Friday, September 28, 2012

Statesmanship and decay of the State. . .

The so-called Appeal of Conscience Foundation has ruined any small shred of credibility that it had (not that it ever had much) by giving a statesman award to a man like Stephen Harper. Besides the fact that one would have to be in a coma to ever imagine Harper as a "statesman" of any kind, standing on the podium with him on the reception of the award was none other than international war criminal Henry Kissinger. Now, just imagine it from an objective observers point of view. This foundation is giving awards for statesmanship with a guy who is wanted in several countries for crimes against humanity. And coming in a week when Stephen Harper seemed to go out of his way to demonstrate that he is not a statesman (given his actions and remarks regarding the UN), and the entire event takes on a tragicomic appearance.

The whole affair both demonstrates and belies the old adage that the victor writes history. One the one hand, Kissenger and the Americans actually lost the war in Vietnam and yet Kissenger (who should be in prison) is still treated as a statesman by many people and organizations all over the world. If the victor really wrote history Mr. Kissenger would a figure of shame and derision. On the other hand, Western rightwing, neo-conservative capitalism still has something of strangle-hold on prevailing ideology and so it is entirely fitting that Harper is still presented as a "statesman" rather than the anti-democratic activist that he really is.

The one-sided, ideological attitudes continually presented in our media concerning such things was brought home this week as I watched some commentator (whose name now escapes me) on CBC talking about the speech given by Iranian president Ahmadinejad this week at the UN. The commentator talked about Ahmadinejad in the most abusive terms imaginable, calling him a megalomanic, psychopathic, suggesting that he had a narcissistic personality disorder, and even suggesting (in contradiction to many of his other claims)  that Mr. Ahmadinejad was motivated in many of his actions not by politics but by a need to be famous and have his face in the news. Now many of the things said concerning Ahmadinejad may, in fact, be true, and he certainly is not what most of us would call a "humanitarian." However, what struck me was the casual, off-hand manner with which these charges were levelled at the president of Iran. The commentator said these things as though they were self-evident and that everyone simply accepted them on face value. Furthermore, these charges were made in a way that a priori delegitimized any and all of Ahmadinejad's political viewpoints; as though it is simply "insane" to oppose Israel or US neo-colonialism. And when the commentator called Ahmadinejad a narcissist Kathleen Petty smiled in agreement without any thought of doing her job and actually questioning the blatant ideological bias of her interviewee.

Even if the "victor" doesn't always write history, the prevailing ideology always prevails. I think a serious argument can be made that Stephen Harper is, in fact, mentally ill and suffers from a distinctly narcissistic personality disorder. I believe that one can make an informed and cogent argument that Israel's existence is a dubious historical event, let alone its continual expansionism and blatant abuse of millions of Palestinians. And Harper's blind support of Israel derives from nothing more than a quasi-insane religious fervor known as dispensationalism. I think Harper is an intensely dangerous man who is destroying the constitution and democracy of a nation, and is no less evil than Ahmadinejad. (In a different political context it is hopelessly naive to believe that Harper would be any less fanatical and dangerous than his Iranian counterpart.) But while Harper receives awards for statesmanship from a war criminal, our self-satisfied media pundits belittle anyone who is not a blind adherent to a capitalistic fervor that is systematically destroying civilization. Yet can you imagine anyone saying these things on major news forums such as the CBC, let alone saying unchallenged?

But it seems that history seldom changes. While Jefferson and his democratic allies opposed the Federalists for their tyrannical (read British) tendencies, they also kept slaves.

So it goes.

Friday, September 21, 2012

So it goes. . . . .

I haven't blogged much lately. I don't know about the others out there but the situation (at least here in Canada) is increasingly disheartening. When you live under a government that is essentially fraudulent and does absolutely everything in its power to undermine discourse and debate while simultaneously dismantling every aspect of government except those that benefit large corporations and the ultra-rich, one would think that this would be a perfect time for angry rebellion. However, when so many people seem indifferent to the radically anti-democratic agenda of their own government, it is difficult to maintain the energy to keep up with the vocal dissent.

A good example of the disheartening political events in recent months has been the outrageous attacks on trade unionism by government officials as wells as people in the mainstream media and so many painfully ignorant political observers in general. My own MP (and I confess that I shudder at the thought of this guy representing anyone anywhere at anytime) Pierre Poillievre mounted a visceral attack on unionism just the other day because unions in Quebec had the gaul to exercise their basic rights and support a party to which he is opposed. Mr. Poillievre appealed to the worn-out old argument that people who work in a unionized workplace should not have to pay dues because they may not agree with everything or every political position that their union takes. I don't know about the rest of you out there but I get so tired of hearing this insipid, anti-democratic argument that I just want to (excuse my language) 'bitch-slap' any fool that makes it. I plan to write to my right-honorable half-witted MP to tell him that I plan to stop paying taxes because I didn't vote for him and disagree with everything he says and does. This is, after all, the same position. Despite many particular drawbacks, unions are non-profit, democratic institutions and to be meaningful they must function much like the government does in terms of their institutional process and fiscal operation. If Mr. Poillievre really believes that only those who support every action of a union should pay dues, he must similarly believe that only those who support every action of a government should pay taxes. And this means, of course, no one, should pay any taxes since no one ever agrees with 100% percent of a government's actions.

So it goes.

The fact is that it has become increasingly acceptable for politicians to take such positions and make outrageous statements about society and capitalism. Take, as a topical example, Mitt Romeny's remarks this week. The rightwing essentially believes that most people are shiftless and lazy and that all they want is to do sit around living off the dole. Despite the fact that this is simply a blatantly counterfactual position, it is typical of their elitism and the fact that people like Romney and his ilk really want society to function as a plutocracy in which the majority of people are poor, uneducated, and powerless. They want society to consist of 95% of people who are struggling workers at the beck and call of the rich and must do their bidding at any and all times. This is what the attack on trade unionism really represents. Unions are one of the only institutions in society that represent a collective effort of average people, and the rightwing hates any worker power.

So it goes.

In contrast to all this ugliness, this week we saw the small collective effort of one man go viral. A Winnipeg bus driver stopped his bus when he saw a homeless man struggling along the street without any shoes. Passangers sat in amazement as the driver, after a brief conversation with the man, took off his own shoes and gave them to the man. When questioned by the media the driver said he believes in a society in which we all take care of each other.

Imagine that. A society in which people take care of each other! An economics as if people mattered .

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hypocrisy, Hypocrisy, Hypocrisy. . . etc. . . .

As though to punctuate the irony of breaking diplomatic ties with Iran, Harper signed a trade agreement with China a day later. When he was leader of the opposition Harper never tired of condemning the Liberals for their association with China and now he spends much of his time courting the Chinese government. Harper is truly the lap-dog of one of the world's most horrendous human rights offenders. And he licks at their teats as  lying bile vomits from his mouth onto his own people, while filthy bitumen spews from his ass onto China and into the air of everyone.

One of the primary reasons that Harper and his clones gave us for breaking ties with Iran was because of their terrible human rights record. In their latest report on China Amnesty International tells us that in China -

-"The authorities continued to harass, intimidate, persecute and criminalize pro-democracy and human rights activists. Activists supporting the China Democracy Party were sentenced to long prison terms.

-"The number of people subjected to enforced disappearances grew. Many were held in secret detention, including Hada, a Mongolian political activist. Many others remained or were placed under illegal house arrest.

-"China continued to use the death penalty extensively, including for non-violent crimes, and to impose it after unfair trials. Executions were estimated to number in the thousands.

-"The authorities pursued their goal of bringing all religious practice under state control.

The indictment goes on and on. Certainly in terms of the number of people affected, China is has the worst human rights record in the world. Yet Harper licks at the disgusting underbelly of the Chinese state in order to line the pockets of his oil buddies in Calgary. But Harper is not a man of principle. Rather he is a religious maniac, dispensationalist wacko who would do anything to please the Israeli government. Most of the charges that John Baird made of the Iranian State could effectively be levelled against many other Canadian allies, including, most importantly, Israel. Racist diatribes by government officials, active use of military means for political ends, oppression, expansionism, etc. And of course, most ironically, nuclear proliferation!

It is all hypocrisy. Disgusting, inhuman, abhorrent, odious hypocrisy. And it never ends.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

More Thoughts on this Thorny Language Question.

Continuing on with the problem of language laws and the issues that the election of the PQ raises, I thought I would make a few more comments. These thoughts were inspired somewhat by a quick exchange between myself and the blogger Montreal Simon, a blogger who I enjoy a great deal and whose work deserves respect.

Montreal Simon was eager to defend the tendencies in Quebec to defend, with some degree of fervency, the French language. In his comments to me Simon claims that "leftists sometimes make the mistake of equating language and race. Because while you can't change your colour, you can learn a new language. So its not racism." Now as much as I respect Simon, I find this truly shocking and disturbing. First of all, it is a strangely contradictory argument considering that he makes it in a discourse about the defence of  language. But putting that contradiction aside (to which he is, I believe, driven because of rhetorical necessity), it is also a shocking argument to make in a country in which one of the primary racist efforts  over the past two hundred years or more has been to prevent the continuation of the Indigenous languages. One of the primary motives behind the residential schools was the effort to cut young native people off from the use of their own language. This is because, as the UN has recognized for many years, language is central to culture. Thus the UN declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states in Article 14 - "Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their  own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning."  This is a very clear recognition that language cannot be separated from culture and cultural identity, and it is therefore clear that it is central to the notion of "race" as people commonly use the word. Thus I believe it is simply wrong to imagine that one can separate linguistic rights from basic human rights or from the protection of a cultural community.

Now lets address the wider issue of linguistic rights. The UN Declaration on Linguistic Rights states in Article 2 "This Declaration takes as its point of departure the principle that linguistic rights are individual and collective at one and the same time." It then continues with a very important observation in which it says that when it defines "the full range of linguistic rights" it includes "not only . . the geographic area where the community lives, but [and this is important] also . . . the social and functional space vital to the full development of the language." In other words language rights must be defended based upon cultural communities in general. An attack on a community's language rights is an  attack on their culture, their community, and their "racial" identity. We must always, therefore, be cautious about restrictions on language rights regardless of where and when we are enacting them.

It based upon these basic assumptions that I believe that Quebec language laws have been de facto racist. Though they have been enacted in a context in which French speakers have been actively attempting to defend their own language (and cultural identity), they have quickly become part of certain racist tendencies among people who have been much too quick to move from protection to insulation, from promotion to control. In a context in which there is a significant linguistic community it is important, even essential, to make room for expressions of that linguistic culture, in education as well as everyday life. Most importantly in this context, it is essential not to make any "official" linguistic competence a central part of political or community participation. Such efforts run the risk of not only being racist but dangerously classist as well.

Now when we address these issues in relation to Quebec it is important to do 2 things. One, we must not under-state the right of Quebecers to maintain the French language. And two, we must not over-state the degree to which other languages communities must be defended within the larger community. I know that there are a number of crazy rightwingers out there who are not necessarily well motivated to defend their own linguistic rights. However, having said this I have deep concerns over questions of minority language education rights, and participation in the larger community. And I think anyone who believes in such rights should be concerned.

Within fifty years or so latinos will out number anglophones in a number of US states. It will then be within their ability to actually enact laws that restrict English. I have no fear that this will happen but if it did I think it would be as objectionable as when anglophones have enacted so-called "English Only" laws. The spanish language is thriving in the US despite the racism of many whites, and it does so even when it is surrounded by a sea of English speakers and anglophone power. Spain maintains a number of distinct linguistic communities in official and non-official capacities. They have done so through active cooperation, understanding, and concerted efforts. In some regions of Spain you can speak and go to school in Catalan, but you can also actively use Castellano in any way you see fit.

In the final analysis I believe this for certain - if you need police to compel people to not use a certain language you have already lost your fight.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Few Thoughts on the Quebec Election. . .

Ok, I admit it - I have never really understood the drive for Quebec sovereignty. I have generally not been sympathetic to nationalist movements except where they have been driven (generally in the third world) by an effort to foment feelings against colonial power. But in general terms I think that nationalism is driven by an undercurrent of racism, and I see no good reason to support such efforts which are divisive and ugly.

I have never heard a convincing argument for Quebec sovereignty and I think the federation between it and the other provinces has been mutually beneficial. Furthermore, I think that Quebec sovereignty would probably be disastrous for native people and would end in serious financial and social disaster for Quebec in general. Racist language policies would lose their excuse in a sovereign Quebec and the country would face international human rights challenges and could potentially face condemnation in the UN and possibly trade sanctions by many countries. To make matters significantly worse, Quebec separation would be a terrible loss for the rest of the Francophones in Canada. French speakers simply would not be a significant enough minority in the rest of Canada to justify protection of their language rights the way that they have and funding for remaining Francophone organizations would quickly disappear. There would obviously be no justification for maintaining the federal government as a bilingual organization and Francophones would find it difficult to receive services in the language of their choice.

This election in Quebec, which will finally be decided tomorrow, has seen some disturbing noises coming from the PQ. The idea that only those people whose first language is French are 'truly' Quebecers is a frightening kind of racism. The worst thing of all has been their talk of a so-called "Quebec citizenship." Though it is not entirely clear what such a citizenship would look like, or why they have invoked such a plan, it appears that to "qualify" for such citizenship one would have to undergo some kind of language test. It appears that this test would be used to restrict who could run for public office and it seems to me that a natural extension of such a policy would be much like the Jim Crow laws in the US which prevented African Americans from engaging in the political process. The idea that any kind of language skill would qualify someone for the rights and privileges of citizenship is deeply frightening and reeks of the worst kind of racism. And of perhaps equal importance is the class implications of such a plan. In any political system people with literacy challenges are de facto less engaged. If you have challenges, in reading and writing for example, it is more difficult to be familiar with the body politic and the issues of current events are harder to access. The PQ's obsession with French already excludes people from the political process and any plan to further entrench the language  issues will take more people out of politics. In the end the PQ is not only promoting racism and classism, but it is creating a situation in which Quebec society (and the French language) will, in fact, atrophy and die. History demonstrates to me that you can promote a language but it is not at all clear that you can enforce it.