more innocent deaths because of pit bull bigotry

I have no idea why I only learned of this story yesterday, through an email from James. I keep in touch with several bully-related groups, and this has been going on almost a year, but for some reason it completely escaped my radar.

It's one of the most heartbreaking pit stories I've read. I cannot even imagine the anger - the rage - I would be experiencing if this were my dog. This kind of abuse is how ordinary people are pushed to seemingly insane lengths.

I'm sick from reading about it, especially the details of how the dog has been abused while confined. Can you imagine being taken from your loving home, with no understanding of what is happening, and being forced to live in solitary confinement, with no human contact or even a warm bed to lie on? (Rather like Maher Arar. No better when it is done to humans!)

I have not been able to confirm if the dog has been killed, or if the family is still in the appeals process. Their blog is here, but it has not been updated for two days - perhaps because they are in shock and mourning.
Belfast City executes dog for looking like a Pit Bull
After global appeals judge sides with council and sentences Lennox to death

The case of Lennox, a family-owned dog, has become a global landmark case which will now end in tragedy. The American Bull Dog Labrador cross was seized from its family and will be put down by Belfast City Council after a court ruling because he looks like a Pit Bull, dogs which are illegal in Ireland.

On May 19, 2010 Lennox was seized by Belfast City Council Dog Wardens from his loving family home where he lives with his owners and his kennel mates. Since then he has been confined in conditions which are described as inhumane. The judge has also ruled that his family must now pay for his 11 months confinement.

Lennox's family has made it clear that they will appeal the most recent judgment. They have also been outraged by the fact that there has been so much public encouragement behind the ruling. His owners have had no visitation right for the past 11 months. They have not been contacted by the Council apart from two hours after Lennox was seized.

Photographs of Lennox in confinement have recently emerged showing Lennox in a cold concrete kennel which is too small, has no fresh water supply, heating, toys or stimulation for the dog. He is surrounded by feces with only sawdust for bedding.

International animal advocates, local politicians and media have prompted a global campaign for the release of Lennox. So far their petition has hundreds of thousands of signatures. Groups who have lent their support include the ADBA Inc, various Animal Rights groups, Animal Welfare organizations, Veterinarians, Dog Breed and Behaviorist Experts.

The most heart-wrenching plea came from Brooke, the 11-year-old daughter of Lennox's owners, who is registered as disabled. She grew up with Brooke and the pair became inseparable. Due to her condition Brooke is unable to play with other children and so Lennox became her playmate. Since Lennox's imprisonment Brooke has missed school due to ill health caused by stress. Brooke’s specialist Doctor at Belfast Royal Hospital for Sick Children has also expressed growing concern for the child’s separation from her pet.

Before the young dog was seized from his home he had committed no crime and no members of the public had complained about his behavior. On the day he was seized three police officers arrived at the family home unannounced along with the Dog Wardens. The police were sent away and the Wardens sat down with the family, had tea, smoked cigarettes and played with the family's other dogs.

The Wardens then measured Lennox's muzzle and rear legs with a dress-maker's tape measure and decided, without any professional advice, that he was a "Pit Bull Type Breed". They led him from the home to be put to death according to Life with Dogs.

Lennox's family is experienced dog owners fostering dogs from various dog shelters. When Lennox was a puppy they had him neutered, licensed, insured, DNA registered, Pet Safe registered and micro chipped.

Although Belfast City Council claim that Lennox is a Pitt Bull type dog they have issued him with a dog license every year for the past five years.

the road to adopting a dog is paved with heartbreak

It's been several months since Allan and I decided we're ready to adopt a new dog. Cody left us at the end of last summer, and through her aging and illness, it's been a long time since Tala had a lively sister to play with. Allan takes Tala to the dog park at least once a week - both for fun and to make sure she stays socialized with other dogs - but she needs a sister. And we need another dog! Without two dogs, our family is just not complete.

For various practical reasons, we decided late April is the right time. We've been forcing ourselves to hold off on browsing through Petfinder until closer to that time, knowing that once we start, we'll be immediately smitten by any number of wonderful, needy dogs. Last week, we both crumbled.

Now once again we are faced with the dozens upon dozens upon hundreds of dogs who need homes. It's not that I don't know this. It's something I think about quite a bit. It's seeing their faces. I know many wmtc readers will understand this from personal experience.

In our area alone - as in all of yours - there are way too many. Even narrowed down by our preferred size and type - still too many. A combination of puppy mills, irresponsible breeding, lack of understanding about spaying and neutering, and sheer stupidity and thoughtlessness leads hundreds of dogs and cats to be left homeless in every town and city of North America. Another factor is poverty. As millions - literally, millions - of people in the US lost their homes, animal shelters were overwhelmed, as people surrendered animals in an effort to save their human families.

I was trying to decide if I could handle actually going to a shelter to look at dogs, as opposed to using Petfinder. We adopted our first dog, the amazing Gypsy, from a high-kill shelter in New York City (no longer in operation). That was way back in 1987, and it's still etched in my memory. Gypsy was on death row, along with many other dogs - big dogs, older dogs, dogs in very poor condition. You tell yourself you can only save one. Little good that does.

We haven't been to a shelter since. Of our other dogs, two we physically rescued from the street, and two we took from foster families, where other people had rescued many dogs and were now placing them.

Of course, every dog taken from foster care makes room for another dog to come out of a shelter and into a home. The end result is the same, but it leaves some of the hardest work to someone else. Foster care helps dogs stay - or become - socialized; the longer a dog remains in a shelter, often the less adoptable it will be. I want everyone to adopt dogs from foster homes, but for me personally, it feels like cheating. Taking the easier way out. Since we're people who can take an unsocialized, hard-case dog from a shelter, shouldn't we do that?

I thought using Petfinder would cut corners on the heartbreak. I was wrong. Petfinder is just as bad; in some ways it's worse. Where in a shelter you see a handful of dogs who need homes, Petfinder shows you a universe of homeless animals. It's crushing.

One foray into Petfinder and we instantly saw 20 or so dogs in Southern Ontario who fall into our general category. We are especially taken with two. One is being fostered in Mississauga. The rescue group said if we take her, another dog from an overcrowded US shelter, in danger of being put down, will take her spot in the foster home.

The other dog is with Toronto Animal Services. I asked if she was at risk for being put down, and was told that they don't euthanize adoptable dogs. They won't hold her for us - which is good, if someone picks her up before we're ready, it will be a great thing - but if she's still there on April 25, we may brave the heartbreak of the shelter for dog number six.

peel water bill update

There's been a lot of activity in our battle over the bizarre water bill (background here and here), but unfortunately it all amounted to spinning our wheels in mud.

Allan made another round of phone calls and followed yet more trails: the City Manager's office, our MPP's office, the Commissioner of Public Works, the Ministry of Consumer Services, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. We got legal advice from lawyer friends, a lawyer where Allan works, and someone at the Mississagua legal aid clinic who was very generous with her time. We fielded more calls from Peel, asking to know "our decision," meaning, "Are you going to pay or do we shut off your water?"

People were variously shocked, sympathetic or buck-passing, but no one could actually help. It comes down to this: we say you used this water, so you owe us this money.

We had only one option left. We paid the bill and are now going to Small Claims Court to try to recover our money. It's a gamble, but we're willing to take it.

* * * *

It appears that Small Claims Court in Ontario is a much more structured and weighty system than it is in New York City. We hope so.

In New York, you're luckiest if the other party doesn't show (which happens frequently); then you win by default. If the defendant appears, it's a roll of the dice. A lawyer - volunteering in exchange for continuing education credit - hears the case. He or she may take the job seriously and fully listen to both sides, or may be annoyed and impatient by this waste of non-billable time, make a snap judgment and move on to the next case. Your case can be heard by a judge at your request, but it will be weeks or months until a judge is available... then the judge may be no better than the volunteer lawyer.

New York City Small Claims Court is effective for extremely simple, clear-cut cases, such as when someone has done work and not been paid. Many people use it for that - as we did once, long ago - and recover what they are owed, plus interest, plus court fees. For those cases, it works. But for anything even slightly more complex, it's a total crapshoot.

By all appearances, Ontario Small Claims Court seems to operate like an actual court system - but that impression is based only on the information on the website. We hope to file the suit on Monday. Who knows what adventure lies ahead.


a must-read: jason kenney's toxic legacy

This excellent piece in Embassy is a must-read for anyone who cares about justice - and Canada - and keeping any link between the two.
Jason Kenney's troubling refugee legacy
By Jim Creskey

Jason Kenney was making changes to the Department of Citizenship and Immigration at a torrid pace — or so it seemed — until he was stopped dead in his tracks last week by a non-confidence vote. Now, before the May 2 election, might be a good time to take stock of what he accomplished.

The migration department he was given by Stephen Harper was a house built on policy and practice laid by Liberals and Mulroney Progressive Conservatives and shaped by Charter rulings, public consultations and politics — lots of politics. It was a place of noble aims, practical goals, unkept promises, interminable long waits and a lot of over-worked public servants — some of them amazingly compassionate, others sullen and patronizing. A few were even found to be corrupt.

Correctly seen from outside Canada, it was one of the best immigration and refugee systems in the world. But it was also inclined to dysfunction, some of it caused by misguided budget cuts in the wrong places, some of it from various levels of distressed leadership that had started to buy into a pessimistic narrative.

It was also the kind of ministry that could (easily) wreck or (not so-easily) launch a politician's career, and the youthful Kenney, who was born in 1968, was definitely in launch mode.

In the course of undertaking his ministerial responsibilities for the protection of refugees, Kenney came across a vote-harvesting scheme that actually had nothing to do with refugees or their protection. Its subject was fear.

Kenney — with some help from Prime Minister Harper and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews — used the arrival of two boatloads of Tamil asylum seekers in an attempt to prod public opinion toward the idea that "bogus" refugee claimants were overrunning Canada.

Pretending to punish smugglers — who were largely phantoms out of reach of Canadian authority — he put forward Bill C-49, which resolutely set out policies that would punish the refugees themselves.

C-49 was a profoundly flawed piece of work that proposed building special prisons for refugees who had the good luck to escape to Canada from foreign murder and mayhem but the bad luck to have been caught using the help of a smuggler. Further punishments included the withholding of family reunions as well as healthcare and other services.

It was a strategy that promised to sweep up more votes from ordinary Canadians who could be sold the idea that they needed to be protected from a flood of illegal arrivals. It was pure theatre, with the two ministers and even the prime minister turning up at the two rusting hulks, the Ocean Lady and the Sun Sea, to promote their bill, the extremely wordy Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act.

It was also politicking in the same vein as Republican anti-immigrant propaganda in the US — to the detriment of genuine refugees who are in a way the canaries in the Immigration Department's mineshaft.

If the least powerful clients of the Citizenship and Immigration Department — asylum seekers — were being treated fairly then we would have a strong hint the portfolio was being well managed. Unfortunately they are not.

Kenney's refugee legacy has been deeply disappointing. The number of asylum seekers needing protection and allowed into Canada has declined markedly on his watch.

A United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees report released this week charted a 30 per cent drop in the number of applications for asylum in Canada. The UN study came on the heels of reports that CIC is looking at scrapping visa applications from designated source countries. Ironically, the result of that change would be more desperate people resorting to smuggling.

At the same time, Kenney's publicly disparaging comments about whole groups of refugees have raised concerns that his department's appointed refugee judges are being influenced. For that reason, the immigration minister holds the power of life and death over a refugee claimant. He also occupies a pulpit of great influence when he speaks in public.

If he said, as he did, that Mexican and Czech Roma refugees were systematically abusing the system or that US Iraq War resisters were fraudsters or "bogus," how many of his department's judges would want to prove him wrong?

There are plenty of appointed refugee judges who are fair and balanced, working hard to be well informed about the situations and the personal circumstances in the refugee's home countries.

But recent legal and media investigations of Refugee Board decisions have uncovered judges who, despite evidence to the contrary, turn down virtually any asylum seeker who steps into their quasi-judicial courtrooms. Others have been found to be so opposed to admitting a single claimant that they grill refugees relentlessly until they are found (in their distressed confusion) to make a mistake in their testimony.

The problem at the top is that the minister's bruising public language is inclined to bring out the worst of his judges.

Kenney's anti-smuggling bill and behaviour in public drew a flood of respectful and non-partisan criticism. Even normally Conservative supporters in church and civil society groups have seen the government was on the wrong track. But their requests for input have been turned aside, with Kenney publicly deriding them as "usual suspects from the immigration industry."

If the Harper Conservatives come back in May with sufficient numbers to form a majority, some version of the now dead Bill C-49 is more than likely to spring up again. Would they reverse themselves and finally listen to the numerous church groups and NGOs, asking them to put some compassion back into refugee policy?

I wish it were so. But looking at the evidence of the Harper government, it would have to be a monumental sea change.

Migration may not be at the top of anyone's list of key campaign issues. The actually number of refugees admitted into Canada at the best of times is small in comparison with immigration numbers. But refugee policy and practice defines a country's soul like few other government actions.

I think most Canadians want their country to have a refugee policy that is fair, efficient and compassionate. But if they expect to see that happen, they need to find out how the system has been managed over the past several years before they vote.

Where and how to do that?

One suggestion is to have a look at the excellent website of the Canadian Council for Refugees.

A even better way would be to volunteer at one of the more than 170 church and secular organizations across Canada that help refugees in a personal way.

zerbisias: what's a half million women's lives every year?

As I've written here many times, I've made no attempt to chronicle the onslaught of anti-choice legislation battering US women these days. I've posted a few updates - most recently here and here - but one could blog exclusively about these laws (some only proposed, others already passed) and have no shortage of material.

Antonia Zerbisias has the right-wing Canadian position, which is just as deadly as the US version.
Twice in the past week, women have had to watch men use female bodies as political footballs.

Oh sure, there are also women in both the U.S. Congress and Canada's House of Commons, but let's not kid ourselves: When it comes to deciding how women should live their lives, it's not a level playing field.

Kick in the Church, and the odds are even worse.

Last weekend in the U.S., we saw lawmakers throw women under the health care bus when it was decided that no federal funds could be used for abortion. That could result in a potential administrative nightmare scenario that, some women's groups fear, might scare insurance providers – and they don't scare easily – into not providing abortion coverage at all.

Not even when it's a matter of life and death.

But then, what's a woman's life?

What's a half million women's lives every year?

Every minute of every day, in some African or other poor nation, a woman dies of maternity-related causes.

Even though studies show that access to family planning can save the lives of mothers, and hence their children, the anti-choicers choose to remain ideologically pure.

"A woman cannot die from complications arising during pregnancy and childbirth if she is not pregnant," exclaimed a clearly frustrated Liberal MP (and physician) Carolyn Bennett in Parliament on Tuesday.

That's when the Liberals, in an attempt to get Prime Minister Stephen Harper to include contraception in his G8 maternal health care initiative, stumbled, bumbled and fumbled.

They stumbled with the wording of their motion to get "the full range of family planning, sexual and reproductive health options, including contraception" into a policy which "must be based on scientific evidence which proves that education and family planning can prevent as many as one in every three maternal deaths."

Now remember, many Conservative MPs – believers in creationism – aren't too keen on science.

But the kicker was that the motion also stated that "the Canadian government should refrain from advancing the failed right-wing ideologies previously imposed by the George W. Bush administration in the United States ... that required all non-governmental organizations receiving federal funding to refrain from promoting medically sound family planning."

Which, of course, had all the Bush fans on the government benches screaming "anti-Americanism."

The bumbling came with the opposition's lack of preparation for the debate.

The government was well-rehearsed and singing from the same hymn book.

Please click through to read the rest.

It's mind-boggling to me that Canadian parliamentarians would say these policies stem from GWB! The US's assault on women's reproductive rights pre-dates the Resident by about 20 years, and has never let up, not during the Clinton administration and certainly not during Obama's. If they're referring specifically to the Mexico City Policy, also known as the Global Gag Rule, that is a Reagan legacy. Resident GWB only revived it.

I hope I remember this the next time I hear Canadians complain about how ignorant Americans are about Canada.

on being wrong: conscientious objector josh stieber on being wrong about the military

This is a few months old, but it just came to my attention and it's worth sharing.

Kathryn Schulz is the author of the book Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error and writes a companion blog on Slate called The Wrong Stuff. Her interview with conscientious objector Josh Stieber ran last December.
My Country Right or Wrong: Conscientious Objector Josh Stieber on Being Wrong About the Military

By Kathryn Schulz

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a 13-year-old kid named Josh Stieber vowed that as soon as he was old enough, he would join the military. His goal: to help protect his country and spread its values of freedom and democracy around the world.

With the war still on when he graduated from high school, Stieber enlisted in 2006 and was deployed to Baghdad in 2007. A devout Christian and a staunch political conservative, Stieber became troubled by the gap between the values he was told the military embodied and those he experienced on the ground.

Partway through his deployment, he realized that his perspective had changed so drastically that he would rather go to prison than remain in the military. Instead, he learned about, applied for, and obtained Conscientious Objector status. (For more on conscientious objectors, see my interview with J.E. McNeil, head of the Center on Conscience and War.)

In the interview below, Stieber, who is now 22, spoke with me about how his expectations and his experiences of military life collided, what it feels when "everything you've defined yourself by has fallen apart," and how George W. Bush and Gandhi each played a pivotal role in shaping his military career.

Read the interview here.


why i'm voting liberal even though i don't support michael ignatieff or the liberal party

This is the first Canadian federal election for which I'm eligible to vote. Part of what always made me excited about coming to Canada - and now, about being a Canadian citizen - is the presence of a viable left-of-liberal party. For a long time, I've been looking forward to voting for a party that more closely represents my values, the NDP. So here I am, finally eligible to vote... and I'm going to hold my nose and vote Liberal.

I live in a riding that will be hotly contested in this election: Mississauga East Cooksville. Our Liberal MP is retiring for health reasons, and this is exactly the kind of riding the Conservatives hope to grab. Two adjacent ridings, Mississauga Erindale and Mississauga South, are both on the Globe and Mail's list of "50 ridings to watch". Erindale flipped from Liberal to Conservative by a very slim margin in 2008; Mississauga South, while still Liberal, is seen by the Conservatives as ripe for picking. The demographic of Cooksville, smack in the middle, fits a similar profile.

There's no viable NDP candidate in Mississauga. Fortunately, a few non-mainstream parties from the right side of the spectrum will siphon off potential Conservative votes. But realistically, the choice is squarely between a Liberal MP and a Conservative MP.

I intensely dislike Michael Ignatieff. Back in New York, I used to read his writing in the New York Times Magazine, so I know him to be a war-monger and an apologist for torture. There are some very decent MPs in the Liberal caucus, but as a whole, the party is a big tent with few principles. Not unlike US Democrats, they campaign slightly left-of-centre and govern quite a bit right-of-centre.

But my negative feelings towards the Liberal Party of Canada are a snowflake compared to the avalanche of ill will I bear towards Stephen Harper's Conservative Party. Five years of Harper's anti-democratic, deceptive, corrupt, fear-mongering tactics and anti-human legislation make the choice in my riding very clear.

A Liberal minority government would give me plenty to protest. But a Conservative majority government could potentially ruin Canada. Harper's now-infamous boast - "You won't recognize Canada when I get through with it" - feels closer to reality every day.

Voting in our society is not a revolutionary act. It's not a time to seek moral purity or distill principle for its own sake. As an activist, I know there are myriad opportunities to get involved and to collectively create change. Voting is one small moment of activism - an essential one, but also a strategic one.

Strategic voting is often a chimera. If your riding is a shoo-in for the Conservatives, then why not vote NDP and help build the opposition voice in your community? Occasionally, though, strategic voting carries real weight. That's why groups like Catch 22 Harper Conservatives and Leadnow are so vital right now.

Helping Stephen Harper win a majority government in order to lay claim to some false idea of personal integrity seems both foolish and selfish. Foolish, because my leftist worldview is much more expansive than mere partisanship. And selfish, because I have a responsbility to use my vote wisely. I will spend my vote on whatever currency has the best chance of improving Canada, or put more negatively, of keeping the Canada that I love from disappearing altogether.

Where I live, that means voting Liberal.

* * * *

Postscript. I'm receiving a small deluge of email about CBC's "vote compass," including some from CBC News itself. So yes, I am aware of it. It seems to be a dilute imitation of the excellent Political Compass, which I have blogged about over the years: mostly here, with graphic here. Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems little more than a gimmick to drive traffic to the CBC website.

Update. Asked and answered. If you're about to defend Vote Compass, please read comments first. Thanks.


maybe the folks who burned the toronto police car can be hired to attack scott walker

Also from the "in case you missed it" files...
An Indiana deputy prosecutor and Republican activist resigned Thursday after the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism uncovered an email to Gov. Scott Walker in which he suggested a fake attack on the governor to discredit union protesters.

Carlos F. Lam submitted his resignation shortly before the Center published a story quoting his Feb. 19 email, which praised Walker for standing up to unions but went on to say that the chaos in Wisconsin presented “a good opportunity for what’s called a ‘false flag’ operation.”

“If you could employ an associate who pretends to be sympathetic to the unions’ cause to physically attack you (or even use a firearm against you), you could discredit the unions,” the email said.
...but when we suggest that violent "protesters" may be hired provocateurs, we're just paranoid.

malalai joya's u.s. tour is on

In case you missed it, Malalai Joya was admitted to the US, thanks to pressure from US peace activists.
A prominent Afghan feminist and war critic was granted a visa to enter the United States on Thursday - by the same State Department office that turned her down last week - and belatedly started on a speaking tour that is scheduled to wind up in San Francisco.

The case of Malalai Joya is the latest of several in which the Obama administration, after at first refusing entry, has allowed a visit by a foreigner who has criticized policies of the United States or its allies.

The administration "does not engage in the practice of ideological exclusion," the State Department's legal adviser, Harold Koh, said in a letter in December to the American Civil Liberties Union, which backed Joya and others whose visits were challenged. ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer said the administration has largely kept its promise.

If you're in the US, I highly recommend attending one of Joya's events. Tour dates are here, but because of the visa delay, some dates may have changed. Be sure to check with the local sponsoring organization for a revised schedule.

triangle fire: 100 years on and never more relevant

March 25 was the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Factory Fire, a seminal moment in the history of the American labour movement. I was surprised that the date received as much recognition as it did, with stories about the fire and the anniversary commemorations making the rounds everywhere I looked. That was good to see, but unfortunately few of those stories spelled out why the anniversary is so painfully relevant to our present world.

In North America, laws protecting workers' safety have been systematically weakened and dismantled over the last 30 years. For migrant workers and undocumented people, such laws barely exist, as was the case when a scaffold collapsed at a Toronto construction site on Christmas Eve two years ago, killing four men and seriously injuring a fifth. Elsewhere in the world - where most of the goods we buy are produced - such laws are still a revolution away. Below, I'm posting a short film about the Triangle Fire that makes one such connection.

A couple of years back, I read an excellent book about the Triangle fire, which I highly recommend to readers with an interest in social history: Triangle: The Fire That Changed America by David Von Drehle.
It is without a doubt one of the best social histories I've read.

The Triangle factory fire was a microcosm through which to see an entire era, and Von Drehle is an expert at teasing out the many threads that comprise it: labour, urban immigrant life, the progressive movement, the women's movement, machine city government, corruption, reformers. He brings you mini-histories of each, always enough to imbue context, but never so much that you drown in information. This must be incredibly difficult to do, as any one of those topics is very complex, easily supporting the many volumes of books and hours of documentaries made about them.

. . . In this way, through lively, extremely readable digressions, Von Drehle sketches the background each theme. He includes wonderful mini-biographies of the workers, bosses, organizers, politicians, lawyers, and reformers who comprise the Triangle story.

This is a worn cliche to use about a history, but it's the best way to express it: the whole era comes alive.
In some of the media attention to the anniversary of the fire, there has been recognition of the role of one particular activist in that labour struggle: Clara Lemlich. Jim Dwyer, one of my favourite New York writers, has a very good column about Lemlich here, and there's an excellent piece on the AFL-CIO website: "The Uprising of 20,000 and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire". (The Von Drehle book is referenced as a source.)

Lemlich was a fighter to her dying day, and she richly deserves this recognition, but the AFL-CIO page makes it clear: one person does not create change for workers. Only the people, united - only a movement - creates change. In the US, find out what you can do to support the workers' movement unfolding in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and other states, by building support for the national labour event taking place on April 4: We Are One. In Canada, the best thing you can do right now to support working people is to help get rid of the Harper government.

Thanks to David H for the short doc, and to Amy for Dwyer's column, and for our ongoing conversation that reminded me of the terrific book.


herbert's final: losing our way

I just want to re-run Bob Herbert's last column for The New York Times. Thank you, Mr. Herbert, for being a steadfast voice for working people and for justice.

With Herbert's exit and Frank Rich's departure a few weeks ago, only Paul Krugman remains as a progressive voice in the supposedly-but-not-really-liberal paper. That is not to say that progressive people don't still write for the Times, but in the opinion department, any pretense of balance has been abandoned. It will be interesting to see who is hired or promoted to columnist now.

Herbert, "Losing Our Way":
So here we are pouring shiploads of cash into yet another war, this time in Libya, while simultaneously demolishing school budgets, closing libraries, laying off teachers and police officers, and generally letting the bottom fall out of the quality of life here at home.

Welcome to America in the second decade of the 21st century. An army of long-term unemployed workers is spread across the land, the human fallout from the Great Recession and long years of misguided economic policies. Optimism is in short supply. The few jobs now being created too often pay a pittance, not nearly enough to pry open the doors to a middle-class standard of living.

Arthur Miller, echoing the poet Archibald MacLeish, liked to say that the essence of America was its promises. That was a long time ago. Limitless greed, unrestrained corporate power and a ferocious addiction to foreign oil have led us to an era of perpetual war and economic decline. Young people today are staring at a future in which they will be less well off than their elders, a reversal of fortune that should send a shudder through everyone.

The U.S. has not just misplaced its priorities. When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely.

Nearly 14 million Americans are jobless and the outlook for many of them is grim. Since there is just one job available for every five individuals looking for work, four of the five are out of luck. Instead of a land of opportunity, the U.S. is increasingly becoming a place of limited expectations. A college professor in Washington told me this week that graduates from his program were finding jobs, but they were not making very much money, certainly not enough to think about raising a family.

There is plenty of economic activity in the U.S., and plenty of wealth. But like greedy children, the folks at the top are seizing virtually all the marbles. Income and wealth inequality in the U.S. have reached stages that would make the third world blush. As the Economic Policy Institute has reported, the richest 10 percent of Americans received an unconscionable 100 percent of the average income growth in the years 2000 to 2007, the most recent extended period of economic expansion.

Americans behave as if this is somehow normal or acceptable. It shouldn’t be, and didn’t used to be. Through much of the post-World War II era, income distribution was far more equitable, with the top 10 percent of families accounting for just a third of average income growth, and the bottom 90 percent receiving two-thirds. That seems like ancient history now.

The current maldistribution of wealth is also scandalous. In 2009, the richest 5 percent claimed 63.5 percent of the nation’s wealth. The overwhelming majority, the bottom 80 percent, collectively held just 12.8 percent.

This inequality, in which an enormous segment of the population struggles while the fortunate few ride the gravy train, is a world-class recipe for social unrest. Downward mobility is an ever-shortening fuse leading to profound consequences.

A stark example of the fundamental unfairness that is now so widespread was in The New York Times on Friday under the headline: “G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether.” Despite profits of $14.2 billion — $5.1 billion from its operations in the United States — General Electric did not have to pay any U.S. taxes last year.

As The Times’s David Kocieniewski reported, “Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore.”

G.E. is the nation’s largest corporation. Its chief executive, Jeffrey Immelt, is the leader of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. You can understand how ordinary workers might look at this cozy corporate-government arrangement and conclude that it is not fully committed to the best interests of working people.

Overwhelming imbalances in wealth and income inevitably result in enormous imbalances of political power. So the corporations and the very wealthy continue to do well. The employment crisis never gets addressed. The wars never end. And nation-building never gets a foothold here at home.

New ideas and new leadership have seldom been more urgently needed.

This is my last column for The New York Times after an exhilarating, nearly 18-year run. I’m off to write a book and expand my efforts on behalf of working people, the poor and others who are struggling in our society. My thanks to all the readers who have been so kind to me over the years. [He includes his email address.]

geraldine ferraro, 1935-2011

Geraldine A. Ferraro, the first woman nominated for national office by a major US political party, is gone. She was 75 and had suffered from multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, for 12 years.

In one of the shoeboxes that house the archives of my life, there is a letter from Ms. Ferraro, or at least from her campaign office. I had written a fan letter and received a lovely reply - not a form letter, a personalized recognition of my appreciation. Ferraro was a trailblazer, and in 1984, her campaign meant a lot to me.

Her New York Times obituary is here.

If you are wondering who was the first woman to run for national office in the United States, that would be Victoria Woodhull, who ran for President in 1872. Her running mate was Frederick Douglass.

george galloway: i don't believe we should punish people for having a dictatorship they didn't elect and can't get rid of

Two weeks ago, at Toronto's Trinity St. Paul Centre, George Galloway spoke about the grassroots revolutions in the Arab world, and the intervention or interference of Western nations. I couldn't be there, so I'm grateful for YouTube and activists with video cameras.

The whole talk is about 26 minutes (parts 1 and 2), and well worth your time. In parts 3, 4, and 5, Galloway responds to some hecklers with his usual arsenal of facts, wit and aplomb. And for a bonus, courtesy of Allan, there is Galloway discussing Libya on the UK's Sky News on March 19.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:


in which we take a break from politics to squee over a dog

Please take a break from politics to enjoy a few moments of canine cuteness and joy. Because when a sweet dog interrupts your game, there's nothing else you can do.

Canadians may now return to thinking about how to defeat Stephen Harper.


my first canadian get out the vote campaign

Get Out The Vote:

Canadians Advocating Political Participation; on Facebook (formerly known as Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament)

Catch 22 Conservatives


Fair Vote Canada

Coffee Party Canada

Voter Registration FAQ

Kathleen O'Hara at Rabble: Ten reasons to oppose the Harper candidate in your riding

Thomas Walkom: Yes, contempt of Parliament does matter

Lawrence Martin: On the road to the Harper Government's tipping point

Jeffrey Simpson: What if Stephen Harper's previous views were used against him?

"Defend Parliament": The Harper attack on democracy, the long version (and this list is more than a year old)

If you have any good links in a similar vein, please post them in comments.

pushed to the left: "come together, vote him out"

Great work by Emily at Pushed to the Left and Loving it.

goodbye harper government

This is a day I've been waiting and hoping for, for what seems like a very long time. Goodbye Harper Government™, hello election. Bring it!

Now to glue myself to CPAC.


stephen harper dismantles canada's refugee system; jason kenney attacks canadian democracy

Canada has long been thought of as a country with a generous refugee system. Despite recent anti-immigrant fear-mongering, Canadians are very proud of their country's history of offering haven to people fleeing injustice and persecution, from the Doukhobors in the early 20th Century to US war resisters and Vietnamese "boat people" in the 1970s, all of whom became part of Canada. I wonder how many Canadians know that proud history may be coming to a close. The situation may soon look more like the St. Louis, the ship of more than 900 European Jews who were refused entry and sent back to die in Nazi concentration camps.

At a recent fundraiser for the War Resisters Support Campaign, immigration and refugee lawyer Alyssa Manning spoke about the Canadian refugee system in light of the passage of Bill C-11 last year. Alyssa's remarks reminded me that although I blogged about C-11 when it was introduced, I never followed up on the very significant changes it made to Canada's refugee system, or about Jason Kenney's recent remarks at the University of Western Ontario Law School. (Many thanks to Alyssa for her permission to paraphrase some of her remarks for this post.)

* * * *

Bill C-11, which will be fully implemented by December of this year, significantly changes Canada's refugee system.

Where previously it would take a few years for someone applying for refugee protection to get a hearing – during which time they could find a lawyer, secure legal funding either from legal aid or through a personal network, gather documents to support their case, prepare emotionally, and so on – now, applicants will be required to present their story eight days after making their claim. After that, they will be given 120 days to prepare themselves for a full hearing.

Keep in mind that many people applying for refugee status arrive in this country penniless, traumatized and in a state of emotional and psychological disarray. Building a case for refugee status often entails getting an official diagnosis of PTSD and finding expert witnesses. There are often language barriers. The person has to find a place to live, possibly enrol their children in school – they have to set up a life in a foreign country – while working with a lawyer to build their case. How can this be adequately accomplished in 120 days? It cannot.

Another change that may superficially appear to be positive is the new refugee appeal division. Instead of appealing a negative decision to federal court, a claimant will now appeal to the IRB itself, something refugee advocates have wanted to see for a long time. But of course there's a catch, and it's a big one: the appeal has to be made within 15 days. In other words, the appeals process is effectively useless. It seems pretty obvious the idea is to rush refugee claimants through the system, out the door, and back to whatever horrors they may face in their previous country.

After receiving a negative decision in a refugee claim, many claimants make an application to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. I've been told that in the recent past, about half of these applications were approved. Not anymore: it's now rare for an H&C to be approved. A recent article in the Toronto Star showed that IRB members appointed by either Jason Kenney or his Conservative predecessor, Diane Finley, grant asylum in as few as 10% of cases they hear.

Formerly, an H&C application had to demonstrate that a person would experience "unusual, undeserved and disproportionate hardship" if removed from Canada. There was an overall assessment of the claimant's circumstances both in Canada and in his/her home country, which would consider the best interests of any children involved, any hardship the family faced if removed, and so forth.

This may all be gone under the changes to IRPA. It's still unclear exactly what an H&C would cover under the new guidelines, but it appears that the process has been gutted and rendered useless. Alyssa said that the refugee-advocacy community will know more in the next few months, when further guidelines are released.

Meanwhile, CIC has formed a special division to deal with the huge backlog of H&C applications – a backlog CIC created by not filling vacant positions. Hundreds of new officers have been hired to – it appears – rubber stamp REJECTED on a big pile of H&C applications. Canadian Border Services Agency has also hired hundreds of new officers to enforce removal orders and warrants, and to make sure failed refugee claimants are all reporting their whereabouts to the government on a monthly basis. (Remember, before C-11 was amended, it called for refugee claimants to be held in prison immediately upon arrival in Canada, as they are in the US.)

It's in this context that CIC Minister Jason Kenney unleashed his recent rant about Canada's judiciary system. The text of Kenney's speech is here. The speech was both misleading and completely inappropriate.

First of all, Kenney is being dishonest with the facts. For example, he speaks about a man whose refugee case supposedly went on for 15 years. What he doesn't say is the man's case file was lost in the immigration system – sitting on someone’s desk, untouched – for almost a decade. The man was not abusing the system: he was stuck in it. There are other similar distortions or stories with choice (and essential) facts omitted. This reminds me of the urban legend about the McDonald's coffee burn victim. But here a government Minister tells the story; the distortions and omissions don't get corrected, and the stories become common "knowledge", even though they're false.

In a similar vein, Kenney and everyone involved in refugee work knows there is no queue for refugee status. A queue has never existed. People in need of refugee protection don't take a number and line up in their home countries waiting for entry to Canada. They need safe haven immediately, and they often risk their lives or their freedom to find it.

The language Kenney used in his recent attack on the judiciary is purposely misleading – and insidious, and dangerous.

Kenney says: the courts are "indulging" claimants in reviews and hearings. Is due process under the law now to be considered an "indulgence"?

Kenney says: negative decisions are overturned "seemingly on a whim, or perhaps in a fit of misguided magnanimity", when a judge disagrees with the rulings of "multiple levels of diligent, highly trained public servants". Yet those public servants are employed by the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration. Their boss is Jason Kenney. Can they be expected to make impartial decisions? What's more, some of those "highly trained" public servants are brand-new hires, as I mentioned above, whose implied task is to quickly process a massive, manufactured backlog of claims. Are federal court judges not "highly trained"? Why are they presumed to render decisions "on a whim"?

Kenney says: "I fear that such decisions do serious harm to the overall immigration system and prevent it from doing more good for deserving immigrants". That is, the court sometimes prevents the entire refugee and immigration system from operating the way Jason Kenney and Stephen Harper would like it to. The courts are the last bulwark of defense for the defenseless.

Kenney says: "That is why I believe it's important to engage in a dialogue with the judiciary on these matters." But Jason Kenney knows perfectly well that the judiciary cannot "engage in a dialogue" in public – with anyone – ever! Judges in Canada must be completely free of bias or politicization. They can't express political opinions publicly; they can't even sign a petition. I have a friend whose sister is a judge. The friend was involved in G20 activism, and her sister told her, "Don't talk to me about anything to do the G20. If you do, and a G20 case comes before me, I would have to recuse myself."

So Jason Kenney makes these comments and shapes public opinion with words like "jump the queue," "indulge" in appeals, "seemingly on a whim," and so forth – and the judges cannot respond.

Judicial independence is a bedrock feature of any democracy. Indeed, in non-democratic countries or in very corrupt states or municipalities, the judiciary is a hollow, political body that rubber-stamps governments' wishes. The courts exist to ensure that the the government of the day respects the rule of law, and without an independent judiciary, there really can be no democracy. Jason Kenney's public disapproval of federal court decisions is a flagrant attempt to undermine judicial independence, and to undermine Canadian democracy.

That's why Kenney's comments were excoriated as evidencing "a shocking lack of understanding" by the Refugee Lawyers Association of Ontario and many other lawyers and law professors. Even a former Conservative immigration minister said Kenney went too far, calling the Minister's remarks "a rant". At the Slaw blog, Law Professor Emir Aly Crowne writes:
It is appropriate that the Minister’s initials are j/k, because had I not known better, I would have taken them to be a joke. But his remarks are from it. In fact — and quite ironically — his remarks strike at the very values that we, as Canadians, prize: freedom, democracy and the rule of law. Audrey Macklin and Lorne Waldman have already addressed some of these issues in their op-ed piece in the Globe and Mail, and while I may re-tread on some of their ground, it is for a damn good reason.

. . . .

So if 1% percent of refugee decisions are overturned — an insignificant number by any statistical measure — then how exactly does this get us to the proposition that the “integrity of the decision made by the decision makers” in the Immigration Department “is being questioned without sufficient justification”?

I close with two very telling sentences from the Minister’s speech:
I believe that, in a free and democratic society such as ours, judicial decisions should encourage debate over where the line is drawn between legitimate legislative objective and constitutionally protected rights and freedoms… But we legislators are not an island, and we don’t act alone. We need the judiciary to understand the spirit of what we are trying to do.
These are very troubling statements. The Minister apparently wishes to engage in an actual dialogue with the Federal Courts — a dialogue which he readily knows will just be himself yelling into an empty room — because the very principles of judicial office demand that judges refrain from actual discourse on political matters. He then wants the Federal Court to give him and his Department a "free pass" on that trifling 1% of cases that are indeed overturned.

To suggest that the judges of the Federal Court should somehow be beholden to his Department in the name of “constitutionally protected rights and freedoms” strikes at the heart of all those very rights and freedoms. [Worth reading.]
The Globe and Mail Op-Ed by law professor Audrey Macklin and immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman, referred to in the above blog post, make it very clear just how inappropriate Jason Kenney's comments were.
When cabinet ministers attack judges, they attack democracy

Audrey Macklin and Lorne Waldman

In a speech to the University of Western Ontario’s law faculty last week, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney launched an attack on Federal Court judges for rendering decisions he didn’t agree with. He suggested the judges were preventing him from properly administering the immigration program.

What's wrong with that? After all, lawyers, academics and the media freely comment on judicial decisions, so why not government ministers? Well, what makes it wrong is that judges are supposed to be independent of government, and government is supposed to respect that independence. The executive appoints our judges. But once they’re appointed, our democracy requires that they render their decisions free from government influence or pressure.

When a government minister criticizes judges for how they’ve decided past cases, they’re sending a messages judges for how they’ve decided past cases, they’re sending a message to judges about how they want future cases to be decided. Indeed, Mr. Kenney was quite explicit about this. After presenting highly selective, incomplete and misleading accounts of a few cases, he complained that judges were deciding these cases “seemingly on a whim,” and declared his belief that “most Canadians share my despair at such decisions.” Whether Canadians would share his despair is an interesting question, but, in any event, his remarks seemed directed at undermining public confidence in the judiciary.

The judges do not work, and should not be seen to work, for Prime Minister Stephen Harper or his immigration minister. And because of their special role in society, they aren’t expected to participate openly in the political process. Indeed, you haven’t heard the Federal Court respond to Mr. Kenney, despite his misrepresentation of cases, jurisprudence and statistical evidence. Judges don’t reply because they understand the importance of not becoming politicized.

When Mr. Kenney publicly criticizes judges for interpreting the law in a manner that diverges from his own preferred outcome, he shows contempt for judicial independence. That’s not to say the minister can’t take action when he disagrees with a court’s decision. As a member of cabinet, he has the power to introduce into Parliament amendments to any federal law. The cabinet may also pass regulations implementing existing law. The government possesses the unique jurisdiction to change the law to conform to his views. But using an address to a law school – of all places – to take potshots at judicial decisions the government doesn’t like is an inappropriate exploitation of political office.

To add further discredit, some of the anecdotes cited by Mr. Kenney were just plain wrong. He mentioned the case of Parminder Singh Saini as an example of a person allowed to remain in Canada for years as a result of judicial interference. What he fails to note is that Mr. Saini was found by a Citizenship and Immigration Canada official in 2003 to be at risk of torture. A ministerial review of his case then took more than six years. Meantime, Mr. Saini, a convicted hijacker, had respected Canada’s laws and received two university degrees. When Mr. Kenney, who became the immigration minister in 2008, decided in 2009 that Mr. Saini should be deported, a request for a stay was summarily dismissed. By suggesting that the delay was the fault of judicial interference, Mr. Kenney misrepresents the facts.

In the same speech in which Mr. Kenney attacked the Federal Court, he mentioned the new cadre of bureaucratic decision makers who will decide refugee claims under the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. These decision makers will be government employees, ultimately answerable to the minister. Yet, Mr. Kenney also referred to them as “independent public servant decision makers.” But those decision makers do work for the minister.

Based on this government’s practices, criticism (or even the threat of criticism) by the minister may well cause these decision makers to reasonably fear for their livelihoods if they make decisions that the minister finds politically unpalatable. All Canadians have reason to be concerned whether these decision makers will be genuinely independent.
We will finally have the opportunity to get rid of this dangerous, anti-democratic government. Let's make sure we do everything we can.

wish david suzuki a happy birthday by signing the pledge of interdependence

Today is David Suzuki's birthday, and you can give him a gift by signing the Declaration of Interdependence.

The Suzuki Foundation says:
The declaration is a heartfelt prayer to preserve the Earth, and a commitment to act on the understanding that we are completely dependent on and interconnected with nature.

Nothing would make David happier than knowing how many people support him, and agree that we need to take care of our environment.

David and friends wrote the Declaration for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit. But the words are as compelling and important as ever.

For David's birthday, pledge to live by these values. We should all be stewards of the Earth.
I wish the Foundation didn't describe this as a prayer; to me this Declaration is a simple and powerful resolution. It reads:
We can't steal from the future to serve the present.

We need to sustain and steward the Earth for our descendants.

You can sign it here.

u.s. soldiers admit to killing afghan civilians (including children) for sport

This story broke several months back, but it's been revived and is receiving international attention. From today's Guardian:
An American soldier has pleaded guilty to being part of a "kill team" who deliberately murdered Afghan civilians for sport last year.

Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock, 23, told a military court he had helped to kill three unarmed Afghans. "The plan was to kill people, sir," he told an army judge in Fort Lea, near Seattle, after his plea.

The case has caused outraged headlines around the world. In a series of videotaped confessions to investigators, some of which have been broadcast on American television, Morlock detailed how he and other members of his Stryker brigade set up and faked combat situations so that they could kill civilians who posed no threat to them. Four other soldiers are still to come to trial over the incidents.

The case is a PR disaster for America's military and has been compared to the notorious incidents of torture that emerged from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. This week the German magazine Der Spiegel published three pictures that showed American soldiers, including Morlock, posing with the corpse of a young Afghan boy as if it were a hunting trophy.
Video from ABC News, back in September:
Confession Video: US Soldier Describes Thrill Kill of Innocent Afghans - Corporal, 22, Tells How His 'Crazy' Sergeant Allegedly Murdered For Kicks, Collected Body Parts.
I realize that many soldiers of any country will not participate in this kind of blood lust. But this wanton butchery appears to be the natural extension of war without end and without purpose, as both victims and occupiers are further dehumanized, until killing another human being is mere sport.

We've encountered these stories too many times, in too many places, in too many eras, to excuse it away. It's what war is made of. It's why it has to stop.


shorter conservative budget

Thanks to Tom of Sweet Creamery fame.

How you can help: Catch 22 Harper Conservatives.

chris hedges on hope, by which he means resistance

Last Saturday, on the 8th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, thousands of people marched in Washington in protest of US imperial war and occupation. Of those, 113 people were arrested, including Daniel Ellsberg and Chris Hedges.

I'm told it was Ellsberg's 80th arrest. I'd be so proud to have that record - although I probably couldn't have emigrated to Canada!

This is Hedges speech before he was arrested. Please watch.

The following day, there was a rally at the Marine base at Quantico, where Bradley Manning is being humiliated and held in abusive solitary confinement.

Hedges also gave a passionate and remarkable speech about hope in Lafayette Park on December 16, 2010:

The text is here.

we like lists: list # 9: celebrity crushes, lifetime edition

When I was a kid, pre-teen, I loved watching old movies. I don't know how I got into this, but I grew up watching Ingrid Bergman, Bette Davis, Spencer Tracy and a whole constellation of actors unknown to most of my peers.

[Retro aside: If you're a certain age and grew up in the New York metro area, you watched the "Million Dollar Movie" on WWOR, non-network Channel 9. The open was a montage of New York City images played to "Tara's Theme" from "Gone with the Wind". There's a version of it on YouTube, but it's a later incarnation. A 1970s image of the Broadway TKTS booth has been substituted for the clip I remember most: a woman going up an escalator, seen from behind. I can't find the original anywhere.]

In those days, my favourite actor, hands-down, was Humphrey Bogart. I would scan the TV listings for any movie he was in, and knew many of them - classics and duds alike - backwards and forwards. Recently I read a review of a new biography of Bogart, and I had a minor revelation: he was my first celebrity crush. And I started to think about who else has held that category in my life.

So this list is your celebrity crushes over the course of your life. Three elements:

- We'll define celebrity as someone widely Google-able, and known by fans of the person's milieu. Readers not into music or baseball may not know some of my crushes, but rock fans and baseball fans will. So, not Betsy Klein from your Grade 7 Algebra class.

- Crush is more difficult to define. It's not just someone you think is hot. There are lots good-looking people out there, but you don't crush on all of them. This is someone you have a "thing" for. You'll see any movie she's in, no matter how stupid. When you were younger (or maybe even now) you taped a picture of him to your desk or had a poster of her in your bedroom. It's not only about looks. This person has something that makes them magnetic in your eyes. I haven't found an adequate definition for this word anywhere; perhaps it's indefinable.

- And here's a very important part of this list: lifetime. I'm asking you to delve into your past - your childhood, your teen years, your 20s - and follow the thread all the way to the present, if you still form crushes.

I'm posting mine roughly in chronological order. I'm also linking to pics from the crush era, which you can do or not.

I've wanted to do this list for a while, but I thought it might be a little weird. I'm really curious to see if it resonates with anyone.

1. Humphrey Bogart.

2. Paul Newman.

3. Janis Joplin.

4. Keith Richards.

5. Rick Danko.

6. Thurman Munson. (Sorry! First baseball crush.)

6a. Late addition: Bruce Springsteen.

7. Chrissie Hynde.

8. Alex Rodriguez, circa 1996. (Please note year! Mariners!)

9. Jacoby Ellsbury.


rip pinetop perkins

I've just learned that Pinetop Perkins died last week. Pinetop was one of the greatest blues piano players ever, and one of my all-time favourite musicians. He lived to the advanced age of 97 and died peacefully at home in Austin, Texas.

Pinetop, born on a Mississippi plantation in 1913, originally wanted to play blues guitar. Fortunately for me and so many other lovers of blues piano, he was stabbed in the arm.
Perkins was born on a cotton plantation and taught himself guitar, but his arm was hurt in a stabbing, ending his dreams of becoming a guitar man. He collaborated with Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Earl Hooker and inspired Ike Turner. Last month he won a Grammy for best traditional blues album.

Pinetop Perkins switched to playing piano after he was stabbed in the arm in 1942. His influence was vast; his pedigree impeccable.

Pinetop Perkins, a regal pianist who was one of the last of the original Mississippi Delta blues musicians, died Monday of cardiac arrest at his home in Austin, Texas. He was 97.

“He was absolutely the premier blues pianist," said Bruce Iglauer, founder of Chicago's Alligator Records, an independent blues label. “His career spanned literally over 80 years. He was the symbol of a whole generation of musicians."

Just last month Perkins' easygoing keyboard virtuosity won him a Grammy Award for best traditional blues album, for “Joined at the Hip: Pinetop Perkins & Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith." That made him the oldest Grammy winner, the honor augmenting his 2007 Grammy for his work on “Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live in Dallas" and his 2005 Grammy for lifetime achievement.

Perkins' influence was vast and his musical pedigree impeccable, for he collaborated with all forms of blues royalty, from Muddy Waters to Robert Nighthawk, Earl Hooker to B.B. King. Through it all, he maintained an enduring mastery of the piano.

Joe Willie Perkins learned about blues in the best—and the toughest—way possible: immersed in the culture that produced it.
I used to see a lot of live blues, and catching Pinetop in a band was always a huge treat. I can always identify his piano on a CD. It's easy: if you find yourself thinking, wow, that's great blues piano, so rich and deep, but not at all gaudy or show-offy, that's your man.

Pinetop lived a full life and enjoyed much success, but his passing brings an extra measure of sadness, as he was one of the last of the original Mississippi bluesmen, the very end of his generation.

He shared the wealth, too. The mission of the The Pinetop Perkins Foundation "is to provide encouragement and support for youth and young people at the beginning of their musical career; and help provide care and safety for elderly musicians at the twilight of their career."

the harper government meets the birthers

I don't pay much attention to partisan campaigning, so I didn't realize just how far into the slime the Harper Government™ has sunk. I'm not surprised, but it is worth noting: a very nice post from Impudent Strumpet, with an important link.

class war, u.s. edition

It's always so galling to me when members of the privileged, corporate class raise the spectre of class war. As the saying goes, "They only call it class war when we fight back."

Here's a picture of the current class war being waged against working people in the US, found here (where it's a little more readable).

I've heard that some folks are working on a Canadian version, which is bound to be less dramatic, but equally imbalanced and unjust.

henry rollins: nothing can stop new york

Although I am not a Henry Rollins fan, I see he and I have something in common. Take a couple of minutes to appreciate New York City along with us.


tonight in toronto: fundraising dinner for war resisters support campaign: rescind "operational bulletin 202"

If you're reading this from the Greater Toronto Area, I hope you'll join us tonight for dinner, music, community, and an update on the War Resisters Support Campaign. Time and place details below.

We've all been following the machinations of the Harper Government™ as it lurches from scandal to scandal, subverting and short-circuiting democracy in any and every way it can. US war resisters in Canada are no strangers to the government's underhanded methods.

Last summer, the Federal Court of Appeal issued a unanimous decision in favour of war resister Jeremy Hinzman. The court called the rejection of Hinzman's application to remain in Canada on Humanitarian and Compassionate grounds "flawed" and "unreasonable," clearly stating that immigration officers must take into account the applicants' sincerely held beliefs that motivated them to come to refuse illegal orders and come to Canada.

Immediately after that, Minister of Censorship and Deportation Jason Kenney issued "Operational Bulletin 202," which directs immigration officers to automatically reject war resisters claims for refugee status - without even hearing their cases! This is one more example of how the Harper Government™ places itself about the laws of Canada.

Peter Showler, a former head of the Immigration and Refugee Board, current director the Refugee Forum, explains how Operational Bulletin 202 subverts the refugee claims process in this open letter to Jason Kenney.
The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 1L1

September 19, 2010

Dear Minister,

On July 22 of this year, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) sent a directive to all Immigration Officers in Canada that sets a basic principle of refugee law on its head. The directive, Operational Bulletin 202, concerns the processing of military deserters who claim refugee status in Canada. The first paragraph of the directive sets out the following line of logic:

Military deserters from other countries have sought refugee protection in Canada. Desertion from the Canadian military is a serious criminal offence. Therefore these deserters may also be serious criminals and therefore inadmissible to Canada.

Conscientious objection to military service, whether by draft resisters or deserters, is a widely recognized ground for granting refugee protection, both in Canada and internationally. Over the years, hundreds of conscientious objectors have been given protection although not all deserters or draft resisters are accepted as refugees. The facts of each individual case are considered, particularly: the motives and sincerity of the claimant, the legality or illegality of the military exercise they are seeking to avoid, and the possibility of excessive punishment or discriminatory prosecution. These are all facts and issues of law to be decided by a member of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) after hearing the claimant’s testimony and evidence. It is fundamentally wrong-headed and a violation of the UN Refugee Convention to suggest that deserters are automatically inadmissible to Canada before hearing their claim because desertion is an offence in their own country.

Although the bulletin cites a general principle of law, a closer reading identifies the real target of the directive, namely, military deserters from one country, the United States of America. I presume then that military deserters from other, less friendly and more offensive regimes, such as Iran, Burma, Sudan, North Korea, possibly Syria and Kyrgyzstan, are still welcome to seek refugee protection in Canada and that their violation of state laws will not be a deterrent to making a refugee claim. The bulletin implies that military deserters from the US should be treated differently than deserters from other countries. There is no basis in law for that proposition. At the risk of repeating myself, that is the job of the Immigration and Refugee Board and not something to be decided prematurely by a border official before the evidence is heard.

The bulletin then discloses that its precise target is even narrower, namely those U.S. deserters who have already had their refugee claims denied and who have asked to remain in Canada for humanitarian reasons. Once again, the government appears to be circumventing the law and intruding on the independence of the Immigration Officers who are delegated to decide humanitarian applications based on the law and the evidence. It is the Immigration Officer who has the discretion to decide whether a refused claimant, for example, someone who has married a Canadian and may now be the parent of Canadian children, whether that person should be permitted to remain in Canada for humanitarian reasons.

These are difficult decisions with complicated and often heart-rending facts that include the best interests of the children but may also include the violation of US military laws. Regardless of the relevant factors, responsibility for the decision lies within the discretion of the Immigration Officer. Does any Canadian reasonably think that an Immigration Officer is making an independent decision when he or she is instructed, for US deserter cases, to “seek guidance” from the Regional Program Advisor and to copy their communications to very senior levels of their department? The clear implication is that any deserter from the US should be denied permanent residence in Canada no matter how sincere their motive for deserting or how compelling their reasons for staying in Canada.

Operational Bulletin 202 misstates the law and seeks to intrude on the independence of both IRB members and Immigration Officers. Out of respect for due process of law, I urge you to withdraw the bulletin.


Peter Showler
Director, the Refugee Forum
Human Rights Research and Education Centre
University of Ottawa
The War Resisters Support Campaign asks friends of US war resisters in Canada and all opposition parties in Parliament to demand the government to rescind Operational Bulletin 202 immediately.

We have a new petition, which you can download here, and an informational leaflet with more ideas of how you can help. [links coming soon!]

If you're in Toronto and you want to be part of this effort, please come to the dinner tonight. A suggested donation of $20 gets you dinner, music, a talk by Alyssa Manning about the government's attacks on the judicial independence, and a refresher course on how you can help the campaign.

Monday, March 21
6:00 Dinner
7:00 Programme

Steelworkers Hall
25 Cecil Street (near College/Spadina)
Toronto, ON

Suggested donation: $20


the arabist: five questions few are asking about libya

Yippee, a no-fly zone, because it's much better for the West to kill Libyans than for Gaddafi to do it! Hey, those crazy Arabs can't liberate themselves, you know. They need our help. Just ask the Iraqis! Those who have survived, anyway.

Some excellent analysis by The Arabist: 5 questions few are asking about Libya.

Thanks to Hysperia for the Arabist post.


Stop the War Coalition (UK): The real reasons behind the United Nations' Libya vote:
A new war has been declared in the Middle East. With the bloody and failing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan still in place, the USA, Britain and France are now committed to an escalating armed intervention in Libya.
Dissident Voice: Mission Creep and Slippery Slopes, Bombs Away Over Libya

malalai joya denied entry to u.s.: four things u.s. readers can do to help

As you may know, Afghan writer and activist Malalai Joya has been denied entry to the US. Joya opposes the Western occupation of her country, and with a clear majority of USians now opposing the war in Afghanistan, those who profit from the occupation want to prevent her injecting public opinion with facts and motivation.

I saw Joya speak - report here and here - and I know the peace movement in the United States needs her.

When Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's flunky stupidly declared former UK MP George Galloway "inadmissible" to Canada, the ensuing publicity for Galloway's tour became Jason Kenney's nightmare. Eventually that nightmare ended up in court, and Galloway is now a regular guest of peace activists in Canada. I hope the US peace movement will get behind Joya's visit in a similar way. [For details on that, click on the wmtc category "george galloway in canada".]

United for Peace and Justice, the umbrella coalition of 1,400 US anti-war groups, has four ways you can help.

1. Have your elected representatives sign onto a letter urging the US Embassy to reconsider their decision.

Six Congresspeople and three Senators have sent such a letter, which is posted at here and here.

Ask your Senator or Representative to send a similar letter as soon as possible.

2. Sign an online petition demanding Malalai Joya be granted a visa to the US.

Click here to sign the petition.

Share the petition on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, email.

3. Attend one of the many events organized for Malalai around the country.

Whether Joya is allowed to enter the US or not, the events will go on as scheduled, with Joya appearing either live or by video. Transform these events into declarations of your right to free speech and free association.

Tour details here.

4. Demand media coverage of Malalai's visa denial.

Contact local and national media, urge them to cover Malalai Joya's visa exclusion. The denial of a visa to Afghanistan's most intrepid and well known feminist should make headlines! See the Afghan Women's Mission's media release for details.

And I'll add number 5: share this post.


shocking photo: dog pack attacks alligator

greenwald: manning forced nudity = media tipping point

Glenn Greenwald, including links and emphasis:
The forced nudity imposed on Bradley Manning followed by the forced resignation of P.J. Crowley has clearly created a media tipping point in this story. In addition to the scathing New York Times Editorial from Monday (Manning's treatment "conjures creepy memories of how the Bush administration used to treat terror suspects"), editorial condemnation has now come from The Los Angeles Times ("punishment, not protection, is the purpose of these degrading measures") and The Guardian ("There was at least the ghost of an excuse for bullying foreign combatants but no US need for mistreating one of their own"). Perhaps most notably, even the military-revering, establishment-defending Washington Post Editorial Page today emphatically condemns these conditions as "uncomfortably close to the kind of intimidating and humiliating tactics disavowed after the abuses at the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prisons that eroded the country’s standing in the world."

The abusive treatment of Manning is indeed now reverberating internationally. Der Spiegel has a long article on the conditions of Manning's detention, noting that "even US politicians believe they're illegal" and highlighting the point I've repeatedly made:
Before he was inaugurated, Obama talked about the importance of whistleblowers, or sources who expose abuses within their organizations. Such "acts of courage and patriotism" ought to be "encouraged, rather than stifled," his website read at the time.

Once in office, Obama underwent a radical shift. His government is currently taking legal action against a number of whistleblowers. The government apparently wants to use the Manning case as a deterrent.
Meanwhile, The Guardian has an excellent article today describing how Physicians for Human Rights is now formally raising objections to the role of brig psychiatrists in enabling Manning's inhumane treatment (just as they once raised objections to the role played by health professionals at Guantanamo).
Plus: Tom Tomorrow: The president consults with General Flustercluck.

time-of-use energy pricing coming to ontario; is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Beginning May 1, Ontario will begin time-of-use pricing for energy* use.

With time-of-use pricing, electricity use will be billed at three different rates: off-peak (least expensive), mid-peak and peak (most expensive). Mid-peak is a higher rate than current billing, and off-peak is a lower rate. That is, under the new pricing plan, your bill cannot stay the same; it can only go up or go down.

There are also two different time-of-use pricing models, one for May through November, the other from November to May.

Compare this to our current rate of 6.4 cents/kWh.

Ontario has been gradually reducing its dependence on coal-fired electric plants, down from 25% in 2003 to the current 8%. The last coal-fired plant is supposed to be closed by 2030, a big step towards cleaner air and better health. Infrastructure is being upgraded, renewable sources expanded, and all that other stuff that means rates are slated to significantly increase.

So TOU pricing involves a choice between changing habits and escalating costs. With the price of energy expected to rise considerably over the next decade, most people will want to change habits.

There are very home electricity habits that one can reasonably change. Most people are not going to sit in the dark, not watch television or use their computers anytime they want, or cook dinner in the middle of the night. Some people consider air-conditioning a wasteful indulgence; for me it's a necessity. So in my view, the two most common home energy-use habits that one can change are using the dishwasher and doing the laundry, especially using the dryer.

The dishwasher is easy: run it at night. Start it before you go to bed and in the morning your dishes are clean.*

Laundry is a bit trickier. If you do your laundry on the weekends, that's already off-peak. But I'm at work all weekend, and generally do my laundry during normal working hours. I'm experimenting with different strategies of how to get the laundry done without staying up too late or working when I need to be resting.

I've heard it claimed that TOU pricing discriminates against working people, especially working parents who are over-burdened and pressed for time. Naturally I would oppose any scheme that redistributed a burden downward. But I haven't been able to figure out how TOU pricing unfairly burdens one group of people over another.

Overall, lower-income people are being walloped with cost increases from every side, and incomes never keep pace with the ever-escalating cost of living. I'd love to see energy use priced on a sliding scale according to income, but that will require a revolution. Instead, we have a few tax credits and rebates to help working people recover a few costs.

But specifically, how does TOU - as opposed to the current uniform rate - unfairly affect working people?

Weekends and evenings are off-peak, and that's when most working people do their laundry. TOU pricing would certainly unfairly burden working people if off-peak was during normal hours, but it's not. Many low-income people don't own washers and dryers, and if laundromats go to TOU rates, those would also reflect weekend and evening discounts.

If I'm missing some big piece of the puzzle, please fill me in. In general, do you think TOU is A Good Thing? Are you in favour of it? Will you change your habits to adjust?

* Note that in Ontario, many people refer to electricity, regardless of source, as "hydro". I find this ridiculous and will not say it.

** I'm aware that one can also wash dishes by hand. Since Allan and I never had a dishwasher before we moved to Canada, we feel we've paid our dues in that department. What's more, using a dishwasher actually helps us eat more healthfully and save money.