Saturday, December 15, 2012

Northern Ireland to Syria

British State Terrorism from Northern Ireland to Syria

by Finian Cunningham

This story connects far-flung places. Kenya, Malaya, Northern Ireland and now Syria. The one over-arching theme is British counter-insurgency strategy, or more plainly, the use of state terrorism by British forces to achieve political objectives.

The story came alive again this week with two seemingly unrelated news developments. First, we learn of deeper involvement of Britain’s military in the violence raging across Syria. British military officers and Special Forces are reportedly training - in Jordanian territory - foreign-backed militants to step up their campaign of terrorism across Syria.

These terror gangs, whom the Western mainstream media call “freedom fighters”, have been plunging Syria into bloody chaos for the past 22 months, with car bombs ripping through civilian neighbourhoods and death squads massacring whole villages, the latest being Aqrab in Hama Province where over 125 people where murdered this week. Ample evidence shows that the mercenaries, recruited from various countries including Libya, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, are covertly supplied with weapons and training from the US, Britain and France via the conduits of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

The surge in violence and killing of civilians, with a notable agenda of inciting sectarian war, is proof that the British expertise in fomenting terror is paying dividends for the Western imperialist objective of destabilizing Syrian society and the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

The second development this week was the publication of an official British report into the murder 23 years ago of Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane. The two issues, Syrian violence and the killing of Mr Finucane, are intimately related - although the British government and its media have done their best to bury any connection.

Let’s unravel the layers of obfuscation.

When the review of Mr Finucane’s murder by Sir Desmond de Silva QC was published this week, British Prime Minister David Cameron offered an apology to the family of the Belfast man. “I am deeply sorry,” said Cameron in the British House of Commons, and he went on to acknowledge that the killing pointed to “shocking levels of collusion” between British security forces and loyalist death squads. The latter were paramilitaries recruited from Northern Ireland’s pro-British civilian population that perpetrated many heinous murders during the conflict in that territory between 1969-1994.

However, the widow of Mr Finucane and their children denounced the latest review as a “white wash”. Geraldine Finucane has good reason to dismiss the report because it portrays the murder of her husband as a rogue act of violence. Cameron added to the white wash by saying that the case represented a “failing” by the British military forces to prevent the murder.

This is typical official British deception. For what the murder of Pat Finucane reveals is not a failure, but rather a successful deployment of Britain’s policy of state terrorism - a policy that involved the systematic collusion between British military intelligence and loyalist death squads. This practice was and is a central part of British counter-insurgency tactics - a policy that was overseen from the highest office of British government in Downing Street.

Much of Britain’s “dirty war” strategy, as an institutional practice, can be attributed to one of its most decorated military commanders - General Sir Frank Kitson.

Kitson published his war manual - Low Intensity Operations - in 1971. It has since become a standard text for British military counter-insurgency techniques, or as we have noted, state terrorism.

Kitson developed his techniques from his involvement in suppressing popular uprisings in the British colonies of Kenya during the Mau-Mau rebellion (1953-55) and in Malaya (1957) against a communist
insurgency there.

In 1970, the then Brigadier was dispatched to Northern Ireland, which itself was on the cusp of a renewed Irish republican struggle against British rule in that province of the United Kingdom. One of Kitson’s innovations was the recruitment of what he called “counter gangs”. For his endeavours and “meritrocious service”, he was later knighted by the British Queen, later going on to serve as her aide-de-camp and elevated to Commander-in-Chief of UK land forces from 1982-1985.

The callous objective devised by Kitson was to use British proxy death squads to sow as much terror and mayhem as possible in order to destroy popular insurgency. This was the beginning of Britain’s policy of collusion in Northern Ireland, which operated for nearly three decades and claimed hundreds of lives. From the British government point of view, one great advantage of this policy was to provide “plausible denial” to the authorities for the state terrorism that they were unleashing. This advantage still pertains to this day, as can be seen from the latest review into Pat Finucane’s murder and the hollow apology from David Cameron “for shocking levels of collusion”.

There is little doubt that the British state at the highest level ordered Mr Finucane’s assassination. During the 1980s, he was a formidable young lawyer, successfully defending dozens of individuals who had fallen foul to the British system of repression and corruption of the legal process. Finucane was a thorn in the side of the British establishment, exposing its vicious policies of criminalising republican political opponents.

On 17 January 1989, British cabinet minister Douglas Hogg addressed the House of Commons and denounced what he called “solicitors who are unduly sympathetic to the IRA [Irish Republican Army]”. Hogg later said that he had been briefed by “people who knew” - meaning British intelligence. On that fateful day, Hogg effectively signed Pat Finucane’s death warrant.

Less than a month later, on 12 February 1989, a loyalist death squad sledgehammered its way into the Finucane home in Belfast while the family was having Sunday dinner. In front of his wife and three children, the gunmen shot Pat Finucane 12 times in the head as he lay prone on the floor of the kitchen, his terrified children huddled under the dining table as shot after shot rang out.

After 23 years of the family’s courageous campaigning for justice, David Cameron admitted this week that the murder was carried out by loyalists in collusion with British intelligence, which had provided the killers with target details and helped in their escape on the day of the killing.

But this appalling murder is but the tip of a sordid iceberg that reveals systematic state terrorism by the British government and its military over decades in Northern Ireland.

A year before Pat Finucane’s murder, British military intelligence oversaw the smuggling of hundreds of high-powered weapons from South Africa to their loyalist paramilitary operatives in Northern Ireland.

The consignment included AK47 assault rifles, Browning semi-automatic pistols and fragmentation grenades.

In a seminal investigative study by Belfast-based civilian campaign group, Relatives For Justice, titled Collusion: 1990-1994, it was found that this supply of firepower by British intelligence to loyalist death squads resulted in a dramatic escalation of murders by these same gangs. Based on forensic and ballistics data, the weapons from South Africa were used in as many as 300 murders by loyalist death squads - nearly 10 per cent of the total death toll during the entire conflict. Some of the victims of state-sanctioned murder were republican activists, but many more were just ordinary civilians.

The murder of Pat Finucane is just one out of hundreds of killings in Northern Ireland that the British authorities perpetrated in their policy of collusion with death squads. It is a policy that grew out of its terror campaigns in East Africa and Asia and which was “optimized” in Northern Ireland. The political objective was to terrorise the population in the North of Ireland into accepting a “peace process” during the 1990s that falls way short of the legitimate claim to national self-determination and independence of a united Ireland.

Unfortunately, it may be seen as having been a partial British success given that Northern Ireland still remains a sectarian territory under British jurisdiction - despite the aspirations of the majority of Irish people across the entire island. 

In Syria, of course, the political conditions are different. There, the majority of Syrian people support the government in Damascus and are opposed to foreign interference. The so-called uprising that the Western governments and their servile propaganda news media trumpet is nothing but a foreign covert criminal war of aggression fuelled by foreign weaponry and mercenaries.

Nevertheless, one can still discern the malevolent hand of British state terrorist expertise: the training, weapons, intelligence and logistics. Moreover, the use of terror gangs to inflict mayhem and sectarian bloodletting is straight out of the British military manual, as devised by General Sir Frank Kitson.

As car bombs tear through the bodies of Syrian schoolchildren and as loved ones end up in side-street gutters with bullets in the head - this is classic British policy of using terroristic means to achieve nefarious political ends: in this case, the dismemberment of Syrian society and the implementation of regime change.

Originally from Belfast, Ireland, Finian Cunningham (born 1963) is a prominent expert in international affairs. The author and media commentator was expelled from Bahrain in June 2011 for his critical journalism in which he highlighted human rights violations by the Western-backed regime. He is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England,

American Lies and Propaganda on Syria

 

Syrian Students Condemn American Led Sanctions that are inflating food prices


by Franklin Lamb - Damascus Street Notes


Who does that obnoxious woman think she is?” demanded a staffer who works in the Russian Embassy media office inside the vast windowless soviet style massive high walled compound which belongs to his country, here in Damascus.

“Viktor” had been invited to our table, for lunch at the “Lady of Damascus” (“sitt a cham”) restaurant in the middle class neighborhood of Shalan, having been spotted by our charming host, a Sheik and MP in Syria’s
Parliament. The well-spoken gentleman was furious, after putting down his mobile phone having apparently heard some rather upsetting news. What ignited Viktor were the recent statements of the US State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland and her seemingly anti-Russian statements lecturing and insulting Syria’s ally, which Victor considered a bald effort to misinterpret the recent statement of Russia’s Middle East envoy, Mikhail Bodganov.  Badganov, on 12/13/12 had stated, in response to a question, “One must look the facts in the face… unfortunately, the victory of the Syrian opposition cannot be ruled out.” Bogdanov also noted that the Syrian government was “losing control of more and more territory.”

Viktor explained that what has galled the Russian and his embassy colleagues here about Nuland, known for her pro-Zionist,  anti-Syrian, Russian, Arab and Muslim views, was her arrogant language: “We want to commend the Russian government for finally waking up to the reality and acknowledging that the regime’s days are numbered.”

According to Viktor, “Bodganov said nothing really new.  And we will issue a clarification of this very soon.”  He continued, “Everyone knows that theoretically the foreign-backed rebels could win. This is not new and is always a possibility during an uprising.  But Mrs. Nuland surely knows that the Syrian government has purposely pulled back from some rural areas where there is mainly open space in order to concentrate its forces to protect population centers.  This is very basic military strategy and has been employed throughout history. In the English language I think it’s called something like a “strategic retreat or tactical redeployment. It is reprehensible for western and Gulf media to use our Middle East envoys statement as a form of psychological warfare while deceiving the media.” He added, “Of course we have contingency plans for an evacuation of our citizens if necessary. This is quite normal and we and other countries have such plans for Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, the Gulf countries and Palestine, among others. Russia has not lessened its support for Syria and to think otherwise is yet another in the series on many miscalculations from Washington.”

Sure enough, within hours, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Alexander Lukashevich, a friend of Viktor’s issued a statement: “We would like to remark that he (Bogdanov) has made no statements or  pecial
interviews with journalists in the last days. We once again confirm the principled Russian position about the lack of any alternative to a political solution in Syria.”

After venting on Nuland, Victor and others at our table were totally dismissive of the statement of the secretary general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who told reporters in Brussels after a meeting with the Dutch prime minister at NATO headquarters.  “I think the regime in Damascus is approaching collapse,” he told reporters after a meeting with the Dutch prime minister at NATO headquarters. “I think now it is only a question of time.”

The Syrian MP explained that Rasmussen has no credibility at all after all the lies he spoke concerning NATO in Libya and how NATO’s more than 9,000 bombing missions “protected the civilian population” whereas in truth, everyone there at the time (including this observer) knew very well that the main threat to Libya’s population, starting in March 2011 and continuing until mid-October was from NATO. From Sorman to Sabna NATO forces rained indiscriminate death on the civilian population of Libya and according to Russian President, due to meet with Obama in February, has condemned the US and NATO for deceiving Russia and the international community regarding its true aims.  Viktor told us that his country fears the same deception is afoot in Syria.

Damascenes are tense, sullen, but not panicked following the recent events and what many consider terrorist acts by so-called “rebels.”

According to students I very much enjoy meeting with from Universities and Colleges here, their President, Bashar Assad, still has the support of a majority of the population.  Many, as does the Assad government, accept, in principal, the April 2012 Geneva Proposals. That initiative, proposes a transitional government resulting from dialogue leading up the 2014 election which would be open to all candidates.  They favor letting the Syrian people choose at the ballot box the next president whoever that may be.

It is evident here in Damascus that the main worry of the population is the manifold effects of the generally viewed illegal and immoral US led sanctions. On a another subject,  “Tamara, a university student explained
that the target of students and intimidation by rebel backers of students and faculty plus the kidnappings, taking of houses and cars by these same elements are affecting education here although almost all the schools and universities are still functioning.

This observer had the help of a small group of Damascus University students in conducting a survey of the effects of the US led sanctions regime on the civilian population. Virtually every person who expressed a view on this subject told this observer that the only purpose of the American sanctions is regime change by way of trying to force the population to suffer to such an extent that the long lines for bread etc. turn violent and break the bond between the Bashar Assad government and the civilian population. People here commonly refer to the US led sanctions against Iran as also being about regime change and not because Washington believes it can force Iran to abandon its perfectly legal nuclear development program.

The results of a student led survey of grocery stores in Damascus, completed on 12/12/12, shows the following increases in food prices that citizens here must pay against the backdrop of current unemployment figures currently estimated by economists as being between 40-60 percent of the population.

Damascus Student survey: Price rises for food items between May 2011 and December 2012

(Official exchange rate is currently 80 Syrian pounds for one US dollar)

Lamb—500 Syrian pounds to this week’s price of 750 sp, Chicken—200 sp to 450 sp, Milk—per liter….from 40 to 95 sp, Rice—from 40 sp to 100 sp, Eggs—160-300 sp for a carton of 30 medium sized eggs, Cooking oil—30 per liter to 60, Sugar—40 sp per kilo to 85 sp, Bread—20 sp for 10 loaves of flat bread to 55 currently in Damascus  but 220 s.p. in Aleppo where, as in Homs, Hama and the east, a massive humanitarian crises in rapidly spreading.

Russia has promised wheat for this basic staple in Syria.  But time is of the essence. In many areas of Syria most in need, basic food stuff supplying NGO’s are absent.

Bottled cooking gas– 500 sp now up to 1000 sp, is also becoming more difficult to find in several Damascus neighborhoods.

Heating oil which was 100 sp per liter is now on average 250 sp but becoming quite scarce.  Even some of the five star hotels here in Damascus, due to a severe shortage of “mazot” fuel oil, are cutting off the heat and
hot water to rooms except for periods between 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 8-10 p.m. Russia has reportedly promised a tanker of fuel oil but it will be dangerous to transport it by road to the population centers here because, according to students working as volunteers with the Syrian Arab Republic Red Crescent Society and other humanitarian organizations, rebel forces are increasing stealing or destroying aid convoys and rampaging the countryside.

Students here in Damascus intend to publish a more detailed list of consumer goods every two weeks. Yesterday some picketed the empty American embassy in protest against US led sanctions.  “The Syrian people will never forget or forgive the American campaign to starve us into submission”, one sign read.

It appears to this observer that, rather as is the case with Iran, the illegal and immoral US led sanctions, which urgently need to be challenged at The Hague, imposed on the civilian population of Syria is having the
opposite effect of what their cynical architects intended.  The piling on of sanctions is giving credibility to the Assad government which, while employing measures to curtail prices increases here, so far with modest success, is arguing that the price rises are the result of Syria’s American and Zionist enemies.  This view is widely shared among students at Damascus University and the general public.


Franklin Lamb is doing research in Damascus
and is reachable c/o fplamb@gmail.com

Crime of the Century: The Great Social Security Heist


The Great Social Security Robbery


by James Petras


The leaders of both major parties, Congress, the White House, the editorial writers, journalists of all the principle newspapers and most academic economists claim that Social Security and Medicare need to be ‘reformed’ in order to reduce the “unsustainable” fiscal deficit and avoid the bankruptcy of these social programs. An important aspect of this elite propaganda campaign is the perverse manipulation of the nature of those two programs. They are dubbed “entitlement programs”, implying some sort of government handout or individual privilege. In fact social security is a form of social insurance paid for through payroll tax deductions throughout the working life of the contributors, which usually approximates a half-century.

The “entitlement” rhetoric claims that the lifetime contributions are insufficient and that several regressive ‘reforms’ are necessary to “save the systems” – at the expense of the beneficiaries. The so-called “Grand Compromise” proposed by President Obama and the “Fiscal Reforms” proposed by the Congressional Republicans are all aimed at robbing working class contributors of their pension savings through various specific regressive changes.

The “Grand Compromise” as Legalized Theft


For decades only a small fraction of Social Security contributions are used to pay recipients, the bulk is transferred into the general treasury to pay for current expenditures – mostly hundreds of billions of dollars in war spending, payments on bonds and T-notes; subsidies to agro-business, bailouts to Wall Street speculative investment banks and other elite economic interests. Over the decades the Treasury robbed several trillions in SS funds, exchanging them for IOUs (never reimbursed) in order to provide a kind of “social insurance” for the military-industrial-Wall Street-police state power elite. If the accumulated payments to SS had remained in a special account instead of being siphoned off to cover the deficits incurred by military spending and overseas wars, SS finance would be in sound condition at least till the end of the 21st century. The Social Security Administration (SSA) would be able to adjust payments upward to real rates of inflation (about double the rate of adjustment now jiggered by the Government). The SSA could begin full payments at age 62 for most and at a lower age for those citizens working in hazardous occupations.

Even if we take account of the past Treasury heist, the SS fund could be fully replenished if the cap was eliminated on incomes above $110,000 and if the SS tax was made progressive. As is well known, self-employed billionaires and millionaires pay an average of $11,450 a year to the SS fund. If the cap was lifted, those earning a billion would pay a minimum of $100 million a year at the current rate, the millionaires $100 thousand a year. If a moderately progressive rate was in place, payments would double, pretty much ending the threat to SS.

There is no “entitlement crises” today. There is a crisis in the regressive payments and tax systems which finance the social insurance programs. The problem is elite tax evasion not the ‘aging of the population’. The problem is the use of SS payments to fund the power elite-robbing Peter (SS) to pay Paul (imperial wars).

The robbing of SS contributors-turned-beneficiaries is repeated in a multitude of forms every day and in every way.

The construction of the ‘index’ to measure the rate of inflation and yearly adjustment is deeply flawed to the detriment of the beneficiaries. The cost of living index excludes the high rates of inflation in such key items as gasoline, medical costs, food and other essential items in retirees’ budget thus halving the real loss of purchasing power. In other words, over the period of a decade, between 9% – 11% of real purchasing power of SS recipients is robbed through deliberate state manipulation of the index – amounting to hundreds of dollars.

In contrast, Medicare payments by SS recipients have increased because of real rising rates of inflation in medical costs. In effect real inflation rates apply to increase costs to SS recipients and deflated rates apply to lower payment to SS beneficiaries. A multi-billion dollar annual robbery!

While there is a bi-partisan consensus in maintaining the regressive cap on SS payments for the rich and in the manipulation of the cost of living adjustments, the Republican leadership and many Democrats want to privatize social insurance: handing over trillions of dollars in SS payments to Wall Street to invest in stocks, equities, hedge funds, junk bonds, etc. This would allow the private fund managers to deduct billions in commissions (3% to 5%) at the expense of the SS recipients … not to mention the risk of swindles and investment losses which have become endemic on Wall Street and could deprive pensioners of their pensions in case of a stock market crash.

Most Democrats know that over 90% of the SS beneficiaries oppose the Wall Street giveaway, so they propose to “save” SS by reducing payments to millions and denying it to hundreds of thousands each year.

‘Working till you Die’: Raising the Age for SS Benefits


A bi-partisan committee appointed by President Obama proposes to raise the age at which SS beneficiaries can begin to collect full pensions from 65 to 67 years. According to US Government Stats, 330,096 (158,038 men and 172,061 women) elderly individuals die between the ages of 65 and 67. By raising the age for SS benefits to 67, the Government will deny (robbing) hundreds of thousands of SS beneficiaries of a single social insurance payment after nearly a half century of contributions. In other words, Obama and the Republican Congress will “save the SS system” by denying payments to its lifetime contributors! By raising the age for SS benefits, the political elite are in fact sentencing more than half of American workers who die prior to 67 years to “work till they die”.

Class, Race, Region and Social Security


Most countries, other than the US , take account of differential death rates because of hazardous occupations and related considerations and adjust the age for retirement accordingly.

Not in the “Home of the Brave”, where SS retirement savings have other uses and beneficiaries. While many European countries especially England (since 1837) have a long history of national occupational studies related to work related risks to health and mortality, the US has few studies and those relate to limited age groups. No doubt the lack of social scientist interest is related to the fact that Government and foundations are not willing to finance class based research which highlights the vast gap in mortality rates between bosses and workers; between poor/rural and urban-professional women; between black and Hispanic minorities and whites.

The highest rates of mortality are found among industrial workers, especially blacks: construction workers,spray painters and roofers (especially Hispanics); workers involved with pesticides (farmworkers) ;and extractive workers (miners, lumberjacks, fisher people etc.). Millions of these workers, the vast majority, work until they die. They pay a lifetime worth of social security taxes, and because of the high age limits for retirement, never collect a dollar in benefits. In contrast high end CEOs collect social security payments till their late 80’s. With the decline in health benefits for workers under the current capitalist offensive and public sector cutbacks, workers have less access to medical care. Workers with no/or inadequate medical coverage have higher rates of mortality. This is especially evident in the sharp decine of life expectancy among low income rural white females – a group which lacks adequate medical coverage and a likely to ‘work ‘til they die’ – paying SS taxes and never receiving a social security check.

Workers in their early sixties are much more prone to illness and injuries and are more likely to die before they are eligible for their first social security check. Upping the age for SS benefits means: (1) the disproportionate exclusion of workers who have slaved at the hardest, dirtiest and most dangerous work and (2) disproportionately benefits the wealthy managerial class which paid the smallest share of their income and who will collect the biggest SS checks over the longest time. Increasing the age for retirement exacerbates the already huge class inequalities…. even into death.

A Call to Action: Worker Centered Reform of Social Security


Social Security ‘reform’ is a necessity but we propose class changes in the exact opposite direction from those proposed by the bipartisan coalition.

To increase the longevity and replenish the SS fund to the end of the 21st century the cap on SS payments must be removed and a progressive rate of taxation must be implemented.

Secondly, SS contributions should not be deposited in the general treasury to fund the war machine and state subsidies to capitalists. Let’s set up a special SS fund to reimburse contributors. Let’s demand that the Treasury redeem its IOUs to SS: repayments should be paid into a special SS fund to finance beneficiaries,

Thirdly, with the additional flows of revenue, full/SS benefits should begin for workers in hazardous occupations at 60 years and in general at 62 years. Cost of living indexes should be based on real ‘household baskets’ taking account of rises in medical and other special expenditures for older citizens.

Fourthly, Medicare expenditures can be reduced by at least 50% though a Single Payer System, which should be funded through an excess profits tax, a financial transaction tax (a sales tax on the purchase of stocks and bonds) and by a 75% reduction in military spending.

Both current and future social security contributors, literally, have a life or death interest in reforming and expanding coverage of social insurance programs. In every sense this is “the mother of all class struggles”. The outcome will determine whether the capitalist class will continue to rob social security and its working class contributors; whether workers will continue to ‘work ‘til they die’; and whether a SS program can be legislated which provides workers with time for leisure, recreation, play with grandchildren, fishing, swimming and walking dogs in a fresh, clear, daylight setting.


James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50-year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in Brazil and Argentina, and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed Books).

War On Christmas, And Other Dim Tidings Of Political Disconnect


Grappling with Phantoms: The Financial Cliff, The War On Christmas, And Other Dim Tidings Of Political Disconnect

by Phil Rockstroh

“All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up.” ―James Baldwin

As we draw near to the Winter Solstice and the days shorten, one's thoughts are drawn inward.

Bright lights, fragrant spices and sprigs of evergreen are appropriated to induce one back into the eros of life. Otherwise, daylight-bereft, in the half-light between the land of the living and the domain of the shades of memory, one can become stranded in impersonal despair or toxic nostalgia.

Cultures, throughout human history, have believed the realms of the living and the realms of spirits are drawn near to each other during Fall and Early Winter. Modern humankind dismisses the notion, yet, within, we feel unease. Enter: the manic compensations of the consumer state -- the compulsion to avoid reflection by constant motion and contrived bedazzlement -- the proffering of kitsch rather than the bestowing of meaning.

Personally, I would not be the least bit offended by manger scenes in public spaces, if equal space would be allotted to other religious sects. For example, let's say…naked, dancing, cavorting pagans enacting rituals involving the Winter Solstice.

I'm not troubled by the mythology of others. It would be propitious to our soul-starved, public space-bereft culture to possess vivid agoras offering eros and a glimpse of salvation. I would be inclined to engaged in more frequent shopping outings if such a social milieu was extant.

Somehow, shuffling around the mall, chewing on an over-sized Cinnabon, does not serve as a balm to my soul.

Enmeshed, as we are, in the meta-storyline of a nearly all-encompassing media hologram, whether spun by the mainstream media or when slogging through a psychologically miasmic swamp of FaceBook postings, tweets and text messages, it is become increasingly difficult to listen to silence…to allow one's innate nature to rise from one's vital center to the fore of one's being.      

Therefore, the criteria of the imagination becomes concretized. For example, in the insular, cracked brain cosmology of febrile, media fantasies, there exists something called a War on Christmas, fought, with Weapons of Mass Destruction supplied by Syria on the chimerical landscape of a Financial Cliff -- a struggle being waged, exclusively, in the minds of those who believe in a phantasmal "Invisible Hand of the Free Market" -- but who deny the decades of scrupulously gathered data and rigorously proofed evidence of global Climate Change 

To subject oneself to the dim, collective imaginings of the current day political and media culture is to navigate through realms of hackneyed fantasy -- to make one's way through storylines that are not only estranged from the daily exigencies of everyday life of the citizenry that they are tasked to serve, but are wholly removed from the rhythms and resonances of life on earth itself.

Throughout the ages, groups of elitists -- generally self-serving -- have dictated the criteria of the lives of the multitudes. One of the most potent means of maintaining power is to create the stories that dwell within the individual, as palpably present as any living thing, and often as deleterious as a parasite.  

This is why it is imperative for an individual to create and tell his/her unique tale. History bears witness to the results of humankind's collective refusal: a howling hellscape of war and economic exploitation.

Any nitwit can seek happiness, and, generally, does. But it requires a cultivated courage of the heart to create comedy and beauty out of the material of constant sorrow.

Do not shrink from the task of dwelling in the truth of your unique being and living your way into the attendant tales spun by your awakened heart. There exist no neutral ground in the realm of soul-making. To demure from your calling -- to cede your own power to the forces of unreasonable power -- is the stuff of tragedy.

If the dead in their graves could speak as a chorus, they would admonish the living: Resist. Create. Let no other living thing define how you live out your days.

First start with an honest awareness of the world that exists around you, and the factors that create the criteria that you exist in, day by day. Then, in ways large and small, work to subvert the present order. Engage in an activism of your choice i.e., political, artistic, and social. That should keep you busy for a while.

In reality, the "Financial Cliff" is the abyss that yawns before the human soul regarding late capitalism in general. To proceed forward, speed unchecked and common sense unheeded, into the present paradigm, the human race careens, closer and closer, toward the abyss engendered by perpetual war, exploitation, and ecocide.

Withal, there are austerity cuts that would prove propitious. For example, to cut off the parasites of the One Percent from the means to continue the carnage resultant from the crime spree known as so-called free market capitalism.

If there was such a thing as a Google Map of the soul, and if you were to perform a search for the term "free market," its location would be revealed to be an array of shoddy structures, an architecture of nada e.g., payday loan outlets, jack shacks, Wall Street firms, meth labs and crack houses, K Street Lobby operations, pawn shops, Chick-Fil-A, Papa John's Pizza and Cracker Barrel establishments…tottering on the precipice of a howling chasm…with a Climate Change-strengthened hurricane approaching.

We can use drastic austerity measures in the area of Greenhouse gases, media consolidation, Pentagon budgets, CEO salaries and bonuses, deforestation, overfishing of the world's oceans, junk food production and the concomitant expansion of the hindquarters of American consumers.

Otherwise, nature introduces eon's old austerity measures. Recently, Sandy dropped by the U.S. Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions for a little meet-and-greet. The conversation, between humankind and catastrophic natural phenomenon, tends to be a bit one-sided. Accordingly, Sandy delivered a simple message: Continue on your present path and your trip's itinerary will involve a very short excursion in the present direction and then a long, uncomfortable journey downward.

A few years back, my wife and I were driving through south Texas, through a sprawling section of Big Agra cattle ranches, livestock holding pens and massive slaughter houses -- mechanized killing zones, that bore the quaint name, "cattle country." In reality, the area of was an archipelago of misery, cruelty and death. 

The reek of curdled blood, dung, urine, and mortal terror was as thick as the seething clouds of proliferate black flies scudding the air of the area; their impact-exploded carcasses stippled our car windshield in a hideous, greasy smear of insectile exoskeletons and entrails.

Have you heard this old joke? What is the last thing an insect sees when it collides with a windshield?

Its asshole.

Regarding Climate Chaos, we, as a culture, have placed our own heads, collectively, in a rectal blindfold of self-deception.

The mass production and consumption of animal flesh is the largest single factor in the creation of the rise of atmospheric greenhouse gasses responsible for climate chaos such as super-storm Sandy. 

As I listen to climate change deniers, I feel like my brain is passing through some sort of parallel dimension comprised of interlinking rectal cavities. In short, the destruction of the ecosystem, and the degraded and declining criteria of our lives is the fate we have sown for ourselves, because, as a people, we continue to allow our lives to be ruled by the caprice of an infestation of fly-brained, elitist, rectal sphincters on two legs.

The Soul of the World's tears are endless. And that is a fortunate thing. Because if the weeping ever ceased -- the rage of all things wounded would rise.

There are times, when I become one with my wounded heart, my soul snarls like an injured animal. The origin and key to the lexicon of my fury is as follows:

Though I live and breathe, I was beaten to death as a child…devoured in the all-encompassing flames of my father's napalm rage. At dinner, flickering on the screen of our portable, black and white television, I glimpsed the jungles of Southeast Asia being immolated by the U.S. military. My father would shout at the set, "People -- they are so fucking stupid! So fucking stupid! And, boy, if you don't shape up and get good grades, so you can hide out in college, they will send you to those jungles of death. Hear me, boy?

"You told me you signed up for the AirBorne when you were seventeen, Dad. Were your grades that bad?"

"I'll knock that smart mouth of yours into next week, boy."

“Be sure to get my ears too…So that, next week, they will be able to hear an answer to my question."

"I warned you, smart ass." And the blows rained down of me.

Periodically, I have had dreams wherein I came upon two blonde children, brother and sister, who I was informed by an unseen narrator, died in a fire in 1965. In the dreams, I seek to comfort them…to bestow a healing balm on their pain and confusion. On our last encounter, my wife and I embraced them, and our beings melded together, as the four of us dissolved into the arms of eternity…seemingly, the devouring flames of personal happenstance had been transformed into a warming hearth of a universal and deathless love.

"So all things hobble together for the only possible." —Samuel Beckett, from his novel, Murphy

It is impossible to go it alone. Wounded, awkward, gripped by fears of our feebleness…all who live are all maimed and hobbled in some way.

Yet our incompleteness saves us from the fate of sterile perfection, from a heart-negating completeness.

Because of my incomplete nature, I need your collaboration. Because of my unsure gait, I need your assistance, so I do not fall.

Providence has made me ugly so that I can endure being constantly wounded by beauty.

I stumble over my thick tongue and you help me to the farther shore of my sentence.

More and more, I find that I need to rest and take refuge within your song of bitter grace.

If my heart had not been shattered into ten thousand shards, you would not have stopped to gather me, arranged me anew, and stood me, voiceless in awe, before a chorus whose song was so piercing I felt as though, for a fleeting moment, I might become privy to a furtive memory borne of ever-present eternity.

Fortunately, you sealed my ears in beeswax and spared me the terrible beauty of the perfect music of the grave.

You love me as I falter…plangent with banality, reeking of lost promise…yet daring enough to risk the enduring grace of ungainly devotion.

Do not ask why a person paints, writes poems, makes music, dances, or protests. You might as well make inquiries to the cells of your skin as to why they, every moment of every day, are engaged in the process of regeneration.

Apropos, there is no call to go out in search of oneself, because what we do…is who we are. 


Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: phil@philrockstroh.com  Visit Phil's website http://philrockstroh.com / And at FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/phil.rockstroh

Polluting the Subterranean Frontier: The Fracking Mess

 

The Fracking Mess

by Ray Grigg

Since international agreements have been unable to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions — 20 years of negotiations and effort have resulted in emissions going up rather than down — those concerned about global warming had hoped that the anticipated decline in petroleum supplies would force a solution. If the availability of accessible oil and natural gas were to dwindle, nations everywhere would be compelled to find energy sources that were less carbon intensive. But fracking has put an end to that hope.

The relatively new technique of “hydraulic fracturing”, a process of drilling horizontally in shale beds and then breaking the rock by injecting a concoction of water, sand and toxic chemicals under extreme pressure, is releasing huge quantities of oil and natural gas. In addition to polluting a subterranean frontier, the global result is a total reconfiguration of the energy equation.

The economic effects are the most obvious. Natural gas is flooding the energy markets in North America and Europe, and is likely to do so elsewhere. Fracking is releasing massive amounts of natural gas in the US, flooding the market, reducing the price below production costs and undermining the market value of Canadian exports of gas. The economic result for BC and Alberta is a collapse of royalties to governments. And low natural gas prices may threaten the economic viability of gas lines and LNG plants planned for BC's West Coast.

The same economic dynamic is occurring with oil. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the success of fracking could make an oil-starved America into the world's largest producer by 2020, and a net exporter by 2030. This reduced dependence on foreign oil questions the Canadian government's wisdom of relying on the export of petroleum resources as the country's principal economic plan. It also casts doubt on the viability of the energy-intensive methods used to extract oil from the tar sands.

These new supplies of domestic oil in the US and other countries are likely to change global geopolitics. Saudi Arabia, for example, may lose its privileged position in the global energy equation, and thereby lose the Western support that has been key to its political security. China and India might make moves to replace the West as the strategic friend of existing oil producers. Meanwhile, generous oil supplies will reduce its market price, thereby encouraging world economic activity and further eroding the only effective incentive that has reduced oil consumption, cut carbon dioxide emissions and slowed global climate change.

So the fracking that has become the solution to shortages of gas and oil now presents a host of problems that will ultimately be far more serious than the challenge of slowly weaning our modern civilization from petroleum. “The climate goal of limiting warming to 2°C is becoming more difficult and more costly with each year that passes,” notes the IEA.

The reality is that we are running out of manoeuvring room. “Four-fifths of all carbon emissions that are supposed to be allowed by 2035 to keep warming below two degrees Celsius are already locked into power plants, factories and buildings,” writes Jeffrey Simpson in the Globe and Mail (Nov. 21/12). “If strong action is not taken by 2017, all the emissions necessary to keep warming below that level will be locked in,” he adds. Global consumption of oil, thanks to fracking, is expected to rise a third by 2035, driving “the long-term average global temperature increase to 3.6 degrees Celsius” (Ibid.).

We are already feeling the impact of global temperature increases of 0.8°C. An increase of over four-times this amount would have environmental consequences that we can scarcely imagine. George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian Weekly (Oct 26/12) provides a hint. “A paper this year by the world's leading climate scientist, James Hansen, shows that the frequency of extremely hot events...has risen by a factor of about 50 in comparison with the decades before 1980. Forty years ago, extreme summer heat typically affected between 0.1% and 0.2% of the globe. Today it scorches some 10%.”

Ocean levels are already rising, causing coastal US cities such as Norfolk, Virginia, to flood regularly from heavy rainfall and small storm surges. Although the disasters that recently befell New Orleans and New York cannot be attributed specifically to global climate change, weather modelling suggests that such events will likely become so commonplace that smashed and flooded coastal cities will appear in lists rather than individually. Severe droughts and storms would become almost too routine to be news. All but the most extreme of the extreme weather events would just be dismissed with generalizations such as “just another bad day on Earth”.

Climatology tells us that during the last 10,000 years we have been living in one of the most benign, stable and accommodating periods in all of human history. Our global civilization is founded upon this predictable comfort. Our cities crowd shorelines because these locations have been safe and convenient. Our food production is based on mild and rhythmical weather. Our renewable resources depend upon a regular climate for regeneration. We alter this normalcy at our peril.

The carbon dioxide we are adding to the atmosphere is now occurring at a rate six times faster than the most rapid natural emissions of any geological epoch of which we know — we are doing in 500 years what nature once did in 3,000 years. This single, traumatic past event caused one of the planet's most disastrous biological extinctions. Put simply, a future created by excessive carbon dioxide emissions is not going to be comfortable or promising.

Our ingenuity is not an asset if it is used to solve the wrong problems. Indeed, if the biggest threat now confronting us is caused by burning petroleum as our principal energy source, then the more we do to find and use this fuel, the worse our problem becomes. In a future review of our history, we will likely conclude that fracking created a bigger mess than it solved.

Lining Up the Lemmings: Shock Doctrine Leads to "Fiscal Cliff"

 

Fiscal Cliff "Crisis" Manufactured to Prey on the Weak

by TRNN


Rob Johnson: Real crisis is the cost of health care which has nothing to do with Medicare or Medicaid

Watch full multipart Economy

Rob Johnson is the Director of the Economic Policy Initiative at the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and is a regular contributor to the Institute's blog NewDeal2.0. He serves on the UN Commission of Experts on Finance and International Monetary Reform. Previously, Dr. Johnson was a Managing Director at Soros Fund Management where he managed a global currency, bond and equity portfolio specializing in emerging markets. He was also a Managing Director at the Bankers Trust Company. Dr. Johnson has served as Chief Economist of the US Senate Banking Committee under the leadership of Chairman William Proxmire and was Senior Economist of the US Senate Budget Committee under the leadership of Chairman Pete Domenici. Dr. Johnson was an Executive Producer of Taxi to the Dark Side, an Oscar Winning documentary produced and directed by Alex Gibney.

O’Ship of Fate: Charting a Course for the Edge of the World


Sail on O’Ship of Fate: Ignoring Warning Can Be Fatal

by Danny Schechter

2012 has been the l00th anniversary of the famous Titanic disaster. The Captain of that “unsinkable” ship was warned that there were icebergs ahead but he was too busy, out to set a speed record on the way to New York.

The warnings were ignored and we know what happened. What we don’t know is why other urgent warnings go unheeded.

Take the repeated warnings that the easy availability of hand guns and assault rifles would lead to more massacres of innocents. The National Rifle Association operates with impunity (even as it bans weapons in its offices.)

When action is not taken, you increase the likelihood of more deadly incidents like the ones in malls and even elementary schools.

Take the predictions of a storm surge tied to climate change threatening the New York/New Jersey coastline. They were acknowledged but downplayed because right-wingers and their think tanks spent a decade in bogus quibbling about “junk” science.

Now New York City is facing a billion dollar plus clean up bill, and even the small army of the biggest names in rock and roll who did an inspiring benefit for storm victims did not question the denial factor in government and the media.

And now, as the fourth quarter of economic activity tapers down for the holidays, and companies close for the New Year, forecasters avoid making dire predictions for fear of being seen as alarmists or “doom and gloomers.”

Many seem to fear that if they say things will get worse, the very act of saying it may make it happen. Talk about the arrogance of power!

But that hasn’t stopped Paul Craig Roberts an Assistant Treasury Secretary in the Reagan Administration from warning on USA Watchdog.com:

“America is going to crash big time… The real problem is not the fiscal cliff. The dollar is on very thin ice.“

Dr. Roberts says, “They can’t stop hemorrhaging the debt, and the way they cover that is to hemorrhage the dollar.” In this real time scenario, Dr. Roberts goes on to say, “When you have debt pouring out and dollars pouring out, the dollar can’t keep its value forever.† At some point, people will run away from it, and it will start abroad.”

Dr. Roberts thinks there is “an impending collapse of the exchange value,” and the U.S. dollar could unexpectedly plunge in buying power. Dr. Roberts contends, “All of a sudden, people walk into Walmart, as usual, and they think they’ve walked into Neiman Marcus.”† Dr. Roberts says there are no quick fixes to the bulging debt because “there’s no way to close this deficit when corporations are moving the tax base off-shore.”

Note his allusion to shopping reflects the fact that 70% of the economy is based on consumerism. A bullish Christmas Shopping season is supposed to make up for a whole year of dramatic ups and downs

It starts on the day after the Thanksgiving holiday with heavy sales and deep discounts called “Black Friday.”

And this year shopping marathon seemed off to a good start. The crowds grew and initial reports said that sales were up. But, as the press reported. that the big day was driven by aggressive discounts and earlier than ever shopping hours.

The Washington Post later reported that “Black Friday is a bunch of meaningless hype because strong sales results around Black Friday actually predict slightly weaker holiday sales overall.”

The National Research Federation’s estimates for Black Friday spending are widely disseminated but not believable either because they are based on a consumer survey, not real data, with their accuracy open to question.

“Even a legitimate boost in sales can indicate variously that consumers are feeling flush, or that they’re desperately chasing door busters because money is tight. While the U.S. Commerce Department doesn’t break out Black Friday sales, its figures suggest that the final tally for holiday spending isn’t likely to be as stratospheric as the trade group’s weekend numbers suggest.”

The Wall Street Journal now admits consumer spending is “wobbly.”

In fact, every year, the initial reports show a shopping boom, but later filings by credit card companies reveal a fall-off. In January next year, stores are likely to be flooded with returns by shoppers who realize they can’t afford all their goodies. This proves Christmas shopping it is not the economic miracle it is always cracked up to be.

Meanwhile there are other economic indicators that show there may be more pain than gain, as these headlines attest:

• Home Seizures are way up as the flow of foreclosures pick up

• A delay of Bank of America’a return to selling mortgage securities shows the bust is limiting the housing market’s revival.

• More and more bank scandals offer evidence of massive fraud and manipulation. Cash fines substitute for prosecutions assuring the frauds will continue. A new report by the center for Responsible Lending confirms that predatory lending has not been checked.

•The Federal Reserve Bank is twisting up its “Operation Twist” and pumping more money—money they print—into, reports ML-implode.com, “buying $45 billion of longer-term Treasury bonds per month in addition to the $40 billion per month of agency mortgage backed securities announced in September. By dropping the sales component of operation twist, it means that the entire $85 billion of asset purchases will add to the Fed's balance sheet as none of it will be sterilized.''

None of these issues are discussed in any comprehensible detail in our media. The focus since the election has been on a contrived distortion—the so-called “Fiscal cliff.”

Writes Paul Street, “The fiscal fixation is childish and irresponsible in a country plagued by mass unemployment, endemic job insecurity, and related widespread poverty

But that’s not all that gets lost in the current mass-mediated deficit mania. Let’s assume that “the deficit” is a genuine problem with grave long-term implications for the U.S. economy (i.e., crippling interest payments, loss of national sovereignty, and more). Two obvious solutions are to (1) cut U.S. “defense” ...expenditures and (2) initiate serious health care reforms on the model of the health insurance systems that prevail in other industrial powers.”

None of that is likely to happen as tax policy gets all the attention, It looks like Republicans now will compromise on their opposition to increasing taxes on the ultra rich in exchange for more cuts in social programs—the so-called “entitlements.”

The rich can afford to pay a bit more although they will probably find more loopholes to keep actual payments down, but people dependent on federal assistance will be hit hard.

The net result of all of this will decidedly not be more economic fairness. A deal between the White House and the Republican dominated Congress will be reached, but its not one that will please progressives.

The “Fiscal Cliff” may then disappear as an issue but icebergs of economic volatility are still rushing our way. Mayday, Mayday!



News Dissector Danny Schechter directed Plunder, a film on the financial collapse and wrote a companion book, the Crime Of Our Time. He blog at newsdisector.net. He hosts a radio show at PRN.fm. Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org

Friday, December 14, 2012

Investor-State Rules: NAFTA Mobilized to Throttle Canadian public Interest


U.S. Corporations Launch Wave of NAFTA Attacks on Canada's Energy, Fracking, and Medicines Policies

by Public Citizen


U.S. corporations have launched an alarming new offensive against Canadian health and environmental policies under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Three U.S. firms recently announced plans to use the “trade” pact to seek nearly one billion taxpayer dollars in private, NAFTA-created tribunals as compensation for Canadian policies on fracking, wind energy, and medicine patents.

Of the three corporate threats, perhaps most worrisome is the notice filed by U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, which became public this week. It marks the first attempt by a patent-holding pharmaceutical corporation to use the investment provisions in NAFTA (or any other U.S. FTA) as a tool to push for greater monopoly patent protections, which elevate the cost of medicines. (See our comments on the historic move in a post yesterday over at Pharmalot.)

But how can a foreign corporation directly demand taxpayer compensation from a sovereign government over a democratically-determined policy? Meet the “investor-state” system. Written into NAFTA, this system uniquely empowers foreign corporations to skirt domestic laws and courts and directly challenge a government’s public interest policies. The cases are decided by U.N. and World Bank tribunals typically comprised of three corporate lawyers. Private corporations have launched these cases against a wide array of health, environmental, financial, and other public interest policies that they allege as undermining “expected future profits.”

Such cases have soared over the last decade—last year the cumulative number of launched investor-state cases was nine times the cumulative investor-state caseload in 2000. When the foreign investor wins the case, the government must hand the corporation an amount of taxpayer money decided by the tribunal as compensation for the offending policy. Under NAFTA-style deals, private investors have already pocketed $365 million in taxpayer money via investor-state cases, while more than $13 billion remains in pending claims.

As three more corporations get in line to use this audacious system against Canada, the country is ironically just joining negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the NAFTA-style deal that would expand the investor-state system further. With Canada preparing to spend more taxpayer money to defend its environmental, energy, and patent policies, you’d think that the country might soon sour on the investor-state system. It wouldn’t be the first. Australia has already publicly refused to be party to the expansive investor-state provisions of the TPP or any other trade deal.

Here’s a quick summary of the three disputes and the NAFTA-protected “rights” that each investor claims, with a few more wonky details on the particularly dangerous patent dispute:

A Gas Corporation’s Right to Frack the St. Lawrence: In June 2011, Quebec passed a moratorium on the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for natural gas. The provincial government declared the moratorium so as to be able to conduct an environmental impact assessment of the extraction method widely accused of leaching chemicals and gases into groundwater and the air. Lone Pine Resources, a Delaware-headquartered gas and oil exploration and production company, had plans and permits to engage in fracking on over 30,000 acres of land directly beneath the St. Lawrence River. Lone Pine argues that the fracking moratorium nullified those permits. In November Lone Pine formally accused Canada of violating its NAFTA obligations by permitting Quebec’s decision to conduct an environmental impact study before determining whether a foreign corporation should inject chemicals into thousands of acres of shale beneath the province’s longest river. According to Lone Pine, such policymaking contravenes NAFTA’s protections against expropriation and for “fair and equitable treatment.” As compensation, Lone Pine would like a quarter billion taxpayer dollars.

An Energy Company’s Right to a Convenient Energy Policy: Ontario’s green energy policy, acclaimed for reducing carbon emissions and creating green jobs, has already come under attack at the World Trade Organization, resulting in last month’s regressive ruling against the successful policy. Now a U.S.-based energy corporation named Windstream Energy plans to launch an investor-state case over its inability to participate in the green energy program. The corporation had contracted with Ontario’s provincial government to provide energy generated by an offshore wind farm located in Lake Ontario. But in February 2011, the provincial government declared a moratorium on offshore wind production, stating that time was needed to study the environmental impacts of the relatively new energy source (currently there are only a few freshwater offshore wind farms in the world). Windstream’s formal notice alleged that the moratorium “effectively annulled the existing regulatory framework” and thus contravened Canada’s NAFTA obligations concerning fair and equitable treatment, expropriation, and discrimination (para. 36). As compensation for Ontario’s cautious approach to clean energy policymaking, Windstream is pushing for nearly a half billion taxpayer dollars.

A Pharmaceutical Corporation’s Right to Break Promises but Keep Patents: Indiana-based Eli Lilly, the fifth-largest U.S. pharmaceutical corporation, has notified Canada that it intends to launch an investor-state case against the decision of Canadian courts to invalidate the company’s patent for Strattera, a drug used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A Canadian federal court and court of appeals both ruled that the patented drug failed to deliver the benefits that Eli Lilly had promised when applying for the patent’s monopoly protection rights. The resulting invalidation of the patent paves the way for Canadian drug producers, such as Novopharm—the generic drug company that filed the domestic case, to produce a less expensive, generic version of the ADHD drug. Eli Lilly’s notice argues that Canada’s basis for the patent invalidation—that a pharmaceutical corporation should be required to deliver on its promises of a drug’s utility in order to maintain the drug’s patent—is “discriminatory, arbitrary, unpredictable and remarkably subjective” (para. 43). The company is pushing for $100 million in taxpayer compensation.

Eli Lilly’s attack does not just target Canada’s particular treatment of Strattera, but the country’s entire basis for determining patent validity (the “promise doctrine”—that a drug patent will be honored so long as promises regarding the drug’s efficacy are also honored). As such, the outcome of the case is particularly critical, as a loss for Canada could expose the country to a slew of investor-state attacks from other drug companies with invalidated, promise-breaking patents eager to follow Eli Lilly’s lead. Indeed, Eli Lilly mentioned in its notice another invalidated patent for an anti-schizophrenia drug named Zyprexa, which Canadian courts have similarly determined to fall short of promised benefits. Eli Lilly may be considering a second NAFTA investor-state case over that drug.

In addition, there are rumors that Pfizer may be considering launching its own investor-state case against Canada over, yes, Viagra. Canada’s Supreme Court has invalidated the Viagra patent on the basis that Pfizer failed to disclose its active ingredient, thereby allowing generic firms to begin competing with Pfizer in production of the erectile dysfunction drug. While this suit has less to do with Canada’s “promise doctrine,” Pfizer could similarly seek to undermine the patent criteria of Canada’s highest courts by turning to a NAFTA-created private tribunal to demand taxpayer compensation.

In its notice regarding the Strattera patent, Eli Lilly specifically argued that the patent invalidation violated Canada’s NAFTA obligations concerning expropriation, a “minimum standard of treatment,” and national treatment. If you’re interested in weeds-level analysis, here’s some for each claim:

Expropriation: Eli Lilly claims that the decision of Canadian courts to terminate its Strattera patent for lack of promised utility constituted an expropriation of its “intangible property”—part of NAFTA’s broad definition of a protected “investment.” NAFTA does not explicitly state that intellectual property (e.g., patents) falls under the definition of an “investment,” though many have assumed the inclusion of patents to be implicit. But in the TPP, to which Canada is now a negotiating party, the investment chapter leaked earlier this year proposes to explicitly name “intellectual property rights” under the definition of a protected “investment.” So if Eli Lilly thinks it can define patent invalidation as property expropriation under NAFTA, it certainly could do so under the proposed TPP text. Thus, if Canada plans to continue its rather incongruous commitments to the TPP and to sovereign determination over how patents are awarded, it should view Eli Lilly’s dispute as a sign of things to come.

Minimum Standard of Treatment: Eli Lilly’s second claim against Canada is that the rulings of its courts violated the “minimum standard of treatment” that NAFTA signatories are obliged to provide foreign investors. Sovereign states, such as the United States, have consistently argued that this standard means providing police protection and due process, such as that afforded to Eli Lilly when it defended its patent before Canada’s courts. But investor-state tribunals have generated increasingly inventive interpretations of the minimum standard, arguing that it also requires governments not to enact policies that could violate expectations foreign investors may have plausibly had upon investing. As the United States argued in a previous investor-state case, “if States were prohibited from regulating in any manner that frustrated expectations—or had to compensate for any diminution in profit—they would lose the power to regulate” (para. 576).

Yet, this extreme interpretation is precisely the one on which Eli Lilly relies, accusing Canada’s courts of “contravening” its expectations (para. 100). Such elastic interpretations have made the minimum-standard-of-treatment claim the single most successful allegation that investors can mount against a state—of every four investor-state cases launched under U.S. treaties in which the investor has won, three cited a “minimum standard of treatment” claim as the basis for the “win.”

National Treatment: In its final claim, that Canada violated NAFTA’s “national treatment” obligation, Eli Lilly surpasses even the runaway interpretations of past investor-state tribunals. The national treatment obligation requires governments to afford foreign investors treatment that is “no less favorable” than that afforded to domestic corporations “in like circumstances” (para. 105). But after quoting this NAFTA definition, Eli Lilly ignores it, inventing instead a standard that would require Canada to afford foreign investors treatment no less favorable than what Canadian companies could hypothetically receive in other countries. Such a speculative obligation is rather unprecedented, seemingly concocted by Eli Lilly itself.

The corporation also alleges that the courts’ patent invalidation violates national treatment by advantaging Canadian generic firms that can now create and market generic versions of Strattera. Here, Eli Lilly presumes to challenge Canadian courts’ removal of a patent on the incredible basis that patent removals help generics. First, a patent-holding firm and a generic firm plainly do not meet the “in like circumstances” requirement of a national treatment claim concerning a patent (the relevant comparison would be between Eli Lilly and Canadian patent-holding firms). But more importantly, of course the removal of patents advantages generic producers, but it does so regardless of whether they are foreign or domestic. Were Eli Lilly’s inventive logic to be accepted by the tribunal, it could jeopardize generic medicines in nearly any country that finds cause to terminate a patent but also finds itself subject to a NAFTA-style treaty.

In sum, the outcome of Eli Lilly’s claim is critical for those seeking to safeguard access to medicines, both in terms of what it means for Canada’s broader policy of ending patents found to not deliver promised results, and in the message it sends to pharmaceutical firms contemplating investor-state attacks on other governments’ policies to control medicine costs. The dispute, in addition to the investor-state attacks on Quebec’s fracking moratorium and Ontario’s offshore wind moratorium, should also make Canada think twice about the TPP. While defending its pharmaceutical and environmental policies before unpredictable three-person tribunals created by NAFTA, Canada should reconsider signing up for an expansion of the system that placed those policies under such inordinate threat.

Crisis, What Crisis? Canada Flushes Kyoto


“Day of Shame”: Canada Officially Out of Kyoto

by Green Party of Canada 

On December 15th, Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol will take legal effect. Canada will be the only nation out of more than 180 to legally exit the protocol.

“It is the first treaty in the history of Canada that we have ever ratified and then repudiated and quit. This decision threatens Canada’s standing in the world and, more importantly, our children’s future,” said Green Leader Elizabeth May, Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands.

“This is a day of shame. Our children and grandchildren will harshly look back on Harper’s years in power as a period of reckless disregard for future generations,” said May.

“Harper’s Conservatives present us with a fake contradiction between environmental protection and a healthy economy. They want to fool Canadians by using per capita instead of overall green house gases (GHG) emission numbers. It’s high time honesty and integrity are reintroduced in our country’s debate on climate change,” added May.

“In 1990, Canada emitted 589 million tons of GHG. In 2010, that number rose to 692 million tons, a 17% increase. Under Kyoto, Canada had committed to reduce its total emissions by 6% between 1990 and 2012. It is a national shame,” concluded Green Shadow Cabinet Critic for Climate change, Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ravi Bye Bye

Passing: Ravi Shankar

 


Devil's in the Detailing: Painting the SS Republican Titanic


The Botox Solution: Why the Formerly Grand Old Party Needs to Change and Won’t

by Jeremiah Goulka - TomDispatch

Mitt Romney had hardly conceded before Republicans started fighting over where to head next. Some Republicans -- and many Democrats -- now claim that the writing is on the wall: demography is destiny, which means the GOP is going the way of the Whigs and the Dodo. Across the country, they see an aging white majority shrinking as the U.S. heads for the future as a majority-minority country and the Grand Old Party becomes the Gray Old Party. Others say: not so fast.

In the month since 51% of the electorate chose to keep Barack Obama in the White House, I’ve spent my time listening to GOP pundits, operators, and voters. While the Party busily analyzes the results, its leaders and factions are already out front, pushing their own long-held opinions and calling for calm in the face of onrushing problems.

Do any of their proposals exhibit a willingness to make the kind of changes the GOP will need to attract members of the growing groups that the GOP has spent years antagonizing like Hispanics, Asian Americans, unmarried women, secular whites, and others? In a word: no.

Instead, from my informal survey, it looks to this observer (and former Republican) as if the party is betting all its money on cosmetic change. Think of it as the Botox Solution. It wants to tweak its talking points slightly and put more minority and female Republicans on stage as spokespeople. Many in the GOP seem to believe that this will do the trick in 2014 and beyond. Are they deluded?

You’ve heard the expression “putting lipstick on a pig,” haven’t you?

The Blame Game and the Short-Term Outlook


Although most Republicans see hints of future demographic challenges in the exit polls, many prefer to focus on other factors to explain Romney’s loss out of a desire not to “blow up the party if there are less radical solutions.” (Hence, the delusional quality of so many of their post-mortems and the lack of interest in meaningful change.)

First, they cite the Romney factor: a weak candidate, too moderate -- or too conservative -- who failed to fight the Obama campaign’s early efforts to paint him as an out-of-touch plutocrat. In other words, his history (Bain Capital and Romneycare) depth-charged him before demographics could even kick in. He was, unfortunately, the perfect quarter-billionaire candidate for a Democratic narrative that the GOP is only out for the rich and doesn’t “care about people like me.” (He predictably lost that exit poll question by a margin of 81% to 18%). Running a “vulture capitalist” (and a Mormon) drove a number of Republican voters to stay home or even -- gasp! -- vote for Obama. It’s a mistake that won’t be repeated in 2016.

Second, they point to the Obama factor. In both 2008 and 2012, he attracted unprecedented levels of minority and young voters, a phenomenon that might not be repeated in 2016. Some Republican operatives are also convinced that his campaign simply had a much better “ground game” and grasp of how to employ technology to turn out voters. (Half of self-identifying Republican voters think, as they did in 2008, that Obama simply stole the election through registration fraud involving African Americans.)

Third, they emphasize the powers of incumbency. Romney only became the presumptive front-runner because the GOP’s A-list -- mostly too young in any case -- feared the huge advantage an incumbent president enjoys and stayed home. 2016, they swear, will be different. Nor do they seem to fear a reprise of the 2008 and 2012 primary circuses because the A-listers in 2016, they insist, will all have well-established conservative bona fides and won’t have to bend over backwards to cultivate the conservative base.

Trying to appeal to the Right while facing various nutcase candidates, Romney shot himself in both feet, labeling himself a “severe conservative” and staking an extreme anti-immigration position. George W. Bush, on the other hand, could run as a “compassionate conservative” in 2000 because his street cred on the Right was unchallengeable. Indeed, Paul Ryan is already talking up “compassion,” while Ted Cruz, the new (extreme) senator from Texas, is hawking “opportunity conservatism.”

Fourth, there is the perceived success of Republicans other than Romney, particularly in what white Republicans call the “Heartland.” GOP operatives are still angry at Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock for losing two gimme Senate seats to the Dems by “saying stupid things” (in the words of Bobby Jindal, Louisiana governor and frequent visitor to Iowa), and they wonder how they lost in Montana and North Dakota.

Still, they kept their majority in the House of Representatives, losing only a handful of seats. (That the GOP lost the majority of total votes cast gets less attention.) The Party also added a 30th governor to its roster, and held onto its control of the majority of top offices and legislative chambers in the states. Come 2014, GOP operatives expect the Party to do quite nicely, as the opposition party often does in midterm elections, especially if turnout demographics look like 2006 and 2010. Another lesson many movement conservatives have learned is that the more they pound away on their issues, the more they shift American politics rightward even when they lose.

All of this suggests to anxious Republicans that they are not crazy for seeing no immediate need to make big changes to appeal to demographic groups outside the Party’s aging white base. But the short term is likely to be short indeed. Think of them, then, as the POD or the Party of Denial.

Meanwhile, on the Bridge of the Titanic


Avoid it as they may, the long-term picture couldn’t look grimmer for the Party. Demographics may well be destiny. Even a cursory look at the numbers exposes the looming threat to the Party’s future prospects.

* Whites: About three-quarters of the electorate (and 88% of Romney’s voters) this year were white, but their numbers are steadily sinking -- by 2% since 2008. Yes, many whites may have stayed home this year, turned off by Mr. Car Elevator, but whites are projected to become a demographic minority by 2050 -- or possibly even before 2040 -- and minority births are now outpacing white births.

* White Christians: The bulk of Romney’s supporters (79%) were white Christians (40% of whom were evangelicals), but this is an aging and shrinking group. Three-quarters of senior voters but only a quarter of millennial voters are white Christians, and the generations in between are much less likely to consider themselves “strong” members of their religion than seniors. (Non-white Christians, Jews, observers of other faiths, and the growing number of the religiously-unaffiliated all overwhelmingly vote for Democrats.)

* Hispanics: According to the Washington Post exit polls, Obama received 71% of the Hispanic vote in 2012 (67% in 2008). Already 10% of this year’s voters (9% in 2008), the Hispanic population is exploding, accounting for half of U.S. population growth.

* Asian Americans: The nation’s fastest growing demographic group -- now 3% of this year's voters (2% in 2008) -- gave Obama 73% of its vote in 2012 (62% in 2008).

* Unmarried Women: The percentage of unmarried women has been growing slowly since the 1970s, up to 53% of women as of last year. Even among subgroups favoring Obama, there was a marriage gap in which unmarried women (23% of this year’s voters) favored Obama by huge margins. Despite winning 53% of (mostly white) married women, 31% of this year’s voters (down from 33% in 2008), Romney lost women overall by 11 points.

* The Young: The millennial generation (born between 1978 and 2000) has been voting overwhelmingly for Democrats (66% for Obama in 2008, 60% this year). They are projected to be 40% of the eligible voting pool by 2020. Because they are relatively diverse and secular, the GOP cannot assume that enough will emulate previous generations and swing to the right as they age.

Such polling figures should frighten GOP leaders. There’s no reason to believe that what we saw on November 6th was anything but the tip of the iceberg.

The factions in the party that are not socially conservative see these looming threats as an opportunity to get the GOP to drop the social stuff. But movement conservatives aren’t going to cede ideological ground, not when they (correctly) think it’s a necessity if they are to attract their base voters. “This country doesn’t need two liberal or Democratic parties,” is the way Bobby Jindal puts it, typically enough.

Like right-wing pundit Fred Barnes, many movement conservatives and Tea Party leaders will continue to insist that whites are going to remain “the nation’s dominant voting bloc… for many elections to come.” Hedging their bets, they have decided to become more “inclusive” or at least just inclusive enough in these days of micro-targeting and razor-thin election margins. After all, Romney would have won New Mexico, Florida, Nevada, and Colorado if he had captured even slightly higher shares of the Hispanic vote and he could have won in the Electoral College if fewer than 200,000 voters in key states had switched their votes.

To get more inclusive, however, these leaders offer an entirely cosmetic approach: emphasize the Party’s middle-class message, increase outreach or “partnership” with Hispanics and Asian Americans, back off the anti-immigration message a tad, say fewer stupid things √† la Akin and Mourdock, cross your fingers, and hope for the best.

A Nonsense Strategy


When it comes to why this won’t work down the line, it’s hard to know where to start. Take that middle-class message. Many Republicans think that it should offer “crossover appeal” on its own, so long as it’s said loudly enough.

But what exactly is it? After all, it’s never about jobs going abroad, retirement worries (except insofar as the GOP wants to increase insecurity by privatizing Social Security), underwater mortgages, missing childcare for working families, exploding higher education costs, or what global warming is doing to the Midwestern breadbasket and coastal agriculture (much less the long-term capability of the planet to sustain life as we know it). Instead, it remains about “choice,” lowering taxes (again), “entitlement reform,” and getting the government out of the way of economic growth.

As if what the middle class really wants or needs is “choice” in education (Jindal’s plan to divert tax funds to private and parochial schools through vouchers was just ruled unconstitutional); “choice,” not affordability, in health care (the #1 cause of personal bankruptcy in America); and ever more environmental pollution, as well as further challenges to getting workman’s comp if you get injured on the job.

Studies have repeatedly shown that most Americans are “operationally” liberal on the substance of most policy issues. In other words, Republicans will support “small government,” until you ask about cutting spending on anything other than anti-poverty programs. In fact, less than a third of self-identifying Republicans surveyed by Reuters/Ipsos this year “somewhat” or “strongly” disagreed with the proposition that the wealthiest Americans should pay higher tax rates.

As a counter to the charge that the GOP is the party of the rich, Jindal offered this on Fox News: “We... need to make it very clear... that we’re not the party of Big: big businesses, big banks, big Wall Street, big bailouts.”

Um… who other than Republican true believers will buy that?

The Jerk Factor


As for those demographic groups the GOP needs to start winning over in the medium- and long-term, putative 2016 A-lister Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wants to see a middle class “message of prosperity and freedom for all” communicated loudly to immigrants and the young. But as one astute Republican insider said to me, “Hispanics won’t hear our message so long as they think our immigration platform says, ‘We hate Mexicans.’”

Bobby Jindal was right to say, “If we want people to like us, we have to like them first.” But the Party hasn’t truly begun to grasp what might be called the liking gap between the GOP and the groups it needs to cultivate. It’s time for Republicans to take a long, hard look in the mirror. It’s not just recent anti-immigration fervor that repels Hispanics and others from the party. The GOP needs to internalize the fact that the dead bird hanging from its neck is its entire modern history.

It’s true that the Democrats were once the segregationists and Abraham Lincoln and the conservationist, trust-busting Teddy Roosevelt were Republicans, as Republicans are fond of pointing out. But that’s ancient history.

The Party’s modern history began when business leaders got politicized in response to the New Deal and then the GOP began courting the Dixiecrats after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965 (despite knowing that he had “just delivered the South to the Republican Party”). The white South started voting for GOP presidential candidates in the Nixon years and would soon become solidly Republican. At 70% of the electorate (nearly 90% in Mississippi), it remains so today.

White-flight suburbs around the country followed suit. Add in the fervent cultivation of evangelical Protestant Christians -- anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-evolution, anti-science -- and the various modern incarnations of nativist Know Nothings. Don’t forget the ejection of moderates from the Party, and you have the essential history of the modern GOP in two paragraphs.

So the GOP can say that it wants to and plans to like Hispanics, Asian Americans, unmarried women, and secular youth, but to be believable, merely easing off on its anti-immigration message or going quiet on abortion won’t do the trick. And if it wants to prove that it cares, it will have to put some real money where its mouth is.

What the Party Should Do -- and Won’t


Here’s an idea: how about some “extraordinary financial gifts” like the ones Mitt Romney denounced just days after his loss!

To really go after the groups it needs, the GOP would have to do the inconceivable: drop the “entitlement reform” racket, open the wallet, and reach below a restrictive definition of the middle class. It might, for instance, mean adding more money to Food Stamps, rather than poking fun at the “food stamp president,” because a full quarter of Hispanics and 35% of Hispanic children are poor.

According to the Census, the median income for Hispanics in 2009 was $38,039 versus $51,861 for whites. The difference is far starker when you compare median net worth: Thanks to the economic crisis, Hispanic households lost 66% of their median net worth, falling to $6,325 in 2009, compared to $113,149 for white households (a 16% loss).

It would undoubtedly mean supporting equal pay for equal work, which the GOP has consistently opposed. It would mean working to make healthcare more affordable for everyone. That’s how you prove you care in politics -- and it would also be good for the nation.

Similarly, if the Republicans want to be taken seriously as “defenders” of the middle class, they would need to do something to defend it from its predators. No, not the lower class but the upper class, the predatory lenders and speculators, the fraudsters, the manipulators of the financial system, the folks who got bailed out while everyone else shouldered the risk.

It hardly needs to be said that this isn’t likely to happen in any of our lifetimes.

So far the only Republican suggestion I’ve heard that seems more than (barely) cosmetic is for the Party to drop its aversion to gay marriage. That would, at least, be a beneficial, if cynically motivated, move to look less hateful.

Hesitation in the Face of Change


It is, of course, theoretically possible that Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) could attract enough Hispanic and other voters in 2016 to win the presidency. Provided that the primaries don’t turn into another bizarro battle. Provided that the tone set by Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, or fringe candidates of their ilk doesn’t sink the A-listers. Provided that not too many “stupid” things are said -- on abortion, immigration, evolution, or global warming. (Rubio has already gotten to work on that one by punting on a question about the Earth’s age to keep the creationists happy.)

But come 2020, 2024, or 2028, whatever’s left of the GOP is going to be kicking itself for not having built a foundation of anything other than words that no one outside its rank-and-file actually believed. Texas, after all, could go purple by 2020 or 2024.

Of all the signals emanating from the GOP since Election Day, perhaps the most significant came last week when the socially and fiscally conservative Tea Party kingmaker Jim DeMint voted with his feet. The man who would rather have “30 Republicans in the Senate who believe in principles of freedom than 60 who don't believe in anything” is leaving that body for the Heritage Foundation -- a hint about the future of what is arguably the most important GOP organization in the country.

It looks like the GOP is at the wheel of the Titanic, sailing toward that iceberg, while the band plays “Nearer My God to Thee” for all it’s worth.



Jeremiah Goulka, a TomDispatch regular, writes about American politics and culture, focusing on the Republican Party, race, and security. He was formerly an analyst at the RAND Corporation, a Hurricane Katrina recovery worker, and an attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice. You can follow him on Twitter @jeremiahgoulka or contact him through his website jeremiahgoulka.com.

Copyright 2012 Jeremiah Goulka