Quebec’s ‘truncheon law’ rebounds as student strike spreads

From The Guardian UK: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/may/24/quebec-truncheon-law-rebounds-student-strike

A draconian law to quell demonstrations has only galvanised public support for young Quebecois protesting tuition fee hikes


guardian.co.uk, Thursday 24 May 2012

At a tiny church tucked away in a working-class neighbourhood in Montreal’s east end, Quebec’s new outlaws gathered on Sunday for a day of deliberations. Aged mostly between 18 and 22, their membership in a progressive student union has made them a target of government scorn and scrutiny. And they have been branded a menace to society because of their weapons: ideas of social justice and equal opportunity in education, alongside the ability to persuade hundreds of thousands to join them in the streets.

Under a draconian law passed by the Quebec government on Friday, their very meeting could be considered a criminal act. Law 78 – unprecedented in recent Canadian history – is the latest, most desperate manoeuvre of a provincial government that is afraid it has lost control over a conflict that began as a student strike against tuition hikes but has since spread into a protest movement with wide-ranging social and environmental demands.

Labelled a “truncheon law” by its critics, it imposes severe restrictions on the right to protest. Any group of 50 or more protesters must submit plans to police eight hours ahead of time; they can be denied the right to proceed. Picket lines at universities and colleges are forbidden, and illegal protests are punishable by fines from $5,000 to $125,000 for individuals and unions – as well as by the seizure of union dues and the dissolution of their associations.

In other words, the government has decided to smash the student movement by force.

The government quickly launched a public relations offensive to defend itself. Full-page ads in local newspapers ran with the headline: “For the sake of democracy and citizenship.” Quebec’s minister of public security, Robert Dutil, prattled about the many countries that have passed similar laws:

“Other societies with rights and freedoms to protect have found it reasonable to impose certain constraints – first of all to protect protesters, and also to protect the public.”

Such language is designed to make violence sound benevolent and infamy honourable. But it did nothing to mask reality for those who have flooded the streets since the weekend and encountered police emboldened by the new legislation. Riot squads beat and tear-gassed people indiscriminately, targeted journalists, pepper-sprayed bystanders in restaurants, and mass-arrested hundreds, including more than 500 Wednesday night – bringing the tally from the last three months of protest to a record Canadian high of more than 2,500. The endless night-time drone of helicopters has become the serenade song of a police state.

Continue reading at:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/may/24/quebec-truncheon-law-rebounds-student-strike

Chicago police clash with Nato summit protesters

From The Guardian UK:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/21/chicago-police-nato-summit-protesters

Arrests and injuries as thousands march on downtown area of the city, where 51 world leaders are meeting


guardian.co.uk, Monday 21 May 2012

The main anti-war march at the Chicago Nato summit was marred by clashes between police and protesters, with several people injured and 45 arrests.

Thousands of people marched towards McCormick Place in the downtown area of the city, where 51 world leaders are meeting for the two-day summit.

However, the demonstration on Sunday ended in ugly scenes as police used batons to control the crowd. The violence came as a fifth person was charged with terrorism-related offences in in relation to alleged plots to disrupt the summit.

Sunday’s demonstration was the largest anti-war protest so far, after days of marches and protests in the city centre.

Gathering at Grant Park, thousands of protesters set off south towards the site of the summit, led by around 20 Iraq veterans against the war.

Arriving two blocks west of McCormick Place, the veterans, including Scott Olsen, the protester injured in Occupy Oakland demonstrations in October, staged a symbolic “returning” of their medals, tossing them in the direction of the sprawling conference space.

Continue reading at:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/21/chicago-police-nato-summit-protesters

The First Domino Falls in Greece

From Common Dreams:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/05/21-2

by Shamus Cooke
Published on Monday, May 21, 2012 by Common Dreams

Greece’s situation is not an isolated event, but a bellwether for the industrial world and beyond. The fallout from the 2008 global crisis hasn’t reached bottom yet, and the depths will be dug deeper as the Euro crisis spreads — political crisis will create economic crisis and vice versa, as periods of calm and stability are replaced by international turmoil and panic.

The media and politicians have portrayed the Greeks as indolent and stupid, refusing to swallow the economic medicine needed for a healthy recovery. But the austerity medicine of the bankers — slashing and privatizing the public sector, cutting wages and benefits, mass layoffs, etc. — is a cure that threatens to kill.

What will happen in Greece? Its future was hinted at in the last elections. The centrist parties were devastated by the reality of economic extremes; the “middle ground” simply fell out from under them, since society had been torn asunder by the inequality of the very rich versus everybody else.

In consequence, the radical left party SYRIZA is polled to come in first in the next elections, based on its firm stance against austerity and its uncompromising attitude against the bankers of Greece and beyond. The corporate politicians wanted SYRIZA to take part in a “unity government” that would magically rebuild the country’s lost middle ground and continue the pro-banker austerity policies.

But unity in an economically polarized country like Greece is impossible, especially when the continued existence of the bankers and wealthy rests on the continued suffering of everybody else.

Since unity failed during the last elections, Greek “technocrats” are now overseeing the government until the next elections. What is a technocrat? Someone who supposedly lacks any class bias; the professional strata of professors, lawyers, or doctors that attempt to sit astride an uneven society perfectly balanced, blind to special interests, while keeping their sights set on the “national interest.” But the Greek technocrats are continuing the wealthy’s austerity program, exposing their fake objectivity.

Continue reading at:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/05/21-2

Greeks fearing collapse of eurozone bailout pulled record sums from bank

From The Guardian UK: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/dec/16/greeks-fearing-collapse-of-eurozone-bailout-pulled-record-sums-from-bank

Bank of Greece reveals that investors fearful of political instability and economic collapse pulled €12.3bn from local banks as Papandreou referendum threatened debt deal

in Athens
guardian.co.uk
, Friday 16 December 2011

An unprecedented exodus of capital from Greece – peaking in a record number of withdrawals from banks in recent months – has exacerbated the liquidity crisis now wracking the recession-hit country.

The latest figures released by the Bank of Greece reveal that in September and October alone investors pulled €12.3bn (£10.3bn) from domestic banks, spurred by fears of political uncertainty and economic collapse.

Overall, outflows have reached a record 25% since September 2009 – when household and corporate deposits stood at a peak of €237.5bn, the data showed.

Theodore Pelagidis, an economics professor at the University of Piraeus, said: “This is part of the death spiral of the recession as a result of austerity measures. People realise that contagion has come to banks and they are very afraid of losing their deposits. On average around €4bn-€5bn in capital flees the banking system every month.”

The extraordinary figures back up anecdotal evidence that it is not just the super-rich behind the flight of funds.

Over the past year, as the eurozone debt crisis has intensified in the nation where it largely began, there have been countless cases of ordinary depositors hauling suitcases stuffed with cash to the safer destinations of Cyprus, London and Switzerland.

Continue reading at:   http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/dec/16/greeks-fearing-collapse-of-eurozone-bailout-pulled-record-sums-from-bank

Shift Your Shopping to Create More Jobs, Stronger Communities

From Common Dreams:    http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/16-2

by Jeff Milchen and Michael Shuman
Published on Friday, December 16, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend an average of about $700 per person on holiday season shopping this year and, despite the hype surrounding Black Friday, the busiest shopping week immediately precedes Christmas. But rather than enduring long lines and sparse service at chain stores, we urge you take a different approach: seek out your local independent merchants and service providers, meet your neighbors and fully integrate your values in your purchasing decisions.

This is not a call to “get out and shop” — far from it. In fact, we encourage you consider many great gifts that don’t increase consumption: a meal at an independent restaurant, tickets to a local concert, durable locally-made goods. Most of all, consider the many benefits of patronizing local independent businesses for whatever you choose. Among the benefits:

* You’ll create local jobs. And not just any jobs. While chain outlet’s create mostly positions for clerks and cashiers, local businesses are hiring accountants, graphic designers, webmasters and many other positions the chains (or online giants) centralize at corporate headquarters. A multitude of small entrepreneurs provides a more vital and durable financial base than dependence on a few large corporations.

* Local businesses typically require less driving, consume far less land and have a lighter environmental impact. Because they focus primarily on local markets, local businesses place a high premium on being easily accessible by local residents. They tend to bolster community character and vitality, rather than segregating residential areas from clusters of big box development.

* Part of what makes any community great is how well it preserves its unique culture, foods, ecology, architecture, history, music, and art. Local businesses celebrate these features, while chains tend to homogenize, following a corporate template rather than respecting local architecture or customs.

Continue reading at:     http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/16-2

Mario and the Confidence Fairy

From The New York Times:   http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/14/mario-and-the-confidence-fairy/

Paul Krugman
December 14, 2011

Oh, my. A downbeat FT report includes the following:

Mario Monti, whose technocratic government took office after Italy’s debt crisis toppled veteran premier Silvio Berlusconi, is seeking to tackle public debt levels which stand at 120 per cent of gross national product but faces resistance from labour unions and political foes.

“We are confident that markets will react positively to the efforts Italy is making, maybe not tomorrow, but the reduction in borrowing costs that we anticipate in the coming months will help spur the economy,” Mr Monti told legislators on Tuesday night.

I guess in Europe today “technocratic” is a synonym for “delusional”.

Look, more austerity isn’t going to convince the bond markets that Italy is just fine, let alone cut interest rates sufficiently to make contractionary policies expansionary. In fact, austerity — at least if not accompanied by major policy changes in Frankfurt — is probably self-defeating, because it will hurt the Italian economy more than it helps the short-term budget picture.

Italy faces an immediate crisis of self-fulfilling panic, and a huge medium-term adjustment problem as it tries to get costs and prices back in line with core Europe. The only plausible way to resolve these problems is via much more liberal policy from the ECB, in the form of bond purchases now and an implicit (but understood) willingness to let inflation run a bit high for an extended period.

The story optimists were telling themselves was that all this austerity stuff was to provide cover for the ECB to do the necessary. But this now looks like wishful thinking; Europe’s delusional technocrats apparently still believe that one more turn of the austerity screw will do the trick.

Continue reading at:   http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/14/mario-and-the-confidence-fairy/

Markets of Shame Before the Collapse: Crisis, Crisis, Everywhere

From Common Dreams:   http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/14-4

by Danny Schechter
Published on Wednesday, December 14, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

Earlier this week, Stephen Colbert announced dramatically that there were important developments underway in Europe that we should know about.

True to form, Colbert’s Repor didn’t talk about the big problem. His story, ha ha ha, was about a butter shortage in Norway.  Talk about going from the obscure to the ridiculous.

We all know that European countries have been wrestling with what to do about saving the Euro.

There have been warnings of an economic catastrophe if the Euro falls, and it’s plain that the already shaky American economy will take a big hit if it happens.

The drama in Europe seems to be beyond the ability of both comedy and financial programs to explain. Perhaps it’s more of a divine comedy in the Dantean sense, because we are all perched on the edge of circle of hell that many of us don’t want to wrap our minds around.

While many news outlets prefer to recycle endless soundbites of Gingrich bashing Romney and vice versa, and as American diplomats seem to be cranking up a war against Iran as if that can save the economy the way World War 2 pulled us out of a depression, the world economy is tottering thanks to all the debt American firms sold Europeans who then managed it so stupidly and corruptly.

Now we have Timesman Paul Krugman, for years an economist holding up the liberal middle, finally admitting that nothing is working;

It’s time to start calling the current situation what it is: a depression. True, it’s not a full replay of the Great Depression, but that’s cold comfort. Unemployment in both America and Europe remains disastrously high. Leaders and institutions are increasingly discredited. And democratic values are under siege.”

Continue reading at:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/14-4

After Durban: Climate Activists Target Corporate Power

From Yes Magazine: http://www.yesmagazine.org/blogs/madeline-ostrander/after-durban-climate-activists-target-corporate-power

After another disappointing round of UN negotiations, climate justice activists have a new strategy.

by Madeline Ostrander
posted Dec 13, 2011

“I feel like I’ve written the same story for the past three years,” climate reporter Kate Sheppard tweeted from Durban, South Africa, last week.

Indeed, this year’s United Nations climate negotiations in Durban—the Conference of the Parties, where world governments get together ostensibly to talk about reining in climate change—proceeded much like the previous two. Experts predicted the talks would fall apart. Scientists released frightening warnings about the world’s failure to act (including a report that greenhouse gas emissions shot up 5.9 percent last year, likely the largest increase since the Industrial Revolution). The talks ended in the early morning hours on Sunday with an extension of the Kyoto Protocol and a two-page agreement (called the “Durban Platform”) to make another agreement by 2015, next time “with legal force.” But the negotiations produced no binding commitments from the participating nations substantive enough to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, a threshold that was once considered “safe,” though new research suggests even that much warming poses serious environmental and economic dangers. Still, many major press outlets proclaimed the “Durban platform” a success, because it was, perhaps, better than not having an agreement at all.

Many of the citizen groups that gathered at Durban see the talks as a failure. Inspired, in part, by the Occupy movement, they are beginning to cry foul at the ways they believe corporate influence at home has stymied their governments’ participation in the U.N. process year after year.

“We’re not going to be overly distracted by the ongoing shell game of endless U.N. negotiations,” Bill McKibben, founder of the climate activist group 350.org, said in a statement after the close of the climate talks. “We know that the real debate is between the bottom line of the scientists, and the bottom line of the fossil fuel companies … we’re going to take on the subsidies that make the oil companies so rich, and the systemic corruption that makes them so politically powerful.”

Continue reading at:   http://www.yesmagazine.org/blogs/madeline-ostrander/after-durban-climate-activists-target-corporate-power

Under Industry Pressure, USDA Works to Speed Approval of Monsanto’s Genetically Engineered Crops

From Truth Out: http://www.truth-out.org/under-industry-pressure-usda-works-speed-approval-monsantos-genetically-engineered-crops/1323453319

by: Mike Ludwig
Monday 12 December 2011

For years, biotech agriculture opponents have accused regulators of working too closely with big biotech firms when deregulating genetically engineered (GE) crops. Now, their worst fears could be coming true: under a new two-year pilot program at the USDA, regulators are training the world’s biggest biotech firms, including Monsanto, BASF and Syngenta, to conduct environmental reviews of their own transgenic seed products as part of the government’s deregulation process.

This would eliminate a critical level of oversight for the production of GE crops. Regulators are also testing new cost-sharing agreements that allow biotech firms to help pay private contractors to prepare mandatory environmental statements on GE plants the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering deregulating.

The USDA launched the pilot project in April and, in November, the USDA announced vague plans to “streamline” the deregulation petition process for GE organisms. A USDA spokesperson said the streamlining effort is not part of the pilot project, but both efforts appear to address a backlog of pending GE crop deregulation petitions that has angered big biotech firms seeking to rollout new products.

Documents obtained by Truthout under a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request reveal that biotech companies, lawmakers and industry groups have put mounting pressure on the USDA in recent years to speed up the petition process, limit environmental impact assessments and approve more GE crops. One group went as far as sending USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack a timeline of GE soybean development that reads like a deregulation wish list. [Click here and here to download and read some of the documents released to Truthout.]

Continue reading at:    http://www.truth-out.org/under-industry-pressure-usda-works-speed-approval-monsantos-genetically-engineered-crops/1323453319

Keystone XL: The Pipeline That Won’t Die

From Rolling Stone:   http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/national-affairs/keystone-xl-the-pipeline-that-wont-die-20111213

By Jeff Goodell
POSTED: December 13, 2011

The zombie pipeline lives!

You might think that the Obama administration’s decision last month to delay the construction of the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline pending further review would have put an end to Big Oil’s pipeline dreams. After all, the whole approval process, which dragged on for three years, was a textbook example of corrupt energy politics and shoddy science working in the service of Big Oil. The U.S. State Department, which had final say in the pipeline’s approval, wisely and deftly put the pipeline on ice for at least a year.

But you don’t kill off Big Oil’s pet project that easily.

Last week, Keystone re-emerged as a bargaining chip in end-of-the-year negotiations over extending the payroll tax break for 160 million U.S. workers, which is set to expire Dec. 31.  House Majority leader John Boehner has attached a “project rider” to the tax bill, essentially trying to force Obama – and Senate Democrats – to approve the pipeline as a price for passing the tax-relief bill.  Boehner and House Republicans are playing up the Keystone policy rider as a jobs project, suggesting that the Obama administration failed to approve last month it because the president is beholden to crazy enviros. A vote on the bill could come as early as today.

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/national-affairs/keystone-xl-the-pipeline-that-wont-die-20111213

IMF slashes growth forecast for Greece

From The Guardian UK:   http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/dec/13/imf-slashes-greek-growth-forecast

MF report likely to fan financial market fears over debt default as Greece struggles to cope with austerity and recession

, economics editor, and in Athens
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 13 December 2011

The International Monetary Fund slashed its growth forecasts for Greece and warned that ever-deepening recession was making it harder for the debt-ridden country to meet the tough deficit reduction targets under its austerity programme.

In a report likely to fan financial market concerns about a possible debt default, the regular health check by staff at the Washington-based Fund said the situation in Greece had “taken a turn for the worse”.

Poul Thomsen, deputy director of the IMF‘s European department and its mission chief to Greece, said: “We have revised growth down significantly to -6% in 2011 and -3% in 2012. We expected 2011 to be an inflection point when the recession bottomed out, followed by a slow recovery. But the economy is continuing to trend downwards. The hoped for improvement in market sentiment and in the investment climate has not materialised.”

The IMF, together with the European Union and the European Central Bank has imposed tough conditions on Greece as the price of financial support that has allowed the government in Athens to continue paying its bills. In the fifth report carried out since the start of the crisis 18 months ago, IMF officials suggested that the austerity programme might need to be eased in view of the damage being caused to the economy by the recession.

“Discussions [at the IMF] focused on recalibrating the programme’s macroeconomic framework and adapting the implementation of reform and adjustment policies to an appropriate and feasible pace.”

Continue reading at:   http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/dec/13/imf-slashes-greek-growth-forecast

The Health of Children and Consumers is Threatened by Conservative Push for Corporate Speech Rights

From Alternet: http://www.alternet.org/story/153408/the_health_of_children_and_consumers_is_threatened_by_conservative_push_for_corporate_speech_rights/

Some pro-business federal judges have shockingly approved a constitutional right for big companies to avoid revealing product dangers on labels.

By Steven Rosenfeld
December 12, 2011

In recent years, corporate lawyers representing industries whose products touch millions of American lives have stopped numerous government efforts to better inform the public about possible health risks with an eyebrow-raising legal strategy. They have asserted a constitutional right not to speak, or say more than they want on labels and advertising, and pro-business federal judges have agreed, rejecting the public’s right to know.

In cases involving manmade hormones fed to dairy cows, heart and lung disease caused by tobacco, the nutritional value of foods contributing to childhood and teenage obesity, and even radiation emitted by cell phones, the industries keep returning to court until a business-friendly judge or majority on an appeals court rules that the First Amendment includes the corporate right not to ‘speak’ if it could harm profits.

“They invoke the Amendment’s protection to accomplish exactly what the Amendment opposes,” wrote U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Pierre Leval, in a lengthy dissent in an early case in which his peers sided with industry and cited the First Amendment to overturn a state law labeling hormone-containing milk products. “The majority’s invocation of the First Amendment to invalidate a state law requiring disclosure of information consumers reasonably desire stands the Amendment on its ear.”

The labeling cases are not the only way corporations have been seeking to enlarge First Amendment speech rights outside the political arena.

This past June the Supreme Court ruled that drug makers’ constitutional speech rights included ‘selling’ patient records, overturning a Vermont law that sought to keep the files private. Justice Stephen Breyer’s dissent said the Court was setting a dangerous precedent by allowing the First Amendment to be used to avoid reasonable government regulation.

“At best the Court opens a Pandora’s Box of First Amendment challenges to many ordinary regulatory practices that may only incidentally affect a commercial message,” he warned. “At worst, it reawakens Lochner’s pre-New Deal threat of substituting judicial for democratic decision making where ordinary economic regulation is at issue.”

Continue reading at:   http://www.alternet.org/story/153408/the_health_of_children_and_consumers_is_threatened_by_conservative_push_for_corporate_speech_rights/


Home Sweet Home: The New American Localism

From NPR: http://www.npr.org/2011/12/13/143538472/home-sweet-home-the-new-american-localism?sc=fb&cc=f

by
December 13, 2011

You can talk about the global village, a mobile society and the World Wide Web all you want, but many in our country seem to be turning toward a New American Localism.

These days, we are local folks and our focus is local. We are doing everything locally: food, finance, news, charity. And maybe for good reasons.

“One bedrock thing that is going on,” says Brad Edmondson, founder of ePodunk and former editor of American Demographics magazine, is that “because of aging and the recession, people aren’t moving around as much.”

The U.S. Census Bureau backs him up with a news release — based on a recent report — titled “Mover Rate Reaches Record Low.” The bureau found that only 11.6 percent of Americans changed their living spaces between 2010 and 2011. That is the lowest rate on record since the Current Population Survey of the United States began tracking geographical mobility in 1948. In 1985, for instance, the changed-residence rate was 20.2 percent.

“With homeowner mobility at an all-time low, more people are putting down roots and getting to know their neighbors,” Edmondson says. “At the same time a lot of households have seen sharp declines in discretionary income. They are looking for ways to relax that don’t cost as much, and they are substituting cooperation for cash.”

The new version of the popular bumper sticker “Support Your Local Sheriff” could become “Support Your Local Everything.”

Continue reading at:   http://www.npr.org/2011/12/13/143538472/home-sweet-home-the-new-american-localism?sc=fb&cc=f

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