A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for November 2014

[LINK] “U.S. income gap a danger to Canada: TD”

The Toronto Star‘s Madhavi Acharya-Tom Yew describes a recent report from TD Economics, The Case for Leaning Against Income Inequality in Canada, suggesting that rising income inequality in the United States poses a threat to Canada. High levels of economic inequality in the United States can easily be catching.

Income inequality has been relatively flat since 2000, but that may also be as a result of the boom in resources and real estate prices. These forces, Alexander believes, have been keeping incomes and wealth for middle-income Canadians buoyant.

“I’m worried that if the real estate and commodity booms don’t persist – and we know that booms don’t last forever – that when that dissipates, we’re going to see middle-income Canadians under more pressure.”

Because our economies are so closely integrated, Canadians companies face increasing pressure from employers in the U.S., where some workers are paid much less, the TD report said.

“When our employers sit down and think about their wage scales for the coming year, they look at their competitors in the United States and they can see the cost of doing business there is much lower. What’s an employer to do? They have to stay in business and it creates really pressure,” Alexander said.

New investment in the automotive sector, for instance, has gone to the southern U.S. and Mexico, where workers earn less than their Canadian counterparts.

At the same time, the persistence of low productivity in Canada’s economy means that incomes aren’t rising as quickly as they could be, the report notes.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 28, 2014 at 4:58 am

[LINK] “Greenlanders Vote as Oil Price Slump Kills Independence Dreams”

Bloomberg’s Peter Levring describes how falling oil prices are undermining the economic rationale for Greenland’s independence.

Less than half a decade ago, Greenlanders were imagining the riches that would follow an oil bonanza as the price of crude approached $150 a barrel. That wealth was supposed to buy the island independence from Denmark.

Today, with oil trading at less than $75, well below levels that would make exploration off the world’s largest island profitable, Greenlanders are casting their votes for a new home-rule government after the previous administration collapsed amid an expenses scandal.

“People in Greenland always ponder how to achieve economic independence from Denmark,” Ulrik Pram Gad, a post doctoral political scientist at the University of Copenhagen, said in an interview. “People are just realizing that things will take longer; nobody knows how to fund the economy without oil and mining.”

The hyperbole around Greenland’s prospects of becoming a commodities exporting nation that would turn its citizens into millionaires has come and gone in cycles. Explorers approached Greenland after the oil crises of the 1970s, only to abandon the island for three decades. In 2010, Cairn Energy Plc (CNE) returned but didn’t make any commercial finds after spending more than $1 billion during two years of drilling.

“It’s safe to say that oil and mineral prices have to rise a lot from the current levels before something happens,” Torben M. Andersen, a professor of economics at the University of Aarhus and head of Greenland’s Economic Council, said in a telephone interview. “Oil exploration could produce a lot of revenue for the Greenlanders, but it’s so far into the future it’ll be dangerous if that promise blocks out other issues.”

Written by Randy McDonald

November 28, 2014 at 4:54 am

[LINK] “Hungary Retreats From Putin as Orban Rediscovers Germany”

Zoltan Simon of Bloomberg notes how the Hungarian government of Viktor Orban is hastily back-pedalling away from pro-Russian rhetoric, at least partly out of a desire to placate Hungary’s major investor Germany and the European Union to which Hungary has belonged for a decade. Illiberalism has its limits.

Hungarian premier Viktor Orban is trying to keep his balance as the geopolitical ground shifts beneath him, and that means taking a step toward Germany and away from Russia.

Orban has made a point of cultivating ties with President Vladimir Putin, criticizing the sanctions imposed on Russia and negotiating a $14 billion loan from the Kremlin. This month the Hungarian leader sent different signals when he voiced support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, called Germany his “compass” on foreign policy and visited NATO troops stationed in Lithuania.

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy and Hungary’s no. 1 investor, is calling for ties with Russia to be “remapped” as the standoff over Ukraine is pressuring countries from Azerbaijan to Moldova to choose sides. While Orban says there’s no need for Hungary to do so, he is creating distance from Putin and celebrating ties with Germany as Chancellor Angela Merkel urges “patience and staying power” to overcome the crisis.

“Orban’s done a 180-degree turn on Ukraine,” Manuel Sarrazin, deputy chairman of the German-Hungarian group in the Berlin parliament, said by phone. “He realized with some prodding by Merkel that he’d seriously underestimated” the conflict and “he profoundly underestimated Merkel and the position Europe was taking behind her.”

That recognition moved Orban to invest time and effort to burnish Hungary’s image as a member of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, while keeping Putin, who as recently as last week called Hungary a “key partner,” at arm’s length.
‘At War’

The conflict in Ukraine, which borders Hungary, shows no sign of abating. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told parliament Nov. 27 the country is “at war,” while the United Nations last week cited a “total breakdown of law and order” in the east and linked Russian fighters to human rights violations there.

[. . .]

Orban’s charm offensive is focused on Germany, the driver of EU policies and Hungary’s most important economic partner. More than a quarter of all foreign direct investment in Hungary last year came from Germany, according to central bank data. Russia, the source of 80 percent of Hungary’s gas consumption, represents less than a 10th of a percent.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 28, 2014 at 4:50 am

[LINK] “Opportunists take advantage of east Ukraine leadership confusion”

Sabra Ayres at Al Jazeera America describes the alarming fragmentation of the Ukrainian east under separatists. Leaving aside the failure to unite the Donetsk and Lugansk republics, power seems to be devolving to individual communities and military commanders inside these republics. This, needless to say, does not bode well for an economically devastated region.

The armed camouflaged men and women immediately stand to attention when Ataman Nikolai Kozitsyn enters the salmon-hued hall of the Soviet-era House of Culture he uses as one of his three offices.

At just over 6 feet 2 inches tall with a protruding belly, Kozitsyn commands a presence, and his Cossack soldiers stare straight ahead as he addresses one of his female troops.

“You’re too skinny,” he boomed. He then turned to the young woman’s husband, who stood by his side with an automatic weapon slung over his shoulder. “Aren’t you feeding her enough?”

Kozitsyn bellowed a laugh, and the dozen or so in the room laughed nervously. Most of them wore the traditional Cossack fighter’s cap, black fur with a red center. Their hats were no match for Kozitsyn’s headwear, which was about three times the height and twice the circumference.

He has been the de facto ruler of this small mining city about 25 miles southwest of the rebel-held city of Luhansk since July. He and his Cossack fighters from Russia’s Don River basin came to the aid of the pro-Russian separatists when the Ukrainian forces fighting the rebels controlling the area began to gain ground.

In a matter of months, he has turned Perevalsk into his fief. He said he has brought stability back to a city that had been ransacked by a corrupt government “calling itself Ukraine” and took credit for getting the city’s main services back up and running, including water, heat and electricity.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 28, 2014 at 4:46 am

[LINK] “Should Putin Fear the Man Who ‘Pulled the Trigger’ in Ukraine?”

The Moscow Times carries Lucian Kim’s Reuters article reporting on Igor Girkin, a Russian volunteer who claims to have played an outsized role in creating the autonomous Russian-backed republics in the Donbas. The author notes that Girkin might, by virtue of his military achievements, be a potential player for power in Russia proper.

The official Kremlin narrative on the war in eastern Ukraine is clear and simple: after seizing power in February, a Western-backed “junta” in Kiev sent neo-Nazi gangs — then tanks and warplanes — to stamp out peaceful protests by the Russian-speaking community. The locals who took up arms are freedom fighters, and the only help they get from Russia is humanitarian aid. For the past six months, Russian state television has carpet-bombed its viewers with this message, day in and day out.

Now one of the leaders of the rebellion in eastern Ukraine has turned the Kremlin storyline on its head. Igor Girkin, a retired Russian special ops officer also known as Igor Strelkov or simply “Strelok” (Shooter,) was the military commander of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic before getting abruptly recalled to Russia. In an interview published last week in the Russian ultranationalist weekly Zavtra, Girkin details how he helped instigate the insurrection and active-duty Russian soldiers later intervened to save the rebels from the jaws of defeat.

Girkin is a loose cannon. He views himself as a warrior in a bigger war against a godless West that has lost its Christian roots and thirsts for Russia’s resources to feed its decadent ways. Girkin prides himself on his service to the greater Russian cause and has no reason to toe the Kremlin line. Hardcore Russian nationalists already consider him a worthy alternative to President Vladimir Putin.

For Girkin, there is no question of who started the conflict; he claims to have started it himself. “I’m the one who pulled the trigger of war. If our squad hadn’t crossed the border, it all would have ended like in Kharkiv or Odessa. There would have been a few dozen killed, burned, and arrested. And that would have ended everything,” Girkin says. “Our squad set the flywheel of war in motion. We reshuffled all the cards on the table.”

When Girkin and his men took over the town of Slovyansk on Apr. 12, cities in eastern and southern Ukraine had been experiencing weeks of protests by demonstrators waving Russian flags and demanding a referendum on autonomy. The protesters called their rallies “anti-Maidan” — an answer to the pro-European demonstration in Kiev that swept then-President Viktor Yanukovych from power. Having just lost Crimea to Russia without a fight, the provisional government in Kiev was confused and unresponsive. Meeting almost no resistance, pro-Russian protesters stormed the regional administration in Donetsk and proclaimed a “People’s Republic.” Less than a week later, Girkin led the takeover of a string of towns north of Donetsk.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 28, 2014 at 4:44 am

[LINK] “Christian village welcomes fleeing Tatar Muslims”

Al Jazeera America’s John Wendle describes the situation facing Crimean Tatar refugees settled in a western Ukrainian village.

Abdurrahman swept a small pile of breadcrumbs into his hand. Then he picked up the blanket that serves as prayer rug, dinner table and playground, shook it out at the window, and laid it again in the dorm room. He straightened the corners, readying it for the evening prayers he would soon perform with his son and two friends with whom he had settled with in western Ukraine after fleeing Crimea in March.

The men, recent converts to a devout practice of Sunni Islam, live with their wives and children in some rooms at a boarding school in the village of Borinya, deep in the Carpathian Mountains, near Ukraine’s border with Poland — and the European Union.

With their bushy beards and wives in headscarves, they stand out in the tiny village, but the mostly Catholic farmers here have accepted the refugees from Russia’s annexation of Crimea, allowing them to settle and start new lives.

[. . .]

Currently, there are nearly 473,000 internally displaced people in Ukraine, up from 275,000 just two months ago, the UNHCR reported on November 21.

Of that number, around 19,400 come from Crimea, which people fled after Russia annexed the peninsula in March. Unlike the new arrivals in Ukraine’s war-torn east that have mostly fled the violence, those in Crimea are escaping repression under the pro-Russian government.

[. . .]

Abdurrahman and his friends and their wives and children left their homes and most of their belongings in their village in Crimea on the last day of March. They found a new place to live with the help of Crimea SOS, an organization started to aid the waves of people displaced by Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian autonomous province — and now aiding those fleeing fighting in the east.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 28, 2014 at 4:40 am

[LINK] “Assad’s secular sectarianism”

At Open Democracy, Mohammad Dibo writes about the secular manipulations of Syria’s governing elite that have placed the Alawites in a position of power.

The Syrian regime did not invent sectarianism in Syria. Sectarian discourses were always part of the national political climate in Syria’s modern history. This can be explained by the fact that since the early formation of the Syrian republic (1920-1946) the country never had a truly nationalist authority, nor did it have specific national policies that aimed to dilute sectarian, religious, ethnic and other sub-national rivalries in favour of an encompassing Syrian nationalism. This inevitably contributed to the creation of a state of latent, or hidden, sectarianism. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that the leftist and secular political elite (1950-70s) did not consider sectarianism a major issue worthy of public discussion. On the contrary, they actively ignored it in the false belief that it would dissipate on its own.

[. . .]

Under Baath rule, discourses and discussions on sectarianism, regardless of their shape or content, were completely banned on national media and in the public sphere. Concurrently, however, positions within the ruling class and the armed forces were divided informally between different sects. For example, the prime minister was chosen, historically, from the Sunni elite, while Alawites enjoyed four different cabinet posts, most important of which is the ministry of information; other groups, like Christians and Druze, also had their assigned cabinets. Within the army, leading positions in brigades and divisions were assigned through an unwritten but well known formula—to Syrians at least: if the leader is Sunni, it means that the deputy must be Alawite, while a third leading position is reserved for other groups like Christians or Druze. The only exception to this formula was in the security forces, where Alawites always enjoyed a comfortable majority both in numbers and in leadership positions.

This unspoken division of roles made sectarianism a presence that was constantly felt, while the prohibition of any discussion of sectarianism was absolute. The accusation of ‘causing sectarian division’ was laid down against all kinds of political opposition groups and was used in the prosecution and imprisonment of large numbers of individuals; thus facilitating the regime’s monopoly over the issue. People had to find different ways to navigate around this deadly elephant in the room.

This control was punctuated further by the intentional policies implemented by the security establishment in Syria to separate people based on sect, religioun and ethnic criteria. This is illustrated by the encouragement given to segregated areas like the city of Baniyas, which is divided into an Alawite section and a Sunni one; or the town of Qutayfah, where the Army officers’ neighborhood (which is mostly Alawite) is separated by a fence from the majority-Sunni town. This geographical separation can be seen in many other areas in Damascus like Jaramana (Christian/Druze), Mazzeh 86 (Alawite), Harasta (Sunni). These areas were not completely homogeneous, but they were established in the Syrian consciousness as such, and thus was established a social state of “sectarian neighbourly” relations according to the thinker Yassin al-Hafez. This “sectarian formation of society” allowed the regime the “exclusive role of managing interactions between the groups and minimised all other independent interactions”, according to the writer, Yassin al-Haj Saleh. Even if, as some might argue, these social relations were already inherent in Syrian society, rather than actively promoted by the regime, the responsibility remains with the ruling class in not implementing any integration policies to counter this trend.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 28, 2014 at 4:37 am

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • blogTO notes that Toronto has placed ninth on a list of the best cities in the world to be a student.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes a report examining the recent Russian naval deployment towards Australia.
  • Far Outliers notes the role of women in North Korea’s informal markets.
  • Language Hat comments on a haunting Hungarian-Polish phrasebook from 1940.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money continues an interesting debate on the American immigration amnesty.
  • Marginal Revolution suggests South Korea’s clean-up of its environment occurring within the past decade is indicative of China’s developments.
  • Justin Petrone notes one example of racial stereotyping of northern Italians versus southern Italians.
  • The Planetary Society Blog shares some recent Hubble images of Mars.
  • Savage Minds shares the reactions of some anthropologists to Ferguson.
  • Spacing considers if Uber is part of the sharing economy.
  • Strange Maps shares cartographic domestic propaganda from the First World War.
  • Torontoist suggests that, with Nijinsky, Toronto is playing an important role as the host of narrative ballet.
  • Transit Toronto reports on the #grumpyrider hashtag.
  • Window on Eurasia reports on Ukrainian military cooperation with Poland and Lithuania and suggests on Ukrainian alienation from Russia.

[PHOTO] Me at Pride, 2011

Me at Pride, 2011

Written by Randy McDonald

November 27, 2014 at 5:13 pm

Posted in Non Blog, Photo, Toronto

Tagged with , , , ,

[URBAN NOTE] “Hazel McCallion honoured at emotional final Mississauga council meeting”

CBC News notes the end of the long tenure of Hazel McCallion as mayor of Mississauga. In a very real sense, she did create Toronto’s western neighbour. What, we all wonder, will come next?

Mississauga’s longest-serving mayor presided Wednesday over her last city council meeting, where she was honoured with emotional tributes from city staff and community leaders.

After 36 years at the helm, 93-year-old Hazel McCallion was given an official tribute by city manager Janice Baker and unofficial tributes from other prominent community members for her service. Mississauga city councillors shared anecdotes of her time at city hall and McCallion herself addressed council.

Some members of council and audience members in attendance were visibly emotional when McCallion formally handed over the chain of office to the city clerk.

After the meeting adjourned, McCallion, famous for the steely resolve that earned her the nickname Hurricane Hazel, choked up as she spoke with reporters and recalled her early years as mayor.

[. . .]

Under McCallion’s leadership, Mississauga’s population more than doubled, making it the sixth-largest city in Canada. Over her tenure as mayor, she was approached numerous times to run provincially and federally. But McCallion said she never seriously considered leaving city politics.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 27, 2014 at 3:48 am