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A Just Transition From Climate Change and Unemployment

By Joseph Mathunjwa / Socialist Project.

The global economy is facing numerous structural challenges. With the looming fourth economic revolution characterized by even more technological development and mechanization, the future of productive labour is bleak. Most unskilled and semi-skilled workers are likely to lose their jobs. Even some skilled workers are not spared from this emerging catastrophe, as numerous job categories – such as brick-layers – are increasingly becoming redundant.

South African miners

This points to the urgent need for planning, for conscious investment in job-rich, growth opportunities that enable economies to build productive capacity in labour intensive sectors. One way of achieving this is to strengthen wage led growth, which, in turn, stimulates aggregate demand through enlarged household incomes. Without a dramatic increase in the wages of mine workers, farm workers and all employed people in our country, we will never be able to deal with South Africa’s most urgent problems: inequality, mass unemployment and poverty.

Since unemployment is the greatest determinant of poverty and income inequality, we can expect these, too, to worsen. Already, in 2015, 30.4 million people, that is, 55.5 per cent of the population live on less than R441 per month, or less than R15 per day. The fact that 10% of South Africa’s population earn around 60% of all income, points to South Africa’s widening inequality. Even more alarming is that the richest 10% of the population own at least 90–95% of all assets.

With these terrible statistics in mind, it becomes redundant to repeat what we have been saying as a trade union for a long time, namely, South Africa urgently requires the redistribution of wealth.

Wage-Led Development?

When the millions of working people in our country can afford what the few take for granted – a television set, a washing machine, dining room table, etc – we create the conditions for developing the economies of scale that can sustain local industries from the intense competition coming from a globalized economy. In this way, we will be able to make in-roads into the almost 10 million people who are out of work, out of income and out of dignity.

The importance of the climate jobs work the Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC) has been leading is that it identifies where the jobs can be created. As AIDC’s latest research – One Million Climate Jobs, subtitled Moving South Africa forward on a low-carbon, wage-led and sustainable path – makes clear, there are potentially hundreds of thousands of jobs in championing low carbon development, as the complimentary strategy to a wage-led development path.

The AIDC’s solidarity with AMCU (the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union) is greatly appreciated. It is a solidarity based on a shared approach and conviction of the urgent need to confront the numerous challenges facing our economy, the people whose needs the economy is supposed to meet and the sustainability of human life on a planet heating to unsustainable levels.

Global Warming and Union's Role

However, AMCU is a trade union representing mine workers and construction workers. These workers are embedded in the very industrial processes that are at the centre of contributing to global warming and other environmental problems. It is inescapable that, if we are going to move decisively to a low carbon less polluting economy, it is going to be at the cost of coal mining, coal fired energy plants, coal to liquid gas, etc. Unless jobs are offered to our members in clean industries, they would never voluntarily agree to the shutting down of mining and energy industries. It would be like asking them to commit suicide.

We are, of course, aware that doing nothing about global warming also represents a long road to destruction. However, as you must be aware, many of our members would prefer to take the long road, based on the illusion that we can postpone the inevitable.

Yet AMCU cannot be expected to bear the costs of dealing with the climate crisis. This is why we need a just transition to a wage-led, low carbon economy; a negotiated transition that is the outcome of careful planning by government, business and labour; a transition that guarantees affected workers a decent, alternative job and wage. It is only on this basis that you can reasonably expect any worker to be won to the fight against global warming and of doing something to halt the climate crisis.

Since many of our members have a close relationship to the land, many have first-hand experience of the impact of climate change. The recent drought we have experienced in the northern parts of the country has exposed many workers to the reality of climate change. We must use this as a basis to deepen the consciousness of workers on the nature and scale of the climate crisis we are facing and will face in even more extreme forms in the future.

Regrettably, there are still no discussions between government and labour on mitigating the climate crisis and negotiating a just transition to a sustainable climate and less unequal society.

Indeed, the current actions of government – or should I say non-action of government with respect to the impact of the economic crisis – where thousands of mine workers are losing their jobs, sets a very bad precedent for managing such a just transition. The government is not even mitigating the economic crisis, as far as workers are concerned. Many companies are embarking on retrenchment processes and additional thousands of workers face job losses.

Hence, as AMCU, we need to link with other trade unions and social movements to force government to deal with the current economic and climate crises. In the first instance, we need to fight for a moratorium on retrenchments. To this end, we have applied to NEDLAC for a Section 77 notice to undertake mass action. We await the certificate for protected protest action in order to elevate this issue and expose the threats that it poses for our economy.

One Million Climate Jobs

Recently, the corrupt bosses of Eskom tried to manipulate the trade unions to support nuclear and coal fired energy by announcing the closure of five coal fired power plants. This was a cynical manoeuvre to use the fear of job losses to keep alive plans for the expansion of coal and nuclear energy, as opportunities for further looting. The renewable energy industry was blamed for the resulting job losses in coal fired energy. Heavy propaganda is being directed at trade unions to get them to endorse nuclear energy, in the belief that this will create jobs.

Government's Role

We will not allow ourselves to be manipulated into supporting the looting ambitions of the predatory elite. We believe South Africa has great potential to build a significant renewable energy industry, as indicated in AIDC’s Million Climate Jobs research.

We need to pressure government urgently to implement just transition strategies. A state-driven renewable energy programme, prioritizing job creation in manufacturing all the inputs and infrastructure for wind and solar plants, is required. Government must incentivize investment in the manufacturing of renewable energy inputs, such as wind masts, solar cells, not to mention solar water geysers

We must demand that government invests in creating jobs in areas that also meet the immediate needs of our people. One such need is housing. The Reconstruction and Development Programme proposed that government invests 5 per cent of GDP in a massive housing programme. If government were to build houses instead of outsourcing them to profiteers (so-called developers) we could strengthen the resilience of working people in dealing with the deepening climate crisis. How much better if those houses are built in an energy efficient, environmental and climate conscious way. Not only would they be built with solar water geysers but could have embedded solar panels providing most of the electricity needs of the household and then some. This could lay the basis for energy co-operatives that could sell surplus energy to local government.

As AIDC has indicated, there are many things that can and should be done to deal with both the economic and climate crises. In this regard, I would be amiss if I did not mention the importance of forcing mining companies to invest in rehabilitating the environmental damage they have created and left everyone else to fix. This long-neglected rehabilitation could create many decent jobs and help absorb miners currently being thrown out of work. Rehabilitation would restore the quality of our soil, water and air, which by themselves are important interventions to address the climate crisis.

Comrades, we are facing a deepening political crisis. Unless we address this and get rid of the gangsters who run our country, we will not be able to do anything to address the climate crisis. As AMCU, we are prepared to collaborate with all progressive forces in undertaking these urgent life and death tasks together.

We look forward to further collaboration with AIDC and all involved in the Million Climate Jobs Campaign. •

This is an edited version of the speech delivered at the formal launch of the research report: One Million Climate Jobs, in Cape Town on 1 November 2017.

Joseph Mathunjwa is the President of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). He was expelled from the National Union of Mineworkers in 1999. Three thousand workers, at the Douglas Colliery where he worked, went on a 10-day underground strike in solidarity with him. AMCU was formed, shortly afterward, when these workers resigned from NUM.

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Commercial terms call into question China’s win-win Belt and Road initiative

By James M. Dorsey / Mid-East Soccer.

In a rare challenging of Chinese commercial terms that underlie the country’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative, Pakistan and Nepal have withdrawn from two dam-building deals. The withdrawal coincides with mounting questions in Pakistan, a crown jewel in Chinese geo-strategic ambition, about what some see as a neo-colonial effort to extract the country’s resources.

The withdrawals and questioning call into question China’s economics-centred approach to geopolitics based on the long-standing win-win principle of Chinese policy, the notion that all parties benefit from Chinese investment and largesse.

Critics have charged that the principle boils down to China wins twice, a notion that is supported by Chinese plans for Pakistan’s agricultural sector; the extraction of Pakistani onyx, granite, and black gold marble; the disagreement over the dams; and the debt traps that forced countries like Sri Lanka to surrender control of key assets.

Pakistan and Nepal announced their withdrawals last week in separate statements. Pakistani Water and Power Development Authority chairman Muzammil Hussain charged that “Chinese conditions for financing the Diamer-Bhasha Dam were not doable and against our interests.” China and Pakistan were also at odds over ownership of the $14 billion, 4,500 megawatts (MW)-hydropower project on the Indus River in the country’s problematic region of Gilgit-Baltistan near disputed Kashmir.

Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister and Energy Minister Kamal Thapa announced his government’s decision to scrap a US$2.5 billion deal with China’s Gezhouba Group to build a hydroelectric project on the Budhi Gandaki River in the west of the country two days before the Pakistani decision. With India’s National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) waiting in the wings and expectations that the incumbent, Nepali Congress (NC) will be returned to power in elections scheduled for November 26 and December 7, the project plays into Eurasia’s Great Game for regional influence.

The Diamer-Bhasha project was intended to be part of the Chine Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a key node on the Belt and Road, that with planned investments into infrastructure, including the port of Gwadar in the volatile province of Balochistan; energy, telecommunications and information technology, of more than $50 billion, constitutes China’s largest financial commitment to any one country.

The Pakistani withdrawal takes on added significance because it was included in CPEC after the government had failed to secure funding from international institutions like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) because of Indian objections that it was in disputed territory. The government has broken ground on the project five times in the past 15 years. Mr. Hussain said that the government now has a five-year funding plan for the project that would be completed in 2026.

Chinese analysts suggest that the Pakistani and Nepalese withdrawals could set a precedent.

“It will not be a big surprise if similar problems happen in China’s future overseas projects. And that would not change the big picture. There is a common misinterpretation internationally that the Belt and Road is something China would want to push forwards at all cost. But in fact, all projects are commercial so they have to be justifiable economically, and agreed mutually,” said Zhao Gancheng, a South Asia expert at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.

China is likely to encounter greater resistance not only on its financial terms, but also regarding assessments of what economic benefit investment target countries can expect.

A State Bank of Pakistan study concluded that exports of marble to China, Pakistan’s foremost rough-hewn, freshly-excavated marble export market, and the re-export to Pakistan of Pakistani semi-processed marble was “hurting Pakistan’s marble industry to a significant extent.”

Pakistani marble exporter and retailer Shakil Khan told Asia Times that “the Chinese buyers go for the square slabs, while the local quarrymen tend to excavate oval-shaped blocks which reduce to smaller bits” and are only of interest to the local Pakistani handicrafts and tile market. The Chinese approach discriminates against mines with cracked marble.
“The Chinese pick only the rare and quality stuff like onyx, black gold marble and high-quality granite from the market. Local processing units don’t have the high-tech processing equipment here to treat these costly marble products,” added Zahid Shinwari, president of the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCI), in Peshawar.

The Pakistani marble industry’s experience strokes with the overall suggestion of the leaked long-term plan for CPEC that projects risks of economic domination, the creation of a surveillance state, and would allow China to shape Pakistan’s media landscape. It projected an approach that has already sparked popular resistance and setbacks in countries and regions such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Balochistan.

The plan envisioned Chinese state-owned companies leasing thousands of hectares of Pakistani agricultural land to set up “demonstration projects” in areas ranging from seed varieties to irrigation technology. The Chinese companies would be offered “free capital and loans” from various Chinese ministries as well as the China Development Bank.

Effectively turning Pakistan into a raw materials supplier rather than an added-value producer, a prerequisite for a sustainable textiles industry, the plan sees the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps in China’s troubled north-western province of Xinjiang, as the vehicle for the introduction of mechanization as well as new technologies in Pakistani livestock breeding, development of hybrid varieties, and precision irrigation. Added value would be produced in Xinjiang as part of China’s bid to quell ethnic unrest among the Uighur population.

The plan envisaged the Pakistani textile sector as a supplier of materials such as yarn and coarse cloth to textile manufacturers in Xinjiang. “China can make the most of the Pakistani market in cheap raw materials to develop the textiles & garments industry and help soak up surplus labour forces in (Xinjiang’s) Kashgar,” the plan said. Chinese companies would be offered preferential treatment regarding “land, tax, logistics and services” as well as “enterprise income tax, tariff reduction and exemption and sales tax rate” incentives.

Pakistan and Nepal’s withdrawal from the dam projects suggests that for China to secure economic dominance in Eurasia, it will have to ensure that win-win amounts to equitable terms and distribution of benefits among those that need the investment.
"China needs to nurture better understanding of its intentions and visions…to prevent unnecessary suspicions about its geopolitical ambition," The Jakarta Post said earlier this year in an editorial that acknowledged that “we badly need the huge infrastructure spending that China is bringing.”

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa

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Web of secret money hides one mega-donor funding conservative court

By Robert Maguire / Open Secrets.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neal Gorsuch speaks during an event at Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

This story was cross-posted at McClatchy

When a small nonprofit called the Judicial Crisis Network poured millions into a campaign to stop the Senate from confirming Barack Obama’s Supreme Court pick last year, and then spent millions more supporting President Donald Trump’s choice for the same seat, political observers assumed conservatives from around the country were showering the group with donations.

Not so.

Newly obtained tax documents show that JCN’s money came almost entirely from yet another secretive nonprofit, the Wellspring Committee, which flooded JCN with nearly $23.5 million in 2016.

Most of Wellspring’s funds, in turn, came from a single mysterious donor who gave the organization almost $28.5 million — nearly 90 percent of its $32.2 million in revenues.

Like JCN, Wellspring — at one time tied to the donor network spearheaded by conservative industrialists Charles and David Koch — is a nonprofit that is supposed to be dedicated to social welfare functions and doesn’t have to disclose the names of its benefactors. Since the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision loosened certain constraints on political spending, these and other 501(c)(4) groups have become increasingly politically active while providing anonymity to their donors. Often one group, like Wellspring, will act as a conduit, giving most of its funds to other, similar groups with political agendas.

“It sounds like Wellspring Committee acted as a dark money conduit to provide an extra layer of secrecy to whomever was bankrolling the Judicial Crisis Network ads,” Brendan Fischer of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center in Washington said in an email interview. “This has the effect of layering secrecy on top of secrecy, and almost entirely insulating donors from any form of public accountability.”

But, Fischer added, “Even though the public doesn’t know who is really behind the tens of millions spent, there is nothing stopping these secret donors from making their identities known to the beneficiaries of that spending.”

Illinois Policy Action was another organization that benefited from Wellspring’s grants in 2016, receiving $2.5 million; it’s the lobbying arm of the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative Chicago think tank in Chicago that has ties to the state’s billionaire governor, Republican Bruce Rauner, according to the Chicago Tribune. In 2016, the institute released a documentary critical of Rauner’s political opponent, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, a Democrat.

The American Future Fund, another former Koch “dark money” nonprofit, pulled in $2 million from Wellspring last year. It spent more than $12.7 million in 2016 federal elections without disclosing its donors.

Early in the Republican presidential primaries, AFF appeared to be supporting Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) through attacks on his GOP opponents, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Donald Trump.

When the group ran ads highlighting lawsuits against Trump University, the Republican frontrunner tweeted “Phony Rubio commercial. I could have settled, but won’t out of principle!” Trump did eventually settle the lawsuit for $25 million after becoming president.

Wellspring also paid out $750,000 to a firm called BH Group LLC, not as a grant but for “public relations” services.

The corporation is nearly untraceable beyond an address for a “virtual office” in Arlington, Va. A representative of the company that manages the space, Regus, said that the BH Group has no physical presence and that all its mail is forwarded to another address. The representative would not provide a forwarding address or any names of individuals affiliated with BH Group “for security reasons.”

BH Group LLC’s only other appearance in the public record? On the list of Trump inaugural donors: It gave $1 million to help pay for the festivities. Virginia incorporation records show the LLC wasn’t formed until the end of August 2016. That means Wellspring’s payment to it was made between then and the end of the year — right around when the Trump inaugural committee was doing the bulk of its fundraising.

As for the Judicial Crisis Network, when Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch was sworn in last April, the group’s chief counsel was there, snapping pictures in the White House Rose Garden.

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Canada’s Pro-Israel Lobby Uses Fake News and Specious Assumptions to ‘Demonize and Delegitimize’ the BDS Movement

By Dimitri Lascaris / dimitrilascaris.org.

On November 8, 2017, the Canadian Jewish News (CJN) reported that Dr. David Kattenburg had commenced an application for judicial review in the Federal Court of Canada.

In his application, Dr. Kattenburg impugns a decision by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to allow the importation and sale of wines produced in Israel’s illegal West Bank settlements.

In his original complaint to the CFIA, Dr. Kattenburg correctly noted that wines produced in Israel’s illegal settlements are labelled as “Product of Israel” even though they are produced in Occupied Palestinian Territory, and that no state – not even the state of Israel – claims that the West Bank forms part of Israel’s sovereign territory.

CJN’s article also reported that Avi Benlolo of the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) purports to be “confident” that the Federal Court of Canada will dismiss Dr. Kattenburg’s application for judicial review. In explaining his confidence, Benlolo offered to the CJN no analysis whatsoever of the Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA) even though the CFIA explicitly based its decision on CIFTA.

Rather, according to Benlolo, Dr. Kattenburg’s application is “one more attempt to promote the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, which has been recognized by provincial and federal governments as anti-Semitic.”

Whatever Dr. Kattenburg’s view of the BDS movement may be, Dr. Kattenburg has never argued that the CFIA has the authority to impose a boycott of settlement wines. On the contrary, his position before the CFIA and in his application for judicial review has consistently been that, for these wines to be sold to Canadian consumers, their true country of origin must be disclosed, and that Canadians are entitled to have accurate information when deciding whether to purchase these wines. This is a proposition with which we should all be able to agree – including Avi Benlolo.

Even more misleading is Benlolo’s claim that the BDS movement “has been recognized by provincial and federal governments as anti-Semitic.”

On February 22, 2016, Canada’s Parliament adopted a resolution rejecting the BDS movement. Although the resolution was supported by the leadership of the Liberals and Conservatives, the resolution received no support from three of the five parties having representation in Parliament – namely, the NDP, the Green Party of Canada and the Bloc Québécois. In addition, three Liberal MPs distinguished themselves by voting against this unconscionable resolution. For the record, those principled Liberal MPS were Nick Whalen of St. John’s East, Larry Bagnell of Yukon and René Arseneault of Madawaska—Restigouche.

Despite Benlolo’s claim that the federal government has “recognized” the BDS movement as anti-Semitic, Parliament’s anti-BDS resolution contains no reference at all to anti-Semitism. The resolution simply declares that:

given Canada and Israel share a long history of friendship as well as economic and diplomatic relations, the House reject the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel, and call upon the government to condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad.

The only way to construe this resolution as a “recognition” that BDS is anti-Semitic is to assume that the State of Israel is synonymous with the Jewish people, and that those who ‘demonize and delegitimize’ the State of Israel are necessarily demonizing and delegitimizing the Jewish people.

But that assumption is patently false. One need look no further than the comments of Dr. Kattenburg himself to appreciate the falsity of Benlolo’s unstated assumption. As explained by Dr. Kattenburg:

I am the child of Holocaust survivors and I grew up being taught that justice is everything, that the rule of law counted for more than anything else in the world. I don’t feel that 250 members of my family died in Sobibor and Auschwitz concentration camps so that some self-professed ‘Jewish state’ can deny 4 million people their fundamental rights in the name of Judaism. And I don’t believe the State of Israel represents me or represents Judaism.

Moreover, when it comes to disavowing Israel’s misconduct, Dr. Kattenburg is no outlier in Canada’s Jewish community. In an EKOS poll conducted in early 2017, 51% of respondents who declared their ethnicity to be Jewish agreed that it would be “reasonable” for the Canadian government to impose sanctions on Israel in order to ensure its compliance with international law, while 82% of such respondents agreed that the Palestinian call for a boycott was “reasonable”.

Avi Benlolo’s claim that provincial governments have recognized the BDS movement as anti-Semitic is equally disingenuous.

In 2016, Mr. Benlolo and two MPPs, one Conservative and the other Liberal, drafted a bill entitled the “Standing Up Against Anti-Semitism in Ontario Act”. Their bill would have called on the province to stop doing business with companies that support BDS. It also described the BDS movement as “one of the main vehicles for spreading anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of Israel globally…”

On May 19, 2016, however, Benlolo’s bill was decisively defeated in the Ontario legislature, by a vote of 39-18.

At the time, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was on a trade mission to Israel. The timing of the vote thus seemed calculated to bring maximum pressure on Premier Wynne to support the measure, but the tactic failed. Although she was then travelling in Israel, Ms. Wynne declared that she opposed the BDS movement, but added that freedom of speech is “something that all Canadians value and we must vigorously defend.”

Six months later, Conservative MPP Gila Martow introduced a less aggressive and non-binding motion in Ontario’s legislature. Her motion passed with the support of Liberal and Conservative MPPs, but was opposed by NDP lawmakers. The motion called on Ontario’s legislature to stand “firmly against any position or movement that promotes or encourages any form of hatred, hostility, prejudice, racism and intolerance in any way; recognizes the longstanding, vibrant and mutually beneficial political, economic and cultural ties between Ontario and Israel, built on a foundation of shared liberal democratic values; endorses the Ottawa Protocol on Combating Anti-Semitism; and rejects the differential treatment of Israel, including the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”

Thus, like Parliament’s anti-BDS resolution, Ms. Martow’s motion did not describe the BDS movement as anti-Semitic.

It is nonetheless true that Parliament and the Ontario legislature have now adopted resolutions condemning the BDS movement. Avi Benlolo and other advocates for Israel never tire of pointing this out to the media. By constantly invoking these anti-BDS resolutions, Israel’s advocates are clearly implying that Canadians should be guided by the moral judgment of the Conservatives and Liberals who supported these resolutions. That unspoken premise cannot be reconciled, however, with Canada’s inglorious foreign policy record.

A few examples will suffice to make the point abundantly clear.

Exhibit 1: Both Liberal and Conservative governments supported arms sales to Saudi Arabia, arguably the worst human rights violator on the planet. According to Amnesty International’s 2016/2017 report on Saudi Arabia:

The [Saudi] authorities severely curtailed the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, detaining and imprisoning critics, human rights defenders and minority rights activists on vaguely worded charges. Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remained common, particularly during interrogation, and courts continued to accept torture-tainted “confessions” to convict defendants in unfair trials. Women faced discrimination in both law and practice and were inadequately protected against sexual and other violence. The authorities continued to arrest, detain and deport irregular migrants. Courts imposed many death sentences, including for non-violent crimes and against juvenile offenders; scores of executions were carried out. Coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia committed serious violations of international law, including war crimes, in Yemen.

Even worse, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has continued to allow arms to flow to the Saudi autocracy despite mounting evidence that those arms are being used to oppress Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority.

Exhibit 2: Both Liberal and Conservative governments have supported the dictatorship of Egyptian strong-man Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Virtually from the time that Sisi assumed power, reputable human rights organizations have meticulously documented his regime’s astonishing savagery.

In August 2014, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a 188-page report detailing “the systematic and widespread killing of at least 1,150 demonstrators by Egyptian security forces in July and August 2013.” According to HRW’s Executive Director, “This wasn’t merely a case of excessive force or poor training. It was a violent crackdown planned at the highest levels of the Egyptian government. Many of the same officials are still in power in Egypt, and have a lot to answer for.”

Less than six months after the issuance of HRW’s shocking report, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government declared its “strong support” for Sisi, claiming — with a straight face — that Sisi’s regime was pursuing a “transition to democracy and the inclusion of human rights and the rule of law.” Harper’s government also announced a $2 million contribution to Egypt’s counterterrorism and border security efforts, as well as increased police collaboration between Canada and Egypt.

At around the same time, Harper’s grinning Foreign Minister John Baird posed for the cameras at Davos while shaking hands with the Egyptian mass murderer:

Baird-Sisi

Less than two years later, by which time Justin Trudeau had replaced Harper, Canadians learned just how Egypt’s “transition to democracy” was unfolding. In September 2017, HRW again accused Sisi’s regime of crimes against humanity, but this time for operating a torture “assembly line.” According to HRW, the Sisi regime’s torture techniques include electric shocks, beatings, “excruciating” stress positions that consist of treating detainees like “a chicken on a rotisserie spit”, rape and threats to torture family members of detainees.

How has the Trudeau government responded to Sisi’s well-documented barbarism? Within weeks of the Liberals’ 2015 electoral victory, Trudeau’s Defence Minister Harjit Sajan travelled to Egypt to discuss military cooperation with his Egyptian counterpart. Although Trudeau’s government is less inclined than Harper’s to publicize its cooperation with Sisi’s regime, the Egyptian press dutifully reported that Egypt’s Defence Minister “stressed on [sic] the deep and friendly relations between both countries and expressed hopes for increased cooperation in different fields.”

Exhibit 3: To grasp the extent to which Liberal and Conservative governments have exhibited contempt for human rights, one need look no further than their dealings with the State of Israel itself.

In the 2015 election campaign, Harper proclaimed that “we recognize, unequivocally, the right of Israel to be a Jewish state.” Trudeau responded by assuring Canadians that “all three of us support Israel and any Canadian government will.”

Yet neither Harper nor Trudeau has deigned to address the vexing question of how a state that privileges one ethnicity over another could possibly constitute a democracy. Nor have the Liberals or Conservatives ever explained why they refuse to contemplate any sanction on Israel despite the Canadian government’s long-standing acknowledgement – which enjoys near universal support — that Israel’s settlements in the West Bank violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, and notwithstanding Israel’s torture of Palestinian children, collective punishment, extrajudicial assassination, and its imposition of an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people.

The Canadian government’s record of support for egregious human rights abusers is prodigious and is by no means limited to the cases of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel.

The Conservative and Liberal Parties have thus forfeited any claim to be the moral conscience of our nation. Their human rights pronouncements are bereft of credibility and carry no weight.

Indeed, were it not for the countless victims of the heinous regimes Canada’s Liberals and Conservatives have coddled, Avi Benlolo’s suggestion that Canadians should care about Parliament’s anti-BDS resolution would be comical.

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How Would You Donate $450 Million?

By Dean Baker / CEPR.

Somehow, some way, someone paid $450 million, after buyer’s fees, for Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi at Christie’s last Wednesday. Believed to be the last work by the artist in private hands, the painting’s price smashed all previous records. Since the price also seemed more on par with the education budget of a medium-sized country, Artsy asked a range of leaders from the arts, economics, bioethics, and development to tell us how they’d spend $450 million.

I have to decide whether I would use this money to try to end drug patents or copyrights. Since it is too early in the morning for such a weighty decision, I will put both on the table.

To do in drug patents, I would put up the money for nine orphan drugs trials. These cost around $50 million each, according to recent estimates from James Love, the director of Knowledge Ecology International. I would put all the trial results on the web so that other researchers and doctors would have the full benefit of this information (this would be subject to restrictions preserving the privacy of patients—economists know how to do this). This means they would know whether the drug is more effective for women than men, whether other conditions (e.g. arthritis or heart disease) had an impact on its effectiveness, etc. As it stands now, the drug companies only disclose information that helps them market their drug, so this should be a powerful precedent of how good science could be done.

I would then place the successful drugs in the public domain so that they could be sold as generics from the day they approved. This would mean that instead of selling for $300,000 for a year’s treatment, the next cancer breakthrough drug (most new cancer drugs have orphan designations) can sell for $300. This will help to demonstrate the incredible corruption of our patent system in financing drugs. We have needlessly created a problem of drug affordability that would not exist with a more rational method of financing research.

On the copyright side, the point would be to show that there can be alternatives to copyright monopolies to financing creative work. My dream is a tax credit where each person would have some amount (e.g. $100 a year) to support the creative worker(s) of their choice. They could also give this money to an intermediary that supports creative work (e.g. an organization that supports blues musicians or writing mystery novels). The credit is modeled after the charitable contribution tax deduction, except it’s a credit. To get the money, creative workers or organizations have to register, like 501(c)3 do, just saying what it is they do. In this case a condition for getting money through the system is that a creative worker is ineligible for copyright protection for their work for a period time (e.g. 3 years) after getting the money.

With my $450 million, I would propose to try this at the city level, giving out $45 million a year for 10 years. The idea is that a city would run this with the requirement that recipients would have to physically be present at least eight months a year to be eligible to get the credit from the city’s taxpayers. This should turn the city into an artistic mecca, since musicians, playwrights, and other creative workers would want to make extra money, and also win more tax credits, by doing their work in the city.

I would take bids from different cities seeing how much they were willing to put up and how appropriate they might be to serve as a model. (Think of the bidding to be Amazon’s headquarters.) The result should be a large amount of new creative work that is available at zero cost over the web and a thriving city that took the leap.

It’s not every day that I get to play with $450 million.

#RichPeopleNeedTaxCuts: The Republican Tax Plan

Truthout, November 20, 2017

When it comes to tax cuts, Congressional Republicans are determined to come through for their wealthy donors, and they don't really care who gets hurt in the process. They want big tax cuts for corporations, rich people who can arrange to have their money come through a pass-through business, and the heirs of the super-wealthy. Everything else is just window dressing, or more accurately, window breaking.

Starting with the House bill, one measure, portrayed as closing a loophole, would end the medical care deduction. The medical care deduction only affects people who spend 10 percent of their income on medical bills.

The people in this situation are typically facing serious medical problems, like cancer or who have children with severe birth defects. The logic of giving the deduction is that if a middle-class family spends $40,000 on health care, they aren't going to have the money to pay their taxes. Medical expenses are already the leading cause of bankruptcy in the country; the Republican tax plan should increase its lead.

Senate Republicans decided to leave the medical expense deduction in place, because they wanted to play their own game with people's health. They propose removing the Obamacare mandate that requires people to buy insurance. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), 13 million people will lose their health insurance within a decade.

Over time, the Republican plan will lead to the unraveling of the individual insurance market. As fewer healthy people sign up for insurance, the remaining pool will become ever less healthy. As a result, insurance in the individual market will become prohibitively expensive.

But this is just the start of the fun. Both the House and Senate bills propose raising the child tax credit from the current $1,000 to $1,650 per child. This is a good policy, except it's not fully refundable. As a result, the people who need it most get little or nothing.

A single mother with two kids, earning $14,500 a year, can look forward to a whopping $75 a year from this tax credit. A couple with two kids earning $24,000 will get $200. By contrast, a couple with two kids earning $1 million will pocket $3,300 a year.

Then we have the Republican's war on college education. Both bills eliminate the tax deductibility of interest on student loans. They also tax the tuition waivers that many grad students get as part of their payment as research or teaching assistants. The value of these waivers can easily be $20,000 or $30,000 a year.

Paying tax on this money will be a considerable burden on graduate students whose pay is often considerably less than the size of the tuition waiver. These are great policies if you think that too many low- and middle-income kids are going to college.

Then we have the elimination of the tax deduction for state and local income taxes. This is an effort to teach states like California and New York not to vote Democratic or spend money to help lower-income people.

There might be an argument for this pain if it served some important public purpose, but giving more money to the big winners in the economy for the last four decades doesn't fit the bill. According to the Tax Policy Center, the richest one percent will get just under half of the tax cut over the next decade.

The Trump administration assures us that ordinary workers will still come out ahead because their corporate tax cuts will lead to a huge surge of investment. There is pretty much zero reason to believe this.

As Paul O'Neill, a former top executive at several major companies and Bush administration Treasury Secretary, said:

"As a businessman I never made an investment decision based on the tax code. If you give money away I will take it, but good business people don't do things because of inducements."

Perhaps the biggest irony in this story is that the economy is actually doing pretty well right now. Unemployment is at its lowest level since 2000, wages are increasing up and down the income ladder, and we may actually be seeing the beginning of a pickup in productivity growth.

It's hard to see the rationale for the Republican tax cut plan in this picture, even if we accepted their story. But, as the saying goes, #RichPeopleNeedTaxCuts.

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