Archive for May, 2007

Reality Check: What you’re not supposed to think about

“655,000 Iraqi civilians have died. Who are the terrorists?”
-Rosie O’Donnell from The View comparing U.S. activities with Islamic terrorism

Since Rosie O’Donnell has recently “got quit” from her job on The View (or rather, had her pre-existing plans for departure greatly accelerated) because of uttering this sentence, it is worth taking a second to explore the veracity of Rosie’s statement.

If we take the total confirmed attacks by Al Queda against the West (broadly understood) we have 5 acts of terrorism in total.  The 1993 WTC Bombing which killed 6. The 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole which killed 17. The September 11th attacks which killed 2974. The 2004 Madrid bombings which killed 191. And, lastly, the 2005 bombings in London, England which killed 52.

So, Al Qaeda has claimed a total of 3240 fatalities in the West.

Now America’s activities abroad are far too numerous to either delineate or to quantify, so, for simplicity’s sake, let’s limit it only to US involvement in the country of Iraq since the enactment of UN resolution 667 in 1990 up to the present.

The Gulf War and the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq throughout the 90s up until 2003 killed a total of approximately 1,000,000 (source).  And, from 2003 up until the present, according to the best and most thorough statistical project undertaken the U.S.  has killed approximately 651,000 in the Iraq War.

reality-check-us-versus-al-qaeda.pngSo, the U.S. has claimed a total of 1,651,000 (approximately — interesting how we don’t bother to count their fatalities isn’t it?).

Keep in mind this figure pertains only to the fatalities since 1990 and that this pertains only to fatalities the U.S. caused in the country of Iraq.  We could have just as easily included U.S. involvement in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile, Argentina, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, The Philippines, Iran, Lebanon, Somalia, South Africa, Cuba, Venezuela, Columbia, Brazil, and a host of other countries which undoubtedly would have made the data more interesting, but I think this makes the point.

Let us put this into perspective another way.  If a U.S. politician stood up and said that he’d kill 100 Iraqis for every one U.S. soldier killed, he would be considered a moderate since the U.S. has killed on average over 500 Iraqis for every one Westerner killed by Al Qaeda.

Now this isn’t intended to get into a debate over motivation or reasons for engaging in these horrible killings.  Everybody has reasons for the things they do and anybody can justify their actions (at least to themselves).  But, objectively, it is more than obvious that Rosie O’Donnell statement was actually conservative and an underestimation.

But, there are some things we (the people who are hated for our freedoms) are not supposed to think about and this, apparently, is one of them.

Who’s afraid of human rights? Conservatives apparently

amnesty-international.pngI recently came across Sam Carson’s fantastic posts (available here) on the 2007 Amnesty International Report (available here).  If you haven’t taken a look, it’s well worth the read.

In his post (actually it’s a series of posts) Sam draws attention to the sad criticism of Amnesty International by right-wing figures and organizations such as Alan Dershowitz, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and the U.S.-based Capital Research Center.

I’ve always found Dershowitz et al‘s claims that Amnesty International is biassed to be disingenuous at best and I think Sam’s done a great job bringing this issue to the fore.

Specifically, the intellectually dishonest position of Dershowitz et al needs to have a better airing amongst true progressives so that the absurdity of the right’s claims that Amnesty International is a “political organization” with a bone to pick against the US and is biassed against them by focussing on their human rights abuses — can be once and for all discredited.

This task of discrediting the right-wing’s claims that Amnesty International focusses unduly on the US should be fairly to demonstrate for anybody who has ever read AI’s reports for three reasons.

First, even if there was more material on human rights abuses in the US and the West, this does not negate the validity of actual findings of their reports.  I don’t think anybody (even Dershowitz) goes so far as to claim that AI just makes this stuff up.  So complaining that AI is a political tool with an axe to grind against the US is a little bit like a child who steals a chocolate bar from the corner store, gets caught and then complains that he got spanked when the boy down the street has done worse.  The fact that the boy down the street has done worse has no impact whatsoever on whether or not the first child deserved what he got.

Second, the way Amnesty International has ALWAYS structured their reports — and, come to think about it, the way virtually all NGO reports are structured — is to lead with and emphasize places with the newest and biggest developments in human rights abuses and then, understandably, merely update information on already well-documented, long-standing human rights abuses like those in China or Columbia for instance. 

So since the US is the one creating most of the new and interesting ways to infringe upon human rights since 2002, what the hell do they expect??

Lastly, as Noam Chomsky is fond of saying, ‘whenever you hear something said with great confidence, it’s always a good idea to check first and see whether it is true’.  So, to recap, the claim by the right is that there is undue focus on the United States by Amnesty International and that the US is used as a ‘political punching bag’ by what constitutes an ultimately partisan organization.

If we take a look at the main body of the report (the country by country report) we see the following breakdown in the pages devoted to some key countries.  Out of 242 total pages, Afghanistan takes up about 2 pages, Algeria approximately 3 pages, Bosnia and Herzegovina about 3 pages, China around 3 pages, and the United States — which supposedly has so much undue focus — is tied with Columbia in taking up approximately 4 pages each.

Wow, I guess Amnesty International must really have an axe to grind against the US, eh?

(Oh, and if you think that maybe America is focussed on unduly in other countries’ reports, you’re wrong again.  The word “US” is mentioned approx. 150 times in the 242 page report — excluding the section devoted to the United States — but the vast majority of these occurances are attributable to either the phrase “US-led invasion of Iraq” or to occurances of figures for currency [GDP, foreign aid etc.] which are always given in US dollars.)

So who’s afraid of human rights?  It appears the answer is the United States, Russia, China, the Congo and the Taliban and conservatives.

Well, I guess they keep good company.

On the futility of governing pop-culture

Who ever said capitalists were intelligent?

McDonald’s and a cabal of capitalists have been pushing the Oxford English Dictionary for some time now to remove its official listing of the word “McJob” in their publication.  But, AFP wires are now reporting that that’s not enough for McDonalds et al.  They now are seeking to actually ‘flip’ the definition of McJob (an irony in and of itself) from it’s current definition of:

“an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector.”

And they want the new definition in the Oxford English Dictionary to read something along the lines of:

“a job that is stimulating, rewarding and offers genuine opportunities for career progression.”

Now, it is no secret that capital has for years saught to subsume pop-culture and trends under its aegis.  However, what McDonald’s et al are ignoring is the fact that to the extent that capital succeeds in this goal, it does so not by dictating and governing from above what ‘popular’ ought to look like, but by so-called “cool hunting” and the subsuming of what is already pre-existingly popular into a corporate programme.

When capital or any heirarchical structure attempts to artificially manufacture from scratch what ought to be ‘popular’, the results are often ridiculous (and painful) as demonstrated by this ad by the Dairy Farmers of Ontario:  

(WARNING:  For those of you who don’t live in Ontario or who have never seen this ad, I must caution you – watching this may cause seizures, dimensia, decreased IQ and/or temporary insanity.  Proceed at own risk!) 

The capitalists seeking to change the definition of ‘McJob’ therefore are ignorant of two things.  First, obviously, the Oxford English Dictionary does not, like the ‘Newspeak’ dictionary makers in Orwell’s 1984, actually make-up definitions and construct the English language.  It merely reflects the pre-existing usage of the English language.

And second: you may be able to co-opt culture jamming, as the raging success of MTV and “cool hunting” demonstrates, but you cannot govern popular culture from above as these executives are foolishly attempting to do with “McJob”.

As insipid and asinine as many of us may consider the bulk of pop-culture to be, it nevertheless is one of the very few phenomena (along side activism and dissent) in our culture which finds its genesis in genuinely grassroots movements.

And that is a dynamic power which no capitalist and no government can either suppress or govern.

An apology is owed…

This is an absolutely fantastic quote and a great quote for any progressive person who wants to throw something back at liberals when they turn their noses up at us.

“When capital and the ruling classes apologise for: Colonialism, the 14 hour day, class privilege, the 7 day working week, children in coalmines, the opium wars, the massacre of the Paris Commune, slavery, the Spanish-American War, the Boer War, starvation, apartheid, anti-union laws, the First World War, Flanders, trench warfare, mustard gas, aerial bombing, the Soviet Intervention, the Armenian Genocide, chemical weapons, fascism, the Great Depression, hunger marches, Nazism, the Spanish Civil War, militarism, Asbestosis, radiation death, the Massacre of Nanking, the Second World War, Belsen, Dresden, Hiroshima, Racism, The Mafia, nuclear weapons, the Korean War, DDT, McCarthyism, production lines, blacklists, Thalidomide, the rape of the Third World, poverty, the arms race, plastic surgery, the electric chair, environmental degradation, the Vietnam War, the military suppression of Greece, India, Malaya, Indonesia, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama and Turkey, the Gulf War, trade in human body parts, malnutrition, Exxon Valdez, deforestation, organized crime, the Heroin and Cocain trade, tuberculosis, the destruction of the Ozone Layer, cancer, exploitation of labour and the deaths of 50,000,000 Communists and trade unionists in this century alone, then — and only then — will I consider apologising for the errors of socialism.” (from: the Communist Party of Australia)

There’s a great pic to go with this quote that I’ve just added to the Paulitics Political Images resource (along with a bunch of other additions).

Authoritarianism is NEVER progressive: Scott Tribe should resign

For those of you who don’t follow Canadian blogging drama, ProgressiveBloggers.ca, a blog which, as the name implies, bills itself as “progressive” has recently expelled a good progressive comrade, Joanne from Marginal Notes for making sense and not being pliable enough for chief moderator/El Presidente Scott Tribe.

Now, far more eloquent discussions of the problems with ProgressiveBloggers.ca in general and Scott Tribe specifically have been made by other bloggers, so I will not attempt to re-invent the wheel too much here.  Specifically, I recommend Joanne’s (the person at the centre of the controversy) posts on the subject here and here as well as Scott Neigh’s post available here.

Rather, what I would like to talk about here is what I see as the problem with ProgressiveBloggers.ca.

First, unfortunately the bulk of El Presidente Tribe et al.’s authoritarianism  cannot be illustrated as it occurred in the private moderator’s section of the web page (which itself is authoritarian…. ironic that authoritarianism breeds authoritarianism isn’t it?).  However you can get a taste of what I’m talking about in Joanne’s two posts above as well in this public thread in which true progressives are threatened by El Presidente Tribe’s apologists Saskboy and Steve V (click here) — the former of whom actually attempts to pull a Hulk-esque “you’re making me angry” line so that a person he disagrees with wouldn’t test his patience. 

Second, in addition to the aforementioned authoritarianism, it’s obvious to anybody who reads history that, by definition, liberalism has not been ‘progressive’ since the victory of liberal capitalism over feudalism (most notably following the French Revolution).  Thus, the brand of liberalism practised by the bulk of the moderators (and since the moderators are the ones who admit affiliates, many of the affiliates also unsurprisingly practice this same insipid brand of liberalism) does not, by definition, seek to progress beyond liberal capitalism.  Therefore, I’d say the second problem with ProgressiveBloggers.ca is that it’s a misnomer.

But, that said, just because the name is a misnomer does not mean that we should throw the baby out with the bath water.  As Scott Neigh eloquently put it, irrespective of whether ProgressiveBloggers.ca is or is not progressive, “a community like PB is useful because it allows me to easily encounter material that I would not otherwise search out and it allows people who would not search out my kind of stuff to see what I’m up to.”  I couldn’t agree more with Scott Neigh on this front and I think that therein lies the real redeeming quality of PB.

So, it seems to me like there’s little way to solve the second problem with ProgressiveBloggers.ca.  PB is what it is and it seems that there’s little that can be done within the community on this front as Joanne is by far not the first person to try and to have received a black eye for her efforts.  That said, this is where my idea for a true progressive aggrigator (discussed in length here) for fellow progressive comrades to use in addition to Progressive Bloggers, can actually help and I hope to be working on this project more over the course of the summer.

However, there are two things which can be done within the community to solve the first problem.  First, abolish the authoritarian secrecy of the site.  Second, Scott Tribe, for the good of the ‘progressive’ community, should resign his post.

Not in my name!

There are the beginnings of a growing grassroots movement underway in the blogosphere which I felt was necessary to add my voice to.

The nature of the growing controversy stems from a pro-life rally which was held in Ottawa this past week.  It’s not the ideological content of the march which stirred the controversy since it was pretty much what one would expect from this sort of rally:  anti-choice, super-philosophies seeking to authoritaritatively impose their morality on everyone else.

No, what was unexpected about this rally, however, was that the trademarked Government of Canada logo (so-called “wordmark” with the Canadian flag over the final “a” in the word “Canada”) would show up on the pro-life rally’s banners.

Take a look for yourself:

According to the Federal Identity Program (FIP) legal standards, the “Canada” wordmark can only be used by the Government of Canada or by non-governmental partnerships sponsored by the Government of Canada.  So the question is: did the Government of Canada sponsor an anti-abortion rally or did the rally plagerize and illegaly display Government of Canada property?

Here’s where the plot thickens.  I did some hunting around, and I found a Government of Canada website (here) which documents some specifics about how/when the “Canada” workmark ought to be used.  Interestingly, this Government of Canada page links to the specific section of the FIP Manual (Section 1.1) which details the legality of displaying the wordmark, however, when you attempt to click on the hyperlink pointed to by this governmental website, you see that the .pdf file has either been moved or deleted and you get an error message.

It could just be a coincidence, but the Conservatives have deleted websites in the past to avoid embarrassment, so it’s possible that it’s something more as well.

Either way, the grassroots movement is attempting to get the government either to admit that they funded an anti-abortion rally or to get them to state publicly that they did not support this anti-abortion rally.  The highest profile blogger to take up this cause is maverick MP Garth Turner (here), however JimBobby has a really good piece on this (here) as does the Unrepentant Old Hippie (here).

It seems to me more likely that the logo was used without permission.  However, even if it was the group which was at fault for illegally brandishing the legitimizing symbol of the collective,  the government must still be pressed to prosecute these usurpers to the fullest extent of the law.  Irrespective of whether the government funded this or not, the illegal attachment of a government logo — our logo — to this movement cannot be allowed to go unprosecuted.

Not in my name.

Paulitics Polling Resource: Quebec highly unstable

Even before Gilles Duceppe’s recent flip flop over departing the federal scene and making a run for the PQ and then chosing to stay put, the Paulitics polling resource demonstrates that Quebec was already the province with by far the most instability in terms of public opinion.  Thus, Quebec provincial politics are sure to remain very interesting in the near future.

At the national level, the Paulitics Polling Resource shows the NDP and the Liberals with momentum while the Conservatives are still in decline, albeit slower than before.

Also of interest is the fact that the most popular party in Canada at this time can only count on the support of 1/3 of Canadians.

The Paulitics Polling Resource has the parties tracking as follows:

2007-05-13-results.jpg

For the Paulitics Polling Resource and long-term federal trend lines, click here

For the Paulitics Provincial/Regional Polling Resource, click here

At the provincial level, we see high instability in Quebec even before Duceppe’s recent gaffe.  Based on the most recent polling, the Paulitics Provincial/Regional breakdown shows that voter migration is by far the greatest in Quebec with more than 1 in 5 Quebecois having changed their vote preference since the last election.

The following chart demonstrates party support instability in each of the provinces and regions tracked in the Polling Resource:

QC

22.3%

BC

13.8%

Atlantic

12.0%

Prairies

11.5%

ON

10.7%

Alberta

1.5%

As discussed here, the NDP are up impressive amounts in Quebec, and the Liberals and the Conservatives are experiencing highly irregular pollinging numbers.  So it seems as though Quebec is up for grabs for just about any party.

The question is, what effect, if any, Gilles Duceppe’s recent flip flop will have on this highly unstable situation.


Resources:

home page polling resource

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