Sunday, June 29, 2008

And in other news...

Henry Morgentaler is to receive the Order of Canada. The usual suspects are not pleased:

It is dreadful that this honour should even be considered for a man who's [sic] only claim to fame is that he is a professional killer of defenseless babies in their mothers' wombs.

Hmm, how can we work a little racism into this? No prob, Kate McMillan's winged monkeys rise to the challenge:

Morgentaler is getting an award from a Haitian voodoo princess? Who cares?

Ah, well. Congratulations, Henry. Long overdue and well-deserved.

Sunday nostalgia

Remember when...

"cop killer" used to mean someone who killed a cop?

"Christian love" wasn't a contradiction in terms?

Wars ended?

"Homewrecker" meant a woman attracted to husbands?

A square meal was good for you?

The ultimate crust

After chasing his opponent Morgan Tsvangirai out of a run-off election race and terrorizing his supporters, the one guy remaining on the ballot is declared elected, and invites the other fellow to his inauguration. He calls this "reaching out" and "a major step towards political engagement."

There must be a specific word or phrase for this, but it's not coming rapidly to mind. "Sheer cheek" and "colossal gall" somehow don't quite seem to cut it. Anyone?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The speech-warriors explain it all away

How on earth did the Canadian Human Rights Commission come to refuse even to hear the complaint against Maclean's magazine? It couldn't be that it simply judged the complaint to have no merit. Other forces had to have been at work. In the speech-warriors' own words:

Given the heat the Human Rights Commission has been taking I'd expect them to back off on the high profile cases. That way they can concentrate on the little guy that can't afford heavy duty legal counsel and doesn't have the resources to fight back.

The CHRC can retrench, and return to its bread-and-butter business of destroying little people.

So they blinked. Against everything in their DNA, they let Maclean's go. That's the first smart thing they've done; because the sooner they can get the public scrutiny to go away, the sooner they can go about prosecuting their less well-heeled targets, people who can't afford Canada's best lawyers and command the attention and affection of the country's literati.

Even with Taylor rules the mere threat of a CHRC complaint, not to mention the CHRC investigator’s rule-free techniques, put an ongoing chill on political conversation in Canada. The overbreadth of s. 13 means that for less well heeled respondents, the CHRC remains a real threat.

It seems the HRC is playing pure politics -- hammer the little guys but avoid the big players who could do it some injury.

Good grief, do these people have regular teleconferences, or what?

So here are some of the "big guys" that the CHRC has cravenly refused to send to a Tribunal...oh, wait, they did, and then the Tribunal settled the complaints:


Amrow v. Royal Canadian Mounted Police


Goodman v. Canadian Security Intelligence Service

Via Rail:

Arsenault v. Via Rail Canada Inc.

Big bankers:

Adamsu v. Bank of Montreal

The Canadian Forces:

Beyer v. Canadian Forces

Oh, and the dread State:

Attorney General of Canada (Applicant) v. Public Service Alliance of Canada and Canadian Human Rights Commission. [The CHRT findings on pay equity in the federal Public Service were eventually upheld. The Canadian government has to make good to the tune of $3 billion to current and former PSAC members.]

Now, don't give me any guff about these not being Section 13(1) cases. Either the CHRC is afraid to take on the big fish or it isn't. But not all the big fish meet the standard for a complaint against them to be heard. Maclean's was one of those latter fish. We've been saying so all along.

But why should we expect accuracy or honesty from the speech warriors? They're on a roll. In fact, at this point they're most likely in a fugue state, devastated by their recent win loss. These are the folks who brought you this:

Congratulations to CHCH TV out of Hamilton. They had me on a show today, along with a comedian, debating the decision by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal to put a comedian on trial for unfunny jokes about lesbian hecklers.

(, Ezra. Settle down. It wasn't off-colour jokes, but a tirade of homophobic abuse from a guy on-stage. It had nothing to do with his comedy routine.)

And this:

, Kathy. You're being sued for defamation, because you publicly called a person a criminal.

And so the speech-warriors stagger into the dark night. Keep your eye out for the tell-tale flashes of heads exploding when the BCHRT, too, fails to uphold the complaint against Maclean's.

Posts we never finished reading

From the mudfortunate Dr.Roy: "Even dion realizeds he is difficult to understand in
English....He has apparently has had his people contact a speech therapist..

Physician, heal thyself.

Change, we can believe in...

...but not this. Obama starts his Long March to the same-old, same-old. And Keith Olbermann isn't looking very good about now: Glenn Greenwald is on it, and Olbermann isn't happy. But his trademark rants won't save him this time. When his candidate flipped, Olbermann flopped, and that's all there is to it. One man's 4th Reich fascism, as it turns out, was another man's brave defiance of the Left. Sheesh. For my money, this makes Olbermann the Worst Man In The World, but you won't see that on MSNBC.

The FISA fiasco seems, however, like a good jumping-off point to discuss the art (or perhaps "craft" is a better word) of practical politics. The Bill that Obama is set to support will extend the government's ability to conduct warrantless wiretaps. Worse, information obtained in this manner may be used as evidence even if the tap is subsequently found to be unlawful--take a nice juicy bite of the fruit of the poisonous tree, folks.
Finally, the Bill will allow bulk monitoring of electronic communications, making a hash of quaint notions like probable cause.A little safety trumps liberty anytime in Bush's America. And, it appears, in Obama's America too.

I'm not surprised or even very offended by this. American politics is a cramped room that simply doesn't permit a lot of new ideas to enter, as I've observed before. The best it can offer up is old, stodgy, sometimes dangerous ideas, adjusted for the times and presented in attractive new bottles. Obama is most probably just another one of those bottles. Heaven forbid that he seem Soft On Terrorism. Or Soft On Anything, where only a brutal hardness will do.

During a political campaign, it's important to remind ourselves that what a candidate says and does is a product of calculation. "Just be youself" tends to be bad advice. You aren't running by yourself, after all: a Verizon-like network is always right there with you, on and off the scene. Once a campaign starts, the aim is to win, and it's not just the candidate's personal ambitions that are at stake, to put it mildly. In some respects, almost everything goes; in others (when it comes to the candidate him- or herself) very little does that isn't scripted and vetted by a small army of handlers.
The candidate could be Charlie McCarthy (and here I think of Ronald Reagan, for some reason). But that's no problem, if you've got a competent Edgar Bergen.

And the culture of US campaigns is a low culture, one of Sesame Street-like soundbites, swarms of politically-connected media talking heads parsing every syllable, continual appeals to emotion (usually negative), mines and deadfalls everywhere. Issues are important only as a collection of slick debating points and one-liners. Negative campaigning (imported to Canada by the Harperites) is the order of the day. "Swiftboating" is an ever-present threat. And that stuff works like a hot-damn: a candidate who golfed his way through the Vietnam War came off looking more patriotic and heroic than the guy who went and got wounded.

This dreadful style, furthermore, feeds on itself. Lapel pins! What your pastor said!* Your middle name! Every campaign seems to find a deeper barrel to scrape the bottom of.

Nice guys and gals finish last in this kind of contest. Ditto ones with vision, and overly thoughtful ones. There is little room for spontaneity on the campaign trail, and none at all for nuance. So political campaigns almost inevitably attract a certain type of person: glib, opportunistic, shallow, unprincipled. In fact, the people expect nothing more, and if you've got more, it's best to keep it to yourself until you win--and even thereafter, if you don't want to be a one-term wonder.

But suppose--just suppose--that Obama is more than just a bottle. Suppose he does have what Greenwald mockingly called a secret plan. What, then, in the American context, would Barack Obama do with his plan if he became President? Or, to put it a little differently, what could he do?

The US governance engine is never easy to influence, and, like the Borg, it absorbs those who find themselves in its toils. The President, even with all of his broad powers, can't do much by himself. He is surrounded by advisors, flacks, lobbyists, big-money donors calling in markers, the media, and countless elected officials. His powers are curbed by
the Constitution, Congress and the Supreme Court, and their exercise is shaped and constrained by public opinion polls and the aforementioned interested parties. The new guy will be pushed and pulled this way and that until systemic stability is achieved.

We are so used to conceiving of leaders as almost by definition in charge that we seldom look at the human matrix, its complex set of associations, interactions and interrelations, that give a leader form and substance. In this vast, sticky web, leaders cannot easily act upon personal visions and hopes, wear their hearts on their sleeves, say what's on their minds, or even keep and maintain a functioning conscience. The "art of the possible" is a ceaseless series of compromises, big and small, that allows its practitioners to survive.

Obama is a fresh new face in American politics. In some ways his very candidacy is profoundly significant and positive. But I suspect that he's already had to put his official portrait in a closely-guarded closet somewhere.
Welcome to the Machine, Barack. Resistance is futile.

*It goes without saying that every serious candidate needs a pastor, in a land where half the population rejects the theory of evolution and one-quarter not only believes in the Rapture, but thought it was going to happen last year.)

Friday, June 27, 2008

How not to discuss euthanasia

Canada's pop-ethics guru Margaret Somerville has made yet another pronouncement from on high, this time on the subject of euthanasia. She's against it.

I don't want to make light of the issue at hand. If ever there was a matter that is simply fraught, it has to be the question of taking human life for a good end. Can it ever be right to do so? Where is the line to be drawn? How do we ensure that voluntary euthanasia doesn't slip into non-voluntary euthanasia? Is there a clear difference between passive and active euthanasia?

There are important discussions to be had on the subject. Euthanasia, in fact, demands detailed analysis at the level of law, public and social policy, morality and ethics, all of which are brought into relation by the issue. An indication of the complexities of the debate may be found here.

Somerville has spent, she tells us, three decades researching euthanasia and assisted suicide, and she's written a substantial tome on the topic. I haven't read it. No doubt she explores a lot of the issues in some depth. But that's not the point. She is taking a stance as a public intellectual, assisted by editors who like to have a stable of "experts" on hand to fill the op-ed pages. If her article is any indication of how she approaches her students, however, small wonder that she ran, as she puts it, into a "steel wall" when she tried to persuade them of her point of view.

As was the case in previous articles (I analyzed one of them here), Somerville tends to deal more in assertion than argument. I looked in vain in the present piece, in fact, for any semblance of analysis. A good part of the article was about Margaret Somerville, and her difficulties in persuading her young charges at McGill that letting a person die screaming in pain is their moral and social duty. The rest amounts to a collection of moral truth-claims.

Back in the day, she says, there was that ol'-time religion and "Thou shalt not kill." But now we have a secular society based on "intense individualism." We have to argue, she says, that "harm to the community trumps individual rights or preferences." Well, sometimes it does,
of course. But I suspect that students of any intelligence, not to mention a person dying in prolonged agony, require more than a blanket principle to be convinced that the latter's death is for the good of the community.

On to the "arguments":

[L]egalizing euthanasia would harm the very important shared societal value of respect for life, and change the basic norm that we must not kill one another. It would also harm the two main institutions -- law and medicine -- that paradoxically are more important in a secular society than in a religious one for upholding the value of respect for life. And, it would harm people's trust in medicine and make them fearful of seeking treatment.

But these aren't arguments, Margo. They're bald, unsubstantiated assertions, simply oozing with petitio principii.

She moves on quickly:

There is nothing new about people becoming terminally ill, suffering, wanting to die, and our being able to kill them. So why now, after we have prohibited euthanasia for millennia, are we debating whether to legalize it?

Just who, precisely, is "we?" Since when has euthanasia been prohibited "for millennia?" Since when is there anything new about this debate?

Somerville rightly notes that "
[d]eath has been professionalized, technologized, depersonalized and dehumanized. " That's hardly a new observation: the noted conservative historian of death, Phillippe Ariès, points out that this has been going on for at least a couple of centuries.

In fact, I suspect she's familiar with his "The Hour of Our Death," because she agrees with
his observation, in similar terms, that the desire to banish death, to make it invisible, is accompanied these days by a tremendous amount of "death talk." No longer confined to times of ritual and religious observance, death is now part of our daily lives. Euthanasia is being debated precisely as an instance of "death talk," and its legalization is the focus of discussion because the "secular cathedrals" of our society (Parliament and the courts) have replaced religious ones.

From assertion, we've moved at least to supposition. But still no arguments. She tells us about the arguments, or rather, complains about how difficult they are to construct:

The arguments against euthanasia, based on the harm that it would do to individuals and society in both the present and the future, are very much more difficult to present visually.

All this death talk has overwhelmed our sensibilities, she suggests, dulling us to the "awesomeness of death and...of inflicting it." One of her students responded with the obvious:

If anything, I think many of our reactions come not from an overexposure to death, but from an aversion to suffering, and an unwillingness or hesitancy to prolong pain.

As another philosopher might put it, "Well, duh." But Margo gamely ploughs on: and this is where it gets, er, interesting. Her response, which concludes her article, needs to be quoted in full in order to get the flavour:

Finding convincing responses to the relief-of-suffering argument used to justify euthanasia is difficult in secular societies. In the past, we used religion to give value and meaning to suffering. But, now, suffering is often seen as the greatest evil and of no value, which leads to euthanasia being seen as an appropriate response.

Some answers to the "suffering argument" might include that:

- even apart from religious belief, it's wrong to kill another human;
- euthanasia would necessarily cause loss of respect for human life;
- it would open up an inevitable slippery slope and set a precedent that would present serious dangers to future generations. Just as our actions could destroy their physical environment, likewise, we could destroy their moral environment. Both environments must be held on trust for them;
- recognizing death as an acceptable way to relieve suffering could influence people contemplating suicide.

Might the strongest argument against euthanasia, however, relate not to death but to life? That is, the argument that normalizing it would destroy a sense of the unfathomable mystery of life and seriously damage our human spirit, especially our capacity to find meaning in life.

The poverty and sheer duplicity of her "argument" really speaks for itself. She begins by talking about the "value and meaning of suffering." I presume she's not referring to her own: it's always easier to glean that value and meaning when someone else is doing the suffering. And then her "answer" to the student's common-sense point is simply to repeat her original assertions. I'm still waiting for those "arguments" of hers.

But her piece, of course, isn't really an argument for a case. It's a statement of faith. The concluding notion of the "value and meaning of suffering" is the central notion of Christianity: the figure of Christ on the cross comes immediately to mind. Once again, it appears, we're getting a Christian homily from a crypto-Catholic. (If you follow that last link, you will be edified by her address to the faithful on tactics and strategy in a secular age.)

I don't have the slightest problem with Somerville making Christian pronouncements, by the way. But I do wish she'd put all of her cards on the table.

Martyrdom denied, part deux

The Canadian Human Rights Commission has rejected the complaint by the Canadian Islamic Congress against Maclean's magazine for publishing an excerpt of Mark Steyn's America Alone. This follows the dismissal of a similar complaint by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

That makes two failures of the Kanadian police state so far. Somehow the jackboots didn't fit. Or Stalin died. Or the Inquisition was called off. Take your pick. And the veritable torrent of words from the silenced, gagged, oppressed victims of our kangaroo courts somehow continues unimpeded.

We await the BCHRT decision now with breathless anticipation. Third time lucky, speech-warriors?

I predict a hat-trick, myself. So far, we bumbling Canadians just can't seem to get police-stating right.

H/t Damian Penny


In public! By a priest! (And a doctor!)

Rosie diManno had it right months ago. But the toads keep right on toadying. Am I the only one heartily sick of this incessant, gigantic sucking sound?

HE'S GUILTY. Get over it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Making MPs accountable

The Supreme Court of Canada has refused to hear a last-ditch appeal by former Reform and Canadian Alliance MP Jim Pankiw to stop a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal investigation of anti-Aboriginal propaganda that he sent as a "householder" to his constituents. Needless to say, the usual "bring back residential schools and lock up Indian activists" crowd are plenty riled.

Well, who is this guy, and what did he say?

To give you the measure of the man, he once wrote to the president of the University of Saskatchewan, whining about the university's affirmative action policies and comparing their supporters to members of the Ku Klux Klan. Oddly, he didn't appear to mean this as a compliment. On racial matters, it seems that Pankiw's a bit of a lad. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, he enjoys the strong support of "White nationalist" Paul Fromm.

In any case, Pankiw, according to his admirers, just told the plain truth about them-there Injuns, and he, like Mark Steyn, has suffered a martyr's fate for it.

(Always beware those who speak of being "hauled" in front of a Human Rights Tribunal, by the way. The image of a winch affixed to the neck of a bigot is compelling, even in some cases spirit-lifting, but inaccurate. It was only after months of refusing mediation that he was even summoned. And so far Pankiw has done most of the hauling, taking the Tribunal to court after court. Yep, the real courts. Whatever happened to all that guff about the Tribunals being "kangaroo courts" as opposed to the "real" court system? Is this a case of marsupial creep?)

Pankiw mailed out a pamphlet to his constituents called "Indian Crime". Its contents were so objectionable that postal workers had to be forced to deliver it. And then another one, "It's clear who the racists are." He did this all on the taxpayers' nickel, and he's being held accountable for it.

Pankiw argued, unsuccessfully, that a HRT hearing constituted interference between an MP and his constituents. His ally Ezra Levant droned on about the "ancient legal custom of parliamentary privilege," as though that includes sending racist crap to innocent members of the public who happen to be in the targeted group.

Now, perform a little thought-experiment at this point. Imagine a pamphlet being circulated in your riding called "Black crime." Or "Jewish crime." Should an MP be permitted to circulate such racialist rubbish at your expense without being accountable to someone?

Bring on the hearing, I say, and let's get to the bottom of this. I suspect it's a long way down.

Canada's collaboration in child abuse

Much has already been written about the latest revelation of Canada's complicity in torture. But the deliberate torturing of a child by US sadists in Guantanamo, done in the full knowledge of the Canadian government, reaches a new, wretched low.

And please note, in all fairness, that this took place under a Liberal government.

Saskatchewan's political witch hunt

Shortly after being elected to power in Saskatchewan, the far-right Saskatchewan Party government headed by the flighty, thin-skinned Brad Wall undertook a purge of all senior public employees deemed to be "not politically compatible" with the new regime.

Without a great deal of fanfare, seventy people had their jobs abruptly terminated after being placed on an enemies list compiled by former Grant Devine operative Doug Emsley and his "transition team."

But not all of these politically incorrect individuals are going quietly. Allan Walker, a 34-year veteran public employee, is fighting back. (He wasn't even on the original enemies list, but was added to the roster almost as an afterthought.) And he has quite a story to tell, which may explain why he wanted his hearing for wrongful dismissal before the Public Service Commission to be heard publicly.

Walker was, before he was purged, the associate deputy minister for Advanced Education, Employment and Labour. He was not a political appointment, but a career public servant who had worked his way up the ranks through open competitions. These did not include, he said, "philosophical tests." Nor had he been interviewed by Wall's ideological purification committee prior to his firing. As for his competence, even the Harper federal government* thought well enough of his abilities to appoint him in 2005 as Canada's official spokesman and representative at an international occupational health and safety conference in Geneva.

Walker, 56, was booted without even getting the severance benefits to which he was legally entitled. He forfeited 300 days of sick leave, lost an academic fellowship with the University of Saskatchewan, cannot get life insurance, and has been effectively blackballed from employment in Saskatchewan.

His career lies in ruins, for no reason other than suspicion of left deviationism by the extremist political hacks and kommissars
now running Saskatchewan. This is a story well worth following.

H/t Larry Hubich

UPDATE: (June 27) Be sure to read Larry's update, here.

*Whoops: that was a lapse. Thank you to Buckets in the comments.

If you're Black, get back...


Global warming denial

How the White House deals with unwelcome news from its Environmental Protection Agency:

The White House in December refused to accept the Environmental Protection Agency's conclusion that greenhouse gases are pollutants that must be controlled, telling agency officials that an e-mail message containing the document would not be opened, senior EPA officials said last week.

The EPA was subsequently pressured by the White House to water down its report.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Lower Canada's Muslim rebellion, 1837

First Robert Jago, with his puerile call-out to shutterbugs. Then Kate, piling on. But she thinks it's all about Hezbollah.

Rebellion Allah mode?

A culture of impunity?

What is it about Canadians and our reflexive deference to authority and its trappings?

First, we observe numerous instances of police killing or assaulting civilians, with little or no consequence to the perpetrators.

Now a member of our military who committed horrific child abuse on
six-month-old triplets, breaking a total of 19 bones in their tiny bodies to make them stop crying, gets a pass. The judge took into account post-traumatic stress from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, but on closer inspection we learn that the man's "stress" was allegedly caused by not seeing action. Good grief.

The man was sentenced to eighteen months of house arrest instead of jail. How nice for his little babies.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Conservative black ops

...from the horse's, er, mouth. Seriously, does it get much more desperately stupid than this?

And, needless to say, a certain George Carlin critic is all over it.

Double standards on Zimbabwe?

An American professor weighs in on the Zimbabwe crisis in today's Globe and Mail. Shorter Jonathan Zimmerman: "We were upset about apartheid, and mobilized heavily. We aren't reacting the same way about Zimbabwe. It's the soft racism of low expectations."

He includes himself in this condemnation. I can't tell if this is serious self-criticism, or merely a rhetorical positioning device.

We get that sort of thing a lot from conservatives these days, eager to play the "I know you are, but what am I" card. But Zimmerman does not appear to be cut from the same cloth. He seems, in fact, like a fair-minded man, so his argument should be taken at face value. And I strongly disagree with it.

This is, first of all, a classic apples and oranges comparison. We were up to our necks in apartheid here in North America. In Canada, at least one politician called Nelson Mandela a "terrorist" even after apartheid was no more. Some academics thought apartheid was just fine. Universities were heavily invested in South Africa, and disinvestment was controversial. We imported South African goods. The media gave the floor to apartheid apologists like Ambassador Glenn Babb to sing the praises of "separate development" and castigate the anti-apartheid movement.

There was actually a debate about apartheid here in North America. Anti-apartheid activists had to convince people that apartheid was wrong. Economically we were shoring up an explicitly racist, colonial regime. Politically, we were moving in the right direction, but slowly, and not without resistance (listen to video clip number 7). The US, meanwhile, exercised a number of UN vetoes in support of the South African regime.

Anti-apartheid boycotts, demonstrations, sit-ins and other actions grew organically in this context. And besides, colonialism was (and is) our Original Sin, and ours to expiate.

But the Zimbabwe situation is strikingly different. To begin with, despite Liberal and Conservative government support for investment in Zimbabwe, our universities and banks are not involved: investments are direct, mostly in the mining sector. Canadian imports of Zimbabwean goods are miniscule. There is no political support for the current excesses of the Mugabe regime. In fact there is no controversy about those that I am aware of, although the causes of the current lamentable state of affairs call aloud for public discussion. There is, in any event, no case that has to be made with respect to the Mugabe autocracy, no boycott to be organized that would make any sense, and no protests to be held against non-existent institutional investments.

So in what domestic context would an anti-Mugabe movement take root? And what, come to think of it, would such a movement call for, besides the removal of the old tyrant?* I suggest that these questions better address the lack of mobilization than the notion of a soft bigotry of lesser expectations. South Africa, after all, didn't turn into a dictatorship. Nelson Mandela, the first president of a free South Africa, became a towering figure for good. Democracy in Africa is obviously more than a possibility, and it gives us every right to hope for nothing less in Zimbabwe. There is no evidence, in fact, that we don't: the author of the article, it seems to me, is possibly projecting just a bit by bringing allegations of racism into the discussion.

As always in such cases, however, it behooves us to look hard at the etiology of the current state of affairs in Zimbabwe. To start with, the UK abandoned its 1979 Lancaster House commitment to assist in land reform in Zimbabwe, a commitment given in exchange for a ten-year no-expropriation pledge by Mugabe, one of the terms of the Lancaster House agreement that he was under some pressure to sign. Britain's reneging on this commitment is probably the most significant underlying factor in Zimbabwe's current predicament. If there is a root cause of Zimbabwe's continuing civil unrest, it is failed land reform.

Journalist Michael Holman of the Financial Times is unsparing in his criticism of Mugabe. But he states in plain terms that the Zimbabwean president felt betrayed over the land question, having signed the independence agreement at Lancaster House on the understanding that outside assistance would be provided to resolve the issue. Instead, relatively minor funding was forthcoming, not nearly enough to help buy out the 5,000 white farmers who owned most of Zimbabwe's agricultural land. This was in sharp contrast to the considerable support that Britain had earlier provided to Kenya in that regard. Holman notes that "the spirit, if not the letter, of the Lancaster House agreement [was] broken."

But matters got even worse. While Britain's Conservative government had provided some funds as noted for a "willing seller, willing buyer" approach to land redistribution, it wasn't enough to change the balance of ownership in Zimbabwe. In 1992,
the Land Acquisition Act was passed to permit forced sales, but there was little money available to makes those purchases. Then Tony Blair's Labour government unilaterally withdrew from the Lancaster House assurances in 1997. Blair's Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short, made at that time an infamous statement in a letter to Zimbabwe's then-Minister of Land: "[W]e do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe. We are a new government from diverse backgrounds, without links to former colonial interests. My own origins are Irish and, as you know, we were colonised, not colonisers."

Three years after that slap in the face, Mugabe's attempt to change the constitution to permit confiscation of white-owned land was defeated in a referendum. Violent expropriations by "war veterans" began shortly afterwards. At that point (2000), two-thirds of the best agricultural land remained in the hands of a small white minority--twenty years after independence. Much of what redistribution there was, however, from 1992 onwards, turned out to be a distribution of land to
Mugabe's cronies, who, by neglect, took much of it out of production. Once an African breadbasket, Zimbabwe gradually became an agricultural basket case. Refugees streamed into South Africa. And Mugabe himself became increasingly erratic, dispossessing 700,000 people in Harare by demolishing their homes, and denouncing homosexuality in a manner that would make Fred Phelps proud.

Land reform, then, was going nowhere fast. But if that weren't enough, the other prong of the neocolonialist fork, an economic structural adjustment program, was imposed by the IMF in 1991, and it hit ordinary Zimbabweans fast and hard. It crippled what had up to that point been a growing economy (an average of 4% real growth per annum since independence), and plunged the country into poverty and deindustrialization. Mugabe ended this disastrous experiment in 2001.

The IMF and the West swiftly retaliated with various economic sanctions. For example, George W. Bush signed into law
the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001, which had been sponsored by an old ally of Rhodesia's racist Prime Minister Ian Smith, Senator Jesse Helms. The Act instructed American officials in international financial institutions to "oppose and vote against any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the government of Zimbabwe," and oppose any relief of "indebtedness owed by the government of Zimbabwe." There is an excellent overview of the subsequent developments here, in an article by progressive journalist Gregory Elich.

Now, obviously it's time for the ageing dotard to go, along with his "securocrats" who are actually running the country. But that's no more than a pious prayer. Restoration of democracy in Zimbabwe is inextricably tied to the renewal of outside assistance to proceed with genuine land reform. Yet the latter is probably a pipedream at this point.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change is seen by the West as the only alternative, but the likely success at some point in the future of Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC, a party bankrolled by the white farmers and supportive of a return to structural adjustment and privatization, may simply deliver Zimbabwe out of the frying pan into the fire.

Tsvangirai reminds me
quite a bit, in fact, of Mangosuthu Buthelezi, that Great White Hope (pun intentional) of the likes of Conrad Black and other dispassionate observers of the African scene. But Buthelezi was simply outclassed by Nelson Mandela, and became a footnote in the history of post-apartheid South Africa.

There is, however, no Nelson Mandela figure waiting in the wings in Zimbabwe. On the one hand, there's Robert Mugabe. And on the other, Morgan Tsvangirai, who has chosen his advisors from the conservative Cato Institute and the International Republican Institute. For ordinary Zimbabweans, traumatized by war, poverty and increasing lawlessness, it's a classic Hobson's choice. And our lack of mobilization in North America , pace Jonathan Zimmerman,
reflects precisely that.

*The anti-apartheid actions weren't simply aimed at removing Vorster, or Botha, or de Klerk, after all, but at dismantling an entire political and social system.

"Life is better lived together"

How do you fit 13 people into a Volvo?

A. Three in the front and
10 in the back.

In Llandudno, Wales.

not making this up.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Ed Stelmach's Alberta

Where Nazis caper unmolested, the government robs its own piggy-bank, and...hard-up doctors hire a collection agency--from Ontario!

Kate's flying monkeys turn on her

...and about time. Her gratuitous "I'm glad he's dead" post about George Carlin--borrowing heavily from her sister in hatred, Kathy Shaidle--has met unexpected, determined resistance from her following. She's flailing back, but not very well. Good for them.

UPDATE: SDA comment of the day: "
Wow. This is like Zimbabweans turning on Mugabe."

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Take a deep breath, Ezra...

Pearl Eliadis, a prominent human rights lawyer who recently attended an annual conference of human rights agencies, critiques a bottom-feeding blogger:

Ms. Eliadis singled out one in particular, blazingcatfur., as "poisonous" for referring to her panel at the conference [on the media--DD] as a "Texas cage match."

She said it was evidence of the "appalling tone" that is "illustrative of how badly this debate has gone."

She had this to say as well, as reported in the National Post article:

At the same time, she said the three Muslim law students who complained against Maclean's magazine have done themselves a disservice by claiming they have a right not to be offended. "I'm sorry, you don't," she said. "Those sorts of things have to be part of the normal rough and tumble of debate and discourse."

But enter the hysterical Ezra Levant, who seems to believe that he and his merry band are the only ones entitled to that "rough and tumble" thing:

It's actually quite a revelation: Eliadis's own words show us that she's about political censorship, about squelching criticism, about muzzling her opponents. She's not even pretending that it's about real human rights. She doesn't want her world view to be criticized, and so she wants to criminalize dissident views.

All this for referring to BCF's views as "poisonous?" Ezra, as your friend, I'm advising you: get some rest. Please.

H/t Damian

War with Iran

With the inevitability of a train wreck, preparations for war with Iran are hurtling down the tracks at gathering speed. Israel has just conducted a significant military exercise to "warn" Iran against continuing with a offensive nuclear program that likely doesn't exist. Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, is making apocalyptic predictions.

The claims of an offensive weapons program bear all of the hallmarks of yet another WMD fraud. They seem to be, in fact, a deliberately orchestrated series of lies. There is simply no proof that the Iranian program, actually begin in the 1950s with US assistance, is anything more than it claims to be--a means of providing the country with more electricity. Indeed, Iran has offered a number of guarantees in that respect. And even US intelligence sources appear to agree, if only by casting doubt on Iran's alleged offensive nuclear ambitions.

But when the US wants "regime change," it will do anything in its considerable power to obtain it, even first-strike nuclear attacks on non-nuclear nations. And count on Israel to play its usual catspaw role--not that everyone there or elsewhere is equally credulous or mendacious. Here's what The Economist has to say, for example:

Since Israel does not admit to having nuclear weapons, its detailed thinking on nuclear matters is rarely ventilated in public. But most of those Israeli experts willing to talk rate the chances of an Iranian nuclear attack as low. Despite Mr Ahmadinejad, most consider Iran to be a rational state actor susceptible to deterrence.

Speraking of "regime change," however, all the auguries point to a convincing win this Fall by Barack Obama. Where does he stand on Iran? Well, there's this 2007 statement; it sounds conciliatory on the surface, but demands that Iran "give up [its] nuclear ambitions." Then there's this. And this. And this 2004 statement, where he goes one better, and adds Pakistan to the target list. He's all over the map, in other words, and come this Fall he's likely to have a nuclear eraser in his hand.

Will the Republican administration saddle a Democratic Congress and President with yet another unwinnable war--and one that will turn the Middle East into a "ball of fire?" Or is "saddling" the right term, given those worrisome words of Senator "O-bomb-a?"

I'm an Obama supporter in a restricted field of candidates, as readers know, but I've also made the point that he's an American politician trapped in a box that no credible candidate can escape. Will he support the on-going US imperial project? You betcha. Political differences on this score are not about objectives, but about tactics and strategy. And even there, indications are that the differences are trifling. It's praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, just like it's always been.

Incessant US warmongering, in fact, is just part of the geopolitical environment, something we almost get used to and barely notice, like the ticking of a clock. But adding first-strike nuclear attacks to the mix has got my attention. If my place of repose weren't a waterbed, I'd be hiding under it about now.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Bushgolfi Code

Today's papers carry a fascinating story about the Sistine Chapel. Not to be outdone by The Da Vinci Code, a certain Rabbi Benjamin Blech has written a new book revealing Hebrew letters concealed within Michelangelo's ceiling masterpiece. Deciphering the code, the rabbi has found a "lost mystical message of universal love," left by the artist for the ages to come.

But there is another code to be deciphered, one much closer to home, and I hope that Rabbi Blech can assist. The current President of the US, George W. Bush, has used his own body to produce identifiable Hebrew letters, sending messages in the here-and-now for the generations, one that only a Talmudic scholar could unravel. Given my initial investigations, I hope that all such images can be found and arranged chronologically. They will have to be read backwards, of course, from present to past.

I refuse to speculate as to what these messages might contain. The truth about 9/11? Some latter-day Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion? What we do know is this: they have been almost invariably transmitted while Bush played golf. And he recently announced to a startled world that he had given up the game, offering a completely unbelievable excuse for doing so. Can we conclude that he has completed his occult task?

I offer only a few of the abundant pieces of evidence. Grab your tinfoil and see for yourself.

First, the golf course itself, symbolized by a sand-trap, a possible reference to Moses in the desert:

Then a few letters of the Presidential message:

Even when he wasn't out on the course, the President feverishly continued to transmit, if only by hand gestures:

Readers are invited to join in this important task of decryption. Together, with the help of the good rabbi, we can leave that faker Dan Brown far behind as we solve what might be the greatest puzzle of the ages. The truth is out there, and it's ripe for the telling.

Enough is enough

The media today are full of hazy pictures of Paul Bernardo, and offer us, without comment, a selection of the creep's fashionable psychobabble.

Am I the only one who would have preferred, say, a story on famous vegetarians, or a little something on Cadmangate?

There are some people who should be put in holes too deep for the slavering press to plumb. Just sayin'.

The Globe and Mail's Nuremberg Defence

I had missed this final paragraph in a Globe and Mail editorial two days ago on the killing of Robert Dziekanski by four RCMP officers last year. Here, concluding an otherwise unexceptionable critique of the over-use of Tasers by the RCMP, is the sting in the tail:

Another irrelevant exercise is under way with an RCMP homicide investigation of the officers who tasered Mr. Dziekanski. It was reported this week that the investigative team has passed on the file to a Crown attorney with no recommendation on whether charges should be laid. It would be wrong to charge those officers. They were doing what they were trained to do. Their use of the taser was horrifyingly wrong, but the policy within which they work said it was right.

A letter-writer today makes the obvious point about this piece of moral imbecility:

You lost all credibility, however, when, writing of the Robert Dziekanski affair, you stated: "It would be wrong to charge those officers. ... Their use of the taser was horrifyingly wrong, but the policy within which they work said it was right."

An officer's action is right or it is wrong. Actions stemming from police policies are either right or wrong. The officers should be charged and brought before a court of law, where they are free to avail themselves of all the mechanisms of our justice system and to be judged by a jury of their peers.

"Only following orders" has become "only following policy." (How Canadian!) We didn't accept this line of argument sixty years ago, and we shouldn't blithely accept it now.

In my opinion, having reviewed the infamous video countless times, there would appear to be a prima facie case for manslaughter charges at the very least. Millions have now watched four officers brutalize a man until he died, and make no effort at resuscitation. They even refused to remove the dead Dziekanski's handcuffs when paramedics finally arrived. And, not knowing that the officers had been caught on camera, an RCMP spokesman brazenly lied about the incident to the media. The four officers are still on active duty.

For too long, the RCMP has killed with impunity. Mere policy changes won't fix the current hyper-macho RCMP culture, but existing policy shouldn't, in any case, be used to excuse the kind of behaviour exhibited by the uniformed goons in the video. What is needed--urgently--is equal application of the law to those who are supposed to enforce it. What we don't need is a national newspaper irresponsibly invoking the Nuremberg Defence on their behalf.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Omar Khadr: Globe and Mail doublespeak

The Globe and Mail editorial on the Omar Khadr case this morning begins well. The editorialist excoriates the Conservative government for advancing the specious claim that bringing Khadr home would send the wrong signal about our anti-terrorist resolve. The editorial rightly states that both Britain and Australia, whose resolve is unquestioned, have repatriated their own nationals. It goes on to expose the Conservatives' reliance upon a questionable legal authority in the US, one Howard Anglin, a strident far-right ideologue.

But, as always, one has to read to the conclusion. And what the Globe and Mail delivers is this wormy mush:

But, on security grounds, Canadians have a right to wonder what would happen if Mr. Khadr were brought home. While the committee majority suggested various legal avenues, the dissenters are skeptical that those would work. Their skepticism is justified. The best approach is to repatriate him, in the way that Australia did for one of its citizens: as part of a plea bargain that satisfies legitimate security concerns and is acceptable to the United States and to Mr. Khadr and his counsel.

For readers unfamiliar with the allusion, the editorialist is referring to David Hicks, an Australian citizen who converted to Islam in 1999, was captured in Afghanistan by soldiers of the Northern Alliance, and sold to US forces for $1000. He ended up in Gitmo, where, after being confined for some time, he pled guilty in a pre-trial agreement to a single charge of "providing material support for terrorism," was sentenced to nine months imprisonment and promptly returned to Australia to serve it.

In other words, the
Globe and Mail is prejudging the guilt of Omar Khadr, and suggesting an arrangement whereby he might be jailed here at home. Not even the US kangaroo-court abomination known as a Military Commission is needed, it seems: the editorialist has already found Khadr guilty. Yet there has been a parade of revelations about both the material facts of his case and the drumhead "trial" process being used against Khadr, who was, by international convention, a child soldier when he was captured.

Khadr is presently before a "court" established by Bush to escape the strictures of habeas corpus. (The recent Supreme Court ruling on the unconstitutionality of that may yet have some effect on the case.) The former judge, Col. Peter Brownback, issued too many rulings in favour of the defence to satisfy his superiors: the response was to remove him from the case and replace him with someone evidently more pliable. The new judge, Col. Patrick Parrish, has already refused to allow the defence team time to study the implications of the Supreme Court ruling.

Worse, it appears that Khadr might not even have committed the offence of throwing a grenade at an American soldier, which led to his detention in the first place. There have been credible allegations of torture. But the Harper government hasn't lifted a finger in defence of this Canadian citizen, even though all other countries have repatriated their nationals from the Guantanamo prison camp. Indeed, it has been fighting the disclosure of possibly exculpatory evidence every step of the way.

It is simply adding insult to injury, not to mention colossally presumptuous, for the Globe and Mail even to suggest a plea deal for a crime that the young man might not have committed, and to propose that he should be jailed in Canada as a security threat. No less a body than the Supreme Court of the United States has now ruled in favour of habeas corpus. Would it be too much to ask that the Globe and Mail respect that notion as well, not to mention the equally important principle that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty?

UPDATE: Chris Selley provides two detailed commentaries here and here.

UPDATE: (June 21) Unbelievable. (H/t CC)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Hell just froze over...

I agree with
Kate McMillan.

Here's how
one Ontario school uncovers child abuse:

Leduc rushed back to the school. She and Victoria entered a room where they were met by the principal, the vice-principal and the teacher.

Leduc said they advised her that Victoria's educational assistant (EA) had visited a psychic, who said a youngster whose name started with "V" was being sexually abused by a man between 23 and 26 years old. Leduc was also handed a list of recent behaviours exhibited by her daughter.

School principal Brian Tremain -- who referred phone calls seeking comment to the board -- advised Leduc that the CAS had been contacted.



In Canada.

I wish to hell I were making this up.

UPDATE: Commenter John B draws our attention to this National Post story. The money quote:

"The principal looks at me and says, 'We've called CAS.' Then I got sick to my stomach.

"I challenged them and asked if the other children in the class with autism exhibited these behaviours. They said, 'Oh yes, all the time.' But they were not reported to the CAS because they didn't have the psychic's tip."


This morning, just a few bits and pieces from people who go to bed later and are up even earlier than I.

The Blackwater mercenaries embrace Shariah.

Murder in captivity: and we thought prisoners in the hands of Afghans was a problem.

Some choice words for Associated Press: bring it on!

Footprints in the sand, and a missed opportunity.

Obama's image--you decide.

Happy anniversary, Rev. (and Mrs.) Paperboy at Galloping Beaver*--and a great soundtrack to help us celebrate it!

*See comments