gaza flotilla massacre: israel adds to its eternal shame

What could be more shameful than slaughtering people trying to bring aid to a trapped and dispossessed people?

The apartheid system that dispossesses those people in the first place.

This from the "only democracy in the Middle East". From the "light unto the nations" I learned about as a young person.

Shame, shame, shame.

Boycott - Divest - Sanction. What you do will not be much, but what we all do will have an impact.

Details on public response to the massacre will be updated on the Gaza Freedom March website.


In Toronto, meet at the Israeli Consulate, 180 Bloor Street West. Vigil at noon. Rally at 5:00.

On Facebook, Outrage over the Freedom Flotilla Massacre, May 31 2010 will have updates of protests around the globe.


war resisters are veterans, too

On Memorial Day in the United States, Vietnam War resister and lifelong peace activist Bruce Beyer reminds us: War Resisters Are Veterans, Too. Excellent photos by Russell.

Many thanks to Buffalo Rising for courageously publishing this on Memorial Day. Here's to a future where memorials for dead soldiers are no longer necessary.

eri yoshida makes u.s. professional debut

Yesterday, Eri Yoshida became the first woman to play professional baseball in the United States since Ila Borders ended her career in 2000. She is only 18 years old. Very exciting!

I blogged about Yoshida here and here. You can read about her debut here on JoS.

how the profit-driven industrial food chain controls public health policy

There's an excellent article in the New York Times about how the industrial food chain influences and damages our health.

The processed-food industry depends on the use of massive, hidden amounts of salt to manufacture their fake-food products. And they're currently spending millions of dollars, as they have many times before, to lie to consumers about the effects of salt and to influence public policy about it.

If you are interested in food, health and the influence of corporate profit in the most basic and important areas of our lives, you'll want to read this.
With salt under attack for its ill effects on the nation’s health, the food giant Cargill kicked off a campaign last November to spread its own message.

“Salt is a pretty amazing compound,” Alton Brown, a Food Network star, gushes in a Cargill video called Salt 101. “So make sure you have plenty of salt in your kitchen at all times.”

The campaign by Cargill, which both produces and uses salt, promotes salt as “life enhancing” and suggests sprinkling it on foods as varied as chocolate cookies, fresh fruit, ice cream and even coffee. “You might be surprised,” Mr. Brown says, “by what foods are enhanced by its briny kiss.”

By all appearances, this is a moment of reckoning for salt. High blood pressure is rising among adults and children. Government health experts estimate that deep cuts in salt consumption could save 150,000 lives a year.

Since processed foods account for most of the salt in the American diet, national health officials, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York and Michelle Obama are urging food companies to greatly reduce their use of salt. Last month, the Institute of Medicine went further, urging the government to force companies to do so.

But the industry is working overtly and behind the scenes to fend off these attacks, using a shifting set of tactics that have defeated similar efforts for 30 years, records and interviews show. Industry insiders call the strategy “delay and divert” and say companies have a powerful incentive to fight back: they crave salt as a low-cost way to create tastes and textures. Doing without it risks losing customers, and replacing it with more expensive ingredients risks losing profits.

When health advocates first petitioned the federal government to regulate salt in 1978, food companies sponsored research aimed at casting doubt on the link between salt and hypertension. Two decades later, when federal officials tried to cut the salt in products labeled “healthy,” companies argued that foods already low in sugar and fat would not sell with less salt.

Now, the industry is blaming consumers for resisting efforts to reduce salt in all foods, pointing to, as Kellogg put it in a letter to a federal nutrition advisory committee, “the virtually intractable nature of the appetite for salt.”

The federal committee is finishing up recommendations on nutrient issues including salt. While its work is overseen by the Department of Agriculture, records released to The New York Times show that the industry nominated a majority of its members and has presented the panel with its own research. It includes two studies commissioned by ConAgra suggesting that the country could save billions of dollars more in health care and lost productivity costs by simply nudging Americans to eat a little less food, rather than less salty food.

Even as it was moving from one line of defense to another, the processed food industry’s own dependence on salt deepened, interviews with company scientists show. Beyond its own taste, salt also masks bitter flavors and counters a side effect of processed food production called “warmed-over flavor,” which, the scientists said, can make meat taste like “cardboard” or “damp dog hair.”

Read more here.


"it’s hard to fault someone defying leaders who employ torture, kidnapping, aggressive war and kangaroo courts"

Please read this excellent column from yesterday's Calgary Sun. Yes, you read that correctly, Calgary Sun.

Many thanks to Bill Kaufman for his intelligence, common sense and compassion.
Deserter pins blame on U.S. government
By Bill Kaufman

Taking refuge in the Canadian city most enamoured with his country’s invasion of Iraq, Mike’s chosen his words carefully in public.

Even as the first Calgary-settled U.S war resister to speak out publicly, the man in the Bud Light baseball cap won’t go full-bore and reveal his entire name.

Since he went AWOL from the U.S. Army, avoiding what he thought was an inevitable second tour of Iraq, Mike’s been looking over his shoulder, hiding in plain sight.

“It’s pretty much a prison with a big backyard,” says Mike, 37, surveying his northeast Calgary home.

In 2002-2003, he did a tour as a paratrooper signaller at Afghanistan’s Bagram airbase, where he saw hooded prisoners trucked in and dealt the occasional rifle butt to the head.

After that, the Floridian volunteered for a stint in Iraq, where he called the former hunting lodge of Saddam’s son Uday home.

The troops would use Iraqi pets and strays for target practice, he recalls, and woe behold the local motorist trapped in the path of a U.S. convoy.

“I’d hate to be an Iraqi driver with a bad car — if you can’t get out of the way you’re either run over or shot,” he says.

It became obvious the stateside indoctrination held more snake oil than water, he says.

“If it was about getting rid of a bad regime, we’d have gone into Sudan or Burma,” he says.

“It’s about oil, make no mistake about that.”

When he became serious about his girlfriend, a native Calgarian, Mike determined he wouldn’t be making another trip to illegally occupied Iraq — even though he had up to six years left in his army contract.

He booked a furtive flight to Calgary in November 2006, talked his way into a 45-day permit at customs and with its lapse, became a fugitive.

He knows some Canadians resent his presence while their countrymen die in Afghanistan, but rightly notes it’s not him who’s sending troops to be killed or maimed in a civil war our prime minister has conceded can’t be won militarily.

“Whose war are they fighting? he asks.

“Why are Canadians over there?”

Surely, though, he’s a turncoat coward for not fulfilling his contract or refusing to return to the U.S. to face the music?

Mike says he has more of a duty to his two small daughters than to a country that’s betrayed him by breaking its vow to send soldiers in harm’s way only when absolutely necessary.

And it’s hard to fault someone defying leaders who lawlessly employ torture, kidnapping, aggressive war and kangaroo courts as a matter of course.

What’s there to honour when the system and leaders have none?

If he surrendered himself, Mike notes it’d be next to impossible for him to return to Canada to see his family, while the ex-president who set in motion the deaths of probably hundreds of thousands of civilians can visit and have Canadian taxpayers pick up his security tab.

“I never killed anyone — why should I be locked up when the guy who started it can come here?” he says.

But Mike will soon hazard deportation by outing himself to apply for a spousal sponsorship to Canada.

He hopes it’ll end his days as a non-person, having to use his wife’s social insurance number, of being unable to pay taxes or even legally drive.

But in a world of hypocrisy, it’s not so much about accountability as it is power, and who doesn’t have it.

Letters in support of "Mike" and this excellent column can be sent to cal-letters@calgarysun.com. I especially encourage people from Alberta to write.


borys wrzesnewskyj: "a canada that is slipping away from us"

MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj speaks on behalf of US war resisters in Canada outside Jeremy Hinzman's court hearing. (If it looks sparesely attended, it's because most people who attended the rally are already inside the courtroom.)

Last year, Borys (along with NDP MP Olivia Chow) traveled on his own dime to San Diego to visit war resister Robin Long - deported by Harper government - in prison. Borys a staunch supporter of war resisters, and he deserves our thanks.

marxism 2010: a planet to save, a world to win

Today, I am very pleased to be attending Marxism 2010: A Planet to Save, A World to Win.

The Marxism conference is an annual Toronto event organized by the International Socialists. Many of the principal organizers are friends or acquaintances of mine from the peace and activist communities. I usually can't go because of my work schedule, but this year I'm going today, Friday, as well as Saturday night. I'm excited! And I will report.

becoming canadian: another step completed

We took the test! Like every step in the lengthy process of immigrating to Canada and becoming a Canadian citizen, this involved a lot of waiting. We'll know the results in about two months.

* * * *

There were about 50 people waiting at the CIC office with us, faces and accents representing the global village of Mississauga. Many people seemed nervous and excited. Some people were studying their "Discover Canada" guide. It was amusing to be doing this at the same place I once protested, waiting for our pal Jason Kenney to appear!

First we waited to be checked in, which went pretty quickly, simply matching names on the letters we had received to our CIC files.

Then we waited to be interviewed by a CIC officer. The woman we saw was - like every service person I have dealt with in Canada - pleasant, friendly, encouraging, and seemed to actually enjoy her job. I always expect Patty and Selma at the DMV, but we left them behind in New York City.

Ms Nice CIC Person checked our passports and the out-of-country trips we had declared on our applications. She asked us questions about where we live and where we work.

I was surprised about this, as being employed is not a qualification for citizenship. I asked about it, and she explained that the questions are to prove that you do in fact live in Canada. Because, said Ms NCP, there has been a lot of fraud in the past, people becoming citizens who don't actually live in Canada, there is now a more thorough check of residence requirements. If we had children, they would ask for the names of their schools and teachers.

I told her that a few years back, I lost my job when a company went out of business, then was unemployed for a while. Would that have been held against me? Ms NCP said, Absolutely not. In fact, if one was collecting social assistance in some form, that would show that you were living in the country, so it would be a positive residency factor. She also said that these types of questions have been added to the application, so they can be checked in advance.

Ms NCP gave us scan-forms with the fill-in-the-letter circles used for standardized testing in the US (don't know about Canada) and sent us through to the next step, saying she was sure we'd have no problem becoming citizens.

We sat in the adjoining room, a courtroom type of setting where, presumably, we'll be sworn in one day. There, we picked up clipboards, filled in the letter and number bubbles for our names and application numbers, and waited.

And waited.

Everyone had to be interviewed. There were three or four CIC staffers interviewing, but it still took a long time. We had planned to go out to celebrate, but as time ticked away - baseball starts at 7:00, and I had plans to meet a friend - we kept scaling back. It went from dinner in Port Credit to "we'll go someplace closer" to "we'll just have a quick drink" to "we'll pick something up and bring it home". Oh well!

Finally everyone was checked in, and another very friendly, chipper CIC person addressed us in the swearing-in room. She explained the test-taking procedure. She had us spread out among the seats, and partners were to sit on opposite sides of the room from each other.

There would be 20 questions, with 15 correct answers needed to pass. There are two mandatory pass questions - meaning, questions number 10 and 11 must be answered correctly in order to pass. And there is a one-of-three mandatory group: of questions 12, 13 and 14, at least one must be answered correctly for a pass.

There are several different versions of the test. Allan and I compared questions on the way home, and we definitely had different versions.

My test was a snap. I'm sure I got a perfect score. Since it took me about five minutes to complete, and knowing where my weakness lies, I went back and checked my answers, and found one question where I filled in the wrong circle by accident. I corrected that, handed in my test and waited a few minutes for Allan to finish.

Allan appeared a few minutes later. His test sounded a bit more difficult than mine. He may have missed one or two questions, but none of the mandatory ones, so still well within passing.

The mandatory questions are about the Canadian system of government, such as who do Canadians vote for in federal elections; after an election, how is the government formed; who is eligible to vote.

Both Allan and I had a question that reflected the "barbaric cultural practice" flag in the new Conservative-written citizenship guide. (See here, shorter versions here and here.) Mine was, "Which of these is a right of Canadian citizens?" One choice was, "The right of a husband to force his wife to cover her face and avert her gaze in public." Allan had the same question, and one choice was, "The right of a father to choose who his daughter will marry."

The correct answer for mine, by the way, was, "The right to believe whatever one chooses and freely express one's beliefs". True, but still debatable.

I also had a question about the significance of Vimy Ridge. There was no choice containing the words "useless bloodbath" so I chose "important battle in the First World War that cemented Canadians' reputation for valour". Allan had questions about Remembrance Day and the Victoria Cross.

Other than that, it was all very straightforward, a smattering of geography, government, history, and culture. What are the two official languages, which of these provinces make up the Prairie region, how long have the Aboriginal people been in Canada, who was the first Prime Minister, which is the most populated province, how many provinces are there, and so on. I think the best way to study is to take practice tests online, such as the kind I posted here, and of course, read the Discover Canada guide.

We learn the results in about two months. I was hoping to get sworn in by Mayor McCallion on Canada Day, but we probably won't make that.


citizenship test today!

Allan and I are taking the test writing the exam for citizenship today. We've been scoring 90% or 100% on all our practice tests, so it shouldn't be too much of an ordeal.

According to Wikipedia:
The test lasts for 30 minutes and contains 20 multiple choice questions. Applicants for citizenship must answer at least 60%, or 12 questions, correctly in order to pass the test. They must also answer correctly the first two questions, both of which deal with the electoral system. The failure rate on the citizenship test is low; in 2008, approximately 4% of the 145,000 test takers failed.

I have no idea how long it will be until we are called for a swearing-in ceremony. Reports vary widely.

There has been much merriment in our home and among my Campaign friends about the "special test" the CIC will have waiting for us today. One question, pass/fail. "Name every Leader of the Opposition beginning with Confederation..." Fail? You're deported!

We've also been imagining a swearing-in ceremony where half the spectators are wearing WAR RESISTERS WELCOME HERE t-shirts and holding signs saying "Jason Kenney Stop The Deportations". Dale said I'd be the first person sworn in and deported on the same day.

Seriously though, Ms CIC Spy, I'm thrilled to become a citizen of Canada. You can tell them all that: "She hates the government, but she loves the country."


harper govt pays trolls to spread disinformation

We've known for a long time that a government staffer is reading this blog. Believe me, never once did I imagine wmtc was unique in this way. On the contrary, I assumed that if someone at CIC is being paid to monitor the War Resisters Support Campaign via wmtc, then all kind of government flunkies in all kinds of agencies are carrying out similar tasks with other issues.

At last, we have proof. And - surprise, surprise - we're paying for it, too. Our tax dollars at work. And why you should never care about comments on online news stories.

When Canadians say that Stephen Harper wants to turn Canada into the US, I wonder if they imagine this. It is strictly out of the Cheney playbook: remember Armstrong Williams?.
Harper government monitoring online chats about politics
Correcting what it calls 'misinformation'

The Harper government has been monitoring political messages online, and even correcting what it considers misinformation. One local expert says the government is taking things too far.

Under the pilot program the Harper government paid a media company $75,000 to monitor and respond to online postings about the east coast seal hunt.

UBC Computer Science professor and President of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, Richard Rosenberg, says it seems unnecessary for the government to be going this far. "The government has a lot of power, that it feels the need to monitor public bulletin boards, or places where people express views and then to respond to that, seems to me going beyond a reasonable action the government should be taking."

Rosenberg says knowing that the government is monitoring certain topics online could result in people being more careful with their identities when they're posting about political issues on the internet.

He says it's the first time he's heard of this happening in Canada.

in court, in parliament and on the street, we hear the cry: let them stay!

Yesterday was a big day for US war resisters in Canada and their supporters.

In the morning, about 50 people gathered in front of the Federal Court building in Toronto. We held a huge banner bearing thousands of SUPPORT BILL C-440 postcards. I'll collect photos from and post them later in the week.

Jeremy Hinzman was there, of course, with his partner Nga Nguyen and their two children, Liam and Canadian-born Meghan. War resisters Phil McDowell, Chuck Wiley, Dale Landry and Kimberly Rivera were also there, along with many people from Jeremy's Quaker community, Catholics for Peace and other peace activists.

MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj also attended the rally and addressed supporters. Borys' support for war resisters is steadfast and impressive: along with Olivia Chow and a Campaigner, he traveled to San Diego at his own expense to visit jailed war resister Robin Long.

We were all surprised and joyed that Bruce and Russell drove in from Buffalo for the rally and hearing. Bruce refused to serve in Vietnam and lived in Toronto for many years in the 1970s. He is a legendary peace activist and a great supporter of war resisters (and of this blog!). We've been friends online for a long time but met in person for the first time yesterday. Russell is another Buffalo peace activist and friend who writes the excellent blog Adopt Resistance. I am grateful that working for peace has brought such wonderful people into my life.

The hearing was edifying and frustrating, the way these federal court hearings tend to be. The case before the Federal Court of Appeals right now is a tiny, legalistic portion of Jeremy Hinzman's case. It hinges on whether the refugee officer correctly assessed Jeremy's application to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, called an "H&C". The Federal Court of Appeal "certified a question", thus giving Lawyer Alyssa Manning another shot at Jeremy's case. The best possible outcome would be the Court ordering a new review of Jeremy's H&C by a different officer, whcih could potentially affect the outcome of all the war resisters' cases. This is unlikely to happen and we are not counting on it.

Alyssa argued brilliantly before a panel of three judges. The CIC lawyer, as usual, had nothing.

Much of the submissions were analyses of the decisions in Jeremy's Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) and his H&C. The standards for each application are very different. To give a positive decision in a PRRA, the PRRA Officer must find that, if deported, the applicant faces persecution. To find a positive decision in an H&C, the officer must find that the applicant faces undue hardship. Big difference.

Yet, Alyssa showed, Jeremy's H&C decision was a cut-and-paste of his PRRA decision with the words "PRRA" changed to "H&C". The H&C officer did not properly analyze the evidence with an eye to hardship, and indeed completely ignored some key evidence.

One of the three judges seemed not to understand a point Alyssa was making, and at times seemed not even to care about her answers. He belaboured the point with question after question, making Alyssa explain and re-explain the concept ten different ways. After constantly interrupting and badgering her on the same point, the judge chided Alyssa for using up so much of her allotted time. It was frustrating for all of us watching. As always, we were incredibly impressed with Alyssa's quick thinking, poise and complete command of the material.

The CIC lawyer, as usual, had nothing. Another judge - who seemed much sharper and more engaged than the judge who was badgering Alyssa - asked the CIC lawyer to show her some specific evidence from Jeremy's H&C decision. She said, "Show me where the officer analyzed that."

He showed her something else.

She said, "No, that's not the same point."

CIC laywer: "It's a related point."

Judge: "They are related? Are they first cousins or tenth cousins?" Much suppressed mirth in the spectators area.

Judge: "Why is it so difficult to find the analysis of this question? When we ask to see evidence on this point, why are we always shown something implied or related, but not the actual analysis itself? Please show me where the H&C officer grappled with this question."


And more silence.

My notes say "crickets". A friend's notebook shows a little drawing of a tumbleweed rolling through the courtroom. As the silence stretched on, NCF said she almost felt sorry for the guy. (She said the same thing in the Galloway hearing. These Canadians, they're too nice!)

The CIC lawyer eventually said, "Oh, here we are!", then once again pointed out some related or implied statements, but no real evidence.

This was amusing and we enjoyed laughing about it over pints and lunch, but unfortunately, it means little to the actual outcome of the case. The Federal Court of Appeals is a conservative body, and they are unlikely to break any new ground on the question in these issues.

But still, there is hope. And while we're hoping, we continue working for what we really need: a political solution.

* * * *

Later in the day, in Ottawa, the second reading of Bill C-440 began. Gerard Kennedy, who sponsored the bill, spoke eloquently and forcefully about what this means for Canada, and why Canadians care should care - and do care - about this bill. Bill Siksay, who seconded the bill, asked an excellent question about "the fiction of the volunteer army". Olivia Chow, Thierry St-Cyr and Mario Silva all spoke strongly on behalf of war resisters. The government repeated the same old lies, all of which were cut to shreds with the truth being spoken from our side.

The Hansard transcript of the debate is here. If you care about this issue, I highly recommend reading the whole thing. It's beautiful to hear these words spoken in the House of Commons. The Harper Government has hijacked Canada, but the real Canada, the Canada we love, lives, and this is proof.

In addition to reading the transcript, if you took a few minutes to thank MPs Kennedy, Siksay, Chow, St-Cyr and Silva, you would be doing something important for the campaign.

Gerard Kennedy: Kennedy.G - at - parl.gc.ca
Olivia Chow: ChowO - at - parl.gc.ca
Bill Siksay: siksay.b - at - parl.gc.ca
Thierry St-Cyr: St-Cyr.T - at - parl.gc.ca
Mario Silva : silva.m - at - parl.gc.ca


tomorrow in toronto: rally for jeremy hinzman and bill c-440

If you're in Toronto, please join us tomorrow morning for a rally outside the Federal Court building. Jeremy Hinzman's case be heard in the Federal Court of Appeals, and the later the same day, Bill C-440 will begin second reading in the House of Commons. Join us as we will stand in solidarity with the Hinzman family and with all war resisters, and as we call on the Government to pass Bill C-440 and Let Them Stay.

When: Tuesday, May 25, 2010, 8:00 am to 10:00 am

Where: Federal Court Building, 180 Queen Street West (west of University Ave, Osgoode subway), Toronto

Facebook event here.

Jeremy Hinzman was the first US Iraq War resister to seek refuge in Canada because he refused to participate in the illegal and immoral Iraq war. After unsuccessfully trying to be reassigned or recognized as a conscientious objector by the US military, Jeremy moved to Toronto with his wife and young son in January 2004. In 2008 they welcomed a new, Canadian daughter into their family.

A majority of Canadians have expressed their support for allowing Jeremy and other Iraq war resisters to stay in Canada. Yet Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney, who both wanted Canada to participate in the Iraq War, continue to try to deport resisters.

War resisters Robin Long and Cliff Cornell were sentenced to long prison terms in US military prisons because the Harper government refused to respect two House of Commons motions (passed June 3, 2008 and March 30, 2009) to stop deporting war resisters and to let them stay. Many other resisters, including Kim Rivera, Dean Walcott and Phil McDowell, live under the threat of deportation.

On May 25th, the Federal Court of Appeal will hold a hearing on Jeremy's case.

On the same day, the first hour of debate on Bill C-440 will take place in the House of Commons. Bill C-440 is a Private Member's Bill which was introduced by Gerard Kennedy and seconded by Bill Siksay. If passed, the Bill will give legal weight to the two motions on war resisters and would force the Conservative government to respect the will of Canadians and the will of Parliament and allow war resisters to stay.

On May 25th, join the rally to support Jeremy Hinzman, his family and all U.S. Iraq War resisters in Canada, and to call on the House of Commons to adopt Bill C-440.

It is time - past time - long past time - for the Harper government to respect democracy. It is time to Let Them Stay!

"i've bled for my country": u.s. war resisters in canada in usa today

This story is on the front page of today's USA Today. The writer spent considerable time in Toronto, interviewing US war resisters from both the Iraq and Vietnam wars.

We've been waiting a long time for the story to appear, but the timing couldn't be better: tomorrow is both Jeremy Hinzman's Federal Court of Appeal hearing and the beginning (first hour of debate) of the second reading Bill C-440.
In Canada once more, U.S. troops fleeing a war

By Judy Keen, USA TODAY

TORONTO — Patrick Hart came here in 2005, when he couldn't face a second deployment to Iraq. A U.S. Army sergeant with almost 10 years of active duty, he would rather stay in Canada forever than return to a war he thinks is wrong.

Hart, 36, knows that some people think he is a traitor, but he has no regrets. "I've bled for my country, I've sweated for my country, I've cried myself to sleep for my country — which is a lot more than some people who are passing judgment on me have done," he says. "I would rather go sit in prison than go to Iraq."

Deportation, court martial and prison are imminent threats to Hart and about 200 other U.S. troops seeking sanctuary in Canada. Despite being members of an all-voluntary military, some oppose the war in Iraq so strongly they are willing to leave their country behind — much like Americans of an earlier generation who crossed the border in the 1960s and '70s to avoid serving in Vietnam and built new lives here.

Some of the draft dodgers and deserters of the Vietnam era, most of them now graying Canadian citizens, are helping the young deserters fight legal battles and find work and housing.

"They understand," Hart says.

In Canada today, the political climate and immigration policies are less hospitable for the new deserters than during the Vietnam era. The conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper refuses to give asylum or refugee status to those U.S. troops seeking sanctuary here, although Parliament on Tuesday will debate a bill that would let them stay.

Read it here and consider sending a short, supportive letter to letters@usatoday.com.


censorship triumphs in pride struggle

For those not following the debate raging around this year's Pride celebration in Toronto, the forces aligned against free speech and the free exchange of ideas have triumphed, at least for now. Pride Toronto is forbidding Queers Against Israeli Apartheid from marching under their own banner. Indeed the actual words "Israel Apartheid" have been banned from any Pride event.
For the first time in its 30-year history, Pride Toronto has banned an LGBT community group from the parade. The board of directors voted on Friday to ban the words ‘Israeli Apartheid’ from any Pride events, including the Pride parade, dyke march, and trans march – directly targeting the group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.

This follows a year of intense pressure from Toronto City Hall (one of Pride’s main funders) and Israel lobbyists, who claim that criticisms of the Israeli government amount to hate and discrimination. By caving to their demands, Pride Toronto has not only silenced the voices of queer Palestinians and human rights activists —they have set a dangerous precedent for free expression in our community.

This is not a queer issue, and this is not a Palestinian-Israeli issue. This is everyone's issue. No matter where one stands on the specific questions, how can anyone possibly defend this attack on freedom of expression? It is unconscionable.

People who work so hard to portray the defense of the rights of Palestinian people as "hate" seem not to realize how they harm their own cause. When your only recourse is silencing your opposition, you expose yourself as a liar and a fraud. No legitimate regime need fear debate. Just as only regimes lacking moral authority must govern by brute force, only movements built on lies and distortions must squelch dissent in order to prevail.

From Xtra:
Speaking for QuAIA, educator Tim McCaskell says, "I've been involved in Pride since 1981 and this is unbelievable. Who has ever heard of Pride telling groups they can't march in the parade? Pride Toronto has become more of a creature belonging to a city that wants to sell tourism and corporations that want to sell to gay people. They've lost any connection to the community or diversity," McCaskell says, "but I for one intend to march regardless."

Pride Toronto did not return Xtra's requests for clarification but anonymous sources say that only the phrase "Israeli apartheid" is to be banned, not the actual marchers themselves, and that Pride Toronto will hold a press conference on Tuesday.

Writer David Demchuk, one of the first to criticize Pride Toronto's aborted sign vetting policy back in April, says the issues QuAIA has raised remain, whatever label is or is not attached to them. He jokes, "I'm going to start working on my sign: 'Queers Against Apartheid in, You Know, That Country.'"

Brad Fraser of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid writes on Facebook.
By Brad Fraser

Freedom of speech has been trumped by politics this year at Toronto’s Pride Festival.

Thanks, or no thanks, to certain politicians and Zionist lobbyists and defamatory editorials and columns by a national newspaper that has never championed queer rights, Pride’s raison d’etre has been corrupted.

To them, Pride should be about nothing more than partying. They believe we should ignore the hard-won rights for which those who have come before us fought, rights that were earned after centuries of oppression.

All of this over a group which marches under the banner Queers Against Israel Apartheid.

Now the group, which includes many Jewish-Canadian lesbians and gays who disagree with Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians, policies which ultimately result in the persecution of queers in Gaza and the occupied territories, has effectively been silenced.
Just for using a word.

“We wish to commend Pride Toronto for taking the correct and courageous step of censoring the hateful messaging of QuIAI," said Frank Dimant, B'nai Brith Canada's Executive Vice President, in a press release.

How did this happen?

First there was lobbying by gay lawyer Martin Gladstone, who appealed to both the National Post and the Toronto Sun, with a misleading and sensationalist documentary about last year’s Pride parade.

He, along with Toronto mayor hopeful Georgio Mamolitti, gay city councilor Kyle Rae and, among others, the Simon Weisenthal Centre have painted last year’s peaceful festivities as threatening and hate-filled.

They also have claimed that there’s no place for politics in Pride, although Pride is all about politics.

These censors also claim that criticism of Israel is tantamount to anti-Semitism.
But the idea that criticizing certain policies of any country makes one a hater of its citizens is the sort of thing one expects from North Korea, not from a country that represents itself as a civilized democracy.

Apparently the only country in which apartheid is a hate term is Canada.

Pride’s celebration of DIVERSITY, one of the most important mandates according to their own definition of the festival, doesn’t seem to apply to diversity of opinion.
It has also been claimed that the A-word makes certain Jewish members of the Pride festivities feel “threatened and unsafe”. But the best way to deal with a serious accusation is to refute it with facts and arguments, not by censorship.

It’s important to remember that, when these parades started, there were thousands of straight people who called for them to be shut down because what we were doing was a threat to the traditional family. Pride made them feel “threatened and unsafe.” But most of the rights lesbians and gays enjoy today are a direct result of daring to show our faces and numbers publicly, despite the possibility of attack or arrest.

Over the last thirty years the queer community has used Pride to speak out about the rights and roles of all women, against apartheid in South Africa, against the Catholic Church and against Mike Harris’s conservative government by carrying his head through the streets on a platter. Never before have we been censored. Never before have we been accused of hate.

Now the National Post, which has run no less than two editorials and several opinion columns denouncing Pride for allowing QUAIA to march, has advised our community to hold a non-controversial celebration without the “Leather and drag fringe elements.”

One of the most positive and important points of Pride is, and always has been, that there will be something to offend everybody. What Pride is or isn’t shouldn’t be decided by a few pundits, politicians and lobbyists with agendas unrelated to queer rights.

So I suggest, regardless of what Pride Toronto, the various governments and the media say, that we, the right thinking, free speech supporting, democratic believing queers and friends of queers ignore the edicts of those who presume to dictate what pride should be.

We should take back our parade with our own signs, our own protests and our own concerns, return to our roots, get back in touch with our ACT UP impulses and display a little of the civil disobedience we used to change things so radically over the last thirty years.

The battle for worldwide equality, queer or otherwise, is far from over.
Advances we’ve made in Canada must be demanded for the rest of the world- and that’s not going to happen unless we force people to look at the issues and open up the debate.

This Pride, let’s fight for the right to speak out. Not to censor.

And for those who do want a polite, homogeneous, family-friendly parade with neither controversy nor conflict I say go to Disneyland. They have one like that every day.

We must speak out - loudly and often - about the ongoing censorship and attempted censorship of the pro-Palestinian-rights movement. QuAIA has email addresses and a sample letter.

wikileaks founder exposes government censorship, has passport confiscated

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has had his passport confiscated by Australian authorities. WikiLeaks is the truth-telling website that recently grabbed headlines when it released video of the US military murdering civilians by helicopter.

Assange has no fixed address, and spends most of his time traveling, running the website from his laptop. The confiscation of his passport effectively consigns Assange to house arrest - with no due process. No charges, no hearing, no right to representation.

Australian immigration officials told Assange his passport was looking worn and kept it, although they also told him his passport was classified as "normal". Some reports say Assange's passport will be cancelled. From what I can find online, the actual status is unclear.

Shortly after his passport was not returned, Assange received a letter from the Australian Communication Ministry informing him that WikiLeak's recent disclosure of a list of websites the Australian government is preparing to ban had been referred to the Australian Federal Police. The Australian banned-website list is supposed to protect against child pornography. But after WikiLeaks exposed the list - which contained many sites unrelated to pornography or any illegal activity - WikiLeaks itself was added to the list.

Glenn Greenwald writes:
This is a reminder that one can't run around exposing the secrets of the most powerful governments, militaries and corporations in the world without consequences . . .

The Australian document was so damaging because the Australian government claimed that the to-be-banned websites were all associated with child pornography, but the list of the targeted sites including many which had nothing to do with pornography. That WikiLeaks was then added to the list underscores the intended abuse.

Forcing Assange to remain in Australia would likely be crippling to WikiLeaks. One of the ways which WikiLeaks protects the confidentiality of its leakers and evades detection is by having Assange constantly move around, managing WikiLeaks from his laptop, backpack, and numerous countries around the world. Preventing him from leaving Australia would ensure that authorities around the world know where he is and would impede his ability to maintain the secrecy on which WikiLeaks relies.

Secrecy is the crux of institutional power -- the principal weapon for maintaining it -- and there are very few entities left which can truly threaten that secrecy. As the worldwide controversy over the Iraqi Apache helicopter attack compellingly demonstrated, WikiLeaks is one of the very few entitles capable of doing so and fearlessly devoted to that mission. It's hardly surprising that those responsible would be harassed and intimidated by governmental agencies -- it'd be far more surprising if they weren't -- but it's a testament to how truly threatening they perceive outlets like WikiLeaks to be.

uk rugby star comes out: "you mean to tell me i'm the only one??"

Watching baseball together, Allan and I have long wondered who will be the first active Major League player to come out as gay. It will have to be someone great, unassailable from a player-performance perspective. Someone very personable and likeable, unassailable from a fan-friendly point of view. And someone very brave, because the second he comes out, no matter what year or what century it is, he will find himself at the centre of a firestorm. I do think reaction will be more positive than negative, but it will still be very rough. I can't wait to see it and to cheer him on.

I've also wondered who would be the first male athlete to come out in any team sport, and now that question has been answered. Gareth Thomas, Welsh and British rugby star, has told the world that he is gay.

gareth thomas, pioneer

Thomas gave the Daily Mail an exclusive before the story rocketed through the gay community, the world of sport and the overlap between the two.
Gareth Thomas is a sporting legend. He captained Wales in 2005 to their first Grand Slam victory since 1978. The same year he captained the British Lions tour of New Zealand.

With 100 caps to his name - more than any other player in Welsh history - he has one of the fiercest reputations on the field, and a row of missing front teeth to prove it.

At 6ft 3in and 16st of pure muscle, his masculinity has always been an absolute given.

As a young man he bonded with rugby mates in the pub over tales of sexual conquests, and flirted with pretty girls eager to bag a sporting hero.

After his marriage in 2002 to teenage sweetheart Jemma - the woman he called his 'rock' - he spoke movingly of their desire to become parents and the heartbreak of her suffering three miscarriages.

And if anyone dared to suggest he was anything other than 100 per cent straight, Gareth 'Alfie' Thomas was prepared to make them see the error of their ways. With his fists, if necessary.

But, as he admits in the Daily Mail today, it was all a pretence, a fragile artifice - and one which came crashing down around his ears on November 4, 2006, following a Wales game in Cardiff.

Breaking down in tears in the changing rooms of the Millennium Stadium, Gareth finally realised he could not go on living a lie. Keeping his true sexuality a secret was destroying him.

That secret, which he'd kept hidden his entire career, was - he admits now - 'like a tight knot in my stomach, always threatening to seep out'.

He says: 'I was like a ticking bomb. I thought I could suppress it, keep it locked away in some dark corner of myself, but I couldn't.

'It was who I was, and I just couldn't ignore it any more.

'I'd been through every emotion under the sun trying to deal with this.

'You wake up one morning thinking: "I can handle it. Everything is fine," and the next morning you don't want anyone to see your face, because you think that if people look at you, they will know.'

That summer, he had confessed the truth to his devastated wife Jemma, unable to cope with the guilt of deceiving her.

But even as their marriage crumbled, he'd somehow hoped to maintain his charade for the rest of the world. [More here.]

There's an excellent lengthy feature in Sports Illustrated by Gary Smith, whose work I really like. Here's a bit of it.
He's 6'3" and 225 pounds of muscle. He's broken his nose five times, fractured both shoulders and lost eight teeth. He's drunk his mates under the table and brawled by their side. He's been named to the Welsh national rugby team more times than any other man. And, among active players in major professional team sports, he's ...

Wot, butt? You come to this tiny village in this tiny country and tell me that I'm the only gay man in a major team sport who's out of the closet?

The man was missing eight teeth. Sometimes he would slip out his false teeth when you weren't looking and deposit them in your pint of ale.

All the diversity in America, and no one there has done this?

His blue eyes twinkled and his laughter was infectious and his body was a riot of muscles and he'd been known, if he suspected someone in the pub was talking about him, to rise from his table and drop him.

America's the pioneer, butt! Am I right?

He plays professional rugby. No, he has dominated it, been selected to play for his national team more times than anyone else in his country's history.

America's at the top of the table in everything! So why...?

His sport has broken his nose five times, fractured both of his shoulders and his hip and his forearm and his palate and his thumb, and concussed him, on average, three times a year.

A rugby team ... in Wales. A country of coal miners. I thought THAT would be the harshest environment for a man to come out in, but no....

But no. In the US - poisoned by the religious right on one side and the macho cowboy spirit on the other, overlaid with its history of bigotry and inequality - no one has taken this leap.

Professional basketball player Sheryl Swoopes came out a few years ago, but as great as that was (and it was), it's different for a woman. Athletic women are stereotyped as lesbians anyway, and women's sports are generally an afterthought in US culture. So as much as I admire Swoopes personally for going public, her announcement did little to soften the ground for her male counterpart, whoever he is.

Gay athletes like Martina Navratilova and Greg Louganis who compete in individual sports don't face nearly the same challenges. (Even so, when Navratilova, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, came out, her endorsement offers disappeared.) But neither have to deal with the homophobia - and the latent homoeroticism - of the team-sport locker room. Again, I take nothing away from any athlete, from any public figure, who comes out. I admire each and every one of them. They are pioneers for young LGBT folks, and for everyone whose life path diverges from the strictly conventional and mainstream. But Louganis's and Navratilova's actions do little for gay baseball, basketball, football or hockey players.

Several male players of team sports have come out after retiring. In baseball, Billy Bean and Glenn Burke, and former umpire Dave Pallone, all did so. All have written books: Pallone's Behind The Mask, Billy Bean's Going the Other Way and Glenn Burke's Out At Home, published posthumously. (Burke died in 1995.) Wikipedia says Burke was "the first and only Major League Baseball player to be out to his teammates and team owners during his professional career". Apparently it was an open secret, and it got Burke traded from at least one team. Former NBA basketball player John Amechi came out after retirement, and a few former NFL players have done the same. (This little list is not meant to be exhaustive. Outsports keeps a list.)

But so far, an active male player in a US team sport coming out as gay has happened only in fiction. Some years ago, when we were still in New York City, there was a Broadway play called "Take Me Out," about a baseball team - a fictional version of the New York Yankees - and a star player - seemingly a fictional Derek Jeter - who announces he is gay. (Now people searching for "Derek Jeter gay" will land on this post! Despite all available evidence, Jeter is rumoured to be an outstanding shortstop. However, he is not rumoured to be gay.) "Take Me Out" was a decent play, although unfortunately the only thing I remember from it was working showers and an insane amount of full-on male nudity in a locker room scene. This play must have employed an entire staff of hair removal experts. I remember laughing with friends about a baseball team with nine perfectly smooth, hairless men. "Not bloody likely!"

Back in the real world, there are always rumours about certain players, some of whom are known to be bisexual and frequent male hangouts in various cities, some of whom just can't seem to keep a pretend girlfriend. But so far, their community has kept their secret, and so have they.

Several high school football stars in the US have come out, and I imagine one of them will eventually get a college scholarship and make a name for himself. A huge section of the US is obsessed with college football. Maybe that's where the pioneer will come from.

Meanwhile, Gareth Thomas is quite amazing, and quite alone, breaking ground in the unassailably macho world of professional rugby.

The Sports Illustrated story on Gareth Thomas is here.

ITV documentary "Afraid To Be Gay" is here. (Thanks to Jen for this one.)

Gareth Thomas on Facebook.

A good story called "Is Baseball Ready for a Gay Jackie Robinson," from in these times is here.

And for all your gay sports needs, try Outsports.com.


the circumlocution office, or how not to do it (or, some things do not change)

In these months between my winter and fall terms, I want nothing more than hours and hours of uninterrupted time to read whatever I want. But of course time is limited, and my concentration is very poor, and I'm out of the habit of reading for myself, as opposed to for school. (That last is shocking to me, a lifelong, voracious reader.) So I haven't been reading nearly enough, but I am determined to keep trying.

Last year, coming home from work late on Sunday nights and casting around for something to half-watch on TV - television being my sleep-inducing substance of choice - I came upon a Masterpiece adaptation of Charles Dickens' Little Dorrit. (This is the PBS series known to older folks as Masterpiece Theatre.) I watched only a few brief bits and was instantly hooked. When it comes to Dickens, it doesn't take much for me, and his work lends itself so perfectly mini-serieses. It was adapted by Andrew Davies, who also did Bleak House, my favourite Dickens novel and one of my favourite Masterpiece shows.

I had never read Little Dorrit, so I picked up a copy and waited for school to end to read it. I am loving it! I'm getting the same feeling I did as a young reader, when opening a book was opening a door to another world. Something magical.

Dickens is among my greatest literary loves, in the top three along with Steinbeck and Orwell. Although there's an obvious connection between those three, I didn't choose them in some intellectual or political way. Their writing chose me.

Little Dorrit, like all of Dickens' novels, was first published in serial form, in weekly installments. Because of that, many brief chapters have a stand-alone quality that work well as excerpts. Here's one I really enjoyed, and perhaps you will, too.

I've added many more paragraph breaks than the original contained. I don't think Dickens would mind. His original audience didn't read online.

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Excerpted from Little Dorrit, by Charles Dickens. Originally published 1856-57.

Chapter 10, "Containing the whole Science of Government"

The Circumlocution Office was (as everybody knows without being told) the most important Department under Government. No public business of any kind could possibly be done at any time without the acquiescence of the Circumlocution Office. Its finger was in the largest public pie, and in the smallest public tart. It was equally impossible to do the plainest right and to undo the
plainest wrong without the express authority of the Circumlocution Office. If another Gunpowder Plot had been discovered half an hour before the lighting of the match, nobody would have been justified in saving the parliament until there had been half a score of boards, half a bushel of minutes, several sacks of official memoranda, and a family-vault full of ungrammatical correspondence, on the part of the Circumlocution Office.

This glorious establishment had been early in the field, when the one sublime principle involving the difficult art of governing a country, was first distinctly revealed to statesmen. It had been foremost to study that bright revelation and to carry its shining influence through the whole of the official proceedings. Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving--HOW NOT TO DO IT.

Through this delicate perception, through the tact with which it invariably seized it, and through the genius with which it always acted on it, the Circumlocution Office had risen to overtop all the public departments; and the public condition had risen to be--what it was.

It is true that How not to do it was the great study and object of all public departments and professional politicians all round the Circumlocution Office. It is true that every new premier and every new government, coming in because they had upheld a certain thing as necessary to be done, were no sooner come in than they applied their utmost faculties to discovering How not to do it.

It is true that from the moment when a general election was over, every returned man who had been raving on hustings because it hadn't been done, and who had been asking the friends of the honourable gentleman in the opposite interest on pain of impeachment to tell him why it hadn't been done, and who had been asserting that it must be done, and who had been pledging himself that it should be done, began to devise, How it was not to be done.

It is true that the debates of both Houses of Parliament the whole session through, uniformly tended to the protracted deliberation, How not to do it.

It is true that the royal speech at the opening of such session virtually said, My lords and gentlemen, you have a considerable stroke of work to do, and you will please to retire to your respective chambers, and discuss, How not to do it.

It is true that the royal speech, at the close of such session, virtually said, My lords and gentlemen, you have through several laborious months been considering with great loyalty and patriotism, How not to do it, and you have found out; and with the blessing of Providence upon the harvest (natural, not political), I now dismiss you. All this is true, but the Circumlocution Office went beyond it.

Because the Circumlocution Office went on mechanically, every day, keeping this wonderful, all-sufficient wheel of statesmanship, How not to do it, in motion. Because the Circumlocution Office was down upon any ill-advised public servant who was going to do it, or who appeared to be by any surprising accident in remote danger of doing it, with a minute, and a memorandum, and a letter of instructions that extinguished him.

It was this spirit of national efficiency in the Circumlocution Office that had gradually led to its having something to do with everything. Mechanicians, natural philosophers, soldiers, sailors, petitioners, memorialists, people with grievances, people who wanted to prevent grievances, people who wanted to redress grievances, jobbing people, jobbed people, people who couldn't get rewarded for merit, and people who couldn't get punished for demerit, were all indiscriminately tucked up under the foolscap paper of the Circumlocution Office.

Numbers of people were lost in the Circumlocution Office. Unfortunates with wrongs, or with projects for the general welfare (and they had better have had wrongs at first, than have taken that bitter English recipe for certainly getting them), who in slow lapse of time and agony had passed safely through other public departments; who, according to rule, had been bullied in this, over-reached by that, and evaded by the other; got referred at last to the Circumlocution Office, and never reappeared in the light of day. Boards sat upon them, secretaries minuted upon them, commissioners gabbled about them, clerks registered, entered, checked, and ticked them off, and they melted away. In short, all the business of the country went through the Circumlocution Office, except the business that never came out of it; and its name was Legion.

Sometimes, angry spirits attacked the Circumlocution Office. Sometimes, parliamentary questions were asked about it, and even parliamentary motions made or threatened about it by demagogues so low and ignorant as to hold that the real recipe of government was, How to do it.

Then would the noble lord, or right honourable gentleman, in whose department it was to defend the Circumlocution Office, put an orange in his pocket, and make a regular field-day of the occasion. Then would he come down to that house with a slap upon the table, and meet the honourable gentleman foot to foot. Then would he be there to tell that honourable gentleman that the Circumlocution Office not only was blameless in this matter, but was commendable in this matter, was extollable to the skies in this matter.

Then would he be there to tell that honourable gentleman that, although the Circumlocution Office was invariably right and wholly right, it never was so right as in this matter. Then would he be there to tell that honourable gentleman that it would have been more to his honour, more to his credit, more to his good taste, more to his good sense, more to half the dictionary of commonplaces, if he had left the Circumlocution Office alone, and never approached this matter.

Then would he keep one eye upon a coach or crammer from the Circumlocution Office sitting below the bar, and smash the honourable gentleman with the Circumlocution Office account of this matter. And although one of two things always happened; namely, either that the Circumlocution Office had nothing to say and said it, or that it had something to say of which the noble lord, or right honourable gentleman, blundered one half and forgot the other; the Circumlocution Office was always voted immaculate by an accommodating majority.

Such a nursery of statesmen had the Department become in virtue of a long career of this nature, that several solemn lords had attained the reputation of being quite unearthly prodigies of business, solely from having practised, How not to do it, as the head of the Circumlocution Office. As to the minor priests and acolytes of that temple, the result of all this was that they stood divided into two classes, and, down to the junior messenger, either believed in the Circumlocution Office as a heaven-born institution that had an absolute right to do whatever it liked; or took refuge in total infidelity, and considered it a flagrant nuisance.

The Barnacle family had for some time helped to administer the Circumlocution Office. The Tite Barnacle Branch, indeed, considered themselves in a general way as having vested rights in that direction, and took it ill if any other family had much to say to it. The Barnacles were a very high family, and a very large family. They were dispersed all over the public offices, and held all sorts of public places. Either the nation was under a load of obligation to the Barnacles, or the Barnacles were under a load of obligation to the nation. It was not quite unanimously settled which; the Barnacles having their opinion, the nation theirs. . . .

feminist nuns and the church that hates them

Resistance to unjust laws takes many forms, and no one is more courageous than the people who stand up against their own institutions.

Sister Margaret McBride was a Catholic nun and a hospital administrator in Phoenix, Arizona. McBride has been excommunicated by Bishop Thomas Olmsted, after she agreed with a hospital ethics committee that an 11-week-old pregnancy needed to be terminated in order save a woman's life.

The Bishop said McBride was "automatically excommunicated"; she has also been demoted professionally.

The patient (often referred to in news stories as "the mother") was a 27-year-old woman with a rare, often fatal condition in which pregnancy can lead to death. Although she was being treated at a Catholic hospital, doctors and administrators there applied compassion and common sense, and approved the termination.

Catholics for Choice calls the decision to excommunicate McBride "very troubling".
While not all the facts are available, it is clear that the Vatican’s hard line on abortion led to this terrible situation. Sadly, we see situations like this time after time, both here in the US and abroad. The Vatican’s outright ban on all abortions is insensitive and reflects an unwillingness to acknowledge the reality of women’s lives, including the difficult decisions that often have to be made during a pregnancy.

It is also unclear whether Sister McBride in fact met the criteria for an “automatic” excommunication. A Catholics for Choice publication, Notes on Canon Law No. 1, outlines the conditions that need to be met, according to the Catholic church’s law.

It is not immediately clear why Sister McBride’s counsel was sought in this matter, but it is heartening to know that despite the Vatican’s opposition to all abortion, local staff at a Catholic hospital made a conscientious and compassionate decision to save this woman’s life.

Reasonable Catholics the world over acknowledge that access to abortion is sometimes necessary, and our polling and that of other organizations shows that a large majority of Catholics reject the Vatican’s outright ban on all abortions.

Catholics for Choice also believes that the Phoenix Bishop misrepresented Catholic doctrine when it said the nun had to be "automatically excommunicated" - that through her actions, she excommunicated herself.

That, however, is for Catholics to discuss and decide. I can only thank Sister McBride and the others at Phoenix's St. Joseph's Hospital for understanding that a 27-year-old's woman life is a human life and cannot be exchanged for an 11-week old fetus that is only the potential of human life, but not a human yet.

* * * *

I have known only two nuns in my life. Both dedicated themselves to lives of service, usually in opposition to the male-dominated powers around them. One was a colleague of mine when I taught young people who had dropped out of school. She was a model teacher of people most teachers fear and avoid, and I learned a lot from her. The other sat beside me on panels where we spoke about our experiences of rape and recovery. As a victim of violent crime, she also campaigned doggedly against the death penalty.

My experiences with these two women taught me that nuns can be feminists, too. And the Vatican will punish them for it. (Thanks to James for this link.)

Catholics for Choice

jailed war resister nicole mitchell needs our support

nicole mitchell

Another war resister - there are thousands in the US - needs our support. This is a letter from GI Rights Lawyer James Branum, who represents many war resisters in the US at either no cost or at deeply discounted rates.

James represented both Robin Long and Cliff Cornell, the two war resisters deported by the Harper Government. Robin and Cliff were both incarcerated, but James managed to get both sentences reduced - in Robin's case, from 30 months to 15 months. James has worked with the War Resisters Support Campaign, Courage to Resist, Veterans for Peace, and other military resister groups.

He writes:
I am writing on behalf of a pro-bono client of mine, SPC Nicole Mitchell.

SPC Mitchell was sentenced to 30 days in jail today in a Summary Court-Martial proceeding at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for the offense of AWOL. But this is not your typical AWOL case. It began some time ago.

SPC Mitchell was an M.P. [military police] in the US Army. She served well until she went on a deployment to Iraq, where she began to have serious issues of conscience. After significant reflection and inner turmoil, she applied for C.O. [conscientious objector] status.

The coming months were hard, in that she faced significant harassment for applying, but she prevailed. She was granted 1-A-0 conscientious objector status, which meant that she would continue to serve in the military but in a non-combatant status.

Living as a conscientious objector in the U.S. Army proved to be nearly impossible. SPC Mitchell was not assigned to a new [military occupational specialty], but instead remained as an M.P. She no longer carried a weapon but otherwise had to function as an M.P. So when personal problems arose in her life (something that happens to many soldiers), the emotional strain and stress became too much and she went AWOL.

Upon return to her unit, SPC Mitchell did her best to be a good soldier. In many cases, combat veterans who go AWOL and return voluntarily are not prosecuted, but this did not happen to SPC Mitchell. Her command rejected our request for her to be given a chapter 10 discharge in lieu of court-martial, and instead she was given a summary court-martial.

Reading this letter, it's easy to see there's a lot we're not hearing. I've heard enough war resisters' stories to imagine what "significant harassment" and "emotional strain" can mean.

"Smoking" - the physical, verbal and psychological abuse that routinely answers any resistance - can amount to torture. Soldiers who resist from within the military are not only harassed, they are persecuted, as the military seeks to use them as deterrents for the many soldiers who have resistance in their hearts, but have not yet taken the courageous and difficult step of acting on their beliefs.

"Emotional strain" can be crippling post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. We need only look to the climbing military and veteran suicide rate to see where it may ultimately lead.

If and when the details of Nicole Mitchell's story become public, I will bring it to you. Until then, let's show her she is not alone. You can write to Nicole in the stockade:
Nicole Mitchell
Naval Brig/CCU Puget Sound
2020 Guardfish Street
Silverdale, WA 98315-2020

In addition, you can write to the military on Mitchell's behalf. James Branum is filing a clemency application for Mitchell, which will request a suspension of her sentence. As part of that application, he is asking people to write letters on her behalf. He gives this sample, but asks that you re-word the letter in your own words. If you know Nicole personally, please say so in the letter.

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To whom it may concern:

I am writing on behalf of SPC Nicole Mitchell, who was sentenced to 30 days in jail on May 19, 2010 for the offense of AWOL.

I understand that you have the power to suspend the remainder of her sentence. I would ask you to do this because.

1. Character - SPC Mitchell took the courageous step of applying for conscientious objector status while in Iraq. She suffered harassment and derision for doing this, but she held her ground. And after receiving C.O. status, she did her best to do her duties within the boundaries of her conscience and the regulations for as long as she was able to.

2. Fairness - Most soldiers who go AWOL do not receive jail time, but rather are either given non-judicial punishment (article 15) or are chaptered out of the Army.

3. Rehabilitation - SPC Mitchell is a gifted musician who will do her best to make the world a better place. The sooner she is released from the prison, the sooner she can be about her life’s work.

Your name
Your contact info

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Please fax or email the letter to James Branum.
Fax: 1.866.757.8785
Email: girightslawyer - at - gmail - dot - com . Put NICOLE MITCHELL in the subject line!

If you want to help, you must do this either this no later than tomorrow, Sunday, May 23.

I'll post other ways to help as I receive them.

James Branum on Facebook

Nicole Mitchell on MySpace, with clips of her music

"i am just so happy to be free": war resister marc hall and notes on stop loss

Courage To Resist is circulating an audio clip of Iraq War veteran Marc Hall, a/k/a Hip Hop artist Marc Watercus. Hall was a victim of stop-loss - a/k/a involuntarily re-enlistment - a/k/a the back-door draft - and wrote a song protesting it. For this, Hall was jailed, then sent to Iraq for court martial.

Hall was eventually discharged, but it was a tough and scary fight. Because he wrote a protest song. Because he fulfilled the terms of his contract and wanted to get out of the Army.

Courage To Resist feels that public outcry over Hall's punishment and the outpouring of support - including funds raised for his legal defense - made a big difference in the case.

Most stop-lossed soldiers have no recourse. More than 185,000 troops have been affected by stop-loss since the Iraq War began. In 2006, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates promised to minimize stop-loss, but by April 2008 the use of stop-lossed troops had increased by 43%. Gates is now Secretary of Defense in the Obama Administration, and the stop-loss policy has not been changed.

An excerpt from Hall's statement:
When you are facing something like this, there is almost nothing you can do about it. But when you have a good support system unit that knows exactly what is going on, it helps out so much. I just want to say thank you. There were a lot of other Soldiers that felt the same way, especially about the stop-loss. . . . If it was not for you all, I don’t know what would have happened. . . . I'm so happy to be free!

You can listen to it here..


throwing another ball in the juggle

You may have noticed wmtc is a bit thin lately. One of my sources of extra income - legal transcription - is busy again, so I'm typing my little fingers off.

After weeks of futile job hunting and emailing of contacts, I'm relieved to get this work. The pay is only moderate, but it's easy, I work at home, and there's no long-term commitment. I'd love to spend my summer working only on weekends - goddess knows I have plenty to do without work getting in the way - but we sorely need more income.

At the same time, I must make sure I carve out time for the things I most wanted to do this summer - reading, swimming, taking long walks with Tala, getting things done around the house. And of course there is lots of activism to do on many fronts.

This all means that wmtc takes a back seat, at least for new material. But blogging will be here when I need it, and hopefully you will be, too.


quebec stands up for women, smacks down harper

Merci, Quebec! The Quebec National Assembly has unanimously passed this motion, with a vote of 109-0.
That [Quebec's] National Assembly reaffirms the right of women to free choice and to free and accessible abortion services, and asks the federal government and the prime minister of Canada to put an end to the current ambiguity on this issue, and that the National Assembly reaffirms that the fact of supporting women's right to an abortion should not in any case be used by the federal government to cut funding to a women's group.

Good wrap-up from Canadian Press, via The Tyee.

if you see something...

I really enjoyed this. To appreciate it, you have to click through and scroll down.

"Something else", by Rick Moranis (Canadian)

Other funny things by Rick Moranis here.

tuesday may 25 in toronto: rally for jeremy hinzman


Tuesday, May 25 is a big day for the War Resisters Support Campaign. Bill C-440 goes to second reading and war resister Jeremy Hinzman has a hearing in the Federal Court of Appeals.

The Campaign will be gathering outside the Federal Court on Tuesday morning, to show solidarity with Jeremy and with all the Iraq War resisters in Canada, and to call on the House of Commons to support C-440. Please join us.

* * * *


When: Tuesday, May 25, 2010, 8:00 am to 10:00 am

Where: Federal Court Building, 180 Queen Street West (west of University Ave, Osgoode subway), Toronto

Facebook event here.

Jeremy Hinzman was the first US Iraq War resister to seek refuge in Canada because he refused to participate in the illegal and immoral Iraq war. After unsuccessfully trying to be reassigned or recognized as a conscientious objector by the US military, Jeremy moved to Toronto with his wife and young son in January 2004. In 2008 they welcomed a new, Canadian daughter into their family.

A majority of Canadians have expressed their support for allowing Jeremy and other Iraq war resisters to stay in Canada. Yet Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney, who both wanted Canada to participate in the Iraq War, continue to try to deport resisters.

War resisters Robin Long and Cliff Cornell were sentenced to long prison terms in US military prisons because the Harper government refused to respect two House of Commons motions (passed June 3, 2008 and March 30, 2009) to stop deporting war resisters and to let them stay. Many other resisters, including Kim Rivera, Dean Walcott and Phil McDowell, live under the threat of deportation.

On May 25th, the Federal Court of Appeal will hold a hearing on Jeremy's case.

On the same day, the first hour of debate on Bill C-440 will take place in the House of Commons. Bill C-440 is a Private Member's Bill which was introduced by Gerard Kennedy and seconded by Bill Siksay. If passed, the Bill will give legal weight to the two motions on war resisters and would force the Conservative government to respect the will of Canadians and the will of Parliament and allow war resisters to stay.

On May 25th, join the rally to support Jeremy Hinzman, his family and all U.S. Iraq War resisters in Canada, and to call on the House of Commons to adopt Bill C-440.

It is time - past time - long past time - for the Harper government to respect democracy. It is time to Let Them Stay!

war resisters welcome


elvis costello cancels israel tour dates: "it is quite impossible to simply look the other way"

The movement to Boycott - Divest - Sanction Israeli apartheid gained some important traction this week, and a great songwriter showed himself to be a person of principle.

Elvis Costello, in his own words:
It is after considerable contemplation that I have lately arrived at the decision that I must withdraw from the two performances scheduled in Israel on the 30th of June and the 1st of July.

One lives in hope that music is more than mere noise, filling up idle time, whether intending to elate or lament.

Then there are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent.

I must believe that the audience for the coming concerts would have contained many people who question the policies of their government on settlement and deplore conditions that visit intimidation, humiliation or much worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security.

I am also keenly aware of the sensitivity of these themes in the wake of so many despicable acts of violence perpetrated in the name of liberation.

Some will regard all of this an unknowable without personal experience but if these subjects are actually too grave and complex to be addressed in a concert, then it is also quite impossible to simply look the other way.

Read his statement here.

Margaret Atwood, shame on you.

"human rights are on the line": two former immigration ministers decry rush to pass c-11

The Harper Government is trying to ram through its dangerous refugee "reform" bill, and the Liberals can't help them enough. The bill contains some highly suspect, unjust provisions. It's a centrepiece in the Conservative agenda to remake Canada in its own image, and it's being rushed through in the undemocratic manner that is the hallmark of this government.

The NDP and the Bloc are insisting on more debate and amendments. The only reason the bill even went to committee was through the leadership and tenacity of NDP Immigration Critic Olivia Chow. But the outcome is all up to the Liberals. How sad that the fate of so many refugee claimants should be left in such weak and ineffectual hands. Can Ignatieff show a little backbone and force his lame-duck Critic to do his job?

Here are two former immigration ministers, writing in the Ottawa Citizen. Emphasis mine.
Don't ram through refugee reforms

By Elinor Caplan and Flora MacDonald

There are few areas of law and policy in Canada that have been revised as often as our approach to protecting refugees. Over the years, there have been numerous reforms to Canada's immigration laws, seeking to improve the system, ensure fairness, and limit abuse. We are in the midst of yet another effort. But it is being rushed forward at worrying speed.

We know of what we speak. We have each served as ministers of immigration. Between us we were responsible for overseeing Canada's refugee laws and policies for more than four years, on behalf of both Liberal and Conservative governments. In fact, we each spearheaded earlier comprehensive reform efforts. We have had direct experience in dealing with the competing pressures of fairness and efficiency.

And if there is one thing we have learned through those experiences, it is that there are no easy solutions. Refugee protection must take account of and respond to human suffering, to human aspirations and to human determination. It arises in a complicated and ever-changing global context. Many assume that there must be a system that would readily and quickly identify those who meet the definition of a refugee and those who do not. But it is not so simple.

We also deeply respect the broad public interest in Canada's approach to refugee protection. Over the years, of course, hundreds of thousands of women, men and children from all corners of the world have come to Canada as refugees -- some selected and approved before coming to Canada; others accepted after making claims for protection here in Canada. They, their families and their communities have experiences and points of view that are obviously germane to any debate about refugee reform.

At the same time, the wider public also has strongly held opinions about Canada's approach to protecting refugees. Many Canadians are rightly proud of Canada's reputation as a compassionate nation dedicated to providing protection to people in need. There are also, unfortunately, a minority of Canadians who would prefer that Canada not roll out the welcome mat for refugees. And there are of course many Canadians who feel torn -- who do want to be generous, but only when it is appropriate and deserved. Sadly, much of that debate takes place in a context of myths and misunderstandings.

That is why we feel compelled to speak out and share our concerns about the approach the government is taking to the most recent effort to reform Canada's refugee determination system. Bill C-11 was introduced in Parliament on March 30. Unlike most other previous reform efforts, however, it was not preceded by a period of public consultation.

The first opportunity Canadians have had to learn about and respond to the proposal, therefore, is now. Given the complexities of refugee protection and given the wide public interest at stake, we feel strongly that there must be sufficient time and opportunity for Canadians to understand and share their views about the intended changes.

But things are moving ahead at what we consider to be an unreasonable and worrying pace. The bill is already through second reading in the House of Commons and is now before a parliamentary committee. The committee has set aside only a limited number of sessions to hear from organizations and individuals -- many have been told that they cannot be accommodated and will not have an opportunity to appear before the committee. It seems clear that the overriding intention is to push the bill rapidly through the House -- even before Parliament breaks for its summer recess. These issues are important: They have serious implications for the lives and safety of thousands of people. We should not and cannot rush.

This is particularly important given the nature of some of the proposals in the bill. There is, on one hand, good news -- such as the decision to establish a long-needed appeal process for individuals whose claims for refugee status are turned down. At the same time, there are other intended changes which would lead to shifts in fundamental principles at the very heart of Canada's approach to protecting refugees.

That includes an unparalleled proposal to treat refugee claimants differently, depending on their nationality. Under Bill C-11, the government would be authorized to draw up a list of countries that are determined to be safe, according to definitions and criteria that are not in any way laid out in the bill.

Refugee claimants coming from those countries would be excluded from the new appeal process. It is unprecedented and troubling to discriminate when it comes to something as basic as access to justice. Furthermore, the very notion of being able to reliably and objectively divide the world into lists of countries that are safe and countries that are unsafe is, to say the least, debatable. This deserves careful and thoughtful deliberation.

Human rights are on the line in any proposal to change Canada's refugee laws. We need to get that right and not rush ahead in haste. Parliament should slow down, and ensure an opportunity for broad public consultation and input before making any final decisions with respect to Bill C-11.

Elinor Caplan was minister of citizenship and immigration between 1999 and 2002. Flora MacDonald was minister of employment and immigration between 1984 and 1986.


on giving up, believing, and what it means to be a fan

The Joy of Sox community looks at the title of this post and rolls their eyes. Here she goes. Whether it makes them smile or cringe, they're expecting a pep talk, or a thrashing, or at least a lecture on fat ladies singing and 162 games.

Sorry. No can do.

If the Red Sox manage to seriously contend this season, if we make a run at the division or the wild card and make the playoffs, it will be an amazing comeback. But so many things would have to happen for that to occur – the Sox playing much better than they appear to be able to do, and more than one other team hitting a prolonged slide. It's looking highly unlikely.

So no, this post isn't about how we all must believe to the bitter end.

But all the talk of giving up – whether or not we have given up, when we will, why we won't, and so on - got me thinking about what we mean when we say we're giving up on a season. The Red Sox are going to do what they're going to do whether or not we declare ourselves still on board or done. It doesn't make a difference in terms of baseball. It only makes a difference in how we feel, and maybe how we approach the games.

* * * *

In 2007, the Red Sox were were 9 games up on July 29. (On July 5, they had an 11.5 game lead!) On August 13, the Sox's lead had been cut to 4 games, but on September 4, it was back to 7.

After that, the Yankees started closing in. First our lead dropped to 5 games on September 10. A week later, September 17, it was 3.5 games. On September 23, the lowest point of the season, the Sox still had a 1.5 game lead.

They never fell out of first place. The closest the Yankees came was 1.5 games back on September 23. But woe is us, the doomers were out in force.

More than anything, I wanted the Sox to win the division. I announced on a gamethread that I wanted to win the division more than I wanted to win the World Series, that the Wild Card wasn't good enough, not even if it (again) took us all the way.

This caused some controversy. I remember someone lecturing me about "keeping our eyes on the prize". It meant nothing to me. I'm not saying it was rational, or justified. It was just the way I felt. We were in full command of first place for almost the entire season. I didn't want to hear how "of course" the Yankees won it, how the Sox could only get in the playoffs through the back door. That division was ours and I wanted it.

Some people agreed with me. Others emphatically did not.

But I also knew we didn't have to win the division by 10 games. Or by 5 games. And in a pack as good as the American League East, the chances of winning by a wide margin are very slim. So a shrinking lead didn't matter, it was bound to happen. We didn't have to win by any certain number of games. We only had to win.

Sometime during that nail-biting September, a JoS commenter - not a regular, just a drive-by - announced that he was "throwing in the towel". I went ballistic. He was throwing in the towel and we were still in first place! Smoke was coming out of my ears. It was an epic smackdown.

Now I want to look beyond my own contempt for such behaviour and ask, What made this fan feel that way? Knowing his team was in first place, he was ready to jump ship. Why?

I suspect he couldn't stand the tension as he waited for what he imagined was an inevitable heartbreak. Whether he was conscious of it or not, he thought it was better to jump now and get it over with. Better a quick death at his own hands, then to be slowly crushed by daily torture.

Maybe that towel-throwing-in fan was performing a premature, exaggerated ritual that we all do sometimes in other contexts. We want something very badly, but we say, "I'm trying not to get my hopes up." We're trying to protect ourselves. We think, if I don't have my hopes up, it won't hurt as much to have them smashed.

But I think there are other things at work, too. Some people are very heavily invested in being right. They're after putting some kind of cosmic "I told you so" on the world. Sometimes it looks like fans would rather say "I told you so" to the more optimistic fans than see their team win.

These "I told you so" fans seem to think they're more savvy, more worldly-wise, more in-the-know. Optimism is for suckers. You naive fools can get your hopes up for a sunny day. I'll sit here scowling in my dark corner predicting rain. Then when it rains -- as it always does at some point -- you'll see that I was right.

Of course, once it rains, we'll all get wet. But some of us will have enjoyed the sunshine all that time.

In sports, like in politics, people love to make predictions. You can flip on your TV and find a dozen people being paid to sit in studios and predict what's going to happen. (In Canada the national pastime is predicting when there will be an election.) The fan who gives up when his team is still in first place is like a political pundit on a cable news show. When the team is skidding, he shouts "They're finished!" If they lose, he sneers I Told You So. If they win, no one holds him accountable for his gloomy prediction.

And some people declare they have given up, I think, because they don't want to be associated with a losing team. They think if the logo on their cap represents a winning team, this somehow reflects on them personally as winners. So if it doesn't look good for the team, better back off, rather than be tainted by a loser's logo.

Of course, for these people, the only thing that gets reflected is how superficial they are. If you're only a fan when your team is winning, you're not really a fan at all. All good teams attract pseudofans. And amazingly, the Red Sox have become one of those teams. That's a good thing.

* * * *

During the 2008 playoffs, I didn't really believe we would win. I felt like we weren't a championship team, and I had a really hard time staying optimistic - faking belief. I still watched every game, and I sweat out the seven-game ALCS with everyone else, but in my heart, I didn't believe. Allan thought I was giving up - and he wasn't too pleased. But here's the thing: I didn't give up. I kept hoping and I kept watching. I was pessimistic, but I was on board.

How many of us thought the Red Sox would come back to win the 2004 ALCS? I'd be surprised if anyone can honestly say they did. We weren't just down three games in a seven-game series. We were about to be swept. In the historical context of The Rivalry, and especially after 2003, unimaginable heartbreak was on the horizon.

But we kept watching, and we kept hoping. We were going to watch and hope until the final out. When that final out turned out to be in Game 7, after the greatest comeback the sport has ever seen, we were rewarded - for some of us, after a lifetime of heartbreak. We weren't rewarded for our belief, but for our loyalty.

That's what shows we didn't give up. Not what we believed - because what we believed didn't matter. We might have thought the Red Sox would lose the 2004 ALCS, because at some point, that seemed the only possible outcome. We didn't know the impossible was about to happen! So belief or lack of belief is not the issue. Pessimistic doomer or pollyanna optimist, we didn't give up. We kept watching. We kept hoping.

So here's what I've decided. I don't believe the Red Sox are going to make the playoffs this season. But I'm still watching and I'm still hoping.

* * * *

I mostly watch regular-season games with a relaxed, zenlike attitude. I take it as it comes. I enjoy a great win and I dislike annoying losses, but I rarely get very upset about the outcome of any given game. I like the tension and drama of close games, and I get very caught up during pennant races or in the post-season. But in general I watch baseball on an even keel. People like to say, "Of course I get upset – I'm a fan." So am I less of a fan because I don't get upset?

On the other hand, I watch almost every game. As much as possible, I organize my life around watching or listening to almost every game. During a game, I don't answer the phone, I don't wander off for something to eat. I see friends only on off nights. I don't watch movies when there's baseball on. I don't watch other sports when there's baseball on. I know not everyone does that. Does that make me more of a fan?

No, and no. There are all different ways to be a fan.

For some of us, no longer believing we have a chance doesn't really change anything. If Allan thinks the team is out of contention (I'm not saying he does, only if), he'll watch every game and only miss a game if forced to. He'll still stay up for west coast games, still not leave his chair except between innings, still keep score.

For me it probably means a little less of everything. Less watching every pitch. Less scoreboard watching. Less waking up and going immediately to the computer to check the standings. I might even miss a game here and there. I guess it's just a slight change in attitude. Loosening the grip a little. A subtle shift in priorities.

So at this point, no, I don't believe. But I haven't given up.

What about you?