May 31, 2012

[Art] Digital Comic by Franke James

This latest art piece by Franke James, titled What is Harper Afraid Of? is really worth checking out! Well illustrated, well-written, and poignant! What a freaking mess we're in....

Check out Franke James' piece here.

A little taste:

March 02, 2012

[Embarrassment] My Government's Approach to Environment is Subversive and Incompetent

As a Canadian citizen I want to apologize to citizens of the world out there... for my government's dysmal, deficient, incompetent, underhanded approach to all environmental matters. I've blogged recently about how since the rise of Stephen Harper's Conservative Party the government has had trouble even upholding its own environmental laws, and has become a shameless apologist for corporations exploiting Alberta bitumen. Two news stories today only add to my embarrassment of being affiliated with these incompetent rulers who have completely destroyed the reputation Canada once had as a nation concerned about our collective socio-ecological future.

The first is a news story in The Calgary Herald titled "Secret memo warns oil sands damage may be irreversible". Not only does it turn out that development in the tar sands - contrary to propaganda of the corporate developers - will likely "permanently damage Alberta's landscape" (something we all knew anyways), but high level officials have consistently warned our political 'leaders' that this is the case. Yet even though the 'secret' documents given to decision-makers has only corroborated the findings of numerous climate scientists, ecologists, First Nations, medical professionals and other researchers, the government still tows the blind ideological line of pursuing continued growth in the megaproject.

The second is an appeal by one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world, Nature, to the Harper government, asking for environmental scientists on the public service payroll to be allowed to share their findings with the rest of the world (read a news story about this here). It turns out the Harper government is so intent on controlling information in this country that several scientists have been muzzled simply for speaking about their research! Nature notes how over the last few years Canada has taken on the anti-science stance of the Bush Administration, while in the U.S. Obama has luckily cleared a more open setting for environmental research dissemination. As CBC has reported, the appeal from Nature "reveal[s] the Harper government has little understanding of the importance of the free flow of scientific knowledge."

Clearly there is something rotten in our federal government's approach to environment. As a Canadian I must share some responsibility for this. To those of you from elsewhere I can only say "I'm sorry"... I will try my best to reminding my fellow citizens of the crimes against nature committed by the Conservatives. I can only hope people will come to their senses in time for the next election, and realize that a future without a thriving socio-ecological balance is bound to end badly for humans.

January 10, 2012

[Hogwash] On The Minister of Natural Resources Open Letter to Canadians

Yesterday the Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver, published an open letter to Canadians on the Ministry's Press Room Website. It was also published on numerous official government websites, and throughout the day sound bites were played on the news in which the Minister essentially claimed thus:
The Canadian regulatory review system (in particular the review of Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline) is being 'hijacked' by 'environmentalists and other radical groups' who are being funded by 'foreign', 'American billionaire socialists'! 
This is truly amazing rhetoric coming from a member of the cabinet! It's truly amazing (and completely inappropriate) for a number of reasons:

First, it's completely inappropriate for a high-ranking Minister to announce the day a review begins that the very process carrying out that review is illegitimate and flawed. One might expect these kinds of reactionary ideological rantings from some anti-government bully like Ezra Levant or something, but the Minister of Natural Resources!? Really? What a horrible precedent, to decry the legitimacy of the very processes which you've been elected to protect and carry-out!

Second, by decrying how long it takes for the 'approval process', the Minister is very clearly stating the government has already approved this project - that the review is basically just a rubber stamping procedure. Yet, with no sense of the sheer hypocrisy found in his own words, the Minister writes in his letter that "Our regulatory system must be fair, independent, consider different viewpoints including those of Aboriginal communities, review the evidence dispassionately and then make an objective determination." By 'objective determination' we already know he means siding with Big Oil, ignoring any alternative perspectives, and approving the project.

Third, by suggesting that the review system is being 'hijacked' by radical environmentalists and 'foreign' interests, he draws an association between environmental justice groups and terrorists. The use of the word 'hijack' is very strong language, and completely inappropriate for a public announcement of this sort. To suggest that pacifist environmentalist groups who care deeply about the future of this country and the planet are 'hijackers' is quite off the mark, and completely unfair. The idea that stakeholders who may not agree with the project shouldn't be allowed to have their voice heard at such review hearings is yet another indication of the backwards understanding of democratic governance held by the Conservative Party.

Fourth, but certainly not least, the complete absurdity in the concept of 'American billionaire socialists' intervening in Canadian sovereignty seriously calls to question Mr. Oliver's capacity to understand reality. Not only do some of the Canadian environmental organizations he refers to receive the vast majority of their funding from domestic sources (read this article), somehow he fails to mention the billions of dollars used by foreign oil corporations that will go into pushing through these projects, through endless lobbying, advertising, flying in 'experts', bribes, etc.

What a disgrace we have for a Minister of Natural Resources. We may as well change his title to Minister of Corporate Propaganda.

December 13, 2011

[Criminality] Problems Upholding Our Own Environmental Laws

Two of today's leading headlines on CBC News read as follows:

May Accuses Harper of Breaking Law Over Kyoto

Environment Canada Struggling to Enforce Law

The basic finding in the first article is that the Harper government is violating domestic law by withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol without any kind of parliamentary debate or discussion, since the Protocol was ratified by the House of Commons and later received royal assent. One of the dangers of Harper's unilateral withdrawal from Kyoto is that the Protocol requires good record keeping of GHG trends in Canada, so there is a worry that Harper now might scrap the budget of the GHG monitoring programs (just like he scrapped the long gun registry and the long form census). Of course, one major ramification of the Harper government's announcement of withdrawal from Kyoto is that Canada is now a complete embarrassment, an international pariah that is seen as a bully and selfish member of the global community that cares little about others and fails to come to grips with the severity of climate change. It really is a shame that the rest of the world is acquiring such a negative image of this country - a shame for which we can place blame squarely on the shoulders of the leaders of the Conservative Party.

The basic finding in the second article is that the Harper government is failing to uphold it's own environmental laws. But the second level of travesty in this news story is that the auditor who has been trying to improve the systems we have for regulating the environment is typically ignored by the Harper cohort. Reports by the federal environment commissioner - Scott Vaughan - have been repeatedly repudiated or simply brushed aside by members of the Harper caucus, in particular the Minister of Environment - Peter Kent. In his report, Vaughan noted how senior management at Environment Canada "refused to acknowledge the facts presented in this report."

My friends, we are in the ironic position of having a government which claims to be 'tough on crime', but whose own approach to environmental law is basically being labelled as criminal by two high-ranking members of the Canadian government (Member of Parliament Elizabeth May and the Federal Environment Commissioner). What does one do when their own government - claiming to be tough on crime and open to dialogue and democracy - somehow makes unilateral decisions that impact the entire planet without a minute of democratic debate, and which seems to violate national and international laws? It's time that our members of parliament act in the best interest their constituents: display your vote lack of confidence in Stephen Harper and his cronies, and bring in a new political leadership that cares about the future of the planet!

October 19, 2011

[Occupation] Rethinking Grotesque Inequality

I went out on Saturday to support the Occupy Ottawa movement. Notwithstanding the slow decision-making process of the protesters (in order to ensure all ideas were heard and to make the most of fairness and democratic order), it was interesting and inspiring to be taking part in a movement which is essentially about social and economic justice. Despite all the ridiculous rhetoric from Canadian politicians regarding how great this country is because it 'weathered the economic storm' much moreso than other nations; and despite the fact that the situation (both the financial situation and the picture of inequality) is not quite as severe in this country as it is in some others - Canada has some serious problems that make the protesters' cause a worthy one north of the 49th.

Inequality has grown in Canada since the 1970s. The rich have gotten richer while the incomes of poor and middle class families have not seen any considerable growth. In fact, one study by the Conference Board of Canada found that those in the top income bracket saw an income increase of over 16% between 1980 and 2005, while those in the middle income bracket saw no growth and those in the lowest income bracket witnessed a decrease of 20.6%!
An economist at the CCPA found that one third of all income growth in Canada went to the richest 1%. The average family in Canada earned $63,800 in 2009 – after tax. The average individual earned $31,500 after tax. Meanwhile, the 100 richest CEOs in Canada earned $6.6 million on average in 2009! 
Finally, people are entertaining the idea that such absurd income inequalities just shouldn't be allowed!
Now, there are lots of great articles out there written about wall street. Below I've pasted two that I've found particularly insightful - one by Jeffrey Sachs and the other by Justin Podur focussing more on the Canadian context. Enjoy!

Message to Wall Street
by Jeffrey Sachs 10/17/11
The Wall Street elite seems completely befuddled by the Occupy Wall Street movement. The demonstrators are called "unsophisticated," or misguided, or much worse (mobs, communists, and more). Here's a short note to the titans of Wall Street to help them understand what's happening.
Let me start with the Wall Street Journal, which seems to be the most confused of all. In its Friday edition, the Journal editorial board couldn't understand why the protestors would want to protest JP Morgan and hedge fund manager John Paulson. The Journal also couldn't understand why the protesters were failing to champion something as wonderful as the Keystone Pipeline, which the Journal assures us would create many jobs.

The Journal can be forgiven for this basic confusion. It must be hard work to channel Rupert Murdoch's cynicism, greed, and ideology every day, so here are some answers so that the editorial board doesn't have to knock itself out with fresh research.
The protesters are annoyed with JP Morgan because it, like its fellow institutions on the street, helped to bring the world economy to its knees through unprincipled and illegal actions. The Journal editorial board apparently missed the news carried in the Journal's own business pages that JP Morgan recently paid $153.6 million in fines for violating securities laws in the lead-up to the 2008 financial collapse. JP Morgan, like other Wall Street institutions, connived with hedge funds to peddle toxic assets to unsuspecting investors, allowing the hedge funds to make a killing at the expense of their "mark," and the world economy.

The protestors are not enamored of Mr. Paulson either, since he played this role together with Goldman Sachs. Paulson made a fortune by teaming up with Goldman to bundle failed mortgages, which Goldman then peddled to its customers, in this case some unsuspecting German banks. Paulson shorted these assets and thereby profited as the bank's investments collapsed. For this little maneuver, Goldman paid $560 million to the SEC in fines. Of course this is a small amount compared to the profits that Goldman reaped for years playing in toxic assets. On Wall Street, misbehavior pays, at least up until now.

Mr. Paulson actually made some extraordinary statements in the New York Times on Friday (hard even to believe the nonsensical quotations are correct, but there they are, in the paper of record). He too expressed befuddlement about the protests against his business dealings. Didn't the protestors know that he had created 100 high-paying jobs in NYC? 100?

What the protestors do know is that Mr. Paulson's success in shorting toxic assets bundled for gullible investors has netted him billions. In 2007, he reportedly took home $3.7 billion by betting against the U.S. mortgage market. And the protestors can also do their arithmetic. Paulson's take home pay was enough to cover not just 100 jobs at $50,000 per year but rather approximately 70,000 jobs at $50,000 per year. Nice try, Mr. Paulson, but the people in Liberty Plaza don't think your hedge-fund play is really worth the compensation of 70,000 people. Nor do they understand why hedge fund managers pay a top tax rate of 15% on their hedge-fund earnings.
The Journal, Paulson, and others who accuse the protestors of being "unsophisticated," somehow have forgotten a basic point. It's not just Paulson, or Goldman, or JP Morgan that parlayed their unethical behavior into vast fortunes at the expense of hapless investors. Just name a big name on Wall Street in the past decade, scratch the surface, and uncover a financial scandal. Bank of America, Goldman, JP Morgan, AIG, Merrill Lynch, Countrywide Financial, Lehman Brothers are only the start of the list.
Maybe the Journal forgot to mention this because it itself is enmeshed in a series of scandals, ranging from hacking phones in the U.K. that has created a full-fledged crisis for its parent News Corporation, to last week's resignation of the European publisher. Murdoch is not just running an organization of corporate propaganda, but a criminal enterprise, at least in the U.K.
The protestors are not envious of wealth, but sick of corporate lies, cheating, and unethical behavior. They are sick of corporate lobbying that led to the reckless deregulation of financial markets; they are sick of Wall Street and the Wall Street Journal asking for trillions of dollars of near-zero-interest loans and bailout money for the banks, but then fighting against unemployment insurance and health coverage for those drowning in the wake of the financial crisis; they are sick of absurdly low tax rates for hedge-fund managers; they are sick of Rupert Murdoch and his henchman David Koch trying to peddle the Canada-to-Gulf Keystone oil pipeline as an honest and environmentally sound business deal, when in fact it would unleash one of the world's dirtiest and most destructive energy sources, Canada's oil sands, so that Koch can profit while the world suffers. And they are sick of learning how many Republican politicians - the most recent news is about Herman Cain - are doing the bidding of the Koch brothers.

Here, then, Wall Street and Big Oil, is what it comes down to. The protesters are no longer giving you a free ride, in which you can set the regulations, set your mega-pay, hide your money in tax havens, enjoy sweet tax rates at the hands of ever-willing politicians, and await your bailouts as needed. The days of lawlessness and greed are coming to an end. Just as the Gilded Age turned into the Progressive Era, just as the Roaring Twenties and its excesses turned into the New Deal, be sure that the era of mega-greed is going to turn into an era of renewed accountability, lawfulness, modest compensation, honest taxation, and government by the people rather than by the banks.
That, in short, is why Wall Street is filled with protesters and why you should wake up, respect the law rather than try to write it, and pay your taxes to a government that is ruled by people rather than by corporate power.

Jeffrey Sachs is Director, the Earth Institute, Columbia University; Author, 'The Price of Civilization'