Monday, August 30, 2010

Inception: Victory of the Banal

Look, I don't care what the reviewers say: Inception was just not that great a film. I guess after seeing the low ratings for Repo Men, a film of much greater intelligence and caliber, I shouldn't be surprised that the morons who write film reviews would be drooling all over this. After all, it had everything that they love - lots of cartoonish violence, some solid thrills, beautiful leading actors, and a turgid, pretentious and yet ultimately vacuous plotline.
Now, don't get me wrong but there were was lots of tension and many high speed thrills. With a budget this high - $160 million - you'd have to hire the most incompetent team of filmmakers on the planet not to come up with something at least impressive to look at. There were even a couple of clever ideas in the film.
But mostly it was so haphazardly orchestrated and directed and, yes, shot, that it needed all the bells and whistles (and the way over the top soundtrack) to cover up for all the emotional and plot holes within it.
Let's start with the acting and the dialogue. Until the action really ramps up and the actors stop talking except in urgent commands - "Get him to the safe!" - it is almost unbearable.
Writer/Director Nolan seems to have never heard of a contraction or he believes that actors should speak the Queen's English: "you would not want to do such a thing..." But it's worse than this, it's often unclear why the actors are saying their clunky lines. There is anger when there ought to be simple explication and there is DiCaprio's endlessly heavy droning about some pseudo science that makes no sense.
But at core the problem is that this is a heist film without any heist. In heist movies there's supposed to be some great prize as the main storyline. Could you imagine Ocean's Eleven without the stacks of cash in the basement vault of Bellagio's? Would Inside Man work if it weren't for the hidden information in the vault? What about Italian Job without the gold?
And that's just it: Inception's heist has no gold. It's no wonder that the motivation for the characters' actions is a total mystery.
Ellen Page is totally under-used in the story. In fact, after the introductory sequence where we see her ability to play the role of an architect she contributes nothing whatsoever to the "heist." She could be removed from the script and nobody would notice. All we're left with is her interest in the inner life of DiCaprio's character, for reasons that are obscure to say the least. And what of the rest of the team who aren't there for the thrill of entering the dreams of rich guys? Beats me.
Nor do we understand the motivation of Saito (Ken Watanabe), the Japanese businessman who hired DiCaprio to do the job of planting an idea in the mind of an heir to a business empire (Cillian Murphy). Does he just want to eliminate the competition, which would make him a fairly unsympathetic character, or is there some greater good in his mind, which would justify him being the palsy-walsy of DiCaprio. This is never ever made clear. And what super-powered businessman would put himself on the line to execute a dangerous job? Why does he take this risk instead of leaving it to the professionals?
So, we have a heist movie without a treasure and with no motivations for most of the major characters. What we're left with is a lot of razzle dazzle to make us forget that we don't care about what they're going after. In fact, the whole central storyline is so irrelevant that, in the end, we don't even know whether it worked and what the fall-out was from their "inception".
This leaves us with DiCaprio's subplot about wanting to get back to his kids because he's been accused of killing his wife and needing to get over the guilt surrounding her death. Not a bad B-story except that it doesn't really affect the main story - sorry, the brief intervention of a train was fun but it didn't change anything - and it isn't really much of an obstacle in the heist story when push comes to shove.
Besides acting and motivation, even the shot choices are not particularly interesting or well chosen. Often times the shots are out of focus or too close or just not particularly interesting.
There are a number of slow motion shots within the van that the characters are riding in within a dream. Almost all of these shots have a close-up on Joseph Gordon-Levitt, DiCaprio's sidekick, with Watanabe seated behind him. But these guys are tertiary characters by this point. Where is our lead? We don't see DiCaprio and rarely even see Ellen Page, who are now the central characters.
And, finally, not to rain on anyone's profundity parade but the thematic exploration of "what is more real: our dreams or reality?" is not particularly original in content nor in its presentation. The story never managed to rise to the level of speaking to some kind of general experience in the way that The Matrix did or, earlier, Blade Runner. Or, frankly, the much maligned Repo Men.
That film reviewers have gone ga-ga over Inception is not particularly surprising, I suppose. They also drooled over writer/director Nolan's previous offerings in the Batman franchise. And his film Memento is supposed to be a "big idea" film by a "big idea" filmmaker.
Inception, like Batman, is a product of its own massive marketing campaign: tens of millions have been spent telling us what to think of the film (it's deep, complex and visually stunning) and the reviewers play their dutiful role of parroting Hollywood's self-aggrandizement.
In fact, you don't even need to go see the movie. You already know that it is great; an "entertainment experience" as they say. You will be moved, changed, transformed. This is an IMPORTANT FILM. Except that it's not. It's just weak, bloated and pedestrian.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Repo Men, Social Satire & How Reviewers Are Dumb As Posts


The other night I had the pleasure of being deeply disgusted by Jude Law removing a man's liver. Tonight I was disgusted to see that most of the reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes managed to completely miss the point of the film and give it a negative review.
I'm not surprised that a film that (literally) rips apart the brutality of private healthcare in the USA didn't do well. As a species we are more than a little squeamish about watching entertainment that speaks to us about contemporary concerns in a direct way. Witness the near total failure of recent war films about Iraq. The Hurt Locker may have won the Oscar but it didn't make any money at the box office.
But I guess I expect the film reviewers who watch a lot of films would enjoy the pleasure of the satire embedded throughout the piece, the self-referencing of action movies for the purpose of tearing them apart.
Peter Howell from the Toronto Star, for instance, writes: "The film is set in the near future, where a terrible thing has happened. There's been some kind of apocalypse, stripping Hollywood of new ideas. This leaves rookie helmer Miguel Sapochnik, as well as screenwriters Eric Garcia and Garret Lerner, with no choice but to make do with refried plot devices about heartless capitalism and mechanized humanity."
Is Howell dumb as a post? Hollywood has been making the same damn movie for thirty years. There's so little originality in Hollywood that we should shout for joy whenever something appears that isn't a remake of a TV series or film from the 60s or 70s or another Cinderella story. What's more, Repo Men stands in the tradition of satires of the caliber of Robocop. In other words, the action hero form is clearly intentional and satirical. Did these guys not pay attention to the last ten minutes of the film? It's about cultural fantasies of the hero who rescues us all as much as it is about the perils of American-style healthcare. And, frankly, I'll take "refried" plot devices about "heartless capitalism" any day over the usual horseshit about love conquering all or "try and you shall succeed." At least it attempts to engage with the lived reality of millions of people. Cinderella stories engage with fantasies that are meant to mask that reality in a way that is just insipid and stupefying.
Besides, you'd think reviewers would figure out that there was something deeper than a run-of-the-mill action film going on here by the presence of Forrest Whittaker; hardly a typical action hero. There's a strong echo of Gilliam's Brazil here, of the inside man who finds himself on the outside (and it's a reference in more ways than that but I won't spoil it). And the climactic fight scene, which was so over the top stylized and gory that only an idiot wouldn't figure out that it was meant to be a satire - and a set-up for the end of the film. It was a hilarious and beautiful send-up of The Matrix rescue sequence. Likewise the fairly erotic but absolutely bonkers sequence in which Jude Law and his kick-ass, sidekick girlfriend Anna Braga falsify the return of their overdue organs by cutting each other open and then inserting a barcode scanner.
And you can't help but laugh and shiver at the casual brutality expressed by the men whose job it is to physically retrieve the delinquent organs. The darkly comic brilliance reaches its peak when Forrest Whittaker's character borrows a kitchen knife from Jude Law during a BBQ at his house so that he can nip out front and repossess the kidney of a man in a passing taxi.
Somehow, the reviewers missed all this.
The Globe & Mail reviewer Liam Lacey was so asinine as to ask: "Surely an artificial organ could have a remotely controlled off-switch which would avoid the bloody splatter and the reason for this movie." Are you serious? Surely Alice would have broken her neck when she fell down the rabbit hole to Wonderland. Surely a man in red underwear and blue tights can't fly or see through walls. Surely the Marine operation in Avatar wouldn't depend on the ability and loyalty of one man to guarantee a resource upon which the entire earth is dependent. It's called a story as distinct from reality. And the brutal violence that made even a veteran action movie watcher like me wince and turn away was EXACTLY the point of it. It was meant to shock us into seeing the reality of privatized, corporate healthcare (or the real estate crisis for that matter). Newsflash: people die because of it and it ain't pretty. And while Lacey calls the film smirking and dully disgusting, all he betrays is that he is a sneering uptown snob with his title "Does the Hamlet set really want Saw-like gore..." as though such a film as this is beneath people with real cultural taste.
The script itself veers and bounces a bit - but for a good reason - and mostly it follows clear lines of development. The act changes are in the right place, the story is comprehensible and motivated. In the end it's a bit grim but it was so much fun getting to the grimness - wincing and all - that you're able to leave without needing a drink to dull its effects.

Stem Cell Injunction: More Proof of a Nation in Decline

As if it weren't obvious to anyone but the most ideologically blinded that America, if not yet a lame duck, is an empire in serious decline, the recent injunction by a federal judge against embryonic stem cell research is further evidence. And a further nail in the coffin.

America was once thought to be the land of pragmatic innovation, the pinnacle of what capitalism could achieve - particularly market-driven capitalism. America brought us mass production, in particular of the automobile, the airline industry, Hollywood, TV, computers, radio, etc. Not that Americans invented all of these things but they popularized them in a way that made America the epitome of technological advancement and its associated social progress.These advances were the reason that by the end of World War 2 America had the world's largest economy by a long shot, with around half of global industrial production originating on American shores.

Those days are over.

America's obsessive self-image of itself as the world's cop, a sort of John Wayne figure, meting out justice in the wild west of the rest of the planet, has not been without its costs. For one thing, it's mean that the bucket-loads of money that the US has spent on military hardware didn't get spent in productive investment and research.

Other countries, firstly post-war Germany and Japan, invested their social surplus back into the economy. Without the drag of a vast and unproductive military apparatus, these countries were able to quickly rebuild and surpass their rivals, with Japan ultimately becoming the world's second largest economy and Germany becoming the world's largest exporter.

That advancement eroded America's relative economic dominance. Today American industrial production is down to around 20% of the global total. And even that position is eroding with the Chinese behemoth moving up fast. China just surpassed Japan as the world's second largest economy and has passed Germany as the world's largest exporter. As a still relatively undeveloped country with a vast population, almost five times that of the USA, China has lots more room to grow rapidly and is likely to fly by the USA some time this century; some say sooner rather than later.

America's response to this has been multifold but for the purposes of this discussion, there's two elements that stick out as key. The first is a growing reliance by the USA on its overwhelming military dominance as the means to secure and guarantee what is euphemistically called "American leadership" of the world. America's military budget is greater than the next half-dozen countries' military budgets combined.

The second element of the American ruling class' attempt to sustain America's position is a sort of domestic retrenchment, both ideological and economic. On the economic front it has been a multi-generational war against unions and working people, leading to the slow erosion of living standards, education levels, social infrastructure and just plain happiness amongst American workers. On the ideological front, America has become increasingly brittle, hunkered down in a state of siege to defend "American values", which are defined increasingly narrowly. This stridency and aggressiveness has done its job in terms of keeping the population as a whole sufficiently cowed, if not active supporters of the "American Dream." And Protestant Fundamentalism, the unofficial religion of the American state, has played an important role as the most coherent ideological arm of the repressive state apparatus.

But here's the contradiction. Take one look at China. A length critique can be written about conditions inside of China from labour and human rights to environmental regulation. I don't want to lionize China as a model to pursue - either in terms of socialism or capitalism (China is, in any case, clearly the latter type of social order). However, China's development is unhindered by ideological rigidities of the American type. China's ideological and political repression derives from its attempt to keep a fast-moving train from going off the tracks. America's is the repression necessitated to achieve an orderly retreat. In the case of China, their repression is actually aiding the rapid expansion of the Chinese economy - it has to be said, largely at the expense of the Chinese working class. But in America, the repression that has been necessitated by its slide is itself becoming a factor in America's further descent, which brings us back to the reason for this blog post: the injunction against embryonic stem cell research.

The control of women's bodies has always been a key element in the ideological toolkit of capitalist society, no less in America than in Stalinist Russia. Hammering away at the idea of women's proper role (i.e. as baby-carriers) is another route to the idea that everyone has their proper place in society. It is a powerful tool (along with racism) through which to exercise social control. This is reinforced in America through the use of a particular kind of religious discourse and it is a KEY prop of Americanism. The battleground over that prop has been through abortion rights, which the right wing has steadily eroded over the past thirty or so years. America now has the most retrograde attitudes towards women's right to reproductive choice in the advanced capitalist world (and more retrograde than significant sections of the newly industrializing world). But, like military spending, this has its cost. In this case, religious zealotry has become an obstacle to economic innovation. Countries like Taiwan and, increasingly India and China, are catching up with America in the fields of nanotechnology and biotechnology. China is now the number two producer of solar panels on the planet and sells more solar panels in California than any other country, including the USA. The stem cell decision, of course, isn't itself an obstacle to innovation in renewable energy or in other forms of scientific advancement. But it is symptomatic of a broader trend in American society: it is the age of retreat. And in a period of retreat there is always less room to question. There will continue to be fits and starts - Bushes and Obamas - but the general trend is one of narrowing and descending (and if Sarah Palin wins the presidency, that pace will certainly speed up).

On the one hand, I don't really have a horse in the race. I don't live in America and I am a socialist. On the other hand, I live next door and I don't like the idea of a very large, heavily armed neighbour who has turned into a crazed, heavily armed survivalist. I would much rather see the American people rise up and throw off the parasites, imbeciles and lunatics who lead them.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Why Rob Ford Could Win

The Toronto mayoral election is a pretty depressing and sordid affair. In fact, affair is the appropriate word to begin a post on the Toronto election since the candidate of the "left" - Adam Giambrone - was forced to resign after it was discovered that he was texting naughty messages to a media inclined, young actress. Apparently she thought it was a little hypocritical for Giambrone to paint himself all senatorial by suddenly appearing with his girlfriend when he was secretly schtupping her on the office couch. Fair enough.

And, sad to say, that's a fair enough symptom of why Rob Ford may well win the mayoral election.

The left on city council - the people I have voted for since I voted in elections - alternate between being as respectable as an urban lawyer who shops at Pottery Barn and drinks fair trade coffee, and dull as dishwater. The only time they do anything political of note is when they trailed behind the frothing-at-the-mouth duo of Ford and Mammolitti after the G20. Every single one of them voted to congratulate the police.

Well, here's some news to the politicians: we've been suffering through a recession, we've been losing jobs and seeing house prices go through the roof simultaneously. People are angry and feel, with good reason, that the politicians are mealy-mouthed, pocket-stuffing, opportunists with no vision, no spine and no principles. And, like it or not, Rob Ford speaks to the anger that people feel.

I mean, look at his political opponents.

George Smitherman - come on, people. The only thing "progressive" that this guy has going for him is that he's gay. He's thoroughly establishment in outlook. Pink Bourgeoisie, you could say. His politics really aren't that much different from Ford's in substance - except that he smells like a snobby, urban lawyer who shops at Pottery Barn, etc.

Joe Pantalone - who? A nice guy with a decent record (though he voted for the police after they put a choke hold on democratic rights). His only achievement in this election will be to change the famous aphorism about nice guys to "nice guys finish third".

The other candidates are "also rans" and not worth much discussion.

That leaves us with the thoroughly odious motherf****er, Rob Ford. I grew up in Downsview, which is part of North York, so have a long memory of a certain Mr Mel Lastman. Then I moved downtown to escape my childhood stomping ground only to have that bloody carpet salesman follow me like a venereal disease. However, looking at Ford as mayor makes me long for Mel. Ford lacks the charm of Mel Lastman, who was like an affable but slightly demented and criminally inclined uncle that was fun at family reunions. Sure, you wouldn't want him as the family spokesperson but he could be counted upon to make you spray food out your nose with his off-colour, slightly offensive jokes.

Ford isn't even a clown - except maybe in the Stephen King sense of the word. Ford is like one of those sociopathic teenagers who shoot cats with pellet guns for the pleasure of causing pain to another living creature. Sadly, sometimes such sociopathy appeals to people for one simple reason: if you can't fight the people above you, kick the people beneath you who are weaker.

Let's face it, the union movement did sweet-f**k-all to resist the recession. Even the once mighty Canadian Auto Workers, who split from their American kin because they were militantly opposed to concessions contracts, offered up their members' veins for a good bleeding. The NDP are a part of Joe Pantalones. 'Nuff said. In other words those organizations and movements that ought to have shown an alternative to the smash-and-grab neo-liberalism of the Harper Tories and McGuinty Liberals and corporate Canada - have done nothing. There have been some noble attempts by trade unionists closer to the ground but the official union movement - the CLC, the OFL, the national unions - have all turtled.

Rob Ford is the ghastly result of that failure.

I can already hear all my lefty friends, particularly of the NDP variety, bemoaning the victory of Rob Ford on election night. I've already heard people saying that they will move out of the city (to go where? Calgary?). It will be a drag but Ford is a buffoon and he's not the candidate of the Toronto bourgeoisie, who want Smitherman. Ford is also despised on city council, whereas Mel knew how to build alliances. I mean, this is a guy who was thrown out of a sports game for picking a fight. He's hardly got the temperament to navigate Toronto city council. I don't think that anyone should be complacent and the movements ought to start fighting him now. But I predict that he will be the best enemy money could buy. Within six months a sizable chunk of every class in this city will want to destroy him.

Amplify’d from

James: Despite attacks, Rob Ford’s simple message takes hold


By Royson James
City Columnist
The leading mayoral candidates have so far shown a stunning lack of understanding of the force that fuels Rob Ford’s unlikely grip on the Toronto mayor’s race.
They call him names. They mock him. They tell anyone with a microphone and a pen that the rambunctious councillor is a buffoon with foot-in-mouth disease, a one-trick pony incapable of competing in the sophisticated world Toronto must navigate.
As if the voters don’t know this already. Ford’s been a councillor for 10 years. His file of verbal indiscretions is thick and well worn.
In fact, with every effort like George Smitherrman’s launch of the website, intended to showcase the celebrated gaffes of the councillor from Etobicoke North, Ford gains in popularity.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The End is Nigh, Dumbasses. Stop With The Fossil Fuels Already.

OK, so there’s forest fires sweeping Russia as the country swoons under the worst heat wave and drought in a thousand years. Yeah, that’s not a type: ONE THOUSAND YEARS. Meanwhile Pakistan is drowning in waters caused by the worst monsoon season in decades. And there’s the small matter of an ice island four times the size of Manhattan that has broken from the Petermann Glacier in north Greenland.
You might think that all this is a bad sign of climate change. But then you might also think that the American government is crammed with murderous, corrupt bastards, too stupid to do anything but fiddle while the whole damn planet melts like a creamsicle on a July sidewalk.
And you’d be right. These boneheads and knuckle-draggers are hauling is to hell in a handbasket. Scratch that, most of us don’t get a seat in the handbasket, we just go straight into the fire - as the hundreds of thousands of refugees in Pakistan have discovered. It seems clear that the present round of talks in Bonn Germany aredoomed to failure as the US, the EU and the other rich nations drag their feet. Meanwhile, governments continue to pump massive subsidies into the fossil fuel industry, letting renewables starve by contrast. According to a Bloomberg report:
“The $43-46bn figure [subsidies for renewables] stands in stark contrast to the $557bn spent on subsidizing fossil fuels in 2008, as estimated by the International Energy Agency last month.”
The net result is that all these negotiations are just so much hand-waving to distract us from the fact that it is business as usual. Hell, that $46 billion is less than 10 percent of the US military budget, expected to climb to over $700 billion in 2011 (not including the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan, which are paid for out of a separate fund). One can only draw one conclusion: the world’s rulers - led by the US and our own oil-soaked Prime Ministerial dickhead - really don’t care if they destroy the planet as long as they are the ones to squeeze the last drop of profit out of its dying body.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Steve Jobs Is The New Darth Vader

Time is short and deadlines are near but I still had enough time to watch this hilarious Taiwanese video about Steve Jobs and the new iPhone 4.


Monday, July 19, 2010

USA: Immigration Issue Could Split The Right

For years immigration has been an issue for the right wing to mobilize around - from the far-right vigilante groups like the Minutemen and the equally odious Tea Party movement to mainstream Republican governors, who bolstered their support during a period of mass unemployment and immiseration using immigrants as scapegoats. But it might yet turn out to be a pandora's box for the right wing in America.
As everyone knows, evangelical leaders have been a key component of the so-called conservative coalition, united around issues like abortion rights and same sex marriage. It seemed sometimes that the conservatives were an unstoppable monolith. Yet, an article in today's New York Times suggests that the big mobilizations against the immigration clampdown are creating schisms within the conservative coalition. With 15% of the large US Latino population self-declared evangelical Christian and with the majority as active Catholics, there is a danger that the politicization and mobilization taking place could push Latinos towards the left. US trade unions, for instance, have been vocal supporters of immigration reform to alleviate and normalize the status of the 12 million illegal immigrants living and working in the US.
“Hispanics are religious, family-oriented, pro-life, entrepreneurial,” said the Rev. Richard D. Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm. “They are hard-wired social conservatives, unless they’re driven away.
“I’ve had some older conservative leaders say: ‘Richard, stop this. You’re going to split the conservative coalition,’ ” Dr. Land continued. “I say it might split the old conservative coalition, but it won’t split the new one. And if the new one is going to be a governing coalition, it’s going to have to have a lot of Hispanics in it. And you don’t get a lot of Hispanics in your coalition by engaging in anti-Hispanic anti-immigration rhetoric.”

Land's point - absurdity about hard-wired social conservatism aside - is an interesting one and speaks to the pressure that evangelists feel. On the one hand, the Republicans were substantially discredited by the Bush years, with his neo-liberal tax cuts that failed to stop the economy's implosion and the widely perceived debacles in the foreign policy arena, from Iraq to Israel to Afghanistan. Of course the Democrats have a natural ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and the Republicans may well pick up substantial numbers of seats in the mid-terms - but it won't be on the basis of enthusiasm. And those most enthusiastic of Republicans - the Tea Party - are likely so crazy that their "insurgent" candidates in a number of states will mostly suffer ignominious defeat. All this speaks to a right wing that is weakened and divided. It's only against this backdrop, and the mobilizations of hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their supporters, that Land's bold talk of splitting the conservative coalition can be understood.
For progressives that offers some key lessons. It has been through mobilizations - not through waiting on the good will of the Obama Administration - that change has begun to take place. It will be through continued mobilizations that the conservative coalition will be fractured. It's also an opportunity to make broader links - something that the evangelicals understand. If Latinos are being driven away, it is also because they are being driven towards something. In California where Latinos likely voted in significant numbers to support the anti-gay marriage proposition two years ago there is the possibility of demonstrating that the LGBT movement understands the links between supporting immigrants rights and winning gay rights. In both cases it is about limiting freedom of choice and the right to a life with dignity. If the LGBT movement can demonstrate its principled solidarity it can not only help win a victory for immigrants' rights, it can also drive a deeper wedge, pulling Latinos towards reciprocating the support. That isn't to say it will be easy but the prize is so big that it is worth it. And a victory for both immigrants and LGBT people would be a massive blow to the confidence of not only the Republicans but the Democrats who have pushed hard to keep the movements in line behind Obama - even when he hasn't delivered so much as supportive rhetoric. Of course, in any crisis there is both opportunity and danger. There is always the possibility that, for instance, the LGBT movement doesn't support the immigrants' rights movement and is, instead, scornful of it. This may sound absurd but think about feminists attacking Muslims in placing like France and Switzerland, lining themselves up with hard-right anti-immigrant forces. If the oppressed don't unite, the right wing evangelicals could maneuver themselves into the leadership and steer it into a direction most advantageous to them - and with the most conservative outcomes possible. That could help cement the divisions between LGBT and Latino immigrants in a way that makes it much more difficult to overcome. Luckily, the recent mobilizations in the LGBT movement, post-Obama, have involved socialists in the leadership who are pro-immigrant and have a perspective of uniting the oppressed. Let's hope that they are able to find avenues to bring at least elements of these two movements together in a working relationship.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Carbon Trading Is A Scam

Carbon trading: another market failure

Lots of people have thought that creating a market to "trade" carbon emissions was always a scam. And there's plenty of evidence that scam is really too weak a word to describe how that market is unfolding. Back in March, The Guardian newspaper in the UK revealed that British industries were given lots of surplus credits - worth something like 66 million tonnes of CO2 - above what they needed. Companies are banking this free money (or free pollution) for future use. That means that they can sell their more expensive credits in the EU marketplace, while purchasing cheaper carbon credits from the developing world thus leveraging a profit in the same way that currency traders move money from more valuable to less valuable currencies.
Back in 2007 the Financial Times also noted that there was a lot of phoney-baloney going on in the world of carbon trading that made the scheme borderline useless and really a magnet for (legal) fraud and funny business.
The growing political salience of environmental politics has sparked a "green gold rush", which has seen a dramatic expansion in the number of businesses offering both companies and individuals the chance to go "carbon neutral", offsetting their own energy use by buying carbon credits that cancel out their contribution to global warming.
The burgeoning regulated market for carbon credits is expected to more than double in size to about $68.2bn by 2010, with the unregulated voluntary sector rising to $4bn in the same period.
The FT investigation found:
* Widespread instances of people and organisations buying worthless credits that do not yield any reductions in carbon emissions.
* Industrial companies profiting from doing very little or from gaining carbon credits on the basis of efficiency gains from which they have already benefited substantially.
* Brokers providing services of questionable or no value.
* A shortage of verification, making it difficult for buyers to assess the true value of carbon credits.
* Companies and individuals being charged over the odds for the private purchase of European Union carbon permits that have plummeted in value because they do not result in emissions cuts.
Francis Sullivan, environment adviser at HSBC, the UK's biggest bank that went carbon-neutral in 2005, said he found "serious credibility concerns" in the offsetting market after evaluating it for several months.
"The police, the fraud squad and trading standards need to be looking into this. Otherwise people will lose faith in it," he said.
Now, comes a kicker - as though you couldn't see this coming from a kilometre away - the EU has suddenly discovered that the carbon trading market is a very attractive outlet for money that the mob needs to launder. Since legitimate businesses have been using it as a scam for years, why wouldn't organized crime get in on the action. Watch in the future as the carbon trading market goes up like the real estate market and then collapses in a heap. Just like with the sub-prime collapse, the powers-that-be will somehow find a way to blame us for the debacle. Meanwhile, nothing will have changed in the level of carbon emissions.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Is Science On The Verge Of A Brave New World - Or A Nightmare?

This article on neuroscience and its relationship to social questions makes for an interesting read. It is extracted from a talk at the Marxism conference in Britain by Stephen Rose, an award-winning neuroscientist. Rose discusses the kinds of things that usually never appear in science magazines and journals, or even in the broader discussions in the media. For instance, he makes important points about the reductionism of neuroscience - this idea that our consciousness is simply a product of the mechanical/chemical functions of the brain. Of course the physical processes of the brain are important. But you cannot reduce us to our "central processor". We are embodied, for instance, which means that besides thinking "2+2=4" or "The blue sky is pretty today", we also are processing thousands of stimuli from every part of our body - maintaining the homeostasis that allows us to exist (for instance, constant temperature, the utilization of caloric energy), our other autonomic functions from our heart-rate to our balance - all of this is in addition to the full range of conscious sensations that we experience, hierarchize and sort at any given instant. And beyond the interactive macrosystems of the body, are the microsystems of the cells. The more scientists look into the functioning of cells, gene expression, protein functions and interactions, the actions of the organelles that make up cellular structures, enzyme function, etc. the more they realize what an unbelievably complex orchestra of interactions goes on to keep us alive. All of these elements - and their interaction with the natural and social worlds that we inhabit - are what make us as conscious beings. That's why I believe that the idea that some futurists have that we will "reverse engineer the brain" in a decade or two are hopelessly optimistic and naive as to the significance of doing so. A robot that has a human-speed parallel processor will still lack everything else that makes us human.
At a more mundane level this reductionism means reducing what are effectively social diseases of the mind to problems of brain function. Depression is seen to be somehow genetically coded or a brain disease, meaning it only needs to be treated with the right drugs to be solved. Same with other psychological disorders, or even the physical manifestations of social inequity, like obesity and diabetes. This is convenient for drug manufacturers but doesn't solve the social conditions that create depression or sets the foundation stones for the prevalence of schizophrenia amongst workers vs the rich.
Rose is also correct to point out that a significant portion of the cutting edge science is actually being funded and driven by the military - at least in the US and, perhaps, in Europe. DARPA - the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency - is a big funder of some of the most cutting edge science, including neuroscience. They are exploring things like mind control using electromagnetism, selective memory erasure through the use of enzymes as a means to allow soldiers to commit heinous crimes and not suffer PTSD, etc. Some of this stuff is quite frightening.
All of this is true and worthy of concern and comment. However, I can't help but feel that - at least in the article form of Rose's talk - he is missing the point a little bit. And I think that this is a tendency on the left, at least the Marxist left - to reduce all capitalist-funded and state-funded research to the potential and real negatives, such as those discussed above. Yet, this has the danger of making us look like Luddites. I remember distinctly, for instance, the dismissal of the significance of the internet in the 1990s. It's true that the internet didn't solve oppression, exploitation or the domination of the capitalist controlled mass media. It's true that the internet was invented and developed with the support of DARPA for more efficient military communications. There is no denying any of this. But if you were to tell someone today that the internet is unimportant and has changed nothing they would rightly think that you were off your rocker. As futurist US Ray Kurzweil is fond of pointing out, when he was at MIT in the early 1970s, the super-computer on campus took up a whole room and cost tens of millions of dollars. Today there is more computing power and greater access to information in a palm-sized iPhone, which can access "all of human knowledge" via the internet. And who could imagine the speed with which the scandals about G20 policing broke without smartphones, youtube and twitter? The internet and computing has, quite simply, transformed our relationship to information. The fact that you're reading this right now and that I'm engaging in a discussion based upon an article that was posted across the ocean is proof of that as well.
We have to take the same approach to the present explosive developments in neuroscience, biotech, genetics and robotics. There is a real sense amongst many people that these areas are on the verge of becoming the next IT. People, including progressive people, are very excited about the research into gene therapy. There have been big leaps, for instance, in the ability to treat macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa in rats through the use of viruses that carry the corrected gene. Those viruses then swap in the functional gene for the faulty ones in the retinas of diseased rats. Such rats have had a significant restoration of sight. Similar promise is held for ALS (a neurodegenerative disease, made famous with the film Lorenzo's oil), Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's along with new treatments for HIV/AIDS, cancer and even heart disease.
Now, a lot of this stuff has to be taken with a grain of salt and research to cure diet-related diabetes with gene therapy, for instance, is probably hogwash. And researchers are discovering that genetic is very much more complicated than simply reading a very long book and changing some grammar here and there. This has led to the development of new fields and new approaches such as epigenetics, proteomics and others. But to suggest that there aren't big strides being made because of the reductionism of capitalist science - both in its conceptual framework and its need to produce sale-able products - is itself reductionist and rather dogmatic. We need to be able to find the correct balance in our assessment of technological progress. And we need to see that capitalism still remains a very dynamic system, capable of significant advances technologically. It's just the chaotic and distorted way that those advances come about - in the US through the channel of the military (though this is different in Japan and China) - means that advances that should unambiguously alleviate the human condition and liberate us from drudgery and the horrors of disease, all too often only adds to the horror - with advanced weapons systems and surveillance technologies, for instance - or is reserved only for the wealthy. And the subordination of research to military purposes or to satisfy the drive for profit means that scientific advance is slowed or abandoned if it doesn't serve those ends. We are for more science and more funding for research but research to meet human needs.

Solar Rate Cut: Ont. Libs Biggest Idiots Under The Sun

After three months of watching oil from the Deepwater Horizon pour into the Gulf of Mexico, killing animals that are reliant on the Gulf eco-system by the truckload, and destroying traditional fishing cultures of the people who live along the Gulf coast - not to mention wetlands - can we finally make some serious investment in green energy?
Well, the good news is that global investment in wind and solar energy has continued to climb year over year and for the past two years constituted the majority of new power generation in North America, Europe, and China. China, who some tried to blame for all the carbon problems, has invested massively in solar and wind technology.
China had the largest addition of renewable power capacity, and the Asian economic powerhouse surpassed the United States as the country with the largest investment in clean energy.
China now produces about 40 per cent of the world’s solar electricity collectors, 25 per cent of its wind turbines, and three-quarters of its solar water heaters.
China's cities are still a smog and carbon-belching nightmare. But the picture of China as the main culprit just doesn't wash. The number that is often used to judge China is the absolute carbon emissions but this is dishonest since China has a population of $1.4 billion whereas the USA has less than a quarter of that total and Canada even less. It's more accurate to look at carbon production per capita and by this measure the USA - and even more so, Canada - are the bottom of the barrel. According to the Conference Board of Canada, a conservative business organization, Canada is the pits.
Canada is one of the world’s largest GHG emitters. Canada ranks 16th out of 17 OECD countries on GHG emissions per capita and scores a “D” grade.3 In 2005, Canada’s GHG emissions were 22.6 tonnes per capita, almost double the 17-country average of 12.4 tonnes per capita. Canada’s per capita GHG emissions were also almost four times greater than Norway’s, the top performer.
The primary reason why Canada's position is so terrible and getting worse all the time - the Tar Sands debacle. The next worse in line is, of course, the USA at 19.1 tonnes per capita. In the case of the United States the terrible record and worse response to the growing disaster of fossil fuels is especially poignant in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and Obama's pitiful $2 billion loans to the solar sector in response, even as oil companies get at least double that amount every single year in tax subsidies.
And it isn't the case the up here in the kinder, gentler nation that we're any better. Stephen Harper continues to pour subsidies into the oil sands project, destroying the Alberta watershed, poisoning downstream communities and jacking up Canada's carbon emissions when we should be reducing them. Of course, nobody is surprised that a neanderthal like Harper and his pals will be happy to ride a luxury handbasket into global warming hell.
But Dalton McGuinty leads the progressive Liberals. They don't hate the cities. They had an openly gay man in cabinet. The teachers unions like him. Of course, he is implementing the HST, which is a blatantly regressive tax grab. And in the area of energy policy and development, the Green Belt that was supposed to lead to greater population density - a necessity to make mass transit efficient and to reduce the need for automobiles - in the Greater Toronto Area is a total hoax that does nothing to reign in the developers. And now the Liberals have taken an axe to subsidies for the solar industry, cutting the price paid per kilowatt hour by more than 25% - from 80.2 cents to 58.8 cents per kilowatt hour. Of course, what the government should be doing is directly investing in solar infrastructure, rather than leaving it to the inefficiencies of market mechanisms. Just as they should be investing in infrastructure for electric vehicles. However, it makes no sense to cut solar subsidies at a time when fossil fuel subsidies for the Tar Sands are, if anything, rising under the federal Tories. McGuinty could easily fund the development of renewables and create jobs by taxing carbon producers and investing that money in Green industries. But that would mean taking on corporate priorities and redirecting them to meet social and environmental needs. What this rollback demonstrates is that McGuinty isn't willing to do that. He's more than happy to pass secret, repressive legislation to clampdown on civil liberties - he isn't willing to use his legislative powers to help save the planet.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

$114 Billion: Total Direct Aid To Israel

That special relationship that American and Israeli politicians talk about is very special indeed, to the tune of $114 billion dollars since the founding of Israel. That money has come in the form of direct military funding and economic aid. In fact, the $3 billion per year that Israel continues to receive - not counting loan guarantees - provides $500 per person to Israeli coffers. Given that 25% of the military funds - which now make up all of the financing - are allowed to be spent on Israeli weapons industries (the only country in the world that receives US military aid that is permitted to do so), this money has a huge multiplier effect in the Israeli economy. In fact, Israel is the world's ninth largest exporter of arms - an industry that has been entirely built with American taxpayer money. So much for the free market.
What this - self-described - conservative estimate demonstrates is just how key Israel is seen to American imperial interests in the Middle East. It also demonstrates that the America government, which plays a key role as a so-called arbiter in the Palestinian-Israeli non-negotiations, is not a neutral party at all. It's like your boss arbitrating a conflict between you and one of his managers. America has funded and supported Israel's theft of Palestinian land since day one. And it will continue to do so until the political cost is higher than the military and political benefit. Building the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement and - importantly - the growing movement to break the siege of Gaza, will help to turn the tide. Ending the funding to Israel would not only be a big victory for the Palestinian struggle, it would be a major defeat for American imperialism.

Congress Watch | A Conservative Estimate of Total Direct U.S. Aid to Israel: Almost $114 Billion

Arizona: Boycott America's Most Racist State

Back in 1993 the NFL pulled the planned Superbowl out of Arizona because the state government refused to recognize Martin Luther King Day. The pressure ultimately worked, the state instituted the day and were rewarded in 1996 with a Superbowl. But Arizona racism runs deep and MLK Day hasn't stopped the state from continuing in the vanguard of US racism - no mean feat in a country with so much of it. This is a state that bans "ethnic studies" in its public school, reinforcing ignorance of other cultures.
Back in April, Arizona's governor signed into law SB 1070, known also by its more polemical title "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighbourhoods" Act. It will become law on July 29. The law effectively legalizes and encourages racial profiling by the police. If you "look" like an "alien", the police have the right to stop and demand to see your papers. It is obvious towards whom this is directed - the significant state Latino population, who already suffered the effects of racial profiling, as this excellent editorial in the Washington Post points out.
This law isn't about solving the immigration issue; it's about scapegoating, an established practice in Arizona. For years, law enforcement agencies have criticized the Maricopa County sheriff's office for not serving felony arrest warrants in favor of conducting "saturation" sweeps in which hundreds of Latinos have been indiscriminately arrested in order to find undocumented immigrants. Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has stated that "citizens are being stopped because they are brown," and in a letter to the Justice Department he asked for a federal investigation into Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio based on his "pattern and practice of conduct that includes discriminatory harassment, improper stops, searches, and arrests." And this was before SB1070 became law.
While there was an immediate and vociferous outcry from immigrants and immigrants' rights organizations, there are nonetheless ten other states, including Texas and Colorado, considering implementing a similar law. It is no exaggeration to say that this is the most draconian, racist immigration law to be passed in generations. Sadly, Obama has done little to disperse the myths of a crime wave by "illegal aliens" announcing that he would add 1,200 troops to patrol the US-Mexico border.
Not surprisingly, the media has been in lockstep with the most virulent anti-immigrant propaganda. Bill O'Reilly of Fox News ranted in May that "Phoenix is the kidnapping capital of the United States. Crime is through the roof. Drugs are coming across the border all the time. So what do you expect Arizona to do?" Except that every word out of his mouth was a lie.
Arizona's crime rate has been falling for several years, even as the number of immigrants to Arizona, both documented and undocumented, has been increasing.
What's more, study after study has shown that foreign-born immigrants are, in fact, less likely than native-born white Americans to commit crimes...
The endless repetition of the assertion, no matter that it is directly contradicted by the evidence, has nevertheless had its impact. When asked whether "more immigrants cause higher crime rates," 25 percent of Americans replied "very likely" and another 48 percent said "somewhat likely," according to the National Opinion Research Center's 2000 General Social Survey. This three-quarters of the U.S. population that believes there is a causal link between immigration and crime is significantly greater than the 60 percent of people who think more immigrants are somewhat likely or very likely "to cause Americans to lose jobs."
Not surprisingly the bloviating of scumbags like O'Reilly and right-wing, talk-radio agitators has had an effect upon attitudes towards immigration in America and in Arizona, with something like 67 percent of the US population supporting the Arizona measure. But even still a clear majority support legalization and "paths to citizenship" for immigrants coming into the country. According to this article by Justin Akers Chacón, such support remains large and solid, particularly amongst younger people.
A May 2009 CNN poll found that two out of three people supported legalization. A May 2010 CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll found that while there is a substantial increase in support for enforcement measures, 80 percent of respondents nationally support "creating a program that would allow illegal immigrants already living in the United States for a number of years to stay here and apply to legally remain in this country permanently if they had a job and paid back taxes."
Drilling down beneath the support for SB 1070 is also revealing. According to an America's Voice poll conducted in June, 84 percent of national respondents who supported SB 1070 also support comprehensive immigration reform that includes legalization.
The truth of these numbers can be seen from the fact that at the end of May somewhere approaching 100,000 people marched in Arizona in opposition to the law, while the "Stand With Arizona" rally in support of the law drew about 7,000 people. A national mobilization, called "Phoenix Rising", a week later drew less than 1,000 people. On May 1, over half a million people marched in over 100 cities across the US in support of immigrants rights. And back in March 200,000 marched in Washington to demand comprehensive immigration reform. And the numbers of union and community leaders speaking out against the law continues to grow, along with unions and others which have passed resolutions condemning the law. Given the attempts by some to use populist rhetoric about "American jobs" being stolen by immigrants, it is especially important that the union movement has come out solidly opposed to this law.
The outrage that the racist Arizona law has generated is leading to a broad-based and widespread move towards boycotting the state. In 2011 the Major League Baseball All-Star Game is scheduled to take place in Arizona. An open letter has been sent to Bud Selig, the MLB commissioner, calling for it to be removed unless Arizona drops the law. This has been signed by the president of the AFL-CIO, the union central representing millions of American workers and numerous other community leaders. A website has been set up to promote a national and international boycott of the state. Boycotts have been decided upon or are being considered in Seattle, Berkeley, Burlington, and Chicago.
This pressure is no doubt behind the fact that the Department of Justice finally announced on July 6 that it would challenge SB 1070 as unconstitutional. Obama also spoke out against the Arizona law on July 2, after too long a silence on the issue and a failure to deal with immigration reform for the first half of his mandate - though he used the rhetoric of the Immigrant Rights Movement to help get himself elected.
He also accepts the law and order discourse on immigration and suggests that illegals in the USA are criminals by definition who ought to be punished.
Ultimately, he said, "our nation, like all nations, has the right and obligation to control its borders and set laws for residency and citizenship. And no matter how decent they are, no matter their reasons, the 11 million who broke these laws should be held accountable."
Obama said those who entered the country illegally must admit they broke the law, register with the appropriate authorities, pay taxes, pay a fine, and learn English. They must "get right with the law before they can get in line and earn their citizenship."
As always, American politicians abdicate the responsibility of their own country in creating refugee crises. US foreign policy acts to create situations where immigrants seek to flee to somewhere more prosperous. Haitians flee Haiti because the US has prevented that country from developing independently (including generations of reparations that were paid to France for overthrowing French slavery) and kidnapped the countries' democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrande Aristide. The US overthrew, invaded or funded coups in countries throughout Central America - just this week sending thousands of Marines to Costa Rica, off the coast of Nicaragua. The US contributes to poverty and repression in Mexico through the support for maquilladora (free trade) zones and the crushing of independent unions and indigenous resistance by US corporations and US backed political actors. Almost every country in South America has experience an American-backed coup against reformist leaderships who seek to develop their countries and alleviate poverty. What's more, both Texas and significant portions of California were illegally stolen from Mexico in the first place.
Rolling back this present round of attacks, part of a longer-term assault in immigrants rights in America, where 11 million people (up to 5 percent of the workforce) are undocumented, will require dispensing with the whole legal-illegal language. This is about human rights and workers' rights since the wealthy have few obstacles to living wherever they want in the world. Defeating the Arizona law could be an important victory in the movement to roll back that assault. Take the opportunity to join the Boycott Arizona movement - write to Bud Selig, pass resolutions in your union, community, or school. Send a strong message that racism is unwelcome everywhere.

My Own G20 'Most Wanted' List

The Toronto Star is reporting that the Toronto Police have released photos of the ten "most wanted" vandals from the G20 demonstrations and riot of two weeks ago. I will at least give the police credit that all of the "suspects" at least appear to have been at the demo. There's no photos of the guy who got shaken down on his way to play medieval role playing games, swinging a foam broadsword. I suppose that's sort of a step forward.
Of course, it doesn't answer a single one of the questions that have been raised by concerned citizens about the suspension of civil liberties. About the horrid conditions and brutal treatment of arrestees, 95% of whom were never charged.
But more than that, if these guys smashed some windows and a couple of, cough cough, abandoned police cruisers, it is nothing compared to the damage of the real vandals at the G20. So, in the interest of balance, RedBedHead is releasing its own "Most Wanted" List. If you know the location of any of these thugs, just pass them along to my desk officer. We'll fill out a report and then get our agents on the case to track them down and arrest them.



Don't let the cute kitty-cat fool you, this man is armed and dangerous. He is wanted for holding an entire city hostage, suspending civil liberties, and directing the cops to treat protesters like the enemy within. He's also wanted for funnelling money to the most destructive energy project on earth - the Alberta Tar Sands; for ignoring all democratic checks and balances; attacking women's right to abortion; and championing an economic austerity model that was adopted by the G20 and will lead to immiseration for tens of millions of people around the world. Since he organized the whole stupid thing, he gets to be number one.


He started off so well but just couldn't resist picking up bad habits. We all loved him and wanted him to succeed. The President of the United States has shown himself a willing participant in the murder of tens of thousands by commission and omission. He convinces us he was anti-war and then sent an extra 35,000 troops to Afghanistan. He told us he was for stimulus spending and bank accountability - and now he's moving towards austerity. He said he represented a new, cooperative model of foreign policy and then sent thousands of Marines to Costa Rica as a threat against Nicaragua, backed the Honduran coup, supporter bombings and massacres in Pakistan, gave the thumbs up to every crime that Israel could come up with. He reneged on his promise to rescind the odious Defence of Marriage Act, to support immigrants who face sustained assault by Tea Party, Minutemen and the whackjobs who ran half of the states in America. He reneged on providing real public healthcare and defending a woman's right to choose. The list of crimes continues for quite a while but this is enough for an arrest warrant. He's probably guarded by some heavily armed, sunglasses wearing thugs, so approach with caution.


Wen Jiabao, China's Premier, may wear silly hats but this thug is all business back home. He has been involved with repression in Tibet and the Xinjiang region of western China. Then there's all that stuff about stealing organs from prisoners and dissidents. That's worth a few years in the big house right there, serving tea and crumpets to some Falun Gong supporters. Wen rules over a country that prevents freedom of speech and crushes dissent - except where doing so will lead to bigger explosions, as with the recent industrial strike wave.


His true nature was laid bare a long time ago but he's managed to avoid capture by constantly changing the laws of Italy to maintain parliamentary immunity. It helps that his control and manipulation of the media has made Italy the most unfree media climate in the western world. Besides being an all around SOB, he's also happily supported the war in Afghanistan and repression against trade unions and the left at home. He is in the process of implementing a serious austerity package against Italian workers, which, if he gets away with it, will immiserate millions. He cavorts with open fascists and has created an atmosphere in Italy conducive to the recent pogroms against immigrants and Gypsies. Luckily, it seems that he will soon be thrown out of office and will thus be easier to arrest.


He looks a bit like Clive Owen here but this guy has no charm at all. Besides his current package of austerity that has generated a massive general strike, he has also attacked immigrants, particularly Muslims at every opportunity. He is for repression, harsh nationalism, and attacks on workers rights and living standards.


The goofball "conservative with a heart of gold" Prime Minister of Britain is what the brits call a toff, which sounds like toffee, but really translates more accurately into rich, inbred bastard. This criminal mastermind is bent on recreating the terror of Thatcher and imposing it on the poor people of Britain. He's a racist, elitist scumbag and his assault on the National Health Service of Britain, as well as the broader public sector is set to be the most significant attack on the welfare state ever seen. Hopefully the people of Britain will give him a swift kick in the pants and his weak coalition government will fall apart. He's best sedated upon arrest or he'll try to charm you and ply you with some of those dreadful British breath mints.


There's something Pinochet-esque about Billy boy in this photo. Give him the moustache and away he would go. He obviously revels in unbridled power and has a penchant for lying publicly and frequently. As the leader of the biggest street gang in the city of Toronto, he's not to be taken lightly. Don't try to approach him as he's sure to attack.


He's a liar. He's boring as shit. Somebody stop him before he passes more police special powers laws that he didn't pass and never really existed in the first place even though he pretended they did until it became politically inconvenient.


He's a bigot, a bully and an asshole who represents every vile, narrow attitude that porcine white assholes can possibly hold without being fascists. And he was number one scum when it came to fellating the TO police over what a wonderful job they did implementing their mini-police state.

Ah, Georgio, how long we have known and despised ye. All the way back to when you scabbed on the NDP same spousal legislation. So it was particularly rich when you put forward a motion to withhold funding from future Pride festivals because they permitted Queers Against Israeli Apartheid to march (under enormous pressure). Having assisted in denying same sex couples any of the rights of heterosexual couples for another decade or so is enough to warrant frog-marching this weasel straight out of city hall and into the hoosegow. But the fact that he fought to get to the front of the line, ahead of his long time arch-foe, Rob Ford, in sucking up to the coppers post-clampdown makes him a double-weasel.


There he is: Curly, Larry and Shemp. I'll leave it to you, trusty reader, to decide whom is whom. If we have to endure one more "progressive" mayor like Miller I'm gonna cack. I thought Barb Hall was bad enough - Christ, she was beaten by Mel Lastman! But this guy is worse. Sure, we were all excited when he deposed Mel "Noooobody" Lastman with his three dollar suits and world knowledge gleaned from reading the Sunday funnies. But by the time we got to Miller's second term it would be an understatement to say that the thrill was gone. He went after public sector unions last summer, forcing a strike and then demonizing them as he sought significant concessions - as though public sector workers are to blame for the sorry state of city finances (here's a hint: cut the police budget). Then he went out of his way after the G20 fiasco to congratulate the police on what a good job they did - before knowing the facts of the matter. He did later apologize for the martial law situation - sorta, kinda - at a community event in North York, out of the eye of the media but the damage was already done. Of course, he has done no worse than the other progressives on council who all voted to withhold funding for Pride unless they censored the political views of participants viz Israel and who all voted to applaud the cops for smashing heads and suspending our rights. Nice goin' Milly Vanilly. Get outta here, you punk. Do no pass GO, do not collect $200!

Well, that's it. It's a bit of an arbitrary list, of course. There were so many scumbags assembled in one city that, frankly, it's a surprise that the World Health Organization didn't send in a team to disinfect ole Hogtown. I never even mentioned Germany, for instance. Or Russia - whoa, he's a dirtbag though, ain't he? But I think that if we can nail these guys, make an example of them with some show trials, convict them in the media - hey, we could get Christie Blatchford to cover it - then it will discourage copycat scumbags from following in their path. Two-thirds of the law is about deterrence. Remember that, kiddies. Now get out there and hunt these bad boys down like the dogs they are.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Afghanistan: One Disaster After Another

NATO simply can't win for losing. Almost ten years into the occupation of Afghanistan and western troops are re-discovering the lesson that the Soviets learned before them (and the British before them and...): this country is the graveyard of empires.
As the 2011 deadline approaches for the withdrawal of troops from numerous countries including, supposedly, the US, Afghanistan is more in the grip of the Taliban insurgency than at the start. Obama's much vaunted surge into the cities a la the Soviets circa the mid-80s, appears to be failing spectacularly according to every measure. They haven't even managed to "pacify" the minor town of Marjah with thousands of US troops, and just today had to replace their hand-picked government representative as part of a "reform" effort. It's no wonder that the plans to implement a similar "pacification" in Kandahar city has been postponed indefinitely. The town still isn't safe for travel.
When the U.S. Special Envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, and the U.S. Ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, visited Marjah in late June to meet with local leaders, they were greeted with small-arms fire from Taliban fighters in the vicinity.
This failure is coupled with the British debacle of withdrawal from the town of Sangin with their tails between their legs. This was followed by three of their troops being shot and killed by a soldier in the Afghan National Army who was working alongside them. In the last 48 hours alone a total of 12 NATO soldiers have been killed in fighting, 8 of them American.
Alongside the military setbacks that are undermining the credibility of the American-led international occupation, the political situation has also become a disaster. Attempts to apply the Petraeus model of winning victory by bribing Pashtun tribes in the south is an acknowledged failure - without the hammer of the Shi'ites death squads as he had in Iraq to apply pressure on Sunni resistance fighters, there is little incentive to go along with the American invaders. It doesn't help that the government of Hamid Karzai is seeking a negotiated solution with the Taliban that can only mean an American withdrawal, or that the plan to "Afghanize" the conflict is in total disarray. A report in the Independent newspaper is a damning indictment of NATO's showcase strategy for withdrawal and stability.
The strategic plan of creating an Afghan security force to replace US and British troops fighting in Afghanistan is in serious disarray with local forces a fraction of their reported size, infiltrated by the Taliban at senior levels, and plagued by corruption and drug addiction...
And the way in which their capacity has been assessed over several years, during which time tens of billions of dollars have been spent on building up Afghan security forces, is so flawed that it has been scrapped.
Less than a quarter of the army and less than one in seven police units are rated as "CM1" – meaning they are capable of operating independently. Yet the true picture is worse.
With record levels of both civilian and military casualties and all of NATO's strategic bolts fired and missing, it's hard to see how anything can be salvaged. Nor is it clear that Obama or NATO has any alternative strategy on offer except to pray for time. What is clear is that if NATO is defeated in Afghanistan, it will throw into crisis the strategy of using NATO as a non-UN, American controlled force to multiply America's imperial reach - at a blood and treasure discount price. Such an end result can't be a bad thing. And the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan will be necessary for any reconciliation, rebuilding and true liberation for the people of Afghanistan to be possible.

The Many Betrayals of Barack Obama: Part 1

What happened to change we could believe in?

With mid-term elections looming this fall, there are a flurry of articles assessing the results and prospects of Barack Obama’s first term as president. Not surprisingly, given how high were the expectations of an Obama presidency. Who can forget those massive election rallies? “Yes, we can”, he boomed and hundreds of thousands repeated the words. These were words that came from the Spanish “Si, se puede” of the immigrants’ rights movement that mobilized millions the year before the election. And as a black man running for and winning the presidency in a land built by African slaves, he seemed to represent America turning a corner.
Obama said that he was against the torture and imprisonment without end that was most starkly represented by Guantanamo Bay’s Camp X-ray. He would shut it down within a year, he said. He opposed the “Defense of Marriages Act” that was signed into law by his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton in 1996, enshrining discrimination against gays and lesbians into law. He would end the war in Iraq (ahem, to divert resources to Afghanistan). He would finally bring public healthcare to the American people, 50 million of whom were without any insurance whatsoever, in an “industry” whose costs were ballooning every year because of the “market.” And, of course, he would turn around America’s economy, which was on the fast track to disasterville with the worst recession in the post-war era destroying jobs faster than a fire in a field of autumn corn.
At least that’s what he told us.

The First Betrayal
On election night, November 2008, not only did voters elect America’s first black president on a platform of change. California voters also voted on Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage, which had previously been permitted and had led to a flurry of marriages, particularly in San Franciso. This immediately provoked a sense of outrage. And a sense of betrayal as it became clear that Obama would spare no effort to spare no effort to demonstrate his support for equality. In the lead-up to the vote in Maine, that was lost, Obama said not a single word in support of equal rights for gays and lesbians. And the Democrats didn’t use any of their electoral networks – there was a state election, along with the ballot on gay marriage – to promote equality. When Equality Across America was mobilizing a march of a quarter of a million people in Washington in support of gay rights, Obama advisors and Democrats not only did nothing to support the march, many of them derided it.
And now, the Obama Justice Department continues to aggressively defend the very Defense of Marriages Act about which Obama once stated: “Federal law should not discriminate in any way against gay and lesbian couples, which is precisely what DOMA does.” Even after a US District Court Judge ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional, it is expected that the Justice Department will appeal the ruling.

The Second Betrayal – Guantanamo
“As President, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists.”
So said Obama during the presidential election campaign. Yet, the prison at Gitmo is still up and running. And, as an article in the New York Times argued:
Stymied by political opposition and focused on competing priorities, the Obama administration has sidelined efforts to close the Guantanamo prison, making it unlikely that President Obama will fulfill his promise to close it before his term ends in 2013...
"...the administration is not putting a lot of energy behind their position that I can see,” said Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat....
[According to one senior official] “Guantánamo is a negative symbol, but it is much diminished because we are seen as trying to close it,” the official said. “Closing Guantánamo is good, but fighting to close Guantánamo is O.K. Admitting you failed would be the worst.”
The priorities of the Obama White House on this issue, in other words, are governed by cynicism and spin.

The Third Betrayal – Healthcare
Obama’s betrayal on winning a public healthcare system is really several betrayals rolled into one. For certain women’s right to have unhindered access to abortion has fared no better under Obama and he has, if anything given encouragement to the anti-choice by implementing an executive order excluding abortion services from the health reform. He did rescind Bush’s global gag order denying funding to international aid organizations that supported abortion services but he has done nothing to rescind Bush’s provider-conscience law in the US, which permits medical providers to discourage and deny women from access.
And the “reforms” as a whole are an unmitigated disaster for most Americans and a giant cash prize to the health insurance industry that has helped to make America’s healthcare system simultaneously the world’s most expensive and the world’s worst. This excellent article by Chris Hedges on details some of the betrayals of Obama’s “reform” package:
The 2,000-page piece of legislation, according to figures compiled by Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP), will leave at least 23 million people without insurance, a figure that translates into an estimated 23,000 unnecessary deaths a year among people who cannot afford care. It will permit prices to climb so that many of us will soon be paying close to 10 percent of our annual income to buy commercial health insurance, although this coverage will only pay for about 70 percent of our medical expenses. Those who become seriously ill, lose their incomes and cannot pay skyrocketing premiums will be denied coverage. And at least $447 billion in taxpayer subsidies will now be handed to insurance firms. We will be forced by law to buy their defective products. There is no check in the new legislation to halt rising health care costs. The elderly can be charged three times the rates provided to the young. Companies with predominantly female work forces can be charged higher gender-based rates. The dizzying array of technical loopholes in the bill-written in by armies of insurance and pharmaceutical lobbyists-means that these companies, which profit off human sickness, suffering and death, can continue their grim game of trading away human life for money.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Veil Ban: French Parliament Stuffed With Racists

French fashion: Is this woman liberated

Today the French Parliament passed a bill banning the wearing of face-covering veils in public. Now, if women are caught in public wearing a veil, they will be forced to pay a $190 fine and enroll in a "citizenship course." The justification for this repressive measure is that it is about protecting the dignity of women.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, said earlier this year that the full veil "hurts the dignity of women and is not acceptable in French society".
This, of course, is an enormous crock of you-know-what. First of all there are only perhaps 2,000 women in all of France, out of a population of 62 million people, who wear a full-face veil. But also, this is nothing more than cultural supremacism. Does it not hurt the dignity of women to have to wear high heel shoes and other torture devices? How about short skirts and tight clothes or multi-coloured oil-based creams and powders to emphasize their lips, eyes and cheeks and thus their sexuality? Is breast augmentation supportive of the dignity of women as human beings? Collagen injections? The face veil on women is, of course, an expression of the fact that women are oppressed. But so are these other feminine "necessities". The issue is a cultural and a racial one. It is about attacking an identifiable minority.

Life in France is "carried out with a bare face", Michele Alliot-Marie, the justice minister, said last week as she opened the debate in the National Assembly.
Face-covering veils "call into question the idea of integration, which is founded on the acceptance of the values of our society", Alliot-Marie said.
Alliot-Marie and Sarkozy would know, like ever French person, that the inability to integrate into French society is precisely why the immigrant ghettoes that surround major French cities periodically explode in riots and protests. The children and grand-children of immigrants are still not accepted as French and are denied equal participation in French society by French laws, French social policy and French attitudes. If Alliot-Marie and Sarkozy were truly interested in bringing immigrants "into the fold" they wouldn't be forcing women who wear the veil into their homes to avoid being punished. How is it liberating for a woman, supposedly oppressed by her husband, to face the coercion of the French state to do something that is unacceptable to her husband, her community and possibly even to herself.
This has nothing to do with women's dignity and everything to do with pandering to the far right and to sowing divisions at a time of heightened anger over French austerity plans. At the end of June there was a nationwide general strike and over 200 demonstrations, mobilizing some 2 million people, across France against plans to raise the retirement age. Deflecting people's anger onto immigrants has served the French ruling class well in the past - and the Nazis. In the 1980s it led to the dramatic rise of Jean Marie Le Pen's fascist National Front. The FN has been diminished in recent years but it could easily spring back to life with this kind of backlash.
That's why it is so dangerous that the French left has been utterly terrible on the question of the veil and the hijab. The opposition Socialist Party walked out of the vote in parliament, not because it opposes a ban per se, but because it thought that it should only be confined to government buildings. Apparently it is better to merely exclude these women from gaining access to social services. What if they were being abused and wanted to access help? Apparently they would have to disrobe first. But even the French far-left has not been consistent in supporting the right of women to choose what garments they will wear. The New Anti-capitalist Party selected a hijab wearing woman to stand on one of their electoral lists in the most recent election. Not only did this spark a huge outcry in the media, the NPA itself was split over the question, with the fight continuing. The French left must get clear on the question of the veil - it is a question of racism. And, just like in Afghanistan, we must give no quarter to the bombers who would "liberate" women  by invading their country, we must oppose attempts to "liberate" women by forcing them to give up their social customs against their will.

G20 People's Investigation

This initiative is an excellent idea. If the Tories and McGuinty won't hold an independent inquiry then the people should form their own independent inquiry as a focus for the anger that people continue to feel. If it can be connected to a campaign of mass mobilization, all the better. The Tories may be hoping that this issue is going to die in the summer heat but it seems clear that this particular fantasy of theirs isn't going to happen - not by a longshot.
There is to be a press conference today to launch the initiative - I'll keep you posted.


We are calling on the public to come forward with photos, video, and eye witness accounts of police violence against civilians during the G20 summits in Toronto. This evidence will be used to ensure that there are consequences for all those who beat and injured people, and for the masterminds who conspired to plan and give orders for the widespread police violence and repression that was experienced by thousands on the streets.
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