Friday, December 30, 2005

Ezra Levant's plummeting Standard

The publisher of the Western Standard has outdone himself this week, with a mud-slinging piece against the Liberal candidate in Mississauga-Erindale, Omar Alghabra. Readers may remember that Alghabra was accused of making inflammatory statements during his nomination meeting. This proved to be false, but Ezra Levant isn't having that: he now levels more accusations against Alghabra, whose chief fault appears to be that he is an immigrant and a Muslim.

Levant's bill of particulars, alas, would never stand up in court. The links provided to back them up reveal nothing other than his dishonesty: in many cases they do not remotely say what he claims they do. Here, then, are his charges, repeated verbatim:

1. Alghabra has condemned CanWest newspapers for labelling groups like Hamas and Hizbollah "terrorist" groups;

2. Alghabra has welcomed al-Jazeera to Canada and railed against any restrictions on it, but condemned the CRTC for allowing the "abusive" Fox News Channel in;

3. In the wake of the Arab riots at Concordia that shut down a speech by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Alghabra had the temerity to blame Jewish students for silencing campus discussions, and supported an Arab conference on campus whose stated mission was the elimination of Israel;

4. Alghabra has called for the total abolition of Canada's anti-terrorism laws; and

5. Alghabra was stopped at the U.S. border and searched and fingerprinted -- whether that was by reason of demographic profiling, or because he was on a watch list is uncertain. What is certain is that Alghabra turned it into an opportunity to gain media face time, Maher Arar-style, as an anti-American, anti-security mouthpiece.

Let's have a look at the damning "evidence" that Levant adduces:

1) Levant's link doesn't mention either Hisbollah or Hamas. It refers, in fact, to CanWest’s nasty habit some time back of re-writing wire news stories, inserting the word "terrorist" hither and yon to refer to Palestinians, but giving the Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank a pass. You don't have to be Muslim to object to that. Reuters didn’t think much of it.

2) Levant's link indicates that the Canadian Arab Federation did not call for the censoring of Fox News, but rather questioned the double standard that allowed Fox in (an outfit that more recently endorsed the neo-Nazi Stormfront organization) while attaching onerous conditions to the Al Jazeera network, the latter well-known as a rare independent voice in the Arab world, attracting the ire of the Arab establishment.

3) The article in question pointed out instances of Muslim students being put under pressure by various university administrations. Levant doesn't question this, because the facts are public record. As for the conference, Levant's link doesn't actually refer to it that I can see, but rather to an organization that supports the "right of return." The problem is, the right is here being applied to Palestinians instead of Jews. Horrors!

4) I'm against the anti-terrorism laws too. They were a knee-jerk response by the Liberals, in particular Anne McLelland, a "me-too" to the American Patriot Act. Now we're about to get even more intrusive state surveillance, this time of Internet communications. This is something conservatives would normally abhor, but not, I guess, where Muslims are concerned. But Levant would no doubt consider the Canadian Bar Association as "terrorist," as well: they too are mentioned in his link.

5) Alghabra was stopped at the US border and searched and fingerprinted. He made some public noise about this. Levant appears to think that the dusky fellow should have just sucked it up and said nothing. People like him should be grateful to have been allowed to immigrate here. Opening his mouth is clearly suspicious: speaking out is a right reserved, dontcha know, for people, well, like Levant himself and his buddies at the Western Standard. But none of the latter, I venture to suggest, would be subject to racial profiling at the border.

Levant complains that Alghabra is now threatening to sue people for attributing comments to him that he did not actually make. (Maybe he should talk to his colleague Kate McMillan.) That’s a reasonable critique: Alghabra isn’t the first Liberal to throw this kind of weight around, and I for one am getting a little tired of it. If only he had left it there. Instead, he goes on to refer to the Muslim Canadian Congress’ call for a police investigation of the "Canadian Coalition for Democracies" group, the folks who had to apologize publicly to Alghabra for getting it wrong. In a racist dig at Alghabra, who himself has said nothing about police at all, he says: “More good Saudi moves, but sorry, we don't bring police in to settle political arguments in Canada.”

He concludes by inviting a defamation suit against him. Alghabra shouldn’t bother, if it were even to cross his mind. Levant has self-destructed in his sleazy, dishonest piece. Let him lie where he fell.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Meanwhile, in another part of the forest...

...we're in the midst of Kwanzaa, and the usual suspects are out in force attacking the holiday full-bore. Why the frenzy? one might be tempted to ask. Why the obsessiveness? Surely it couldn't be...racism? Heavens, no. It's just joyful conservatives taking an annual whack at a holiday celebrated by millions of Black people.

Let's have a look, first, at what these concerned commentators are saying. (We'll give the folks a miss, though, if that's OK. No group endorsed by Fox News is getting a pulpit here.) So why not start with Ann Coulter?

The outlines of her argument are clear enough: the founder of Kwanzaa, Ron Karenga, was an FBI pawn (although, given her politics, I can't imagine why this would constitute a criticism), a violent Black nationalist, criminal and Marxist who, in the natural course of events, became a university professor. He "invented," "concocted," or "made-up" the holiday, "a lunatic blend of schmaltzy '60s rhetoric, black racism and Marxism." She ends her article (actually a pretty restrained one by Coulter standards) by comparing and contrasting Kwanzaa with the more venerable Christian religion, as do many of the other Kwanzaa-dissers. (No mention of the latter's seamy history of colonization, torture, massacres, witch-burning and slavery: that would spoil the turkey dinner, and make Ron Karenga look like a veritable saint in comparison.)

"Ann Coulter calls a spade a spade when she comments on Kwanzaa," says one forthright blogger, no doubt amused by his own wit.

But the anti-Kwanzaa charge is being led this year by Black conservative LaShawn Barber, whose agenda is Christian, not racial. Kwanzaa is "made-up" and "anti-Christian," she avers. "Kwanzaa is a jumble of political ideology, pseudo-cultural, and spiritualized 'African' rituals."

Attention Christians: Kwanzaa is a made-up creed cobbled together by a man hostile to the very God you claim to worship! Kwanzaa is not an innocuous celebration of black history. It attempts to spiritualize that history, replacing Christ-centered theology with pagan principles.

Other commentators weigh in with their takes on Kwanzaa, often calling Karenga a racist or a Black nationalist, e.g., "Now, I'm not trying to be the grinch who stole Kwanzaa here, but I think it's a sin that the rather radical, Marxist, black nationalist origins of the holiday are ignored every year-- ignored with the power of a thousand suns." Or, as Tony Snow puts it (take note of his racist assumptions):

The fact is, there is no Ur-African culture. The continent remains stubbornly tribal. Hutus and Tutsis still slaughter one another for sport... Kwanzaa is the ultimate chump holiday--Jim Crow with a false and festive wardrobe. It praises practices--"cooperative economics, and collective work and responsibility" -- that have succeeded nowhere on earth and would mire American blacks in endless backwardness.

But not every Kwanzaa-hater agrees:

My research also tells me that Karenga is not a racist. In fact, the best research on Ron Karenga reveals no violence against Whites by him or his followers. He had an excellent relationship with former Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty. He met with then Governor Ronald Reagan and other white politicians.

Predictably, our Kathy Shaidle plays the "me-too" game every year as well. We have an oh-so-clever entry this year: and a ripe one from Dick Evans, of "Rosa Parks was a fraud" fame.

Well, Kwanzaa is not the only set of cultural practices that can be called an invented tradition. The historian Eric Hobsbawm has assembled a series of essays on this very matter: one of them, by Hugh Trevor-Roper, demonstrates that the Scottish clan tartan and the kilt are both fairly recent inventions. The former was originally produced for the tourist trade; the latter was an exuberant post-Culloden creation.

Or take Christmas. Christmas as we know it is even more recent than Highland tartan. One reviewer writes, of Stephen Nissenbaum's The Battle for Christmas:

This scholarly analysis of our modern celebration of Christmas pulls together a thoroughly convincing case for the widely accepted notion that it is a 19th-century creation, indeed a deliberate reformation and taming of a holiday with wilder pagan origins. Christmas was set at December 25 in the fourth century, not for any biblical link with Christ's birth, but because the church hoped to annex and Christianize the existing midwinter pagan feast. This latter was based on the seasonal agricultural plenty, with the year's food supply newly in store, and nothing to do in the fields. It was a time of drinking and debauchery from the Roman Saturnalia to the English Mummers. The Victorians hijacked the holiday, and Victorian writers helped turn it into a feast of safe domesticity and a cacophonous chime of retail cash registers.

Here's another, on Jock Elliot's Inventing Christmas: How Our Holiday Came To Be:

Nodding to its earliest origins, Elliott focuses on the "invented traditions." "Most of our Christmas customs," he explains, "were invented in an amazingly short twenty-five-year period, from 1823-1848-a sort of `Big Bang' of our Christmas." Gorgeous illustrations by Thomas Nast (who created the Republican elephant and Democratic donkey) show the invention of Santa Claus, which began with a story by Washington Irving and culminated in "The Night Before Christmas" by Clement Clarke Moore. Nast's vision became iconic, but Elliott persuades us that a trio of New Yorkers--Irving, the holiday booster John Pintard and Moore--invented the child-centered family holiday that we know today.

Christmas is certainly a hodgepodge of a holiday if ever there was one: pagan Christmas trees (discouraged in the Bible: Jeremiah 10, 2-5), the ritual sacrifice of the God-King reduced to the roasting and eating of a turkey, a jolly fat man reverse-burglarizing homes, Christmas carols which often are an odd but appealing mixture of pagan and Christian themes ("Here we go a-wassailing," "The Holly and the Ivy"), and lots of being kind and being together with family, and watching the wonder in the eyes of children.

Now, that all sounds great to me. I love Christmas, pastiche though it be. It's a marvellous celebration, built out of a series of myths and inventions. Its origins matter far less than what it means now; the past is continually constructed and reconstructed.

Which brings us back to Kwanzaa. The celebration has taken hold with such tenacity that even George W. Bush has stood up for it, and a US stamp has been issued to mark it, much to the despair of the far-right. Situated in a context of continuing racism and poverty, a history of slavery, exploitation, oppression and degradation, Kwanzaa is not the creation but the re-creation of a myth that can be found world-wide, combining elements of rebirth and community.

From its archetypal roots, Kwanzaa speaks to people where they live, resonating deeply as do all myths emerging in the here-and-now: fluid imagery and values that take new form, re-presenting the profound meaning of what it is to be human. Kwanzaa doesn’t belong to Ron Karenga, but to those who celebrate it; like a text, the identity or intentions of the author really don't matter. The celebration is what counts. And it will continue, and flourish, despite the array of racist, anti-socialist and fundamentalist forces that have, predictably, risen up in coalition against it.

Monday, December 26, 2005

…and gutless Conservatives

Kate McMillan over at Small Dead Animals runs a fine blog with a lot of provocative content. Unlike many of her Conservative cohorts, she keeps things civil, she has a good wit, and her range of interests, while nearly always ideologically filtered, is wide. But when talk turns to First Nations, her dark side tends to emerge.

In the past, she has posted some comments that keep coming back to haunt her. She has attracted, as an antagonist, a formidable Indian rights activist, Meaghan Walker-Williams, whose latest broadside against Kate and others can be found here.

Kate is now a member of a CBC Round Table on the current election campaign. Another member posted a withering attack on the politically late, unlamented Mike Klander, and linked to that post by Meaghan. Kate threatened to sue the CBC and her co-commentator in the following two letters, posted within an hour of each other:

This is your formal notice that I consider the post currently up at the CBC forum, by: Marcie Abramovitch December 26, 2005 2:30 PM Titled: Another example of bad taste for the Liberals

To be an act of malice and intentional libel. I am holding the CBC responsible for permitting this post, as the Abramovitch post clearly links to a site that defames me. For the CBC to allow their forum to be used to sideswipe other members of the blog is unacceptable, and unworthy of a public broadcaster.

Here is the second:

Can someone explain to me how the editorial process allowed the linkage of

this hate site run by Meaghan Walker Williams?

This woman also runs the following sites:
Where she has been known to invite others to do me harm and suggested I have sex in lesbian threesomes with my dogs. This woman is highly disturbed.

She is also responsible for this site, which is devoted to attacking the highly successful Indian blog, Dust My broom. It goes by the delightful name of "Uncle Tom Injuns"

If the CBC is going to allow another roundtable member to direct their traffic to a site operated by an internet stalker who has dedicated much of her online life to slandering myself as well as others, I will hold the blogger responsible, the editors and the corporation responsible for libel.

Here are the quotes that Meaghan references at her site, and to which Kate takes exception:

Build new residental schools, if that's what it takes and tell the detractors to go to hell.

and then:

I changed my mind. We don't need residential schools for those little 4 year olds running the streets of Saskatoon late at night. We need institutions to lock up the Indian activists and apologists, so that there's an outside chance that the concept of "personal responsibility" will take hold in First Nations communities.

Now, there is no love lost between these two bloggers: that much is obvious. Hurtful things have no doubt been said on both sides: in Meaghan's post noted above, some tasteless photoshopping of herself by Kate is also mentioned. But it is simply astounding to me that Kate threatened to use the courts against third parties who had the temerity to link to a site that does no more than refer to her unfortunate comments of some time ago. She probably richly regrets having made them in a public forum; perhaps she and Mike Klander might have a drink or two at some undisclosed location and commiserate. Nobody said politics was kind.

But Kate, it seems,
has scored a victory. The CBC caved almost immediately, and the link has been removed from the co-commentator's post. Censorship and heavy-handedness have won. Those, whatever their politics, who would silence the opposition and shut down debate can only take heart from this.

So I am here being even-handed. I despise what the Liberals have been up to in this campaign, with their threats and (in one case) the jailing of a heckler. But when Conservatives play the same game, it is only right that they be called on it. I, for one, regret the CBC's cowardice in censoring the Round Table post. It sets a terrible precedent.
The last thing we need during an election campaign is more threats and silencing.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: (December 28) I am reliably informed that I got the order of Kate's two letters wrong; the one identified in my post as the second was actually the first received. More important, on prompting by Andrew of Bound By Gravity, I retract any suggestion that Kate speaks for, or is a member of, the Conservative Party of Canada. That she is a conservative, there can be no doubt; that she is frequently in the company of Conservatives, whether at the Western Standard's Shotgun blog, on the Blogging Tories blogroll, or even literally as a fellow-traveller on a recent Tory cruise, there can be no doubt either. But she was not acting as a Conservative Party representative when she threatened to sue her co-commentator. She was just being--herself. I apologize, not to her, but to the Conservative Party; and I await their apology for endorsing the candidacy of the racist Rob Anders in Calgary West. Fair enough?
Gutless Liberals

Mike Klander's quick step-down has averted another bump in the road for the Liberals, none of whom will now have to apologize, or even acknowledge that a former senior official spent months on a public blog expressing odious racist, sexist, homophobic and ableist comments. They will no doubt all claim ignorance, and indeed the spin-cycle is on full bore: Klander wasn't even playing a role in the current campaign, a "Liberal spokesman" said, with a straight face.

But this kind of refusal to acknowledge responsibility is just one aspect of the Liberals' craven approach to political life. Yours truly has now experienced first-hand the cowardice that is the flip-side of Liberal arrogance.

A blogger who proudly calls himself "Liberal For Life," I have just discovered, has actually banned me from his blogsite, if my readers can believe it. Not for foul language or slander or anything like that, but simply for expressing spirited opposition to the Liberal Party.

This is a new one on me. I've never been banned before, not by the many conservative sites I visit (and on which I make fairly mordant comments on not a few occasions), nor on any progressive sites. But Liberals are a different breed of cat: gutless wonders who threaten to sue people for expressing opposition during an election campaign (Richard Mahoney, Michael Ignatieff), or even get them thrown into the clink (Paul Martin). Anti-Liberal views are banned, threatened, silenced, whatever it takes. Power is all these people believe in.

Too bad for the tender sensibilities of "Liberal for Life," though. The Liberals are totalitarians who deserve the fate that awaits them on E-day--another minority, dependent upon NDP support, which will keep some semblance of decency in play. And I'll be continuing to catalogue their excesses, moral failures and common-or-garden thuggishness all the way.

Liberal Party racism

Despite the odd silence from the corporate media over the sick slobber of hatred drooling from the mouth of one Mike Klander, a senior Liberal official in Ontario, the blogosphere has risen to the challenge: numerous references to his views have surfaced, with the appropriate pithy commentary. Let's keep it up.

Three things are immediately obvious. First, Klander should be prosecuted under Canada's hate speech legislation (Section 319 [2] of the Criminal Code of Canada). Secondly, he should be ousted from his job. Thirdly, the first two things aren't going to happen. Why? Because he’s a Liberal.

Liberals protect their own, from stamp-licking hopefuls in campaign offices to the Prime Minister of the country--whether we’re talking about the power-drunk Jean Chrétien or his creepy successor, Paul Martin. They can steal money from the public purse with impunity, they can utter hateful racist, homophobic, ableist comments on public blogs, they can (and do) threaten their opponents with court action for criticizing them during an election campaign, or even have them jailed. They hold the reins of power, and it's about as easy to pry them from their insidious grip as it is to get a gun away from Charlton Heston.

Various so-called "ethnic communities," including the Chinese community that Klander slurs, have traditionally been friendly to the Liberals, for a variety of reasons, all of them beginning to lose their lustre: a relatively enlightened immigration policy (tainted by the reintroduction of the head tax and patronage appointments of know-nothings to the Immigration and Refugee Board), inclusiveness in candidate selection (losing its shine after the Jean Augustine ouster in favour of the Americanized war-hawk Michael Ignatieff), and acres of idle rights talk. Compared to the Conservatives, whose copy-book is not only blotted but by now virtually illegible, the Liberals have looked reasonably enlightened on racial issues. But "looked" is clearly the operative word.

One simply has to examine the sorry history of the Lubicon and of other Indian bands, or the "none is too many" policy on Jewish immigration before and during the Second World War, or the more recent imperial excursion into Haitian affairs, to know that the Liberals have nothing to boast about and plenty to be ashamed of when it comes to these matters. It's been a long, sordid tale of power for its own sake, convenient public anti-racism promulgated for political effect, skin-deep anti-sexism (just ask the women who fought for pay equity in the federal public service about that), and Colgate smiles. In the backrooms, could we but lift up that rock, we would see the scurrying and scuttling that has been keeping this party alive for years: a teeming mass of maggots and cockroaches, frantically feeding on the body politic.

There is nothing unique about Klander or his views. Liberals can believe anything they want, and say and do anything they want, with one exception: they must remain loyal to the party, meaning the PMO. And they do: for such loyalty brings its rewards, sometimes of staggering value. Klander will stay where he is; the spin doctors will make his heinous views disappear into thin air; his vicious, racist attack on Olivia Chow will be turned into a "just kidding," or a "wuzn’t me," the Liberals will get another mandate, and the universe will continue unfolding as it should.

Where is the tipping point? Will Tony Ianno’s razor-thin margin over Olivia Chow last time hold after this? Maybe not. But will Canadians of all hues and abilities wake up to the damp and fetid reality that is the Natural Governing Party today? Maybe someday. But not, alas, on E-day, thanks to the first-past-the-post voting system that excludes an array of rational political choices, and a gigatonne of friendly media spin.

If I seem at various points in the foregoing to be channelling David Warren, tant pis. I’m a Canadian, and I'm disgusted. And I'll still be that way, I'm afraid, on January 24. For the record, I’m voting NDP. Maybe we have a shot, at least, of keeping the awful Martin crony Richard Mahoney at bay in Ottawa-Centre, and putting the gentle and decent Paul Dewar into the House. But, even if we're successful, it's one minor battle on the losing side of the war. Until the stubborn minority of Canadians who vote Liberal, perhaps because the choices are so limited, wake up and realize that what they’re smelling...isn’t coffee.

UPDATE: (December 26, 6:20 EST) This just in. Klander has stepped down from his position as Executive Vice-President of the Liberal Party (Ontario). The usual damage control spinmeistering is revving up: a Liberal spokesman says he spoke only for himself, his views don't represent those of the Liberal Party, he apologized to Olivia Chow, and he played no official role for the Liberals in this election campaign....

Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas from Dr.Dawg

Jeeves was in the other room hanging holly, for Christmas would soon be at our throats. --P.G. Wodehouse

And indeed it is. So a few hours of mad shopping and preparation are left, followed by a day that still holds its measure of magic for me. I stand revealed here as an unabashed sentimentalist, for once squarely in the conservative camp, looking around uneasily, marking the exits and hoping not to be noticed by the grim celebrants of all things reactionary.

I will not hide my Christmas under a bushel. This is a day of wonder and delight. Just take a look at the kids. Many decades have not made my enthusiasm waver. Am I, er, religious about it? Not really. In fact, not at all. It's in my cultural bones, though, the whole nine yards of tree, dinner, presents, stockings, fluffy snow, mandarin oranges, fireplace, and everybody (really) being nice to each other. A fresh turkey awaits us, and a dreadful tofurkey for the Vegan in the family, and I simply must dash.

But here is a poem about the other side of the equation, because we leftists can always be counted upon to spot the skeleton at the feast. Celebration without empathy is not our thing, and the struggle continues.

private life

his favourite colour is mauve

he's got a horse in a distant valley
and a pied-à-terre in london

he wakes at the first squawk of light
calling his beasts by name: thunder! lightning!—
until he remembers, and sleeps

and others remember too:
out of tune with the times, he is,
a streak of ruby in the polar sky
set to the common music,
a patient man, snowed under,
labouring at his bench
in wood and plastic and gold

i saw him hunched in the crowds
at the corner of two windy streets
needing a bit of change, so he said,
it's the season of rough weather, it's rough all over,
and his voice was a thin sing-song>

why not? he sang, why not?
i loved you once
in the days i could call
my crazy name to my mind;
but all that's left of me now

i gave i gave i gave

Here I leave my new-found...what? Brothers and sisters? They won't be having that. Coalition partners? Never mind. Let's eat, drink and be merry, those of us who are fortunate enough to do so. And to all a good night.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Bolivia: The Grope & Fail has a hissy fit

I've been enjoying watching Latin America slip through American fingers like unprivatized water: Cuba, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Uruguay, now Bolivia and soon Chile. The Americans hardly have a friend remaining down there, with the possible exception of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Perez--and a few corporate toadies like an anonymous editorialist in today's Globe and Mail. I reproduce the editorial, a classic of its kind, interleaved with my comments.

The editorial is entitled "What Bolivia risks." That has resonances for old Latin America watchers. The people of Bolivia have been stupid enough to abuse their democratic privileges and vote for a socialist, and there will be consequences if they don't smarten up. It's on their head.

Sick of corrupt old-line political parties, tired of the U.S.-led campaign on cocaine cultivation and angry at what they consider the plundering of Bolivia's natural-gas wealth, Bolivians made it clear before Sunday's presidential election that they want change. Well, they are going to get it now.

I like the clever last sentence. But what about that "plundering?" It's not, of course, plundering: Bolivians consider it plundering, but it's just...investment. Sure, astronomical profits are being made while Bolivia's 9 million people remain the poorest in Latin America, with a $2,600 per capita income, but "plundering?" That's a trifle strong, isn't it?

The apparent winner, Evo Morales, is a left-wing rabble-rouser

In other words, a progressive and popular individual has won--and not "apparently," either. (Don't Globe editorial staff read the papers?)

who wants to seize control of Bolivia's natural resources from greedy "transnationals"

Imagine, Bolivians wanting to "seize control" of their own natural resources. Who do these upstarts think they are? Everyone knows they belong to the US as of right.

and decriminalize the growing of coca, the raw material of cocaine.

This is grossly misleading. Here is Morales on the subject:

"I want to make an alliance with the US, with others, a real alliance against drug trafficking, but not against the cocaleros [coca growers]," Mr Morales says, sitting in his campaign headquarters at La Paz. "Zero cocaine, but not zero coca."

Of course, the alternative is blitzing the coca farmers off the face of the earth, the US’s favoured solution.

A former llama herder and trumpet player who now heads a coca farmers union,

Good God! Three strikes against him at the start! He obviously has no right to govern. Ignorant Indians workers who fool around with musical instruments don’t know how to run a country. Bolivia needs lawyers, corporate executives, military men, people who know what's what. And he's a union leader too? What were those benighted Bolivians thinking?

Mr. Morales made his name leading the radical street protests that have racked Bolivia.

Well, those protests "racked" the power structure, anyway. They included successful demonstrations against the privatization of water, including rainwater, in 2000 (led by Oscar Olivera, now a critical supporter of Morales), and, in 2003, against the continued siphoning off of Bolivia's huge gas and oil reserves.

The story of Bolivia is in fact only a short chapter in the continuing story of global exploitation and poverty, in short, the narrative of the utter failure of neoliberal policies that have caused so much human misery in Latin America and around the world. John Crabtree notes in his book Patterns of Protest that 60% of Bolivians live on less than $1 a day and only 16% have enough to meet their basic needs. This, while they are sitting on vast reservoirs of oil and gas, and foreign corporations are making millions by pumping it all out of the country.

He boasts of his affinity with Hugo Chavez, the anti-American demagogue who leads Venezuela.

If the wildly popular Hugo Chavez, who has won supervised elections with ease and survived both a coup attempt and a recall vote, is "anti-American," it goes without saying that he must be a "demagogue": meaning, “the people like him, but I don’t.”

He vows to "bury the neo-liberal" state and fight the evils of capitalism.

Horrors! But Morales is in good company. Besides, neo-liberalism is doing a good job of burying itself.

To many Bolivians, Mr. Morales's brave talk of battling globalization and standing up to the Americans has a satisfying ring. But his formula of Yankee-bashing, statism and economic nationalism has been tried before in Latin America, with disastrous results. In the 1960s and 70s, the region's then mostly authoritarian governments took many big industries under the state's wing and put up high barriers to imports, hoping for home growth. Instead they got hyperinflation, debt and stagnation. It would be madness to return to those discredited policies now. Yet that is precisely what some Latin American governments seem prepared to do.

Whoa, slow down there. There are enough progressive Latin American countries around now to create their own trading block. They are sitting on enough natural resources to eliminate poverty in their part of the world forever. Now they're in a position to negotiate fair contracts with foreign investors, rather than submit to corporate gang-rape as in the past. The nerve of these backward-looking Latinos, opposing the natural order of things: multinational corporations divesting poor countries of their resources, and tossing a few crumbs to the local elites to keep the peons in line.

Bolivia and Venezuela are not the only countries turning left. Brazil has a left-leaning, though pragmatic, president, Luiz Inacio de Silva. Peru has seen the rise of a former military officer, Ollanta Humala, who hopes to follow Mr. Morales's populist road to the presidency. Argentina's President Nestor Kirchner delights in bashing the International Monetary Fund, while Uruguay's government has been cozying up to the egregious Mr. Chavez.

Yup. The world's going to hell in a hand-basket. End Times must be near. According, at least, to our egregious propagandist editorialist.

If Bolivia continues the leftward lurch, it is bound to suffer.

Marines? International capital boycotts? Forget it. That's nostalgia. There are just too many countries on track now to be put off by that kind of threat. It's wishful thinking, from a romantic apologist for Manifest Destiny.

Mr. Morales's threats against foreign energy companies have already hurt the country's economic hopes, which rest on its huge gas reserves. It needs outside help and capital to exploit them.

The man's not even assumed office yet, and he's "hurt" Bolivia's economic hopes already? By demanding the renegotiation of contracts with the multinationals? Get serious. If there's a profit to be made, even a slimmed-down version, the corporations will be lining up to sign deals.

His hostility to the United States could hurt, too. Washington wants to negotiate a free-trade agreement with Bolivia, as it recently did with Peru.

We've seen what that kind of agreement can do in Mexico, a land of increasing poverty and unemployment, precipitously falling wages and toxic waste dumps. So, frankly, who cares what Washington wants? The only "hurt" is going to be in Washington, and maybe in the offices of the Globe and Mail. Bring it on.

That would help protect the 100,000 Bolivians who work making clothing, jewellery and other goods for export. The U.S. is also offering hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, but only if the government helps suppress the growing of coca. Mr. Morales defends the plant, which he claims has many legal, traditional uses among Bolivian Indians. An Aymara Indian himself, he held a press conference on Sunday at which coca leaves were scattered on a Bolivian flag.

It's an outrage--an Indian in power, never mind that 62% of Bolivians are indigenous. The blatant racism of the editorialist is here exposed for all to see. Coca does indeed have traditional uses among Morales' ignorant brown-skinned countrymen, but, as already noted, Morales wants to eliminate the cocaine trade.

Mr. Morales says he will become Washington's "nightmare" when he takes office. If he implements his backward promises, the nightmare will be Bolivia's.

Not likely, unless Bush withdraws from Iraq and goes sniffing about the Bolivian countryside for those elusive WMDs. But not even Bush has the ability to invade several countries at once. Sleep tight, now.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Liberal bullies on the hustings

An old film about a Mexican revolutionary, Viva Zapata, came to mind as I was observing the Liberals' behaviour on the campaign trail over the past few weeks. At the beginning of the film the peasant leader Emiliano Zapata appears in a crowd before the Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz and dares to speak out. "Get his name," says Diaz. Near the end of the film, as Zapata has consolidated his power, someone speaks out against him. "Get his name," says Zapata--and then, realization flooding in, he removes himself from power and retires to the countryside. Would that the Liberals had Zapata's instincts.

In Montreal, a pro-Haiti activist, Yves Engler, was thrown into jail for four days for hecking Prime Minister Paul Martin about Canada's role in the overthrow of the democratically-elected government there. In Ottawa, Richard Mahoney, the Liberal candidate for Ottawa-Centre, threatened to sue a community newspaper, the Centretown News, for daring to mention his difficulties anent the lobbying game.

Now, even during an election campaign, the Liberals simply can't refrain from bully tactics. Power is their oxygen, brute force their only principle. From helping to prop up a puppet regime in Haiti to introducing legislation to permit close police surveillance of ordinary Canadians (giving whole new meaning to the well-known phrase "Just watch me"), this is the party that effectively put the entire country under martial law in 1970, introduced "anti-terrorist" legislation more recently that, in its initial form, would have defined unions as terrorist organizations, and was complicit in the rendition of Maher Arar to Syria. Martin's ignoble predecessor, Jean Chretien, personally beat up a non-violent protester, and his office authorized the use of pepper-spray and other police-state tactics against peaceful demonstrators at the APEC conference in Vancouver in 1997.

But traditionally, the Liberals have at least been tactful enough to keep their bullying out of election campaigns. Lying through their teeth to the electorate has sufficed. They campaigned against wage and price controls in 1974 only to introduce them immediately upon election, for example; they campaigned against the NAFTA "free trade" pact, only to sign the deal right after being swept into power.

At this point, though, even in a precarious minority situation, the old arrogance has reached a dizzying new level. Hecklers and critics beware: jail and lawsuits await you if you dare to stand up against the Liberals by exercising your right of free speech. And if this is what dissenters can expect while the electors, for a brief period, have some potential power of their own, just imagine what their lives will be like after the election.

Pace Buzz Hargrove, it's time for a change. Candidates should be under the microscope during a campaign, and they should expect critical things to be said about them. That's how democracy works, isn't it? But when desperate Liberals start running to the police and the courts because it's getting too hot for them on the campaign trail, maybe they should have the grace to reflect, as Steinbeck's Zapata did, that perhaps others are currently better suited to govern.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Paul Martin: Crossing the Lubicon

A simmering 66-year-old injustice against an Indian Nation known as the Lubicon Lake Nation is being perpetuated in Canada, with the active connivance of Paul Martin. In fact, it is nothing less than a mini-genocide, but, done over time, genocide seems somehow genocide. Nevertheless, here's the definition of the term: "A systematic attempt to annihilate a racial group or nation. The word was first used in 1944." Read on, and judge for yourselves.

Throughout the unfortunate history of the Lubicon, the outlines of classic colonial administration unmistakably emerge. Native people in Canada do not even have the right to determine who is, or is not, "Indian": that is a (white) government responsibility, under the Indian Act. The construct "Indian" is imposed by lawmakers and courts; and "culture" in Supreme Court of Canada decisions such as R. v van der Peet appears to be frozen and reified in pre-contact timelessness, with "central" and "non-central" elements to be decided by the Canadian judiciary, an anthropologically-illiterate position as some lawyers, at least, have grasped. As Calgary law professor Nigel Bankes put it, for example, "aboriginal peoples of Canada have rights so long as they remain in a fossilized or primitive state, but their rights are progressively diminished to the extent that they avail themselves to the benefits and burdens of the twentieth century."

In the process of constructing treaties between the Canadian federal government and the many First Nations inhabiting the land over which the Canadian state claims overall jurisdiction, a number of Native people were and continue to be left out. The Lubicon Lake Nation was one such group. Their history offers us, in capsule form, a recapitulation of the history of colonialism and its effects on indigenous peoples: in three words, occupation, dispossession and decline.

Under the treaty process, aboriginal peoples have been placed historically in the position of having to negotiate to keep a portion of their own lands. But at even a greater disadvantage were those Native groups who were left out of the treaty process altogether. The Lubicon Cree should have been included in Treaty 8, between the federal government and the Cree, Beaver and Chippewyan peoples of northern Alberta and adjacent parts of British Columbia, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories, a treaty negotiated in 1899 in order to open the North for gold prospecting. Like a number of other isolated groups in Northern Alberta, however, the Lubicon were never contacted by Canadian government officials, who for various reasons did not enter the interior north of Lesser Slave Lake where the Lubicon lived.

By 1932, Native people from that territory began asking to have the terms of Treaty Eight applied to them. In 1933, the people of Lubicon Lake sent a petition to Ottawa formally asking for a reserve. In 1939 a federal government official, Napoleon L'Heureux, made the trip to Lubicon Lake, and was greeted by more than a hundred band members. Their leader, Alexis Laboucan, pressed his community's claim for recognition, and with it the provisions and schooling that Treaty Eight guaranteed.

A federal inspector, Pant Schmidt, who had accompanied L'Heureux, was impressed:

I saw a number of small gardens and potato patches all fenced in with rails. I noticed also that they had very good horses. I was very much interested in this band, and found them clean, well dressed, healthy, bright and intelligent; in other words, people who want to live and do well.

It was at this point that the fortunes of the Lubicon Lake band changed dramatically for the worse. There were odd delays in establishing the borders of the reserve, and then an energetic Indian Affairs bureaucrat in Ottawa, Malcolm McCrimmon, came on the scene. While David Laird, the negotiator of Treaty Eight, had defined a Native person simply as "one who lived an Indian way of life," McCrimmon went back to the more restrictive language of the 1876 Indian Act, which defined an "Indian" as a "male person of Indian blood reputed to belong to a particular band…Any child of such person...Any woman who is or was lawfully married to such person."

McCrimmon's agile pen soon deleted 640 people from several bands in the region, unable to prove their Native lineage to his whimsical satisfaction, forcing 124 children out of school with no other schools available to them, driving many off reserves, including an 80-year old man with severe rheumatism and a woman with children whose husband was overseas fighting for Canada in the Second World War, and splitting families, allowing some children Indian status and refusing others. People who were successful proved especially likely to lose their status: McCrimmon apparently couldn't believe that Native people could prosper.

McCrimmon struck off 75 of the Lubicon band's 154 members in 1942, and in 1943 another 26, leaving only 64 people—whereupon he recommended to Ottawa that this number was too small for a reserve.This overtly racist behaviour attracted the ire of many, including Members of Parliament, and two inquiries were held.

The first was a farce: McCrimmon wrote the terms of reference and accompanied the inquiry judge, C.M. McKeen, on his rounds. Nevertheless, the judge filed a favourable report, duly ignored by McCrimmon’s boss, Thomas Crerar, the federal minister of Indian Affairs at the time. This provoked a fresh outcry, and Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent was persuaded to call a formal judicial inquiry in 1944.

It recommended that nearly eight out of nine persons expelled by McCrimmon should be reinstated. At Lubicon Lake, 57 of the 90 names that had been removed were examined: 51 of them were found to have been removed in error.

But it was Thomas Crerar once again who received Macdonald's report, and the minister tasked McCrimmon to implement its findings. Not surprisingly, only 120 people were restored to status, leaving another 600 out in the cold. At Lubicon Lake, only 18 were reinstated: McCrimmon had cut the band in half.

After the war, McCrimmon found himself working for a new minister, who favoured assimilation of Native people "into the general life and economy of the country." A revised Indian Act was passed in 1951, further restricting the definition of "Indian" with racial and gender criteria. McCrimmon became the first Indian Registrar under the new Act. "I was a power unto myself," he later reminisced. His continued activities drew more than one thousand written protests.

But the near-fatal blow to the Lubicon was the discovery of oil in the Edmonton area, the subsequent creation of an oil and gas industry in Alberta, and the province’s desire to begin oil exploration further north. Indian Affairs internal reports began to describe the proposed site of the Lubicon reserve as a barren wasteland, and alternative sites far from oil exploration areas were proposed--but even then without subsurface mineral rights. McCrimmon now claimed that the Lubicon Lake Indians had never been officially established as a band in the first place. Ottawa took no action to obtain reserve land, and Alberta deleted the provisional reserve from its books in late 1953. McCrimmon then proceeded to transfer most of the Lubicon band members to the Whitefish Lake band list. The Lubicon Lake band was now down to 30 members.

More catastrophic events followed. A Lubicon Lake community, Marten River, was bulldozed in 1967 after some dubious manipulations by the Alberta government: by coincidence, two years later, the land next to it became the first producing oil field in Lubicon territory. A lease for a proposed farming co-op on part of the promised reserve land was approved in 1970, but a Métis family slowly took over; Lubicon members were fired and replaced with family members until no Lubicon remained involved.

In 1971, oil drilling took place near Little Buffalo. OPEC’s oil embargo in 1973 intensified drilling: the Lubicon and other groups filed a caveat to protect their interests. The Alberta government opposed this, and was supported in court by the federal government; it eventually passed retroactive legislation in 1977 disallowing such caveats. By 1984 there were more than 400 oil and gas wells operating within a 15-mile radius of Little Buffalo. Permits were issued and reissued without any environmental assessments. Oil workers deliberately wrecked trap lines, and forest fires, some deliberately set, raged uncontrolled.

In 1978, the Lubicon elected Chief Bernard Ominayak, who remains chief today. A man of grim determination, he sat down with Alberta Premier Don Getty in 1988, after a show of force that sealed off Lubicon territory for a short period until the RCMP intervened. The two hammered out a comprehensive deal that came to be known as the "Grimshaw Agreement." All that remained was federal participation, but this foundered primarily upon the matter of compensation: far too little was offered to enable the Lubicon to become self-sufficient (which the Lubicon had planned for in detail) rather than perpetually dependent. Ottawa's take-it-or-leave-it offer was rejected.

In 1979, trapping yielded $5000 per Lubicon family; by the mid-eighties, this had dwindled to virtually nothing. Moose killed for food dropped from 219 in 1979 to 19 in 1983: Indian Affairs in Ottawa claimed that land clearing by oil and gas companies was good for the moose population. From 1980-1984, the number of Lubicon on welfare increased, according to the band, from 10% to 90%. Although this figure is contested by federal government officials, band records indicate that in fact 95% of the band was receiving social assistance in the early 1990s.

By 1982, $8 billion worth of oil and gas revenue had been pumped out of Lubicon territory, without a cent going to the Lubicon. Lubicon request for an injunction against further oil and gas exploration was dismissed with costs in 1983 by a judge who had formerly been an oil company employee. An appeals court upheld the verdict, and the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear the case. The Alberta ombudsman, Randall Ivany, looked into complaints of despoliation and cultural genocide in 1984, and found no merit in them. (He was later revealed to have believed in conspiracy theories such as the alleged "funding" of the Lubicon by the radical American Indian Movement; after his death, he was revealed to have been a common embezzler.)

By 1985 the Alberta Indian affairs minister, Milt Pahl, was calling the Lubicon "squatters," and claiming that only 9 genuine Lubicon existed. And, as if untrammeled oil and gas exploration hadn't been enough, the Alberta government sold logging rights in Lubicon territory to the giant Japanese paper manufacturer, Daishowa, in 1988.

The Lubicon and their supporters became active on the ground. A world-wide boycott of the Calgary Winter Games in 1988, and of the Calgary Glenbow Museum's exhibition of Native artifacts was mounted, garnering considerable adverse publicity for Canada. Since then, with growing national and international support, Chief Ominayak has been continually fighting for his people. A coalition called Friends of the Lubicon mounted a successful boycott of Daishowa.

Meanwhile, tuberculosis was ravaging the Lubicon population—of 358 people screened at Little Buffalo in 1987, 47 had active TB and many more were infected. 107 people in all received treatment, nearly a third of those tested. In 1985-86, 19 out of 21 pregnancies resulted in stillbirths and miscarriages.

There was, and continues to be, a formidable array of powerful interests inimical to the Lubicon. But matters are far more complex. The state is not a monolith. Even within the Canadian and Alberta governments, sympathetic and supportive voices had been raised: from Liberal MPs during the McCrimmon years to Conservative Indian Affairs minister David Crombie, who appointed E. Davy Fulton in 1985 to inquire into the situation. The latter noted the destruction of the environment, and commented that the Lubicon were being literally "bulldozed...into another lifestyle." But Fulton's sympathetic report was never acted on.

The NDP opposition in Alberta set up a citizens' panel in 1993, the "Lubicon Settlement Commission of Review." Its Final Report contains twelve recommendations But nothing came of it either.

Successive federal governments have intervened shamelessly to break the Lubicon resolve. Using its power to create Indian bands under the Indian Act, the Liberal government under Prime Minister Jean Chrétien invented two other bands, hoping to lure away Lubicon; the members of one band, the "Woodland Cree," had been promised $1000 each if they voted for a federal offer of a pitifully inadequate reserve, but they later found out that this would be deducted from their welfare payments.

This brings us almost to the present day, and Paul Martin's shameful continuation of this miserable tradition. He promised to start negotiations with the Lubicon by the end of March 2004, but this never took place, and federal officials claim that they have been given no mandate to negotiate. It's been bad faith all the way with Mr. Dithers.

Amnesty International has denounced Canada for its treatment of the Lubicon; and the UN Committee on Human Rights, which heard the Lubicon complaint and found against Canada in 1990, repeated its concerns only last month.

Decency demands that we make Martin and his Liberal "team" accountable for this outrage during the current campaign campaign. But we ought to be even-handed about it. We should embarrass the Conservatives, whose own record has been nothing to be proud of on aboriginal affairs, and we should force the NDP to put this issue on the front burner. The survival of the Lubicon--those who are left--depends upon it. Let's stand up for them before it's too late.