Showing posts with label nationalism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nationalism. Show all posts

7.01.2017

thoughts on canada 150

It's Canada Day, this year dubbed Canada 150, with its own corporate brand and a carefully worded story of that number 150. We also have Canada 150+, which acknowledges that human cultures and societies have been living in what is now Canada for thousands of years.

I have mixed feelings about Canada Day.

First, I despise nationalism of all kinds, including the kind called patriotism. I used to make a distinction between the two (something I learned from my mother), but have come to feel that it is all the same: I am better than you because I live on this piece of land and you don't. In Canada, patriotism mostly translates into complacency, as if "we're much better than our neighbours to the south!" is good enough.

But more importantly, when it comes to Canada 150, are indigenous people. The very concept of Canada 150 excludes and erases the original inhabitants of this land. From an indigenous point of view, Canada 150 marks the beginning of colonialism, occupation, extermination.

This would be bad enough, if the horrors weren't still being lived right here, right now. A country that spends $500,000,000 celebrating itself should be able to bring clean water to everyone who lives here.* The คาสิโนออนไลน์ แจกเครดิตฟรี 2019Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women issue should be wrapped up by now, a shameful piece of history, not an ongoing battle. Governments should be thanking indigenous leadership on the environmental front, and trying to reverse the damage done to indigenous land and water by extraction industries.

Most of my leftist comrades eschew Canada Day for this reason, and are disgusted by Canada 150.

I agree. And yet... I have another perspective, too.

I love Canada in many ways. I am grateful that I was able to come here and begin my life anew. I love that Canada was an early adopter of equal marriage, and now leads the way in the rights of transpeople. I love Canada's public health care (and wish there was a whole lot more of it). I love that women (mostly) have full control over our reproductive lives. I love the multiculturalism, and the strong reaction when that value is transgressed. Of course there is racism here -- which only means Canadians are human beings -- but the kind of virulence and violence seen every day in the US would never be tolerated here on a large scale.

The indigenous perspective is big news here -- emphasized in the mainstream media and acknowledged by the top level of government. Many countries all over the world refuse to even acknowledge a colonial or genocidal past. Words without action are meaningless, but no action can begin without that acknowledgement; while words alone are insufficient, they are still significant.

I have spent most of my life opposing state power, and there's plenty to work on here, on every front -- peace, environment, labour, health care, gender equity. None of it is good enough. But if we widen the lens to view Canada globally, it's one of the best places to live on the planet. There's a lot I would change and fix, but if we could magically give everyone on the planet the quality of life enjoyed by most Canadians, it would be a vast improvement. (Of course, the planet would collapse, because its resources would be instantly depleted. But we're only talking metaphor here.)

Canada is far from perfect -- and Canadians know that, acknowledge it, and strive for better. Which in turn is part of why I love it here.

Canada 150 doesn't mean a lot to me. But there's no way around it. I love Canada. That's why I'll never stop criticizing it.



* To be fair, most of that money went to repairing and renovating infrastructure that will should last well beyond the July 1, 2017 party. Perhaps that highlights the issue even more starkly!


11.11.2014

11.11: honour the dead by committing to peace

Robert Fisk, in The Independent:
But as the years passed, old Bill Fisk became very ruminative about the Great War. He learned that Haig had lied, that he himself had fought for a world that betrayed him, that 20,000 British dead on the first day of the Somme – which he mercifully avoided because his first regiment, the Cheshires, sent him to Dublin and Cork to deal with another 1916 "problem" – was a trashing of human life. In hospital and recovering from cancer, I asked him once why the Great War was fought. "All I can tell you, fellah," he said, "was that it was a great waste." And he swept his hand from left to right. Then he stopped wearing his poppy. I asked him why, and he said that he didn't want to see "so many damn fools" wearing it – he was a provocative man and, sadly, I fell out with him in his old age. What he meant was that all kinds of people who had no idea of the suffering of the Great War – or the Second, for that matter – were now ostentatiously wearing a poppy for social or work-related reasons, to look patriotic and British when it suited them, to keep in with their friends and betters and employers. These people, he said to me once, had no idea what the trenches of France were like, what it felt like to have your friends die beside you and then to confront their brothers and wives and lovers and parents. At home, I still have a box of photographs of his mates, all of them killed in 1918.

So like my Dad, I stopped wearing the poppy on the week before Remembrance Day, 11 November, when on the 11th hour of the 11 month of 1918, the armistice ended the war called Great. I didn't feel I deserved to wear it and I didn't think it represented my thoughts. The original idea came, of course, from the Toronto military surgeon and poet John McCrae and was inspired by the death of his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, killed on 3 May 1915. "In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row." But it's a propaganda poem, urging readers to "take up the quarrel with the foe". Bill Fisk eventually understood this and turned against it. He was right.
Read the whole piece: Do those who flaunt the poppy on their lapels know that they mock the war dead?

I'm the only person in my workplace not wearing a poppy. This is when I appreciate the Canadian quiet live-and-let-live attitude and aversion to potential conflict. I'm sure the absence has been noted, but no one says anything.

No white poppy for me, either. It has no meaning to me.

I just wear my peace button on my jacket as always, and wait for the collective brainwashing to blow over. When our masters give the signal, everyone can take off the fake poppy - made with prison labour - and create a bit more landfill. And another annual ritual of war glorification comes to a close.

Meanwhile, in my country of origin...

David Masciotra, in Salon:
Put a man in uniform, preferably a white man, give him a gun, and Americans will worship him. It is a particularly childish trait, of a childlike culture, that insists on anointing all active military members and police officers as “heroes.” The rhetorical sloppiness and intellectual shallowness of affixing such a reverent label to everyone in the military or law enforcement betrays a frightening cultural streak of nationalism, chauvinism, authoritarianism and totalitarianism, but it also makes honest and serious conversations necessary for the maintenance and enhancement of a fragile democracy nearly impossible.

It has become impossible to go a week without reading a story about police brutality, abuse of power and misuse of authority. Michael Brown’s murder represents the tip of a body pile, and in just the past month, several videos have emerged of police assaulting people, including pregnant women, for reasons justifiable only to the insane.

It is equally challenging for anyone reasonable, and not drowning in the syrup of patriotic sentimentality, to stop saluting, and look at the servicemen of the American military with criticism and skepticism. There is a sexual assault epidemic in the military. In 2003, a Department of Defense study found that one-third of women seeking medical care in the VA system reported experiencing rape or sexual violence while in the military. Internal and external studies demonstrate that since the official study, numbers of sexual assaults within the military have only increased, especially with male victims. According to the Pentagon, 38 men are sexually assaulted every single day in the U.S. military. Given that rape and sexual assault are, traditionally, the most underreported crimes, the horrific statistics likely fail to capture the reality of the sexual dungeon that has become the United States military.

Chelsea Manning, now serving time in prison as a whistle-blower, uncovered multiple incidents of fellow soldiers laughing as they murdered civilians. Keith Gentry, a former Navy man, wrote that when he and his division were bored they preferred passing the time with the “entertainment” of YouTube videos capturing air raids of Iraq and Afghanistan, often making jokes and mocking the victims of American violence. If the murder of civilians, the rape of “brothers and sisters” on base, and the relegation of death and torture of strangers as fodder for amusement qualifies as heroism, the world needs better villains.
The essay: You don’t protect my freedom: Our childish insistence on calling soldiers heroes deadens real democracy.

1.05.2014

government destruction of environmental archives: the harper govt's war on facts marches on

At year's end, The Tyee reported that a memo - marked "secret" and first reported on OCanada.com - cast grave doubts on the Harper Government's claim that environmental archives were destroyed only after they had been preserved digitally. In other words, the memo proves what progressive and concerned Canadians have long known and suspected to be true.
A federal document marked "secret" obtained by Postmedia News indicates the closure or destruction of more than half a dozen world famous science libraries has little if anything to do with digitizing books as claimed by the Harper government.

In fact, the document, a compendium of cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans that can be read in its entirety at the bottom of this story, mentions only the "culling of materials" as the "main activities" involved as the science libraries are reduced from nine to two. Specifically, it details "culling materials in the closed libraries or shipping them to the two locations and culling materials in the two locations to make room for collections from closed libraries."

In contrast, a government website says the closures are all about digitizing the books and providing greater access to Canadians -- a claim federal and retired scientists interviewed by The Tyee say is not true.
BoingBoing reports:
คาสิโนออนไลน์ แจกเครดิตฟรี 2019The destruction of these publicly owned collections was undertaken in haste. No records were kept of what was thrown away, what was sold, and what was simply lost. Some of the books were burned.
These actions must be seen in context of the Harper Government's ongoing and pervasive War on Facts. The Harper Government serves the interest of two groups: Canada's small but influential religious right, and the corporate elites, especially the very powerful extraction industries. And to keep these groups happy - or at least, when it comes to the religious right, mollified - the Government must appeal to the general public on an emotional, rather than factual, level. Evidence of this is all around.

The Government's war on immigration and refugees relies on denying facts and eliciting emotional reactions of envy, fear, and discontent: witness the "gold-plated" refugee health care plan that never existed, or Jason Kenney's frequent assertions that Roma and other persecuted peoples made "bogus" refugee claims.

Pouring taxpayer money into privatized for-profit prison schemes is all about denying facts (crime is at an all-time low) and playing on fears (liberal Canada was soft on criminals! criminals are coming to get you!).

And of course, there are the Big Lies. The war in Afghanistan is being fought to liberate women. Climate change doesn't exist. They have to deny and destroy a mountain of facts to support those whoppers.

What are the demise of the mandatory long-form census and the deep budget cuts to Statistics Canada if not a war on facts? Indeed, if government decisions are to be based on what's good for the energy industries and what social regressives want, then we'd better not keep accurate statistics. Statistics will only prove the depth and breadth of Harper's destructive effects on Canada.

Nothing makes the Harper Government's War on Facts more literal than its massive budget cuts to Library and Archives Canada, and its literal destruction of libraries. As Donald Gutstein points out in a 2012 Tyee story:
Why would the Harper government cut Canada's Library and Archives budget? Heritage Minister James Moore explained the 10 per cent overall cut would not hurt the agency because records could be digitized and made available to Canadians via the Internet.

But the 2012 budget cut the digitization staff by 50 per cent.
Gutstein enumerates the three overlapping motives behind the Harper Government's War on Facts. One, the need to "satisfy his party's evangelical base". Two, the drive for government-sanctioned, whitewashed history: cross-reference the celebration of The War of 1812 and Vimy Ridge, and my analysis of Discover Canada. And three, to silence voices that challenge the Harper Agenda.
Limiting access to Canada's actual archives makes it easier to promote revisionist histories like The Canadian Century, a book written by Harper government allies -- three libertarian economists with no formal historical training.

Authors are Brian Lee Crowley, head of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, Niels Veldhuis, who now heads the Fraser Institute, and Jason Clemens, who once worked for the Fraser Institute and now is at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. They are among Canada's elite economic conservatives.
In this sense, the destruction of the environmental archives is to be expected from this Government. The original story from PostMedia demonstrates how perfectly it dovetails with the Harper agenda.
The downsizing also includes the shutdown of federal libraries and millions of dollars in reductions to climate change adaptation programs. In total, the department estimates it will cut about $80 million per year from its budget by 2014-15, and over $100 million per year in the following fiscal year.

But the cuts coincide with internal advice from top bureaucrats that the government should instead be increasing its spending in the department to protect both economic and environmental interests, particularly for Coast Guard services which are facing cuts equivalent to about $20 million by 2014-15 and 300 full-time jobs.

“Rising marine traffic, technological changes, climate change impacts (such as fluctuating water levels), and extended shipping seasons are among the factors expected to continue to place increased demands on Coast Guard services,” said briefing notes prepared for the department’s deputy minister Matthew King in December 2012. “For example, there are demands for increasing icebreaking services on the Gulf of St. Lawrence and on the Great Lakes, for extending Marine Communications and Traffic Services, aids to navigation and ice breaking services in the Quebec North and Arctic for additional environmental response as well as search and rescue capacities in selected areas.”
I also note that more than a knowledge base and marine programs were destroyed. These budget cuts - and all budget cuts - represent massive job losses, making the lives of countless Canadians more precarious in a country that has already destroyed much of it social safety net.

The Harper Government says these budget cuts are necessary to eliminate a budget deficit... which speaks to the biggest lie of all: the fiscally conservative Conservative. For more on that subject: Harper is a fiscal conservative — except when he isn’t, and The Myth of Fiscal Conservatism. From the latter article, in Canadian Dissensus:
The idea of fiscal conservatism must be stripped bare and revealed for what it really is. It has no relation to budgetary probity and the wise use of public funds. Rather it is a rhetorical tool used to justify the selfish desire for tax cuts – regardless of the value – and provide intellectual cover for direct (or more typically indirect) regressive social policies and a more strident social conservatism. It is a tool of state retrenchment masquerading as prudent planning, of forcing governments to ‘live within their means’ while continuously reducing these means. It is a dishonest idea used by scoundrels. Sadly it is effective rhetoric. People still think Mussolini made the trains run on time.

8.15.2013

sports without war: canada out of aghanistan, and military out of our sports

I have written a bit about the use of professional sports as a vehicle for war propaganda and militarism, such as when the Harper Government used the Olympic torch relay to promote its war in Afghanistan. My partner Allan has covered this ground more consistently, since he writes a sports blog. See, for example, his "Thoughts Prompted By The Red Sox Foundation's Association With "Run To Home Base"" and "The National Anthem And The Idea Of Respect", among others. These are mostly from a US perspective, since that's mostly where Major League Baseball is played.

Whether it's endless rounds of "God Bless America," (nationalism being the first stop on the road to war), the honouring of veterans who are always deemed "heroes," or in one case, a plan to distribute dog-tags to kids attending a game (dropped after protests), the continuing militarization of sports is a disturbing - yet largely uncontested - trend. When militarism is linked with sports, spectators of sport are turned into spectators of war. War becomes part of the entertainment. Fans of the game are expected to consume both forms of entertainment - to conflate the two, to see them as related and inseparable - and to do so unquestioningly.

Why?

Why is war glorified at a baseball game or a hockey game? Why is military worship associated with sporting events? Why should we accept this as normal and natural?

Have we come to see war as just another sport? Is there an assumption that the people who attend sporting events are especially receptive to military propaganda? Or is sport being used as the great leveler, the mass common denominator, the stand-in for The Public, those whose passive consent is required in order for the war to continue?

As both Allan and I have written in too many posts, questioning and challenging this norm is decried as "political," as in, "Why are you bringing politics into baseball? Can't we just enjoy the game?". On the other hand, the presence of militarism at a game, being the dominant view, is seen as neutral. But of course, it's not neutral. Every "hero" honoured, every flag waved, every resounding exhortation about the troops "protecting our way of life," is a conscious act, and a political one.

Apparently Canadians once saw this as a peculiarly USian phenomenon - but no longer. Given the nature of the Harper Government and the direction in which Canada has been headed, this is unsurprising. But we should still find it disturbing, and we should challenge it.

The current issue of Canadian Dimension magazine takes an in-depth look. In the lead story, "The NHL and the New Canadian Militarism: National Game, International Shame", Tyler Shipley works it out.
There was a time when the idea of military pomp at a Canadian sporting event would have seemed absurdly out of place — that was an American thing. Oh, how the times have changed.

These days, when you settle in to watch the Jets beat the Leafs on Saturday night, you do so understanding that there will almost inevitably be some kind of military spectacle on display. Maybe soldiers will rappel from the rafters to thunderous applause. Maybe there will be a moment of silence for our fallen heroes. Maybe Don Cherry will take us on an unscheduled trip to Kandahar in a jocular salute to the boys who are maintaining their team loyalties even while they keep us safe over there.

But wait — over where? Keeping us safe from whom? Doesn’t it matter?

Not according to the NHL, the CBC, or the countless franchises, broadcasters, sponsors and pundits who have made themselves a crucial component of the new Canadian militarism. Ours is not to talk about actual details of Canada’s military engagements, it is simply to “support the troops.” Those who question this mantra are told that while one may or may not agree with the particular deployments of the Canadian Armed Forces, we all have a responsibility to support the men and women who put their bodies on the line for us.

But the logic does not hold. Uncritically supporting the troops is a tacit support of their deployments especially since, in the first place, that support is premised on the notion that they are protecting us. That is, it requires that we believe that the troops’ particular deployments in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Haiti, Mali and elsewhere are making us safer — a claim that is not at all self-evident. Moreover, the military celebrations at NHL games themselves make no effort to separate the troops from their missions, and it needs to be added that there are plenty of other Canadians — aid workers, doctors, nurses, activists — who also put their bodies on the line doing work that doesn’t involve killing, injuring or torturing anyone. They receive no similar tributes at hockey games. [Read more here.]
If you're Canadian and this interests you, please check out the new group Sports Without War.
Sports Without War (SWW) is a collection of sports fans, athletes, concerned citizens, and activists organized against Canada’s role in imperial interventions, occupations and military actions around the world, most notably, in Afghanistan.

In particular, we are opposed to the increased use of professional sports as an avenue to promote an imperialistic, pro-military politics. SWW aims to challenge pro-military messaging at sporting events and in sports media through targeted information campaigns, speaking events, and public demonstrations.

Professional sports and the sporting media is a pervasive part of our lives. As sports fans, we enjoy participating in the excitement and drama of seeing the world’s greatest athletes compete at the highest level. Nevertheless, we increasingly find our enjoyment of the games interrupted by blatant military propaganda, from the presence of recruiters at arenas and stadiums, to military-themed team uniforms, to the spectacle of troops rappelling from the rafters, to solemn services honouring their sacrifices.

These services ignore the many people - often civilians - who have been killed in the course of Canada’s war in Afghanistan. In so doing, they explicitly support the Canadian occupation, which has not been driven by humanitarian or security interests but, rather, by a collusion of corporate interests that prioritize profits over human lives. In the meantime, the Canadian government is spending billions of dollars on the war machine, while ordinary Canadians are struggling in the climate of austerity, job cuts, and wage freezes.

The realm of professional sport should be reflective of popular opinion, rather than actively seeking to promote an unpopular pro-military position. But military propaganda in sports is part of a broader project to build support for a new Canadian militarism, in a country where some 80% of the population opposes its most visible military occupation, in Afghanistan.

SWW is part of the larger pro-peace, anti-war movement and understands that while sporting culture can be accessible and unifying, it can also be oppressive and violent along a variety of social divisions, including but not limited to gender, sexuality, race, and class. We will endeavor to create a non-hierarchical atmosphere at our meetings and events, and we encourage anyone interested in promoting peace and justice to participate in our organizing efforts.
Folks from SWW recently leafletted a Blue Jays game, in protest of the so-called "Sunday Salute" to a member of the Canadian military. You can find them on Facebook.

6.21.2013

rtod

Revolutionary thought of the day:
This war is murder, this conquest is robbery... If this war be called patriotism then blessed be treason.

Clarence Darrow, 1898, on the Spanish-American war

4.17.2013

boston, pakistan, terrorism, and perspective

From "A Tale of Two Terrorisms"
In the midst of tragedy, it's hard to talk about perspective.

My niece lives in Boston, a short walking distance from where the bombs went off. She was on the spot less than an hour before the explosions.

And, having lived in New York City before, during, and after September 11, 2001, I know something of what the people of Boston are experiencing.

What happened in Boston is a horror and a tragedy and a crime.

For families and friends of the three people who were killed, there is no perspective. There is only loss. For people who lost limbs, life is forever altered. No matter how they adjust and adapt, there will always be a before and an after.

On April 7, US-led airstrikes killed 20 people in Afghanistan, 11 of them children. Those 11 children are a small fraction of the civilians killed in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and other countries by the United States in recent years.

The parents and loved ones of those 11 children are grieving in exactly the same way as the families in Boston. People everywhere love their children. People everywhere mourn their irreparable loss.

I'm told it is natural and normal to care more about "our own people" than about people in faraway lands. This is generally the excuse given for why USians offer huge outpourings of grief and sympathy for the people of New York or Boston or Oklahoma City, and... well, nothing for the people of Pakistan and Yemen.

If this is natural and normal, then I'm proud to be a crazy freak. I don't care about the people of Boston more than I care about the people of Yemen. They're all people. They just happened to live in another part of the world. In the 21st century, it is way past time to move beyond dangerous, antiquated tribal concepts like nationalism.

It's not only USians' lack of concern for the victims of their country's wars. It's much worse than that. The USian people are paying for all those civilian deaths. They are funding those attacks. They are funding terrorism as horrific and shocking and disgusting as the attack in Boston, only hundreds of times more lethal.

Many USians are paying for those attacks against their will, I grant you that. Yet there is no massive uprising, no huge and vigorous movement, trying to stop it. The US has seen massive and effective peace movements, but only when the American middle class were threatened.

If the people of the United States feel powerless to stop their war machine, who can blame them. But most are not even trying. There's no excuse for that.

If I were in Afghanistan or Pakistan or Yemen or any of the many other countries the US is currently bombing, I think I would find it quite difficult to work up much sympathy for one bombing in one US city.

See also:

คาสิโนออนไลน์ แจกเครดิตฟรี 2019The Boston Marathon and U.S. Drone Attacks: a Tale of Two Terrorisms. Not much to read, but please click and scroll. It's a must.

Dave Zirin, interviewed by Amy Goodman:
Well, first, prayers for the people of Boston, Baghdad and Mogadishu who are suffering today. Second, I think people have to realize that an attack on the Boston Marathon is really an attack not on Boston or the United States, but on the world. We have a tendency in this country to call our national champions "world champions." And yet, here’s this Boston Marathon, which sounds so provincial—the Boston Marathon—but it comprises people from 96 countries. The world record holders for both the men and women are both from sub-Saharan Africa. Over 20,000 people compete. You can speak to people around the world who are part of this global marathon community, and they know that Heartbreak Hill is the fourth hill in Newton that’s so difficult to go over. They know that when you run past Wellesley College, for example, that the cheers can be so loud you can’t even hear out of your own ears. They know that the Boston Marathon actually means something that’s very communitarian. And so, when you take something that’s so communitarian and you turn it into something that now, going forward, is going to feel insecure, dangerous, something you don’t want to bring your family to, it really is an attack on collective space with global dimensions.
Full interview here; well worth your time.

11.09.2012

remembrance day: all the victims of war, not just the ones who did the killing

Richard Jackson:
I would wear a red poppy if it was a symbol of remembrance for all the victims of war, and not just the ones who did the killing. By excluding the non-military victims of war from remembrance, the red poppy upholds a moral hierarchy of worthy and unworthy victims: the heroic soldier who is worthy of respect and official commemoration, and the unworthy, unnamed civilians killed or maimed by the heroic soldier who remains unacknowledged and unremembered...

I would wear a red poppy if it did not function to hide the truth and obscure reality...

I would wear a red poppy if its fund-raising and symbolism had the true interests of the military personnel it purports to support at heart...

I would wear a red poppy if...
Read this excellent piece here.

7.28.2012

olympics. not.


The 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics kick off today, with Opening Ceremonies that are supposed to be completely over-the-top. With a £27 million price tag ($42.5 million Canadian) for those three hours alone, they ought to be. We're told that one billion people worldwide will watch the Opening Ceremonies. I won't be one of them.

I used to love the Olympics - the competition, the ubiquitous underdog stories, the feats of seemingly superhuman ability. I was able to tune out the nationalism and concentrate on the athletes. In the 1990s, when I started writing about disability sports, I shifted my focus to the Paralympics. I felt that competition best embodied the true spirit of amateur sport, and that helped me block out the increasingly disturbing issues surrounding the Olympic games.

These days I can't enjoy the games at all. I get past the corporatism, the nationalism, and the constant blending of the two into a corporate-fascist spectacle.

Right now in London, as the UK is besieged by the continued dismantling of the public sector, as banksters continue to rig the system while workers pay 20% VAT and lose their public libraries, a great city is victimized again by a £9,000,000,000 (that's $14.2 billion Canadian) funnelling of public funds into private coffers.

The residents of London are under siege in a civil liberties crackdown rivalling the horror show Toronto lived through during the G20. Brand Police comb the city for trademark infringements, forcing the owners of an "Olympic Cafe" to change their sign to "Lympic Cafe", and threatening a sausage vendor who sculpted the familiar five rings out of kielbasa with a $30,000 fine. If that sounds funny, consider that these special police have the right to enter homes, shops, and offices without a warrant, and remove signs the Olympic committee has deemed unacceptable.


I used to find refuge in the Paralympics, but naturally those games have been infected by the same viruses. Witness Canadian wheelchair racer Josh Cassidy, from the neighbouring town of Oakville, world-record winner of the 2012 Boston Marathon. Cassidy is extremely talented and time was I'd be interviewing him... but the oil pipeline company logo on his chest is just more than I can bear.

I thank and stand in solidarity with the Counter Olympics Network for their excellent work at documenting the increasing militarization, corporate profit, and assault on housing, labour, and the environment that the Olympics have become.


Cartoon Movement has a good graphic version of the issues.

And I hope you will enjoy the results of the counter-Olympics logos and posters collected by an excellent subversive blogger Kevin Blowe, a/k/a Random Blowe.

If all else fails, you can always follow the Lodnon 2102 Oimplycs. (Thanks to reader John F in comments.)

Update.
In late 2011, Chris Allison — Scotland Yard’s Assistant Commissioner and the national coordinator of Olympic security — briefed the London Assembly on policing costs for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. He highlighted ‘four key risks to the Games’—terrorism, protest, organised crime, and natural disasters. Singling out protest as a ‘threat’ and then sandwiching it between terrorism and organised crime was revealing. For political activists it was ominous. Security officials should most assuredly do their best to prevent acts of terrorism—that’s their job—but this does not give them carte blanche to conflate activism with terrorism and criminality. Keeping the Games safe from terrorism is one thing—green lighting the squelching of individual freedoms and human rights is another entirely.
From the Red Pepper Blog, "Policing Dissent at London 2012". Thanks to AZ.

1.31.2012

hedges: what happened to canada? (corporations have no borders)

Chris Hedges:
What happened to Canada? It used to be the country we would flee to if life in the United States became unpalatable. No nuclear weapons. No huge military-industrial complex. Universal health care. Funding for the arts. A good record on the environment.

But that was the old Canada. I was in Montreal on Friday and Saturday and saw the familiar and disturbing tentacles of the security and surveillance state. Canada has withdrawn from the Kyoto Accords so it can dig up the Alberta tar sands in an orgy of environmental degradation. It carried out the largest mass arrests of demonstrators in Canadian history at 2010’s G-8 and G-20 meetings, rounding up more than 1,000 people. It sends undercover police into indigenous communities and activist groups and is handing out stiff prison terms to dissenters. And Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a diminished version of George W. Bush. He champions the rabid right wing in Israel, bows to the whims of global financiers and is a Christian fundamentalist.

The voices of dissent sound like our own. And the forms of persecution are familiar. This is not an accident. We are fighting the same corporate leviathan.

“I want to tell you that I was arrested because I am seen as a threat,” Canadian activist Leah Henderson wrote to fellow dissidents before being sent to Vanier prison in Milton, Ontario, to serve a 10-month sentence. “I want to tell you that you might be too. I want to tell you that this is something we need to prepare for. I want to tell you that the risk of incarceration alone should not determine our organizing.”

“My skills and experience—as a facilitator, as a trainer, as a legal professional and as someone linking different communities and movements—were all targeted in this case, with the state trying to depict me as a ‘brainwasher’ and as a mastermind of mayhem, violence and destruction,” she went on. “During the week of the G8 & G20 summits, the police targeted legal observers, street medics and independent media. It is clear that the skills that make us strong, the alternatives that reduce our reliance on their systems and prefigure a new world, are the very things that they are most afraid of.”

The decay of Canada illustrates two things. Corporate power is global, and resistance to it cannot be restricted by national boundaries. Corporations have no regard for nation-states. They assert their power to exploit the land and the people everywhere. They play worker off of worker and nation off of nation. They control the political elites in Ottawa as they do in London, Paris and Washington. This, I suspect, is why the tactics to crush the Occupy movement around the globe have an eerie similarity—infiltrations, surveillance, the denial of public assembly, physical attempts to eradicate encampments, the use of propaganda and the press to demonize the movement, new draconian laws stripping citizens of basic rights, and increasingly harsh terms of incarceration.

Our solidarity should be with activists who march on Tahrir Square in Cairo or set up encampamentos in Madrid. These are our true compatriots. The more we shed ourselves of national identity in this fight, the more we grasp that our true allies may not speak our language or embrace our religious and cultural traditions, the more powerful we will become.
Read it here.

1.10.2012

the iron lady was an enemy of the people and should not be celebrated as a hero

This week, the movie "The Iron Lady" opens, a big-budget biopic starring Meryl Streep as former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. No technical or directorial skills, nor the inevitable genius of Streep's performance, could justify my seeing this movie. Its very existence as a myth-making celebration of a dangerous, war-mongering, ideologue is anathema to me.

Margaret Thatcher destroyed the public sector in the United Kingdom, privatising and deregulating transportation, energy, housing, banking, and other major sectors. She gutted the national healthcare system and public education. She broke unions, because working people were not important to her scheme, but the creation of a millionaire class was.

Thatcher engineered a huge transfer of wealth from the public to the private sector, creating income inequality unprecedented in UK history to that point. She created unemployment, poverty, and despair.

Thatcher destroyed industry and heavy manufacturing while privileging the banking and financial sector. Her policies did not create prosperity: they inflated property values and a small wedge of private wealth.

Then she started a war to distract an uninformed public from the economic chaos she had created and to secure her continued reign. That bears repeating. She started a war for cynical, political purposes. People died, and killed, and were maimed, and left homeless, because it was convenient and useful for her and her financial backers. Think about that before you celebrate this Iron Lady.

I suppose one could say, "It's only a movie. It's not important." Can we live in our media-saturated, truth-challenged world and casually dismiss a major movie as unimportant? This is how myths are created and propagated.

When the war-loving, torture-defending writer Christopher Hitchens died recently, Glenn Greenwald wrote about "the protocol for public figure deaths", and how our cultural taboo against "speaking ill of the dead" has altered the public conception of several people. The example Greenwald looks at most closely is that of Ronald Reagan. After describing the unrelenting, gushing media worship of Reagan during the week following his death, Greenwald notes the effect of that lovefest.
The key claim there was that “politics is put aside.” That’s precisely what did not happen. The entire spectacle was political to its core. Following Woodruff’s proclamation were funeral speeches, all broadcast by CNN, by then-House Speaker Denny Hastert and Vice President Dick Cheney hailing the former President for gifting the nation with peace and prosperity, rejuvenating national greatness, and winning the Cold War. This scene repeated itself over and over during that week: extremely politicized tributes to the greatness of Ronald Reagan continuously broadcast to the nation without challenge and endorsed by its “neutral” media — all shielded from refutation or balance by the grief of a widow and social mores that bar one from speaking ill of the dead.

That week forever changed how Ronald Reagan — and his conservative ideology — were perceived. As Gallup put it in 2004: Reagan had, at best, “routinely average ratings . . . while he served in office between 1981 and 1989.” Indeed, “the two presidents who followed Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, each had higher average ratings than Reagan, as did three earlier presidents — Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy, and Dwight Eisenhower.”

Though he became more popular after leaving office (like most Presidents), it was that week-long bombardment of hagiography that sealed Reagan’s status as Great and Cherished Leader. As media and political figures lavished him with politicized praise, there was virtually no mention of the brutal, civilian-extinguishing covert wars he waged in Central America, his funding of terrorists in Nicaragua, the pervasive illegality of the Iran-contra scandal perpetrated by his top aides and possibly himself, the explosion of wealth and income inequality ushered in by “Reagonmics” which persists today, his escalation of the racially disparate Drug War, his slashing of domestic programs for the poor accompanied by a deficit-causing build-up in the military budget, the racially-tinged (at least) attacks on welfare-queens-in-Cadillacs, the Savings & Loan crisis resulting from deregulation, his refusal even to acknowledge AIDS as tens of thousands of the Wrong People died, the training of Muslim radicals in Afghanistan and arming of the Iranian regime, the attempt to appoint the radical Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, or virtually anything else that would undermine the canonization. The country was drowned by a full, uninterrupted week of pure, leader-reverent propaganda.
Then there's the gender card. Some people will claim that Thatcher is worthy of celebration because she was the UK's first female Prime Minister, and succeeded as a woman in a relentlessly male world. As a feminist and a socialist, and a person of peace and conscience, I conclude that that alone does not a hero make. Hundreds, thousands, millions of women, both famous and unknown, have had to push themselves into previously all-male domains. They have had to be smarter, stronger, and tougher than their male counterparts in order to succeed. Margaret Thatcher tread a path beaten by Nancy Astor, Constance Markievicz, and countless anonymous women, whether they succeeded or tried and failed. The mere fact of a woman's trailblazing should not be enough to win our praise and admiration. In fact, that's a sexist conceit, setting the bar far too low. Our admiration should be reserved for people who contribute positively to society, not the reverse.

Perhaps you have heard that Thatcher only did what was necessary, that she fed the UK the "bad medicine" it needed. It's not so. Start with this: Neil Clark: Don't believe the myth. Margaret Thatcher ruined egalitarian 1970s Britain.

Here's an excellent piece from a Brit, Harry Paterson, anticipating the reaction when Thatcher dies: The Best Way To Deal With Margaret Thatcher’s Legacy Is To Destroy It.

10.03.2011

chris hedges: we are what we loathe

Although the big 9/11 anniversary was weeks ago, Chris Hedges' observations are relevant every day.

This is a truly excellent piece. This excerpt is not the lede. The beginning of this essay may be triggering for some, as Hedges was at the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, and recounts part of what he witnessed.
I returned that night to the newsroom hacking from the fumes released by the burning asbestos, jet fuel, lead, mercury, cellulose and construction debris. I sat at my computer, my thin paper mask still hanging from my neck, trying to write and catch my breath. All who had been at the site that day were noticeable in the newsroom because they were struggling for air. Most of us were convulsed by shock and grief.

There would soon, however, be another reaction. Those of us who were close to the epicenters of the 9/11 attacks would primarily grieve and mourn. Those who had some distance would indulge in the growing nationalist cant and calls for blood that would soon triumph over reason and sanity. Nationalism was a disease I knew intimately as a war correspondent. It is anti-thought. It is primarily about self-exaltation. The flip side of nationalism is always racism, the dehumanization of the enemy and all who appear to question the cause. The plague of nationalism began almost immediately.

. . . .

The dead in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania were used to sanctify the state’s lust for war. To question the rush to war became to dishonor our martyrs. Those of us who knew that the attacks were rooted in the long night of humiliation and suffering inflicted by Israel on the Palestinians, the imposition of our military bases in the Middle East and in the brutal Arab dictatorships that we funded and supported became apostates. We became defenders of the indefensible. We were apologists, as Christopher Hitchens shouted at me on a stage in Berkeley, “for suicide bombers.”

Because few cared to examine our activities in the Muslim world, the attacks became certified as incomprehensible by the state and its lap dogs, the press. Those who carried out the attacks were branded as rising out of a culture and religion that was at best primitive and probably evil. The Quran—although it forbids suicide as well as the murder of women and children—was painted as a manual for fanaticism and terror. The attackers embodied the titanic clash of civilizations, the cosmic battle under way between good and evil, the forces of light and darkness. . . .

What was played out in the weeks after the attacks was the old, familiar battle between force and human imagination, between the crude instruments of violence and the capacity for empathy and understanding. Human imagination lost. Coldblooded reason, which does not speak the language of the imagination, won. We began to speak and think in the empty, mindless nationalist clich├ęs about terror that the state handed to us. We became what we abhorred. The deaths were used to justify pre-emptive war, invasion, Shock and Awe, prolonged occupation, targeted assassinations, torture, offshore penal colonies, gunning down families at checkpoints, massive aerial bombardments, drone attacks, missile strikes and the killing of dozens and soon hundreds and then thousands and later tens of thousands and finally hundreds of thousands of innocent people. We produced piles of corpses in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, and extended the reach of our killing machine to Yemen and Somalia. And by beatifying our dead, by cementing into the national psyche fear and the imperative of permanent war, and by stoking our collective humiliation, the state carried out crimes, atrocities and killings that dwarfed anything carried out against us on 9/11. The best that force can do is impose order. It can never elicit harmony. And force was justified, and is still justified, by the first dead. Ten years later these dead haunt us like Banquo’s ghost.
Read it here.

5.27.2011

updates on baseball and the border

We had a wonderful little getaway, despite some crazy weather.

It was great to re-connect with our Windsor friends, now not only married but Canadian citizens. We had dinner at a terrific little Salvadorean joint; if you find yourself in Windsor, it's worth looking up.

Driving out to Windsor, we hit rain so intense, we had to pull off the highway to wait it out. But the following day, when the game started, we actually needed sunscreen. The storm clouds rolled in, but not as quickly as Boston's runs. By the time the raindrops started falling, the Red Sox had a 7-run lead.

We quickly snagged two seats under the overhang - cushioned seats with extra leg-room and a little bench for your drinks - so when the downpour started, we were cozy and happy. By the 8th inning, the Red Sox lead was 14-2. The tarp came out and the fans streamed out. It was neat to be in a nearly empty ballpark, and great to see a big win in our only live Sox game this year. We had a lot of fun.

* * * *

This marked my third border crossing without the hassles stemming from the war resister passport incident. However, the crossing was not without its charms.

This time we experienced what we've been hearing about from many other dual US-Canadian citizens who use a Canadian passport. The US border is now sporadically enforcing a law that requires US citizens with dual citizenship to travel with a US passport. People get hassled, asked many questions, and are then allowed to enter the country.

According to the ACLU, if you're an American citizen and have not been deported, they have to let you in. In addition, Allan and I have both entered the US with our Canadian passports without one extra question. So it's meaningless harassment, as far as I can tell.

Yesterday, the guard said, "If you are US citizens, you are expected to travel with US travel documents. Since you are not using US passports, I will have to treat you as Canadians." (Us: OK.) His questions included:

- "Why did you become Canadian citizens?" (Because we live in Canada now, so we wanted to be citizens.)

- "Why did you move to Canada?" (Because we wanted to.)

- "But why? For work? For school? Just for fun?" (Because we wanted to.)

- "How are you US citizens?" (Because we were born in the US. Because our parents were in the US when we were born.)

- "Your parents, really? They were there?" (Just nods for this. Too strange to answer.)

- "Why do you use a Canadian passport?" (Because we live in Canada now, so we thought we should use a US passport.)

He looked at our tickets for the game and looked in the car, and sent us on our way.

I was actually pretty pleased, as this was another trip without the "surrender your keys and come with us" armed escort and detention. This was merely a five-minute annoyance that many other dual citizens are experiencing.

* * * *

At the game, the crowd was asked to stand not only for the national anthem, but for a "military salute" to a member of the National Guard. The crowd's applause only grew louder when they heard the man had served 30 months in Iraq, performing more than 15 missions. The applause extended to a representative of a private company that supplies military missions.

We were seated, of course, wondering how many dead Iraqis those 15 missions represent.

It's always so good to come home to Canada. Now off to the Marxism Conference!

5.14.2011

bin laden, security theatre and the lying lies of stephen harper

I've avoided any mention of the sickening spectacle of the GNOTFOTE thumping its collective chest because it (supposedly) took 10 years to assassinate one middle aged man with failing kidneys. Talk about security theatre! Surely this must be The Office of Security Theatre's Greatest Show on Earth.

I do want to share a few items, though, related to this nonsense.

One, Joy of Sox: The National Anthem and the Idea Of Respect.

And two, Chomsky: We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush's compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic.

Each coming from a different angle, and both well worth reading.

Plus a bonus, in case you missed it, or didn't see proof: Fox "News".

The only positive is that bin Laden's death gives us all an opening to talk about getting the hell out of Afghanistan. Which Canada was supposed to do this year, a pledge the Conservatives had no intentions of honouring. In the words of Ralph Kramden, oooooh, what a surprise!

4.30.2011

i have something in common with superman

Some months back, I learned I have something in common with Keith Richards: Keith wanted to be a librarian. Recently I've learned I have something in common with Superman, although the Man of Steel has gone a step farther than me.
Superman announces that he is going to give up his U.S. citizenship. Despite very literally being an alien immigrant, Superman has long been seen as a patriotic symbol of "truth, justice, and the American way," from his embrace of traditional American ideals to the iconic red and blue of his costume. What it means to stand for the "American way" is an increasingly complicated thing, however, both in the real world and in superhero comics, whose storylines have increasingly seemed to mirror current events and deal with moral and political complexities rather than simple black and white morality.

The key scene takes place in "The Incident," a short story in Action Comics #900 written by David S. Goyer with art by Miguel Sepulveda. In it, Superman consults with the President's national security advisor, who is incensed that Superman appeared in Tehran to non-violently support the protesters demonstrating against the Iranian regime, no doubt an analogue for the recent real-life protests in the Middle East. However, since Superman is viewed as an American icon in the DC Universe as well as our own, the Iranian government has construed his actions as the will of the American President, and indeed, an act of war.

. . .


It doesn't seem that he's abandoning those values, however, only trying to implement them on a larger scale and divorce himself from the political complexities of nationalism. Superman also says that he believes he has been thinking "too small," that the world is "too connected" for him to limit himself with a purely national identity. As an alien born on another planet, after all, he "can't help but see the bigger picture."
I don't read comics, and I mainly know Superman as either George Reeves or Christopher Reeve. But eschewing nationalism for a broader, global perspective on justice, that I like.

7.25.2010

what i'm watching: the national parks: america's best idea, a film by ken burns

In honour of the fact that I'll be in Yosemite National Park the week after next, I'm writing something that has been sitting on my to-write list since last winter: about the documentary film "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," by Ken Burns. This was mostly an excellent film, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in history and in conservation - with one big, fat caveat.

* * * *

Ken Burns is not as well known in Canada as he is in the US, so I'll give some background. Burns is a documentary filmmaker known for his long, multi-part films about different aspects of US history. His films debut on PBS (public television) and have become a staple for PBS viewers, beginning with "The Brooklyn Bridge" in 1981. But he became nationally recognized and achieved an unprecedented stardom with PBS fans with "The Civil War" in 1990, a nine-part series in which he pioneered the use of using sound and photography techniques to create an illusion of movement in still images, interspersed with actors reading first-person accounts of participants.

In a similar vein, he's done a nine-part series about baseball and a ten-part series about jazz, as well as shorter films about US historical figures such as Lewis and Clark and Frank Lloyd Wright. Burns looks at each of his subjects through the lenses that forged America: race, labour, the struggle for democracy. A full list of his films is here, on the website of his production company, Florentine Films.

Many people feel Burns' style has become a cliched, and he does use similar techniques in every film. But although his style may be easily parodied, to me it is truly outstanding and can be thrilling. Each film has a distinct point of view and emphasis, so students of the particular subject tend to be hypercritical. Amateur baseball historians picked apart "Baseball," and hardcore jazz aficionados decried "Jazz". But to my knowledge, Burns doesn't claim to be telling a definitive history. He's more interested with placing his subject in historical context - teasing out how it was shaped by the forces of its time and in turn changed those times - and with offering first-person accounts to make the history real.

* * * *

We rented "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," from Zip, and spent weeks engrossed in it. I traveled to many US national parks as a child with my family, and continue to try to visit national parks in both the US and Canada. Since travel is one of my greatest passions - and since I enormously value the beauty and majesty of nature - and since I really dig Ken Burns' films - this seemed like a natural for me. And in many respects it was.

But. There is one big but. "The National Parks: America's Best Idea" is shellacked with a nauseatingly thick layer of America-worship and American exceptionalism.

Every episode begins with a heavy-handed patriotic ode, connecting the very idea of nature conservation and parks for the average citizen to the core values of America itself, in purple prose dripping with hyperbole. Then the stories in the film go on to completely demolish the rhetoric, proving that the truth is exactly the opposite!

Every single story in the history of the US's vast and spectacular National Parks System is the story of ordinary people wresting a piece of their country from corporate interests, attempting to save and preserve it from certain destruction, privatization and profit-making enterprises. Every. Single. Story.

Left to their own American devices, industrial and corporate interests - mining, oil, lumber, sugar, railroad, real estate, you name it - would have destroyed, paved over or privatized every single scrap of natural beauty and historical significance in the the United States. There wouldn't be a tree standing, a river left undamned, a mountain not covered in billboards or a vista without a private company charging admission.

And the only reason this didn't happen, according to this film, is because individual visionaries dedicated their lives to fighting corporate interests. In every era and region, one person with vision, determination and tenacity marshaled public interest, found a friend in government, fought like hell, and managed to save at least a portion of the land that meant so much to them. The great John Muir was the first of these, but he is only the head of a long parade of men and women from all different backgrounds whose passions led to become crusaders for the land and the people's right to collectively preserve it. And even after the land was preserved, park superintendents in every era fought for even semi-adequate funding and against the constant intrusions of commercialism.

It may be possible to see this dynamic as very American, too - the individual hero as a force for change. But every episode begins with some gooey nonsense about the parks as America and America as the parks, freedom and coming home and rites of passage. Yet over and over, we see that the most American thing about the parks is that they almost didn't happen. They were almost lost to capitalist notions of "progress".

So if you love travel, history and nature, see this movie. But if you're less than keen on the US, don't say I didn't warn you.

* * * *

There were dozens of highlights in "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," but I want to mention one that was new to me: Adolph Murie, hero to wildlife, and especially to wolves.

Early conservation efforts viewed all predatory wildlife as pests that needed to be exterminated - especially, of course, wolves. Murie was the first person to study wolves in their natural habitat. He used facts to prove that not only were wolves not ruthless murderers, but that their extermination actually harmed the environment. Murie was instrumental in forming Denali National Park, one of the great treasures of the US that I've been fortunate enough to visit, as well as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

I also credit Ken Burns with portraying Depression-era CCC workers in a positive light - a rarity - and for a particular poignant take on the Japanese-American concentration camps. Burns never glosses over the racism and labour struggles that are so much a part of US history.

The movie is about the formation and history of the parks, but also about how they were used or enjoyed in various eras. One thread was particularly meaningful to me. In episode four, we meet a couple who traveled alone and independently long before this was the norm - just them and their dog, actually a series of dogs as they grew old together.

They traveled first by train, and then by car, the man taking photographs and the woman keeping a travel journal. Starting from their home in Nebraska, they criss-crossed the country, and eventually visited every park that existed at the time, more than 30 in all, some several times. When the man died, the woman made one last trip without him before hanging up her traveling shoes for good.

Much of their story is told through her journal, which is the kind of work Ken Burns does best. I trust it isn't difficult to see why this story moved me so: Margaret and Edward Gehrke.

7.04.2010

howard zinn: "we need to assert our allegiance to the human race and not to any one nation"

I don't usually acknowledge the 4th of July one way or the other, but Common Dreams is re-running a piece Howard Zinn wrote a few years back. His words still shine a guiding light.

+ + + +

Put Away the Flags

by Howard Zinn

On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.

Is not nationalism -- that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder -- one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?

These ways of thinking -- cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on -- have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.

National spirit can be benign in a country that is small and lacking both in military power and a hunger for expansion (Switzerland, Norway, Costa Rica and many more). But in a nation like ours -- huge, possessing thousands of weapons of mass destruction -- what might have been harmless pride becomes an arrogant nationalism dangerous to
others and to ourselves.

Our citizenry has been brought up to see our nation as different from others, an exception in the world, uniquely moral, expanding into other lands in order to bring civilization, liberty, democracy.

That self-deception started early.

When the first English settlers moved into Indian land in Massachusetts Bay and were resisted, the violence escalated into war with the Pequot Indians. The killing of Indians was seen as approved by God, the taking of land as commanded by the Bible. The Puritans cited one of the Psalms, which says: "Ask of me, and I shall give
thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the Earth for thy possession."

When the English set fire to a Pequot village and massacred men, women and children, the Puritan theologian Cotton Mather said: "It was supposed that no less than 600 Pequot souls were brought down to hell that day."

On the eve of the Mexican War, an American journalist declared it our "Manifest Destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence."

After the invasion of Mexico began, The New York Herald announced: "We believe it is a part of our destiny to civilize that beautiful country."

It was always supposedly for benign purposes that our country went to war.

We invaded Cuba in 1898 to liberate the Cubans, and went to war in the Philippines shortly after, as President McKinley put it, "to civilize and Christianize" the Filipino people.

As our armies were committing massacres in the Philippines (at least 600,000 Filipinos died in a few years of conflict), Elihu Root, our secretary of war, was saying: "The American soldier is different from all other soldiers of all other countries since the war began. He is the advance guard of liberty and justice, of law and order, and of peace and happiness."

We see in Iraq that our soldiers are not different. They have, perhaps against their better nature, killed thousands of Iraq civilians. And some soldiers have shown themselves capable of brutality, of torture.

Yet they are victims, too, of our government's lies.

How many times have we heard President Bush tell the troops that if they die, if they return without arms or legs, or blinded, it is for "liberty," for "democracy"?

One of the effects of nationalist thinking is a loss of a sense of proportion. The killing of 2,300 people at Pearl Harbor becomes the justification for killing 240,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The killing of 3,000 people on Sept. 11 becomes the justification for killing tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And nationalism is given a special virulence when it is said to be blessed by Providence. Today we have a president, invading two countries in four years, who announced on the campaign trail in 2004 that God speaks through him.

We need to refute the idea that our nation is different from, morally superior to, the other imperial powers of world history.

We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.

5.12.2010

more context for wikileaks video: "in boot camp we trained with songs that joked about killing women and children"

From TheRealNews, an interview with Josh Steiber, US veteran who was in the company involved in the now-famous Wikileaks video.



Steiber talks about the links between nationalism and religion, and how soldiers are taught to dehumanize in order to kill. He echoes everything I've heard from Jeremy Hinzman, Chuck Wiley, Phil McDowell, Joshua Key and other war resisters.

Please watch and share. And please support Bill C-440, because supporting military resisters is a concrete way to support peace.

2.21.2010

across the great divide

Between the US health care debate fiasco and the Vancouver Olympics, Canada has been in the US news more than usual. Seldom does the US media really "get" Canada, and most Canadian mainstream sources don't know the US any better.

But there's a difference in the misunderstanding. Mainstream Canadian media is likely to take the US at face value, like they've swallowed a press release. Thus in the Bush era, the Democrats were the beleaguered liberal opposition, who would build a peaceful, liberal society if only someone would give them the chance. Now the country has solved its racial issues, abortion rights are safe and sound, and the only threat to this lovely liberal vision in Sarah Palin.

The mainstream US media, on the other hand, invents and re-uses its own stereotypes of Canadian society. So you're likely to see phrases like "slow-motion health care system" and "sky-high taxes," and lots of references to arctic, tundra, sled dogs and maple syrup.

Mike from Veterans for Peace (his chapter is here) sent me a piece that comes a little closer.

Timothy Egan, blogging for the New York Times, contrasts Canada's "modesty and humility" with the high-volume chest-thumping of his own country. Even at its Olympic own-the-podium worst, Canada is still a gentle soul compared with its southern neighbour.
Confession: When I was 17 one of my best friends, now a police officer, molded a few scraps of official-looking paper with camera-booth photos, and just like that we turned 21 — old enough to drink, and Canadians as well.

Our fake I.D. cards said we were from Saskatchewan, a province so distant we figured no one would ever catch us not knowing our prairie wheat from our Molson hops. Questions from clerks trying to talk Canadian seldom went any further than, “Pretty cold up there, eh?”

But my detour into fraud did force upon me an early education in all things Canadian. I not only learned the celebrity exports (Neil Young, Peter Jennings, the wicked talents of SCTV), but I developed a lifetime love for the Great White North, its subtle humor and its unknowable insecurities.

Now, with a global audience of several billion focused on one of the world’s most stunning cities, Canadians are presented with “the biggest branding opportunity a nation ever gets,” as Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff said of the 17-day Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

I was hoping Canadians would take their turn on the stage and step out of national character for a few weeks, losing their collective sense of modesty.

But the rough patches in the opening days of the games, and savaging from a snit-loving British press that has no athletic feats of its own to cover, have put Canadians on the defensive.

The death of Nodar Kumaritashvli, the Georgian luger, was a horrid blow. The weather, at a time when we in the Pacific Northwest and our Ecotopian neighbors just across the border are experiencing the warmest winter on record (note to East Coast global warming deniers who can’t see beyond their snow banks), has forced canceled tickets and delayed events. Breakdowns of ice resurfacing machines have been an embarrassment. Is there no workable Zamboni in all of British Columbia?

The biggest gaffe was imprisoning the Olympic torch, exiling the cauldron behind a hideous chain link barrier. After hearing calls to “tear down this fence,” Vancouver officials have done just that, losing the Cold-War-era prison look for more open access.

It seems like eons ago that the opening ceremony, a triumph complete with magical bears and sub-surface killer whales, prompted some Canadians to take a long overdue bow.

“It made me proud to be from here,” said Ian Brown, writing in The Globe and Mail, a Canadian national paper. But then he added, “I hesitate to say it. Such declarations are always unwise.”

No. Say it! Can you imagine an American being afraid to make such a simple declaration of national chauvinism? “Maybe for a while again,” Mr. Brown concluded, “we can feel alright about being Canadian.”

The prime minister, Stephen Harper, had to make a similar pitch last week in front of the British Columbia legislative assembly. He urged Canadians to show “an uncharacteristic outburst of patriotism and pride.”

Why the prodding? Why the lack of self-esteem? Canada — snap out of it! You’re gorgeous, baby, you’re sophisticated, you live well. No need for an apology.

There are more people in California, at 38 million, than in all of Canada, with about 34 million. But if Canada were the 51st state, they would be on the American medals podium nightly: Their murder rate is just a third that of the United States. They have universal health care, and while the system prompts much grumbling, it works for most people — without the death panel quality of America’s heartless private insurers.

And when our financial system caused the world economy to tank because of reckless deregulation, Canada’s banks were steady as they go, boring and mostly healthy. . . .

Perhaps not the most original observation, but not bad. Mike suggested I read some comments: numbers 3, 5, 40 and 42. Commenter #40 is a Canadian type I have heard from frequently and would enjoy never hearing from again:
How flattering it is some of you want to move to Canada as the last resort if you can't take your politics anymore. You get what you vote for. Deal with it or become pro-active. We are not interested in your faux religious values and violence. We don't want you. We're full. To the writer who fakes a birth certificate- you don't know Canada at all. Our 'modesty' is really our 'tolerance' and 'respect' of others. Believe me north of the border you get quite a view of the U.S.A. No thanks.

I guess she doesn't see the irony in referring to her own tolerance and respect while spitting out such obviously irritated snark. USians are all "faux religious values and violence," but Timothy Egan doesn't know Canada at all. I think he knows Canada better than this Canadian woman knows the US, since she thinks USians get what they vote for. Millions and millions of USians never come close to such a thing.

The second piece Mike from VFP sent is a nice bit of fun: It's Not Political, but More Canadians Are Lefties. Hint: he's not talking about the NDP. It's all about the national pasttime.

1.17.2010

now for what's really important: how many canadians were killed in haiti?

We've seen this all our lives, and as far as I can tell, it's a practice followed by media all over the globe. But every time I see it, my skin crawls. This morning on CBC: "Canadian death toll in Haiti rises to 8".

In the pre-internet era, I might have thought local-death-toll reportage was a USian thing. "Earthquake in India, 50,000 dead, including 3 Americans! Five New Yorkers trapped in Mumbai airport!" But now that we can easily see media from everywhere, I know that everywhere does it.

I've watched less than five minutes of TV news in the last few months, but I did catch a few seconds of Canadians who were recently evacuated from Haiti being interviewed from Montreal. They were describing waiting at the Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince, listening to the screams and cries of Haitian survivors outside the gates. These Canadians knew how lucky they were, and I don't begrudge them their rescue. But that gate - separating the rescued from the trapped - is a symbol of so much that's wrong with the world. And "8 Canadians killed in Haitian earthquake" is another symbol of it.

At bottom, it comes down to this. The deaths of "our" people are more noteworthy than the deaths of "their" people, because we are more important than them. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands - those are mere statistics. But one Canadian that can be interviewed at an airport is a human-interest story.

12.21.2009

why i can't watch the olympics anymore

Last year, I wrote about not watching the Beijing Olympics. It turns out that was a symptom of a more general condition. I can't watch the Olympics in their present form at all.

For many progressive people, it's easy to get behind anti-Olympics sentiment, because sport doesn't budge the needle on their What's Important meters. It's not uncommon for progressives to disdain all sports, even to boast about their ignorance - sport seemingly the only avenue of human endeavour for which it's acceptable, even preferable, to be utterly ignorant. Those who aren't contemptuous will admit their lack of interest with a shrug. Think of Amy Goodman discussing being harassed by border guards, admitting she had no idea that Olympics were being held to Vancouver. I doubt many in the audience were too surprised.

But I appreciate sport. There are sports that I love watching, there are sports that bore me, and there are many in the middle that I enjoy to some extent. Beyond that, I appreciate - and I'm often in awe of - the talent, drive, dedication and incredible effort that goes into competing on the international level. Anyone who can qualify for the Olympics is a great athlete, and anyone who earns any medal is one of the best in the world.

There's also my connection to the Paralympics. I wrote about disability sports, especially wheelchair sports, for more than 20 years, including covering the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta. From interviewing athletes with disabilities over so many years, I've developed an intimate understanding of their journeys and their issues. I can't help but feel connected to their events.

So unlike many of my progressive friends and colleagues, when I think about the Olympics, I have many competing thoughts and feelings at stake.

There are so many reasons to protest the 2010 games.

Perhaps first on my list should be the stifling of dissent, and the choking of the civil liberties of Canadians protesting the Games. The BC Civil Liberties Union is helping two activists who are challenging the constitutionality of Vancouver's new gag law, the "Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games By-law".
The city passed the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games bylaw in June to restrict the distribution and exhibition of unapproved advertising material and signs in any Olympic area during the Games.

It includes an exception for celebratory signs, which are defined as those that celebrate the 2010 Winter Games and create or enhance a festive environment and atmosphere.

In the statement of claim, Shaw said he intends to distribute information about his book, The Five Ring Circus, which is critical of the Olympics, with the intention of promoting sales.

He also said he intends to sell T-shirts, buttons, badges, hats and other apparel emblazoned with Olympic Resistance Network marks and messages critical of the costs imposed by the Games.

The pair are asking the court to declare the bylaw's provisions unconstitutional and order the City of Vancouver not to enforce them, but Westergard-Thorpe said she finds the whole exercise unfortunate.

"Going to court on a clear-cut free expression issue is a waste of time and money," Westergard-Thorpe said.

"We've all got better things to do, but if the city insists on passing bad bylaws, people who value free speech have no choice but to stand up and challenge them," she said.

As Cory Doctorow explains,
The bylaw includes a passage entitled "prohibitions regarding city land," which includes a clause that will almost surely trigger a Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenge. Clause 4B makes it illegal during the Winter Games without authorization to:

"(a) bring onto city land any
(i) weapon,
(ii) object, including any rock, stick, or glass or metal bottle useable as a weapon, except for crutches or a cane that a person who is elderly or disabled uses as a mobility aid,
(iii) large object, including any bag, or luggage that exceeds 23 x 40 x 55 centimetres;
(iv) voice amplification equipment including any megaphone,
(v) motorized vehicle, except for a motorized wheel chair or scooter that a person who is elderly or disabled uses as a mobility aid,
(vi) anything that makes noise that interferes with the enjoyment of entertainment on city land by other persons,
(vii) distribute any advertising material or install or carry any sign unless licensed to do so by the city."

Protest signs usually are made using sticks, often are larger than subsection (iii) allows (as are puppets and other protest devices), demonstrations almost always employ megaphones or other voice amplification devices, and can well "interfere with the enjoyment" of the Olympic spectacle by who chose to be so offended. Protesters often pass out leaflets as well. Thus, any of the dozens of protests I've attended over the last few years would easily be in violation of five of seven subsections.

High on the list of reasons to protest the Vancouver Olympics should also be the billions of dollars wasted in a city that suffers from a housing crisis and some of the highest poverty rates in Canada. Environmental destruction and the continued appropriation of Native land go hand in hand with this arrogant, wasteful, entitled mentality.

As a footnote to all this, VANOC originally banned the excellent athlete-supported organization Right To Play from the athletes' Olympics village, because of - what else? - competing sponsorship. They were forced to reconsider after an onslaught of negative publicity.

These are all valid reasons to protest and shun the Olympics, and if I lived in BC I probably would have joined the fray long ago.

But as much as I stand in solidarity with the struggle for free speech and environmental preservation, what ultimately drives me away from the Games are the evil conjoined twins of nationalism and corporate consumerism.

Even when I loved the Olympics and Paralympics, I was never nationalistic about the competition. I never cheered for any country's medal count; I could never stomach the quasi-military pageantry of marching and flag-waving. But I overlooked it, because I loved the sport - and probably because I was less evolved in my thinking.

Now I've come to see nationalism as one of the most destructive forces in the world - an agent of division, an ever-present rationale for war, the enemy of the cooperative, international, universally-human mindset we need if human civilization is going to survive. And I can no longer distinguish between patriotism and nationalism as some do. If there was a way to see the world's most talented athletes compete another configuration, grouped in some other way than by national flag, I could get behind it. But rah-rah Canada is no better than rah-rah United States. It's us against them, and we're better than they are because we live on this piece of land and they live on that one.

When it comes to the Olympics, nationalism wears a bar code. The Olympics have become one gargantuan extended commercial for Love Of Country, as we are inundated with imprecations to buy, buy, buy - buy to show your pride.

This week I flicked on "The National" for the first time in a long time. They were doing a story on Olympic gear - what's hot, and what everyone is looking for at the various Hudson Bay Company stores, which of course have the exclusive rights to "official" Olympic merchandise. In other words, CBC was running an extended commercial disguised as a news story. The story goes like this. Canadians want to support "our" athletes. We can support our athletes by buying stuff. Buying stuff means you have pride in Canada. Do you love Canada? Do you cheer for Canadian athletes? Then buy stuff.

In this equation, patriotism is inextricable from consumerism. Canadians dutifully march to the store and announce their love of country by exchanging their hard-earned dollars for a bunch of crap with a Maple Leaf sewn on.

Pride in "our" athletes doesn't extend to "our" workers. HBC laid off 1,000 people earlier this year - and their Olympic gear isn't made in Canada. VANOC claims the gear is "produced according to a high level of ethical sourcing and social responsibility," but we have no way of verifying that. Knowing what I do of the garment industry and international standards, I wouldn't put the claim in my shopping basket.

Net proceeds from one item are "helping complete the funding of the five-year Own the Podium 2010 initiative, which provides Canadian athletes with top equipment and training for the 2010 Games". What about all the other items? Who do they help? HBC stockholders. HBC's parent company is the US firm NRDC Equity Partners. That's some slick sleight-of-hand that has Canadian believing that this is somehow a patriotic exchange.

Along with the orgy of nationalistic consumerism comes the corporate branding of Everything Olympic. And for me, nothing is worse than the ominipresent logos of McDonald's and Coca-Cola. Two companies whose names are synonymous with poor nutrition, bad health, environmental destruction and the corporate takeover of the planet are now as integral to the Olympics as starting blocks and skis. But in Canada, there's a Maple Leaf in the middle of that big golden M. See? It's patriotic!

* * * *

Someone will inevitably ask why I eschew the Olympics, but continue to watch major league baseball. Baseball, too, is rife with advertising and consumerism, in a way that often drives me completely around the bend. My answer is simple: I love baseball. Baseball is too important to me to give up, for any reason. I find a relaxation and renewal in the game - especially in the nightly ritual of baseball in our home - that nothing else in my daily life brings. I simply love it too much to allow prevailing cultural winds push me away. I don't claim moral purity. I'm only doing what feels right.

Shortly after we moved to Canada, the 2006 Torino Olympics began. I loved how in Canada "the Olympics" means the winter games. In the US, there are "the Olympics" and the "winter Olympics," which are less hyped and less popular. I was also thrilled to find the greater visibility the Paralympics enjoy here, compared with their near-invisibility in the US. I never cheered for U-S-A U-S-A, but I imagined I'd get into cheering for Canada.

Ah, well. I still think there are aspects of the Olympics worth celebrating. But some things are just more important.