Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Occupy Movement: Destroyed by a Conspiracy of Infiltration and Sabotage?

So says the Yankee celebrity hipster Chris Hedges, co-author with Joe Sacco of Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, about which I cannot comment because I haven't read so much as a page of it, but also author of the wildly popular Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, which I found so excruciating in its silliness that I couldn't get past the first third or so. Anyhow, in this debate with Hedges, moderated by the inestimable Steve Paikin, I do my level best to keep a civil tongue in my head. I don't do a very good job, I'm afraid. I find Hedges to be almost shockingly ridiculous and I can't understand why so many otherwise intelligent people seem to take him seriously.

As for the so-called Occupy "movement," I rest my case on the completely overwhelming evidence that the whole thing merely collapsed into a vanity-heap of its own absurdities and contradictions. I don't claim clairvoyance but it seems to me I had it pretty well right when I suggested very early on that the only thing worth considering was what, if anything, might arise from its ashes, and ashes and garbage are what it would leave behind in the greatest quantity, and indeed for the zombies that brought on Occupism's auto-cannibalism it was the whole point in the first place. This is the same fate I projected, with regret, for Idle No More. No gift of clairvoyance was necessary for that either.
It seems to me that Sam Harris, a proper American intellectual and author of such extremely worthwhile books as The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, has probably said all that needs be said about Chris Hedges: "I don’t think I have ever met anyone so determined to live as a Freudian case study: To read any page of Hedges’ is to witness the full catastrophe of public self-deception. He rages (and rages) about the anger and intolerance of others; he accuses his opponents of being 'immune to critiques based on reason, fact and logic' in prose so bloated with emotion and insult, and so barren of argument, that every essay reads like a hoax text meant to embarrass the humanities."
Meanwhile, in my Ottawa Citizen column today I'm on about some very, very welcome news and wondering aloud why more has not been made of it. It turns out that the “Third World” isn’t there anymore. The Global South has moved north. Those benighted states we’ve all grown accustomed to calling “developing countries” have been developing so much faster than Europe and North America that they’ve pretty well caught up. Released March 14, the 2013 Human Development Report concludes: “Never in history have the living conditions and prospects of so many people changed so dramatically and so fast.” Here’s Khalid Malik, the report’s lead author: “The Industrial Revolution was a story of perhaps 100 million people, but this is a story about billions of people.”
This is wonderfully happy-making, and it puts Canada's Conservative government in a unique position to finally get on with honouring a six-year-old promise to put Canada's back into the work of advancing democratic development the world round. Just do it, for mercy's sake.   

Monday, March 25, 2013

About These Bloody Pandas.

They're not even proper bears. They're actually some class of raccoon. Lounging around all day at the taxpayers' expense, eating bamboo, defecating and sleeping and eating again and stinking. It' scandalous and disgusting. Giant bloody rats is what.

They should be harnessed to a water-mill or something to make some bloody use of themselves, the lazy chiselers. In any event I should rather put pins in my eyes than stand around and gawk at these big possum things for so much as a minute. I'd have them quarantined all the way back to Beijing tomorrow morning without so much as a how-do-you-do.

They should have lent us Xi Jinping instead. He's the Chairman of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.Put him in some sort of pit or cage in Toronto and let him eat bamboo shoots. People could throw pennies at him.

Intead we have these pandas, which are dim, pornography-watching, preposterously overpriced propaganda gimmicks. They don't even have proper names. "Er Shun" and "Da Mao" if you please. "Bowel Movement" and "You Have Come To The Attention Of The Authorities" or something. Horrible creatures. Riddled with diseases.
The Harpers are cat fanciers, you realize. It comes from that

As you were.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

"We will rid the world of the evil-doers," ten years after.

Today's extended play version from my Ottawa Citizen op-ed blog:

I'm of the school of thought that the Evil George Boosh should get some points for at least trying. At least I wouldn't throw a shoe at him, and I allow this publicly in the full knowledge that to do so is to unforgivably dissent from a particular narrative that is enforced by a caste of bien-pensant eunuchs for whom writing the guy's name with a dollar sign where the 's' should go is considered both high art and sufficient credentialing to be called a "progressive."
It's the contested legacy of George Bush that seems to be the real and mostly unmentionable thing at the root of much of the journo-reflection and punditry in Canada marking the tenth anniversary of the Anglo-American adventure in Iraq this week. I wanted to make that point at some point in my Ottawa column today but I didn't get round to it so I'm making it here. But the bits I want to highlight for the moment:

The case against intervention: Direct military costs exceeding $900 billion and an Iraq Body Count death toll in combatants and civilians of 162,000 over a decade, an elected government that always seems on the brink of collapse and resentful jihadist crazies making life miserable for everybody even now, 10 years on, even after the Americans have gone home. Car bombs and suicide bombs killed nearly 60 people on Tuesday.
The case for intervention: Indirect, grudging and ineffective non-lethal aid to the Syrian rebels, a UN Human Rights Council estimate of 70,000 dead in less than two years, a million refugees, two million “internally displaced” people, the vampire Bashar Assad still rampaging around the place, no end in sight and not so much as a drone in the sky above Damascus.

I can't abide that throat-clearing thing that is pretty well a bylaw-requisite prefix to any comment on Shock and Awe and its associated excitements - the way you're meant to precede any remark by making it clear that you were "against" the thing we call the War in Iraq, in order to establish your public-hygiene bona fides. Screw that. It's like no framework for the subject is possible unless it takes the shape of a tennis court. Screw that too.

It's only because a couple of conversations with perfectly intelligent people on both sides of the net today have encouraged me to smack the ball around just a bit that I will clear my throat thus:

It is (and was) quite possible for reasonable people to have (had) quite dramatically opposing views on the "to go to war or not" question viz. Iraq. It's harder to have such conversations viz. Afghanistan, because the decision was never whether "to go to war or not" in Afghanistan - this was and is the core dishonesty of the so-called "anti-war" position. The question was rather merely whether to participate in the NATO-led and UN-sanctioned military component of an ambitiously idealistic failed-state reconstruction exercise. 
So as if it matters (like I'm an important voting bloc at the UN or something), all along it's been my view that invading Iraq as the U.S. administration proposed was a bad and lame idea (and was horrific in the incompetence of its execution), but that once the bombs started falling the "to go to war or not" question was over and done with and moot like stink. This is where I found myself parting irrevocably from the mainline Left position, which was also indistinguishable from the bourgeois liberal establishment position, which I'll return to in just a sec. 
I wante to say first, to be fair to Jean Chretien (I put him in the pillory for a bit in my column) he may have had a point in the "you've already won the war" line of argument he put to George Bush back in 2003. Retroactive clairvoyance is a handy talent to have, but we must still ask out loud: What would have happened had the Yanks chosen to end the corrupt and collapsed Iraq sanctions regime with an effort to increasingly contain and isolate Saddam Hussein within Iraq itself, instead of mounting a hellfire invasion of the country? Hindsight just isn't that good, I'm afraid, because the only honest answer is still: How the hell should I know?
Back to business:
From the minute the first bombs fell in the early hours of March 20 in Baghdad it was the first duty of the Left to put its failed anti-war argument aside and put its shoulders to the wheel of building a properly functioning democratic Iraqi state. Indeed, the Euro-American Left had the benefit of Iraqi trade unionists, secularists, democrats, feminists, socialists and liberals by the hundreds of thousands to work with.
Instead, with minor but proud and gallant exceptions, the Left reconfigured itself into an "anti-war" movement that was a sinister collaboration with establishment factions of the most grotesque sort, and not just the usual roster of celebrity-elite riffraff. It was anti-war only in name, and its mission was to spend the rest of the decade marching around in cul-de-sacs asserting a moral superiority it had no right to claim and uttering demands ("Stop the War!") it knew could not be met.

Throughout it all, the phenomenon we were all supposed to agree to call the "anti-war" movement would continue to fail to answer the first question that would necessarily arise in any honest debate about what to do about Iraq: 'Well, what would YOU do to shift the Baathist filth and the jihadist gargoyles that persist in torturing and persecuting the Iraqi people?' One shouldn't have to be first told that it has been at the feet of that filth and those gargoyles that 90 percent of the Iraqi body count from the last ten years is laid, and to answer the question, one shouldn't require even the beginnings of a fully coherent answer.

All that's reasonably required of a grown-up is the capacity to recognize that it was the first and most necessary of questions on the subject, and this is what brings us to the main thing that actually does connect Iraq with 9-11. It's the same toxic politics that will make fetish objects of questions that go nowhere precisely because they're not intended to go anywhere. The entire "anti-war" paradigm of the past decade was set up that way from the start. It wasn't to offer answers to the most important questions of a generation. It was to avoid them altogether.

Proper questions: 'How do you propose to catch the terrorists?' 'How do you propose to fight Al Qaida?' Don't ask.
And so it has come to pass, ten years on, that it is practically forbidden to recall that "weapons of mass destruction" was a weird term that had almost no life at all prior to or outside the Iraq dilemma, and in any case WMDs were only one of many reasons why overthrowing the Baathist tyranny was broadly held (even by American Democrats and by British and European leftists) to be the only righteous "foreign policy" objective any self-respecting democracy could maintain in the matter of Iraq.
But that was before a certain ill-tutored Texan found himself in the big chair in the Oval Office, and most unforgivable and unmentionable of all, it was a radical faction out of the conservative movement that convinced him to actually do something about Iraq. Thus, ten years later, we are left with the central formula of a rigidly-enforced revisionist narrative of the crudest simplicity - "No WMDs = Bu$h/BLiar lied = millions died" - which is itself a lie, and discernibly so even from a great distance. 
Nowadays we're not even supposed to mention the name of the lie's primary inventor and architect. So I will name him: Scott Ritter. He was the suave but emotionally and intellectually incontinent US Marines ballistics specialist who became a celebrity UN weapons inspector and a Fox News personality before shifting his greasy allegiances to Seymour Hersh and the Code Pink generation. 
Turns out that Ritter's reported enthusiasm for sexual exhibitionism wasn't a Ziocon calumny against his reputation after all. It's merely a matter of the gross record now that Ritter's serving prison time on six counts, including felony unlawful contact with a minor.  Where else are they now? Don't get me started. 
Okay, just this one because I can't resist: Congressional uberdingbat Dennis Kucinich has been lately spotted moneygrubbing around New Age gatherings with a proposal for some sort of semi-judicial proceedings (with the passive-aggressive "Truth and Reconciliation" in the title) to be brought against certain people - and you know who we're talking about here - specifically, “those responsible for misleading us into annihilating innocent people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere." Odd how all UFO-spotters tend to turn out to be, yes, batty after all. 
The legacy of the last decade's "anti-war" politics reaches beyond such now-marginal types as Kucinich, mind you. It is what leaves top-ranking Democrat John Kerry to offer only treacle and mewlings to Syrian rebels who would rather get some actual help to so that their country should be converted back from a human abattoir to an actual country.
As Nick Cohen observes: Even David Cameron is keener on taking practical steps to prevent a catastrophe in the Levant than this, and when Syrians can receive a fairer hearing from a shire Tory than an American 'progressive' you should have the wit to realise that a sickness has taken hold.
Before we leave John Kerry completely, and since this post was supposed to be at least partly about the legacy of George Bush, I wonder whether you could name without peeking the thing that even John Kerry says George Bush did that has so far saved perhaps five million lives. It's something hardly anyone ever talks about, and when it's mentioned it's almost always reluctantly, and it's hidden in thickets of yesbutteries and yesbutwhatabouteries. 
Bush still enjoys high popularity ratings in Africa, where he's widely regarded as one of the continent's great benefactors. (Meanwhile, the Obama administration's proposed PEPFAR cuts have triggered protests around Africa — even in Kenya, where the president's family ties have ensured him plenty of favorable coverage.) "Bush did more to stop AIDS and more to help Africa than any president before or since," says New York Times correspondent Peter Baker, who's writing a history of the Bush-Cheney White House that's due to appear in October. ". . .If it weren't for Iraq, it would be one of the main things history would remember about Bush, and it still should be part of any accounting of his presidency."
It's amazing how mere mention of this aspect of the Bush legacy can cause people you might have thought were perfectly sensible adults to wet their pants and stamp their feet. Well, here's a pencil you big crybaby, write the guy's name with a $ instead of an 's' and maybe that will make you feel better. 
The rest of you: You're welcome. 
As you were.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Well. Look At What The Cat Dragged In.

Okay, six weeks without posting here. I am very bad. I've been very busy. So we'll work backwards from my column today:

Another day, another pogrom in Pakistan: What Canada can do about any of this is a question worth debating, but the criticisms of the Office of Religious Freedom initiative have been mainly parochial, stupidly partisan and churlish, especially the notion that it is likely to show some sort of unseemly favouritism to Christians. The ugliest insinuation along these lines came from the notoriously creepy Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations, whose Amira Elghawaby couldn’t resist sneering that Ambassador Bennett’s Catholicism would make him “biased toward Christian groups.” 

One can only hope that Bennett will not overcompensate to show his even-handedness, given what is now evident to everyone from the Economist magazine to the Vatican, from the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom to the Pew Research Center, and from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Rupert Shortt, the religion editor of the Times Literary Supplement: the overwhelming majority of the religious who suffer persecution throughout the world today happen to be Christians.

But who said the dumbest thing about the Office of Religious Freedom? My vote goes to Liberal MP David McGuinty, who "also criticized the move as a blurring of the time-honoured line that separates church and state. He said Canada already has a safeguard for religious freedom. 'We have a document in this country that does that, it's called the Charter of Rights.'"

(Insert sound of crickets here).

McGuinty appears to have mistaken Pakistan, the Sudan, Tibet and Iran for jurisdictions covered by Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He also appears to be in desperate need of someone to disabuse him of his delusion that Canada is the United States, where there really is a line separating church and state.

Anyway. On the subject of theocratic bullies and crackpots, what to do about the Khomeinists and their ten-year unblemished record of nuclear subterfuge, shell-gaming, lies and defiance of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN Security Council? I don't know, quite frankly.

Nobody wants a war with Iran, but sanctions clearly aren’t working. China — Iran’s main trading partner — adamantly opposes any further sanctions. In Canada’s submission to the IAEA this week, the word “sanctions” doesn’t appear once. “The crisis over Iran’s nuclear program has persisted for ten years and the international community simply cannot allow this impasse to continue,” Canada’s report asserts. “Should Iran continue to refuse to cooperate with the IAEA, against the wishes of the Board of Governors, the Board must consider additional robust action.” 

Whatever that “robust action” might entail, a very safe bet is that it will produce no discernible result unless and until bombs begin falling on Iranian targets. Nobody wants that to happen. But nobody wants a nuclear-armed Iran, either. In any event, the carnival has to be brought to an end. 

Now. How about that Hugo Chavez guy, eh? What's his legacy? I'm not impressed:

He leaves behind a broken and corrupted judiciary, the upper echelons of the country’s armed forces infested with drug lords, millions of Venezuelans living in fear of the knock on the door in the night, a currency worth only a fifth of what it was a decade ago, food shortages, crumbling roads, collapsing bridges, crippling inflation, ballooning deficits, a rigged currency, an epidemic of street crime, and rolling electricity blackouts.

Boy did that one ever get me in trouble with a certain class of person. You know the type. Bernard Henri Levi call it the "posthumous cult of Chavez," and notices that it "swells and grows more toxic" the more putrid el commandante's corpse becomes. James Bloodworth is very much worth reading on the subject, from a proper democratic socialist perspective (James is always worth reading, actually). At the Globe and Mail, Doug Saunders helpfully notices that there has been a revolution of sorts going on in Latin American in recent years, and the poor and dispossessed have been benefiting from it, and Hugo Chavez has had nothing to do with it at all.  

For some reason I can't help but think that Justin Trudeau would have gone just all squishy with excitement to have had the chance to hang out with Hugo and Sean and Naomi and Oliver. Certainly his Castro-fetishizing brother Alexandre would have felt right at ease, but it will not be, c'est dommage, and so I guess I'll just have to settle for pointing out how spectacularly easy it is to invite comparisons between Justin Trudeau and Sarah Palin, and Silvio Berlusconi.

Here's what is not easy: watching this video without laughing yourself sick.Perhaps not so funny: Canada’s very own Liberal Party is on actually the verge of handing its crown to someone it would not be entirely wrong to call a largely talentless and insufferably foppish celebrity drama queen.

You know who's a smart guy and a good egg? Kennedy Stewart. He's an NDP MP. He's got some idea about how to make Canada's democracy work better. Long story short: Kennedy Stewart is no jackass. There are dangerous ideas hovering at the edges of his private member’s bill, but they’re not all stupid ideas. Not by a long shot. Stewart should be allowed to proceed. But he should proceed with extreme caution.

Here we go: everybody gets all angsty and shouty about Canadian history. Odd, the fallout. There was lots of it, for things I didn't write and ideas I don't have. The thing is, my shelves fairly groan and creak with the cultural and social histories certain academic historians decided I don't like. Odd. I think its because so many of them are still furious with Jack Granatstein for having interesting things to say. In any case, if nothing else I will have introduced Christopher Dummit to a wider audience. Here's his take on the subject of my column. 

Er, actually, his ideas were the subject of my column. Oh you know what I mean. Just keep an eye on Christopher Dummitt. He's proper smart.            

For sticking with me this far, a treat. Here's a pack of fine gadgies kicking up a storm in the North Carolina Mountains, I believe 1962, at Old Man Bascom Lunsford's Place: