28 Sep 2011

Join the CoffeeParty.ca
and fight for Canadian democracy

Outdated first-past-the-post electoral laws in Canada mean that a minority, anti-government, anti-Canadian group of neoliberals such as the Harper Conservatives are able to rule the country unchallenged with a popular vote of only 39 per cent.

If the CoffeeParty.ca movement has its way, Canadians will introduce more progressive electoral laws in the future so this won’t be able to happen.

“Unlike the Tea Party movement in the U.S., the CoffeeParty.ca movement is pushing only for well-researched and broadly supported changes that will make Canadian governments and big businesses operate more honestly, ethically, openly, representatively, efficiently and effectively,” says Democracy Watch, the public interest organization that came up with the idea for the new group.

The main political parties in Canada don’t want to see the country establish proportional representation because it would likely mean they would have to cooperate with smaller parties to get 50+1 percent of the seats, instead of running the country without a majority, as is now the case.

“If Canadians spent as much time writing politicians about their concerns as they spend buying, making and drinking coffee,” says Democracy Watch, “we would have the good, democratic governments and responsible big businesses we want.”

With elections in fall 2011 in Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and the Yukon (and likely also within the next year in Alberta and B.C.), the window of opportunity is wide open for many Canadians to elect politicians and governments committed to making themselves, and big businesses, more accountable and responsible.

There are several ways we can become involved in the CoffeeParty.ca:

Write a letter to Canadian politicians using the Good Government Action Alert as a guide.

Write a letter to Canadian politicians using the Corporate Responsibility Action Alert as a guide.

Send an email to key Canadian media responding to every article you see about political scandals, and in the email say: "I support the good government changes proposed by Democracy Watch"  -- for media email addresses, click here.

Sign-up for email Action Alerts

Volunteer to help with research and organizing events and workshops.

Campaigning successfully for democracy in Canada is a long and difficult road but, as we can see from the damage the minority Conservatives are doing, it is the most important long-term issues facing the country.


24 Sep 2011

‘Mother Corp’ funding:
Harper starts to take aim at the CBC!

The CBC-hating Harper Conservatives are quick off the mark to get the debate going about whether the public broadcaster is of “good value” to Canadians.

Today’s Globe and Mail reveals that Senator Irving Gerstein has asked Conservative supporters about the 10 most important National Issues, and one of the questions is whether the more than $1-billion Ottawa spends on the CBC is “good value” or “bad value.”

Hey, I can’t image the true money-sucking Conservative stalwarts across the country would answer this one!

One problem the CBC has, is that a lot of people who have been very strong supporters in the past are perhaps a little cooler toward Mother Corp. now due to the terrible programming decisions – that have been an attempt to popularize programs that have very questionable value to Canadians.

Then there’s the way some important programs slots on CBC Radio have been either removed or turned into pop-radio style programming. And finally, the deterioration of news on both TV and Radio, largely because the top dog people running the service don’t have enough experience in the news business.

Concerning the Conservatives’ so-called “budget process” and deciding that government programs need to be cut – it’s all phoney! In the last budget, they gave billions of dollars to rich people by cutting their tax levels, and gave corporations billions they didn’t even ask for. This set up the situation that Flaherty and Harper wanted – a deficit. Now, for ideological reasons not budget reasons, they can go about and downsize government – one of their main objectives as a government.

As for my part, I worked in many divisions of the CBC for more than 20 years, and I still greatly value many of its programs, particularly As It Happens, The Current and anything done by Eleanor Wachtel. At a time when national broadcasters in many countries in Europe are making a great contribution to national identity, it will be a terrible shame if the CBC is financially starved to death.

23 Sep 2011

Canada included in world events:
Millions will 'march, bike, and skate' Saturday
to politicize others about the plight of the planet

In Kenya, I have seen herds of animals starving because the small rivers and lakes have dried up. In Sierra Leone, I witnessed people fighting for control over meagre water resources, and in South Africa, I saw crops wilting in the sun while local families experienced hunger.
                                                        -- Nick Fillmore.

Fed up with the lack of action by the world’s establishment organizations to make substantial progress in slowing the rate of disastrous climate change, thousands of activist groups from around the world are building a new movement to force action on the issue.

Tomorrow, Saturday, September 24th, has been declared a special day when perhaps millions of people from all over the world will put their demands into action – Moving Planet Day – by marching, biking, skating, etc., and “calling for the world to go beyond fossil fuels.”

“For too long, our leaders have denied and delayed, compromised and caved. That era must come to an end,” says the site, Moving Planet,  a project organized in part by remarkable U.S. environmental activist Bill McKibben.

People are invited to search a special website map to locate an event they can take part in. Activities are planned for many communities across Canada.

The world’s leading industrialized countries – many of them dominated by powerful pollution-spewing corporations – have totally failed to develop a universal plan to reduce climate change.

We here in North America often talk about climate change as though it is something that is only starting to happen. However, in Africa, where I sometimes teach journalism, climate change is already ravaging many countries.

In Kenya, I have seen herds of animals starving because the small rivers and lakes have dried up. In Sierra Leone, I witnessed people fighting for control over meagre water resources, and in South Africa, I saw crops wilting in the sun while local families experienced hunger.

McKibben is also the person behind 350.org. Scientists tell us we must reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 392 parts per million ("ppm") to below 350 ppm. But 350 is more than a number—McKibben sees it as a symbol of where we need to head as a planet.

15 Sep 2011

Protestors to Occupy Wall Street -
What actions can help us overcome the tremendous powers of right-wing governments and corporations?

What are the tactics that can best be used to try to pressure powerful, self-serving, joined-at-the-hip governments and corporations in Canada and the United States to do the right thing and recognize the interests of everyday people?

While big marches and sit-ins during the struggle for black rights and an end to the Vietnam War were effective tools for promoting change, such tactics in North America now appear to be losing steam as effective tactics. 

These days, it seems too often that protest marches and the like lack specific goals and are organized by folks that have unrealistic ideas as to what they can achieve.

Take tomorrow’s (September 17th) planned protest, Occupy Wall Street, in New York.

Adbusters magazine of Vancouver was the first to call for a day of action to protest the power concentrated on Wall Street.

The protest has the important long-term goal of ending private control of American’s financial system. They want publicly-owned, non-profit banks established in every state. While this obviously won’t happen, at least not now, it is important to introduce the public to such concepts.

Thousands of people are expected to march on America’s main financial district, as well as on financial districts in Paris, London, Brussels, etc.

But it’s all pretty loosey-goosey.

“If the police block us temporarily from occupying Wall Street”, said their most recent Tactical Briefing, “then let's turn all of lower Manhattan into our Tahrir Square. Let's sing our songs in the lobby of Goldman Sachs and in Chase Manhattan Plaza. . . .
“Bring signs, flowers, food and a revolutionary mood … and a commitment to absolute nonviolence in the Gandhian tradition.” They admit that “anything can and will happen.”
Okay, but will this event have a positive impact on the hugely important cause of bringing the all-powerful banks to their knees?

No, it won’t.

First of all, there’s no specific achievable goal behind the demonstration.

I can’t guess how many people will show up, but if even 5,000 enthusiastic radical types block Wall Street – even on a Saturday when the financial markets are shut down – I imagine the New York police will be pissed!

The likelihood of violence – perhaps a police riot, where agitated red-neck officers come unglued – seems more than possible to me. Unfortunately, the whole event is likely to just annoy the people who could perhaps make a difference – people who have money in banks.

The financial sector is a key element in the integrated Canadian and U.S. government-corporate establishment, which is now more powerful than it has been in more than a century. Their brutal use of neo-liberalism is destroying the lives of millions of people around the globe.

So we’re coming to a point where more dramatic tactics could be employed to try to challenge the establishment’s power and prevent them from destroying the western world financially and, not too long from now, prevent them from totally destroying the environment.

Giant corporations use their control of mainstream media to tell people that, while the economy may be approaching another meltdown, there’s no alternative to the current system.

When was the last time you saw a corporate newspaper or TV station explain the ideology behind neo-liberalism? During the last election campaign, while the mainstream press took every opportunity to link the NDP with communism or socialism, not once did I see the Harper government identified as neo-liberals.

But the establishment is so all-powerful it is almost impossible to image any action that would make them change their direction. Nevertheless, both radical and ordinary citizens cannot sit idly by.

The key to forcing change usually involves identifying the weakness of an unjust government or a destructive corporation and then develop a strategy to attack them along those lines.

As for Saturday’s planned protest in New York, one way to get the banks attention would be to hurt them where it hurts most – in the pocket book. Put 300,000 people in the streets for up to a week and, despite the arrests of thousands of people, it might mean the temporary closing of the New York Stock Exchange. Whether it would empower ordinary people – like people millions of Europeans have taken to the streets recently – is questionable. 

Then there’s the Internet. Effective use of the Internet as a tool to both educate the public and force change on a global scale is perhaps one of our best hopes. But radicals are just learning how to use the growing resources available to them – and figuring out how to avoid jail for their sometimes questionable actions.

Civil disobedience is accepted by many people – like those arrested in Washington recently during the protest over the Keystone tar-sands XL pipeline – but every individual must decide whether they want to go further and disobey laws that may be anti-democratic.

Back in the 1950s, Chicago activist Saul Alinsky helped poorly treated welfare recipients win better services by helping them jam the phone lines at city hall.

Using the Courts to argue legal cases, and create legal cases – such as the recently recognized class action suit over whether a drug intended to ease menopause symptoms caused best cancer – are proving effective in Canada.

Unfortunately, boycotts do not grab the imagination of the general public the way they once did, partly because the corporate mainstream media chooses not to give them much attention.

In other parts of the world, where neo-liberal policies and uncontrolled market speculation have hit ordinary people hard, there are dozens of huge demonstrations and protests. But in North America, most people have been conditioned to disapprove of protests.

In Canada, following the May victory of the Harper Conservatives, it has been extremely disappointing that large and small progressive and liberal minded organizations – all the way from the Council of Canadian to labour groups to Greenpeace – did not come together to develop strategies to try to slow down the backward march of Stephen Harper.

More than anything else, our best hope of overcoming the neo-liberals, and possibly helping the NDP gain power, is to push our organizations to come together across a wide ranging spectrum of interests and develop inclusive strategies. More on this in a later blog.

9 Sep 2011

9/11 and the “War on Terror”
- Had the U.S. done the right thing, thousands of lives could have been saved

Ten years after close to 3,000 people died in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, we witnessed hundreds of sympathetic events, millions of words in newspapers, and tens-of-thousands of hours of TV and radio coverage – nearly all of it dealing with the terrifying events, the suffering of the survivors, and the impact of the event on the United States.

The fiery destruction of the World Trade Centre’s Twin Towers was the most shocking terrorist attack of modern times – clearly an attack of such horror and magnitude that it must be considered a crime against humanity and it is only right that the survivors and all Americans would mourn.

Yet, from day one, the U.S. government and mainstream media have lied to the public about “why” the attacks occurred and mislead us about “who” was responsible for the attacks.
The silence and deceit paved the way for an enraged United States to bully several western countries, including Canada, into a savage “War on Terror” that has taken the lives of at least 225,000 people, changed forever the lives of tens-of-millions of Arabs, and cost the U.S. up to $4-trillion and Canada $92-billion.

But was it all necessary?

Following the 9/11 attacks, U.S. President George Bush went on television and lied about the reasons for the brutal attack. “America was targeted for attack because we are the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world . . . .” Bush said on national TV.

George Will, a leading right-wing pundit, repeated Bush’s lie, as did many other journalists. Will wrote in his Washington Post column: “Americans . . .  are targets because of their virtues – principally democracy, and loyalty to those nations which, like Israel, are embattled salients of our virtues in a still-dangerous world."

The mainstream media also spread claims that the attack occurred because of a clash between the Christian and Muslim religions. This argument led to hatred and even hysteria among Americans. In the weeks after 9/11, the FBI counted at least 400 brutal attacks on Muslims, Arabs or people who looked Muslim or Arab. Three people were murdered, and there were some 35 arson fires.

Real reasons for the 9/11 attack

The 9/11 attacks occurred first and foremost because members of the loosely knit al-Qaida network wanted primarily to protest the fact that the United States supports and makes financially possible Israel’s brutal treatment of the Palestinians.

Secondly, the many speeches of Osama bin Laden clearly show that al-Qaida opposed U.S. military bases in the Persian Gulf area, most notably in Saudi Arabia; opposed U.S. support for corrupt Middle Eastern countries; and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In 1997, bin Laden was interviewed by CNN’s Peter Arnett and explained many of al-Qaida’s grievances.

During the attacks, the three iconic symbols of America’s global supremacy were targeted: the Twin Towers represented America’s mighty strength around the world; the Pentagon was the centre of U.S. military power; and the third target, which was not struck, was the Capitol Building, from where the U.S. government operates.

One of the attack organizers believed their actions would help the Palestinian cause because it would make the American public focus on “the atrocities that America is committing by supporting Israel,” authors Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan wrote in their recent book The Eleventh Day.

Later, in 2004, the official 9/11 report was a whitewash. The Eleventh Day explains that the main commissioners admitted that they “settled on vague language” concerning the motive behind the attacks because “listing U.S. support for Israel as a root cause of al- Qaida’s opposition to the United States indicated that the United States should reassess that policy.

The U.S. government appears to have also lied about who carried out the attacks. They soon pointed the finger at Osama bin Laden, but bin Laden, denied the attack was his doing.

The official bin Laden Wanted Terrorists page said he was wanted in connection with attacks on U.S. properties in Tanzania and Kenya, but made no reference to 9/11.

No evidence linking bin Laden

In 2006, the now-defunct Muckraker Report published an interview with the FBI about why 9/11 was not mentioned. The interviewer was shocked by the response of Rex Tomb, Chief of Investigative Publicity for the FBI.: “The reason why 9/11 is not mentioned on bin Laden’s Most Wanted page is because the FBI had no hard evidence connecting bin Laden to 9/11.”

While they have no proof, U.S. authorities speculate that the plan for the 9/11 attacks was developed by al-Qaida leaders in Afghanistan, carried out by 19 radicals from the European cells, and funded by unknown people from the United Arab Emirates.

However, the finger was pointed at the well-known, evil bin Laden, who had gained notoriety for the earlier attacks al-Qaida attacks he organized in Africa, and who would be a colourful target for the media.

Everything considered, the so called “War on Terror” – initiated on the falsehood that Islamists hate American values – was based on lies from the very beginning.

Illegal invasions and torture

So it began: Bush falsely links oil-rich Iraq to the attacks; a huge U.S. military build-up begins; the mainstream media fall into line; the illegal invasion of Iraq occurs; Chrétien lies that Canada is not supporting the U.S. effort in Iraq; there’s no sight of ‘weapons of mass destruction’; oppressive laws are introduced in many countries; Guantánamo Bay, located in no-man’s land, is opened so that prisoners can be brutally interrogated; the U.S. invents ‘extraordinary rendition’, sending suspects to several countries so they can be tortured; Afghanistan is illegally invaded with Canadian military participation; Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay weasels out of responsibility for the fact that prisoners handed over to the Afghans were tortured; suspects and many innocent people are killed by remote-controlled drones flying over Pakistan; an unarmed Osama bin Laden was murdered in his bedroom in Pakistan and his body dumped in the ocean; and the withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces, including Canadians, begins from a battered Iraq and an unstable Afghanistan.

The invasion of two Islamic countries and incursions into several others was exactly what al-Qaida desired. They wanted Arabs to hate Americans, and they wanted to see the United States spend so much on warfare that it might eventually bankrupt itself.

Obscenely, while millions of Americans are practically destitute in the streets, U.S. military operations worldwide associated with the War on Terror costs $386 million per day and, even though U.S. President Obama has stopped using the original name of the war, the war still continues in many countries.

In Canada, the Rideau Institute provided comparisons on what the $92 billion spent by the Harper government on the War on Terror could purchase. “It could have been used to rebuild the transit systems in each of Canada's 10 largest cities or it could have provided a national childcare program”, wrote economist David Macdonald.

Why didn’t Bush do the right thing?

The very limited discussion concerning the most important aspects of the legacy of 9/11 is being discussed around the world in the context of destructive lies and disinformation. By convincing millions of people that the attacks occurred because Muslims are jealous of Americans, the U.S. government, with the cooperation of the mainstream media, has pulled off a giant whitewash and fabrication that even the Nazis would have been proud of.

Meanwhile, the U.S. mainstream media – renowned for having the best investigative journalists in the world – have not dug deeply into the “why” or the “who” of the story, possibly because they have been intimidated by the U.S. government, and pro-administration corporate media owners.

The mainstream western media, amid its massive coverage leading up to the 10th anniversary of the attacks, did very little or nothing to acknowledge the deaths of tens-of-thousands of Arabs in the Middle East who were killed by U.S. and allied forces or their families.

The question is: Had the U.S. government and the mass media admitted the real reason for the attacks and, just for clarity’s sake, acknowledge that they didn’t know if bin Laden planned 9/11, could the U.S. and its allies have done the right thing and forced Israel to end its decades-long policy of grinding down and wiping out the Palestinians, as well as deal with other issues – some of which are being addressed by the upheavals in the Middle East?  

While all leading American, British, and Canadian media are devoting enormous attention to the grief associated with 9/11, journalist Simon Jenkins is one of a very few analysts to touch on other important aspects of the legacy of 9/11 in an interview with The Guardian:

    “The billions of dollars expended (by the U.S.) was financed largely from borrowing, which in turn has destabilised the world economy. All this was out of all proportion to the attacks on 9/11. The peace dividend so eagerly awaited at the end of the 20th century evaporated as the security industry exploited counter-terrorism and seized every chance of profit and risk aversion. . . . . The decade since 9/11 must rank among the most inept and counterproductive eras in the story of modern statesmanship.”

U.S. and allies still vulnerable

Since 9/11, western countries have been remarkably successful at detecting and stopping many terrorist attacks. It appears that the number and strength of Islamic terrorists has been diminished considerably. Yet, young Islamic men continue to join the al-Qaida cause. Americans are still very afraid.

The United States and its allies, including Canada, are likely to be vulnerable to terrorist attacks until legitimate issues in the Middle East are resolved. There is always the possibility that some group will eventually carry out another major attack. America’s greatest nightmare is a makeshift nuclear device.

In reflecting on the disastrous last decade we might ask, What would the world be like today if the United Sates, Britain, Canada and the other countries using their military might to kill fanatical young people had instead used that money to buy school books, drill wells, educate people, and promote religious tolerance throughout the Middle East – and at home?