Monday, November 30, 2009

Capitalism Works Wonders: 25% Of US Children On Food Stamps

THERE IS A STARTLING ARTICLE IN THE NEW YORK TIMES on Sunday about the rise in use of food stamps in the US, with 1 in 8 now on the program - that's 36 million people - and 20,000 more people signing up every day! Remember a few years back when we were told that the "Anglo-American economic model" was the road to prosperity? The essential recipe was privatize, de-regulate, and remove any barriers to profit-making and this would grow the economy and thus raise all boats. Well, we have here the fruits of that model. What a disgrace - the wealthiest country in world history where 46 million people - 15 percent - are without healthcare.
Now nearly 12 percent of Americans receive aid — 28 percent of blacks, 15 percent of Latinos and 8 percent of whites. Benefits average about $130 a month for each person in the household, but vary with shelter and child care costs...
A recent study by Mark R. Rank, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, startled some policy makers in finding that half of Americans receive food stamps, at least briefly, by the time they turn 20. Among black children, the figure was 90 percent.
In the face of this outrageous quantity of food insecurity, it's worth noting that each soldier sent to Afghanistan costs the US government $1 million per year. In fact, with defense spending cruising at over $1 trillion - or about 36% of total federal government spending - it is easy to see how the US might eliminate the problem of hunger not only within its own borders but on the whole planet.
But beyond the institutional barriers to eliminating food insecurity (never mind poverty) in the US, the Times article, which interviewed several recipients, demonstrates that ideology is a major obstacle. One man, a self-described "hard-working Christian" has been forced recently to rely on food stamps.
Like many new beneficiaries here, Mr. Dawson argues that people often abuse the program and is quick to say he is different. While some people “choose not to get married, just so they can apply for benefits,” he is a married, churchgoing man who works and owns his home. While “some people put piles of steaks in their carts,” he will not use the government’s money for luxuries like coffee or soda. “To me, that’s just morally wrong,” he said.
But, as with this man, these ideological pre-conceptions - people on welfare are lazy, greedy, etc. - are coming up against the reality of American capitalism. With any rapid recovery extremely unlikely, men like Mr. Dawson are being forced to re-evaluate their assumptions bit-by-bit. Today it's the idea that hard work alone will keep your head above water. Tomorrow it might be that misrepresentations of the poor include him - ie. that he's not really as special as he thinks.
How this will evolve American consciousness is, of course, not clear in advance. It is something that will be struggled over with groups like the far-right Minuteman Project (and, of course, even bigger players like the Republicans and Fox News) on one side, and those who advocate a progressive worldview based upon solidarity - still woefully under-represented - on the other, all trying to win the hearts of people like Mr. Dawson. What is clear is that the longer the present crisis continues, the more difficult it will be for the centre to hold.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Switzerland Votes For Islamophobia

ISLAMOPHOBIA IS A GROTESQUE BOIL ON THE BODY POLITIC in countries throughout the West. It is used by wing-nuts and psychopaths like Pat Robertson to justify the War On Terror. And it is certainly the subtext even amongst mainstream politicians - as witnessed by the bizarre campaign by the Tories to ban women from wearing the niqab (dress worn by conservative Muslim women that includes a face covering). Given that there are an exceedingly small number of women in Canada who wear the niqab, the hub-bub was nothing more than a racist whip-up by the Conservatives to please their right-wing base. But this sort of right-wing nonsense is ultimately an issue of civil rights.
The insanity of Islamophobia and its dangers has been made clear by a referendum vote on Sunday in Switzerland, which banned the building of any more minarets - the towers outside of mosques traditionally used to call the faithful to prayer. The vote passed by 57 percent after a campaign that was explicitly anti-Muslim and led by the far-right Swiss People's Party. Switzerland has 400,000 Muslims - 6 percent of the population - who are having their civil rights denied to them - there has been no ban on church towers. So much for the nation of religious tolerance.

Of 150 mosques or prayer rooms in Switzerland, only 4 have minarets and only 2 more minarets are planned. None conduct the call to prayer.
Close to 90 percent of Muslims in Switzerland are from Kosovo and Turkey and do not adhere to the codes of dress and conduct associated with conservative Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, said Manon Schick, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International in Switzerland.
Muslim leaders have tried to keep out of the spotlight and to avoid internationalizing the issue, shunning interviews with most news media from Muslim countries, according to Mr. Ibram.
Still, the campaign was accompanied by sporadic shows of hostility. In two separate incidents last week, vandals damaged Geneva’s main mosque by throwing stones and a pot of paint. On another occasion, Mr. Ibram said, a van pulled up outside the mosque early in the morning, loudly blaring a recording of the call to prayers through loudspeakers.

USA Continues Torture At Bagram "Black Jail"

MY GUESS IS THAT THERE AREN'T MANY PEOPLE LEFT on the planet who would be surprised if they were told that the United States of America engages in torture. Even the media has had to provide coverage of such brutality from Bagram in 2002, where soldiers beat prisoners to death, to Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Nonetheless, it is important that revelations continue - especially coming at this moment when torture scandals have exploded in Canada and Britain, and key military and political figures have had to resign in Germany. The populations in NATO countries need to be constantly reminded that what we are doing over there is dehumanizing and degrading the people of Afghanistan as part of a colonial project related to US dominated geo-politics. And to read the accounts of two boys tortured at a secret "black jail" at Bagram Air Base - where even the Red Cross has been denied access - there can be no doubt that it is about dehumanization. Rashid, a 15-year old woodcutter from Khost Province described his stay in an interview with the Washington Post:
At the beginning of his detention, he was forced to strip naked and undergo a medical checkup in front of about a half-dozen American soldiers. He said that his Muslim upbringing made such a display humiliating and that the soldiers made it worse.
"They touched me all over my body. They took pictures, and they were laughing and laughing," he said. "They were doing everything."
He said he lived in a small concrete cell that was slightly longer than the length of his body. Food was tossed in a plastic bag through a slot in the metal door. Both teenagers said that when they tried to sleep, on the floor, their captors shouted at them and hammered on their cells.
When summoned for daily interrogations, Rashid said, he was made to wear a hood, handcuffs and ear coverings and was marched into the meeting room. He said he was punched by his interrogators while being prodded to admit ties to the Taliban; he denied such ties. During some sessions, he said, his interrogator forced him to look at pornographic movies and magazines while also showing him a photograph of his mother.
"I was just crying and crying. I was too young," Rashid said. "I didn't know what a prison looks like or what a prison is."
 In a follow-up article in the New York Times, other detainees of the black jail describe harsh treatment over extended periods, including not being allowed representation or to contact their families who spent small fortunes trying to find them. One former prisoner said that the US military released him after a year with a simple "sorry, we thought you were somebody else."
With treatment like this being widespread, whether through President Karzai's warlord government, or directly via the occupying countries, it doesn't take a rocket science to figure out why the insurgency is growing and spreading so that even once peaceful provinces, like Kunduz in the north, are now coming under the sway of the insurgency.
With Obama set to announce another 35,000 troops to be sent to Afghanistan this week, we should keep this in mind. US and NATO troops have not brought an ounce of liberation to this war-torn country. They have simply participated in brutality and in propping up a regime no less vicious - and probably more corrupt - than the Taliban before them.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tories & Generals or Malalai Joya: Who Do You Believe?

WELL, YOU CAN'T SAY THAT THE TORIES ARE DEAF TO THE SOUND of their own ship of lies sinking like the Edmund Fitzgerald. They spent the better part of the week attacking Richard Colvin. Then they set the attack dog generals on them, including master pitbull, General Rick Hillier. They all denied that anyone knew anything about anything - which makes one wonder what qualifies them to lead anything more complicated than a lemonade stand.
Well, now the Tories have changed their tune alright. Now they knew right from the very start something was amiss. Huh? Were they just testing us all week? Feeding us the big lie to see how gullible we are and then, when they can hold a straight face no longer, they shout: "psych!"? Somebody, apparently should have told their generals that this was the plan, because their story was still the old one, right up till the last minute. Then, suddenly, whoomp, everything was different. As former Defense Minister, Peter MacKay put it:
“Obviously there were concerns about the state of prisons,” he said. “There were concerns about allegations. There were concerns about information found in reports. There were concerns."
I also have concerns about Peter MacKay but they are a little different than his concerns. I'm concerned that he's going to give himself whiplash.
Perhaps he read or listened to the CBC interview with Malalai Joya, the former Afghan MP - thrown out of the Afghan Parliament for raising embarrassing questions about the human rights records of our "democratic allies." On Thursday Joya stated unequivocally that this was not news to people living in Afghanistan:
"What [Colvin] has been saying is what I've heard from my people," she said. "Many of the victims are women and children detainees who have been raped, she said. "It's not new for our people."
What is clear is that were it not for pressure from people outside of the Tory government, with their near-Stalinist paranoia, they would have hidden everything forever. The only real concerns that MacKay and his ilk had was that it would get out that what we were (and are) creating in Afghanistan is a corrupt torture regime. The key difference between them and the Taliban is that the former are willing to do our bidding almost without question. In return for obedience, we'll let them torture whoever they want.
Listen to the whole CBC Radio interview with Malalai Joya.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Germany: Afghan Air Strike Brings Down Army Chief & Govt. Minister

SCANDALS RELATING TO THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN ARE ROCKING KEY NATO COUNTRIES. Canada's role in facilitating the torture of suspects - many of them likely innocent - has become a central public issue here. In Britain the revelation that MI6 supported torture against British citizens in Pakistan has become a major issue. And, now in Germany, where anti-war sentiment is very high, the prosecution of the war is causing deep political damage.
Today the Labour Minister, formerly Defense Minister, Franz Josef Jung was forced to sign his own walking papers after it was revealed by the tabloid Bild that he knew about the killing of numerous civilians resulting from a Kunduz airstrike in September. The German army called in NATO fighters to bomb two fuel tankers that had been seized by the Taliban, even though there were numerous civilians taking advantage of the free fuel being provided to them. Jung had originally stated that he didn't know there were civilians killed but it has since been discovered that he was told on the day that the bombing took place and that he received a top secret video showing that the carnage included children. The German military's chief of staff in Afghanistan has also been a casualty of this cover-up, resigning earlier this week.
Germany, which has 4,250 troops in Afghanistan has faced significant opposition at home to the deployment. This will, hopefully, further weaken the hand of the government to keep its troops there. All of these scandals are simply proof that the occupation of Afghanistan is a criminal operation that involves dehumanizing the locals to the point that bombing civilians, including children, is seen as nothing more than potential bad press that needs to be covered up. Same for torture, as we're seeing so vividly here in Canada. It's time to stop the killing by bringing the troops home.

Note From Dubai: Prepare For The Double-Dip Recession

WHY, YOU MAY BE ASKING YOURSELF, DID the whole world freak out that Dubai World - the state owned development company in the United Arab Emirates - was going to ask for a debt payment moratorium? The amount of debt that is unpayable - $59 billion - isn't as high as that of the Royal Bank of Scotland ($77 billion) or the behemoth insurance company AIG ($85 billion). But it's no small fish either and if it is forced into to default on that loan it will ripple through the system in several ways. The first is directly as all those banks, investment funds, etc. that sank money into Dubai are suddenly holding worthless paper. The second is the chilling effect - like the credit crunch of 2007-2008 - which frightens other banks and makes them not want to lend to each other or to their customers. The third effect is the "flight to safety" as money floods "safe havens" like the US dollar, gold, etc. and out of developing markets, the stock market, etc. In fact, the Dubai fiasco is just bringing to light what some commentators have suggested for a while - that we are at risk of a double-dip recession.
For my money, this isn't a question. In the US the infusion of massive amounts of cash - literally trillions of dollars to keep the financial sector afloat and the $787 billion stimulus package - has barely managed to stimulate a heartbeat out of the economic body of the US. In the last quarter, growth was measured at an anemic 2.8 percent, a downgrading from an earlier estimate of 3.5 percent. Meanwhile, the housing market remains a national disaster with 1 in 7 mortgages are either in default or behind by at least one payment. Because of the fall in home values, 23 percent of mortgages are now worth more than the houses they are applied against. The unemployment rate continues to rise in the US - now at 10.2 percent. US bankruptcies rose 33 percent in the third quarter. Meanwhile, even though the Federal government is offering stimulus, state governments are faced with the likelihood of massive cuts as 31 states face shortfalls worth $53 billion with ten - representing 1/3 of the US population - facing imminent bankruptcy. I'll stop before people start jumping off of buildings. But I'll just note that the big bang of the stimulus package ends this year and with Obama talking about deficits as the big danger facing the economy, I wouldn't expect much more on the table.
And, expect China to hit the wall next year - even if there's some growth in the West, which I highly doubt. China's export-oriented economy has been kept running at full tilt by a $500 billion stimulus package and the massive expansion of credit. But all that money has gone into investment - rather than consumption - to increase the number of factories to produce products for export to a world that can't afford to buy them. And as China manipulates its currency to keep it low - so that its exports are attractive - there is growing anger and the possibility of tariffs in response to Chinese export policies. China is about to find itself with a boatload of capacity and nobody willing to buy it externally and not enough people able to afford to buy it internally. The EU is pushing already for China to let the value of the yuan rise against the Euro and other currencies to begin to overcome trade imbalances (China selling more than it's buying).
Here in Canada, things don't look so hot either. As a big exporter to the US, we're very dependent upon what happens down there. We've been relatively shielded because there wasn't the same build-up of a bubble here in the housing market, which precipitated the crisis down south and locked up credit markets, which deepened the damage. But, as Murray Dobbin notes, the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation has now effectively become a massive sub-prime mortgage lender as the Tories dramatically loosened lending rules to prop up the housing market. That and the rock bottom interest rates have created a stunning boom that has seen house prices rise by as much as 20 percent in Toronto in the past year. That can't last forever - certainly not in the face of a double-dip recession. If unemployment starts to rise and people on the edges start to default, we could be in for a replay in miniature of what happened in the US. The Tories must have been banking on the recession ending before the problems really reached maturity in the housing market - then employment would rise and all would be good (of course, so would interest rates and thus payments for many people...).
It looks increasingly likely that the "pop" of the debt bubble in Dubai is going to reveal that the entire facade of the recovery in the rest of the world was just that - all surface with nothing of substance underneath. And if it bursts this time there's not going to be the will to try and repeat stimulus spending. Governments, already talking about cutbacks, will pull a Herbert Hoover and try to balance the budget, thus deepening the recession. And then there is the danger they will try to respond by externalizing the problem through the erection of tariff barriers that will disrupt the global economy further - exactly what happened during the Great Depression, facilitating the global collapse.
Now, none of this might happen. I could be totally wrong and Marxists are notorious for predicting 6 of the last 4 recessions. But with the apparent failure of the stimulus packages, I don't see any other possibility. Sorry about that... On the brighter side, today's Friday!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Canada To Be Turfed From Commonwealth For Being A Nation Led By Assholes?

NO WONDER STEPHEN HARPER HATES ATTENDING THESE INTERNATIONAL GATHERINGS. Because people everywhere hate him. He's like a George Bush mini-me and nobody liked Bush, as you'll recall.
Well, now poor Stephen is in Trinidad for the Commonwealth conference - that's a meeting of the countries that were once British colonies but still get together to make fun of the Queen and laugh at what a shit-hole the UK is these days. "Sun never sets on the British Empire? Ha. They can't even get enough hot water to fill their bathtubs."
It is something of a big deal, mind you, representing 53 countries with over 2 billion people. The British Empire was big once. So, to be kicked out of the club is really to be told that one-third of the world think you're a bunch of assholes. Well, that's what a coalition of politicians, campaigners and scientists are pushing for in Trinidad. Why? Because we suck when it comes to climate change. The folks in Alberta - the sphincter in the asshole that is our country, if you will - are happily digging up oil in the tar sands, which is several times more damaging than even regular oil extraction. And, oh yeah, we hand people over to be tortured in Afghanistan.

The coalition claims Canada is contributing to droughts, floods and sea level rises in Commonwealth countries such as Bangladesh, the Maldives and Mozambique. Clare Short, the former international development secretary, said: "Countries that fail to help [tackle global warming] should be suspended from membership, as are those that breach human rights..."
Saleemul Huq, a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said: "If the Commonwealth is serious about holding its members to account, then threatening the lives of millions of people in developing countries should lead to the suspension of Canada's membership immediately."
I have no trouble with the Commonwealth kicking us out. Go to town, embarrass us. We should be embarrassed. It might help wake up a social movement in this country that could put the boots into Harper and his pro-war, anti-planet yahoos. I wonder if Stephen will still go to Copenhagen if we get turfed from Commonwealth and I wonder if he'll have to wear an "I'm a climate asshole shirt." Will people kick him and call him names? Ah, a boy can dream...

Canada Not Alone: UK Also Supports Torture

SOMETIMES YOU JUST FEEL SO ALONE IN THE WORLD, especially when you've done something dirty and despicable. The shame is almost too much to bear and you're in danger of letting yourself be swayed from the righteous path. Then, at your darkest hour of moral crisis, you discover that you're not alone. There are others who share your burden.
It will come as a relief to everyone out there, I'm sure, to know that Britain also has been revealed to have actively encouraged torture. Not in Afghanistan mind you - they left that to us, it seems. But in Pakistan, where British citizens of Pakistani heritage were seized and tortured. Some had their fingernails ripped out. Other were whipped and threatened with drills.
The British are very civilized and helpful though. It wouldn't be fair to just let the Pakistani security services have to do everything, so it appears there was a division of labour. The Brits, specifically MI6, would write up questions and the Pakistanis would be the muscle to get the answers. Wisely, perhaps following our own Mr. Stephen Harper, Peter MacKay and, of course, the indefatigable Gen. (ret.) Rick Hillier, the Brits are denying everything. I hear that they are even denying that they exist, just to be sure that their bases are covered.
Perhaps there's another lesson here: invading and occupying countries where you're not wanted and targeting specific sectors of your population for attack, well, it leads to a very bad, very dark place. It leads to civilians being bombed, to waterboarding, to secret prisons and to handing over prisoners to people that we know will torture them. And, of course, it leads to lying.

Harper Runs To Copenhagen To Escape A Hot Climate

STEPHEN HARPER USED TO THINK CLIMATE CHANGE WAS A SOCIALIST CONSPIRACY. So, why is he suddenly hopping a flight to Copenhagen, to the climate change summit? I feel safe to assure my readers that Harper has not suddenly been converted to the cause of saving the planet's environment. His handlers claim:
"The prime minister has made a decision," his spokesman Dimitri Soudas told reporters on the plane in Ottawa shortly before taking off to Port of Spain. "It is because there is now a critical mass of leaders attending," he added.
With all due respect to Mr. Soudas, I think a more likely explanation is that a critical mass of shit has hit the fan over the prisoner transfer torture scandal. Harper is, as always, committed to saving his own plush lifestyle and public importance as Canada's Prime Minister. And right now he and his government are feeling the heat over the transfer of prisoners into the hands of torturers in Afghanistan. Anybody who believes that his decision is anything other than an attempt to escape the growing hostility at home and to cut a softer, more progressive figure at a climate conference is naive. Look for Harper to make some loud but mostly empty concessions in the next several days to do one of the two things he does best: deflect. I'll leave it to your imagination what the other thing is that he does best...

Gen. Rick Hillier: "Negligent Liar" Or "Detestable Scumbag"?

I CAN'T IMAGINE THAT ANYONE IS SURPRISED THAT HARPER'S MILITARY PITBULL, lauded in the media as a regular joe, tough-talking, no nonsense general, Rick Hillier, would take the stand and deny everything. Of course he would. He was in charge and diplomat Richard Colvin's explosive testimony that revealed that Canada's military and politicians knew that people they were handing over were destined for torture, means he is a war criminal. Or, to put it in his own plain-talking words, a detestable killer and a scumbag.
What's more, his claim that they didn't arrest any innocents is laughable. The insurgents in Afghanistan don't wear uniforms, they move amongst the population, blend in. And they fight from villages. That's why the Americans and NATO keep blowing the hell out of civilians, out of weddings and funerals - because the civilians look like insurgents and vice versa. So, to say that Canadians have some special knowledge not shared by others is simply a lie.
What is remarkable is not that Hillier is a liar. It is that he can get away with singing from the Tory playbook and nobody calls him for what he is - a Tory propagandist. When he says things like:

“Yes, we probably detained the occasional farmer – and whether they were farmers by day and Taliban by night, which is often the case, is something that is very difficult to discern.”
And later says:
"I saw nothing that would have caught my attention," Hillier said.
This is the syllogistic line used by the Tories - "we are fighting and capturing Taliban. These people were captured, therefore they are Taliban." The second line of argument "I never saw nothing" is nothing more nor less than an admission of incompetence. It's incompetent not only because Colvin sent off reports detailing concerns from the Red Cross and based upon his own experience. It is incompetent because you would have to have an IQ so low or be so utterly lazy in your research prior to commanding troops in Afghanistan, to not know that the people who we had put in power after 2001 were to a person connected with human rights abuses. They are all either former warlords, served warlords, or were the political representatives of parties tied directly to warlords. And guess what? They all had a record of torture.
So, when Hillier went to Afghanistan to "kill detestable murderers and scumbags", he must have known that there were no institutional protections in place - not one independent indigenous commission or organization - to prevent the "detestable murderers and scumbags", who it was his job to protect, from continuing as they had always done.
It wouldn't require much digging to point out this obvious truth. A simple scan at any Human Rights Watch report, even the US State Department's report on Afghanistan probably contains all these details. The shame is that our media will turn this whole thing into a personality circus - who can be more convincing: the populist general or the former diplomat? Stephen Harper or the torture-supporting leader of the Opposition? Not one media outlet is likely to actually do the background research on this. At best it will be a race to find the smoking gun: the document that proves that Peter MacKay or Harper himself received the report. But they already have their spin doctors in place to deflect even these. We've seen this yesterday with the Tories, following their loyal watchdog's testimony, denying anyone read the reports and, anyway, they didn't say anything of any interest.
Mr. Dugas said the fact that Mr. Hillier yesterday characterized the two reports as unworthy of action suggests questions over who received them are a “moot” point.
Harper's Tories remind me of the Harris Tories, denying for years that they knew anything or were in any way involved in the OPP on a native blockade that led to the death of Dudley George. Plausible deniability they call it. Lifelong toads like Hillier play their role in making such denial plausible. Sadly, so too do the media.

Sid Ryan: New OFL President

THE LONGTIME PRESIDENT OF CUPE'S ONTARIO DIVISION has just won election as the next president of the Ontario Federation of Labour - the province's central labour body that brings together both private and public sector unions representing about 700,000 workers. It's mostly a pretty sleepy body, to be honest, but had the notable high point of the Days of Action movement back in the 1990s, in which it helped to mobilize the labour movement and many other allies for a series of one-day, one-city general strikes against the Harris Tories. Since the defeat of that movement, in no small part because of the timidity of the union leaderships who never believed they could win, didn't want to win, and did everything they could, by and large, to sabotage the movement, the OFL has disappeared from the view of those outside of union activist circles.
All that said, Sid Ryan is a worthy leader. Clearly on the left, I haven't agreed with all his stands but he was firmly anti-war and has taken a lot of heat for being pro-Palestinian and stood his ground. He played a mostly good role during the Days of Action movement. And he has often been a voice of militancy when others were more inclined towards retrenchment. He stands for unity, progressive politics and a vibrant movement. If I'd had a vote, I'd have voted for him.

Enhancing labour’s ability to reach out to unorganized workers and youth, to develop new alliances with community groups advocating for housing, public child care, social inclusion and environmental sustainability, and to ensure that the benefits of the new green economy are widely shared, must go hand-in-hand with strengthening unity within labour. As well as an opportunity, the chance to regain labour’s leadership role shaping social and economic policy, is an immense challenge – one that cannot be met if we are a divided labour movement.
But, I gotta say: that slogan? "Make Ontario Work"? I get what he's saying and all... but it sounds like a threat and not the good kind. I'm going to have nightmares of Sid coming to my house and dragging me out of my bed at six am to do hard manual labour.
I wish Sid the best and hope that he'll restore some of the old glory from the Days of Action - especially as we face Dalton McGuinty's Liberals going into deficit panic mode. I suspect it will take more than just a solid leader at the helm - it will require ordinary trade unionists rebuilding mobilizing networks to provide solidarity to each other and to push struggles as far as possible. With this endless recession kicking the asses of working people, we need someone who will inspire people to kick back a little bit. Now there's a better slogan: "Make Ontario Kick Some Ass". 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

No Heart: Why China Isn't Socialist

THERE'S MANY WAYS TO DETERMINE IF A COUNTRY IS SOCIALIST or not. One of them would be democracy. The whole point of the development of the socialist movement in the early 19th century was as a counter to the undemocratic allocation of resources and restrictions on the political franchise. And for Marx, of course, socialism was "the self-emancipation of the working class" - ie. the majority of the population taking control of their lives through their own efforts, rather than it being handed to them by an enlightened elite. That's why Marx and Engels opposed their idea of socialism to the "utopian socialists", people like Fourier and Owen, who thought that they could build communes and win the support of the enlightened wealthy to improve conditions for workers. And it was why they opposed the anarchist Bakunin with his secret conspiracies.
We could certainly find all sorts of tests and criteria to demonstrate that, in fact, China is not now never ever has been a socialist country. Or I could just quote this article on the development of a Chinese artificial heart for those who suffer heart failure.

The artificial heart, including a blood pump and battery, will be available to the public at the price of 600,000 yuan ($87,870) each, according to Xiang Tiangong, director of an artificial heart laboratory in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province.
Chinese wages have grown considerably as the economy has expanded rapidly (though the economy has expanded more rapidly than have incomes). However, the average income in 2006, according to the World Bank, was still $2,025. That means it would take an "average" worker over 43 years to pay for a heart - assuming they didn't need to pay for food, shelter, clothing, etc. As the original article about the heart went on to say:

"It is for the rich," said Lee, who questioned whether the price is a one-time payment or just a down payment on the continuing cost of heart transplants.
Typically, patients must pay the monthly cost of expensive medications to prevent the body's immune system from rejecting artificial hearts and organ transplants.
The Ministry of Health reported over a half-million sudden deaths from heart failures in China each year, the highest heart attack death rate in the world, the Xinhua News Agency reported earlier this month.
Highest heart attack death rate in the world but an artificial heart only available to the richest of the rich. Sounds a lot like the United States healthcare system. And I feel confident to state that the USA is not a socialist country.

Afghanistan: "This Is A War Of National Resistance"

FOUND THIS FASCINATING SHORT VIDEO on - which carries a lot of good stuff on the Middle East and beyond. It contains segments of interviews with a former CIA agent, Bob Baer, and Matthew Hoh, who is a former US official in Afghanistan and who resigned in protest at the war.

Afghan Army Plagued By High Turnover

A BIG PART OF US STRATEGY IN AFGHANISTAN IS "AFGHANIZATION", that is, getting the Afghan government, through an indigenous Afghan National Army (ANA), to fight against the insurgency and thus keep US soldiers out of harm's way. Towards this end the US and NATO have been recruiting and training the ANA, trying to build up troops strength.
According to Gareth Porter, writing for IPS, this effort has been plagued by a high turnover in the military - 1 in 4 in the past year - that is sapping experience and preventing the expansion of a trained force. In fact, rather than an accelerating process of growth, the military's expansion is actually shrinking, down by 33 percent over the previous two years. In other words, turnover is accelerating, making US commander, General McChrystal's  strategic plan to increase the ANA to 134,000 troops by next August an unlikely prospect.
In this, as in so many other ways, the US-led occupation and counter-insurgency in Afghanistan is looking more and more like the Soviet occupation and counter-insurgency of twenty years ago. As an article in Foreign Policy, entitled "Afghanistan is the new Afghanistan", notes:
Similarly, when Soviet leaders decided to invade Afghanistan in 1979, they did not intend to commit hundreds of thousands of troops over a decade to fight a domestic insurgency. They hoped that while Soviet troops provided training and logistical support to the military of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, economic aid and a massive advising effort would help build up the governing ability of the main political party. The Kabul government would then have the legitimacy and defense capability to stand on its own two legs without Soviet troops.
This sounds remarkably similar to the present American strategy. And the Americans' growing frustration with corruption, incompetence and contradictory strategies to the client regime in Kabul, is also reminiscent of the various leaders that the Soviets propped up and then dismissed during the course of their stay. The article goes on to note, in relation to the Afghanization strategy of the Soviets:
Likewise, though the Afghan military looked strong on paper, with more than 300,000 men and a generous supply of Soviet weaponry, it proved incapable of leading offensive operations. Within several months Soviet troops were fighting the insurgency directly, while Afghan forces did not take the lead in an operation until 1986. The complaints of Soviet officers working with Afghan troops would sound familiar to U.S. and NATO officers today. Recruitment proved difficult. Desertions were rife. Corruption was widespread. Troops avoided going into battle for fear of retribution against their families.
There are, of course, many differences - not least the fact that the insurgents don't have the backing of a superpower, as the mujahideen had the USA during the Soviet-Afghan War. Though it is not clear how decisive a role this played. In any case, the article concludes that the US could do worse than to follow the example of the Soviets and withdraw before they are decisively defeated. As Obama prepares to announce a "surge" in the number of US troops in the country, he would do well to remember what happened to the other empires that attempted to have their way with Afghanistan.

Why I Support Somali Pirates

APPARENTLY SOME PEOPLE FELT THAT I WENT TOO FAR in defending Somali pirates as representing a legitimate response to imperialism. After all, the pirates take hostages and threaten - though, statistically, it is the pirates who are most likely to be killed. And, as the Wired interview I linked to notes, it is not in the interest of pirates to actually kill their hostages. There have been very few fatalities. Nonetheless, it raises some serious questions about political ethics for progressives. Luckily, being a know-it-all, I have a response.
The first response of course is that there's always a double-standard in the moral outrage about "criminals" and "terrorists". Nobody credible in the mainstream media would suggest that the US president is a terrorist or a criminal. Yet, the United States, under the leadership of pretty much every president, has been responsible for hundreds of times more deaths than any terrorist organization that you might care to name. Bush alone must bear responsibility for the deaths of hundreds upon hundreds of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan. Clinton bombed Serbia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq and, of course, Somalia. Obama looks set to send another 34,000 troops to Afghanistan - and at $1 million bucks each, you can bet they won't be playing pinochle. They'll be killing people wholesale.
And the US is more than happy to hold people hostage, including starving people, using secret prisons, keeping them in legal limbo in Guantanamo, and the use of extraordinary renditions. In Somalia right now the US is holding millions hostage, refusing to allow US food aid out of Kenyan warehouses because it might get into the hands of the Islamist al-Shabab movement that is winning the war against the heavily-subsidized and heavily armed - by the US - TFG government in Mogadishu. Even Foreign Policy Magazine has an article condemning the policy, concluding with the following:

The U.S. government is holding the Somalia relief enterprise and its beneficiaries hostage to its counterterrorism policy... Until Washington lets [aid] agencies fulfill their mission unhindered, the U.S. mission to win "hearts and minds" in Somalia, a feared up-and-coming stronghold of terrorism, will be completely undermined. Knowingly allowing millions of people to suffer is no way to win friends.
But there's a second point, that I think is even more important. It is this: that the application of abstract universal values is politically useless to understanding the world, to providing a just framework for action, and to maintaining a coherent, non-hypocritical value system.
Let me put this more concretely. Is it right to say that lying is wrong? Most people would say "yes, of course. Honesty is the best policy." etc. And yet nobody actually believes that. We lie everyday, often several times a day. We lie to our boss - "sorry, I'm late: traffic". We lie to our spouse: "no, you don't look fat in that." We lie to our friends. Because we understand that context is what determines our response. Similarly theft - do we condemn the theft of a loaf of bread by someone so poor that to do otherwise would be to starve? Certainly the British condemned the Irish during the Potato Famine. And what is theft? Is it theft for children in Indonesia to work 12-hour days, being paid sweatshop wages by major multinational garment corporations? Is it theft for the world's largest banks to have gambled wildly and then, having brought the system to near collapse, demand public money, refuse public control, and continue to give out bonuses?
And lastly, of course, killing. Surely we must be against killing. Its a commandment from God himself. There's laws against it. We condemn it. But we don't condemn all killing. We have war memorials to commemorate the occasions of mass slaughter that punctuate our history. We're told to "support our troops", which always means "shut up and support the killing of foreigners in a war somewhere else."
So, unless we are going to consistently tell the truth, never steal and never support any war or violent act, we must permit that sometimes those actions are acceptable. The question is when are they acceptable and this really comes down to "whose side are you on?" It also means a concrete analysis of each situation.
Let's take the pirates since this is where we started. Somalia's pirates are indubitably - even the mainstream media acknowledge this - a response to the lack of a central government to police the waters of the Somali basin, and the devastating poverty of that country. The action of seizing boats might seem extreme but since the pirates aren't recognized as a legitimate sovereign authority, they are forced to use coercion. If we're honest, all state transactions - including taxation and tariffs - are rooted in the threat of violence (whether physical or financial) against the subject. We have created laws to mediate this but behind the laws that threat remains - and as the Branch Davidians or various aboriginal protest movements (or the Black Panthers or the MOVE organization or the trade union movement) have often discovered, it's not that far buried. So, the pirates, without the benefit of legal recognition, are applying the threat.
There's also a question of power implied here. Somalia is a country that is suffering because of the continued meddling, manipulation, invasion, bombardment, etc etc of the USA, et al. The USA support the dictator Siad Barre. They invaded to prevent Mohammad Farah Aideed from consolidating his power. They supported the Ethiopian invasion which forced the Union of Islamic Courts out of power, after they had brought a modicum of stability to the country. And now they are arming and backing a group that has no support outside of a few neighbourhoods in Mogadishu.
The USA is the most powerful empire in world history. It has bases in more than 100 countries. Its military spending alone makes up more than half of the total world military spending. Its economy is the world's largest. It controls the key international economic institutions in the world, the IMF, the World Bank, etc. It has invaded more countries and overthrown more governments than any other country in history.
From these two facts - oppression and domination - I draw two conclusions. The first is that the actions of the oppressed to alleviate their conditions are not the same as those of the dominant powers. The actions of, say, the pirates has a democratic component to it - they are attempting to overcome the effects of imperialism and to affirm their right to self-determination and sovereignty. The actions of the United States are designed to strengthen and affirm the present set-up, in other words their dominance. Thus, their invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan, their support for the Ethiopian dictator (the Jordanian dictator, the Egyptian dictator, the Israeli apartheid regime, of China, etc), are about sustaining domination. They run directly counter to democracy and self-determination. And since I support democracy - in the broadest sense of the term, including in the economy - because I believe that it is necessary for the full development of humanity, I support weakening the forces of domination. So, anything that weakens the Americans, their allies and clients, or other imperial powers (including the Russian, Chinese, British, EU, Canada, etc.) at the very least creates more space for the potential of democratic development. There will be no women's liberation in Afghanistan as long as NATO and the Americans are there. Only once the occupying powers are driven out, will there be the possibility of democratic development.
This doesn't mean that I support all actions putatively directed against the American state or other imperial regimes. Terrorism for instance, while often an understandable response, is usually counter-productive. (and by terrorism I don't mean the usual "anything that opposes us using violence is terrorist" discourse). When al Qaeda blew up the Twin Towers, did that weaken or strengthen the US? It strengthened it. It provided a pretext to invade Afghanistan and Iraq and to increase the repressive powers of the US state through the Patriot Act, the open acceptance of torture as legitimate, etc. There is a question here of ends and means - ie. the ends don't justify the means, the ends are determined by the means. And that is why I support the pirates.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

UK Cops Arrest Blacks To Get Their DNA

IT'S AS THOUGH COPPERS DON'T HAVE anything better to do - at least you'd think. But a review of Britain's national database has come to the conclusion that police are arresting people just to get their DNA on file for future potential criminal activity. They are, as the report puts it "pre-suspects". That, of course, is creepy enough but the review has also found evidence of a startling racial bias.

The review of the national DNA database by the government's human genetics commission also raises the possibility that the DNA profiles of three-quarters of young black males, aged 18 to 35, are now on the database.
As one of my favourite rappers, KRS One once put it: "you were put here to protect us, but who protects us from you."

Donald Trump Is A Prick. Discuss.

THE MEEK SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH, someone apparently once said. But in the meantime, guys like Donald Trump, the egomaniacal property developer, will attempt to seize their land and turn it into an exclusive resort. Not content with building gaudy, over-priced condos and hotels on multiple continents, Trump wants to build a £1 billion golf resort in Scotland. Only trouble is, one of the families who presently live on the land - and have done so for generations - don't want to move. So, Donald is dealing with it in his usual gentle, bourgeois manner - he put out a press release calling the owner names:

In a statement issued from his New York offices last night, Trump said Forbes "has always been dirty, sloppy and unkempt in his personal appearance and demeanor [sic]. He is a loser who is seriously damaging the image of both Aberdeenshire and his great country.
"His property is a disgusting blight on the community and an environmental hazard, with leaking oil containers, rusted shacks and abandoned vehicles dumped everywhere. It is a very poor image and representation for the world to see of Scotland."
Trump seems to think that forcing people off their land and wearing a haircut that looks like a yorkshire terrier has taken up residence on his head is a much better image for the world to see. I would just like to take this opportunity to apologize to the people of Scotland for our continent having produced such a cretinous, bullying monster like Trump. I promise we will overthrow capitalism soon, take away all of Mr. Trump's properties and put him to work in a kitchen under the supervision of Gordon Ramsay, the "cursing chef" (no small prick himself).

Somali Pirates: Small Acts Of Vengeance Against Imperialism

ON AND OFF OVER THE PAST SEVERAL YEARS, the subject of Somali pirates has made the front pages. There was a brief respite during the reign of the Islamic Courts Union, before they were overthrown by the Ethiopian Army, backed by the US, which claimed - falsely - that they were allied to Al Qaeda.
Somali pirates have once again been in the news, particularly in Britain, with the kidnap of a couple who were sailing through the Indian Ocean on their 38 foot yacht. The pirates have demanded US$7 million or they are threatening to kill them. The British government - unlike the Spanish, which recently ponied up $3.3 million to win the release of 36 hostages plus their ship - is refusing to pay for their release. Apparently the British government doesn't give "substantive concessions" to hostage takers. Unless you're a British bank, of course. The Royal Bank of Scotland threatened to go belly-up and has now received a total of about US$77 billion. In October RBS announced plans to pay out US$8.3 million in bonuses - these are piracy payouts if ever there were. Somali pirates can at least promise to return their hostages safely in return for their ransom.
Back in Somali pirates now hold about 200 people hostage, along with about a dozen ships. Over the years the piracy industry has become something of a lucrative, if dangerous, business. Certainly it is portrayed as primarily a problem of criminals in the western media. But it has to be understood as part of a broader problem related to imperialism and capitalism.
A full analysis would require a book but it's worth noting that Somalia only won its independence from British colonialism in 1960. The damage the British and Italians wrought upon the body politic, including slicing off a chunk of land dominated by Somalis and making it part of Ethiopia, the Ogaden region, and left an under-developed country riven by strife. In 1969 a coup took place bringing Mohammad Siad Barre to power. It was the cold war and rival Ethiopia was aligned with the USA. Barre aligned Somalia with the Soviet Union (later the superpowers would flip, like some kind of geo-political swingers party, with the US supporting Barre and the USSR supporting Ethiopia). Barre used Marxist jargon and had some popularity with promises of developing the country, including gains in literacy. But he was encouraged by the US to invade Ethiopia in 1977, leading to Somalia's humiliating defeat the following year. This undermined Barre's greater-Somalia strategy and weakened the legitimacy of his state. For the next decade, Barre stayed in power by brutally attacking his opponents, backed the whole time by the US and other western countries. He slaughtered thousands and bombed his own cities in order to stay in power.
Eventually, the inevitable happened and in 1991 Barre was overthrown, with the pre-eminent group being the United Somali Congress, led by Mohammad Farah Aideed. With Barre gone along with any semblance of a central, national power, Somalia descended for a time into clan warfare - though it seemed likely that Aideed would fairly quickly win most of the major forces inside the country to his side. It's unclear - at least to me - why the Americans wouldn't back Aideed, he was a naturalized citizen and had even been in the US Marines. The Italians, for their part, gave lots of money to Aideed's main rival, Ali Mahdi.
Whatever their reasoning, the UN invaded, including Canada (remember those pictures of Canadian soldiers torturing Sidane Arone?). Conflict between the UN and Aideed escalated rapidly into armed confrontation, leading to the death, first, of 23 Pakistani soldiers who had tried to shut down Aideed's anti-UN radio station. This ultimately became the first Battle of Mogadishu, immortalized in that spectacularly racist piece of crap Blackhawk Down by Ridley Scott. The result was 18 US soldiers dead - and somewhere in the vicinity of 500-1500 Somalis dead. Aideed wasn't killed or defeated but the UN intervention ensured that he was unable to form a stable national government. And he was killed - perhaps with the help of US special forces - in 1996.
Since then, there has not been a stable national government in Somalia - though regions, like Somaliland, do have more or less stable governments. And the UN and others have attempted to set up pliant regimes, the most recent being the Transitional Federal Government in 2004. But the TFG had no legitimacy inside of Somalia and it was notoriously corrupt. It was overthrown in 2006 by the Union of Islamic Courts, which at least promised to end inter-tribal strife and the widespread corruption. But the US has made it clear that either Somalia will have a government of their choosing, or they will have no indigenous government at all. The US trained, armed and greenlit the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia at the end of 2006, which overthrew the UIC, leading to three years of war. There is now a government of sorts in the central region of Somalia with Western backing but it is shaky and its remit very limited.
This history of warfare and imperial intervention is the backdrop to Somali piracy. Without a central state to organize and fund a coast guard, Somalia's coastline - rich in fishing - has become the target of illegal, industrial fish trawlers. These trawlers actively prevent Somali fisherman from fishing in their own waters and steal about $300 million worth of seafood each year. In addition, with no policing functions available, there has been widespread dumping of toxins and wastes off the Somali coast, also damaging the fishery and creating health problems for the local population. This feeling of being a force that is not committing piracy but is, in fact, defending the homeland is embedded in the names of pirate fleets, like the National Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia, and the Somali Marines. And many of these pirates are really just kids, often teenagers, engaging in the only lucrative economic activity within several thousand kilometres. That sense of a mission comes out loud and clear in a fascinating interview that Wired Magazine did with a Somali pirate:

Nine years ago everyone in this town was stable and earn[ed] enough income from fishing. Now there is nothing. We have no way to make a living. We had to defend ourselves. We became watchmen of our coasts and took up our duty to protect the country. Don’t call us pirates. We are protectors.
The pirate also has a keen sense of the order of things:

We attack many ships everyday, but only a few are ever profitable. No one will come to the rescue of a third-world ship with an Indian or African crew, so we release them immediately. But if the ship is from Western country or with valuable cargo like oil, weapons or … then it’s like winning a lottery jackpot. We begin asking a high price and then go down until we agree on a price.
It's hard to argue with the points raised by the Somali pirates. And seeing through the western propaganda about dangerous criminals, it becomes clear that the pirates have taken on the responsibilities of a state since the Somali state was destroyed with ample help and weapons from the West. 
It ought to impress our leaders, so enamoured with neo-liberal privatization. You'd think that a privatized coast guard, imposing tariffs to pass through the Somali basin, would be a model that the IMF, the US and others would want to hold up (pardon the pun). However, don't hold your breath. As the pirates know all too well, it's not really about free enterprise or defense of territorial sovereignty as an inalienable right - it's about power and domination. That's why the Royal Bank of Scotland will get its $77 billion without hesitation but the UK government will hum and haw about negotiating a ransom that will probably end up being $1 million (pirates generally demand around 10 times what they eventually receive). What the pirates have also discovered is that a fly moves faster than an elephant and so, for the moment, this has allowed them to survive and even make a living.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tony Blair Lied To Go To War In Iraq

HOW MANY TIMES DOES IT have to be shown that Blair is a lying, warmongering bastard before it finally sticks? There's now an Iraq war inquiry going on in Britain and, shock of shocks, Blair is accused of cocking up the mission because he was too busy lying about why they were going to Iraq. His official position was that the UK and the USA were just worried about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. Remember those? The ones that never existed. Not one. Well, even Blair's generals thought it was a pile of horse dung and were pissed because they were being sent to overthrow the government and rebuild the country on a new (neo-liberal) basis. Except that there couldn't be any planning about how to rebuild the country because officially, the concern was only with the non-existent WMDs.
Military commanders are expected to tell the inquiry into the Iraq war, which opens on Tuesday, that the invasion was ill-conceived and that preparations were sabotaged by Tony Blair's government's attempts to mislead the public.
They were so shocked by the lack of preparation for the aftermath of the invasion that they believe members of the British and US governments at the time could be prosecuted for war crimes by breaching the duty outlined in the Geneva convention to safeguard civilians in a conflict, the Guardian has been told.

USA Sets Up Death Squads In Afghanistan

IN POLITE COMPANY THEY DON'T CALL THEM DEATH SQUADS, instead they are euphemistically labelled "anti-Taliban militias". And the USA is pouring millions into the secretive program - the details of which they aren't even revealing to their allies. But we've seen this counter-insurgency strategy many times before.
The Americans used it in Nicaragua where they trained and armed Contras to fight against the leftist Sandinista government. Even earlier they used this strategy in Angola, funding the vicious UNITA army of Joseph Savimbi. And, of course, they used it in Iraq as part of their divide on conquer strategy by stoking up a near civil war between Sunni and Shia militias, then co-opting the Sunnis into the Awakening movement to crush Al Qaeda, then turning on them - or allowing the Shiite-led government to turn on them. In every case it has meant the most horrendous escalation of violence as village is turned against village, neighbour against neighbour. The poor compete in brutality to get access to development funds by increasing their body count.
Alas, this is nothing new.
But, in this instance, it is the act of a desperate imperial force, which is fast losing ground, with defeat a widely mooted possibility. Over the weekend at the Halifax International Security Forum, a gathering of warmongers from Europe and the Americas, Canada's former army chief General Rick Hillier said that the West has "one last shot" in the next 18 months to get it right in Afghanistan. Former Republican presidential candidate, John McCain made clear what that means:

It's not going to be easy. Casualties will go up ... and it will require a degree of steadfastness that will try the governments not only of our allies, but in the United States as well, as public opinion may be not totally in favour of what we're doing.
Even America's staunchest ally in the region, Pakistan, is getting worried. According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, Pakistan officials are pressing Obama to negotiate with the Taliban leadership - including Mullah Omar, a key founder and leader - rather than sending thousands more troops, as the US military leadership want. Some Pakistani are already negotiating with the Taliban and think that a reconciliation plan is possible with Karzai as a powerless figurehead and power divided between the Pashtun majority and representatives of the other ethnic groups.
The US disagrees thinking, not unreasonably, that the Taliban have no reason to negotiate at the moment since they are on the ascendent. The trouble is, as the Pakistanis point out, if the Americans surge, Taliban will pour into Pakistan, destabilizing the country further, especially if the US continued to not guard the border. Clearly the Americans are hoping to get around some of this through their death squad strategy of peeling away the "moderate" or "non-ideological" Taliban using cash incentives. However, as the CSM article makes clear, many think this is a non-starter:

"The Americans have wasted a lot of time over this 'moderate Taliban' idea. It is never going to pan out. It misunderstands the Taliban phenomenon," said Simbal Khan, an analyst at Institute of Strategic Studies, a policy institute funded by the Pakistani government. "If you try to break off elements with cash, they'll take your money and still fight you."
What this demonstrates is the growth of tensions between two powers that have broadly the same goals but lack the ability to implement them on either sides of the borders they control. In the wilds of the Hindu Kush and Waziristan, neither the Americans nor the Pakistani military know how to defeat the insurgency. And the strain is starting to show.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"There Are Rich People Because There Are Poor People" or why I like my neighbourhood

SORTA SAYS IT ALL, wouldn't you agree? These signs were just sitting in my local park - Dufferin Grove - with nobody around. No idea who put them there but I thought they should be memorialized somehow, so here they are.

Sen. McCain Blames "Political Correctness" For Fort Hood Massacre

YOU THOUGHT HE WAS DUMB FOR PICKING PALIN as his running mate? Or maybe for singing "bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" during a sound check prior to an election speech? Well, John McCain has definitely lathered the idiot-icing on the stupid-cake. Speaking at the Halifax International Security Forum, ie. warmongers from Europe and the Americas, McCain suggested that "political correctness" played a role in preventing anyone from doing anything about Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan before it was too late.
In one sense, he's right - if politicians like him hadn't voted for war in Iraq and Afghanistan there wouldn't be hundreds of thousands of damaged men and women returning from brutalizing populations halfway around the world. And Hasan wouldn't have faced racist harassment on a daily basis. But it was politically correct to support the vilest of wars and the suspension of civil liberties. It was politically correct to keep sending soldiers back into war zones to kill and die, even though it was leading to growing rates of suicide and inter-personal violence. And we know this is what was - and continues to be - politically correct because trash like McCain are rewarded for it by being paid big bucks to be Sentators and big bucks to come to Canada to peddle their filth.
But I suspect that we won't hear anyone calling John McCain politically correct because that would be politically incorrect - just like it would be to point out that at Fort Hood 76 soldiers have committed suicide since 2003 - out of a population of about 50,000, much higher than the national average. And it isn't only suicides:

Col. Edward McCabe, a Catholic chaplain at Fort Hood, said signs of fatigue and other strains are “rampant” on the base. “The numbers of divorces I’ve had to deal with are huge, the cases of physical abuse,” Colonel McCabe said. “Every night in my apartment complex some soldier and his wife are screaming and shouting at each other.“
It really is time for McCain to retire and take his prehistoric ideas with him.

Cop Tasers Naughty Child

JUST ANOTHER DAY IN Ozark, Arkansas. Domestic disturbance, officer on the scene. A struggle ensues in which the assailant resists arrest, is verbally aggressive and even kicks the officer in the groin. Appropriate force: taser jolt to the back.
Except that the assailant was 10-years old. And her crime: she refused to get ready for bed. I'm not sure how the cops ended up being called - maybe it was the mother's way of trying to threaten the child. And she apparently told the cop to taser the little girl "if I had to." What? Apparently, after wrestling with the girl on the floor Officer Dustin Bradshaw was unable to get handcuffs on her - so he zapped her. Then, because she was now unable to walk, he cuffed her and carried her to his car.
You might excuse one idiot making it through the Ozark police job interview but then the police department stood behind him. "He had no other choice, he had to get the child under control," said Ozark police chief, Jim Noggle.
I think this is an example of the stupid leading the stupid. But don't get all on your high horse, dear Canadians. We have our own brand of taser-yahoos in the various police forces around the country, who just love to go hog wild - even when it kills the assailant, as this Globe article from November 18 notes:

"Clayton Alvin Willey died of a heart attack [in 2003] several hours after police knocked him to the ground, hog-tied him, kicked him in the chest, pepper sprayed him and used a taser on him repeatedly."
This, BC RCMP incident, of course, looked similar to the killing of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski who was tasered to death in the Vancouver airport in 2007. Then there was the ex-soldier in Manitoba, suffering from PTSD, who called a mental health helpline in 2003 and asked to be admitted to hospital. The helpline sent the cops who arrived and tasered him multiple times between the man's house and the hospital. Five RCMP officers are now facing charges of fabricating evidence and torture.
Then there was the man who was tasered by the RCMP for double-parking. Or the disabled men tasered by the RCMP. The lesson: cops everywhere are dangerous and their weapons should be taken away.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Texas Marriage Ban: Proof Bigots Are Stupid

WHEN TEXAS LEGISLATORS PASSED a law against gay marriage, following its support in a referendum, it seems that their intellect was as low as their open-mindedness. The law certainly bans gay marriage alright. But these jokers wanted to make sure that no gay could have anything vaguely resembling a marriage. No sirree Bob. NUh-uh. Nope.
Well, they certainly found the one certain way of making sure that no gay marriage slips through some tiny loophole. They including in section B of the law a clause that reads:
"This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage."
The person who pointed it out, Democratic lawyer and candidate for attorney-general, Barbara Ann Radnofsky, notes that it is a "massive mistake". She wrote in an article on the Huffington Post:
"the courts are not permitted to go behind the clear language to consider intent. It doesn't take an expensive law degree to understand what this clause means."
But the right-wing dingaling attorney-general responsible for making his state look foolish (more than it already did for voting for a bigoted, retrograde law denying civil rights to a minority) is standing his ground. According to Jerry Strickland, the A-G's spokesperson:
"The Texas Constitution and the marriage statute are entirely constitutional."
The constitution is constitutional? Who gave this guy his degree? Somebody should tell him it's not the constitutionality that's a problem - it's the stupidity. And the bigotry.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Canadian Forces Promoted Torture In Afghanistan

PERENNIAL ASSHOLE STEPHEN HARPER AND HIS weaselboy sidekick, Peter MacKay, may not have figured out how to open the envelopes with briefings about how Canadian soldiers were handing over Afghans to be tortured - but at least somebody noticed and is now blowing the whistle big time.
Richard Colvin, a senior diplomat to Afghanistan for 17 months testified to a Parliamentary committee on Afghanistan that the Canadian military handed over three times as many detainees as any other country - knowing full well that they would be tortured. Former Military commander Gen. Rick Hillier called his report "bullshit" but then who would trust a guy who said that the military was in the job of killing people, not peacekeeping, on the question of protecting human rights? For his trouble Colvin got no support in trying to bring the scandal to light:

Colvin also told the committee that the government has tried to block him from testifying before a Military Police Complaints Commission hearing on detainee treatment by denying him legal representation and stopping him from accessing some of the reports he wrote while stationed in Afghanistan for 17 months in 2006 and 2007.
Of course, the Tories on the committee simply stonewalled and accused Colvin of being a dupe for the Taliban - their usual schoolyard (as in grade 1) rebuttal to anyone who criticizes their policy. Someone ought to tell these losers that their support for torture and bombing villages has done more to build the Taliban than anything else.

Afghanistan: Morale Down, US Payments To Insurgents Up

IT SHOULDN'T BE A SURPRISE TO ANYONE - especially after the massacre at Fort Hood - that soldiers in the US military are under strain. US troops have now been in Afghanistan for 8 years and have no real progress to show for it. Their commander, Gen. McChrystal, says that they're going to lose if they don't get tens of thousands more troops, and their president can't seem to make up his mind whether to follow the general's advice or not.
The conundrum of an occupation that is unravelling bit by bit is not only clear from a recent report (see video below) of Afghan insurgents over-running a US base - a common sight now that the US has abandoned rural Afghanistan. It is also painfully obvious from the recent article in The Nation magazine that revealed the US is actually paying insurgents to protect its supply trucks... from insurgents.

It is an accepted fact of the military logistics operation in Afghanistan that the US government funds the very forces American troops are fighting. And it is a deadly irony, because these funds add up to a huge amount of money for the Taliban. "It's a big part of their income," one of the top Afghan government security officials told The Nation in an interview. In fact, US military officials in Kabul estimate that a minimum of 10 percent of the Pentagon's logistics contracts--hundreds of millions of dollars--consists of payments to insurgents.
The decomposition of US and NATO resolve and the lack of any obvious way to win against a people who have defeated more empires than perhaps any other, has inevitably infected US troop morale. As this article on ABC News reports, a US Army study has found that less than six percent of troops in Afghanistan report that their units have high morale. That's a drop from over 10 percent in 2007, itself a painfully low number. Many of these soldiers have now served two, three - and some even five - tours of duty in Afghanistan.

The war in Afghanistan now rivals the Revolutionary War and Vietnam as the longest American war in history, but military experts say the war in Afghanistan is different in one key way.
Unlike the other long wars, this one is being fought by an all-volunteer force. That means it's the same group of people who keep going back and doing the job.
Meanwhile, Senator John Kerry said in an interview with USA Today that the US and its NATO allies will be in Afghanistan for another four or five years, meaning more tours of duty for an already tired military force. And four or five years, while a long way off, is itself unlikely, with many NATO forces, including the largest non-US forces like Canada and Britain, getting set to leave in the next year and a half. At the same time, even formerly peaceful provinces, like Kunduz have seen a rise in fighting. Much of Kunduz is now under Taliban control and NATO and US supply transport through this province - itself a diversion from the increasingly impassable Khyber Pass route from Pakistan - faces constant harassment. This is the province where German troops ordered in an air strike in September after insurgents hijacked a fuel tanker, leading to the deaths of at least 125, dozens of them civilians. The situation has deteriorated steadily since then. The world - and US soldiers and the people of Afghanistan in particular - await Obama's decision on an increase in troop deployment.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Scientology Racket Up For Torture In Australia

FAR BE IT FOR ME to judge people who want to form a church based upon the writings of a science fiction writer. After all the Mormons did it and their guy - Joe Smith - had a much less interesting name than L. Ron Hubbard. And, I'd be a hypocrite to say that Scientology's belief in, say, an alien named Xenu, who brought humans to earth billions of years ago in a bunch of DC-8s and then blew them up on the rim of a volcano - without mentioning that it sounds no less crazy than thinking a God came down, impregnated a woman in ancient Judea with his son and then let him die a horrible, mutilating death in order to free the souls of humanity.

However, not all of Christianity is organized around the brain-washed cult principle. And not all of Christianity uses torture, intimidation and forced abortion to keep its followers in line (though there is some evidence that the new anti-gay laws in Uganda - including the death penalty - received a boost earlier this year when anti-gay church groups met in Uganda to condemn homosexuality). But apparently there are people who have left the Church of Scientology in Australia who are now speaking out, leading the Prime Minister to suggest that he might open an inquiry into Scientology.
"Aaron says women who fell pregnant were taken to offices and bullied to have an abortion. If they refused, they faced demotion and hard labour," [Australian Senator] Xenophon said. "Aaron says one staff member used a coat hanger and self-aborted her child for fear of punishment."
I do want to be unfair to the Church of Scientology, however. So I will allow their most prominent spokesperson, a certain Mr. Tom Cruise, to regale you with the way, the truth and the light about Scientology. If you decide it's for you after seeing his gripping and coherent description, I'm sure you can find a location in your city or town. With any luck you'll come across a bar first. Or even a hot dog stand. You'll feel better in the long term.

Quebec's Tories Blow-Up Real Good

IT'S HARD TO IMAGINE SOMETHING MORE SATISFYING than watching  a Tory party rip itself apart. I remember when the federal Tories imploded after the failure of Meech Lake in the 90s. It did mean that we were stuck with Mr. Charisma, Preston Manning, for several years before he was summarily knifed in the interests of the unity of right-wing scum everywhere. But for those few years when Reform and the Tories were kicking the hell out of each other, with no prospect of them ever forming a government...ah, the good old days.
So, you can imagine the pleasure I felt when I read about ongoing flame-out by Quebec's very own wing of the Conservative Party, the ADQ. The ADQ, you may remember, was formed by Mario Dumont when the Quebec Liberals proved to be too small a party for his enormous head, also back around the time of Meech. For a long time the ADQ was a rump and then had an explosive breakthrough in 2007, going from around 4 seats to 41 and becoming the Official Opposition in a minority government situation. However, being largely made up of inexperienced yahoos, they quickly exposed themselves as incompetent and when Premier Charest called a snap election in 2008, they were pretty much wiped out, with Mario Dumont resigning and leaving politics to become a newscaster (one look at his hair and you won't be surprised). Nobody should feel too sorry for them, since they put up posters during that campaign that said immigrants were responsible for a decline of French in Montreal and suggested that immigration be frozen, while Quebecoises should be encouraged to have more babies. Dumont also campaigned vociferously against a course in schools to teach students about religions and cultures other than their own.
That brings us to the present. One month ago the party selected a new leader, Gilles Taillon, who won by only two votes. Vincent Marissal, from La Presse, described it as being akin to "being promoted to captain of the Titanic after it hit the iceberg." Pretty much right away two of the ADQ's seven sitting MNAs dropped out of the party (Conservatives are such good sports). The reason: Taillon isn't right wing enough. It gets better. Sick of the infighting, Taillon has now also resigned from the leadership and has suggested that the party was engaged in illegal funding practices and was considering calling in the cops. Nice one, Taillon, don't forget to burn down the house on your way out.
This is a big monkey wrench in the gears of the federal Conservative Party. While the ADQ weren't officially affiliated to the federal Tories, everybody knew which side their bread was buttered on. Dumont said he voted Conservative and numerous MNAs campaigned for the Conservatives in the last election. After Taillon was elected leader the ADQ announced it would cut its ties to the federal Tories. I bet Stephen Harper can hear the sound of his majority galloping away from him. Taillon is my new favourite leader of a right-wing party. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

WTF?! Anti-Violence Campaign Called "Hit The Bitch"

You have to be several varieties of stupid to come up with an anti-violence campaign in which you beat the hell out of a woman until you get the prize: a message telling you you're a "100% idiot". Clearly, somebody neglected to pass that message along to the shitburgers who generated this idea, raised the money for it and then implemented it. These folks get the Dumbasses Of The Year award for this one. Sheesh. Drop them a note and tell them that there might be, you know, a better way to oppose violence against women. Oh, feel free to be rude. (Thanks to Megan H. for pointing this out to me)

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