Oct 222014


Dostoyevsky’s understanding of human behaviour is very helpful today.

  •  Demonizing those Canada calls ‘radicalized’
  •  People seen to have mental health problems
  • The incarcerated

From  Penguin Classics,  Fyodor Dostoyevsky,  Notes From Underground and The Double, 2009


NOTES, p. xiv -

… the `dissatisfied` man – one who is denied the possibility of actively employing his abilities and talents in life.

if frustrated or suppressed,  can turn into self-will, arbitrary action, or a feeling that `all is permissible`.

… (15.)   `life is a whole art, that to live means to make an artistic work out of oneself, but that only in accord with the communal interests, in sympathy with the mass of society, with its direct, immediate requirements, and not in drowsiness, not in indifference from which follows the disintegration of the mass, and not in solitude` can the individual find genuine fulfillment.

Introduction:  Vision in Darkness (p. xi - xiii)

…  In the most basic sense the underground behaviour and outlook . . . is the consequence of a radical denial of man’s organic need for self-expression, of his natural drive to be himself and to occupy his own space and place in the world. 

The suppression of the basic drives of human nature, however, signifies not their death, but their disfiguration.

…  ‘happiness lies … in eternal indefatigable activity and in the practical employment of all our proclivities and capacities’, but that ‘if man is dissatisfied, if he has no means to express himself and bring out what is best in him (not out of vanity, but as a result of the most natural human need to know, express, embody his “I” in real life)’, he undergoes some kind of extraordinary breakdown – …

 … the ‘need to affirm oneself, to distinguish oneself, to stand out, is a law of nature for every individual;  it is his right, his essence, the law of his being’.  He went on to note that this need ‘in the crude, unstructured state of society manifests itself in the individual quite crudely and even savagely.’.

…  The underground emerges, finally, as a consequence of a profound moral and spiritual crisis of … educated classes.

(p. xxv – xxvi)

…  As a social type, Golyadkin is a casualty of a system whose values he shares.  Man is his own environment.

(Dostoyevsky was 9 years imprisoned in Siberia – state censorship, hence reference to convicts)

Freedom as a basic psychological and spiritual need, and the tragic consequences of its suppression, is at the centre of his great artistic memoir,  Notes from House of the Dead (1860-62).   ‘What is more important than money for the convict?  … ‘Freedom or at least some dream of freedom.’  ‘Through gambling, spending money on vodka, carousing, risk, seeking forbidden pleasures, smuggling, attempts at escape, or just speaking, acting, dressing in flamboyant or bizarre ways the convict seeks to act ‘according to his own free will’, to experience at least the ‘illusion’ of freedom.  His longing for freedom, his hopes, however, are ‘so utterly without foundation as almost to border on delirium’.  Thus, the narrator remarks that sometimes even the ordinarily peaceable and model convict will suddenly and unaccountably burst out in a frenzy.  Yet this is

the anguished, hysterical manifestation of personality, an instinctive yearning to be oneself, the desire to express one’s humiliated personality;  a desire which suddenly takes shape and reaches the pitch of malice, of madness, of the eclipse of reason, of fits and convulsions.  Thus, perhaps a person buried alive in a coffin and awakening in it, would thrust at the cover and try to throw it off, although, of course, reason might convince him that all his efforts were in vain.  But the whole point here is that it is not a question of reason:  it’s a question of convulsions. . . .

Where the life impulse is suppressed, reason becomes irrational or . . . scrambles into (convulsion).        Such a phenomenon, in one form or another, is paradigmatic for the ‘dead house’ where, … ‘almost every independent manifestation of personality in the convict is considered a crime.

…  The convict’s almost insane defence of his personality echoes Dostoyevsky’s use of madness as a social metaphor … psychology of underground protest, one in which man is extreme cases will go mad in order to insist on his own free will.   Dostoyevsky’s sympathies, to be sure, are with the convicts in their plight.  At the same time, he views their rebellion, their excesses, as a tragic inversion of man’s legitimate quest for self-expression, self-mastery and self-determination.

(p. xxvii – xxx)
… broadly condemns Western individualism and social relations in general, …  He insists that the ‘sign of the highest development of personality, of its supreme power, its absolute self-mastery, and its most complete freedom of its own will’ is to be found in ‘sacrifice of one’s whole self for the benefit of all’.  Society must recognize the rights of the individual, but the ‘demanding rebellious individual ought first of all to sacrifice to society his whole “I”, his whole self’.
Dostoyevsky regards both capitalist and socialist ideology and practice as providing deeply flawed and counterproductive models for social development.  …
… Dostoyevsky gives special attention to the much-hailed Crystal Palace that was the centrepiece of London’s Great Exposition in Hyde Park in 1851, and which both symbolized and embodied for many the victory of Progress and the mastery of technology   … Dostoyevsky’s response to this wonder was profoundly negative. 
… However independent you may be, yet something begins to frighten you.  ‘Now really isn’t all this in very fact the attainment of the ideal?’ – you think.  ‘Isn’t this really the ultimate?  Is this not in fact the “one fold”?  And won`t one have to accept this as truth in its entirety, and then fall mute  …  You feel that here something final has been accomploished, accomplished and finished.   This is some kind of Biblical scene …  You feel that it would take a great deal of spiritual resistance and negation not to succumb, not to surrender to the impression, not to bow to the fact and not to deify this Baal, that is, not to accept the existing for one`s ideal.
… the Underground Man, precisely in a spirit of unremitting resistance and negation, will dismiss it as a sorry ideal, and one flawed not only by its wholly utilitarian and materialist essence, but by its deadly embodiment of stasis and finality.
 Finally, in lines and imagery both uncanny and prophetic, Dostoyevsky counterposes to the triumphalism of London with its worldwide trade, its Crystal Palace, and world fair, a dark and forboding, indeed frightening image of mass underground resistance or rebellion, passive and for a moment undirected, … (Dickens) but `a matter enough for real dread`.  The wild, dissolute behaviour at night of (the) poor and dispossessed … represent to him
a separation from our social formula, a stubborn, unconscious separation, an instinctive separation at any cost for the sake of salvation, a separation from us with disgust and horror.  These millions of people, abandoned, banished from the human feast, shoving and crushing each other in the underground darkness into which they have been thrown by their elder brothers, grope about and knock at any gate, and seek a way out so as not to suffocate in the dark cellar.  Here is a final, despairing effort to form their own group, their own mass, and to break with everything, even with the human image, just so as to be themselves, just so as not to be together with us.
…  The Underground Man emerges, finally, as a man without faith and foundations who has been caught up in a treadmill of consciousness.  `Where are my primary causes on which I can take a stand,  where are my foundations?  Where shall I take them from?
(p. xxxiv)
Finally, the Underground Man equates his own personal drama, his own tragedy – and endless series of psychological actions and experiments to affirm his lost sense of dignity and integrity – with the fate of mankind.
(p. xxxviii)
The movement toward catastrophe is precipitous.  every wilful and proud attempt of the Underground Man to affirm his independence and self-mastery, every act of spite, every effort of his to introduce the irrational into the status quo of his existence only deepens his sense of dependence and humiliation, only locks him ever more firmly into the movement towards catastrophe.  . . . His every desperate and irrational act to affirm his personality and individuality parodies his notion that irrational behaviour preserves what is `what is most precious and important, namely, our personality and our individuality`.
(P. 7)
(to be done)
 Posted by at 1:26 pm
Oct 222014


Scare headlines about young people becoming “radicalized,” going overseas, being transformed into robotic Super Muslims, graduating from Beheading School, and being returned to Canada ready to strike at the heart of our values, freedoms, and traditions have filled the media in the past few months, leading to an upcoming Canadian campaign of bombing Iraq and repressive new legislation to be introduced this week in Parliament.

Given the Fourth Estate’s role as stenographer to power, it is unsurprising that the many articles asking “why” young people are attracted to overseas adventures are all playing into the same “blame Islam” game that results in horrible “jihad” headlines, increased fear, and suspicion of anyone who does not look like the CBC’s Peter Whitemansbridge.

Like similar moral panics that have framed particular groups as the new internal enemy, young people both idealist and alienated now fit the focus of terror suspect, especially if they are Muslim and plan to travel overseas to visit relatives, learn Arabic, or just backpack around. Yet despite all the hyped-up chatter, no one has produced any evidence to show a threat exists to Canada and Canadians from the small number who have joined up in battling the Assad regime in Syria or worked with ISIS. We are told that some 80-130 individuals have gone overseas to be associated with terrorism, but this is always qualified by telling us not everyone is picking up a gun: some are fundraising, some are doing propaganda, some are just helping out with who knows what, from taking out the trash to helping the elderly cross the street. Regardless of what they are doing, Canada’s terrorism laws are so broad that anyone associated in any way with a particular group will be tarred as a national security threat.

CSIS, Canada’s spy agency, says it knows who has gone overseas and is monitoring them upon their return. RCMP head Bob Paulson was pretty clear when he told Parliament earlier this month: “It’s nothing that I think Canadians need to be alarmed about.” Sir Richard Dearlove, former M16 head, said the returning rebel threat was “exaggerated” and former M16 officer Richard Barrett said “the threat of the returning fighter is a small one.” Chief Canadian Forces warlord Tom Lawson told the media that there was “no indication of direct threats” to members of his military.

The disconnect between rhetoric and reality creates a void that gets filled by the “radicalization” experts, many of whom contribute to the demonization of young people who may, with the best of idealistic intentions, feel great sadness at seeing war, mass murder, and utter despair, and want to do something about it. This doesn’t justify the violent actions some may allegedly take part in, nor the rhetoric of fear they may spout while overseas. But Harper and company have done a good job making them out to be the worst possible incarnations of human flesh imaginable.

Halal foods to blame

The solutions to “radicalization” have long been studied and discussed at a variety of gatherings. In 2009, the Canadian War Department’s Adversarial Intent Section held a workshop titled “Radicalization in the National Economic Climate,” trying to determine possible links between the global recession and extremist responses. Invited to the Toronto gathering were Canadian spy agency CSIS, the Mounties, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and assorted academics from the terrorism industry who weighed in on the possibilities, but most attendees found no direct link between extremism and the global recession.

However, the University of Toronto’s Robert Brym, among others, chimed in that immigrant groups are most likely to radicalize and concluded that one solution was stepped-up monitoring of “groups and places that may pose a threat,” including “locations where Halal products are sold.” Notably, most national grocery chains now sell Halal products, and one can purchase hummus (which sounds disturbingly like a group the Canadian government has listed as terrorist, Hamas) pretty much everywhere.

Brym also recommended increased surveillance of “friendship groups formed around retail facilities frequented by Muslims” (though the equation between Muslims and immigrants is often a false one, given the faith has been practiced in this country for a century).

In the same way one or more black youth standing on a street corner is viewed as a riot in the making by many police forces, Muslims going shopping (and those “inspired” by Muslims at the retail level) may now pose the greatest threat to Canadians’ national security since the CSIS theory that Muslim dreams could provoke radicalization.

Historically, the RCMP Security Service (SS) focused on certain cultural and religious attributes as signs of disloyalty, subversion, and traitorous intent: hence, their long-standing surveillance of groups like the Prairies-based, all-female Ukrainian Mandolin Orchestra. The RCMP SS legacy group, CSIS, frequently begin their national security investigations with such wholly irrelevant details as how often someone prays, if they know women who wear hijab, and what their imam thinks of drone strikes that kill children in Pakistan.

So will Loblaws and Metro stores soon be home to CSIS secret shoppers, monitoring who is picking up Sufra Halal chicken nuggets in the frozen section, or tossing The Queen’s Khorasan bread into their recycled grocery bags? (Such bread MAY be suspect since it shares the same name as the non-existent “Khorasan group” that the U.S. created as an excuse to begin its bombing campaign of Syria and Iraq. This correspondent, for one, regularly buys Khorasan and recommends it as a healthy, hearty way to breakfast, despite the possibility it may be viewed, upon heating, as terrorism toast.)

The real ongoing danger

The idiocy of CSIS, the RCMP, and their friends in the press would be laughable if it were not so dangerous: as documented by a number of judicial inquiries and court decisions, their uninformed, lazy, and biased worldview leads to vicious campaigns of racial and religious profiling, community harassment, fear, perpetuation of an informant culture, and complicity in torture, all of which will increase given the current media-hyped scare over “extremist travellers” and “jihadi brides,” among other turns of phrase that continue to demonize and put at risk all adherents of Islam.

A conference looking at the decade that has passed since the launch of the inquiry into Canada’s role in the torture of Maher Arar (taking place in Ottawa October 29) will no doubt lament not only the lack of human rights progress over this period of time, but the uncertain future that lies ahead. Indeed, the federal government’s proposed legislation to provide blanket class privilege to CSIS agents and informers (meaning they would never have to be questioned and cross-examined by lawyers and judges, even in secret hearings) opens the door to legalizing what CSIS has been doing all along: trading information with torturers.

In the same way the Harper government will politely ask the brutal Assad regime for permission to bomb targets in Syria, it is a no-brainer to conclude that CSIS will continue to maintain its similarly cozy relationship with the torturers of Syrian Military Intelligence, in the hopes of producing “actionable intelligence” from some confused Canadian teenager who went overseas with the notion of helping out, fell into the wrong hands, and perhaps got picked up by Syrian authorities. Alternatively, ANY Muslim, particularly of Arabic and/or South Asian heritage, is likely to be suspect if they plan on booking an airline ticket, so whether in the Toronto airport or during a journey to Mecca or dozens of other places in between, the chances of being pulled aside for interrogation or rendered to a place like Syria or Egypt (what is the REAL reason for your travel?) will skyrocket.

And so the same patterns of complicity that led to the torture of Arar, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati, Muayyed Nureddin, and Abousfian Abdelrazik, among others, is sure-fire guaranteed to continue into the future. Those who trade in torture certainly took great comfort from last week’s Supreme Court of Canada decision that shielded Iran from any accountability in the torture-murder of Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi. Iran, the court concluded, should be immune from any court action under the State Immunity Act.

Equally certain is that those picked up by the authorities will have been the targets of a legally sanctioned racial profiling regime that will continue to be standard operating procedure, bolstered in part by last week’s Federal Court of Appeal ruling (authored by the recently declined Supreme Court nominee, Judge Marc Nadon) that supported racial profiling. In that case, a 72-year-old Chinese woman was fined $800 for having in her purse two $5 pork roll snacks on a return flight to Canada. The Canada Agricultural Review Tribunal found that she was the victim of racial profiling, since the border officer said he believed Chinese people were more likely to smuggle food into the country. Nadon supported the officer.

The root problem of radicalization

Meanwhile, the “what do we do with the kids who are becoming radicalized” question thus becomes the focus of academic study, anti-terrorism funding, and media misinformation.

Perhaps we can start by stating that young people going overseas are not necessarily radicalized. Most standard dictionaries define radical as “arising from or going to a root or source” of a problem. Suppose some young people are excited about going to join ISIS or fight Assad because they can pick up guns and live out real-life adventures by blowing away the bad guys. Is that not in fact a sign that they are ideologically obedient to the violent society they come from, one that invests $1.3 trillion annually on different ways of killing one another and uses war games like paintball as a means of building company morale? If their goal is to shoot down some enemy, regardless of the cost, are they not aping the work of the masters and power brokers for whom the taking of human life is “collateral damage,” an inconvenience on the road to their goals? The morality of the groups they seek to join is no different than that of their own countries’ violence-based organizations. Indeed, last week Chief Canadian Forces warlord Tom Lawson conceded that his bombers WILL be killing civilians in Iraq and Syria, just not at an “unreasonable” level. Needless to say, no one asked Lawson what was a “reasonable” level of civilian slaughter.

No, in reflecting the very mainstream ideas of their society, some of these travellers are not radicalized. They have not gotten to the roots of the world’s problems; instead, they are exhibiting the very symptoms of what is acceptable behavior. They are in this sense “conservatized.” Some of them are indoctrinated in the fun of killing through first-person shooter video games like Call of Duty, the combat simulation sensation that is played around the globe and which seems to show up increasingly on the Facebook pages of those joining the likes of ISIS. One threat management company spokesperson told Maclean’s that some recruits are “17-year-old boy[s] whose only experience in this field is from playing Call of Duty on an Xbox.” Indeed, the Ottawa Citizen reported the late Mohamud Mohamed Mohamud of Hamilton was “more concerned with video games than world events. He chatted about Call of Duty, a series of first-person shooter games praised for their realistic and intense combat simulation.”

What this says is these young recruits are not necessarily interested in ideology or spirituality; rather, they may instead be seeking the thrill and adventure of being in a war zone, a real-life version of what Call of Duty offers them on their basement Xbox.

Firing guns is a blast

In that respect, the conservatized travellers are no different than the child soldiers who are recruited in Canadian high school military co-op programs. In St. Catharines, high school kids can join a day-long co-op program that, in the lingo of the age, is pretty cool shit, including the use of exciting YouTube videos aimed at impressionable young minds (Yes, Virginia, ISIS is not the only group ever to target young people with videos). Indeed, child soldiers in St. Catharines will learn to “use weapons such as rifles, grenades and machine guns; Learn to operate with support elements such as logistics, artillery and armored vehicles; Learn to employ field craft and procedures including camouflage and concealment, internal security, patrol, escape and evasion tactics.” In the promo videos encouraging young kids to join up and learn how to use machine guns, we learn from the mouths of babes that it’s “a great career choice for anyone who wants to be part of the action. Obviously, firing the gun is a blast, you know, getting to pull that lanyard and feeling that howitzer underneath you, feel the concussion, getting to see the rounds land…” Another exclaims, “It’s not everybody who gets to go out and have all this fun in the field…. There’s not one of us that would ever give up the opportunity to reload and fire a big triple 7 or an LG1, that’s for sure.”

And in a statement that perhaps sums up that spirit of camaraderie that young overseas ISIS recruits may be missing at home, the young soldier chimes in:

“Honestly, my best experience so far in the army has been my deployment to Afghanistan. Your existence in the military is to train for war, you know, that’s our job, and when you finally get to put everything into play and all your training comes into play there’s no better feeling than being over there with everybody that you’ve worked so hard with.”

Nothing about freedom or ideals, or democracy, or helping oppressed women or any of the other propaganda coming from the mouths of those in Ottawa who send the orders but never see the action: just the sense of being part of a team doing stuff together. The fact that things go boom makes it more exciting.

Preventing radicalization

Unsurprisingly, most media have failed to look deeper into the roots of those who are interested in travelling overseas with what would appear at first blush to be the entirely justifiable response to seeing mass murder, torture, and other atrocities committed by the likes of the Assad regime in Syria as well as NATO forces throughout the region: wanting to do something about it. One young Canadian who was killed in Syria actually told his mother “he was in Syria because women and children were being tortured and he wanted to do something productive.” They also fail to look at the characteristics of young people wanting to join something that will give them a sense of identity, purpose, and community, something often in short supply in their lives at home.

Unfortunately, it is easier to fall back on the old canards used by the security “specialists.” “The signs [of radicalization] could be they’re not going to school, they’re feeling isolated, their understanding of geopolitics is not what we would say is the standard,” says RCMP Sgt. Renu Dash, acting director of the Mounties’ “public engagement team.” What, exactly, is a standard view of geopolitics, other than Harper’s view of the world? In other words, think like we do, or face the consequences.

Ms. Dash says there is no one-size-fits all symptom, and refuses to say what criteria the RCMP actually use, though a British early intervention model called Channel referred young people for intervention if they wore clothes that were deemed too “radical” (and not in the sense of ripped Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd garb; rather, a hijab). It is no a stretch to say the RCMP’s worldview must be adhered to in order to avoid scrutiny as a potential radicalization suspect.

This extension of thought control pervades the world of “cross-cultural” roundtables convened by the likes of CSIS and the Mounties: they are set up as a “dialogue” but the real goal is community control and enforcement of a standard geopolitical view, as Ms. Dash asserts. This was made abundantly clear when the Islamic Social Services Association and the National Council of Canadian Muslims partnered recently with the RCMP on a “United Against Terrorism” handbook. The Mounties pulled away from the final product, calling it unnecessarily “adversarial” because it had the audacity to advise people of their rights if approached by an RCMP or CSIS member.

Is there a threat?

How much of a threat do these young people pose, especially if they return to Canada?

The Washington Post correctly pointed out that “foreign fighters are often given menial jobs far from the front lines… many have been surprised that when they do fight, the battles are with fellow rebel groups,” and not against Assad. M16′s Barrett says the kids get trapped, as ISIS will not let them go and the British government will not allow them back. Indeed, London Mayor Boris Johnson has said suspected fighters should be stripped of citizenship and presumed guilty.

And the idea that a lone Canadian shouting into YouTube that “we are coming to destroy you” made the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) go on high alert a few weeks back is another sign of how little people are actually thinking through what is going on. That kid likely has as little capacity to produce destruction in Canada as the drunken hockey fan’s ability to propel the Maple Leafs into the playoffs when he proclaims, “This year we are taking the Stanley Cup.”

The idea that overseas fighters are brainwashed forever is also given the lie by folks like Hanif Qadir, who runs an “anti-extremist” foundation. As the Washington Post reported:

“Appalled by reports of U.S. airstrikes killing innocent civilians, he travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2002. He went with the intention of performing humanitarian work but said he was also attracted to the Taliban’s rhetoric of struggle against a foreign occupier and was prepared to fight alongside the insurgent group. Instead, he was repelled by what he found. ‘If American soldiers were being hostile toward innocent civilians, so were Al-Qaida and the Taliban…This was hypocrisy.’”

While the CSIS and Mounties have their knickers in a knot about overseas travellers to the Middle East, they are absolutely silent on those who join another organization that commits well-documented war crimes on a regular basis: the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). During the summer of 2014, when Israeli war crimes were perpetrated against the people of Gaza, Canadian Netta Gelb of Richmond Hill was serving with the IDF. Her dad complained to Postmedia, “I just want her to get through this in one piece…There was really not much we could do to stop (her). It’s very difficult to explain it to people — how could she make that decision and go off and do it. At that age, you really can’t tell them anything.”

There are some 30 Canadian young people in the Israeli army from Ontario alone (part of the larger group of some 5,500 “lone soldiers”). During that summer bombardment, the Ottawa Citizen noted Palestinian children were traumatized by what was described by Al-Aqsa University professor Derdah al-Sha’er as “the violent and bloody scenes of war — the destruction of homes in airstrikes, body parts and corpses covered in blood and dust being pulled from the rubble, night bombings while there’s no electricity.” Yet if one were to have gone and fought against the IDF, they would now be a candidate for statelessness, their Canadian citizenship revoked.

Some 30,000 Canadians served in the U.S. military during the war against Vietnam, when U.S. forces committed mass atrocities including beheadings that left heads on sticks at the entrances to many villages. Canadians are now serving with Ukrainian paramilitaries (and associating with neo-Nazis). At the same time, anti-choice protesters cross the border to work with terrorist groups in the U.S. that bomb women’s reproductive health centres. But none of these have been cause for parliamentary hearings and scare headlines.

Life is hard on the young

That many young people are alienated and disconnected is unsurprising given they live in a country where, even by the Canadian Senate’s own reckoning (as documented in their 2008 report, “Children, The Silenced Citizens”), Canada and its institutions fail children when it comes to guaranteeing their most basic rights. It is clear to young people that our society has little use for them: they are exploited, ill-treated, terrorized, given little hope for the future, stressed out, threatened, bullied, blamed for government decisions because they see no point in voting, and then expected to perform well in school and be model citizens. Services for those with mental health issues are stretched to the max and, when utilized, often useless.

We invest in warfare, not child care. When they react with “bad behaviour,” zero tolerance legislation slaps them down and criminalizes them without asking WHY they are acting out. The helicopter-parent generation offers them little independence or association with friends of their own choosing. Hanging out with larger groups is seen as trouble in the making. “No more than three students in the store” signs proliferate throughout the land. Is it any wonder they might be looking for a sense of belonging, a purpose, a place where they feel they will be respected? Perhaps they might get that in drama club, perhaps in a gang, perhaps by taking the ultimate adventure in going overseas and fighting against agents of tyranny. We call them naïve when they do: don’t they know about the ideology of ISIS? Don’t they understand the politics of the region? Perhaps not, but the same question could equally be asked of their parents and the politicians they vote for.

The Harper government’s solution to these “problem kids” is to criminalize them, strip them of their citizenship. Because there is no such thing as a root cause in Harper’s world, there is no sense trying to delve into the issue: they are just evil, evil, evil, and the solution to our problems is more thought control and surveillance.

Indeed, at the conclusion of the 2009 radicalization conference in Toronto, plenary participants gathered up their flip-chart notes and shared fragments of ideas arising from workshops, including “maintain relationship with community while monitoring it,” and “Need Big brother watch (surveillance and intelligence).” Watch what happens in Parliament this week and see if their Big Brother dreams come true.

In the meantime, we need to reframe the radicalization narrative. The very least we can do when it comes to young people who have sadly gone abroad and met their deaths is refuse to demonize them or spit on their graves, and perhaps ask what we as adults are willing to do to help the lost and searching children of this generation.

This column was completed before the unfortunate event in Quebec that took the life of a Canadian soldier. The driver of the hit-and-run vehicle was killed by police — he was holding a knife — and so there will be no trial and no further first-hand information made available from the suspect. While the Prime Minister’s Office was quick to jump on the bandwagon, inflaming the situation by calling this a home-grown terrorist act (perfectly timed to help with the passage of new repressive legislation), the Sûreté du Québec spokesman at the scene said it was too early to tell whether the military was specifically targeted. Nevertheless, it is remarkably similar to the case of Pamela Mimnagh, an Arnprior woman killed October 3 by a truck driven by her husband, who has since been charged. Like many women whose lives are taken by men in Canada — often in calculated, well-planned attacks — it barely makes a headline, much less gets named for what it is: a home-grown terrorist act.

Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. ‘national security’ profiling for many years.

 Posted by at 11:03 am
Oct 222014

NewsWatch Saskatchewan



520527     Missinipi Broadcasting, La Ronge.    October 20, 2014.     12:00 Hrs.





A First Nations energy company is part of a new project that will bring solar energy to Southwest Saskatchewan. The First Nations Power Authority has teamed up with Lockheed Martin in a demonstration project that will provide solar energy to Home Inn and Suites in Swift Current.


The project will provide about 26,000 kilowatt hours of renewable energy per year. It’s the first of its kind in Saskatchewan. Other partners in the solar power demonstration project include File Hills Qu’Appelle Developments, the City of Swift Current and the federal and provincial governments.









 Posted by at 10:38 am
Oct 062014

Note:   My request to Board of Governors to end the relationhip with Lockheed Martin will hopefully be heard at one of the following meetings.   It went to the Board on August 20, in advance of:

  • October 9, 2014 (board meeting)
  • December 16 (board meeting)

= = = = = = = = = = = = =

Board members are listed at   http://www.usask.ca/secretariat/governing-bodies/board-of-governors/profiles/index.php.

Office of the University Secretary

University of Saskatchewan

212 College Building

107 Administration Place

Saskatoon, SK  S7N 5A2

Phone: (306) 966-4632     Fax: (306) 966-4530;     Emailuniversity.secretary@usask.ca

= = = = = = =



From: University Secretary Sent: August-20-14 3:01 PM   To: Sandra Finley; University Secretary Subject: RE: Submission to Board of Governors

Hello Sandra,

Thank you for your correspondence.  We have provided your letter to the Board of Governors, as per your request.


Sheena Rowan

University Secretary’s Office

= = = = = = = = = =



August 19, 2014


Sandra Finley

Qualicum Beach, BC


Board of Governors

University of Saskatchewan


Lee Ahenakew

Gordon Barnhart

David Dubé

Blaine Favel

Linda Ferguson

Max FineDay

Kathryn Ford

Grant Isaac

Grit McCreath

Susan Milburn

Greg Smith


Dear Members of the Board of Governors,


It will be prudent for the University to end its relationship with Lockheed Martin Corporation. I request you to consider the proposal.

Individually, you may not know about Lockheed Martin’s funding role at the University of Saskatchewan.

And you may not know about developments related to Lockheed Martin (details are appended):

  • An end to their contracts at Statistics Canada
  • The 20 minute Youtube documentary on SOFEX (the annual arms bazaar in Jordan, Lockheed Martin is visible)
  • The connection to Project Daniel that is using 3-D printer technology to give arms back to kids whose arms have been blown off
  • The strength and determination of the informed international movement to change the path we’re on

The world is rapidly evolving to a place different from the one I grew up in.  There are many good and great initiatives underway.  People from every country talk to each other, and help each other.   Shane Smith (the SOFEX documentary), Mick Ebeling (prosthetic arms from 3D printers) are two among thousands of examples.

Regarding the strength of the movement, citizens of all nations are empowered by the arts – - think of the impact of ONE BOOK and movie, alone – -  Lord of the Rings.  Frodo is every one of us.  We encounter allies amongst many peoples.  Together we exercise moral authority. The empowerment has been on-going for decades; you will know the newer versions of the Frodo story in our theatres.

There are many benefits for the U of S Board of Governors if they adjust University policies in alignment with the changes in the world.   You can project that “collaboration” with Lockheed Martin will have a detrimental effect on the University’s reputation at some point.

The propaganda of “communications consultants” is not a match for the proliferation of respected documentaries.   The role of Universities in the maintenance of an unacceptable status quo has been high-lighted by films like Inside Job, narrated by Matt Damon.

he asks tough questions and elicits squirms from several participants, notably former Treasury secretary David McCormick and Columbia dean Glenn Hubbard, . . .

Their reactions are understandable, since the borders between Wall Street, Washington, and the Ivy League dissolved years ago;

Large numbers of citizens understand that same relationship in different sectors of the economy, besides the financial.   The University of Sask is one example in the military-industrial-governmental-university complex.

The words of former General and President of the U.S., Dwight Eisenhower, are marshalled forth, you probably know them: President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell speech Plus Words of Wisdom from Eisenhower. 

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry . . .

There is sufficient awareness that a holding-to-account of universities will happen. Indeed, it is in the process of happening.

I will be appreciative if you will advise me of the outcome of your deliberations – - will the relationship between the University of Saskatchewan and Lockheed Martin Corporation enhance the reputation of the U of S?   Is it defensible?  If so, on what grounds?

To assist, some of the arguments that need to be refuted if the relationship continues, are contained in the appended.

Thank-you for your consideration.


Best wishes,

Sandra Finley

U of S Senator, Elected



The following  bit of elaboration makes the point of large mobilizations of people and money around moral authority.



Conscientious objection by Canadians to Lockheed Martin’s role at Statistics Canada has been sufficient to cause StatsCan to eliminate Lockheed’s role altogether by 2016.  (Source:  Transcript of the testimony by Yves Beland, Director of Census Operations, under oath.  at the October 2013 trial of Audrey Tobias,  they’re (Lockheed Martin) out of the picture totally.)


  1. The Business of War: SOFEX – YouTube  

Doing good in the world is profitable.  I think that Shane Smith became famous through his work to expose vice in the world.  Vice is now on HBO as a documentary TV-series hosted by Bill Maher, I am told. From the internet: Vice began as a magazine founded by Smith in Montreal in 1994, now a global company operating in 30 countries.  Today in his forties,Smith is worth an estimated $400 million, according to Forbes.

Smith hosted the 20 minute documentary on SOFEX.  Lockheed Martin comes in near the end of it.

Number of views, SOFEX:  

a million-and-a-quarter of the YouTube alone

42,000 more since July 22nd when I first noted the number.  I heard about the videoby word-of-mouth, not through advertising.

Number of views:

1,248,100 as at July 22

1,262,100 views 10 days later (Aug 1 AM)

1,268,197 views by August 5th

1,279,745 by August 12th

1, 290,765 as of Aug 19

(INSERT:   1,375,347 as at Oct 05)


I tweeted Smith to thank him, the video contributes to understanding the dynamics at play with the international manufacturers of munitions.

When making a decision about Lockheed Martin, I think the Board of Governors would want to know what is informing the public debate.


  1. NOT IMPOSSIBLE LABS  http://www.notimpossiblelabs.com/

Project Daniel: 

Just before Thanksgiving 2013, Mick Ebeling returned home from Sudan’s Nuba Mountains where he set up what is probably the world’s first 3D-printing prosthetic lab and training facility. More tothe point of the journey is that Mick managed to give hope and independence back to a kid who, at age 14, had both his arms blown off and considered his life not worth living.  

By the time the team returned to their homes in the U.S., the local trainees had successfully printed and fitted another two arms, proving the project will have lasting benefit beyond the team’s presence. 

That Project Daniel successfully unfolded in a region where a cease-fire had expired (and where

fighting has now escalated), and that the people taught to utilize the 3D printers were barely familiar with computers, let alone the idea of 3D printers, is a milestone achievement that bears the potential for global impact. “We’re hopeful that other children and adults in other regions of Africa, as well as other continents around the globe, will utilize the power of this new technology for similar beginnings,” said Not Impossible founder Mick Ebeling. “We believe Daniel’s story will ignite a global campaign. The sharing of the prostheses’ specifications, which Not Impossible will provide free and open-source, will enable any person in need, anywhere on the planet, to use technology for its best purpose: restoring humanity.”


- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

Or,  Listen in on  Not Impossible  founder Mick Ebeling’s conversation on CBC radio’s program “Q” right here:


- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

Aug 1st Spoke with and emailed Not Impossible.  Theresa   info >@> notimpossiblelabs.com     310 667 9223    Venice, CA  to establish connection: 

There you are helping the kids whose arms have been blown off.

Here we are, working to stop Government money from going to Lockheed Martin Corporation, makers of cluster munitions that blow off kids’ limbs.


  1. There is hefty  mobilization around Gaza.  “if this isn’t an argument for the world to act in stopping this madness, I don’t know what is” – The children of Gaza – video (3.5 minutes):   http://www.channel4.com/news/the-children-of-gaza-jon-snow-video.    The broadcaster also mentions the foreign aid role. 

(I notified Jon Snow that his video is being used in this communication.

Sent: August-05-14 12:12 PM To: ‘news >@> channel4.com’ Subject: Jon Snow re Children of Gaza) 


  1. International Conventions, Cluster Munitions, Land Mines




  1. Re  THE ARGUMENT THAT “LOCKHEED MARTIN USA IS NOT THE SAME AS LOCKHEED MARTIN CANADA”, i.e.,  the subsidiary is independent of the parent:

In the Lockheed Martin – Census trials, the Justice Dept routinely claimed that Lockheed Martin Canada is a different company from Lockheed Martin USA. (Hence, the crimes committed by Lockheed Martin cannot be used at trial.)

In the last of the trials (Stegenga), the Prosecution did not pursue this line of argument after presentation to the Court of a screen capture of Lockheed Martin’s USA webpage that says:

Our Census Business Practice successes include . . . Canada’s 2011 and 2006 Census.

In the case of the University, the next item speaks.


  1. Lockheed Martin’s Collaboration Topics (CT’s), as presented to U of S in April 2012 are posted at Lockheed Martin Visit to Your Institution.    Excerpts:

to turn the sensed environment into information about the target (e.g., target recognition, speed, intent, etc. via Ladar, Radar, EO, and acoustic methods) 

Hardware, software, and architectures to enable uninhabited intelligent deployments of ground, sea, air or space capabilities (These are UAVs, unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones for military use)


Architectures for detectors and associated hardware and software for personnel identification in a broad range of applications (e.g., authentication, surveillance, tracking)

to include methods to facilitate timely response (e.g., explosive vapor, biological agents)


At two meetings of Senate, Ernie Barber (then Acting Dean of Engineering) defended Lockheed Martin’s role at the University as one of “renewable technologies”.   Yes – Lockheed Martin is heavily dependent upon fossil fuels; supply lines are often targeted during invasions, renewable technologies are attractive – -  you have to spin Lockheed’s role someway.

I encourage Board Members to read the CT’s as presented by Lockheed Martin itself.   How you get to  “renewable technologies” is hard to fathom.


  1. RE the argument,   The University needs the funding from Lockheed Martin.

From your perspective of Citizens Who Pay Taxes:

There are offset agreements in the contracts Lockheed Martin has with the Government, that require them to spend a percentage of the value of the contracts in Canada.   The U of S receives Lockheed Martin money as a consequence.

However,  Lockheed has a history of over-charging on Government contracts.   If the Government money simply went directly to the University, omitting Lockheed Martin as the middle-man, you would get more money AND with no strings attached.    The argument does not stand up to scrutiny.


Robert Kennedy:

“Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change.”

” A revolution is coming — a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough; compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough — But a revolution which is coming whether we will it or not. We can affect its character; we cannot alter its inevitability.”

WHY the (R)Evolution?

2010-07-16 CHRONOLOGY: the involvement of the American military in the Canadian census set in the larger CONTEXT of American military intrusion into Canadian affairs. (Sandra Finley)


How much influence does Lockheed Martin have in the world? What kind of influence is it?   Those might be good questions to ask.

The original census contracts were awarded to Lockheed Martin at about the same time as the Bush Administration was dropping bombs on Iraq in an illegal war of aggression (2003). Which of course was hugely profitable for Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed was in a position to influence, and did influence the decision that led to the destruction of Iraqi schools, hospitals, museums, water infrastructure – – everything. It is a war that is on-going eight years later with death beyond imagination, and I don’t know how many permanently injured, see the current tally at http://www.antiwar.com/casualties/.

Millions of other Iraqis are either refugees or they are homeless:

“Refugees International has observed extreme vulnerabilities among the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees living in Syria, Jordan, and other parts of the region, as well as the millions of internally displaced persons within Iraq. Most refugees have not been granted legal status and thus live in limbo, often without access to basic services and work opportunities. Many persons displaced within the country have no access to assistance, basic levels of protection, or any hope of return to their original homes.” http://www.refugeesinternational.org/where-we-work/middle-east/iraq

It has cost the American public more than 733 billion dollars to wage the Iraq War (not counting Afghanistan) http://costofwar.com/, money they have needed for their own country. They sink further into debt. The international community is asked to step in to provide humanitarian aid to Iraq after the American military-industrial-congressional complex (#1 player, Lockheed Martin) has dropped the bombs; the devastation inflicted by the war is total.

The hatred and the terrorists that have been created by that illegal war are incalculable. Lockheed Martin’s profits and its share price go up.

. . .   What if those bombs had been dropped on us, from the unmanned aerial vehicles (drones, airplanes) that are Lockheed Martin’s more recent gift to humanity, following after land mines and cluster munitions which are both illegal under Canadian and International Law? Lockheed’s unmanned drone programme is now moving to Saskatoon; we sink deeper into the writhings of hell.

There are a number of issues regarding Lockheed Martin’s involvement in the Canadian census: large legal, rational and moral issues, and as a significant step of the American military into Canada. The chronology below provides the context which makes the growing military intrusion apparent.

You will see serial acts of treason by Canadian officials.

The chronology shows some of

• the military developments in Canada

• the growing “normalization” of military police presence in Canada

• Lockheed Martin’s role

• mixed in with the resistance in Canada.

I make the point in the chronology that with offset agreements in Lockheed Martin contracts, the Government is transitioning to an economy that makes money on war.   Many years ago I read that 45% of the American economy is dependent upon the waging of war.

The Canada First Defence Strategy enacted in June 2008 is very clearly about transforming the Canadian economy into a war economy. Is that what we want? Because that’s what you get with Lockheed Martin.

What is the motivation behind the transformation of Canada into a puppet-state of U.S. corporate interests? We have circulated a lot of information on the situation in the U.S.. They are running out of resources (e.g. water, oil and electricity) and so they appropriate what does not belong to them.

It is like the German Nazis: their war machine ran them out of iron ore, hence the “Quisling” Government in Norway that allowed them a short run from the iron mines in northern Sweden across a narrow corridor that is Norway, to the sea for ocean transport down the Norwegian coast to German weapons factories.

The American Government dropped bombs on Iraq to secure oil. It’s a little hard for them to do that to Canada. The alternative and often-used weapon in the arsenal of the military-industrial-congressional complex in the U.S. is to set up puppet governments (petro-states), take what you want, destroy the local environment, poison the people and leave when you’re finished.

We are the creators of our own misfortunes, or not.   We need to get word to people now so they can start explaining to their friends the need to boycott the May 2011 Census, as another step in the resistance that will force Lockheed Martin Corporation, the war mongers, out of Canada.

UPDATE:   October 2013 trial of Audrey Tobias,  they’re (Lockheed Martin) out of the picture totally  at Statistics Canada, as of the 2016 Census.


 Posted by at 10:00 am
Sep 282014

The new President of Croplife Canada (lobbyist for chem-biotech companies) did not like what Larry Powell said.

Larry replied to Ted Menzies.   http://www.planetinperil.ca/2014/09/blogger-responds-to-accusations-from.html 

I added a Comment:

1.  Revolving door?  Ted Menzies was an MP until he resigned in Nov 2013.  CropLife is nothing more than a lobby machine for the chem-biotech corporations.  I wonder in what ways Menzies’ work as an MP prepared him to get the job as President of CropLife?

2.  Where did Lorne Hepworth go when Menzies took over as president? (Hepworth was one of Grant Devine’s cabinet ministers before going to CropLife.) …

Answer:  Hepworth is on the Board of Directors of the “Global Institute for Food Security” at the University of Saskatchewan.  Not only has the biotech/chemical industry run the College of Agriculture for three decades, this thinly-disguised agricultural “Institute” has been set up,  with Hepworth on the Board.

In the case of another new entity at the U of S, the CCNI (Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation), for example, it is claimed that the laws regarding access to information that apply to the University (transparency in public institutions) do not apply.

Hepworth is in an unconscionable conflict-of-interest that taints the reputation of the University.  (And if you know of CropLife’s tactics under Hepworth, integrity is an issue.  I recall when Toronto was working on a pesticide bylaw.  Hepworth set up the “in name only” Toronto Environmental Coalition to send out press releases about the benign nature of the chemicals. (The bona fide organization is the Toronto Environmental Alliance.)  The Chief Medical Officer for Toronto was angry, to say the least, when Hepworth’s under-handed ways became public knowledge.

 Posted by at 9:18 am
Sep 242014

Video of MP Calandra, House of Commons:


There is no reason to put up with this behaviour.

Small steps are important.  They empower all of us  … and then the tide turns.  So…

I expressed my displeasure directly to Calandra by forwarding an email thread:


From: Sandra Finley     Sent: September-24-14

To: ‘paul.calandra@parl.gc.ca’   (or 613 992 3640  or Fax: 613 992 3642)

Subject: FW: unreal exchange

How do we as citizens satirize this behaviour to the point that it becomes unacceptable?

MP Calandra needs to become a laughing stock of the nation.


I guess another alternative is to provide feedback to him – - in case he can’t figure out things for himself.

I appended contact information from his web page.  He represents Oak Ridges – Markham.


Even before she was elected Elizabeth May tackled the problem of conduct of parliamentarians.

She can’t bring about change by herself.

Citizens are the bosses.  Calandra can get away with this, only if “the bosses” allow him to do it.

- – - – - – –  – -

Subject: RE: unreal exchange

It’s bad enough that Calandra believes this is acceptable (and he appears to be right given the Speaker’s non-role).

But worse:  his fellow members of caucus don’t have the balls to refuse to applaud.

- – - – - – - -

Subject: unreal exchange

It really is unreal ! Paul Calandra, Conservative MP, should be taken out back. Despicable behaviour.


= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =


Political Affiliation:  Conservative Caucus

Constituency:  Oak Ridges—Markham Map – Elections Canada

Province / Territory:Ontario

Email:  paul.calandra   AT   parl.gc.ca

Web Site:  www.paulcalandra.com

Hill Office  House of Commons  Ottawa, Ontario Canada K1A 0A6   Telephone: 613-992-3640  Fax: 613-992-3642

Mail may be sent postage-free to any Member of Parliament.

Constituency Office(s)

  • 6060 Main Street Stouffville, Ontario  L4A 1B8   Telephone: 905-640-1125  Fax: 905-640-1184

© House of Commons


 Posted by at 10:28 am
Sep 232014

From: Sandra Finley

Sent: September-23-14

To: Gordon Barnhart, President of the University of Saskatchewan;  Vianne Timmons, President of the University of Regina

Cc: ‘Elizabeth Williamson, Secretary, U of S

Subject: A note re investments


Dear Gordon Barnhart and Vianne Timmins,


I sent the following information to investment people.   I would be remiss if I didn’t send it also to the Universities, at least in Saskatchewan.  JUST IN CASE you did not catch it through other channels.


Best wishes,

Sandra Finley

Elected Senator

U of S

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

From: Sandra Finley

Sent: September-23-14

Subject: A note re investments


Hi Tom and Marlis,

Just in case you have not seen it – I am sending these developments to you  because of significance for investments.

The full story includes a group of students who started “Divest/Invest” four years ago.   They made it difficult for the Ivy League Universities to hold onto fossil fuel investments in their endowment portfolios.  Down to the situation today:  Rockefeller heirs  have joined in a pledge to divest more than $56 billion of fossil fuel investments to reinvest in clean energy on the eve of a major climate change summit in New York.

There’s an excellent interview on the developments, by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now.   Click on   http://www.nationofchange.org/heirs-billionaire-oil-tycoon-john-d-rockefeller-join-growing-fossil-fuel-divestment-movement-1411401

(The ABC News Report is at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-09-23/rockefeller-family-to-sell-oil-investments-to-reinvest-in-renew/5761966)


This all comes at the same time as the 310,000 protesters in the streets of New York (Sept 21).  Joined by thousands more in various cities around the world.

The protests continued into yesterday, with people in NY arrested last night.   The Guardian newspaper report:

Dozens arrested as police face off with Flood Wall Street protesters  http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/22/flood-wall-street-protest-arrest-police-climate-change-new-york

 Anyhow, thought you might like to know.



 Posted by at 1:48 pm
Sep 222014

Neil writes:

If you’ve never read Gail Tverberg, she’s usually a good read and one smart cookie!

Her recent blog looks interesting:



(Sandra speaking:   I recommend you go to  Gail’s blog.   The “comments” are also worthwhile.  As usual,  a back-up copy appears below, “just in case”.)


- - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -


Low Oil Prices: Sign of a Debt Bubble Collapse, Leading to the End of Oil Supply?

Oil and other commodity prices have recently been dropping. Is this good news, or bad?


I would argue that falling commodity prices are bad news. It likely means that the debt bubble which has been holding up the world economy for a very long–since World War II, at least–is failing to expand sufficiently. If the debt bubble collapses, we will be in huge difficulty.

Many people have the impression that falling oil prices mean that the cost of production is falling, and thus that the feared “peak oil” is far in the distance. This is not the correct interpretation, especially when many types of commodities are decreasing in price at the same time. When prices are set in a world market, the big issue is affordability. Even if food, oil and coal are close to necessities, consumers can’t pay more than they can afford.

A person can tell from Figure 1 that since the first part of 2011, the prices of Brent oil, Australian coal, and food have been trending downward. This drop in prices continues into September. For example, as I write this, Brent oil price is $97.70, while the average price for the latest month shown (August) is $105.27. It is this steeper, recent drop, which many are concerned about.

We are dealing with several confusing issues. Let me try to explain some of them.

Issue #1: Over the short term, commodity prices don’t reflect the cost of extraction; they reflect what buyers can afford.

Oil prices are set on a worldwide basis. The cost of extraction varies around the world. So it is clear that oil prices will not match the cost of extraction, or the cost of extraction plus a reasonable profit, for any particular producer.

If oil prices drop, there is a temptation to believe that this is because the cost of production has dropped. Over a long enough period, a drop in the cost of production might be expected to lead to lower oil prices. But we know that many oil producers are finding current oil prices too low. For example, the Wall Street Journal recently reported, “Royal Dutch Shell CEO: Can’t deny returns are too low. Ben van Beurden prepared to shrink company in order to boost returns, profitability.” I wrote about this issue in my post, Beginning of the End? Oil Companies Cut Back on Spending.

In the short term, low prices are likely to signal that less of the commodity can be sold on the world market. Commodities such as oil and food are very desirable products. Why would less be needed? The issue, unfortunately, is affordability. Affordability depends largely on (1) wages and (2) debt. Wages tend to be fairly stable. The likely culprit, if affordability is leading to lower demand for desirable products like oil and food, is less growth in debt.

Issue #2: Economic growth tends to produce a debt bubble. 

Many economists believe that technological innovation is the key to economic growth. In my view, economies need a combination of the following to have economic growth of the type experienced in the last 100 years:1

(Increase in debt) + (cheap-to-extract fossil fuels) + (cheap-to-use non-fossil fuel resources) +  (technological innovation)

In such a case, debt keeps increasing as an economy grows. Unfortunately, this economic growth is only temporary, because resources tend to become more expensive to use over time, making the “cheap” resources required for economic growth disappear.

The problem underlying the rising cost of resources (both for fossil fuels and others) is that we tend to use the cheapest-to-extract resources first. Technological innovation continues to occur, but as diminishing returns hit both fossil fuels and other resources, there are larger and larger demands on technology to keep costs in line with what workers can afford. Eventually, the cost of resources (net of technological improvements) rises too much, and economic growth is cut off. By this time, a huge mountain of debt has been built up.

Let me explain further how this happens. Without fossil fuels, the world is pretty much stuck with the goods that can be made with wood, or from other basic resources such as animal skins, cotton, flax, or clay. A small quantity of metal and glass goods can be made, but deforestation quickly becomes a problem if an attempt is made to “scale up” the quantity of goods that require heat in their production.2

Once inexpensive coal became available, its availability opened the door to technological innovation, because it provided heat in quantity that had not been available previously. While ideas such as the steam engine had been around for a long time, the availability of inexpensive coal made the production of metals needed for the steam engine, plus train tracks and railroad cars, available at reasonable cost.

With the ability to make steel and concrete in quantity (both requiring heat) came the ability to make hydroelectric dams and electrical transmission lines, thus enabling electricity for public consumption. Oil, as a liquid fuel, paved the way for widespread use of additional innovations, such as private passenger automobiles, mechanized farm equipment, and airplanes. Between coal and oil, many workers could leave farming and begin jobs in other sectors of the economy.

The transformation that took place was huge: from wooden tools and human or animal labor to a modern industrial society. How could such a big change take place? Before the change, the ability to generate a profit that might be used for future capital investment was very limited. Also, the would-be purchasers of products made in an industrial economy were very poor. I would argue that the only way of bridging this gap was debt. See my earlier posts, Why Malthus Got His Forecast Wrong and The United States’ 65-Year Debt Bubble.

The use of debt has several advantages:

  1. It allows the consumer to buy the end product made with the new resources, assuming the end product isn’t too expensive relative to the consumer’s earnings.
  2. It gives resource-extracting businesses the money they need to buy equipment and to hire workers, prior to the time they have earned profits from resource extraction.
  3. It gives the companies the ability to build factories, before they have accumulated profits to pay for the factories.
  4. It allows governments to fund needed infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, before having the tax revenue available to pay for such infrastructure.
  5. Most importantly, the “demand” generated by (1), (2), (3) and (4) raises the price of resources sufficiently that it makes it profitable for companies in the business to extract those resources. 

Because of these issues, debt and cheap fossil fuels have a symbiotic relationship.

(1) The combination of debt, inexpensive fossil fuels, and inexpensive resources of other kinds allows the production of affordable goods that raise the standard of living of those using them. The result is what we think of as “economic growth.”

(2) The economic growth provides the additional income needed to pay back the debt with interest. The way this happens is indirectly, through what is sometimes described as “greater productivity of workers.” This greater productivity is really human productivity enhanced with devices made possible by fossil fuels, such as sewing machines, electric milking machines, and computers that allow workers to become more productive. Indirectly, the higher productivity of workers benefits both businesses and governments, through higher sales of goods to consumers and through higher taxes. In this way, businesses and governments can also repay debt with interest.

Higher-priced resources are a problem. Higher-priced resources of any kind tend to “gum up the works” of this payback cycle. Higher-priced oil in particular is a problem. In the United States, when oil prices rise above about $40 or $50 barrel, growth in wages stops.


With higher oil prices, the rise in the standard of living stops for most workers, and good-paying jobs become difficult to find. There are a couple of reasons we would expect wages to stagnate with higher oil prices:

(1) Competition with cheaper energy sources. When oil prices rose, countries using a very high percentage of oil in their energy mix (such as the PIIGS in Europe, Japan, and United States) became less competitive in the world economy. They tended to fall behind China and India, countries that use much more coal (which is cheaper) in their energy mix.


(2) Need to keep the price of goods flat. Businesses need to keep the total price of their products close to “flat” despite rising oil prices, if they are to continue to sell as much of their product after the oil price increase as previously. Oil is one major cost of production; wages are another. An obvious way to offset rising oil prices is to reduce wages. This can be done in several ways: outsourcing work to a lower cost country, greater automation, or caps on wages. Any of these approaches will tend to produce the flattening in wages observed in Figure 2.

Based on Figure 2, an oil price above $40 or $50 per barrel seems to put a cap on wages, and indirectly leads to much less economic growth. Even if we didn’t hit this oil price limit–for example, if we had discovered a liquid fuel that could be produced in quantity for less than $40 barrel–we would eventually hit some kind of growth limit. For example, the limit might be climate change or too much population for food production capability. Even too much debt can be a limit, if citizens’ incomes don’t rise in a corresponding manner. At some point, it becomes impossible even to make interest payments if the debt level is too high. Indirectly, citizens wages even support business and government debt, because business revenues and tax revenues depend indirectly on wages.

Issue #3: Repaying debt is very difficult in a flat or declining economy.

Once growth stops (or slows down too much), the debt bubble tends to crash, because it is much more difficult to repay debt with interest in a shrinking economy than in a growing one.


The government can hide this issue for a very long time by rolling over old debt with new debt and by reducing interest rates to practically zero. At some point, however, the system seems certain to fail.

Not all debt is equivalent. Debt that simply blows bubbles in stock market prices has little impact on commodity prices. In order to keep commodity prices high enough for producers to want to continue to produce them, the debt really has to get back into the hands of the potential buyers of the commodities.

Also, any changes that tend to reduce world trade push the world economy toward contraction, and make it harder to repay debt with interest. Thus, sanctions against Russia, and Russia’s sanctions against the US and Europe, tend to push the world toward debt collapse more quickly.

Issue #4: Rising oil and other commodity prices are a problem, especially for countries that are importers of those commodities.

Most of us are already aware of this issue. If oil prices rise, or if food prices rise, our salaries do not rise by a corresponding amount. We end up cutting back on discretionary purchases. This cutback in discretionary purchases leads to layoffs in these sectors. We end up with the scenario we had in the 2007-2009 recession: falling home prices (since higher-priced homes are discretionary purchases), failing banks, and many without jobs. See my article Oil Supply Limits and the Continuing Financial Crisis.


The reason that low oil and other commodity prices are welcomed by many people now is because the opposite–high oil and other commodity prices–are so terrible.

Issue #5: Falling oil and other commodity prices are a problem, if the cost of production is not dropping correspondingly. 

If commodity prices drop for any reason–even if it is because a debt bubble is popping–it is going to affect how much companies are willing to produce. There is going to be a tendency to cut back in new production. If prices drop too far, it is even possible that some companies will leave the market altogether.

Even if it doesn’t look like a country “needs” the current high oil price, there may still be a problem. Oil exporters depend on the high taxes that they are able to obtain when oil prices are high. If they cannot collect these taxes, they may need to cut back on programs such as food subsidies and new desalination plants. Without these programs, civil disorder may lead to cutbacks in oil production.

Issue #6: The growth in oil sales to China and to other emerging markets has been fueled by debt growth. This debt growth now seems to be stalling.

Growth in oil consumption has mostly been outside of the United States, the European Union, and Japan, in the recent past. China and other emerging market countries kept demand for oil high.


Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reports, China’s terrifying debt ratios poised to breeze past US levels. He shows the following chart of China’s growth in debt from all sources, including shadow banking:


This rise in debt now seems to be slowing, based on a Wall Street Journal report. A person wonders whether this stalling debt growth is affecting world oil and other commodity prices.


Other emerging markets also seem to be experiencing cutbacks. Since 2008, the United States, Europe, and Japan have had very easy money policies. Some of the money available at low interest rates was invested in emerging markets. Now the WSJ reports, Fed Dims Emerging Markets’ Allure. According to the article investors, investors are taking a more cautious stance on new investment because of fear of rising US interest rates.

Of course, other issues affect debt and world commodity demand as well. If interest rates rise, they many have a tendency to shrink new lending, in general, because loans become less affordable. Sanctions of one country against another, such as the US against Russia, and vice versa, also tend to reduce demand.

Issue #7: Debt bubbles have been a problem in past collapses.

According to Jesse Colombo, the Depression was to a significant result the result of debt bubbles that built up during the roaring twenties. Another, longer-term cause would seem to be the loss of farm jobs that occurred when coal allowed tasks that were previously done by farm workers to be done by either electricity or by horses pulling metal plows. The combination of a debt bubble and loss of jobs seems to have parallels to our current situation.

Many believe the subprime housing bubble crash contributed to the Great Recession. The oil price spike of 2007 and 2008 played a major role as well.

Issue #8: If we are facing the collapse of a debt bubble, it is quite possible that prices of many commodities will fall. This could possibly lead to a collapse in the supply of many types of energy products, more or less simultaneously.  

Figure 8, shown below, is a very rough estimate of the kind of decline in energy use we could be facing if a debt collapse leads to very low prices of many types of fuels simultaneously. Prices of many commodities crashed in 2008, and it was only with massive intervention that prices were propped up to 2011 levels. After the beginning of 2011, prices began sinking again, as shown in Figure 1.


Clearly governments will try to prevent another sharp crash in commodity prices. The question is whether they will be successful in propping up commodity prices, and for how long they will be successful. In a finite world, fossil fuel energy production eventually must decline, but we don’t know over precisely what timeframe.

Issue #9: My steep decline contrasts with the “best case” forecast of future oil consumption given by M. King Hubbert. 

M. King Hubbert wrote about a scenario where another type of fuel completely takes over, before oil and other fossil fuels are phased out. He even discusses the possibility of making liquid fuels using very cheap nuclear energy. The way he represents the situation is the following:


In such a scenario, it is possible that oil supply will begin to decline when approximately 50% of resources are exhausted, and the down slope of the curve will follow a symmetric “Hubbert curve.” This situation seems to represent a best possible case; it doesn’t seem to represent the case we are facing today. If a debt collapse occurs, much of the remaining fuel is likely to stay in the ground.

Issue #10: Our economy is a networked system. Increasing debt is what keeps the economy inflated. If wages fail to keep pace with debt growth, the system seems likely to eventually crash.

In previous posts, I have represented the economy as a self-organized networked system, consisting of businesses, consumers, governments (with laws, regulations, and taxes), financial system, and international trade.



One reason the economy is represented as hollow is because the economy loses its capability to make goods that are no longer needed–such as buggy whips and rotary dial phones. Another reason why it might be represented as hollow is because debt is used to “puff it up” to its current size. Once the amount of debt starts shrinking, it makes it very difficult for the economy to maintain its stability.

Many “peak oilers” believe that if we have a problem with the financial system, all we have to do is start over with a new one–perhaps without debt. Everything I can see says that debt is an essential part of the current system. We could not extract fossil fuels in any significant quantity, without an ever-rising quantity of debt. The problem we are encountering now is that once resource costs get too high, the debt-based system no longer works. A new debt-based financial system likely won’t work any better than the old one.

If we try to build a new system without fossil fuels, we will be really starting over, because even today’s “renewables” are part of the fossil fuel system.3 We will have to go back to things that can be made directly from wood and other natural products without large amounts of heat, to have truly renewable resources.


[1] This is really a simplification of the real issues. As world population grows, it is necessary to obtain an increasing amount of food from the same arable land. Thus, it is necessary to find new processes to increase food production, at the same time that soil is quite possibly degrading. Soil is in a sense a “resource other than fossil fuels,” but I have not mentioned this issue specifically.

Growing pollution problems are in some sense an indirect cost of extracting fossil fuels and other resources. These represent another growing cost that I have not specifically identified. Furthermore, there are indirect expenses that do not fit neatly into any category, such as required desalination plants to handle growing populations in areas where water is scarce. We may need to consider mitigation expenses of all types as part of the “cost of resource extraction.”

My point is that it becomes increasingly difficult to offset these many cost increases with technological innovations. Furthermore, if no changes are made, a larger and larger share of both the workforce and resources are required for maintaining the status quo, leaving fewer workers and a smaller quantity of resources to “grow” the economy.

[2] Wind and water are additional sources of energy, but they are sources of mechanical energy, not heat energy, so are not helpful unless they can be converted first to electricity, and then to heat. In quantity, they never were very large in pre-fossil fuel days.


[3] Of course, any existing “renewable” will continue to work until it needs repairs that are unavailable. Other parts of the system (such as electric transmission lines, batteries, inverters, and attached devices such as pumps) may fail more quickly than the renewables themselves.




 Posted by at 11:25 am