Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Suppressing Dissent

"Banned from Canada for War Protest" by Ann Wright from http://www.commondreams.org/ is a chilling example of the way North American corporate and political elites are taking advantage of the threat of terrorism (that their own policies has produced) and the "Security and Prosperity Partnership" to suppress domestic dissent to their system.

Many countries have succumbed to the behind the scenes 9/11 pressure of the Bush administration to enact extensive and expansive anti-terrorism laws to increase “harmonization” and integration of security measures among countries. Unfortunately, the Canadian government is mirroring the Bush administration’s use of security measures to increase control over dissent in their country-and in other countries.

Most of the new security measures are done through administrative agreements, international joint working groups, regulations and the use of international organizations such as the G-8 and the International Civil Aviation Organization. By using administrative regulations, the U.S. and Canadian governments avoid opening up the proposed restrictions of personal privacy to public scrutiny and debate by preventing such regulations from being enacted in the Congress or Parliament.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Yesterday's News

Yesterday, Sunday October 28th, 2007, I couldn't help but notice that the three top stories on the yahoo.ca homepage consisted of two important stories and one inconsequential, ridiculous story, and that all three were related.

The first story was "Israel power cuts to answer Gaza rockets," which is part of the ongoing tragedy of Israel's war on the Palestinian people. The second story was "Report: 15 Kurds dead in Turkey clashes," describing how Turkey (which has been oppressing its Kurdish minority for decades) is responding to alleged sheltering of Kurdish rebels in bordering Iraqi Kurdistan by launching cross-border raids into US-occupied Iraq.

Those were the two important stories. The ridiculous story was entitled "Al-Qaeda threat reduced - US." The story yahoo.news linked to is no longer available evidently. Here's the search result snippet:

"Al-Qaeda threat reduced - US," News 24 SouthAfrica - Oct 28 10:31 PM
The threat from al-Qaeda in several parts of Baghdad has been significantly reduced, but Iraqis face threats from criminals, says US General David Petraeus.

It's a ridiculous story because Al-Qaeda in Iraq has always been a relatively unimportant player in that country, with most of the armed opposition to the US, and most of the overall violence, coming from domestic insurgents and sectarian or tribal militias. However, in the fantasy world of the capitalist news media, imbecilic announcements from the incompetent imperialist enforcers of bush II's delusions are instantly elevated to serious story status, and so this blatant propaganda ploy is reported as if anyone who has half-a-brain is supposed to give a shit.

And it's related to the two other stories because one: the plight of the Palestinian people was one of the motivating factors behind the creation of the original Al-Qaeda, and the general animosity of the Arab and Muslim worlds to US foreign policy. The continued expansionist tendencies of Israeli chauvinists shows no signs of abating, so, therefore, neither will this anger and the occasional terrorist inclination, and two: because the regional instability that has been created by the blundering, stupid Cheney and bush II duo is of such intensity (well beyond the very limited capabilities of both of these dunder-heads put together) that one of the potential bastions of pro-US, pro-Western government policy, Turkey, is moved to its own anti-US actions.

bush II's invasion of Iraq has strengthened fundamentalism, devastated the rights of women, produced millions of refugees and perhaps over a million excess deaths, and might bring about the dismemberment of that country along sectarian and ethnic lines, bringing all the countries of the region into direct confrontation. Meanwhile, bush II blithers on about Iran causing World War III, as part of his mindless subservience to Israel's irrational fears.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Galloway on O'Reilly

I'm not entirely a fan of George Galloway, but he can kick ass on those who need it when he wants to. I found this video recently, and I like the way that even on the stupid, bully O'Reilly's own show, Galloway is able to keep control of the situation, and not give O'Reilly much with which to discredit him. (Such as losing his temper with this blundering idiot's simplistic insistences.)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Marcus Gee on Pakistan Now

Depressed about the car-bomb that killed over 100 people at a welcoming rally for returning Pakistani politician Benizar Bhutto, Marcus Gee now wonders why Pakistan never seems to be able to get things right.

Born in turmoil, raised in war and division, Pakistan is the country where things always seem to go wrong. With a resourceful people gathered under the green flag of Islam, the country of 164 million should be one of the developing world's success stories.

Instead, it finds itself embattled, divided, misruled and perpetually on the doorstep of catastrophe.
Headline writers call it a nation "on the edge." Scholars debate whether it will join the ranks of failed states, spewing out loose nukes and Islamic militants.

Why doesn't Pakistan work?

What follows is a relatively (for a Gee editorial) inoffensive description of Pakistan's troubled history. Many of Pakistan's problems do have their roots in the domestic dictators and corrupt politicians of its own political system. Where Gee goes wrong here is in removing any contribution of the West in aiding and abetting this corruption, oppression, and failure.

In the first place, Benazir Bhutto's return wasn't the unmixed triumph of democracy that Gee painted it to be:

A joyous throng cheers the returning opposition leader as she heads home after years in exile. Then, suddenly, an explosion shatters bodies and hopes.

Great expectations, blasted dreams.

Benazir Bhutto created many enemies in Pakistan for her strong faithfulness to the demands of US foreign policy, and for her government's corruption.

The massacre in Karachi had been widely predicted. Benazir Bhutto herself has stated that she was aware of the dangers. The government pleaded with her to delay her return. Jihadi leaders, angered by her slavish support of US foreign policy, had publicly threatened to kill her. She survived but a few hundred people have been killed without reason.

More trouble lies ahead. Benazir may be the preferred politician of Washington and the EU, but the Supreme Court is considering five separate petitions to reject the Ordnance that pardons corrupt politicians. Were the court to accept these petitions, Ms Bhutto would have to serve time in prison.

Furthermore, as my last post showed, Gee wouldn't know what makes a country successful if the rules were tatooed upside down (for ready reference) on his stomach.

India, its great rival next door, is going from strength to strength, with a thriving democracy and a booming economy.


It seems that the point of Gee's column is to present Bhutto (the friend of the West) as a necessary component of Pakistan's future success. Being a friend of the West is, for Gee, a sign of being one of the "good guys/gals." In Gee's world, the West (especially the United States) only wants what is best for the world. Western puppets, enforcing economic policies that benefit the wealthy few, are the best thing for the nations of the Global South, because such policies cannot fail to produce a world full of Marcus Gees. Urbanized, educated, and free to think, say, and write whatever they want (so long as it supports neoliberalism).

The tragedy is that Pakistan could do so much better. Its urbane, educated elite can hold their own with any in the world. ... Pakistanis, for all their divisions, have a strong sense of national pride, visible whenever its cricket team takes on India.

A vibrant free press has grown up to challenge government views. Various non-governmental groups, from women's organizations to the lawyers guilds that challenged the government in street protests earlier this year, are coming together to form a vital “civil society.”

Gee overlooks the British incompetence in the partition of 1947 which produced so much violence. Gee overlooks US meddling in Indo-Pakistani relations during the 1960s and 1970s, including US support for Pakistan's military government's massacre of anywhere from 500,000-3,000,000 Bangladeshis (in what was then known as East Pakistan), because Pakistan was friendly with China, which US President Nixon was wooing for purposes of Cold War realpolitick.

Still, it seems that most of Pakistan's corruption and lack of democracy have domestic roots. But neoliberalism and sucking-up to the United States isn't the answer to Pakistan's problems. It certainly doesn't look like Benazir Bhutto is going to deliver for Gee:

The tragedy of Pakistan is that the People’s Party of Bhutto and its rivals offer no real alternatives to the policies currently being pursued. The State Department notion of Bhutto perched on Musharraf’s shoulder parrotting pro-Washington homilies was always ridiculous. Now there are doubts as to whether she will even reach the General’s shoulder. (From Tariq Ali, "A Massacre Foretold," cited above.)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Time, Time, Time,

I've gotta think about something to say that's positive. Or some sort of critique that goes somewhere. A post a day. Oh well, ... on busy days, I'll just refer to stuff that I've read. ... Say, I know ... I'll pick the low-hanging fruit that is a Marcus Gee editorial.

Now then, ... t'would appear to be the case that Gee has chosen to write about India's economic reforms, as opposed to US foreign policy. Why not? One can mindlessly cheerlead for neo-liberalism anywhere one wants to, since it's the mindlessness that's important. Not the specific details of time and place.

The article is called: "India May be on the Right Track; Too Bad it's on the Slow Train," and with a title like that, you know you're in for some sensitive, nuanced analysis. As near as I can tell, it appears that Marcus has got ahold of an OECD report: ("Economic Survey of India 2007") and has decided that not only is it the god's own truth on everything, but that it requires Marcus's attention to really bring the prescriptions in the report home to the timid, half-heartedly neoliberal Indians.

According to Gee, the OECD report celebrates India's recent economic progress, which is due to "market" reforms, but because India is so powerful and proud, the report's authors have to restrain their enthusiasm about recommending, or pressing, further market advice on it.

you can almost picture its authors biting their knuckles to hold themselves back. ... What they must really want to say is: Are you blind? Can't you see what a dose of the market has done for you? Can't you see what you could achieve if you took a little more?
What has the dose of the market done for India? According to the OECD, and Gee, it has done the following:

1. Over the course of two decades, the contribution of exports as a proportion of India's GDP has tripled.

I'm not sure why that statistic is something to unreservedly celebrate. It's actually quite meaningless on its own. It could of course mean that India is earning foreign currency which is then being used to invest in the country's development. But it also means that India's exposure to foreign economic conditions has grown, and it is less in control of its own destiny.

2. India's GDP has grown to the point where, "by one measure," it is the third-largest in the world, and is growing by 9 percent a year.

At the end of the day, I'm going to agree with Gee, that India's overall economy has grown due to its involvement with the rest of the world's economy. What I'm not going to do is to point to every statistic of growth as an unmixed blessing that surely means more food in the belly of every Indian child.

As India re-enters the world economy, foreign dollars can buy up Indian assets and Indian rupees can buy up foreign assets, and this bidding can build up money values of the Indian economy so that it's GDP appears to have brought more real economic growth than it has. As well, Indians fleeing the subsistence economy of the countryside for the paid labour market might represent an relatively substantial increase in those individuals' per capita contribution to the GDP but with no real increase in their personal living standards. They might have worked for adequate food and shelter then, but are now working for pay that affords them inadequate food and shelter, but it is only the latter work that got entered into national economic statistics.

Besides increasing the monetized (and therefore easily countable) proportion of India's economy, there's also the reality that even real GDP growth can be distributed unequally, a reality that appears to have been lost on the OECD and Gee. Determined to talk about GDP growth six ways to Sunday, he continues:

Annual growth in gross domestic product per capita - a standard measure of a country's wealth - has accelerated from just 1.25 per cent in the three decades after India achieved independence in 1947 to 7.5 per cent at present, a rate that will double average income in 10 years.

Here's the thing: I could never see myself writing such a sentence without thinking about the fact that the average income of myself and Bill Gates is something like $10,000,015,000. Not only is it the case that this growth in India's GDP is not being distributed evenly; as we'll see, some people (many people) are seeing absolute losses in their economic well-being. You can take homeless people and sell them to pet-food companies and increase the GDP. I doubt those homeless people would be all that pleased about their re-entry into the world of government economic statistics. This is basic stuff. It's why us "irresponsible" leftists don't cheer whenever the economy grows by half-a-percent. You have to dig a little more deeper, or else you'll be forced to write drivel, week after week, for major national newspapers at a respectable personal salary, forever.

That, by the way, was the sum total of Gee's account of the OECD report's glowing progress report for market reforms in India. That exports are a larger proportion of a substantially growing GDP. Gee then turned his attention to what India needs to do to achieve even more spectacular GDP numbers:

What's frustrating is New Delhi's hesitance to take the next step. The reforms that are needed to sustain and ramp up India's boom are blindingly obvious; the government's policy progress painstakingly slow. Hobbled by its Communist coalition partners, afraid to take on rural lobbies and other entrenched interests, the Congress Party administration of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is failing to do what's needed.

How truly superb it must be to be Marcus Gee! Like a child, he's constantly frustrated that others fail to see the world as he does, but also like a child, he harbours these gigantic hopes, nay, certainties, that all will be much, much, better, if only the rest of the world does the few simple things that he asks of it.

So what "blindingly obvious" policies do the Indians have to implement? Obviously, workers have too many rights in India, and it must be made easier in a country of over one billion (1,000,000,000) people, to toss people willy-nilly into destitution. Nothing bad could ever happen with a totally deregulated labour market in India!

First, reform labour markets. Job protection laws are stricter than in any other OECD country except the Czech Republic and Portugal.

Here's the chart Gee is referring to for this factoid:

You'll also notice that India is roughly up there with those economic basket-cases of Germany and Sweden! T'would seem that protecting workers isn't always pure death for a national economy.

But anyway, let's look at the unemployment rate in the Czech Republic. It's about 10 percent, the same as most other Continental European economies. (You can read the standard neoliberal argument for the causes of this unemployment here, but really, I can't get too excited about policy prescriptions that call for the total disregard of older or disabled workers, and for the elimination of social housing.)

What's Portugal's unemployment rate? It's 8.2 percent. Again, similar to other European nations which enjoy a better quality of life than do the majority of the world, including the majority in the United States, when things like crime, healthcare, and housing, are factored in.

The point is that both of these countries share a number of statistics with other European countries, statistics which India's people would no doubt enjoy for themselves. From his comfortable perch, Gee wants to throw a country of one-billion people over to the roller-coaster of the unregulated capitalist labour market.

What does the OECD have to say about India's labour market?

Economic growth could be made more inclusive by achieving faster growth in regular employment, as opposed to casual and self-employment. Although regular employment has risen, it still represents only 15% of total employment and its growth has been almost exclusively in the smaller, least productive enterprises. Employment in firms with more than ten employees accounts for only around 3¾ per cent of total employment (one quarter of regular employment) and has been falling. Indeed, India has a much smaller proportion of employment in enterprises with ten or more employees than any OECD country. The number of workers has also fallen in the manufacturing sector where the share of labour income in value-added is low compared to other countries and capital-intensity is relatively high. Such developments indicate that India is not fully exploiting its comparative advantage as a labour-abundant economy.

Pardon me, but this all sounds a little strange. Only 15 percent of Indian workers work in regular employment, and while only one-quarter of those work in firms with more than ten employees, supposedly allowing firms employing over 100 workers to more easily fire people is supposed to kick-start India's labour market into creating more jobs? All this on top of the fact that India's regular employment sector has been shedding workers, we should make it easier for them to shed more workers, in order to create jobs? (I know there's some sort of bullshit neoliberal logic behind this about the costs of hiring people being prohibitive and blah, blah, blah, but I'm more certain that this is more about allowing rich people to buy up big firms and trim their labour costs quickly and easily to recoup their expenses, than it is about creating jobs for Indian workers.)

Then there's the complaint that India's large firms are too capital-intensive, and that India isn't exploiting its comparative advantage in cheap labour. If Indian capitalists and managers are pursuing a capital-intensive approach to manufacturing, who is to say that this is wrong? Aren't automated factories and robotics and all the rest part of the cutting-edge of manufacturing these days? What is this report asking for? That India recreate the assembly-lines of the United States circa 1950?

None of that section seemed to make sense, even on its own grounds.

Gee and the OECD then set their sites on India's retail sector. According to Gee, laws protecting small shopkeepers are hurting efficiency and keeping prices high. Foreign retail firms should be allowed into India, to compete freely with domestic shops and chains. One would imagine that there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of shopkeepers in India. Doing to them what Wal-Mart does to thousands of small retailers across North America, only on a far greater scale and in a country as desperately poor on a per capita basis as India is, sounds to me like further dogmatic, arrogant foolishness.

(Of course, Gee and his ilk will argue that bigger, more "efficient" Western retailers will bring lower prices to Indian consumers, thus raising living standards, but notice how this is just one more instance of definite short-term pain for only promised long-term gains.)

The next "blindingly obvious" policy for India to pursue is to "get government out of business." Here Gee reveals his dogmatic opposition to any field of the economy being handled by the public sector. Anything can be a business. Education, health care, you name it. In some cases, a public sector monopoly can do a better job than can a competing private sector, or a regulated private monopoly. In this case, Gee specifically refers to electricity. Much of the energy sector remains in "clumsy state hands."

This impacts on Gee's fourth recommendation; that the Indian government invest in improving its economic infrastructure of roads, ports, railways, etc. These areas are underserved by India's state-dominated electricity system, wherein management is so lax as to allow 40 percent of the power to be siphoned by the grid before it gets to its clients, causing frequent brownouts.

Finally, while it's spending all this money upgrading its ports, railways, and roads, India has to do more to reign in its budget deficits. While they've been doing some work in this regard, they could do much more, as Gee confidently (simplistically) puts it: "governments still spend far too much on wasteful food and fuel subsidies that don't really help the poor. "

So, what should they do Mister Gee? Eliminate these subsidies? Alter these subsidies? There's actually a healthy debate going on in India about the structure of the food subsidies. From his track record, there's no doubt that Gee, dogmatically believing that subsidies distort market, thinks that they should be totally eradicated. The OECD argues that these subsidies could be better targeted, so that the benefits actually reach the poor they're intended for, but as the last link shows, how one subsidizes poor farmers, and poor consumers, in a country with so much poverty, is a difficult matter. Do you wipe-out local farmers during times of local shortage by bringing in subsidized grain for consumers? Do you pay farmers subsidized prices and sell to consumers at a loss and perhaps open yourself open to cheating from farmers? Do you hand out food vouchers that can be stolen and sold on the black market?

I can't really fault the OECD's complaints about corruption and mismanagement. I'm not a fan of the OECD's overall analysis, but they're a serious institution. The sloppy arrogance of Gee throughout his article just rubs me the wrong way.

And the truth of the matter is a lot more murky than Gee realizes. For instance, the "dose of the market" has created better GDP numbers, but the standard of living of the majority of the population appears to have actually fallen, as this report from the CCPA makes clear:

According to Professor Usta Patnaik, “The average [Indian] family is absorbing annually nearly 100 kilograms less in food-grain today than a mere five years ago. [That is] a phenomenal drop... never seen before in the last century of India’s history.” Ninety percent of pregnant women aged between 15 and 49 are malnourished and anaemic.

Even though the Indian economy is booming, the country has actually slipped in the UN Human Development Index ranking from 124th to 127th. Driving this deterioration has been the reduction
of official spending on health care and education. Health care spending dropped from 1.4% of GDP in 1991-92 to 0.9% in 2001-02. As in China (see second article in this series: Monitor, October 2005), harsh poverty in the countryside has forced millions of people to migrate to cities in search of employment. More than 30 million people inhabit urban slums in India.

The political fall-out from this disaster might be one reason that India's mainstream politicians are so leery of embracing anymore of Gee's and the OECD's neo-liberal snake-oil. In the 2004 elections, the people of India rejected the slick, pro-globalization campaign of the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and opted for the professed "secularism and self-reliance" of Sonia Gandhi and the Congress Party.
The vote against the BJP was a vote against trade liberalization and economic reform for global corporate welfare. It was a vote for self-reliance, basic needs, human dignity, economic justice.
In Indian history, these values have been referred to as "Swadeshi". The opposite of "Swadeshi" is economic dependency, of the kind we experienced during colonialism and are now experiencing through W.T.O., World Bank, IMF driven corporate globalisation which allows Monsanto's profits to grow while Indian peasants get into debt which allows Suez to sell our sacred Ganges water to us.

And why shouldn't the majority reject this model? Other articles mention the tens of thousands of farmers' suicides in the countryside, and I wondered whether this was a long-term problem in that country of over one billion people, but this article from Vandana Shiva explicitly states that the problem first started in 1997, as pro-corporate agricultural policies began to push more and more small farmers into hopeless debt:

1997 witnessed the first emergence of farm suicides in India. A rapid increase in indebtedness, was at the root of farmers taking their lives. Debt is a reflection of a negative economy, a loosing economy. Two factors have transformed the positive economy of agriculture into a negative economy for peasants - the rising costs of production and the falling prices of farm commodities. Both these factors are rooted in the policies of trade liberalization and corporate globalisation.


As debts increase and become unpayable, farmers are compelled to sell kidneys or even commit suicide. More than 25,000 peasants in India have taken their lives since 1997 when the practice of seed saving was transformed under globalisation pressures and multinational seed corporations started to take control of the seed supply. Seed saving gives farmers life. Seed monopolies rob farmers of life.

There's so much more I could type, but Gee's probably moved on to more nonsense for me to tackle. One last bash of the old boy's bean is going to have to do it for this post.

Gee mentions taking the economy out of the "clumsy" hands of the state, and handing it over to the supposedly more competent, professional hands of the private sector. Gee must imagine that the public sector bribes itself, that it cuts corners and does a shitty job because public sector bureaucrats have less magical goodness than do private sector bureaucrats.

Only, it was the private, foreign, Union Carbide, making decisions at the home office in the United States that produced the Bhopal tragedy.

The behaviour of foreign firms leaves a lot to be desired. Coca-Cola was taking ground water needed by local farmers for its bottling plant in Uttar Pradesh.

And regarding energy and the private sector, there's the small matter of the hyper-corruption surrounding corporate citizen Enron, and it's hydro-electric project in India:

The impugned contract had involved annual payments to Enron of $430 million for Phase I of the project (740 megawatts), with Phase II (1,624 megawatts) being optional. The "renegotiated" power purchase agreement makes Phase II of the project mandatory and legally binds the Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB) to pay Enron the sum of $30 billion! It constitutes the largest contract ever signed in the history of India.

Indian experts who have studied the project have called it the most massive fraud in the country's
history. The project's gross profits work out to between $12 billion and $14 billion. The official return on equity is more than 30 percent. That's almost double what Indian law and statutes permit in power projects. In effect, for an 18 percent increase in installed capacity, the MSEB has to set aside 70 percent of its revenue to pay Enron. There is, of course, no record of what mathematical
formula was used to "re-educate" the new government. Nor any trace of how much trickled up or down or sideways or to whom.

But there's more: In one of the most extraordinary decisions in its not entirely pristine history, in May 1997 the Supreme Court of India refused to entertain an appeal against Enron.

Today, everything that critics of the project predicted has come true with an eerie vengeance. The power that the Enron plant produces is twice as expensive as its nearest competitor and seven times as expensive as the cheapest electricity available in Maharashtra. In May 2000 the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Committee (MERC) ruled that temporarily, until as long as was absolutely necessary, no power should be bought from Enron. This was based on a calculation that it would be cheaper to just pay Enron the mandatory fixed charges for the maintenance and administration of the plant that it is contractually obliged to pay than to actually buy any of its exorbitant power. The fixed charges alone work out to around $220 million a year for Phase I of the project. Phase II will be nearly twice the amount.

Two hundred and twenty million dollars a year for the next twenty years. Meanwhile, industrialists in Maharashtra have begun to generate their own power at a much cheaper rate, with private generators. The demand for power from the industrial sector has begun to decline rapidly. The MSEB, strapped for cash, with Enron hanging like an albatross around its neck, will now have no choice but to make private generators illegal. That's the only way that industrialists can be coerced into buying Enron's exorbitantly priced electricity.

Finally, I leave with this link describing Vanadana Shiva's despair at the lame characterization of the globalization debate from Jagdish Bhagwati:

The book should have been called "An attack on peoples' movements" not "In defense of globalisation" because its entire content is an attack on civil society, its institutions and its leaders.
There are no arguments in defense of globalisation. There are no empirical facts, no concrete realities. The dominant paradigm has to be loosing when one of its leading proponents spends more time quoting Shakespeare than giving us a picture of people's economic realities.

That's all folks!

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Motorcycle Diaries

We watched "The Motocycle Diaries" last night. I thought it was a really good film. It's about a road trip that "Che" Guevera took with his friend, Alberto Granado, when he was 24 and the latter was 29.

It was visually beautiful. The mountains at the tip of Argentina and Chile, the snow, the desert, the home of the Inca at Macchu Picchu, the rivers. I almost felt patriotic, except I'm not a South American.

I've got to take exception with a comment from this review:

The Motorcycle Diaries is lovely to look at but insipid, a lavishly illustrated Rough Guide to white liberal self-affirmation.

The whole point of it was that Ernesto (Che) and Alberto were white, upper-middle class boys. They were relatively privileged, ... is it possible to say "relatively extremely privileged" (in light of the grinding poverty of some of the people they encountered)? These privileged white boys went on a road trip and it changed them, and one of them went on to fight and win in a revolution of world-historical importance.

I wouldn't say the film is all that "liberal" either. Even in this gentle film, there's a moment when Che argues with his friend that it is impossible to have a revolution without guns.

Other reviewers feel compelled to point out that Che Guevera shot people. This supposedly detracts from the characterization of the sweet, soulful young man in the film. Most of the reviewers who feel fit to level judgment against Che Guevera are no doubt completely oblivious to the reality that they benefit each and every day from the fact that we shoot people in Latin America, we terrorize, torture, and exploit them. We fund, arm, and train mass-murderers. Peasants who protested peacefully found themselves just as dead as those who took up arms against that system.

So, yes, Che Guevera shot people. US and Canadian soldiers shoot people. The School of the Americas teaches fascist nincompoops how to use torture to interrogate people. The difference, as the movie tries to point out, is that Che fought and killed to try to destroy a system that worshipped money and power over human life, whereas the system we fund and support and benefit from, well, it is that system. Che lost. A lot of his ideas turned out to be badly, dangerously flawed. But our system is failing too. As the neo-liberal manager/governments of South America continue to topple in the face of popular rage against their destructive incompetence, something better is going to take its place. Something inspired by the same principles that impressed themselves on young Ernesto "Che" Guevera.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Wednesday Morning Get-Down!!!

Aw shit. It ain't the one I wanted. Oh well, .... I haven't even heard this version, so don't blame me if it sucks.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Kind Strangers

Who know the html to put a jpg backdrop on blogger are welcome to post here.

Good Survey of Afghanistan Mission

"White Guys With Guns" ... there you go.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Binational Planning Group

Here's the results page for my current reading.

Late Reply

A while ago, a guest poster from here provide a lengthy essay that I said I would get to in four days. Well, I've been incredibly busy. And far more than four days have elapsed. I thought it worthwhile to put the essay up here and reply to bits and pieces as I'm able. I'll simply go back and add comments over the days and weeks ahead. You might be reading something that is still unfinshed, or it might be the product of lots of different entries ....


I had fully intended to write a proper response to the questions posed by CC and was hoping that my schedule would calm down enough to do just that but, unfortunately, time has been passing by and it doesn’t look like my life is going to get any less chaotic over the next couple of weeks so I decided that it would have to be a “now or never” sort of a deal. I apologize in advance for the lack of quality that I’m sure is to follow.

For those of you who haven’t read the comments that have lead to the topic that I will be addressing today (proposed by CC), please see the links at the bottom of the page. I feel that it
is fairly obvious based on the responses to the comments that I have posted that several (many??) of those who frequent this site do not share my beliefs concerning the “best”[1] methods for effecting political change.

Perhaps it is the result of my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer living in Nepal during the middle of a civil war and attending the UN mandated University for Peace Master’s program, but I have adopted more of a Gandhian, Martian Luther King Jr., Gene Sharp[2], David Hume[3] Mary King,[4] Robert Helvey[5] and Miki Kashtan[6] (to name a few) approach to social activism. This includes being the change that you wish to see in the world. And, although I often struggle with not lashing out at those whose views I find abhorred, more often than not, I am able to refrain because, like David Hume I believe, “by every act, by every word and deed, a man expresses his character.”[7] Some may call it naive and idealistic – in fact, I’m well aware that many do…. and this approach isn’t always successful but history has shown that it can be and I would rather act in a manner that I feel is consistent with my goals.

My views concerning social activism and the most appropriate and productive methods of voicing dissent ties in with the questions posed by CC in that I truly believe that if those “in the Left-o-sphere” (CC’s words) are to lessen the chance of being labeled “anti-military,” (which contributes to the claim that to “support the troops is to support the mission” and vice versa), then it is important to protest/voice opposition to the war in a manner that shows consideration and respect for those associate with the military as well as those whose opinions differ from your own. While it is true that many on the “right” haven’t always acted in an understanding and kind manner, adopting the same or similar behavior or language does little to win the “left” any supporters aside from those who were already in your camp.

Hmm. Okay, I see where this is going. Well, what I'll say is that for the most part I agree, but I'll caution that we have to also work extra hard not to fetishize the military. I've posted on this earlier. I think as institutions, militaries are abhorrent. I don't think most individuals join them in order to save the world and/or expand democratic principles. A lot of people who join them do so because it's a relatively sure way to find employment. The right-wing has made it so that even dissenting with the war of the politicians is going to demoralize the precious, sacred troops and cause their mission to fail. I'll see what I read tomorrow!!!

A Gandhian Approach to Social/Political Change

Please forgive me if this is obvious to the readers but in order to better explain my worldview concerning social change, I feel that it is necessary to review the basics of Gandhian thought.Gandhi believed in the unity of all things and for this reason promoted “ahimsa,” the Sanskrit word for “noninjury.” Gandhi expanded this to include the principle of nonviolence, truthfulness, the love of all. Basically, Gandhi changed the Christian adage from “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” to “what you do to others, you also do to yourself.”[8]

Well, that's true. On the other hand, it's also possible that if all is one and one is all, then that holds true for pain and suffering and pleasure and happiness on some metaphysical level. Which leads to the rejection of the world and withdrawl from the struggles of politics.

On a more realistic level, what someone does to you doesn't always seem to impact them in any materially similar way. People who rob and exploit you might be debasing their souls and creating later psychological anguish for themselves, but they often appear to materially prosper, develop comforting delusions of superiority, and die in comfort surrounded by a prosperous, healthy, large family of loved ones.

We just don't want to concede too much, all at once to metaphysical justifications for denouncing any form of resistance.

Ahimsa is not just the absence of violence or non-harming but a condition of mental purification and positive acts through body, speech and mind. Ahimsa means viewing people as good and kindhearted, each with inner resources to seek love and understanding of others. Gandhi believed that we have a responsibility to confront injustice but that we must do so in a way that we seek to understand another person’s perspective otherwise we will not be truly effective in reaching our goals. While I acknowledge that there are truly some “evil” people in this world, I still believe that, overall, human-beings are basically “good” and that most of us are simply trying to live our lives in the best way that we know how. I believe that these are the individuals make up the majority, who our arguments may appeal to, and that, with their support, we can bring about social/policy change. However, when we use hateful language to describe or converse with those whose views differ from our own, we dehumanize them and ignore the fact that they also have reasons for having adopted their way of thinking. If their point of view serves as the basis for a political system or policy that we wish to change, it is important that we make an attempt to understand why they have adopted this position and persuade them of the validity of our point of view. If we use hateful language, even if it is a response to their own, we simply ensure that these individuals will go on the defensive and all of our logic will fall upon closed minds and deaf ears. I realize that there are individuals who are so extreme that they will NEVER listen to “reason” but there are far more who are fairly “open-minded” or “in the middle” who can be reached….but not if we alienate them from the beginning. Martin Luther King Jr. understood this and focused on appealing to the basic human decency of the “average person” and refused to respond to the verbal and physical violence of his adversaries with that of his own. As King explained, “Somebody must have sense enough to meet hate with love. Its either non-violence or non-existence.”[9]

The Purpose of Rhetoric

It is generally assumed that the “communication of ideas, values, opinions and beliefs in an effort to illicit the approval or acceptance of others is the primary concern of the rhetorician.”[10] An activist must persuade expanding circles of people that they are affected by some condition and must inspire others to join him/her if they are to effect change. Basically, rhetorical persuasion is the central means for mobilizing new resources (human, financial, etc) in any movement.[11] But, as Lisa Zagumny[12] explains, “the ideas being reciprocated must be comprehended by the audience if change in attitude is to occur. In order to prevent rejection, the persuader must exhibit expertise and credibility.” Additionally, George Campbell[13] notes that when appealing to an audience whose opinions of you or your message are generally unfavorable (as seems to be the case, more often than not, when purporting and anti-war stance), the speaker must be much more cautious and show more modesty. This increases the likelihood of mollifying your opponents and the chances that they will actually hear your message. It’s difficult to persuade someone to see things from your point of view if you can’t even get them to listen to your message.

Those who oppose the mission(s) in Afghanistan and/or Iraq are already at a disadvantage in that many are still of the mindset that this war(s) is(are) justified and, perhaps, “winnable.” Ara Norenzayan[14] has found that “If you present Westerners an argument that is contrary to their prior belief, they’ll apply a na├»ve form of logic and ask themselves which one is ‘true,’ the new belief or their own? Unless the new argument is very strong, they’ll be likely to generate reasons why their prior belief is right and the new one is wrong, and not be susceptible to the new argument.” Along those same lines, Robert Levine[15], notes that a “consequence of cognitive dissonance is that a belief may actually get stronger when it's proven wrong. The more you stand to lose, and the more foolish you look, the greater the dissonance and, so, the greater the pressure to prove you were right in the first place.”[16] Levine explains that, “if you’ve been a dedicated member of a group and are now confronted with evidence that your group's cause is just plain wrong. Would you admit that you made a mistake and leave? If you'd already committed enough, probably not….the more one endures, the greater the need to self-justify.”[17] This has obvious implications for those trying to convince the public that their “political leaders” have made a mistake and of the need to alter political policies and action. It is also one of the reasons why many of those who have supported (or continue to do so) the Canadian and U.S. military missions in Afghanistan and Iraq view those who challenge those missions as “unpatriotic” and unsupportive of the troops….this is especially true for those who have made personal sacrifices (lost loved ones, long deployments, etc). They have endured a great deal in support of these missions and to acknowledge that they were perhaps mistaken can feel like a betrayal of their loved ones and/or self.

Unfortunately, partisanship remains one of the most important filters that citizens use to interpret political messages. This leads to a selective processing of information and the “reasonableness” or “logic” of an argument is often lost when appealing to an individual of a different political persuasion. However, this is all the more reason to tailor your message to your intended audience. I am not suggesting that we change our political message but, if the purpose is truly to effect change and that change depends upon convincing a majority of the populace of the validity of your message and the need to act, we must use language and methods that increase the likelihood that someone will at least listen. In the words of George Campbell, “we do not argue to gain barely the assent of the understanding, but, which is infinitely more important, the consent of the will.”[18] The Civil Rights movement in the United States is a prime example of this and, contrary to popular belief, was not a haphazard series of demonstrations but a well-strategized non-violent movement. The leaders and participants of this movement realized that if enough people were convinced that segregationist practices were morally, ethically, and constitutionally wrong, then they could be persuaded to act upon this belief. However, the point is that they needed to be persuaded and they did this using Gandhian methods.

Support the Troops, not the Mission (War)

CC noted that “It's a common position in the Left-o-sphere…that the whole philosophy of ’Support the troops’ has become so politicized that it's virtually impossible for anyone who opposes the mission in Afghanistan to still say that they support the troops, since that (troop) support will immediately (and dishonestly, of course) be re-interpreted as support for the mission. “ I absolutely agree with this statement (and the other aspect of it, that you cannot oppose the mission and still support the troops) and acknowledge that this has been true throughout all wars. While researching for my Masters Thesis, I interviewed several anti-war protesters from the World War II era, Korean War, Vietnam and Iraq. They all experienced the same dilemma….this is not new or unique. Unfortunately, there will always be individuals who feel that to oppose a war is to dishonor the troops – no matter what tactics you use to voice your opinions - and that if you claim to support the military, you obviously support its missions. However, there are also many (including service members) who recognize that opposition to a specific war or policy is not the same thing as being opposed to the military as a whole and there are several ways that you can reduce the risk of being labeled “anti-military.” I feel that it is this “anti-military” (i.e. “unsupportive of the troops”) that has created the situation of which CC speaks.

This leads me to the second part of CC’s question; “If Canada's progressives are tired of being misrepresented this way, how should they publicly announce their support for the troops while making it clear that that support doesn't extend to the mission?”

I personally feel that this can perhaps best be addressed by approaching it from the “other side” – by showing that you are not “anti-military”. This can be achieved by employing both “negative” (actions you refrain from – using malicious language, protesting in certain areas/against certain targets, etc) and “positive” (recruiting military families/supporters/veterans/troops to stand with you and voice dissent) action.

At this point, I must confess that my knowledge of the Canadian anti-war movement is somewhat limited and I am basing my answer largely on my experience living in the United States and the information that I gathered while researching for my thesis on United States military wives. In order to better understand why those who vocally oppose specific military missions are labeled as “anti-military,” it is necessary to look at the culture of the military. While my experience is primarily with the United States military, military cultures throughout the world are fairly similar and many generalizations can be made. As most are aware, the military is an elite group that has a very low tolerance for digression from the long-held values, traditions, and beliefs – especially if they threaten to disrupt the war machine. The conservative nature of the military, its demand for obedience and loyalty, the dependency of military families on the military community for financial and social support to cope with the hardships of military life, and views concerning “patriotism” (often the belief that he/she is serving his/her nation as part of an elite group dedicated to the “our” way of “life” or “freedom”), all contribute to the reluctance of those opposed to specific wars to publicly express this opposition and/or contribute to their negative perceptions of the anti-war movement. Although large-scale opposition to any war among military families and hard-core military supporters is unlikely, it is possible to avoid further alienating military families and potential allies by being aware of the military culture and engaging in anti-war activities accordingly. If you do not alienate military supporters, you are much more likely to be able to demonstrate that you do, in fact, respect the troops.

Through my research, I found that despite the fact that some military wives are very public in their opposition to the war in Iraq and regularly participate in anti-war demonstrations, the majority of those who oppose the war are, in the words of one military wife, “in the closet.” The reluctance of military wives to openly oppose the war are as diverse as the wives themselves but based on in-depth interviews with sixteen military wives opposed to the war in Iraq, four main reasons can be identified: 1) concern that open opposition to the war encourages terrorism and “aides and abets” the enemy; 2.) a belief that openly opposing the war has little to no impact on political leaders and policy concerning the war in Iraq; 3) a belief that the majority of the anti-war demonstrations and demonstrators are anti-military; and the most significant, 4.) the negative impact that their open opposition may have on their husband’s morale and/or career as well as a fear of being socially ostracized and/or negative consequences concerning their own employment. I feel that three out of these four “reasons” (#s 1,3 and the first part of 4) also apply to those in the general population who believe that it is impossible to oppose a war and still support the troops………..those who cannot seem separate the mission from the troops………..to support one means to support the other……………to oppose one means to oppose the other……………

Because I believe that “successful communications are based on understanding the persons you are trying to reach,”19 it is important to increase our awareness concerning the “rational” behind the above mentioned beliefs. If we are able to do that, we can better shape our anti-war messages so that they aren’t quite as threatening and less likely to be completely ignored.

“Aiding and Abetting the Enemy”

First things first, a look at why some believe that open opposition to the war encourages terrorism and “aides and abets” the enemy. Now, if this were true, it is obvious why anti-war protesters would be accused of not supporting the troops. How can you support the troops if you are (gasp!) supporting, the enemy?! The belief that anti-war demonstrations “aid and abet the enemy” has a long history and was a popular criticism of the United States anti-war movement during Vietnam. Although evidence exists to both support and contradict this claim, the fact that many military families and supporters hold this belief contributes to the reluctance of some individuals to openly oppose a war and/or to view those who do in a negative light out of concern for the safety of their loved ones and loyalty to their country. Ariel, a military wife who is opposed to the war in Iraq, explained “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. However, I wish that they would not do it so publicly because that is what gives our enemies power and if they have that power then the soldier’s missions are harder to accomplish safely.” Unfortunately, the possibility that anti-war demonstrations can divide a country, embolden the “enemy” and put their loved ones at risk increases negative feelings towards those who voice opposition to the war. It seems that those on the “right” and/or supporters of the missions in the Middle East use this to silence the opposition. In order to avoid the “anti-military” label, the “left” would benefit by providing strong evidence or well-spoken (read: easy to understand and not hateful or condescending) to dispute the “aiding and abetting” claims.“

Anti-war demonstrations and demonstrators are anti-military”

The methods used to voice opposition is perhaps the biggest reason why those on the “left” are accused of not supporting the troops. Many military families/supporters view anti-war demonstrations/statements as “anti-military” and thus as an attack on their way of life and the values that they hold as “defenders of freedom.”

The majority of military wives that I interviewed support ones’ right to protest/voice dissent and feel that this is a freedom that their husband’s are fighting to defend. However, wives both in support of and opposed to the war in Iraq expressed that there is a fine line between protesting the war and targeting the military. Most military wives would prefer anti-war demonstrators to focus their efforts on the politicians who make the decision to send their husbands to war and therefore feel that protests staged outside government offices are more appropriate. Most of those who support or oppose the war in Iraq feel that anti-war statements that also attack military members and/or their families are counter-productive and believe that protests held outside of military recruiting offices, military hospitals, and military bases are highly inappropriate, in contradiction to the protesters’ message that they “support the troops,” and reminiscent of Vietnam protests in the United States which often targeted soldiers.

The association between anti-war protests and an anti-military stance is hardly surprising given the treatment of soldiers and veterans during the Vietnam War. Military families and supporters fear that troops serving in Afghanistan and/or Iraq will be received in a similar manner so when individuals within the anti-war movement target the troops themselves, even those oppose one or both of these wars become defensive and separate themselves from the anti-war movement. Alexis, a 20 year-old United States Air Force wife who is opposed to the war in Iraq explained, “The husband of a friend of mine (Air Force) was at the Bush ranch in Texas at the time of the protests with Cindy Sheehan. He was called a “baby killer” and other not so friendly terms. He was also spit on. It is protests like these that get my blood boiling. In one breath they preach wanting the war over and to get the soldiers home but in the other, they blatantly and aggressively oppose them to their face. Every time I hear stories such as that, it makes me sick.” Unfortunately, Alexis’ story is not unique and I have come across several incidents in which service members who have served or are serving in Afghanistan or Iraq were treated in a less than respectable manner by anti-war advocates. While these individuals obviously do not represent the “left” as a whole, these negative tactics stand out in the minds of military members, supporters and/or those on the “right” who then use them to discredit the anti-war movement.

Additionally, it must be noted that the media can be critical to the success of any movement but it is important to remember that just as the negative actions and words of ones adversaries are reported, the reverse also holds true. When individuals on the “left” make negative comments to or about the military and/or military families or are disrespectful, inconsiderate or rude to them, those on the “right” will attribute these comments/actions to the “left” as a whole and this contributes to the perception that the “left,” or those opposed to the war, are also “anti-military.” This furthers the false idea that you can’t support the troops without supporting the mission and you can’t oppose the mission without opposing the troops.

An obvious way to lessen the likelihood of being labeled anti-military is to increase the number of military family members and/or troops and/or veterans supporting the anti-war movement. Military families and veterans speaking out against the war are assets to the anti-war movement because people generally listen to them with more interest than they would to people whose lives aren’t invested in the situation. Military people are known to be very committed and loyal so it surprises people to see them standing up and criticizing an administration, policies, and missions/wars and it makes the public question what is happening. However, despite the increasing involvement of military families in the anti-war movement ,(at least in the United States), tension between civilians and military families/troops/veterans remains. Anne Sapp, a United States Army National Guard wife and member of Military Families Speak Out said that her status as a military wife has helped her at events that involve the police and security because they seem to have more respect for her and treat her better than other protesters. According to Anne, “that made it easier to get people to listen to me because they didn’t immediately reject what I said. They were more open to me.” However members of the anti-war movement have criticized her for her association with the military and she has “had to listen to protesters who hate the military and call them murderers.” Anne occasionally wears one of her husband’s Army t-shirts to anti-war speaking engagements to call attention to the fact that she is a military spouse openly opposing the occupation of Iraq and to encourage more military people to join her. However, following a speech that Anne gave at an anti-war venue, she was verbally attacked by an anti-war woman for speaking out against the war while wearing an Army shirt. Anne tried to explain her reasons for wearing the shirt but the woman refused to listen, continued to insult her, and walked away without giving Anne the opportunity to present her side. According to Anne, “I was amazed at how angry I felt and was also amazed at how easily they [some anti-war people] can pass their anger on to others.”

I realize that there are many in the anti-war movement who view the military as a source of the problem with the Middle East rather than a potential ally in ending these conflicts but such treatment of military personnel and families who speak out only serves to reduce support and hinders the movement as a whole. If you want to show people that supporting the troops does not extend to support for the mission, convince more military families, veterans, and service members who also oppose the mission to stand with you.

Another important defense against being labeled anti-military, and therefore reduce the strength of the opposition’s claim that to support the troops is to support the mission, is to chose the venue of protests or public demonstrations carefully. While it appears that the majority of the protests being staged in Canada have targeted government offices, etc, some have focused on the Canadian Forces and military recruiting offices. And, unfortunately for Canadian activists, the actions of United States anti-war activists are widely reported and, more likely than not, contribute to the “anti-troop” perception that some have of the Canadian “Left-o-sphere”.” Protests at military hospitals, military recruitment offices, and military bases can serve as great photo ops and command a lot of publicity but generally garner more negative attention than positive. An excellent example of this comes from Kathleen Kroll, a United States Army wife who has considered joining anti-war protests but finds many of them to be anti-military. She noted that during a big protest in Pittsburgh, a few members of the Pittsburgh Organizing Group (POG) along with other non-members "stormed" the main recruiting station in the city. According to Kathleen, “the station is on the second floor, and they broke in through a Mexican restaurant downstairs, knocked in the door to the recruiting station and trashed the place.” For Kathleen, “The amazing thing is that the main counter-recruiting group in Pittsburgh, POG, supports this action. I completely support one's right to protest. I don't necessarily agree with protesting recruiters, but I can understand protesting the WAR itself. However, when people do something like they did to the recruiting station, it makes me wonder if they really have a clue what they're protesting and what they're doing. The statements they've made remind me of someone just wanting to protest SOMETHING without really putting too much thought into it. The actions of the protesting group in Pittsburgh seems to take away their credibility, instead of enhancing it. When you have to resort to trashing an unoccupied (the recruiters were at a training conference in West Virginia that weekend), it makes me question the strength of your argument (and your intelligence, to be quite frank). It has made me resolve that the next protest they stage outside of the recruiting building, I will be there (7 months pregnant or not) to lend a counter presence to their actions.” While the logic behind their choice in a target is fairly clear - as POG explained, “for us, a focus on recruitment is a tangible way to help stop the unjust/war occupations currently occurring as well as serving to help restrict the negative projection of Government power in the future.” it is equally obvious that by choosing to protest military recruiters, these demonstrators are not simply protesting the war but the military establishment itself. Although there are military wives/families/troops/veterans who oppose military operations in Afghanistan and/or Iraq, they generally support the military as a whole and find such protests to be an attack on their way of life, loved ones, and selves.

In the United States, protesting outside of military bases has definitely contributed to the anti-troop label that the “left” has received. Jennifer, a United States Army wife who is opposed to the war in Iraq, explained that “A lot of spouses don’t think that it is possible to support protests and the troops but I do. I look at it as my husband is just doing his job. However, there is a fine line between protesting the war and being anti-military, ‘thank god for dead soldiers’ signs outside of military bases are not ok.” Protesting at military bases and in military communities is a tactic utilized by the United States anti-war movement and several large anti-war demonstrations have been held outside of military bases led by a variety of organizations. The most well-known of these took place outside of Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina on the second anniversary of the Iraq War sponsored by local peace activists working with a number of national groups including the umbrella anti-war organization United For Peace and Justice.

Stacy Bannerman participated in this protest and said the “location was chosen to demonstrate that it’s possible to support the troops and oppose the administration.” However, for many in the military, and even those who are simply part of the anti-war movement, this had the exact opposite effect. Iraq Veterans Against the War director Paul Rieckhoff condemned this protest based on the belief that demonstrating outside of military bases targets the military members and their families, not the politicians and the war. Rieckhoff claimed, “as families living in and around the bases try to salvage some sense of normalcy as they worry about their loved ones overseas, the last thing they need to see on Saturday morning is a crowd of protestors outside their window. This is the height of insensitivity by the anti-war organizations. If you support the troops, don’t protest them in their backyards, especially not as they’re sent to war or returning home.”

Although the members of the Armed Forces and their families either directly or indirectly support the system, they are not in a position to end the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq as a large majority of individual soldiers would need to make the decision to revolt. Based on the nature of their service, the contract they sign and the punishment they face, it seems highly unlikely that an anti-war demonstration held near a military base will win many converts. A more likely outcome is the further alienation of military families from the anti-war movement and the unlikelihood of constructive dialog between the two.

Andrew Borene, a University law student and adviser to Operation Truth, a nonpartisan Iraq Veterans’ organization, urges those who oppose a specific policy or war to “direct their energy and presence in directions that do no alienate the people who have courageously and voluntarily chosen to serve.” He suggests that they “hold a protest to neo-conservatism at the young Republicans’ next meeting; hold a protest at the State Capitol for the state’s failure to take care of National Guard and Reserve Veterans who have been shortchanged by the president’s health-care policy; or hold a rally for political candidates that share your beliefs.”[20] Although this statement was obviously intended for an American audience, the general idea is applicable to Canadian anti-war advocates.

Although the methods of protest and statements expressing disapproval of a military mission may alienate military supporters, those who make an attempt to convey their lack of support for operations in Afghanistan and/or Iraq in a way that targets the administrations responsible for these missions and/or the wars themselves rather than the military are much less likely to be labeled as “unpatriotic” and “anti-military.”

Finally, the possibility that open opposition to a war may have a negative impact on the morale of troops serving in Afghanistan and/or Iraq serves as strong ammunition for those on the “right” who wish to paint those opposed to the war(s) as “anti-military” or insist that supporting the troops is equivalent to supporting the mission. There really isn’t an easy solution to this one as a significant amount of research has yet to be done concerning whether or not protest actually does have a negative impact on troop morale. I interviewed 100 servicemen who were in Iraq at the time or had served in Iraq in an attempt to gain some sort of understanding as to whether or not open opposition to the war had a negative impact on their morale and/or negatively impacted their ability to carry out their mission. The majority (around 70 percent, I believe) felt that open opposition had “no impact” while about 25 percent felt that it had a “slightly negative impact.” The other 5 percent noted that it had either a “slightly positive impact” or a “negative impact.” Stacy Bannerman, a member of Military Families Speak Out and author of “When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists And the Families They Leave Behind” explains that “there is a ‘code of silence’ [in military families and the military] and the cultural, social and financial implications for breaking that are intense. We also hear all of the crap and the comments from those who support the invasion and occupation of Iraq that protests are undermining troop morale and that’s always there in the back of your mind… what if my speaking out contributes to my husband being killed?” Overall, Bannerman feels justified in openly opposing the war because she has talked to many soldiers, including those in uniform at the airport, about the issue of troop morale and they have given her the impression that anti-war demonstrations do not have a large impact on their morale.

It seems that the best way to lessen the power of this argument is to provide some sort of evidence to show that voicing opposition to the war in Afghanistan or Iraq does not hurt troop morale. Talk to the service members - ask their opinions! Does it hurt their morale? Does it negatively impact their mission? If open opposition really doesn’t have much of a negative impact on the troops, it makes it more difficult for those on the “right” to use this against the “left” and as “proof” of the “left’s anti-military” attitude. Again, appealing to like-minded military families/supporters/veterans/service members and persuading them to stand with you will have the same effect.

Another positive way of disputing this claim is to follow in the footsteps of United States military wives like Stacy Bannerman and Ann Sapp - present strong arguments concerning the definition of SUPPORT. Stacy asks, “….how can my wanting to preserve his life and the lives of tens of thousands of others, ever potentially be seen as betrayal?” When she has been criticized for not supporting the troops, she has thus responded, “first of all, my husband is the troops and second of all, silence is not support and speaking out is my duty and responsibility as a military family and an American citizen." Anne Sapp shares Stacy’s views: “I’ve heard the word ‘support’ so often from people who have no idea what it really means. My role as a military spouse is to do whatever I can to keep my husband safe and well. This does not entail waving a flag while our president and his administration commit crimes against humanity, including their own troops. It does entail for me the responsibility to speak out and work to end the wrong being done in our name and try to help people understand that the role he volunteered for in the military was taken with a love and commitment to the people of the country, not a few selfish, misguided politicians……..When I first became politically active against the war, I talked to Andy and we both agreed that the truth was the most important thing.”

Some military families and supporters, like Stacy and Ann, have reached the conclusion that speaking out against what they perceive to be an unjust war and misuse of the troops is the best support that they can provide. If you can get that message across to the “average” Canadian and convince enough of them to join you and appeal to your government, you are much more likely to dispel the “anti-war equals anti-military,” “support for the troops equals support for the mission” myths and alter Canada’s policies/missions concerning Afghanistan than should you alienate potential supporters with callous language targeting individuals - especially those associated with the military.Criticize their statements……..their words……….their ideas/beliefs……….but don’t attack the person.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Business as Usual in Ontario

Well, Dalton McGuinty's Liberals got a majority government from a turnout of 50% of the electorate. And Mixed Member Proportional voting got rejected by roughly 60 % of that 1/2 of the electorate that voted.

Not exactly a good day for democracy in Ontario. But then again, no day is really a good day for democracy in Ontario. We have a asinine media system, we have a political culture dominated by two pro-capitalist political party, and we have an electorate of uninformed chumps or bitter, apathetic communities.

(That's supposedly the "elitist" in me. Calling people who welcomed the Harris tax cuts but who couldn't make the connections between those tax-cuts and the higher property taxes that Harris's bullshit finance ministers made inevitable through downloading of provincial responsibilities to the municipalities. That makes them uninformed. They paid just as much, if not more, in property taxes and user-fees, as they saved in Harris's tax-cuts. That makes them chumps. The fact that McGuinty then slapped a "healthcare premium" - that doesn't go to healthcare but to general revenues - and delisted more services from OHIP makes them even bigger chumps than before. I guess it's "elitist" of me to tell the truth.)

When I try to think of the good that the McGuinty Liberals did (aside from being not as destructive as the Harris/Eves Tories, which isn't an accomplishment so much as being what you'd expect from any human being) all I can think of is the Greenbelt legislation.

After that, all I've got is the healthcare premium, the $40,000 a year pay increase, allowing the Caledonia First Nations protest to fester, making the Special Diet Supplement much harder to get (after people started trying to use it), support for corrupt "Public-Private-Partnership" scams and, basically, maintaining the ridiculous provincial-municipal financing that the Harris troglodytes set up.

Not really much of anything. But a lot of Ontarians are still pretty comfortable. And that's the mark of a political-economic system, isn't it? I'm prepared to give this system it's due in that regard. But what's always been important for me is that this system is founded on cruelty internationally, injustice and inequality locally, and ecological unsustainability. And, truth be told, it wouldn't be all that hard to just make it a little bit better.

People in Ontario pay more in taxes than they need to for the amount of services they receive. And we continue to pile on the deficits in either monetary or infrastructure terms, as McGuinty gets to coast on being not a complete ham-fisted monster like Mike Harris was.

I suspect that the turnout was so low because a lot of Ontario PC voters stayed home rather than vote for the imbecilic religious pandering of John Tory, or, more accurately, the "whiz-kids" who base their strategies on the US repugnican vermin who gave bush II two lost elections and who have alienated 70% of the US electorate. These Ontario "whiz-kids" lost sight of the obvious reality that Ontario is not the United States, and John Tory and the Ontario PC's have paid the price.

I think a lot of other people stayed home because they don't think their vote matters. And they're right to an extent. But apathy also serves the status-quo, and the elite strategists know this. That's why they work so hard to engender resignation and apathy among the population.

McGuinty set the MMP referendum up to lose. It had an impossibly high bar to jump, and there was nowhere near enough time to adequately debate the issue. Besides, first-past-the-post works wonderfully well for the two mainstream parties, so why would they seriously consider abandoning it.

My prediction is that McGuinty has restrained his neoliberal arrogance in his first term, unsure of which way the wind was blowing. With this mandate from 1/2 the eligable electorate looking like a powerful majority on paper, McGuinty is going to think that the people really like him, and we're going to see these Liberals inflict more utter crap, Paul Martin, Pierre Pettigrew type stew, on the province.

Then the people aroused, will "throw the bums out" and vote Progressive Conservative. It's going to have to get a lot worse before it gets any better.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Cholera in Iraq

Just something to keep an eye on. Thankfully, the World Health Organization is already doing it.
"WHO is in the process of procuring 5 million water-treatment tablets, and two international WHO epidemiologists are being deployed to support the Ministry of Health in Iraq," it said.

Heckofava job though, bushie.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Repugnican shamelessness: From a strength to a weakness

The US Republican Party used to get a lot of political mileage out of their shamelessness. They could lie, contradict themselves, and pursue the most nauseatingly cruel policies while being completely unmoved by justified accusations of hypocrisy as the "Christian values" party.

But now, ... they've gotten to the point where they're unable to recognize that it's over. Uber-hypocrite, Republican water-carrier Rush Limbaugh called US soldiers who disagree with bush II, "phony soldiers." (His mewling protests about "context" notwithstanding.) A US Repugnican Senator who had happily voted to condemn "MoveOn" for its "Petraeus or Betray Us?" ads, has responded to a Democratic attempt at consistency by asking for the US Senate to give Limbaugh a vote of thanks.

The buffoon doesn't realize that Limbaugh's radio audience, as large as it is, constitutes only a minority of the US electorate. Most people despise him.

bush II himself cancelled extending government medical services to not-quite-totally poor children, and announced that the day of his veto was "Child Health Day."

Most Americans want Canada-style public healthcare. The vast majority supported the extension of this S-CHIP program.

The Repugs are going to go down in flames. If the Democratic Party USA continues to disappoint, we might get a left-wing uprising, similar to that sweeping across South America today.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Excellent Critique of Haiti Study

From Znet: Emersberger: "COHA" gets an 'F' for their article on Haiti"

An excellent critique of a recent "Council on Hemispheric Affairs" report on Haiti (one that it is out of keeping with their usual good work it seems), as well as an overview of the recent history in that country.

A scientific survey by Athena Kolbe and Royce Hudson found that at least 4000 political murders were perpetrated during Latortue’s time in office – overwhelmingly by government security forces and their proxies. In contrast, after scouring Amnesty International reports, Perter Hallward, a UK based researcher, wrote “Amnesty International’s reports covering the years 2000-03 attribute a total of around 20 to 30 killings to the police and supporters of the FL [Aristide’s party] — a far cry from the 5,000 committed by the junta and its supporters in 1991-94, let alone the 50,000 usually attributed to the Duvalier dictatorships.”

Pierre Esperance, one of Aristide’s most vehement, and dishonest, critics claimed in a (successful)
funding request to the Canadian government that 100 people had been killed (not all Aristide opponents) during the “last several months” before the coup which he described as the worst period under Aristide.

Emersberger also goes on to say something else that I find important:

These numbers do not only reveal that Aristide’s track record was vastly superior to his opponents, they also show why it was inevitable that some of his partisans would conclude that violence was
justified. Even during most of his second term Aristide’s supporters were more likely to be killed than his opponents’ supporters.[6] Glenwick completely disregards the massive amount of violence Haiti’s poor have been subjected to, and the threats they continually faced, to join the chorus of pious Western intellectuals who condemn Aristide for having said that the poor have the right to defend themselves. Many of those intellectuals also argue that the U.S. has the right to bomb defenseless countries thousands of miles away in “self defense.” The hypocrisy is as breathtaking as it is unnoticed by countless writers who have condemned Aristide for “incendiary” speeches.

This reminds me of the commentators and right-wing critics who can only seem to excited by the violence perpetrated by the weak. This is the part that resonates with me and makes me doubt the sincerity of the Michael Dieberts of the world. Generally speaking, when you know that people are trying to kill you (because they've already killed your loved ones in the past) you fight back. Aristide supporters had been massacred in the past, when they had done nothing but elect a leader who represented them as opposed to a tiny, corrupt oligarchy. Then it looked like they were going to be betrayed again, of course some of them got "unreasonable" and lashed out. It isn't the place of comfortable North Americans, "liberal" or otherwise, to go "tut-tut" without first relieving themselves of their ignorance on the matter.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Suppression of Democracy and Human Rights

This long commondreams essay on NYC's corruption, brutality, and violations of civil rights, is an important read.

Monday, October 1, 2007

One Reason Why I Support the NDP

I've said on many, many, occasions that I have significant criticisms of the NDP and social democracy in general. But all one has to do to see how important social democratic parties are to the health of a country's political culture is to look at what happens with its absence. Then you get the political culture of the United States; a country where millions of intelligent people want out of Iraq, but where hundreds of thousands of greed-heads, deluded Christian fundamentalist whackjobs, closet-cases, racists, and war-mongers support a party of greed-heads, Christian fundamentalists, closet-cases, racists, and war-mongers, and the other capitalist party, being a capitalist party and wedded to imperialism, greed, and inequality as well, tries to offer a watered-down version of the same stupidity.

Plus, there are many real, practical benefits that come from the existence of a social-democratic element to the political culture. Canada's healthcare system (despite attacks from neo-liberal snakeoil salesmen and from their political hirelings in the Conservative and Liberal parties) is the greatest testimonial to the worth of social democracy.

In my opinion, social democrats should be on the fringes of the right-wing of any country's political spectrum, ... with more radical notions of equality and socialism filling up the rest of the space. I have no time for religious delusions, dangerous selfishness, environmental blindness, militarism, torture, and all the rest of it that goes with "mainstream" capitalist politics.

The latest example of the necessity and wisdom of social democracy, as opposed to mainstream liberal capitalism, was the federal NDP's scathing criticism of Stephen Harper's imbecilic wish to plow all of his "surprise" surplus into debt-reduction. This will amount to interest savings of $750 million or so, which will then be given back to Canadians as a tax-cut. Jack Layton described this foolishness thusly:

Layton compared the spending on debt repayment to a family that pours all its extra money into higher mortgage payments - even though one child can't afford college and a grandparent can't afford medicine.

He said that with some of the country's infrastructure crumbling, and people struggling to afford
prescription drugs and education, some of that $14 billion should have been spent on programs.

Indeed. In the first place, this debt was placed on the backs of Canadians by cowardly liberals and monetarist fanatics, not, it should go without saying, by all-powerful "welfare queens" and homeless drunks twisting the arms of hapless prime ministers, Liberal or Conservative.

We have suffered increased homelessness, underfunded education, a deteriorating environment, crumbling infrastructure, higher municipal property-taxes, strained and stressed healthcare systems, all to finance this "zero-inflation" monetarist bullshit. We have seen almost two decades of this free-trade, tax-cut garbage.

Some services are more effectively delivered by the public sector, and Canada had been quite moderate and restrained in acknowledging this reality. It is high time that we got this wisdom back.