Friday, December 17, 2010

Link of the Day: An interesting socialist analysis of the Cancun climate conference: Patrick Bond of the University of KwaZula in South Africa, writing a Socialist Project bulletin, says that Climate Capitalism Won at Cancun, But Everyone Else Loses, as unworkable elite proposals set back the fight against global warming.

(“Most specialists agree that even if the unambitious Copenhagen and Cancun promises are kept (a big if), the result will be a cataclysmic 4-5°C rise in temperature over this century, and if they are not, 7°C is likely. Even with a rise of 2°C, scientists generally agree, small islands will sink, Andean and Himalayan glaciers will melt, coastal areas such as much of Bangladesh and many port cities will drown, and Africa will dry out – or in some places flood – so much that nine of ten peasants will not survive.

(“The politicians and officials have been warned of this often enough by climate scientists, but are beholden to powerful business interests which are lined up to either promote climate denialism, or to generate national-versus-national negotiating blocs destined to fail in their race to gain most emission rights. As a result, in spite of a bandaid set of agreements, the distance between negotiators and the masses of people and the planet grew larger not smaller over the last two weeks.

(“To illustrate, smaller governments were ‘bullied, hustled around, lured with petty bribes, called names and coerced into accepting the games of the rich and emerging-rich nations,’ says Soumya Dutta of the South Asian Dialogues on Ecological Democracy.”)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

UN Security Council Chamber in New York.Image via Wikipedia

Link of the Day: Read an Article from the Canadian newspaper, Windspeaker, outlining 13 reasons why Canada did not merit a seat on the UN Security Council. Most have to do with the Harper government’s shoddy treatment of the rights of native people in Canada and around the world.

(The article is written by four prominent men in the field: Grand Chief Ed John, the North American representative to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Matthew Coon Come, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee), Warren Allmand, P.C., O.C., QC, former minister of Indian Affairs and former president of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, currently teaching international human rights at McGill University, and Paul Joffe, international human rights lawyer.)

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Friday, December 10, 2010

My Log 239 : The film Inside Job is an amazingly detailed analysis of the economic meltdown and who caused it

It was entirely appropriate that on the same day that I watched Inside Job, the remarkable film dissecting the corporate crooks at the heart of the economic meltdown, President Obama should have achieved the biggest sellout of his career in office so far by agreeing to continue with the Bush tax cuts for the richest Americans.

What is left of Obama’s promises during the election? The candidate of change? The man who was going to change how business is done in Washington? The scourge of the lobbyists?

Words fail me. But they did not fail Charles Ferguson, who wrote, directed and researched this amazing film. Relentlessly, Ferguson lays out the facts of the American economic situation in 2008, and with a bewildering series of factual quotes, statements and advice given to the government and the biggest financial institutions by a variety of highly paid officials, he lays the blame for it all where it belongs --- on the people running the government’s supervisory agencies, on the CEOs of the biggest banks, insurance companies and (for want of a better term) institutions whose sole purpose in life, apparently, has been to accumulate more and more wealth into as few hands as possible.

I admit I am not an unbiased observer of these events, or of this film: I have believed since I was a youth that banks and insurance companies stand at the apex of the political devils I would like to see slain. I have quoted many times my high school teacher, who, in a rush of enthusiasm during one class, said to us schoolboys during the last days of the war, “There will be no millionaires in the future, you know. That is over.” A slight mistake of judgment on his part, but one that I wish had proven to be entirely true.

Anyone who, like me, has always believed that the the process of money making more money, is inherently evil, will see in Ferguson’s film the apotheosis of his dreams. Capitalism has finally been revealed for all to see as a system of governance that depends on human greed, pride and manipulation, and is thus inherently at odds with more humane ideologies that take into account that we are our brother’s keeper, and that everyone, by virtue of his or her existence, should have the right to a decent standard of living, to a job, food, clothing and shelter, and enough leisure to allow for the exercise of one’s inherent talents, whatever they may be.

This doesn’t even enter the capitalist mind, preoccupied as it always is with its objective of paying dividends to its investors, and (as the Ferguson film shows so clearly) of maintaining a world free of any interference in the wealth-producing system.

The so-called leaders who established the conditions for the recent meltdown include certainly Reagan, Thatcher, the Bushes, father and son, and Bill Clinton, who put the crown on the developing process of deregulation, and used the occasion to reduce social and welfare benefits payable to those who have fallen behind in the rat-race.

These leaders allowed sharp businessmen to create the instruments of accumulation which, ipso facto, meant a reduction in the amount of created wealth that was available for social benefits. I recall writing about this some years ago when reviewing the remarkable book, The Short Twentieth Century, by the British historian Eric Hobsbawm. Hobsbawm commented on how foolish was the prevailing assumption that a nation that was creating more wealth in the 1990s than it had in the 1970s, was nevertheless supposed to be no longer able to afford social benefits that had been affordable in the 1970s. Why had this happened? Because the private sector, these kings of enterprise who have since plunged the world economy into chaos through their greed, had managed, with the connivance of right-wing leaders, to obtain control over a greater proportion of the wealth created by the work of ordinary citizens.

And they weren’t about to share it….

This is the story so brilliantly told by Ferguson in his film. As one sits and watches this unfolding of the story of corporate greed, and stupidity from the so-called arbitrators and officials who should have been warning of the approaching holocaust, one’s heart literally sinks into one’s boots. How can such a thing have happened? How can we have elected leaders so opaque, so insensate in their right-wing ideologies, as to pull the whole pack of cards down around all of our necks?

Perhaps the greatest shock in the film comes at the end, when Ferguson remarks that the new administration in the United States, rich in promise of change, takes office, and nothing really changes. Why not? He asks. The answer is sick-making. “Because it is a Wall street administration,” he says. Then he runs through the list of personalities who have already appeared in the film as villains in the creation of this chaos, who have been appointed by the U.S. government under Obama to keep on running things. Summers, Paulson, Geithner….the list goes on an on, as it had previously in Michael Moore’s film Capitalism, A Love Story. Moore devoted a whole screen to pictures of the dozens of executives from the one firm, Goldman Sachs, who had been seconded over the years into the ranks of government turning the U.S. government, for many years past, into a sort of Goldman Sacks hierarchy.

The only thing I can think to suggest in face of the revelation of such infamy from government and business, is to recommend a reading of Howard Zinn’s remarkable book, A People’s History of the United States.

Zinn details how the elites in control of American society at the time framed the constitution so that they could control the emerging nation, and establishes that they have been running things ever since, in their own interests. But there has always been a tradition in the United States of vigorous opposition to the control of the elites, on behalf of which many thousands of protesters have died.

Unfortunately, a friend with whom I watched Ferguson’s film kept asking me, “Where is the protest? Where are the protesters?” A question to which I have no ready answer.

Faced with conditions that in former times might well have led to revolution, the people appear to have been bought off, or brainwashed, or something, cowed into silence before what confronts all of us.

Thank heaven, also, for Julien Assange and his heroic decision to publish the reality of government behaviour in the modern world.

I am also reminded of Arundhati Roy’s wonderful conclusion that “the only thing worth globalizing in the modern world is protest.” We should get busy on that job….

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Link of the Day: Julien Assange seems to be victim of a frameup: Read Killing the Messenger: Corporate Media and Politicians v. Julian Assange and Wikileaks by Liam Fox, from, giving details of Assange’s supposed “crime” in Sweden, and of his accuser, a woman with ties to US-financed anti-Castro and anti-communist groups. For more information, see also

Monday, December 6, 2010

Julian Assange at New Media Days 09 in Copenhagen.Image via Wikipedia

Julian Assange, whom Tom Flanagan wants dead

Link of the Day: Vancouver lawyer files a complaint against Tom Flanagan, Harper advisor, alleging Criminal Code violation in call for assassination of Wikileaks' Julian Assange. Read Georgia Straight story, by Charlie Smith.

(The lawyer, Gail Davidson, wrote: "Flanagan managed Harper’s campaign to become leader of the Canadian Alliance party and then of the Conservative party. He managed the Conservative party campaign for the 2006 election and was the communications consultant for the Conservatives during the 2006 election campaign…. (he) was speaking as a man of authority who is called upon to advise the most powerful people in Canada. It is only reasonable to assume his incitement to assassinate Julian Assange may be acted on.")

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Link of the Day: Guess who believed in open diplomacy?: The President of the United States, of all people! But it was Woodrow Wilson, almost a century ago. Read a fascinating article on the historical need for Wikileaks, by Lawrence Davidson, of the Department of History, West Chester University, Pennsylvania

(“Can one imagine circumstances in which diplomatic interaction necessities secrecy? I am sure one can. However, those circumstances should be exceptional. They should not constitute the norm. And, there should be clear criteria as to what constitutes such circumstances. Arriving at those criteria should be part of a widespread public debate over a seminal right–the right to know what your government is doing in your name. At this point you might ask, what widespread public debate? Well, the one that supporters of Julian Assange and Wikileaks are trying desperately to begin.”)

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My Log 238:Crees open Embassy in Nation of Quebec:, though they have always insisted Quebec is not a nation

Oatmeal Rapids on the Rupert River, Quebec, Ca...Image via Wikipedia
One of the magnificent rapids on the beautiful Rupert river, before the Crees sold it to Hydro-QAuebec

It is amusing --- in some circumstances one might call it slightly alarming --- to observe how effortlessly the leaders of the Cree Nation, as the eight Cree villages in Quebec now style themselves, have switched their policy towards the nationalist claims of the province of Quebec.

In the 1990s, the Crees published a groundbreaking legal study of Quebec claims to sovereignity, called Sovereign Injustice, in which one of the major arguments advanced against Quebec separatism was that the province of Quebec, whatever else it may be, cannot claim to be a nation without the agreement of the many non-French-speaking people who live in the province. Of these, the indigenous people are probably the most important, for they have an authentic claim to be the owners of much of the territory of Quebec. The study did not deny there may be a French-Canadian nation, but it did deny that this nation is contiguous with the province of Quebec.

I wrote a popular version of this immense legalistic study, called Never Without Consent which also rested largely upon this argument that Quebec in itself is not a nation, and never will be until the separatist agenda of a minority of the French-speaking population has been embraced by the substantial non-French population of the province.

The most extreme expression of this view is the argument tendered by opponents of separatism that if Quebec does separate, the only land it would be free to take out of Canada would be the narrow strip along the St Lawrence, with which they first entered the Canadian confederation --- the rest, including the vast reaches of the north, being lands to which Crees and others have priority claim.

This became an article of faith with the Cree leadership during the years of their maximum opposition to the repeated damming and dyking of their territory by the Quebec government and its agencies.

But magically, it seemed, this article of faith was abandoned when immense amounts of money were dangled before the leadership, embodied in the so-called Paix des Braves. This is a new arrangement with Quebec under which the Crees have agreed to carry out sections of the original James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, that Quebec has just never bothered to implement, through, it seems, as much as anything, sheer indifference. In future, Quebec will pay the Crees to fulfil these unfulfilled promises themselves --- a startling new interpretation of the meaning of treaty promises.

Suddenly, Ted Moses and other Cree leaders were proclaiming from the housetops --- or should that be treetops or hilltops?--- that they were making a nation-to-nation deal with Quebec. Since Quebec, in the Cree policies, was not a nation, how could this be?

Simple. Merely by saying so. Overnight, without, so far as I know, any debate among the people, Quebec was recognized as a nation by the Crees.

This recognition has been taken a step further in recent days by the opening of what the Crees call an Embassy to the Nation of Quebec. Although the Crees of Quebec are not a numerically significant element in the Canadian political scene, they have established a leading role for themselves in the minds of non-indigenous people, largely through their once-staunch defence of their great, wild rivers against the overwhelming power of mindless technology. Thus, their establishment of what they call an Embassy in what they now call the Nation of Quebec , will not be particularly welcomed by those forces across Canada which believe that a separate
Quebec, torn from the bosom of Canada, will not be in the best interests of this country, nor of this continent.

Among those who have in the past argued that the Crees should be treated decently by authorities that historically treated them with contempt, this sudden switch of allegiance will be added to an earlier switch, when supporters of a free-running, wild Rupert River equally suddenly found themselves side-swiped as the Crees decided to sell their great river to Hydro-Quebec.

Politics, as the old saying goes, does indeed make strange bedfellows.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Link of the day: Nov 29 2010: Read an outline of what is in the Wikileaks disclosures, from The Guardian, one of the few reliable newspapers in the world

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Neutral Zone (along with Basra, Iran, Kuwa...Image via Wikipedia

Link of the Day: The lunacy of human beings: Robert Fisk spells out the costs of war in the Middle East in facts and figures that everyone can understand. Read his article Oceans of blood and profits for the mongers of war from The Independent, London.

(“In all, the Arabs sustained a loss of $620bn because of the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait – almost all of which was paid over to the United States and its allies. Washington was complaining in August 1991 that Saudi Arabia and Kuwait still owed $7.5bn. Western wars in the Middle East, it seemed, could be fought for profit as well as victory.”)

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Log 237: My son, Robert, wins a remarkable acquittal for a street person who never before had a defence mounted for him

I spent almost all of last week in a court room in Toronto, watching one of my sons, Robert, newly qualified this year as a lawyer, at the age of 47, conduct the defence of a man, a street person accused of sexual assault and uttering threats, before a jury --- his first jury trial.

I have known this lawyer since 1963, when we brought him home at the age of 11 weeks from a London County Council nursery, and began the process of adopting him. In all these years since, he has never ceased to surprise me. He began life as a slightly troubled kid, who, like many kids, had no interest in school. He wasn’t much helped by his parents’ somewhat disrespectful attitude towards the schools, and the constant changes he had to undergo as we moved from England to Montreal, to New Zealand, then back to Ottawa.

It was no great surprise that he dropped out of Grade 10, left school, seemed ready to drift, but somehow always rescued himself from that abyss, got himself together by going off to Winnipeg to live by himself, then, having sorted himself out, he qualified at Algonquin Community College as a social worker.

He was successful in that work, gaining plaudits from mothers for his sensitive handling of their retarded children. There were some remarkable signposts along the way: for instance, at 15, he crossed the entire country, without asking anyone for help, working his way across, an act of remarkable resource and courage. After some years of social work in northern Ontario, Halifax and Toronto he decided while walking along the street one day that he had always wanted to be a carpenter, so from that day on, he would be a carpenter. For the next 15 years or so he made his living as a renovation carpenter.

For some reason when well into his 40s he abandoned that craft to study law at Osgoode Hall, of York University, one of the best law schools in the country. He had no trouble passing: I read many of his student papers. Together they constituted a reasoned critique of Canadian society, seen from the point of view of its legal structure.

So here he was last week, barely started on his new profession, but already entrusted with the defence of a man who, it seems, had been in trouble with the law for many years, but had never before had a defence, simply because, when arrested for even minor offences, he always immediately pleaded guilty, just to get it over with.

His client in truth was a street person, a panhandler, one of those unfortunate people with mental problems who have been reduced in our cruel society to making their life as best they can in the streets.

He was accused of sexual assault and of uttering threats, and the Crown, having tired of his string of petty offences, was prepared to put him away for many years. Rob regarded that as an unjust attempt by the Crown, and was determined not to allow it to happen if he could help it.

The doubtful bona fides of the Crown were exposed immediately, when they delivered the accused man, who had been in jail without trial since his arrest eight months before, in an orange prison jump suit. When Rob objected the prosecutor told the court he should have seen to it in advance that the man had street clothes available to him. “I did,” said Rob, “I delivered them to the jail last Thursday. Where are they now? And why have they not been given to him?”

The jury was not yet empanelled by the beginning of the second day when the accused was again delivered in prison clothes. This time, the judge, Mme. Justice Nancy Backhouse, intervened, saying that if this happened on the third day, she would take action and make an order that the clothes be produced.

Meantime, an argument had been going on about the admissibility as evidence of a video taken by police when the accused made his first statement about the alleged offences. Evidence was heard from several police officers about this interview with the accused, and about the moment of his arrest in an apartment house corridor. They said he was told anything he said might be used in evidence against him, and that he had a right to a lawyer, but he said he didn’t want a lawyer, he just wanted to go home. My son argued that the videotape of the interview, in which his client was agitated, and in which he made a number of outbursts, was of little if any probative value in the way of evidence. The defence admitted certain facts, such as the accused had loose pants, but they opposed an effort by the Crown to introduce evidence of identity by police officers. His identity was admitted, in other words, and the defence argued that, if shown to the jury the video record was such as could prejudice his right to a fair trial. Rob never mentioned that his client was suffering from schizophrenia, but said one of the rules was that the accused must have “an operating mind”, which it was not clear his client had. He said, first, his client was not able to appreciate the caution given him, second, that the video would prejudice his client’s right to a fair trial, and third, if it was decided to show any of it, it could be edited, and an edited transcript be given to the jury.

The Crown argued the video contained immense probative evidence of importance to their case but the defence argued that the Crown had no interest in the admissions made by the defence or the stipulations made by the judge, since the prosecutor fought their admission, except by means of the video. But the next morning the judge found for the defence: the video was excluded as evidence admissible to the jury.

This was a major setback for the Crown case. The complainant, a young Jamaican woman with six children, the next day gave her evidence. She said she knew the accused from his hanging around the streets panhandling, she didn’t like him, was scared of him, and on the day in question in the coffee shop at 8 o’clock on a busy morning, he was dirty and in a dishevelled condition. Her evidence was that he asked her to buy him a coffee and she agreed. Then, as they were standing in line, she felt something rubbing across her shoulders, and when she turned around she saw his penis, which almost hit her in the forehead. She said the accused started to yell at her, swearing and threatening her with death.

Rob called only one witness, the manager of the coffee shop, who testified that she heard and saw nothing.

At this point, probably more influenced than I should be by TV courtroom drama, I felt Rob had missed his opportunity to destroy the complainant’s case: he could have ridiculed her ridiculous claim to have been touched across the shoulders by the man’s penis, but he did not make the point, thus, in my view, missing his best chance to win the case.

My view turned out to be incorrect. Without ever appearing to bully the young woman, he did, in his closing remarks to the jury, manage to pour some scorn on her testimony, and scored points by asking why the Crown had not produced any corroborating witnesses. No one, apparently, had seen or heard anything, although the complainant had claimed he was yelling and screaming at her and threatening her direly. He admitted the young woman had seen something, but the question was, what, exactly, had she seen? e admitted the yiung womazn had seen something, but the question was, what had she actually seen?He

I was not there for the closing arguments on Monday, but the jury, seized of the case, after both sides expounded on the evidence and the judge had instructed them on the law, apparently had a bite of lunch, and then within two hours returned with a verdict of not guilty on either count.

This was not only a remarkable victory for my son in his first case before a jury, but was even more remarkable in that it provided a stern and winning defence for a man who had never had a defence mounted on his behalf before. He was a poor, addled man, with mental problems, a panhandler and street person, and a black man to boot. And against all the odds, this rookie lawyer had snatched an acquittal from the very hands of the Crown. A remarkable success, which made me very proud.

The inhumane aspects of our legal system were indicated by the fact that the client, having served eight months in jail awaiting trial, was set free in the lobby of the court, with nothing but the clothes on his back. His wife, separated from him for many years, came and gave him bus fare and a coffee, but, Rob noted, the man’s stint in jail ”has for all intents and purposes left him homeless, with a loss of whatever supports he had before his arrest and no realistic chance of redress of any kind.”

Canadian justice in all it's damnable glory…..
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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Link of the day: Charles Ferguson unveils the real governors of the USA: a duopoly of both parties protecting elite interests. From the Huffington Post
“Far from being in an era of brutal partisan warfare, as conventional wisdom holds and as watching the nightly television news might suggest, the United States is now in the grip of a political duopoly in which both parties are thoroughly complicit. They play a game: they agree to fight viciously over certain things to retain the allegiance of their respective bases, while agreeing not to fight about anything that seriously endangers the privileges of America's new financial elites."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

My Log 236:Intrinsic and extrinsic values: what modern politics comes down to, with the extrinsic guys in the box seat

George MonbiotGeorge Monbiot Image via Wikipedia

A recent article in The Guardian Weekly by George Monbiot has created a deal of interest among the paper’s readers. Monbiot is actually quoting a psychological analysis of political attitudes outlined in an article for Common Cause written, he says, by Tom Crompton of the environmental group WWF (World Wildlife Fund, unless I am mistaken).

Crompton in his article calls into question the traditional idea of politics that all you need do to persuade people is to produce data, which people will then examine and decide their option according to what best suits their interests.

This idea does not explain how in recent times, blue-collar workers in the United States have started to demand that they be left without health care, and that millionaires should not be forced to pay more tax. Also, the United Kingdom appears to be ready to abandon without arousing significant protest, decades of social progress for which people have in the past risked their lives to achieve.

Crompton, in explanation for these puzzling facts, suggests that psychological experiments have shown that people tend to accept measures that they believe will confirm their identity and values, and reject information that conflicts with them.

Social identity, writes Crompton, is formed by what psychologists call intrinsic and extrinsic values. Extrinsic values concern status and self-advancement, and people with a strong set of extrinsic values cherish financial success, image and fame. People with intrinsic values have beliefs that transcend their own self-interest.

Furthermore, he writes, tests in nearly 70 countries show that those who value financial success “have less empathy, stronger manipulative tendencies, stronger attraction to hierarchy and inequality, stronger prejudices towards strangers, and are less concerned about human rights and the environment.”

People with intrinsic values “have more empathy and greater concern for human rights, social justice and the environment.”

Since values are not fixed on our arrival, in other words, they are learned, it goes without saying that right-wing governments, like those of Reagan,Thatcher, Bush, Blair and Brown, tend to solidify extrinsic values, and this is further reinforced by the advertising industry and the media. Advertising, indeed, could be viewed as a ready-made machine for the reinforcement of the sorts of attitudes that result in election of right-wing governments. And a survey of British Social Attitudes over recent decades confirms that there has been a sharp fall in recent decades in public support for policies that redistribute wealth and opportunity.

“Conservatives in the US generally avoid debating facts and figures,” writes Monbiot. “Instead they frame issues in ways that reinforce extrinsic values. Every year, through mechanisms that are rarely visible and seldom discussed, the space in which progressive ideas can flourish shrinks a little more. The progressive response has been disastrous.”

I suppose one could say that the current situation of the media in the US ideally fulfils this analysis: most progressive journalism now is taking place on the Internet, far from the eyes and brains of the mass reader, leaving the mainstream press with its access to the mass of people, free to espouse their right-wing preconceptions in perfect freedom.

Monbiot writes that a response by progressives with their intrinsic values should be to stop trying to bury and hide their values, but to boldly espouse them. “Progressive camapaigners,” writes Monbiot, "should help to foster an understanding of the psychology that informs political change and show how it has been manipulated. They should come together to challenge the forces --- particularly the advertising industry --- that makes us insecure and selfish.”

It has always been the bugbear of social democratic movements that they have had to compromise their beliefs just to get elected, and experience has shown that by the time they get elected, the values they have been elected on have been little if any better than those they have opposed. Thus, democratic socialism has been caught in a self-destructive clamp of its own making.

I have always believed, personally, that politics should be about values, and those who object to the corporate world-view should always make that the centre of their policies. Unfortunately, the people who have been manipulating politics through their mastery of extrinsic values, today hold all the trump cards, as it were, and those of us on the left are left with little space to occupy.

In the United States, recent events suggest the nation is teetering on the edge of what might loosely be called fascism, and I am among those watching from afar, like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a car.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

My Log 235: Canada’s Remembrance Day always celebrates war: one American programme dealt with its real consequences

I am always put off by the celebrations each year on Nov 11 that, in Canada at least, glorify war and those who make it. Some perspective is needed: for example, I am not lost in unquestioning admiration, as I feel everyone is expected to be, for soldiers who have volunteered to become an occupying army in a foreign country, Afghanistan.

This year, this splurge of pro-war sentiment was mitigated for me by an American production by HBO called Wartorn 1861-2010 which documented the sad case of the millions of soldiers who have suffered what used to be called combat fatigue, and currently is known under the more scientifically accurate title of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In other words, it is about soldiers who have been psychologically damaged by what they have seen and undergone on the field of battle. This is the true face of war, and the way such victims have been treated historically is also the true face of war: for many years --- the most recent examples given in this film concern the recent wars ---- people who have reported to their superiors that they were suffering psychological impairment have been told to take a pill, and get back out there like a man.

This movie, produced by James Gandolfini, the actor, gave us soldiers, old and young, who recalled how their lives had been dominated ever since by what they had undergone of the field of battle. Men who, on returning home, simply could not sit down at the table and eat, and then get up and resume the normal lives they had led before. “It gets inside you,” said one old man, “and you can never get rid of it.” These men had lost their jobs, then their wives and families. One reported never having spoken to his sons for 25 years, so disgusted were they to have a father whose sickness could be classified as cowardice.

General George Patton was quoted as having slapped a mentally exhausted soldier and told his officers to get that lily-livered coward back into battle.

The story was told of one young man who, on returned from overseas duty, four months later was arrested for holding up and trying to rob a cab driver, an offence for which he was jailed for six years. Having given his all, everything he had, including his sanity, his mind, he was then jailed, his prospects of living a half-decent life ruined forever. And, said his family, the man who conducted this attack was not heir son, not the son they knew before he went to serve his country, a gentle boy who would never have done anything like that.

Part of the problem, as described by many participants, was that soldiers are taught to kill, and it is something they cannot forget when they return to what was once their normal life.

I remember reading once that though 50,000 Americans had been killed in the Vietnam war, more committed suicide after the war, traumatized beyond endurance by what they had seen, and been subjected to.

Headlines shown in the film indicated that from the first Great War, some 70,000 American soldiers were suffering from what was called then either shell-shock or combat fatigue.

Many soldiers testified to having had continuing nightmares throughout their lives, to being unable to sleep, to flirting with suicide as the only possible escape from the nightmares they had to live with.

I recall from when I was a young boy that I read a book written after the First War World by a New Zealander who was a conscientious objector to war. So brutalized was he by the military posture of forcing everybody to be a man, that when he continued with his determination not to enter the killing machine, he was finally literally tied by a rope and dragged up to the frontline by his heels, by his tormenting soldier guards.

That war, all war, is horrible and indefensible should be clear enough to everyone, including our leaders, and greater efforts should be made to avoid it.

To take only two of the current wars under way: the path to peace between the Palestinians and Israelis has been laid down and should be followed, except for the built-in suspicions of the leaders, mostly of the leaders of the side that finds itself in a position of physical and military superiority; and in Afghanistan, where an indigenous insurgency has arisen to resist the foreign invaders, among whom are numbered Canadians.

We should get out of there, and leave hem to sort out their own problems.

Furthermore, I have to add that the only thing Canada needs armed forces for is to act as peacekeepers whenever the world decides to intervene in one of the many local wars from which we are never free. Otherwise, that aside, I really believe that expenditure of billions of dollars on armies, navies and air forces is a colossal waste of money.

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My Log 234:Two books describe how the boundless admiration for money has brought the Western world to near-catastrophe

I have just finished reading a book called The accidental Billionaires: the Founding of Facebook, a tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal, by Ben Mezrich, Published by Anchor Books, a division of Random House, 260 pps, $18.95.

One of my sons remarked, very truly, that it could have been called The Decline of the Western World, so off-putting is its basic assumption that life is all about making money, and virtually nothing else.

While I am at it I should say that I started reading another book called The Quants: How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed it, by Scott Patterson (a staff reporter at the Wall Street Journal), published by Crown Business, a division of Random House, 337 pps, $33.99.

Of this one --- or at least of the 50 or so pages I managed to plough through --- all I can say is that it takes the basic assumption of the Mezrich book several stages further, glorifying the genius and the stunted, distorted world-view of a number of brilliant American scholars who devoted themselves to, first, beating the gambling systems of American casinos, and second, applying what they learned there to trying to beat Wall street.

These apparently are the people who founded the mysterious hedge funds by which they were able, in the Reagan/Bush/Clinton deregulated financial world in which they were permitted to operate, to make previously undreamed of billions of dollars which contributed nothing to anybody but themselves. Again, this book could be sub-titled, The Decline of the Western World.

These people are given names in each of these books, and they are the captains of the new useless capitalism that has been astride the world, ruining one economy after the other as they have somehow or other seized control of billions of dollars of money that used, in the old days, to be spent on useful investments necessary to put people to work, and keep them working.

Not today: these geniuses, as they are repeatedly described, so far as I could discover, have produced nothing of any value to anybody.

As a guy who doesn’t even believe that money should be allowed to make money ---my naive belief is that only work can create wealth --- these books have made me sick to my stomach, especially for the glowing, admiring tone in which these amoral capitalists are described, with all their obscene flaunting of their personal wealth --- as great in some cases as some nations.

That all this is based on a chimera is indicated by the fact that Facebook, that mysterious entity that has attracted hundreds of millions of users on the Internet, at a time when its revenue was some $150 million, was valued at something like $22 billion on the stock market, or whatever system is used to evaluate these engines of capitalism.

The little kid who had the idea for this “revolution” ---- it is pathetic how often Facebook is described by Mezrich as “a revolution” ---- Holy God, have words no meaning any more? ---- was an apparently dysfunctional geek (I was about to call him a nerd, but remembered the approved word used for him is geek) with a talent for computers, who began by almost being kicked out of Harvard because he copied photos in the year-books (or was that web-sites?) of various groups, an activity that brought the Harvard computers to a standstill. His research, so called, into making his own site was funded by a college friend with money, but once the thing grew and grew, the kid had no compunction about easing the funding friend right out of it (which justifies the title word of “betrayal.”) The initial impetus for all of this was the desire of various socially-challenged Harvard students to get laid.

Does any of this make any sense to anyone? Is it even an approximate description of what actually happened? Frankly, this kind of world, these kind of people, their kind of attitudes and crazy thinking are so foreign to me that I could possibly have not described what they have done with any great accuracy.

For the first time in more than a half century of writing, I really feel that I don’t care whether I am describing them accurately or not. It is against this sort of world that the crusade to elect Barack Obama based its profound hope for change. But Obama, instead of attacking the fundamental distortions of this kind of thinking, which brought the world almost to its knees before he was elected, instead appointed the very people who had presided over the economic catastrophe, and they have simply used public money to reinstitute the whole system…

That Obama, though anxious to bring about change, has been unable to move anything substantial in this distorted financial setup, indicates the power that the accumulation of money in so few hands has attained, and this gives us minimal hope for better days ahead.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Link of the Day: UN will be judged on whether it upholds Palestinian rights, says Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967, in his report to the United Nations General Assembly on 20 October. Read his report here.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

James Petras at an Axis for Peace eventDr. James Petras Image via Wikipedia

Link of the Day: American sociologist James Petras writes that the Left and Centre-Left political regimes in the Western world are “paying a high electoral price for sacrificing the working class in order to save the bankers,” as they have been doing in face of the economic meltdown. Read his article The Democratic Party Debacle and the Demise of the Left-Center Left: A Worldwide Trend.

“The November 2, 2010 electoral debacle of the Democratic Party in the US cannot be solely ascribed to the failed policies of President Obama, the Congressional leadership or their senior economic advisers…. The Left-Center Left regimes are paying a high electoral price for sacrificing the working class in order to save the bankers: Obama’s recent electoral defeat is only a forerunner of future losses for the Spanish, Greek, Portuguese Socialists and other L-CL regimes. Their austerity policies have led them to ‘fall between two chairs’: They alienate workers and strengthen the capitalist class, which already has its own ‘natural’ conservative capitalist parties. The ‘hard right’ everywhere is advancing, sensing the debacle of the center-left as an opportunity to deepen and widen the frontal assault on labor rights, social welfare and any semblance of legal protection.”

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Friday, November 5, 2010

My Log 23: Two weeks in Croatia: a remnant of the old Yugoslavia after suffering a nationalist war

View on Dubrovnik (Croatia).Image via Wikipedia

I have just spent two weeks visiting a friend who has lived in Croatia for nearly 40 years. It was my first time in the country --- having been denied a visa to visit Yugoslavia in 1954 when my passport carried the deadly word “journalist” ---- and I confess the impact of being in this country that has been torn apart by unreasoning, pointless nationalisms was rather unsettling.

What caused the Yugoslavian war? Is a rather difficult question to answer. But In Croatia they seem to have no doubt it was caused by an outburst of Serbian nationalism, whose intention was to create a Greater Serbia over the entire territory of Yugoslasvia.

What resulted from it is a mishmash of national borders so that one can scarcely move 10 kilometres from Dubrovnik, where my friend lives, without confronting the need to cross a border into neighbouring Bosnia. People I met referred constantly to “the war”, meaning their civil war, in much the same way as we still refer to the Second World War. But although their conflict was smaller, it was still a real war, and Dubrovnik, a gloriously beautiful little medieval town on the Adriatic coast, was bombed almost to smithereens by attacking forces.

The war was brought to an end some 15 years ago by the so-called Dayton Agreement, establishing separate republics of Bosnia, Croatia and Yugoslavia (Serbia, in fact). Bosnia is divided into a Bosnian-Croat federation and the so-called Serbska Republic, which controls 49 per cent of the state, but which does not, apparently, have control over the state’s borders.The entire war was complicated by differences between various religions, Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim.

More than a million people were displaced in the war, partly by violence and partly by ethnic cleansing, as aggressors captured and burned towns and villages, and forced certain populations to relocate.

Well, this isn’t the place to rewrite all this detail about the settlement, but rather to report on my friend’s reaction to the new arrangements, after living with them for so many years. In her view, “I am so glad to have been here before, when life was so relaxed, when people had a real sense of solidarity and of the collective will, when people would burst into song on the buses, and join to walk the streets singing and dancing. It was beautiful.” In those days, when there was no real competition, everyone had a chance to follow his or her talents, the educational levels (which her children enjoyed) were much higher even than in class-bound nations like England, even actors and artists were provided with a reasonable living and were not under the stresses since introduced by capitalism.

As soon as the agreements were signed, the IMF was introduced, and the new government was ordered to privatize everything, with the result, according to one informant, that “Croatia today owns nothing, everything is owned by foreigners.” My friend said, if you ask people the question, is it better today than before, most people will mutter, “better before.”

Dubrovnik, largely destroyed by the war, has been rebuilt, and is today a city given over entirely to tourism. It is remarkably beautiful, a city of red roofs over white stone houses and buildings, whose narrow, stone-pavemented streets are kept incredibly clean, and in large parts of which no traffic penetrates. You cannot go far in Dubrovnik without climbing hundreds of steps, but my friend deplored the fact that the wide variety of services once available --- barbers, tailors, merchants, shoemakers, fishermen, fruiterers and the like --- have been replaced by a plethora of shops selling only T-shirts to tourists, T-shirts manufactured, for the most part, in China.

On the other hand, as a resident of the central city, and a pensioner, she has free entry to concerts, cinemas, ferries and a wide variety of services for which in our cities we have to pay through the nose (to such an extent that many of these services are in essence denied our impoverished aged).

In one burst of eloquence my friend described a holiday she had taken in the days before the war, to Bulgaria, and how wonderful it had been, how carefree and relaxed had been the Bulgarians, how spiritual and culture-loving they seemed as one moved among them --- it was an altogether different version of life under Communism from anything I have ever read in our public prints, and it came from someone who knew the Western world well and had a basis for comparison.

Today my friend keeps closely in touch with the world mainly through the BBC news every morning, and such programs as Hard Talk, in which various international personalities are grilled mercilessly by an interlocutor. She is also extraordinarily well-read, keeps up to date with the latest books --- had no trouble identifying Life with Pi, for example, and had already read the three volumes of the Swedish sensation, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo--- and she reads every week’s edition of The Guardian Weekly assiduously from cover to cover.

She has three grown children, two of whom having been educated in Yugoslavia, are still living there, surrounded by their own children, all of whom, although still thinking of themselves as in some sense English (although their grandparents were once regarded as Canadians), nevertheless identify with the Croatia that has given them their primary language.

A fascinating experience indeed, to pass some time in this small country, still trying to qualify for membership of the European Community, and to get a sense of the respect given by its people to their national poets, as well as to their contemporary writers, artists and historians.

The generally right-wing tendency of Croatian leaders traditionally was indicated by the fact that memorials to the heroes of the Yugoslavian resistance who drove the Germans from the country in 1945 --- Tito’s Partisans, who contested the country with Michailovich’s right-wing Chetniks ----- have been removed from the streets, to be replaced with statues of heroes from ancient times.

The single institution that made the most impact on me was a museum of war kept by a young New Zealander. He was featuring a superb exhibition of pictures taken by a brilliant Spanish photographer of the Yugoslavian wars, and the permanent exhibits, of earlier wars, were of such quality that, as I remarked to the curator on leaving, one could hardly see the exhibits without remarking, “Never again.” This museum did not glorify war in any of its aspects: its focus was to establish that war is, in the last resort, the final refuge of scoundrels who should never have been admitted to government.

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Friday, October 29, 2010

My Log 232: The book on the Swedish justice system, built around the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: an enthralling and inspiring read

During a visit to Dubrovnik, Croatia (about which, more later) I have spent most of my spare time lying on a hotel bed absorbed in books two and three of this international sensation, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Of course, the second and third books have different names, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and the Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

I had been told by people who had read all of these that the second and third books were not as good as the first; but I beg to differ.In fact, I have found that the entire series, read consecutively, is one of the most remarkable books I have ever read (and I recommend anyone who hasn’t read them to do so immediately.)

Stieg Larsson, the author, was a Swedish leftist who had spent his life involved in left-wing causes which earned him the enmity of the European right. Being in Europe, I have come to appreciate how active this right-wing is, how serious are its threats, how people like Larsson have had to watch their step if they do not want to be victims of assassination by these lunatic right-wing groups.

When I read the first book I thought it exciting, and intriguing, because of the improbable girl who lay at the centre of the book, this wafer-thin, tiny girl with the computer brain, the photographic memory, the immense skill as a hacker into other people’s computers, and this unlikely physical brilliance which enabled her to overcome attacks by even the most brutal of male attackers.

I thought her intriguing, but unlikely, a figment of the author’s imagination, of course, but not someone we would ever be likely to meet in real life.

The second and third books fill out this character, provide a different perspective on her, and finally get us all on her side, as her victimhood is established. She has, from the first, been the victim of the State, of men in positions of authority who have taken advantage of her, and, because they wanted to keep secret the identity of her brutal father (a defector from the Soviet Union, later a major criminal in Sweden) a child who was regarded as an inconvenience to be dispatched to whatever holding cell was available. So, as a child, she was strapped down to a table for 380 days out of her two year confinement, declared to be incompetent, declared to be mentally ill, psychotic and violent, and given up as a hopeless case,

Eventually, freed, she showed herself in Book I to have remarkable talents as a researcher, to be a person of high morality, but with certain built-in phobias that prevented her from reacting to any persons of authority.

The third book, by far the best, in my estimation, described a sort of denouement to her life: her father, and his son, a brutal person who does not feel pain immediately, pursue her with the intention of killing her. She gets the better of them temporarily, but then her brother fells her, apparently kills her, buries her, and only gradually, as she begins to breathe again, she digs her way out and resumes her quest in life. Meantime, the journalist who has supported her in the earlier works, but whom she does not want to have anything more to do with, continues his research into the people who have persecuted her throughout her life, and uncovers this secret agency within the secret service.

This is another superb aspect of the book. I spent more than half my life as a working journalist, and I have always been cynical about the position that journalists think they occupy within society. I never felt at ease working for a private company, and I found that the newspapers, most of them at least, were run by incompetents, and were kept afloat simply by the continuing inflow of advertising that scarcely needed any management to keep going.

Claims by journalists to virtues of various kinds I have always discounted and sneered at. But in this book the workings of at least two, and quite a few more actually, honest journalists, not intent only on getting the story, but on getting a story that will clean up the underbelly of Swedish life, these are portrayed in minute detail, and I found the description utterly inspiring and absorbing. I have never struck anything like it in literature (or in life) before, and it has almost caused a revision in my prejudices about journalists. These people protected their sources, as so many journalists do in our society from time to time; but they did it in a context informed by the overall societal effect on what they were doing.

Finally, there is a longish description of a court case in which the girl is accused of many things, and her lawyer lays bare, one strand after another, the lies and prevarications and misjudgments, and incorrect decisions, and brutal misogynism of so many experts, and civil servants: an enthralling scene almost enough to give me faith (for the first time) in the possibility of a justice system).

I urge any of you who have not read these books to undertake them: they are of 800 to 500 pages in length, but are worth every moment you spend on them.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Link of the Day: A terrible article about the appalling condition of Haitians: Nine monhts after the quake a million Haitians slowly dying

“The Associated Press reports only 2 percent of the rubble has been removed and only 13,000 temporary shelters have been constructed. Not a single cent of the US aid pledged for rebuilding has arrived in Haiti. In the last few days the US pledged it would put up 10 percent of the billion dollars in reconstruction aid promised. Only 15 percent of the aid pledged by countries and organizations around the world has reached the country so far.”

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Link of the day: Johan Galtung, the remarkable Norwegian environmentalist, ruminates on routes to peace in a fascinating recent article

“…the four most belligerent countries in the last centuries, measured by participation in wars divided by number of years of existence, are the United States of America, Israel, the Ottoman Empire and the United Kingdom (England). Their democracies and human rights have not impeded enormous aggression, including, indeed, in the void left behind after the Ottomans.”

“…China has made giant steps forward…lifting 1991-2004 400 million from misery into lower middle class living. They follow the East Asian development theory and practice of Japan, Taiwan, South Korea: first distribution and infrastructure under authoritarian conditions, then economic growth and “opening up”. That is where civil and political human rights enter. China has long been in that phase as evidenced by 30 million traveling abroad annually, and returning. And annually, say, 80 000 open revolts about deficits of many kinds in an incredibly dynamic country.”

Monday, October 11, 2010

My Log 231: Guitar virtuoso virtually unknown in his native Canada: “Who he?” asks Redd Volkert

Quite possibly Redd Volkert is the greatest guitarist Canada has ever produced. I suggested that to him on Saturday, when I again had the privilege of hearing his astonishing virtuosity on his instrument during a quick visit to Austin, Texas, the self-styled music capital of America. “Oh, no,” he said in his self-deprecating way. But when I added that he is virtually unknown to Canadians, he laughed heartily and said, “Who he?”

Volkert was just back from yet another trip to Australia, where they seem to appreciate him more than does his native country, and if ever I saw a man comfortable in his art, master of his instrument, totally at peace with and enjoying what he was doing, it was Volkert in this performance.

He plays most Saturday afternoons in the Continental club, that dark grungy hole that I always call “the world’s greatest night club,” with a group of young musicians to whom he gives plenty of opportunity to strut their stuff, notably a remarkable keyboardist called Rick Harnett, whom I have heard playing behind all manner of artists in Austin over the years, always finding the perfect way to pick up whatever genre of music is on the programme.

Redd is also a regular member of Hey Bale!, a sort of country group (in fact, most critics say they are the last exponents of the old, real country music) whose gig at the same club every Sunday night always pulls in a packed house of aficionados who love the music and are keen to show off their dancing expertise.

It’s when I hear stuff like this that my anti-Americanism takes a rest. As someone remarked in an article recently, being critical of American politics, as well as many aspects of the American way of life, doesn’t mean that you don’t like jazz, aren’t enraptured by Nina Simone, or astonished by Ben Shahn or Jackson Pollock. The United States is a country that encapsulates the best and worst of life. How could a nation that was capable of producing Louis Armstrong have lived so long with a social system that stopped non-white people from drinking from the same tap as whites, or sitting at the same restaurant, or staying in the same hotels, or living in the same part of town, or a million other like barbarities.….

Indeed, how could a nation that has produced such great writers and artists as Melville, Hawthorne, Faulkner, Hemingway, and countess others, have elected George W. Bush as president, or Ronald Reagan? And how could a nation that, setting all that history behind it, has managed to elect a black president, have so consumed itself in bitterness that there seems to be a very real possibility that pretty soon the crazies will be running the asylum?

The trouble with the United States social system is that the people of wealth not only are running things, as they have always done, but that nowadays they have begun to use that wealth in such a fashion as to exclude the interests of the majority of people who are not wealth-owners. The evidence is mounting: a terrible disaster seems to be in the offing. The wealth-owners control everything, media, opinion, universities, research, culture, the political process, and, once again, opinion, opinion, opinion. They are in such a position of power that they have begun to brainwash the entire population, which has apparently fallen only too easily for their ceaselessly repeated homilies masquerading as politically unchallengable facts. To get sensible government back out of their grasp is not proving to be easy. No one with wealth is ever ready to give it up voluntarily, or the privileges that go with it.

No, it’s not the entire population that’s been brainwashed: my nervousness about what seems to be building in the United States, momentarily got the better of me there. There remain many, many people, as there have always been, who resist the power of money. It has always been a nation of heroic dissenters. But the mainstream media these days is able to ensure that expressions of this dissent do not reach the majority of people in such a way as to rouse them to action. It seems that even the tradition of dissent is gradually sinking into irrelevance as the crazies begin to take over.

Austin in an interesting anomaly in the United States, capital of a raw-boned Republican state whose citizens seem to value their iconoclasm, their guns, their macho myths to such a degree that they are normally classified by outsiders as rednecks. Yet Austin is a town of liberal instincts exercising most of those good American qualities referred to above. Not only the superb musicians give the town its quality, but it is also a centre of high-quality research in its several universities; the city seems to be ahead of the game in such essential items as acknowledgement of climate change and the need to get our technologies under control, and it is a centre of high-tech industry.

In addition to taking in the Continental club during my five-day visit, I made another visit to the splendid Blanton museum of fine arts kept by the University of Texas, where works by many of the greatest artists of the United States and Latin America are to be found alongside an extensive exhibition of ancient masters from Europe.

Particularly I wanted another look at the large exhibit from 1987 by Cildo Meireles, a Brazilian artist, called Mission (How to Build a Cathedral). Since it is such a direct critique of the Catholic Church and its work in Latin America, I thought it might have been removed since I saw it a few years ago, in the current white-hot drive by the crazy right-wingers for power. But it is still there. Meireles has erected a sort of city square on the floor of one exhibit room, filled the square with 600,000 pennies, representing the economic forces behind the missions, overhung by a ceiling containing 2,000 hanging cattle bones (representing destruction of agriculture, and perhaps other things as well?), the two forces joined by a long, thin layer of altar wafers (800 of them, one on top of the other), the ensemble representing a direct piece of socially conscious art that one would not think popular in the current climate.

Other major works by Meireles includeThrough (1983-9), a labyrinthine structure which invites the visitor to walk across plates of broken glass; and Babel (2001), which is a tower of radios, each just audible and tuned to a different station to evoke resonances of the Tower of Babel in the Bible.Following the military coup in Brazil, Mereiles in 1970 developed a political art project which aimed to reach a wide audience while avoiding censorship called Insertions Into Ideological Circuits. This was achieved by printing images and messages onto various items that were already widely circulated and which had value discouraging them being destroyed, such as banknotes and Coca-Cola bottles (which were recycled by way of a deposit scheme).

There was one peculiar thing about this museum: they apparently can’t count. Not years, anyway. They charged me the full adult price of $7 entry, ignoring the evidence of my advancing years, which should have earned me a $2 remission. Are these guys just trying to flatter?

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