The Economy NOW!

Virginia Galt at the Globe & Mail:

Almost 45 per cent of Canadian employers have already laid off employees, or plan to, “as the global financial crisis takes a tighter grip on the economy,” according to a survey released Wednesday by consulting firm Watson Wyatt.

The poll of 138 companies, conducted last month, also found that 41 per cent have frozen hiring or intend to.   [more]

From Tanalee Smith:

Rio Tinto Group, one of the world’s largest miners, will cut 14,000 jobs worldwide and reduce capital investment in an effort to control its debt amid waning demand for iron ore and other metals.

The British-Australian company said Wednesday that the job cuts — 12.5 per cent of its 112,000-person workforce, which includes 13,000 in Canada — and other operating-cost reductions will save at least $1.6-billion (U.S.) a year by 2010.

The cuts will be concentrated among contractors, where 8,500 positions will be eliminated while 5,500 of Rio Tinto’s 97,000 direct employees face the axe.

Rio Tinto — burdened with debt taken on for last year’s $38-billion takeover of Canada-based Alcan — also said it will try to sell “significant assets” not previously listed for sale, as it attempts to trim $6.6-billion in debt by the end of next year.   [more]

From the Associated Press at The Star:

Office Depot says it will close 112 stores over the next three months and open fewer stores in 2009 in an effort to cut costs.

The office-supply retailer will reduce its store base to 1,163. Locations being closed include 45 in the Central U.S, 40 in the Northeast and Canada, 19 in the West and eight in the South. Office Depot also will close six of its 33 North American distribution facilities.

In 2009, Office Depot will close 14 stores and open just 20 stores, half of what it had planned.   [more]

Canadian Press at The Star:

Nortel Networks Corp. (TSX: NT) is insisting it is “a viable partner for the long term,” after a report it has hired legal counsel to explore bankruptcy court protection from creditors.

Nortel shares plunged 28 per cent to a new low of 46 cents early today on the TSX, trading later in the day at 49.5 cents, down 14.5 cents or 23 per cent.

The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed “people familiar with the situation,” said the move was made in case the Toronto-headquartered telecommunications equipment maker’s restructuring plan fails.  [more]

Reuters at The Star:

China’s exports and imports shrank unexpectedly in November as the world’s fourth-largest economy slowed in a startlingly abrupt way in response to the global credit crunch.

The drop in exports from year-ago levels was the largest since April 1999, while the decline in imports was the steepest since monthly records kept by bankers began in 1993.

Other Asian export power houses, including South Korea and Taiwan, had already reported a drop in shipments last month as the shock to confidence that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers in mid-September reverberated through the world economy.

Economists had expected China’s exports to rise 15 per cent and imports to be up 12 per cent compared with November 2007. But the data showed exports fell 2.2 per cent from a year earlier and imports dropped by 17.9 per cent.   [more]

Ann Perry and Rita Trichur at The Star:

The Bank of Canada slashed its key interest rate yesterday by three-quarters of a percentage point to the lowest level in half a century and confirmed Canada’s economy is “entering a recession” because of the deepening global economic slump.

But chartered banks refused to match the deeper-than-expected cut, dropping their prime rates by only half a percentage point, the second time in the past few months some have balked at passing on the full savings to consumers and businesses.

Canada’s benchmark overnight rate now stands at 1.5 per cent, the lowest since 1958, as the Bank of Canada tries to revive the flagging economy and restore confidence by making it cheaper to borrow money.

The rate reduction was the single-biggest cut since the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.   [more]

Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman is “scared” about the prospects for next year.

Yet Stephen Harper saw fit to request that Parliament be prorogued so that he could hold on to his cardboard King crown, meaning that our government has done absolutely nothing to protect Canadian workers, retirees, the unemployed,  or low-income families and nothing to stimulate the economy.  Meantime, Barack Obama is making all the right noises about economic stimulus – and he’s not even in office yet.

Investing in infrastructure, as Obama has promised and even Harper has alluded to, is a good thing but it takes time to have an effect on the economy.  We’re wasting time.  For unemployed Canadian workers, the situation is desperate NOW.  There is absolutely no excuse for the political games that Stephen Harper has played.  He is interested in his own power and in his role as destroyer of the Liberals and nothing else.

And then there’s Kamela Miller and her son, Kami:

Welfare incomes in Canada are increasingly inadequate to meet basic needs, according to a report to be released today in Toronto, with Ontario seeing the harshest loss over the past two decades.
In 2007 dollar terms in Ontario, between 1992 and 2007, a lone parent’s welfare declined by almost $5,500, or 25 per cent, from $21,931. A couple with two children saw a loss of almost $8,150 (or 28 per cent, from $29,207), says the report.

“When we do not grant even the basics needed for survival, how then can we honestly criticize the recipients of such assistance for lack of effort or decry behaviours that offer relief from such a miserable existence?” says the report by the National Council of Welfare.  [more]



Uh, hello Dick Pound?  Is there an operational brain working in your head?  I missed Pound’s comment during the Beijing Olympics in which he compared China’s 5,000 year old civilization to Canada’s nation of “savages” a mere 400 years ago.  I missed it because it seems it received coverage only in Montreal’s francophone La Presse and there doesn’t seem to have been any follow-up till now.

Mr. Pound has held posts at the IOC on the international stage for a good many years and is now the Chancellor of McGill University.  He should know better.  And it pisses me off no end that he thinks the problem is simply a matter of political correctness.  No Mr. Pound, it’s an issue of human decency; of extending to Aboriginal Canadians the respect they are due.  A man who has missed the moments in our history when some Canadians have begun to understand the gross indecency, genocide, ethnic cleansing and resulting discrimination and desecration of First Nations perpetrated by white Europeans ought not to hold his position.  I can’t imagine a context in which his comments either make any sense at all, or are acceptable.

Apologize publicly, Mr. Pound, and resign as Chancellor.  Take your brainless head and bury it back in he sand.

Here’s the story from The Globe and Mail:

An aboriginal rights group has reported former International Olympic Committee vice-president Dick Pound to the IOC’s ethics committee, accusing him of making racist and intolerant comments about Canada’s native peoples and demanding that he be denounced ahead of the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

André Dudemaine, director of LandInSights, a Quebec-based aboriginal advocacy group, said Mr. Pound made comments in an interview with Montreal’s La Presse newspaper in August, in which he called 17th-century Canada “a land of savages.” The comments were discriminatory and contrary to the IOC code of ethics, Mr. Dudemaine said.

Mr. Pound, speaking in French in a story about the Olympics published Aug. 9, was responding to a question about the potential embarrassment of holding the Games in China, where dissidents had been jailed and a Tibetan uprising crushed.

“We must not forget that 400 years ago, Canada was a land of savages, with scarcely 10,000 inhabitants of European descent, while in China, we’re talking about a 5,000-year-old civilization. We must be prudent about our great experience of three or four centuries before telling the Chinese how to manage China,” Mr. Pound told journalist Agnès Gruda.

Yesterday, Mr. Pound said he had no intention of making a racist remark, and that it could be clarified by a better understanding of the context.

“I was defending the IOC [and] its choice of Beijing against assertions by the North American media,” he said. “Yes, I’m sure that there’s probably a more politically correct way of expressing it in this day and age. But I was saying think back to what it was like 200 or 300 years ago before you start lecturing a 5,000-year-old society. It wasn’t a comment on the government of whatever the aboriginal peoples might have been. It was a comment about the U.S. in its current incarnation having a solution to everybody’s problems.”

Mr. Dudemaine said the use of the word “savages” is troubling, and that Mr. Pound’s words suggest aboriginal people had no culture or civilization, a myth thoroughly discredited by historians.

“He just hit the nail in the middle of very old prejudices that somehow are still present in Canadian society,” he said. “It is exactly this kind of statement by a very respected person that damages all of the progress we wish to make in Canada.”

Mr. Pound said a fair reading would indicate this is a manufactured controversy. He said his use of the word “savages” was a historical reference.

“That was the word used at the time in all the literature by the Jesuits who were here. They were just generally les sauvages,” he said.

Ghislain Picard, chief of the assembly of First Nations of Quebec, said he was outraged by Mr. Pound’s comments, and called on him to resign as Chancellor of McGill University.

“Mr. Pound should himself understand the immense discourtesy of his remarks and offer to resign,” the chief said.

Historical reference my ass.  Mr. Pound said nothing to indicate that he disagreed with the Jesuit assessment of First Nations.  Mr. Pound’s comments are not only racist, they’re also inaccurate.  What a Dick!

Censorship in China

Ha Jin on the experience of censorship in China and the life of the poet/writer:

Censorship in China is a powerful field of force; it affects anyone who gets close to it. Four years ago, I signed five book contracts with a Shanghai publisher who planned to bring out four volumes of my fiction and a collection of my poems. The editor in charge of the project told me that he couldn’t possibly consider publishing two of my novels, The Crazed and War Trash, owing to the sensitive subject matter. The former touches on the Tiananmen tragedy, and the latter deals with the Korean War. I was supposed to select the poems and translate them into Chinese for the volume of poetry. As I began thinking about what poems to include, I couldn’t help but censor myself, knowing intuitively which ones might not get through the censorship. It was disheartening to realize I would have to exclude the stronger poems if the volume could ever see print in China. As a result, I couldn’t embark on the translation wholeheartedly. To date, I haven’t translated a single poem, though the deadline was May 2005.The publisher publicly announced time and again that these five books would come out soon, sometime in late 2005, according to the contracts. But that spring, the first in the series, my collection of short stories, Under the Red Flag, was sent to the Shanghai censorship office—the Bureau of Press and Publications—and the book was shot down. So the whole project was stonewalled. A year later, I heard that the publisher had decided to abandon the project. In the meantime, numerous official newspapers spread the word that my books had no market value in China.


Read the rest at The American Scholar

We Are In Our Hands

We are in a state of global emergency that not enough people recognize:

Few would doubt that we are living at a time of emergency. The world’s population presently stands at 6.7 billion, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. That figure is projected to rise to 8.5 billion by 2030. It is understood now just how quickly the earth is warming, because of the increase in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases arising from human activity. If the earth continues to warm at its present rate, we know what our fate will be, and yet we seem set on destroying ourselves. Meanwhile, we are experiencing a fundamental shift in power away from the West; the emergence of China, India and Brazil, with their new wealth and aspirational middle classes, is putting an intolerable strain on the world’s finite resources. As I write the price of oil has reached $128 a barrel. It has never been higher. One need not be a pessimist to predict some kind of Malthusian denouement to the human story if we are unable or unwilling to alter our ways of being: scarcity wars, famine, large-scale environmental degradation.

Likely not a day goes by that I don’t ask myself why there does not yet exist a critical mass of people who are demanding that our governments, local, national and international respond to our state of global emergency.  I believe the answer is complex and thus multi-faceted as well as perhaps still partly hidden.  Perhaps some of us are too comfortable, yet that explains neither the inability of the comfortable to perceive adequately the threat to their comfort and the comfort of their children and grandchildren; nor what is sometimes understood to be the quiescence of those who are far from comfortable yet not powerless.

Just to get started on an answer to that question, for myself, I think that the interests of the very comfortable are fatally aligned with the source of that comfort: global capitalism.  Joel Bakan has written convincingly about the psychopathy of the large scale, usually multi-national and interrelated corporations that advance mercilessly toward the goal of maximum profit with little to no ability to respond to long-term degradation of both the labour force and the environment.  [See The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power and The Corporation Film]

Those who are identified with global capitalism by virtue of their own ability to maximize personal profits may well be engaged in folly or their own psychopathy, having convinced themselves that unregulated capitalism will inevitably prove capable of handling any difficulty thrown in its path, despite the facts; or simply because they’ve lost their ability to care about anything but enriching themselves.

What of those who are merely comfortable and increasingly  less so?  And those who are assumed, by many, to be simply too ignorant to know better, or powerless to do anything about it, though their “comfort” has been seriously compromised?

 From that psychological viewpoint used by Bakaan, I wonder if we aren’t all either suffering from some horrible combination of mass post and ongoing trauma, accompanied by combinations of dissociation, numbness, and learned helplessness; if many of us aren’t simply overwhelmed by the fuel crisis, food crisis, global warming crisis and other forms of environmental threat, unwinnable wars all over the world, various forms of oppression caused by totalitarianism or legitimated coercion and resulting inroads into the power of democracy and the rule of law as well as failing economies in the West and just general malaise.  To what should we pay attention?  Whom should we believe about both the proper identification of the sources of our problems and adequate resolutions?  What avenues of power can we access to force our leaders into addressing our problems?  What forms of organization will draw us into effective alliances across lines of gender, race, “class”, ability, ethnicity and nationality?  Can we address all of the emergencies at once or do we need to prioritize them?  If the latter, how do we prioritize such an impressive and pressing batch of emerging issues?

Just asking the questions can be overwhelming and depressing in itself.  It can lead to outright despair when we realize that our means of collective thinking, decision making and action have been seriously eroded by the advances of “post modern” capitalism.  We are more and more forced back upon ourselves.  We no longer live or meet together as communities of people living or working together in the same numbers that we did when we actually had cohesive neighbourhoods and communities; fewer and fewer of us are organized into unions of working people who can identify interests and act together to force the changes we need.  The complexity and amount of information  we need to gather and synthesize in order to craft realistic solutions is unheard of in history.  Post modern life keeps us busier and more distracted than we’ve ever been.

At the same time, we are discovering new ways of organizing and connecting with each other through advancing technologies.  I do believe that we will, inevitably, act on behalf of humanity and the planet and all it holds.  My question is, will we do it in time?  And when I ask that question, yet another question surfaces:  in time for what?  At this point in the questioning, I come to rest on hope and the small contributions each of us makes to the greater good.  And at this point, I wish I believed in a beneficent creator who has the best in mind for each of us and for all.  But I believe that “we” are in our own hands.  And I believe that is the most difficult thing to accept of all the things we face.

Torture for Another Purpose

More on US torture of its prisoners of war:

A chart of the Chinese methods [of torture], compiled in 1957 by an American sociologist, lists the methods, among them, “Sleep Deprivation,” “Semi-Starvation,” “Filthy, Infested Surroundings,” “Prolonged Constraint,” and “Exposure.”

The effects are listed, too: “Makes Victim Dependent on Interrogator,” “Weakens Mental and Physical Ability to Resist,” “Reduces Prisoner to ‘Animal Level’ Concerns,” and others.

On July 2, The New York Times reported that the chart had made a surprise return appearance, this time at Guantanamo Bay, where in 2002 it was used in a course to teach our military interrogators “Coercive Management Techniques,” to be used when interrogating detainees held there as prisoners in the “war on terror.”

In other words, we had adopted the inhumane tactics of enemies past, tactics we once were quick to call torture. Tactics created not to get at the truth but to manufacture lies that we then characterize as credible.

How can we expect this to be an effective way to extract real information from terrorists?

Since the accuracy and thus, usefulness, of information gathered after torturing one’s chosen victim has long been caste into extreme disrepute, does anyone besides me think that it has another purpose?  As in, an attempt to terrorize not only present-day captives, but also potential prisoners?  Surely no one, not even Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld ever thought to keep all this entirely under wraps.  Maybe that was never the intent.  Payback to the detainees, payback to the nations disputing with the US, overall humiliation and demoralization of anyone who would dare to attack America, in word or deed?  Or just a flat-out expression of sadistic vengeance for 9/11, perhaps in the belief that Americans wouldn’t notice much, or mind even if they noticed?

Or, in line with the notion of “coercive management”, is this just one more tool in the box for managing a large prison population?

I’m more and more inclined to believe something of the sort.

No One Will Play With Americans

I wish I could sit down and have a chat with Thomas Friedman today.  He seems upset and confused about the unpopularity of America in the world.  He warns us (the world) that we’d be in considerably worse shape if American power wasn’t available:

Perfect we are not, but America still has some moral backbone. There are travesties we will not tolerate. The U.N. vote on Zimbabwe demonstrates that this is not true for these “popular” countries — called Russia or China or South Africa — that have no problem siding with a man who is pulverizing his own people.

So, yes, we’re not so popular in Europe and Asia anymore. I guess they would prefer a world in which America was weaker, where leaders with the values of Vladimir Putin and Thabo Mbeki had a greater say, and where the desperate voices for change in Zimbabwe would, well, just shut up.

Uh, Mr. Friedman, “moral backbone” you say?!

Friedman’s comments remind me of that old canard about dissent: if you don’t like it here, go somewhere else.  Friedman is saying, if you think we’re bad, check out the others.  At this moment in time, I don’t care too much about “the others”, the bad actors who behave so badly they make America look good.  Perhaps the biggest problem this planet has at the moment is that America has squandered whatever moral authority it might have had.  It has squandered it in Afghanistan and Iraq.  It threatens to squander it in Pakistan and Iran.  It has squandered it at home, amongst its own citizens.

Nor can I think of any country other than the US that can claim both the power and the requisite ethical standing.  Britain lost it shortly after 9/11.  It took a only a bit longer for Canada to collapse at the feet of its powerful neighbour.

Sure Robert Mugabe is “worse than” George Bush.  But how can Friedman believe that an American President ought to command a following in the world simply because he isn’t as bad as one of its worst dictators?

Mugabe appears to have wrested power from his people in brutal fashion.  Dissent is repressed.  No doubt people are being detained, tortured and killed.  In sharp relief to the citizens of that country, the American people have willingly granted their President authoritarian power.  He can now detain and torture innocent people along with those merely not yet proven guilty.  He can detain them seemingly endlessly and without meaningful judicial review, and I say this despite the decision of the Supreme Court in Boumediene – because it seems to me unlikely that detainees will be released even after habeas corpus review.  Now the American President  can spy on his own people without accountability, without regard to any law. 

There is some general moaning and groaning in the US about all this.  And not much else.  But for those hysterical, hand-wringing leftwing traitors … whose voices are studiously ignored.

In the rest of the world, we are only beginning to understand the consequences of America’s loss of moral authority.  The American people are victims of their own passivity.  The suffering that this will bring upon them will not be as desperate as that of the people of Zimbabwe.  Sudan.  The Democratic Republic of Congo.  Iraq.  Afghanistan.  Guantanamo Bay.  And more.  Not for quite awhile.

And what Glenn Greenwald said.

UPDATE:  The US is not always so uncomfortable keeping company with Russia and China:

The moral center of humanity slowly asserts itself. Only the most powerful are too afraid to join.

You may have missed the news: At the end of May, 111 nations, including, at the last minute, Great Britain, showing the world the power of an unleashed conscience, agreed to an international ban on cluster bombs, surely one of the cruelest and, given the nature of war today, most unnecessary weapons in modern arsenals.

Among those not endorsing the treaty and MIA at the conference in Dublin where it was debated were Russia, China, Israel and, to the surprise of no one, the United States of George Bush, that increasingly isolated moral rump state of which so many are so ashamed. Indeed, the treaty is widely seen as a “diplomatic defeat” for the U.S., so identified is the Bush administration with the sanctity of its WMD.

US, Sudan & Zimbabwe

There’s no defense for the ugliness in Sudan and Zimbabwe. But US policy in connection with those two problematic nations is running into a buzzsaw. In both cases, the United States is acting clumsily, and it is facing stiff opposition from Russia, China, and many African nations.

Two obvious conclusions: the Bush Administration’s muddled pursuit of democracy-by-force has made the entire world suspicious of America’s motives in world crises, especially when they’re tied to possible armed intervention. And confronting nations’ real-world strategic interests, such as China’s interest in Sudan, under the guise of humanitarian concerns won’t fly, after Iraq.

The Ugliness in Sudan and Zimbabwe

Robert Dreyfuss

Remembering Tiananmen

From the Guardian/UK:

Civil rights activists called on the Chinese government today to release more than 100 prisoners from the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests as a sign of its commitment to improve human rights ahead of this summer’s Olympic Games.

On the 19th anniversary of the bloody crackdown by People’s Liberation Army troops, participants and supporters said the recent openness of the Sichuan earthquake relief operation could pave the way for a wider national reconciliation if the events of 1989 are reviewed and those punished are pardoned.

Human Rights Watch said 130 people are still in prison as a result of their roles in the pro-democracy demonstrations, which started in Beijing and spread to several other cities. By freeing them, the group said China could show “the global Olympic audience it is serious about human rights”.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of pro-democracy demonstrators and their supporters were killed by army tanks and troops in and around Tiananmen Square on June 3 and 4, 1989.

Civic groups and foreign governments – including the US and UK – have called for a full investigation and a pardon for those imprisoned in the crackdown that followed.

The government in Beijing insists the actions were needed to restore order, but it has blocked public debate on the issue.

One of the most prominent activists from 1989, Han Dongfang, said in a statement that the relative transparency shown by the Chinese authorities in their handling of the Sichuan earthquake should be repeated for the political wrongdoings of the past.

“The shift in leadership style shown by the government in response to the earthquake disaster suggests that the time is now right for such a step,” said Han in an essay titled “A Time for Unity, a Time for Reconciliation” that praised the role of the army in the relief effort.

In Tiananmen Square today, the security presence was beefed up, as is usual every year on June 4. Police checked the bags of many visitors entering the area for liquids, banners and petitions.

But most tourists seemed oblivious to the significance of the date, which is a taboo subject in the domestic media.

“It is my first visit to Beijing. The square is far more impressive than I imagined,” said a middle-aged man who had just arrived from Liaoning province with his wife. “I never heard of any trouble here in 1989. We live in a country village. We don’t know about that kind of thing.”

Far from remembering past misdeeds, the government’s focus is on looking forward to future glories. Tiananmen Square is in the midst of a city-wide facelift ahead of the Olympics. Dozens of migrant women in blue tunics were scrubbing the tens of thousands of paving stones with detergent to remove chewing gum and other blemishes.

Many of the approaching streets have been decorated with potted flowers, and construction sites are screened off with giant banners reading “Join hands with the Olympics, make a date with Beijing in 2008”. The countdown clock noted there are only 64 days to go until the start of the Games.

Gate of Heavenly Peace

From FIDH:

June 4, 2008, marks the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, when tens of thousands of students and workers peacefully gathered on Beijing’s main square and in other major Chinese cities to demand political reform and respect for democracy and human rights.

Nineteen years later, an unknown number of people are still in prison in relation to the 1989 protests. The Tiananmen Mothers, a group of relatives of those who died on Tiananmen Square, are still unable to mourn in public; their demands for the release of all people in prison for their role in the 1989 protests, a full and public accounting for the June 4th crackdown, and dialogue with the authorities continue to go unaddressed.

This year, the anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown takes on a very special meaning: the Olympics will be held in Beijing this August. This worldwide event symbolizes a further opening of China to the outside world, with billions of dollars invested in the event. However, despite this opening, repression of individuals continues to worsen, as exemplified by the ongoing detentions of human rights activists, political dissidents, journalists, lawyers, and petitioners, or by the violent crackdown in Tibet last April.

June 4, 2008 will also be the day the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee will be meeting in Athens, Greece. The next meeting of which will take place in Beijing in August, on the eve of the opening ceremony of the Games.

“We support the calls of the Tiananmen Mothers, who each year issue statements urging for the release of all persons still detained in connection with the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, an investigation and accounting for the events of June 4, 1989, and dialogue with the authorities,” said Sharon Hom, Executive Director of Human Rights in China. More generally, FIDH and HRIC call for the release of all human rights defenders in detention and prisoners of conscience before the Olympics. “The IOC, whose Executive Committee is meeting in Athens on this very anniversary day, should use all its leverage to obtain such gestures from the Chinese authorities: there are only two months left for action,” concluded Souhayr Belhassen, President of FIDH.

This year also witnessed a powerful earthquake in southwest China that killed tens of thousands of people and left millions more without homes. Human Rights in China (HRIC) has prepared an Action Bulletin providing information on the evolving situation and what the international community can do to help the disaster relief (…). Our organizations have serious concerns regarding the immediate and long-term challenges of this disaster on health, education, housing, and other related human rights.

See BBC On This Day