11.30.2007

ontario coroner's office in bed with taser industry

Did you all see this today?
Taser International and another company closely linked to the manufacturer have paid the way for Ontario's deputy chief coroner to lecture at their conferences on the phenomenon of "excited delirium," a medically unrecognized term that the company often cites as a reason people die after being tasered.

James Cairns, one of the country's most high-profile coroners, who publicly advocates the use of the stun gun, has become one of the top Canadian experts Taser officials turn to for help shoring up public support for their products in times of crisis. Since the death of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant, at Vancouver International Airport last month, Taser has repeatedly urged journalists to contact Dr. Cairns for his pro-taser views.

Dr. Cairns has recently given seminars at two conferences hosted by Taser International - one in July in Chicago and another last year in Las Vegas.

He has also spoken at a Las Vegas conference for the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths, a small private company with ties to Taser. It is headed by John Peters, a communications specialist who often acts as a course instructor for Taser International. Its only other director is Michael Brave, a Taser legal executive.

Dr. Cairns was slated to deliver a talk yesterday, titled "Excited Delirium Deaths: Public Inquiry Process; ED Training for Ontario Provincial Police Officer and its Impact on the Coroner's Office" at the institute's 2007 conference. He dropped out because he was testifying at an inquiry in Ontario, where he admitted to shielding disgraced pathologist Charles Smith.

This is a disgrace. Cairns should be fired immediately. There are few offices whose independence is more crucial than the coroner's. Everything that comes from an office that employs this man is suspect and cannot be relied upon. Period.

FYI, previous wmtc posts about tasers are filed under civil liberties. Maybe I'll have to make it a separate category.

11.29.2007

sports columnist suggests bloggers should be exterminated. why we should care.

In response to my recent list of some sad US goings-on, my friend Dean G said:
Another item in your list could have been about the increasing cries by (especially young) US right-wingers for people they disagree with or find annoying to be tased. I've heard this sort of thing frequently over the past few years, and people here know full well that tasers are not safe, that they do destroy people. I somehow doubt that even a small segment of the Canadian population regularly calls for people they disagree with to be shot with enough volts to cripple or kill them, yet it's become a familiar cry now in the US.

Dean's comment was on my mind when I read this post in Joy of Sox. [Emphasis mine.]
Philadelphia Daily News sportswriter Bill Conlin believes that Jimmy Rollins was the National League's Most Valuable Player.

Rollins was decidedly not the MVP (as FJM points out), but that's not important.

A Phillies fan who writes the Crashburn Alley blog emailed Conlin and made the case for David Wright of the Mets. Conlin was not very polite in his responses. Indeed, during the discussion, Conlin wrote:
The only positive thing I can think of about Hitler's time on earth – I'm sure he would have eliminated all bloggers. In Colonial times, bloggers were called "Pamphleteers." They hung on street corners handing them out to passersby. Now, they hang out on electronic street corners, hoping somebody mouses on to their pretentious sites. Different medium, same MO.

A commenter asks:
By the way, does Conlin realize that the "Colonial pamphleteers" he's comparing to bloggers were the ones who instigated and led the American Revolution? So he's placing bloggers in the company of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and Alexander Hamilton ... and siding with Hitler and King George III.

And while we're chatting about the Third Reich, remember when [New York Yankees announcer] Michael Kay compared the idea of an announcer "jinxing" a no-hitter with the Nazis marching people into ovens?

(Audio? You better believe there's audio.)

[See the Joy of Sox post for relevant links.]

Don't worry that you've never heard of VORP, and don't know an MVP from a BLT. Baseball is not the point here. The point: this is considered acceptable discourse in the sports world.

It might be easy to dismiss this - "it's only sports" - but sports is a dominant element of American culture, and nearly every modern culture. Values seen in sports reflect the values of the larger society. Everyone who complains about high player salaries or steroid use (and I am not among those) should realize that. I would venture that the culture of sport exerts a stronger and more immediate impact on society than any academic or scientific community. You may find that a sad commentary, but it still may be true.

In the sports world - as increasingly in the political realm - it's perfectly acceptable to speak this way. Someone disagrees with you? Hitler would have known what to do with him.

Often when we scrutinize language like this, we are derided with that most hackneyed of accusations: political correctness. But language matters. I'll use the sports columnist Conlin's own extreme analogy. Hitler didn't wake up one day and snuff the life out of millions of human beings. He brought "his willing executioners" in line with his ideas. Ideas expressed through language.

Every action begins with an idea. Ideas are communicated through language. Language leads to action.

Or it can. Usually there is not an immediate cause-and-effect. More often language creates conditions that make action possible. Why else do militaries dehumanize their enemies? Why call the Iraqis "sand niggers", why call the Vietnamese "gooks"? Because those words help create the necessary conditions that enable soldiers to kill. Because how we speak influences how we feel. Because if we acknowledge the common humanity in all of us, it is more difficult to have enemies. And if we deny that humanity, step by step, word by word, we arrive at Abu Ghraib, My Lai, Wounded Knee, Katyn, Darfur.

Opportunities for that acknowledgement - and that denial - are with us every day. And the consequences of denying each other's humanity are vast, and very grim. A sports columnist who implies that people who disagree with him should be exterminated walks a dangerous road. But he's got a lot of company.

11.28.2007

random notes on the empire

This will not be a pleasant post.

I have a bunch of links sitting in my inbox that readers (mostly Allan and James, but some others as well) have sent - items I'd never see if I weren't blogging, and perhaps you haven't seen them, either.

I know I've been belabouring the war and war resisters lately, but as I've said elsewhere, this blog reflects what's on my mind. I'm so disgusted, enraged, heartsick, horrified - got any other words? - at what's going on in Iraq, at how veterans are being treated in the US, at how ordinary citizens are being treated in the US. Wmtc is a chance to vent that, and maybe bring some items to your attention that you haven't seen.

So here goes. We'll file these under "The Hidden Costs of War".

  • Low-income U.S. families planning to rely on a federal program to help pay expensive heating bills this winter are in jeopardy after President George W. Bush on Tuesday vetoed spending legislation that would have provided the financial assistance.
    Bush rejected the compromise appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, which also contained $2.4 billion in funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, commonly known as LIHEAP.

    Bush's veto puts "the health and well-being of millions of families at risk this winter," said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, chairman of a House Education and Labor subcommittee, which held a hearing on Tuesday on the LIHEAP program.

    "With energy costs consistently on the rise, more and more families must make the tough decision whether to heat their homes or put food on the table," McCarthy said. "We'll fight for the money."

    With prices forecast to be up for all heating fuels this winter, the poor will need LIHEAP assistance more than ever.

    . . .

    "Congress needs to cut out that pork, reduce the spending and send me a responsible measure that I can sign into law," Bush said.

    In the same speech a few moments later, Bush also expressed his concern about high energy prices.

  • A detailed analysis of data obtained from death records from 2004 and 2005, found that veterans were more than twice as likely to commit suicide in 2005 as non-vets.
    It found that veterans were more than twice as likely to commit suicide in 2005 than non-vets. (Veterans committed suicide at the rate of between 18.7 to 20.8 per 100,000, compared to other Americans, who did so at the rate of 8.9 per 100,000.)

    One age group stood out. Veterans aged 20 through 24, those who have served during the war on terror. They had the highest suicide rate among all veterans, estimated between two and four times higher than civilians the same age. (The suicide rate for non-veterans is 8.3 per 100,000, while the rate for veterans was found to be between 22.9 and 31.9 per 100,000.)

  • At least 20,000 U.S. troops who were not classified as wounded during combat in Iraq and Afghanistan have been found with signs of brain injuries, according to military and veterans records compiled by USA Today.
    The data, provided by the Army, Navy and Department of Veterans Affairs, show that about five times as many troops sustained brain trauma as the 4,471 officially listed by the Pentagon through Sept. 30. These cases also are not reflected in the Pentagon's official tally of wounded, which stands at 30,327.

    And from The Continuing Expansion of the Police State, we have...

  • Military recruiters already have the right to give presentations in public schools and to access databases with the contact information of all public school students whose parents do not remove their children from the list.

    Now they can send retired veterans directly into public schools to teach them how to shoot guns and take orders.
    One in 10 public high school students in Chicago wears a military uniform to school and takes classes -- including how to shoot a gun properly -- from retired veterans.

    That number is expected to rise as junior military reserve programs expand across the country now that a congressional cap of 3,500 units has been lifted from the nearly century-old scheme.

    Proponents of the junior reserve programs say they provide stability and a sense of purpose for troubled youth and help to instill values such as leadership and responsibility.

    But opponents say the programs divert critical resources from crumbling public schools and lead to a militarization of US society.

    "To call these young people child soldiers might be technically inaccurate, but it does reveal the truth of it," said Oscar Castro, a spokesman for the National Youth and Militarism Program, an advocacy group.

    . . .

    While military officials say the junior reserve programs are not used as recruiting tools, about 30 to 50 percent of cadets eventually enlist, according to congressional testimony by the chiefs of staff of the various armed services in February 2000.

    This is particularly troubling given that the programs are concentrated in low-income and minority neighborhoods, said Sheena Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Chicago branch of the American Friends Service Committee which lobbies against the programs.

    "If you want to teach discipline and leadership then do it for everyone and don't make them wear (military) uniforms," Gibbs said. "Students (at regular schools) protest that they have to still share books but the military academy has laptops."

  • How about a man tasered for refusing to sign traffic ticket? Watch the video.

    And finally, from so many wmtc categories that it almost defies categorization:

  • Wal-Mart is suing a former employee who is permanently brain-damaged for the cost of her medical care. And it's perfectly within their legal rights to do so. To paraphrase Yossarian, that's some law they got there.

    Read about Deborah Shank's story here, here, here, and elsewhere.
  • the wind that shakes the barley

    Last night we watched "The Wind That Shakes The Barley," a film by one of my favourite directors, Ken Loach. Like many of Loach's films, this is about a people's struggle for independence and freedom, in this case the Irish fight to overthrow British rule. It won the Palme d'Or at Cannes last year, and was probably Loach's most popular movie to date.

    Although I have no ancestral connection to Ireland, I was obsessed with Ireland and Irish history for a good 15 years. The fascination abated when we finally went to Ireland in 2001, an ordinary trip for some, perhaps, but a dream for me. So a Ken Loach movie about Ireland is a natural for me.

    You could say my recommendation is as one-sided as the film. Loach isn't there to give you so-called balance. As the infamous Black and Tans - the mercenaries the British hired to terrorize and control the Irish population - break into homes, humiliate families, destroy property, torture and kill, it was obvious Loach made this movie at this time for a very specific reason.

    Pick your parallel - US to Iraq, Israel to Palestinians - it's impossible to miss the similarities. What is an insurgent? Who is a terrorist, and who a freedom fighter? Is it possible for ordinary working people to fight a mighty empire without resorting to violence? Is violence sometimes justified, and necessary? "The Wind That Shakes The Barley" leaves little doubt as to how the writer and director answer those questions, and I have to say I agree with their answers.

    Screenwriter Paul Laverty is very adept at teasing out various political stances without having characters make stilted speeches. A political meeting seems very natural and unforced; I learned a few more things about the battle for Irish independence.

    Loach is not one to offer Hollywood platitudes, and the film's ending is heart-wrenching. But the Irish people won their battle. Northern Ireland, obviously, remained a terrible flashpoint. But for centuries, a free and independent nation of Ireland was only a dream. Now it exists.

    11.27.2007

    we are happy to serve you

    My favourite mug, home to my morning caffeine fix since 1996, is on the disabled list with a career-ending injury. The mug was my favourite souvenir from when I covered the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta. When I discovered the hairline crack, I retired it to decorative status.

    mug old


    Who will replace the trusty Paralympic mug? I've been using a bland Ikea replacement until a suitable player could be signed.

    Prime Minister of Red Sox Nation to the rescue. While scurrying around New York City last week, Allan bought this for me.

    mug new


    If you are lucky enough to have visited New York before the Starbucks Era, you will recognize the ubiquitous coffee shop mug. Most of the zillions of coffee shops (i.e., diners) in New York City are owned by Greeks, hence the design.

    Allan once bought me a t-shirt with this same design, but it died many years ago. This is even better: a daily reminder of my hometown. The mug doesn't have a handle, but it's made of thick ceramic, so the outside doesn't get too hot.

    The box says the We Are Happy To Serve You mug is a "classy, useful New York souvenir," and reminds you that "the future is green" (box made from recycled paper). More at We Are Happy To Serve You.

    amnesty: tasers = torture

    Amnesty International is calling for a moratorium on the use of tasers by law enforcement officials, saying that the use of tasers sometimes reaches the level of torture.
    "Despite a lack of independent research on TASER safety, police officers are using these weapons as a routine force tool -- rather than as a weapon of last resort," said Dr. William F. Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA). "These weapons have a record that's growing longer each week -- and it's not a good one. The increasingly frequent TASER-related deaths underscore the need for an independent, rigorous and impartial inquiry into their use."

    Amnesty International's continued research, including a review of TASER-related deaths since the organization's November 2004 report, reveals that most who died were unarmed men who did not appear to pose a threat of death or serious injury at the time of being electro-shocked. In some law-enforcement agencies, the use of TASERs is allowed if a person simply does not comply with an officer's demands. In some cases the alleged abuse amounted to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

    The 51-page Amnesty International study finds that in seven cases -- including three in 2005 -- the medical examiner or coroner performing the autopsy has listed TASERs as a primary cause of death and has classified the death as a homicide. In an additional 16 of the 152 cases the medical examiner or coroner has cited TASERs as a contributory factor in death. Amnesty International believes there may be more cases in which TASERs cannot be ruled out as a possible factor in the deaths. Recent studies have cited the need for more research into potential adverse effects from TASER shocks on people who are agitated, under the influence of drugs or subjected to multiple or prolonged shocks.

    Most of those who died had pre-existing medical conditions, were under the influence of drugs or medication, and/or were subjected to multiple or prolonged electro-shocks. Among TASER-related deaths in the past year, for example, 40 were shocked more than three times and one person as many as 19 times. A majority of those who died went into cardiac or respiratory arrest at the scene.

    Amnesty International is particularly concerned that vulnerable groups such as children, the disabled, pregnant women and people with mental illnesses are also being subjected to electric shocks from TASERs. The organization continues to receive reports of individuals being TASERed while already handcuffed or having been placed in mechanical restraints. It has also received reports of TASERs being used to control unruly or uncooperative schoolchildren.

    Studies conducted over the last year have not met the organization's criteria for an independent, impartial and comprehensive study. These studies have been limited in scope and methodology and have relied mostly on data provided by a primary manufacturer of the weapons -- Taser International -- and police departments themselves. None of the studies has included an analysis of the deaths listed in Amnesty International's reports on TASER use in the United States.

    "One-hundred fifty-two deaths tied to a 'less lethal' weapon should raise a red flag," said Dalia Hashad, Director of the Domestic Human Rights Program at AIUSA. "If a dictator mandated the abuse of these weapons, the United States government would be quick to call it torture. But is it any less painful when an American is shocked time and again? U.S. agencies should be concerned about using a tool with a record like this one." [Press release here; all emphasis mine.]

    In British Columbia last week, Paul Pritchard was welcomed and thanked at a memorial service for taser victim Robert Dziekanski. Pritchard is the young man who videotaped Dziekanski's death. At the memorial, people chanted "Thank you, Paul," and Pritchard spoke about his experience that day. Pritchard also met with Zofia Cisowski, the victim's mother.

    Pritchard's experience can help each of us find the courage to bear witness when we see injustice.

    women in war

    Last night we attended a speaking engagement of some of the war resisters. There are lots of speaking events, often booked through universities and community peace groups. This one was "Women Against War," and featured two women who are married to AWOL soldiers, and a female war resister, who I am trying to write about.

    On our way there, I wondered if we would be the only ones in attendance, or if the whole audience would be Campaigners. It was pouring out, and I wouldn't have been surprised if the room was empty but for people who already knew the speakers. Yet despite the bad weather, the room was packed.

    The speakers were great, bringing three similar, but different, perspectives about the war and their personal struggles. One of the women, Jill Hart, was a very active military wife - so much so that when she learned her husband Patrick was AWOL, she reported him to his commanding officer. Jill still describes herself as "pro-military, pro-troops," but is now as against the war in Iraq and as disgusted by the US government as anyone you'll meet. Jill is also a very active, articulate person, a woman of leadership. If Canada lets her stay, I think we'll hear a lot more from her in the future.

    There was a good little discussion afterwards, people wrote letters to Stéphane Dion, and a hat-pass yielded $150. I'm told that every speaking event, all over the country, is the same: rousing support from ordinary Canadians. Now we have to convince the Liberals that this is a winning issue for them.

  • If you haven't already written to Dion about this, I urge you to do so as soon as possible. It can be very brief: I am a Canadian citizen, I oppose the war in Iraq, and I believe Canada should allow former US soldiers who are seeking refuge in Canada to stay in the country legally and permanently. Paper letters are better than emails, and I'm told you don't even need a stamp. [US readers can do this too: there's a special campaign just for you.]

  • You can also make an impact by helping others to write letters. Any group you belong to - social justice, religious, parents' groups, whatever - can spend an evening writing letters together. If you're meeting anyway, it can be a brief item on your agenda.

  • If you'd like to organize a speaking event, so you and others can hear war resisters' stories, it's not very difficult to arrange, and the Support Campaign will help you. Contact me, I'll put you in touch or do it myself.

    Next week, the Standing Committee on Immigration will hold hearings on the war resisters. Soon after, they will vote on whether or not to recommend that Parliament pass a resolution to Let Them Stay. There are 12 Committee members: five Tory and seven Opposition. Of those seven, five are already in favour. Our job is to influence those two minds.

    I'll be going to Ottawa to be part of the supportive presence there. Since our planned trip to Ottawa in the spring was cancelled, it seems very fitting that my first trip to the capital will be for activism.
  • 11.26.2007

    smart australians

    Lone Primate, clear thinker, excellent writer and long-time friend of wmtc, has a message for Stephen Harper.

    Here's hoping Canadians follow the Australians and send these guys packing. Here's hoping the Liberals give them an opportunity to do so.

    returning to canada

    I've been feeling so critical of Canada lately, enough to lead a few Canadian wingnuts to tell me to "go home". Hey guess what? I am home!

    Because I care about Canada, I want it to be the best society it's capable of being. And you know what else? Injustice is injustice, and must be illuminated no matter where we find it. Especially if we find it in our own home, after spending so much time criticizing our neighbours.

    I think most Canadians know that. One thing I love about this country is that most people don't accuse you of being unpatriotic when you criticize the government. (Peter Mackay is not most people.)

    After spending five days in the country of my birth, I again experienced the same feelings I always do when I return home. As we drove through western New York State, as the miles fell away, soon to change to kilometres, I thought, I'm going home, where I should be. A sense of relief and gratitude washed over me. I was driving, and Allan was asleep, and I reached over and squeezed his hand. I thought, we did this. We did this and we are here.

    I just checked the email address listed on this blog, and a whole new wave of people are writing to me with questions about emigrating. I hope every one of them can make it.

    unembedded

    While we were in New Jersey, one of our nieces showed us Unembedded. It's the companion to an exhibit and a book by four photojournalists who have been working in Iraq.

    In case you don't know what the title refers to, the mainstream media in Iraq is tightly controlled by the US government, said to be "embedded" in the military. Journalists and photographers actually signs contracts that limit what they are allowed to report.

    All the major news organizations signed these contracts without protest. Indeed, after being locked out of Afghanistan and the first Gulf War, they were whooping with joy over the supposed increased access. Many TV reporters were positively giddy at the chance to don flak jackets and play soldier. This was during the initial invasion, in March 2003. I don't know if they're quite so jolly anymore.

    My niece showed us the Unembedded website during a discussion about the American public's consciousness of the war in Iraq. We all agreed that you could live your life in the US, go about your business every day, and never know that the country is at war.

    When I was growing up, I saw the war in Southeast Asia every night on TV. I believe that helped fuel the peace movement and bring an end to the carnage. That's a "lesson of Vietnam" the US learned well.

    A war resister I am interviewing is amazed and impressed at how Canada receives every soldier who has died in Afghanistan. Despite believing Canada should not have a military presence in Afghanistan, this person feels - and I agree - that every casualty should be honoured and remembered for making the ultimate sacrifice.

    American bodies come home from Iraq in the middle of the night. The media is not allowed to show the coffins. A few years ago, a woman photographed the flag-draped coffins on their way home. She worked for a cargo aircraft company that contracts with the military, and felt that Americans should see what she was seeing every day. The Seattle Times published the photo - and the woman lost her job. Another Vietnam lesson learned.

    one price of iraq

    11.25.2007

    let them stay: two voices plus my heart

    Lawrence Hill is a Canadian author. His book The Book of Negroes (titled Someone Knows My Name in the US) was a bestseller in Canada and long-listed the 2007 Giller Prize.

    Hill also co-authored Joshua Key's moving memoir, The Deserter's Tale, which I have blogged about so many times. This essay of Hill's ran today in the Ottawa Citizen.
    Just desertions
    Canada should open its arms to soldiers fleeing the horrors of an illegal American war in Iraq

    by Lawrence Hill

    Now that the Supreme Court of Canada has refused to hear the cases of the first two American deserters from the Iraq war to come knocking at its door, the last real hope for U.S. soldiers who have moral objections to the war lies in the hands of Canadians and our elected officials.

    Last week, Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey -- the first two American military deserters to ask Canadian courts to allow them to stay in this country -- came to the end of their legal fight. By refusing them leave to appeal, the Supreme Court upheld decisions by lower courts and by the Immigration and Refugee Board to the effect that they were not genuine refugees and had no right to stay in this country.

    Over the last few years, dozens of American soldiers have deserted and fled to Canada to avoid service or continued duty in Iraq. They have argued that they should be allowed to stay in this country rather than being forced to carry out an illegal and immoral war or being jailed for refusing to do so. To date, not one of them has convinced the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board, or won any support from Canadian judges.

    Two facts bear repeating.

    First, the Anglo-American attack on Iraq in 2003 was an offensive -- not a retaliatory --strike. The war had no approval from the UN Security Council, and for this reason Canada's prime minister of the day, Jean Chrétien, refused to support it. In 2004, then-UN secretary general Kofi Annan declared explicitly that the U.S.-led war on Iraq was illegal.

    Second, according to official UN policy, soldiers who are likely to be punished for having deserted military action "condemned by the international legal community as contrary to rules of human conduct" should be eligible for refugee status. To date, neither fact has been of any concrete assistance to Mr. Hinzman, Mr. Hughey or any of the other U.S. war deserters seeking asylum in Canada.

    Sadly, Canadian courts and the Immigration and Refugee Board have danced around the question of whether deserters from the U.S. forces should not be compelled to take part in an illegal war. When she ruled against Jeremy Hinzman last year, Justice Anne Mactavish of the Federal Court of Canada wrote: "It should be noted that the question of whether the American-led military intervention in Iraq is in fact illegal is not before the Court, and no finding has been made in this regard." And when he ruled against Mr. Hinzman the previous year, Brian Goodman of the Immigration and Refugee Board noted that "evidence with respect to the legality of the U.S. embarking on military action in Iraq," would not be "admitted into evidence at the hearing of these claims." "They are ducking the question of whether a soldier can be forced to fight an illegal war and whether a soldier can be jailed for refusing to fight an illegal war," Mr. Hinzman's and Mr. Hughey's lawyer, Jeffry House, said in an interview. As he noted in written arguments to the Supreme Court of Canada, Mr. House pointed out that although our courts have so far refused to grant refugee status to Americans soldiers who are deserting military duty out of moral objection to the war in Iraq, in 1995 the Federal Court of Appeal granted refugee status to a deserter from Saddam Hussein's armed incursion into Kuwait, on the basis that he should not be compelled to take part in an illegal war.

    "The courts are taking one stance for Saddam Hussein's soldiers and another one entirely for American soldiers," Mr. House said.

    Other U.S. war deserters are still waiting to have their cases heard in court. One notable example is Joshua Key, whose case is explosive because he claims that he personally witnessed U.S. soldiers carry out beatings, robberies, and even fatal shootings against unarmed Iraqi civilians -- men, women and children -- when he served as a U.S. army private in Iraq in 2003.

    As one of the lowest-ranking members of the 43rd Combat Engineer Company of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Mr. Key -- a 24-year-old Oklahoma man who joined the U.S. army to get a job and climb out of poverty -- was required by his officers to take part in about 200 raids on the homes of unarmed Iraqi civilians in Ramadi, Fallujah and other locations. During his six months of duty in Iraq, he never saw an Iraqi pointing a gun at him or at any other U.S. soldiers. The aggressions undertaken by his platoon were directly against unarmed men, women and children in their homes and cars, and on the streets.

    As a matter of course, Mr. Key and his platoon mates blew up the doors of the houses of Iraqi civilians during the early morning hours, charged in, ransacked the houses and -- with complete impunity -- stole money, jewelry, rugs and televisions from the inhabitants.

    What is worse, in their house raids -- which never turned up any weapons of mass destruction, or any evidence of planned insurrection -- Mr. Key and his fellow soldiers arrested every male they could find over five feet in height, and sent them along to American detention camps in Iraq. In patrolling the same neighbourhoods for six months, Key never again saw any of the men he had participated in arresting.

    Later, he heard of the notorious Abu Ghraib detention camp and believed that some of the boys and men he arrested ended up there. To compound matters, Mr. Key watched men in his military company assault, shoot and kill unarmed Iraqi civilians in the course of their street patrols and at traffic control points, and he watched American soldiers defile the corpses of dead Iraqis. After deserting the army, Mr. Key fled with his wife and four children to Canada in 2005. He is appealing a decision by the Immigration and Refugee Board to deny him and his dependents refugee status. Shockingly, he is currently refused the right to work in Canada or to receive welfare in Saskatchewan. As a result, he and his wife and children live in dire poverty.

    Mr. Key argues that the Geneva Conventions bar attacks on civilians and that he should not be compelled to violate international law or be punished for refusing to do so. However, Mr. Key's and the others' chances are weakened by last week's refusal by the Supreme Court of Canada to hear the cases of Mr. Hinzman and Mr. Hughey.

    Between 1965 and 1973, more than 50,000 American draft dodgers and army deserters came to Canada, and were allowed to stay, because they refused to participate in the Vietnam War. Canada rolled out the welcome mat. Prime minister Pierre Trudeau himself said: "Those who make a conscientious judgment that they must not participate in this war ... have my complete sympathy, and indeed our political approach has been to give them access to Canada. Canada should be a refuge from militarism." As a result, Canada benefited from the entry of thousands of skilled and engaged people who became passionate citizens -- lawyer Jeffry House and CBC radio host Andy Barrie among them.

    Earlier this week, in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision, NDP immigration critic Olivia Chow asked the federal standing committee on citizenship and immigration to vote in favour of allowing conscientious objectors who have refused or left American military service in Iraq to be allowed to stay in Canada. Ms. Chow deferred the motion when the committee agreed to hold hearings into the matter on Dec. 11. But the House of Commons adjourns on Dec. 14 and doesn't resume until Jan. 29.

    Without an iron will on the part of parliamentarians -- the same will that led the late Mr. Trudeau to welcome those who refused to fight in Vietnam -- Mr. Hinzman and Mr. Hughey face the risk of deportation, as do the 50 or so other deserters lined up behind them in Canada's legal system.

    Canadian judges are reluctant to stick their necks out to support American war deserters, but Canadian voters should insist that their politicians do the right thing.

    The war in Iraq was illegal. It caused unfathomable human suffering, led to more civilian deaths than will ever be known, took the lives of thousands of American soldiers and damaged countless others and their families, and destabilized world peace. American men and women who refused to participate in what millions of people in the world believe was an immoral war should be welcomed as courageous refugees to Canada.

    Let them stay. They will make us better Canadians.

    This letter ran in the Toronto Star last week.
    Most of us procrastinate, but last Friday I did something I've been putting off for more than 30 years. I became a Canadian citizen. That occasion should have been a source of unalloyed pleasure, but it produced distinctly mixed feelings. Here's why.

    Just weeks short of 40 years ago, I came to Canada as a resister to a wrongful war in Vietnam. Arriving alone at Toronto's airport, a broke 20-year-old who didn't know a single soul in this country, I stood nervously in line to present myself to Immigration.

    The middle-aged official studied my identification, then raised his skeptical eyes to meet mine. "I notice you're of draft age," he said. "Are you here to dodge the draft?" My heart plunged as I pictured myself being hustled aboard a plane for a flight back to the U.S. and, probably, prison. Still, I thought, there was no point denying it.

    To my astonishment, a smile broke out on the face of this guardian of Canada's border, and he reached out and shook my hand. "Welcome to Canada, son," he said.

    For that welcome, from the first Canadian I'd ever met, I've never stopped being grateful. But as I was raising my hand to take the oath of citizenship last week, I was painfully aware that a new group of resisters to America's latest wrongful war are being denied that principled hospitality that may have saved my life.

    Perhaps it's true that Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey do not meet the stringent criteria to be considered refugees. And so what if they joined the military voluntarily? Surely they joined to help defend their country from attack – not to fulfill the ambitions of an incompetent president in an invasion condemned around the world.

    In refusing further participation in this murderous fiasco, these two young men exemplify the humanity for which Canada is renowned. The government has the option of permitting them and others like them to stay on compassionate grounds, and it should do so without delay.

    Richard van Abbe, Toronto

    On Friday night, watching "Breaking Ranks," I saw the Maple Leaf blowing in the wind, and I caught my breath, and tears sprang to my eyes. If Canada fails these brave people, who have risked so much for peace, I may never feel quite the same about my new country.

    breaking ranks

    Friday night we watched "Breaking Ranks," a Canadian documentary about US war resisters in Canada. We brought it with us to show interested family members.

    It's very good, and only about an hour long, so excellent for watching plus discussion. It's being screened in conjunction with war resisters doing speaking engagements and answering questions.

    Zip doesn't seem to have it yet, but I hope you'll keep your eyes open for screenings or possibly a CBC appearance.

    home again

    We had a really wonderful trip, jammed packed with family and friends, laughter and love.

    I feel incredibly fortunate to enjoy my family so much. It hasn't always been the case. I didn't exactly grow up in a home full of harmony and light (although it was full of love, and I'm grateful for that). I blogged about this last year, and the feelings only deepen as I get older.

    I really miss my family. It's the only downside of having moved away. But I'm lucky to have family worth missing.

    11.23.2007

    u.s. to soldiers: give us your limbs or your eyes, then give us a refund

    An item from the continuing series: how does the US support its troops?
    The U.S. Military is demanding that thousands of wounded service personnel give back signing bonuses because they are unable to serve out their commitments.

    To get people to sign up, the military gives enlistment bonuses up to $30,000 in some cases.

    Now men and women who have lost arms, legs, eyesight, hearing and can no longer serve are being ordered to pay some of that money back.

    11.22.2007

    greetings from new jersey

    We've been having a really nice time, visiting family and friends, including my dear old friend New York City. As always on this annual trip, it's a good combination of hanging out, running around, helping my mom with stuff, laughing with family that we don't see often enough, spending money and eating too much.

    Checking in with Canada news, I see Peter MacKay called war-crime allegations "un-Canadian". Once again, he is ass-backwards. Mr MacKay, it's the torture that's un-Canadian, not the people trying to uncover it. He sounds so American. In all the wrong ways.

    I also see the Opposition managed to unite to call for an investigation of the latest scandal. Will they unite to Let Them Stay? That is, can the Liberals take on the Conservatives about anything of substance?

    Hope you're all well. Feel free to leave news in comments if you want.

    11.19.2007

    annual thanksgiving trip

    We're off this morning for our annual pilgrimage to New York and New Jersey.

    For the past two years, Cody has come with us. In 2005, it was right after Buster died, and we couldn't bear to leave her alone. Then we had such fun traveling with her, and she was such a big hit with our family, we brought her again in 2006. On the way home from last year's trip, we met Tala!

    But now we are a family of four again, and there's no way we can stay at my mom's apartment with two dogs, one of them young, energetic and full of white fur! Plus, Cody is really too old to enjoy a ten-hour car ride. So both pups will be home with Ellen The Amazing Dogsitter.

    I am excited about seeing my mom, my sibs and sibs-in-law, and our wonderful nieces and nephews, who will be in from various locales around the continent.

    An item from the I Know I Shouldn't Dignify This With A Response But I Can't Seem To Help Myself Department. When we went to Vermont for our friend Ray's wedding, and visited other family there and in western Mass, an annoying blogger ragged on me for taking vacations in the US instead of Canada. Note to world: time and money are not unlimited. I plan to travel in Canada as much as I can, and with any luck, I have a long life ahead of me to do so. Meanwhile, people we love live in the US and we don't plan to stop seeing them. Sheesh. Get over yourself.

    To the rest of you, have a great week. I'll probably blog a bit from my mom's.

    11.18.2007

    "i volunteered, but what did i volunteer for?"

    Today I attended a Support Campaign strategy session. During a discussion of talking points and messages for the political campaign, we were brainstorming responses to the argument, "...but they volunteered". Among people who think Canada should not give asylum to US war resisters, this seems to be the most common response.

    A war resister at the meeting said, "Yes, I volunteered, but what did I volunteer for? I volunteered to protect and defend my country.

    "When someone volunteers - in any area - they volunteer for a certain line of work. The lawyer who volunteered to defend me did not volunteer to shine my shoes or change my son's diaper. A doctor who volunteers to help a wounded person does not volunteer to kill people.

    "I volunteered to protect and defend my country, not to advance the political or economic interests of certain people. Nothing that is going on in Iraq is protecting and defending the United States."

    The other argument against letting them stay is "they have no balls". As one of the men in the group said, "It's always about testicles with these people."

    Adopting that ridiculous equation of testicles with courage, these men and women have more balls than anyone I know.

    what it is ain't exactly clear

    It's been quiet on my weekend job, a rare occurrence these days, so I've been clicking around and reading a lot. Here are some goodies I found for you on activism - and backlash - happening all around.

  • A new game: Six Degrees of Exploitation, staring Kevin Bacon as a spokesperson for Hanes. United Students Against Sweatshops have been dogging him around the country, trying to get the actor to back up his progressive words with some progressive pressure on the company he shills for.

  • Tree-sitters in Berkeley are being arrested and harassed, as they bring attention to a grove of old trees, which is also a Native American burial ground. The University of California, Berkeley plans to bulldoze the area to make room for a $125 million sports centre.

    I'm linking to the Common Dreams reprint, rather than the original in the San Francisco Gate, because the comments are more interesting (and less stupid). People are very quick to dismiss people who engage in these types of protest. But how many of us are committed enough to sacrifice comfort and safety for our beliefs?

  • Champion bridge players say, "We did not vote for Bush" and get in trouble for it. At the awards ceremony for an international bridge tournament, the champion US women's team held that simple written statement in the air. The United States Bridge Federation slapped sanctions on the players, including fines and suspensions. Note that the women didn't say "Bush is an evil dictator". They merely said "we didn't vote for him". Apparently that was too much. Richard Kim, writing in The Nation reminds us this is anything but an isolated incident.
    But take heart, the fabulous ladies at the center of this controversy aren't ready to make nice, and I'm glad they're putting up a fight. All across this country the common but courageous dissent of citizens is being censored and attacked. Anti-war vets calling for withdrawal from Iraq were banned from a parade in Long Beach, CA. High school students in Chicago are threatened with expulsion for staging a peaceful anti-war protest. More than a dozen anti-war protesters, fittingly wearing gags over their mouths, were arrested outside of Boston's city hall.

    And the list goes on. As individual incidents, each provoke a momentary pang of sympathy, a head nod, maybe an exasperated email to your bridge buddies. But taken as a whole, I suspect it adds up to a more disturbing picture--of a nation that went quietly mad, except for a few who spoke up and were ostracized for it; of a country where politics became so estranged from everyday life, that the ordinary expression of it was called treason.

    People are comparing this story to that of Tommie Smith and John Carlos - the US runners who raised the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics - but I'm not ready to tag bridge with my "activism in sports" label.

  • And finally, Barbara Ehrenreich on child labor slavery for The Gap. It's truly stomach-turning. Hopefully it's enough to make you stop shopping at The Gap, and to tell them why.
  • 11.17.2007

    progress of a nation

    I just read this in a review of Paul Krugman's new book, The Conscience of a Liberal. I thought it was worth repeating.
    He recites the now-familiar data that the wealthiest 0.01 percent of Americans are seven times richer than they were three decades ago, while the inflation-adjusted income of most American households has barely nudged upward. Chief executives who typically earned 30 times more than their average employee in the 1970s now take home more than 300 times as much.

    three excerpts

    Three excerpts from three works I've already blogged about.

    More from Naomi Klein's "Disaster Capitalism," adapted from her new book, The Shock Doctrine, in the October issue of Harper's.
    The recent spate of disasters has translated into such spectacular profits that many people around the world have come to the same conclusion: the rich and powerful must be deliberately causing the catastrophes so that they can exploit them. In July 2006, a national poll of U.S. residents found that more than a third of respondents believed that the government had a hand in the 9/11 attacks or took no action to stop them "because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East."

    Similar suspicions dog most of the catastrophes of recent years. In Louisiana in the aftermath of Katrina, the shelters were alive with rumors that the levees hadn't broken but had been covertly blown up in order to keep the rich areas dry while cleansing the city of poor people. In Sri Lanka, I often heard that the tsunami had been caused by underwater explosions detonated by the United States so that it could send troops into Southeast Asia and take full control over the region's economies.

    The truth is at once less sinister and more dangerous. An economic system that requires constant growth while bucking almost all serious attempts at environmental regulation generates a steady stream of disasters all on its own, whether military, ecological, or financial. The appetite for easy, short-term profits offered by purely speculative investment has turned the stock, currency, and real estate markets into crisis-creation machines, as the Asian financial crisis, the Mexican peso crisis, the dot-com collapse, and the subprime-mortgage crisis demonstrate. Our common addiction to dirty, nonrenewable energy sources keeps other kinds of emergencies coming: natural disasters (up 560 percent since 1975) and wars waged for control over scarce resources (not just Iraq and Afghanistan but lower-intensity conflicts such as those in Colombia, Nigeria, and Sudan), which in turn spawn terrorist blowback (a 2007 study calculated that the number of terrorist attacks has increased sevenfold since the start of the Iraq war).

    Given the boiling temperatures, both climatic and political, future disasters need not be cooked up in dark conspiracies. All indications are that if we simply stay the current course, they will keep coming with ever more ferocious intensity. Disaster generation can therefore be left to the market's invisible hand. This is one area in which it actually delivers.

    From the same issue of Harper's, another excerpt from "Specific suggestion: General strike," by Garret Keizer.
    As for how the strike would be publicized and organized, these would depend on the willingness to strike itself. The greater the willingness, the fewer the logistical requirements. How many Americans does it take to change a lightbulb? How many Web postings, how many emblazoned bedsheets hung from the upper-story windows? Think of it this way: How many hours does it take to learn the results of last night's American Idol, even when you don't want to know?

    In 1943 the Danes managed to save 7,200 of their 7,800 Jewish neighbors from the Gestapo. They had no blogs, no television, no text messaging — and very little time to prepare. They passed their apartment keys to the hunted on the streets. They formed convoys to the coast. An ambulance driver set out with a phone book, stopping at any address with a Jewish-sounding name. No GPS for directions. No excuse not to try.

    . . . .

    We could hardly be accused of innovation. General strikes have a long and venerable history. They’re as retro as the Bill of Rights. There was one in Great Britain in 1926, in France in 1968, in Ukraine in 2004, in Guinea just this year. Finns do it, Nepalis do it, even people without email do it.

    But we don't have to do it, you will say, because "we have a process." Have or had, the verb remains tentative.

    . . . .

    I wrote this appeal during the days leading up to the Fourth of July. I wrote it because for the past six and a half years I have heard the people I love best — family members, friends, former students and parishioners — saying, "I’m sick over what's happening to our country, but I just don’t know what to do." Might I be pardoned if, fearing civil disorder less than I fear civil despair, I said, "Well, we could do this." It has been done before and we could do this. And I do believe we could. If anyone has a better idea, I'm keen to hear it. Only don't tell me what some presidential hopeful ought to do someday. Tell me what the people who have nearly lost their hope can do right now.

    If you can still get your hands on a copy of this issue, please do. If you want one and can't find it, email me.

    Lastly, from Memoirs of an Infantry Officer by Siegfried Sassoon, about his experiences during World War I.
    And now Markington had gloomily informed me that our Aims were essentially acquisitive, what we were fighting for was the Mesopotamian Oil Wells. A jolly fine swindle it would have been for me, if I'd been killed in April for an Oil Well.

    canada is making me sad these days

    I've been feeling so sad and disappointed in Canada lately. First the murder of poor Robert Dziekanski, then Stockwell Day signing off on the execution of a Canadian citizen by a US state, then the Supreme Court rejection of the war resisters' appeal.

    Allan reminded me that the taser death is not "Canada": it's people. The abuse of power by men in uniform with weapons is as old as civilization, and as universal as DNA. The national outpouring of horror at the incident, and the outcry - both public and political - for something to be done, is very different than it would be in the US. Death at the hands of police or security forces is not that uncommon there. Incidents are quickly covered up and forgotten. And of course in many countries, the incident wouldn't be news at all.

    I'm not letting the system off the hook. But in this instance it's not the government's fault.

    The other two examples are.

    I never expected Canada to be paradise. I never harbored illusions that this country doesn't have violence, and inequality, and all the errors other countries struggle with. I'm just seeing a lot of negatives, one after the next. And it makes me sad.

    If we can persuade the Opposition to pass a resolution allowing the US war resisters safe haven in Canada, I will feel a whole lot better. It will remind me that the current government in Canada is temporary, and that Canada still has a functioning democracy.

    * * * *

    Yesterday I found myself skimming the comments on this CBC News article about the Supreme Court decision not to hear the resisters' appeal. Among people who don't voiced approval of that decision, the most common reason seems to be that the soldiers volunteered, "and if they don't like what they volunteered for, that's their problem".

    This also makes me so sad - and angry.

    Did anyone volunteer to destroy civilians' homes and property? Did anyone volunteer to torture, rape and kill innocent people? And if they volunteered for a term of 3 years, did they volunteer to be involuntarily re-enlisted for another 20?

    Among some Canadians, there's a fundamental lack of understanding of what the US military is doing.

    And then there's the fundamental lack of humanity implicit in their statements. Why should someone go to prison for refusing to kill? Must we be so hard-hearted? Must we place the law of nations above universal moral law?

    * * * *

    I'm sorry this blog has turned into war resister central lately. Wmtc always reflects what's on mind, and the safety of the resisters is consuming my thoughts these days.

    u.s. army desertion rate up 80%

    Soldiers strained by six years at war are deserting their posts at the highest rate since 1980, with the number of Army deserters this year showing an 80 percent increase since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.

    While the totals are still far lower than they were during the Vietnam War, when the draft was in effect, they show a steady increase over the past four years and a 42 percent jump since last year.

    "We're asking a lot of soldiers these days," said Roy Wallace, director of plans and resources for Army personnel. "They're humans. They have all sorts of issues back home and other places like that. So, I'm sure it has to do with the stress of being a soldier."

    The Army defines a deserter as someone who has been absent without leave for longer than 30 days. The soldier is then discharged as a deserter.

    According to the Army, about nine in every 1,000 soldiers deserted in fiscal year 2007, which ended Sept. 30, compared to nearly seven per 1,000 a year earlier. Overall, 4,698 soldiers deserted this year, compared to 3,301 last year.

    The increase comes as the Army continues to bear the brunt of the war demands with many soldiers serving repeated, lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military leaders — including Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey — have acknowledged that the Army has been stretched nearly to the breaking point by the combat. Efforts are under way to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps to lessen the burden and give troops more time off between deployments.

    "We have been concentrating on this," said Wallace. "The Army can't afford to throw away good people. We have got to work with those individuals and try to help them become good soldiers."

    Still, he noted that "the military is not for everybody, not everybody can be a soldier." And those who want to leave the service will find a way to do it, he said.

    While the Army does not have an up-to-date profile of deserters, more than 75 percent of them are soldiers in their first term of enlistment. And most are male.

    Soldiers can sign on initially for two to six years. Wallace said he did not know whether deserters were more likely to be those who enlisted for a short or long tour.

    At the same time, he said that even as desertions have increased, the Army has seen some overall success in keeping first-term soldiers in the service.

    There are four main ways that soldiers can leave the Army before their first enlistment contract is up:

    _They are determined unable to meet physical fitness requirements.

    _They are found to be unable to adapt to the military.

    _They say they are gay and are required to leave under the so-called "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

    _They go AWOL.

    According to Wallace, in the summer of 2005, more than 18 percent of the soldiers in their first six months of service left under one of those four provisions. In June 2007, that number had dropped to about 7 percent.

    The decline, he said, is largely due to a drop in the number of soldiers who leave due to physical fitness or health reasons.

    Army desertion rates have fluctuated since the Vietnam War — when they peaked at 5 percent. In the 1970s they hovered between 1 and 3 percent, which is up to three out of every 100 soldiers. Those rates plunged in the 1980s and early 1990s to between 2 and 3 out of every 1,000 soldiers.

    Desertions began to creep up in the late 1990s into the turn of the century, when the U.S. conducted an air war in Kosovo and later sent peacekeeping troops there.

    The numbers declined in 2003 and 2004, in the early years of the Iraq war, but then began to increase steadily.

    In contrast, the Navy has seen a steady decline in deserters since 2001, going from 3,665 that year to 1,129 in 2007.

    The Marine Corps, meanwhile, has seen the number of deserters stay fairly stable over that timeframe — with about 1,000 deserters a year. During 2003 and 2004 — the first two years of the Iraq war — the number of deserters fell to 877 and 744, respectively.

    The Air Force can tout the fewest number of deserters — with no more than 56 bolting in each of the past five years. The low was in fiscal 2007, with just 16 deserters.

    Despite the continued increase in Army desertions, however, an Associated Press examination of Pentagon figures earlier this year showed that the military does little to find those who bolt, and rarely prosecutes the ones they find. Some are allowed to simply return to their units, while most are given less-than-honorable discharges.

    "My personal opinion is the only way to stop desertions is to change the climate ... how they are living and doing what they need to do," said Wallace, adding that good officers and more attention from Army leaders could "go a long way to stemming desertions."

    Unlike those in the Vietnam era, deserters from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars may not find Canada a safe haven.

    Just this week, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear the appeals of two Army deserters who sought refugee status to avoid the war in Iraq. The ruling left them without a legal basis to stay in Canada and dealt a blow to other Americans in similar circumstances.

    The court, as is usual, did not provide a reason for the decision.

    11.16.2007

    war resister protest in local news

    11.15.07

    Guess who that is the red cap? None other than my partner, our esteemed Redsock.

    This picture from Metro News makes me smile, because of my prior history with this sort of thing. When I was younger, every time I'd go to a demonstration, my picture would end up in the newspaper. It started in Philadelphia, where I went to university, and continued well into my Brooklyn years. Making it easy for the FBI, I guess. It hasn't happened in a long time, but perhaps Allan is taking over my former role.

    (Update: the photo caption is incorrect. The protest was in front of the Federal Courthouse, as it was in response to the Supreme Court decision, not in front of the US Embassy. As much as we like to protest there.)

    There was also a very sympathetic story in the Toronto Star today.

    reminder: iraq moratorium today

    Is your peace showing?

    Please make your opposition to the US occupation of Iraq visible today. Here are some ideas for personal actions.

    United for Peace and Justice always has lots of good ideas and organizing material, plus lists of local actions all over the US.

    call upon the liberals to let them stay

    And now for the Liberals.

    In case you missed it, yesterday the Supreme Court of Canada rejected the appeals of Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey, the first US war resisters to apply for asylum in Canada. The Supreme Court will not hear the men's cases, which claimed the Immigration and Refugee Board acted improperly by not allowing arguments on the illegality and immorality of the war in Iraq.

    Thus, the attempt to give these brave men and women and their families refuge in Canada through the judicial process is over.

    Now it's up to the political process.

    The NDP and the Bloc already support a resolution to allow US war resisters asylum in Canada. If the Liberals would get on board, a united Opposition would pass the resolution - and we would Let Them Stay.

    Lobbying efforts by the War Resisters Support Campaign show that many, perhaps most, Liberal MPs personally support the idea. But to date, the official leaders of the Opposition have shown no leadership on this issue.

    It's clearly a win-win issue. The Liberals, who seem to care a lot more about their own image and electability than about issues of real substance, are being presented with a golden opportunity. They can show their independence from US policy and agenda. They can distinguish themselves from the Conservatives, and align themselves with the values and actions of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, whose memory they love to invoke.

    They have nothing to lose. The majority of Canadians support asylum for US war resisters; those that don't mostly vote Tory. The US is unlikely to make a big stink over this, as it prefers not to advertise the fact that its own military is increasingly refusing to liberate the Iraqis (from their homes, limbs and lives).

    Last night we demonstrated in front of the federal courthouse in Toronto; it was one of eight such demonstrations across Canada. There was a good turnout and rousing speeches, and I hope the resisters felt somewhat comforted by the show of support. They are living with a tremendous amount of uncertainty and stress. It's clear that the community, and especially the camaraderie among the resisters themselves, is helping them cope.

    The focus of the rally was simple. Call your MPs. Call Stephane Dion's office. Email them, write them, call them. Tell them: support the resolution to let them stay. More information here. (Scroll down).

    I'm taking some time off work this weekend to attend a strategy session. Deportation papers are just around the corner for some resisters, and after that, court martial and military prison. We cannot let that happen. We must Let Them Stay.

    harper government is complicit in human-rights abuses - and cover up

    This Harper Government is really pissing me off lately. Even more than the Liberals, and I'm getting really pissed off at them, too.

    This morning we learn that Stockwell Day, who thinks it's fine if Montana executes a Canadian citizen, doesn't think Canada needs a full national review of taser use by police. The RCMP can investigate itself.
    Asked whether he would agree to public hearings about the overall use of Taser weapons, Day said that both the RCMP and the commissioner for complaints against the RCMP are conducting investigations into the incident.

    Day added that Quebec has also launched its own review and that he had already asked for a review of the use of the weapons.

    He said the RCMP is reviewing the practices related to Taser use and that a report is being prepared. He said he is waiting to see the conclusions of that report before commenting.

    "We want to make sure things are maintained, that public safety is maintained and answers are found on this particular issue," said Day.

    Currently there are four investigations into the death of Dziekanski underway. The B.C. coroner, the RCMP, the public complaints commissioner for the RCMP, and the Vancouver Airport Authority are all conducting their own investigations.

    But Liberal public safety critic Ujjal Dosanjh said a public-interest review of the issue from a national perspective is necessary.

    Dosanjh said the government must appoint an independent body to comprehensively review Taser use in Canada and to produce clear national guidelines for law enforcement officers.

    We also learn that the Harper government knew all about the appalling, abusive conditions in Afghan prisons, where Canadian troops were depositing their prisoners, and did nothing except attempt to cover their own asses.
    The Harper government knew prison conditions were appalling long before The Globe and Mail published a series of stories last April detailing the abuse and torture of prisoners turned over by Canadian soldiers to Afghanistan's notorious secret police, documents released this week show.

    The heavily censored documents also show that at the same time as senior ministers were denying evidence of abuse, officials on the ground in Afghanistan were collecting first-hand accounts from prisoners of mistreatment.

    Although large sections of the more than 1,000 pages of documents and messages between Ottawa, Kabul and Kandahar remain blacked out, two disturbing pictures emerge from the pile.

    First, that despite working hard to create the impression of careful follow-up in monitoring of detainees, efforts have been hampered by a chaotic and unreliable Afghan system in which scores, perhaps hundreds, of detainees have vanished.

    Second, in the months prior to public allegations of abuse and torture, there was compelling evidence of terrible conditions in Afghan prisons. In addition to routine reports by diplomats citing widespread torture and abuse, Canadian officials were also delivering first-hand accounts showing how grim the prisons were.

    In one, Linda Garwood-Filbert, the newly arrived leader of a Correctional Service Canada inspections team, asked for better boots in February, 2007, months before the published reports, because she was "walking through blood and fecal matter" on the floor of cells as they toured Afghan prisons.

    No explanation of why the floors were covered in blood is given.

    The government was forced to release the documents on detainee conditions after a federal judge ordered it to disclose them as part of a suit brought by Amnesty International Canada and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.

    The story continues with more details that should elicit our disgust and outrage.

    This isn't quite Abu Ghraib: Canadians were not actually the perpetrators of these abuses. But that distinction is sliced pretty thin.

    The torture and abuse is happening on Canada's watch, by people Canada is supporting. Canadian soldiers are sending people to these prisons. The Harper government knew about the prison conditions. The only actions they took were attempts to cover their own asses.

    Once again we see the connection between what happened to Maher Arar, what is happening to Ronald Smith, and these revelations. Canada doesn't torture. It just hands people over to people who torture.

    Canadians want to believe that their country is a more humane and just society than the United States - and I believe it is, too. But we must ensure that that belief remains grounded in fact, and not merely wishful thinking. And since Canada is still a functioning democracy, we all have to tell the government what we think of these revelations.

    11.15.2007

    reminder: iraq moratorium tomorrow

    Friday, November 16, is the third Iraq Moratorium.

    Moratoriums are being held on the third Friday of every month, to build support for the peace movement and to voice our indignation at the continuing US occupation of Iraq.

    Here are some ideas for things to do tomorrow:

  • Wear a peace button.

  • Wear an arm band. When someone asks you why you're wearing it, tell them about the Moratorium.

  • Send an email to everyone you know, asking them to think about the war and to support anti-war efforts.

  • Make a donation to a peace organization.

  • Go to a demonstration, teach-in, or other anti-war event.

  • Hang a peace sign in your window or on your front lawn.

  • Print out anti-war flyers and leave them in the lobby of your apartment building, in the break room or pantry where you work.

  • Write a letter to your local newspaper.

    Iraq Moratorium has ideas for what you can do on your own, and a list of actions you can join.

    Remember, the idea is to do something in public. Blogging is good - but not sufficient. Make your peace visible.
  • breaking news: supreme court rejects war resisters' appeal

    The Supreme Court of Canada has announced that it will not hear the appeals of US war resisters Brandon Hughey and Jeremy Hinzman.

    This is very bad news. But it's not the end of the fight. This decision makes the political battle more crucial.

    Join us this evening for a protest in front of federal courthouses across Canada.

    now we know: it was murder

    The video of the taser death of Robert Dziekanski was released yesterday. I'm not going to post a human being's murder on my blog. It's all over the internet if you want to see it.

    This is deeply shameful. And there's no getting it out of it this time: the RCMP did this. They must answer for it.

    This morning we are waiting for big war resister news. More soon.

    11.14.2007

    work news, or, what are you smoking and where can i get some

    Question: Would you like to work longer hours and have more responsibility, but earn less money?

    Answer:




















    I have no answer. Only questions, such as, "How stupid do you think I am?", "What do you take me for?", and "Are you insane?"

    So that's the upshot. They offered me the coordinator's position at a lower rate of pay than I'm currently earning, and I turned it down.

    In addition, the contract position I now have is not going permanent (yet), and HR claims she never said it was. Or, she admits she said the job was going permanent, and also says that the job is not going permanent, or some double-speak like that.

    Ah, well. At least it wasn't a difficult decision. And I'm still employed. (And still looking for more work.)

    national priorities

    James sent me this terrific link.

    It's a graphic depiction of how much money the US is spending on the war in Iraq, compared to how much money it spends developing renewable energy sources. I won't post the picture here: to get the full impact, you have to click.

    And how much is the US spending on the war? Perhaps twice as much as estimated. A report was released yesterday about the hidden costs of the war and occupation.

    The National Priorities Project details what is lost.

    war resister fact of the day (also updated)

    You probably know that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau welcomed Vietnam War deserters and draft resisters to Canada in 1969, saying that Canada can be a "refuge from militarism".

    But did you know that was a full seven years after Americans opposing the war in Vietnam started coming to Canada, in 1962?

    Did you know that in those intervening seven years, peace-loving Canadians were pressuring their government to make this move?

    In other words, Trudeau was acting on behalf of the will of the people.

    It happened before: it can happen again.

    I need no reminder that Stephen Harper is not Pierre Trudeau. Two words: minority government. The NDP and the Bloc Québécois already support a resolution to let them stay. If the Liberals will get on board, it can happen.

    Tell them how you feel.

    Let them stay.

    * * * *

    I'm too quick on the post button this morning. A reminder: if you haven't answered this question, your thoughts are most welcome.

    the corporation (updated)

    Movie Season has been in full swing here at Chez KaminkerWood. We've seen some good movies, but last night's was a big winner.

    We saw "The Corporation," long recommended to us. If you haven't seen it, please do. It's a excellently produced documentary on our corporatized world - how it got that way, the price that we pay, and what might be done about it.

    Among the more powerful interviews is Ray Andersen, CEO of Interface, a carpet manufacturing company. Andersen talks about his epiphany, when he realized that that he was a plunderer of the earth, and vowed to learn how to run a sustainable business. He uses a metaphor for our use of our planet that struck me as completely brilliant.

    Andersen talks about the history of flight, when humans were experimenting with all sorts of contraptions, trying to achieve this collective dream. When you look at film of some of these attempts, you see that the man in the cockpit thinks he is flying. His face is filled with elation - and pride that he's achieved his goal. But in reality, he's in free fall. He's falling rapidly to earth and has no control - but he doesn't know it yet, because the ground is so far down.

    Think about that. We are all in free fall.

    Some people - Andersen calls them visionaries, and that is true - saw the ground rushing up faster than others, and warned us. Now many of us are trying to everyone. Many don't believe it; they still think we're soaring. But more likely, most don't care, because they don't believe the crash will come in their own lifetimes.

    This immediately reminded me of a central metaphor from Jared Diamond's Collapse: a society that thinks it is spending its interest, when in reality, it is spending its principal.

    In a sense, "The Corporation" can be seen as a visual companion to Collapse. Or, Collapse is what's happening, "The Corporation" is why.

    Although I had heard of this movie, I didn't realize it was Canadian. So we're treated to some Canadian pundits, like Naomi Klein and Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians, and a home-grown villain, then then-head of the Fraser Institute, Canada's far-right think tank. His segments are positively Orwellian: "...to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable...".

    Please see this movie, and if you haven't yet read Collapse, visit your local library soon and get going.

    * * * *

    I also wanted to note that this movie ties in with two recent wmtc posts: Mark Morford on public education in the US and Naomi Klein's disaster capitalism. Both are important examples of mass privatization, and the price we all pay.

    11.13.2007

    stick a magnet on your suv, you've magically supported the troops

    support our wheelchairs


    Nice t-shirt. Here's a short note on the design, which includes a link to some comments about it. I find it truly bizarre that some commenters say people may be offended by "the joke". What joke?

    The artist designed the shirt in response to the revelations about Walter Reed Army Hospital that surfaced in March. Remember that? The American public found out, for about a minute and a half, how the US really supports its troops. (Those links are to wmtc posts about it, which in turn contain links to the story itself.)

    A portion of proceeds from the sale of the shirts go to Fisher House, a nonprofit organization that helps wounded vets and their families. That is, does the job their government - who caused their disabilities in the first place - doesn't give a shit about doing.

    How many wounded are there?

    Most of the sites listing deaths and casualties divide the figures by nationality, with separate listings for US, coalition, Afghan and Iraqi deaths.

    On the other hand, there are plenty of sites that don't list Iraqi deaths at all, just the "heroes". (This reminds me of something Lone Primate recently wrote.) Heroes. Wow. Is there a more ill-used word in the lexicon today? No links to those sites here.

    What about some US vets who aren't visibly wounded? How are they doing?
    Veterans make up one in four homeless people in the United States, though they are only 11 percent of the general adult population, according to a report to be released Thursday.

    And homelessness is not just a problem among middle-age and elderly veterans. Younger veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are trickling into shelters and soup kitchens seeking services, treatment or help with finding a job.

    The Veterans Affairs Department has identified 1,500 homeless veterans from the current wars and says 400 of them have participated in its programs specifically targeting homelessness.

    The National Alliance to End Homelessness, a public education nonprofit, based the findings of its report on numbers from Veterans Affairs and the Census Bureau. 2005 data estimated that 194,254 homeless people out of 744,313 on any given night were veterans.

    In comparison, the VA says that 20 years ago, the estimated number of veterans who were homeless on any given night was 250,000.

    Some advocates say the early presence of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan at shelters does not bode well for the future. It took roughly a decade for the lives of Vietnam veterans to unravel to the point that they started showing up among the homeless. Advocates worry that intense and repeated deployments leave newer veterans particularly vulnerable.

    Thanks to James and M Yass.

    11.12.2007

    george bush is a genius

    This wonderful bit of deadpan British humour speaks to something I say on this blog all the time. If I only I had this talent for comedy. Sheer brilliance.



    Many thanks to James for this.

    the coup at home

    There's another side to the wmtc category "US regression": the regression of democracy into fascism.

    So many intelligent Americans who value democracy and hate what has happened to their country - that includes both liberals and conservatives - still cling to their supposed evidence that the US is not, in fact, a fascist state. They point out that there is free speech, and there are elections.

    Well, you know my thoughts on US "elections". The last two presidential elections were stolen. What else you got?

    Free speech, for the most part, continues. Published dissent that changes nothing is tolerated. (Although public dissent is often punished.).

    These Americans hold up their mental image of fascism - tanks rolling through the streets, mass arrests, martial law, a shut-down of elections - and compare it to what they see around them, and conclude, no, things are bad, but we're still safe.

    I wish they would think a little more creatively. Is an armed coup the only way a democracy can become a dictatorship? Is a Stalin or Hitler the only face of fascism? Perhaps those in power realize they don't need to go to such extremes to achieve their ends.

    It's as if collective memory of the 20th Century's massive fascist states have clouded people's vision of the present.

    What about a thin facade of democracy overlaid on an essentially fascist state? What about a society so deadened by consumerism and overtaxed by mere survival that the powerful needn't worry about revolution, or even effective, organized resistance?

    To me it seems obvious: it's vastly more expeditious for the US government to allow the superficial appearance of democracy than to engage in what's currently happening in Pakistan. Look how those actions sound the alarm bells. Better to maintain the appearance of status quo while dismantling the system from within.

    The absence of tanks in your streets does not equal the presence of democracy in your country. That sets the bar too low.

    I've been saying this and writing about it for a long time, so whenever I find my ideas reflected in the mainstream media, I am grateful. Thank you, Frank Rich.
    But there's another moral to draw from the Musharraf story, and it has to do with domestic policy, not foreign. The Pakistan mess, as The New York Times editorial page aptly named it, is not just another blot on our image abroad and another instance of our mismanagement of the war on Al Qaeda and the Taliban. It also casts a harsh light on the mess we have at home in America, a stain that will not be so easily eradicated.

    In the six years of compromising our principles since 9/11, our democracy has so steadily been defined down that it now can resemble the supposedly aspiring democracies we've propped up in places like Islamabad. Time has taken its toll. We've become inured to democracy-lite. That's why a Mukasey can be elevated to power with bipartisan support and we barely shrug.

    This is a signal difference from the Vietnam era, and not necessarily for the better. During that unpopular war, disaffected Americans took to the streets and sometimes broke laws in an angry assault on American governmental institutions. The Bush years have brought an even more effective assault on those institutions from within. While the public has not erupted in riots, the executive branch has subverted the rule of law in often secretive increments. The results amount to a quiet coup, ultimately more insidious than a blatant putsch like General Musharraf's.

    More Machiavellian still, Mr. Bush has constantly told the world he's championing democracy even as he strangles it. Mr. Bush repeated the word "freedom" 27 times in roughly 20 minutes at his 2005 inauguration, and even presided over a "Celebration of Freedom" concert on the Ellipse hosted by Ryan Seacrest. It was an Orwellian exercise in branding, nothing more. The sole point was to give cover to our habitual practice of cozying up to despots (especially those who control the oil spigots) and to our own government’s embrace of warrantless wiretapping and torture, among other policies that invert our values.

    Even if Mr. Bush had the guts to condemn General Musharraf, there is no longer any moral high ground left for him to stand on. Quite the contrary. Rather than set a democratic example, our president has instead served as a model of unconstitutional behavior, eagerly emulated by his Pakistani acolyte.

    Take the Musharraf assault on human-rights lawyers. Our president would not be so unsubtle as to jail them en masse. But earlier this year a senior Pentagon official, since departed, threatened America’s major white-shoe law firms by implying that corporate clients should fire any firm whose partners volunteer to defend detainees in Guantánamo and elsewhere. For its part, Alberto Gonzales’s Justice Department did not round up independent-minded United States attorneys and toss them in prison. It merely purged them without cause to serve Karl Rove’s political agenda.

    Tipping his hat in appreciation of Mr. Bush's example, General Musharraf justified his dismantling of Pakistan's Supreme Court with language mimicking the president’s diatribes against activist judges. The Pakistani leader further echoed Mr. Bush by expressing a kinship with Abraham Lincoln, citing Lincoln's Civil War suspension of a prisoner's fundamental legal right to a hearing in court, habeas corpus, as a precedent for his own excesses. (That's like praising F.D.R. for setting up internment camps.) Actually, the Bush administration has outdone both Lincoln and Musharraf on this score: Last January, Mr. Gonzales testified before Congress that "there is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution."

    To believe that this corruption will simply evaporate when the Bush presidency is done is to underestimate the permanent erosion inflicted over the past six years. What was once shocking and unacceptable in America has now been internalized as the new normal. [Essay here.]

    disaster capitalism

    I don't know how many of you will read Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, her new book that has gotten a ton of media attention here in her home country. I will probably not read it, but the October issue of Harper's has a long essay that Klein adapted from the book: "Disaster Capitalism".

    As usual, because of my reading habits, I end up recommending this when the issue is already off the newsstand, but it's worth digging around for at a slow-moving bookstore or your local library. (You can also read it online if you subscribe to Harper's or have a friend who does.)

    Here's an excerpt.
    Everywhere in Iraq, the wildly divergent values assigned to different categories of people are on crude display. Westerners and their Iraqi colleagues have checkpoints at the entrances to their streets, blast walls in front of their houses, body armor, and private security guards on call at all hours. They travel the country in menacing armored convoys, with mercenaries pointing guns out the windows as they follow their prime directive to "protect the principal." With every move they broadcast the same unapologetic message: We are the chosen, our lives are infinitely more precious than yours.

    Middle-class Iraqis, meanwhile, cling to the next rung down the ladder: they can afford to buy protection from local militias, they are able to ransom a family member held by kidnappers, they may ultimately escape to a life of poverty in Jordan. But the vast majority of Iraqis have no protection at all. They walk the streets exposed to any possible ravaging, with nothing between them and the next car bomb but a thin layer of fabric. In Iraq, the lucky get Kevlar; the rest get prayer beads.

    Like most people, I saw the divide between Baghdad's Green and Red zones as a simple by-product of the war: This is what happens when the richest country in the world sets up camp in one of the poorest. But now, after years spent visiting other disaster zones, from post-tsunami Sri Lanka to post-Katrina New Orleans, I've come to think of these Green Zone/Red Zone worlds as something else: fast-forward versions of what "free market" forces are doing to our societies even in the absence of war. In Iraq the phones, pipes, and roads had been destroyed by weapons and trade embargoes. In many other parts of the world, including the United States, they have been demolished by ideology, the war on "big government," the religion of tax cuts, the fetish for privatization. When that crumbling infrastructure is blasted with increasingly intense weather, the effects can be as devastating as war.

    Last February, for instance, Jakarta suffered one of these predictable disasters. The rains had come, as they always do, but this time the water didn't drain out of Jakarta's famously putrid sewers, and half the city filled up like a swimming pool. There were mass evacuations, and at least fifty-seven people were killed. No bombs or trade sanctions were needed for Jakarta's infrastructure to fail-in fact, the steady erosion of the country's public sphere had taken place under the banner of "free trade." For decades, Washington-backed structural-adjustment programs had pampered investors and starved public services, leading to such cliches of lopsided development as glittering shopping malls with indoor skating rinks surrounded by moats of open sewers. Now those sewers had failed completely.

    In wealthier countries, where public infrastructure was far more robust before the decline began, it has been possible to delay this kind of reckoning. Politicians have been free to cut taxes and rail against big government even as their constituents drove on, studied in, and drank from the huge publicworks projects of the 1930s and 1940s. But after a few decades, that trick stops working. The American Society of Civil Engineers has warned that the United States has fallen so far behind in maintaining its public infrastructure - roads, bridges, schools, dams-that it would take more than a trillion and a half dollars over five years to bring it back up to standard.

    This past summer those statistics came to life: collapsing bridges, flooding subways, exploding steam pipes, and the still-unfolding tragedy that began when New Orleans's levees broke.

    After each new disaster, it's tempting to imagine that the loss of life and productivity will finally serve as a wake-up call, provoking the political class to launch some kind of "new New Deal." In fact, the opposite is taking place: disasters have become the preferred moments for advancing a vision of a ruthlessly divided world, one in which the very idea of a public sphere has no place at all. Call it disaster capitalism. Every time a new crisis hits - even when the crisis itself is the direct by-product of free-market ideology - the fear and disorientation that follow are harnessed for radical social and economic re-engineering. Each new shock is midwife to a new course of economic shock therapy. The end result is the same kind of unapologetic partition between the included and the excluded, the protected and the damned, that is on display in Baghdad.

    . . . .

    Meanwhile, in New Orleans, schools were getting ready to reopen for fall. More than half the city's students would be attending newly minted charter schools, where they would enjoy small classes, well-trained teachers, and refurbished libraries, thanks to special state and foundation funding pouring into what the New York Times has described as "the nation's preeminent laboratory for the widespread use of charter schools." But charters are only for the students who are admitted to the system-an educational Green Zone. The rest of New Orleans's public-school students - many of them with special emotional and physical needs, almost all of them African American - are dumped into the pre-Katrina system: no extra money, overcrowded classrooms, more guards than teachers. An educational Red Zone.

    Other institutions that had attempted to bridge the gap between New Orleans's super-rich and ultra-poor were also under attack: thousands of units of subsidized housing were slotted for demolition, and Charity Hospital, the city's largest public-health facility, remained shuttered. The original disaster was created and deepened by public infrastructure that was on its last legs; in the years since, the disaster itself has been used as an excuse to finish the job.

    There will be more Katrinas. The bones of our states - so frail and aging - will keep getting buffeted by storms both climatic and political. And as key pieces of the infrastructure are knocked out, there is no guarantee that they will be replaced or rebuilt. . . "

    . . . .

    Iraq and New Orleans both reveal, the markets opened up by crises aren't only the roads, schools, and oil wells; the disasters themselves are major new markets. The military-industrial complex that Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against in 1961 has expanded and morphed into what is best understood as a disaster-capitalism complex, in which all conflict - and disaster-related functions (waging war, securing borders, spying on citizens, rebuilding cities, treating traumatized soldiers) - can be performed by corporations at a profit. And this complex is not satisfied merely to feed off the state, the way traditional military contractors do; it aims, ultimately, to replace core functions of government with its own profitable enterprises, as it did in Baghdad's Green Zone.

    It happened in New Orleans. Within weeks of Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf Coast became a domestic laboratory for the same kind of government run by contractors that was pioneered in Iraq. The companies that snatched up the biggest contracts were the familiar Baghdad gang: Halliburton's KBR unit received a $60 million contract to reconstruct military bases along the coast. Blackwater was hired to protect FEMA operations, with the company billing an average of $950 a day per guard. Parsons, infamous for its sloppy work in Iraq, was brought in for a major bridge-construction project in Mississippi. Fluor, Shaw, Bechtel, CH2M Hill - all top contractors in Iraq - were handed contracts on the Gulf Coast to provide mobile homes to evacuees just ten days after the levees broke. Their contracts ended up totaling $3.4 billion, no open bidding required. To spearhead its Katrina operation, Shaw hired the former head of the U.S. Army's Iraq reconstruction office. Fluor sent its senior project manager from Iraq to the flood zone. "Our rebuilding work in Iraq is slowing down, and this has made some people available to respond to our work in Louisiana," a company representative explained. Joe Allbaugh, whose company, New Bridge Strategies, had promised to bring Wal-Mart and 7-Eleven to Iraq, was the lobbyist in the middle of many of the deals. The feeling that the Iraq war had somehow just been franchised was so striking that some of the mercenary soldiers, fresh from Baghdad, were having trouble adjusting. When David Enders, a reporter, asked an armed guard outside a New Orleans hotel if there had been much action, he replied, "Nope. It's pretty Green Zone here."

    Since then, privatized disaster response has become one of the hottest industries in the South. . . .

    For me, Klein's dystopian vision of the US and its global reach is factual confirmation of what what I already know to be true. She's done the research and fleshed out the vision that I've been observing, feeling, sensing, and trying to talk about in my own little way for several years. It's the US as a third-world country. It's neo-colonialism on a massive scale, with the multinationals as the emperors.

    Some are dismissing Klein's dystopian vision as conspiracy theory. "The corporations cause the disasters so they can profit by it? Yeah right, isn't that crazy?" Maybe put like that, it sounds crazy. But who caused the disaster in Iraq? And who is profiting from it? If you see the United States government as primarily representing the interests of Blackwater, Bechtel, KBR (etc.) and their shareholders, then what do you get?

    If that's unpalatable for you, try this on for size. After decades of deregulation, defunding and privatization, the public sphere has been left to decay and implode. When that crumbling infrastructure - often combined with the effects of climate change - causes a disaster, corporations are brought in to clean up the mess. Despite having been paid for with public funds, the clean-up is only available to those who can afford; those rich enough can avoid the disaster altogether.

    Conspiracy theory? Try: the world we live in.