Wall Street billionaire talks Trudeau into changing course to benefit private investors

John Fallon, CEO, Pearson, Larry Fink, CEO, BlackRock and Mark Hoffman, President, CNBC in 2014 (Image: Financial Times/Flickr)

Image: Financial Times/Flickr

The Trudeau government is gearing up to spend billions on new infrastructure as part of its post-pandemic economic plans.

What a terrific idea! — except that it plans to do so in a way that will massively, needlessly drive up the costs and allow some of our prime national assets to be owned by foreigners.

The story begins with Justin Trudeau’s first bid to become prime minister in 2015.

After years of Stephen Harper’s austerity, one of Trudeau’s most popular election promises was to create a new national infrastructure bank that would take advantage of extremely low interest rates to build public transit, housing and other essentials.

In that election, I ran for the NDP in Toronto Centre and my Liberal opponent, Bill Morneau, was already being hyped as the future finance minister. At our local all-candidates debates, Morneau often touted the infrastructure bank, which I had to admit sounded like a good idea.

What I didn’t know was that the bank Trudeau and Morneau were to create would bear no resemblance to the sensible one they promoted during the campaign.

Instead, within months of becoming prime minister, Trudeau did something he never mentioned during the campaign — he brought in the hotshot Wall Street investment firm BlackRock to advise his government on how to design the new bank.

BlackRock’s involvement was kept secret (until later exposed in the media) because Trudeau no doubt feared it would alarm Canadians.

BlackRock was headed by one of Wall Street’s most powerful players, Larry Fink, who epitomized what had gone wrong with Wall Street. Years earlier, Fink had helped develop the market for mortgage-backed securities — a market that later helped trigger the 2008 financial crash.

The talented Mr. Fink went on to be the U.S. Treasury’s key adviser on the $700 billion Wall Street bailout — widely regarded as a gigantic giveaway to some of the world’s richest people.

In January 2016, Fink met newly elected Canadian PM at the annual billionaires’ retreat in Davos. The conversation quickly turned to infrastructure, which interested them both.

But their interests diverged in a key way. Trudeau had promised Canadians he’d build infrastructure by taking advantage of low interest rates. Fink, who oversaw an investment fund worth $5 trillion, was keen to provide money for Canadian infrastructure but at high rates of return.

Despite his campaign promises, Trudeau quickly came to see things Fink’s way. The BlackRock team recommended a bank that would do infrastructure deals with private investors, like BlackRock clients and large institutional investors. A similar recommendation was made by a team of private sector advisers assembled by Morneau.

But involving private investors dramatically drives up the costs, leaving Canadians paying much more, either through taxes, tolls or user fees, notes Toby Sanger, an economist who now heads the Ottawa-based group Canadians for Tax Fairness.

Sanger points out that, under the low-interest-rate scenario proposed by Trudeau, Ottawa would raise the money itself — by selling government bonds to the public. (Ottawa currently pays only 1.4 per cent on a 30-year bond, allowing it to get the money almost for free.)

On the other hand, Sanger notes, private investors expect high rates of return, typically between seven and nine per cent.

The new bank will also allow investors to end up owning some of the projects they invest in.

The Trudeau government argues involving private investors in infrastructure deals will spare taxpayer dollars, which can then be spent on important social priorities.

This would only be true if the investors were providing their money free or at a discount. Which they aren’t.

Indeed, since their involvement will actually cost us more — way more — this argument is clearly gibberish. Worse, it’s gibberish dressed up in the garb of social justice.

In a recent media interview, federal Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna said the government is preparing to rush out billions in infrastructure funds through the new bank, once pandemic restrictions are lifted.

So get ready to hear lots of gibberish, with a dash of social justice.

SOURCE

Linda McQuaig is a journalist and author of The Sport & Prey of Capitalists: How the Rich are Stealing Canada’s Public Wealth. This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

Racism Is Killing the Planet

The ideology of white supremacy leads the way toward disposable people and a disposable natural world

PROTESTORS IN FOLEY SQUARE, NEW YORK CITY | PHOTO BY MARK PETERSON/REDUX

Last week, my family and I attended an interfaith rally in Los Angeles in defense of Black life. We performed a group ritual in which we made noise for nine minutes to mark the last moments of George Floyd’s life. My wife, my oldest daughter, and I played African drums to mark those nine minutes with the rhythm of a beating heart. Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, over and over again.

While we drummed, I realized how difficult it is to keep up any physical activity for nine minutes straight. Most of us can’t even sit completely still on our butts for nine minutes; if you’ve ever meditated, you understand why they refer to sitting as practice.

As I struggled to maintain my posture and keep up the rhythm, I thought about the level of commitment it takes to hold someone down for nine minutes straight. The realization horrified me. The cop who has been charged with murdering George Floyd had to have been deeply committed to taking his life. The police officer had so many chances to let up the pressure, to let George live. Yet the officer made the choice not to.

To spend nine minutes taking the life-breath from another person: That is what white supremacy does to white people. That is what white supremacy does to the rest of us too. White supremacy robs each of us of our humanity. It causes white people to view Black people as less than human. Every one of those cops watching George die was convinced that the man pinned to the ground was less than human, was in some way disposable.

Otherwise, how could they hold him down for nine whole minutes? How could they bring themselves to do it?

You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can’t have disposable people without racism.

During the street protests and marches of the past two weeks, many people carried signs that read “Racism Is Killing Us.” It’s no exaggeration to say that racism and white supremacy harm all of us, because in addition to robbing us of our humanity, racism is also killing the planet we all share.

An idea—a long-overdue realization—is growing in the environmental movement. It goes something like this: “We’ll never stop climate change without ending white supremacy.” This argument has entered the outdoor recreation and conservation space thanks to the leadership of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color in the climate justice movement. The idea has taken on new force as folks in the mainstream environmental movement do our best to show up for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and all the Black people still living and subject to police violence.

I know that a lot of people are struggling with the thought that addressing the environmental crises must involve dismantling white supremacy. At Sierra Club meetings, some people hear me say something like that and think, “Damn, fighting climate change wasn’t hard enough already? Now we have to end racism and white supremacy too? Seriously, man?”

I get that feeling of being overwhelmed. It’s a lot to carry. It’s a lot to hold. We all have enough to do without feeling like we’re taking on even more.

But I want to share another lens from which we can view this moment. I really believe in my heart of hearts—after a lifetime of thinking and talking about these issues—that we will never survive the climate crisis without ending white supremacy.

Here’s why: You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can’t have disposable people without racism.

We’re in this global environmental mess because we have declared parts of our planet to be disposable. The watersheds where we frack the earth to extract gas are considered disposable. The neighborhoods near where I live in Los Angeles, surrounded by urban oilfields, are considered disposable. The very atmosphere is considered disposable. When we pollute the hell out of a place, that’s a way of saying that the place—and the people and all the other life that calls that place home—are of no value.

In order to treat places and resources as disposable, the people who live there have to get treated like rubbish too. Sacrifice zones imply sacrificed people. Just think of Cancer Alley in Louisiana. Most of the towns there are majority Black, and nowadays they call it Death Alley, because so many Black folks have died from the poison that drives our extractive economy. Or think of the situation in the Navajo Nation, where uranium mines poisoned the wells and the groundwater and coal plants for decades poisoned the air. Or consider the South Side of Chicago, where I used to live, which for years was a dumping ground of petroleum coke (a fossil fuel byproduct) and where residents are still struggling against pollution-related diseases. I’ve lived in a lot of places, and just about every place I’ve ever lived has been targeted by big polluters as a dumping ground.

Devaluing Black and Indigenous people’s lives to build wealth for white communities isn’t new. White settlers began that project in the 15th century, when they arrived in North America. Most Native peoples of North America lived in regenerative relationships with the land; they were careful to take no more than the land could sustain. The settlers had another ethic: They sought to dominate and control. They cleared the old-growth forests and plowed the prairies to make room for their wheat and their beef. They nearly drove the bison to extinction in a calculated scorched-earth tactic that was part of a larger ethnic-cleansing agenda. As the Potawatomi author and scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer put it in a recent essay, “the Indigenous idea of land as a commonly held gift [was replaced] with the notion of private property, while the battle between land as sacred home and land as capital stained the ground red.”

How could the white settlers bring themselves to do it?

They did it by telling a certain story about Native peoples, a story that said Native peoples were less “civilized” than white settlers and therefore deserved to be terrorized and pushed from their lands. This Doctrine of Discovery was a religious belief for many European settlers. The doctrine said that any land “discovered” by Christians was theirs because of the inherent inferiority of non-Christian peoples. Eventually, this pernicious idea made its way into US law. In 1823, the US Supreme Court, in the case of Johnson v. M’Intosh, ruled that “the principle of discovery gave European nations an absolute right to New World lands.”

It’s no secret that our country was built on a foundation of enslavement of Black people, the theft of Native land, and near genocide of Indigenous people. US institutions, from our government to Ivy League colleges, were built on a foundation of stolen labor and stolen bodies. The compound interest on the profits from that enslavement became the basis of intergenerational wealth for white communities—the intergenerational wealth that perpetuates race-based economic inequality to this day.

But the past isn’t past. Structural racism continues 150 years after the abolition of slavery, only in new forms. As Michelle Alexander wrote in her best-selling book, The New Jim Crow, white supremacy has evolved over generations. After slavery came the debt-servitude of sharecropping. After the Jim Crow era was brought down by the civil rights movement, the prison industrial complex and the war on drugs (read: the war on Black people) rose in its place.

When a kid in East Oakland gets asthma from car pollution because her neighborhood is surrounded by freeways, that is white supremacy.

How does this all connect to today’s environmental crises? It’s all part of the same story of dehumanization. The pollution-spewing global mega-corporations that created Cancer Alley are just the latest evolution of the extractive white-settler mindset that cleared the forests and plowed the prairies. And just as the settlers had to believe and tell stories to dehumanize the people they killed, plundered, and terrorized, today’s systems of extraction can only work by dehumanizing people. Back then we had the Doctrine of Discovery, and today it’s the doctrine of neoliberalism that say it’s OK to value some lives more than others, that it’s OK for some people to have clean air while others struggle to breathe.

The crimes may be hiding in plain sight, but many white people are socialized to ignore how these systems of violence and inequality show up in our society. When it comes to racism, many white people are like fish swimming in water: White supremacy is so pervasive that it’s hard to even know that it’s there.

The richest people need for white supremacy to remain invisible so they can continue to plunder our planet. They need those sacrifice zones, and the racism that justifies them, or they’ll have nowhere to put their trash and pollution. In this way, white supremacy serves to divide white working people from Black working people. Today’s one-percenters are able to sacrifice whole communities using more or less the same methods the settlers used: By dividing people into racial categories and directing the worst of their abuse at the people at the bottom of a manufactured racial hierarchy. There’s a term for this: It’s called punching down.

This punching down usually comes in the form of blame. Media and popular culture often broadcast a twisted version of Black life and make it seem like communities of color have caused their own problems. Many people (at least half of Republicans, according to one poll) believe that poor people are poor because they are “lazy.” From there, it’s not much of a jump to believe that “some people” deserve to live next to a coal plant, that they deserve to die of cancer, that their children deserve to live with asthma.

Working-class whites are told a story that such a thing could never happen to them. Since the founding of this country, elites have conspired to divide poor and working people by race. Just think about Bacon’s Rebellion, when a wealthy white land-taker led a multiracial group of indentured servants and enslaved people on a mission of violence against local tribes. Afterward, frightened by the cross-racial uprising that had destroyed the state capitol, Virginia leaders began to offer more rights and privileges to white indentured servants to keep them from allying with enslaved African people and rising up against their rulers. They offered slightly better conditions to the white people they exploited, to keep them from seeing what they had in common with enslaved Africans and Indigenous peoples.

That same racist bargain—“You might be poor, but at least you’re not Black”—is alive and well in America today.

Now polluters tell low-income white families, “Only someone who doesn’t deserve anything better for themselves and their family would choose to live in such a polluted place as Cancer Alley.” If they just pull themselves up by their bootstraps, the story goes, white people can work themselves out of the poverty and environmental injustice they experience alongside Black people. Because, after all, at least they’re not Black.

In the Trump era, messages that blame Black folks for our own persecution come even from the White House. The Trump administration tries to explain away the fact that Black communities are dying at elevated rates from COVID-19 by pointing to preexisting health conditions, yet ignores that those health conditions are the result of generations of racism. The administration ignores the fact that the facilities that cause asthma are located in Black neighborhoods. It ignores the fact that living in a society that treats Black people as less than human causes stress on the heart, literally and metaphorically. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, “Being a person of color in America is bad for your health.” Put another way, Black folks’ only preexisting condition is being Black.

I’m still left wondering, how can they bring themselves to do it?

I think the answer has to do with the stories a lot of white people tell themselves. Stories that often boil down to a notion that Black people are always guilty and the cops (or the corporation) are always right. Stories that take the form of “he shouldn’t have resisted arrest.”
If all of this seems too neat a narrative, I’d ask if you remember Hurricane Katrina. In the aftermath of the storm, Black people who were just out looking for essential supplies were described by the news media as “looting” a grocery store. White people who were doing the same thing were described as “finding” bread and water. I’d ask if you remember Eric Garner and Dylan Roof. Eric Garner was choked to death by police for selling “loosies,” or single cigarettes. Dylan Roof murdered nine Black people during a Bible study group at their church; after being arrested, the police bought him a meal at a Burger King on the way to the police station.

Are you with me?

By dividing us up into racial categories and economic classes, the one-percenters keep us from seeing that 99 percent of us share the same problems. By focusing their extraction and pollution on Black communities and working-class families, big polluters have bought the silence and collusion of white Americans.

But let’s be real: White privilege offers no escape from climate chaos. Nobody reading this is going to get a spot on the SpaceX shuttle to Mars (if you think so, that’s white supremacy messing with your head). Earth is the only planet we get. And, thanks to polluters who profit from exploiting Black and brown communities, we’re in the process of making it uninhabitable.

Just as the settlers had to believe and tell stories to dehumanize the people they killed, plundered, and terrorized, today’s systems of extraction can only work by dehumanizing people.

When Amy Cooper, a white woman, has an encounter with a Black man birdwatching in Central Park and calls the police—that is white supremacy. She weaponized the police and used them to racially terrorize someone. She knew what she was doing. She knew her threat had power because her target, Christian Cooper, understood the historical relationship between the police and Black people.

When a petroleum pipeline corporation calls in the police to bash Indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock, that too is white supremacy. It’s like the Amy Cooper–Christian Cooper incident but on a systemic scale in which a fossil fuel company weaponizes the police to racially terrorize Indigenous peoples.

When a kid in East Oakland gets asthma from car pollution because her neighborhood is surrounded by freeways, that is white supremacy.

When the Dakota Access Pipeline is built through Native land because the neighboring white communities fought to keep it out of theirs, that is white supremacy.

When the United States pours carbon pollution into the air, knowing that people in countries that have contributed much less to the climate crisis will face the worst of the consequences, that is white supremacy.

When big polluters try to buy our democracy so they can keep making money by devaluing the lives of people of color, that is white supremacy.

When you come to see and understand these intersections between white supremacy and environmental destruction, you’ll find yourself at a crossroads. That crossroads will force you to decide which side you’re on.

You can choose—we as a society can choose—to live a different way. Indeed, we must. If our society valued all people’s lives equally, there wouldn’t be any sacrifice zones to put the pollution in. If every place was sacred, there wouldn’t be a Cancer Alley. We would find other ways to advance science and create shared wealth without poisoning anyone. We would find a way to share equally both the benefits and the burdens of prosperity.

If we valued everyone’s lives equally, if we placed the public health and well-being of the many above the profits of a few, there wouldn’t be a climate crisis. There would be nowhere to put a coal plant, because no one would accept the risks of living near such a monster if they had the power to choose.

Critics of the Black demand for justice and equality like to respond by saying “all lives matter.” It’s true; they do. In fact, that’s the very point of the chants and banners and signs in the streets. After centuries of oppression, the insistence on Black dignity is a cry for universal human rights. If Black lives mattered, then all lives would matter.

I know that what I’ve laid out here is a lot of dots to connect. I can imagine you thinking, “OK, so how do we end white supremacy then?”

I wish I had all the answers, but I don’t. The answer is for all of us to figure out together.

All I know is that if climate change and environmental injustice are the result of a society that values some lives and not others, then none of us are safe from pollution until all of us are safe from pollution. Dirty air doesn’t stop at the county line, and carbon pollution doesn’t respect national borders. As long as we keep letting the polluters sacrifice Black and brown communities, we can’t protect our shared global climate.

I also know that as long as police can take Black lives, then none of us are truly safe. I keep coming back to the murder of George Floyd, the nine minutes a cop took to bring the drumbeat of George’s heart to a standstill. I keep asking again and again, How could they bring themselves to do it?

And now I ask you, What will you bring yourself to do?

SOURCE

Bios | PANTHER RIDGE FARMBY HOP HOPKINS 

Hop Hopkins is the director of strategic partnerships for the Sierra Club.

Supreme Court ruling a major victory for gig-economy workers

The "Gig" Is Up - What Is The Gig Economy? What Does It Mean To ...

The “Gig” is up: What is the gig economy, and what does it mean to you?

It paves a way for granting these workers the employment benefits and the respect they deserve.

Ottawa (30 June 2020) ― On June 26, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Uber’s labour dispute process is invalid. NUPGE welcomes the decision, which opens the door to drivers with the ride-hailing company being recognized as employees.

Supreme Court upholds Ontario Court of Appeal decision

The case began in 2017, when David Heller, a driver for the UberEats food delivery service, attempted to launch a class-action lawsuit seeking a minimum wage, vacation pay, and other benefits. As NUPGE has previously reported, under their contracts, Uber drivers are classified as independent contractors, not employees. This means that they do not have access to the benefits and protections that are afforded to all employees under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act.

Heller’s proposed lawsuit was blocked by a clause in Uber’s legal terms that requires all labour disputes to go through mediation in the Netherlands. The Ontario Court of Appeal deemed the clause illegal because it outsources an employment standard. Uber challenged this ruling before the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Supreme Court upheld the lower court decision, ruling that drivers can have labour issues resolved through Ontario courts, as reported by CBC News. The decision opens the door to Heller’s lawsuit and the possibility that Uber drivers will be considered employees under the Employment Standards Act.

Uber drivers deserve the same respect as other workers

The Supreme Court ruling represents an important victory not just for Uber drivers but for all gig-economy workers. It paves a way for granting these workers the employment benefits and the respect they deserve.

NUPGE stands in solidarity with precarious and gig-economy workers who are organizing for the same rights and protections granted to other workers.


NUPGE

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada’s largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE

RELATED:

Supreme Court of Canada rules Uber arbitration clause invalid and a ‘classic case of unconscionability’

 

Chomsky: We Must Not Let Masters of Capital Define the Post-COVID World

people display signs opposing shelter in place ordinances

Protesters stand on the street while holding signs during a “reopen” protest in Indianapolis, Indiana, on April 18, 2020. JEREMY HOGAN / SOPA IMAGES/LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES

The global outbreak of COVID-19 has many thinking that a new economic and political order is inevitably under way. But is that so? In the U.S., the moneyed class, which has thrived under Donald Trump, won’t go down without pulling all stops to make sure that popular pressures for radical reforms will be blocked, says world-renowned public intellectual Noam Chomsky. Chomsky also reminds us that overt racism has intensified under Trump, and that police violence is a symptom of the underlying white supremacy that plagues U.S. society. Meanwhile, Trump’s anti-environmental policies and his trashing of arms control treaties are bringing the world ever closer to an environmental and nuclear holocaust.

C.J. Polychroniou: It’s been argued by many, from various quarters, that COVID-19 has been a game changer. Do you concur with this view, or are we talking of a temporary situation, with a return to the “business as usual” approach being the most likely scenario once this health crisis is over?

Noam Chomsky: There is no way to predict. Those who have primary responsibility for the multiple crises that imperil us today are hard at work, relentlessly, to ensure that the system they created, and from which they have greatly benefited, will endure — and in an even harsher form, with more intense surveillance and other means of coercion and control. Popular forces are mobilizing to counter these malign developments. They seek to dismantle the destructive policies that have led us to this uniquely perilous moment of human history, and to move toward a world system that gives priority to human rights and needs, not the prerogatives of concentrated capital.

We should take a few moments to clarify to ourselves the stakes in the bitter class war that is taking shape as the post-pandemic world is being forged. The stakes are immense. All are rooted in the suicidal logic of unregulated capitalism, and at a deeper level in its very nature, all becoming more apparent during the neoliberal plague of the past 40 years. The crises have been exacerbated by malignancies that have surfaced as these destructive tendencies took their course. The most ominous are appearing in the most powerful state in human history — not a good omen for a world in crisis.

The stakes were spelled out in the setting of the Doomsday Clock last January. Each year of Trump’s presidency, the minute hand has been moved closer to midnight. Two years ago, it reached the closest it has been since the Clock was first set after the atomic bombings. This past January, the analysts abandoned minutes altogether and moved to seconds: 100 seconds to midnight. They reiterated the prime concerns: nuclear war, environmental destruction and deterioration of democracy, the last of these because the only hope of dealing with the two existential crises is vibrant democracy in which an informed population is directly engaged in determining the fate of the world.

Since January, Trump has escalated each of these threats to survival. He has continued his project of dismantling the arms control regime that has provided some protection against nuclear disaster. So far this year, he has terminated the Open Skies Treaty, proposed by Eisenhower, and imposed frivolous conditions to block the re-negotiation of New Start, the last pillar of the system. He is now considering ending the moratorium on nuclear tests, “an invitation for other nuclear-armed countries to follow suit,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

The military industry can scarcely control its euphoria over the flood of gifts from the public to develop new weapons to destroy us all, encouraging adversaries to do likewise so that down the road, new grants will flow to try to counter the new threats to survival. A hopeless task, as virtually every specialist knows, but that is not pertinent; what matters is that public largesse should flow into the right pockets.

Trump also has continued his dedicated campaign to destroy the environment that sustains human life. His FY 2020 budget proposal, issued while the pandemic was raging, called for further defunding of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health-related components for government, compensated by increased support for the fossil fuel industries that are destroying the prospects for survival. And, as usual, more funding for the military and for the [border] wall that is a central part of his electoral strategy. The corporate leaders Trump has installed to supervise environmental destruction are quietly eliminating regulations that somewhat constrain the damage and that protect the population from poisoning water supplies and the air they breathe. The latter reveals sharply the malevolence of the Trump phenomenon. In the midst of an unprecedented respiratory pandemic, Trump’s minions are seeking to increase air pollution, which makes COVID-19 more deadly, endangering tens of thousands of Americans. But it doesn’t much matter. Most have no choice but to live near the polluting plants — [those] who are poor and Black, and who vote the “wrong” way.

Again, there are beneficiaries: his prime constituency of private wealth and corporate power.

Turning to the third concern of the Doomsday Clock analysts, Trump has accelerated his program to dismantle American democracy. The executive branch has been virtually dismantled, converted to a collection of cowardly sycophants who do not dare to offend the master. His latest step was to fire the State of New York prosecutor who was investigating the swamp that Trump has created in Washington. He was carrying forward the investigation of the inspectors general who Trump purged when they were getting too close. The next projected step, we have just learned, is to be a purge of the military command, to ensure faithful obedience to the aspiring tin-pot dictator in the event of an international or domestic crisis of his making.

Trump is mimicked closely by Jair Bolsonaro; farce imitating tragedy. But in Brazil, there is still a slim barrier to executive criminality: the Supreme Court, which blocked Bolsonaro’s moves to purge the authorities investigating his own swamp. The U.S. trails well behind.

It is quite an achievement in a mere six months to have significantly escalated all three of the threats to survival that have moved the Doomsday Clock toward midnight, while at the same time, administering a spectacular failure to deal with the pandemic. Under Trump’s leadership, the U.S., with 4 percent of the world’s population, has by now registered 20 percent of [COVID-19] cases. According to a study in a leading medical journal, almost all are attributable to the refusal by Trump and associates to respect the advice of scientists.

In late March, the U.S. and EU had about the same number of coronavirus cases. Europe adopted the results of U.S. scientific studies, and cases have very sharply declined. Under Trump, cases have increased to over five times the EU level. European researchers are wondering whether U.S. has just given up. Europe is now considering a ban on travelers from the pariah state that Trump and associates are constructing.

The idea that the U.S. government has given up is mistaken. A more accurate conclusion is that the rulers simply don’t care. Their concern is to maintain power and to shape the future society in their image. The fate of the general population is someone else’s business.

The task of forging the future world is not left to executive orders. It is by now virtually the sole concern of the Senate, with a Republican majority that is perhaps even more subservient to the master than the executive. Mitch McConnell’s Senate has virtually abandoned any pretense of being a deliberative or legislative body. Its task is to serve wealth and corporate power while packing the judiciary, top to bottom, with young ultra-right Federalist Society products who will be able to protect the reactionary Trump-McConnell agenda for many years, whatever the public might want.

The Second Amendment has become a rallying cry among right-wing groups, constantly evoked by Trump to inflame the “tough guys” he is counting on.

The latest Republican effort to punish the population is to call upon the Supreme Court to terminate the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) — as always, offering nothing in its place but empty promises.

Trumpian malevolence is merely bringing to light far deeper malignancies of the socioeconomic order that cannot be ignored if we are to avoid the next and probably worse pandemic, or to deal with the truly existential threats to survival that Trump is working hard to make much more severe.

These are the questions we face as we ask ourselves what we can do to shape the emergence from the current health crisis.

Since the eruption of nationwide demonstrations in defense of Black lives and in support of defunding the police, we have witnessed massive shifts in public attitudes on racism and growing defiance against Trump by leading establishment figures and even within his own party. Can you analyze racism in the Trump era, and speculate as to whether the country is ready for a new era in race relations?

Some insight into “racism in the Trump era” is provided by the record of racially motivated violence. According to the Anti-Defamation League, in 2016, before Trump took office, this curse accounted for 20 percent of terrorism-related deaths in the U.S. By 2018, the figure rose to 98 percent. And it has continued since. FBI Director Christopher Wray reported that racially and ethnically motivated extremists had been the primary source of ideologically motivated lethal incidents and violence since 2018, and that 2019 marked the deadliest year of white supremacist violence since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Foreign Affairs reports.

That is one face of racism in the Trump era, regularly fanned from the White House. The current demonstrations reflect critical tendencies in the opposite direction. The demonstrations are unprecedented: in scale, in commitment, in solidarity and in popular support, reaching well beyond what Martin Luther King Jr. achieved when he was still a popular figure.

These remarkable demonstrations testify to significant changes in popular consciousness. Trump, of course, has been trying hard to stir up his white supremacist voting bloc while tweeting wild charges about how the country is under siege by the violent radicals who run the Democratic Party. But his familiar techniques do not seem to be working as before.

So far, the [short-term] goals of the demonstrators seem to be mostly focused on policing. This focus on police practices leads directly to inquiry into much more fundamental features of American society. There is ample evidence that police violence in the U.S. is well beyond comparable societies, but it doesn’t take place in a social vacuum. The U.S. is a far more violent society.

Violence, of course, isn’t in the genes. It arises from social maladies that are reflected in many aspects of the society, not least its very low ranking among OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] countries in social justice measures. It’s clear why these maladies have a radically disproportionate impact on the Black community. Police violence is a symptom, which cannot be cured while ignoring its roots.

The spread of protests, especially to small-town America, has also brought to light the utterly weird phenomenon of the militia movement in the United States. To what extent is the political ideology of the Republican Party under Trump linked to the extreme anti-government ideology of the militia movement?

Apart from the assault on the Michigan State Legislature by the armed Michigan Liberty Militia (“very good people,” Donald Trump assured us), the most dramatic recent case was at the village of Bethel, Ohio. A peaceful demonstration of a few dozen people in support of Black Lives Matter was attacked by 700 counterprotesters from motorcycle gangs, “back the blue” groups, and proponents of the Second Amendment, many armed or with baseball bats and clubs. The Second Amendment has nothing to do with the demonstration, but has become a rallying cry among right-wing groups, constantly evoked by Trump, always irrelevantly, to inflame the “tough guys” he is counting on.

Withdrawal of security turns people’s minds way from “dangerous illusions” like solidarity and mutual support to isolation in an uncertain market.

As for political ideology, modern Republicans like to intone Reagan’s slogan that government is the problem, not the solution. But always tongue-in-cheek. Their idol expanded the federal government (while almost tripling the national debt). It’s true that the ideology of the modern Republican party is in part anti-government. For them, government has a serious flaw; it is somewhat responsive to the general public. The flaw can be remedied by transferring policy-making to private tyrannies that are completely unaccountable to the public. But government is sometimes the solution for Republicans. One instance is when state power is needed to crush popular interference with the doctrines of the faith, the hallmark of neoliberalism from its origins in interwar Vienna, as we discussed earlier. Government is also the solution for the huge public subsidies for the corporate sector, and more visibly, when the corporate crime wave that has been unleashed by neoliberal principles crashes the economy, as has been happening regularly since Reagan. The masters then run hat in hand to the nanny state to be bailed out. That is happening again today, though this time the corporate greed mandated by neoliberal doctrine is only partially responsible; when the pandemic struck, corporations that had been enriching wealthy shareholders and management with stock buybacks have been demanding, and receiving, public largesse as usual.

On top of that, it always makes sense not to let an opportunity go to waste. Thanks to friends in high places, “Nearly 82 percent of the benefits from the tax law change [in the coronavirus stimulus] will go to people making $1m or more annually in 2020.”

The guiding neoliberal principle is simply a sharper version of the traditional understanding that the proper function of government is to “protect the minority of the opulent against the majority,” as James Madison instructed at the Constitutional Convention. Government’s prime concern is the welfare of “the men of best quality,” as they called themselves a century earlier during the first modern democratic revolution in 17th-century England. The “rabble” will somehow fend for themselves.

How? In the neoliberal world, the solution for them is to join the precariat, deprived of support systems (“there is no society”), health programs, child care, vacations, secure pensions, in fact any way to escape the ravages of the market, whatever it brings.

Pensions illustrate neoliberal logic well. The first step has been to dissolve them into private 401(k)s. That might lead to higher returns for those who are lucky, and to disaster for those who are not, but either way, withdrawal of security turns people’s minds way from “dangerous illusions” like solidarity and mutual support to isolation in an uncertain market. The next step has just been taken by Eugene Scalia, who was chosen to be labor secretary on the basis of his credentials as a corporate lawyer strongly opposed to labor rights. Under the cover of the pandemic, he quietly opened the 401(k) market to the destructive private equity firms, offering them a huge source of profit and inflated management fees.

Proceeding further, after firing the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who stepped out of line by exploring his swamp in Washington, Trump nominated as his replacement Jay Clayton, a private equity lawyer who is a long-time advocate of changing federal law “to let asset managers funnel more money from retirees to those high-risk, high-fee firms,” David Sirota reports in another of his invaluable exposés of state-corporate crimes. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which monitors these shady organizations, issued another scathing report on their malpractice, which Sirota interprets, plausibly, as a “desperate cry for help” to prevent the stagecoach robbery underway. But to head off that threat, Sirota notes further, the Supreme Court quietly “restricted the SEC’s power to punish private equity firms.”

The circle tightens. Hold on to your hats as the new age is forged by the masters, step by step — if we let them have their way.

Since the outbreak of coronavirus, Joe Biden seems to have recognized that many of the problems facing the contemporary United States are structural, not cyclical. Indeed, Biden seems to have moved further to the left since Bernie Sanders suspended his presidential campaign on April. This raises the interesting question on whether Biden himself has changed or whether it is the politics and culture of the Democratic Party itself that have changed. Can you comment on the policy agenda of Biden and on the possibly changing face of the Democratic Party?

What Biden recognizes I don’t know. We can however read his program, which has been pressed well to the left. Not by the Democratic National Committee or the donor class. Rather by direct engagement of Sanders and his associates, and most important, by the constant activism of the groups that the Sanders campaign brought together and inspired. Whether the face will continue to change depends on whether these forces will continue to mobilize and to act.

It’s well to remember the traditional left perspective on the quadrennial extravaganzas, including the current one.

There is an official doctrine that politics reduces to voting in an election, and then going home to leave matters to others. That’s a wonderful way to suppress the population and maintain authoritarian control. The terminology that is used to implement this technique of control is “vote for X,” and you’ve fulfilled your responsibility as a citizen.

The establishment doctrine is available both for those who favor government policy and those who oppose it. In the latter form, it has recently been called “lesser evil voting,” given the acronym LEV.

The traditional left doctrine is very different. It holds that politics consists of constant activism to resist oppression, not only from government, but from even harsher private power, and to develop people’s movements to promote justice and popular control of institutions. Every few years an event comes around called an “election.” One takes a few minutes to see if there is a significant difference between the candidates, and if there is, to take another few minutes to vote against the worst one and then get back to work. To illustrate the choice, consider global warming, plainly a critical matter (for some, like me, the most critical in human history, along with nuclear war). Democrats and Republicans differ sharply on the issue. The latest study by the Pew Research Center finds that,

Americans continue to be deeply politically divided over how much human activity contributes to climate change. About seven-in-ten Democrats (72%) say human activity contributes a great deal to climate change, compared with roughly two-in-ten Republicans (22%), a difference of 50 percentage points. The difference is even wider among those at the ends of the ideological spectrum. A large majority of liberal Democrats (85%) say human activity contributes a great deal to climate change. Only 14% of conservative Republicans say the same.

This coming November, the difference between the candidates is a chasm.

SOURCE

BY Truthout

C. J. Polychroniou is a political scientist/political economist who has taught at numerous universities in Europe and the United States and has also worked at various research centers. 

 

 

 

Global heating will make it much harder for tropical plants to germinate, study finds

Temperatures will be too hot for the seeds of one in five plants by the year 2070, Australian researcher says

Global heating will impact the ability of more than half of all tropical plants to germinate, a study has found. Queensland’s Daintree rainforest. Photograph: Maria Grazia Casella/Alamy Stock Photo

Global heating will make it much harder for tropical plants around the world to germinate, with temperatures becoming too hot for the seeds of one in five plants by the year 2070, according to a new study.

Global heating will impact the ability of more than half of all tropical plants to germinate if emissions of greenhouse gases remain high.

The tropics are home to many of the world’s richest areas for biodiversity and scientists have long held concerns they could be especially susceptible to climate change.

Published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography, the University of New South Wales researcher Alexander Sentinella examined germination data for 1,312 plant species held at the Millennium Seed Bank at Britain’s Royal Botanic Gardens.

The seed bank is the largest and most diverse collection of seeds in the world.

Sentinella said it was assumed tropical plants had a narrower temperature range they could tolerate than species at higher latitudes.

But his study found the risk to tropical plants from global heating exists because they are already sitting towards the higher end of their temperature limits, not because they had a narrower range to begin with.

The study also suggests that global heating could benefit the germination of most plant species above 45 degrees latitude, but this benefit might be offset by other issues.

The study comes after research earlier this year found tropical areas that conservationists had thought would be safe havens may not escape global heating.

The seed bank database includes a range of germination experiments and Sentinella and colleagues examined only species where results covered the same species from the same locations.

Then the study looked at the warmest three months of each year from 1970 to 2000 where those plants existed, and compared those temperatures to what was expected by 2070 under a scenario where greenhouse gas emissions remain very high.

By 2070, the results showed more than half the tropical plants had been pushed beyond the best temperature range for germination. For about 20% of species, the study suggested temperatures would be too high for the plants to germinate.

The study found no difference in the response of different kinds of plants – for example, between woody species and softer greener plants, or between long and short living species.

Sentinella told Guardian Australia: “We know warming will affect species regardless of where they are, but we wanted to look at how much warming these species could cope with.”

He said tropical areas were being hit by deforestation, which had already raised ground temperatures close to cleared areas, and the impact on germination of tropical species was likely already happening.

Commenting on the study, Dr Alex Cheesman, an expert in tropical plants at James Cook University, said the study was important because very little was known about how seed germination would be affected by global warming.

The study would likely prompt further work, he said, but if the central findings of the study held firm then it showed how global heating had the potential to “substantially impact the composition and functioning of biological systems across the globe”.

Prof Bill Laurance, the director of James Cook University’s centre for tropical environmental and sustainability science who was not involved in the study, said the focus on germination was important because this was “a critically vulnerable life-stage for plants.”

“Many old-growth-rainforest plants, for instance, need relatively cool, shady conditions on the forest floor for their seeds to germinate.”

Prof Corey Bradshaw, an ecologist at Flinders University who was not involved in the study, said the issue of germination temperatures had been “flying under the radar” and the study represented a “stark warning”.

He said the issue needed further investigation, particularly because there were several factors that influenced germination, such as how deep a seed was or what the soil moisture levels were.

But he said in the 50-year future the study had used, there would likely be more important impacts on tropical plants, including fire and habitat loss, than pressures on germination.

SOURCE

Europe losing forest to harvesting at alarming rate, data suggests

Rise in harvesting could affect ability to combat climate crisis due to carbon absorption capacity reducing

A Swedish forest at sunset. The loss of forest biomass is most pronounced in Sweden, which accounted for 29% of the increase in harvesting
Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Europe has lost a vastly increased area of forest to harvesting in recent years, data suggests, reducing the continent’s carbon absorption capacity and possibly indicating wider problems with the EU’s attempts to combat the climate crisis.

Many of the EU’s forests – which account for about 38% of its land surface area – are managed for timber production, and thus harvested regularly. But the loss of biomass increased by 69% in the period from 2016 to 2018, compared with the period from 2011 to 2015, according to satellite data. The area of forest harvested increased by 49% in the same comparison, published in the journal Nature Research.

This indicates that much more harvesting has occurred in a short period, even accounting for natural cycles and the impact of events such as forest fires and heavy snows. The harvested area could be expected to vary by less than about 10% owing to cycles of growing and planting, and similar effects, according to Guido Ceccherini of the EU Joint Research Centre, lead author of the study.

Other factors are therefore likely to be in play, and these could include increased demand for wood as a fuel, and bigger markets for timber and other wood products. The satellite data could therefore be an early indicator of unsustainable demands being placed on the EU’s forests.

The loss of forest biomass is most pronounced in Sweden, which accounted for 29% of the increase in harvesting, and Finland, for about 22%. Much less affected were Poland, Spain, Latvia, Portugal and Estonia, which jointly accounted for about 30% of the increase in the 26 countries studied.

Ceccherini told the Guardian that the observed increase in harvesting and the loss of biomass was unlikely to result in a decline in the area of the EU that is forested overall, as most of the harvested forests would be regenerated. But it would disrupt the carbon absorption capacity of the EU’s forests in the short term, he said.

Forests offset about 10% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. As the areas harvested are likely to be replanted, the new growth will continue to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so Europe’s carbon balance may not be greatly affected in the long term.

However, the researchers said it was important to find out why the harvesting has increased so suddenly, in case it indicates wider underlying problems with the way in which Europe’s forests are being managed. This study cannot definitively establish the causes of the increases in harvesting, so more research is needed.

Increase in demand for timber and wood products, such as pulp and paper, and more burning of biomass for fuel may be behind the rapid rise in harvesting observed in the Nordic countries. If so, according to the researchers, it is important to know so that any adverse impacts can be quickly contained.

Prof Thomas Crowther, founder of Crowther Lab, who was not involved in the research, said: “It is concerning to see that the increasing demand for forest products may be reducing the carbon stored within living biomass in European forests. It is possibly more concerning that forest removal may also threaten the storage of carbon below ground. These high-latitude forests support some of the largest soil carbon stock on earth. If forest clearing threatens the integrity of high-latitude soil carbon stocks, then the climate impacts may be stronger than previously expected.”

SOURCE

Emmanuel Macron commits €15bn to definitive climate action

Image credit: Euronews

French President, Emmanuel Macron, has pledged an additional €15bn ($17bn) for measures to combat the climate crisis over the next two years. He also plans to hold a referendum concerning the introduction of the crime of “ecocide” for harming the environment.

Macron’s promise of environmental aid resulted from a meeting with members of the country’s Citizens’ Commission for the Climate — a committee of 150 randomly selected French people who studied and deliberated the climate issue for nine months. Macron said he accepted all but three of the group’s 149 recommendations, which were based on transport, housing, work and production, food, as well as consumption of natural resources.

According to news sources, Macron hopes to implement the measures immediately and a new law would be drawn up before the end of summer. The ‘ecocide’ law would ensure that extensive damage caused to ecosystems would be classified as an offence punishable by law.

He congratulated the commission for having “made the choice of putting ecology at the heart of our economic model”, but rejected its suggestion for a “dividend tax” on investments and postponed a debate on whether to introduce a 110km/h speed limit on French roads.

The French assembly’s case on climate change was helped by the Green Party’s unexpected success in recent local elections. The Europe Écologie Les Verts made significant gains in major cities including Lyon, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Marseille, Besançon and many other large towns putting pressure on Macron for more definitive climate action.

According to The Guardian, The Citizens’ Commission for the Climate is part of a democratic experiment in France where a group of citizens, ranging from teenage school pupils to bus drivers and retired railway staff, were asked to define government environmental policy for the remaining two years of Macron’s mandate – and specifically how to cut the country’s carbon emissions by 40% by 2030.

Environmentalist and MEP, Yannick Jadot, told Ouest-France: “People are trying to make sense of things, our way of life, our housing, the density of cities, food, travel, solidarity, new democratic methods … Part of the population has a wish, a desire, for real change in our societies that is socially and economically realistic.”

“There will obviously be a before and after the 2020 local elections. It’s a real political turn in our country,” he said.

Said Jean-François Julliard, the director general of Greenpeace France: “The message sent by the municipal elections is clear: ecology and the climate crisis are no longer only a distant preoccupation for French people, but a political priority that must result in acts, concrete measures and a general goal in keeping with the Paris climate accord. The Citizen’s Commission has said the same thing and it will need more than a lovely speech from the Elysée to satisfy the deep expectations.”

SOURCE

RELATED:

The Guardian view on France’s green wave: seizing the moment

The march of Europe Ecology is yet another example of how parties of the environment are steadily acquiring power and influence across the continent

 

As we mark Canada Day, Canadians are waking up to the country’s racist reality

This Canada Day, we need to make a commitment to eliminate the cancer of racism from this country, so that we can eventually live up to our own hype about how great Canada is on July 1 in years to come.

Thousands of people pictured at last year’s Canada Day festivities on Parliament Hill. Fareed Khan says this year’s Canada Day will be remembered because of the global pandemic and because of the great Canadian awakening that has occurred since the killing of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer. ‘It’s as if Canadians of all backgrounds have awakened to the endemic racism in our society, and they have joined with Blacks, Indigenous people, and people of colour to call for action to address racial injustices.’ The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia

GATINEAU, QUE.—Canada Day 2020 will be a national holiday that will be burned into the memory of Canadians young and old for many years to come for a couple of reasons.

To begin with, it will be the first Canada Day in living memory with no official celebrations taking place anywhere in the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all of which have been cancelled due to fears of transmitting the coronavirus at large public events.

However, the more important reason this Canada Day will be remembered is because of the great Canadian awakening that has occurred since the killing of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer. Canadians from all walks of life have taken to the streets in anti-racism demonstrations from coast to coast to protest anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism, and systemic racism. It’s as if Canadians of all backgrounds have awakened to the endemic racism in our society, and they have joined with Blacks, Indigenous people, and people of colour to call for action to address racial injustices.

The reality that Canada is built on a foundation of racism and Indigenous genocide is not a new revelation since there is extensive research documenting this. What does seem to be new is Canadians’ heightened awareness and desire to do something about it.

It is difficult to recall this level of attention being paid to racism in Canada, albeit there have been instances of media and public focus from time to time. Racism was one of the topics addressed in the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015. Hate and bigotry was on the public’s minds and the political agenda again when six Muslim men were murdered in a Québec City mosque by a white supremacist in January 2017. Attention was focused on racism again when old photos of Justin Trudeau in blackface and brownface came to light during the federal election last fall, and once more when Don Cherry ranted about immigrants not properly honouring veterans on Remembrance Day on his Hockey Night In Canada segment.

In each instance, there was a brief public, media, and political focus on issues of racism in Canada which subsequently faded. This time, however, it seems to be different, as the public engages in wider discussions about the racist foundations of Canadian society in the lead-up to Canada’s national holiday.

Racism was a factor in the policies of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Racism was a factor in the policies of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. The architect of the residential schools system said of Indigenous people, “Though he may learn to read and write, his habits, training and mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write.”  His racism also was directed towards the Chinese, who he felt would create a “mongrel race” and threaten Canada’s “Aryan” character if allowed to immigrate.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier is also notable for his racist order in council in 1911 that prevented Blacks from immigrating to Canada. In addition, Laurier’s government is well-known for policies that blocked immigrants of Chinese, Japanese, and South Asian origin.

Sir Robert Borden was also on the list of overtly racist Canadian leaders.  He won the 1911 election on the strength of his xenophobic slogan, “A White Canada.”  It was also under Borden that the Komagata Maru incident occurred, when a ship filled with Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus was forced back out to sea by the Royal Canadian Navy from the port of Vancouver.

Canada’s racist policies continue today in various forms, including police treatment of Indigenous and racialized Canadians. They were instituted by leaders who have been celebrated for years as “great” Canadians. The recent protests have focused attention on Canadian racism, resulting in public calls for change.

On this Canada Day, occurring in the shadow of anti-racism protests, Canadians have to accept that, while better than most countries, Canada is not as great as it is made out to be given its racist history and institutions. This Canada Day, we need to make a commitment to eliminate the cancer of racism from this country, so that we can eventually live up to our own hype about how great Canada is on July 1 in years to come.

SOURCE

Fareed Khan is founder and chair of the anti-racism activist group Canadians United Against Hate.

Feds’ policing reforms should respect self-governance of Indigenous people, say experts, Parliamentarians, in wake of deadly, violent run-ins with police

‘I think the Indigenous community needs to be given absolute autonomy and authority to develop systems for themselves that sit completely outside of the system that we currently have,’ says Notisha Massaquoi, a former executive director of community health centre Women’s Health in Women’s Hands.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, pictured on May 25, 2020, says the ‘overrepresentation of Indigenous people in correctional institutions is an unacceptable situation that we are working very hard to address.’ The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

As the government works toward a new legislative framework aimed at improving the relationship between police and Indigenous people, some Parliamentarians and Indigenous experts say reforms should be rooted in self-determination, greater autonomy, and self-governance.

Such changes could better reflect Ottawa’s commitment to reconciliation and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council in Port Alberni, B.C.

“As communities, we definitely need to have our own form of Indigenous—I hate to use the word ‘policing,’ but for lack of better words—’Indigenous policing.’ We know we can form our own trauma teams in our communities,” said Ms. Sayers in a phone interview with The Hill Times.

Her comments come on the heels of a deadly string of interactions between police and Indigenous people across the country in the last few months, putting Ottawa and the RCMP under increased scrutiny for how Indigenous people are policed and over-represented in the correctional system.

“My point is making sure that there’s enough funding to put in place the kind of policing that Indigenous people want to [have]. This is really in keeping with the universal declaration of Indigenous rights: self-determination, putting in our own social goals, and where we want to go with that,” said Ms. Sayers.

Since April, eight Indigenous people have died in incidents that have involved police, with some being shot and killed: Rodney Levi, Chantel Moore, Eishia Hudson, Jason Collins, Stewart Kevin Andrews, Everett Patrick, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, and Abraham Natanine. (Ms. Korchinski-Paquet was an Indigenous-Black woman).

Ms. Moore was among those for whom police said they were responding to a wellness check on June 4. Police said they were met with a woman with a knife who was making threats, and she was subsequently shot and killed.

“Our relationship with police has been one of violence, from the colonial nature of everything that has  happened in Canada,” said Ms. Sayers, pointing to residential schools and the presence of RCMP officers in removing barriers and blockades during demonstrations by Wet’suwet’en land defenders earlier this year as examples.

“Can we actually calm someone down so that they’re not required to be shot to be calmed down? I think that’s one of the No. 1 things. We need to do some increased training and community orientation for officers. Often, we find, and this is not all officers, so I don’t want to put a blanket on all officers, but often people don’t value Indigenous people. They don’t see us as people, so [we are] being dehumanized,” said Ms. Sayers.

In the wake of those deadly interactions, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair (Scarborough Southwest, Ont.) committed to overhauling policing services and creating a new legislative framework for Indigenous policing. One program that will be re-examined is the First Nations Policing Program, which is 52 per cent funded by the federal government, with the remaining 48 per cent covered by the provinces and territories.

Progressive Senator Lillian Dyck (Saskatchewan) told The Hill Times that she is skeptical of the reach the new framework will have.

“Personally, I don’t believe legislation—if it is as I suspect it’s going to be—will have a very big impact. It will only have a limited effect on policing brutality and killings of Indigenous people because it will more than likely only be to grant police powers to First Nations on reserve,” she said. “I think that’s a good thing, but it leaves out off-reserve,” which she predicted are the “urban and rural areas of Canada” where some of the incidents took place.

As noted by a 2014 auditor general report, the First Nations Policing Program, introduced in 1991 and updated in 1996, aims “to contribute to the improvement of social order, public security, and personal safety in First Nations communities.” It covers First Nations communities on reserve, some First Nations on Crown land, and Inuit communities, but excludes Métis, off-reserve, and urban communities. Today, the program serves about 60 per cent of First Nations and Inuit communities across the country.

Sen. Dyck said the deadly interactions off-reserve, paired with a January finding from the Correctional Investigator of Canada that Indigenous people make up more than 30 per cent of the total inmate population in federal prisons, “show the existence of systemic racism” in both systems. The investigator noted that in 2016, Indigenous people made up 25 per cent of the total inmate population, leading him to conclude that there is a “deepening ‘Indigenization’ of Canada’s correctional system.”

Asked about such stats, a spokesperson for Mr. Blair’s office said in an emailed July 1 statement that the government needs “to acknowledge the lived experience of those who have known systemic racism.”

“A criminal justice system that produces such inequitable outcomes for specific segments of our population cannot be considered truly just,” Mr. Blair’s statement said. “The overrepresentation of Indigenous people in correctional institutions is an unacceptable situation that we are working very hard to address.”

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller (Ville-Marie-Le Sud-Ouest-Île-des-Sœurs, Que.) has spoken out about police violence in recent weeks, saying he is “outraged” by the videos that have surfaced, and has called for a “full accounting of what has gone on.” He was unavailable to comment in time for publication.

Vicki Chartrand, who studies the links between colonialism and the justice system and Indigenous grassroots efforts to address violence against Indigenous women at Bishop’s University in Quebec, said there are examples of where communities have taken it upon themselves to seek justice where they see authorities have not stepped in.

“What we’ve seen is that in communities themselves, despite the trauma and violence they experience, the poverty and lack of resources, is that they’ve come together in significant ways in order to address this lack of policing function that exists for their communities,” Prof. Chartrand said. She pointed to the Bear Clan Patrol in Winnipeg, a group of 1,500 men and women who volunteer to patrol streets and draw “its direction solely from our traditional philosophies and practices.”

Prof. Chartrand also took note of groups like Manitoba’s Drag the Red, which started in 2014 to help solve cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women by searching rivers for evidence and other remains.

“These are the kinds of community measures that are going to keep people safe and connected. It’s not going to be the negative interventions of police that aren’t creating any kind of actual supports,” she said.

“It becomes really clear that, there’s a bunch of things at play there, but one of them is how Indigenous people are being policed, the lack of funding and resources, the kinds of colonial taxonomies that have been engrained in the functions of criminal justice.”

RCMP eyes more diverse membership

Notisha Massaquoi, a former executive director of community health centre Women’s Health in Women’s Hands, which works with racialized women in Toronto and surrounding areas, echoed Ms. Sayers’ calls for First Nations to be granted greater self-determination through the reforms.

“I think the Indigenous community needs to be given absolute autonomy and authority to develop systems for themselves that sit completely outside of the  system that we currently have,” she said this week. “The one we have in place today is just an extension of the colonial practice that was designed to contain and exterminate Indigenous people, so it can’t be the one that’s going to resolve this problem.”

Asked what she would like to see come out of the reforms, Ms. Sayers added that “what I think is the most important thing is having a trained, trauma-informed team of people that can go to these calls. Do we need police to go to these? Maybe, as a backup, if that’s what is [needed]. But a lot of situations can be controlled by people who know what they’re doing doing, people who are familiar with who Indigenous people are.”

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki has said the force needs to ‘double down on hiring a more diverse membership, as we want greater diversity to reflect the communities that we serve.’ The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

 

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, who herself has faced scrutiny recently after initially denying the existence of systemic racism within her ranks before walking back her comments, appeared before the House Public Safety Committee on June 23 and cited mandatory “cultural awareness [online] training” for all RCMP workers as a step in this direction.

She added that the force needs to “double down on hiring a more diverse membership, as we want greater diversity to reflect the communities that we serve.” As noted by The Canadian Press last month, an employment equity report on the force in 2018-19 found that the diversity of the overall workforce had “not changed by any significant measure” since the year before. The report found that as of April 2019, 21.8 per cent of the force’s members were women, 11.5 per cent were visible minorities, 7.5 per cent were Indigenous people, and 1.6 per cent were people with disabilities. The representation figures are for RCMP members, not civilian employees.

“We continue to work with Indigenous peoples, partners, communities, and all racialized Canadians to ensure that our agencies serve without bias and with a commitment to justice for everyone,” the statement from Mr. Blair’s office said. “In order to achieve this, we need to acknowledge the lived experience of those who have known systemic racism.”

Anna Banerji, a director of global and Indigenous health at the University of Toronto’s faculty of medicine, noted there is generally a “lack of trust” from Indigenous communities when it comes to governments and state police.

“The government hasn’t come through with what they should be doing, and Indigenous people are treated as second-class citizens,” said Prof. Banerji, referencing boil-water advisories that are still in effect. The Liberal government said it plans to lift all long-term drinking water advisories on reserve by March 2021. Earlier this week, the town of Baker Lake in Nunavut was placed on an advisory as a “precautionary measure” because of cloudy water.

“If I can use the term ‘apartheid,’ we have an apartheid system in place, where what your access to rights, policy, and fundamental things like food, education, social services, etc., is based on, [is] your race. There’s differential access.”

Other experts like Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, who studies race, crime, and criminal justice at the University of Toronto, agreed.

“This is cyclical. Part of the over-incarceration is due to deprivation in other areas of our society. [For Indigenous people], there’s key areas of trauma that need to be addressed there,” he said.

Independent Senator Kim Pate (Ontario), who has long advocated for the rights of prisoners, said that whichever reforms take place, the values of reconciliation should be respected. “I think self-governance and providing more ability for Indigenous communities and nations to be self governing is vitally important,” she said.

SOURCE

Palak Mangat is an online reporter with The Hill Times.
 – pmangat@hilltimes.com

Another Reason to Cut Down on Plastics

A farmers’ market in Athens, Ga., in May.

Credit…Joshua L. Jones/Athens Banner-Herald, via Associated Press

Greetings and welcome to Plastic Free July! This month, millions of people across 177 countries have pledged to cut down on the amount of plastic they use.

The movement started small almost a decade ago in Australia, but last year more than 250 million people pledged to participate. This year, the annual challenge arrives as plastic is making something of a comeback amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Efforts to ban plastic bags in cities across the United States have stalled and some grocery stores won’t allow customers to bring their own reusable bags. Many restaurants are open for takeout service only, and that means disposable containers and flatware. A lot of the masks people wear are laced with microplastics.

While health should be the primary concern during a pandemic, “Caring for the planet doesn’t mean we can’t care for ourselves,” said Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, who founded Plastic Free July in 2011 as a challenge for herself, her family and a few others. “We can do both at the same time.”

Even if this year is complicated, breaking free from our normal routines — whether by skipping the bottled water, cooking at home more or shopping at a farmers’ market — can present an opportunity, said Susan Clayton, chair of the psychology department at The College of Wooster in Ohio. “When you’re forced to think about your behaviors instead of behaving automatically on the basis of habit, that provides you an opportunity to think about how you behave.”

Group actions like Plastic Free July can also foster a sense of connectedness. “It makes you feel like you’re doing something good, in line with your values, and that’s good for self esteem,” Dr. Clayton said. “And it can make you feel more powerful. When it comes to global climate change, a lot of people feel so helpless.”

That was echoed by John P. Holdren, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government: Even if climate change feels overwhelming, small actions can make a difference.

“It matters a great deal what people do as individuals to reduce their impact on the environment,” said Dr. Holdren, who also served as a science adviser to President Barack Obama, in an email.

The government plays an important role in regulation and clean energy research, Dr. Holdren said, yet personal decisions, from the appliances we purchase to the way we commute, can “add up to significant shares of pollution and impacts on global climate.”

If you want tips to help cut down, check out this plastic-focused issue of Climate Fwd: and the additional reader suggestions that followed. The Plastic Free July website has plenty of resources, too. You might even want to take the plastic-free challenge.

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