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Current affairs items for 2014: 

Quoi que    Re-making Canada     Food politics and economics    Harper's view is not Canadian    Regulation nanotechnology   The shock of European election   Oil panic    The Big 6 are dangerous   Britain and the EU  New look at Amanda Knox  The new EU Commission   The fishing problem   Cuban Medicine against Ebola   The European Union Budget  new

Quoi que
eu cartoon There is a growing riff between the UK and the rest of Europe. The Europeans have come to believe (quite rightly) that the Brits do not identify with Europe or want what is good for Europe as a whole. They notice that Brits do not call themselves European and that they are more interested in their relationship (the special one) with the USA than with the EU. Here is a cartoon from Le Monde – rough translation: We-are-pleased-that -the management-of bank- bankruptcy -is-finally- centralized-what the...(f-k). The UK is being once again out of step.


Re-making Canada

Canada has gone from being an international nice guy to being a nasty, bullying petrol state. This is the doing of the present government. Over the years both Liberal and Conservative governments have built the fabric of Canada. Now it is being shredded by the current government. This is a long article with a number of parts. What these have in common is the way the present government (the Harper government) is changing the very nature of Canada.

Harper's ideologyharper cartoon
Harper's conservative government is not listening to its civil servants, its scientists, the UN, public opinion and even some of its own backbench MPs and ministers. Everything is run top-down from the Prime Minister's Office and the PMO does not listen to anyone. Apparently, he gets his advice from God because he doesn't get it from anywhere on earth. It turns out that this may not be a joke. He is an evangelist Christian. A. Nikiforuk writes, “But that's not the (mild) wing of the evangelical movement that Harper listens to. Given his government's pointed attacks on environmentalists and science of any kind, Harper would seem to take his advice from the Cornwall Alliance, a coalition of right-wing scholars, economists and evangelicals. The Alliance questions mainstream science, doubts climate change, views environmentalism as a "native evil," champions fossil fuels and supports libertarian economics.” Evangelical climate skepticism is described by one Christian commentator (Gushee) as having these tenets:
1. Disdain for the environmental movement
2. Distrust of mainstream science in general
3. Distrust of the mainstream media
4. Loyalty to the party chosen by the church
5. Libertarian economics as God's will (God is opposed to government regulation or taxation,)
6. Misunderstanding of divine sovereignty (God won't allow us to ruin creation)
7. Unreconstructed Dominion theology (God calls on humans to subdue and rule creation)
Another place that Harper's attitudes come from is the politics of Alberta, the breeding ground of radical right-wing parties. The Conservative Party merged with the Alliance Party (Reform Party) out of Alberta, and Harper is from that side of the current Conservatives. He is very pro-oil. He came to Ottawa to straighten the federal government out and run it more like a business.
This is the sort of attitude that shows why he feels justified to do anything he can think of to protect the tar-sands project. He appears to be not too concerned with ethics or even legality when he is about God's work, helping Alberta and the oil companies, and reforming the system of government.

Canada signed the Kyoto Protocol is 1997 but was never able to meet the requirements. The problem is that the provinces control energy policy. The federal government can make international treaties and then pass laws to implement the treaties it has signed. The government tried to do this with the National Energy Program meant to implement Kyoto, but it caused a deep rift between western and eastern provinces and therefore was never really implemented. In the first 18 years of the Accord: Quebec made modest reductions in CO2 emissions, Ontario, the Maritimes and the North keep the increase to modest levels, but the western provinces had increases ranging from 20 to 50%. During this time no federal government was able to tackle the problem of the West's reluctance to cut emissions. So between 1990 and 2008 Canada's emissions increased by 24%. It was clear that Canada was not going to meet its committments, and certainly would be way over the target when the tar-sands extraction was in full operation. In 2011, the Durban accord meant that the targets would be mandatory, so Canada left the meeting and the next day Canada became the first and only nation, who had agreed to the Kyoto Protocol, to withdraw from it. They would have had to pay $14 billion for not meeting targets. Repeal of all legislation to do with Kyoto was passed in the C-38 omnibus bill. Harper has always made clear his disapproval of environmental concerns interferring with economic concerns.

Friends and Enemies
In July 2013 the Globe and Mail obtained a memo from the Prime Ministers Office containing instructions on how 'transition binders' were to be prepared for new cabinet ministers. Among the usual information that such a document should contain was a list of friends and enemies - “Who to engage or avoid: friend and enemy stakeholders.” This is an unusual request – ministries don't usually have 'friends and enemies' but just stakeholders. The government refused to produce any of the lists but there were various leaks. Gary Corbett, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada said that talking of enemies and friends was unheard of and that bureaucrats and political staff continue to have a “very tense relationship”. Corbett said, “Now it’s about enemies and friends, not people who have different opinions. And that’s really what they’re saying: if you have a different opinion, you are the enemy.”
The memo also asked for a list of “bureaucrats that can’t take no (or yes) for an answer,” though that request was withdrawn in another e-mail four hours later.
Andrew Coyne of the National Post characterized the list:
Mr. Harper has long cultivated the sense that he is on a crusade to reform a debauched political system, against entrenched opposition from powerful vested interests.”
I hesitate to share this information with the public. As shocking as the existence of the list itself, obviously intended as a sort of aide mémoire, are the names it contains. I include only a selection (of categories).
He sites members of the following: the Opposition, the bureaucracy, the courts, the Senate, the Media, The Provincial Premiers, Environmentalist and Eco-terrorist, Scientists, Elections Canada, the Auditor General, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the Ethics Commissioner, some of own backbench, the US, China, Europe, the Wheat Board, Canada's Police Commissioners, the former Head of Statistics Canada, economists, sociologists, academics, the Speaker of the House, CRTC (radio/TV regulators), CBC, banks, 'Toronto elites', former Prime Ministers, Iran, child pornographers.....etc.
It seems the friends list must be very short – oil companies and ?
A letter was sent from Voices-Voix in which 200 plus public-interest and aid organizations asked Harper to reveal the “enemies”. The groups include Amnesty International, Oxfam, Canadian Council for International Co-operation. “We are in particular deeply troubled about the use of the term ‘enemy,’ seemingly to describe individuals or organizations with views critical of or in opposition to government policies and initiatives. We call on you, as a matter of urgency, to make it clear that any such lists already compiled will not be used, no further lists will be prepared and that there is no place for such terminology in describing how the government perceives its critics....At a time when many organizations and individuals are already nervous about publicly expressing disagreement with the government, additional hesitation that they may be labelled an “enemy” for doing so will inevitably increase that level of trepidation. “This is of course worrying when it comes to the discussion and debate that is needed regarding the particular environmental, human rights and other issues that may be at stake; it is worrying more widely as well though with respect to the state of democracy in Canada. Plain and simple, in a healthy democracy government does not publicly talk of its critics and detractors as enemies.”
Pearl Eliadis, a lawyer and lecturer at McGill University said that the characterization of dissenters as “enemies,” on top of measures to take away financing or charitable status of some organizations during the past few years, has rung alarm bells in the civic-society sector. “These types of public reprisals are a form of intimidation and they directly constrict the legal and political space within which groups operate.”

Termination of First Nations
Of course, one of the important “enemies” of the government is the First Nations and Idle No More. The plan to deal with this problem is the 'Plan to Terminate First Nations Inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty rights'. It's an unfortunate phrase - what is meant by 'termination'? The plan would end pre-existing sovereign status through federal coercion of First Nations into new Land Claims and Self-Government agreements. The new agreements  that would remake First Nations into municipatlities, their reserves into normal land ownership, and eliminate their 'Inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty Rights'.
There is a rub. The Constitution Act, 1982, is the current Canadian Constitution and Section 35 recognizes and affirms the aboriginal rights: The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal people of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed. In this Act, “aboriginal people of Canada” includes the Indian, Inuit and Metis people of Canada. For greater certainty, “treaty rights” includes rights that now exist by way of land claims agreements and may be so aquired. Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, the aboriginal and treaty rights referred to are guaranteed equally to male and female persons. So the rights are referred to but not defined. The courts have interpreted the rights to include cultural, social, political and economic rights, rights to land, fishing, hunting, cultural practices and the making of treaties. Aboriginal rights in general are based on the continued occupation of lands by First Nations since before European settlement. As Section 35 falls outside the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is exempt from the “notwithstanding clause” in the Charter and therefore the federal government cannot pass laws that override Aboriginal rights.
So Termination must be done by negotiation and coercion. The coercion was ramped up in 2012 with a cap on the funding of First Nation's regional and national political organizations, the elimination of funding for advisory services to Bands and Tribal Councils, and something called 'results based approach' to negotiating Modern Treaties and Self-Government Agreements. Apparently it is like this: in March 2013 the federal government assessed the process with 403 bands, non-status groups and Metis to determine who would agree to terminate their Inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty rights under the terms of Canada's Comprehensive Claims and Self-Government policies and legislation. If they would not agree to the 'core' policies, the federal government would discontinue discussions. What is the core?: accept the extinguishment (modification) of Aboriginal Title, accept the legal release of Crown liability for past violations of Aboriginal Title and Rights, accept elimination of Indian Reserves by accepting lands in fee simple, accept removing on-reserve tax exemptions, respect existing Private Lands/Third Party Interests (and therefore alienation of Aboriginal Title territory without compensation), accept (to be assimilated into) existing federal and provincial orders of government, accept application of Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms over governance and institutions in all matters, and accept funding on a formula basis being linked to own source revenue. The Government has more or less hinted that finance will be cut back progressively until bands agree to the Core.
Idle No More lists other moves as of Oct 2013:
On top of the internal federal assessment of the willingness of negotiation tables to agree to the federal Termination Plan and the spending cuts to First Nation organizations and bands, the Harper government has used its majority in Parliament and the Senate to pass these Bills:
Bill C-27: First Nations Financial Transparency Act, Bill C-45: Jobs and Growth Act, 2012, Bill S-2: Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act, Bill S-8: Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act,  Bill C-428: Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act, First Nations Education Act and the First Nations Property Ownership (Conversion of Reserve Lands to Fee Simple) Act. (these titles do not sound bad until you know what is in them)
In any event, Canada’s Termination Plan, which is reflected in federal policies, legislation and continued use of the Indian Act (with amendments) for maintaining Ottawa’s management and control system of First Nations, is being implemented without resistance or protest by those Chiefs and First Nation leaders in federal negotiations -- including AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo and the AFN Executive Committee. - Russell Diabo in First Nations Strategic Bulletin.
There is little doubt that Idle No More will protest.

Muzzling scientists harper 2
But there is more than the First Nations in the way of Harper's plans. Scientists are also among the enemies. One of the first ways that the anti-science policies were noticed was in the muzzling of the Government scientists. It has become so bad that even the famous scientific journal, Nature, has commented more than once. Below is a post by Nicola Jones from Apr 2013 in Nature News Blogs.
Canada’s information commissioner has launched an investigation into the ‘muzzling’ of scientists in seven federal agencies, including the departments of the environment, fisheries and oceans and of natural resources, and the National Research Council of Canada.
The University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre and the non-profit group Democracy Watch filed a complaint in February arguing that government policies restricting federal scientists’ communication with reporters violate Canada’s Access to Information Act. The document, called ‘Muzzling civil servants: a threat to democracy’, says: “the federal government is preventing the media and the Canadian public from speaking to government scientists for news stories — especially when the scientists’ research or point of view runs counter to current Government policies on matters such as environmental protection, oil sands development, and climate change.”
The investigation follows long-running complaints that Canada’s conservative federal government is anti-science. Last summer, scientists staged a mock funeral protest for ‘the death of evidence’, complaining about serious budget cuts and a tendency of the government to sideline scientific evidence when making policy. Just this March, stories emerged of scientists being barred from a freshwater research site in northern Ontario after the federal government decided to abandon ownership of the renowned Experimental Lakes Area facility starting in September.
Complaints of ‘muzzling’ have been ongoing for several years. Federal scientists are required to get approval from public-relations officers before granting interviews; this process can take minutes or days, and has sometimes left journalists without access to timely information. In 2010, an internal investigation of media policies within the department of environment (Environment Canada), disclosed through the Access to Information Act, said: “our scientists are very frustrated with the new process. They feel the intent of the policy is to prevent them from speaking to media”. Kathryn O’Hara, president of the Canadian Science Writers’ Association, complained about these practices in a Nature column in 2010.
A good timeline of the events leading to this investigation is presented in the Vancouver Sun.
And a good analysis of the government’s policies, and whether they deserve to be called anti-science, is in Macleans.”
Mitchell Anderson described the procedures in The Tyee in 2010. Matters have got worst since then.
The scandal is growing at Environment Canada of how Canadian climate researchers are being "muzzled" by draconian policies of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. This week the Montreal Gazette reported on a leaked document showing that the information restrictions brought in by the Harper government have severely restricted the media's access to government researchers. "Scientists have noticed a major reduction in the number of requests, particularly from high-profile media, who often have same-day deadlines," said the Environment Canada document. "Media coverage of climate change science, our most high-profile issue, has been reduced by over 80 per cent."
Since 2007, Environment Canada has required senior federal scientists to seek permission from the government prior to giving interviews, often requiring them to get approval from supervisors of written responses to the questions submitted by journalists before any interview.
"Many [federal climate change] scientists are recognized experts in their field, have received media training, and have successfully carried out media interviews for many years," said the document, leaked by an Environment Canada employee who asked not to be named. "Our scientists are very frustrated with the new process. They feel the intent of the policy is to prevent them from speaking to media... There is a widespread perception among Canadian media that our scientists have been 'muzzled' by the media relations policy."
The leaked document came to light through research done by the Climate Action Network for a scathing report on the laundry list of restrictions on climate researchers since the Harper regime came to power. According to Dr. David Schindler at the University of Alberta: "It is clear that muzzling under the Harper government is the most oppressive in the history of federal government science. Incredibly, some of the most eminent scientists in Canada have been forbidden to speak publicly on scientific matters where they are recognized as world experts."
...So ham-handed are these efforts to stifle the truth that this story has now spilled across our borders into the international press. A story this week from The Guardian shows how the world is beginning to notice the bizarre censorship policies now pervasive in once-bucolic Canada”
Globe and Mail Feb 2012 Elizabeth Renzetti wrote about the censorship.
“...Scientists are either told not to speak to journalists or to spout a chewed-over party line, rubber-stamped by their PR masters; the restrictions are particularly tight when a journalist is seeking information about research relating to climate change or the tar sands; Environment Canada scientists require approval from the Privy Council Office before speaking publicly on sensitive topics “such as climate change or protection of polar bear and caribou.” ... Last week, Margaret Munro of Postmedia News reported that a University of Delaware scientist was up in arms over a new confidentiality agreement brought in by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans. “I’m not signing it,” Andreas Muenchow told the reporter. What does this mean for bilateral co-operation on research? Nothing good, that’s for sure. … Canada recently plummeted 10 places to No. 20 in the World Press Freedom Index, which measures how unfettered a country’s media is. Reporters Without Borders, which compiles the index, is concerned about the access-to-information issue and about the protection of journalists’ sources.”
Here is an editorial from the New York Times (Verlyn Klinkenborg):
Over the last few years, the government of Canada — led by Stephen Harper — has made it harder and harder for publicly financed scientists to communicate with the public and with other scientists. ... There was trouble of this kind here in the George W. Bush years, when scientists were asked to toe the party line on climate policy and endangered species. But nothing came close to what is being done in Canada. Science is the gathering of hypotheses and the endless testing of them. It involves checking and double-checking, self-criticism and a willingness to overturn even fundamental assumptions if they prove to be wrong. But none of this can happen without open communication among scientists. This is more than an attack on academic freedom. It is an attempt to guarantee public ignorance. It is also designed to make sure that nothing gets in the way of the northern resource rush — the feverish effort to mine the earth and the ocean with little regard for environmental consequences.”
For the last 3 years the percentage of Canadians that do not believe in climate change has been under 2% and a majority care about climate change and want to slow it. The polls (IPAC-CO2 Research Inc.) show a large difference between east and west, but in general this is a very different public opinion compared to the U.S. And yet Harper seems to think that withholding information from the public is going to change that and get the public on the climate change denial bandwagon. It has not worked so far.

Gutting libraries
Carrying on with Harper's anti-science agenda - one really has to ask what Harper has against libraries. Their closure has been terrible press for him but it is still proceeding.
There has been alarm that the Government is destroying libraries of information on fisheries, water quality, climate and the like going back for 100 years. This data, if it is destroyed cannot be replaced and a valuable assets that the Canadian taxpayer paid for in the past will be gone. The alarm increased with stories of records being put in landfil or burnt. Gail Shea, minister of fisheries, has denied the burning stories. But the stories continue.
The DFO department has closed 7 of its 11 regional libraries and has said that the information will be available digitally. Scientists report that only a small fraction of the departments 600,000 document collection has been digitizing. And there are continuing reports of material being put in land fill (reports of burning appear to be exaggerated). Shea says that material for which DFO has copyright will be preserved. Where there were duplicate materials, they were offered to staff and the public. When there were no takers, the material was recycled “in a green fashion”. An anonymous DFO scientist reported that government claims that useful information is being saved in digital form are untrue. There is a lot of 'grey' material (hand writing notes, internal reports and the like) and no one knows what is happening to this material. Dr. Wells of the International Ocean Institute told the Globe and Mail that the historic research he wanted of the changes in rivers and lakes was not available digitally. The pretext was cost saving but this is not believed; the department aims to save only $430,000 by closing the libraries.
Cory Docrorow writes: Back in 2012, when Canada's Harper government announced that it would close down national archive sites around the country, they promised that anything that was discarded or sold would be digitized first. But only an insignificant fraction of the archives got scanned, and much of it was simply sent to landfill or burned. Unsurprisingly, given the Canadian Conservatives' war on the environment, the worst-faring archives were those that related to climate research. The legendary environmental research resources of the St. Andrews Biological Station in St. Andrews, New Brunswick are gone. The Freshwater Institute library in Winnipeg and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John's, Newfoundland: gone. Both collections were world-class. An irreplaceable, 50-volume collection of logs from HMS Challenger's 19th century expedition went to the landfill, taking with them the crucial observations of marine life, fish stocks and fisheries of the age. Update: a copy of these logs survives overseas. The destruction of these publicly owned collections was undertaken in haste. No records were kept of what was thrown away, what was sold, and what was simply lost. Some of the books were burned.(sic)
The destruction goes far beyond Fisheries and Oceans.
Federal libraries are an important part of Canada’s cultural heritage. These specialist libraries house some of Canada’s most important collections. For instance, the Human Resources and Skills Development (HRSDC) Libraries included the largest collection of books in Canada on the social sciences. The libraries’ physical collections were entirely phased out as of March 31, 2013.
The fate of the HRSDC libraries is not unique. Dozens of federal departmental libraries across the country have been closed or are destined for closure within the next year. No studies were done to assess the impacts of these closures, and for many of the libraries affected there is no clear plan for what will be done with their collections. Where plans have been developed, departments indicate that their libraries’ historically valuable material will be relocated to Library and Archives Canada (LAC). However, given that acquisitions at LAC have been dramatically diminished, the likelihood that it will be able to cope with a massive influx of material from departmental libraries is small. Library material qualified as “non-mandate” by departments will be offered to other departments or employees, sold through Crown Assets Distribution, or destroyed.
The following libraries have been closed:
Canadian Heritage (LAC), Citizenship and Immigration (CIC), Environment Canada - National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy was eliminated and its library, Foreign Affairs - The Documentation Service and library of the Canadian Cultural Centre at the Canadian Embassy in Paris, Human Resources and Skills Development - HRSDC closed its libraries in Gatineau and Montreal, National Capital Commission, Intergovernmental Affairs - Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB), Public Works and Government Services, Transport, Infrastructure and Communities
The following will be consolidated:
Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), Environment Canada - Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), Natural Resources
As well as these there is the fear of losing the Health Libraries.
Health Canada scientists are so concerned about losing access to their research library that they're finding workarounds, with one squirrelling away journals and books in his basement for colleagues to consult, says a report obtained by CBC News. The draft report from a consultant hired by the department warned it not to close its library, but the report was rejected as flawed and the advice went unheeded.
A recently retired Health Canada pathologist agreed with this assessment. "I look at it as an insidious plan to discourage people from using libraries," said Dr. Rudi Mueller, who left the department in 2012. "If you want to justify closing a library, you make access difficult and then you say it is hardly used." Mueller used his contacts in industry for scientific literature. He also went to university libraries where he had a faculty connection. The report said Health Canada scientists sometimes use the library cards of university students in co-operative programs at the department. Unsanctioned libraries have been created by science staff. "One group moved its 250 feet of published materials to an employee's basement. When you need a book, you email 'Fred,' and 'Fred' brings the book in with him the next day," the consultant wrote in his report."I think it's part of being a scientist. You find a way around the problems," Mueller told CBC News.One of the problems Mueller couldn't work around was the disappearance of librarians who could help him in his search for scientific literature. The report said the number of in-house librarians went from 40 in 2007 to just six in April 2013."So they [Health Canada] are not just closing physical collections of books. They are getting rid of the guides to those collections."
All this disappearing of libraries is justified by the government as a way to save costs, but the cost savings are trivial amounts in each department.

Cutting funding to science
The closing of libraries and gagging of scientists are just very noticable mechanisms to stop science. There is also cutting the money.
The Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science supports 198 climate projects, providing $117 million in funding. Its projects have led in climatology, meteorology and oceanography. The federal budget has been a nightmare to them. The chair of the Foundation, McBean, said, “In less than 12 months, major research collaborations among industry, government laboratories and universities will collapse -- and with them the jobs of numerous scientists, students and technicians. The country is already bleeding talent... Without sound scientific information, how will the government evaluate the effectiveness of green technologies, or build northern infrastructure, or develop our energy industry, or assure water supply and clean air?” That impossibility seems to be the point of the cuts – strangle the science and muzzle the scientists so that the government can act without being bothered by evidence.
The DFO has taken cuts. The cuts have forced 26 changes, including: the shrinkage of 20 Marine Communications and Traffic Service centres down to 11; the reduction of Inshore Rescue Boats; the reduction of Marine Search and Rescue services; the defunding of species at risk recovery oriented programs in the Maritimes; the closure of 21 Conservation and Protection offices; the closure of the Kitsilano Lifeboat Station in Vancouver; closure of the Experimental Lakes Area; the killing of all 'biological effects contaminant research' projects within the department; as well as rationalization of Libraries.
From review of a recent book:
In this arresting and passionately argued indictment, award-winning journalist Chris Turner argues that Stephen Harper's attack on basic science, science communication, environmental regulations, and the environmental NGO community is the most vicious assault ever waged by a Canadian government on the fundamental principles of the Enlightenment. From the closure of Arctic research stations as oil drilling begins in the High Arctic to slashed research budgets in agriculture, dramatic changes to the nation's fisheries policy, and the muzzling of government scientists, Harper's government has effectively dismantled Canada's long-standing scientific tradition.
Drawing on interviews with scientists whose work has been halted by budget cuts and their colleagues in an NGO community increasingly treated as an enemy of the state, The War on Science paints a vivid and damning portrait of a government that has abandoned environmental stewardship and severed a national commitment to the objective truth of basic science as old as Canada itself.
The government is to cut funding to the major granting agencies (SSHRC, NSERC, CIHR) by $148 million over the next few years. The Minster for Science and Technology is Gary Goodyear (Someone who doesn't accept evolution. This is not the US, most Canadians believe evolution – but not the science minister.) This is what Goodyear thinks. Canada sees the role of science and technology in contributing to global economic growth and recovery. We know that the jobs of tomorrow are found in the discoveries of today, so we look at research funding as investment — investment in innovation, in scientific discovery, in job creation, and as a hedge against tough economic conditions...Our government's emphasis on commercializing research and improving the processes that help get innovative ideas to the marketplace...Commercialization is one area in which public policy makers play a huge role in enabling the private sector to do what it does best — turn knowledge into innovation, and innovation into greater wealth and well-being for people.”

Money for oil
before after If the government is so short of money (its excuse for cutting so much science and libraries) then perhaps they could make their savings with the money that goes to the energy companies.
Plea from David Suzuki: Every year, the Canadian government gives more than $1.4 billion in tax subsidies to oil, coal, and gas companies. Why so many tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry? Handouts to polluting industries just encourage more pollution. Back in 2009, Stephen Harper committed to phasing out these subsidies. But just look at how much of the public's money has supported the oil companies since then! This money could go to projects that safeguard our future and our health. Our government should discourage pollution and promote cleaner and safer sources of energy. Tell your representatives to stop subsidizing oil, coal, and gas companies today.
Derek Wong's look at IMF report: According the IMF study and the additional data they provided to me, Canada used $26 billion to subsidize energy in 2011. The Canadian government’s revenues were $665 billion in that year. In other words, 4% of the government revenues were spent on energy subsidies. … On average each Canadian paid $787, mostly through our income tax and GST, for our energy in 2011 and probably a similar amount year after year. Remember, this is on top of the payments we make at the gas pumps and through our hydro bills. For a family of four, this amounts to over three thousand dollars per year spent invisibly on energy....The IMF cites many downsides to putting so much public money into subsidies and keeping energy prices—at least the ‘sticker prices’—artificially low, not least of which is giving the false impression to the general public that fossil fuels are much cheaper than renewable energy. Subsidies distort resource allocation by encouraging excessive energy consumption, artificially promoting capital-intensive industries, reducing incentives for investment in renewable energy, and accelerating the depletion of natural resources....According IMF First Deputy Managing Director David Lipton, removing these subsidies worldwide could lead to a 13 percent decline in CO2 emissions and generate positive spillover effects by reducing global energy demand. It would also strengthen incentives for research and development in energy-saving and alternative technologies. That’s the reason the IMF is urging governments the world over to reform subsidies for products from coal to gasoline, arguing that this could translate into major gains both for economic growth and the environment.
The government has also been supporting the costs of some companies when they are legally required to do consultations and impact analyses.

Dismantling Health
Oil cannot be the only reason for damaging science because Harper is also going after health. Health care in Canada is complex. Health is a provincial responsibility but in order to have a standard that applies to the whole country and in order to fund various programs, there are agreements between the provinces and the federal government. The government appears to be starting to dismantle the federal presence in health care. In order to save $6 million the government is going to close the Health Council of Canada.
Michael McBane is the National Coordinator of the Canadian Health Coalition: When the Harper government says it is time to wind down the Health Council of Canada, it is saying in effect, it is time to wind down national medicare. Let me explain. The Health Council of Canada was formed in 2003, following the Romanow Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, to provide accountability, oversight, planning and national coordination for our health care system. Its achievements to date include lowering wait times and encouraging innovation in the public health care system to ensure access to a continuum of services, in and out of hospital. The federal role is to facilitate national approaches to health system issues and promote the pan-Canadian adoption of best practices and innovation. This is the glue that holds medicare together and keeps it responsive to the evolving needs of the Canadian people. Provinces and territories cannot perform this role. The vacuum in federal leadership will fragment the health care system into 14 separate systems operating independently from each other. This fragmentation undermines the core principles of the Canada Health Act, especially comprehensive coverage and portability between provinces and territories. Lack of federal coordination and guardianship means that more and more Canadians will lack access to comparable health services in primary care, prescription drugs, home care, rehabilitation and longer-term care. The Harper government’s decision to terminate the Health Council will put an end to pan-Canadian health outcomes, common standards across the country and comparable indicators. It also strikes a blow to accountability, transparency and evidence-based health care policy. The official line is: “Let the provinces experiment.” The implicit assumption is that Canada should not maintain national standards in health care or strive for national objectives. Canadians want and need the highest possible national standards. National surveys consistently show that Canadians and the provincial and territorial governments want federal leadership in health care. Instead Harper is choosing to cut and run – cut the funding and then put distance between his government and universal health care. It is difficult to overstate the damage – to people and their public health care - of these cut-and-run policies. Those most at risk from this federal abdication of responsibility are the frail elderly. The news that the government is shutting down the Health Council of Canada comes in the wake of a series of other major moves against national medicare by the Harper Conservatives.
First the Harper government derailed the national pharmaceutical strategy contained in the 2004 Health Accord. As the Health Council pointed out, the national pharmaceutical strategy was integral to the renewal and sustainability of the entire health care system. It is perverse for the Harper government to encourage excessive growth in pharmaceutical costs and abusive marketing practices, and then tell provinces, territories, employers and individual Canadians to pay the bills and deal with the fallout from unsafe and ineffective new prescription drugs. Then the Harper government unilaterally announced major cuts to federal transfer payments for health as well as fundamental changes to equalization payments. The cumulative effect will be to take more than $60 billion out of health transfers and equalization payments in the decade following 2014. The heart of medicare, as designed by the Hall Commission in 1964, called for the federal government to negotiate high national standards and to establish an equalization formula to ensure all regions could meet those service standards. Now the Harper government is saying when the 2004 Health Accord expires next year, it will not be renewed. Significant progress has been made as a result of the major re-investment by the federal government over the 10 years of the first accord – wait times are improving and more Canadians have access to primary care. The Harper government is saying there is no need to maintain the momentum, build on these gains, and negotiate a plan for the next 10 years. With Canada’s growing and aging population, federal leadership is needed more than ever. Yet the only action plan for seniors care the Harper government has is an elaborate one from the Finance Department to cut funding over many years. There was a time when critics said the Harper government had a hidden agenda for health care. Harper does indeed have a health care agenda. But it’s not so hidden.

Controlling Ministers
David McLaughlin July 2012 in the Globe and Mail discussing the outcome for one new minister:
...When it (the cabinet) does meet in private session it will have one main governance role: to ratify decisions of cabinet committees. For this is where the real work is done. And in their makeup is where government priorities and importance are first being revealed to Canadians.
Cabinet committees are the actual substantive decision-making bodies in government. They have their own Privy Council Office ‘minders’ in the form of deputy or associate secretaries. Detailed memorandums to cabinet are written and negotiated between and among departmental officials to give ministers the information, data, options, and recommendations, before being signed off by the sponsoring minister or ministers. Ratified, they form the basis of final cabinet approval in the form of records of decisions.
But newly-appointed Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq does not (make it to the important Priorities and Planning Committee). In fact, she doesn’t even make it onto her own cabinet committee, the one dealing with environment and sustainable development issues. The newly-named cabinet committee on economic Prosperity, having dropped the words “Sustainable Growth” from its pre-shuffle title, still deals with environment and sustainable development, just not with the participation of the minister of the environment. Not only bizarre, this defies the consensus nature of cabinet decision-making.
Few matters brook conflict or tax consensus today as much as reconciling the environment with the economy. But doing so is a long-standing precept of achieving sustainable development. It is deliberately tough; yet, the benefits are real. Ms. Aglukkaq has something unique to contribute to environmental, energy, and economic policy in Canada with her Inuit background and Northern perspective. In cabinet, she will have to content herself with doing so via the social policy committee only, for she is nowhere to be found on P&P either.”
Not much leaks out of a cabinet at any time. Now in Canada that is nothing coming out. Rumour has it that ministers think like Harper or keep a very low profile. Ministers no longer have control of answering questions put to them at 'question time' for their ministries. And the civil service is suspect - “Among the entities constraining his freedom of action, Harper reassured Canadians a week before he was elected in 2006, was “a Liberal civil service.”

Fight with the Wheat Marketing Board
The Conservatives have been after the CWB for a long time.
The Conservatives had been unable to get this change approved by Parliament because they held a minority of seats until the May 2011 federal election and all opposition parties supported the monopsony. The Conservatives also lost a court battle to unilaterally dismantle the CWB without an act of Parliament. ...After winning a majority in the May 2011 general election, the Conservative government announced its intention to remove the CWB monopsony through legislation. In response, the CWB held plebiscites on whether to keep the monopsonies on wheat and barley. The results were released on September 12, 2011; 51 percent of barley growers and 62 percent of wheat growers voted to maintain the board's monopsony. Notwithstanding, the government plans to remove the monopsonies on August 1, 2012 regardless of the plebiscites' results. A Federal Court judge has declared that Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz broke the law when he introduced a bill to remove the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly without consulting the CWB or holding a Prairie farm plebiscite on the issue.
The federal Conservatives have fast-tracked the bill through the House of Commons — invoking closure and limiting who could speak to it at the committee stage. The wheat board and a group called Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board filed separate but similar applications in Federal Court challenging the government’s bid to end the CWB monopoly without the farm vote, which they say, is required by law. The federal court has struck down most of the claims in a lawsuit by supporters of the old Canadian Wheat Board, but the case is still moving forward. The board supporters are seeking $17 billion for damages they claim were caused when the federal government ended the board’s monopoly over western wheat and barley sales on Aug. 1, 2012 (and did not pay for assets bought originally by the farmers).

Attack on environmental groups
The government is almost treating environmental groups as terrorists. An open letter from the Honourable Joe Oliver, Minister of Natural Resources:
Canada is on the edge of an historic choice: to diversify our energy markets away from our traditional trading partner in the United States or to continue with the status quo.
Virtually all our energy exports go to the US. As a country, we must seek new markets for our products and services and the booming Asia-Pacific economies have shown great interest in our oil, gas, metals and minerals. For our government, the choice is clear: we need to diversify our markets in order to create jobs and economic growth for Canadians across this country. We must expand our trade with the fast growing Asian economies. We know that increasing trade will help ensure the financial security of Canadians and their families.
Unfortunately, there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade. Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth. No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams.
These groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda. They seek to exploit any loophole they can find, stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects. They use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest. They attract jet-setting celebrities with some of the largest personal carbon footprints in the world to lecture Canadians not to develop our natural resources. Finally, if all other avenues have failed, they will take a quintessential American approach: sue everyone and anyone to delay the project even further. They do this because they know it can work. It works because it helps them to achieve their ultimate objective: delay a project to the point it becomes economically unviable.
Anyone looking at the record of approvals for certain major projects across Canada cannot help but come to the conclusion that many of these projects have been delayed too long. In many cases, these projects would create thousands upon thousands of jobs for Canadians, yet they can take years to get started due to the slow, complex and cumbersome regulatory process.
For example, the Mackenzie Valley Gas Pipeline review took more than nine years to complete. In comparison, the western expansion of the nation-building Canadian Pacific Railway under Sir John A. Macdonald took four years. Under our current system, building a temporary ice arena on a frozen pond in Banff required the approval of the federal government. This delayed a decision by two months. Two valuable months to assess something that thousands of Canadians have been doing for over a century.
Our regulatory system must be fair, independent, consider different viewpoints including those of Aboriginal communities, review the evidence dispassionately and then make an objective determination. It must be based on science and the facts. We believe reviews for major projects can be accomplished in a quicker and more streamlined fashion. We do not want projects that are safe, generate thousands of new jobs and open up new export markets, to die in the approval phase due to unnecessary delays.
Unfortunately, the system seems to have lost sight of this balance over the past years. It is broken. It is time to take a look at it. It is an urgent matter of Canada's national interest.
Reaction to the letter from by Bruce Cox Exec Dir of Greenpeace:
I was disappointed to read yesterday’s report in the Globe and Mail about Greenpeace being under surveillance as a security threat and labelled by our government as ‘extremists’. Disappointed, but not surprised. Once again, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is attacking the environmental movement. Last month the prime minister expressed his concern that “foreign money” was interfering with Canada’s prosperity. By “foreign money” he meant US charitable foundations contributing to Canadian environmental groups working to protect wilderness areas impacted by the oil industry.
Soon after, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver accused environmental groups of being foreign-funded puppets “hijack[ing] our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.”We presume by this he meant our agenda calling for a fair environmental assessment of pipelines that would stretch over the Rockies and through the Great Bear Rainforest, bringing over 200 oil tankers to B.C.’s pristine coast every year.

Digging deeper, we obtained a government document under the Access to Information Act that shows the government is actively working with oil companies to promote their climate-killing agenda. The strategy document divided Canadians into “allies” like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and “adversaries” such as environmental organizations and First Nations. Yesterday’s news in theGlobe and Mail confirms the ugly truth: This government wants to silence Greenpeace. Secret surveillance on peaceful, non-violent organizations it disagrees with is nothing short of an attack on democracy.
CELA , the Canadian Environmental Law Association, noted in their response that the Federal government intended to do four things – streamline the assessment process for major projects; substitute provincial environmental assessment for federal assessment; reduce alleged overlap and duplication; and reduce the so-called ‘regulatory burden’ imposed by Canada’s current environmental law framework. Their staff lawyer Richard Lindgren, wrote in regard to the government’s trivialization of CEAA. “We are astounded that the budget erroneously suggests that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is merely ‘red tape’. In fact, this important legislation is intended to protect public health, prevent ecological harm, and promote environmentally sustainable development.”
Environmental Defense
criticized artificial deadlines for reviewing impacts and shunting responsibility to provinces as well as the retroactive inclusion of the proposed Gateway pipeline and tanker project..
Green Peace also reported that changes to the environmental review process were retroactive to assist the progress of the Enbridge Gateway Pipeline –“shutting out the public and getting approval without fuss or muss.”
John Bennett Ex. Dir, Sierra Club Canada, highlighted the attack on the environmental review process saying: “The key change, essentially speeding up environmental reviews of mega-projects, will greatly hurt the public's ability to participate in future processes. Environmental assessments need to be thorough, consultative and science-based. Creating hard-time limits and rushing the process compromises all these things.”
Mark Lee, Canadian Council of Policy Alternatives [CCPA] in one of several responses to the Budget from CCPA researchers, noted that on page 96 the Budget highlighted six projects that would benefit from consolidated review- three oil and gas pipelines, a gold mine and a uranium mine as well as documenting 70 major projects on file and a foreseeable 500 projects over the decade.
Simon Dyer, Policy Director, Pembina Institute wrote: “To date, companies have proposed quadrupling oilsands production. Given this planned increase in output, it seems reasonable that our government ought to be enhancing — not reducing — Canada's capacity to assess the impacts of this level of activity. Yet the new federal budget proposes a 40 percent budget cut for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.”
And as anticipated the budget did continue its attack on environmental NGOs. According to CELA the budget stated there would be no funding from outside Canada allowed for environmental NGOs while CRA, the Canada Revenue agency, would receive 8 million dollars to impose scrutiny on NGO’s. . Ecojustice noted as regards charitable status – there would also be increased reporting requirements. Greenpeace referred to it as an all out attack on environment groups that are charities wherein the government is going to change the law to make it harder to engage in legal political action. Environmental Defense minced no words stating that the needless proposed changes to charitable regulations are clearly part and parcel of an agenda to expedite industrial projects in an inappropriate manner.”
There is also a bit of fear for environmentalists individually. Chuck Strahl, Chairman of the federal body which oversees Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), has registered to lobby on behalf of Enbridge’s ‘Northern Gateway Pipelines Limited Partnership’ ... The Security Intelligence Review Committee reports to Parliament on all activities undertaken by CSIS – and with the exception of cabinet secrets, Strahl’s position affords access to all intelligence gathered by the organization. Isn't this against the law? No, he is not a 'federal' lobbyist, but only a 'provincial' lobbyist. But it still has the message that the spies are watching your every move. Be afraid, be very afraid. When there was accusations of intent to intimidate, Strahl resigned from the Security Intelligence Review Committee but not from his connection to Enbridge.


Food politics and economics
One of the great things about Europe is the countryside – it is beautiful, productive, populated and in a sense belongs to everyone. There is a general feeling that the countryside has a public value over and above its ability to make money for farmers. This is, no doubt, how the countryside is viewed in many parts of the world.
But this is not how big agriculture businesses view land with its people with their culture. People and culture can live in the cities leaving land for producing money from crops. They talk about feeding the world, but there is no evidence that they are really interested in feeding people. It is profit that is the motive – profit from controlling seed, fertilizer, and pesticides along with forcing their use. In effect these businesses want to destroy the self-sufficient 'peasant' component of the 'farmer'. Fear of this is what is really at the bottom of the resistance to GMO by many people (such as myself).
Here is an article about an important group of peasant farmers and their aims, written by Carol Schachet, MDiv, is Director of Development and Communications at Grassroots International.
Today’s Peasant Movement – Sophisticated, Threatened, and Our Best Hope for Survival
The term peasant often conjures up images of medieval serfs out of touch with the ways of the world around them. Such thinking is out of date. Today, peasants proudly and powerfully put forward effective strategies to feed the planet and limit the damages wrought by industrial agriculture. What’s more, they understand the connections between complex trade and economic systems, champion the rights of women, and even stand up for the rights of gay men and lesbians.
These are not your great ancestors’ peasants.
“A peasant is a scientist. The amount and quality of knowledge we have been developing and practicing for centuries is highly useful and appropriate,” said Maxwell Munetsi, a farmer from Zimbabwe and a member of the Via Campesina.
“Unlike agribusiness, peasants do not treat food as a commodity for speculation profiting out of hunger. They do not patent nature for profit, keeping it out of the hands of the common man and woman. They share their knowledge and seeds, so everyone can have food to eat.”
The Via Campesina is perhaps the largest social movement in the world, consisting of more than 250 million farmers and small producers from over 70 nations. At the top of the Via’s agenda is supporting peasant agriculture, which in today’s era of globalization also means seeking agrarian reform, challenging neoliberalism and corporate-friendly trade agreements, and working to stop climate disruption.
“Peasant organizations today – from Haiti to Brazil to Mali to Indonesia – are tremendously sophisticated in their political analysis, not just their impressive knowledge of seeds, natural pesticides and fertilizers and sustainable agricultural practices,” says Nikhil Aziz, Executive Director of Grassroots International.
“In fact,” Aziz continues, “the methods used by peasant farmers out-produce the far more destructive and costly practices of industrial agriculture. They can grow more food, at less cost, and actually help cool the planet. Meanwhile the massive plantations planted with seeds from Monsanto and other agrochemical giants and flooded with toxics produce less food, create more greenhouse gases and literally are making the farmers, consumers and planet sick.”
A global assessment spearheaded by the United Nations and including the World Bank and the United Nations Environment Program agree. Their 2008 report (the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, or IAASTD for short) concludes that small-scale agriculture produces more food at less cost to the farmer and the environment than does industrial agriculture.
The conclusion of the IAASTD Report comes as no surprise to Carlos Hernriquez. When a member of UNOSJO (the Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca, a Grassroots International partner) first reached out to Carlos, he was unconvinced.
“UNOSJO told us we did not have to rely on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. I was hesitant, thinking that buying fertilizers was a faster way to get results," Carlos said. "I was hesitant for two years, until 2004 when I was motivated to make the organic fertilizer. In 2005, for the first time, I used the organiic fertilizer [in a small plot of land].”
Seeing is believing – and soon Carlos switched completely to agroecological methods that included heirloom seeds, natural fertilizers and pesticides, and intercropping. All of those techniques rely on the farmers’ knowledge. To succeed, farmers need to learn new and sustainable methods, share their knowledge, adapt to changing climate conditions, and maneuver politically at a time when global policies favor massive corporate agriculture and chemical giants.
The change in Carlos’ life is profound. Now he and his family have healthy food to eat and to sell at local farmers’ markets, they can afford to send all their children to school, and he is eager to share his expertise with others.
Carlos and other peasant farmers are part of a movement for food sovereignty – the right of peoples and communities to control the seeds they plant and the food they grow and consume in an ecologically sustainable and culturally appropriate way. This is the central concept of peasant agriculture, and it offers the potential to boost our global food system and protect the planet from climate disruption.
“Not only do peasant farmers feed communities, they also cool the planet and protect Mother Nature,” explains Via Campesina a statement on International Peasant Day last year saying. “Unlike agribusiness, peasants do not treat food as a commodity for speculation profiting out of hunger. They do not patent nature for profit, keeping it out of the hands of the common man and woman. They share their knowledge and seeds, so everyone can have food to eat.”
Food is central to our culture and our civilization, which is precisely the analysis that the small producers – farmers, fishers and foresters – of the Via Campesina bring. As long as corporations control the food system in order to produce short-term profit, our collective lives are in danger. Systems of injustice that uphold the corporate food system include trade agreements, water privatization schemes, land grabs and gender inequality. These are the connections that peasants like Carlos see every day.
For instance, more than 60 percent of the world’s farmers are women, yet women cannot own land in many nations. To confront this institutional violence against women, as well as domestic violence, the Via launched the Global Campaign to End Violence Against Women in 2008. The movement conducted trainings at the grassroots and also required co-gender leadership at all levels, including the highest level. Farmers are also calling for a dismantling of the World Trade Organization and its manipulation of food commodity structures.
The success of peasants means success for all of us, because they are leading the way in feeding the world, counteracting greenhouse gas emissions and other environmentally toxic poisons, conserving water and biodiversity and expanding social and economic justice. The peasant movement chant of "Globalize the struggle, globalize the hope" is a roadmap toward a sustainable, dignified future.

Harper's view is not Canadian
This material is from some time in the summer, but nothing has changed for the better. It is Elizabeth May's view of Stephen Harper's view of government. She is the head of the Green Party in Canada. Her view is that Harper either does not understand the Canadian (ie British/Commonwealth) parliamentary system or disapproves of it. He seems to view government with American eyes, even American Republican eyes. His government continuously undercuts the principles and traditions of the Westminster model. The Canadian government is not made of three branches with checks and balances between them, and Prime Ministers are not Heads of State. Parliament is supreme and the cabinet has power only as long as in has the confidence of parliament. The Prime Minister is not like a President, he does not have a mandate. It is his party that has a mandate but not directly from the people but from parliament. He only holds power if parliament does not vote non-confidence in the Prime Minister.
May expresses this difference: “In many ways, the two Constitutional documents expressed the differences between the national systems in the inspirational goals of the U.S. foundational document calling for "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," contrasted with the stolid, workmanlike Canadian commitment to "peace, order and good government." I choose "peace, order and good government," along with the traditional Canadian communitarian values, set against the individualism that is so typical of U.S. Ideals. What makes me say Mr. Harper has strayed from those traditional Canadian values and style of governance? Well, here's a short list:
1) First prime minister of Canada to prorogue to avoid political difficulties since Sir John A Macdonald, and Macdonald, on return, immediately went to an election.
2) First Canadian prime minister to prorogue twice to avoid political difficulties.
3) Only prime minister in the entire Commonwealth in the last 100 years to prorogue to avoid a political difficulty. (The prime minister of Sri Lanka tried once, but the Governor General refused).
4) First prime minister to run a system of rigid party discipline in parliamentary committees, rejecting any and all amendments to legislation. Previously legislative committee worked quite collaboratively and legislation was nearly always amended prior to Royal Assent.
5) Prime minister Harper was found guilty of contempt of parliament in refusing to turn over the documents in the Afghan detainee matter. The documents have not been tabled to this day.
6) First prime minister to visibly chafe at the reality that he is not head of state. In Canada Day festivities on Parliament Hill one year, he insisted on accepting the Royal Salute ahead of the former Governor General. (note: The Governor General is the acting Head of States in Canada, acting for the Queen.) The use of Centre Block as a stage for pomp and ceremony for visiting presidents is contrary to our constitution. Heads of state should be greeted at Rideau Hall. The red carpets and flags in the main hall of Parliament are completely contrary to our traditions.
7) He acts as though he is in charge of Parliament, instead of acknowledging the supremacy of Parliament. This attitude is reflected in telling civil servants they should refer to the Government of Canada, as the "Harper Government."
8) Understanding Canadian parliamentary democracy includes understanding that every MP is part of the Government of Canada. The Conservative executive is comprised of the PM and his Cabinet (or Privy Council). Mr. Harper is the first prime minister to insist on treating Opposition MPs as though they are not part of the government. This is demonstrated in the systematic exclusion of local Opposition MPs from announcements in their ridings. The Harper approach is to tell local groups they cannot hold events at which federal dollars are involved with their own MP, unless that MP is Conservative. So, local MPs are not given the courtesy of even a chance to sit in the back row, while Conservative MPs from other areas make local announcements. (Note: Another way the opposition MPs are not treated as part of the government is that they are now not included in official visits and trips as they used to be.)
9) Mr. Harper rejects the role of Parliament as having control of the public purse. MPs are not given enough fiscal background to make wise choices. The former Parliamentary Budget Officer went to court to gain access to such information for MPs. Despite gaining court approval for our right to that information, the new PBO has still not successfully wrested it from the executive.
10) Add to all this the consistent application of U.S.-style attack ads, even outside of writ periods. Stephen Harper is the first political leader in Canadian history to run television advertising more than a year before the election.
Now, none of this is illegal. Any prime minister could have done these things. Think back to the days leading up to November 28, 2005 (the day selected for the non-confidence vote announced in advance by the NDP, Bloc, and Conservative leaders to bring down the Liberal minority government.) Former prime minister Paul Martin could have prorogued. Why didn't he?
The reality is (I am sure) that it never occurred to him, because it was simply not done. Respect for tradition has protected Canadians from abusive use of the potential all-powerful role of the Prime Minister's Office. A prime minister who does not respect these traditions falls outside the normal spectrum of Canadian political thought.
There are other abuses. The centralization of power in the PMO (not an institution even mentioned in the constitution, but created first by Trudeau and now morphed into a seriously bloated unaccountable $10 million/year partisan fortress) is the most troubling change. There really is no Cabinet government anymore. (Note: The PMO is the Prime Minister's Office.)
Everything is controlled through the PMO. Respect for an independent and professional civil service has been replaced by political interference in departments and civil servants on a routine basis. Westminster parliamentary democracy was never about one man rule. Democracy is being stolen in plain sight, but no one seems to notice
Regulating nanotechnology
It appear that there is still no handle on the risks of nanotechnology and how to regulate it. This has come in under the radar and is possibly as dangerous as radioactive substances, gene cloning and other technologies when they were new. Here is a ScienceDaily review of a recent paper:
“Three stakeholder groups agree that regulators are not adequately prepared to manage the risks posed by nanotechnology, according to a paper published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One. In a survey of nano-scientists and engineers, nano-environmental health and safety scientists, and regulators, researchers at the UCSB Center for Nanotechnology in Society (CNS) and at the University of British Columbia found that those who perceive the risks posed by nanotechnology as "novel" are more likely to believe that regulators are unprepared. Representatives of regulatory bodies themselves felt most strongly that this was the case. "The people responsible for regulation are the most skeptical about their ability to regulate," said CNS Director and co-author Barbara Herr Harthorn.
"The message is essentially," said first author Christian Beaudrie of the Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia, "the more that risks are seen as new, the less trust survey respondents have in regulatory mechanisms. That is, regulators don't have the tools to do the job adequately."
The authors also believe that when respondents suggested that more stakeholder groups need to share the responsibility of preparing for the potential consequences of nanotechnologies, this indicated a greater "perceived magnitude or complexity of the risk management challenge." Therefore, they assert, not only do regulators feel unprepared, they need input from "a wide range of experts along the nanomaterial life cycle." These include laboratory scientists, businesses, health and environmental groups (NGOs), and government agencies.”

The Shock of the European Elections
A shock wave just went through Europe. The results of the European Parliament elections are unprecedented. In four countries (UK, France, Denmark and Greece) a formerly small fringe party on the national scene out polled both the governing party and the main opposition party. The extremes of the left and the right made advances nearly everywhere at the expense of the center parties. Right-wing parties made especially large gains.  These extreme parties seem to have in common euro-sceptic or anti-EU platforms and dislike of austerity. They vary more on other topics; in fact they are very varied.
The way the European Parliament is organized is in 'blocks', because each country has a different set of parties, organization by party would not be workable. To form a block, the parties in it must have at least 25 MEPs who come from at least 7 countries. It is the blocks that get seats on committees, office space and expenses for the block (over the expenses for individual MEPs). MEPs not in a block are listed in the statistics as 'other'. It was the 'other' group that made the greatest gains in the election.
Here are the results with the blocks' MEPs and the gain or lose from the last parliament and a thumbnail of the blocks.


The European Parliament
The parliament has 751 seats and represents citizens of the 28 countries in the European Union. Its members, known as MEPs, negotiate laws with national governments and help decide how the budget is spent. The parliament, which sits in Brussels and Strasbourg, is the only directly-elected EU body. Once elected, members usually join one of the seven groups in the parliament, which represent different political viewpoints.
About the groups
LEFT: Sitting on the far left of the political spectrum, the European United Left group includes members from a number of Communist and traditional Socialist parties. Broadly eurosceptic, the group takes a strong position on areas such as workers' rights and employment law. Sinn Fein was the only UK party included in this group from the last election.
SOCIALIST: The parliament's main centre-left group is the Socialists and Democrats (S&D). Until 1999 it was the parliament's largest group. The group strongly advocates a "social" Europe: that is, more solidarity between member states and protection of human rights. In the eurozone crisis many S&D members criticised the welfare cuts and austerity.
GREEN: This group is an alliance of two parties - the European Greens, and the European Free Alliance. It includes parties focused on national and regional interests such as the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, and parties from Flanders, Catalonia and Corsica. The group generally takes a left-of-centre position on most issues. The Greens want EU farming policy to be more eco-friendly, and a radical switch to renewable energy sources.
LIBERAL: The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) is the parliament's main centrist group, and it includes social and economic liberals. It is the most fervently supportive of greater EU integration. Unsurprisingly, the UK's Liberal Democrat MEPs sit with this group, and former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt served as leader during the last parliament.
EPP: The centre-right European People's Party or EPP was the biggest group in the last parliament, and broadly supports deeper integration. Along with the Socialist and Democrats group, the EPP has always been one of the two powerhouses of the parliament, providing most of the presidents, vice-presidents and committee chairs. It was also where the UK's Conservative MEPs used to sit, until the party broke away to form the new Conservative and Reformist group after the 2009 election.
CONSERVATIVE: Formed as the European Conservative and Reformist (ECR) group after the 2009 election, this group was born from the desire of the British Conservative party for a new right-of-centre, Eurosceptic group. Aside from the Conservatives, and Northern Ireland's Ulster Unionist Party, the ECR includes MEPs from seven EU states, including major parties from Poland and the Czech Republic.
EFD: The Europe of Freedom & Democracy (EFD) group opposes European integration from a broadly – but not exclusively – right-wing perspective and is often seen as a thorn in the side of the EU establishment. Britain supplies the most MEPs, including members of UKIP, with Nigel Farage serving as the group's co-president during the last parliament.
OTHER: Members who have been rejected by other groups, or choose to sit as independent, are described as "no group" (in French "Non-Inscrit", which is how the group is known in the parliament). Some MEPs come from far right groups such as the UK's BNP or France's National Front. Members with no group have much less speaking time in the chamber, as well as fewer administrative and secretarial resources.
The future
The French FN lead by LePen is the largest party now in the 'other' and she will want to form a block. Here is were the problems start. She has made it known that she will not be talking to the MEPs that are beyond the pall even for the far-right FN (out are Greek's Golden Dawn, Hungary's Jobbik, Bulgaria's Ataka and the lone German neo-nazi Voigt). She is courting Holland's Party of Freedom, Italy's Northern League, the Flemish nationalists Vlaams Belaug, and Austria's Freedom Party. The block (called EFD) that already exists and is euro-sceptic was formed in the last parliament by the UK's UKIP party. It is not clear that either LePen or Farage would be willing to work under the leadership of the other although their parties are very compatible. Of the parties in the EFD, only the Nordic countries parties seem to be sticking to UKIP and Farage. There will be a lot of haggling before that lot is sorted out. As well as their positions on European integration there are a lot of differences (attitudes to racism, anti-semitism anti-Roma and fascism, immigration within and from outside the EU, regional movements, and all sorts of things).
And when they have sorted out joint positions, will they have any effect on what parliament does. Probably the center parties who still have a large majority, have run things for years, and see the world in a pro-EU light, will just soldier on as usual.
Where the election will make a difference is in the direction of the Brussels bureaucracy because this is under the guidance of the national governments as much or more that the guidance of parliament. The national governments form the Council of Europe which dictates the direction and pace of change in the EU. Cameron and Holland are running scared about the future elections in their own countries, many other leaders are also scared. Even Merkle took some damage and is conscious of the amount of anti-German feeling in the rest of Europe that became visible during the election. This probably means that the Council will be changing course. But the direction will be to protect their national governments as much as to protect the EU. One leader that is not scared is Italy's surprisingly, where the center made gains against the extremes. The leaders seem agreed that the most important thing is the get the economy stronger. Britain and a few allies want major change, most of the countries want some change but they do not always agree on what sort of change. The first disagreement between Parliament and the Council is which body appoints the President of Europe. The Parliament has always put forward who they want (usually the head of the biggest block - that would be Juncket of the EPP) and the Council appoints that person. But the Council is bauking at Juncket because he is exactly the sort of leader that the anti-EU groups hate. The treaty is not exactly clear on who has the final say so they are starting the new Parliament with a constitutional problem.
There seems not reason to think that the political spectrum in Europe will change. It can't get much bigger and is not shrinking. It includes the communists, anarchist, socialists, liberals, centrists, conservatives, ultra-conservatives, fascists, neo-nazis and also greens of various sorts, all manner of regional separatists and language protection parties, religious affiliated parties. They have been making coalitions and accommodations and fighting PR wars with occasional street fights for many years. By and large the center of socialists, liberals, conservatives and the like holds together and gets buffeted this way and that by the changes in strength of the fringe parties.  

Oil panic
Why all of a sudden is there this almighty push to extract fossil fuels in new ways and in new places? The oil companies seem to be in panic mode. Tar sands, fracking, mountain top coal, shale oil and gas, pipelines, export ports, rail transport and unbelievable political pressure to get at the stuff NOW. I am reminded of a scene from the 'Sign of Four' where the brothers have been looking for the treasure and have dug up the acres of grounds at their stately home when Sherlock arrives. If things go on there will be no ground left that fossil fuel companies haven't drilled, dug, blown up or spilled on.
Why the hurry? The oil/coal/gas isn't going anywhere when it's in the ground. All they are doing is getting people mad by damaging their homes, towns, farms, rivers, coasts, and parks. They don't want to make too many people mad at the same time or they will not be able to control the blowback. Why are they risking this anger? And, believe it or not, they are aware that they are risking it. At the same time there are strong moves (in ALEC for instance) to make the use of alternate energy as difficult as possible and to work against energy conservation/reduction. They have let their inappropriate glee show in the Ukrainian crisis which might allow them to get the Europeans to accept kracking and shale oil. Why are they risking looking like nasty spoilers? Why the panic to 'drill, baby, drill'?
For a long time the oil companies (the Seven Sisters) had all the cheap oil they could sell. Then came the fear of peak oil (which we now have – it is down hill from here), and the national governments in oil rich countries had managed to get a hold of the resource (Gasprom, Saudi Aramco, Iranian Oil etc) and cut the oil companies out of much of the profit. Finally, the oil companies were subsidized in order to secure local supplies. Governments have even given permission for 'extreme' oil. Oil companies can do arithmetic and they know that there are greater fossil fuel reserves (reserves = know where they are and how to get them, resources) than the world can burn without destroying itself. It is obvious that they will not be allowed to produce all the oil they have rights to. The limits on pollution from extraction and transport along with the carbon dioxide ceiling that will soon have to be enacted, will cut their profits way down. They must get the oil/gas out while there are still subsidies and before there are penalties – in other words while it is still highly profitable. There is an absolute ruthlessness about what these companies will do to get the very most money out of the last decades of the fossil fuel economy. They will continue this unreasonable production until they are stopped.
The journal Nature has just published a letter from a group of scientists: W. Palen, biology Simon Fraser Univ BC, T. Sisk earth science & environmental sustainability N Arizona Univ, M. Ryan resource & environmental management Simon Fraser Univ, J. Arvai geography Univ of Calgary, M. Jaccard resource & environmental management Simon Fraser Univ, A. Salomon resource & environmental management Simon Fraser Univ, T. Homer-Dixon international affairs Univ of Waterloo Ont, K. Lertzman resource and environmental management Simon Frazer Univ. Note they are both Canadian and American and that this is an interdisciplinary effort.
As scientists spanning diverse disciplines, we urge North American leaders to take a step back: no new oil-sands projects should move forward unless developments are consistent with national and international commitments to reducing carbon pollution. Anything less demonstrates flawed policies and failed leadership. With such high stakes, our nations and the world cannot afford a series of ad hoc, fragmented decisions.
Current public debate about oil-sands development focuses on individual pipeline decisions. Each is presented as an ultimatum — a binary choice between project approval and lost economic opportunity. This approach artificially restricts discussions to only a fraction of the consequences of oil development, such as short-term economic gains and job creation, and local impacts on human health and the environment. Lost is a broader conversation about national and international energy and economic strategies, and their trade-offs with environmental justice and conservation. ”When judged in isolation, the costs, benefits and consequences of a particular oil-sands proposal may be deemed acceptable. But impacts mount with multiple projects. The cumulative effects of new mines, refineries, ports, pipelines, railways and a fleet of transoceanic supertankers are often at odds with provincial, state, federal or international laws protecting clean water, indigenous rights, biodiversity and commitments to control carbon emissions. ”"
They trace the huge negative effects of the tar sands development in Alberta and then comment on how decisions were taken. “Since 2010, public hearings on proposed pipelines, including Northern Gateway, the Trans Mountain pipeline in British Columbia, and the Line 9B pipeline reversal in southern Ontario, have formally excluded testimony by experts or the public about carbon emissions and climate.
They propose that there be a legal framework for including carbon costs in the cost-benefit analysis for projects and that “policy-makers need to adopt more transparent and comprehensive decision-making processes that incorporate trade-offs among conflicting objectives such as energy and economic development, environmental protection, human health and social justice.” It is important that Canada and the US work together in making decisions in this area. “A key step is a moratorium on new oil-sands development and transportation projects until better policies and processes are in place. Reform is needed now: decisions made in North America will reverberate internationally, as plans for the development of similar unconventional reserves are considered worldwide.
This is exactly that sort of pressure that the oil industry wants to win a race against. The companies want as much oil out as possible before people and leaders wake up.

The Big 6 are dangerous
I want to say right at the beginning that I am not against gene cloning or genetically modified organisms. They are useful in research and can be used to produce many biological compounds. They could possibly by developed to cope with drought, global warming and the like. GMO is not bad, it is its current uses and purveyors that must be stopped at all cost. It is unfortunate, but if genetic modification gets harmed in the fights with the big agrochemical companies, so be it. I am not and never have been anti-science but I most certainly am anti-Monsanto and companies like it.
Six multinational corporations and some smaller companies have taken as their model for GMO, its combination with pesticides. They develop crops that can be sprayed with powerful pesticides which kill the pests (weeds or insects) while not harming the GMO plants. They create the GMO crops, sell the seed for these on an annual basis, and sell the pesticides. To do this they have managed to change the nature of patenting to include genes and living organism. They have changed the way seed is handled by farmers (no saving seed, breeding with it, sharing). They have also used their great wealth to control much of the science, reporting, and politics touching on GMO. And they have bullied, sued and attempted to blacken the name of anyone who crosses or differs with them.
Who are the Big 6 and where did they come from?
Who are these GMO companies that pretend they are 'farmers' and engaged in food production to 'feed the world'. Below is Andrea Brower's thumbnails of these companies. There is no resemblance to farmers. They are huge, rich multinationals that are fighting farmers, consumers and environmentalist.
Dow is the largest chemical company in the US. Their list of manufactured goods includes napalm, chlorpyrifos (used as a nerve gas during World War II), plastics and Styrofoam. They have managed nuclear weapons facilities, and more recently diversified into the coal business. Dow has refused compensation or environmental cleanup for the over half a million victims of the Bhopal pesticide plant disaster. They have been charged by the EPA for withholding reports of over 250 chlorpyrifos poisoning incidents, and only upon recent government mandate began to address their century-long legacy of dumping dioxins into Michigan's waterways. They have knowingly allowed their pesticide product DBCP to cause permanent sterility in thousands of farm-workers.
DuPont started as a gunpowder and explosives company, providing half of the gunpowder used by Union armies during the Civil War and 40% of all explosives used by Allied forces in World War I. During peacetime, DuPont diversified into chemicals; some well-known products include Nylon, Teflon and Lycra. World War II was particularly advantageous for DuPont, which produced 4.5 billion pounds of explosives, developed weapons, contributed to the Manhattan Project, and was the principal maker of plutonium. Along with Dow, DuPont was rated in the top five air polluters for 2013 by the Political Economy Research Institute. DuPont is responsible for 20 Superfund sites, and is recipient of the EPA's largest civil administrative penalty for failing to comply with federal law.
Syngenta was formed through the merging of pharmaceutical giants Novartis and AstraZeneca's agrochemical lines. They manufacture highly dangerous pesticides like paraquat and atrazine that are banned in their home country of Switzerland, but used largely in poorer countries (as well as Hawaii). Paraquat is a major suicide agent. Syngenta has lobbied exhaustively in the European Union to block a ban on its bee-killing neonicotinoids, including threatening to sue individual EU officials. It has hired private militias to murder farmer activists. Syngenta is responsible for 18 Superfund sites in the US.
BASF is the world's largest chemical company, and makes plastics, coatings (automotive and coil coatings), fine chemicals (feed supplements, raw materials for pharmaceuticals), and agricultural chemicals. During World War II it was part of IG Farben, dubbed the "financial core of the Hitler regime," and the primary supplier of the chemicals that were used in Nazi extermination camps. For nearly three decades following the war, BASF filled its highest position with former members of the Nazi regime. Five of BASF's manufacturing facilities in the US rank amongst the worst 10% of comparable facilities for toxic releases. In 2001 they were fined by the EPA for 673 violations related to illegal importation and sale of millions of pounds of pesticides.
Monsanto was founded as a drug company, and its first product was saccharin for Coca-Cola -- a derivative of coal tar that was later linked to bladder cancer. They have manufactured some of the world's most destructive chemicals, including Agent Orange (with Dow), PCBs and DDT. Monsanto was heavily involved in the creation of the first nuclear bomb and in 1967 entered into a joint venture with IG Farben. Monsanto is a pioneer of biotechnology; their first product was artificial recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH). They have sued food companies that have labeled their products as rBGH-free. They are a potentially responsible party for at least 93 Superfund sites.
Bayer is not included in Bowers list. Wikipedia has an entry. It was started in 1863 and became important with the discovery of aspirin. As part of the reparations after World War I, Bayer assets were confiscated in the United States, Canada, and several other countries and acquired by Sterling Drug/Winthrop. The German Bayer company became part of IG Farben a chemical conglomerate. In World War II, the IG Farben used slave labor in factories attached to large slave labor camps, notably I.G. Auschwitz, and the other camps. IG Farben owned 42.5% of the company that manufactured Zyklon B, a chemical used in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and other extermination camps. After World War II, the Allies broke up IG Farben and Bayer reappeared as an individual business. The Bayer executive Fritz ter Meer, sentenced to seven years in prison during the IG Farben Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, was made head of the supervisory board of Bayer in 1956, after his release. Bayer acquired many drug, chemical and plastics companies. The Bayer CropScience division is a major player in pesticides and GMO.
Pretending to be farmers
Farmers? “Legislators attempt to contort the "Right to Farm" into a mechanism for chemical companies to evade health and environmental concerns, as water grabs by these same companies undermine the actual rights of farmers.” Since patenting of life forms was allowed (big mistake) these companies concentrated on seed and now 10 companies account for 73% of seed sales and prices for seed have doubled while variety has narrowed. “Through mergers and acquisitions, the stockpiling of patents on genes and traits, and unprecedented cooperation and collusion, Dow, DuPont, Syngenta, Monsanto, BASF and Bayer -- the "Big 6" -- have rendered competitive markets in seeds, biotech traits and agrochemicals "a relic of the past." Together, these markets provide them $50 billion per annum in sales.”
This group also determines the worldwide agricultural research agenda. They directly supply 75% of the funding for private sector R&D in seeds and pesticides. Also public sector research has been distorted by their funding. Their gene monopolies interfere with scientific research. The old ways are blocked - “Farmers' rights to innovate, share and save seed, and cultivate the agricultural biodiversity upon which we all depend is also supplanted by the new corporate rights to privatize what has always been considered "common." What is the R&D direction? – to overcome failing of GMO+pesticides by increasing the amounts of pesticides used and moving into more toxic compounds. Corn and soy are favoured because they can be sold processed into unrecognizable forms. They cover half of the US fields and 80% of corn and 70% of soy are using big 6 seed and pesticides. The profits to farmers go down while the profits to corporations go up.
Many of the "externalities" of a corporate-enriching food system are paid for by farmers. According to a report by Food and Water Watch, herbicide-resistant weeds created by Big 6 technology can cost farmers as much as $12,000 for an average-sized corn or soybean farm or $28,000 for an average cotton farm. In other words, as pesticide+GMO combos fail, the agrochemical companies that produce them benefit from selling more chemicals. Additionally, farmers increasingly face loss of crops and livelihoods due to pesticide-drift and death of honeybee populations.” As well as feeding big 6 profits at the expense of their own, farmer's health and that of their children is endangered. We must differentiate between what is good for Dow, DuPont, Monsanto, Syngenta, BASF and Bayer, and what is good for farmers and farmworkers.

Big 6 fight in American states
Vermont passed a law that requires packaged food to label if it contains GMO ingredients by 2016. Now the state is being sued by a group (Grocery Manufacturers Association, Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association and National Association of Manufacturers) to have the law removed. Polls show that support for labeling is high across America, repeatedly in the 90% range.
Syngenta, Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, BASF, and Bayer have been spending big money against local laws in Hawaii. The companies take advantage of 4 growing seasons a year on the islands for quick seed development. Kauai County has passed a law that required disclosure of pesticide use and GMO crops growing. It created buffer zones around schools, parks, medical facilities and private dwellings. Hawaii County banned GMOs completely, Maui County had an initiative to ban GMOs on the ballot. Syngenta, DuPont, Dow and BASF are suing Kauai to have its law removed. Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, DuPont and several trade organizations spent $50,000 in the first 4 months of 2014 to influence state legislators to consider bills to override county laws. Much larger sums are being spent on the primaries in the state. The big 6 and their trade associations also have ties to ALEC. They were involved in writing the ALEC model bill for states to use to override the ability of counties and cities to democratically determine how they will regulate GMOs at a local or regional level. Common Cause Hawaii has said, “The influx of big money and threat of unlimited 'independent expenditures' have resulted in politicians statewide increasingly placing the interests of corporations over the interests of citizens. Politicians are forced to consider the likelihood of facing well-funded opposition and attack ads in the next election if they don't toe the corporate line.” Hawaii Center for Food Safety says, “The impact of this corporate cash on local politics is not just that representatives are pressured to vote based on donations to their campaigns. Rather this cash has been strategically spent to create a mirage of confusion and disagreement around very mainstream issues like pesticide disclosure and GMO labeling. Standing up for something as conservative as transparency around chemical use in Hawa'ii is treated as though it is radical. This radicalizing of dissent simply serves to silence the majority of the public and keep them from participating publicly in the civic process." However, there is a public blowback because people see big money poisoning communities and controlling government. People never interested in politics before are entering the field.
The companies have spent huge amounts in the states were they have defeated labeling initiative. In the media they have tried to paint this as only a health issue, and that the 'science' says that GMOs are safe for human consumption therefore there is no need for labeling.
Big 6 controlling the media
Some have accused Monsanto of buy the whole of 'Science' and the 'Media'. Here is one example of how this is done. An organization called the Science Media Centre pretends to be an independent source and briefing center for scientific issues. But it seems SMC is far from independent. Each funder may only donate up to 5% of SMC annual budget and the rest of the income is made up by Wellcome Trust. It has an income of about 600,000 pounds a year with 34% coming from corporations and trade groups including BASF, Bayer, Syngenta and CropLife International. There are close links with the British Government. This does not sound very independent.
The management of the organization is also worrying. Fiona Fox is the Director of SMC. She is thought of as 'someone in science' but she is a reporter with a career in public relations. She is not known for her integrity. Fox (as Fiona Foster) claimed in '95 that there was no genocide in Rwanda. It appears that she will work for anyone on any message for her salary.
At its birth SMC promised to "provide an anti-GM scientist and a pro-GM scientist, a pro-legalisation of cannabis scientist and an anti-, etc, etc.," But this independent service soon disappeared and it seems that anti-GMO scientists are not represented and that pro-GMO scientists have conflicts of interest. Here are some instances:
  1. SMC "has cast biased press briefings such as one on GMOs, funded by Monsanto and invited unwitting and time-starved journalists," according to Connie St. Louis, the president of the Association of British Science Writers, writing in Columbia Journalism Review. Since SMC's opening in 2002, St. Louis writes, "The quality of science reporting and the integrity of information available to the public have both suffered, distorting the ability of the public to make decisions about risk. The result is a diet of unbalanced cheerleading and the production of science information as entertainment."
  2. SMC director Fiona Fox told the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), "[W]e are not about to reinforce the 'he-said-she-said' false balance by trawling our universities for climate skeptics or plant scientists who take issue with GM" -- although scientists have contended that there is no scientific consensus on GMO safety, and there is substantial research showing potential risks of the pesticides of which most GMOs are engineered to withstand heavier applications.
  3. SMC had great success in getting its prepared quotes into international media in late 2012, when it spearheaded the attack on French scientist Gilles-Éric Séralini, whose November 2012 research paper found serious health problems -- notably, tumors -- in rats fed "Roundup-Ready" Monsanto GMO corn, as well as in rats fed low doses of the herbicide Roundup itself without the GMO corn. SMC fed journalists quotes from other scientists attacking the study. Its director Fiona Fox told the Times Higher Education she was proud that SMC's "emphatic thumbs down had largely been acknowledged throughout U.K. newsrooms: apart from the Mail, only The Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times covered the story in their print editions -- and both used quotes supplied by the Science Media Centre." The story was covered in the United States, but even the New York Times summarized a quote spoonfed by the SMC saying that the numbers of animals in each test group -- approximately the same number that had been used in the seven studies of its kind since 2004, including a study commissioned by Monsanto -- was too low to draw firm conclusions. After initial resistance, the publishing journal retracted the study. A Reuters article on the retraction used two quotes from an SMC "expert reaction." Later, over 150 scientists sent a hard-hitting letter to the journal calling the retraction an "attack on scientific integrity."
  4. Sociologist David Miller, co-founder of Public Interest Investigations/Spinwatch and editor of Powerbase, a wiki that monitors power networks, told CMD, "The problem is that SMC pretends it's promoting the best science, but in fact it promotes a certain kind of science -- those kinds of science that corporations and governments stand by in the area of science policy and want to see developed in terms of markets, like cloning, GMOs, and to some extent pharmaceuticals as well. These are areas where there's a huge amount of potential profit to be made. Once it steps from supporting science to supporting science policy, SMC becomes political, even though it pretends not to be." Fox told CMD, "[W]e cover all areas of science that are newsworthy and in the media headlines. The science stories we work on are the controversial messy science stories that hit the headlines -- that is the criteria -- nothing to do with the potential of specific areas of science to make a profit." SMC has recently covered climate science extensively.”
  5. Claire Robinson, co-editor of GMWatch -- an organization seeking to counter the political power and messaging of the GMO industry and its supporters -- called SMC "extremely dangerous because it manages to convince the public and the mainstream media that it is an independent voice of science, whereas actually it is a small selection of industry-friendly scientists who are hand-picked." In fact, as GMWatch has noted, past SMC press releases have featured quotes from GMO industry-funded lobbyists, but listing them only as "Reader in Ecology" and "Visiting Professor of Biology" without noting their lobbying ties. "From my point of view," Robinson said, this is "disingenuous and misleading."
  6. Jack Heinemann, a geneticist at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and a former staff fellow at the U.S. National Institutes of Health who specializes in risk assessment, has found himself and his scientific analysis the target of the "rapid responses" of SMC franchises in New Zealand and Australia. He found out after one attack that a number of independent scientists had written to SMC New Zealand. They said they wanted their views pubished in a follow-up rapid response, but according to Heinemann, "they were all rebuffed and told that SMC was no longer interested in the story, and they didn't need their comment, but thank you very much." According to one newspaper, SMC New Zealand's director Peter Griffin said of these comments that they "were sent to us several days later, by which stage we decided that the best course of action, to avoid confusing the public any further through a war of words between scientists, was to wait. . ." Heinemann noted that these SMCs also don't publish conflicts of interest, listing scientists' public university positions but not their industry ties. For example, a SMC criticism of a peer-reviewed study he published quoted Professor Peter Langridge, a University of Melbourne senior lecturer in food technology and microbiology. It did not note what local newspaper The Press later found out: that "his research centre receives significant funding from global GM product developer DuPont, amounting to between A$3 million (NZ$3.66 million) and A$5 million a year." Heinemann told CMD, "Scientists know they have conflicts of interest when they receive large monetary gifts or research contracts from developing technology or have an entrepreneurial stake in technology." He acknowledged that it's "become hard to find a scientist who doesn't have such entrepreneurial interests or who has the ability to fulfill career objectives without appearing to be industry-friendly." But he said of the SMCs, "If you can’t find scientists who don't have conflicts of interest, what is your purpose? What story are you really trying to bring to the media if you can't verify the authority of a viewpoint as being objective? Then you're really some kind of propaganda channel and should declare that you are promoting industry-biased and -promotional science rather than declaring that you stand aside of the vested interests" of the scientists quoted. Responding to a question about disclosing conflicts of interest, SMC's Fox said of the original UK group that it "does not believe that 'links' to industry automatically equate to a compromise in the quality or integrity of a piece of science." While also acknowledging the difficulty of finding scientists without industry ties, Fox told CMD, "We have generally taken the view that the main responsibility for investigating and exposing any significant conflicts of interests should lie with the journalists reporting science stories." She noted that a "more proactive COI [conflict of interest] policy" is being developed and reviewed.”
  7. The recent UK GMO report was publicized as "independent." But as The Guardian pointed out, the report's lead author, Professor Sir David Baulcombe of the University of Cambridge, "receives research funding from Syngenta and is a consultant for Syngenta" (as noted in a Science Magazine editorial, but not noted in the GMO report). Syngenta is one of the "Big 6" multinational pesticide and GMO corporations. Another report author, Professor Jonathan Jones of the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, founded the GM patent-holding company Mendel Biotechnology, a GMO company that does contract work for Monsanto, Bayer CropScience and BP, among others. Critics like Claire Robinson of GMWatch claim that none of the report's authors are independent of GMO industry funding, and say "their claims should be treated with the same scepticism we would apply to any sales pitch."
Dow fights for 'Enlist'
The US Department of Agriculture asked for public comment on whether to license Dow's combination of a new GMO corn and soybean seed and a 2,4-D herbicide combination they call “Enlist Weed Control System”. The herbicide is a neurotoxin and a major ingredient in Agent Orange and so the application from Dow struck a nerve in the American public. Over 387,000 people responded to the USDA's draft Environmental Impact Statement, mostly negatively. Here are some quotes:
"This poison chemical company has the ruthless, malicious, heartless audacity to make such a request to have their poison, 2,4-D, a component of Agent Orange to be applied to their so-called GMO food crops. I [am] reminded daily of the loss of quality of life trying to persevere with this plaguing struggle." - "This chemical arms race with weeds means more pesticidal pollution, environmental damage, and higher production costs. Approving this crop would take us backwards, seriously endangering human health and the environment." - "You have a duty to protect the health and safety of the public. Dow's applications are clear dangers and represent a violation of public policy." - "Why in the world would we want to approve 2,4-D resistant corn and soybeans when Roundup resistant corn and soybeans have failed to do anything except to increase the use of pesticides? Pesticides are not healthy for anyone, and the government should be looking at ways to reduce or eliminate their usage, not increase it." - "Big agriculture and chemical companies are not honest about the risks and someday we will all pay the price for their greed." - "For once, do what is best for the American people instead of what big corporations are paying you to do. This could be catastrophic to public health." - "We must stop poisoning our food with chemicals that are unsafe for our health and our environment . Big agriculture and chemical companies are not honest about the risks and someday we will all pay the price for their greed." When comments closed a petition started. The connection with Agent Orange is not sitting well with the public.
The USDA admits that if it approved the Dow seeds there would be a 200-600% increase in use of 2,4-D within a few years. This is a chemical that has been linked to Parkinson's and other diseases. Dow wants approval because they anticipate it will double their annual revenues (now $7 billion a year).
Fighting European rules
In Nov BASF sued the EU Commissions to challenge the restriction of seed treatments with fipronil. They join Bayer and Syngenta who are challenging the restriction of pesticides that are harmful to pollinators. The banned chemicals have been linked to declines in bee populations and the Commission vote was heavily in favour of the 2 year ban. The BASF argument is that the EU used a “disproportionate application of the precautionary principle”. The chemicals were OKed some time ago when they were being used differently and before their effect on bees came to light. The companies are simply not recognizing the new body of evidence. On the other hand, the US EPA has not banned these pesticides. Because of this lack of action, Beyond Pesticides joined beekeepers, environmental and consumer groups in a suit against the EPA for not protecting pollinators.
So with all the talk about anti-monsanto/pesticides/GMO folks being anti-scientific – it is the companies that want to ignore the scientific evidence on harm to bees.
A group of fifty scientists from 15 countries, from univiversities and public research bodies formed a Internation Consortium - Working Group of Systemic Pesticides. After 5 years of work they are publishing their findings. They say the evidence is clear: neonicotinoids do not secure the food supply but threaten the pollinators that make it possible. Imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, clothianidin, fipronil are 40% of the global market in insecticides and they are 5000 to 10000 times more toxin than DDT. Much of the treatments accumulate in soil where they can last a long time or contaminate water. There is little doubt that they are responsible for the sudden collapse of many insect species. It also affects the food chain. There is a decline in birds (more than half live on insects). There is evidence for a fall of 52% in farmland birds in the last 3 decades. The soil is affected by the loss of microorganisms and earthworms. Just because something has not been shown to harm humans does not mean it is safe to use.
Andrea Germanos writes about their report based on 800 peer-reviewed reports, 'Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the Impact of Systemic Pesticides on Biodiversity and Ecosystems'.
In addition to "clear evidence" that neonics pose threats to bees and other pollinators — a point many environmental groups have stressed — the WIA analysis found that the most affected group was terrestrial invertebrates like earthworms, which are exposed to varying levels of the systemic pesticides through multiple pathways, like the soil, the plant itself, and water. The toxic reach of the neonics goes beyond the farmland, the study details, as the soil absorbs the pesticides, dust from the field where treated seeds were drilled can blow into neighboring areas, and polluted groundwater can reach downstream and affect other ecosystems. This multi-pronged exposure in turn affects vertebrate animals like birds and fish. The analysis also found that the standard ways of measuring the toxicity of the neonics are inadequate as they fail to measure the chronic impacts of the pesticides, which can linger and sometimes build up over years. One of the findings is that long-term exposure at what are classified as low levels can be harmful. Yet acute impacts can be devastating as well, with the analysis noting that acute effects of some neonics can be up to 10,000 times more toxic to bees than DDT.... “The evidence is very clear," stated Dr. Jean-Marc Bonmatin of The National Center for Scientific Research in France and one of the lead authors of the analysis.We are witnessing a threat to the productivity of our natural and farmed environment equivalent to that posed by organophosphates or DDT. Far from protecting food production the use of neonics is threatening the very infrastructure which enables it, imperiling the pollinators, habitat engineers and natural pest controllers at the heart of a functioning ecosystem."... “This report should be a final wake up call for American regulators who have been slow to respond to the science,” stated Emily Marquez, PhD, staff scientist at Pesticide Action Network North America. “The weight of the evidence showing harm to bees and other pollinators should move EPA to restrict neonicotinoids sooner than later. And the same regulatory loopholes that allowed these pesticides to be brought to the market in the first place — and remain on the shelf — need to be closed.””
These companies are a danger to us, our institutions, and our environment.

Britain and the EU
For years Britain did not think of itself as European. “While Prime Minister David Cameron was making his long-awaited speech on the future of the U.K.’s relationship with the rest of Europe, Brussels was shrouded in fog. Inevitably, a number of European newspapers recalled the old joke on British insularity, allegedly from a 1930 Daily Mirror headline: "Fog in Channel: Continent Cut Off."” Although a great many Britains are very European in their tastes, holidays, and so on, there are also a great many that positively dislike all things European – they identify with other English speaking countries especially the US and the 'white dominions' as they used to be called.
First they refused to take part in the very start of the European experiment, then when the EU flourished and the outer group that England had formed was not flourishing, Britain and the others asked to join the EU. The negotiations went well for many of the outers but Britain made some unfortunate demands on behalf of the US, so France vetoed their joining. Eventually Britain did join. But in their view and Europe's, Britain was never comfortable, always complaining and wanting separate arrangements. They vetoed a new treaty that would form the Euro currency. The rest of Europe went ahead without them and the Euro zone became a separate organization from the EU – with more of less the same members except Britain. This was seen as bullying. Britain thought it could stop the Euro from happening. Instead the Euro happened without Britain and 'the city' having any of its advantages. And the veto was weakened.
The EU has a tradition of decisions made by consensus not confrontation. Talk it out in private until everyone is OK with the result, but don't stand up and veto or demand a majority vote. (Voting is for parliament - quiet dipomacy for the council) Don't make confrontational public statements. Make compromises but good ones where everyone gets something they really want. Trade and deal.
Now Britain has forced a vote on the presidency and lost the vote in a big way, even though there were many things on which a number of countries agreed with Britain and a good compromise was possible. Britain even managed to cause political damage to a number of leaders that had common ground with it. What made some Europeans very angry was that it appeared that Cameron was only interested in the next election in the UK; he wanted to be confrontational for the home audience and losing the vote didn't do him harm with the Conservative anti-Europe group. It appeared that he was not interested in what was good for Europe, not what was good for the UK and especially its business sector or its farming sector, not what was good for the coalition government or even large parts of the conservative party – he was only interested in keep the far right from gaining strength before the election. In other words, he is only interested in his own skin.
Britain has not appeared to have changed its attitude to what the EU is about since the days of th
EUe French veto (Britain and US wanted the free trade but not the social union). Britain does not want to have to choose on occasion between the US and Europe. It sees the EU as a trade agreement not a political union. It does not want any power in the democratic institutions of the EU. Any ruling by the EU that interferes with the Parliament in West Minister is seen not as the EU is getting more democratic but an act of destroying democracy. The EU only works because it is more than a free trading area but also has free movement of people and capital and unified rules on things like safety, labour relations, consumer protection, product standards and so on. If there are not such rules agreed (openly in a parliament) then free trade is a race to the bottom with lower wages, lower standards etc. It would fail. The EU is in the business of protecting the cultures of Europe as well as the economies. Now it is true that the EU goes too far sometimes in dictating to governments. That is why Cameron could have got much of what he wanted if he was willing to be “a good European” but that was the opposite of how he wanted to be seen at home. Here is a diagram of the complicated pair of governing structures in Europe: the governing by a group of independent nations and the governing by a pan-Europe, directly elected, parliament. There is a tension between the two and that is not a bad thing.

A new look at Amanda Knox
I was taken in by the unanimous agreement in the press that Knox was innocent and by my feeling that the Italian justice system is weird. It did bother me that the Kercher family never wavered from the view that she was guilty. When the judge order that the evidence by re-examined and still found her guilty, I was not so confident in the general opinion. This article recently appeared and I find what it says very enlightening.
Was Amanda Knox Innocent, or Did She Just Have Good PR? by Selene Nelson Huffington Post
On November 1 2007, 21-year-old British student Meredith Kercher was murdered in her bedroom in Perugia, Italy. Five days later, her American roommate Amanda Knox was arrested along with her Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito. Three days after her arrest, Knox's father hired Seattle publicist David Marriott, of Gogerty Marriott Public Relations Inc. This was, according to Curt Knox, "one of the smartest things we ever did."
When Knox was painted as a manipulative sexual deviant by certain parts of the press, Gogerty Marriott was tasked with altering public sentiment. The information coming in from Perugia was painstakingly filtered while an Italian smear-campaign was cultivated. No American journalists were given access to the Knox family without guarantees of positive coverage. Thus, Knox was turned from promiscuous schemer to naïve college girl, railroaded by ruthless Italians driven by their consuming hatred for anything American.
You have to hand it to them -- Gogerty Marriott has done a pretty good job. Though by no means unanimous, support for Knox in the U.S. media remains relatively high, with the same tired, easily disproven arguments still thrown around in the news. Favourites include the remarkable claim that "there's no evidence" (incorrect), that Knox's false accusation of her employer came only after hours of abuse (false), and that the "drifter" Rudy Guede confessed to the murder and acted alone, only implicating Knox after being offered a plea deal (fabricated).
What's troubling about this is the intensity of the deceit. It's one thing to drum up support by having friends and family talk about the 'real' Knox; it's quite another to knowingly hawk appalling untruths and propagate them through the media. In the face of recent and important case developments, much of the U.S. media remains curiously silent.
In July, Knox's connection to a Perugian cocaine ring was made public. According to police reports from 2008, Knox had a sexual relationship with a cocaine dealer and contacted him in the days before and after Kercher's murder. In a case where sex and drug use are so contentious, one might imagine this was noteworthy, but the mainstream media in the U.S. were silent.
Considerable time, effort and money has gone into portraying Knox as a wholesome girl-next-door and Sollecito, a shy, well-behaved doctor's son. Stories that threaten to shatter these carefully constructed PR images are just brushed under the carpet.
In a case that hinges on a staged burglary, how many U.S. publications reported on Knox's own damning admission this year that she faked a break-in in Seattle months before leaving for Perugia? How many reported on her previous encounter with police -- or Sollecito's for that matter? How many dared to mention Sollecito's obsession with knives, alleged encounters with bestiality porn or admiration for a serial killer? Members of Sollecito's family recently stated on Italian TV that they think Knox may be guilty -- key information that again was stifled in the U.S.
Another recent example shows the remarkable extent of the media blackout in Knox's hometown of Seattle. In July Sollecito held a press conference in which he withdrew his alibi for Knox, remarked on the inconsistencies in her account and disputed her testimony in crucial places. The story was covered across the world, with headlines such as "Sollecito withdraws Knox alibi for night of Kercher murder."
The Seattle Times interpreted this press conference quite differently. Their coverage was titled "Amanda Knox's ex-beau: Evidence points to my innocence" and inexplicably made no mention of Sollecito's alibi withdrawal. Whatever your stance on guilt or innocence, this is an outrageous concealment of vital information.
At the recent appeal resulting in the reinstating of the guilty convictions, the reporting in the U.S. media was woefully -- and intentionally -- inaccurate. Time and again the appeal was called a "third trial", the insinuation being that vindictive Italians would simply try Knox until they got the result they wanted.
How shamefully misleading this is. There has only ever been one trial: this "new trial" was Knox and Sollecito's own appeal. Italy affords defendants more rights than nearly any other country; how galling it is to see the reverse so often construed.
It isn't just Knox's heavyweight PR team who are proliferating these untruths -- Knox herself is at it too. She recently wrote on her own website:
"Raffaele Sollecito and I have happy, healthy histories and no criminal record. Rudy Guede was an orphan turned drug dealer and burglar."
Unfortunately for Knox, Guede is not an orphan. His parents are divorced, just like hers are. Guede too had no criminal record or history of violence. There is not a single piece of evidence to suggest that he was a drug dealer, and not a single witness who has come forward to substantiate this. This "drifter" (a term coined by Gogerty Marriott) had lived in Perugia since the age of five and had his own apartment. The very idea of Guede being the sole killer is utterly implausible, and the Supreme Court ruled that Kercher was killed by multiple attackers.
Emerging through the thick smoke spewed from the PR machine, we can see that the 'real' Guede was not so different from the 'real' Knox or Sollecito. Guede was no more a delinquent drifter than Knox was a sexual deviant, and no more immersed in the seedy drug world than either defendant. All three had had minor brushes with the law, but only one was ever portrayed as a criminal.
Contrary to sensationalist reporting, this is not a case about sex or drugs or Satanism -- this is a case about controlling and manipulating image. How much easier it is to manipulate your image when you have the power to control it. How much easier it is to blame a 'black drug dealing drifter with a criminal record' than to face unsettling truths.
Seven years is a long time to go without closure, but that is what the Kerchers have had to endure as they fight for justice for their daughter and sister. But there can be no justice without truth. When a defence is based on lies it is both immoral and incriminating. For the sake of the truth, it is time for the wilfull concealment of certain inconvenient facts to stop. Once you step away from the PR spin, the evidence is there. You may just need to sift through a lot of nonsense to get to it.

The new EU Commission
The EU Commission has been named by the President Jean-Claude Juncker. There is 28 members, one from each country in the EU and they are appointed for 5 years. These are important politicians in their home countries. And the Commission is the most powerful institution in the EU. The members take their offices in November. The UK got the Finance Services post and France got economic policy. This shows that Juncker intends to heal some riffs.

Vytenis Andriukaitis (Lithuania) Health and food safety
Miguel Arias Canete (Spain) Climate action and energy
Dimitris Avramopoulos (Greece) Migration and home affairs
Elzbieta Bienkowska (Poland) Internal market, industry, entrepreneurship and SMEs (small and medium-sized businesses)
Corina Cretu (Romania) Regional policy
Johannes Hahn (Austria) European neighbourhood policy and enlargement negotiations
Jonathan Hill (UK) Financial stability, financial services and capital markets union
Phil Hogan (Ireland) Agriculture and rural development
Vera Jourova (Czech Republic) Justice, consumers and gender equality
Cecilia Malmstroem (Sweden) Trade
Neven Mimica (Croatia) International co-operation and development
Carlos Moedas (Portugal) Research, science and innovation
Pierre Moscovici (France) Economic and financial affairs, taxation and customs
Tibor Navracsics (Hungary) Education, culture, youth and citizenship
Guenther Oettinger (Germany) Digital economy and society
Maros Sefcovic (Slovakia) Transport and space
Christos Stylianides (Cyprus) Humanitarian aid and crisis management
Marianne Thyssen (Belgium) Employment, social affairs, skills and labour mobility
Karmenu Vella (Malta) Environment, maritime affairs and fisheries
Margrethe Vestager (Denmark) Competition
Note: After hearings in EU parliament and the replacement of Maros Sefcovic by Violeta Bulc the slate was confirmed by the parliament.

The fishing problem
Europeans are big fish eaters, averaging half a kilo (about a lb) of fish a week per person. In some cultures every meal has some fish. Consumption per person is, and has been, rising at about 2% a year. There is a real demand for fish and not at extra high prices; a shortage or a price rise above general inflation would be strongly resented in much of Europe.
At the same time the fish stocks of the Mediterranean, the Baltic and the European areas of the Atlantic have been over-fished. The EU tries to limit imports and at the same time avoid the collapse of fisheries in its member countries. Whole areas, towns and villages depend on fishing for their economies. Coastal countries (very few aren't coastal) cannot agree to sharp cut-backs to fishing – it would be politically damaging. Some farmed fish is sold in the EU and the market could probably be supplied by farming. This would not help the fishing communities and therefore is not really on the table. This impossible situation has been overcome by agreements with developing countries to fish in their 'Exclusive Economic Zones' for an access fee, and also fishing in international waters. The host countries for access agreements, by the Law of the Sea, must have surplus fish. From the fish population and its sustainable yield, the 'limit of reference' is calculated. If a country with an access agreement fishes more that the reference, they must pay addition amounts. This is a revenue source for a developing country and so they are not motivated to conserve their stocks but to allow over fishing.
The EU publicly funds many of these agreements. Everyone agrees, from the UN, through the states involved, to the actual fisherman, that the system is terrible. There is wastage, graft, lack of oversight, and importantly, fish stocks are not being protected. On top of this the large fishing companies are making a lot of money (as well as the access fee, the EU pays for much of the fuel and equipment) and therefore the companies are encouraged to invest in larger fleets, increasing over-capacity rather than a scaling back of this part of the economy. For access fees the EU pays 75%. The Common Fisheries Policy is due for renewal and there will probably be big fights over the mess it has produced.
A recent study said, "The EU has the potential to lead the world in sustainable fisheries, but as they stand now, these access agreements are being subsidized in ways that disadvantage developing countries and contradict the EU's own development goals by forcing their citizens to essentially pay twice for the fish they're taking off of the plates of developing countries." But so far this is something that the EU has done very badly.
I believe with population levels as they are, we are going to have to farm fish, if we want to eat fish. The seas and oceans cannot be fished out without terrible consequences for their health. If fish becomes rare, the price will go up, poachers of fish will go after fish like they do rhino and elephant. It seems silly not to farm fish. We farm the bulk of our meat, vegetables and fruit. Imagine trying to get all our meat from deer and wild boar. There is no way our food can be supplied from the wild. It is important to protect what 'wild' we have left including the oceans.

Cuban Medicine against Ebola
No other country has sent more doctors to West Africa to fight Ebola. In fact there are only two major suppliers of doctors to the epidemic: Cuba and Doctors without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières). They are the only two sources of medical aid that go anywhere, in a hurry, with the ability to work in unprepared conditions, with management and supply systems in place and experience of a great many diseases. They both supplied large numbers of doctors to West Africa. They do have differences though.
MSF had much more experience of Ebola from having been involved in a number of small outbreaks in various parts of Africa that they have attended for 20 years. They had procedures in place and trained, experienced doctors who had dealt with Ebola first-hand before. This was really a great advantage but also a small disadvantage. Tackling a large epidemic is different from small outbreaks and MSF was slow to change their way of working. They did not support efforts towards drugs and vaccines at first because they saw the problem as containment rather than other prevention and treatment methods. It was only when containment was not working that they put their weight (which is considerable) behind vaccines. In the early days, Guinea and WHO accused it for being alarmist when MSF criticized the slowness of responses – it turned out that MSF was right to be alarmed. There were early complaints that MSF refused to train others because of their rigorous safety protocols. But now it is sharing its blueprints for treatment centres and training non-MSF in Brussels. Another difference is the short rotation period (6 weeks). Many of the MSF staff have other jobs and commitments. They have a large number of people deployed (about 700) but not that many on the ground in West Africa at any one time because of rotations and quarantine periods.
The Cuban medical group had not dealt with Ebola before but very quickly set up training in Cuba so that doctors and nurses could be ready to go to West Africa after 3 weeks of training. But each group that went had to be trained. They only became real experts in the field. It has been noticed that they put more effort into treatment and less into epidemiology tracing and the like. However, they are less likely to just stay in the hospitals but go out and find people with Ebola and convince them to come to the hospital. Apparently their way of dealing with the population has made them the more trusted of the foreign medical personnel. (In places, there had been great distrust of the foreign medical personnel – they were said to be using a mythical disease to get body parts. The Cuban's handled these problems better than others.) They do not ship their own Ebola victims home but treat them in their West African centers. They also stay for the duration rather than being rotated. There is something like 400 there at time of writing and they are still being trained and brought in. They are the largest group on the ground there.
Some others are making much small contributions in medical personnel. Some countries are supplying money/supplies and the Americans are supplying soldiers to build hospitals but they are not medical people. The World Health Organization (WHO) is coordinating the effort.
Cuba has been singled out for praise by several of the West African nations, WHO, the UN and even American officials such as Kerry.
Why Cuba?
This is not an unusual thing for Cuba to be doing. The country is in the business of medicine. 50,000 employees of the Cuban health ministry are currently serving abroad in 66 countries. Looking at just Cuba's 83,000 doctors, a third of Cuba's doctors are in foreign countries.
They were prominent in Kashmir after the 2005 earthquake and in Haiti in 2010 after their earthquake, but this help started with the 1969 quake in Chile. In the '70 and '80 they gave medical assistance during war in South Africa, Algeria, Zaire, Congo and Ghana. They were in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami. They are providing doctors and helping to build healthcare services in Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela with thousands of doctors.
This medical emphasis started with Che Guevara, himself a doctor. It was written into the constitution – heathcare is universally provided and a human right. It also stems from the priority for education. The medical education system in Cuba is one of their great prides. Guevara many, many times inspired Cuban doctors to use their skills in the service of others. The World Bank says Cuba has the best education system in Latin America and the Caribbean and WHO says that Cuba's doctor-to-patient ratio was one of the top three in the world.
What do they do with this medical system other then serve their own population? They provide other countries with help developing healthcare systems and they volunteer in emergencies. As with everyone's foreign aid there is a pay back.
  1. It is good press and counteracts the notion that they are the 'bad guys'. To many countries they have become the 'good guys'. Every year the UN votes on the sanctions that America has had in place since Cuba's birth. In the last vote only the USA and Israel voted for sanctions. There were very few non-voters and almost all the countries of the world voted for the sanctions being lifted.
  2. Living under sanctions, Cuba has traded doctors for things they need like oil and for foreign currency. The Cuban doctors in some countries come cheap by doctor standards but the doctors themselves do not see all the money that is charged for their services, the difference is part of what supports Cuba. This is true of the 12,000 Cuban doctors in Brazil.
  3. Cuba tries to help left-leaning governments in Latin America and sometimes elsewhere.
  4. It is interesting for many of the doctors. They get to travel and learn new things. They are proud of their service and their growing expertise.
It is good foreign policy, good domestic policy and effective charity.

The European Union budget
Each country in the EU has its own finances, minister of finance, procedures and budget. But the EU also has finances, minister of finance, procedures and a budget. The EU budget is part of the multiannual financial framework (MFF), the current framework covers the 7 years of 2014 to 2020. One gone, one just voted on and 5 more to go. The framework was agreed by all the 28 governments and the European Parliament before 2014. There has been some hard negotiations on the 2015 budget. National governments have been cutting their own budgets and so are not happy to give the EU all that it wants or even needs. Of course, it is clear that programs of the EU that are cut back will, in many cases, have to be made up for by national spending. All the same the amount for 2015 was scaled back. Another problem was the accounting. Payments from countries towards the budget are based on estimates of GDP for the countries. Some countries did better in 2014 than their estimates and are being asked to pay the difference. An unexpected demand for money is never convenient or welcome, but the countries all did agree to the rules and the question comes down to how slowly they can pay off the debt. There was also a slight overspend in 2014 (labelled overdue bills) that had to be examined and added to the 2015 budget so that there was no deficit.
In any case the problems were settled, the ministers from the 28 agreed, the parliament passed the budget. Everyone is grumbling and relieved.
What is in the EU budget may surprise you – none of the big ticket items from national budgets like defense. Here are the categories:  “For the period 2014-2020, the MFF sets a maximum amount of EUR 960 billion for commitment appropriations and EUR 908 billion for payment appropriations. The MFF 2014-20 is divided into six categories of expense ('headings') corresponding to different areas of EU activities:
1. Smart and Inclusive Growth
a. Competitiveness for growth and jobs: includes research and innovation; education and training; trans-European networks in energy, transport and telecommunications; social policy; development of enterprises etc.
b. Economic, social and territorial cohesion: covers regional policy which aims at helping the least developed EU countries and regions to catch up with the rest, strengthening all regions' competitiveness and developing inter-regional cooperation.
2. Sustainable Growth: Natural Resources: includes the common agricultural policy, common fisheries policy, rural development and environmental measures.
3. Security and citizenship: includes justice and home affairs, border protection, immigration and asylum policy, public health, consumer protection, culture, youth, information and dialogue with citizens.
4. Global Europe: covers all external action ('foreign policy') by the EU such as development assistance or humanitarian aid with the exception of the European Development Fund (EDF) which provides aid for development cooperation with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, as well as overseas countries and territories. As it is not funded from the EU budget but from direct contributions from EU Member States, the EDF does not fall under the MFF.
5. Administration: covers the administrative expenditure of all the European institutions, pensions and European Schools.
6. Compensations: temporary payments designed to ensure that Croatia, who joined the EU in July 2013, does not contribute more to the EU budget than it benefits from it in the first year following its accession.”
The EU has some sophisticated mechanisms for staying within the agreed limits without a lot of fuss – funds and margins for flexibility, contingency, and emergency. Here is a diagram of where the money goes.