Friday, May 14, 2010

Designated Speech Zones

One of the gravest assaults on civil liberties by George Bush II was the idea of "free speech zones" in which protest would be allowed - in blatant violation of the right to free speech contained in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. And now these abominations on freedom have come to Canada.

For the G20 summit taking place in Toronto in late June, the Integrated Security Unit (a concretion of the Toronto Police Service, the Ontario Provincial Police and the RCMP have declared a "designated speech zone" for protests. This is obscene. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms declares that all of Canada is, subject to reasonable limits, a designated speech zone. The notion that only in certain areas are the people to be free to exercise their constitutional rights is antithetical to free expression. Protesters are supposed to be mollified by the fact that there will be a "live feed" to the convention centre where the high priests of capital will be meeting so that the protests will be "visible." A few monitors showing protesters does not recompense us for our lost liberty.

I was prepared to accept the idea that there might be an area in which protests would be prohibited. I wasn't happy about the idea, but I was prepared to go along with it. But the notion that the entire city, with the exception of Queen's Park, is going to be an area in which free expression is to be suppressed is intolerable. The G20 has the right to meet, but they don't have the right to meet out of sight and out of mind of the people objecting to them. Shame on the police for going out of their way to curb our liberty. What a great commitment to constitutional governance they have.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The IMF, Structural Adjustment and Greece

The IMF and its boosters like to bill it as having 'seen the light.' Nowadays, we hear all about the IMF that has learned its lesson and is warm and cuddly. We are told that the IMF understands the importance of maintaining governance and government capacity. Why, we are even told they have a focus on poverty reduction. For a sterling example of this, you can see a discussion at between me and several other posters going under the handles thwap, Rufus Polson, elmateo, Senor Magoo and A_J about the IMF, structural adjustment and whether or not Haiti should accept the loans offered by the IMF after the earthquake. You can read it here.

The notion that the IMF is not a heartless profit machine is, frankly, absurd. The conditions being imposed on Greece now prove this and put the lie to the notion that the IMF has changed from the cruel master of the 1980s and 1990s. All you have to do is look at the package of "austerity" measures that the Greek government (a quisling "Socialist Party" government at that) is trying to put through the parliament. The BBC has the details (see here and here), and the thing that is immediately noticeable is that the vast majority of the pain from these reforms is going to be felt by disadvantaged groups: the poor and the elderly.

In a crisis, the government needs to look to both its income and cost situation. Clearly, the IMF and the European Union are demanding action on the cost side of the ledger. But the government is doing almost all of its actions on this side, trying to cut expenditure without substantially increasing long term revenue. These measures don't even include a hike in income taxes, the most progressive way a government has of raising revenue. The government ought to be hiking taxes on its top income brackets to ease its balance of payments crisis, not cutting services and raising taxes that have disproportionate impacts on the poorest people in society. The government should also be raising taxes on banks and other corporations - the ones who actually caused the crisis. Instead, all there is is a one-off tax on profits and hikes in VAT (the Greek sales tax) and increased taxes on fuel, alcohol and tobacco. For the elderly, these cuts will be a double-whammy as they will see their pensions cut, and their costs rise.

The BBC also mentions privatization. Privatization is stupid at the best of economic times, killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. In times like these it would be a fire sale, giving away valuable state enterprises for pennies on the Euro. Privatization represents just another way of transferring capital accrued by the people in common to the owning class. Transferring control away from democratically accountable institutions like Parliament to the kleptomanic classes that caused this problem. But this is another hallmark of the reckless profit-lust of the IMF. It seems that in their view and Naomi Klein's words, the state should be nothing more than a conveyor belt moving public money to private interests.

The IMF remains the same villain it has been for decades. What is happening now shows no indication that the IMF cares a whit about reducing poverty, in fact these actions will without a shadow of a doubt increase poverty in Greece. The IMF cannot viably claim to be new, warm and fuzzy when it is pursuing policy options that could well have been tailored to cause more poverty and misery. The IMF should just admit that it is what it is, a shill for the global capitalist class, seeking to open countries to exploitation by capital.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Oil Industry is Psychopathic

In the days following the revelation of just how monumentally disastrous the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is going to be, it has emerged that the oil industry is asking the government of Canada to loosen restrictions and regulations for safety on drilling in Canada's arctic waters. Are they insane? If nothing else, did their entire PR departments take an unscheduled mass vacation? To suggest that measures to protect the environment should be loosened now, when it is becoming clear to even the most thickheaded and troglodytic supporter of offshore drilling that it represents a colossal threat to the environment, is moronic. To make the suggestion at all is verging on psychopathic.

This isn't something that I am suggesting lightly. The people in charge of the oil industry are exhibiting the classic lack of empathy and emotion that characterizes psychopaths. They are actively endangering the health and wellbeing of millions, if not billions, of people for their own gratification. When confronted, they cry crocodile tears, as the CEO of BP did after his company's heinously negligent behaviour placed one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world in peril. They don't care about other people, though as explained in the film The Corporation this is an inherent defect of the corporate form and a not so inherent defect of the system of legislative regulation of corporations in North America and western Europe. Their only motivation is profit, the basic gratification of the capitalist.

The disaster in the Gulf is as bad as it is because the gusher can't be capped. It can't be capped because the pressure is far to high. The pressure can't be reduced until a relief well is completed. And it is going to take ninety days, NINETY DAYS, to drill the relief well. So oil is going to keep pouring into the Gulf of Mexico for ninety days!! That is fundamentally unacceptable, yet there is nothing that can be done about it. Canadian regulations require that in Arctic Ocean waters, relief wells must be drilled within the same season as the main well. This sensible precaution means that if a Deepwater Horizon-type incident were to have occurred in Canada's arctic waters (touch wood that it doesn't) it would have been much more easily sealed off, because a relief well would already have been drilled and could be put into use immediately to allow the capping of the main well. If there absolutely must be drilling in arctic waters, this is at least the most sensible way of doing it.

The same-season relief well requirement is expensive though. It means the oil companies have to put in a lot of money to make sure that the relief well is finished before the end of the season. Accordingly, they don't like it. And now they want the government of Canada to scrap it. I say fuck that and fuck them. Fuck them and the horse they rode in on.

Even now, when the oil industry has been caught with its lies on safety exposed in a spill so massive it is visible from space, they are playing a game of musical chairs over who is responsible. BP is trying to foist as much blame as it can off on other players. It remains to be seen how much of the financial burden of trying to clean up this gigantic mess is going to be foisted onto American tax payers, many of whom have had their livelihoods stripped away as a result of BPs uncaring and callous negligence, but you can bet it will be a lot. If there was any justice in this world, a fine would be levied against BP big enough to put them and their affiliates out of business forever.

The oil industry's behaviour, seeking to avoid all but the most basic repercussions of their actions, and to seek to eliminate measures that might prevent it from happening again, demonstrate the basic principle of capitalism: do whatever you have to do, no matter how down and dirty, sleazy, underhanded and hurt whoever or whatever you have to hurt to make as much money as you can. That's why I fundamentally reject capitalism. As a system of social organization, it is the embodiment of psychopathy. Greed is good. Harm is good. Responsibility and ethics are bad. Even after the Exxon Valdez catastrophe, the oil industry had to be dragged kicking and screaming into mandatory double-hulling on oil tankers. I am willing to bet that even now, after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the oil industry and their bought-and-paid-for slugs in the US Congress are going to fight tighter regulation on offshore drilling every miserable step of the way. Because heaven forfend that anything should get in the way of the almighty dollar, be it plants, animals or people. Because other things just don't count. That's the psychopathy of capitalism.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Surprise! The Liberals are also Complicit in Detainee Torture

Up until today, the public evidence indicated only that Conservative ministers had known, and done nothing about, the fact that detainees were being tortured by the Afghan authorities. Well not any more.

CBC is reporting that a Canadian diplomat, Eileen Olexiuk, raised concerns that detainees were being tortured in 2005, while Mr. Dithers himself (Paul Martin) was still in office. And apparently her concerns were ignored. As Ms. Olexiuk put it, based on the response she got from the government, she didn't think that anyone cared.

Shame on the Liberals. There are MPs in the Liberal caucus now who were ministers in 2005. Why haven't they sounded the alarm? Oh right, because that would make their party look bad. I shouldn't have expected anything different out of the Liberals. Two leaders later and its still the same thing. I guess with the Liberals the old aphorism holds true: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A Timeline of Revelations on Torture in Afghanistan

I put together this timeline of revelations on the issue of Afghan detainees for the enMasse discussion board. I thought I might as well post it here too. There is a continuing thread on detainee abuse at enMasse, and it and Google News were invaluable in putting this together. Just a warning, it is long, depressing and probably partially incomplete. If you have more events to add, please by all means do so in the comments and I will add them into the main entry.

December 2005 – Amnesty International and the BC Civil Liberties Association file an application in the Federal Court seeking to stop the practice of transferring detainees from Canadian custody to Afghan authorities

Feb. 6, 2007 – Military officials begin investigation of three complaints by Afghan prisoners that they were abused while in the custody of the Canadian forces.

Feb. 21, 2007 – Amnesty and the BCCLA again seek to stop the transfer of detainees

March 2, 2007 – Three detainees at the centre of a probe into abuse of detainees by the Canadian forces disappear. They are never found.

March 9, 2001 2007 – Amir Attaran reveals a covert agreement signed in 2005 to transfer detainees to Afghan secret police

April 23, 2007 – Globe and Mail reveals thirty allegations of abuse by Afghan authorities of prisoners transferred by the Canadian Forces, contradicting earlier claims by the government that no complaints had been made

April 25, 2007 – Then Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor says that Canada will monitor detainees for signs of abuse. The same day, the Globe and Mail reveals that a report on the treatment of Afghan detainees was circulated to Cabinet Ministers in 2006 which was censored to remove information damaging to the government. The government had previously denied the existence of this report.

April 26, 2007 – The Globe and Mail reports that Michael Byers and William Schabas sent a letter to the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court requesting an investigation into Gordon O'Connor and then Chief of the Defence Staff Rick Hillier on the grounds of possible crimes committed against Afghan detainees.

April 27, 2007 – Stockwell Day insists Canada has had access to detainees since the beginning of the mission, and that all allegations of mistreatment by Afghan authorities are false. He also insists that the existing agreement provides sufficient protection for Afghan detainees.

April 30, 2007 – The government denies that there have ever been any specific allegations of prisoner abuse. Later the same day, Stockwell Day says that Canada has received at least two specific allegations of torture.

May 2, 2007 – A source inside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed that the original prisoner transfer agreement was drafted primarily by the Canadian Forces, and that Foreign Affairs was largely frozen out, suggesting that Hillier acted without government authority. Later the same day, the National Post reports that negotiations for a prisoner transfer agreement were initiated approved Paul Martin and Bill Graham in May of 2005 showing that the government was directing policy on detainee transfers.

May 3, 2007 – Canadian government signs new detainee transfer agreement with Afghanistan. The agreement includes substantially increased protections for detainees, at least on paper.

May 18, 2007 – Amir Attaran testifies before a committee of the House of Commons and reveals a cover-up of reports indicating that detainees transferred by Canada were tortured by Afghan authorities. Lieutenant-General Walter Natynczyk, then Chief of the Land Staff, now Chief of the Defence Staff, says that there is no proof any detainees transferred by Canada have been tortured.

June 6, 2007 – Stockwell Day tells the parliamentary committee that they shouldn't care about abuse allegations because the people making the allegations are “terrorists.”

June 9, 2007 – CBC reports that the Department of Foreign Affairs now acknowledges six specific claims of torture or abuse

June 25, 2007 – The Globe and Mail reports that one of the investigations into the fate of Afghan detainees transferred by Canada won't be allowed to look into whether or not they were tortured or abused

July 9, 2007 – The Globe and Mail reports that the Department of National Defence has been systematically and illegally refusing access to information requests on the topic of the treatment of transferred detainees on the grounds of national security, including information as innocuous as the number of detainees transferred

Sept. 22, 2007 – The Globe and Mail reports that fully one quarter of the detainees transferred to Afghan authorities by the Canadian Forces have disappeared and cannot be found

Oct. 29, 2007 – La Presse reports that prisoners at Afghan jails in Kandahar province continue to be tortured. The government dismisses the report as Taliban propaganda.

Nov. 6, 2007 – The Federal Court dismisses the government's motion to strike the application by Amnesty and the BCCLA for documents relating to prisoner transfers

Nov. 15, 2007 – The Toronto Star reports that the government admits that one of the allegations of torture is “credible.”

Nov. 22, 2007 – Peter MacKay asserts that suggesting that the Canadian Forces are involved in war crimes is “un-Canadian”.

Jan. 24, 2008 – The Globe and Mail reports that the government stopped transferring detainees to Afghan authorities on November 5, 2007, but didn't tell anyone.

Jan. 25, 2008 – A government spokeswoman says that the government was not told that the Canadian Forces were suspending prisoner transfers. Later the same day, she says she mispoke on that point. Stephane Dion reveals that he and Michael Ignatieff were informed the prior week but were sworn to secrecy.

Feb. 1, 2008 – The Globe and Mail reports that the government was aware in the spring of 2007 that the governor of Kandahar was personally involved in torturing prisoners. The allegations against the governor were reported to the International Red Cross by Canadian diplomats, but not to the House of Commons.

December 10, 2008 – Amnesty once against files suit in the Federal Court claiming that the new detainee transfer agreement has not stopped torture.

Oct. 7, 2009 – Richard Colvin files documents with the Military Police Complaints Commission which is holding hearings on the question, in an attempt to get around the government's attempts to stop him from testifying to the Commission. Colvin claims that the Canadian government was aware of torture as early as 2006.

Oct. 14, 2009 – The Toronto Star reports that Colvin warned the government in writing in May 2006 about the risk of torture with transfers to Afghan detainees.

Nov. 18, 2009 – Colvin testifies to the parliamentary committee that the government knew it was likely that all detainees transferred by the Canadian forces were tortured.

Nov. 19, 2009 – Peter MacKay denies that there has been a single proven allegation of torture, and that Colvin got his information directly from the Taliban.

Nov. 22, 2009 – Yahoo News reports that the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission has documented at least 400 cases of torture across Afghanistan. The vast majority of these claims were made in 2006 and 2007, when Colvin was in Afghanistan. The same day, Peter MacKay repeats his assertion that there is no proof that any detainees have been tortured.

Nov. 25, 2009 – The government bars Colvin from handing over documents supporting his claims to the parliamentary committee investigating detainee abuse on the grounds of national security. On the same day, the Toronto Star reports that e-mails sent to the office of Peter MacKay as early as 2006 expressed alarm about the treatment of Afghan detainees. This is contrary to MacKay's claim that he never heard anything about it until May of 2007.

Nov. 26, 2009 – Former Afghan MP Malali Joya backs up Colvin's claims. Later the same day, Luis Moreno Ocampo, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, begins an investigation into the complicity of NATO troops in the abuse of Afghan detainees. The news makes almost no splash in the Canadian media.

Nov. 27, 2009 – Three top generals claim that they were not worried because the Colvin memos never used the word torture, despite the fact that they have been shown to contain descriptions of treatment that amount to torture. Later the same day, in a humiliating new low for Canada, China lectures the government of Canada for its participation in torture.

Dec. 2, 2009 – The Canadian Press reports that in June of 2006 the Red Cross warned Canadian diplomats in Kandahar that detainees were being abused by Afghan authorities

Dec. 7, 2009 – The Globe and Mail reports that documentary evidence and the sworn testimony of Canadian officers proves at least one instance in 2006 in which Afghan authorities so badly beat a detainee that the Canadian Forces took him back into their custody. This evidence makes a liar of both Peter MacKay and Walter Natynczyk.

Dec. 11, 2009 – The House of Commons votes to require the government to turn over all relevant documents in an unedited form to the parliamentary committee. The government flatly refuses on the grounds of national security.

Dec. 14, 2009 – Lawrence Cannon admits that some of the detainees transferred by Canada have gone missing and cannot be accounted for because the Afghan authorities refuse to account for them to Canadian officials in defiance of the 2007 agreement.

Dec. 18, 2009 – CBC reports that documents prepared for Peter MacKay in 2008 indicate that the military police launched six separate investigations into allegations of abuse involving members of the Canadian Forces.

Dec. 30, 2009 – Stephen Harper prorogues Parliament, dissolving the parliamentary committee investigating the abuse of detainees.

Jan. 25, 2010 – The Toronto Star reports that the government is refusing to pay Colvin's legal fees after they were the ones to summon him to testify.

Jan. 28, 2010 – The government agrees to pay Colvin's legal fees.

Mar. 6, 2010 – Amir Attaran reveals that the documents that the government is resisting releasing will reveal that the Canadian government made a policy decision to transfer detainees to Afghan authorities for the purpose of the detainees being tortured.

Mar. 9, 2010 – CBC reports that Canadian officials began preparing a public relations strategy as early as March 2007, several months before the first documentation of widespread abuse in the Globe and Mail.

Friday, January 22, 2010

John Edwards Admits to Fathering Baby

Mr. Edwards needs to learn how to use a condom. That is all.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Prorogation, Again

So, prorogation, and my working myself into a stew over it, is what has dragged me back to blogging. I never intend to take breaks from it, but then the force of inertia keeps me quiet. Anyhow.

Harper has, as I'm sure everyone knows, prorogued the House and Senate again. After just a year. But I suppose this is longer than the 13 sitting days before the 2008 prorogation. Thank goodness for small blessings?

The decision to prorogue is crass, cynical political manipulation. Much of the speculation about the reason for the prorogation is that it allows the government to avoid the hideously embarrassing revelations that were coming daily from the Special Committee on Afghanistan. I have no doubt that this was a significant part of the decision, but I don't think it was the primary motivation. Those revelations, as terrible as they were (especially considering that they were leading down the road to a Somalia-like situation where Canadian troops will, one day, be shown to have been involved in the torture of Afghans) were not sticking the government. Frankly, and disgustingly, most Canadians do not care. We have become so insular and inward looking that we simply don't care that this government has been committing blatant violations of Canada's obligations at international law under the Geneva Conventions.

No, I believe that the primary reason Harper got our incompetent nitwit of a Governor-General to prorogue the Parliament was because Parliamentary committees are reconstituted after a prorogation. This is important because shortly Harper will be appointing five new Senators (all doubtless Conservative flacks and lackies) and will have achieved a working plurality in the Senate. This will be reflected in the composition of the new Senate committees, allowing the government to force items through the Senate and eliminate the ability for the Liberals to two-facedly support legislation in the Commons and delay it to death in the Senate. Because the Commons liberals are spineless little twits, and refuse to oppose Harper's legislative agenda on anything this now means that Harper's reactionary legislation will go through unobstructed.

As an aside, how did it only take four years of appointments for Harper to undo the effects of 13 years of Liberal appointments to the Senate? Were the Liberals appointing doddering old folks for most of that time?

Regardless of the motives, this prorogation is a baldly undemocratic move. Whether or not doing so was the primary intention behind obtaining prorogation, it did in fact wipe out the Special Committee on Afghanistan and its inconvenient daily revelations. But that is not out of the ordinary for this government. Whether it is muzzling public servants who are inconveniently serving the public rather than the Party (see, for example, Kevin Page the Parliamentary Budget Officer, or the entire Military Police Complaints Commission or the head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission), stopping Olympic critics at the borders, proroguing Parliament, circulating a dirty tricks handbook to stymie the works of Parliamentary committees or bringing the House to a shamefully low level of decorum, this government has taken a dump on democracy at every turn. I don't know how long the Canadian people will stand for it. I can only hope that at some point they will say "enough!" Then again, socialists like me have been waiting for that kind of moment for a long time.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Iran Protests are Increasingly Revolutionary

I'm taking a break from a weekend full of articling applications (ugh) to note a new development in Iran. There seems to have been a sea-change in the protests there. They have gone from being about an election result to about bringing down the government. This is a good thing. Iran's system of theocracy is deeply corrupt and needs to change. A revolution is the only true way to do that.

Persiankiwi ( has some very interesting tips on how to disable the Iranian government, which indicate this trend.

I promise I will try to get to something on domestic politics, but that might be a few days off. Suffice to say, Iggy = Stephane II.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Developments in Iran

The situation in Iran seems to continue to degenerate. I am getting worried for the tweeter at Change_for_Iran since he last tweeted that he was going to the Mousavi rally and hasn't tweeted since. I hope he is alright. Another excellent twitter is persiankiwi. He has been reporting increasing violence by both state police and civilian militias. It sounds like the opposition is not backing down. New marches are planned for tomorrow. This is beginning to resemble a revolutionary moment. This may be the chance that Iran needs to throw off the shackles of their reactionary theocracy.

My hope now is for a relatively peaceful revolution, but that is looking increasingly unlikely, as the state appears to be using steadily increasing violence as it attempts to maintain control. This uprising is driven by new media, and increasingly resembles the lead up to the massacre in Iiananmen Square in 1989. That uprising was driven by cellphones and faxes. This one appears to be driven by Twitter, as students share information and knowledge. I haven't heard anything more about the members of Ansar-e Hezbollah captured at Tehran University.

I'm doing my best to keep abreast of the situation.

Later tonight I will try to put together something on today's developments in federal politics.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

I'm Back

It's been far to long, but I'm back.

I stopped blogging for a while because of school and then got caught in the intertia. I've been dragged back in by the events in Iran.

I've been monitoring a twitter feed by a student in Tehran. It is something that could turn out to be to the stolen election what Riverbend's blog was to the occupation of Iraq. You can find it at

The latest tweets from him suggest that he is being attacked by pro-government militias:
bastards just attacked us for no reason, I lost count of how much tear gas they launched at us!

my friend saying more than 100 students arrested, I can't confirm this but the numbers are high

to other sources: this isn't the police! police is still outside! we're under attack by Ansar-Hezbolah

unfortunately the entrance door is completely destroyed and there is no way of barricading it

typing as fastest as I can in both English & Farsi, Still we need outside help, I really don't want to be captured by Ansar

For some unknown reason there is still power in here and DSL line is working. but there is no dial tone

Stop burning tires & trash cans! come to our aid it's getting worse than 18tir already!

We're trying to stop Masood from going outside! there is no way they will listen to us right now.

the other buildings are now chanting "Ey Iran" song

This sounds like an increasingly brutal crackdown in progress.

As I've said elsewhere, I could see Ahmedinejad winning, but not with a ridiculous margin like that claimed. To suggest that he got 63% of the vote is absurd and smacks of vote rigging.

I'm going to keep following this. In the coming days I'll also blog about my response to the Nova Scotia election.

Update: Iranian Student is now reporting that two paramilitaries from Ansar-e Hezbollah (the group leading the siege of Tehran University) have been captured by students. Not sure what this will mean, but it's a big event.