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Some thoughts on the importance of historical context


Kathleen Wynne (left) with Sandra Pupatello.

And something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

— Bob Dylan, "Ballad of a Thin Man"

Early Sunday morning on Facebook, I posted a knee-jerk response to the selection of Kathleen Wynne as the Liberal Party of Ontario's new leader — and thus, the province's new Premier. Wynne won on the third ballot, edging out Sandra Pupatello. The women had been the front-runners right from the start. (Entirely coincidentally, but most serendipitously, Wynne's victory came only two days before the 25th anniversary of the Supreme Court of Canada's decision declaring that women have a fundamental right to control their own bodies.)

I wrote:

Those of you who think that nothing changes, please take note. In some very important ways, the world *is* getting better and it's important we remember that. A divorced, gay, woman is now Premier of Ontario.

Woman. Gay. Divorced. 30 years ago (or less!) any *one* of those facts would have automatically disqualified her.

That's a sea change, ladies and gentleman. A fucking sea change.

There is more to it than that, of course, and finding myself living in a country in which six of its 14 First Ministers are women does not mean we have reached Utopia.

But it is significant.

So significant that it deserves not just an emphasized paragraph all of its own, but consideration at some length. The perfumes of change.

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Lessons from Egypt

Barack Obama is the probably the best possible President the United States could have, but all of his genuinely good qualities don't make a damned bit of difference in terms of U.S. foreign policy. There is a very simple reason for this: He's not the boss. The real boss, of course, is all of that fucking money, all of the profits to be made, and which have to be made because that is the criteria according to which corporations — and hence the U.S. economy itself — lives or dies. Profit must be made, and it is not made exclusively, or even primarily within the U.S. but outside of it, all over the world. That is the necessity that governs U.S. foreign policy. Not morality, not justice, and not Obama. In that sphere he, like any other President, more closely resembles Stepin Fetchit. Thomas Dow, via email.

It's been getting harder and harder for anyone in the Western world to pretend we live in a genuinely democratic society. Ironically — but also tellingly — our rulers have felt in ever-less necessary to hide the fact that they hold "the people" in contempt, just as they hold in contempt the idea of democracy itself.

As a Canadian, last summer's government-sponsored riots in Toronto (see "Dominion of Fear" from last July) tore a lot of the proverbial wool from my eyes, but not all of it. I think it Tony Blair's calmy racist para-logical contortions in support of anything but democracy for the Egyptian people to bring home to me the fact our own democracy is little (if anything) more than a potempkin voting booth.

Which prompted the following, an editorial first published in this past Friday's True North Perspective. Long story short, there are two lessions for those of us in the West to learn from the courageous men and women facing down the thugs in the streets of Egypt.

First, it's not our place to manage Egyptian affairs. Even if we accept the myth of Good Intentions, the result is almost always a torturer like Mubarak.

And second, we need to take back our own democracy; the men in black body armor are at the ready any time we step out of line.

Click here for the rest (behind the fake cut).

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The suicidal twilight of the American 'left'

Some thoughts on Keith Olbermann's mea culpa and impotence as policy

"And if those of us considered to be on the left do not re-dedicate ourselves to our vigilance, to eliminate all our own suggestions of violence, however inadvertent they might have been, however mild they might have been, then we too deserve the repudiation of the more sober and peaceful of our politicians, and our viewers, and our networks.

"Here, once, in a clumsy metaphor, I made such an unintended statement about the presidential candidacy of then-senator Clinton. It sounded as if it was a call to physical violence. It was wrong then, it is even more wrong tonight. I apologize for it again and I urge politicians and commentators and citizens of every political conviction to use my comment as a means to recognize the insidiousness of violent imagery ..." — Keith Olbermann

Keith Olbermann responded to Saturday's shooting of American Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords (and close to 20 others) with a passionate call from arms, a nine-minute plea to "both sides" of the American political discourse to pull back from the rhetoric of violence, as if it is mere imagery that has bred the climate of fear that has seen the American people shed their civil liberties as willingly as they shed their shoes and dignities at their airports.

Olbermann's was a noble and humane call for a return to mutual respect, with an equally noble mea culpa for his own excesses. (The video is at right.)

Noble and humane, Olbermann's call was also blind and utterly wrong-headed.

Really, it is hard to know what is more pathetic: that Olbermann so earnestly calls for reason from the unreasonable or that he lumps his own misdemeanours in with the high crimes of his enemies.

"Tragically, and like most of his fellow-travellers on the so-called left wing of mainstream American politics — Olbermann just doesn't get it. He won't or can't see the truth of what it is that he is up against." Click to read my full article at Edifice Rex Online.

[personal profile] tangaroa

In 2009, hundreds of college professors signed a petition filled with lies and slanders against Israel. Economics professor Fred Gottheil of the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign wondered how many of the same people would sign a a statement of concern about the oppression of women and homosexuals in the Middle East. Gottheil culled the names of American academics from the anti-Israel petition and sent them a request for signatures to "A Statement of Concern Calling for Support Regarding Discrimination in the Middle East against Women, Gays, and Lesbians", detailing some of the oppression that these groups face in conservative areas of the Middle East. How many signed it?

The result of Gottheil's experiment is that twenty-seven academics signed on to his statement out of the six hundred and seventy-five people approached. This is four percent, so few that Gottheil decided not to bother publishing the statement. As he put it to me in email, "the responses were so few, the idea of publicly putting the piece out above signatures made no sense." Notably, academics in Womens' Studies were less likely than the rest to sign this statement against the abuse of women, as only five out of one hundred and sixty-nine, or three percent, signed on.

Why didn't the others sign? The statement itself is inoffensive (Gottheil sent me a copy when I asked to see it). I suppose caution could be a reason, but the target set earlier proved their lack of caution by signing a statement with numerous obvious falsehoods. We might be seeing the result of a trust network in that the subjects do not know who Gottheil is, while the earlier anti-Israel petition may have come to them through trusted channels. That would raise the question of what channels distributed such an erroneous statement and why they are trusted. The subjects might be afraid of being castigated as racist and Islamophobic by their peers for opposing the oppression of minorities that happens to be done by right-wing Muslims at this moment in time, as increasingly happens to liberals who oppose Islamic conservative extremism on liberal grounds. Some of them might actually support the oppression of women and homosexuals. Only they know; I can merely speculate.

Some thanks is due to the few who signed on to Gottheil's statement against actual oppression. I hope that they would study the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict so that they do not again make the error that earned them Gottheil's attention.

[personal profile] tangaroa

The Basque terrorist group E.T.A. has announced a unilateral cease-fire. This is excellent news for Spain and a more peaceful Europe. It is also part of a trend which has significant rhetorical implications.

In the past thirty years we have seen a great reduction in the diversity of terrorist organizations affecting the First World. The I.R.A. is retired. The J.D.L. is in jail. The K.K.K. stopped its violence and has lost public support for its worst core principles. The Tamil Tigers, who operated in Sri Lanka but attracted First World attention, were defeated. The worldwide plague of Soviet-inspired terrorism has subsided with the end of Russian support, and U.S.-inspired terrorism subsided in response. There is still plenty of terrorism in the less stable parts of Africa, but that is not on the Western public's radar so it will not affect Western discourse. About all that is left now is F.A.R.C. in Colombia, the Mexican drug gangs, and the various Muslim terrorist groups.

It is the power of the last set that will influence discussions of terrorism over the next ten years. The face of terrorism is becoming distinctly Islamic because Islamic terrorism is a rising threat while all of the other significant terrorist organizations have been defeated. Whereas twenty years ago there was only a small minority of Muslims supporting jihad against the West, the new generation fed by pro-jihad media finds more support for war. That minority today is much larger than before and threatens to become dominant in the next generation. The likely result is an increase in the acts, statements, and influence of those who believe that jihad is mandated by Islam because that is what they were told while growing up.

With these two factors -- a greater share of terrorist ideology within Islam and an Islamic monopoly on terrorism -- there is a greater likelihood that opposition to all terrorism in general, based on humanist principles, will be slandered as Islamophobia. We are seeing some of this already, and the false charge of Islamophobia is today aided by truly Islamophobic rightists within the West who condemn all Islam as terrorist, and by the dominance of these rightists within the set of those public figures who regularly speak out against terrorism.

The potential dominance of this theme, that opposing terrorism is the same as opposing Islam, will make it difficult for a democracy to effectively defend itself. Anti-terrorism policies will be condemned as oppressive and bigoted whether or not they are so simply because Muslims will be the majority of those rounded up, and the act of arresting persons for breaking secular laws against supporting terrorism will be viewed as a violation of human rights. Popular pressure will coerce democratic governments to weaken their security until they are defeated or reactionary movements take control of the government.

The reaction is likely to include counter-terrorism in the most literal sense. As populations targeted by terrorism find that the violence they suffer is approved of by the international community, reactionaries going by the same-to-you principle will begin to commit terrorist acts against the populations that the terrorists derive from. This will lead to further division along religious lines and further support for the violent in both groups of combatants as the ones capable of protecting the "us" from the "other".

Already we are seeing strong propaganda campaigns by the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, and the P.L.O. which have led to Western government action in their support. Even more worrying is the failure of the British government to jail George Galloway who had himself photographed while handing a stack of money to a Hamas representative. Galloway intended to test Britain's mettle to enforce its laws against funding Hamas. Britain did nothing in the face of this high-profile and explicitly illegal support for terrorism. With no trust in their government, Britons who desire leadership which opposes terrorism in general -- or at least would protect them if the situation declines further -- are left having to turn to the hooligan mobs of the English Defense League.

That is the present state. The future threatens to be worse if Western leaders fail to make a strong, consistent stand against all terrorism on humanitarian grounds and fail to keep themselves informed by reliable sources of world events while enemy war propaganda is circulating.


Update: Spain has rejected E.T.A.'s cease-fire.

Link Dump

Jul. 10th, 2010 09:31 pm
[personal profile] tangaroa
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A study by Neil Desai and several other Harvard University students shows that newspapers stopped calling waterboarding torture after the Abu Ghraib scandal. The quick numbers of how often their news articles called waterboarding torture:

Before 2004After 2004
New York Times81.5%1.4%
Los Angeles Times96.3%4.8%
Wall Street Journalno data1.6%
USA Todayno data0.0%

This data shows the newspapers encouraging the worst type of misbehaviour by the state which newspapers are supposed to be outraged by. It is worse because support for torture became a partisan issue when the Republican Party launched a full campaign in support of it. By implying that there is nothing wrong with torture, mainstream U.S. newspapers actively worked to protect the image of the George W. Bush administration and the Republican Party during one of the worst scandals in U.S. history and during an election year.

It would be interesting to know the decision-making process inside the papers of who decided torture should not be called torture and how they justified it. It would be a good news story. If only there were people and organizations whose job it is to report information in the public interest...

[personal profile] tangaroa

The doctrine of States' Rights took a heavy blow from the Supreme Court's decision in McDonald v. Chicago this week, and it was the court's right wing that delivered it.

Read more... )

Link dump

Jun. 28th, 2010 07:58 am
[personal profile] tangaroa

An anonymous online acquaintance of mine has this insight on the concept of a national dialogue or debate:

I appreciate that the Minneapolis Park Police are respecting the first amendment, and letting protesters wander through the Twin Cities Pride Festival. But when one person is saying that a class of people are "an abomination to God" I don't think it's really accurate to characterize the situation as "a healthy dialogue." It's more like an unhealthy, spiteful monologue.
[personal profile] tangaroa

And when the doctrine of state nullification Rises Again, how high will it get? It's going to get high. Very high.


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