Wednesday, September 28, 2005


There are times when the news flowing in from all over stubbornly refuses to cohere, but simply creates an over-all atmosphere of unease. I found today’s reading particularly odd and unpleasant. Here are some highlights, comments welcome:

Ottawa: The hearing of two of "Ottawa’s finest" who have been accused of abuse of authority resumes today. Protester Paul Smith had been wrongfully arrested at a demonstration, and then, going limp, was Tasered by the cops while on the ground and handcuffed. The local "complaints procedure" folks found the cops not guilty of anything, and indeed stated that the use of Tasers was justified as a "pain compliance" technique. Smith managed to get the provincial oversight body, the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services, to undertake a rare review, based upon a videotape of the event.

It appears that the police were also videotaping the same incident, but the camerawoman, RCMP constable Sylvie Nault, somehow turned off the camera for the exact period in which the Tasering took place. She claimed that she had been repositioning herself, and besides, she hadn’t seen any Tasering. The other video showed the Tasering, all right, into Smith as he lay on the ground, limp and handcuffed.

Police Chief Vincent Bevan, meanwhile, wants to purchase between 40 and 60 new Tasers for his blue team, at a cost of $1,500 each. In his words, "I would like to see more Tasers...We've trained our members at a high level, the deployment we have used with Tasers up until now has been very good and very reliable and I think there are situations in our experience where it has avoided the need to go to the use of deadly force." He says his department will "revisit" its policies depending upon the outcome of the OCCOPS hearing.

Courts drive reluctant governments; likewise complaints hearings, it seems, drive police policy-making.

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: The never-ending US monkey trials continue. Parents have reacted to a local school board that wants so-called "intelligent design" taught alongside the theory of evolution in the science curriculum. The former is a non-verifiable, non-falsifiable assertion that in no way can be regarded as science, but it's the approved code these days for the "man walked with dinosaurs" crowd.

It's at times like this that I get a particular laugh out of sweeping judgements about "Islamic fundamentalism." The US, almost unnoticed, it seems, by anyone, is a militant Christian fundamentalist nation, nearly half of whose population believes that our forebears were hunted by T-Rex after being pitched out of the Garden. No less than the President of the United States has stated that "both sides" of the "debate" should be taught alongside each other.

Whatever happens in this trial, the monkeys have already won.

Rejecting a lawsuit, Ontario's Court of Appeal has held, by a 3-2 margin, that Hamilton police acted appropriately when they created a photo lineup comprised of one Aboriginal (a suspect in ten bank robberies) and eleven non-Aboriginals. New evidence showed that most of these crimes had been committed by someone else. He was subsequently convicted of one of the robberies, spent 20 months in jail, and then was acquitted of that one on appeal.

Let's see, now...Rodney King is our man; let's put him in a line-up with a bunch of white folks and add Al Jolson to show our lack of bias. Think we'll get a positive ID?

New Orleans: Reports of "savagery" in New Orleans during the flooding, gleefully reported by many a right-wing blogger complete with its racist sub-text, turn out to be, well, "overblown."

As reported in today's Globe & Mail:

[P]olice are re-examining the reports and finding that many have little or no basis in fact. They have no official reports of rape and no eyewitnesses to sexual assault….[There were] 10 dead at the Superdome and four at the convention centre. Two of those are believed to have been killed.

Police captain Marlon Defillo put it best: "Now that we've had a chance to reflect back on that situation, we’re able to say right now that things were not the way they appeared." This has a certain postmodernist flavour that appeals to me. But in any case, judging again from news reports and commentaries at the time, it proved ridiculously easy to feed the wild Black stereotype that is never far from the surface in too many minds.

Montreal: And speaking of Blacks, a popular radio host and psychiatrist [!] named Pierre Mailloux is in trouble for stating on-air that they (and Native people for good measure) have low IQs. He claims he based his remarks on "US studies," but he can't remember any of them. Reacting to criticism, Dr. Mailloux said: "People should not be so thin-skinned." Or is that "dark-skinned?"

Natuasish, Labrador: And speaking of Native people, the RCMP is investigating itself again, this time in the case of a young Innu man brutalized in the Natuasish police station. Witnesses say Antuan Jacobish, 19, was beaten repeatedly by Mounties, handcuffed and then dropped on his face, refused medical treatment, and left to lie in his own blood on a mat all night. The next morning it was found that his arm had been broken in three places.

A former band council chief, Prote Poker, obviously a master of understatement, said, "It certainly doesn't help the community." He went on to say, "I see young people running away from the RCMP when the police are looking for them. I can understand why now, because they're being tortured."

The RCMP confirms that an investigation is now underway. Its track record in this respect is so dismal, however, that I'll put my money on a complete exoneration of the cops involved. Maintiens le droit, boys. The dumb wagon-burner probably tripped.

Ft. Hood, Texas: Pvt. Lynddie England, a small fish in a very big pond, received three years for her part in abusing Iraqi prisoners in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison. "The buck stops with Lynddie," said the Boston Globe, with a nice touch of irony. She's one of 230 small fry convicted of abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan so far. 400 inquiries have been called.

Further up top, where the buck used to be, President George W. Bush has said no to a full, independent investigation of prisoner abuse. His Attorney-General, Alberto Gonzales, was the one who approved a memorandum from the Justice Department arguing that the "US wasn't bound by laws prohibiting torture and that government agents who might torture prisoners at his direction couldn't be prosecuted by the Justice Department." Veep Dick Cheney is trying to kill an amendment to legislation before Congress that would standardize prisoner treatment under Army Field Manual rules, and register all prisoners with the Red Cross. The outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers, is fighting against the release of more Abu Ghraib photos. Apparently a convert to "root cause" theory, he says that their release would lead to "riots, violence, and attacks by insurgents."

With that kind of leadership, what's a poor girl to do?

[NOTE: no blogging for the next three or four days, as I will be out of town on business.]

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Mahjoub: unanswered questions

One might have thought that prisoners in Ontario jails would receive treatment at least meeting the minimum standards of the Geneva Convention. In the case of Mohammad Mahjoub, however, who has just ended a 79-day hunger strike, this was not the case.

Mr. Mahjoub has been held as a suspected terrorist, without charge, at the Metro West Detention Centre in Toronto under one of Canada's notorious security certificates for more than five years. He has been kept in solitary confinement for the past two years. His hunger strike was to obtain basic medical treatment for a knee injury and for Hepatitis C, which he contracted in jail. He has been denied a liver biopsy to check the progress of the disease. He also wanted what are known as "touch visits" from his children--hugs, hand-holding and the like.

Earlier this week, the province finally decided to give him a pair of eyeglasses, which he had requested eight months ago. They have now agreed to provide the medical assistance he needs.

It seems that you don't have to go to Syria to be tortured in prison. For torture this most certainly is. Here is the UN definition:

[A]ny act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

Mahjoub has been deliberately denied much-needed medical attention for a serious medical condition, causing him suffering and threatening his life. Since this is not (at least, one hopes not) typical of inmates in Ontario jails, one must conclude that the test of "discrimination" has been met as well.

So let's get the answers to a few simple questions from the Ontario authorities, not to mention the federal ones who have denied him his day in court for more than half a decade and are complicit, if not instrumental, in his maltreatment.

1) Why has Mahjoub been routinely denied basic medical treatment by the authorities, contrary to the United Nations Body of Principles for the Protection of all Persons under any form of Detention, and also the UN Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners?

2) How did Mahjoub contract Hepatitis C? We are told that he got this deadly disease in prison, something that requires bloodstream-to-bloodstream contact. He has been in solitary confinement for two years. Mahjoub is a devout Muslim, which lets out tattooing, intravenous drug use and sexual activity, which is in any case a low risk in the case of Hep C. So how, once again, did he get it?

3) What were the "security reasons" for denying him hospitalization for a necessary liver biopsy? Is one sick man too much for the combined strength of the Metro West correctional officers, Toronto police and the RCMP to handle?

4) What are the security reasons for denying him contact with his own children? Even in Egypt, Mahmoud Jaballah, another victim of the security certificate system, was permitted family visits. Is this an attempt to break him?

5) Why has he been held in solitary confinement for two years? He was transferred into solitary after three years in the regular prison population. No one seems to have provided an answer to this question as yet. Is this a further attempt to break him?

6) Why have the mainstream media not asked questions 1-5? I’m not one of those, as some may have noticed, who refer knowingly and smirkingly to "the MSM" and pretend that the blogosphere is a real alternative. Blogging, for the most part, is enacted against the backdrop of the mainstream media, as even the most cursory examination reveals. In fact, it's generally in a relationship of dependency. Articles from the latter are regularly referenced; others are commented upon; sometimes information from disparate sources is put together in interesting ways. It's the mine, in short, where bloggers toil. But, true enough, the mainstream media often don't ask the kinds of questions that we might want asked. And they haven't done so here.

In the meantime, why not write, email or call the instigators of this on-going cruel and unusual punishment without trial?

Prime Minister Paul Martin
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6

Telephone: (613) 992-4211
Fax: (613) 941-6900

Joe Volpe
Minister of Immigration

House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6
Telephone: (613) 992-6361
Fax: (613) 992-9791

Irwin Cotler
Minister of Justice

House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6
Telephone: (613) 995-0121
Fax: (613) 992-6762

Anne McLellan
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
13th Floor, 340 Laurier Ave.
Ottawa, ON K1A 0P8
Phone: (613) 992-4524
Fax: (613) 943-0044

The Hon. Dalton McGuinty
Premier of Ontario
Rm 281, Main Legislative Building
Toronto ON M7A 1A4
Tel : 416-325-1941
Fax : 416-325-7578

Monte Kwinter
Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services
18th floor, 25 Grosvenor Street, Toronto, ON, M7A 1Y6
Phone: (416) 325-0408
Fax: (416) 325-6067

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Exemplary sentences

Paul Coffin and Roy Preston: two Canadians who fell afoul of the law. What happened then is manifest proof that our courts have, to put it mildly, flexible standards of justice.

Paul Coffin is the first Adscam executive to be tried, convicted and sentenced on 15 counts of fraud. He stole a little over $1.5 million from the taxpayers of Canada, and, when he fell under suspicion, paid about a million of it back. The delighted judge, on hearing this news, sentenced the miscreant to two years less a day, to be served in his no doubt comfortable home. Rex Murphy, normally a person I do not admire either for his overwrought prose or his politics, has nailed it today:

Fat cats can pilfer from the public purse, the governing party can execute miracle feats of cronyism and patronage, the ad men can bank millions—but it doesn’t matter at all. That's surely the message of the sentence. The further message it sends is that the well-dressed and well-connected live in a different world.

The whole column is well worth a read.

Roy Preston is a thug in a cop's uniform who, some two years ago, viciously assaulted a Somalian in Toronto, Said Jama Jama, without provocation. He had the help of one or two buddies. After being kicked repeatedly and losing a few teeth, Jama Jama was charged with assaulting the officers. He faced the prospect of prison followed by deportation. But, by a fluke, somebody was videotaping the whole thing. This led to the Crown dropping all charges against Jama Jama, and to the charging of Preston (his friends seem to have escaped judicial scrutiny). The judge in the case blasted them all for abuse of power, lying throughout, and attempting a cover-up.

Unfortunately, though, the judge's bite was somewhat less than his bark. The sentence? 30 days. The cop's lawyer, stretching a point somewhat, or possibly having a less-than-perfect grasp of Greek history, called this "Draconian," and promised an appeal. The cop's union president, just doing his job, I guess, had this to add: "A lot of this (sentencing) has to do with the coverage that this case has been given, the high profile it's been given." His point is not all that clear, but he seems to be saying that, had the media not done its work, his man would have gotten off entirely.

Given the existence of the videotape, I don’t think that's likely. But what I find myself wondering (and I'm sure I'm not alone) is how many luckless individuals beaten and framed by cops didn't have a rolling videocam in the vicinity. It's enough to make me question my dislike of surveillance cameras in public areas.

In any case, we have here a person sworn to uphold the law and set a public example, who has committed criminal offences, lied, and conspired with others to cover the whole thing up, handed a derisory wrist-slap by a judge who might have, had Jama Jama appeared in his court, thrown the book at the man for assaulting members of Toronto’s finest. Another exemplary sentence: police will, for all their public blustering, breath a sigh of relief that, once again, the courts have agreed that they are above the law, or at least virtually above its consequences.

But a kid in Sydney selling a little weed at a school dance got 90 days. And Kimberly Rogers, who died in an overheated Ontario apartment in 2002, got six months of house arrest and eighteen months of probation for welfare fraud (obtaining student loans to escape the welfare trap while receiving social assistance). Her benefits were cut, and she was left with $18 per month to cover food and other necessities of life. An advisor to Ontario's Attorney-General at the time stated at the coroner's inquest that welfare fraud cases are considered "very serious" because "taxpayers demand people who steal from the public purse be punished severely."

The Canadian court system, some would still maintain, is about equal justice for all, with class and power playing no role in the way it is administered. But the facts speak otherwise-- eloquently so on occasion. And in the cases at hand, they positively sing.

[With a tail-wag to Trickle Down Truth]
Ant-colony democracy

New revelations about prisoner abuse in Iraq have surfaced. Beatings, including the smashing of bones, were "routine" for the 82nd Airborne Division, stationed at Camp Mercury, near Falluja. The torture was committed at times to gain information, at other times simply "for amusement." But the American troops showed what must be considered exemplary restraint: the "persons under control," or PUCs, as they were known, were not killed. "We kept it to broken arms and legs," said an unidentified sergeant.

It is to the credit of one Captain Ian Fishback, who was stonewalled by his superiors for seventeen months as he tried to report these savageries, that a criminal inquiry is now taking place.

Meanwhile, back in Basra, British occupation forces helping to "reconstruct" Iraq freed two of their soldiers who had been arrested by Iraqi authorities, by bulldozing a police station and killing two Iraqis in a subsequent confrontation. The Governor of Basra called the destruction of the police station "barbaric." The soldiers, in Arab dress, were apparently apprehended in a vehicle loaded with explosives and weapons, after they failed to stop at a checkpoint, and then opened fire on Iraqi police who approached them, killing one and wounding another.

A warrant has now been issued by an Iraqi judge for the two men. A British military spokesman said there was "no legal basis" for the issuing of such a warrant.

An advisor to the Prime Minister of Iraq denounced the British actions: "It is a very unfortunate development that the British forces should try to release their forces the way it happened."

Now Ayatollah Mohammed Yaqubi, leader of one of Basra Province’s largest political parties, has told his supporters to reject the draft Iraqi Constitution in next month's referendum. This has apparently "shocked British diplomats."

When I was a child, I was fascinated with ant-colonies, and even assembled a few of them. You did this by finding one in the wild, uprooting it, grabbing up as many of the little critters as you could, hoping you'd snagged the queen, and throwing them all into a glass-sided case where you could watch them re-group and re-organize. Neat. And if they tried to escape, you simply flicked them back in. Once in a while you'd play around with the tunnels they made, so you could watch them build new ones. The poor insects probably thought they were still running things.

Well, you know where I'm going with this, so I won't draw out the obvious parallels. The war in Iraq rages on, as the Iraqi version of the Continental Congress process is carefully guided and controlled, but seems to be falling apart anyway. Women won't do well out of the Constitution, and that's if the thing passes in a few weeks. Meanwhile, a Washington-based think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has reported that very few of the insurgents in Iraq are foreign (4-10%) and that Saudi fighters trying to join the insurgency "were not militants before the Iraq war....[instead, they were] radicalized almost exclusively by the coalition invasion."

Note to parents: discourage your kids from messing about with insects. It could have consequences. Buy 'em a dog instead.

UPDATE (September 25). The British commander who authorized the destruction of the police station, Brig. John Lorimer, has refused to apologize. "The message this action has sent to terrorists around the world is that they cannot expect to take British soldiers hostage and get away with it," he said. Thus even the official forces of law and order in Iraq, the soldier ants if you like, are conveniently defined as "terrorists" when they get in the way of those who are really in charge.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Dead rights

A plan in Ontario to remove organs from dead bodies on the basis of presumed consent has been shelved. This "negative option" approach would have allowed the use of such organs to save lives in cases where the deceased had not explicitly registered an objection beforehand. Dr. Frank Markel, who heads the Trillium Gift of Life Network, which administers organ donations, says, "we don't believe the public of Ontario is ready." In a bizarre editorial, the Globe & Mail today supported this move, using emotive language to push things along: organs are not taken for use, but "harvested": governments are not permitting the use of organs to save lives, they are "organ snatchers." But here is the crux: "interfering with a person's body, even after death [emphasis mine], is a serious violation of his rights."

This takes "rights talk" to a whole new plateau. Even the dead now have rights. It boggles the mind, or at least my mind. I tried to imagine what a Bill of Rights for the dead would look like. The right to life? Well, why not--corpses should get a shot at it, but this is a right unlikely to be exercised. Security of the person? Only if the dead are now granted personhood, perhaps a new advocacy project for the exhausted "pro-life" movement. Liberty? Maybe on Hallowe'en. Freedom of assembly? Ditto.

But seriously, folks, let's get a grip here. I don't have an objection if a person or his or her family doesn't want to donate organs to those whose lives may depend upon it. Well, I do, actually, but I don't think we can legislate against selfishness or metaphysics. I cannot, however, for the life of me (as it were) see what is wrong with asking such individuals to register their objections in advance, as is currently done in Quebec when people renew their health cards. In any case, presumed consent, from an ethical point of view, is entirely reasonable when another person's life may be dependent upon it.

A few decades hence, people will shake their heads in wonder at this controversy. A lung, or a cornea, or a heart, is of no use to a corpse. Even the Globe admits that Canada's organ donation rate is a "national disgrace." So what, then, is the problem? Thousands of dying people on waiting lists would like to know.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Simon Wiesenthal, alav hashalom

I remember when Israeli intelligence tracked down and tried Adolf Eichmann, back in the 'sixties. There was a resurgence of neo-nazism in Canada around the same time. I entered McGill immediately after Eichmann's execution, and received in the mail, with many other students, my first "hate literature." It was the usual cultish, nutcase stuff: Holocaust denial and Jewish conspiracies everywhere. People were shocked by it, or fascinated, but I doubt a single convert was made. The war had been over for seventeen years, and the bastards had lost, and that was that.

But it never is, of course. It was around that time that I began to be aware of the “ones who got away.” The Odessa project, supported by the Catholic Church, smuggled Nazis to Italy, where they later dispersed: South America, as everyone knows, was a favourite final destination. The CIA collaborated with a number of former Nazis, notably Reinhard Gehlen, even moving a few of them into the United States. The US showed an odd disinclination to move against Andrija Artukovic, a vicious Croatian war criminal (Minister of the Interior in the Nazi puppet state in occupied Croatia) who had slipped into the US in 1948. Soon unmasked as the creature he was, he nevertheless managed to stay in the country until 1986.

Artukovic was responsible for the Jasenovac concentration camp, where starving children were poisoned with caustic soda (lye). "Slaughter all Serbs, one and all, as well as Jews and Gypsies," he ordered. I had to read about him in Paul Krassner's Realist: Nazis were of no great concern to the mainstream media. Official complacency or even its active cooperation with Nazis outraged my moral consciousness at the time--and it still does. Ex-Nazis were recruited to bust a Canadian strike at Inco in the late fifties. Pope John Paul II beatified one of Artukovic's confederates in 1998, Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, a man who once wrote, "Hitler is an envoy of God."

It was sometime in the late seventies or early eighties that I first became aware of the remarkable concentration-camp survivor Simon Wiesenthal and his work in the Jewish Documentation Centre in Vienna. I was impressed: a lone crusader for what is right, hunting down some of the worst criminals in human history, and taking nonsense from no one. "I am someone who seeks justice, not revenge," he said, although I would have happily settled for revenge in those days. Indeed, the character of the man was evident in his musing that Catholic involvement in Nazi-smuggling must have come from a misguided notion of Christian charity. I could not even now stretch to that generosity of spirit.

Wiesenthal helped to track down an estimated 1,100 Nazi war criminals, including Fritz Stangl, the commandant of Treblinka, Karl Silberbauer, the Gestapo officer who arrested Anne Frank, and Hermine Braunsteiner, a female camp commandant at Majdanek who had ordered the torture and murder of hundreds of child inmates--she had been living in Long Island, NY. He reportedly refused to visit Canada because of what he felt to be the complacency of Canadian officialdom in dealing with the war criminals in our midst. He incurred the wrath of the President of Austria, Bruno Kreisky, in the 1970s, by publicly denouncing the inclusion of former Nazis in his Cabinet.

He was ludicrously denounced by the former senior counsel of the World Jewish Congress, Eli Rosenbaum, as anti-semitic and a Holocaust-denier for defending a later Austrian President, Kurt Waldheim, against charges of Nazi activities during WWII (unwisely, I think, but it goes to his fair-mindedness). Wiesenthal also introduced into public consciousness the idea that the Holocaust had non-Jewish victims as well, once again attracting harsh criticism, from such well-known figures as historian Deborah Lipstadt.

It is hard not to like a man who follows his own paths, fighting heroically for what is right regardless of the consequences, and speaking truth no matter who is offended. A few years back I joined the organization Friends of Simon Wiesenthal to show my support for his efforts. I left it after the issues of Israel and the Holocaust became inextricably tangled in their publications, and the organization had the unmitigated chutzpah to give Margaret Thatcher a Humanitarian of the Year award. But I never lost my over-all admiration for this pig-headed, irascible doer of good. Although he had a spectacularly long life, it wasn't long enough. Alav hashalom.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


The Right is beside itself with joy as Kyoto was administered what could be a fatal blow the other day by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. In a recent speech in New York, Bush's dependable friend spoke with what he described as "brutal honesty" about Kyoto. No country, he declared, is going to cut its growth; other solutions for the problem of climate change and global warming need to be found. Kyoto expires in 2012, and, Blair strongly suggested, it's not likely to be renewed. His own thinking on the subject, he said, has changed.

The media have barely taken this up, which I find a little odd, but things are different in the blogging world. "Kyoto Treaty RIP," gloats one wingnit, his cries of pleasure echoing throughout the blogosphere."Kyoto," declares another, standing aloof in giant ignorance, "is a mix of bad science, runaway bureocracy [sic] and typical spineless euro-politics. If that's the best the enviro-nuts can come up with to save the planet, it's not worth saving." "Kyoto finished," exults Jay Currie. "Yessssss," Kathy Shaidle moans deliriously, and I don't think she’s faking it.

Meanwhile, Blair's hapless deputy, John Prescott, hadn't been let in on the dirty little secret--a week ago he took a good swipe at the Bush administration for not signing Kyoto. If there is indeed a major policy shift in the wind, no one, it seems, bothered to tell him.

Now, the extremists will not take perfect comfort from Blair's words. He did, in fact, acknowledge that there is a problem with climate change, something that the heads-in-dark-holes crowd, Bush among them, is not prepared to admit. He has, however, seemingly wilted under the combined pressure of the corporate lobby and Bush's obduracy.

A note of caution, though: we do need to look at this sans the rightist filter through which it comes to us. Misleadingly, for example, we are informed that China and India "weren’t covered by Kyoto," but both countries have ratified it; China, in fact, was able to reduce its CO2 emissions by 17% in four years, pre-Kyoto (1997-2001).

The Right's position on the continuing destruction of our planet by corporate interests is a classic case of denial. Here it is, in a nutshell: the globe isn't warming, that's just junk science and leftist nonsense. Well, if it is warming, it's not because of human activity. Well, if it is caused by human activity, Kyoto won't be effective. Well, if it is effective, it will cost too much. Let's look for other solutions that are good for business. Or just learn to adapt to climate change, no sweat--the Alfred E. Newman school of environmental science.

I have never seen Kyoto as more than a wake-up call, myself, and so I don't agree that the treaty and environment-saving technological innovations are opposed to each other, the odd binary that seems to constrict right-wing thought on the matter. A mixed strategy is always best. Jay Currie is right that steep oil prices will drive innovation; I'm less inclined to see nuclear power as the answer to our prayers, unless we can progress with fusion. (Nuclear energy is far too dicey a technology to put into the hands of corner-cutting, profit-driven entrepreneurs.)

The basis of the opposition to Kyoto is simply reactionary politics and corporate greed, combined with an unstrategic worldview perhaps summed up best by Jim Morrison: "I'm going to get my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames." The basis of support for Kyoto is not that it alone will reverse global warming, but that it marks a good strategic beginning--not only with respect to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, but also as the harbinger of a profound shift in world environmental consciousness. Kyoto, in fact, signals a new seriousness, and the possibility of new paradigms, in which we understand ourselves as an integral part of the environment, rather than its overlords.

These profound changes in the global culture are slow-moving, the more so for being actively opposed by the powerful special interests that continue to call the shots. So one might be pessimistic: Bush's foreign adventures, his domestic incompetence, his crazed bull in the UN china shop, Blair’s pitiful acquiescence (his disagreements with Bush on the latter will be seen as illusory fairly shortly), all pose serious, perhaps catastrophic threats to the world we live in.

But perhaps the greatest strength (although admittedly at times the greatest weakness) of the Left is our optimism. Out of the tragedies of Iraq and New Orleans come new insights into the poverty of traditional, narrow approaches. Massive holes in the ozone layer led to the fairly speedy adoption of the Montreal Protocol. Crises provoke awareness, reflection and, eventually, the collapse of received wisdom and idées reçues. The shrinking global village is becoming more sensitive to danger of all kinds, and ordinary people are growing more and more dissatisfied with the placating noises uttered by leaders who have only their own class interests at heart. They smell eco-suicide in the air, and they're already demonstrating their opposition as a powerful thread in anti-globalist protest. At some point something has to give, and it will. One can only hope that it happens in time.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Moral idiocy

Yesterday a lawyer for the federal government, Barbara McIsaac, defended in open court the use of torture. She is the government’s chief counsel at the Maher Arar enquiry. We must therefore assume, with enormous regret, that she was speaking for our government in her official capacity.

She posed a hypothetical question: say we become aware of a plot to blow up the Canadian Embassy in Damascus. Passing that information along will result in many people being tortured. "Do we not do that?" she asked. She went on to speculate about another scenario: should the RCMP and CSIS refuse to consider information obtained under torture that would stop a bombing at a Toronto subway station? (Thankfully she doesn’t expand on this, so we don't have to consider the possibility that CSIS and/or the RCMP did the dirty work themselves.) "That's the moral debate," she said. "And that's a horribly difficult question, isn't it?"

Well, no, not really.

The moral question is actually rather simple: should the state officially countenance torture, or not?

Alan Dershowitz, a prominent American lawyer and Harvard law professor, says yes. He wants torture to be made legal through the issuing of "torture warrants." He argues that the practice actually requires legitimization, with all of the checks and balances and tests presently required for other types of warrant. He would prefer to see torture, in other words, within the legal framework rather than outside it, where it lies, in effect, unregulated.

A seductive argument? Not at all. What such legitimization would do, besides making torture far more prevalent, by virtue of legalizing it, would be to corrupt public morals: the notion of torture as a legitimate tool of the state undermines the very values that make us civilized.

What about the use of good information obtained through torture? That one is tricky: if the information had a positive human impact and its use is not likely to legitimize the means by which it was obtained, it may not be immoral to use it. As an example, some of the information gathered by the Nazis in their notorious medical experiments might have positive application at the present time. Should we refuse to utilize it? Its use hardly encourages a resurgence of Nazism, nor of the amoral code that allowed the Third Reich to perpetrate such atrocities. It's merely data at this point in history. To reject such information would be like refusing to use acetylsalicylic acid if it came to light that mediaeval physicians forced prisoners to imbibe infusions of willow bark to determine the proper dosage. But, on the other hand, if the potential usefulness of such data directly encourages or legitimizes the use of torture, it is clearly wrong. And that is what appears to be the case here.

Even leaving morals aside, the practical problem with torture, of course, is its sheer unreliability. Victims, like Maher Arar, tend to tell their torturers what they want to hear. Hence, we are told, "CSIS will attempt to corroborate the information with other independent sources." But if CSIS is actually responsible for driving the process of torture itself by furnishing information to the torturers, as the Arar inquiry and the fate that befell two other Canadians strongly indicate, then it is morally complicit, as are creatures such as our current Ambassador to Romania, Franco Pillarella, who outrageously claimed that he had no idea Syria tortured anyone.

The disease spreads rapidly. "Government witnesses at the inquiry have said they accepted summaries of Mr. Arar's 'confession' even as Ottawa was working to obtain his release from the Syrians," the Globe & Mail reports. McIsaac tries to reassure us: "Decisions were made in good faith and with no animus toward Mr. Arar." This might have been of some comfort to him as the Syrians were whipping him with cables, but it appears that this soothing message was never delivered.

But here's the bottom line, blithely delivered by McIsaac without a hint that she had the slightest idea of the import of her words: with respect to Arar, she said, "We now know nothing was going on."

Hindsight, as they say, is 20-20. But it doesn't help those who are selected for torture and are later found to a) be innocent of any crime, and/ or b) have no germane information to provide.

And this, of course, leads directly to a question of confidence, all other aspects of this unsavoury topic aside. Do we trust CSIS to select the "right" victims? Not likely, in my opinion: it was wrong about Arar, and, in the case of Bhupinder Liddar, a diplomat whose career it cut short, an oversight body, the Security and Intelligence Review Committee, has just found that CSIS has lied, covered up evidence, and in general behaved in a thoroughly dishonest and incompetent fashion. Do we trust the RCMP? Ask Ahmad El Maati and Ottawa businessman Abdullah Almalki, both tortured in Syria on the basis, it seems, of information fed to the Syrians by the Mounties. Do we trust Paul Martin and Anne McLellan, his Minister of Public Safety? (Has no one picked up, incidentally, on the irony of this title? Or is it indeed irony?) They don't want the Arar enquiry widened, goodness, no, and if these men have a complaint, tough noogies.

So, visiting Syria sometime? Want to put your bodily well-being in the hands of people like this? Be my guest, but I think I'll choose the Caribbean.

In the meantime, though, a far more serious question. Does Barbara McIsaac, in her defence of state-sanctioned torture, speak for the government of Canada? And, more important--does she speak for Canadians?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Adoption follies

Without a lot of fanfare, Bill 183 is inching towards the finish line in the Ontario legislature. If it becomes law, the Bill will allow adopted individuals who reach the age of eighteen to access their birth records, usually including the name of the birth mother, and, "at times," the birth father. Birth parents will have access to adoption records when the child is nineteen, including the names of the adopting parents.

Presently, a birth parent or an adopted child has the right to place his or her name on a register, allowing contact in the case of a match occurring. That affords full rights to privacy unless both parties agree to give it up. But no possibility of a disclosure veto is contained in the current Bill, other than persons who were abused by their birth parents, and other exceptions to be decided by a tribunal. Actual contact can be vetoed, but information about individuals will be made readily accessible, regardless of consent.

Unaccountably, the provisions of the current law that permit the disclosure of non-identifying medical information to adoptees--uncontroversial on any side of this debate--is being repealed. Vital medical history that could save the health or even the life of an adoptee, in other words, is to be traded away for intrusive personal information.

My declaration of interest: I'm adopted. And I strongly oppose this Bill. It's an abomination. Far from "moving adoption disclosure laws into the 21st century," as a press release from Ontario's Ministry of Community and Social Services trumpets, it turns the clock back by several decades--almost eight in fact (it was 78 years ago that adoption records came to be sealed).

The "pro" arguments have been well canvassed by now within the legislature, as witness after witness has lined up to make presentations. To give the flavour of these, here are a few of the comments, and a few more, from Hansard:

We're very concerned that adult children of adoptees...should have the right to also know who their grandparents, their uncles and their aunts are for medical reasons, for psychological reasons, to fulfill a full sense of identity.


[I]n adulthood, many adoptees feel a deep-seated need to know of their roots, the circumstances of their birth and adoption and, in some cases, to connect with birth family. As adopted children wander in a sense of disorientation and genetic bewilderment, they can direct, on occasion, their confusion and pain toward their adoptive parents in hurt, anger, confusion and even rage.


My adopted mom spent many, many hours with me helping me in my search. She did that because she loves me and wants me to know everything possible about my history.


We look like you, we sound like you, we act like you; however, we're just a little bit different. We've grown up not knowing anything about who we are.

On the other side of this is Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner, Ann Cavoukian, who makes a compelling case against retroactive application of the law unless a disclosure veto is included:

I keep thinking of the young girls who gave a baby up for adoption 20 years ago thinking they were safe, and never thinking that a government would reveal their secrets. Birth parents cannot simply be ignored--they have rights, too.

Other provinces have opened the adoption process, but have included the disclosure veto. Only in Ontario is the government poised to strip away the rights to privacy of birth parents and adoptees.

The quotes, above, with their references to "identity," "not knowing who we are," a "sense of disorientation," "history" and so on, illustrate what I can only regard as a pathology. This is, in fact, precisely Jean-Paul Sartre's notion of "bad faith": that is, pretending that one is not free. Indeed, that philosopher offers some crucial insights here.

Sartre gives a couple of famous examples of bad faith in his epic work, Being and Nothingness. One is a waiter in a café being just a little too "waiterly," revealing that he is playing at being a waiter, defining himself as an object rather than as a free human being, in this case as a role. Another is a woman who is on a date: her companion takes her hand, but she leaves it limply there, like a thing, refusing to choose to accept or reject the advance.

In the same way, the frantic individuals trying to track down their birth mothers, because mothers it usually is, are refusing to accept responsibility for who they are. They need someone else, in effect, to tell them. (Those looking for their lost children present a more complex set of issues, in my opinion, but the questions of privacy and consent remain.) Without making contact with their birth mothers, they are simply objects without an identity, a history, a sense of self. This seems to me akin to those who want to find out "who they are," their "purpose in life," by joining a cult, or (dare I say it) by becoming deeply involved in a mainstream religion. It's what Eric Fromm, describing the fascination of totalitarianism, rightly called an escape from freedom.

An article in the Globe & Mail yesterday sums up the problem in a nutshell, and does not bode well for those birth mothers who want to be left alone. Here's one Michelle Edmunds, after receiving photographs from her birth family: "I could actually look at those pictures and see myself." She continues, "It's my identity. How could anyone have the right to withhold that from me?" Her thirst for information, she says, "wasn't a choice. It was a physical craving....Telling an adopted child that you love them does not override the physical need [emphasis mine] to know your roots." She spent twenty years, we are told, feeling confused and thinking she could be related to everybody.

One can only be sympathetic to Ms. Edmunds and others like her. But do we want an army of such people loosed upon their birth mothers?

This is an issue that, for once, doesn't appear to fall neatly into the well-worn, dreary political polarities. I find myself, for the first time in my life, on the side of Norm Sterling, a veteran Conservative MPP who has called for the withdrawal of the Bill and its replacement with one that guarantees privacy rights. I find myself adamantly opposed to Marilyn Churley, NDP MPP who is pushing this Bill hard. Does she not see, for a start, the gendered nature of this--the fact that birth mothers (rarely the fathers) are now to be visited by ghosts from their past, after being guaranteed that their files would be sealed? Does she not shake her head in wonder that the government is proposing, at the same time, to cut off access to possibly vital medical information for adoptees?

I have less difficulty with having the new rules apply from now on: after all, births out of wedlock are hardly a stigma, and openness is to be preferred to shameful secretiveness as a matter of public policy. (Still, the "adoption, not abortion" folks are going to face a bit of a challenge if Bill 138 goes through in its present form.) But this is now, and that was then. Changing the rules of the game retroactively is not right, destroying people's lives to placate neurotics is not right, and people ought to let the Minister of Community and Social Services, Sandra Pupatello, know. Here’s her email: Why not drop her a line?

UPDATE: (September 19) I was contacted by a Ministry of Community and Social Services today, in response to a telephoned enquiry with respect to the issue of releasing non-identifying medical information. He noted that a section of the proposed Bill, Sn. 162, while vaguely-worded, provides regulatory authority to govern the release of such information.

Sunday, September 11, 2005


To begin with, no, damn it, the world did not change after 9/11. If I hear that one again, I'm going to start throwing things. (Note to CSIS: no extraordinary rendition, please. I was being metaphorical.) Here's how things stayed the same.

The US declared war on "terrorism." But an indefinable enemy has been the stock-in-trade of that nation for as long as I can remember. It used to be "communism." (Remember the original 1956 version of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers?" That was one of the prime epics of the Cold War. Now it's terrorists. Search the country for pods.) But whatever the enemy, we're under attack. Civil liberties? Hey, there's a war on. Never mind Ben Franklin, the likely author of the following, oft-misquoted apothegm: "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

Guess what? Americans aren't getting much of either. But it's never been about liberty or safety. It's been about class and race and privilege from the get-go: Bush going to Biloxi to do photo-op hugs, complete with fake "rescue" efforts, studiously avoiding New Orleans survivors for "security" reasons. On vacation, strumming his guitar while New Orleans drowns.

Do Americans feel safe? No. Are they free? Ask Jose Padilla: the Fourth Circuit federal court, led by a man on Bush's short-list for the Supreme Court, ruled that Bush could personally jail him on his own say-so, and habeus corpus be damned. Ask the inmates of Guantanamo, or those sent off to other countries to be tortured. Ask the citizens of New Orleans, contained in their hell-hole by police and the National Guard, not permitted to walk across bridges to safety, not permitted to leave the Superdome, denied life-saving supplies by FEMA, the federal agency supposedly deployed to help them. Kris Kristofferson nailed it: for too many in America, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

The US used 9/11 as an excuse to make war on two more countries. But the US has been invading other countries for decades, directly or by proxy, under one pretext or another. They can’t seem to go ten years without a war. Why? Besides being habit-forming and good for business, it's about geopolitical influence and resources. War is what imperial nations do. Nothing new there. Read Machiavelli:

A Prince ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study, than war and its rules and discipline; for this is the sole art that belongs to him who rules, and it is of such force that it not only upholds those who are born princes, but it often enables men to rise from a private station to that rank. And, on the contrary, it is seen that when princes have thought more of ease than of arms they have lost their states.

Some young men from Yemen and US ally Saudi Arabia committed an atrocity within the gated community that is the US. Result? The US went to war--in Afghanistan and Iraq. The somnambulists of whom too much of North America is composed think that makes great sense. They're still confident that those will-o'-the-wisp WMDs will be found. That democracy is coming to Iraq. They still think that Bush is Da Man.

The US military, indeed, has become expert in the art of war. It has supply chain issues down to a fare-thee-well. The administration can deploy troops anywhere in the world, and keep them well-fed and well-armed while mowing down the latest crop of barefooted peasants. But it can't seem to get help to New Orleans in time to save the lives of their own citizens. As the satirist Tom Lehrer sang, back in the days of desegregation (but his words apply more recently), "To the shores of Tripoli/ But not to Mississipoli." Or Louisiana.

Police and security agencies have been/are being given what some regard as unprecedented powers to snoop, hold without bail and so on. In Canada, the Liberals are bringing in legislation to allow the police and CSIS to monitor email and cell phone conversations. But unprecedented? Not at all. Extraordinary powers are nothing new. How quickly we forget the imposition of the War Measures Act in 1970, or, earlier on, the internment of Canadian citizens--Japanese, Italian, Ukrainian, you name it--not for being enemy sympathizers, but for "security" reasons. Again, there’s nothing new here, except the technology.

No, the world hasn’t changed. But perhaps some people have become more aware that there is a world out there. There is no Fourth World, Third World, Second World, First World--just one planet, and everything is connected. The US is not situated on the moon, above it all, but is very much a part of the world in which it throws its weight around. It took the tragedy of the Twin Towers to wake a lot of people up to that inescapable fact, to re-think, and to understand, finally, that all actions have counter-reactions, and all effects have causes. Whether it is Iraqi kids dying because of sanctions, Palestinians killed or displaced in that cage called the West Bank, Afghan and Iraqi civilians being slaughtered by the tens of thousands now, or ordinary Americans being massacred in an office building in New York in 2001, it’s all tied together in one bloody global package.

The trick is to figure out how, instead of reacting blindly. We need to be able to separate moralizing and sympathy from analysis. That was what Machiavelli did in 1505, and his very name, for that reason, has become synonymous with evil in the minds of many. But he was talking about the way things are, not what they should be; he was discussing power and its exercise while others talked of honour, faith and other values that had absolutely nothing to do with what was actually going on.

We run the same risk when we attempt to look analytically at 9/11. We are accused of being unfeeling (this from conservatives, whose empathy was so palpable during Katrina), or even in league with fundamentalist Islam. There is a blindness akin to macular degeneration that takes hold in a period of crisis: we are able to see only the vague outlines of things, heavily veiled by the metaphysical categories of Good and Evil; details cannot be made out. Those who sift among the wreckage for clues are suspect. We want to see things in black and white. Good guys versus bad guys. God versus the devil. Binary thinking is comforting, or, if not comforting, at least readily accessible to those desperately looking for meaning in such events.

Some accuse those whose sympathies lie with what is labelled "the Left" of merely reversing the polarity, and they’re not always wrong, but such accusations are a fairly broad brush and I don't find them generally very convincing. We don't, after all, support stoning women for adultery, public amputations, hanging gay teenagers, or any of the other delights imposed by fundamentalist Islamic regimes. Indeed, the targets here, if not the specific punishments, are far more redolent of conservatism. Being critical of US foreign policy is a very far cry indeed from embracing the mediaeval world-view of Osama bin Laden.

But be critical we must, and it does no dishonour to the innocent victims in the World Trade Center to be so. The distinction between civilian and soldier has effectively disappeared: somehow every human being has been drafted into a war that most do not believe in or begin to comprehend. It’s that old Left binary, perhaps, hideously perverted: "If you aren't part of the solution, you’re part of the problem." Or Bush's more biblical rendition: "If you’re not with us, you're against us." Yet most people would simply like to be left alone, to live in dignity and peace. Binary thinking has condemned them instead to lives of fear and deprivation.

If there is one lesson to be learned from 9/11, we need a new paradigm. We can't go on like this. We are all net losers in the current voguish war on terrorism. We lose our security, our liberty and too often our lives in the lose-lose scenario now being played out. While Halliburton snaps up the reconstruction contracts in Iraq (and New Orleans), and Bush practises his guitar licks, and a favoured few wax fat and happy amid the ruins of the world, and moral idiots like bin Laden and Abu Hamza al-Masri capitalize on prevalent misery and despair, running around pretending that their hatred is religious devotion, everybody else pays for it in one way or another.

The wretched of the earth find themselves imprisoned in something resembling, at least metaphorically, the New Orleans Superdome: contained by a perimeter of armed guards, too many without sustenance in an atmosphere of dread and violence, but where ordinary people rose to the occasion, remained civilized, stood up to the armed gangs, and demanded to be treated like human beings.

We need something like this to happen world-wide. No one can stop this game by raising the ante. There is no winner-take-all. Corporate globalism and instantaneous communications have bound us together inextricably, placing the rich and the poor, the privileged and the damned, side-by-side. Something has to give. Out of such necessity, will a new way of thinking emerge?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Katrina and the Right

This will probably be my last post on Katrina. More than enough has already been said on the subject, and I myself wasn't actually planning to post more than once. But two things kept me going. The first was the continuing flood of reports of the event itself, the horrifying images and descriptions of destruction, neglect, incompetence and violence on the one hand, and tragic dignity, compassion and outraged human concern on the other. The second was the parallel flood of commentary from the hard Right: an ugly, toxic mix of partisan excuse-making, stereotypes and contempt for the victims, all expressed in tones of insufferable smugness. The utter lack of empathy demonstrated by so many of the commentators was, for me, an excruciating reminder of the vacuum at the core of radical individualism, an absence of morality so profound that a million pretentious "philosophers" of the Ayn Rand variety couldn't begin to fill it with their specious substitutes.

The past few days have been emotional for me, and in some of my comments I have not been attentive to the fact that "the Right" is a category that should not be overly homogenized. There is decency to be found among some on that side of things, and the other positive qualities that make us human, too: empathy, compassion, caring. The Right, after all, is composed (for the most part) of ordinary human beings. But my attention was drawn and held by the sheer noise generated on that section of the political spectrum when and after Katrina hit: the kindly voices were simply drowned out.

Before getting to a few examples, let me dispose of the "charity" meme. A number of right-wing blogsites have been prompt to post links to various charitable organizations. For many, that seems to be the only way to express any fellow-feeling in this affair. Amidst the veritable forest of fingers wagging at the victims, here are some numbers to call, some sites where you can come and donate.

Let me put my cards on the table. I don't like charity. I give to charity, as I've given to Katrina relief recently, but always with a sinking feeling. It's like tipping waitstaff: I know I'm supplementing low wages, in fact I'm helping to keep them low by tipping, but stiffing servers isn't my style. Charity is an institutionalized perversion of the noblest of human instincts, the urge to share and reach out, to be social in the deepest sense. Charity establishes a hierarchy of donor and recipient. It encourages a kind of sanctimonious egoism, a sense of moral superiority. It's too often giving without really giving, even setting aside the tax deduction; it's cold and (for some) merely an obligation, like going to church.

I don't want to "give to the less fortunate." I want a society where there are no less fortunate, where social relations are authentic relations among equals, where we have so cooperatively arranged our relations that "charity" per se is no longer necessary. Until then, I'll keep on paying my taxes and giving to charity. A better world is something to work for, but too far off to wait for.

Now, to a sampling of the people who sum up, for me, what is wrong with the Right, with the caveats now securely in place above. Let's start with James Taranto. This moral imbecile is actually pleased that the disaster happened, because it increases the likelihood that Louisiana will go Republican. Here is his ill-concealed glee:

Katrina may change Louisiana politics for another reason: demographics. The storm forced a mass exodus from New Orleans and vicinity, and many residents surely will resettle out of state. The political effect will depend on whence the emigrants turn out to have come.

In the 2004 election, President Bush carried Louisiana by 281,870 votes, according to data from David Leip's election atlas. A breakdown by parish shows that the two candidates ran almost exactly even in the New Orleans area: John Kerry had a 109,763-vote margin within the city (Orleans Parish), while Bush beat Kerry by a combined 109,546 votes in the suburban parishes of Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard and St. Tammany.

Obviously if more New Orleans residents than suburbanites move out of state, Louisiana will become more Republican. Less obviously, the state will become more Republican even if flight from the suburbs equals that from New Orleans, since the evenly divided New Orleans region will account for a smaller part of the population than the heavily GOP-leaning rest of the state.

Moving hastily along, holding our noses in a tight grip, we come to Christopher Ruddy, who really nails that weepy liberal bastard Aaron Broussard:

Broussard, who was never identified by "Meet the Press" as a Democrat, spent much of his time attacking the Bush administration, as has Democratic New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.

Broussard then ended his performance as he collapsed in tears with a demand: "For God's sake, just shut up and send us somebody!"

His tears didn't wash with me. My sympathies lie with the tens of thousands of people who have suffered or died because local officials like Broussard, Mayor Nagin and Governor Kathleen Blanco, also a Democrat, failed monumentally at their jobs.

As it turns out, of course, while FEMA was obstructing so much assistance that a clear pattern seems to have emerged, if not a clear motive, the Governor had already declared a state of emergency and requested federal assistance, in fact before Katrina had even made landfall. The Mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, has been hailed for leadership and courage. He was not a man for cursory flyovers and staged photo-ops like another American leader. Check out this video and tell me, or anyone recognizably human, that Broussard was faking it, as blogger Jay Currie (for whom I usually have some respect) unbelievably asserts (and he's not alone).

Then there's Rush Limbaugh, sounding like he's back on OxyContin:

What we've seen in New Orleans is first and foremost the utter failure of generation after generation after generation of the entitlement mentality.

No, Rush, what we've seen in New Orleans is levees breaking because of Bush's cutbacks, and people dying because of an utter failure of the federal government to respond, not to mention the criminal incompetence of FEMA. And what we've heard is a whole lot of bloated charlatans like yourself leaning down from on high to tell drowning people that they should have taken swimming lessons.

The self-same theme is continued by the grossly self-satisfied and shallow Mark Steyn:

Unlike 9/11, when the cult of victimhood was temporarily suspended in honour of the many real, actual victims under the rubble, in New Orleans everyone claimed the mantle of victim, from the incompetent mayor to the 'oppressed' guys wading through the water with new DVD players under each arm.

Welfare culture is bad not just because, as in Europe, it's bankrupting the state, but because it enfeebles the citizenry, it erodes self-reliance and resourcefulness. New Orleans is a party town in the middle of a welfare swamp and, like many parties, it doesn't look so good when someone puts the lights up.

Nauseated yet? Check out the blogosphere. Here's just a small sampling:

Jay Currie (after claiming that the people should have predicted the levee break and stocked up on water):

The problem, of course, is that several generations of a nanny state saps the self-reliance of its clients. That infantile dependency gives us the pitiful spectacle of Aaron Broussard telling the story of a co-worker who kept reassuring his elderly mother that help was on its way right up until she drowned. There the poor woman is in a building with a phone asking him why he didn’t come and get her…So why didn't he? Or why didn't Mr. Broussard?

That "co-worker" happened to be the emergency situation manager for a large building. Had he deserted his post, the wingnits would have been all over him for "lacking a sense of responsibility," blah, blah. Besides, he had no way of knowing that the fifth cavalry were mounted on giant snails. As for the remark about Broussard, he is the President of Jefferson Parish,and in that role he's been struggling every waking moment with monumentally huge coordination and relief operations. At least the Left didn't fatuously wonder aloud why Bush wasn't there in person hauling people off roofs. (One right-wing blogger was critical of a Congressman who did pitch in. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.)

Here's Kate McMillan, at Small Dead Animals:

What is their [New Orleanians'] response to this consequence that has befallen them, a consequence largely of their own making?

"You owe us".

Well, cheer up, Kate. The feds sure gave a reality check to those lowlifes, didn't they? You've got thousands fewer people with a sense of entitlement now.

Meanwhile, Bill Whittle hasn't yet choked on his self-generated combination of smugness and priggishness:

Only a few minutes ago, I had the delightful opportunity to read the comment of a fellow who said he wished that white, middle-class, racist, conservative cocksuckers like myself could have been herded into the Superdome Concentration Camp to see how much we like it. Absent, of course, was the fundamental truth of what he plainly does not have the eyes or the imagination to see, namely, that if the Superdome had been filled with white, middle-class, racist, conservative cocksuckers like myself, it would not have been a refinery of horror, but rather a citadel of hope and order and restraint and compassion.

(This gutless wonder, incidentally, seems to have pre-emptively banned the entire Progressive Bloggers blogroll. Only positive comments appear to be welcome in his echo-chamber. Of course, the Right's tolerance for dissent is well-known, witness the Cindy Sheehan pile-on.)

So what is it about the Rightist sensibility that leads to what Christopher Hitchens, commenting in this instance on George W. Bush’s astounding failure of leadership, calls "fatal insouciance?" It is precisely this: a cult of exclusion and privilege, based upon race and class, alibied by a fetishizing of "the individual" that is central to the right-wing Weltanschauung. Exclusion from the winner’s circle requires that others be tagged as "not like/not as good as us," and demands the suppression or even the complete elimination of those feelings of empathy and compassion towards them that make us social beings.

An ideology is required to legitimize this. "There is no such thing as society," declared Margaret Thatcher, who counts as one of her close friends Augusto Pinochet, the Butcher of Santiago. The very notion of altruism is excoriated by Ayn Rand and her babbling horde of followers, who extoll selfishness as a virtue.

The natural human instinct to nurture and empathize is thus perverted into a preening self-love, so evident over the past few days in everything from hokey Presidential photo-ops to priggish comments about "entitlement mentality" to racism-tinged stereotyping of the victims, as those on the high and dry ground of moral superiority distance themselves, emotionally and morally, from the dead and dying in New Orleans.

The psychopathology I have been illustrating and describing is best summed up, admittedly in one of its more extreme manifestations, by someone of the right-wing persuasion. The last word is his or hers, then, in a fitting conclusion:

[M]y first reaction [at seeing Aaron Broussard on NBC] was disgust--crying and carrying on like that is no way for a leader of men to behave on national tv, I don’t care if it was his own mother who'd been drowned. Leaders have to help people bear up, not wallow with them in a pit of grief, especially when the crisis is by no means over yet.

I was wondering [at] my inability to be moved by the emotional displays of any spokesperson the news media chooses to pluck from the New Orleans wreckage, or the flotsam and jetsam of the government of that city and its state, other than to feel a sensation as if hot slugs were crawling on me.