Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Best of the season

Best of the season to all, and a Happy New Year!


Friday, December 21, 2007

Disaster capitalism in New Orleans

I've been listening to Democracy Now this week, and have stumbled across the current issue of public housing in New Orleans. Or rather, the demolition of public housing in New Orleans. Here is an exerpt from the interview Amy Goodman did with community activist Kali Bruno, which, as Naomi Klein confirms, is an example of her "disaster capitalism" theory in action:

Now, in terms of myself being there, my interest is basically trying to—you know, for lack of a better term, Amy—stop this neoliberal destruction that we see taking place in New Orleans and the complete privatization of all of the different services within the city, housing being, I think, the most critical of them, public housing being kind of the cornerstone of that. But there’s an affordable housing crisis in New Orleans, of which the public housing is just one particular element of it. It’s the most critical element, because public housing will stabilize rents in New Orleans. And folks should know their rents have gone up three times since the storm, and it’s basically pricing, you know, working people and African people, on the whole, out of the city. But this is just one particular piece of this whole program.

Public hospitals are also being shut down and set to be demolished and destroyed in New Orleans. And they’ve systematically dismantled the public education system and beginning demolition on many of the schools in New Orleans—that’s on the agenda right now—and trying to totally—excuse me, totally turn that system over to a charter and a voucher system, to privatize and just kind of really go forward with a major experiment, which was initially laid out by the Heritage Foundation and other neoconservative think tanks shortly after the storm. So this is just really the fulfillment of this program.

And I think—you know, I always want to call people’s attention back to the statements that Baker made shortly after the storm, that we finally cleaned up public housing; you know, we couldn’t do it, but God did. This is just really the fulfillment of that program.

Here also is a link of original source documents on New Orleans that Klein's team has put up on her site.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Climate change agreement in Bali

The climate change action plan reached in Bali leaves a lot to be desired, but at least its a start, and pushed countries like Canada and the US to do much more than they had planned on. Furthermore, it commits countries to a process that will require further meetings. Given right-wing governments in Canada and the US that are currently resistant to seriously addressing the problem of climate change, I think that's a good thing. Hopefully, the Bush and Harper governments will be dispatched before too long.

Here's a press release from the Davide Suzuki Foundation on the Bali action plan.

December 15 Bali, Indonesia -- Nations agreed today on a "Bali roadmap" to launch negotiations for a post-2012 global climate agreement that will be guided by scientific analysis of the emission cuts needed to avoid dangerous climate change.

Key developing countries signalled a willingness to take on new commitments at the two-week-long UN climate conference. However, Canada worked with the United States for most of the meeting to oppose crucial elements of the Bali roadmap. As a result, parts of the deal are too vague to assure a successful outcome of the next round of UN negotiations, due to be completed in 2009.

"The world moved forward in Bali today, but we had the opportunity to do much more," said Steven Guilbeault, Equiterre. "The good news is that the Bali deal recognizes that rich nations need to cut their greenhouse gas pollution by 25 to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, and nations will negotiate the next phase of Kyoto on that basis."

Canada initially opposed this emissions reduction range in the final negotiating session, but agreed not to block the consensus position when it found itself virtually isolated.

"Canada worked against the key elements of this deal for most of the two weeks in Bali, and was singled out by other countries and high-ranking UN officials for its obstructive behaviour," said Dale Marshall, David Suzuki Foundation. "In the end, the government responded to public pressure and allowed this deal to go through."

The first phase of the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012, and today's deal launches a two-year negotiation process for the post-2012 "Kyoto phase 2." In addition to setting a range of emission reduction targets for industrialized countries, the Bali roadmap contains commitments to negotiate actions to control emissions in developing countries; financial agreements for adaptation and the transfer of climate-friendly technology; and an agreement to tackle the problem of deforestation in developing countries.

"Now is when the real work begins," said Matthew Bramley, Pembina Institute. "The government’s current targets and policies fall far short of the standard set in Bali. Nothing less than a massive scale-up of federal efforts on climate change is required for Canada to play a responsible part in the next two years of negotiations."

"Canada came to Bali demanding unfair commitments from developing countries, and was roundly criticized for it," said Emilie Moorhouse, Sierra Club of Canada. "In the end, the only bridge that Canada built in Bali was one that led to the U.S."

"The agreement to develop approaches to reduce deforestation and forest degradation is a key outcome of this meeting," said Chris Henschel, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. "Protecting carbon stored in forests and other ecosystems is an important complement to deep cuts in fossil fuel emissions."

Apparently, according to David Sassoon's blog, a remarkable scene took place at the meeting when the US initially resisted the agreement:
And then it was the turn of the United States. Assistant Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, with only the absolute bare minimum of diplomatic language, stated flatly that the United States rejected the changes. It was not prepared to accept the G-77 text.

Then occurred one of the most remarkable sounds that has perhaps ever been heard in the annals of international diplomacy--like a collective global groan--descending then to a murmer, then increasing in volume to a full-throated expression of rage and anger and booing and jeering, lasting for a full minute, so that finally the Minister had to call the meeting back to order.

Japan, predictably, followed the United States with a statement that was completely opaque, from which we could conclude only that Japan supported the G-77 text while also supporting the "major economies" convening process begun by President Bush as a supposed counterbalance to the Kyoto Protocol. (The Americans, with almost unspeakable rudeness, issued invitations to the next 'major economies meeting' on the first day of the Bali COP. Sort of like making a big show of announcing your engagement while at someone else's wedding.)

Then the backlash began.

South Africa's representative, with great eloquence, noted that the U.S. statement was 'most unwelcome' and 'without basis.' He hammered on the science and winded up by wondering how, if the administration had accepted the science, it could possibly want to block progress. Echoing Bangladesh's earlier statement, he noted that the Developing Countries were making commitments (in one of those two contentious paragraphs), and yet the U.S. was not.

Referring to redrafts from earlier in the week, Brazil noted that the EU and China and the G77 had gone along with most of the amendments offered by the U.S.--they had not blocked progress.

The small island states noted their survival imperative.

Pakistan's ambassador stated that "the text before us would not have come about without the flexibility shown by the G-77+China."

Uganda lamented that U.S. views were taken into account in this redraft, and yet the U.S. was blocking.

Tanzania stated the situation flatly: "the United States has the power, and that is the power to wreck the progress made thus far."

Casting all diplomatic niceties to the winds, the representative from Papua New Guinea stood up and said: "if you're not willing to lead, please get out of the way."

(This was a superb slap at a disgusting comment made by Council on Environmental Quality chief James Connaughton at a press conference a day earlier, when he had implied that the United States was leading, and other countries needed to "fall in line.")

A pause. A lull. Witoelar on the dais, puffy-eyed, anxious. de Boer, returned to the stage, head in hands, peering between his fingers.

Dobriansky signals she wishes to speak, and Witoelar calls on the United States.

"We are heartened by the strong commitments made by the major developing countries here at Bali," says the UnderSecretary. "We appreciate the contributions of Japan, the EU, and Canada in emphasizing the need to half emissions by 2050." She went on to argue that the United States had made three commitments at Bali.

And then: "The United States will join the consensus" regarding the proposed compromise text.

A surge of emotion through the hall, and then a collective sigh of relief. No standing ovation, no cheering--but a sustained, respectful applause.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Vancouver's wilful ignorance on social housing

Via Matthew Good, this post from Pivot Legal Society lawyer David Eby.

The City of Vancouver staff are advancing a report that suggests sufficient social housing is under construction in the City to consider demolition and conversion of the last remaining Single Room Occupancy hotels in Vancouver.

Single Room Occupancy hotels and lodging houses are the last privately owned housing in the Vancouver affordable to people on welfare, and are currently somewhat protected by City bylaws.

One would think that with homelessness increasing at a rate that city staff disagree on, but is anywhere from between 800 to 1,000 more homeless than we had just 2 years ago, the City would be scrambling to preserve the housing we have, as well as build more housing.


The administrative report, coming before council on December 12, 2007, reads as follows:

The SRA By-law has been effective in limiting conversions and demolitions, and the stock of housing in the downtown that is affordable to low income singles has been holding steady at approximately 14,000 units.

I have to take a break here to expose this first whopper. The City ignores the fact that SROs have steadily been converting to higher income renters like international students and low wage workers, and people on welfare are ending up on the street. The City also conveniently ignores the fact that we know of hundreds of rooms that have closed or are closing in the next few months, including the Carl Rooms, The Picadilly, the Dominion, the Phoenix Apartments, 336 Carrall Street, and Marie Gomez Place.

That willful blindness sets up the following, which should rapidly accelerate already out of control real estate speculation on these low-cost rental buildings in Vancouver's poorest neighbourhood:

The proposed partnership should result in social housing completions exceeding SRO losses, and, when the replacement housing is completed, the controlled conversion or demolition of SROs should be considered. Staff are to report back on the status of the SRA By-law in 2008 and in that report will consider the issues related to the controlled conversion or demolition of SROs including timing, relocation of tenants, etc.

There isn't even funding in place to build the 1,200 units that the Province supposedly is going to build, and already City staff are writing reports on how to demolish the last remaining privately held low-cost rental housing in Vancouver. If you think we've got a lot of homelessness right now, you haven't seen anything yet.

Read the entire article here.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day. It is sad that we need such a day. Sad that the disease continues to wreck havoc on human lives, especially in Africa, and sad that we can do so much about it that are seemingly unwilling to follow up on.

Please read this World AIDS Day message from Stephen Lewis:

We've made some incremental progress on treatment for AIDS in Africa. Intense prevention efforts have led to reductions in prevalence rates in a handful of countries. Glimmers of hope have begun to fracture the gloom. But the one area that has withstood every intervention is the vulnerability of women. Gender inequality, poisoned further by sexual violence, is still taking an horrendous toll. And when the women are disproportionately infected, dying in such large numbers, it's the orphan children who become the haunting legacy of the pandemic.On this

World AIDS Day, when the theme is "leadership," let us demonstrate leadership where the women of Africa are concerned. Make no mistake: the women are the backbone of the continent, with a sophistication, decency, courage and resilience that are staggering. They deserve our collective support with every will at our command. Please give generously if you possibly can.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Justice for Robert Dziekanski

It is not every day you get to watch on television the last minutes of a young person's life.

I almost don't want to write this post, because it is about the loss of an innocent life, because it is real and emotional, and because such a tragedy should never be exploited for political or ideological gain of any kind. That said, I feel compelled to, because of the uniqueness of the circumstance, and because of the evidence of which we have available to us.

I am of course referring to the case of Robert Dziekanski being tasered, we now know twice, losing consciousness, and dying soon after, at the Vancouver International Airport.

For what it's worth, my heart goes out to his mother.

We now know, as a result of a video released by Paul Pritchard, that while restless earlier, he had calmed down by the time the RCMP arrived, and was calm when he was tasered. We also know he was tasered a second time after he was on the ground, writhing in pain. We furthermore know that when he lost consciousness, the police made no attempts to revive him.

Overall, as the former victim of a mugging, I am grateful for the presence of police. I believe that the vast majority of police are well intentioned and well trained. However, we can be pretty confident that the police were either negligent or malicious in the performance of their duties at this event.

There can be no dancing around this one, if you are the RCMP. I've already seen a statement from an RCMP spokesperson saying that the video doesn't tell the whole story. Really? Well what party of the story doesn't it tell? It certainly carries far more weight than other other piece of eyewitness evidence could. I can't imagine that line will continue for long.

Of course, the police aren't the only ones at fault here. Why didn't the airport let Mr. Dziekanski know his mother was waiting for him only yards away?

Here's what has to happen, and those of us who are concerned about this will be watching carefully. There will be a coroner's inquest. We don't know for certain what the direct cause of death will be, but there has to determination that the police didn't have to taser him once, let along twice. There also has to be a determination that the police should have tried to resuscitate Mr. Dziekanski. There has to be an independent investigation into the incident. Those officers found responsible, whether those who attended the incident, or those who trained them, must be held accountable. The policy of taser use must be reviewed independently.

No one can bring back Robert Dziekanski. He is lost to his mother forever. However, we can prevent the loss of more innocent people to more loved ones due to poor enforcement policy and practice.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Seymour Hersh on US plans for Iran

Seymour Hersh has a new article in the New Yorker this week, saying that the US is getting closer to bombing targets in Iran. Here's an excerpt:

The President’s position, and its corollary—that, if many of America’s problems in Iraq are the responsibility of Tehran, then the solution to them is to confront the Iranians—have taken firm hold in the Administration. This summer, the White House, pushed by the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney, requested that the Joint Chiefs of Staff redraw long-standing plans for a possible attack on Iran, according to former officials and government consultants. The focus of the plans had been a broad bombing attack, with targets including Iran’s known and suspected nuclear facilities and other military and infrastructure sites. Now the emphasis is on “surgical” strikes on Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities in Tehran and elsewhere, which, the Administration claims, have been the source of attacks on Americans in Iraq. What had been presented primarily as a counter-proliferation mission has been reconceived as counterterrorism.

The shift in targeting reflects three developments. First, the President and his senior advisers have concluded that their campaign to convince the American public that Iran poses an imminent nuclear threat has failed (unlike a similar campaign before the Iraq war), and that as a result there is not enough popular support for a major bombing campaign. The second development is that the White House has come to terms, in private, with the general consensus of the American intelligence community that Iran is at least five years away from obtaining a bomb. And, finally, there has been a growing recognition in Washington and throughout the Middle East that Iran is emerging as the geopolitical winner of the war in Iraq.
Read the whole article here.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Hope for non-violence in Burma

I have been impressed with the global outpouring of support for the monks in Burma, including advocacy from Jim Carrey, and a Facebook group that has seen its membership rise over last last couple of weeks to almost 350,000.

Marcus Gee in today's Globe and Mail gives us hope for a Saffron Revolution in Burma, pointing out that while non-violent resistance does not always work, it often does. Unfortunately it's behind a subscription wall, but I have today's paper. I think the central point is that we can see that throughout history, nonviolence has resulted in the development of a democracy, whether its in Poland, South Africa, Ukraine, and India.

Gee gives us reason for hope. He points to a Freedom House study showing that 50 of 67 countries in the study developed through largely non-violent means. I can see that in the events that are unfolding there. I think the junta is nervous, and looking more desperate all the time. Why else would they be calling for a meeting with Aung Saun Suu Kyi and asking for her to stop backing sanctions?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Another black day for human rights.

It is indeed another dark day for human rights, as the junta in Burma crackdown on the protesting monks and their supporters. Follow BBC for up to date coverage events there. BBC reports that:

Hospital sources in Rangoon told the BBC that at least one monk had been killed and that two others were in intensive care.

The monks were beaten with the back of rifles. Taxi drivers are transporting the injured to nearby medical facilities, said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Other reports differ on the number killed with a monastery official telling Reuters news agency two monks had died while Burmese officials told AFP three monks had been killed.

Analysts fear a repeat of the violence in 1988, when troops opened fire on unarmed protesters, killing thousands.
The United Nations Security Council reportedly has called for the junta to show restraint, as well as for a UN special envoy to be allowed into Burma. However,

But China's UN ambassador, Wang Guangya, said that sanctions against Burma's military rulers would not be "helpful".

China and Russia have argued that the situation in Burma is a purely internal matter. Both vetoed a UN resolution critical of Burma's rulers last January.

Experts say the hope remains that China - a permanent member of the council and a key importer of Burmese energy resources - may use its powerful influence behind the scenes to persuade the regime to show restraint.
Amnesty International has called for the UNSC to send an urgent mission to Burma.
The UN Security Council mission should take urgent steps to resolve the human rights crisis in Myanmar and avert the risk of violence and bloodshed. The mission should also discuss with the Myanmar authorities how to resolve the long-standing human rights problems in the country including the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

Amnesty International has documented Myanmar's appalling human rights record. More than 1,160 political prisoners are held in deteriorating prison conditions. Child soldiers and forced labour continue to be used. The use of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment are common, especially during interrogation and pre-trial detention.

Myanmar is now witnessing mass demonstrations comparable in scale to those in 1988, when security forces broke up massive pro-democracy demonstrations with deadly violence killing thousands.

"The high risk of a crackdown against the demonstrators makes it imperative for the international community to act urgently. The military government in Myanmar must be told in no uncertain terms that there will be dire costs if they repeat the violent repression as in 1988," warned Ms Khan.

"The demonstrators in Myanmar have the right to peacefully express their opinion and the Government of Myanmar has a duty to fully respect this right."

"China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and as a government with political influence over Myanmar, has a critical role to play. So do ASEAN countries, Japan and India. They must use their influence to end the truly forgotten human rights emergency in Myanmar."
UPDATE: If you're in Canada, you can go here to sign a petition going to Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier, or attend a protest at Parliament Hill on the evenings of September 26, 27, and 28. There may be events in your area as well.

Friday, September 21, 2007

More moronic behaviour in Washington.

Via Crooks and Liars, check out this video from the Daily Show last night. The best part is the skewering of Bush talking about health care, and the passing of Nelson Mandela. (Don't worry, he's not really dead. Bush just somehow thinks he is).

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Dyer: Bush et al's take on Iran.

Always good to see a new column from the outstanding military historian Gwynne Dyer. This time, he pontificates on a possible US attack on Iran and the possible implications.

Almost everybody in the Bush administration believes that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons in order to dominate the region and to attack Israel. (Others are less certain.) The war party, led by Dick Cheney, also believes that the clerical regime in Iran would collapse at the first hard push, since ordinary Iranians thirst for U.S.–style democracy–and that the attack must be made while President Bush is still in office, since no successor will have the guts to do it. Even after all this time, the administration's old machismo survives: "The boys go to Baghdad; the real men go to Tehran."

So what will happen if Cheney & co. get their way? The Iranian regime will not collapse: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is now unpopular due to his mishandling of the economy, but patriotic Iranians would rally around even him if they were attacked by foreigners. What will collapse, instead, is the world's oil supply and the global economy.

Read the entire article here.

Sudan expels diplomats

Sudan has expelled EU and Canadian diplomats for allegedly interfering in Sudanese affairs:

Sudan has expelled Canada's top diplomat, acting charge d'affaires Nuala Lawlor, the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed Thursday.

"We asked the Sudanese authority for more information on why she was expelled," said departmental spokesman Rodney Moore. He declined to say whether Canada had heard back from Sudanese officials.

"I can add that she was really acting in the finest traditions of Canadian diplomacy, standing up for freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Sudan," said Moore.

Sudan's SUNA news agency reported that Lawlor and a European Commission diplomat were expelled for meddling in Sudan's internal affairs.

"Sudan has summoned the envoy of the European Commission and the Canadian charge d'affaires and informed them they were considered persona non grata because they interfered in Sudanese affairs," foreign ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadek told SUNA.

However, the exact reasons for their expulsion were not made clear in the report.

And here's a Toronto Star editorial arguing that "Sudanese affairs urgently need interfering with."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Stephen Lewis: Mbeki presiding over apocolypse

Former UN Envoy for AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis has strongly lambasted Thabo Mbeki's decision to fire the lauded deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge:

A former U.N. envoy accused South Africa's leader of presiding over an ``AIDS apocalypse,'' saying Wednesday that President Thabo Mbeki's dismissal of the country's widely praised deputy health minister last week crushed a glimmer of hope in the fight against the epidemic.

Stephen Lewis, who recently retired as U.N. special envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa, called for international pressure on the government to implement an ambitious anti-AIDS campaign.

``It is said that 900 men, women and children die every day in South Africa of AIDS-related illnesses. It's Armageddon every 24 hours,'' Lewis wrote in an opinion piece for South African newspapers. ``Other than South Africa, every government in the high-prevalence countries is moving heaven and earth to keep its people alive.

Lewis comments on the legacy that this will leave for Mbeki, as well as the greater one that will be left for the South African people:

``No matter the astuteness of his economic policy, social interventions, financial acumen, or peacekeeping initiatives across the continent, he will always be known as the president who presided over the AIDS apocalypse,'' Lewis said.

``It's a terrible legacy with which to haunt the pages of history.''

Read the entire article here.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Peter Gabriel singing Biko at the launch of The Elders

For your enjoyment, this is Peter Gabriel singing Biko a capella at the recent Elders meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Poll suggests Americans differ with their government on global role

Online travels take me today to an interesting opinion poll from World Public Opinion.org on Americans perception of what its government's role in the world should be.

Here from their site is a summary of their findings.

General International Engagement

A very strong majority supports US engagement in the world and rejects the idea that the US should take a more isolationist stance. However strong and growing majorities show dissatisfaction with key aspects of the current US role in the world and see it as destabilizing. A majority supports US military bases on the soil of traditional US allies, though support for US military presence in the Middle East has become quite soft.

Rejection of Hegemonic Role

A large majority is opposed to the way it perceives the US playing the role of hegemon or dominant world leader. Americans express surprisingly modest concern for preserving the US role as the sole superpower.

Multilateral Cooperation and International Institutions

A very strong majority favors a US role in the world that puts a greater emphasis on US participation in multilateral efforts to deal with international problems and on a cooperative approach wherein the US is quite attentive to the views of other countries, not just US interests. Very strong majorities favor the US working through international institutions (especially the United Nations) and support making international institutions more powerful. Strong majorities favor international law and strengthening international judicial institutions. Americans support US participation in collective security structures and are reluctant to use military force except as part of multilateral efforts. A large majority favors the US using multilateral approaches for dealing with terrorism, addressing international environmental issues, and giving aid for economic development.

Altruism, the Global Interest, and the National Interest

A large majority of Americans feel that US foreign policy should at times serve altruistic purposes independent of US national interests. Americans also feel that US foreign policy should be oriented to the global interest not just the national interest and are highly responsive to arguments that serving the global interest ultimately serves the national interest. Americans show substantial concern for global conditions in a wide range of areas.

Concerns US is Doing Disproportionate Amount Internationally

Support for US international engagement is dampened and obscured by widespread feelings that the US is doing more than its fair share in efforts to address international problems relative to other countries, and spending too much on international programs relative to domestic programs. However, in many cases this attitude seems to rest on substantial overestimations of the levels of US contributions relative to other countries and international spending as a portion of the federal budget. Asked to set their own preferred levels for foreign aid, most Americans usually set them higher than the actual levels.

Americans' Assessments of World Public Opinion on the United States

Large majorities believe that the US is viewed negatively by people in other countries and see this as derived primarily from the current US foreign policy not American values. Most see goodwill towards the United States as important for US national security. Most Americans believe that people around the world are growing more afraid that the US will use force against them and that this diminishes US national security and increases the likelihood that countries will pursue WMDs.

Promoting Democracy and Human Rights

Americans have complex attitudes about the idea of promoting democracy. A majority thinks that promoting democracy should be a goal of US foreign policy. However there is a reluctance to make democracy promotion a central theme in US foreign policy and an opposition to using military force or the threat of military force to that end. At the same time Americans do feel a moral obligation to promote democracy and there is substantial support for cooperative methods for promoting democracy and for working through the United Nations. A modest majority favors promoting democracy in friendly authoritarian countries even if it may lead to unfriendly governments; large majorities do favor putting diplomatic and public pressure on governments to respect human rights.
I am pleased to seeing the the US public get it. The US needs to be much more cooperative, much less isolationist, less concerned with US interests abroad, and must recognize the impact that its foreign policy has on public opinion, and promote real democracy and human rights, but through multilateralism and without an over-reliance on military power.

To read the full report, click the link for each section.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Remembering Hiroshima

This year, I will republish my Hiroshima poem. But first, here's what General Eisenhower on the bombing of Hiroshima:

"In 1945 ... , Secretary of War Stimson visited my headquarters in Germany, [and] informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act.... During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that
dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and second because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of 'face.' The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude, almost angrily refuting the reasons I gave for my quick conclusions.

And Norman Cousins on General McArthur's views:

Norman Cousins was a consultant to General MacArthur during the American occupation of Japan. Cousins writes of his conversations with MacArthur, "MacArthur's views about the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were starkly different from what the general public supposed." He continues, "When I asked General MacArthur about the decision to drop the bomb, I was surprised to learn he had not even been consulted. What, I asked, would his advice have been? He replied that he saw no military justification for the dropping of the bomb. The war might have ended weeks earlier, he said, if the United States had agreed, as it later did anyway, to the retention of the institution of the emperor.

Also read this excellent article in Anti-War.com.

Here's my poem:

Nuclear reaction

Searing heat
Blinding light

Hearts and lives torn apart
As the force of the fire
Is stronger
Than the love of a mother
For her trapped child
Black charred bodies laying strewn amidst the rubble.
Two hundred thousand voices screaming in unison
Sometimes silence is the only response
Sometimes silence is the only response
From the ashes
Arises hope
And a wish
For a peaceful tomorrow

Sunday, August 05, 2007

CD Review: Hospital Music by Matthew Good

This is my review of Matthew Good's new release, Hospital Music. I have listened to it several times, first when it was streaming on his site, and later since I purchased a copy of the CD this past Tuesday.

In my opinion, if you're a Matt Good fan you will love this one. It's much better than his last release, White Light Rock and Roll Review, and time will tell if it grows on me as much as Avalanche did.

The songwriting is superb. Inspired by traumatic events in the previous year of his life, it is stark, desperate, and dark. The melodies, as with all Good's work, if not catchy at first, grows on me over time.

This work is just about all Matthew Good. As well as producing it, he does just about all the instrumentation on it except for drums and a couple of guitar and bass parts.

There have been a number of excellent reviews written on the work, so I will just say that I recommend it to people not just to fans of Matthew Good, but to anyone who's looking for music that is honest, refreshing, and achingly personal.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

UN Resolution 1769

Here is the text of the UN resolution in Darfur. A good start, but not nearly enough to address the human-instigated disaster unfolding there.

I'm looking for a response on the net from Romeo Dallaire.

However, for now, this will do for a skeptical perspective.

Friday, July 27, 2007

From Robert Fisks's The Great War for Civilization: Two excerpts on Rumsfeld and Saddam

In a comment thread at Annamarie's blog, I had the opportunity to transcribe from Robert Fisk's The Great War for Civilization as the discussion had evolved into one on the hypocrisy of the US's approach to Saddam Hussein over the years. I am publishing it here, because I think it's important that any transcription from this splendid book should be put online.

This is how I introduced it:

My enemy of my enemy is my friend is a cop-out, especially when you know that your enemy of your enemy is partaking in grave human rights violations. The intellectually bankruptcy is rather apparent on the part of those who ignored rave human rights violations in the 80s, and then condemned later on when it was convenient for them. I am transcribing the following from the Great War for Civilization by Robert Fisk.
And here is the transcription:
Throughout the early years of Saddam's rule, there were journalists who told the truth about his regime while governments -- for financial, trade and economic reasons -- preferred to remain largely silent. Yet those of us who opposed the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003 were quickly accused of being Saddam's 'spokesman' or, in my case, 'supporting the maintenance of the Baathist regime' -- this from, of all people, Richard Perle, one of the prime instigators of the whole disastrous war, whose friend Donald Rumsfeld was befriending Saddam in 1983. Two years later Rumsfeld's initial approach to the Iraqi leader -- followed up within months by a meeting with Tariq Aziz -- I was reporting on Saddam's gang-rape and torture in Iraq prisons. On 31 July, Wahbi Al-Qaraghuli, the Iraqi ambassador in London, complained to William Rees-Mogg, the Times Editor, that:
Robert Fisk's extremely one-sided article ignores the tremendous advances made by Iraq in the fields of social welfare, education, agricultural development, urban improvement and women's suffrage;and he claims, without presenting any evidence to support such an accusation, that 'Saddam himself imposes a truly terrorist regime on his own people.' Especially outrageous is the statement that: 'Suspected critics of the regime have been imprisoned at Abu Ghoraib (sic) jail and forced to watch their wives being gang-raped by Saddam's security me. Some prisoner's have had to witness their children being tortured in from of them.' It is utterly reprehensible that some journalists are quite prepared, without any supporting collaboration, to repeat wild, unfounded allegations about countries, such as Iraq...
'Extremely one-sided,' 'without presenting any evidence,' 'outrageous,' 'utterly reprehensible,' 'wild, unfounded allegations': these were the very same expressions used by the Americans and the British almost twenty years later about reports by myself or my colleagues which catalogued the illegal invasion of Iraq and its disastrous consequences. In February 1986, I was refused a visa to Baghadad on the grounds that 'another visit by Mr. Fisk to Iraq would lend undue credibility to his reports.' Indeed it would.

So for all these years -- until his invasion of Kuwait in 1990 -- we in the West tolerated Saddam's cruelty, his oppression and torture, his war crimes and mass murder. After all, we helped to create him. The CIA gave locations of communist cadres to the first Baathist government, information that was used to arrest, torture and execute hundreds of Iraqi men. And the closer Saddam came to war with Iraq, the greater his fear of his own Shia population, the more we helped him. In the pageant of hate figures that Western governments and journalists have helped to stage in the middle East -- peopled by Nasser, Ghadafi, Abu Nidal and, at one point, Yassir Arafat -- Ayatollah Khomeini was our bogeyman of the early 1980s, the troublesome priest who wanted to Islamicise the world, whose stated intention was to spread his revolution. Saddam, far from being a dictator, thus became, on the Associated Press news wires, for example -- 'a strongman.' He was our bastion -- and the Arab world's bastion -- against Islamic 'extremism.' Even after the Israelis bombed Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, our support for Saddam did on waver. Nor did we respond to Saddam's clear intention of driving his country to war with Iran. The signs of impending conflict were everywhere. Even Shapour Bakhitiar, the Shah's last prime minister, was helping to stoke opposition to Khomeni from Iraq, as I discovered when I visited him in his wealthy -- but dangerous -- Paris exile in August 1980.
Here is another passage from Fisk's book:
What we had to forget if we were to support this madness, needless to say, was that President Ronald Reason dispatched a special envoy to meet Saddam Hussein in December 1983. It was essential to forget this for three reasons. First, because the awful Saddam was already using gas against the Iranians --which was one of the reasons we were now supposed to go to war with him. Second, because the envoy was sent to Iraq to arrange the re-opening of the US embassy -- in order to secure better trade and economic relations with the Butcher of Baghdad. And third, because the envoy was Donald Rumsfeld. One might have thought it strange, in the course of his folksy press conference, that Rumsfeld hadn't chatted to use about this interesting tit-bit. You might think he would wish to enlighten us about the evil nature of the criminal with whom he so warmly shook hands. But no. Until questioned much later about whether he warned Saddam against the use of gas -- he claimed he did, but this proved to be untrue -- Rumsfeld was silent. As he was about his subsequent and equally friendly meeting with Tariq Aziz -- which just happened to take place on the day in March 1984 that the UN released its damning report on Saddam's use of poison gas against Iran.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

URGENT ACTION REQUIRED: Protect Ecuadorian Community Activists

This is via the team blog to which I belong, Business & Human Rights in Vancouver. Please distribute widely.

Ecuadorian community activists are facing death threats and attacks for being against copper mining operations.


AI Index: AMR 28/002/2007

UA 193/07

Fear for safety

25 July 2007


Jaime Polivio Pérez Lucero (m), community leader in García Moreno parish

Mercy Catalina Torres Terán (f)

Others opposed to the Intag copper mining project

According to reports, community leader Jaime Polivio Pérez Lucero has been threatened and activist Mercy Catalina Torres Terán has been attacked, as a result of their opposition to a mining project close to their homes in the Intag area of Imbabura province, northern Ecuador. Their lives, and those of others who voice opposition to the mine, are in danger.

Jaime Polivio Pérez Lucero, from Garcia Moreno parish in Imbabura, a group of villages close to a site where the authorities and a mining company are planning to excavate for copper, has received a series of death threats in recent months. In December 2006, while he was taking part in a protest against the mining project, Jaime Polivio Pérez Lucero was reportedly approached by an armed civilian. The armed man told Jaime Polivio Pérez: “Si te sigues oponiendo a la minera vamos a tener que matarte” (if you continue to oppose the mining company we will have to kill you). According to reports, the armed civilians and security guards used tear gas and shot at the demonstrators, injuring several people. Among those injured was Jaime Polivio Pérez’s brother, Israel Pérez, who was shot.

Following the incident, Jaime Polivio Pérez reportedly received several anonymous calls on his mobile phone, in which the caller said, “Si no abandonas la dirigencia te vamos a matar. Deja de subir a Barcelona porque de caso contrario tendrás tu merecido” (If you do not quit the leadership [of a community organization in García Moreno] we are going to kill you. Stop going to Barcelona [one of the communities of the García Moreno parish] or you will get what you deserve).

On 23 June 2007, according to reports, another member of the community received an anonymous email referring to a plan to kill Jaime Polivio Pérez.

On 9 July, activist Mercy Catalina Torres was outside her home in Garcia Moreno when she was reportedly beaten by a man wearing a balaclava. She was cut and bruised in the attack. Mercy Catalina Torres had allegedly been threatened in her home two months before the attack, when a man apparently shouted at her: “porque ya vino el carro, te salvaste perra” (“because someone just arrived in a car, you saved yourself, bitch”).

Jaime Polivio Pérez and Mercy Catalina Torres reported the incidents to the local Attorney’s Office. However, to date, Amnesty International is not aware of any investigation being opened into the threats or the attack, and no protection has been granted to them.

Both Jaime Polivio Pérez and Mercy Catalina Torres have been very active and outspoken in their campaigning against the planned copper mine. They believe that the communities which will be affected by the mining project have not been consulted in a meaningful, open and transparent way by the authorities. Members of these communities are concerned about the environmental impact it might have on the area, a nature reserve where most inhabitants depend on agriculture.


During a visit to Ecuador in November 2006, Amnesty International visited Imbabura and met with some members of the communities affected by the mining project in Intag. The delegation received testimonies and reports of acts of intimidation, harassment and attacks against those who campaign against the mining project. Amnesty International wrote to the authorities asking for investigations to be opened into these incidents. However, to date, the organization is not aware of any investigations into these events.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Using your own words, please choose a few of the suggestions below to create a personal appeal and send it as quickly as possible:

- expressing concern for the safety of Jaime Polivio Pérez Lucero, Mercy Catalina Torres Terán, and other inhabitants of the Intag area, Imbabura, who are opposed to the copper mining project;

- expressing concern that Jaime Polivio Pérez Lucero has been repeatedly threatened with death since December 2006, and that Mercy Catalina Torres Terán was beaten in July 2007;

- stating that these acts of intimidation appear to be linked to their campaigning actions to defend the rights of the communities in Intag to a meaningful, open and transparent consultation prior to the development of any mining project in the area;

- urging the authorities to take steps to guarantee the safety of Jaime Polivio Pérez Lucero and Mercy Catalina Torres Terán, in accordance with their own wishes;

- urging the authorities to carry out an independent and impartial investigation into the death threat received by Jaime Polivio Pérez Lucero and the attack against Mercy Catalina Torres Terán, making the results public and bringing those responsible to justice;

- asking to be informed of the results of these investigation.


Minister of the Interior:

Dr. Gustavo Larrea

Ministro de Gobierno, Policía,

Justicia, Cultos y Municipalidades

Ministerio de Gobierno y Policía

Espejo y Benalcázar,

Quito- Ecuador

Fax: 011593 2295 5666 Ext. 155 or 011 593 2295 5666 Ext. 150 – 151 (ask for fax tone)

Salutation: Dear Minister/Señor Ministro

Attorney General:

Dr. Jorge Germán

Ministro Fiscal General del Estado

Fiscalía General del Estado

Av. Eloy Alfaro Nº 32-240 y República

Quito, Ecuador

Fax: 011 593 2255 8561 (may be difficult to reach)

Salutation: Dear Minister/Señor Ministro

Minister of Energy and Mines:

Econ. Alberto Acosta

Ministro de Energía y Minas

Ministerio de Energía y Minas

Juan León Mera Nº 26-220 y Orellana

Quito - Ecuador

Fax: 011 593 2290 6350

Salutation: Dear Attorney General/Sr. Ministro Fiscal


Human Rights Non-governmental Organization CEDHU:

Comisión Ecumenica de Derechos Humanos

Carlos Ibarra 176 y 10 de Agosto

Edif. Yuraj Pirca 9no. Piso,

Quito, Ecuador

Fax: 011 593 2258 9272

E-mail: denuncias@cedhu. org

His Excellency Fernando Ribadeneira Fernández Salvador

Ambassador for Ecuador

50 O'Connor Street, Suite 316

Ottawa, Ontario K1P 6L2

Email: mecuacan@rogers. com

Fax: (613) 235-5776


Monday, July 23, 2007

A good news story for a change: a council of Elders

A council of Elders has been formed, pushed by Richard Branson and Peter Gabriel, and composed of Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Tutu, Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson, andAung San Suu Kyi, symbolically represented by an empty chair:

The Elders have no formal role – nor, Mr. Mandela stressed, will they seek to replace or compete with any official or elected body. None of the group was willing to commit specifically to which issues they will take on, although former Irish president Mary Robinson said they are already at work. Darfur was mentioned repeatedly and a source who sat in on one of their meetings told The Globe that they have also made overtures to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, seeking to negotiate a way to have him leave office.

But former U.S. president Jimmy Carter said it would be fine with him if no one outside their council ever knew what issues they worked on. “The Elders neither want, nor will we ever have, any kind of authority except that that comes from common moral values,” he said. “We will be able to risk failure and we will not need to claim successes.”

The group's work is being funded with an initial infusion of $18-million (U.S.) by wealthy friends of Sir Richard.

Introducing him and Mr. Gabriel, the archbishop remarked that he should ask Mr. Gabriel to sing Biko – his iconic hymn about the murder of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko 30 years ago. Sir Richard's head snapped up at that, and he shouldered his way back to the microphone, saying, “If you won't ask him, I will!” Moments later an abashed-looking Mr. Gabriel found himself in front of the crowd, clearing his throat.

It was a fitting place to sing this song: the gathering was held on the grounds of South Africa's Constitutional Court, which was once an apartheid prison. As the archbishop said, “This was a place of tears, of suffering, of humiliation. People were detained without trial here, people were tortured here. But they didn't buckle.”

So Mr. Gabriel squared his shoulders and sang Biko, every haunting word, and the audience – journalists and dignitaries and a row of South Africa's Constitutional Court justices – joined him with a low and rhythmic hum.

Tumultuous applause erupted as he finished, but then just as quickly died away, as people noticed the archbishop: He was hunched over, hands clutched in fists, weeping inconsolably.

“We stand on the shoulders of incredible people,” he choked out, taking off his glasses and wiping the tears. “We owe our freedom to incredible people.”
.Read the whole article here.

It's people and events like this that remind my why my activism is worthwhile, and that give me the strength to carry on.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Guardian: White House leaning toward attack on Iran.

It seems the struggle over White House policy toward Iran seems to be tilting toward military intervention:

The vice-president, Dick Cheney, has long favoured upping the threat of military action against Iran. He is being resisted by the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the defence secretary, Robert Gates.

Last year Mr Bush came down in favour of Ms Rice, who along with Britain, France and Germany has been putting a diplomatic squeeze on Iran. But at a meeting of the White House, Pentagon and state department last month, Mr Cheney expressed frustration at the lack of progress and Mr Bush sided with him. "The balance has tilted. There is cause for concern," the source said this week.

Nick Burns, the undersecretary of state responsible for Iran and a career diplomat who is one of the main advocates of negotiation, told the meeting it was likely that diplomatic manoeuvring would still be continuing in January 2009. That assessment went down badly with Mr Cheney and Mr Bush.

"Cheney has limited capital left, but if he wanted to use all his capital on this one issue, he could still have an impact," said Patrick Cronin, the director of studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The Washington source said Mr Bush and Mr Cheney did not trust any potential successors in the White House, Republican or Democratic, to deal with Iran decisively. They are also reluctant for Israel to carry out any strikes because the US would get the blame in the region anyway.

"The red line is not in Iran. The red line is in Israel. If Israel is adamant it will attack, the US will have to take decisive action," Mr Cronin said. "The choices are: tell Israel no, let Israel do the job, or do the job yourself."
Read the whole article.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Canada should stand up for one of its own in China

This is something the federal government should continue to raise a stink about this Interesting that if this was a country in which Canddian businessmen did not have dollar signs in their eyes, Canada would probably be making a strong diplomatic stand about this:

A high court in far west China on Tuesday rejected an appeal from Huseyin Celil, who was sentenced to life for terrorism in April in a case that has strained Beijing's relations with Canada.

The official Xinhua News Agency said the High People's Court in China's far western Xinjiang region had upheld the life sentence handed down by a lower court because the "facts were clear, evidence was reliable and adequate."

Celil was convicted of the crimes of "separating China" and "organizing, leading and participating in terrorist groups, organizations."

Celil's status has been a point of contention between Canada and China, which does not recognize Celil's Canadian citizenship and says his case is not subject to consular agreements.

The Canadian government has been upset because Celil appeared in court without a Canadian diplomat present — a violation of his rights as a Canadian citizen.

"We are examining the court's decision and will comment at the appropriate time," a Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Rodney Moore, said by telephone from Ottawa.
Pressure PM Harper and Foreign Minister McKay to take stronger diplomatic action on this.

Segregationist racism alive and well in the US south

This is from Amy Goodman of Democracy Now: the case of six black youths from Jena, Louisiana who are basically being lynched by the racist legal system there:

AMY GOODMAN: Jena is a small town nestled deep in the heart of Central Louisiana. Until recently, you may well never have heard of it. But this rural town of less than 4,000 has become a focal point in the debate around issues of race and justice in this country.

Last December, six black students at Jena High School were arrested after a school fight in which a white student was beaten and suffered a concussion and multiple bruises. The six black students were charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy. They face up to 100 years in prison without parole.

The Jena 6, as they have come to be known, range in age from fifteen to seventeen. Just over a week ago, an all-white jury took less than two days to convict seventeen-year-old Mychal Bell, the first of the Jena 6 to go on trial. He was convicted of aggravated battery and conspiracy charges and now faces up to twenty-two years in prison. Black residents say race has always been an issue in Jena, which is 85% white and that the charges against the Jena 6 are no exception.

The origins of the story can be traced back to early September, when a black high school student requested permission to sit under a tree in the schoolyard, where usually only white students sat. The next day, three nooses were found hanging from the tree
. In an interview Amy does with parents of the Jena 6, a mother suggest what we can do to help:
CASEPTLA BAILEY: I would like to leave this message to the people of the United States, that we are asking for a plea to the governor of Louisiana, Governor Kathleen Blanco, to come in and assist, investigate, and do as she needs to do on this case with Mychal Bell, as well as the other Jena 6.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you all for being with us. And, finally, Catrina, one more time, that address that you gave out. Catrina Wallace, secretary of the LaSalle Parish NAACP.

CATRINA WALLACE: Yes, it’s the Jena 6 Defense Committee, PO Box 2798, Jena, LA 71342.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Olbermann: Bush, Resign!

Via Matthew Good.

This is the most powerful vocal indictment of Bush I think I've come across. Transcript and video also on Crooks and Liars.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Archbishop Tutu sets his sights on poverty and corruption

First, Tutu blasts the Mbeki government of South Africa for not keeping the AND promise of reducing economic inequality:

"Most [people] are languishing in the wilderness," the archbishop said of the slow pace of wealth redistribution since the end of white rule 13 years ago. Using a Biblical analogy, he said South Africans had crossed the Red Sea in their struggle against apartheid but that very few had reached the promised land.

The archbishop, one of the most inspirational leaders of the anti-apartheid movement, was, not for the first time in the eight-year-old presidency of Thabo Mbeki, wading into an acutely sensitive political debate. His warning came as the ruling African National Congress held its five-yearly policy conference against the backdrop of savage criticism from the left, which argues the government's pro-business policies have not helped the poor.

In the past, almost all the affluent were white, now they had been joined by a few black people, Archbishop Tutu said. But most of the people living in shacks before the end of white rule were still living in shacks.

"I'm really very surprised by the remarkable patience of people," he told the Financial Times at the launchof the Tutu Foundation in London on Wednesday. It was hard "to explain why they don't say to hell with Tutu, [Nelson] Mandela and the rest and go on the rampage."
Second, Tutu goes after liberation here-turned-tyrant Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe again:
South African Nobel peace prize laureate Desmond Tutu said on Wednesday Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe needed face-saving options for there to be a chance of him stepping aside.

Tutu said the replacement of Tony Blair by Gordon Brown as prime minister of Britain, Zimbabwe's former colonial ruler, could help the situation but much depended on negotiations to resolve the crisis being mediated by South Africa.

"A change of cast might have an important bearing on how things develop," Tutu told Reuters in an interview.

"I would hope that there might just be a way of providing face-savers that would enable people to exit without feeling that they had lost a great deal of personal stature," he said.

"We need to provide that for the sake of the people and it may be that [Britain's] new prime minister just might have a way of saying things that would be slightly more acceptable."
The man (Tutu) is a light in the dark, telling it like it is with dignity.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Fisk on envoy Blair

Tony Blair is the newly appointed envoy for the Middle East. I'm not sure exactly what the US, Russia, and the EU ewre thinking, but I don't think its a very good choice. I was already thinking, what does Robert Fisk think about it? Well, here we go:

Can this really be true? I had always assumed that Balfour, Sykes and Picot were the epitome of Middle Eastern hubris. But Blair? That this ex-prime minister, this man who took his country into the sands of Iraq, should actually believe that he has a role in the region - he whose own preposterous envoy, Lord Levy, made so many secret trips there to absolutely no avail - is now going to sully his hands (and, I fear, our lives) in the world's last colonial war is simply overwhelming.

Of course, he'll be in touch with Mahmoud Abbas, will try to marginalise Hamas, will talk endlessly about "moderates"; and we'll have to listen to him pontificating about morality, how he's absolutely and completely confident that he's doing the right thing (and this, remember, is the same man who postponed a ceasefire in Lebanon last year in order to share George Bush's ridiculous hope of an Israeli victory over Hizbollah) in bringing peace to the Middle East...

Not once - ever - has he apologised. Not once has he said he was sorry for what he did in our name. Yet Lord Blair actually believes - in what must be a record act of self-indulgence for a man who cooked up the fake evidence of Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" - that he can do good in the Middle East.

For here is a man who is totally discredited in the region - a politician who has signally failed in everything he ever tried to do in the Middle East - now believing that he is the right man to lead the Quartet to patch up "Palestine".

Fisk concludes by drawing an unpleasant comparison to another certain historical figure:

I recall another man with Blair's pomposity, a certain Kurt Waldheim, who - no longer the UN's boss - actually believed he could be an "envoy" for peace in the Middle East, despite his little wartime career as an intelligence officer for the Wehrmacht's Army Group "E".

His visits - especially to the late King Hussein - came to nothing, of course. But Waldheim's ability to draw a curtain over his wartime past does have one thing in common with Blair. For Waldheim steadfastly, pointedly, repeatedly, refused to acknowledge - ever - that he had ever done anything wrong. Now who does that remind you of?

Read the entire article here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

It was 10 years ago today: OK Computer

Well OK, 10 years ago two days ago, arguably the greatest album of the '90, one of the greatest in the history of modern music. I realize a lot of people don't "get" Radiohead, and I respect that. It took me awhile to get them myself. When OK Computer first came out, loved Karma Police like everyone else did of course, but I didn't know what to make of the whole album. So, this is not a case of me just following an "in" crowd. Over time, I have been entranced with the dark,desperate lyrics, the incredibly moving medlodies, and the sometimes achingly raw sound of the album, to the point where I consider it one of the very best CD's in my collection.

PS, look for a new release from them later this summer.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Two takes on the conflict in Gaza

There are, in my mind, two equally important takes on the events in Gaza. One is a political one, as articulated by Robert Fisk:

How troublesome the Muslims of the Middle East are. First, we demand that the Palestinians embrace democracy and then they elect the wrong party - Hamas - and then Hamas wins a mini-civil war and presides over the Gaza Strip. And we Westerners still want to negotiate with the discredited President, Mahmoud Abbas. Today "Palestine" - and let's keep those quotation marks in place - has two prime ministers. Welcome to the Middle East.

Who can we negotiate with? To whom do we talk? Well of course, we should have talked to Hamas months ago. But we didn't like the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people. They were supposed to have voted for Fatah and its corrupt leadership. But they voted for Hamas, which declines to recognise Israel or abide by the totally discredited Oslo agreement.

No one asked - on our side - which particular Israel Hamas was supposed to recognise. The Israel of 1948? The Israel of the post-1967 borders? The Israel which builds - and goes on building - vast settlements for Jews and Jews only on Arab land, gobbling up even more of the 22 per cent of "Palestine" still left to negotiate over ?

And so today, we are supposed to talk to our faithful policeman, Mr Abbas, the "moderate" (as the BBC, CNN and Fox News refer to him) Palestinian leader, a man who wrote a 600-page book about Oslo without once mentioning the word "occupation", who always referred to Israeli "redeployment" rather than "withdrawal", a "leader" we can trust because he wears a tie and goes to the White House and says all the right things. The Palestinians didn't vote for Hamas because they wanted an Islamic republic - which is how Hamas's bloody victory will be represented - but because they were tired of the corruption of Mr Abbas's Fatah and the rotten nature of the "Palestinian Authority"

Fisk is right. We in the West are upset with Palestinians because they voted for the wrong party. We have no right to commplain. Like it or lump it, Hamas is in control in Gaza, and we will have to deal with them.
So what will we do? Support the reoccupation of Gaza perhaps? Certainly we will not criticise Israel. And we shall go on giving our affection to the kings and princes and unlovely presidents of the Middle East until the whole place blows up in our faces and then we shall say - as we are already saying of the Iraqis - that they don't deserve our sacrifice and our love.

How do we deal with a coup d'état by an elected government?

As a human rights activist, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the other take on events in Gaza. This is expressed in a press release from Amnesty International, concerning violations of international law and disaregard for human life on the part of both Fatah and Hamas in the conflict in Gaza:
Amid unprecedented political violence in the Gaza Strip, both Fatah and Hamas security forces and armed groups have shown utter disregard for fundamental principles of international law and have committed grave human rights abuses.

The indiscriminate attacks and reckless gun battles in residential neighbourhoods have left a beleaguered civilian population, already suffering from a year of international sanctions and continuing Israeli military blockades, virtual prisoners in their own homes. Both parties have killed captured rivals, and have abducted scores of members of rival groups and held them hostage, to be exchanged for friends and relatives held by their rivals, Killing captured fighters and hostage-taking are war crimes.

Rival security forces loyal to the Fatah party of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas party of Prime Minister Isma'il Haniyeh, have signally betrayed their responsibility to uphold and enforce the law and to protect the population. Instead, acting in concert with the armed groups which serve as their proxy militias, they have engaged persistently in armed clashes, killing and injuring civilians not involved in the clashes with complete impunity.

Now that Hamas has gained control of Fatah' security forces installations in Gaza and repudiated President Abbas' decision to dissolve the coalition government and impose a state of emergency in the OPT, fears are growing that the fighting will spill over into the West Bank. In recent days Fatah's gunmen have been abducting Hamas members and holding them as hostages and ransacking Hamas offices in Nablus, Ramallah and elsewhere in the West Bank, deepening concern that abuses will increase if the fighting escalates there.

Here is what Amnesty is calling for:
to take immediate action to ensure that their forces and the armed groups acting as their proxy militias cease endangering civilians and violating international law through their reckless, disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force in Gaza, and to prevent further abuses in the West Bank - notably:

* to assert control over the security forces and ensure that they uphold the law and respect human rights, including international standards relating to the use of force and treatment of prisoners, and ensure that members of their security forces who abuse human rights or fail to carry out their duty are held to account;
* end impunity, by establishing effective mechanisms to bring to justice those responsible for human rights abuses, irrespective of their political affiliation;
* instruct their security forces that the armed groups who commit human rights abuses or crimes must be apprehended and brought to justice, irrespective of their political affiliations, in accordance with international human rights law and standards;
* put in place a mechanism to ensure independent, impartial and non-partisan oversight of the security forces and ensure that all killings, abductions and other attacks on civilians are investigated and that those responsible are brought to justice.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Palast on Vulture fund companies

I urge every person of conscience to learn more about this. This is despicable.

Vulture fund companies are companies that buy up the debt of third world countries at very low prices and then sue for the full amount. Muckraking journalist Greg Palast has been following this issue for awhile now. I blogged about it first in February. Today, he was on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman.

AMY GOODMAN: Greg Palast reporting. He joins us in studio now. Right now, where does it all stand, Greg. Who has the power and the damage that’s being done?

GREG PALAST: It’s all up to George Bush right now. This is what is driving the other members of the G8, that is, the incoming Prime Minister of Britain, Gordon Brown, has made this like number one priority. I mean, you have to understand, debt relief for Africa is real serious business for Europe. And about half – about half of the money for aid to Africa is being sucked up by these “Vultures” who are seizing the funds. It all comes down to George Bush. It’s also driving Congressman Conyers crazy. And he’s basically said, “Look. If Bush doesn't do the right thing, this is the next investigation. He just made a big splash with investigating the prosecutor firings. That ain't done yet. But as soon as that’s done, he moves right into “Vultures” if Bush doesn't act. Now what is it – what’s the deal with Bush? You see – under US – what’s happening is these “Vultures” are seizing the money from US bank accounts, principally. And George Bush can - of these poor nations. In other words, they’re given money to buy AIDS drugs, they have resources to, you know, for - basically earmarked for education, AIDS. They're sucking up the AIDS money. Bush can put a stop to it tomorrow morning. No one can sue a foreign government in the United States without the approval of the US government, in particular the President of the United States. Its under the Separations of Powers clause of our Constitution.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did Bush respond to, Conyers?

GREG PALAST: Well you know, it’s been the, he does that, you know: “I missed school that day. I don't know what’s going on.” You know, deer in the headlights. “I’ll check it out. I’ll do something about it.” Now, as you know, we had this dramatic situation, which both Congressman Conyers, the chairman, powerful chairman, and Don Payne, head of the Africa Committee, two powerful cats, were both heading to the White House for meetings, both of them listening to Democracy Now!. They both had the same idea: “We don't care what’s on the agenda with the President. This, the “Vultures” is what we have to talk about at – these billions of dollars. And, as Conyers said, until they heard the Democracy Now! report, a lot of members of Congress listen to this program! They had no idea that the money was being sucked up. They were voting for billions of dollars for Africa, and they didn’t know that Bush’s friends – now when I say Bush’s friends – you have to understand, the biggest single “Vulture Fund”, the biggest predator is, uh, operations owned by a guy named Paul Singer, who is the number one donor for George Bush and the Republican Party in New York. He’s also the big fund-raiser, he’s raising 10 million dollars for Rudy Giuliani. This isn’t the sidelight for this guy, this is the only way he makes money. So George Bush has to know that his big money is basically coming from kickbacks, from money taken from aid for Africa. If he didn't know before, Conyers and Payne, after hearing Democracy Now! put it right in his face. The reason is, they didn’t want they don't want the President to say “I don't know, it’s a lower-level thing.” The President knows. And the G8 members, personally. When I say G8 – these are the world leaders, Chancellor Merkel in Germany...

AMY GOODMAN: Did Bush do something about it at the G8 summit?

GREG PALAST: Um, I think he hid in the boy's room. He didn't come out when they were supposed to some discussions, you know. So it’s been this kind of, you know, duck and run operation.

Read the transcript here.

CIA secret relationship with Sudan.

The Los Angeles Times reports that despite US condemnations of the Sudanese government regarding the genocide in Darfur, the CIA has had a secret relationship with the Sudanese government in the war on terror:

And at a time when Sudan is being condemned in the international community, its counter-terrorism work has won precious praise. The U.S. State Department recently issued a report calling Sudan a "strong partner in the war on terror."

Some critics accuse the Bush administration of being soft on Sudan for fear of jeopardizing the counter-terrorism cooperation. John Prendergast, director of African affairs for the National Security Council in the Clinton administration, called the latest sanctions announced by Bush last month "window dressing," designed to appear tough while putting little real pressure on Sudan to stop the militias it is widely believed to be supporting from killing members of tribal settlements in Darfur.

"One of the main glass ceilings on real significant action in response to the genocide in Darfur has been our growing relationship with authorities in Khartoum on counter-terrorism," said Prendergast, a senior advisor to the International Crisis Group. "It is the single biggest contributor to why the gap between rhetoric and action is so large."
Read the whole article here.