Monday, August 31, 2009

Afghanistan: Best Corrupt Election C$18 Billion Can Buy

Perhaps not many people remember the estimate from earlier this year that Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan will eventually cost a whopping $18 billion. That’s about $1,500 per household.
To put it in perspective, depending on estimates – whether it’s fully funded, full-time or part-time, etc. – a national daycare plan would cost between $5 billion and $17 billion. However, unlike military spending, much of which happens outside of the country, a daycare program would reap a multiplier effect – by providing domestic employment to childcare providers, by allowing more women to enter the labour force, etc. According to Childcare Canada: “The benefits from such a program would have provided about $2 in new benefits for every $1 in new government expenditure (costs would be shared in some way between the federal and provincial governments).”
But, it’s not about childcare vs warfare, say the Tories – it’s about keeping us and our children safe, stopping the growth of terrorism, etc. However, this begs the question: what is more likely to create recruits for terrorism: strategies which make people feel enraged, abused and oppressed – or actions that make them feel empowered, respected and free? Assuming that we’re not the only rational people on the planet, I’d say it is clearly the latter that will reduce the potential for terrorism.
Does Afghanistan meet that criteria?
By their own estimates, Afghanistan is a very corrupt place. The election that was supposed to confer legitimacy not only on the ostensible government of Afghanistan (ostensible because it doesn’t really have any power outside of Kabul). It was also supposed to confer credibility on the whole operation. It was a total flop, with growing reports of widespread and systematic ballot stuffing, intimidation, bribery – just the kind of thing you would expect in a Florida election under Jeb Bush.
Of course, it’s no surprise that incumbent presidential candidate Hamid Karzai’s methods tend towards the criminally dubious end of the spectrum. Look at who he’s surrounded himself with:
“In his bid for re-election, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has surrounded himself with checkered figures who could bring him votes: warlords suspected of war crimes, corruption and trafficking in the country’s lucrative poppy crop. But none is as influential as Marshal Fahim, his running mate, whose trajectory in and out of power, and American favor, says much about the struggle the United States has had in dealing with corruption in Afghanistan.”
But Karzai’s advisors and supporters, propped up through a system of bribery and racketeering, extend beyond warlords from the Northern Alliance. It includes his half-brother, who has been a lightning rod of criticism in recent years because of his alleged involvement in the heroin trade and also in fixing the present election.
And it hasn’t only been the Americans who have come to realize that the edifice that they have created, and which they are defending with blood and treasure is a corrupt, murderous one. Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan, it was revealed last year, pushed Hamid Karzai to dump the governor of Kandahar, where Canadian troops are stationed, because he was so corrupt.
Canadians need to ask themselves, as the corrupt regime of our making exposes itself and the occupation unravels – as even US and UK generals admit – is this fiasco really worth the cost of a national day care plan? Is it really worth the loss of lives in Afghanistan – to both Canadian troops and Afghan civilians? As the present recession ravages our jobs and economy, could we really not find a better way to spend $18 billion – more than half of what the Tories have pledged for stimulus measures? Surely, if we wanted to buy an election, we could have bought one for much cheaper. Apparently Jeb Bush only paid $4 million. That’s a much better price to end up with a corrupt president!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Clinton Speech A Bust - Paid For By Tax Dollars

Clinton showed up to speak at a half-empty stadium in Toronto on Saturday. He was saved the embarrassment of facing 20 guys sweating in blue suits by the CNE dropping the price from $50 to $5. Clinton, who dropped more bombs on third world countries than G.W. Bush, told the sweaty, beer-drinking crowd that the world's poorer countries "the developing world still needs our help organizing functioning systems to alleviate poverty." I'm sure those bombs on Iraq helped them get their act together. And the Battle of Mogadishu, portrayed in Blackhawk Down, played a great role in creating the stable and prosperous Somalia we see today.
I can't help but think that almost anything would have been a better expenditure of the $3 million that the CNE received for this from Ottawa's stimulus fund (I'm sure there's some countries in the developing world that could have organized some "functioning systems", for instance). My guess is that the CNE lost a bundle on this boondoggle of warmed-over platitudes, when you take into account the money spent on massively promoting the event and paying Clinton his gold-plated fee to speak to a half-empty stadium: "Officials aren't saying how much Mr. Clinton will earn for the appearance, though his fee is typically around $175,000." No wonder he flew up here so quick from Ted Kennedy's funeral. I'm sure the speaking fee helped him work through his grief.

The Money Behind Opponents of US Healthcare

This is a very sharp news video about the connections between opponents of US healthcare reform and the "health" industry, including insurance, hospitals, seniors' homes, etc. It's pretty devastating to both big mouth Republicans but also the bought-off weasels known as Blue Dog Democrats. Since the late Sen. Edward Kennedy was perhaps most famous politically for his championing of healthcare reform, this seemed a fitting tribute post.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ever Wonder Why You’re Better Than Everyone Else?

“The only thing that sustains one through life is the consciousness of the immense inferiority of everybody else, and this is a feeling that I have always cultivated.”
- Oscar Wilde

My wife and I have a little joke we tell each other regularly. When we catch ourselves complaining about other people – whether specific people or people in general (the blind, stupid masses). One or both of us will finish the kvetch with the statement “because we’re better than everybody else.” Asking around, it turns out that this feeling is one that most people have. Don’t bother to deny it, you know it’s true. If we don’t support it explicitly (at least whispered to our nearest and dearest our in our inner monologues) then we support the idea implicitly, through your support of all sorts of repressive institutions.
Why do we support funding for the police? Surely we don’t think WE need to be policed. WE’RE not law-breakers, murderers and the like. It’s those other people out there. Why do we think that we don’t need a union in our workplace? Well, because unions destroy productivity and innovation. How is it that unions do this? Well, they prevent our boss from promoting people with real talent and instead, with unions, the people who get promoted or who keep their job do so on the basis of seniority. And we know that this just means lazy people. Not us, of course – WE’RE not lazy. It’s those other people who ruin it for everyone else.
As Sartre noted “Hell is other people.” I’m alright, Jack. What’s your problem? And that feeling must be widespread because according to a 2006 study, Americans have fewer close friends and confidantes now than they did twenty years ago. Surely the same thing likely applies to Canadians who are culturally very close to Americans, at least in English Canada.
“Researchers also found that the number of people who said they had no one with whom to discuss such matters more than doubled, to nearly 25 percent. The survey found that both family and non-family confidants dropped, with the loss greatest in non-family connections.”
A significant part in this growing isolation is the fact that we are working more hours now than we were 20 years ago. But this creates a reinforcing effect where our sense of distance from our fellow humans grows the less contact we have with them. And the more we feel disconnected from our fellow humans, the less contact we are likely to have with them. Of course, those with lower incomes and education levels are affected the most.
This dynamic is, of course, encouraged by our mass media, which specifically, regularly, and repeatedly undermines social empathy. We are treated to Cops, America’s Most Wanted, Crime Stoppers, and other “true crime” shows and segments that encourage us to fear our neighbours and, even better, to rat them out whenever possible. We have talk show hosts encouraging us to mock our neighbours’ troubles and worship celebrities. Radio has brought us “shock jocks” who are, let’s face it, just plain assholes and who make us laugh by being pricks to other people – because those people are never us. Reality shows teach us to envy, despise, laugh at, fear the people who are humiliating and abusing each other for the right to be the top banana and win the million dollars, or million dollar husband (who maybe turns out to be a murderer).
That these things exist and that we generate a significant sense of ourselves in opposition to the rest of the human race as a result of such cultural productions is horrifying. But these are all symptoms of a deeper social disease with which we are all infected.
To some, our sense of superiority over the rest of the species is proof that humanity is doomed with some original sin that cannot be overcome – greed, lust, covetousness. But this is to beg the question and to start with symptoms, while ascribing to them prime causes.
Marx makes note of this in his discussion of political economy in the 1844 Manuscripts. He has a lot of insightful things to say that still ring true. For Marx, he starts not from this or that value but from the fact of our basic material needs and how we satisfy them. He starts from nature and humans (who are a part of nature). What makes us human is that we act upon nature, transform it, mold it to meet our needs – food, clothing, housing, etc. He calls this conscious act of labour, to tranform the world to meet our needs, that thing which makes us human; it is our species-being.
But, Marx goes on, if that is what makes us human, what does it mean that we live in a world where we don’t control our labour, where we don’t produce freely according to our needs but instead according to the plan and desires of our employer.
“…he, therefore, does not confirm himself in his work, but denies himself, feels miserable and not happy, does not develop free mental and physical energy, but mortifies his flesh and ruins his mind. Hence, the worker feels himself only when he is not working; when he is working, he does not feel himself. He is at home when he is not working, and not at home when he is working. His labour is, therefore, not voluntary but forced, it is forced labour. It is, therefore, not the satisfaction of a need but a mere means to satisfy needs outside itself. Its alien character is clearly demonstrated by the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, it is shunned like the plague…”
He then continues with this very pithy and, frankly, visionary description of the roots of consumerism:
“The result is that man (the worker) feels that he is acting freely only in his animal functions – eating, drinking, and procreating, or at most in his dwelling and adornment – while in his human functions, he is nothing more than animal.
“It is true that eating, drinking, and procreating, etc., are also genuine human functions. However, when abstracted from other aspects of human activity, and turned into final and exclusive ends, they are animal.”
But, back to the point of this whole discussion, which was why we feel superior to our neighbours. According to Marx, if we are alienated from that thing which makes us human, then we are alienated from ourselves, our nature. If we are alienated from our selves then we are also alienated from our fellow humans, for the same reason.
Capitalism creates a situation where all confront all as alien, hostile beings. And this, of course, isn’t simply some abstract mental state, it has a real concrete manifestation through generalized competition. We fight over jobs. We fight to retain control of as many of our scarce financial resources as possible. The carpenter who we hire to fix our house faces us as a man who wants to get the most out of us that he can. We, on the other hand, want to pay the lowest possible price; we want to get the most out of him. And this general dynamic applies whether it is craftsman/businessman vs client or customer vs massive corporation. And, of course, it is so when, as workers, we confront our boss. The same dynamic prevails.
This historically specific – not natural – state of conflict and competition for (artificially) scarce resources becomes generalized throughout society as a state of perpetual antagonism. We feel like someone is always trying to rip us off (and they quite likely are, that’s the nature of scarcity). It causes us to feel not only defensive but also morally superior.
This is one of the key reasons why, for Marx, superceding capitalism is not something that can be announced or dictated from above. Workers, to overthrow capitalism or win a strike even, have to band together. They have to fuse their interest and recognize a common aim. In doing so they begin to overcome that dynamic that puts us at odds with one another. We must fight racism, sexism and homophobia, which increase competition between workers and leave all in a weaker, material, political and moral state. This growing class unity increasingly divides society into those camps that represent the fundamental division – humanity from their species-being, from control of their creative labour. The fact, as the study above demonstrated, that we have less friends now than 20 years ago, and probably feel less connected to our fellow humans, is a measure of how successful neo-liberalism has been in North America in ratcheting up competition between workers. We are working harder for less.
Knowing all this won’t in itself stop us from feeling superior. It’s a material-social problem that can only be solved with a material-social solution. But knowing it will provide us with one more reason to feel superior to all the ignoramuses who are laughing at their fellow workers being humiliated on TV talk shows.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Stephen Harper: Hypocrisy On Senate Appointments

This is fun. One more reason to say "what an asshole" every time you see him on TV.

Clinton Needs Smaller Venue Thus Restoring My Hope That Humans Are Intelligent Beings

Who the hell would pay $50 to see Bill Clinton speak? This is the man who ended "welfare as we know it" in the USA by drastically cutting social assistance and won election with racist attacks on black "welfare queens". He interrupted his first campaign run to return to his state of Arkansas, in order to execute a black man who was seriously mentally impaired - in order to not seem soft on crime. He backed up his "hard" stance during his time as president by expanding the number of crimes punishable by death - including serious drug offences. I have a lot of respect for African-American author Toni Morrison but I have to say that her description of Bill Clinton in 1998 as "The first Black president" was about the dumbest thing I ever heard.
Clinton was also responsible for killing 800 Somalis in the Battle of Mogadishu, he ordered the bombing of a medicine factory in the Sudan, bombed Iraq relentlessly (and illegally) while enforcing child-killing sanctions, and, of course, he bombed Afghanistan - all of which played an important role in creating the anger that found an expression in 9/11.
That's why it warms my heart that the CNE had to scale back its plans to have Clinton speak in a 25,000 seat stadium and to drop the prices of the tickets for the smaller, 10,000 seat venue. Now, don't get me wrong, I think humanity still has some way to go if there's 10,000 fools in Toronto willing to shell out even $25 to see this racist, imperialist, ruling-class blowhard. But it's a start.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Big Bucks At Big Banks

Whew, that's a relief. The figures are in and Canada's big banks are making big bucks again. The Royal Bank saw its profits surge a whopping 24 percent to $1.6 billion. The saw its profits go up by almost 7 percent. National Bank also had a profit boost of 6 percent. TD-Canada Trust had a whopping 48 percent profit explosion compared to its previous quarter.
I'm sure everyone feels warm and fuzzy that the banks - the ones who caused the present crisis by creating dubious and opaque "derivatives", "asset-backed debt obligations", sub-prime mortgages, "credit default swaps" et al - will feel warm and fuzzy that they are the first to recover from the crisis that's wiping out jobs, and personal disposable incomes.
It does show, however, that when the government puts its mind to it, in this case by buying up $125 billion worth of bank held mortgages to inject liquidity into the system, it actually has an impact on that sector. It does raise questions, the first being why are we rewarding the sector responsible for the crisis? But more importantly, why is the government pumping money into a sector that will not directly stimulate job creation or retooling the economy?
The banks sat on the newfound liquidity and only now are increasing loan activity, but had the government invested that money directly in infrastructure it would have created, perhaps, 1,375,000 jobs, since it's reckoned that every $1 billion invested in infrastructure creates about 11,000 jobs. Instead, we're getting a commitment to $12 billion over two years - if municipalities, many of which are totally strapped - meet any federal investment. In other words of total money invested in the economy, if we include the entire $30 billion "stimulus package" from the January budget, 19% went to what I will call direct investment (infrastructure, tax breaks to individuals, housing, etc), the remaining 81% went to the banks. This doesn't include the $10.5 billion bailout to GM and Chrysler, which will go towards paying off old debts, rather than new production capacity. I will only note that Time Magazine listed it as one of the "worst business deals of 2008":
"The Canadian rescue package works out to more than $340,420 for every employee at Chrysler Canada, which has 9,400 hourly and salaried workers on payroll. That's 15% more than the $295,000 per employee that Washington is shelling out to save about 40,000 Chrysler jobs in the U.S. "This money will never be paid back to the Canadian government," says Toronto auto analyst Dennis DesRosiers, with DesRosiers Automotive Consultants. 'The deal has been spun in a positive way, but if taxpayers understood what's really going on, they would revolt.'"
But back to banks and the rest of us. The money that has gone to restore the banks' profitability comes from government coffers. Those coffers are filled via tax revenue. The government receives 46.6% of its revenue from personal income tax, while only 16.8% comes from corporate income tax. Another 12.3% comes from GST (which business don't pay) and 6.8% comes from EI premiums.
In other words the government gets 66% of its revenues straight out of our pockets. Yet the money it has shelled out has been directed by priority in almost exactly the opposite proportions. The Tory government "recession strategy" has been nothing more than another transfer from our pocketbook to the pocketbooks of corporations and the wealthy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Fight For Reproductive Choice In Kentucky

I've just made Google Reader my homepage and discovered subscribing to RSS readers. Wow! I guess I shouldn't admit this since I'm probably about the last person to figure out how to use RSS readers.
Anyway, one of the stories I came across was an inspiring and alarming tale about the struggle to maintain the last vestiges of women's reproductive rights in Kentucky. A group of women have organized a "clinic defense" in Louisville, Kentucky every Saturday morning at one of only two clinics that provide abortion services in the state. The anti-choice (pictured left) show up to harass and intimidate women who try to access the services. Clinic defense, amongst other things, involves escorting women through the gauntlet of nutjobs praying, yelling and slandering women just trying to access health services that should be their fundamental right.
It's a sad state that things have reached this point. At the end of the 1970s there were 17 abortion providers in Kentucky. Such has been the rollback in women's services - and the story of Kentucky is really the story of the United States in general.
"Nationally, only 13 percent of counties offer abortion services; in Kentucky, only two of 120 counties have abortion clinics--Louisville Metro (Jefferson) and Lexington Metro (Lafayette). The clinic in Lexington only operates on a part-time basis. Just one clinic remains open in Louisville. According to Guttmacher Institute, 77 percent of Kentucky's women live in those other 118 counties. Six other metropolitan areas have no abortion provider."
It will be an uphill battle to restore women's reproductive rights in the United States but women and men have fought this battle before - more than once - and, I have faith, they will win these rights and services again. I remember my grandmother telling me once that she almost died during WWII from a self-induced abortion because there were no legal abortion services in Canada. My grandfather was overseas, fighting for freedom, leaving her to look after the two children they already had. She was told that having another child would put her life in danger. She was a brave and determined woman who did what was necessary to provide for her children - including being a lead hand working on heavy machinery at the Dominion Bridge Company, making shells to help in the "fight for freedom". Sadly that "freedom" didn't include her reproductive health.

Tiny Township Beats Toxic Dumpsite

Funny, just the other day I was talking with my wife's uncle about this planned dumpsite, Site 41, up in Simcoe County that would have sat on one of the purest aquifers on the planet. I'd also recently been doing some reading on the Oglala Aquifer - an underground sea in the American mid-west that saved the dustbowl and allowed the introduction of irrigation farming. Industrial and agricultural use of that Aquifer is draining it in some areas, polluting it in others. Out west, in Alberta, the development of the tar sands is rapidly depleting and polluting aquifers as millions of litres of water are sucked up and used, in the form of steam to separate oil and sand. As the world's supply of fresh water declines and corporate interests try to sell us stuff that was once free for the taking, water has become a key battleground between the fundamental right of humans to the basic necessities vs corporate privilege to make a profit of every single thing on the planet.
That's why it's important and exciting that a coalition of environmentalists, farmers, indigenous people and locals have defeated Site 41 at a council vote yesterday. In a small way, this victory is an important, momentum-building signpost as, in a much larger way, were the battles over the privatization of water in Bolivia. That it happened in a place called Tiny and yet is reverberating across the country is nicely symbolic. This truly is a mouse that roared. As Maude Barlow noted in the Globe & Mail article:

“Because this was such an intense fight being watched all over the country, I think you're going to see the same debate start happening everywhere. The shift is going to be from councillors searching for the least contentious place to put a dump to saying how can we have no more dump sites? How can we protect the water?”

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Breaking Records For A Crappy Day

Some records to help you sleep tonight:

* Just over two-thirds of the way through the year and, with today's death of four US soldiers, the number of foreign soldiers killed in Afghanistan has broken the record.
* Breaking the record for craven bureaucratic nastiness, the CIA report detailed the intricate and specific rules that Washington expected CIA agents to follow when torturing suspects. They ought to receive the Kafka Award.
* I'll let this quote about America's debt speak for itself: "The government’s total debt would roughly triple by 2019 to $17.5 trillion under the new estimate, almost $2 trillion more than the White House estimated in May. Measured as a share of the nation’s economic output, public debt would hit 76.5 percent of gross domestic product by 2019 — by far the highest percentage in the past half-century — from about 56 percent this fiscal year. This year will be the first time the number has exceeded 50 percent since World War II. The previous estimate was about 67 percent."
* Our Liberal and Tory parties are breaking the record for being totally indistinguishable, while still existing as two separate parties. Both support the war in Afghanistan. Both support neo-liberalism. Both have leaders with bad hair. Both are filled with whack-jobs, seat-warmers, and outright criminals. Both have the same level of popular support (OK, this isn't a real record but I felt like I needed to meet my Canadian content quota).
* According to Nouriel "Dr. Doom" Roubini, the infamous economist who predicted the crisis while all those investment bankers (now deceased - the banks that is, not the bankers) were slugging back the bubbly, is saying it ain't over yet. "In summary, the recovery is likely to be anaemic and below trend in advanced economies and there is a big risk of a double-dip recession." What's the record here: a record recession. Worst since the 1930s.

Sweet dreams!

Layton's Meeting With Harper: Prepare For Something Stupid

I have to admit that I like Jack Layton personally. And Olivia Chow, fellow NDP MP and his life partner has done some wonderful and important work on behalf of the anti-war movement in general and the War Resisters Support Campaign in particular.
But the NDP's parliamentary jockeying and nonsense about "making Parliament work" makes me nervous. Particularly when I read this:
"Rick Boychuk, Mr. Layton's communication's director, said his boss was to meet with Stephen Harper to talk about the NDP's “legislative agenda” with the goal of making Parliament work."
I'm holding my breath in preparation that he'll agree some hare-brained deal with the Tory scum that lets them stay in power through the fall, while extracting some pitiful crumbs in return.

Israel's Borders Closed To All Palestinians

In a certain sense you could argue that Israel is practicing a form of equal rights. Now, no matter where in the world your citizenship is from, if you're Palestinian by background, Israel will deny you entry into the country. On principle. Even the US government, which gives Israel billions to help Israel beat the shit out of the Palestinians and make bully-noises to everybody else in the region, is raising a stink about these rules.
“The United States expects that all American citizens to be treated equally, regardless of their national origin,” [the Obama Administration] said in a statement. “We have let the Government of Israel know that these restrictions unfairly impact Palestinian and Arab American travellers and are not acceptable.”
Not so Harper's Tories, who haven't raised a peep. But, then, that's consistent too. The Tories have made it a habit of leaving people to rot in terrible conditions around the world. The Tory logic is, as always, if you're in trouble with the law it must be because you did something wrong.
Back to Israel, they see nothing wrong with barring entry to people based upon their ethnicity, even though 20% of their own population are Palestinian Arab.
"In Israel, Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad defended the new rules, saying there was a ban on all Palestinians entering Israel, regardless of what other nationalities they hold. More than one million non-Jews, most of them Palestinian Arabs, hold Israeli citizenship and live in Israel."
Faced with an unprecedented global movement against Israeli-style Apartheid, they really aren't doing themselves any favours. No wonder public opinion has turned so decisively against Israel in relation to the recent past. In the US the number of Americans opposing Jewish settlement construction has climbed by 23 percent to three-quarters. Other stats suggest a similar swing. Israel is shooting itself in the foot. Good on it.

Iggy Got His Wish: The CIA Tortured Lots of People

There’s lots of heads that are going to roll over the CIA abuse scandal. Though, likely, most of them will just be disposable flunkies. The real brains behind the use of “coercive interrogation”, like Dick Cheney won’t have any mud flung at them to slide off their oily, Teflon skin.
(GW Bush, of course, can’t be said to be the brains behind anything except maybe brushing his teeth before bed.)
The report that was released Monday, details CIA abuses, including threatening a suspect with a power drill, extensive use of “waterboarding”, threatening to kill another suspect’s children, mother and female relatives, along with numerous deaths in CIA custody.
These sickos were still such consummate bureaucrats that when some CIA goon innovated a new torture technique called water dousing, they sent it into headquarters for specific approval. In true bureaucrat fashion, they came up with acceptable guidelines for tormenting a suspect:
“A return cable explained that a detainee ‘must be placed on a towel or sheet, may not be placed naked on the bare cement floor, and the air temperature must exceed 65 degrees if the detainee will not be dried immediately.’”
Of course, this is just the piece de resistance of a whole unraveling of the former Bush administration’s neo-conservative global lunacy. These guys thought that they would be in the right to burn your house down if you bought a dog because it might, at some point in the future, attack the child that they were planning on having, if only they could find someone crazy enough to marry them.
In 2008, the CIA’s former executive director, and the man behind setting up a string of CIA secret prisons (read: torture facilities), Dusty Foggo, pleaded guilty to fraud related to kick-backs from his buddy who got the contracts to build the prisons. Dusty is now spending 3 years in jail. The real story is that he was a casualty in the internecine war that erupted in America’s military and security institutions between the neo-con crazies and the old school scumbags when the whole PNAC wet dream started to go belly up.
A couple of other jackals who led the interrogation program (read: torture training) and made a bundle out of their independent torture consulting firm, had the plug pulled on their CIA contracts after Obama took office. Hopefully he lost that $800 000 house in Florida, bought out of the proceeds of war crimes.
The CIA, Dick Cheney and all the other creepy crawlies can be expected to stand up for torture in response to the investigation into abuses. Already the CIA has hit back by releasing previously classified documents on the interrogation program, lauding its ‘many successes.’ It is called, in one of the documents “a pillar of counter-terrorism”. I wonder if they’ll also stand up for the CIA’s contracting out of contract killing to Blackwater, that pinnacle of ethical corporate behaviour. Probably not, since Blackwater failed to actually knock off any leading members of Al Qaeda and the contract was cancelled. Their specialty really doesn’t extend beyond killing untrained and defenseless civilians.
Of course, there’s a big, fat question that no one is asking, least of all the Obama Administration as they ramp up the death machine in Afghanistan. Why is it OK to bomb weddings, schools and farms from the sky while, on the other hand, simulating drowning (or threatening to kill suspects’ family members) is in poor taste. It seems to me that one leads to the other. Torture, military occupation, secret prisons, and forms of resistance that require the vicious fist of repression, all go together with imperialism. You can either get rid of foreign military adventures or you end up with torture on the ground and death from the sky. Simple as that.
That’s why it’s not a big surprise that Obama fully intends to continue the policy of extraordinary renditions. Of course, only as long as the country in question promises to be nice when they interrogate the prisoner. Sort of like Syria promised to be nice to Maher Arar.
But there’s another side to this that you won’t read about in the New York Times and which it’s unlikely any Canadian newspapers will bring up. It’s the role of Michael Ignatieff in all this. Iggy was an avid promoter of “coercive interrogation”, including on national television (see below, what an asshole – and he has ridiculous hair). This guy is slated to be Canada’s next Prime Minister, though the Liberals haven’t been able to pick anybody who wasn’t a spineless fuck-up since that Shawinigan mobster what’s-his-face Chretien. Lucky for Iggy, our present PM Stephen Harper is leader of a party of tinfoil hat-wearing, whack-jobs only kept in line with Harper’s iron fist. Whenever the batteries run out on the Tasers of the Tory party whips, the MPs start to open their mouths and the Tories drop in the polls.
You won’t catch me crying in my beer if the Tories get their asses whupped in the next election, probably this fall. But remember, when you go to put an X next to Iggy’s Liberals, their leader publicly stumped for a policy that even the US ruling class finds revolting. Do you really think he’s an alternative?

Monday, August 24, 2009

“The Analogy Of Lyndon Johnson Suggests Itself Very Profoundly”

A fascinating article in Monday's New York Times that draws an analogy between the failure of Lyndon Johnson's presidency - particularly his social agenda, known as the Great Society - as a result of the war in Vietnam and the present crisis faced by Obama in Afghanistan and over healthcare. When even a perennially hawkish magazine like The Economist believes defeat is staring America in the face you know things are in deep do-do.
"As the West struggles to maintain its weak hold on Afghanistan, so its ambitions there are narrowing. Early aspirations to bring peace, prosperity and decent government to the country have been replaced by the hope of establishing a functioning state and of improving security. By that measure, success in the short term will look much like stalemate. But the chance of achieving even these modest aims is being jeopardised by too few troops and a flawed strategy."
It too notes that "if things there continue to slide, Afghanistan could turn out to be the biggest blot on the Obama presidency."
Afghanistan has been the graveyard of more than one empire. Britain was defeated three times in Afghanistan. The Soviet Union learned that lesson the hard way - and they had a much larger military presence in the country (at it's peak about 33% bigger than the present combined ISAF & US force of 87,000), plus the Afghan military strength was much greater:
"Under Soviet guidance, the DRA armed forces were built up to an official strength of 302,000 in 1986. To minimize the risk of a coup d'├ętat, they were divided into different branches, each modeled on its Soviet counterpart. The ministry of defense forces numbered 132,000, the ministry of interior 70,000 and the ministry of state security (KHAD) 80,000. However, these were theoretical figures: in reality each service was plagued with desertions, the army alone suffering 32,000 per year."
The present Afghan National Army has a maximum of 100,000 soldiers. Somewhere, Mikhail Gorbachev must be chuckling when he thinks about America's attempt to tame Afghanistan. I wonder if he's already writing a political eulogy in his head for Barack Obama.
For that matter, I wonder if Barack Obama is doing the same for himself. If he is, it might go something like this:

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Afghanistan: “Serious and Deteriorating”

It was no surprise to see former Deputy PM John Manley once again stumping for the occupation of Afghanistan. He’s made it his favourite past-time to promote this particular Canadian adventure in killing people.
I can’t decide whether he’s the Tories’ fifth column in the Liberal Party, or the Liberals’ fifth column in the Tory party. It’s a particularly tough call because, let’s face it, Iggy is just Stephen Harper with more letters after his name.
More interesting than Manley's career-boosting was the response of the international media to the presidential elections in Afghanistan. Even Rosie DiManno, who usually writes like as though she were competing for the job of DND spokesperson with her pal Christie Blatchford, wrote an article that began with an account of the levels of corruption in this election.
“What the observers saw: Underage voters, illiterates being told who to mark their ballots for, monitors ejected from polling centres, men acting as proxy voters for women and, in at least one case, somebody hauling a pre-stuffed ballot box into a polling station.”
Over in the New York Times, rather than a laudatory article about what great progress the present elections represent, we instead had a piece about Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chariman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – America’s highest ranking military honcho – on CNN running down the state of the occupation. “Things are serious and deteriorating,” he says. It doesn’t help that a majority of Americans now oppose “Obama’s war”.
Somebody should remind Obama what happened to Lyndon Johnson. Especially since, as the NYT article points out, it is likely that US generals will be asking to ramp up American troop numbers even further than the 17,000 to which Obama already gave the thumbs up.
Over in Afghanistan, the stuffed ballot boxes weren’t even cold when one crook who ran for president and lost, Abdullah Abdullah, was already calling another crook who ran for president and won, Hamid Karzai, a, well, a crook. The real purpose of the election was laid out by Malalai Joya who has opposed the corruption and tyranny of Karzai’s government and for her efforts was not only expelled from the Afghan parliament but is now in hiding, had this to say:
“We Afghans know that this election will change nothing and it is only part of a show of democracy put on by, and for, the West, to legitimise its future puppet in Afghanistan. It seems we are doomed to see the continuation of this failed, mafia-like, corrupt government for another term.”
It’s almost sad that the charade of this election has fallen apart before we even have the official results. Well, it would be sad if the charade weren’t about justifying NATO troops, including Canadians, killing Afghans to prop up a government of warlords, drug lords, misogynists and human rights abusers.
If Canada and NATO are so interested in democracy, perhaps they’ll let the people of Afghanistan vote on whether they want them to leave. And maybe they’ll act on the democratic sentiments of the clear majority in NATO countries and bring the troops home.
Sadly, with Iggy and Harper acting as two cheeks of the same belligerent ass (pardon the mental image) that change isn’t likely to happen at our ballot box any more than it will in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Time is Rife!

I know that the dole isn't much these days after decades of slash and burn neo-liberalism, so if you're unlucky enough to be unemployed this recession I wanted to bring this small bit of happy news: it has nothing to do with your intelligence or ability. In fact, being a fucking idiot improves your chances of doing well economically speaking.
Of course, if you've been around any time at all you probably already have a sense of that: George W. Bush was president of the United States for 8 years after all. Then there's the guys that managed to drive the entire species of US investment bank into extinction. That took a particularly impressive kind of stupid. And the North American auto industry, well, don't get me started.
And, hey, speaking of the auto industry - here's a little tidbit that I found today that demonstrates that even during a recession people who are dumb as posts can still be paid the big bucks and get into the newspapers.
First some background. I'm sure anyone who's read this far knows that the auto industry is in the tank because of massive over-production capacity. As this article in BusinessWeek makes clear:
"Having indulged in a global orgy of factory-building in recent years, the industry has the capacity to make an astounding 94 million vehicles each year. That's about 34 million too many based on current sales, according to researcher CSM Worldwide, or the output of about 100 plants."
Certainly everybody in the industry knows this fact. Well, it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that if nobody is buying cars and you have an extra 100 factories kicking around producing nothing except pissed-off unemployed workers, now is probably not the best time to be building new car factories.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I came across this Canadian Press article entitled: "With auto sector in crisis, group says time rife for a Canadian made car" (yes, you read that correct, the time is "rife").
According to Scott Paterson, director of Canada's Automobile Research and Technology Association (CARTA), now is the perfect time to invest in car factories. His idea will be discussed tomorrow at a conference at the University of Ottawa.
By the way: guys like this run the world.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Same Old, Same Old

I guess there’s not much point in being surprised that Canada’s pickle-up-the-ass conservative paper of record, The Globe & Mail, would use the opportunity of the NDP’s annual convention to take a poke at them and the left. To be fair, the Globe isn’t the worst paper in the country, but then I hope nobody ever gives me that kind of praise (“he wasn’t the BIGGEST idiot in the room”).
In any case, the Globe’s main article following the convention “NDP trumpets new policy – in the same socialist vein”, as well as the big controversy at the convention about changing the NDP’s name to simply the Democratic Party – to ride Obama’s wave – made me think of all things new and shiny.
Now, I’m all for new things when they represent an advance on the old. I’m for clean, running water and indoor plumbing, for instance. I’m for the internet. And, in a weird sort of way, I’m for capitalism rather than the feudalism or slave societies that preceded it.
But “new” is used most of the time as a scam, a sales device to discredit that which is “old” without really having to engage with the substance of whatever is being dismissed. It’s what I learned in my university “Argument Theory” class was one of a species of logical fallacies known as an “ad hominem”. That’s the high-falutin’ way of saying it’s equivalent of “name calling.”
Now there’s a few things at play here. The first is our obsession with the new and the young. I talked about this some time ago viz cosmetic surgery and the Peter Pan myth. But it also applies to social and political categories.
All that is old is tired, all that is new is vibrant. We valorize the absence of labour, experience, age, and we worship youth as a side effect of our fetishization of commodities. To get all Marxist about it, we take objects that have been created by humans and drain them of their social content and worship their flatness by imputing to them powers that they don't have.
Rather than human activity being transparently the means by which society creates itself, it appears that it is through the action of objects that society creates itself – money buys happiness, a car gives you freedom, a house gives you security, Coke adds life. Because our activity as humans is mediated by the action and movement of said commodities - as social beings we don't have direct interaction, we interact through our objects for sale and thus it seems like they are interacting. That’s what is meant by it being a fetish. We are literally the largest cargo cult in human history!
This gives culture a two-dimensional character. We see things not as evolving through time as a result of human innovation and changing need – we see them as existing NOW. We are repulsed by history and by change – we try to keep our faces frozen with botox and our cars shiny and new.
We don’t judge the validity of a set of politics or economic theories according to whether they work or accurately describe the phenomenon of interest. Instead we judge them, again, by their newness. So, we have this quote in the above-mentioned article:
“But Liberal MP Geoff Regan, an observer at the convention, said he didn't see much of a shift toward the centre on the part of the New Democrats.
“As far as the delegates are concerned,” he said, “they seem more keen on sticking to the same old 1970s ideology that we've heard from them for years.”
I presume this nitwit is talking about Keynsianism and welfare state spending to alleviate inequality. Well, he may have noticed that that “old idea” of neo-liberalism, drawing upon ideology as old as capitalism itself about not interfering in the market, has failed spectacularly. And if it weren’t for some of that old idea of state intervention GM and Chrysler would be well and truly tits up (as opposed to surviving by sucking back bucketloads of our money without us having a commensurate, democratic say in how they run the company).
But while Regan might be a dope he has kindly illustrated for us a useful point – that the fetishism of the new, which repackages the old every few years with the latest colour of lipstick, is really way of avoiding talking about issues and avoiding debate. And the reason they want to avoid debate is obvious – because capitalism is in the shitter, people’s lives are being ruined and we desperately need an alternative.
Hopefully the NDP will spend less time worrying about being new by dropping the “New” and more time being new by being old and reminding us once again that the Emperor – capitalism – has no clothes.

Making Big Bucks Make Sense

Know how all those billions and trillions of dollars can sometimes just seem like abstractions way beyond the comprehension of the ordinary person trying to pay their stupid overdue $150 phone bill? Well this graphic from the billion dollar gram puts it in perspective.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cops Kick Ass Too

The trouble is, that it's the asses of working class people, oppressed minorities, youth, cyclists, innocent bystanders and anyone foolish enough to ask them why they are kicking the ass of one of the above. (Shamelessly stolen from Lenin's Tomb)

The Largest Street Gang in America

Chinese Workers Kick Ass

Pity the poor GM workers who read about Chinese steelworkers and realize that if only they'd kidnapped their boss and did a little rioting they would have gotten a better deal. In fact, Chinese workers at the Linzhou Iron & Steel Company halted government plans to privatize their company. Three weeks ago some poor dumbass from another steel company told a group of 30,000 workers that most of them would be laid off and got himself beaten to death in what was a very large riot.
Some of this sounds very familiar - in France workers have taken to "bossnapping" and threatening to blow up capital equipment at their factories when they get lay-off notices.
In Britain and Ireland there have been occupations at Waterford Glass, Thomas Cook, Vestas (a wind turbine manufacturer), and Visteon (a car parts company).
In South Korea a spectacular and sometimes violent (check out those slingshots in the picture above - they were used to defend the occupation) occupation of the Ssangyong car plant - that fended off numerous assaults by police commandoes - managed to save half the jobs at the plant. Originally all the workers were slated for layoff.
On a smaller scale, here in Toronto, of course, we had a 36-day strike by city workers that managed to take the edge off of the city's concessions demands. Even the National Post thought that the workers won. And anything that pisses off the National Post can't but bring warmth to a left-wingers heart.
Could we be seeing a serious global re-emergence of working class militancy and even, gasp, victories?

Life Kidnaps Blogger happened again. I try though, I really do. I mean, I do have a kid and a job and all. But I think I'm in for another spurt of world commentary.
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