Showing posts with label death penalty. Show all posts
Showing posts with label death penalty. Show all posts


a petition to exonerate ethel rosenberg

Of all the outrageously unjust moments in United States history - and dog knows there are many to choose from - the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg holds a special place in my political underpinnings. It was an event I learned about early on, one that came up in many different contexts throughout my childhood. That was partly because the Rosenbergs were Jewish, and their case was rife with anti-Semitism. It was partly because of my parents' thorough and utter disgust for McCarthyism. And it was partly because my parents had very clear, first-hand memories of the case, the execution occurring in the early years of their marriage. They remembered the media frenzy, the protests attempting to save their lives, and finally, the Rosenbergs' deaths.

My mother always mentioned thousands of people packing into New York City's Union Square on the night of the execution, pleading with the government to commute or stay the sentence. My mother and I both read The Book of Daniel, E. L. Doctorow's fictional imaginings of the Rosenberg orphans, and my mother bought (and gave to others as gifts) We Are Your Sons, written by the Rosenbergs' children, Robert and Michael Meeropol.

In recent years, declassified information showed that Julius Rosenberg had spied for the Soviet Union. He did not, however, pass secrets about the atom bomb, the crime of which he was accused and convicted. And no similar evidence came to light about Ethel Rosenberg. Despite these details, the US media was only too happy to declare the case closed.

When I saw the subject line in my inbox Sign the petition: Exonerate Ethel Rosenberg, I was very interested. But I was also wary. If we want Ethel Rosenberg to be exonerated, does that mean we are condoning Julius' conviction? If we say, "Ethel was not a spy and her execution was wrongful," do we imply that the execution of Julius Rosenberg was justified? Or that some executions may be justified?

I care about the Rosenbergs. I care about government-led persecution and witchhunts. But I also care about the death penalty: I am against it, for any reason, ever. (Don't Godwin me. Any reason ever.) I've known about the Rosenbergs my entire life. I wanted to sign this petition, but I wasn't sure I should.

I wasn't alone. This was forwarded to me by an activist friend who received the petition before I did.
Many people who’ve signed the petition to exonerate my grandmother, Ethel Rosenberg, have asked why the campaign doesn’t include my grandfather, Julius. My father Robert Meeropol answers that question in a blog, here.

My dad’s outlook on life and his drive to create something positive from the terrible tragedy of his early years continues to be inspiring, both for those who are new to his story and for those of us who know his journey well.

As you can imagine, my father’s life was profoundly affected by his parents’ execution. He was three years old when they were arrested, and six years old when they were killed. He visited his parents in prison and still remembers what that felt like. He also remembers the executions, and the trauma of being bounced from home to home, and in and out of an orphanage. Relatives were too scared to take in him and my uncle. They were even thrown out of school in New Jersey where sympathetic friends of the family had tried to give them shelter.

Luckily my father and uncle were eventually adopted by Anne and Abel Meeropol. This loving couple, who were teachers and artists, provided a nurturing home and shielded them from the public. And thousands of people who had tried to save my grandparents donated funds to pay for my father and uncle’s education, therapy, art and drama programs, and other services to help them grow up healthy and happy.

Decades later, my father started the Rosenberg Fund for Children to assist kids in this country who are experiencing similar nightmares to what he endured. This organization I now lead aids the children of today’s targeted activists. Their parents are being attacked because they’re struggling to combat racism, wage peace, preserve civil liberties, safeguard the environment, organize on behalf of workers, prisoners, and LGBTQI people, and more. . . .
Incidentally, the children of US war resister Kimberly Rivera received some assistance from The Rosenberg Fund for Children. I'm proud that some part of my life intersects with some part of the Rosenbergs'.

I signed the petition with a clear conscience and I hope you will, too.

If you are interested in both a progressive and factual reading of the executions, I recommend this long piece by Robert Wilbur, writing in Truthout: The True Crime of the Rosenberg Execution.
Federal District Judge Irving R. Kaufman was a pious man. He visited his synagogue to commune with whatever god he believed in before making up his mind to condemn Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to die in the electric chair, making orphans of their two young boys. That, however, was not the full reach of his piety. Under pressure from the Justice Department to end the Rosenberg case quickly, after two years of delays in the courts, Kaufman set their death for a Friday. This created an unanticipated complication, as Sam Roberts recounts in his grisly description of the execution in "The Brother": New York State traditionally carried out its executions at 11:00 PM. But this would mean the Rosenbergs would burn several hours into the Sabbath - the Jewish holy day. What to do? Kaufman sought the advice of a rabbi to ascertain the exact time when the Sabbath began, then ordered the executions moved up to a more comfortable hour.

The judge must have gotten satisfactory advice, for there were no complaints from organized Jewry in America. Julius died from the traditional three jolts of electricity; Ethel required an additional two jolts, perhaps the only shred of evidence that she was really the tougher member of the spying duo.

And, while the evidence remains much disputed, the preponderance suggests that spies they were. Eventually, even the Rosenberg's journalistic cheerleaders, Walter and Miriam Schneir, acknowledged that Julius Rosenberg was ringmaster of a busy espionage collective that was passing electronic and aeronautical intelligence to the Soviets during the Second World War. Julius himself - unlike the nerd depicted in photographs - was a brazen cowboy who scored a daring espionage coup by stealing the proximity fuse from its plant of manufacture piece by piece: this device uses an electromagnetic wave guide to identify a nearby aircraft, vastly increasing the efficacy of anti-aircraft batteries.

Schneir acknowledged that Julius was a spy - but not an atomic spy. And, so, the case has dragged on to this very day, and two important questions remain unanswered:

- Were the Rosenbergs framed to break up their spy ring in a distinctly conclusive manner (and, relatedly, what was Ethel's role in the ring)?

- If the death penalty is ever appropriate, was it called for in this case?

. . . .

But when everything seems to be tied up in a neat package, Schneir has a quote from Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor and one-time death penalty battler turned post-9/11 advocate of torture, citing a conversation with Rosenberg prosecutor and mob lawyer Roy Cohn:
"Roy Cohn ... proudly told me shortly before his death [in 1986] that the government had 'manufactured 'evidence against the Rosenbergs, because they knew Julius was the head of a spy ring. They had learned this from bugging a foreign embassy, but they could not disclose any information learned from the bug, so they made up some evidence in order to prove what they already knew. In the process, they also made up the case against Ethel Rosenberg." ["America on Trial" (NY: Warner Books,2004.p/323)]
In right-wing quarters, especially those where "kike" and "yid" are words of currency, the Rosenberg case is still considered the crime of the century, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. . . .

So, while the Rosenbergs probably did break a law that was passed amid the hysteria of an earlier world war by passing non-atomic intelligence on to the Russians, the statesmen committed a monumental blunder in underestimating the Soviet Union's imperialistic intentions. The Rosenberg's crime was probably to break the 1917 Espionage Act; by far the greater crime was to kill husband and wife on June 19, 58 years ago. The execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg is the true crime of the century - an abomination that casts an ineradicable black mark on the American criminal justice system and on the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose own crime was a failure to grant mercy.
This story on the World Socialist website sees the Rosenbergs' persecution clearly, through a present-day lens.
June 19 [2013] marks the 50th anniversary of the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on charges of conspiracy to commit espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union.

Many of the Rosenbergs’ contemporaries, for whom their persecution and state murder was the most searing episode in one of the darkest chapters in US history, have passed from the scene. Yet still today, for millions of people around the world, the name of the young couple evokes the Cold War, the McCarthyite witch-hunt in the United States and all of the crimes associated with Washington’s global crusade against communism. The execution of the father and mother of two young children, residents of New York City’s Lower East Side — he 35 years old and she 37 at the time of their deaths — is testimony to the savagery of which the American ruling establishment is capable when it perceives its vital interests to be at stake.

Despite the passing of five decades, the issues surrounding the Rosenberg case are in many ways posed more sharply today than at any time since the execution itself. Once again, a US administration is seeking to terrorize the entire population as a means of suppressing dissent and exercising control on behalf of a wealthy elite. Under the guise of a global “war on terrorism,” it has rammed through the USA Patriot Act — modeled in part on the anti-communist McCarran Internal Security Act of 50 years ago — assuming vast unconstitutional powers to arrest without charges, detain without trial and conduct unrestricted police surveillance.

Today, as then, the government’s fear-mongering and attacks on democratic rights are aimed at suppressing widespread opposition to American military aggression abroad.
You can sign a petition to exonerate Ethel Rosenberg here.


amnesty international urgent action network, writing for rights all year round

I knew working full-time would mean cutting back on activism. What time I can squeeze out, I'm investing in my own union, where I have much to contribute and feel I can really make a difference. I still belong to the War Resisters Support Campaign, of course, but it's been a long time since I've been able to attend weekly meetings.*

Still, I knew there was more I could do, if only from my computer. I recently took a step that will add a bit more relevancy to my life, something that seems fairly easy to do and can have an impact: I've joined Amnesty International's Urgent Action Network.

You may remember - or perhaps you've participated in - Write For Rights, a big Amnesty International letter-writing push that coincides with International Human Rights Day. I've participated in WfR a few times, and this year was contacted by someone from Amnesty Canada's Urgent Action Network, inviting me to join. I had just started my full-time job and was feeling overwhelmed with change, so I expressed interest but asked if she could contact me again later on in the year. 

She's obviously got her act together, because she did. And this past week, I joined.

The Urgent Action network is made up of 165,000 volunteers in 55 countries. You receive information on a case, and are supposed to respond within 24 hours (or as soon as possible). You can receive one case per month, or one case every-other month. Amnesty supplies writing guidelines, information about the case, and a sample letter from another past case. You write and send your own letter, based on the information you receive. Letters are supposed to be polite, short, and factual. 

If you're comfortable writing letters, it's not all that time-consuming. I see no reason why I can't crank out one decent letter each month. I told the contact person if I find I can't keep up, I'll cut back to every-other month. Amnesty offers a lot of support and is very sensitive to the demands on all our lives; if you need a month off, or want to write less frequently, you just say so.

I'm trusting the good people at Amnesty to use strategies that work. One thing's for sure: we know that evil thrives in darkness. A few hundred letters can show that the world is watching.

* My first two years of grad school, I always scheduled classes on meeting days, and the University of Toronto is conveniently located for meetings at the Steelworkers Hall. But in those days I had "only" (ha!) school plus one job. Once my library job came through, something had to go, and unfortunately that meant WRSC meetings. I would come back in the summer and during my school breaks. Then once I started working more, I had to cut that out, too. Dislike!


october 10: world day against the death penalty

Al Jazeera
Today is World Day Against the Death Penalty. Al Jazeera has a fascinating infographic about the use of the death penalty worldwide, as far as can be known from on available evidence.

It is my fervent hope that the more people learn about the unjust, political, and often arbitrary use of the death penalty, the more they will question its use, and that, in time, such questioning will lead them to understand the inherent immorality of state-sanctioned murder.

For those agnostic but unconvinced, I recommend reading Dead Man Walking, by Sister Helen Prejean. This book had a powerful effect on me, ultimately changing my conditional opposition to the death penalty to absolute.

Al Jazeera global capital punishment infographic here (interactive).

National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (US)

Abolish the Death Penalty (Amnesty International)

International Commission against the Death Penalty

The Innocence Project


what i'm reading: clarence darrow, attorney for the damned, by john a. farrell

I last wrote about Clarence Darrow in early 2012, after reading a piece by one of my favourite New Yorker writers, Jill Lepore. Two new biographies of Darrow had been published, and Lepore wrote a tribute to the great defender, and mused on the state of North American labour movement.

Lucky for me, Allan found a copy of one of those books - brand new, in hardcover - on one of his used-book jaunts. I'm more than halfway through John A. Farrell's Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned and still haven't gotten to Darrow's most famous triumph.

As I wrote earlier, throughout my life and my self-education, all the way back through childhood, I kept stumbling on Clarence Darrow. And the more I learned of him, the more I loved and admired him. Is it any wonder? Darrow was: an outspoken atheist, a radical death-penalty abolitionist, the greatest defender of organized labour and the rights of working people the US has ever seen, and an anti-racist in a time when segregation was absolute and violently enforced. He questioned and subverted all of society's institutions and conventions, including monogamy, marriage, and the subjugation of women. He didn't play by the rules, because he believed those rules were corrupt and designed to serve the interests of wealth and property.

Farrell serves up Darrow's triumphs and his defeats, his idealism and his trickery, his genius and flaws and contradictions in equal measure. The research is masterful, the writing is elegant, the pacing exciting. I don't usually quote book publicity material, but in this case, it's accurate.
Amidst the tumult of the industrial age and the progressive era, Clarence Darrow became America’s greatest defense attorney, successfully championing poor workers, blacks, and social and political outcasts, against big business, fundamentalist religion, Jim Crow, and the US government. His courtroom style — a mixture of passion, improvisation, charm, and tactical genius — won miraculous reprieves for men doomed to hang. In Farrell’s hands, Darrow is a Byronic figure, a renegade whose commitment to liberty led him to heroic courtroom battles and legal trickery alike.
Farrell's Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned is an opportunity to be amazed and inspired - and perhaps to contemplate radical solutions to remake our world.


there is no justice in murder

First we read about the horrific gang rape, with spectators.

Then we learn that the victim has died.

Then, on top of all that, we hear authorities may seek the death penalty for the perpetrators. I was heartened by the demonstrations and the vigils. Until I read that people are clamouring for murder.

Murder is not justice. It is vengeance. It won't make women any safer.


what i'm watching: early dispatches from movie season: graffiti mystery, legal murder

I can't believe how much I'm loving having access to US Netflix through our Roku device. For the price of a new router and some easy-to-follow instructions, my leisure time has been hugely improved.

This is close to what I've always wanted for TV and movies: true on-demand viewing. Among the things I love: not paying for hundreds of cable channels that I never watch, not searching in vain for anything I might consider watching, being able to sample one or two shows of a series at no cost or inconvenience, watching on a TV (not a computer), convenience, selection. I can easily see this becoming the standard delivery method for all home viewing. Outside the US, after the initial investment in Roku (which we bought for baseball), plus a new router, this costs $16 per month: $8 for Netflix and $8 for the VPN.

At the moment I am gorging on "Commander in Chief," Stephen Bochco's imagining of the first female POTUS, starring Geena Davis and Donald Sutherland. I saw a few episodes when it first ran in 2006, loved it, then lost the thread and the show was cancelled. Being able to find a show like this and tear through every episode is Movie Season heaven.

* * * *

After finishing the second season of Downton Abbey, we've only seen two movies (as opposed to series) so far, and they were both excellent.

"Into the Abyss" is Werner Herzog's examination of capital punishment, as seen through one case in Texas.

You learn about the crime (a triple murder), the victims, the survivors, one convicted murderer who received a life sentence, and one convicted murderer and state victim who died on death row. You also hear from a former death-row worker. No one who is part of the state death apparatus is allowed to speak publicly.

My only issue with this movie was an unusual number of interjections and interruptions from Herzog during his interviews. He seems to have trouble keeping out of the story, which is very surprising from a master interviewer. Despite this, I highly recommend the film.

This was the third powerful and excellent documentaries by Herzog we've seen in recent years: "Grizzly Man" (2005), "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" (2010), and "Into the Abyss" (2011). We have not seen the 2007 "Encounters at the End of the World," about Antartica.

Anonymous, numbered crosses mark the graves of the victims of the state of Texas who had no one to claim their bodies. Thirty-three US states have capital punishment, plus federal and military statutes.

* * * *

"Resurrect Dead: the Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles" is a documentary about a graffiti mystery: the "Toynbee tiles". I remember seeing this strange message on the street in New York City. I didn't realize they were tiles - I thought they were stencils - and I always assumed they were a graffiti art project. I had no idea there were so-called Toynbee Tiles in some 25 cities, and that their origin and purpose was unknown.

The film follows a man who became obsessed with solving the mystery. The viewer becomes a detective, but whether you're solving the Toynbee mystery or the mystery of the man who follows the Toynbee mystery is for you to judge. Very well done.


canadian citizen faces imminent execution in iran

In case you haven't done so already, please read and sign this petition from Amnesty International, about Canadian Hamid Ghassemi-Shall. It's a terrible story, and we may not be able to save Ghassemi-Shall's life, but we can try.

Please read and sign.


montana board says canadian man should die. harper government does nothing.

Five years have passed since Stockwell Day, then Minister of Public Safety, announced that the คาสิโนออนไลน์ แจกเครดิตฟรี 2019Harper Government would not intervene to help save the life of Ronald Allen Smith. Smith is a Canadian citizen on death row in the US state of Montana.

The Harper Government later backpedaled, saying it would intervene - but did not. Earlier this month, a representative from the Canadian Consulate General in Denver was supposed to appear at Smith's clemency hearing. She did not. Instead, the Harper Government submitted a statement that was so bland and unemphatic that they might as well have said, "We don't care. Do what you want."

Current news reports claim that the Harper Government recommended clemency for Smith, but that is not really true. They technically supported clemency because a the Federal Court of Canada forced them to. But they did not go to bat to save Smith's life.

Now the Montana Parole Board has recommended that Smith be denied clemency and executed.

In my 2007 post about Ronald Smith, "stockwell day uses de facto death penalty against alberta man", I wrote:
Harper and Day are reversing 30 years of policy in Canada with no public debate or citizen input. At a time when increasing numbers of Americans are withdrawing their support for the death penalty, this Canadian government is allowing a Canadian citizen to be executed.

Do you see the connection between this and what happened to Maher Arar? Does Canada think it can keep its hands clean while it allows other countries to do the dirty work? It doesn't work that way. The government's refusal to intervene on behalf of Smith amounts to a de facto death penalty in Canada.

I've seen some blogs by Canadian wingnuts with the predictable spew: the Liberals and NDP support murderers, and Ronald Smith did these really bad things, who needs him in Canada.

These transparent pseudo-arguments only further prove the point.

In not using capital punishment, Canada aligns itself with the civilized world. There is no death penalty here. Period. It doesn't matter what the man did. And no one is asking for Smith to be released. He can live the rest of his life in prison in Canada - his natural life, that is.

I don't know if Stephen Harper and Stockwell Day would really try to re-open the death penalty debate, or if they are just kissing up to the US and won't do anything to cross them.

Either way, this is very frightening. Heaven help us if these people ever get a majority government.
And here we are.

There is some slim hope to save Smith's life, as Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer cannot run for office again (term limits), and so doesn't have to worry about political fallout from granting clemency. Imagine that the life of a human being depends on such considerations. What barbarism.

When the Montana government kills Ronald Allen Smith, it is no better than Ronald Allen Smith. Smith, at least, has tried to make amends for his actions, by helping other prisoners, working hard to educate himself, and professing his deep remorse for his actions. The Montana government - and the Harper Government - will murder in cold blood and declare it legal and just.


linkathon part 5: the state of connecticut abolishes the death penalty. 17 down, 33 to go.

The US state of Connecticut has abolished the death penalty! This amazing and wonderful news is brought to you by Amnesty International, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and lawmakers who listen to reason.
The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty joins with the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty and its allies in applauding Governor Dannell P. Malloy for signing legislation to repeal the death penalty in his state.

The momentum in this country is toward ending the death penalty. With Governor Malloy’s leadership in Connecticut, we now have five states that have abandoned the death penalty in five years. The numbers of new death sentences and executions are down and there is a growing body of evidence exposing the death penalty system as failed public policy. We look forward to more states across the country joining the list of those without capital punishment in the coming years. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has been at it for 35 years, and I am pleased to say that the end of our struggle is in sight.
Connecticut also recognizes equal marriage, so it is now officially part of the civilized world. If you would like to thank Connecticut governor Dannel Malloy for removing legal murder from the state's penal code, go here.


ode to a hero: attorney for the damned (with thanks to jill lepore)

Clarence Darrow was one of my earliest heroes. I first encountered Darrow in the guise of Spencer Tracy, who portrayed the lawyer in the 1960 movie "Inherit the Wind". Darrow famously defended John Scopes, who tried to teach evolution in a Tennessee public school. His courtroom opponent was William Jennings Bryan, portrayed in the same movie by Frederic March. (In "Inherit the Wind," as was typical in those days, names were fictionalized. Darrow was called Henry Drummond and Bryan was called Matthew Harrison Brady. "Inherit the Wind" was originally a play, written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee, who also wrote the screenplay. It has been adapted for film several times.)

Some years later, as a young teenager exploring ideas of atheism and agnosticism, I came upon this.
I don't believe in God because I don't believe in Mother Goose. - Clarence Darrow
A simple statement, maybe even simplistic, but it spurred a lot of thought for me. I wanted to know about the man who said this.

I discovered Darrow's life work was defending the poor from the rich, defending labour from oppression, and especially saving people from being murdered by the state under the guise of justice. Naturally, I loved this, and for a long while dreamed of becoming a defense attorney to do the exact same thing.

During those same years I stumbled on another fictionalized version of Darrow, in a novel called Compulsion, by Meyer Levin, about the Leopold and Loeb murder case, one of the most sensationalist trials of its time. The fictionalized account interested me enough to look into the actual case, and I discovered Darrow had defended two boys who had abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered a child. The public was clamoring for the electric chair (it didn't help that the murderers were rich and Jewish) and Darrow saved their lives.

Of course, with my interest in labour history, I started running into Darrow on a regular basis. In Big Trouble, a towering work of history by the late J. Anthony Lukas - one of my favourite nonfiction books, ever - there's a mini-biography of Darrow. He seemed to be one of those figures that would pop up wherever I looked.

* * * *

Many years later, I had a rare experience. I learned about the tarnish on my hero's shine, and it only made me admire him more.

Clarence Darrow, "Attorney for the Damned," would do anything to win a case. He would bend any rule to within an inch of its life, subject the legal system to interpretations wider than his bull-like broad shoulders. He was not above jury-tampering, lies, bribery, suborning perjury, or any other trick. Whatever it took, he would do. For Darrow, the ends justified the means, because the goal was saving a person's life.

It's a radical approach to defense, and I admire it deeply. It recognizes that the legal and judicial systems are tremendously biased, designed to protect the interests of the state, and often, the interests of property, of capital, of industry and corporations. The poor defendant is at an incalcuable disadvantage. "Playing by the rules" doesn't mean playing fairly.

In the cases Darrow agreed to represent, the state was often trying to set an example to deter further disobedience. Prosecutors were trying to score political points with the people who would get them elected, the captains of industry whose interests they maintained. But the defendant was fighting for her or his life. If the state lost, nothing much changed. If the defendant lost, he died.

As my politics and worldview grew and formed, my imagined kinship with Darrow deepened. After reading Sister Helen Prejean's Dead Man Walking, my opposition to capital punishment moved from conditional to absolute. And at some point I realized that I actually don't believe in nonviolence as an absolute dogma in liberation movements - that nonviolent resistance is important and often a good strategy, but there are times when it's not necessarily the best path. Darrow, too, believed that certain ends are to be achieved - or at least fought for - by any means necessary.

* * * *

Along with Frederic Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr., Darrow was one of the US's greatest orators. His closing summations to juries read like manifestos or declarations. Closing statements would go on for hours. He spoke, always, without notes. He was also one of the country's most famous skeptics, who believed "doubt was the beginning of wisdom."

I recently read "Objection," a long magazine piece by writer and historian Jill Lepore. Lepore is (among other things) a staff writer at The New Yorker, and she writes about many subjects that interest me. Two books about Darrow were published last year, and Lepore wrote a nominal book review that is really an ode to my enduring hero.

The excellent piece is only available online by subscription. Ms. Lepore gave me permission to reprint a couple of paragraphs, so I'm trying to limit myself to that. If you're interested in Darrow, try to get your hands on this issue of The New Yorker (or ask me for the text).

"Objection" recounts the story of Darrow's defense of a labour organizer Thomas Kidd on charges of conspiracy. The charges were an attempt to criminalize union organizing.

In Oshkosh, Wisconsin, also known as "Sawdust City", workers turned out 400,000 doors a year for the Paine Lumber Company. After the men reported to work in the morning, the factory doors were locked, and remained locked, except for a lunch break, until the guards opened the door at dusk. For a 12-hour day, a grown man could expect to earn 45 cents. But lately many workers were earning much less, because they were children, often hired to replace their fathers, working with the same giant saws. Kidd and the workers sent a letter to the owner, George Paine, demanding "better wages, a weekly payday, the end of woman and child labour, and recognition of their union". Paine trashed the letter.

The workers of the Paine Lumber Company went on strike, and the governor of Wisconsin called in the National Guard. On June 24, 1898, "four companies of infantry, a battery of artillery, and a squadron of cavalry armed with rifles and Gatling guns" faced the workers outside the factory gates. The National Guard, mind you, had been formed specifically to deal with labour unrest. Their salaries were paid partly by industry. But guess what? In Oshkosh the guardsmen were sympathetic with the strikers. They were sent back to Milwaukee and the mills remained closed. The workers struck for 14 weeks.

Now the state of Wisconsin thought it had found a way to rid itself forever of worker unrest. Kidd was charged with conspiracy to destroy the Paine Lumber Company. The trial became a test case for labour versus capital.

Lepore walks the reader through Darrow's closing statement, which would have constituted a famous speech for any other man. Darrow recounts the facts of the case - did the accused make a speech, did he incite fellow workers to strike, did he write a letter calling on the company to change its ways - and dismisses each one as trivial.
No, Darrow didn't care about the facts; nor, for that matter, did he care about the case. He cared only about one question: "Whether when a body of men desiring to benefit their condition, and the condition of their fellow men, shall strike, whether those men can be sent to jail."

And then Darrow said to the jury, "I know that you will render a verdict in this case which will be a milestone in the history of the world, and an inspiration and hope to the dumb, despairing millions whose fate is in your hands." He had spoken for eight hours.

The Kidd trial may not have been a milestone in the history of the world, but it was a landmark in the Gilded Age debate about prosperity and equality. There were two ways of looking at what Darrow called "the great questions that are agitating the world today." Either wealthy businessmen like Paine and Pullman were ushering in prosperity for all or else the interests of the Paines and the Pullmans of the world were at odds with everyone else's interests. In Oshkosh, Darrow won that argument. The jury was out for fifty minutes. All three defendants were acquitted.

. . . .

After [his own trial and indictment, in 1910], Darrow left the labor movement. He went on to do his best work, speaking and writing against fundamentalism, eugenics, the death penalty, and Jim Crow. "America seems to have an epidemic of intolerance," he wrote. That's still true. And the Gilded Age debate about the right to strike did not end in Sawdust City, a century later, it's still going on. Just this past March, Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, signed a law making public-sector collective bargaining a crime.

"Gentlemen, the world is dark," Darrow told that jury in Oshkosh, "but it is not hopeless." After all, no attorney for the damned ever lacks for work.


write for rights: spotlight on reggie clemons

Black man. White murder victims. No physical evidence. Sentenced to death despite very compelling doubts about guilt. If this sounds like Troy Davis 2.0, that's because Troy Davis was not an anomaly. His death was business-as-usual in the US's sorry excuse for a justice system.

Meet Reggie Clemons. Like Troy Davis was, Clemons has been in prison for 20 years, waiting for the state to end his life.

Unfairness has dogged Clemons' case from the beginning. There was no physical evidence. There are allegations of police coercion, prosecutorial misconduct, and a stacked jury. Despite these questions, the state of Missouri plans to murder Reggie Clemons. Two young women were killed, but killing a man who may not be guilty will not bring their families justice. (Killing a man who is guilty won't bring them justice either.)

During this year's Write for Rights campaign, Amnesty International is spotlighting 15 priority cases. Each one of these 15 cases - including Reggie Clemons' - is an individual or group suffering human rights abuses. Several are at imminent risk of death or terrible mistreatment.

The Write for Rights campaign has actually saved lives in the past. Early next year, Clemons faces a hearing that could mean the difference between life and death. Our letters to Missouri governor Jay Nixon could push Missouri authorities to make the right decision and spare Clemons' life. At the very least, our letters attest that millions of people know that the state should not have the power to murder citizens.

Go here to read more about Clemons' case, and here to write a letter on his behalf.


breaking news: troy davis clemency denied - execution set for tomorrow - please help one more time

Unless there is a last-minute stay, the US state of Georgia will murder a man tomorrow, even though there is significant doubt that he has committed any crime. That's what passes for justice in TGNOTFOTE.

Clemency for Troy Davis has been denied.

Please join with hundreds of thousands of other people who rage and despair at this injustice. Click here to appeal to justice and reason in an attempt to save the life of Troy Davis. From Amnesty International USA:
Georgia's State Board of Pardons and Paroles has recently rejected Troy Davis' clemency petition. Davis continues to face execution on Wed., Sept. 21 at 7 pm EDT.

We demand that the Board reconsider its decision and demand that Chatham County (Savannah) District Attorney Larry Chisolm seek a withdrawal of the death warrant and support clemency himself.

Troy Davis was convicted on the basis of witness testimony – seven of the nine original witnesses have since recanted or changed their testimony. He has survived three previous execution dates, because people like you kept the justice system in check! Let Georgia authorities know you oppose the death penalty for Troy Davis!

NOTE: Due to high volume of supporters, please keep trying to sign this petition if your initial attempt does not succeed. Or try contacting the Chatham County's District Attorney's office by phone/fax: Telephone: 912-652-7308 Fax: 912-652-7328.
Petition here.


wrongly convicted man to be executed, please click to help

My opposition to the death penalty is absolute. I have always opposed capital punishment, but reading Helen Prejean's Dead Man Walking moved me from an opposition with certain conditional exceptions to an absolute position.

The more I learned about capital punishment, the more I was moved to the position that no state, no government, no authority, has the right to execute any human being. The more I learned, the more the exceptions and conditions faded away. The more I learned, the more the simple fact of the state's authority to kill appeared bizarre, barbaric, inhumane and unjust. For this reason, I highly recommend Prejean's excellent book.

Over a wide range of opinions on capital punishment, most of us agree that a person who has not committed the crime of which he or she is accused should not be executed! Most reasonable people agree that if there are serious doubts about someone's guilt, we must err on the side of doubt. That seems pretty clear.

Yet for many people, it isn't. If the state says a man must die, then die he must, whether or not he's committed the crime. That's the same state that the very same people are happy to condemn as lying, incompetent "elites".

I'm sure you've heard about the "death penalty cheer" at the recent Republican Convention. This column by Peter Catapano in the New York Times is a good round-up and analysis of some reaction to that chilling cheer. It includes quotes from (and links to) Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Sullivan, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Marie Diamond, as well as some right-wing apologists. Worth reading.

* * * *

The purpose of this post isn't to argue about the death penalty. The purpose is to try to help save a man's life. Click here, or read more below.

From Amnesty International Canada:
The state of Georgia is preparing to execute a man despite serious doubts that remain about his guilt.

A Georgia judge has signed a death warrant in the case of Troy Davis, authorizing the state to execute him in the week of 21 to 28 September. Doubts persist about Troy Davis’ guilt in the crime for which he was sentenced to death two decades ago.

The county judge signed the death warrant of Troy Davis on 6 September. The Georgia Department of Corrections will set the actual date and time for the execution. The Department’s usual strategy is to set it on the first day authorized under the warrant, in this case 21 September.

Troy Davis was sentenced to death in 1991 for the murder of police officer Mark Allen MacPhail in Savannah, Georgia in 1989. No physical evidence directly links him to the murder – no murder weapon was ever found. The case against Troy Davis primarily rested on witness testimony. Since his trial, seven of nine key witnesses have recanted or changed their testimony, some alleging police coercion.

In 2009, the US Supreme Court ordered a federal evidentiary hearing to review Troy Davis’ innocence claim. At the 2010 hearing, US District Court Judge William Moore addressed whether Troy Davis could show “by clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable juror would have convicted him in the light of the new evidence” that had emerged since his 1991 murder trial. Under this “extraordinarily high” standard, Judge Moore wrote in his August 2010 opinion, “Mr Davis is not innocent”. Elsewhere in his ruling, he acknowledged that the new evidence presented by Troy Davis cast “some additional, minimal” doubt on his conviction, and that the state’s case was not “ironclad”. In 1991, the jury had found Troy Davis guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” Judge Moore noted, “but not to a mathematical certainty”.

In 2007 Troy Davis was less than 24 hours from execution when the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles issued a stay. The Board said that it would not allow an execution to go ahead “unless and until its members are convinced that there is no doubt as to the guilt of the accused”. Since then Troy Davis has faced two more execution dates, both in 2008, which were stayed by the courts.

Click here to send an urgent message to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant clemency to Troy Davis and commute his death sentence.


survivor of hate crime fighting to save assailant's life: join his mission for a world without hate

In Texas, the survivor of a vicious hate crime is campaigning to spare the life of his assailant, who murdered two other people and is scheduled to be executed today.

I collect these kinds of stories, and one day I'd like to write more about why I find them so incredibly powerful. But with my Friday deadline looming and much still to do, I will add this to the "blog about someday" list, and just pass this story to you.

Rais Bhuiyan's website is here: World Without Hate. After reading this story below, I hope you will sign his petition to try to save Mark Stroman's life.
Mark Anthony Stroman, 41, a stonecutter from Dallas, shot people he believed were Arabs, saying he was enraged by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He killed at least two: Vasudev Patel, an Indian immigrant who was Hindu, and Waqar Hasan, a Muslim born in Pakistan.

A third shooting victim, Rais Bhuiyan, 37, a former Air Force pilot from Bangladesh, survived after Mr. Stroman shot him in the face at close range. Mr. Stroman admitted to the shootings. He is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday.

Mr. Bhuiyan, despite being partly blinded in his right eye, has spent the past several months creating a Web site with a petition and meeting with officials in Texas to try to persuade the state to spare Mr. Stroman.

Mr. Bhuiyan was interviewed over the phone. Mr. Stroman responded to questions in a typewritten letter dated June 26 that included a photograph of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001: smoke is seen billowing out of the North Tower and United Airlines Flight 175 is moments away from striking the South Tower. The ellipses in his answers are his.

Q. Mr. Bhuiyan, you were working as a clerk at a friend’s service station on Sept. 21, 2001. What do you remember?

A. I was robbed a couple of times. It was a dangerous neighborhood. People would come into the store to sell televisions and computers. One time a man came with a gun and I thought he wanted to sell it to make money. He said, “If you don’t give me money I will blow your head off.” On Sept. 21, it was Friday around 12:30 in the afternoon. Business was slow. It was raining cats and dogs. The neighbor from the barber shop had come in and brought chips and drinks. Then there’s a guy coming into the store with a hat and sunglasses and a bandanna and a gun in his hand. I thought it was a robbery. I said, “Don’t shoot me please. Take all the money.” He said, “Where are you from?” He was four or five feet away from me. I felt cold air in my spine. I said, “Excuse me?” It was a double-barrel gun. I felt a million bee stings on my face at the same time. Then I heard an explosion. I saw images of my parents, my siblings and my fiancĂ©e and then a graveyard and I thought, “Am I dying today?” I looked down and saw blood was pouring from my head. I placed both my hands on my head to get my brains in and I screamed, “Mom!” I looked and he was still staring at me and I thought he might shoot me again if I don’t fall and he doesn’t think I’m dead. The floor was getting wet with my blood. Then he left the store. I could not believe he shot me. I thought I was dreaming, going through a hallucination. I didn’t do anything wrong. I was not a threat to him. I couldn’t believe someone would just shoot you like that.

Q What happened next?

A I wanted to go outside. I went to the barber shop and they ran away. They saw me full of blood running like a slaughtered chicken and they thought the guy was behind me. I saw my face in the barbershop mirror and I couldn’t believe it was me. (He begins to cry). A few minutes before, I had been a young guy in a T-shirt and shorts and tennis shoes. (He begins to cry more forcefully). Sorry, I haven’t cried for the past nine years. I was lucky because there was an ambulance in the area. I was asking God, asking for forgiveness, saying I would do my best. Reciting verses from the Koran. I said I would dedicate my life to the poor. I felt my eyes were closing and it felt like my brain was shutting down slowly.

Q What was the extent of your injuries?

A There were 38 pellets in my face. I couldn’t open my eyes or talk or open my jaw. I couldn’t even eat or drink anything. It was very painful to even swallow because I was shot in my throat. After a few hours in the hospital I could open my left eye. My face was heavily swollen. There were gunshot wounds. My face was horrible. I couldn’t believe it was my face. I prayed, “Please God, give me my face back.” (Mr. Bhuiyan was discharged the day after being treated; he was told he did not have health insurance. For the next several months, he slept on people’s couches and had to rely on physicians’ samples for medication, including painkillers and eye drops. He had several operations on his right eye; he now has only limited vision in it.)

Q. Mr. Stroman has admitted trying to kill you. Why are you trying to save his life?

A. I was raised very well by my parents and teachers. They raised me with good morals and strong faith. They taught me to put yourself in others’ shoes. Even if they hurt you, don’t take revenge. Forgive them. Move on. It will bring something good to you and them. My Islamic faith teaches me this too. He said he did this as an act of war and a lot of Americans wanted to do it but he had the courage to do it — to shoot Muslims. After it happened I was just simply struggling to survive in this country. I decided that forgiveness was not enough. That what he did was out of ignorance. I decided I had to do something to save this person’s life. That killing someone in Dallas is not an answer for what happened on Sept. 11.

Q. If you had the chance to meet Mr. Stroman, what would you say to him?

A. I requested a meeting with Mr. Stroman. I’m eagerly awaiting to see him in person and exchange ideas. I would talk about love and compassion. We all make mistakes. He’s another human being, like me. Hate the sin, not the sinner. It’s very important that I meet him to tell him I feel for him and I strongly believe he should get a second chance. That I never hated the U.S. He could educate a lot of people. Thinking about what is going to happen makes me very emotional. I can’t sleep. Once I go to bed I feel there is another person that I know who is in his bed thinking about what is going to happen to him — that he is going to be tied to a bed and killed. It makes me very emotional and very sad and makes me want to do more.

• • •

Q How are you doing, Mr. Stroman?

A “i’ve only 25 days left until Texas Straps Me to a Gurney and pumps me full of toxic bug juice, But then again, we all face an Ending at some time or another. All is well, Spirits are high, i sit here with a Cup of Coffee and some Good ole Classic Rock playing on My radio, how Ironic, the song ‘Free Bird’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd...”

Q What do you think of Rais Bhuiyan’s efforts to keep you from being executed?

A “Yes, Mr Rais Bhuiyan, what an inspiring soul...for him to come forward after what ive done speaks Volume’s...and has really Touched My heart and the heart of Many others World Wide...Especially since for the last 10 years all we have heard about is How Evil the Islamic faith Can be...its proof that all are Not bad nor Evil.”

Q Tell me what you are thinking now, a few weeks before your scheduled execution.

A “Not only do I have all My friends and supporters trying to Save my Life, but now i have The Islamic Community Joining in...Spearheaded by one Very Remarkable man Named Rais Bhuiyan, Who is a Survivor of My Hate. His deep Islamic Beliefs Have gave him the strength to Forgive the Un-forgiveable...that is truly Inspiring to me, and should be an Example for us all. The Hate, has to stop, we are all in this world together. My jesus Faith & Texas Roots have Deepened My Understanding as well. Its almost been 10 years since The world stopped Turning, and we as a nation will never be able to forget what we felt that day, I surely wont, but I can tell you what im feeling Today, and that’s very grateful for Rais Bhuiyan’s Efforts to save my life after I tried to end His. A lot of people out There are still hurt and full of hate, and as I Sit here On Texas Death watch counting down to my Own Death, I have been given the chance to openly Express whats inside this Texas Mind and heart, and hopefully that something good will come of this. We need More Forgiveness and Understanding and less hate.” Mr. Stroman signed off, “Texas Loud & Texas proud...TRUE AMERICAN.... Living to Die – Dying to Live.”
Just a reminder: this blog is not a forum for debate about the morality of capital punishment.


canada for the people, not the conservative party

This was originally supposed to appear at The Mark, as part of a series called "Who Owns Canada?" I ran into a few editorial snags, so I'm posting it here instead.

The Mark asked for short pieces answering the question, "Who Owns Canada? Which person, organization, or idea wields more influence than any other?"

Here's my answer.

* * * *

When The Mark asked "Who owns Canada?" I immediately considered the question in reverse: "Who doesn't own Canada?" The answer: Canadians.

A democracy should reflect the will of the people, but current Canadian policy reflects only the will of the Conservative government and its supporters. A majority of Canadians did not vote for Stephen Harper's Conservatives. Yet we are held hostage to his anti-democratic agenda because he has so successfully exploited an antiquated, first-past-the-post electoral system and a pitifully weak opposition.

The majority of Canadians do not support the war in Afghanistan, but the Harper government extended Canada's military involvement past its original deadline and hints at continuing it even after next year's planned withdrawal date.

The majority of Canadians want to protect our magnificent environment, but the Harper government continues to stand with climate-change deniers and industrial polluters. This is, after all, a government that tried to let polluters reclassify tar-sands tailing ponds as "lakes". (What is it about the Conservatives and fake lakes?)

Canadians want fairness in all things, including the treatment of immigrants, war resisters and refugee claimants. The Harper government continues to defy two motions passed in Parliament by harassing and deporting US war resisters. It has interfered in the process of the supposedly independent Immigration and Refugee Board and demanded that immigration officials conform to government ideology.

Fairness is, at bottom, the reason Canadians want to retain the long-form census – so this country’s policies reflect reality, not ideology. Fairness is why Canadians want a fully funded court-challenges program, so that all Canadians can defend their Charter rights. Fairness is why Canadians want the government to repatriate and defend all Canadians – including those accused of terrorism and those on death row in every country. And while it's not a life-or-death issue, the government denying a Member of the British Parliament entry into Canada because of his political opinions is not only unfair – it's downright embarrassing.

Canadians care about their country's standing abroad. By aligning Canada with US military policies, and by putting corporate oil interests ahead of action on climate change, the Harper government has sullied Canada's international reputation and tainted the country's moral authority. And it could be much worse: if Stephen Harper had been Prime Minister in 2003, Canadian soldiers would have been dying in Iraq for the last seven years.

Canadians want to live in a democracy – a real democracy. They don't want the Prime Minister to shut down Parliament to avoid losing power, to fire civil servants whose politics he doesn't like, to instruct MPs on how to disrupt Parliament, and to refuse to open the military record to the highest elected body in the land. They don't want dissent criminalized by pre-emptive arrests, jailing of peaceful protesters and tactics more suited to a police state than "the True North strong and free".

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have hijacked this country and we want it back.


my canada includes a just and generous refugee system

I've been trying to write about the latest Jason Kenney outrage, but I'm so angry and appalled that it's been difficult to organize my thoughts.

The Harper Government continues to try to remake Canada in the image of the United States, in ways which offend the majority of Canadians. Emboldened by lack of serious dissent from the Official Opposition, they creep ever outward on their social conservative limb, away from core Canadian values.

The latest version of this comes in the form of Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney lashing out at refugee claimants and changing the rules of entry for Mexicans and Czechs. Kenney points to a large backlog of refugee claims, and the small percentage of claims accepted from these countries, as proof of the claimants' lack of validity.

But where did the backlog of claims really come from?

The Harper government created a shortage of staff on the Immigration and Refugee Board when it failed to replace retired Board members and to appoint new members. The inevitable backlog was a direct result of the Government's own inaction. Indeed, the backlog was predicted by the chairman of the IRB at the time.

Now, instead of appointing additional IRB staff to process refugee claims in a more efficient and timely manner, Mr Kenney slaps sudden new visa restrictions on the Czech Republic and Mexico. This makes it more difficult for potential refugee claimants - and tourists, family members and other travelers - to enter Canada.

Meanwhile, Roma people who are experiencing horrendous and increasing violence in the Czech Republic, and Mexicans who are targets of gang-related, drug-related, homophobic and sexist violence, have one less potential avenue of escape. One less place to try to live in peace.

Note this from the Globe and Mail's story on Kenney's defense of the new visa rules.
Toronto immigration lawyer Max Berger, who has acted for 400 Roma claimants over the past two years and said he was retained last week by a Roma woman who had two swastikas carved into her back by neo-Nazis, said the minister was taking Canada back to the days when it closed the door to Jewish migrants trying to flee Nazi Europe. He called it shameful.

"The visa requirement will prevent Roma refugees like her [his client] from reaching Canada to seek protection," Mr. Berger said. "It shuts the door on genuine refugees and tarnishes Canada's refugee program and reputation in the eyes of the international community."

When I interviewed refugee lawyer Alyssa Manning for this story, Alyssa spoke of a gap between the information the IRB will have on any given country and the reality of that country on the ground.

The IRB has something called a National Documentation Package on the conditions in each country. The Package includes reports from groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the Refugee Board's own research, and other evidence, including whatever the claimant can submit. Frequently, however, there is a gap between the information in that Package and reality.

For example, the IRB now takes the position that Mexico is a safe country. But refugee claimants from Mexico have experienced horrendous state-sponsored violence - kidnapping by police, rape, torture - all kinds of atrocities. There is much evidence that Mexico is sinking into a morass of lawlessness, violence and corruption.

I know one refugee claimant from Mexico. He is gay. For this he has been beaten repeatedly, and his life has been threatened. When he went to the police to report the beatings, the police threatened him at gunpoint. He was told to leave town and never come back. He left his village and tried to live in hiding in another town. Rumours of his homosexuality spread, and his safety was again threatened.

This young man has filed a refugee claim in Canada. Since Kenney's statements prejudicing his claim and the claim of every person from Mexico, he has lost all hope.

I hear from his friends that he is on the brink of suicide.

The refugee claims of US war resisters fall into this gap as well. According to the IRB, the war resisters have all the benefits of due process and a justice system at their disposal. But even if we are to accept that the US is a democratic country governed by the rule of law, the US military is a separate entity. There is a process called a court martial, but there is nothing resembling justice.

* * * *

Of course it's not only Mr Kenney's most recent statements and actions that are fueling my anger. These statements about refugee claimants from Mexico and the Czech Republic must be seen in context.

Several months ago, I compiled a list of the anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, anti-democratic, racist actions and inactions of the CIC under Minister Jason Kenney. It wasn't an exhaustive list, but here's what I got off the top of my head.
  • Kenney cut government funds to the Canadian Arab Federation, because they express support for Hamas and Hezbollah, which Canada classifies as terrorist organizations. Nowhere have I seen the government accuse the CAF of being a terrorist organization, only that they express support for the democratically elected leaders of the Palestinian people. That is censorship. That is bigotry.

    The CAF itself has an active immigrant settlement program, including an English as a Second Language program...

  • So naturally, Kenney declared that immigrants who don't speak one of Canada's official languages "well enough" should be denied citizenship.

  • Banning British MP and peace activist George Galloway was outrageous...

  • But it was also in keeping with the government barring entry to other peace activists, most notably Ann Wright and Medea Benjamin, which has been going on for two years, and continues to this day. Ann Wright was scheduled to speak at the opening session of a student peace conference at Toronto's Ryerson University, just before George Galloway's scheduled appearance. Wright appeared by video, because she is denied entry into Canada.

  • The government's continuing denials of an emergency passport to Abousfian Abdelrazik (Canadian citizen) is maddening and indefensible...

  • ...but completely in keeping with its refusal to bring home Omar Khadr (Canadian citizen) - while somehow managing to get Brenda Martin (Canadian citizen) back in Canada. Why is that, I wonder?

  • Deporting war resisters, against the will of Parliament and the majority of the Canadian people, also falls under this category. War resisters oppose a racist war of aggression. War resisters represent peace, and the vision of an international world not divided by racism, nationalism and hatred.

    There are many ways to finish the sentence, "Jason Kenney should resign because...". What am I missing?

  • * * * *

    The problem is not refugee claimants from Mexico or the Czech Republic, who seek peace and a good life in Canada, and whose contributions can help Canada be a stronger, more prosperous and more tolerant country. The problem is a Government that doesn't value a tolerant and multicultural Canada.

    Last year on the floor of the House of Commons, we heard French-speaking Canadians scorned as "filthy separatists". Canadians with Arab-sounding names and brown skin who experience trouble abroad cannot look to their home country for help. Canadian citizens who may be executed by foreign governments are similarly out of luck. Refugees are a drain on the system. People who refuse to fight in immoral wars are no longer welcome.

    Theirs is a vision of a white, Anglo, Christian, heterosexual Canada, where women stay home and raise children in traditional families, soldiers die in foreign wars, and where anyone who doesn't fit the mold - immigrants, queers, Muslims, francophones - knows their place. Second class.

    * * * *

    Update. See additional, important information in comments.


    on canada and the us switching places, or, why canada, part 3

    Canada and the US have switched places. The US is now an open, free society, marching steadily to the left, and Canada is "the new US," regressing ever rightward.

    Wherever there is punditry, you can find this theme.

    Too bad it's bullshit.

    Ever since Barack Obama was elected President of the United States - at roughly the same time Stephen Harper shut down democracy in Canada in order to maintain his government, and Michael Ignatieff backed him up because that's better for his party - this has been the easy headline.

    Whenever I see a column or blog post on this theme, I wonder if the writer knows anything at all about the US, or indeed, has forgotten some basic facts about Canada.

    * * * *

    First, on the US side. There's no doubt Obama casts a better shadow than the last person to live in the White House. But are we so shallow as to be fooled by window dressing, no matter how pleasant the appearance or more advanced the vocabulary?

    How is the US changing?

    War? Empire? The same, or worse. The US bases in Iraq are permanent, at least in terms of our lifetimes. Someone will be needed to defend them, and whether a privatized security force, US-trained Iraqi puppets, or actual US military, the defending will be done by the US.

    In case there is any loss of military-industrial contracts from a step-down in Iraq, Obama is insuring the maintenance of profits by stepping up the war in Afghanistan. And of course, there will be more invasions and wars to come, although they might not be called wars. A change from Republican to Democrat to Republican does not change US foreign policy substantially. No, strike that. It doesn't change foreign policy. Period.

    Health care? No sign of single payer now or on the horizon.

    Abortion rights? That happens under state law. Obama has no control over it, except indirectly through the Supreme Court. Twenty-five years in the US pro-choice movement taught me that the focus on Roe v. Wade is wishful thinking for the uninformed. The damage has already been done, as the Supreme Court through the late 1980s and 1990s allowed the states to make Roe irrelevant in most of the US.

    Equal marriage? Obama has no control over that. I'm not familiar with the inner workings of the US equal marriage movement, and I imagine there is a lot of work going on to move something federally, but states right are states rights. That is, when it comes to limiting the rights of citizens.

    Fair elections? No change.

    Unchecked, deregulated capitalism? The Globe and Mail scare-graphics notwithstanding, Obama is not a socialist. In case you missed it, Canada's self-proclaimed national newspaper ran a front-page, above-the-fold illustration of the US flag, with communist hammer-and-sickles replacing the stars. Cute. I guess I missed the part where Obama nationalized the vast corporate wealth and distributed it to the people.

    All the President is going for is a little accountability, to quell some of the well-justified rage of taxpayers who financed bailouts only to see CEOs retire with more money than they will see in ten lifetimes on their Wal-Mart poverty wages. Like Franklin D. Roosevelt before him, Barack Obama will rein in capitalism to secure capitalism.

    Death penalty? There does seem to be some movement away from capital punishment - but it started ten years ago, as activists using DNA evidence helped exonerated many death-row prisoners. How far the movement will go and whether it will have traction on a federal level remains to be seen. That has little to do with which party is in power, as the Democrats will follow public opinion on this, not lead it.

    I'm not saying nothing is changing in the US. But in the ways that matter most to me, the US is still the US.

    * * * *

    On to Canada.

    Things are changing here. There's no doubt that the Harper-Ignatieff coalition is moving the country to the right. When you're a political immigrant, the political blends seamlessly into the personal. How many times have I been asked, Are you sorry you moved here? Are you going to move back? I wish I had been keeping track.

    I detest the Harper Government, what it stands for, how it stays in power, where it is taking Canada with its de facto majority government. But the Harper Government is not Canada, and it has not yet re-made Canada, in the ways that are most important to me.

    When I first started this blog, while still living in New York City, I answered the question "Why Canada" like this:
    National health insurance, legal gay marriage, no death penalty, full abortion rights, less crime, less poverty. Canada didn't support the invasion of Iraq, and they don't keep a huge military with which to bully the rest of the world. Religious fanatics do not control the government.

    So which of these has changed?

    Of the above, there are only three areas Canadians could possibly dispute.

    Poverty. Obviously, there has been an increase in poverty here, as there has been everywhere on the planet. Too many people are unemployed and social services are inadequate.

    But Canada could not have been immune to the global recession, no matter who formed the government, and the party that will be trusted to help the economy the most will form the next government.

    Relative to the US, Canada is booming. Because of the de-regulated banking industry and the subprime mortgage catastrophe, millions of USians have lost their homes, unemployment and underemployment has skyrocketed. And remember, in the US, if you lose your job, you lose your health care.

    Crime. I know many Canadians are upset about an increase in crime in Canadian cities. If a US city the size of Toronto - roughly speaking, Philadelphia or Boston - had less than 100 murders in a given year, they'd appoint a Mayor For Life and hail him as a national hero. I know Vancouver is currently in the throes of crime hysteria, but when a city is in the midst of that, it's difficult to distinguish between reality and media-fueled hype. From my US-raised perspective, Canada is very safe.

    That only leaves the religious influence on government. Having lived in both countries, I can tell you that the US at its most secular is ten times as religious as Canada at its most religious. If we want a secular society, we must continue to be vigilant and take an active role in ensuring that. But that's always the case.

    A few months after we moved to Canada, I wrote "Why Canada, Part 2," and added this:
    We knew life in Canada would be different, if only for how we see the United States: foreign wars for profit; unchecked poverty and its twin, rampant violence; increasing government intrusion into citizens' personal lives; media controlled by the government, and a government controlled by religious fanatics; a corrupt, antiquated election system.

    Elections. The Canadian election system is still first-past-the-post, so it is not truly democratic. But the votes are counted fairly, with independent oversight. There is at least a legitimate movement fighting for proportional representation.

    And although the Canadian system is not not fair - and not democratic - if you are a Conservative voter in a traditionally NDP riding, or a Liberal voter in a riding the Conservatives have a lock on, and your vote is consistently thrown away, at least a riding is a relatively small slice of the population. The US first-past-the-post system divides 306,000,000 people into only 50 voting blocs!

    Add to that partisan, politically-appointed "oversight", electronic vote-changing, and byzantine rules that disenfranchise millions of citizens. And only two parties!

    There are, sadly, many liberal Canadians who don't understand this: having more than two parties at the federal level helps keep Canada, Canada. When people call for the NDP and the Liberals to merge - as if they stand for the same things! - they are calling for Canada to take one massive step towards becoming the US.

    * * * *

    I didn't leave the US because of which party was elected. As I always say, anyone who would have been happy enough in the US had John Kerry been elected wasn't moving anywhere. Nor did I come to Canada because I was in love with the Liberal Party of Canada, who formed the government when we got here.

    I don't like the Harper-Ignatieff government, but for me, Canada is still Canada. I'm proud to be working to keep it that way.


    new mexico takes a giant step towards civilization

    Congratulations, New Mexico!

    New Mexico has become the second US state in two years - the 15th state overall - to abolish the death penalty. The legislation signed by Governor Bill Richardson makes New Mexico the first western state to repeal the death penalty since executions resumed in the US in 1977.

    I'm especially pleased to learn this about New Mexico, as I'll be depositing some of my hard-earned loonies there, when my nephew and his partner get married in Santa Fe in September.

    As of today, March 19, 2009, 20 people have been executed in the US this year, bringing the total since 1977 to 1137.

    If you are an abolitionist, as I am, the Death Penalty Information Center has everything you need to know to argue your case.


    we don't want another harper government because...

    On September 19, I asked wmtc readers to finish this sentence: "We don't want another Harper Government because..."

    Here are our answers so far.

    [I omitted banter, and occasionally edited comments for grammar or sense. And thank you all so much for your contributions.]

    L-girl: We don't want another Harper government because we want people of conscience who refused to participate in the invasion and occupation of Iraq to be able to stay in Canada.

    PeterC: The SPP and harmonizing our food inspectors with the rest of North America. Then laughing about it with the rest of his party.

    James: He's already fixed the date of Federal elections... How long before he takes a page from his pal Dubya's book and starts fixing the elections themselves?

    Stephanie: No more militarization.

    PeterC: First deficit in many years. Conservative track record at managing the economy poorly. I think those fit under poor economic management no matter what sweater vest says.

    Lizt: No more downing everything to the Provinces, selling off our federal buildings, and dissolving Canada as we know it.

    Ryan: "Kyoto is a money-sucking socialist scheme" - Steve

    Canrane: Cutting the court challenges program (at a grand total of 300 million, or something like that) because we need to tighten our purse strings...yet we somehow have money for 20+ billion (*billion*) for military spending.

    West End Bob: We want an immigration policy with rules and parameters, rather than one based on the whims of the Immigration Minister, Diane Finley in this case.

    PeterC: Ritz's insensitivity to the families of whom the conservative policy of "producer inspect" has killed the loved ones.

    The selection of campaign teams and managers who would insult Aboriginals with "drunken incest" comments, say comments from a dead soldier's father are politically motivated and otherwise drag us down in the the bully mentality.

    I think this fits in a "MEAN" category.

    Dale Landry: Here's a good one. He'll send me to jail.

    Canrane: Hurting Canada's standing internationally by unilaterally reversing decades of standard operating procedure (and this crosses party lines. He's flying in the face of what was done even during Brian Mulroney's time).

    For example, unequivocally siding with Israel during the Lebanon conflict, heavy-handed dealings with China to the point where we lose what little leverage we may have had, obstructionism in UN talks on everything from climate change to asbestos, failing to appeal on behalf of Canadians on death row in foreign countries, only appealing on the behalf of Canadians on death row in *certain* countries and thus exposing us to criticisms of hypocrisy...

    Lisa: Axing funding to the Court Challenges Program.

    What the hell is the point in having a Charter of Rights if people can't afford the lawyers!

    Save the Court Challenges Program of Canada

    [Dupe included for emphasis and link!]

    JakeNCC: He will continue to gut arts and culture funding including the CBC. Who needs news and culture from a Canadian perspective when we can now watch FOX this and FOX that.

    Impudent Strumpet: I'd kind of like a government that doesn't completely disregard me based on my demographics.

    JakeNCC: Guns.

    Jen: Insite*. Or lack thereof.
    * In all possible meanings and spellings of the word.

    Scott M: Harper changed the policy of asking for clemency for EVERY person sentenced to the death penalty, choosing instead to not ask for clemency from countries who have a "fair system".

    Of course any country we ask for clemency from now, understandably, takes it as a diplomatic insult to be asked and considers us to have a double standard.

    Harper has subsequently taken away our moral authority to request that our citizens not be murdered overseas as a result of EITHER a fair OR unfair justice system.

    DeanG: He's caused people in other countries to think of Canada as allied with the US right wing exemplified by Bush and thus caused people to think less of Canada: Diminished Canada's international reputation.

    Redsock: On June 3, the House of Commons passed a resolution stating that Iraq war resisters from the US should be allowed to stay legally in Canada.

    However, Harper has given the finger to democracy. He has chosen to behave as a dictator, believing that his opinion rules above all others, willfully ignoring the wishes of Parliament and a clear majority of the Canadian people.

    JakeNCC: If Harper had been prime minister in 2003 we would to this day have our soldiers dying in Iraq. He's never met an American war he didn't want to support with Canadian blood.

    He has a hard-on for America and wishes to Americanize our country at every level.

    Impudent Strumpet: I'd also prefer a government that doesn't interrogate or fire people for doing their jobs as required by law.

    Scott M: Here's an economic one: Harper committed to NOT tax income trusts. Then, in his first year, he did a 180 saying that if they didn't tax income trusts major corporations like Bell Canada would get out of paying corporate taxes by converting to income trusts.

    This, of course, is true but ignores that most people pay taxes when the distributions of the income trusts are removed from their RRIF/RRSP etc, resulting in MILLIONS of dollars of revenue.

    So yeah, he stopped Bell Canada from becoming an income trust. Bell, who still needed to change it's corporate structure, was instead bought by a pension plan and turned private.

    Now, Bell is not paying any taxes at all. The pension plan doesn't pay them either.

    Oh, and don't forget, billions of dollars of equity was blown away by the markets when the taxes were announced. Who got affected? The senior citizens who bought income trusts in the last two years, egged on by Stephen Harper actively promoting them while promising he'd never tax them.

    L-girl: Because $100/month - taxable - does not provide child care.

    David Heap: Because of the obscene amounts they spent on military recruitment (the Canadian Forces seem to own all the bus shelter ad space in our city...). This includes making the best-funded federal youth training program a series of free "cadet camps" for teens (younger than recruitment age) to learn how much fun it is to be a soldier.
    Not to mention the vast amounts spent on PR to "sell the war" in Afghanistan to a skeptical public.

    L-girl: Because we don't want reproductive freedom chipped away by stealth, as bills supposedly about justice actually redefine a fetus as a legal human being. See C-484 and C-537.

    Kim_in_TO: Because Harper doesn't care about cities - the economic engines of the country. Didn't he basically tell cities to go to hell? And he wonders why he doesn't have any support in Toronto...

    John F: Under Harper, Canada has stopped insisting that people it extradites not be subjected to the death penalty. If he gets a majority, I think the government will start flying trial balloons about bringing back the death penalty in Canada.

    Kim_in_TO: Because if Harper had his way, gays wouldn't be allowed to marry.

    Mister Anchovy: My old pal Candy Minx posted the following quote from Harper back at my place, and I think it sums things up: "The establishment came down with a constitutional package which they put to a national referendum. The package included distinct society status for Quebec and some other changes, including some that would just horrify you, putting universal Medicare in our constitution, and feminist rights, and a whole bunch of other things."
    - Conservative leader Stephen Harper, then vice-president of the National Citizens Coalition, in a June 1997 Montreal meeting of the Council for National Policy, a right-wing American think tank.

    It seems some people think he's changed. Let's not be lulled into a false sense of security just because he's run an impotent minority government for a couple years.

    Kim_in_TO: Because he has already stated that he will run the government as a dictatorship - oops, I mean "majority", even if he doesn't get a majority. This is essentially what he has been doing all along (note the refusal to honour the majority House vote on the war resisters), so we shouldn't have any doubts.

    Jen: Because he puts in ministers who don't have even a basic handle on the areas they cover, then muzzle the ministers so Canadians can't hear how under-qualified they are (until they speak at some organization, like say, the Canadian Medical Association).

    Lisa: We don't want another Harper government because Harper et al try to capitalize on the politics of fear, and, are apparently PROUDLY irrational:

    "Prime Minister Stephen Harper has dismissed empirical evidence that crime rates are actually falling, suggesting that emotion is a more telling barometer. Harper has cast those who point to statistics to oppose elements of the Tory law-and-order agenda as apologists for criminals.

    "(They) try to pacify Canadians with statistics," he told party supporters in January.

    "Your personal experiences and impressions are wrong, they say; crime is really not a problem. These apologists remind me of the scene from the Wizard of Oz when the wizard says, 'Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain."'

    Sarah Gates: I don't want you guys to have another Harper Government because I don't want there to be ANY nations that enable my pathetic excuse for a government the way Harper likes to. If we're going to be the total assholes on the global block, we shouldn't have back up.

    James: [snip from longer comment] Your personal experiences and impressions are wrong, they say

    That's why science exists: because people's personal experiences and impressions are often wrong, and the only way to know what's really going on is to tests your impressions against reality to find out if they are actually right or not.

    Harper (like Bush and like McCain) favours the "decisive, from the gut" style of decision making. And with our Arctic waters ice-free, this is not the time to to hand leadership to someone who trusts his intestines' decision-making abilities over scientific study.

    Nicholas: The Conservative Party runs candidates that make fun of people's deaths and wish for their opponents to die; thinks that all Natives are disruptors and alcoholics; believes that gay people support promiscuity, drug use and prostitution...oh and that abortion should be banned, concealed weapons should be allowed and hate-crimes be abolished.

    Kim_in_TO: Because Harper talks about transparency, but instead muzzles the press - restricting and decreasing reporters' access to politicians.

    David Heap: Because he puts in ministers who don't have even a basic handle on the areas they cover

    And Parliamentary Assistants, i.e., MPs who are supposed help ministers with their portfolios. Specifically (just for a few examples) his 2006 appointments included:

    A P.A. for status of women who is a man.
    A P.A. for La francophonie who doesn't speak French.
    A P.A. for Fisheries from landlocked Saskatchewan.

    So much willful incompetence adds up to deliberate slaps in the face for the many many constituencies which don't matter to Harper's government.

    Mason: ...this beautiful country has taken decades and spent billions of dollars instigating policies and procedures encouraging the development of unique Canadian arts, broadcast and influence to protect itself from a cultural invasion from the United States and to throw that all away with the election of a mini-me George Bush and conservative party would rip at the very core of this country's foundation: Peace, Order and Good Government!

    M@: The Harper government worked to reclassify lakes to enable private companies to turn them into tar sands tailing ponds.

    As if our lakes -- and our fresh water supply -- weren't under enough pressure from pollution.

    I'm not sure to what extent they have succeeded at this. The futures of many of the 16 lakes were in doubt, but I haven't seen anything about this in the media since the story originally broke.

    M@: Harper provided a handbook to his MPs explaining how they could disrupt the work of parliamentary committees.

    L-girl: Because his government will erode women's rights by stealth.

    Stephanie: Because this Government is way too closely aligned with that other Conservative Government that brought us Free Trade during the era of Reaganomics.

    Harper and his cronies are lining up at the trough smacking their lips at the promise of $$$.

    Impudent Strumpet: Correct me if I'm wrong, I don't know a lot about economics, but if I'm reading this right he seems to think that the economy will collapse if you don't believe in it.

    Also, speaking as an ordinary working person, I don't much appreciate being told what I do and don't want to see by someone who is never exposed to ordinary people.

    L-girl: Because, although his 2006 campaign was all about government transparency and accountability, he governs the same way he campaigns: by stealth.

    M@: One big reason here, and it has a lot of sub-reasons but I think it's worth describing in detail.

    The appointment of Michael Fortier to the senate is one of the major reasons I would not vote for Harper in this or any election.

    First, it was a cynical move to try to increase Quebec representation in his cabinet, despite having very few qualified MPs in Quebec.

    Second, it broke a promise he made in 2005, that he would not appoint any senators without first enacting senate reform.

    Third, he appointed Fortier as the Minister of Public Works. This is the very same ministry where the Liberal sponsorship scandal happened. And Harper's response was to appoint a minister who does not answer to parliament, and in fact never has to address parliament.

    While we're on the topic -- like Harper's fixed election date law, his proposed senate reform actually does nothing; we would need a constitutional change to get any real senate reform, and no one is dumb enough to try that right now. But any reform Harper might propose just shows how cynically Harper used the existing system when it suited him.

    (Side note: when I received a flyer from my (CPC) MP about the CPC plans for senate reform, I wrote his office, demanding to know whether they were serious, in light of the Fortier affair, or whether their pre-campaign had turned into some kind of satirical Dadaist art project. Turns out they were serious -- I hounded him till he answered and will keep the letter until he's out of office.)

    M@: Another one -- also from Harper's first day in office: the courting of David Emerson.

    Again, Harper contradicted his previous stand against floor-crossers (although of course he never said he'd forbid it or anything). However, to court someone from the opposition to join your party -- before they had even taken their seat in the new parliament -- is outright opportunism and a complete lack of ethics.

    It has also led to the citizens of Emerson's ridings being all but unrepresented in the last parliament, because Emerson ended up being so afraid of them that he refused to meet with them and rarely was in his riding office.

    A clear and complete lack of honesty and ethics on all sides. What's more, it shows how little confidence Harper had in his caucus, when he was forced to go outside it -- twice -- to find people qualified to be ministers. And people like Rona Ambrose just showed him how right he was.

    M.: ...because if this election is won by borrowing from the Republican playbook, we may never have another that isn't.

    M@: Yet another reason: Harper's attempts to thwart elected opposition MPs in representing the citizens who elected them.

    An MP in British Columbia issued a news release telling the citizens of an NDP riding that they should go to an unelected CPC representative to get their issues brought up in parliament.

    Harper isn't interested in parliament, and he's willing to subvert the will of the people at every turn if it gets him what he wants.

    M@: In 2006, the CPC cut funding for Status of Women Canada.

    The government rewrote the statement of purpose for the organization, too, and removed the word "equality" from the updated statement.

    A shameful attitude of contempt for women is pervasive in this government. To think the minister responsible for SWC at the time was a woman!

    M@: The CPC is using the RCMP as its election campaign bodyguards -- not just for candidates' safety, as is the RCMP's mandate, but to control the access of reporters to those candidates as well.

    With the many problems in the RCMP on display these days (corruption, tasers, refusal to testify to parliament, etc), a responsible government would be working to rein in the organization and reform it so that it has an appropriate mandate, and fulfills it on the behalf of Canadians.

    This government is using the federal police force as a private security force.

    Winston Churchill once said that the truth is so precious, it must travel with a bodyguard of lies. With this government, the lies are so important they must travel with true bodyguards.

    Lisa: "because if this election is won by borrowing from the Republican playbook, we may never have another that isn't" is one of my biggest fears. Attack ads, weird focus on leaders, wedge issues, insane and insaner partisanship and hardened ideological perspectives...this is why, as much as I would like to see the Cons dumped, I am not really enjoying this election.

    We don't want another Harper government because we don't want this negative shift in how politics is done here to become permanent. This ideological narrowness and partisanship is limiting intelligent dialogue, and more practically, Harper seems hellbent on eliminating political choices!

    Uniting the right may have been a good strategic move, but I totally mourn the loss of the Progressive Conservatives, not because I'm on the left and uniting the right has worked against us, but because I actually appreciated the PCs. I kills me that Joe Clark feels politically homeless. And now that they've taken care of the Progressive Conservatives, all they apparently care about is decimating the Liberal Party.

    That's their vision?? Is that all they've got? We hate the Liberals, that's our platform.

    I know a lot of the Canadian left won't be crying many tears if the Liberals fall apart, but this radically fast dismantling of our traditional political parties is unsettling me!

    Lisa: I'm going to cheat and post a list I totally stole from a Globe and Mail comment (of all places!) a few months ago, but still worth mentioning:

    "Stephen Harper:

    FIRED the president of CNSC

    FIRED the president of the Wheat Board

    FIRED the ambassador to the Environment

    FIRED the Ethic Commissioner

    FIRED the Law Commissioner

    FIRED the Director General of Elections Canada

    FIRED the Information Commissioner

    FIRED the Defense Ombudsman

    FIRED the Language Commissioner

    FIRED the Immigration Board president

    FIRED the Chief Electoral Officer

    FIRED the National Science adviser"

    If you look into the backstories of all of these examples, they are all ultimately: partisan, partisan, assuming all bureaucrats are as partisan as you, ideology, partisan...SCARY!

    Deb Prothero: Harper has abused the future right or ability of parliamentarians to communicate effectively with their constituents by overusing and abusing the 10% flyers with partisan messages to the extent that Canadians are outraged and will expect the next government to curtail their use.

    Deb Prothero: Harper deliberately lies to the electorate repeating these lies directly to Canadians even though they have been refuted by the opposition parties and the media.

    Deb Prothero: Harper has refused to respect the process of a Canadian election by putting forth any plan for discussion.