Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Max Fawcett: A Dissenting Voice in the Hubbub About Human Rights Commissions

Not in complete agreement with him, but he makes some helpful points:

Canadians, unlike Americans, have no such thing as unencumbered rights, be it to speech, movement, maple dip donuts, or anything else. Our rights, each and every one of them, are subject to limitation under section one of the Charter, provided that the limitation of one right is required to safeguard another. Meanwhile, the recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada to overturn a libel conviction against outspoken BC radio broadcaster Rafe Mair demonstrated that creeping censorship of the media is not a real concern for Canadians. Arguments against the existence of human rights commissions on these grounds are therefore either wilfully ignorant of the contents of the Charter or, more probably, deliberately obfuscatory.

I've found myself persuaded, by critics well to the right of me, that there is indeed much to worry about in the trespasses of human rights tribunals upon free-speech rights. But it's their often shrill tone that bothers me. It's the right-wing equivalent of those preposterously overcaffeinated "George Bush is a fascist" howlers one so often hears from the left.

Also noticeable by its absence in Canada's free-speech rumpus is any tangible solidarity with writers and journalists who really are suffering under the jackboot of authoritarian regimes.

As in Iran, where 11 of the 12 journalists currently behind bars are from the Kurdish, Azeri or Arab minorities, yet when Ahmedinejad visits the United States, he's the toast of "liberal" journalists, and embraced by the "peace" movement, and openly defended in the left-wing press.

As in China, where the financial weekly China Business Post has just been shuttered for three months for the crime of having printed an article about the Agricultural Bank of China, and where the Propaganda Department continues its prohibition on reporting developments in China's toxic milk scandal.

When Ezra Levant's MoToons got him into (and quickly out of) a bit of trouble, you couldn't move for bumping into alarums about Muslims bent on suppressing debate in Canada, and yet one never heard about the persecution of dozens of brave Muslim journalists around the world who printed the allegedly offensive cartoons, and who risked real-world consequences for doing so.

As in Rafika Tagi and Samira Sadagatogli who were jailed, and as in the 13 newspapers and magazines shut down for publishing the cartoons in Morocco, Yemen, Algeria, Jordan, Indonesia and Malaysia. To say nothing of the cases of Mohammed al-Asadi, Abdulkarim Sabra, and Yehiya al-Abed.

Meanwhile, in today's Guardian, Jo Glanville notices: Respect for religion now makes censorship the norm.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Remembering Malalai Kakar

Women's rights activist Malalai Kakar, a lieutenant-colonel in the Kandahar Police Force, head of the crimes against women unit, is dead. The mother of six was gunned down in front of her home as she left for work this morning.

Some background on Malalai here.

Friday, September 26, 2008

"In This Era of Googles"

Here's Jack Layton musing about possibility of lowering the voting age below 16, giving out of himself about the "Bush White House" again, and acknowledging the dangers of citizens knowing more about his own candidates than he does, now that we live "in this era of Googles."

And here's Robert Jago with his latest effort in Google-assisted citizen journalism, performing a public service in candidate-vetting civic hygiene, specifically: His poll of 45 Green Party candidates finds only five willing to use the word "terrorist" to describe Hezbollah.

Moral of the story: If you want to play with the grownups, you better start acting like grownups.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Single Most Bizarre Sentence Uttered In The Federal Election Campaign So Far

It's always possible that Leslie Hughes is being so audaciously cunning in her evasiveness that she will actually get away with it, in which case one would be almost tempted to admire her genius in the black art of political dishonesty.

It's either that, or this is, easily, far and away the most disgraceful example of tortured grammar and bent logic occurring within a single non-statement that has been uttered by a politician in the current election campaign to date: “I find any interpretation of my journalism as anti-Semitic personally offensive and I heartily apologize for that perception.”

But for Leslie Hughes to be exposed as a crackpot by her own so-called journalism requires absolutely no "interpretation" at all. It speaks for itself. Among the many sentences in just that one article that exhibit derangement, here's just one: "Israeli businesses, which had offices in the Towers, vacated the premises a week before the attacks, breaking their lease to do it." Now, read her "apology" again: I find any interpretation of my journalism as anti-Semitic personally offensive and I heartily apologize for that perception.

Notice that:

1. Hughes is in no way apologizing for anything she has written whatsoever. 2. It is the perfectly reasonable "interpretation" of what she has written - that it maybe betrays a kind of antisemitism - that Hughes has the gall to say she finds "personally offensive." 3. Hughes then adds insult to injury by presuming to apologize on behalf of anyone who might harbour this reasonable "perception", as though this would be something for which anyone should be expected to apologize in the first place.

If Stephane Dion does not dump this creepy individual, then he has abdicated any prerogative he might claim to utter so much as a single wisecrack about any of the NDP's less-than-suitable candidates, because he will have shown that he is every bit as shifty and spineless as NDP Jack Layton himself has been, coincidentally, on the very matter of 911-Truth nutcases. (UPDATE: Dion has ditched Hughes)

On at least three public occasions, rather than treat the Truthers as the deluded menace they are, Layton has slobbered on their slippers. He has grovelled before them and nurtured their delusions by assuring them the NDP is taking their literature seriously, and Layton has further professed to them his abiding friendship with Canada's high priest of 911-Truth Conspiracy, Barrie Zwicker.

Now Layton is browbeating Durham NDP candidate Andrew McKeever for making the hippies cry in his resort to clear and plain language in the matter of Yankee deserters, thus: "These American Traitors have no place in my Country. There are bona fide (and by that I mean REAL) refugees out there. Not American crybabies that are trying to turn this country into a hotel."

Maybe it's because I'm in Ottawa at the moment that I'm getting interested in the federal election campaign again. Who knows. In any case:

Vote McKeever in Durham. (Update: On second thought, don't bother.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Few Steps Back, But A Few More Steps Forward

Signs of intelligent life on the left in Britain:

Principia Dialectica, among others, is backing "a counter-demonstration against a march in support of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Hizbollah." The counter-demonstration is organized mainly by the Committee of Iranian Students. PD observes: "Stop the War Coalition are one of the sponsors of the march. They claim to be a peace group but the march they sponsor is not a peace march, it is a war march. It is a march in favour of the indiscriminate killing of Jewish civilians and the violent destruction of Israel and the ethnic cleansing of the bulk or even all of the resident Jewish population from Palestine."

The Internationalist Workers Tendency weighs in: "'Al Quds Day' was instituted by the Ayatollah Khomenei, supposedly in support of Palestinians, but in reality to promote the backward and murderous clerical fascist Islamic Republic of Iran and their Lebanese surrogates Hizbollah. It does nothing to help the cause of Palestinian national self-determination."

Sage and sober counsel from Jean Mackenzie, reporting from Kabul:

"Things have reached a point where Kabul’s chattering classes have begun to murmur among themselves that the Taleban should not be regarded as an insurgency, but rather a legitimate resistance force. And this is from the progressive, Soviet-educated academics and engineers who make up the backbone of the intellectual elite. Picture the debate in the teahouses of Kandahar, where the bearded, turbaned patrons may have just lost a family member to a foreign air strike.

". . .The proposed increase in troops will not enable NATO or the US-led coalition to hold territory; it will, however, give them the capability of launching more and more operations. This is not to say that troops should be withdrawn altogether. At present, it is only the radical fringe and the insurgents, who support this idea. Those of us who live in the real world understand all too well what would happen were the international presence to disappear. It would not be long before Afghanistan would be once again engulfed in civil war, with long-simmering ethnic tensions, historical grievances and political rivalries unleashed."

Brian Platt on the importance of getting the facts right on Afghanistan, here, and over at Registan, a thorough fisking of the recent silliness in the Atlantic Monthly, and more reasons why the Taliban is not the Vietcong.

Some good news from Reporters Without Borders: "Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association are overjoyed by today’s release of leading Burmese journalist U Win Tin after 19 years in detention. He emerged from Insein prison still dressed in prisoner clothes after benefiting from an amnesty announced by the military government for thousands of detainees ahead of elections promised for 2010."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Storytelling: How We've Been Naturally Selected For It.

Why We Love A Good Yarn, In Scientific American:

Stories have such a powerful and universal appeal that the neurological roots of both telling tales and enjoying them are probably tied to crucial parts of our social cognition.

As our ancestors evolved to live in groups, the hypothesis goes, they had to make sense of increasingly complex social relationships. Living in a community requires keeping tabs on who the group members are and what they are doing. What better way to spread such information than through storytelling?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Left In Dark Times: A Stand Against The New Barbarism

“I’m convinced that the collapse of the Communist house almost everywhere has even, in certain cases, had the unexpected side effect of wiping out the traces of its crimes, the visible signs of its failure, allowing certain people to start dreaming once again of an unsullied Communism, uncompromised and happy.” - from Bernard Henry-Levi's latest.

Which prompts Christopher Hitchens to reflect:

If this is not precisely true, even of those nostalgic for “Fidel,” apologetic about Hugo Chavez, credulous about how “secular” the Baath Party was, or prone to sympathize with Vladimir Putin concerning the “encircling” of his country by aggressive titans like Estonia and Kosovo and Georgia, still it does contain a truth. One could actually have gone further and argued that the totalitarian temptation now extends to an endorsement of Islam­ism as the last, best hope of humanity against the American empire. I could without difficulty name some prominent leftists, from George Galloway to Michael Moore, who have used the same glowing terms to describe “resistance” in, say, Iraq as they would once have employed for the Red Army or the Vietcong. Trawling the intellectual history of Europe, as he is able to do with some skill, Lévy comes across an ancestor of this sinister convergence in a yearning remark confided to his journal by the fascist writer Paul Claudel on May 21, 1935: “Hitler's speech; a kind of Islamism is being created at the center of Europe.”

Friday, September 19, 2008

Defend The Venezuelan Masses Against Human Rights Activist Pigs! Viva Chavez!

“About 20 men, some of them in military uniform, intercepted us when we arrived at our hotel after returning from dinner Thursday night,” Mr. Vivanco said in a telephone interview from São Paulo. He said he struggled briefly with the security officials when he tried to send a message on his BlackBerry to The New York Times about the expulsion.

The officials then disabled the BlackBerries of the two men and prevented them from contacting anyone in Venezuela, including diplomats from the embassies of Chile or the United States. “They informed us of our apprehension and told us they had entered our rooms and had packed our belongings,” Mr. Vivanco said.

That's what you get for engaging in counter-revolutionary imperialist activity such as documenting widespread political discrimination, intimidation of union members and a subservient judiciary.

Bob Rae, Jeremy Hinzman and the Pathetic Rituals of Fashionable Sanctimony

TORONTO - At a brief stop off the campaign trail Thursday, Liberal MP Bob Rae reaffirmed his party's commitment to keeping American war resisters in Canada.

It's not just that the entire Jeremy Hinzman caper has been a charade of nonsense, falsehood and hyperbole from the very beginning. It's that everyone is obliged to be complicit in it, like one of those beatnik stage plays that demand the participation of the audience.

In the first act of the drama, we were expected to pretend that Hinzman fled to Canada because of his principled refusal to participate in America's "illegal war" in Iraq - a fiction that has been exposed and thoroughly rejected by Canada's courts. In this latest episode, we are all supposed to ignore the fact that what is really going on here is the Liberal Party is trying to secure its ditzier supporters, who have been bleeding away to the New Democratic Party.

Throughout the whole charade, we have all been obliged to imagine Canada as a kind of hippie commune where conventional norms - like the definition of conscientious objector set out by the UN High Commission on Refugees - do not apply. This isn't all that difficult if you don't take Canada seriously as a country to begin with.

Breath in enough of the patchouli oil and you will not have to consider the fact that Canada is actually a real country, with real obligations under international law, and reciprocal arrangements regarding extradition of criminals with the United States. You can pretend, then, that the current US engagement in Iraq is illegal, and that Hinzman will be persecuted if he is returned to the United States.

Go ahead and pretend that you are not being taken for a ride by the War Resisters Support Campaign and its disgraceful agenda. Go right ahead.

But it will mean you won't have a coherent answer to these questions: Do we seriously propose to grant American deserters all the benefits of citizenship, along with the perks of celebrity status, while we toss Canadian deserters in prison? What makes Americans so damn special?

Go ahead and pretend that the non-binding Parliamentary resolution applies in Hinzman's case, when it doesn't, because this was never about Iraq in the first place. And when Rae says: "I don't think we should be having a situation where we're dead set on deportation in every situation, which seems to be the position of the government," you have to pretend that we do have a "situation" like that to start with, when we don't.

Go ahead and pretend that this is the Sixties, and that the Taliban are the Vietcong.

Back in the real world, Rosie DiManno gets it right.

In the meantime, for real pacifists, here's an honest one who won't join the Canada Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, but still manages to get the issues right. And here's another brave and committed peacenik, who joined the Canada Afghanistan Solidarity Committee anyway. And here's a CASC member, a soldier, who is worth more than 10,000 Yankee deserters.

But if it's Canadian refugee-status scandals you want, here's a real one:

Canadian authorities are absurdly obliged to turn away asylum seekers who are legitimate freedom fighters from totalitarian regimes.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Robert Jago Is Pissed Off

So am I.

The Algonquin freaking community something gets pissed at a drinking comment and that gets press - but the National Association of Friendship Centres, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples coming out to condemn a candidate for advocating the slaughter of innocents - nothing. Not word one in the press.

I knew there was some media bias, but really. . .

Read Robert here.

Maybe I was ready to get all riled up about this because I'd just read a story written by my old friend Wawmeesh George Hamilton, a reporter with the Alberni Valley News: An outbreak of tuberculosis in the Alberni Valley could have been contained earlier if funding hadn’t been cut to a Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council initiative at an uptown soup kitchen, say local officials.

It's a fair and balanced story, written in the fair and balanced tone Wawmeesh is known for, as in: Maybe the tuberculosis outbreak in the valley could have been contained if the tribal program hadn't died for lack of funds, and then again, maybe not. But what struck me was the word.


Think about that word for a minute. Maybe even say it out loud. Think about that ancient , Old World disease, and how it was the scourge of the working classes in the 19th century, and how it went on to kill thousands of aboriginal people in this country during the 20th century, and how it has been almost thoroughly eliminated among white people in North America,but here we are, in 2008, and still, among the Nuu-chah-nulth of the Alberni Valley, an outbreak. Tuberculosis.

So I was already pissed off when I read Robert's post. It's not just because Robert's enemies are my enemies. It's because Robert is right.

The way these cases have been handled by the news media is sick and wrong.

You Know Nothing Is Happening. . .

. . .when a big election-issue headline is: Harper stands by Ritz despite 'tasteless' jokes about listeriosis.

I'm finding myself far more intrigued with the implications of the upcoming Fermanagh Council byelection in the auld place. Although, I must say, events in the other Holy Land are starting to get interesting as well.

Speaking of election campaigns and holy stuff, did you know that all those familiar Christmas celebrations - Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, gift-giving, and so on - are really just relics from our ancient practices of eating hallucinogenic mushrooms and drinking reindeer piss?

That's what the New Democratic Party's Dana Larsen says. But it's only now that Dana has surfaced in an old video with his face stuffed with joints, then going for a drive high on chemicals (or was it because of his business selling coca seeds?) that he's suddenly a problem candidate. So out the window he goes.

Meanwhile, here's yours truly on Rob Breakenridge's The World Tonight, CHQR, having another go at the Afghanistan question as a federal election issue.

In other matters, here's a photo of celebrity protester Lauren Booth in a concentration camp enduring conditions worse than Darfur:

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Guest Post: George Orwell Again


The two papers normally read here are the Casablanca dailies, Le Petit Marocain, obtainable about midday, and La Vigie Marocaine, not obtainable till evening. Both are patriotic, more or less anti-Fascist, but neutral as to Spanish Civil War and anti-Communist. The local paper. L’Atlas, weekly, seems utterly insignificant. Yesterday (15th) in spite of sensational news of Chamberlain flying to Berlin, with which the papers made great play, there was utter lack of interest here and evidently no belief in war being imminent. Nevertheless there have been large transfers of troops to Morocco. Two of the French liners which run Marseilles-Tangiers-Casablanca were more or less completely filled with troops. There has been a large increase recently in the local Air Force and 125 new officers are said to have arrived.

From here.

Which got me thinking. I wonder what George would think of being described as a "reformed leftist and author"?

The morning's papers

Brian Platt observes: "Apparently the comment editors at the Vancouver Sun fell asleep at the desk today, or are mentally retarded." Actually, those editors are pretty smart, which makes it that much more surprising that they would have published the gibberish that Platt's letter so thoroughly demolishes.

Also in The Sun, Craig McInnes sensibly points out:

Harper's attack on the Liberal's proposal to revamp the tax system with a "Green Shift" is simplistic and fundamentally dishonest, but also brutally effective as long as Canadians are as lazy as he appears to believe we are. The inherent weakness in the Liberal plan is that they need a 48-page brochure to explain how it works and the Conservatives need just just four words -- "a tax on everything" -- to dismiss it.

So instead of a useful debate on competing views over changes to our tax system; whether, for example, it's better to cut the GST, as the Tories have done, or reduce income taxes, as the Liberals propose, we get the ridiculous spectacle we were treated to earlier this week.

Roughly paraphrased, it sounded something like: "You're a liar." "No, you're a liar." "Am not." "Are so."

Vaughan Palmer also illustrates the irreplaceable benefit of proper journalism:

Turns out this year is the worst for timber harvesting on Crown land since 1981-82, when levels were driven down to 46 million cubic metres.

That year marked the bottom of the worst recession since the Great Depression. B.C. was hit harder than any other part of the country and not just in the forest sector. The provincial gross domestic product contracted by a full seven per cent.

In the Globe, Marcus Gee asks, How long will we ignore North Korea's misery?

Mr. Lim, a Korean-Canadian Christian who is a veteran of aid work in dirt-poor Afghanistan, says he has never experienced anything quite like the misery of North Korea, which he has visited seven times over two years. Fellow aid workers have seen bodies floating in the rivers - victims, it's thought, of a renewed food shortage. Whole mountainsides are said to have been turned into mass graves. The average North Korean seven-year-old is estimated to be nine kilograms lighter and 20 centimetres shorter than her southern sister.

Also in the Globe, Jeffrey Simpson answers: In Canada these days, all politics is parochial.

Mr. Harper burned through Peter MacKay and the hapless Maxime Bernier as foreign affairs ministers, then unfortunately lost to retirement David Emerson, who had the intellectual ability to do the job. Ask this question now: Which Conservative minister or MP by training, interest and experience could be foreign affairs minister? Answer: None.

The New Democrats are scary on foreign policy. They have almost no one with a rounded view of the world and international experience, and who is untainted by the visceral anti-Americanism and anti-Israel attitudes so deeply rooted in the party and much of the Canadian left.

The Liberals actually do have some people with a lot of international experience, although not their leader. Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff are internationalists, and MP Bryon Wilfert knows Asia.

But the Liberals don't talk much about foreign affairs, either, perhaps because they're searching for coherence or, more likely, because they understand that, in Canadian election campaigns, all politics is parochial.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Poor Denise Savoie (Apparently It's All Donald Rumsfeld's Fault)

You can catch me debating NDP MP Denise Savoie (Victoria) this evening on CBC' Radio's As It Happens, at about 7 p.m. (7:30 in Newfoundland). The debate was about Afghanistan. I hope they post it (update: they did, it's here).

I like Denise. She's my MP, and she's a nice person. But on the matter of Afghanistan, Canada's obligations to the United Nations, and this country's contribution to the UN's 39-member International Security Assistance Force, she's completely clueless. Which, sad to say, makes her a fairly ordinary NDP MP. She may actually be one of the smarter ones, maybe even smarter on these subjects than NDP leader Jack Layton, which isn't saying much. Actually, it's saying nothing at all.

Anyway, I was asked to set out the position of the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, and explain my own objections to the NDP's position, which, adumbrated by Savoie, goes like this: 1. Withdraw Canada's troops now. 2. Plead for some sort of alternative program of "robust diplomatic engagement" (i.e. negotiations) with the Taliban.

My position is that these are non-solutions, and to argue for them requires an enormous degree of ignorance and no small degree of self-delusion: The NDP's ideas have already been tried, and they have already failed catastrophically. This is why UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon describes the ground that the NDP has staked out as "a misjudgement of historic proportions. " It's because the position demands "the repetition of a mistake that has already had terrible consequences."

Quite apart from the earth-rattling mistake the "international community" made when it abandoned the Afghan people to the Taliban in the first place, Canada has already tried withdrawing its troops. We already did that once. After joining with NATO in driving out the Taliban, we joined an exodus of foreign troops from Afghanistan in the summer of 2002. Canada withdrew its troops, our meagre successes were slammed into reverse, and the whole country started sliding back into barbarism again. Canadian soldiers returned to Kabul, and only Kabul, in 2003, where we confined ourselves to various light duties around town while the rest of the country went to the dogs.

It was only after the Afghan Women's Network began to mobilize across Afghanistan, and roused demands that ISAF help extend the rule of law throughout the country, that NATO was forced to face its mistake. It wasn't until February of 2006 that Canada took the lead for security in Kandahar. By this time, the Taliban had re-armed, regrouped, and was back at its grisly business of throat-slitting and head-chopping and terror. We've all been living with the "troops out" consequences ever since.

But to be a loyal New Democrat, one must ignore these facts, pretend that troop-withdrawal is some sort of new and innovative idea, cleave to the party line, and just go along with Jack Layton's revisionism: "For six years, the Liberals and Conservatives have had Canada involved in a counter-insurgency combat mission in southern Afghanistan." You will also have to advocate the failed and delusional idea that negotiating with the Taliban is also an untried and imaginative alternative to Jack's fictional account of what our soldiers have been doing in Afghanistan.

Long before the NDP stumbled upon the idea of "robust diplomatic engagements" with the Taliban and their ilk, the strategy had been tried, and had been proved a total calamity. As soon as Hamid Karzai was elected president, he tried to revive the truce-talk approach and began offering talks with the Taliban leadership. Last September, he went so far as to offer to share power with the Taliban. The Taliban made it explicitly clear then, and have continued to make it clear ever since, that they aren't interested in negotiating at all. They are interested in imposing an opium-financed, 7th century, death-cult theocracy upon the Afghan people, in defiance of the entire world.

The UN tried negotiations, too, relentlessly and to absolutely no avail, from 1994 to 2001. The result was hell on earth for the Afghan people, with truces that never lasted, tens of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, and eventually a couple of famous buildings in New York destroyed with all the innocents in them.

The NDP says we should try this again. And bring our troops home again, too. To maintain these delusions, it is also necessary to abdicate yourself from reality so much that you have to pretend that the hard work required to achieve the objectives of the UN-brokered, 60-nation Afghanistan Compact, and the necessary work of keeping Canada's promises to the Afghan people, and living up to Canada's UN commitments in Afghanistan, is all merely fighting in "George Bush's war." Or, in Savoie's version, Donald Rumsfeld's war.

In the real world, it is only because of foreign troops in Afghanistan, under the UN's mandate, that Afghanistan has managed to secure for itself an embryonic democracy. It is only because of the security provided by foreign troops that the Afghans have managed to build enough schools over the past five years to enrol 6.4 million of their children, including 1.5 million girls. It is only because our soldiers are there, keeping the Taliban pinned down in the south and east, that almost 90 per cent of Afghanistan's 398 districts are more or less at peace and free from violence and bloodshed.

True, Naomi Klein is not Afghanistan's minister of cultural affairs. But more than 1,000 civil-military cooperation projects are underway nonetheless, along with 20,000 rural development projects. Childhood mortality since 2001 has dropped by 26 per cent. Health-care access is now available to 80 per cent of the population, up from eight per cent five years ago. The country is beginning to stand on its own feet. Afghanistan didn't even have a regular army five years ago. Now we're churning out 1,000 military graduates a week.

You have to completely ignore and deny all this progress for the NDP's position to survive the harsh light of day, and none of this progress would have happened in the first place if the NDP had been listened to, and all of this progress will be undone if the NDP gets its way. The UN wants us there. More than 80 per cent of the Afghan people support the Karzai government, and that government wants our soldiers there. Nearly three quarters of the Afghan people reject the NDP's position - they want our soldiers there.

Yes, peace negotiations with the Taliban would be nice, and it's always been my position that it would be great if we could see something like that happen some day. But I also wish that the NDP did not have to lie to itself in its claim to the mantle of multilateralism in global affairs, progress in women's rights, the advance of social justice, and the cause of peace. It would be nice if the NDP was unafraid to show some real leadership for once, and was untroubled by the challenge of formulating a legitimately progressive position on Afghanistan, and was unashamed to stand solidly with the Afghan people as they struggle against the forces of reaction in their shattered country.

But we live in the real world. If our politics aren't grounded in the real world, then it's all just play-acting, and Canadians who tart themselves up in these troops-out costumes have no right to sneer at Afghanistan's emerging democracy. They should leave politics to the grownups.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

In The Guardian: Lauryn Oates Patiently Explains The Folly Of Taliban-Appeasing

In a debate between the Guardianista (and my occasional correspondent) Conor Foley and Lauryn Oates (one of my co-founders with the Canada Afghanistan Solidarity Committee), Conor attempted to make the same case that serves as the basis of the New Democratic Party's entire Afghanistan policy. Of course Lauryn won, but the debate vividly illustrates how the Let's-Talk-With-The-Taliban approach collapses like a house of cards the instant it's subjected to proper scrutiny.

Here are the best bits:

The elected Afghan government has indeed reached out to the Taliban – and the Taliban wholly rejected the overture, except under conditions which the government could only reject. That strategy has been attempted more than once before; it's time to move on. Your proposal failed with the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in the seven long years between 1994 and 2001, when the UN and the "international community" wasted everyone's time brokering truces that never lasted, all in aid of bringing the "warring factions" to the table around a negotiated solution. If there is any lesson at all in any of this, it is that talking truce with fascists is a failed idea.

. . .In the same vein, the term "anti-government insurgents" is ludicrous in the specific context of the failed "power-sharing" approach that you say should be revived and imposed upon the Afghan people with the collusion of Iran and Pakistan, with the "international community" serving as some sort of head waiter to the proceedings. The ludicrousness stems from deftly avoiding the ahistorical and illogical core of your proposal. It obscures what the Taliban really are, and what they really want. They want to plunge Afghanistan back into a nightmarish seventh century dystopia, and to slaughter everyone who has stood in the way of their savage vision these past seven years.

. . .I'll close with one last bit of evidence for the ahistorical folly of Taliban-appeasing which comes in your presumption that "some elements" of the Taliban "may one day sign up for talks." The evidence is twofold. The first is that more than 50,000 "insurgents" have already been reconciled with the Afghan government. They surrendered and participated in rehabilitation and reintegration programs under the UN – this has been going on for years. The second is that if there are elements of the remaining hardcore Taliban leadership that may one day "sign up for talks," it will only be because the alternative they face is death, either at the hands of Afghan or ISAF troops.

In the meantime, the only thing to negotiate with the Taliban is their surrender.

To be fair to Conor, while his argument here collapses under the weight of its own absurdity, he doesn't always ride horses this ludicrous. Following this post a while back, Conor recently brought to my attention a Guardian column he'd written, which I hadn't noticed at the time, and it still stands up stoutly: "Pipe Dreamers: It's time the conspiracy theorists accepted that oil had nothing to do with the US invasion of Afghanistan."

UPDATE: Tangentially related: "Canadian New Democratic Party Leader embraces the lunatic fringe." Symptomatically related: "Layton twice publicly acknowledged us and that Barrie Zwicker is a friend of his and that they have had conversations about 9/11."

Saturday, September 13, 2008

In Today's National Post: Why Canada's Politicians Are Ignoring Afghanistan

From an opinion essay I wrote about the past week's weirdness on the campaign trail:

. . . .The Conservatives are afraid of the issue because the polls keep tilting against Canada’s Afghan engagement, especially in key Quebec ridings. The Liberals don’t want to talk about the issue either, because they’ve been split on Afghanistan — and, after all, it was their party that got us into Kandahar in the first place.

The Bloc Québécois, the New Democratic Party and the Greens each claim to be champions of multilateralism and humanitarianism in foreign policy. The mission in Afghanistan serves both principles — yet all three parties oppose an extended Canadian involvement in the country. And so they all risk being seen as hypocritical for making what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has properly called a “misjudgment of historic proportions” in their troops-out position — a position also opposed by the vast majority of the Afghan people.

Jim Davis is right: Our soldiers weren’t sent to Afghanistan in order to bide their time and survive long enough to reach some arbitrary deadline date. They were sent to fight for clearly-articulated goals — goals set out in the Afghanistan Compact.

That 2006 agreement, signed by 60 other countries under the auspices of the UN, established benchmarks for rebuilding state infrastructure, establishing a competent Afghan justice system, extending the rule of law, and securing basic guarantees in health, education, women’s rights and other matters. Securing a democratic regime that can defend those achievements is the other reason our soldiers are there.

Whatever their differences, Canadian politicians should be judged on how they intend to ensure that Jim’s son, Cpl. Paul Davis — who declined a promotion here in Canada so that he could join his beloved comrades in Afghanistan — did not die there in vain. They should be judged on how they propose to help the people of Afghanistan, for whom nearly 100 other Canadian soldiers have also died.

If the politicians can get that straight, a proper debate could begin. If they don’t, I suppose they might as well stick to their original plan, and shut up about the issue altogether.

If I find an on-line version of the piece I'll link to it.

I began the essay by observing that Jim Davis, the father of the slain Corporal Paul Davis, has demonstrated the only moral clarity on the subject of Afghanistan in the campaign so far. I see Christie Blatchford praises him as well, for his "most elegant and measured" contribution to the conversation. The Halifax Chronicle-Herald asks: Could all the participants in all the parties in this election please take a lesson in gravitas and grace from Jim Davis?

"Don't mention the war," as Basil insists with mounting hysteria in Fawlty Towers.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Michael Ignatieff on Humanitarian Intervention, Its Legacy, Condition and Prospects

It's a grim prognosis, in this month's edition of the The New Republic, in the context of a review of Freedom's Battle, by Gary J. Bass: Post 911, the United States retreats into America-First cynicism, Afghanistan and Iraq make liberals depressed, and then there's the rebirth of Russian imperialism, Chinese obstructionism in the Sudan, and the tendency of post-colonial societies to heave overboard the solidarity-of-the-oppressed that once liberated them. But, Ignatieff warns.

From all this we might draw the wrong conclusion, namely that humanitarian intervention was a hectic but fleeting moral fashion of the 1990s--an opportunity for the West to display its insufferable moral superiority at low cost, and for liberal intellectuals to wear their consciences on their sleeves. Bass helps us to see our own moral history in a more serene and clear-eyed light. There was more to the interventions that saved the Bosnians, Kosovars, and East Timorese than moral vanity. The philosophical beliefs that drove those foreign campaigns had a history going back to Byron and the Greeks. Thanks to Bass's fine book, we can uncover the lineage of some enduring intuitions about the duties that people owe each other across borders. These moral intuitions may be in retreat right now, with great power politics in the ascendant; but it would be foolish to pronounce their demise. The impulse to save and protect others will survive this parenthesis of retreat. We are not done with evil, and so we are not done with humanitarian intervention. Its time will come again; or it had better come, if we are to continue to respect ourselves.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Battle In Seattle: "It Changed Their Lives. It Changed A City. It Changed History."

I was going to say, no, it changed absolutely nothing, but that wouldn't be quite true. It did mark a major milestone in the degeneration of serious mass politics into the narcissism of theatrical catharsis. While the film's producers are honest enough to disclaim that the movie is merely "based on true events," I suspect it will be sufficiently convincing in its revisionism that it will serve the entwined purposes of ennobling an utterly useless and failed project, and being splendidly entertaining in the bargain:

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Canada's 60,000-member Carpenters Union: Solidarity With The People Of Israel

Meeting here in my home town for their 7th Biennial Convention, Canada's Carpenters' Union has adopted a resolution that they hope will have "a profound effect on organized labour around the world." The union has unanimously denounced the characterization of Israel as an "apartheid state" and calls for greater understanding of the plight of Israeli citizens.

"Unlike many neighbouring countries, Israel has an active trade union movement that participates freely in Israeli society," explained Ucal Powell, President of the Carpenters' District Council of Ontario. "Supporting a boycott or sanctions against Israel risks reinforcing terrorist groups and does little to encourage the wellbeing of workers in the region."

This is a cheerier story than this one.

Powell is that big bloke in the photograph, on the left. It was taken back in 2005, when Powell joined other Canadian carpenters on a volunteer mission to build "Canadaville" down in Louisiana for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. At the time, Powell, originally from Jamaica, said he was happy to work for free, around the clock, because he remembered only too well the hurricane that ravaged his home island when he was a little kid.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Nikolai Vavilov: Revolutionary, Scientist

We made our oath to Vavilov, We'd not betray the solanum, The acres of asteraceae, To our own pangs of starvation.
- The Decemberists.

In a review of Peter Pringle's new book, The Murder of Nikolai Valilov: The Story of Stalin's Persecution of One of the Great Scientists of the Twentieth Century, Hugh Barnes writes: "His interrogators could never break Vavilov even under torture. Indeed, his resistance became a source of pride among his admirers. Vavilov, they claimed, did better than Galileo, who was accused of heresy by the Vatican for believing that the sun, rather than the earth, was the center of the universe, and who recanted his ideas under threat of being burned as a heretic. Vavilov never renounced his belief in genetics and Mendel."

Vavilov was one of the principal inspirations of my last book. He was a pioneering geneticist and the first scientist to sketch the outlines of what we now comprehend as the phenomenon of "global centres" of linguistic, biological and food-crop diversity. Decades before Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, and long before the UN Food and Agriculture Organization recognized its significance, and before the World Wildlife Fund organized itself around the notion of global "biodiversity hotspots," there was Vavilov. A comrade of V.I. Lenin, Vavilov was persecuted by Stalin and sent to Saratov prison, for the crime of defending science over ideology and for refusing to renounce his findings. He died there in 1943.

The Decemberist lyrics at the beginning of this post, from the song When The War Came, refer to the Seige of Leningrad, when Vavilov's botanists, though starving, defended the plant collections and seed-bank repository Vavilov had established. Among the many beneficiaries of that act of bravery: Ethiopia, which managed to restore its agricultural sector after a country-wide famine, only because the Valivov Institute had conserved Ethiopian seeds; The United States, which revived its soybean crop, which had been wiped out by parasites, only because Vavilov's scientists had saved the original seed strains.

In the latest issue of Seed Magazine, Maywa Montenegro and I pursue the more recent findings and developments in the global effort to conserve the planet's diversity in a lengthy essay headlined "In Defence of Difference: Scientists connect cultural and biological extinctions, offering a new vision for conservation." But it's only in the print edition, so obviously, everyone reading this will want to drop whatever it is they're doing this instant and rush out to buy a copy.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

What Is It With All These Crackpots, And Is 'Anti-Semite' The Right Term For Them?

Given the strange evolution of antisemitism from a clearly-defined feature of the far right to a kind of nebulous and weirdly-shrouded spectre abroad throughout the pseudo-left, I have some sympathy for Green Party Leader Elizabeth May for uttering a less than coherent explanation for her decision to dump the crank John Shavluk. For one thing, there's something more than meets the eye going on here.

It brings to mind the current conniptions among British Greens, among whom there are responsible party members concerned that the party should be mindful of the way antisemitism veils itself in fashionable "anti-Zionism" nowadays. For their trouble they have been attacked by the "Green Left" faction, which is using the work of a drooling antisemite of a cartoonist to accuse the concerned party members of attempting to impose some sort of censorship on the party.

In May's statements there is also an echo of the difficulty American progressives have found in figuring out what name to give the vulgarity of U.S. Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney. She's that 911-Was-An-Inside-Job enthusiast who tried to cajole $10 million from a Saudi prince by expressing sympathy for his anti-Israel diatribes. McKinney was formerly with the Democratic Party, which rid itself of her despite her spectacular successes in raising campaign funds from dodgy Israel-haters.

In ditching Shavluk as the candidate for Newton-North Delta, May makes much of the Green Party's “respect for diversity" and its encouragement of "dialogue, diversity, peace and cooperation." There was this: “We condemn anti-Semitism," but then this strangely passive-aggressive sentence: “I communicated with John and thanked him for his work on behalf of the Green Party but explained that he will not be a candidate because his views are not consistent with our philosophy."

So is she saying Shavluk is an antisemite or not? What on earth is she thanking him for? And what is it about his "views," precisely, that are so unsuited to the Greens' philosophy that May sees fit to pull Shavluk's candidacy papers?

And why now? The guy's been an obvious freakjob for years. Shavluk's bit about how the US government itself attacked the "shoddily built Jewish world bank headquarters" otherwise known as the World Trade Center in New York was from two years ago. Is there no Google function on any of the computers at Green Party HQ?

It's also useful to note that May got on the case, and the news media noticed, only after the bright Vancouver bloggist Robert Jago did some basic but journeyman sleuthing. In this way the Shavluk case is a re-run of the Green Party's April, 2007 defenestration of its résumé-padding (see note*) Vancouver candidate Kevin Potvin, who had confessed that his response to the September 11 attacks was "Beautiful!" and "I felt an urge to pump my fist in the air." The news media didn't pick up on Potvin's questionable suitability for public office back then, either, until after Sean Holman's intrepid Public Eye Online did the mainstream media's homework.

A year earlier, there was the case of Shavluk's fellow Delta politico, poor young Thomas Hubert, a New Democrat who became a Liberal. Hubert was found to have praised Hezbollah, slagged off Israel as "the most vile nation on earth", and cheered on the exodus of Jews from the federal Liberal Party, following the party's flaccid support for Israel during the Lebanon crisis. Hubert's words were these: “The only issue that matters to them is the defence of a ‘state' that survives on the blood of innocent people.”

What struck me then about the Hubert controversy was the utter ordinariness of his comments in the context of his political mileu. It wasn't Hubert that I found so sinister, but the hideous banality of what Hubert said. It involves this same strange thing that the British novelist Martin Amis called an "endocrinal state" that is so commonplace these days in matters related to Jews, and to Israel, which I was on about in The Vancouver Sun a few months ago. Said Amis: "I know we're supposed to be grown up about it and not fling around accusations of anti-Semitism, but I don't see any other explanation."

Perhaps this same dilemma - we don't see any other explanation - might account for Elizabeth's strangely vague phraseology. It's as though we all know disgusting and dangerous ugliness when we see it, but we don't have the proper words to fully describe what it is - what it is about Shavluk's "views," in this instance - that is so revolting. To report that Shavluk was merely ditched "over an allegedly anti-Semitic remark in a blog by Mr. Shavluk several years ago," which is the way the Globe and Mail put it, doesn't quite cut it, does it?

This is what I mean when I say there's something more than meets the eye going on here. I don't quite know what to make of it, but I'm bold enough to claim that the trajectory of antisemitism from its fascist haunts to the realm of pseudo-leftism is at least partly the explanation.

Whatever it is, for the time being: Good Work, Robert Jago.

UPDATE: Another Truther crackpot shows up as a Green Party candidate, only this time, you don't need to comb through obscure interwebs discussion fora from years ago to read his hallucinations: It's all right there, right now, on the Green Party's own website: Why was the FBI investigation of hijackers shut down? Why were military response stand down orders issued? Why were distracting war games set up on 9/11 of all days? Why did building 7, not attacked at all, collapse like controlled demolition? Plus: In other words our government is following blindly the footsteps of the USA in Guantanamo!

Elizabeth May says: Hey, no problem.

UPDATE II: From Norm Geras's place, in Britain, Eve Gerrard writes that the Green Party "has an explicit policy of giving no platform to racists, and hence would not join in campaigns with the BNP, nonetheless it is ready to do so with overtly anti-Semitic organizations such as Hizbollah and Hamas. The Green Party's leading female speaker (and president-in-waiting), Caroline Lucas, publicly supports an economic and cultural boycott of Israel. Other high-profile Green speakers, including its leading male speaker Derek Wall, have expressed overt support for the academic boycott of Israel, even though several legal opinions have been given to the effect that such a boycott, including the reluctantly watered-down version which was passed at the last UCU conference, would fall foul of the Race Relations Act."


Since this post appeared, Potvin has been subjecting me to a barrage of annoying and vaguely threatening emails. He began by accusing me of taking money from Jewish groups to "place certain articles in media" (classy guy), and he also alleges that I libeled him by using the term "résumé-padding" here. That was a reference to a Wikipedia entry Potvin wrote about himself a couple years back.

In that Wikipedia entry, Potvin claimed that his work had appeared in Harpers Magazine and the Atlantic, when in fact he'd only had a letter to the editor published once, in each - a fact he now does not deny (this was also the subject of a Globe and Mail story a couple of years ago that must have been embarrassing for Potvin; the Globe refused Potvin's demands for some sort of retraction).

Anyway, I call that "résumé-padding." Potvin says it's libelous to call it that. I will leave it to the millions of people who read this blog to decide.

But no comments allowed.

Sanctuary For Union Leader, Help For Striking Miners, Plus Some Headway In China

The United Steelworkers in the U.S. and Canada are "adopting" the families of strikers at Mexico's Cananea copper mine, where 3,000 workers have been on strike for more than a year, and the union's Canadian section is providing sanctuary to the copper miners' persecuted union leader, Napoleon Gomez.

More good news: It what may be a crucial turning point in the history of China’s trade union movement, for the first time since 1949 trade union officials are openly stating that the union should represent the workers and no one else.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The same, but different

Pollster Darrell Bricker says that while 50 per cent of Canadians are now saying Stephen Harper would make the best prime minister (wait a minute, he already is the prime minister), "it's not like it's Obama-mania." I should think not. But then, straight away, a new Gallup poll shows that for the first, time, Barack Obama has hit the 50 per cent approval mark. Which sort of is like Obama-mania, right?

Next we'll be seeing this headline on the cover of Macleans: Is Harper White Enough?

Or not.

Wake me when it's over.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

"And Then The Russian Army Invaded Georgia."

"The response of the trade union movement and the democratic Left was swift – universal condemnation of a blatant act of aggression, an obvious attempt to seize control over a country whose independence Russia had recognised. Georgia had no better friend than the international labour movement which stood by its side at a difficult moment."

Except that was in 1921, not 2008.

"One of the biggest differences between the Russian invasion of Georgia in 1921 and the one that took place this summer has been the reaction of the Left around the world. Of course the knee-jerk anti-American Left instantly blamed George Bush for the war, and looked for evidence of sneaky neo-cons putting in appearances in Tbilisi in the days leading up to the outbreak of fighting. One expects no more from the Chomsky-Galloway Left, but the reaction of the mainstream trade union movement was muted, to say the least."

The author of the essay, Eric Lee, is the founding editor of LabourStart.

UPDATE: Here's Edward Lucas on the pro-Russian alliance of anti-globalists, Tories, pseudo-leftists, Russophiles, aging Stalinists and bankers that you will find arrayed the Georgians today.