greetings from new york city

We're here early this year, visiting friends and family now instead of over US Thanksgiving. Occupy Wall Street is definitely on the agenda. Probably not much blogging though.


monday, november 7 in toronto: a very special evening with s. brian willson

S. Brian Willson is a Vietnam veteran and peace activist. In September 1987, he lost both his legs when he was run over by a US government munitions train during a nonviolent blocking action.

Willson recently published a memoir, Blood on the Tracks; you can hear or read an interview with him by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! here.

Next Monday, November 7, Brian will be speaking in Toronto, at a fundraiser for the War Resisters Support Campaign. If you're in the area, please join us for an evening of food and conversation with S. Brian Willson, and get an update on the most recent developments in the campaign to win asylum in Canada for Iraq War resisters.

WHEN: Monday, November 7, 2011

WHERE: United Steelworkers Hall, 25 Cecil Street, Toronto

6:00 pm Dinner • 7:00 pm Speakers

$20 suggested donation

guerrilla librianship meets the occupied wall street journal

From the Occupied Wall Street Journal #3:
Howard Zinn is here. Dominick Dunne and Tom Wolfe, too. Ernest Hemingway and Barbara Ehrenreich and Dr. Who and Beowulf: All here, and all free. Barnes & Noble may be endangered and the Borders across the street closed months ago, but The People’s Library at Liberty Square is open for business and thriving.

That a lending library would spring up fully operational on day one of an occupation makes sense when you consider that the exchange of ideas is paramount here, at a new crossroads of the world. Just as occupiers young and old mingle with Africans, Jews, Algonquins and Latinas, de Tocqueville rubs elbows with Nicholas Evans and Noam Chomsky.

Mandy Henk, 32, saw Adbusters’ call to occupy Wall Street and drove in from Greencastle, Indiana, on her fall break to work in the library. A librarian at DePaul University, she’d been waiting for “an actual movement” for years when she saw a photo of the library and a poster beside it that read: “Things the library needs: Librarians.”

“And here I am,” she said cheerfully as she shelved books into clear plastic bins, dozens of which line the northeastern edge of Liberty Square. Henk isn’t surprised that a library was erected so quickly. “Anytime you have a movement like this, people are going to bring books to it. People are going to have information needs. And historically, the printed word has played an extraordinarily important role.”
From the People's Library blog:
What is guerrilla librarianship?

Guerrilla librarianship involves building and maintaining libraries directly where people and the need for information intersect. It can mean building them on a beach, in a bar, or at an occupation. . . .

Most of all guerrilla librarianship is an act of resistance.

• Guerrilla libraries are usually a common, a place where materials are held by the community at large for the joint benefit of all members. By their very existence they reject the idea that relationships should be constructed and mediated by a market. They also provide a stark alternative to the vision presented by market theorists of a human nature based in self-interest and competition.

• Guerrilla libraries are generally underground, that is, they are created without the approval or support of the state or other authority. Instead, they provide a space for people to arrange their own relationships and provide for their own needs.

• Guerrilla libraries often provide space in their collections for ideas that are not typically well-represented in other kinds of library collections. Erotica, ‘zines, and radical political ideas all find a place on the shelves of guerrilla libraries.

• Guerrilla libraries often reject hierarchy as an organizing principle for the librarians. Rather than arrange themselves into a power structure with some sitting at the apex of a pyramid, guerrilla libraries usually have a horizontal organizational structure. They also tend to rely on consensus to make decisions.
See original for more, with excellent links.

On LIS theory at the People's Library:
So, when an anxious, newly anointed People's Librarian asks me where they might shelve a particular book, I shrug and tell them to put it where they think it might go, where they might expect to find it if they were looking for it. Their opinion on the matter is as valid as mine; after all, you don't need a master's degree to be one of the People's Librarians, and they are readers and users of the library just as much as I am. We've democratized the work, direct-democratized it even, since to become a People's Librarian you just show up and start sorting and cataloguing.

Bonus Occupation reading:

Chris Hedges, Occupiers Have to Convince the Other 99 Percent

Barbara Ehrenreich, Throw Them Out With the Trash: Why Homelessness Is Becoming an Occupy Wall Street Issue (original TomDispatch link not working)

infographic: the u.s. should be ashamed, but canada has little to brag about

I found this telling infographic in a column by Charles Blow in the New York Times called "America's Exploding Pipe Dream". If you can't read it here, go here and click on the pop-up box.
We have not taken care of the least among us. We have allowed a revolting level of income inequality to develop. We have watched as millions of our fellow countrymen have fallen into poverty. And we have done a poor job of educating our children and now threaten to leave them a country that is a shell of its former self. We should be ashamed.

Poor policies and poor choices have led to exceedingly poor outcomes. Our societal chickens have come home to roost.
Blow reports on a study from a German foundation that analyzed some social metrics among countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

As you can see, the US ranks very near the bottom of the heap. That's no surprise. What also shouldn't surprise - yet does, for many people - is Canada's pitiful scores. Look at the colour codes: Canada ranks in the bottom 15 on poverty prevention, and in the bottom 10 on child poverty and overall poverty.

You will often see Canadian statistics that show child poverty and overall poverty at much lower rates. Do you know why that is? Because they don't count First Nations. Canadian statistics are often re-configured to show aboriginal statistics separately, and aboriginal people in Canada have the highest poverty rates in the country, a legacy of displacement, cultural destruction and social exclusion.

This graphic shows that, as always, the Scandinavian countries lead the way. Europe is a mixed bag. It's better to be a child in Switzerland, but if you make it to your senior years, you do better in Canada.

If you don't read German, the study is available through machine translation here.


a short film about ows human rights: "i am not moving"

Solidarity with Oakland: The Oscar Grant Plaza Gazette brought to you by the People's Library at Occupy Wall Street.

The whole world is watching.

Scott Olson, 24-year-old Iraq War veteran, is in critical condition after his head was bashed in by Oakland police.

While the Oakland Police Department attacked peaceful protesters with tear gas, flash grenades and tanks, the City of Los Angeles became the first city to pass a resolution in support of the Occupy movement.

We will not be moved.


pollitt: we are all occupiers now

Katha Pollitt on "The Mainstreaming of OWS":
Maybe OWS will vanish with the lovely fall weather, or drift off into the anarchist subculture, or break down in fights and factions. But already it has accomplished more than anything put forward by organized progressives since Obama took office: the October 2010 jobs march on Washington, which the media simply ignored; Van Jones’s Rebuild the Dream; or even the inspiring Wisconsin protests, to say nothing of the Coffee Party (what was that all about, anyway?). As with SlutWalk, another viral grassroots protest movement led by the young, the ambiguities and indeterminacies and openness to interpretation of OWS have allowed people to join it on their own terms and make it theirs. No wonder polls show a majority of Americans support it. It’s a party you don’t need a party card to join.
Read it here.


being erica whores for mccain pizza

I don't watch this show, but if I did, this would piss off the hell out of me.

CBC and McCain, the frozen food company, are "partnering" for a contest. Viewers are invited to submit audition videos. The winner lands a spot as an extra on "Being Erica"... eating McCain pizza. In other words, the winner gets to act in a commercial without being paid. McCain gets to advertise their brand throughout the contest, then again during the show, without a commercial break that everyone can fast-forward through or mute.

Since viewers don't watch commercials anymore, advertisers embed ads right into the show. We know this. We've been seeing it for years. But when the show turns into an extended ad, and there are ads for the ad itself, is there even a show left anymore?

McCain makes good pizza. Is "Being Erica" a good show?

fbi "mapping": racial and ethnic profiling at the highest levels of so-called law enforcement

I just received this from the ACLU. I will run it here verbatim, except for a few extraneous bits.

This is racial and ethnic profiling at its most extreme. If the top law "enforcement" agency in the US does this, how can the police departments of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and every other US city be expected to do otherwise?

From the ACLU:

* * * *

Dear Friends,

You'll be outraged by what we found out.

The ACLU has uncovered and analyzed thousands of FBI documents and found that America's most powerful law enforcement agency is using its vastly expanded investigative authority to collect racial and ethnic information and "map" American communities around the country — based on crude stereotypes about which groups commit different types of crimes.

The last thing America needs is the FBI running unconstitutional investigations of innocent Americans and mapping communities based on racial stereotypes and suspicion not backed by a shred of evidence.

Tell Attorney General Holder: Put an immediate end to the FBI's unconstitutional use of racial profiling to map American communities.

The evidence of abuse the ACLU has gathered results from Freedom of Information Act requests filed by ACLU offices in 33 states and the District of Columbia. In Michigan, New Jersey and California, we had to enforce compliance with our requests through lawsuits.

Let me be clear. What we uncovered shows that the FBI isn't mapping crimes or evidence of criminal behavior. It is mapping innocent people based on nothing but their race, ethnicity, religion or national origin, and using crude stereotypes to link these groups to national security threats or crime. Our freedoms are at risk when people can be subjected to investigation based solely on who they are, where they live, or what they believe.

We've uncovered the FBI mapping innocent people, so we're mapping the FBI. Our just-launched Mapping the FBI initiative will publish thousands of documents from FBI field offices. And, we'll be issuing "Eye on the FBI" alerts exposing how the bureau's own documents show patterns of misconduct and abuse.

But, we need you to sound the alarm as well.

Sign our "Don't Map Me" petition telling Attorney General Holder that you don't want the FBI mapping you or your community based on race, ethnicity, national origin or religion.

The FBI should be devoting itself to true threats — not wasting resources on suspicion-less investigations of innocent Americans and mapping communities based on crude stereotypes.

Let's act together to put an end to race-based snooping in our lives and our communities.

For freedom,

Anthony D. Romero
Executive Director, ACLU

P.S. Interested in learning more? Join us on Thurs., Oct. 27 at 10 a.m. ET for a policy discussion on "The Three Faces of Racial Profiling." The online conversation will take place at www.aclu.org/3FacesLive. You can ask us questions by sending tweets using the #profiling hash tag during the event.

* * * *

life, by keith richards, canadian content alert

This post - like its subject - is old but still relevant.

Over the summer I read Life, Keith Richards' memoirs. When I blogged about it here, I was loving it, but the book didn't turn out to be as fascinating and excellent as that post implies. The best part, for me, was the first third, when it's all about music - Keith's discovery of the music, how it transformed him, how he transformed it.

By the book's final third, if you know your rock history, you'll realize that this is distinctly The Story According to Keith. All history is coloured by the teller, of course, but there are facts and there are fabrications and there are rationalizations. Nothing was ever Keith's fault, and even if it might have been just a little bit his fault, it was all in service of the music, and that excuses anything. If Mick became a big bad meanie for talking about adult concerns, that couldn't possibly be the fault of his partner Keith, who was living an extended fantasy adolescence.

And it's more than a bit discomforting to read about Keith's young son, Marlon, on tour with the band, a seven-year-old pressed into service as his junkie father's keeper. So it might have been better than living with his crazy junkie mother - and we hear from Marlon, who tells us it's all grand - but still. Some things are not easy to rationalize.

If you know your Stones history, you know that Canada and the fair city of Toronto play a supporting role. I followed Keith's Canadian Saga as it happened through the pages of Rolling Stone magazine - then published on newsprint! and about music! - and through independent rock radio.

Reading this part of Keith's story was a bit surreal to me. Some Girls is laden with memories for me, crazy teenage memories from a semi-crazy teenage life. When Allan and I moved to the Toronto area and I first saw the El Mocambo club - steps away from where I attend war resisters meeting - it was quite unbelievable to me. Stones fans know why.

Life goes on at some length about the bust in Canada, and Keith confined to quarters in New Jersey, and the making of Some Girls, and of course there's the whole Margaret-Trudeau-in-the-bathrobe thing.
The Mounties never did try to bust me again. I was quoted as saying, "What is on trial is the same thing that's always been on trial. Dear old them and us. I find this all a bit weary. I've done my stint in the fucking dock. Why don't they pick on The Sex Pistols?"

Yet again someone was seriously after my ass, and the situation was further complicated by Margaret Trudeau, the wife of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, moving into the hotel as a Stones appendage, offering a double-big tabloid story. The prime minister's young wife with the Stones, and you throw in drugs, you're looking at a three-month run. In the end it may have played in my favour, but at the time it was the worst combination of circumstances.

Margaret Trudeau was twenty-two and Trudeau was fifty-one when they got married. It was a bit like Sinatra and Mia Farrow - the power and the flower child. And now Trudeau's bride - and this was exactly their sixth wedding anniversary - was seen walking in our corridors in a bathrobe. So then the story was that she had left him. She had, in fact, moved into the room next to Ronnie, and they were hitting it off really well, or, as Ronnie put it nicely in his memoirs, "We shared something special for that short time." She flew to New York to escape the publicity, but Mick flew to New York as well, so it was assumed they too were an item. Worse and worse. She was a groupie, that's all she was, pure and simple. Nothing wrong with that. But you shouldn't be a prime minister's wife if you want to be a groupie.
Several pages later...
The longer the process went on, the clearer it was that the Canadian government wanted to wriggle out of it. The Mounties and their allies were thinking, "Oh, great! Wonderful job! We've delivered him to the Canadian government with a hook in his mouth." And the Trudeaus were thinking, "Uh-uh, pal, this is the last thing we need." There were five to six hundred people outside every time I turned up in court, chanting "Free Keith, free Keith." And we knew at the time the enemy camp, if you want to call the Canadian government at the time the enemy, our persecutors, were unsure of their footing. . . . .

The Canadian people were the ones that got me off the hook. But really, the mastery of it was coordinating the faux pas of Margaret Trudeau. If they had hit me hard and quick, they probably could have got me just for importing. But when it came to court, clearly the new judge had said, get this thing off the hook. We don't want any more to do with this; it's causing us more embarrassment and money that it's worth. On the day of reckoning I arrived in court, this courtroom that had the air of England in the 1950s, with a portrait of the queen hanging strangely on the wall. The actor Dan Aykroyd, who I'd met when we did Saturday Night Live just before this, was on standby as a Canadian and a character witness. The producer of the show, its Canadian founder, who still produces it, Lorne Michaels, spoke in court about my role as a slinger of hash in the great cultural kitchen. He did a very elegant job of it.
Then Keith goes on to tell some John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd stories: "Belushi was an extreme experience even by my standards."

Can we even imagine some famously profligate rock band making tabloid headlines with Laureen Harper? Who could she be seen with - Courtney Love?


howard zinn on not predicting the future

There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people's thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible.

Howard Zinn


occupy: the people's library and how to build the movement

In my post here, recapping a report-back from Occupy Wall Street, I mentioned The People's Library - but I neglected to see if the people's librarians have a blog. Silly me, of course they do!

Please visit and scroll through, it's quite amazing: Occupy Wall Street Library. Thanks very much to AW1L! I can't wait to see this for myself next week.

My friend and comrade Dr. J has an excellent post with thoughts on the Occupy Movement, placing it in context of the larger struggle, and some ideas on the burning question that the media can't stop asking, What comes next?
On the question of demands there are two potential dangers. The media are asking for a few simple demands that the system might accommodate, eliminating the systemic critique at the heart of the movement. On the other hand, some participants are calling for no demands in a way that reduces the movement to the procedural form divorced from the radical content and the movements that inform it.

A related problem to the exclusive focus on procedure is that it reduces the movement to the minority able to occupy for long hours, isolated from broader communities and struggles.

This can give rise to seeing this group as the agent of change--through a frenetic calendar of events that the majority of people don’t have the ability to participate in, or elevating the occupation from a tactic to a principle.

As the temperature drops, it will become more unsustainable to maintain outdoor occupations, and prioritizing this over outreach beyond the occupation will cut the movement off from broader struggles. At Occupy Toronto there have been efforts to build beyond the park--joining the Ryerson Social Justice Week on day three, and marching with labour and community allies against the local 1% regime of Rob Ford today.

As we’ve seen from Tahrir to Wisconsin, occupations are simply one tactic in a broader movement for change. The main strategy needs to be the active participation of masses of people—in the streets, campuses, and workplaces. Only through self-emancipation can we create a world for the 99%, by the 99%.
Well worth your time: How do we build the "occupy" movement?


top 10 ows signs (as chosen by a friend of wall street)

Top Ten OWS signs, courtesy of International Business Times.

income inequality in canada: the facts

From ReWORKit:
In light of Occupy Wall Street and the spin­offs that are grow­ing in many other cities, there have been a large num­ber of excel­lent arti­cles and stud­ies going around look­ing at the top 1% of income earn­ers in the United States. I have included links to some of them below.

This U.S. focused read­ing got me think­ing about Canada’s place in this all this, and the con­ven­tional wis­dom about how much more of an equal soci­ety Canada is.

An arti­cle in the Guardian back in May enti­tled "Top income earn­ers: are they get­ting richer? See the data" exam­ined the World Top Incomes Data­base pub­lished by the Paris School of Eco­nom­ics. From this data, I cre­ated this chart to com­pare the incomes of the super-rich in select coun­tries over the past 25 years.

Read How does Canada’s 1% compare to other countries? by Dar­ren Pus­cas.

The short answer, as is often the case, is: not as bad as the US, but that sets the bar far too low. As Puscas says, "...it is clear to see that the immense riches of the top earn­ers have not trans­lated into big pay­days for Cana­di­ans."

more occupy humour


occupy woof street: dogs of the 99%

The dogs of Occupy Wall Street

"all those responsible for the libyan war ought to be charged with war crimes"

While the leaders of nations cheer at the death of dictator Moammar Gadhafi, the real face of the air war on Libya goes unreported.

This unsparing article fails to mention Canada, but our country is once again a junior partner in an enterprise in which it should take no pride.
The Libyan city of Sirte is being systematically destroyed by National Transitional Council “rebel” fighters and NATO fighter planes. The operation stands as a monumental war crime, for which primary responsibility rests with the leading forces behind the military intervention in Libya—US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Sirte has been under siege for weeks. TNC forces have prevented all supplies from entering the city, including food, medicines, and other basic necessities. NATO bombs have rained down, together with a heavy and indiscriminate bombardment by TNC mortars, tank shells, and rockets. Basic infrastructure—including water, electricity, and sewerage systems—has been destroyed as part of the calculated effort to trigger a humanitarian crisis in the city and terrorise its inhabitants into submission.

Every building in Sirte, including apartment blocks, homes, hospitals, schools, and other civilian structures, has either been levelled or severely damaged by the “rebel” forces trying to finally take the city. Militiamen are looting homes, cars, and shops, with truckloads of residents’ stolen possessions now leaving Sirte every day.

A Reuters correspondent reported seeing a group of fighters firing machine guns at a safe in an electronics store for 15 minutes before they managed to open it and see what could be taken. Many homes, after they are looted, are being burned to the ground.

Journalists covering the brutal operation have been shocked by what they have witnessed. The BBC’s Wyre Davies reported: “This is almost a scorched earth policy. The pro-Gaddafi fighters defending this city won’t surrender, so Sirte is being systematically destroyed, block by block. Fighting is intense, incredibly destructive, and almost mind-numbing.” Reporters for the British Telegraph described Sirte as a “squalid ruin” that is “reminiscent of the grimmest scenes from Grozny, towards the end of Russia’s bloody Chechen war.”

The destruction of Sirte raises other historical parallels—Guernica, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the obliteration by the fascist powers of other urban centres in the 1930s and ’40s.

All those responsible for the Libyan war ought to be charged with war crimes—beginning with Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy. These figures launched an unprovoked war of aggression, which was the principal charge laid against Germany’s Nazi leaders at the war crimes tribunal in Nuremberg. NATO claimed authorisation for the war in Libya on the pseudo-legal basis of UN Resolution 1973—but the “no fly zone” terms of this document were immediately flouted as soon as it was adopted.
More here.

stop the insanity: oppose bill c-10

LeadNow.ca petition here.

We know that Stephen Harper thinks the United States is the GNOTFOTE, but of all the things to emulate about the US, the prison-industrial complex is a particularly poor choice.* When conservatives in Texas tell you a prison strategy doesn't work, take their word for it: it doesn't work!
Conservatives in the United States' toughest crime-fighting [sic] jurisdiction — Texas — say the Harper government's crime strategy won't work.

"You will spend billions and billions and billions on locking people up," says Judge John Creuzot of the Dallas County Court. "And there will come a point in time where the public says, 'Enough!' And you'll wind up letting them out."

Adds Representative Jerry Madden, a conservative Republican who heads the Texas House Committee on Corrections, "It's a very expensive thing to build new prisons and, if you build 'em, I guarantee you they will come. They'll be filled, OK? Because people will send them there.

"But, if you don't build 'em, they will come up with very creative things to do that keep the community safe and yet still do the incarceration necessary."

These comments are in line with a coalition of experts in Washington, D.C., who attacked the Harper government's omnibus crime package, Bill C-10, in a statement Monday.

"Republican governors and state legislators in such states of Texas, South Carolina, and Ohio are repealing mandatory minimum sentences, increasing opportunities for effective community supervision, and funding drug treatment because they know it will improve public safety and reduce taxpayer costs," said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of the Washington-based Justice Policy Institute.

"If passed, C-10 will take Canadian justice policies 180 degrees in the wrong direction, and Canadian citizens will bear the costs."
But really, Harper doesn't care if a strategy doesn't work. He's already demonstrated that he doesn't care about facts. The demise of the mandatory long-form census is proof of that. With crime rates in Canada steadily falling, statistics can only get in the way of ideology.

Look, Bill C-10 would raise the cost of filing for pardons from $150 to $600. So it's not that the government is against pardons. It's against pardons for poor and working-class people. If you have the do-re-mi, by all means, feel free to use the justice system.

Want to make crime rates even lower? Adequately tax corporations and the super-rich, and re-invest the revenue in education, jobs and social support programs. That's what works.

Want to appear tough on crime while extending the authoritarian power of the state, and make a bunch of poor people disappear? Bill C-10 will take care of that.

For more information and to sign a petition opposing the crime bill, go to LeadNow.ca's "Keep Canada Safe" page.

* With all due respect to the military industrial complex and health care non-system.

tomorrow: occupy toronto: all out against the corporate agenda

Join Occupy Toronto: All Out Against The Corporate Agenda

Join Occupy TO for a family friendly march to Nathan Phillips Square.
* Meet: 2:00 p.m. at the Occupation site (St James Park, Adelaide & Jarvis)
* Rally: 2:45 p.m. at Nathan Phillips Square (City Hall)

We, the 99%, will not accept cuts to our social services while our public funds are spent on corporate bailouts only to disappear into corporate tax holes.

We reject the corporate agenda of neoliberalism, privatization and union-busting.

We refuse to be saddled with student debt, only to graduate with no prospect of decent career.

We condemn the Canadian government’s continued criminalization of dissent and Harper’s scheme to spend billions on new super-prisons.

We oppose the racist demonization and deportation of migrants.

We will never accept the destruction of our environment in the name of corporate profit.

We demand an end to militarism and colonialism, at home and abroad.

Occupy Toronto is growing everyday. Join us!


greetings from occupy toronto

I'm writing this from the IS encampment at Occupy Toronto, in St. James Park. It's chilly and wet out today, but people here are warm and energized. There are at least 75 tents set up, and I've heard that number is growing every day. There are tents for food, logistics, media, medical, and a few other necessities, and of course, portable toilets donated by one of the unions.

My hands are too cold to type, I must put my gloves back on, so... more later.

* * * *

Now that it's later... I have two deadlines to meet and can't blog. In Toronto, the next big Occupy action is this Saturday, October 22. Details and a daily schedule of Occupy Toronto events are found here.


occupy movement: some answers to cynics and detractors

While at work this past weekend, I spent some time reading comments and posts written by people who dislike the Occupy movement. Most of these comments were angry, or cynical, or dismissive. I thought I'd address a few of them here.

Laziness. Supposedly Occupy demonstrators and supporters don't want to work hard. We want everything given to us, simply because we exist.

This leaves me wondering about who works hard and who does not. Do nurses work hard? Construction workers? Secretaries? Flight attendants? Do labourers work hard? Teachers? Social workers? Auto workers? Or do we all think that hedge fund managers and stock exchange traders work harder than the average working Joe and Jane?

Do the critics believe that the 1% all became super-rich by dint of hard work? That every CEO with a multimillion dollar salary - plus several million dollars annually for each corporate board of directors on which he is listed - actually worked his butt off and was fairly compensated?

Surely we all know that great amounts of wealth are inherited, that most wealthy people started out rich and became richer? If we don't personally know any rich, indolent people, certainly we've read and heard about them, no? Popular culture is awash with such stories. Even if we count all the rags-to-riches stories, opportunity has to be built into the system, and available to all, right?

To those ends, I hope you will read these two posts, both eloquent and cogent responses to this issue. (I posted them earlier, but they may have been buried.) The posts are too long to quote well here, and the writers deserve your click.

Max Urdargo at Daily Kos: Open Letter to that 53% Guy.

Impudent Strumpet: We are part of the 99%.

The "Open Letter" writer touches on another response to the laziness charge, an important one. Now, this writer believes far more than I do in the promise of capitalism to bring prosperity and happiness to the greatest number of people. I think we've seen enough to conclude that reform doesn't work; the next bust is only a cycle away. As the sign says, "The system isn't broken, it was built this way."

It's a big difference - the difference between liberalism and socialism - but we'll put it aside for now. He writes:
I want everybody to have healthcare. I want lazy people to have healthcare. I want stupid people to have healthcare. I want drug addicts to have healthcare. I want bums who refuse to work even when given the opportunity to have healthcare. I’m willing to pay for that with my taxes, because I want to live in a society where it doesn’t matter how much of a loser you are, if you need medical care you can get it. And not just by crowding up an emergency room that should be dedicated exclusively to helping people in emergencies.
We have this in Canada. And it works, big-time. This means that even if a person is lazy - whether he be rich and lazy or poor and lazy - he can get decent medical care.

Laziness shouldn't mean starving and living on the streets. Neither should physical disability, or poor mental health, or drug addiction, or pregnancy, or really bad luck. All people, regardless of ability, deserve to eat well, have a warm, safe place to lay their heads, have access to education, meaningful work and full medical care. And that means more than we have now in Canada, exactly none of it left to the vagaries of employment or the free market.

We're not demonstrating because we're lazy. (Do lazy people protest? Wouldn't lazy people be home watching TV, rather than out in the streets?) We're demonstrating because, as Imp Strump puts it:
The 1%, the rich and the powerful, fucked up the world's economy, wrote themselves bonus cheques that are orders of magnitude bigger than the likes of us who have to pay our way through school on scholarships and low wages will see in a lifetime, and are trying to make the rest of us, the 99% (which does include you, BTW - even with today's unemployment rates, scholarships and 30 hours a week don't put you in the richest 1%), pay for it by creating a world where it will be harder and harder to have things work out just by doing what you're supposed to do. They're trying to make there be fewer jobs, have them less well-compensated and less secure, and at the same time to reduce available public services. This means that it will be harder for you to get and keep your 30 hours and you'll get paid less for it, and at the same time your tuition will go up and your scholarships will go down.
Hypocrites. I was astonished at how many people criticize Occupy demonstrators for buying coffee from Tim Hortons or Starbucks, or wearing Lululemon jackets. In the US years ago, people used to criticize Ralph Nader for being wealthy; today you hear the same about Michael Moore.

Being a champion of people's causes does not require one to take a vow of poverty. Privilege itself is no crime: it's what you do with your privilege that matters. And being an activist doesn't mean living in some alternate universe where all your needs can be met through local, independent, fair-trade businesses. We all exist in the same world, and we do what we must and what we can.

At bottom, this criticism is little more than an ad hominem attack: denigrate the messenger in order to dismiss the message. But messengers don't need to pass moral purity tests before their message is deemed valid.

They say they want change, but change to what? Certainly, to a system that is more equitable, that provides more opportunity and a greater level of comfort to a greater number of people. But the details of the alternative system don't have to in place before one speaks out against the present one.

The first step is raising awareness that there is a problem, and that the problem is not individually based - your inability to find a decent job, my inability to afford higher education - but systemic. Public demonstrations and the conversations that follow raise that awareness. Wisconsin. Egypt. Greece. Wall Street. Bay Street. It's all connected.

As increasing numbers of people come to understand that the system is broken, they realize they are not alone. That their ideas are not so crazy after all. That they can ask for more. That they deserve more. And that maybe, just maybe, a better world is possible.

That idea begins to spread. People begin to talk about what they want, what a new system could look like. How it might be created.

We don't have to have a plan and make a presentation like some boardroom executive rolling out a new product. And we don't need a party platform; we're not running for office. We just keep meeting, and keep talking. As the saying goes, we make the road by walking.

We already have a system. It's called voting. If you want change, vote for it. Does voting bring change? In the recent provincial election, voter turnout was at an all-time low. We're often told that low turnout is a sign of apathy. But what if voter turnout is so low not because of apathy, but because of its opposite, anger and frustration? What if people are hungry for change, but none of their voting choices offer it? What if people don't vote because they believe that no matter what party is elected, the system remains the same? How do they effect change then? This movement is taking a stab at an answer.

Various ad hominem attacks. The protesters are hippies. They are teenagers. They are... fill in the blank. Have you turned on a TV lately? Have you actually observed a demonstration? I wish the people writing this stuff would come out and merely watch, with their eyes and minds open. They'd see a whole lot of ordinary people, trying to create a better world.

This morning in Toronto, it appears that a few Occupy people showed up in the financial district with signs. A large march is planned for later today, but this morning a few dozen people rallied on their own. Naturally, internet right-wingers are having a field day with this. Ha ha ha, only a few people turned up, this means your ideas are stupid!

It's so easy to sit on the sidelines and mock. But standing up and being heard feels so much better.

Occupy TO: schedule, needs, updates.


mcfadden: "giving food away only encourages the poor not to starve"

I love this guy!

open letter from the middle class: two responses to the 53%ers

I have been steadfastly avoiding the so-called 53%, the US right-wing reaction to the Occupy movement, but two responses to their claims caught my eye.

Suzy Khimm in the Washington Post takes on the hypocrisy of right-wingers flaunting their status as taxpayers, and the ridiculous notion that the protesters don't pay taxes.
Part of the reason that over 40 percent of Americans don’t pay taxes is because of the continual push to lower them — a cause that conservatives have championed. For example, while the Bush-era tax cuts benefited the wealthy, they also lowered taxes at every income level, making it “relatively easy for families of four making $50,000 to eliminate their income tax liability,” as the Associated Press notes. Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts, similarly, took many lower-income Americans off of the tax rolls, an accomplishment about which the Gipper was quite proud. . . .

What’s more the “53 percent” Tumblr also implies that there’s a certain mantle of responsibility that paying taxes confers upon people — i.e. grown-up, self-directed Americans like us can earn enough money to pay taxes, so you should, too. That’s an unusual message coming from conservatives who’ve pushed so mightily for an anti-tax agenda.
A right-wing PR man explains, "On a more visceral level, there’s always the reaction against the hippies." The hippies? What century is this again? Although no surprise, this sad, ignorant, utterly knee-jerk reaction still amazes me. I wish some of the folks who throw this word "hippie" around would get themselves to the nearest Occupy demonstration. They would, of course, see regular, everyday, garden-variety working people, or people who would love to be working if only there were jobs. Does it not occur to them that these protests are far too large and too widespread to be gatherings of "hippies"?

* * * *

The writer of the second response is a US liberal. He favours capitalism and the middle-class dream far more than I do. I no longer believe the system can be reformed; it has to be re-made. But I'm sharing his post because it's a passionate, eloquent and nearly comprehensive rationale for why everyone should support the Occupy movement. It's long, but well worth your time. Please read: Open Letter to that 53% Guy, by Udargo on Daily Kos.


a first step towards justice: catholic bishop indicted for failure to report sexual abuse

Finally, the horrific, endemic and institutional protection of child sexual abusers by the Catholic Church is being challenged by the judicial system. Thanks to the courageous and continuous speaking out of survivors, and the tireless work of those who advocate for them, we are seeing a crack in the Church's previously impervious facade.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, brave people. Every time you show your face, use your real name, point the finger at the criminals, you move us towards justice. And you help other survivors know they are not alone. Keep on speaking out. Keep on keepin' on.
A bishop in the Roman Catholic Church has been indicted for failure to report suspected child abuse, the first time in the 25-year history of the church’s sex abuse scandals that the leader of an American diocese has been held criminally liable for the behavior of a priest he supervised.

The indictment of the bishop, Robert W. Finn, and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph by a county grand jury was announced Friday. Each was charged with one misdemeanor count involving a priest accused of taking pornographic photographs of girls as recently as this year. They pleaded not guilty.

The case caused an uproar among Catholics in Kansas City this year when Bishop Finn acknowledged that he knew of the photographs last December but did not turn them over to the police until May. During that time, the priest, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, allegedly continued to attend church events with children, and took lewd photographs of another young girl.

A decade ago the American bishops pledged to report suspected abusers to law enforcement authorities — a policy also recommended last year by the Vatican. Bishop Finn himself had made such a promise three years ago as part of a $10 million legal settlement with abuse victims in Kansas City.

Though the charge is only a misdemeanor, victims’ advocates immediately hailed the indictment as a breakthrough, saying that until now American bishops have avoided prosecution despite documents showing that in some cases they were aware of abuse.

“This is huge for us,” said Michael Hunter, director of the Kansas City chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and a victim of sexual abuse by a priest. “It’s something that I personally have been waiting for years to see, some real accountability. We’re very pleased with the prosecuting attorney here to have the guts to do it.” The bishop signaled he would fight the charges with all his strength. He said in a statement: “We will meet these announcements with a steady resolve and a vigorous defense.”
Much more here.

amnesty calls on canada to arrest george w. bush

I posted this in comments on the protest Dick Cheney thread, but it may have gotten buried. From the Department of If Only, cross-referenced under After The Revolution.

Amnesty International is calling on Canada to arrest and either prosecute or extradite George W. Bush when he visits Canada later this month. Amnesty has submitted a memorandum to the government of Canada making a case for the former Resident's legal responsibility for a series of human rights violations. You can see the memorandum here.
"Canada is required by its international obligations to arrest and prosecute former President Bush given his responsibility for crimes under international law including torture," said Susan Lee, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

"As the US authorities have, so far, failed to bring former President Bush to justice, the international community must step in. A failure by Canada to take action during his visit would violate the UN Convention against Torture and demonstrate contempt for fundamental human rights."

. . . The violations took place during the CIA's secret detention program between 2002 and 2009 – and include torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading-treatment and enforced disappearances.

While President, George W. Bush authorized the use of a number of “enhanced interrogation techniques” against detainees held in the secret CIA program.

The former President later specifically admitted to authorizing the “waterboarding” of several individuals whose subjection to this torture technique has been confirmed.

Detainees were subjected to waterboarding and a range of other “enhanced interrogation techniques” – including being forced to stay for hours in painful positions and sleep deprivation – during the CIA’s secret detention program, set up under then-President Bush’s authorization.

The CIA Inspector General found that Zayn al Abidin Muhammed Husayn (known as Abu Zubaydah) and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were subjected, between them, to at least 266 applications of waterboarding while in detention between 2002 and 2003.

Amnesty International’s submission also highlights further evidence of torture and other crimes under international law committed against detainees held under US military custody in Guantánamo, Afghanistan and Iraq.

“This is a crucial moment for Canada to demonstrate it is prepared to live up to its commitments and obligations with respect to human rights,” said Susan Lee. “Canada has been a leader in efforts to strengthen the international justice system and must now demonstrate that when it comes to accountability for human rights violations, no one and no country is above international law.”

occupy wall street protesters not evicted from zuccotti park

The flood of calls and emails, and a steady stream of supporters joining the protesters in Zuccotti Park early this morning, caused New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to re-think his plan to "clean" Zuccotti Park.

Civil disobedience was planned for this morning, and the men in blue could have gotten very ugly. Thank [something] Bloomberg has more PR sense than that.

Tomorrow! Occupy Everywhere!


urgent: nyc to move on occupy wall street: call and voice your outrage right now!

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced plans to evict the Occupy Wall Street protesters at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. Please pick up the phone!

Call the Mayor's office, call Brookfield Properties, the owners of Zuccotti Park. Tell them what you think of this plan. Occupy Wall Street protesters represent hundreds of thousands - millions - of us who cannot be there ourselves. Let's back them up.

Protest - freedom of speech and freedom of assembly - is a Constitutional right. Fight for it.

Office of the Mayor of the City of New York: 212.639.9675 (212-NEW-YORK)
Brookfield CEO Richard Clark: 212.417.7063
Brookfield US: 212.417.7000
Brookfield Canada: 416.369.2300

To contact the mayor by email: go here.


occupy wall street: a view from nyc and how you can participate, even if you can't physically occupy

Last night we attended a meeting of the Toronto International Socialists, because I wanted to hear a report-back from a member who has just returned from New York, where he spent a day at Occupy Wall Street.

Chris is 19 years old, originally from New Jersey, and he attended with his dad, age 57. What he witnessed filled him with joy and hope and excitement - and hearing about it did the same for me. I'll be in New York City in early November, and I can't wait to join the occupation for a day.

After I relate Chris' observations, I'll pass along ideas on how we all can get involved, no matter what our availability or ability to physically join the occupation. So please stay tuned or scroll down.

* * * *

Chris was part of the occupation from an entire day and well into the night, and Liberty Square (Zuccotti Park) was packed with people the entire time. The gathering was so organized, efficient and and well maintained - yet so completely democratic and participatory - that he said, "It blew my mind".

There's one area with food - well stocked with delicious, nutritious food, all free for all. There's another area with clothes - also all free for anyone to use or take. In another area, computers and other devices are running on solar power for everyone to use. Another area serves as an information centre and a base of operations. There's a library! It's called "The People's Library" and all the books have OWS written on the spine. Gotta love that. Overall, there's no shortage of anything.

[Update! Something I forgot: Chris brought back a copy of The Occupied Wall Street Journal. It's terrific! You can see and download the first issue here and the second issue here.]

A General Assembly is held every night at 7:00 p.m. Anyone who attends can participate, and everyone who participates is part of the voice and the leadership of Occupy Wall Street. Chris said that every GA begins with a long explanation of the intention and process of the meeting. Participants communicate with hand and arm signals, and the signals are reviewed every night.

This redundancy is purposely built into the system, so anyone who may be attending for the first time will understand the process. I thought this was brilliant. Most of us know what it's like to join a group mid-stream. This daily review builds a welcome for newcomers and ensures continuity for the system.

The GA is the governmental body of Occupy Wall Street, but it isn't about politics or ideology. It's about the material concerns of the participants. Everyone is free to - and encouraged to - form their own working groups to discuss ideas, strategies, issues, problems. If there's a concern, someone from the working group presents the issue to the GA, where it's discussed until consensus is reached.

Chris described an issue he saw dealt with through this process. Apparently there's been a lot of criticism about the appearance of the park - the mess, the ragtag look. Some people had the idea of OWS collectively purchasing storage bins for everyone to use. This would create more space on the ground, and also help people be more mobile. (It's easier to pick up and move a storage bin than gather all your stuff without anything to pack it in.) Some people had concerns that the storage bins be purchased from a fair trade company. So these issues were discussed and debated. At first, consensus could not be reached because of the fair trade issue... but eventually it was.

[Now imagine representatives from this and other local GAs reporting to another level of GAs, a regional level, then those GAs reporting to a larger level... Participatory democracy. What a concept.]

Chris described joyous drum circles that included people of all ages and from all different social groups. He described a place with its own "safer spaces" security group, but almost no need for it, as there's no theft and no violence.

There have been no arrests since the incident on the Brooklyn Bridge, and 100% of the violence has come from the police. The NYPD is present in tremendous numbers - walls of blue. (You've probably heard that JPMorgan Chase has donated $4.6 million to the New York City Police Foundation, the largest gift in the Foundation's history. There's nothing that money can't buy. If only those police officers realized that they're working for the wrong side.)

Chris also described the broad spectrum of ideology and ideas that he saw expressed at Liberty Square. There are people carrying Ron Paul signs, libertarians from the right. There are people carrying socialism signs. There's a constant dialogue, and no one seems afraid to express her or his ideas or beliefs.

The criticism of OWS that I see most often in the mainstream media is "fuzzy", "vague", "they aren't clear on their demands". But as Chris Hedges points out, "What are their demands?" is the wrong question. As my comrade Chris put it last night, "demands" are something we ask for so the ruling class can implement them for us. This is something completely different. This is The People taking back the process.

* * * *

After Chris' report, there was a discussion about Occupy Toronto, which kicks off on October 15, a discussion that is happening all over Canada, all over the US, and all over the world.

Someone raised a question that's been on my mind from the beginning. Many of us, most of us, can't sleep out in a tent in a square. Whether it's age or physical health or the simple fact of having to go to work every day to pay the bills and put food on the table, we can't put our lives on hold to join this joyous encampment.

But we recognize this movement, as Naomi Klein said recently, as the most important thing in the world right now. What can we do?

Of course you can donate food, sleeping bags, blankets, warm clothes, books, a laptop. That's important, but it's the easy part, and you can probably do more.

You can attend for a day. You can attend for an hour each day. You can attend for a few hours each week. You can sleep out one night. You can have your breakfast in the occupation. You can stop by after work for a few hours before you go home. I'm reading stories and tweets about people doing this all over the US. It can happen all over Canada, too.

There's also something very direct and very important you can do: you can join a General Assembly. A GA will take place every night during an occupation. Everyone who attends is participating in the governing body of the people's movement. Even if you've never done anything like this before in your life, you can attend a GA and see what people-powered democracy looks like.


occupy wall street: the most important thing in the world right now

In case you missed any of these, here's some great stuff on the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Naomi Klein: Occupy Wall Street: The Most Important Thing in the World Now:
If there is one thing I know, it is that the 1 percent loves a crisis. When people are panicked and desperate and no one seems to know what to do, that is the ideal time to push through their wish list of pro-corporate policies: privatizing education and social security, slashing public services, getting rid of the last constraints on corporate power. Amidst the economic crisis, this is happening the world over.

And there is only one thing that can block this tactic, and fortunately, it’s a very big thing: the 99 percent. And that 99 percent is taking to the streets from Madison to Madrid to say “No. We will not pay for your crisis.”

That slogan began in Italy in 2008. It ricocheted to Greece and France and Ireland and finally it has made its way to the square mile where the crisis began.

“Why are they protesting?” ask the baffled pundits on TV. Meanwhile, the rest of the world asks: “What took you so long?” “We’ve been wondering when you were going to show up.” And most of all: “Welcome.”
Chris Hedges: Why the Elites Are in Trouble:
The lords of finance in the looming towers surrounding the park, who toy with money and lives, who make the political class, the press and the judiciary jump at their demands, who destroy the ecosystem for profit and drain the U.S. Treasury to gamble and speculate, took little notice of Ketchup or any of the other scruffy activists on the street below them. The elites consider everyone outside their sphere marginal or invisible. And what significance could an artist who paid her bills by working as a waitress have for the powerful? What could she and the others in Zuccotti Park do to them? What threat can the weak pose to the strong? Those who worship money believe their buckets of cash, like the $4.6 million JPMorgan Chase gave* to the New York City Police Foundation, can buy them perpetual power and security. Masters all, kneeling before the idols of the marketplace, blinded by their self-importance, impervious to human suffering, bloated from unchecked greed and privilege, they were about to be taught a lesson in the folly of hubris.

Even now, three weeks later, elites, and their mouthpieces in the press, continue to puzzle over what people like Ketchup want. Where is the list of demands? Why don’t they present us with specific goals? Why can’t they articulate an agenda?

The goal to people like Ketchup is very, very clear. It can be articulated in one word—REBELLION. These protesters have not come to work within the system. They are not pleading with Congress for electoral reform. They know electoral politics is a farce and have found another way to be heard and exercise power. They have no faith, nor should they, in the political system or the two major political parties. They know the press will not amplify their voices, and so they created a press of their own. They know the economy serves the oligarchs, so they formed their own communal system. This movement is an effort to take our country back.

This is a goal the power elite cannot comprehend. They cannot envision a day when they will not be in charge of our lives. The elites believe, and seek to make us believe, that globalization and unfettered capitalism are natural law, some kind of permanent and eternal dynamic that can never be altered. What the elites fail to realize is that rebellion will not stop until the corporate state is extinguished. It will not stop until there is an end to the corporate abuse of the poor, the working class, the elderly, the sick, children, those being slaughtered in our imperial wars and tortured in our black sites. It will not stop until foreclosures and bank repossessions stop. It will not stop until students no longer have to go into debt to be educated, and families no longer have to plunge into bankruptcy to pay medical bills. It will not stop until the corporate destruction of the ecosystem stops, and our relationships with each other and the planet are radically reconfigured. And that is why the elites, and the rotted and degenerate system of corporate power they sustain, are in trouble. That is why they keep asking what the demands are. They don’t understand what is happening. They are deaf, dumb and blind.
Mark Ruffalo, actor, director, screenwriter: We are the 99 per cent:
It is a thing of beauty to see so many people in love with the ideal of democracy, so alive with its promise, so committed to its continuity in the face of crony capitalism and corporate rule. That should be celebrated. It should be respected and admired.

Their message is very clear and simple: get money out of the political process; strive for equality in taxation and equal rights for all regardless of race, gender, social status, sexual preference or age. We must stop poisoning our food, air and water for corporate greed. The people on Wall Street and in the banking industrial complex that destroyed our economy must be investigated and brought to justice under the law for what they have done by stealing people's homes and savings. . . .

The 99% of us have paid a dear price so that 1% could become the wealthiest people in the world. We all pay insanely high energy prices while we see energy companies making record profits, year after year. We live with great injustices in the land of justice. We live with great lawlessness in the land of the law.
Bonus Canadian content: "The Bill O’Reilly of Canada Ambushes Chris Hedges". I was wondering who the "Bill O'Reilly of Canada" would turn out to be. To my surprise, it was not Ezra Levant.

Tonight I'm attending a report-back from an IS member who has just returned from occupied Wall Street. He's a USian attending school in Canada; I look forward to hearing his perspective and will report back to you all as soon as I can.


right-wing editor admits to playing provocateur, instigating violence at protest

We all know that agent provocateurs are a reality, but whenever we are offered hard evidence, we should spread it far and wide. A right-wing "journalist" has admitted to infiltrating a protest group and claims to have personally instigated events that led to a Washington DC museum's closure this past Saturday.

What Patrick Howley lacks in journalistic integrity he makes up for in ego: unethical enough to pull this stunt, he then couldn't resist bragging about it, and his publication was stupid enough to run it. Apparently American Spectator has changed the wording of the story, but not before the Washington Post's Suzy Khimm caught it and posted it on Google Docs. (American Spectator could also use a proofreader: Howley writes of his "unshaven left-wing altar ego".)

Khimm writes:
A conservative journalist has admitted to infiltrating the group of protesters who clashed with security at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on Saturday — and he openly claims to have instigated the events that prompted the museum to close.

Patrick Howley, an assistant editor at the American Spectator, says that he joined the group under the pretense that he was a demonstrator. “As far as anyone knew I was part of this cause — a cause that I had infiltrated the day before in order to mock and undermine in the pages of The American Spectator,” Howley wrote. (The language in the story has since been changed without explanation.)

A group called the October 11 movement had organized the march in order to protest the U.S. government’s use of unmanned drones overseas, joined by a few members of the D.C. branch of the Occupy Wall Street movement, as the Post reported Saturday. Howley writes that a small number of protesters — himself included — had tried to move past the security guards at the main entrance of the museum. He says that one protester next to him got into a shoving match with a security guard in an antechamber before they hit the second set of doors that led to the museum itself. The guard pepper-sprayed the protester, spraying Howley as well.

But, according to his account, Howley was determined to escalate the protest further. “I wasn’t giving up before I had my story,” he writes, describing how he continued to rush past security into the museum itself.
Based on his sneering column, it's clear that Howley's intent was to discredit the entire Occupy Wall Street movement. Howley:
The tourist reaction within the museum -- like the reactions of those on D.C. tour buses and sidewalks Saturday -- was one of confusion and mild irritation. In the absence of definitive national polling on the matter, that may be the best opinion sample we yet have of this rash of ill-defined, anti-corporate and anti-bailout protests developing across the country. What began on Wall Street is now spreading, and the question still remains: is it dangerous?
When he didn't get enough material to answer that question, Howley made some up. He criticizes the protesters for not barging into the museum after being pepper-sprayed, claiming this shows they have "no political power".
But just as the lefties couldn't figure out how to run their assembly meeting (many process points, I'm afraid to report, were left un-twinkled), so too do they lack the nerve to confront authority.
He quotes a museum guard acting like a cartoon super hero, then praises the guard's "courage" for pepper-spraying unarmed protesters.
As I scrambled away from the scene of my crime, a police officer outside the museum gates pointed at my eyes, puffed out his chest, and shouted: "Yeah, that's right. That's right." He was proud that I had been pepper-sprayed, and, oddly, so was I. I deserved to get a face full of high-grade pepper, and the guards who sprayed me acted with more courage than I saw from any of the protesters. If you're looking for something to commend these days in America, start with those guards.
And then - after bragging that he was the only protester willing to "push the envelope and go bold" - he criticizes the movement for being "disruptive"!

Of course Howley's sarcastic, condescending column misses the real point. Museum visitors were irritated? What of it? Would Howley have preferred they were fearful of their lives, as if they had stumbled on an armed-to-the-teeth tea party protest? Will a movement's effectiveness be judged according to the reactions of passers-by?

The meeting Howley mocks may not have been as organized as a corporate board of directors. But again, why does that matter? What matters is that people are meeting. They're figuring out how to organize, learning by doing. They're fed up, and they're engaged, and they're not going away. We're not going away.


early dispatches from movie season

Last year I mentioned I had never seen a single Pixar movie, including any Toy Story movie. Many wmtc readers recommended I watch all three Toy Story movies, which seemed excessive to me, but I thought it was time to at least see one.

I'm watching "Toy Story" as I write this, because it doesn't hold my interest enough to watch without something else to do. The movie is cute. It is mildly entertaining. The animation is beautiful and the voices are good, but I can't watch a movie for either of those elements. It is just not especially interesting or compelling. I guess this kind of movie is just not for me.

On the other side of the spectrum, last night we watched "Made In Dagenham". This story of striking female factory workers in 1968 England might as well have been made with me in mind. Of all the people's movements, I find the struggle of working people for justice the most moving, and I identify with it above all else, except perhaps the struggle of women for social and legal equality. Put the two together in a well written movie with solid acting, and I'm gone. Worker solidarity, sisterhood stronger than class boundaries, activism that resulted in real change, and one woman discovering herself as a leader: highly recommended.

The BBC Series "Planet Earth" is magnificent. It focuses on phenomena humans have rarely seen, let alone recorded, like a snow leopard hunting in the mountains of Pakistan or a piranha feeding frenzy. Each episode ends with a mini documentary about how a segment was filmed, which is nearly as extraordinary as the film itself. In the three episodes we've seen, the producers have missed an opportunity to connect the natural phenomena to the threats of climate change, habitat destruction and other human-made pressures. They seem almost determined to scrub any political point of view from the film, which is disappointing. But the film is still revelatory - truly amazing.

"A Dog Year" isn't much of a movie, but we'll watch anything with dogs. It seems I'd rather watch a mediocre movie with a beautiful Border Collie than a famously well-made movie with talking toys.

on the dangers of centrism

A fellow student recently complained to me about the "knee-jerk lefty-liberal" worldview of one of her teachers. I don't know why she assumed the professor's worldview was reflexive rather than well considered, but she went on to say, "I try to take a moderate approach to all things. I feel it's very important to be moderate." When I suggested that "moderate" is a relative term, she said she knew that, and that's why she sought out the position.

This strikes me as sad - and dangerous. Political discourse in North America has been marching steadily to the right. Like Michael Moore, I date this to 1980, the dawn of the era of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Views that might have been characterized by mainstream pundits as moderately liberal in 1975 were considered much farther left-of-centre in 1985, still farther left in 1995, and so on, to our present day. A person who wants to be considered politically moderate by the dominant culture has been moving consistently to the right, possibly without even realizing it.

A person striving for the political centre is morally adrift. Her own opinions and views are an empty vessel, waiting for others to fill it, or a colouring book, waiting for people with stronger opinions to pick up the crayons.

On the other hand, a person who understands her core values knows what she believes in, no matter where the majority or the mainstream stands.

The person who values moderation above all else measures the political spectrum, then decides what position represents the centre. The person with strong values and beliefs can hear all sides of the story, and know where she stands, regardless of how that stance is judged by anyone else.

Which leads me to ask, is it centrism this person is after, or conformity? Does she eschew extremism, or does she merely need the comfort of knowing her position will be questioned by the fewest numbers of people?

The problem with centrism is also the problem with its opposite: extremism. Conservatives and right-wing radicals routinely characterize progressive positions as extremist. Yesterday during Question Period, I heard talk of "environmental extremists". These are people who oppose the tar sands, which the speaker represents. National parks in the United States were once closed to certain commercial interests. Now we are told the lives of wild bison must be weighed against the recreational habits of snowmobilers - and banning snowmobile use from national parks, once the norm, is an extremist position. People who oppose mandatory identification cards or warrantless wiretapping are "libertarian extremists". And so on. An angry wmtc commenter once claimed that CNN represented moderate liberal views, and therefore people such as Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow were radical leftists. (A dictionary might be useful there.)

Once upon a time, people who advocated the abolition of slavery were considered extremists. More recently, those trying to dismantle apartheid in South Africa were similarly characterized - by the President of the United States.

The label of "extremism" is a semantic weapon, used by people with a very specific point of view, to advance their own interests in the arena of public opinion. A person who values centrism above all is at the mercy of whoever controls the discourse. If we're afraid of being characterized as extremists, if we fear this somehow taints us - and if that fear outweighs the strength of our own values - then we leave ourselves wide open to manipulation.

The person who fears being labelled an extremist may find herself supporting the unsupportable. As long as she's swaddled comfortably in centrism, she'll be able to sleep at night. In Canada, where conformity may be prized over individuality - and where right-wingers (from any political party) tap into this fear by portraying themselves as centrist - this is dangerous indeed.

As the centre continues to move farther and farther to the right, my own core values are ever more easily labelled extreme. But what of it? You can characterize a viewpoint any way you choose - what matters is the belief itself and what you do with it, not the label.

more mcfadden: scenes from a class war

Please visit Brian McFadden and his Big Fat Whale. The war on Afghanistan is having a birthday party, and you're invited.

scenes from an occupation: updated!

More great photos here.

Day 19:
Most compelling moment of the night: Watching NYPD taking a girl away, crowd asked her name, she replied, "Troy Davis, Medgar Evers, Emmett Till, Martin Luther King." Total poise, totally amazing.

October 15: Occupy Together

Thanks to Jere for the photos and links.


the f-word: famine is the real obscenity

Signing a petition seems such a paltry, insignificant act when measured against the massive starvation in Somalia. I remind myself of what Gandhi said: Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.

Please sign the petition to G20 decision makers, demanding action to end the famine in Somalia.

The petition page says, "Drought is an act of nature. Famine is man made." Right now, drought may be largely human-made, too, as climate change causes more land to become desert. One thing's for sure, though. There is enough food on this planet to feed everyone.

If signing petitions and making small donations are all we can do, then signing and donating it is.

Petition here.


random notes: amira hass, ry cooder, planned parenthood, and more

Time to collect some of the scraps of paper scribbled all over my desk...

  • Amira Hass will be speaking at the University of Toronto tomorrow night. Hass is an Israeli journalist based in Ramallah, and the only Israeli journalist to live in the occupied territories - which means she is the only reliable Israeli source of information about Palestinian life. A journalist living in the location she covers shouldn't be unusual. As Hass puts it, "If you are covering Paris, you don't live in Berlin." Yet all other Israeli journalists write about Palestine without being in and among Palestine. Why bother, since they get all the information they need from the government.

    I so wish I could attend this event! But I'll be in class, and missing one session of this cataloging class could sink the course. (How much information can we throw at you in three hours? Whee, let's find out!)

    Hass' Canadian tour is sponsored by Canadians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East. Details about the Toronto event are here.

  • If you're interested in war resisters, Courage to Resist has a new book out. About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. It's a compilation of stories from their Audio Project, and it includes a few from my war resister friends in Canada. About Face has also led me to discover PM Press, an amazing political publishing outfit.

  • The war on US women is getting more vicious by the day, as the Republicans try to shut down Planned Parenthood altogether. Congressperson Cliff Stearns (from Florida, what a surprise) leads the witch hunt, demanding Planned Parenthood release years of documentation and audits, all of which already have been reviewed, as he fishes for something, anything, to use as an excuse to shut down the esteemed health care provider. Planned Parenthood empowers low income women and families, providing them with sexual and reproductive health care along with some modicum of control over their lives. Clearly the work of the devil.
    The so-called debate over federal funding to Planned Parenthood has become a complete farce. Any pretense of it being about legitimate budgetary concerns is gone. The conservatives lost that battle in April, but instead of stepping back and planning to fight again over, say, next year's budget, they are now trying to smear Planned Parenthood with unsubstantiated allegations and outright lies.

    Back in April, in response to U.S. Senator Jon Kyl's, R-Ari., absurd allegation that abortion constituted "well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does," Planned Parenthood released a graph showing exactly where its resources go -- and abortion services account for only 3 percent of its work.

    Here are the top three services Planned Parenthood actually provides: birth control (35 percent), testing for sexually transmitted illnesses (35 percent) and cancer screening and prevention (16 percent). The remainder is general women's health services, which could mean anything from treating urinary tract infections to providing prenatal care for women who are not having abortions.
    If you or someone you know in the US are in a position to help, see Emily's List.

  • Legendary musician Ry Cooder is channelling the spirit of Woody Guthrie. Cooder has released "Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down," a CD of short, singable, danceable, wryly humorous songs about our struggle for justice against the forces of oppression. The opening track, "No Banker Left Behind," premiered on Truthdig Radio, and Cooder talked about the album with Robert Scheer. You can listen to the album here, but I think we should all buy this one.

  • Also on the socially conscious music front, I noticed that Steve Earle received an honourary degree from City University of New York School of Law; last year Earle was recognized by the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty for his continued work for justice. I've been following Steve Earle's career since the mid-1980s, when he was one of the wave of musicians reviving country rock and rocking country. Earle's music was always subversively political, but over the years it became overtly so. Now he's a full-fledged radical, and his music is better than ever. Amy Goodman interviews Earle here: "Making Art in America is a Political Statement in Itself" (part 2 here). I recommend this interview whether you know Steve Earle or not.
  • 10.03.2011

    more interspecies love, lion and human edition

    This is one of the most beautiful animal videos I've ever seen. Enjoy!

    Lion and human, friends and family

    saturday october 15: occupy together!

    A few views of the mass arrests in New York City this weekend. Even the official versions are great.

    In the US, the Occupy Wall Street movement - now Occupy Together - has sprouted in more than 100 locations. A list of current or planned occupations can be found in the sidebar on this site.

    The movement will be visible in Canada October 15: Occupy Toronto Market Exchange, Occupy Montreal, Occupy Vancouver, Occupy Calgary.

    Saturday, October 15 is slated as a global day of protest against austerity budgets that force working people to pay for capitalism's crisis, and an untenable, worsening global income disparity.

    chris hedges: we are what we loathe

    Although the big 9/11 anniversary was weeks ago, Chris Hedges' observations are relevant every day.

    This is a truly excellent piece. This excerpt is not the lede. The beginning of this essay may be triggering for some, as Hedges was at the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, and recounts part of what he witnessed.
    I returned that night to the newsroom hacking from the fumes released by the burning asbestos, jet fuel, lead, mercury, cellulose and construction debris. I sat at my computer, my thin paper mask still hanging from my neck, trying to write and catch my breath. All who had been at the site that day were noticeable in the newsroom because they were struggling for air. Most of us were convulsed by shock and grief.

    There would soon, however, be another reaction. Those of us who were close to the epicenters of the 9/11 attacks would primarily grieve and mourn. Those who had some distance would indulge in the growing nationalist cant and calls for blood that would soon triumph over reason and sanity. Nationalism was a disease I knew intimately as a war correspondent. It is anti-thought. It is primarily about self-exaltation. The flip side of nationalism is always racism, the dehumanization of the enemy and all who appear to question the cause. The plague of nationalism began almost immediately.

    . . . .

    The dead in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania were used to sanctify the state’s lust for war. To question the rush to war became to dishonor our martyrs. Those of us who knew that the attacks were rooted in the long night of humiliation and suffering inflicted by Israel on the Palestinians, the imposition of our military bases in the Middle East and in the brutal Arab dictatorships that we funded and supported became apostates. We became defenders of the indefensible. We were apologists, as Christopher Hitchens shouted at me on a stage in Berkeley, “for suicide bombers.”

    Because few cared to examine our activities in the Muslim world, the attacks became certified as incomprehensible by the state and its lap dogs, the press. Those who carried out the attacks were branded as rising out of a culture and religion that was at best primitive and probably evil. The Quran—although it forbids suicide as well as the murder of women and children—was painted as a manual for fanaticism and terror. The attackers embodied the titanic clash of civilizations, the cosmic battle under way between good and evil, the forces of light and darkness. . . .

    What was played out in the weeks after the attacks was the old, familiar battle between force and human imagination, between the crude instruments of violence and the capacity for empathy and understanding. Human imagination lost. Coldblooded reason, which does not speak the language of the imagination, won. We began to speak and think in the empty, mindless nationalist clichés about terror that the state handed to us. We became what we abhorred. The deaths were used to justify pre-emptive war, invasion, Shock and Awe, prolonged occupation, targeted assassinations, torture, offshore penal colonies, gunning down families at checkpoints, massive aerial bombardments, drone attacks, missile strikes and the killing of dozens and soon hundreds and then thousands and later tens of thousands and finally hundreds of thousands of innocent people. We produced piles of corpses in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, and extended the reach of our killing machine to Yemen and Somalia. And by beatifying our dead, by cementing into the national psyche fear and the imperative of permanent war, and by stoking our collective humiliation, the state carried out crimes, atrocities and killings that dwarfed anything carried out against us on 9/11. The best that force can do is impose order. It can never elicit harmony. And force was justified, and is still justified, by the first dead. Ten years later these dead haunt us like Banquo’s ghost.
    Read it here.