Friday, March 20, 2015

"How did we get here?" . . I hate to have to ask. . .

"How did we get here?"

This is the timeless question of people who find themselves in a country (or world) being enveloped by the politics of hate, fear, militarism, jingoism, and fascism. This is the question that people find themselves at war inevitably ask when the bullets start flying and the bombs start dropping. "How did we get here?" or "How did we let our leaders take us off this precipice?"

Well, it may be a frustrating and a timeless question, one that is painful to ask and one that is even more painful to answer, but if you have been paying attention to Canadian politics over the last ten years, you know the answer.

Apparently we get here through a fairly simple formula. First, have a media that is compliant or supportive of the government's rightwing agenda. Easy peasy - we have had that for a while now. Then take a political party that is rooted in racism, militarism, sexism, and corporatism. Check. Then let that party in government so it can legislate more or less by stealth for ten years or so, gradually undermining the courts, the democratic mechanisms, the legislative branch of government, the legal mechanisms that are meant to protect people against the arbitrary use of power, etc. Got that. Now, over a period of a decade or so let that government gradually change the mood of the nation and create a space in which racism, militarism, and jingoism become once again socially acceptable. And suddenly you find yourself in the midst of a national decline toward fascism in which the federal leader can blatantly lie about major national and international issues with little fear that he will be called out on his lies, in which the leader can use inflammatory, racist language and the racist slime that once hid in the corners of our society are suddenly free once again to proclaim their racism from the rooftops.

Sadly, this is where we now find ourselves. And as progressives we are startled by the speed and ease with which the nation slid toward fascism and racism. But we are only surprised because we, as progressives so often do, underestimated the remarkable ignorance, hate, and malleability of the general population.

Well, the jig, as they say, is up. Genuine fascism is at the gates, so to speak. Oh, of course, at the moment our fascism is not the same as that which manifested itself in various countries of Europe in the 1930s. At the moment we have a friendlier, more 'legitimatized' form of fascism. But make no mistake about what is going on. At the moment we are just pushing that proverbial envelope of racism and militarism that once defined Euro-fascism. But it will surely take only one more election victory (gained by an ever more compromised electoral system) to push us into a more full-fledged form of fascist/corporatist government.  It is not a long way from a government proroguing parliament specifically to avoid falling, to a government cancelling or overturning elections. And if you think such things can't come to our seemingly quiet and 'peaceful' nation, I have only one word for you - VUKOVAR!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A short, concise rant on Israel. .

Ok, here's a short rant -

Now that Benjamin Netanyahu was inadvertently recorded admitting that Israel is only in peace negations as a way of stringing the Palestinians along while they steal all of their land, and now that Netanyahu has admitted that they will never allow a Palestinian state, isn't it time for all those apologists for Israel to admit that Israel has been the problem all along? For decades I heard people criticize Palestinians for failing to recognize Israel's right to exist, and people continued to perpetuate this misrepresentation years after the vast majority of Palestinians loudly proclaimed that they would recognize the 1947 partition boarders. It is clear now to all but the most blind partizans that it is Israel that will never recognize the Palestinians right to exist, it is the rightwing expansionism of Israel that wants all the land, not peace. The tide is turning. Millennials are beginning to recognize the pervasive lie and apartheid state that is modern Israel. Israel has long been an isolated state by the majority of countries in the world. They are isolated because they are a viscously racists, militarist, expansionist state hell-bent on taking all the land of Palestine and using some biblical fantasy to justify the more immoral of actions. But their isolation will now begin to increase as they have finally made their true colours clear to all but the most rabid apologists.

Reap the whirlwind Bibi - you have met the enemy and he is YOU.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Man I Am Tired of Harper Telling Women what to Wear. . . .

This is my question of the week - why are so many people incapable of separating their personal feelings about head-coverings from the legal question of equal rights??? I mean, I know why Harper and his minions are saying all this stuff - they are trying to use racism to win an election. But I can't fathom why so many Canadians don't understand this. Lots of people cover their heads for religious/cultural reasons. Lots of Jewish women don't show their hair, lost of Christian Nuns cover their heads, lost of muslim women also cover their heads. You are free not to like it. Shout your objections from the rooftops for all I care. But those personal objections are TOTALLY different from the idea of the government legally restricting what people can wear. And why do so many Canadians believe that equality means treating everyone the same? You just have to think about it for a moment if you have half a brain, to know that equality would only mean treating everyone the same if everyone WAS the same. Legal equality in the context of democracy must mean ensuring that everyone has the same types of opportunity to engage in the processes of the state regardless of their religion, their culture, their gender, their sexual identities, and their physical abilities. If people are so concerned about treating everyone the same in the citizenship ceremonies, then why don't they make sure that deaf people can't take the oath since they can't hear the judge, or make sure that we remove the accessibility to the ceremony because physically disabled people shouldn't receive "special" treatment. And why aren't Canadians rising in total disgust at Harper's claim that people are trying to "hide" their identities at citizenship ceremonies?? No one is trying to hide their identity! All the legal, identity stuff is dealt with before the swearing of the oath. There is usually a big room of people and the judge giving the oath really has no idea about the identities of the people in the room.

Let people wear whatever they want anywhere they want for all I care. I don't judge people on the colour of their skin, on the type of their clothing, but on the content of their character!

And I think that we should stop letting white men (or any men) tell women what they should and shouldn't wear.

So there!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

War and Racism - The Timeless Strategy of Tyrants like Harper. . . .

The past few months have been for me some of the most depressing, politically speaking, that I have ever experienced. I can't say that I was surprised by any means that Harper and his Cabal decided that, in the face of abject failure in almost every realm of their political and economic agenda, war was their adopted reelection strategy. Let's face it after ten years of outrageous political corruption and a fundamentally failed economic approach, the HarperCons had little else to go on. War has always been the go to strategy of tyrants and demagogues. Harper has come to personify all of the things that he once claimed to despise politically and economically, except for the favourite fall-back strategy of rightwingers everywhere - war and violence. Harper and his Conmen have always been big advocates of war and violence. While condemning any violent or military effort of any state or group with whom they don't sympathize, they praise the same types of violence if it is committed by an ally. They have always blindly supported the illegal violent expansionism and de facto 'state-terrorism' of Israel, while condemning even the mildest efforts of the Palestinians to defend themselves. With the US, they spend years trying to isolate Russia, never once treating Russia's geo-political concerns in Eastern Europe seriously, and then supported an illegal coup in Ukraine without missing a heartbeat. They bend over backward to please the tyrannical Chinese government, which is arguably (in raw numbers) the most violent and oppressive regime in the world toward its own people. They are glad to throw the constitution in the trash and eliminate almost all of our rights after the death of two white men, but systematic violence and the disappearance of over a thousand aboriginal women goes almost unnoticed. It is clear that the Harper regime embraces violence whenever it is committed in their perceived interest, but condemns it whenever it is it isn't.

All of this doesn't surprise me because I have been a careful observer of tyrants. I suppose that I haven't even been surprised by Harper's adoption of that other favourite strategy of fascists and demagogues - racial scapegoating. A central part of the continuous war strategy of tyrants has always been demonizing the 'other,' and that 'other' is often a racalized group. And the demonization of Islam has been a strategy of Western leaders for over a thousand years.  It is entirely predictable that Harper and the Conmen would use 'scary' images of so-called Jihadists to raise money and attempt to scare the Canadian people into supporting them. Like all tyrants Harper likes and has now come to rely on the violence of the 'other' to feed the fear of the people, so he can then try to place himself in the role of the strong, saviour of the nation.

But as cynical and jaded as I am, it has still come as a sad surprise to me how easy and quick it has been to con Canadians into buying the strategy of war and racism. It should be obvious to anyone who even vaguely pays attention that the Western strategy in the Middle East has never been to promote democracy and good governance, but rather to create chaos and give rise to group such as ISIS specifically so that they can promote an extension of the strategy of permanent war. It is a typical provocateur approach that tyrants have engaged in for centuries; promote chaos and war so that you can use that chaos and war to extend and maintain your own military and domestic power. But despite living with the memory of the war in Indochina, and the incredible mess that the war in Iraq wrought, people are once again eating up this strategy like kittens at a bowl of cream. This, I must say, has surprised me and sadden be beyond measure. The great Bertram Russell wrote in his autobiography that before the First World War he thought that money was the thing people loved the most, and after the war he realized that killing others was what they liked above all else. I am beginning to agree with him.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Strategy of Permanent War. . .

We live in difficult times for anyone who is wants to promote justice and equality. We are living through an era in which large, globalizing corporations have overwhelmingly dominated the political discourse for more than 30 years. And as the Neo-Liberal consensus has begun to show cracks and is basically breaking down, the rightwing has begun to ramp up its strategies of fear: fear of change, and fear of 'the other.' The primary target of this strategy of fear has been the relatively soft target of Islam. I call this a soft target because this has been a pretty safe target for Western leaders for hundreds of years. It is easy to feed on people's underlying bigotry, particularly religious bigotry. And the Neo-Liberal leaders of the West, desperate to consolidate their power and narrow our political discourse, thrive on religious bigotry. Oh, of course they will never admit that this is their strategy because that has become socially unacceptable. But they are fully aware that this is what is going on.

The most interesting (and tragic) part of this strategy is that for a long time now, Western leaders have been quite intentionally aggravating so-called Islamic extremism with the clear knowledge that they need this "enemy" to drive their economy of war and their politics of fear. The grandest deception of modern times is the portrayal of Israel as "victim." But the focus of political Zionism has been fairly clear from the beginning. The creation of Israel was orchestrated by violent "terrorists" like the Stern Gang who intentionally created as much conflict as possible with Palestinians in order specifically to create an image of Middle Eastern Jews as victims. They did this because it was the only ideological shield that they could use to hide behind as they took more and more Palestinian land. This strategy among Israeli leaders has continued unabated now for generations. Take Palestinian land, lock them up in giant prison camps and then portray yourself as a victim on the defensive every time the Palestinians fight back, meanwhile continue to take Palestinian land (in clear violation of international law) while everyone is looking at and blaming the Palestinians. It is a strategy has even deceived many Israelis as so well illustrated by the Israeli peace activist Miko Peled.

But our own leaders have more or less adopted the very same strategy. Part of this has been the simple and clear knowledge that failure to support the Palestinian people will continue to feed the ranks of desperate and angry groups who actively, and understandably, use any means at their disposal to fight back. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have also been central to this strategy. The strategy is this - create conflict, ignore or exploit religious and ethnic differences, arm and incite these groups either directly or through proxy states like Saudi Arabia, and then use these enhanced conflicts to further expand war, military spending, and increased security powers in our own countries. It is, in fact, an age old military/political strategy; create conflict and then use that conflict as the excuse to enhance your power, military might, and surveillance or our own population.

It is a sad strategy in every possible sense. It destroys lives, creates chaos and death, and it is easily sold to a surprisingly gullible population. Part of the problem is that there is a significant conceptual deficit among people when it comes to the issue of power. Most people have only a one dimensional view of power which sees power moving in only one direction and misses the subtleties of how it is used to deceive and how it moves through structures and can expand backward toward the source. Thus, people in the West will, for example, demonize Islam or Islamic nations, failing entirely to see how Western nations not only created these countries (mostly during the First World War) and then exploited thees nations to enhance the need for continual war. It really is just a more complex version of using provocateurs, which governments and capitalists have been doing forever.

Arguably the worst by-product of this strategy of fear and one dimensional view of power is bigotry. You see it all the time and it is profoundly frustrating. People will see the terrible actions of 'the other,' (in this case Muslims) as the main source of conflict and evil, meanwhile they will ignore not only our own Western history of violence and evil, but completely ignore the active part that our governments and arms dealers play in the sustaining this history of violence etc. Thus people will ignore the fact that George Bush started a war almost solely for personal vengeance that killed over half a million innocent people, but they will drone on and on about a single murder perpetrated by 'the other.' This is the kind of ignorance that our leaders are actively promoting.

As Bertrand Russell once said, "Most people would rather die than think; many do."

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Western Crusaders and Noble Violence. . .

Defining complex social phenomena is always a convoluted problem. Of course in the 'post-modern' era, where language games and linguistic subtitles are the life-blood of philosophy, definitions themselves become problematical. The very best work of modern philosophers like Derrida, Foucault, and Richard Rorty is really all about the problems of definition. But I digress.

Years ago I was at a pub with a friend who was a PhD student in sociology and who was writing his dissertation on the subject of cults in Britain. Being intellectually mischievous, I claimed that any distinctions between religions and cults were really just arbitrary and a matter of convenience. This led to considerable anger on his part because his entire PhD career hinged, in a sense, on his ability to make this distinction. But after a long conversion my friend had not, in my opinion, done anything to convince me that such distinctions are not, ultimately, driven by some underlying ideological purpose. In the final analysis, distinguishing between a cult and a religion is an exercise in arbitrariness. But these are the kinds of issues that you will very seldom see discussed in any kind of mainstream media. The failure on the part of the MSM is, in part, due to a fairly simple lack of intellectual capacity on the part of both the mainstream writers and broadcasters, and the North American audience. On the other hand, in Europe, and most particularly in France, you will see in-depth, philosophically sophisticated arguments in popular, widely circulated newspapers. Frighteningly, in Canada Rex Murphy seems to qualify as an intellectual.

I bring this up, of course, because of recent events in Halifax where the police allegedly thwarted a plot to commit a mass-shooting. The hapless Justice Minister Peter MacKay was at pains to clarify the meaning of this alleged conspiracy and told us this - "The attack does not appear to have been culturally motivated, therefore not linked to terrorism." This statement offers an interesting change in the definition of 'terrorism' that is commonly used in our popular culture, particularly by the rightwing. By shifting the idea of terrorism away from 'political motivations' to 'cultural motivations,' the Harper government seems to be attempting to bolster their election strategy of being seen as religious crusaders and it contributes to the creation of fear amongst Canadians for 'the other.' By attempting to guide the public discourse away from political aspects of so-called 'terrorism' (as well as the political aspect of Harper's war as an election ploy), the HarperCons can tap into a much deeper and darker aspect of public fear, a fear that those in power have been exploiting since the time of the Crusades.

But there is a bit of cognitive dissonance here because for a very long time the popular definition of 'terrorism' has been overtly tired to politics. In fact, this morning on CBC they had an interview with some sort of 'expert' on the subject (I missed his name and qualifications) of terrorism, and he defined terrorism this way - 'the use of violence by political extremists.' And since the alleged plot in Halifax involved people who have been referred to as 'Neo-Nazis,' these events would be very clearly tied to a common notion of terrorism.

But what is interesting to me here is the degree to which a definition of terrorism can shift according to the political/ideological goals of the speaker, and the way that people are compelled to shift their definition so that they can continually brand others as terrorist while distancing their own efforts from being associated with such a notion. The Harper regime wants to associate terrorism with religious and cultural issues because it feeds their narrative of Canada being at war with a foreign group of religious fanatics. And if we associate a group of Nova Scotian Neo-Nazis with terrorism, that narrative is threatened because it politicizes the discourse. The same kind of problem recently arose in the U.S. where a man killed a three Muslims but was not branded by representatives of the State as a terrorist. It is vitally important for Western Governments to brand violent actions by non-white 'extremists' as terrorism, while avoiding that epithet being used in relation to Western caucasians engaged in the same kinds of violent acts. This is because the 'terrorist' must always be 'the other' in order for the notion to have the power to sway people with fear and make them support a political program of war.

But all of this shifting conceptual ground makes one wonder how do we keep a handle on the uses of the notion of 'terrorism' and of how those uses can influence political discourses and outcomes. Well I think it is actually pretty easy most of the time if we just remember that it is almost always a question of the perceived legitimacy of violence. Terrorism is almost always a label used by people to refer to acts of violence that they believe are illegitimate. A great example from contemporary events is the West's response to the coop in Ukraine. A year ago large numbers of Ukrainians, some of them armed and many of them with ties of fascists and ultra-nationalists, began occupying government buildings and calling for the overthrow of an elected president. Our leaders not only didn't refer to these insurgence as 'terrorists,' but they embraced them as legitimate political activists. However, if large numbers of Canadians, some of them armed, occupied the buildings on Parliament Hill and called for the overthrow of Harper they would be roundly referred to as terrorists and treated accordingly by our government. The Israeli government, with one of the most powerful militaries in the world, has been stealing Palestinian land for over half a century, bulldozing Palestinian homes, killing and imprisoning Palestinian people. But no Western leader has ever referred to the Israelis as terrorists for such acts. On the other hand, any act of violence perpetrated by Palestinians against Israel or other Western nations is continually referred to as terrorism. The distinction is solely one of perceived legitimacy. Terrorism is not really a thing in the world, rather it is a conceptual political tool used by leaders and political commentators to de-legitimize certain acts, and by association to legitimize other acts. The U.S. invasion of Iraq, which was not defensive and resulted in the deaths of around 500 thousand innocent civilians will never be referred to as an act of terrorism by Western leaders.

While we listen to our political leaders continually refer to acts by foreigners or so-called 'home-grown' religious extremists as terrorism, while referring to our own, often indiscriminate and usually ideologically motivated, acts of mass violence as nobel, just remember the issue of perceived legitimacy and think about the agenda of the speaker.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Eve Adams makes me Laugh . . . and Cry.

Nowadays, it takes a lot to drag me to the keyboard to bother to write about politics. For one thing, there are other bloggers out there who, given the terrible shadow that has been cast over this country, do a better job than I, with more rhetorical and emotional force (which is exactly what is called for now). For another thing, I am emotionally spent for now concerning politics. With the gradual rise of a new fascism in many countries, the return to adventurist militarism (despite the lessons of both the Vietnam era and the disastrous Iraq war), and the erosion of basic democratic rights and processes, I am feeling rather bleak about the future now.

But occasionally a little event occurs in the upper echelon of politics in Canada that is just so amusing and depressing at the same time that it is just worth talking about, if for no other reason than to vent a little spleen. Just such an occasion came today with the crossing of the floor of one of the darlings of the Conservative Party, Eve Adams. As everyone now knows, in a surprising move the woman who once seemed to have a great future in the Conservative Party (but had gradually fallen from grace) crossed the floor and joined the other conservative party (ie., the Liberals).

The reason that this event is so interesting is that it demonstrates so many things at once. On the one hand, Eve Adams, though one of the most dim-witted souls in the current Conservative caucus (and this is saying a lot given how collectively dim-witted that caucus is), said things in her news conference that hit the political nail on the head. She said that she can no longer support the "mean-spirited" politics of the current Conservative Party. Though she may me entirely disingenuous with this claim, it is finally a Conservative MP telling truth to power and it is right on the nose correct. The worst indictment of conservative politics in this country has been the unwillingness of conservatives to criticize the poison politics of the current Conservative Party leadership. This silence on the part of party members and fellow travellers demonstrates that conservatives are perfectly willing to abandon democracy, rights, and integrity for the sake of power. I believe that Conservative Party policies are terrible and dangerous to our future, but it is their willingness to abandon basic principles of democracy and fairness that really prove that they are an evil force in Canada. Because your politics can be misguided, but your actions demonstrate your real political spirit.

Eve Adams also hit the nail on the head when she said (and I am only paraphrasing) that she can no longer support a Conservative Party that has become the party of the rich. Well the conservatives have always been the party of the rich and Eve Adams was blind if she couldn't see this, but that doesn't take away from the truth of what she said.

But of course, all of this comes against the back drop of Adams' past (and present). She was an ardent supporter of Conservative Policy for years and not only did she never voice these concerns publicly before, but she was often just as mean-spirited as those she now claims to oppose. But more troubling is the fact that she continues to be engaged to Dimitri Soudas, a guy who was more or less the back-room representative of Harper's mean-spirited, and sneaky politics.

But what makes the whole thing both amusing and depressing, is the fact that it highlights better than anything could the hypocrisy at the heart of present-day politics in Ottawa. Last week, for the Conservatives (despite her nomination troubles etc) Adams was one of the gang and represented the principles of the party. The PMO distanced itself from her to a degree because what she was doing was garnering bad-press, but she had long been one of the Party's darlings and they defended her many times despite her hopeless dim-wittedness. Now the CPC will unceasingly criticize Adams, suggesting they never really liked or trusted her. Then the CPC will say that Trudeau's new support of Adams demonstrates his political ineptitude, despite the fact that they themselves supported her last week. Meanwhile, the Liberal Party criticized her roundly for years and now suddenly they will laud her as a woman with integrity and political savvy. It is a terrible demonstration of the worst aspect of politics - blatant hypocrisy. Political parties will defend (or even praise) a person or action from their party that they vociferously condemn from another party. And sometime it just gets sickening.

So the two lessons of the Eve Adams defection are 1) The truth of a message is not determined by the integrity or intelligence of the messenger, and 2) the hypocrisy of the Ottawa gangsters knows no bounds.