to confuse the public and raise doubt about the powerful evidence climate change is real are thankfully coming to an end. As Daub said in a blog post last fall written with CCPA B.C. Director Seth Klein, "the climate deniers have now mostly been exposed and repudiated."

But as a result, she told the UVic conference, opponents of action on climate change have adopted subtler approaches. She named four main kinds of climate change denialism now commonly practiced in Canada, none of which requires participants to be embarrassed by having to claim aloud that the science of climate change isn't … well, scientific.

The Cheerleaders -- who tell us about our bright green market-based future based on the trinity of renewables, clean technology and carbon taxes without addressing the truly difficult question of how we actually manage the transition from fossil fuels, which won't be easy. They act as an echo chamber for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cheerleading, she observed.

The Pragmatists -- who recognize Western Canada's oilsands need a reputation makeover to give Canadian oil a better reputation abroad and win access to foreign markets. It's what Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is doing, Daub argued, when Alberta’s government uses carbon pricing and tougher environmental regulations in an effort to persuade Canadians we can have climate leadership and more oil and gas expansion at the same time. It's what B.C. Premier Christy Clark is up to when she touts the province's "climate leadership" to push LNG development and fracking.

The Skeptics -- who say, "we're behind this policy as long as it doesn't do what it's supposed to do." You know, like "revenue neutral" carbon taxes that don't result in industry paying more for carbon outputs. Groups like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers now acknowledge the need for a more effective approach, but warn us not to move too fast or change anything that might affect the Canadian industry's competitiveness. "It's actually a form of obstructionism," Ms. Daub argued.

The Indigenous Rights and Title Deniers -- who endorse reconciliation and Indigenous self-determination, but insist in the face of First Nations legal challenges on the legal right to push pipelines wherever they want.

All of these "new climate deniers," Daub said, provide "green cover for industries profiting from fossil fuels and pumping carbon into the environment."

As for those old "hard deniers," why would they bother? "Why take the flack when you can do the same thing and get the credit?"

Formally known as Mapping the Power of the Carbon-Extractive Corporate Resource Sector, the Corporate Mapping Project is financed by a $2.5-million partnership grant awarded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, plus $2 million in matching funds from partner organizations. SSHRC Partnership Grants support formal partnerships between universities and others to improve understanding of critical issues facing Canadians.

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

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With new bank, Canadians will pay for infrastructure but investors will own it

11 May 2017 - 10:33am
EconomyPolitics in Canada

The Trudeau cabinet, brimming with women and minorities, seems so 2017, so far removed from the traditional bastions of power.

Amid all that fresh-faced diversity, it's easy to overlook the pale face of finance minister Bill Morneau -- a rich, white male from Bay Street, ensconced in the cabinet's most powerful post.

(Full disclosure: I ran unsuccessfully against Morneau in the 2015 federal election.)

Morneau hasn't grabbed the limelight like some of the more flamboyant ministers. But, with the help of heavy hitters from Bay Street and Wall Street, he's been quietly designing a radical new bank that will deliver some of Canada's future infrastructure -- roads, bridges, public transit, utilities -- into the hands of private investors.

The Trudeau cabinet may have a New Age feel to it, but it's by no means neglecting its Bay Street base, which stands to profit handsomely from Morneau's proposed "Canada Infrastructure Bank" (CIB).

The bank is being presented to the public as a way to attract billions of private sector dollars to help pay for our public infrastructure.

But the bank's unusual design will also, for the first time, give powerful private institutional investors -- even foreign-owned entities -- the opportunity to actually own important pieces of Canadian infrastructure, with the ability to charge us fees for using them.

Under the current model, Ottawa (or another level of government) typically owns Canadian infrastructure. In other words, we collectively own it.

But big institutional investors -- pension funds, mutual funds, investment banks, etc. -- are looking for investments that are safe and produce a reliable revenue stream.

Nothing fits that bill better, in these days of volatile markets, than investing in infrastructure, as a 2015 report by Wall Street giant JP Morgan documented. The report noted that, compared to other investment options, infrastructure assets offer very high returns, at very low risk, that they operate in monopoly situations free from competition and provide reliable revenue, even during economic downturns. "Infrastructure assets have produced stable, predictable and growing returns," concluded JP Morgan.

The appeal of infrastructure investment was no doubt on the mind of Wall Street titan Larry Fink when he met Justin Trudeau in January 2016 at the annual power-gathering in Davos. Trudeau and his newly elected government were just developing ideas for their new bank, and Fink was looking for good investment opportunities for the $5 trillion in assets he manages as CEO of BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager. (Fink now belongs to Donald Trump's Strategic and Policy Forum.)

Trudeau and Fink hit it off. Since then, BlackRock officials have worked closely with Morneau and others inside the Trudeau government, raising concerns about the appropriateness of a major Wall Street financier -- and powerful institutional investors inside Canada -- apparently helping shape the design of a bank they will probably end up doing business with.

And while the investment community's enthusiasm for Canada's new bank is clear, it's less clear what's in it for Canadians.

When tolls and user fees are added in, privately owned infrastructure could cost us more -- and we'd own nothing.

Whether privately or publicly owned, Canadians will still end up paying for these assets, note analysts Azfar Ali Khan and Randall Bartlett in a report for Ottawa's Institute for Fiscal Studies and Democracy. "[T]his does beg the question: Why would Canadians want to sell their most valuable assets to the private sector?"

Another option would be for us to finance and own our own public infrastructure, as we have in the past. Now more than ever, there's good reason to do so: Ottawa can borrow money at very low rates, much lower than the private sector. "With yields on 30-year Government of Canada bonds currently sitting around 2.2 per cent, the federal government can almost literally get 'money for nothing,' " Khan and Bartlett note.

They urge more careful assessment before Canada starts "shovelling money out the door."

Indeed, with sophisticated financiers working closely with government officials designing the bank, it could turn into a boondoggle for financial interests, with Canadians holding the short end of the stick.

Ontarians got a taste of that when the Tory government of Mike Harris was outsmarted by private investors into handing over the lucrative Highway 407 toll road in a 99-year lease, for just a fraction of its value.

In the case of the CIB, there are some whip-smart financiers involved, including Fink, a key player in squeezing money out of the American public to bail out Wall Street's banks after the 2008 crash. What could possibly go wrong for Canada?

Linda McQuaig is a journalist and author. Her book Shooting the Hippo: Death by Deficit and Other Canadian Myths was among the books selected by the Literary Review of Canada as the "25 most influential Canadian books of the past 25 years." This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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corporate greedCanadian Infrastructure Bankpublic infrastructurepublic-private partnershipsbay streetWall Street bailoutLinda McQuaigMay 11, 2017Trudeau's finance minister wants private investment in infrastructure, non-committal on privatizationsFinance Minister Bill Morneau delivered his Fall Economic Statement on Tuesday with some new commitments to private investment in public infrastructure.Trudeau Liberals offer Shangri-La to private financeHow is the Canadian public interest served by bringing in private financiers to make money operating and owning what rightfully belongs to Canadian citizens?Trump and Trudeau's 'stealth privatization' will be at the taxpayer's expenseIf Trump's infrastructure plan is a "privatization scam," what should we call ours?

Behind Trump's headline-grabbing chaos, the FCC is quietly dismantling media democracy

11 May 2017 - 9:52am
Civil Liberties WatchMedia MattersUS Politics

"You're fired!" When Donald Trump ousted FBI Director James Comey Tuesday night, it was more than just another of Trump's shocking executive actions. Comparisons to Watergate are chillingly relevant; Comey was investigating potential collusion between the Russian government and Trump's presidential campaign. Just days earlier, Comey asked the Justice Department, run by Trump crony Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for more resources for the investigation. Trump's termination of Comey echoed President Richard Nixon's firing of the special prosecutor investigating Watergate, Archibald Cox, in what was called "The Saturday Night Massacre."

Amidst the daily deluge of scandal, one detail remains crystal clear: Donald Trump understands the power of the media, and he wields that power relentlessly. From the announcement of his Supreme Court nominee in a suspenseful event that could have been drawn from reality TV, to his incessant and inflammatory tweeting, Trump manipulates the media and, more often than not, controls the news cycle. His unpredictable pronouncements have captured the attention of the corporate media, almost to the point where very little else is covered.

Behind the headline-grabbing chaos, though, decades of progressive policy achievements are being quietly undone by the army of loyalists that Trump is assembling around him. Over at the Federal Communications Commission, for example, newly installed Chairman Ajit Pai is doing everything he can to eliminate rules protecting net neutrality on the Internet, while allowing big, pro-Trump broadcasters to further consolidate. This will lead to increasingly restricted democratic dialogue in our society, further strengthening Trump's grip on power.

Net neutrality is described by the media advocacy organization Free Press as "the First Amendment of the Internet." It describes a fundamental feature of the Internet, allowing information to flow freely and equally over the web, regardless of its content. For example, whether you want to view web content from the National Rifle Association or the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the site you are seeking will load equally quickly. The ISPs are not allowed to favour one site over another.

Take another example: Many people watch video on the Internet using Netflix. But imagine an ISP with ownership interest in another, competing service deciding to slow down Netflix in order to frustrate those users and drive them to its service. With strictly enforced net neutrality rules, this type of conduct would be illegal. In the Internet that Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, is trying to construct, with net neutrality rules scrapped, it would likely become the norm. Extremely well funded, incumbent sites would dominate, while smaller, startup web ventures would find it impossible to compete. The Internet's dynamism would disappear.

To take the hypotheticals one step further, imagine an activist website dedicated to organizing resistance to President Trump's immigrant ban. Such a site, now, would be freely accessible. But without the protection of net neutrality, there would be nothing to stop an ISP from slowing down traffic to and from the site, rendering it useless.

Broadcast ownership rules, also under the FCC's purview, are being targeted for elimination by Pai as well. On April 20, the FCC voted 3-2 along partisan lines to relax broadcast ownership rules, unleashing a wave of TV station ownership consolidation. The Sinclair Broadcast Group is reportedly attempting to purchase Tribune Media for $4 billion, giving it control of more than a third of the country's local TV stations.

Sinclair is more than just a TV network, though: It has for many years exploited the public airwaves to promote a right-wing political agenda. "They've rolled out the red carpet for President Trump," Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, said on the Democracy Now! news hour. "Right after the election, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and adviser, indicated that he had struck a deal with Sinclair for favorable coverage, where they would air Trump speaking at length without interruption. ... They've hired multiple Trump spokespeople, mouthpieces from the administration, to come on the air, give the administration's views."

Broadcast networks are still the way that most people get their news, especially those who are less Internet-connected, like older people and the poor. By supporting candidates like Donald Trump, Sinclair also ensures there will be no drastic changes to campaign finance law. Every election cycle, then, Sinclair and other broadcasters reap huge windfalls from the flood of dark money spent on broadcast airtime to disseminate misleading political ads. This creates a vicious cycle, allowing anti-democratic (small "d" democratic, that is) forces to tighten control of the broadcast networks and, increasingly, the Internet.

President Trump knows how to use the mass media, and social media, to manipulate public opinion and sway voters. But Trump, and appointees like Ajit Pai, are learning that there is a force more powerful: organized people, taking to the streets. Trump can fire individuals who threaten his power, like James Comey. But he can't fire a movement.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,400 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan and David Goodman, of the newly published New York Times bestseller Democracy Now!: 20 Years Covering the Movements Changing America.

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Photo: cool revolution/flickr

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U.S. politicstrump administrationnet neutralityjames comeyfccMEDIA CONSOLIDATIONAmy GoodmanDenis MoynihanMay 11, 2017Trump keeps campaign promise to promote unfettered police powerAs the world focuses on state violence from Syria to Iraq to Yemen to North Korea, the groundwork is being laid in the United States for unchecked state violence at home.In Trump's America, your privacy is for saleDonald Trump, in the midst of accusations that his own privacy was invaded by illegal wiretaps, is signing into law permission to invade, trade and monetize the most private detail of every American.Net neutrality: Fighting for an Internet that has never been neutralThousands of people feel the fight for net neutrality is an essential struggle. However, it is obscuring the fundamental reality that the Internet hasn't been 'neutral' for years.

Liberals propped up by a tiny Green caucus may be worst outcome of B.C. election for Alberta's NDP

11 May 2017 - 9:00am
May 11, 2017Liberals propped up by a tiny Green caucus may be worst outcome of B.C. election for Alberta's NDPSuccess on the pipeline file is apparently essential to political success in Alberta -- never mind the world market for petroleum.

Palestinian political prisoners are in their fourth week of a hunger strike

10 May 2017 - 10:09am
May 10, 2017Why are Palestinian political prisoners on a hunger strike?Striking Palestinian prisoners are demanding respect for their basic human rights.

Anti-poverty activists urge Ontario to focus on poverty reduction, not just basic incomes

10 May 2017 - 7:45am
Meagan Gillmore

Anti-poverty activists in Ontario are calling the provincial government's announcement of a basic income pilot project for low-income adults a positive first step, but say more must be done to help people living in poverty.

"It's great that we've got a trial happening, but we can't let the government use this as a ploy to just sit on their tushes and wait for three years. There's desperate need for immediate action on welfare rates," said John Mills, a community activist with the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.

The roundtable has no official position on basic income, but will be watching the project closely. The pilot is scheduled to begin in Hamilton, Brantford and Brant County, as well as Thunder Bay, later this spring. It will launch in Lindsay in the fall.

The government announced the details of the three-year pilot project late last month. The project will test if receiving a guaranteed basic income improves the quality of life for people who have low incomes.

On the pilot, a single person will be eligible to receive up to $16,989 per year; a couple $24,027. A person with a disability is eligible to receive an additional $6,000 per year. These amounts are 75 per cent of the Low Income Measure. Participants will continue to receive provincial and federal child-care benefits while on the program. Payments will be received monthly.

People receiving a guaranteed basic income can work. But their basic income will be reduced by half of what they earn. If a single person earns $20,000 from employment, their basic income would be reduced from $16,989 to $6,989. Participants who receive employment insurance or the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) will have their income reduced dollar by dollar, the government's website says.

People who receive social assistance through Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) are eligible to apply to be part of the pilot. They won't receive income from OW and ODSP while receiving guaranteed basic income payments. But any coverage they received as part of the Ontario Drug Benefit will continue. Recipients of ODSP will continue to receive dental benefits if they had them before joining the pilot.

'A paradigm shift from social assistance'

Advocates praise guaranteed basic income for providing assistance without intense scrutiny.

"It's a complete paradigm shift from social assistance," said Sheila Regehr, chairperson of Basic Income Canada Network, one of the organizations that participated in consultation. Social assistance programs come with restrictive bureaucracy. After proving their eligibility, individuals have to report their income and changes in their living situations much more often than those who don't receive these types of assistance. When people begin earning income, their social assistance benefits are reduced or taken away. The anxiety of having to maintain eligibility and sometimes not knowing how much money is coming each month can cause a lot of stress, said Regehr. It can also discourage people from seeking employment.

A basic income "treats people with respect. It allows people autonomy to make their own decisions," said Regehr.

Mills understands the anxiety that comes with being monitored on social assistance. He recently began receiving CPP payments after living on OW since 2010.

"Basically, you're screwed," he said of the system. People who are receiving OW need to show their caseworker that they're looking for employment. That can be difficult, especially if they don't have access to transportation to attend job interviews.

Several times, Mills received letters saying his account had been suspended and he wouldn't be receiving his payments. The situations were always resolved, but it caused undue anxiety, he said. Sometimes, he didn't have a phone, so he couldn't contact his caseworker to explain the situation.

"It's the whole dynamic of not having the ability to stand up for yourself and deal with issues in a timely manner without being cut off from any kinds of funds," he said. "It just creates a lot of unnecessary stress."

The guaranteed basic income won't include that monitoring. It will also produce better data about poverty in Ontario.

Marc Leferriere, a former coordinator with the Brantford Roundtable on Poverty, is optimistic about the project. He first heard about guaranteed basic income nearly a decade ago, but thought of it as a "pie-in-the-sky" dream.

The fact that it's actually something that tangibly will have at least a pilot in our community, that's great."

The data from the pilot could be used to better deliver social services, he said. As a former social worker, he saw people struggle with poverty every day. He understands the struggle: he grew up in a family that relied on social assistance. He didn't get a driver's licence until his early 20s because there wasn't money for it. That meant travelling to summer jobs in the county impossible, he said.

A guaranteed basic income can address problems of insecure employment, said Mills, who has studied basic income for years and attended North American conferences on the topic.

Basic income is the only way to keep capitalism running in North America, said Mills. Precarious employment and increased automation are making it harder for people to earn money to stimulate the economy. A guaranteed income gives that stimulus, he said.

More needed to reduce poverty

But not all anti-poverty activists are convinced guaranteed basic income will increase job security.

John Clarke, an organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), offered quick condemnation, calling the pilot "dangerous" and "unjust."

"What they're really experimenting with is not really an income for poor people, but a de facto subsidy for low-wage employers."

Instead of testing a basic income, the government should raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, he said.

It allows the government to say it's doing something to fix the problems of poverty, while not committing to raise social assistance rates. Any changes in legislation the project could inspire wouldn't likely happen until years after the pilot concludes, Clarke said.

The project is a guaranteed failure, Clarke said.

To test basic income, you have to see how the system works in a major jurisdiction. What they're doing is, they're testing a small group of poor people in a way that's very offensive," he said. It would be more radical, he said, to impose a maximum income. This way, instead of seeing how poor people handle a little more money, governments could test how wealthy people live with a little less.

He called the government's reliance on consultations an "abomination." The coalition did not make submissions a part of the consultation process. Instead, it protested at consultations.

Proponents of a basic income said there were some things they'd change in the pilot's plans. Regehr said she would have liked to see the government explore reducing participants' employment earnings by various amounts, not just the 50 per cent in the plan.

Josephine Grey, founder of Low Income Families Together (LIFT) in Toronto, said that Ontarians must fight for a good guaranteed basic income. Grey has received ODSP for nearly a decade, and other forms of social assistance before that. A single mother, she knows the challenges of relying on a broken system, and would "absolutely" apply to be part of the pilot if she lived in one of the eligible communities. A guaranteed basic income could allow people to spend their time creating meaningful jobs, like those that can benefit the environment.

She's "cautiously optimistic" about the pilot, saying the government hasn't had a "positive proposal for poor people for decades." But citizens are also responsible for making sure the program works, she said. Fighting to keep the current welfare system the way it is won't help, she said. But neither will viewing the government as "some big, monolithic enemy."

"We have to realize democracy's a two-way street," she said. "If we want the basic income program to be a good one, then fight for it to be a good one."

Meagan Gillmore is rabble's labour reporter.

Photo: Generation Grundeinkommen/flickr

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Ontario's guaranteed basic income pilot misses mark, labour leaders say

9 May 2017 - 1:18pm
Meagan Gillmore

Labour leaders in Ontario are criticizing the provincial government's plans to pilot a guaranteed basic income for individuals with low incomes, saying it doesn't address a broken social assistance system and precarious job market that keep people trapped in a system of poverty.

Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario, called the announcement a "lost opportunity." Instead of spending money on a pilot project, the government should be raising social assistance payments and ensure people can find stable, well-paying jobs, he says.

"At its heart, the best version of a basic income program ensures people are lifted out of poverty," said Hahn. "This, in fact, does nothing to lift people out of poverty."

The government announced the details of its plan in late April.

The pilot will test whether a guaranteed basic income can help improve people's quality of life, including their mental and physical health, education, access to employment and food security. It's different from current social assistance programs, Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), but, like these programs, will be administered by the Ministry of Community and Social Services.

These programs will continue to run during the pilot project. rabble.ca asked the Ministry of Community and Social Services in an email if a guaranteed basic income could eventually replace these programs. In response, the ministry said that the pilot is about "exploring" a "simple and more effective way to support more people living in poverty." The information gathered from this project will help inform future decisions about "reforming" income security, the ministry wrote.

How the program works

In the pilot, a single person will be eligible to receive up to $16,989 per year; a couple up to $24,027. A person with a disability is eligible to receive an additional $6,000 per year. These amounts are 75 per cent of the Low Income Measure. Participants will continue to receive provincial and federal child-care benefits while on the program. Payments will be received monthly.

People receiving a guaranteed basic income can work. But their basic income will be reduced by half of what they earn. If a single person earns $20,000 from employment, their basic income would be reduced from $16,989 to $6,989. Participants who receive employment insurance or the Canadian Pension Plan will have their income reduced dollar by dollar, the government's website says.

People who currently receive coverage for medications as part of OW or ODSP will still receive that coverage, the Ontario Drug Benefit. Recipients of ODSP will continue to receive dental benefits if they had them before joining the pilot.

The pilot will launch in Hamilton, including Brantford and Brant County, and Thunder Bay in late spring. It will begin in Lindsay in the fall. Randomly selected individuals in those areas will receive applications in the mail and can apply to be part of the program. Up to 4,000 people will be eligible to receive the basic income payment.

To be eligible, people must be between the ages of 18 and 64 when the program starts. They must have a low income and be living in the area for at least 12 months before the program begins.

There will also be a control group of 2,000 people across these locations who meet the eligibility requirements but do not receive the guaranteed basic income.

Not enough to address poverty

Smokey Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), said that while he agrees with the concept of basic income, he worries the pilot "gives (the government) an excuse to do nothing about poverty for the next three to five years."

Hahn told rabble.ca he was concerned that individuals receiving OW or ODSP payments before joining the pilot would lose additional supports, like addiction counselling or support finding employment. His union represents workers who deliver those services. He also expressed concern about how people will return to social assistance programs once the pilot concludes. People need more than money to leave poverty, he said. They need affordable housing and access to good child-care services.

The pilot "misses the mark on the reality that people aren't just all consumers in a marketplace. We are citizens and neighbours, and we need the collective support of one another," he said. "It's the role of government to provide services that help make people's lives better."

The pilot also doesn't address current pressing employment challenges: namely, an abundance of minimum-wage and precarious jobs.

Thomas expressed concerns a basic income could become a "subsidy for businesses" and not encourage employers to create good jobs. Thomas, who readily admitted he's not a fan of the Wynne government, saying the recent budget "sucks," said the government would do better to raise social assistance rates and not spend so much on infrastructure.

Ontario's business community echoed similar concerns.

While the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC), did not formally participate in the consultation process, it will be watching the pilot closely, said Ashley Challinor, the chamber's director of policy. The chamber's members have various opinions about the pilot. The chamber wants to make sure the government integrates this pilot with existing government services and spends money wisely. It's also interested to see if people who receive a basic income will still seek jobs.

The pilot is just one way of responding to the complex labour realities facing Ontario at this time, said Challinor. People are struggling to find good jobs, and employers are having difficulty hiring workers who are suited for the jobs available. Employers are noticing various gaps, ranging from potential employees needing more technical skills, to those struggling with "soft skills," said Challinor.

"The hiring market is very challenging for employers," she said. Members from all regions and businesses ranked hiring difficulties as their main challenge. "But at the same time, we're looking at a future that's rapidly approaching where we may not need as many people to work, or the nature of how individuals interact with work is going to be very different."

Automation and artificial intelligence are taking away both low-skill and high-skill jobs, she said, noting she's heard of automated divorce lawyers.

If the pilot goes well, it could be an opportunity for Ontario to become a leader in providing government services, she said.

In an email to rabble.ca, the Ministry of Community and Social Services said individuals who receive payments during the pilot project will still be able to access other income-based benefits and credits that aren't part of social assistance. ODSP employment supports remain available to anyone who has a disability, regardless of whether they receive social assistance.

Payments will be gradually phased out before the pilot project ends, and those who were receiving OW and ODSP before joining the project will be eligible to re-apply for those programs using the rapid reinstatement program.

People receiving basic income payments are not obligated to disclose this information to their employers, the ministry said.

The government also plans to create a separate, parallel, basic income program for First Nations. Planning for that is in the early stages. The Ministry of Community and Social Services told rabble in an email that individuals who live in First Nations reservations in the Hamilton, Brantford, Brant County, Thunder Bay and Lindsay regions will not be receiving application packages for the Ontario basic income program at this point.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble's labour reporter.

Photo: Andrew Currie/flickr

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France elects a self-described progressive as president

9 May 2017 - 12:25pm
EconomyWorld

The newly elected, eighth president of the Fifth French Republic wants to break with a long-standing French political dynamic.

Instead of politics as a struggle between left and right, workers and capitalists, Socialists and Gaullist Republicans, the forces of change versus the status quo, Emmanuel Macron sees opposition between progressives and conservatives: renewal versus continued sterile conflict.

Macron gets his first chance at demonstrating his commitment to renewal May 11 when he announces the 577 candidates for the June elections to the French National Assembly.

In April 2016, as Macron began building his movement En Marche! -- renamed La République En Marche (REM) to contest the elections -- he issued an Internet call for candidates.

He has indicated that one-half of REM candidates will be drawn from civil society -- i.e. they will not have held elected office at any level.

Macron has also pledged to uphold gender equality in selecting candidates.

The promise of injecting new blood into a political system dominated by long-standing office holders was an important part of building the Macron candidacy from nothing a year ago, to winning top spot in the first round of presidential voting, albeit with less than 25 per cent of the vote.

In the run-off presidential election, Macron was able to handily defeat far-right candidate Marine Le Pen by winning 66 per cent of voter support.

However, commitment to support his electoral program is tempered by exit polls showing over 40 per cent of his second-round electors declaring they were voting mainly to defeat Le Pen, and thwart the ambitions of her National Front party.

Le Pen greeted her defeat by announcing that the National Front would be rebuilt as a new political organization; her opponents will see this as a threat not to be taken lightly.

Fully 20 per cent of first-round Gaullist party voters opted for Le Pen in the run-off round; overall she attracted support from 22 per cent of registered voters. Only seven per cent of voters for the Left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and virtually no first-round Socialist voters, opted for Le Pen.

Macron has called for renewal of the European Union in a progressive direction. He wants European Value Added Tax (VAT) revenue to fund a European finance ministry that would re-distribute revenue to regions losing income. Like Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon, Macron wants a Eurozone parliament to oversee the finance ministry, and a nascent (and needed) fiscal union.

Macron also defines renewal as making France more competitive in European and world markets though scrapping social protection for workers, a prospect that produced street demonstrations in France the day following his election. 

Le Pen see herself as leading an anti-globalization opposition to Macron. She offers an anti-European Union outlook, and extreme nationalist sentiment to her actual and potential supporters. She has gathered support from workers, and from rural France.

The authoritarian core of the National Front is active fomenting division of France into friends and enemies, with immigrants, Muslims in particular, being cast as the enemies.

Despite its efforts to moderate its image, tone down its rhetoric, and bury its openly anti-Semitic past, for a solid majority of French citizens, the National Front remains the party stoking fears of "others," and ethnic hatred.

Macron represents an optimistic vision of France defeating unemployment, lifting Europe out of economic doldrums and helping the world slow climate change.

In his campaign, Macron was able to strike a progressive pose -- especially with Marine Le Pen as a debating partner.

More will be known about his priorities once Macron names his prime minister and cabinet on May 14, the date he assumes presidential office.

The Gaullist Fifth Republic foresaw French presidential elections as setting the stage for building a presidential majority government. So two rounds of legislative voting always follow closely after the election of the Chief of State.

Potential support for the self-styled progressives running under the new REM banner is uncertain. How many of them will emerge from two rounds of voting is unknown.

To establish a voting coalition to implement his ideas, Macron will likely reach out to second-round supporters from amongst his former Socialist colleagues, and/or Republican legislators.

Socialist and Republican parties alike have come under criticism from Macron as being "conservative" for their unwillingness to undo the French social state.

If Macron wants to make his progressive presidency a success, he can certainly do better than impose neoliberal market economics, and expect the population to accept a more precarious future.

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

Photo: Mutualité Française/flickr

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