Friday, November 27, 2015

My Log 492 Nov 27 2015: Evening of film on Snowden, plus four experts railing against the surveillance state, leaves me with the ambiguous feeling that Ronald Reagan is watching from the wings, chuckling

Dwight D. Eisenhower photo portrait.
Dwight D. Eisenhower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Official Portrait of President Ronald Reagan.
Ronald Reagan. Chuckling from the grave? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Ronald Reagan's casket, on a horse-drawn caiss...
Ronald Reagan's casket, on a horse-drawn caisson: BUT NOT YET DEAD? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The seal of the U.S. National Security Agency....
The seal of the U.S. National Security Agency. credit: Wikipedia)
English: Portrait of Milton Friedman
 Milton Friedman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I finally got to see the ground-breaking film Citizen Four, made by Laura Poitras about Edward Snowden, and those fateful days when he sought and found  friendly journalists he believed he could trust to release the documents he was determined the world should see. These documents revealed for the first time that the National Security Agency in the United .states is collecting virtually every phone call or communication  made by anyone to anyone else, anywhere,  and storing it for later use --- a level of surveillance that no one had any idea was being undertaken, and one for which no citizenry anywhere has ever given permission.

Following the excellent film, which showed Snowden to be a remarkably self-composed young man  of only 29, eloquent and firm in his conviction that this information had to be made public even if it meant that he himself would be pilloried and pursued possibly for the rest of his life --- four local experts on surveillance, encryption, anonymity, and human rights made presentations about the dangers facing our society unless we are able to rein in these officials and politicians who have stoked up fears of terrorism as a means of pushing through their nefarious schemes to control everybody.

I did not disagree with anything these people said, but I was still left with an ambiguous feeling about the whole evening.

I was brought up in a social democratic society in the 1930-40s, a society which, for fourteen years elected and re-elected every three years a government devoted to the welfare of its citizens. Those of us who supported that government, and the Labour movement that put it into power, did not have this currently fashionable idea that the government is a beast that is out of control. On the contrary, there was among us a recognition that, if what we want is a society equalized in its incomes and opportunities for everyone, then the only institution capable of achieving that equalization is the government. This was very much the same attitude that motivated the Rooseveltian New Deal in the United States, providing an ethic which basically held solid through the war years, and even, in the US, through the reign of the conservative-minded Dwight Eisenhower. Similarly, such an ethic held sway where I was brought up throughout the war and after, and when I left that country in 1950, the year after the election of the first Conservative government in twenty years, there were said to be only four registered unemployed in the entire country.

The idea that the government is not the solution, but the problem was first enunciated by the half-barmy failed actor, Ronald  Reagan, whose idea of the economy was described once by George Bush, snr, as “voodoo economics.”  I can still remember the dismay I felt as I listened to a recital of the cuts that Reagan made to the United States government, slashing this and that, putting into the dustbin many of the programmes that had been built to support the poorest in American society.

This was the beginning of the triumph of unrestricted capitalism. Reagan’s view of government was gleefully seized on by the large phalanx of capitalists and the “experts” that they hired from academia. Naomi Klein, in her superb book The Shock Doctrine has  documented the influence obtained in the following decades by the so-called “Chicago boys”, a flood of economists educated by Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago, to believe the  reactionary, backward  and until then largely discarded idea that the capitalist economy --- which everyone has to admit is the system best capable of producing goods --- is best left to itself, obeying only the dictates of the market. This was a shorthand way of saying that the economy should be handed over to speculators, because these are the people who dominate the fluctuations of the market.

We have since had graphic demonstration of the excesses to which this doctrine has led, by 2008 throwing the entire global economy into a state of crisis from which only massive help from the public purse rescued it --- and by massive I mean trillions of dollars, poured into supporting the biggest banking systems ever created, the famous institutions that have since been described as “too big to fail.” If there had been a countervailing system of thought in defence of the public, these trillions could have been expected to have signalled a return to control of these institutions in the public interest. But according to the latest information, these banks have taken only one lesson from the experience --- that they got away with it, and have returned to their normal business methods.

With this in my background, you can perhaps begin to understand how ambivalent I felt as I listened to government being lambasted throughout the night, and I began to wonder how they have managed to get away with these monstrous activities of surveillance, which any informed public would have quashed at birth. The solution that sprang to mind is relatively simple.

It is that, since all governments in the modern world are now dominated by the wealth-owners, to an extent previously unheard of, this must be part of their agenda for everyone,  that every person on earth should willingly acquiesce in falling under the total control of the people who own the wealth. That we have all just sat here and watched it happen is a tribute to the unremitting propaganda emitted by the media of information which, of course, like almost everything else, are under the total control of the wealth-owners. Indeed, this idea that governments are ipso facto, the enemy, no doubt explains the recent spectacular fall in the number of people who even care to vote for or against their  governments when the time arrives for an election.

Because the prevailing feeling is that the structures confronting us are so immense that “there is nothing we can do about it, whoever wins the election.”

In a sense, then, perhaps I could suggest that the four presenters last night --- respected academics all of them --- were actually spouting a disguised form of Reaganism. After the show was over, I had the wish I had had the courage to put that to them, along with my whole argument, just to see what they would have said.

I have to admit that Canada recently turned back one of these obscurantist governments, and elected a young leader vowing to put us back on the right path (whatever that is). But the government he leads is a Liberal government, and this party, although considerably better than the hated Conservatives, seems to have built into its DNA a sort of waffling indecision, usually believing in neither one thing nor the other, willing from time to time to do some decent things when under pressure --- the creation of the National Health Service being a highly-prized  example --- but just as willing to go along with what more powerful governments (I am thinking of the United States) tells them is in the best interests of everyone.

Right now, our young leader is balanced in a fascinating position. The proof will be in how he reacts to the bald, terrible facts about how very far we have progressed along the road to a surveillance society; and how he reacts to the secretly-negotiated Trans Pacific Partnership, which can be seen, now that it is exposed to the public, to be nothing more than a deal organized by the United States, and designed to strengthen the position of United States corporations.

I am not optimistic for meaningful change in these two examples: I expect, although I certainly do not hope for it, that the new government will simply go along with what has been proposed by its predecessor.

Sorry not to have a more hopeful message…..

Monday, November 9, 2015

My Log 491 Nov 9 2015: Figures for anglophone and francophone education recall for one family the trauma of trying to adjust almost 50 years ago

A fascinating article in La Presse this morning by Richard Y. Bourhis of the department of psychology at UQAM, outlines the current, that is to say the actual, state of balance between the francophone, anglophone and allophone communities in the province of Quebec, using figures provided by the provincial Ministry of Education, Leisure and Sport. The figures compare numbers of students between 1972 and 2012, and the author recalls that the Charter of the French Language (Bill 101) was brought in in 1977, the aim being to consolidate once and for all the state of the French language in this, its North American redoubt.
I recall Premier Rene Levesque at the time saying he felt somewhat humiliated to have to bring in such measures as to deny to anglophone children whose parents had not been educated in Quebec, entry into anglophone schools, and to have to pressure children whose native tongue was neither English nor French to study in French.
There were those at the time who argued that these measures were no longer necessary, because the French language had already been rescued from its decline by the immense changes brought about in Quebec life by the Lesage government, elected in 1960, and the minority communities, including the anglophones, so it was argued, were already accepting the need to learn French in increasing numbers. Be that as it may, the political need for the Bill was still there, as powerful groups were propagating the need to diminish the still-powerful role of English in the province. And there seems now to be almost total acceptance of Bill 101 and its consequences.
I was living in Montreal from 1968 to 1975, having just returned from an eight-year assignment as the London correspondent of The Montreal Star, equipped with a family of three small boys all born in England, to whom was later added a girl born in Montreal.
On arrival we put the children into the nearest Protestant public school (the formal description of schools for the anglophones) whose students were made up of 53 per cent Greek, 17 per cent Moroccan Jews, 14 per cent Chinese and 10 per cent anglophone. They were doing things in that school, such as teaching children who didn’t know a word of English their new language, that would have freaked out most schools in Britain had they been confronted with the same needs. In those days I was very critical of schools and the schooling they provided, and after a year, dissatisfied, we took our two younger children out and decided to drop the children into the French, Catholic system, even though we were neither French nor Catholic.
We thought we were responding to an urgent political need in the community, but when we approached the nearest elementary school, they refused to take our children. This was an aspect of a rather deplorable xenophobia common among a certain strata of the francophone Quebeckers of the time (they also would not take the Moroccan Jewish kids, even though they were already French-speaking).  For a year my wife, a teacher, taught the two younger children at home, and a year later as pressures to open up their intensely religious system, staffed by nuns and brothers, mounted, the Catholic school authorities agreed to admit all three boys, who were, basically put at the back of the room, ignored by the nuns, and forced to fend for themselves. There were only six anglophone children in the school.
They did learn French, but from the other children in the playground. That their system was opening up was indicated by their establishing a year later a special class for immigrant children, where their special needs were looked to --- although to tell the truth, my children were, for the most part, treated by the teachers as if they were stupid, which has not prevented them from becoming, successively, after many difficult years, a musician, a criminal lawyer, and a screenwriter.
Prof. Bourhis writes that the number of anglophone students in Quebec declined by 41 per cent from 256,000 in 1972 to 105,000 in 2012, a reflection of the departure from Quebec of 300,000 anglophone citizens following the passing of Bill 101. An additional factor, of course, was that the anglophone system was no longer permitted to shore up its numbers with francophone, allophone and immigrant students, as they had been accustomed to do. Of course, over these same years, the number of francophone students also declined by 36 per cent, even in spite of the addition of allophone and immigrant children who before went to the English-language schools. In 1972 85 per cent of the allophone students went to the English schools, whereas by 2012 that number had fallen to just under 14 per cent.
Prof Bourhis’s conclusions may surprise many: he says that because of the enthusiasm of anglophone parents for immersion French classes, and even for (like us) enrolling their children in the French schools, today anglophones are the most bilingual section of Quebec students, noting that in 2015 the scores obtained in French in provincial examinations by students from anglophone schools were 9.4 per cent higher than those obtained by students from the francophone schools, a fact that, he remarks “demonstrates that the anglophone schools and educational commissions also contribute to the development of the French fact in Quebec.”
Notably, he adds, community interest seems to be higher among anglophones than francophones, since  in 2015 17.26 of eligible anglophone voters voted in elections to the anglophone school boards, compared with only 4.85 per cent of francophones who voted in their similar contests.
Even in that tiny section to which my family attached ourselves in 1969, Prof. Bourhis noted that in 2012 some 21,835 anglophones were enrolled in francophone schools. So maybe we could argue that we were slightly ahead of the game. But unfortunately our move had rather negative consequences for our children, since they were thrown into an environment in which they knew not a word of French, and were not given much help from the religion-oriented teachers in learning it.

Friday, November 6, 2015

My Log 490 Nov 6 2015: Poppy Jackson, sitting naked as a jay bird on a roof, occupying “deterittorialized space.” An explanation of sorts of a piece of performance art

English: Photograph of Toynbee Hall circa 1902...
Photograph of Toynbee Hall circa 1902,which has nothing to do with this article (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Performance of an artist in Tokyo.
Performance of an artist in Tokyo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Amarillo 7
More performance art, somewhere or other (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Living statues, performance art "...
Living statues, performance art called "Fried eggs". Europe Day celebration in Ukraine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A week or so ago a naked woman sat for four hours in the cold weather of London, England, on the roof of a building. She apparently did not arouse much interest from people who spotted her, which must have been disappointing for her, because she was later revealed to have been a performance artist at work.
Her name was Poppy Jackson, she was sitting on the roof of a business called Toynbee Studios. I immediately, speaking from my deep ignorance, confused this studio with Toynbee Hall, one of the well-known centres in East London of charitable works, which --- again, out of my deep ignorance --- I had always thought had some connection to Arnold J. Toynbee, whose huge book A Study of History was one of those that, as a 19–year-old struggling with my immense lack of knowledge, I tried vainly to read and to adopt as my entry into the modern world.
As it happens, Toynbee Hall was founded in 1884, and named after an earlier Arnold Toynbee, also an historian, who died just the year after the Hall was founded. This is somewhat irrelevant to Poppy Jackson’s noble vigil on the roof of Toynbee Studios, an entirely separate place that  is described as a place sympathetic to the work of artists established by something called Artsadmin, an organization I had never heard of either, but which turns out to be a publicly-funded place that is pretty central to what is happening in the City of London, culture-wise, if I may use the phrase.
Anyway this circumlocution aside, Poppy Jackson’s vigil on the roof gave rise to a classic example of what I always call “intellectual crap”, one of those explanations, almost completely incomprehensible to the ordinary bloke, that crop up from time to time, and deserve to be exposed and brutally put down.  I have for the moment appointed myself as the exposer.
“This piece,” (of Performance Art), explains Toynbee Hall in a release about Poppy’s work in sitting on the roof, “investigates questions relating to temporality, the body in site, representation and gender through consideration of the use of the body in performance as an activist practice.”
Hang on there fellas, was that “the use of the body as an activist practice,” you just wrote?  I see…. The use of the body as an activist practice…. You better continue, old man,  I am not quite with you so far.
"The work interrogates the boundaries,” the press release continues in elucidation, “access points and interaction between 'interior' and 'exterior' categories.”
Got that, fellas?  The access point and interaction, not to mention the boundaries, “between interior and exterior categories” that are under interrogation.  So this is Poppy, sitting up there naked and freezing, under interrogation just by being there, as to her interior and exterior categories.
The explanation continues (I am hoping with some easier clues as to its meaning): “Physical action
dually presents the female body within a process of claiming space, whilst attempting to exist itself as deterritorialised space."
Wow! I finally got it. It’s the old duality that has risen its troublesome head, bothered on this occasion by the female body sitting up there claiming the space, naked as a jay bird, while at the very same time trying its best to occupy a “deterritorialised space.”
You see what I mean about your intellectuals?  That’s just, so-o-o profound. These guys sound like they should be wine writers, a field rich in intellectual meaninglessness where a body can flop about to its heart’s content in deterritorialized space. Right?
I hope so. But meantime, good luck to Poppy. Your career is off to a great start, kid. If I hear of any deterritorialised space that you might inhabit next time, I’ll let you know.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

My Log 489 Nov 1 2015: A journalist does in three weeks what Sir John Chilcot has taken six years not to do --- apportions responsibility for the Iraq war

BlairIraqWarDemo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: At the UN, Colin Powell holds a model...
At the UN, Colin Powell holds a model vial of anthrax, while arguing that Iraq is likely to possess WMDs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: President George W. Bush applauds for...
English: President George W. Bush applauds former Prime Minister Tony Blair after presenting him in 2009, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom during ceremonies in the East Room of the White House. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Hans Blix (pictured above) spoke of his relati...
Hans Blix (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A remarkable piece of journalism has just been achieved by a BBC reporter Peter Oborne, who, wondering why Sir John Chilcot has taken six years to prepare his still-unreleased report on the circumstances in which Britain entered the Iraq war, began to think that he could himself produce the report within three weeks from already-published sources. And he has now done so.
Oborne’s audio report sets out to ask the major questions confronting Chilcot, such as did British Prime Minister Tony Blair lie to Parliament about the mythical Weapons of Mass Destruction which he gave as the reason for the war; was the war legal; did the war in effect increase rather than decease the threat of terrorism around the world; did Blair know that the United States was entering the war to effect regime change in Iraq; and had Blair colluded with Bush in advance  --- almost a year in advance --- to create and execute the war?
On all of these questions except the last one, for which Oborne says there is no hard and fast, unquestionable evidence, Oborne’s report answers an unequivocal yes. Of course, these are not Oborne’s own conclusions but those of the highly placed officials who were involved in all the machinations leading to the war.
These include --- and we hear their own voices on Oborne’s report ---  Dr Hans Blix, Chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), 2000 – 2003; Sir Christopher Meyer, British Ambassador to the United States, 1997 – 2003; Sir Stephen Wall,  European Adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair and head of the Cabinet Office's European Secretariat, 2000 – 2004; Carne Ross,  First Secretary, United Kingdom Mission to New York, 1998 – 2002; and Lady Eliza Manningham-Buller, former director-general of MI5, the British Secret Service, who had already been reported to have told the Chilcot Inquiry, when asked to what extent the Iraq conflict exacerbated the threat from international terrorism, had replied tersely: "Substantially."
Oborne calls into evidence, for example, the 17 lawyers in the Foreign Office, to answer his question as to whether the war was legal --- as United States and British leaders have always claimed. In fact, war is legal in only two circumstances, first, if it is threat to the country, and second, if it has been approved by the United Nations Security Council. Neither of these conditions applied to the war against Iraq,  which did not prevent the British and US leaders from claiming that the UN approval given in 1990 to the first Iraq war following the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein, could be extended all these years later, to cover an additional invasion of Iraq, a conclusion that the lawyers in question evidently considered ludicrous.
Of course it was obvious at the time that the Swedish factotum who was in charge of the inspection of Iraq in search of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Dr. Hans Blix, was not satisfied that sufficient weight was given to the reports of his inspectors --- who carried out 700 inspections in 500 different sites --- to the effect that they had not been able to find such weapons, evidence which was blatantly ignored and lied about by the governments concerned.
The diplomats involved state frankly their view that certain factors --- a speech by Jacques Chirac was one of them --- were misrepresented in the run-up to the war --- although one of these diplomats rather charmingly says, when asked if Blair had lied on a particular issue, “I am a diplomat and do not use that kind of language,  but it was a misrepresentation, yes.”
As to the advanced conspiracy between Blair and Bush to bring on the war, Oborne has to conclude such theories were all based on a meeting in Crawford, Texas, Bush’s ranch, in April 2002 at which only Blair and Bush were present. The only evidence Oborne can produce is that the next day Blair made a speech in which he began for the first time to refer to regime change as an objective. Not enough hard evidence, Oborne concludes, to make a decision one way or the other.
But did he take into account the recent release of e-mails received by Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, which included one from her predecessor Colin Powell to George Bush about this April 2002 meeting, which establish beyond doubt that the war was discussed at this meeting almost a year before the war was launched? Powell tells Bush that Iraq will be among the subjects Blair will want to discuss with him on his visit, and he adds:
“Blair continues to stand by you and the U.S. as we move forward on the war on terrorism and on Iraq,” writes Powell to Bush.  “He will present to you the strategic, tactical and public affairs lines that he believes will strengthen global support for our common cause.”
A second memo drafted by the U.S. embassy in London, suggests how vigorously Blair was propagating the war:
“PM Tony Blair has made publicly clear his commitment to a more proactive Iraq policy. Reflecting the polled sentiments of voters, however, a sizable number of his Labour Party MP’s remains at present opposed to military action against Iraq. A majority indicate they would change their minds if they had proof of Iraqi involvement in September 11 or another terrorist atrocity. Some would favour shifting from a policy of  containment of Iraq if they had recent (and publicly usable) proof that Iraq has WMD/missiles or that Iraq’s WMD status has changed for the worse.”

Someday someone will probably do a study of how threats of terrorism have been ratcheted up every time any politician in power wants to push through some anti-terrorist, or anti-civil liberties measure. Certainly after this Crawford summit, a huge campaign was launched complete with threats of terrorist action while British government officials continued to accuse Iraq of having weapons of mass destruction that the UN inspectors had already failed to find.
It is to be hoped this BBC report will jog along the publication at long last of the Chilcot inquiry, so that the crimes of the leaders can be placed squarely at their door.