Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Best of the season

Best of the season to all, and a Happy New Year!


Friday, December 21, 2007

Disaster capitalism in New Orleans

I've been listening to Democracy Now this week, and have stumbled across the current issue of public housing in New Orleans. Or rather, the demolition of public housing in New Orleans. Here is an exerpt from the interview Amy Goodman did with community activist Kali Bruno, which, as Naomi Klein confirms, is an example of her "disaster capitalism" theory in action:

Now, in terms of myself being there, my interest is basically trying to—you know, for lack of a better term, Amy—stop this neoliberal destruction that we see taking place in New Orleans and the complete privatization of all of the different services within the city, housing being, I think, the most critical of them, public housing being kind of the cornerstone of that. But there’s an affordable housing crisis in New Orleans, of which the public housing is just one particular element of it. It’s the most critical element, because public housing will stabilize rents in New Orleans. And folks should know their rents have gone up three times since the storm, and it’s basically pricing, you know, working people and African people, on the whole, out of the city. But this is just one particular piece of this whole program.

Public hospitals are also being shut down and set to be demolished and destroyed in New Orleans. And they’ve systematically dismantled the public education system and beginning demolition on many of the schools in New Orleans—that’s on the agenda right now—and trying to totally—excuse me, totally turn that system over to a charter and a voucher system, to privatize and just kind of really go forward with a major experiment, which was initially laid out by the Heritage Foundation and other neoconservative think tanks shortly after the storm. So this is just really the fulfillment of this program.

And I think—you know, I always want to call people’s attention back to the statements that Baker made shortly after the storm, that we finally cleaned up public housing; you know, we couldn’t do it, but God did. This is just really the fulfillment of that program.

Here also is a link of original source documents on New Orleans that Klein's team has put up on her site.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Climate change agreement in Bali

The climate change action plan reached in Bali leaves a lot to be desired, but at least its a start, and pushed countries like Canada and the US to do much more than they had planned on. Furthermore, it commits countries to a process that will require further meetings. Given right-wing governments in Canada and the US that are currently resistant to seriously addressing the problem of climate change, I think that's a good thing. Hopefully, the Bush and Harper governments will be dispatched before too long.

Here's a press release from the Davide Suzuki Foundation on the Bali action plan.

December 15 Bali, Indonesia -- Nations agreed today on a "Bali roadmap" to launch negotiations for a post-2012 global climate agreement that will be guided by scientific analysis of the emission cuts needed to avoid dangerous climate change.

Key developing countries signalled a willingness to take on new commitments at the two-week-long UN climate conference. However, Canada worked with the United States for most of the meeting to oppose crucial elements of the Bali roadmap. As a result, parts of the deal are too vague to assure a successful outcome of the next round of UN negotiations, due to be completed in 2009.

"The world moved forward in Bali today, but we had the opportunity to do much more," said Steven Guilbeault, Equiterre. "The good news is that the Bali deal recognizes that rich nations need to cut their greenhouse gas pollution by 25 to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, and nations will negotiate the next phase of Kyoto on that basis."

Canada initially opposed this emissions reduction range in the final negotiating session, but agreed not to block the consensus position when it found itself virtually isolated.

"Canada worked against the key elements of this deal for most of the two weeks in Bali, and was singled out by other countries and high-ranking UN officials for its obstructive behaviour," said Dale Marshall, David Suzuki Foundation. "In the end, the government responded to public pressure and allowed this deal to go through."

The first phase of the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012, and today's deal launches a two-year negotiation process for the post-2012 "Kyoto phase 2." In addition to setting a range of emission reduction targets for industrialized countries, the Bali roadmap contains commitments to negotiate actions to control emissions in developing countries; financial agreements for adaptation and the transfer of climate-friendly technology; and an agreement to tackle the problem of deforestation in developing countries.

"Now is when the real work begins," said Matthew Bramley, Pembina Institute. "The government’s current targets and policies fall far short of the standard set in Bali. Nothing less than a massive scale-up of federal efforts on climate change is required for Canada to play a responsible part in the next two years of negotiations."

"Canada came to Bali demanding unfair commitments from developing countries, and was roundly criticized for it," said Emilie Moorhouse, Sierra Club of Canada. "In the end, the only bridge that Canada built in Bali was one that led to the U.S."

"The agreement to develop approaches to reduce deforestation and forest degradation is a key outcome of this meeting," said Chris Henschel, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. "Protecting carbon stored in forests and other ecosystems is an important complement to deep cuts in fossil fuel emissions."

Apparently, according to David Sassoon's blog, a remarkable scene took place at the meeting when the US initially resisted the agreement:
And then it was the turn of the United States. Assistant Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, with only the absolute bare minimum of diplomatic language, stated flatly that the United States rejected the changes. It was not prepared to accept the G-77 text.

Then occurred one of the most remarkable sounds that has perhaps ever been heard in the annals of international diplomacy--like a collective global groan--descending then to a murmer, then increasing in volume to a full-throated expression of rage and anger and booing and jeering, lasting for a full minute, so that finally the Minister had to call the meeting back to order.

Japan, predictably, followed the United States with a statement that was completely opaque, from which we could conclude only that Japan supported the G-77 text while also supporting the "major economies" convening process begun by President Bush as a supposed counterbalance to the Kyoto Protocol. (The Americans, with almost unspeakable rudeness, issued invitations to the next 'major economies meeting' on the first day of the Bali COP. Sort of like making a big show of announcing your engagement while at someone else's wedding.)

Then the backlash began.

South Africa's representative, with great eloquence, noted that the U.S. statement was 'most unwelcome' and 'without basis.' He hammered on the science and winded up by wondering how, if the administration had accepted the science, it could possibly want to block progress. Echoing Bangladesh's earlier statement, he noted that the Developing Countries were making commitments (in one of those two contentious paragraphs), and yet the U.S. was not.

Referring to redrafts from earlier in the week, Brazil noted that the EU and China and the G77 had gone along with most of the amendments offered by the U.S.--they had not blocked progress.

The small island states noted their survival imperative.

Pakistan's ambassador stated that "the text before us would not have come about without the flexibility shown by the G-77+China."

Uganda lamented that U.S. views were taken into account in this redraft, and yet the U.S. was blocking.

Tanzania stated the situation flatly: "the United States has the power, and that is the power to wreck the progress made thus far."

Casting all diplomatic niceties to the winds, the representative from Papua New Guinea stood up and said: "if you're not willing to lead, please get out of the way."

(This was a superb slap at a disgusting comment made by Council on Environmental Quality chief James Connaughton at a press conference a day earlier, when he had implied that the United States was leading, and other countries needed to "fall in line.")

A pause. A lull. Witoelar on the dais, puffy-eyed, anxious. de Boer, returned to the stage, head in hands, peering between his fingers.

Dobriansky signals she wishes to speak, and Witoelar calls on the United States.

"We are heartened by the strong commitments made by the major developing countries here at Bali," says the UnderSecretary. "We appreciate the contributions of Japan, the EU, and Canada in emphasizing the need to half emissions by 2050." She went on to argue that the United States had made three commitments at Bali.

And then: "The United States will join the consensus" regarding the proposed compromise text.

A surge of emotion through the hall, and then a collective sigh of relief. No standing ovation, no cheering--but a sustained, respectful applause.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Vancouver's wilful ignorance on social housing

Via Matthew Good, this post from Pivot Legal Society lawyer David Eby.

The City of Vancouver staff are advancing a report that suggests sufficient social housing is under construction in the City to consider demolition and conversion of the last remaining Single Room Occupancy hotels in Vancouver.

Single Room Occupancy hotels and lodging houses are the last privately owned housing in the Vancouver affordable to people on welfare, and are currently somewhat protected by City bylaws.

One would think that with homelessness increasing at a rate that city staff disagree on, but is anywhere from between 800 to 1,000 more homeless than we had just 2 years ago, the City would be scrambling to preserve the housing we have, as well as build more housing.


The administrative report, coming before council on December 12, 2007, reads as follows:

The SRA By-law has been effective in limiting conversions and demolitions, and the stock of housing in the downtown that is affordable to low income singles has been holding steady at approximately 14,000 units.

I have to take a break here to expose this first whopper. The City ignores the fact that SROs have steadily been converting to higher income renters like international students and low wage workers, and people on welfare are ending up on the street. The City also conveniently ignores the fact that we know of hundreds of rooms that have closed or are closing in the next few months, including the Carl Rooms, The Picadilly, the Dominion, the Phoenix Apartments, 336 Carrall Street, and Marie Gomez Place.

That willful blindness sets up the following, which should rapidly accelerate already out of control real estate speculation on these low-cost rental buildings in Vancouver's poorest neighbourhood:

The proposed partnership should result in social housing completions exceeding SRO losses, and, when the replacement housing is completed, the controlled conversion or demolition of SROs should be considered. Staff are to report back on the status of the SRA By-law in 2008 and in that report will consider the issues related to the controlled conversion or demolition of SROs including timing, relocation of tenants, etc.

There isn't even funding in place to build the 1,200 units that the Province supposedly is going to build, and already City staff are writing reports on how to demolish the last remaining privately held low-cost rental housing in Vancouver. If you think we've got a lot of homelessness right now, you haven't seen anything yet.

Read the entire article here.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day. It is sad that we need such a day. Sad that the disease continues to wreck havoc on human lives, especially in Africa, and sad that we can do so much about it that are seemingly unwilling to follow up on.

Please read this World AIDS Day message from Stephen Lewis:

We've made some incremental progress on treatment for AIDS in Africa. Intense prevention efforts have led to reductions in prevalence rates in a handful of countries. Glimmers of hope have begun to fracture the gloom. But the one area that has withstood every intervention is the vulnerability of women. Gender inequality, poisoned further by sexual violence, is still taking an horrendous toll. And when the women are disproportionately infected, dying in such large numbers, it's the orphan children who become the haunting legacy of the pandemic.On this

World AIDS Day, when the theme is "leadership," let us demonstrate leadership where the women of Africa are concerned. Make no mistake: the women are the backbone of the continent, with a sophistication, decency, courage and resilience that are staggering. They deserve our collective support with every will at our command. Please give generously if you possibly can.