Thursday, May 29, 2008

Don't mess with our Holocaust

Everyone knows (including the disingenuous deniers) that the Holocaust happened, and that approximately six million Jews perished in it. But fewer people seem to be aware, or to care, that many other people died in it as well--there was, according to the Nizkor website, a total of twelve million victims. These included, besides the Jews, Poles and other Slavic people, people with disabilities, assorted political opponents of the Nazis, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Roma, the latter being the victims of the Nazis' other attempted genocide.

And then there were the homosexuals. The ones who wore the pink triangles in the death camps, after being offered a choice of castration or imprisonment. The ones subjected to hideous medical experiments. The ones deemed illegal under the infamous Paragraph 175 of the Nazi penal code--a provision that stayed in force in West Germany until 1969. The ones, some of whom, after liberation, were forced to serve out their prison sentences for homsexuality under the Allied Military Government of Germany.

Homosexuals, too, were Holocaust victims. Yes, the Nazi policy was never one of blanket extermination in their case. Yes, far fewer of them perished in the camps than did Jews. But surely we cannot make our moral judgements solely on the basis of numbers.

Hence a modest monument to the gay victims of the Holocaust has just been erected in Berlin. But it's being protested--by Israel Gutman of the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem. "A sense of proportion must be maintained," says Gutman.

This cavalier comment is strikingly similar to the downplaying of the attempted genocide of the Roma by those who want to define the killing of Jews by the Nazis as unique. The Roma were not even permitted to take part in the official commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps.

We know that Hitler attempted to exterminate the Jews. We know that nearly six million of them died as a result. But does this mean that the millions of other victims of the barbaric Nazi regime are to be forgotten, and those who remember, shushed into silence? Do the horrible deaths of non-Jews at the hands of the Nazi exterminators count for so little that even a small monument to some of them can occasion the wrath of official Holocaust scholars bent on excluding all but Jews from the list of victims?


Score one for the First Nations

Today is the National Day of Action for aboriginal people across Canada, but the celebrations started yesterday. The Ontario Court of Appeal released seven First Nations prisoners of conscience who had been given six months in prison and fined heavily for the crime of defending their land against mining companies.

"Savour this," said defence lawyer Julian Falconer. "Once in a while, out of the deep dark depths, comes justice."

The reasons for upholding the appeal against the contempt-of-court sentences--the harshest that observers can remember--will be given later.

Christie Blatchford is a passionate person, and I don't usually like where her passion leads her, but she is simply bang on today. Her Globe & Mail article (subscriber wall, unfortunately), from which the above information comes, is a masterpiece of focussed anger against the system: prosecutors, corporate land-rapists, the provincial government. "[I]n the contest between the state and first nations," she says, "the state almost always wins." "Almost," however, is the operative word.

She was quick to spot the community of interest between the mining companies and the Crown, revealed in a telling gesture: when lawyer for the native people spoke, Crown prosecutor Malliha Wilson and a mining company lawyer "would often roll their eyes in unison."

Blatchford is new to First Nations land issues, as she tells us. She is seeing the staggering injustice of it all with innocent eyes, and through her we see it all afresh. She is outraged:

Native pleas for genuine negotiation--whether in these specific cases, where they want the provincial Mining Act, which allows private companies to stake mineral rights on anyone's land without having to bother with getting permission, at least on the table for review, or in the sweeping land claims which drone on for decades--go unheard. Their letters to everyone from premiers to department heads and provincial coroners go unanswered. Their reports on poverty and suicide rates get no response.

And at the end of it all, in various courts across the country, government lawyers mouth words like "reconciliation" and "conciliation" with an ease that their collective daily conduct--they appeal every loss, fight on every technicality, argue for the harshest punishments, stall and obfuscate--utterly belies.

A national day of action? After yesterday, a national day of insurrection sounds more in order.

Woo-hoo! Tell it like it is, Sister.

Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, the OPP has ensured that Shawn Brant, the Mohawk activist from Tyendinaga Mohawk territory in the Bay of Quinte region, will not be taking part in today's festivities. They have jailed him on what appear, at least to this observer, to be trumped-up charges. But OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino isn't having any of that. Not content to defend Brant's detention by his officers, he goes on to utter not-so-veiled threats against native people:

As for what I feel regarding the Day of Action, it is my hope that everyone will be respectful of the laws of the land. In any event the OPP will take appropriate action regarding those that don't.

Sod off, you old racist.
And to the celebrants, especially Robert Lovelace and the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Six, have a great day--and keep sticking it to the man.

Block that metaphor!

"Here's a guy who rode the President's coattails to the world stage and now is pissing on his political grave all the way to the bank."

--former White House deputy press secretary Trent Duffy, who disapproves of Scott McClellan's beating around the Bush.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Godwin's Hour

McCain's pastor*: Hitler was doing God's will.

Republicans Godwin Obama and Hugo Chavez (Chavez is a veteran)...Chavez Godwins Angela Merkel--but has the grace to apologize. Meanwhile,
Deutsche Post is stamping out Nazis...

Nazi occupation of Paris: party time!

Was Indiana Jones a Nazi?

And here at home: Turkish Nazis. Anti-Nazi Nazis. And our intrepid speech-Nazis: no job for you! (H/ts)

Enough, already. Have an Aspirin.

*UPDATE: Whoops. Seems I haven't been keeping up. Mea culpa.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"A gal pal with a Harley history"

Kudos to Don Martin today for that exquisite turn of phrase. Maxime Bernier, the former Conservative Minister of Foreign Affairs, about whom probably millions of blogwords have already been spilled, has been brought down, we are told, by his manifest ill-judgement--including his choice of partner.

Hold on a sec.

Here's one progressive blogger who sees things a little differently. And one of the things I see is a cold Puritanical self-righteousness, even among my comrades on the Left.

Julie Couillard, not to put too fine a point upon it, is a babe. She has a liking for macho men with power--bikers, cabinet ministers, whatever. And, no doubt, all she has to do is whistle.

When she showed up for Bernier's swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall, I silently cheered. Whether the choice of dress was hers or Bernier's, she looked the way she couldn't help looking--scrumptious--and I don't blame Maxime for one moment for beaming out loud, as it were. I knew she'd offend the assorted so-con fuddy-duddies in attendance, and it was no surprise that Mrs. Stephen Harper was reportedly upset. But some of my best progressive buds reacted the same way. "Unstylish and inappropriate," sniffed one guy who normally delights in excoriating that sort of über-fastidiousness in others. "[Looks] like a cheap tart," said another commenter in the same thread. "Tarted up like a high-class hooker," said a well-known destroyer of the pretentious, the snooty and the lame.

As I said--all she'd have to do is whistle. Admit it.

Bernier was in over his head as Foreign Affairs minister, we can all agree on that. After opening his yap about replacing the governor of Kandahar, he should have sunk from sight like a stone. But such is not Harper's way. His ministers are mere limbs of Himself, and he doesn't like to admit that his iron control ever slips. It took an anvil chorus of Opposition and media hammers to wake him up to the fact that amputation was probably in his own best interest. And so, scant hours after his House Leader had reasserted his confidence in Bernier, the operation was performed. One just can't leave highly classified materials lying around in a girlfriend's apartment. Even worse when she's an ex-girlfriend, with a checkered record.

"They were not market sensitive; they were not anything that could move markets," said Mr./Ms. Well-Placed Source, reinforcing Conservative priorities in the midst of the melee. They were, however, Cabinet documents.

Meanwhile, by all accounts, Couillard gave a good account of herself last evening on TVA. Far from being "clearly in love with publicity" as Don Martin alleges, she was a person who had been trashed
for weeks in the press (not to mention the blogosphere), and who took the proffered opportunity to speak publicly in her own defence. Who wouldn't, in her position?

Let's keep the focus on Bernier, shall we? He wasn't up to the job. His misjudgement was impeccable. He was a fine clothes horse, and might have been Conservative leader someday on the strength of it. But his carelessness--what some have the nerve to call his insouciance (putting a positive, oh-so-Continental spin on good old-fashioned incompetence)--was his undoing. Can we not stay political when we analyze the events surrounding the brief tenure of yet another government minister who has proven undistinguished, and avoid the unseemly mixture of prurience, envy and sexism that continues to taint the public discourse?

Monday, May 26, 2008

US election note

I still don't know where I stand on the idea of an elected judiciary. But this recent story from the New York Times is a cautionary tale if ever there was one.

Money, lies and racism are all tried and true elements of a campaign-winning strategy in the US. Will Barack Obama break the pattern once his party notices that Hillary Clinton's death throes are over--and rigor mortis has set in?

Does this pass the smell test?

The Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services (OCCOPS) has decided that a recent case of possible political interference somehow just isn't worth investigating. We'll not soon know why. The OCCOPS decision was made at a secret meeting, and its report is confidential. Civilian watchdog, eh? How did it get locked in the panic room?

On December 11 last year, less than a day after Ontario Provincial Police superintendent Dave Truax had announced that the OPP was forwarding its bribery dossier on Mayor of Ottawa Larry O'Brien to the RCMP, Environment Minister John Baird's chief of staff Chris Froggatt contacted the OPP. Baird had been connected in some accounts to allegations that O'Brien offered a bribe to mayoralty candidate Terry Kilrea to drop out of the municipal race in 2006.

A few hours after the call, the OPP announced that it was not going to share its files after all, and Superintendent Truax, who had given two earlier interviews (one recorded) stating the contrary, now claimed that the press coverage had been inaccurate. OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino huffed and puffed and called allegations of political interference "nonsense."

Liberal MP Mark Holland, who had asked for the investigation, has run into a buzz-saw recently, first being sued by Froggatt, and then (in a break with tradition) being refused coverage of his defence costs by Parliament's Board of Internal Economy.

Lawsuits, of course, have become the Conservatives' weapon of choice recently: The Conservative Party is suing Elections Canada. Stephen Harper has filed a notice of libel against Stéphane Dion. Liberal opposition critic Robert Thibault has been ruled ineligible to sit on a Parliamentary committee because he is being sued by Brian Mulroney. (Who made that ruling? Why, Mary Dawson, appointed Associate Deputy Minister of Justice by that same Brian Mulroney, and appointed as Ethics Commissioner last year by Stephen Harper.)

O'Brien isn't up for prosecution for a few months yet. Meanwhile, the OPP has received its usual OCCOPS shielding. John Baird, told by the PMO that he would be ejected from Cabinet if the RCMP were to pry into his alleged connection to the O'Brien bribery affair, is no doubt a happier man today. And the public remains, as usual, squarely in the dark.

If only... were this easy.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Another human target for conservatives

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre launched a disgraceful attack on transsexuals last week, for which he was soundly spanked by the Ottawa Citizen:

Usually politicians looking to score easy points will rail against needle exchange programs, but transgendered people are even more marginalized than drug addicts, so they make an even safer target to beat up on.

Well said, and timely, too. It appears that our humane and compassionate friends on the Right have discovered yet another marginalized group suitable for bullying and insulting. Jay Currie lost no time in firing a further salvo against transsexuals, and commenters there piled on with a will.

Now, we're used to this sort of thing. Finding disadvantaged people to mock, push around and kick when they're down is a fine old conservative sport. Kimberly Rogers died because of Ontario Premier Mike
Harris' vicious scapegoating of people on welfare. Dudley George was shot to death by an OPP officer for the crime of occupying his own land: the ultimate cause of the escalation at Ipperwash went right to the top. ("I want the fucking Indians out of the park," said the Premier. And he had lots of support for that kind of sentiment from the Usual Suspects.)

Transsexuals, marginalized in our society, have managed to stay more or less under the conservative radar until recently. But in a true spirit of consistency, they are now the latest bouc émissaire du jour, costing us money and disturbing the pristine lines of gender. So it is no surprise that they are described by Currie as "raving weirdos," and by one commenter as "nutbars."

It appears that a driving instructor in Sheffield, England, was the cause of a threatened lawsuit by an intolerant Muslim man, who had sent his wife to the driving school in question because of its all-female staff. The instructor in question is a pre-op transsexual named Emma Sherdly, who (as if to underline the contructed nature of gender) holds a "gender recognition certificate" from the government defining her as a woman.

Let me admit at this point that I don't understand the transsexual phenomonenon, which tends to run man-->woman far more often than the other way around. To hear transsexuals speak (Jan Morris, for example), they are apparently wedded to a kind of essentialism: although born physically male, they are "women trapped in men's bodies."

I don't happen to believe that gender is an immutable, inherent quality: rather, it is a performed series of behaviours, with accompanying emotions and cathexes, with which, for unknown reasons, a handful of people from the "opposite" sex identify. Note the inherent binary in the word "opposite." Yet gender is anything but neatly divided into two distinct categories defined by the physical body. As obvious examples of its plasticity, we might look at the fakaleiti of Tonga and the fa'afafine of Sāmoa, transsexuals who, far from marginalized in those countries, have privileged status. Gender is constructed: it's not some kind of essence.

But all that being said, people do self-identify by gender: "male" and "female" are obviously powerful categories of practice, and they are reinforced both socially and politically. The need for "assignment" to a gender is profoundly felt. In the case of transsexuals, whose physical bodies are so at odds with their self-perception, gender reassignment surgery can actually save lives.

Enter Pierre Poilievre and the howling hooligans of Jay's combox, whose contributions to this debate excite an anthropological curiosity all on their own. They've found themselves another group of human beings to use for target practice, and can barely contain their excitement.

Meanwhile, in fundamentalist, Islamist Iran...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Preston Manning's red herring

In the Globe and Mail today, Preston Manning regales us with a tale of alleged political machinations by the governing NDP in the province of Manitoba. The Gary Doer government has introduced Bill 37, which seeks to amend current provincial election laws. According to Manning, the Bill proposes "restricting freedom of speech on political grounds," "restricting democratic discourse, even "[striking] at the very exercise of democracy itself."

OK, Preston, we get the picture. Let's see what all the fuss is about.

A reading of the Bill (which combines five separate Acts) indicates that the government wants fixed election dates, the registration of lobbyists, annual allowances for political parties, and increased spending limits for political parties outside and during election periods, with inflation adjustments as well. So far, no threat to Western civilization.

What appear to be the bones of contention, however, are to be found in Schedule 3 of the Bill, the Election Finances Amendment Act, and Schedule 5, the Legislative Assembly Management Commission Amendment Act.

Schedule 3 will restrict political advertising by any party to $150,000 in an election year and $75,000 in a non-election year. One might quibble about the amounts, but the law applies equally to all parties. What galls Manning is that the incumbent NDP government will be permitted to continue (with the exception of a 60-day pre-election period of silence) to advertise its services to the public.

But no government of any stripe should be prevented from informing the public, in a non-partisan manner, of the programs and activities of government departments. There is a difference between political contestation and day-to-day governance, even if the Stephen Harper government has shown itself to be unaware of it (as in its ham-handed enforcement of the term "Canada's New Government"). Manning is seasoned enough to be fully aware of this distinction, but here he is obfuscating the difference in a crassly political manner.

Schedule 5 introduces measures requiring that public monies allocated to MLAs for communications are not used for partisan purposes. It proposes drafting guidelines for all parties to that effect. Manning decries this as "censorship," but it's in fact a typical requirement in Canadian legislatures. Here, for example, is the regulation currently in place in Alberta:

Communication Expenses

This allowance may be used to pay expenses related to nonpartisan [emphasis mine --DD] communication between Members and their constituents, including but not limited to

• printing and postage for mass mailings of letters,
pamphlets, brochures, Christmas cards and other
greetings to constituents;
• postage for mailings to constituents;
• advertisements;
• purchase of cellular telephones; and
• reasonable expenses for registration, materials and
tuition fees related to learning another language.

The question I am now asking myself is whether Manning is deliberately attempting to divert attention from the genuinely offensive political suppression presently being threatened in BC by his political co-religionist Gordon Campbell.

Campbell is supporting the effective disenfranchisement of 5% of the BC electorate (h/t The Gazetteer); and he wants to gag third parties (read: unions and progressive advocacy groups) for five months before election day. The proposed legislation is undoubtedly unconstitutional, but it's well-timed: a final court ruling on it wouldn't happen until well after the next BC election.

There's a good review of Campbell's "reforms" at The Tyee. Readers should note that Duff Connacher, of Democracy Watch, disagrees that the proposed third-party spending limits constitute a "gag." Indeed, progressives have supported such limits for a long time, to level the political playing field, and the first such limits in BC (since found unconstitutional) were legislated in 1995 by the NDP. But with all due respect to Connacher, the proposed legislation isn't merely a restriction on partisan advertising, but even extends to
"an issue with which a registered political party or candidate is associated." So much for non-partisan but forceful advocacy with respect to the environment, women, labour, immigration, the economy, occupational health and safety, consumer protection, etc.--what issue isn't associated with some political party or other?

Moreover, this wretched assault on democracy imposes no limits on political contributions to parties. So the wealthy corporate backers of Campbell will just advertise less and contribute more to the same cause. Progressive advocacy, in other words, will be stifled; corporate advocacy will merely be diverted.

We haven't heard a peep out of Preston Manning on any of this, of course. Rather, we get in effect
a disingenuous tu quoque, as he wrings his hands about an alleged threat to democracy in Manitoba. Like Campbell's legislation, his well-timed intervention doesn't pass the smell test. But it was a shrewd move by a veteran political operator: there's life in those old bones yet.

UPDATE: (May 28) Duff Connacher responds at length in the comments. He is of the opinion that I misrepresented his position: readers will have to judge for themselves if I did so, but he provides, in any case, considerable detail with respect to his position on Bill 37.

Connacher notes that his own view of imposing spending limits but not contribution limits is similar to mine in the second-last paragraph of my post (we're opposed), and believes that I should have pointed that out. On reflection, he's probably right, in part because the paragraph in question could, as I see now, be read as a further rejoinder to Connacher (which it wasn't) rather than a continuation of my own objections to Bill 37. My statements about his position, in any case, were not an attack upon him, as he appears to think, but merely a disagreement over third-party advertising. I'm a great fan of his Democracy Watch. More in the comments.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The speech-warrior strategy of confusion

David Warren is just the latest far-right commentator to make the spurious claim that Ezra Levant, Mark and Connie Fournier, Kate McMillan, Kathy Shaidle and Jonathan Kay--the self-styled "Canuck Six"--have been "hauled before the so-called 'human rights' commissions, and shaken down with frivolous but financially ruinous sue-and-stall court litigation, on the suspicion that they have entertained 'hateful,' politically incorrect thoughts."

Warren, even if he is a bigoted throwback to the Middle Ages, is not a stupid man. Nor is he unaware of the facts in this instance. One cannot excuse him, therefore, on the grounds of ignorance, as one might in the case of American commentators* who tend to get a lot wrong when they're dealing with Canadian topics. He's joined what appears to be a deliberate strategy on the part of the speech-warriors these days: to conflate the current libel suits with earlier human rights proceedings (although the warriors and their hangers-on are happy to play both sides on this one: somehow legal action against their political opponents, aimed at shutting down fair comment, is not an issue of freedom of expression, except to a principled few). By sowing this confusion, they are trying to whip up outrage against perfectly legal, reasonable and well-founded anti-defamation actions.

Hate speech and "politically incorrect" thinking have nothing to do with the present lawsuits against the so-called "Canuck Six." These actions aren't about free expression, or about the opinions that the six happen to hold. The suits are not being argued before a human rights commission, but before a civil court, and the issue isn't politics, but libel. Generally speaking, you can't run around publicly and maliciously accusing people of unethical conduct, which could have serious professional consequences for the latter, unless you are prepared to prove those accusations.

But this is precisely what these six fine citizens did in the case of their political enemy Richard Warman. They accused him, with no proof whatsoever, of engaging in grossly unethical activity, claiming he was the author of the infamous Anne Cools post on an extremist website, and making a number of other unproven assertions about his actions and character that any reasonable person would consider defamatory. And so, as any other citizen might, Warman is fighting back.

Indeed, if I had my druthers, there would be more lawsuits. Take, for example, Mark Steyn's outrageous and unfounded claim that Dean Steacy, an employee of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, is a criminal who engaged in theft of communications. If I had deep enough pockets, I'd bankroll Steacy for a civil action against both Steyn and Maclean's, the magazine that was foolish enough to publish Steyn's allegation. (Maybe when the dust has settled on the Warman v. Lemire case, we can set up a legal fund for Steacy. In my opinion, he'd win those cases in a cakewalk.)

In any event, the fact that it was only complaints against unsavoury, hateful speech by Nazis and homophobes that brought these "free speech" types out of the shadows in the first place is irrelevant to the libel actions now being pursued. The latter do not address opinion, but accusation. And, just as things should be in a civilized society, the accusers are now being held accountable. They will have a complete opportunity to back up their damaging public allegations about someone they dislike under the full light of court scrutiny. Isn't this the very system--a "real court of law"--that they have been so ardently defending when it suits them?

*NB: I originally linked to this post. The owner has indignantly informed me that the writer of the article is Canadian. The link is now to Michelle Malkin, whose American credentials are not in question.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Holocaust denial in Toronto

The Toronto District School Board has pulled a book from its high school reading list because it referred to the slaughter of Armenians by the Young Turks during and shortly after WWI as a "genocide." Extraordinary Evil: A Brief History of Genocide, by Barbara Coloroso, has been replaced with works by two genocide-deniers, Bernard Lewis (of "clash of civilizations" fame) and Guenter Lewy, who have apparently been deemed more acceptable to the Council of Turkish Canadians.

Some back-and-forth on an article by Lewy may be found here. Given that no order for the Final Solution signed by Adolf Hitler has ever surfaced, would he apply a similar methodology to an examination of the subsequent Holocaust? How would he explain away Hitler's infamous remark: "Wer redet heute noch von der Vernichtung der Armenier?" ("Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?")

As for Lewis, he was found guilty by a French court of genocide-denial in 1995, and subsequently continued to prevaricate, in a manner that casts his qualifications as an historian into some doubt. Further, we have this: "The historian Gerard Chaliand wrote to Lewis to express his dismay that Lewis had signed the letter [to the US Congress, asking them not to pass a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide --DD]. Lewis' main concern came through clearly in his reply. And guess what? It wasn't historical accuracy. 'The only sure result of the resolution,' Lewis wrote to Chaliand, 'would be the disruption of US-Turkish relations.'" A serviceable rogue, this Bernard Lewis.

In the meantime, one awaits, if not with pleasurable anticipation, the decision of the Toronto District School Board to add Did Six Million Really Die? to its list of reading materials for students interested in genocide. In his German prison cell, Ernst Zündel is smiling.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The end of the American Civil War?

A few years ago, during a course I was taking about the construction of the past, the topic of American Civil War re-enactments came up. These are hugely popular events, and they have attracted scholarly attention as well. We were reviewing some of the scholarship, and I recall that the professor asked us why we thought that these re-enactments persisted. "Because the Civil War isn't over," I said. And to this day I believe that I was on to something.

The US today continues to be shaped by its on-going Civil War. It's no longer strictly North vs. South, of course: the fronts have proliferated, just as an invasion of Poland became WWII. But it's the same war. Now it's the blue states vs. the red states, modernism vs. pre-modern magic thinking, industrial vs. agricultural, metropolitan vs. rural, future-building vs. nostalgia. And it's all summed up in the perennial struggles around that pernicious construct, that evil invention called "race."

Like the Civil War battles nearly a century and a half ago, these battles have their familiar names:
Brown v. Board of Education, Little Rock, Ole Miss, Loving v. Virginia, and in more recent memory Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, Yusef Hawkins, Clarence Thomas, Katrina, and the Jena Six. "Race" is a central (if by no means the only) defining characteristic of American society.

Racializing produces the racialized; and the racialized construct identity politics, that mirror-image of oppressive practices and categories, depending for its very existence upon the oppressor. Gayatri Spivak once called for a "strategic essentialism" to move the agenda of oppressed people forward; but essentialism of that kind will always undermine its own project. To practice "racial" identity politics, the subaltern must accept the oppressor's category of "race" as a given.

And now we are at a pivotal moment. Barring the usual excesses, and Clinton's desperate last-minute racializing of the Democratic contest, Obama is getting support across "racial" boundaries and has a real shot at the presidency.

I really don't care about Obama's politics that much. The American political system is all about shutting off options and corralling opinion; it's a strongbox from which it is probably impossible to escape. The mildest of new ideas are considered dangerous: it's pitifully easy to scare Americans, or to bamboozle them. Democrats and Republicans are one party with two faces. Republicans often sound like Democrats; Democrats just as often sound like Republicans. Obama is a product of that system, and securely locked into it. Those of us in progressive ranks shouldn't expect any radical departures from American business as usual, domestic or foreign. But, with the luxury of not having to vote or campaign in a US contest, I would like him to win.


Because these political contests are never about "the issues." They are about symbols and signs. Obama stands for hope, for the future, for solidarity across the "racial" divide. John McCain stands for the same old, same old: eternal warfare, "family values," hateful religious fundamentalism, and that most quintessential American political characteristic, hypocrisy.

Were Barack Hussein Obama to become the President of the United States, the American people would have demonstrated that "race," a bankrupt category if ever there was one, no longer matters. What does matter is change, possibility, a break with the past. Despite its diet of hard drugs--the media, the grey, unchallenging political discourse, the flag-waving automatism--perhaps the American people will at last summon up the will to stagger, bleary-eyed, for the door, and change their country's sociocultural course. However tentative, a decision to vote for Obama marks a break from the straitjacket of America's imagined past. The Civil War will be over: reconstruction, finally, has at least a chance to get under way.

Leon Trotsky once famously wrote, "In the third year of soviet rule in America, you will no longer chew gum!" In the third year of Barack's presidency, will Civil War re-enactments come to an end?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I can't believe it...

...sometimes the system actually works!

Some readers might remember my run-in with security personnel at Toronto International Airport back in March, on our return from Down Under. I submitted a formal complaint to the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (actually a link to my blogpost and then a restatement of it upon request). I wasn't overly hopeful--nearly everything about air travel is optics, including a lot of their "security" hype. Airport screening is carried out by a so-called public-private partnership between CATSA and Garda.

Yesterday, though, I received a letter from CATSA essentially upholding my complaint. The salient passage:

I sincerely apologize for the behaviour shown by the Screening Officer and the Service Delivery Manager. On occasion, good Screening Officers make mistakes in dealing with passengers and we believe this to be the case in this instance. The interpretation of the liquids, gels and aerosols requirement can sometimes be difficult when trying to decide if a substance is a gel or a solid when it is similar in consistency. The salve in question was of a more solid consistency and considered to be an essential non-prescription medication for your stepson's skin condition, therefore, it is permitted.

Following the investigation, certain recommendations were made to improve on our goals. It was recommended that your complaint be brought to the Screening Officer's and the Service Delivery Manager's attention. It was also recommended that a Senior Service Contract Manager meet with both individuals and review the Liquids, Gels and Aerosols regulation as per our Standard Operating Procedures (SOP's). Both the Screening Officer and the Service Delivery Manager have been met on this issue. Also, the Senior Service Contractor Manager has met with the Service Delivery Manager [
a fellow called Chris, according to a CATSA official--DD] on providing his name when a passenger requests it and has sent a message out to all staff that they provide their names to a passenger if requested.

When next you're in the Toronto International Airport, be sure to say "Salve, custos" to Chris and Shahin for me. : )


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Bits and pieces

A few random gleanings this morning:

Don Martin has the goods on Canada's Grim New Government™.

Daughter fails a math test: father goes to jail. (Why didn't he think of giving her a free mobile telephone?)

Senator Romeo Dallaire stands up for the rule of law: Conservative backbencher Stéphane Dion threatens him with discipline. And
Jason Kenney soils himself--again. [H/t Rusty Idols]

Have Canadian police been brainwashed by Taser International? Or are some cops simply sadistic creeps? (Q: How many RCMP officers does it take to screw in a lightbulb seize a three-inch pocket knife from an 82-year-old heart patient in a hospital bed ? A: Three--if they use a Taser.)

And finally: "I see dead people.
They only see what they want to see. They don't know they're dead."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

RCMP airport killing--the cover-up continues

I have seen the Robert Djiekanski video too many times to call his death anything but a homicide. There was the completely unnecessary use of that hi-tech cattle prod known as a Taser; the knee on his neck; the officers looking unconcerned after Djiekanski stopped breathing--no attempt at resuscitation.

Then a tissue of lies afterwards, until the video surfaced; ham-handed attempts to keep it; and then more spin. The four officers who killed this unarmed, stressed man were never taken off active duty. To this day their names are a closely-guarded secret.

This Canadian Press
report should be required reading for anyone who thinks that the RCMP is capable of being reformed.

H/t Creekside.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Freedom from speech...

...sometimes I wish this were a specified right under the Charter. The Dirty Half-Dozen must be on their millionth word at this point about threats to their freedom of speech. I've never heard so much speech in my life from people claiming they're being silenced.

I won't get into Ezra Levant's current spate of logorrhea except to note with quiet satisfaction that his beloved Conservative government, or at least its Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, thinks Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act is res judicata, thanks to a charming fellow named John Ross Taylor. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled on that case in 1990. Oooh, the sense of betrayal. Can't you just see Ezra jumping up and down in a three-piece pinstripe and polished black Oxfords? (Try not to enjoy that image too much.)

Remember, folks, not a single human rights complaint against any of these martyr-wannabes and their guru Mark Steyn has been upheld. Not one! A complaint before the Ontario Human Rights Commission was recently dismissed; another, in Alberta, became moot; a few are outstanding, but are more than likely to suffer the same fate.
In fact, there have been no human rights complaints against most of them. How perfectly galling that must be.

The current libel actions against the "Canuck Six," of course, are not to be confused with their on-going anti-HRC crusade, although the waters have gotten plenty muddied in that respect. Just because you don't like anti-Nazi activists doesn't mean you can defame them at will. Let's just let that one play out as we munch our popcorn, and note, again with satisfaction, that some folks in holes simply don't know when to stop digging.

Which brings me, by a circumlocutory route to be sure, to some recent eruptions about yours truly by that petulant chihuahua Kathy Shaidle. In my more charitable moments--and I'm having a lot fewer of these recently--I hope that her defence against the lawsuit is at least arguable. Why? Because I have an instinctive reaction to support the underdog, and underdog she most assuredly is. Warman v. Shaidle? It's just not a fair fight. She has an intellectual glass jaw and a lousy case, and I think nearly everyone, even her supporters, have figured that out by now.

One of the values that serious bloggers prize is accuracy. When we err, we should be prompt to admit it. It's not only the right thing to do; it's also a matter of credibility. But for Shaidle, accuracy is apparently a sign of weakness. I have concluded this on the basis of a flood of uncorrected errors that pours forth whenever I am her topic of conversation--something that seems to be happening more frequently these days as her evidently mounting panic causes her to flail and lash out blindly.

There was her claim that I called her a Nazi. I sent her an email on that one, and was told not to be so "literal-minded."

Then there was her statement that Mark Steyn "spanked" me over the matter of a photograph alleged to be of the speech-warriors' poster child Marc Lemire--a photo we both reproduced in good faith. That was an out-and-out lie, and it was repeated (no surprise) at her co-defendant Kate McMillan's place. But Kathy couldn't get any of the details right, either, as I noted before.

Her most recent spasm, though, brought to my attention by Canadian Cynic's delectable LuLu, was about racism, a subject with which I must concede she is intimately familiar. She has been frequenting Johnny Maudlin's place of late, perhaps because he's so obviously got her number, and she chanced upon a comment of mine over there about her views. It didn't take long for the inaccuracies to tumble forth.

First, she didn't seem remotely aware that I was responding to an earlier commenter, whose sympathies are entirely with Shaidle, and who scribbled, in that low style so cherished by the far Right, as follows (10:02 PM):

Thanks for dropping by Johnny Drugfucked Hippie.

Your allegation that Shaidle is a rascist [sic] is potentially actionable.

I would advise you to retain counsel.
Good Day.

My comment in rejoinder was that Shaidle certainly fit the common-or-garden definition, I provided a few examples, and I begged to differ that calling her a racist was actionable (5:06 AM).

Kathy's response? A pitifully inept attack on me beginning with the proposition that everybody is a racist. (She's technically correct about this, as it happens--in a racialized and racializing society, we're all locked in, to one degree or another, to the invidious category of practice called "race." But most of us don't revel in it.)

One point I had made in my comment was that anti-Muslimism is a kind of stand-in for racism. I referred to Kathy's infamous hed "Newsflash: Arabs are Violent Retards!", indicating that this was a case of the mask slipping. We know all too well that it's not the religion but the swarthiness of its practitioners that's driving a lot of the commentary on that side of the political aisle. So what was Kathy's reply? That it reflected her anger about the Taliban throwing schoolgirls back into a burning school because they weren't suitably covered.

"Taliban," eh? That grotesque incident actually happened in Saudi Arabia, more than two years before she first used the phrase. (For Kathy, however, those beige Moozlims all look alike.) And in fact she repeated it and repeated it, without a single reference to the burning schoolhouse in any of those posts, until the one last week in which she tried to rationalize her use of it.

My plea for freedom from speech is not intended literally, of course, although a limited right to it already exists in libel, slander and human rights legislation. But I like my peace and quiet, and sometimes the speech-warriors get downright cacophonous when they're being gagged by fascist Human Rights Commissions, dragged before the civil courts, and bagged and tagged by blogospheric critics. And why, on top of all that racket, does the frequency of facts in their torrent of discourse so often lie in inverse proportion to the decibel level of their outrage?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Burma thugs and corporate complicity

It should be no surprise to anyone that the murderous kleptocrats now running Burma, the ones keeping foreign aid workers at bay and confiscating the trickle of relief supplies permitted into the country, have been propped up for years by transnational corporations. It's the oil (and gas), stupid.

In a now-infamous case, the American company Unocal (now Chevron) was sued in 1996 by a number of brutalized Burmese refugees for benefiting from slave labour in Burma that was used to construct a profitable gas pipeline. Corporations like to invest in countries that have what is euphemistically called "disciplined labour." In this case, it was terrorised labour--rape, torture and murder were the instruments by which labour was coerced, and evidence presented in court showed that Unocal was perfectly well aware of it.

Needless to say, the Bush Administration intervened on Unocal's behalf. But a settlement was reached in 2005, a few months after the US Supreme Court ruled in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain that the US Alien Tort Claims Act was not restricted in scope to piracy, infringing upon the rights of ambassadors, and violating safe conduct. This 2004 judgement caused some consternation in the conservative camp.

Perhaps push has finally come to shove in Burma, in any case. The Greek colonels in 1974 and then the Argentinian military junta in 1983 (so beloved by anti-Communists that torturing political prisoners under pictures of Adolf Hitler caused no undue concern), essentially imploded after both regimes lost wars that they had foolishly started. The natural disaster of Typhoon Nargis could well have the same effect. The 500,000-strong Burmese rank-and-file military was already showing cracks last year during the suppression of street protests. The current devastation has to have affected the families of the rank-and-file military as well as the general public. It may well mark the beginning of the end for this genuinely evil regime. The question is, will it be in time?

Ramesh Thakur, a former UN Commissioner who helped to draft the "responsibility to protect" (R2P) protocol, argued last week in the Globe and Mail (subscriber wall) against intervention. If readers want to sample what passes for sophisticated thinking in UN circles these days, they should pay heed. After taking a jab or two at Bernard Kouchner, French Foreign Minister and co-founder and President of Médecins sans Frontières in a past life, Thakur writes:

The solution lies in invigorated efforts at four levels....First, in direct exchanges with the Burmese authorities. Second, in making encouraging but non-threatening resolutions and statements at the UN by the Secretary-General and presidents of the General Assembly and Security Council. Third, by the major Asian powers - by the major Asian powers -- China, India and Japan. And fourth, by the Southeast Asian neighbours of Burma, including ASEAN, the regional organization.

Good luck with that. Human Rights Watch reports that there is a massive level of foreign investment in Burma: Western countries such as the Netherlands, Russia, France, and the US cohabit pleasantly with Russia, China, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and India, in the development of oil and gas fields. After Thakur's proposed extended set of negotiations, the Burmese population could well be reduced by famine and disease to the point that one or two planeloads of high-energy biscuits would do the trick--if the government doesn't seize them, of course.

In the meantime, Thakur tells us that if France has troops to spare, she should send them to Afghanistan. Too bad the Burmese generals aren't Muslims.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Light blogging for a bit...

I'm attending the 2008 CASCA conference. Keep up the discussions, but please try to debate the issues in a civil manner. Sniping and trolling are for enemy soldiers and fish, respectively.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Meanwhile, in the Land of the Hanging Chad...

...the Muggles are still firmly in control. Now if only Jim Piculas could make Hillary Clinton disappear.

(H/t Chet Scoville)

Fundraiser for the "Canuck Six"?

(Kathy to Kate: "They're playing
our song.")

And just in case Kate gives me any more guff about "stereotyping," let me note that this li'l tune has a long history:

Monday, May 05, 2008

Harper's debt to Jean Chrétien

Public access to government information has been made easier for several years now through a central registry system called the Co-ordination of Access to Information Requests System (CAIRS). Canadians could use CAIRS to see what information had already been made public or was in the process of being made available, and could then make a request to see the documents themselves.

The registry is the latest casualty of what has been portrayed by the Opposition, rightly I think, as a Conservative squid-ink strategy. Public information-seekers will now have to troll the government departments and agencies one by one, and reinvent a lot of wheels in making their requests.

Today Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended the shutting down of the system. It was too expensive, he said. His government has actually widened access to information, he said: it has opened up other agencies to the access process, including Canada Post and the CBC. And he cited the man who has originally opened up public access to CAIRS with an information request of his own, Alisdair Roberts. CAIRS, said Roberts in an opinion piece in 2003, was “the product of a political system in which centralized control is an obsession.” He was referring, of course, to the Chrétien Liberal government.

Now, there is something deliciously ironic about Harper waxing indignant about obsessive central control. But—hold your collective breath, possums—he’s got a point. Those of us who intensely dislike the Harper version of one-man rule should try to remember that the pioneer in this respect was a man who centralized all power in the Prime Minister’s Office and turned his Cabinet into little more than a focus group, as political economist Donald Savoie noted nearly a decade ago.

Roberts points out that CAIRS enabled the mandarins to track requests from journalists, and they used this power to the public detriment. It's worthwhile quoting a few paragraphs from his article to see just how bad things had become under the Liberals at the time:

Government officials claim this kind of internal monitoring does not affect the treatment of requests. But hard evidence suggests otherwise. A recent analysis shows that requests submitted by journalists or political parties often take much longer to process than others. The probability that a media request would exceed statutory deadlines was twice as high as for other requests.

Special handling could also mean more restrictive decisions about the release of material. At the very least, it means that senior officials have their "communications lines" ready weeks before sensitive material even hits the newspaper.

Controlling the flow of information is a second-best solution for ministers. From their point of view, the better approach is to make sure that information is never made accessible at all.

A few months after the Access to Information Act came into effect in 1983, the Privy Council Office reorganized cabinet documents to hide information that was supposed to be covered by the new law. Incredibly, the government got away with this for almost 20 years -- until April 2001, when the Federal Court of Canada called for an end to the practice, which it said was a "circumvention of the intent of Parliament."

In November 2001, the minister of justice used the al-Qaida attacks as a pretext for adding another loophole to the access law. Amendments in the Anti-Terrorism Act allow the minister to block full review of decisions to deny access in the name of national security. Only a few months before, researchers hired by the federal government had said that such changes were unnecessary.

The Chretien government has also transferred key government functions to organizations that aren't subject to the Access to Information Act at all. The agency that is responsible for running our national air traffic control system has no obligation to respond to requests for information. Neither does the agency that runs our national blood system, or the new organization that will develop a plan for disposing of waste from Canada's nuclear power plants. The government says that the public has no legitimate interest that would justify granting a right of access to information in these cases.

Roberts is now asking what the present government is going to replace CAIRS with:

How does the [Privy Council Office Communications] and its security and intelligence office keep track of incoming requests? How do key departments keep track of sensitive requests arriving elsewhere? Have they established new processes for doing this?

That's a very good question. Can it be that Harper is planning to establish a new centralized internal process for his officials, one shielded from public use? It hardly seems in character to abandon such a handy spin tool as CAIRS, but of course that was a two-edged sword, with public access perhaps the sharper of the two edges. It will be interesting to keep an eye on developments in this respect, perhaps with the adroit use of access to information requests.

In the meantime, Chrétien's legacy, alas, lives on. Donald Savoie is still documenting the collapse of our institutions of governance:

There are no effective checks and balances from cabinet, the civil service or Parliament to protect prime ministers from grabbing power and abusing it. We now need to go farther and define in law the role of prime minister, ministers and the civil service.

Savoie's interview in the Ottawa Citizen today is well worth reading in full. Our government is now effectively a royal government, he says, a king surrounded by a tightly knit group of courtiers. But Harper has the little man from Shawinigan to thank for making it all possible.

Of graves and bigots

A couple of far-right bloggers, whose negative attitudes towards Native people are a matter of public record, have airily dismissed recent claims by a former United Church minister, Kevin Annett, that large numbers of Indian children, victims of the residential school system, lie buried in 28 unmarked mass graves.

Here are what we might call preliminary "position statements" by the pair:

Too bad those 'smallpox blankets' were a hoax.


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


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.

These are surely not the kind of people to be taken seriously when Native issues are the subject of discussion. As one might expect, they simply reject Annett's claims out of hand. To entertain
even the possibility that there is something here worth investigating leads to glib comparisons with 9/11 Trutherism--the claims are too fantastic, we are told, and besides, the ex-minister has "issues."

I don't think that's good enough. The "butterbox babies" scandal was a strange and creepy tale, too, not to mention the saga of the "Duplessis orphans." In each of those cases, investigations finally uncovered enough evidence to demonstrate that the whispered stories were true. Babies at the Nova Scotia Ideal Maternity Home were collected and sold for adoption, and between 100-400 babies deemed unadoptable were neglected to the point of starvation. An estimated 20,000 illegitimate children in Quebec under the harsh reign of Maurice Duplessis were falsely deemed mentally deficient in order to obtain federal subsidies. They were confined to church run orphanages reconstituted as insane asylums, physically and sexually abused, and allegedly subjected to medical experiments.

None of this, of course, means that one should simply assume the truth of Annett's claims. But he's not alone in making them, first of all, and secondly he has pinpointed the alleged locations of the mass burial sites. So why not investigate two or three of them with a suitable team of forensic anthropologists and archaeologists, and either debunk Annett once and for all or, possibly, bear him out?

The odd thing about the incredulous reaction to all this is that there is not an impossibly large gap between these claims and what is already accepted as historical fact. Sadistic abuse was prevalent in many of the Indian residential schools. From one-quarter to one-half of the children died. Children sick with TB were not separated from healthy children.

But the point of difference is this. Terry Glavin and the more scholarly commentator John Milloy do not think there was anything purposeful in the deaths: the horrendous toll was simply the result of a combination of epidemics and too little government funding.
This is despite the testimony of Peter Bryce, Indian Affairs chief medical officer in the early part of the twentieth century, who believed that the policy of housing sick and healthy children together was deliberate. (Bryce's protests were not well taken: he was sent off to another department, and the post of chief medical officer was abolished. And after he left the scene, mortality statistics in the residential schools were no longer kept.)

Certainly some of Annett's claims are sensational, and invite healthy scepticism. But the continuing lack of interest by the media, and the focus on Annett's own personality, should invite scepticism as well. We don't like to imagine even the possibility that the deliberate killing of children could take place in Canada: it's the "it can't happen here" syndrome. But without an investigation, we'll never know--just as we would never have known about the butterbox babies and the Duplessis orphans if people had just shrugged the dark tales off, and dismissed it all as fantasy and paranoia.

Annett is not the issue; nor should any heed be paid to the jeering of bigots. L
et's have that investigation, and find out once and for all whether we're dealing here with megalomania or with history.

UPDATE: (May 6) In what I can only consider a breathtaking display of intellectual dishonesty, Jay Currie joins the yahoo chorus by effectively accusing me of being in Annett's camp. The ad hominem attacks on Annett have reached parodic extremes--now we learn that he was a "dangerous loon" in high school. I wonder if he keeps a dog?