Archive for the ‘Civil Liberties’ Category

Stephen Harper: a billion bucks quickly wasted.

June 28, 2010

Go, Canada!  Splashing out an inexplicable billion dollars on a massive security fence and 20,000 heavily armed cops to cower behind it while a scruffy handful of anarchists wreck downtown Toronto!  Me, I’m thinking it would have been cheaper to build a twenty dollar fence and just have local cops who would have been on duty anyway cower behind it in their regular attire.

On the other hand, there is an up side of the ridiculous level of “preparedness” a billion dollars supposedly bought:  there’s no way for a thinking voter to avoid the suspicion that the riot was purposefully ignored (or intentionally provoked) in order to justify the breathtaking price tag of fulfilling Harper’s authoritarian aspirations for a weekend.  Given the New Government of Canada’s unprecedented fondness for carefully staged PR opportunities, that’s the theory I’m going with until further notice.

Because sensationalist photos of burning cop cars and smashed windows are likely to dominate most mainstream coverage (as intended, one can’t help but suppose), I want to make a point of remembering the type of direct action the vast majority of dissidents were there to engage in, photo courtesy of the Star.

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Citigroup tells it like it is.

June 14, 2010

We watched Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story the other night.  As I often do with the contentious Mr. Moore’s films, I found sources to validate a few scenes that caught my eye.

First stop, Citibank’s “plutonomy report”.  In Moore’s film a few appalling sentence fragments from this document are thrown in with some flashy, rapid cutting and a lot of voice-over.  That would be a great way to hoodwink the audience if you felt like misrepresenting the document.  There does seem to be a bit of contextual fantasy (I don’t believe this memo was “confidential”.   It appears to be promotional material for a basket of investments in businesses that cater to the rich.)  However,  the content of the document is pretty much as Moore makes it sound: delight at the fact the rich are getting richer and everybody else is getting poorer.  Not only that, but wealth disparity has become so massive that nobody really matters any more except the rich, economically speaking.

The point here, again, is that the rich are feeling a great deal happier about their prospects, than the “average” American. And as the rich are accounting for an ever larger share of wealth and spending, it is their actions that are dictating economic demand, not the actions of the “average” American.

It’s no surprise to discover rich people are really excited about getting even richer, but it is a major deviation from industry approved propaganda to openly acknowledge that this is happening at the expense of the middle and lower classes.  It’s also rare to hear a Wall Street lobbyist cheer the fact that trade globalization almost entirely benefits wealthy capitalists while suppressing wages for everybody else.

This irritates me to no end, frankly.  If I were to walk up to your average Canadian conservative and say “economic globalization suppresses the standard of living for everyone, everywhere primarily to benefit of the richest people on earth” they’d call me a leftist lunatic and trot out the Fraser Institute approved theorem that if little third world kids weren’t chained to their sewing machines for 26 hours a day they’d be much worse off, really.  And yet here is Citibank happily publishing documents asserting exactly that.

…we believe that the rich are going to keep getting richer in coming years, as capitalists (the rich) get an even bigger share of GDP as a result, principally, of globalization.  We expect the global pool of labor in developing economies to keep wage inflation in check, and profit margins rising – good for the wealth of capitalists, relatively bad for developed market unskilled/outsource-able labor.

The risks?

At some point it is likely that labor will fight back against the rising profit share of the rich and there will be a political backlash against the rising wealth of the rich. This could be felt through higher taxation (on the rich or indirectly though higher corporate taxes/regulation) or through trying to protect indigenous laborers, in a push-back on globalization – either anti-immigration, or protectionism

OK!  Great!  Let’s get on with it!  I have a few suggestions:

Re-localize your economy: Support local businesses and craftsmen.  Implement a local exchange trading system (LETS).   Grow your own food and encourage others to do the same.

Do not support exploitative producers:  Support fair trade products and businesses and wean yourself off  plastic pumpkins and cheap t-shirts.  Read the labels and boycott products from countries with inadequate labor standards.  Be skeptical of deals that seem “too good to be true”, regardless of the purported country of origin.  Having worked in the garment industry, I can assure you that labels and customs documents very often lie to get around trade barriers and influence public perception.

Get out of debt (read: indentured servitude).  When in doubt, go without.  In the current pro-capitalist / anti-labor economic climate in Canada, jobs are scarce, poorly compensated and insecure and the Conservative government’s solution (as always) is “deregulation and tax cuts for the rich”.  Do what you can to get some breathing room if your income is suddenly suspended, your debt repayments spike due to some inconspicuous contractual fine print or your wages continue to fail to keep pace with the rising cost of living.

Stop watching the news. With very few exceptions, the mainstream media can not be trusted to present a true picture of what is going on in the world.  The richest people on earth own most of the major outlets and dictate editorial policy.  On top of that, their peers in many industries spend tens of billions of dollars a year to saturate major news outlets with misinformation and propaganda. Sit back and contemplate what you really care about, then find non-profit, non-governmental organizations working on those particular issues (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, Greenpeace, etc.) and read their reports and news releases.

Most importantly, stop voting for centre-right “liberal” parties. There is very little difference between the economic policies of the Liberal and Conservative parties.  Since the Reagan-Thatcher revolution, both mainstream parties in Canada, the UK and the US have been pro-capitalist and pro-globalization, favoring tax breaks for the rich at the expense of public infrastructure and services for the poor.   Don’t be afraid to vote for a candidate that actually has your interests at heart, whether that candidate is an independent, NDP, Green Party or some other manifestation of genuinely liberal sentiment.

Push back.  Tax and regulate the rich.  Demand a greater share of the wealth.   According to Citigroup, we are the only foreseeable threat to the rising income inequality in Canada, Australia, the US and the UK.

Granted, their wisdom is highly suspect.  This document was published in 2006 – shortly before Citigroup went crying to the Federal Government for a third of a trillion dollars worth of taxpayer-funded corporate welfare to save them from insolvency. Moore could have mentioned that, or mentioned that the US government now owns a 36 % stake in the company, or that Citigroup has been removed from the Dow Jones Industrial Average due to “significant government ownership”.  But then it wouldn’t be a Michael Moore film, would it?

Sneering at dissidents: spiritual tonic for the modern bourgeoisie

June 11, 2010

As much as I love David McRaney for the challenge his blog poses to many of my misconceptions, one of his archived posts touches on a subject that winds me up.  It seems to be a cherished myth for those who would prefer not to reflect on the social and ecological cost of their lifestyle choices that there is no escape from the relentless onward march of global capitalism.  There is no rebellion one could engage in that impacts the big picture, no message one can communicate that isn’t fraught with hypocrisy and naivete, no behavior one can exhibit unmotivated by raw self-interest.

In McRaney’s (truncated, emphasis-added) words:

Wait long enough, and what was once mainstream will fall into obscurity. When that happens, it will become valuable again to those looking for authenticity…

You would compete like this no matter how society was constructed. Competition for status is built into the human experience at the biological level

You sold out long ago in one way or another. The specifics of who you sell to and how much you make – those are only details.

The subtext here is that the only way people can ever hope to express “authenticity” is by buying a shitload of pointless kitsch purposely designed for the “authentic” demographic.  Therefore, the story goes, we are all trapped.  There is no escape.

But what about simply being authentic?  It’s way cheaper and more effective than buying a T-shirt that says “I’m authentic!”  It requires only that we make a serious effort to determine what has real, immutable value to us and attempt to conform our behavior to whatever revelations unfold.

Adam Smith’s argument that pure self interest is the ultimate human motivator has captured the imagination of the bourgeoisie to such a breathtaking extent that competing philosophies are no longer seriously considered by most Western pundits, politicos and ideologues.  I suspect the idea is beguiling because, in a world where a minute fraction of the population sits on the lion’s share of the wealth, the notion that we can effortlessly advance the greater good simply by looking out for ourselves absolves us of shame.  If we can also embrace the delusion that it is impossible to free ourselves from selfish concerns, we can ignore claims that when “the self” is taken out of the picture, compassion flows as indiscriminately as rain and ethical behavior naturally arises.  We are not moved to contemplate how different our culture might be if it were structured around compassion rather than selfishness as long as we insist “compassion” is merely a deluded form of selfishness, from which there is no escape.

With the dogma of inescapable selfishness firmly entrenched, activists, dissidents and revolutionaries can be dismissed as childish, petulant attention seekers.  Even if some dissidents might have been partly motivated by lofty concerns to begin with, their message is entirely meaningless if it becomes popular or profitable.

Suffice it to say, I do not share this perspective.  I believe it is irresponsible, inaccurate, immature and empirically unsupportable.  While it’s true that the concept of individual self-interest underpins our current understanding of biological evolution, research makes it clear that selfishness is not our only motivator.  As it turns out, we are hard-wired to experience the joy and suffering of others as if it were our own.

As a dissident motivated by the desire to reduce the suffering of others, it seems obvious to me that the primary psychological force behind most forms of dissident behavior is empathy.  Whether for children laboring in unsafe factories, civilian victims of state violence, displaced or destroyed wildlife in a devastated biosphere or any other organism we believe has the capacity to feel pain or distress, we object because we feel it too.  It seems equally clear that the primary psychological force behind capitalism is indeed selfishness, exactly as its proponents would have us believe.  I have no idea how anyone is able to subvert their inherent capacity to feel the suffering of others when it interferes with their own personal gain, but I take great comfort in the knowledge that the pure selfishness embraced by the most passionate proponents of capitalism is not a universal and inescapable law.

To return to McRaney’s quote, if Ghandi could overthrow the British empire wearing nothing but a home-spun loincloth, surely there is more that is “built into the human experience” than “competition for status” and we have a great deal of choice in how we behave, regardless of how society is structured.  If the human psyche has a greater range of motives than pure self-interest, surely it makes a difference upon which specific values our society is constructed.  We have learned from our own experience that a society constructed on the principle of selfishness behaves selfishly.  It is not a great leap of imagination to propose that a society constructed on the principle of compassion behaves compassionately.

BP blocks press, press calls on public

June 3, 2010

Huffington Post has a slide show of 265 images of the BP spill.  Recommended viewing for those who would seek to underplay the scale of the disaster, but still lacking the gut-wrenching images of suffering wildlife that characterized BP’s other big American fuck-up, the Exxon Valdez spill.  BP will not allow photographers to travel freely in the area, lamely asserting it’s a “safety issue” when it is quite obviously a PR issue.  How can it be a “safety issue” to specifically exclude press from scheduled flights?  It’s either safe or not safe, whether you have a camera or not.  Considering the fact that their contractors have no meaningful safety gear at all, it seems they consider it “safe”.

The San Fransisco Chronicle has called upon the public, including contractors working on the clean-up to please document the disaster during the press black-out, and have written iphone and Android apps to facilitate the easy upload of pictures.

I certainly hope local residents take up the challenge.  The civil damages BP will be forced to pay will be partly based on the perceived scale of the ecological impact.  To allow them to downplay the impact on wildlife is to cheat local communities out of future compensation.

It must be said at this point I can not fall asleep any more without fantasizing about Tony Hayward, who thinks he’s the victim, being pilloried in some public square and repeatedly kicked in the crotch, or Sarah Palin, who blames environmentalists for the spill, being  made to bob for apples in a vat of crude oil to get a sense of what it’s like to be a pelican these days in the gulf of Mexico.  It brings me a sense of peace.

Update: Greenpeace is hosting a logo rebranding contest and got me all inspired.

BP's new logo

Benjamin Netanyahu, thug and proud of it.

May 31, 2010

Good news for pirates: According to Netahanyu, international waters are Israeli jurisdiction.  Not only that, but if you board a ship and slaughter the unarmed civilian passengers in international waters, it is an act of “self-defense“.

I’m sure there are a few boatloads of relieved Nigerians out there today.

In other news, Canadian Prime Minister Harper expressed his regret that Israel’s unprovoked massacre of a humanitarian aid convoy in international waters ruined what could otherwise have been a great photo op for Harper.

“I’m sorry this has coloured this (visit) but delighted you were able to join me at least last night and today.”

The real tragedy, according to Harper?  Wobbly message control.

And they wonder why certain parties might yearn to see the whole stinking edifice of Israel pushed into the sea.

Happy quit facebook day!

May 31, 2010

Hat tip to Dale at Faith in Honest Doubt for reminding me what a clueless dickhead Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is when it comes to understanding internet privacy concerns.

In his own words:

Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity

No, Mark.  Having two identities for yourself is an example of “having a job”.  Would it be great if nobody had to have a job?  Hell, yeah, sure it would.  But that’s not the world you or I live in.  You and I, Mark, live in a world where a Catholic school educator can be fired from her job for ticking “no” on a Facebook poll asking whether or not she believes in God.  Those of us who are not 20-something dot com billionaires spend our time working (or looking for work).  In this world, the more intelligent and interesting you are the more likely it is that keeping your job entails a truckload of make believe.

You go ahead and invite your grandma over for a slide show of your latest XXX leather party.  Give your business associates a running commentary on your gay wedding plans and let the bank handling your debts know where the best mushroom picking is this year.  Who’s going to fire you?  For my part, I’m going to keep deciding for myself who gets to see what.  Just for shits and giggles, I’m going to call it consideration of the differing sensibilities of my friends, business associates and family rather than a “lack of integrity”, but you can call it whatever you like.

Today I changed my privacy settings to ensure that my personal information is no longer spewing all over the shop like blood from a severed kung fu flick limb thanks to Mark Zuckerberg’s thoughtless idealism.  Having a good look at exactly what was being shared without my consent was an eye-opener, to say the least.  For Facebook users, today’s top priority should be to opt out of sharing personal information with applications your friends sign up for.  Sharing my personal information with random third parties attached to my friends turned out to be the default setting, believe it or not.  In light of that bombshell, I went a step further and also deleted all but one of my third party applications (MyBand) out of consideration for the privacy of my friends.

Those who find it tricky to get their head around the “simplified” privacy settings can always just quit facebook like the 25,000 users who claim they’re going to do it today.

Cardinal Ouellet lectures the rest of us on “moral disorders”

May 27, 2010

Dear Catholic clergy.

I have a great idea.  How about first you stop raping children, sheltering the rapists from meaningful consequences and denying accusations of wrong-doing , then you lecture women about how you can’t tell the difference between abortion and murder?

There is a definite trend here:  Catholic priests can’t tell the difference between pedophilia and homosexuality and they can’t tell the difference between birth control and murder.

In fact, at times Catholics react as if homosexuality is worse than pedophilia and abortion is worse than murder.  When Catholics openly celebrate the fact that a raped 10 year old child in some benighted Catholic corner of Mexico was denied information and access to abortion by the state but has been made to understand there is a baby growing inside her, (Hallelujah!  Break out the Jesus crackers!), it  only underlines their general lack of moral credibility in my view.

Cardinal Ouellet, how about you clean up your own damn back yard before you point your shriveled, pious man-fingers at women?  As with gay marriage, the abortion debate is over.  Your side lost.  Try to keep up.

Thanks.

Not careful enough, Steve

May 22, 2010

A few days ago I recalled Stephen Harper’s 2003 article proposing the gradual (“incremental”), discreet (“careful”) fusion of social conservative and fiscal conservative policies as a strategy for the budding theo-conservative movement.   To quote the man himself:

Rebalancing the conservative agenda will require careful political judgment. First, the issues must be chosen carefully. For example, the social conservative issues we choose should not be denominational, but should unite social conservatives of different denominations and even different faiths. It also helps when social conservative concerns overlap those of people with a more libertarian orientation.

So what did he pick?  Abortion.  Way to be careful, Steve!

Is it possible that Steve, sheltered as he is from the mainstream by a wide buffer of young earth creationists, anti-gay activists, Christian Zionists, criminals and racists, is a little out of touch with the concerns of average Canadians?

Having provoked an unambiguous smack down from the US Secretary of State, a raised eyebrow from the United Nations, and unanimous hostility from the entire provincial legislature of Quebec, Steve is stomping mad and looking for a way out.  Harper is shocked – shocked! – to discover that when you appoint a shameless horde of bona fide fundamentalist whack jobs to high-ranking government policy posts, you get government policies that reflect fundamentalist whack job values and alienate or outrage everybody else.

Of course Harper is making decisive public statements to distance himself from the entire fiasco.  But who is he kidding?  Anyone who has ever spent any amount of time with fundamentalist whack jobs will understand that in order to believe they can be reasonable, dispassionate, inclusive and competent policy makers you have to be a fundamentalist whack job yourself.  Judging by his appointments alone, I am confident in asserting that Harper is a fundamentalist whack-job and approves of the theocratic policies coming out of his benighted office, in principle.  I think he just wishes his minions would be more “careful” and more “incremental” with the implementation of their fundamentalist whack job agenda.

Anyway, hopefully Steve has learned there’s no “careful” and “incremental” way to sneak anti-choice policies under the radar of mainstream Canadians.  Whether it is through easily disavowed “private members’ bills” or bizarre foreign policy initiatives that you think shouldn’t upset Canadians at home, we are going to notice and make some noise, especially when you tell us to shut the fuck up.  So please just come out and say you hope to one day have enough of a mandate to outlaw reproductive choice in Canada and quit pussyfooting around.  The theo-cons’ endless maneuvering, message control, debate framing, and general furtiveness about their social conservative agenda is beyond irritating.  You’re not fooling anybody.

What should we do about those darn creationists?

May 19, 2010

The inimitable godless blogger P.Z. Meyers has had a go at theistic evolutionist Karl Giberson for an article where he claims science has not only failed to dislodge creationism, but failed abysmally.  Giberson argues non-creationists need to tell creationists it’s “OK to believe in God”, and then gently persuade them that you can believe in evolution as well.  For his part, Meyers insists that it would be better to root out magical thinking entirely from the whole of human civilization.

I think both arguments are deeply flawed, for the simple reason that cdesign proponentsists don’t give a fiddler’s fart what either of them think.  Whether Meyers and Giberson patronize them with a soothing “there, there” or rail against the folly of their convictions, they’re still going to believe a bunch of nonsense for as long as they wish to belong to whatever community they’ve contracted it from.

Dawkins picked up on this phenomenon in an unbearable interview with Wendy Wright, partly transcribed in the Greatest Show on Earth:

Wendy: What I go back to is the evolutionists are still lacking the science to back it up.  Instead, what happens is, science that doesn’t bolster the case for evolution gets censored out.  Such as, there is no evidence of evolution going from one species going to another species.  If evolution had occurred, then … surely there’d be at least ONE evidence.

Richard: There’s massive amounts of evidence.  I’m sorry, but you people keep repeating that like a kind of mantra because you just listen to each other.

He’s exactly right.  The only reason a creationist would be looking at anything written by the likes of Meyers or Giberson would be to quote mine sentence fragments that might mislead the reader into believing they don’t really believe in evolution, or to find material for later use in a character assassination campaign.  I sympathize with them for their charming fantasy that something they could say or do (if only enough of us climbed aboard the bandwagon) might have an impact on the thinking of people like Wendy Wright.  However, I think it would be better for us not to wring our hands about how we can best infiltrate the religious mind and rearrange the furniture.

It’s a red herring.  Personal belief in creationism is not the problem.  In the complex, aromatic bouquet of ideologies the religious right brings to the table, the toxic flower is not personal belief in god or creationism, it is the collective rejection of the separation of church and state. I would propose a third option:  instead of wasting our breath debating religionists or debating each other about how best to debate religionists, why don’t we devote our energy to affirming the principle of secular government?

General human wingnuttery is not a real problem.  Or at least, if it is, it is a problem that will never go away, like psoriasis.  The problem is that a certain wing-nuts are organized and lobbying effectively for the fusion of religion and government.  Perhaps normal people feel no need to organize and lobby collectively to prevent such a development because we are, after all, the vast majority (at least north of the border).  Nevertheless, I think we need to make it absolutely crystal clear that blurring  the line between religion and politics in Canada to appease the Conservatives’ religious base will not be tolerated.

In 2003 Steven Harper wrote an article for the Christian Coalition (motto: a vibrant majority, proudly Christian).  In it, he plainly stated that elusive “hidden agenda” so many leftists love to speculate about:

Rebalancing the conservative agenda will require careful political judgment. First, the issues must be chosen carefully. For example, the social conservative issues we choose should not be denominational, but should unite social conservatives of different denominations and even different faiths. It also helps when social conservative concerns overlap those of people with a more libertarian orientation.

Second, we must realize that real gains are inevitably incremental. This, in my experience, is harder for social conservatives than for economic conservatives. The explicitly moral orientation of social conservatives makes it difficult for many to accept the incremental approach. Yet, in democratic politics, any other approach will certainly fail. We should never accept the standard of just being “better than the Liberals” – people who advocate that standard seldom achieve it – but conservatives should be satisfied if the agenda is moving in the right direction, even if slowly.

Third, rebalancing means there will be changes to the composition of the conservative coalition. We may not have all the same people we have had in the past. The new liberal corporatist agenda will appeal to some in the business community. We may lose some old “conservatives,” Red Tories like the David Orchards or the Joe Clarks.

This is not all bad. A more coherent coalition can take strong positions it wouldn’t otherwise be able to take – as the Alliance alone was able to do during the Iraq war. More importantly, a new approach can draw in new people. Many traditional Liberal voters, especially those from key ethnic and immigrant communities, will be attracted to a party with strong traditional views of values and family.

Does it look like Steve’s proposing a prolonged and “careful” culture war to you?  It does to me.  Sign me up.

Mohammed’s looking shagadelic, baby.

May 17, 2010

It looks like those contemptible lunatics who physically attacked Lars Viks haven’t gotten the memo, because a few days ago they set his house on fire.  So, as promised, here is a corresponding shop:

Mohammed Powers

Yeah, baby.