Voluntary blindness

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I don’t personally socialmedia because it is for puny mortals and unfit for the dignity of the Valar, but I sometimes trawl Dawg’s feed for reactions to things that might appear here, and on the matter of FIPA I encountered the most astonishingly naïve thing I’ve seen in a long time:

After all this, after all the years of terrible, democracy-binding “trade” deals, who in their right mind believes that “objective grounds” aren’t entirely defined by trade-ideologues, economists, and other assorted vested interests? As Dawg later points out on his tweetyfeed (whoda thunk it, a tweeting Dawg), one Diane freaking Francis is stridently opposed to FIPA, an occurrence that back in the day would have been akin to a T. Rex joining PETA and selling Sea Kitten plushies on a street corner to fund her newfound quinoa habit.

I’m starting to suspect that Stevie-baby might actually just be obsessed with the aesthetic characteristics of pipelines and actually need them for some kind of weird fetishy gratification. Anything, anything to build those damn pipelines. Or maybe it’s environmental damage that excites him?

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scotland yes.jpg

[NOTE: Be sure to read co-blogger Mandos’ succinct and trenchant post on Iraq just below this. We finished our pieces at about the same time. ~DD]

Good grief, here they go again.

Any nation roughly east of the Oder-Neisse line that wants its sovereignty, it’s all Bravo and full steam ahead from the Western politicos and their media flacks. The fissioning of Yugoslavia? All good, except of course for Serbia’s bloody intransigence. NATO tore a gaping hole in that, of course, and ethnic nationalism finished it off, to rounds of Western applause and recognition, and new seats in the UN.

Independent Ukraine? But of course. Georgia? Certainly (but no such luck for Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Ajaria—even Western support for national self-determination in the East has its elastic limits). Moving even further East, don’t get me started on Tibet, currently in the throes of a deliberate policy of colonization through internal Chinese immigration. If it had a shot at independence, or even “devo-max,” I’d be all for it. And no argument, I think, from the Globe and Mail or the Prime Minister.

Does anyone recall nervous yammering from the pundits about what currency would be used in the Ukraine, what Georgia’s share of Russia’s national debt might be, the short- and long-term economic viability of Montenegro, und so weiter? I must have missed it.

But somehow the entire paradigm gets scrubbed when nations closer to home express separatist longings. Suddenly the notion is anathema to any right-thinking person—no pun intended. Quebec, for example, whose Parti Québécois’ advocacy of sovereignty-association with The Rest of Canada was loudly sneered at. And now Scotland, facing the possibility of regaining the independence that it lost in 1707 with the Act of Union, a measure passed by bribery and other stratagems against the will of the majority of its people.

The “Och, aye” vote is possibly now ahead of the “Naw, hank ye” vote (where did they get this “Yes” and “No” from? Some Sassenach Clarity Bill in play here?) and serious fussing has broken out. The flutterings of the punderati, politicians and corporate elites are indeed wonderful to behold. Will the virtually dormant Quebec separatist movement be re-energized? Will prices in Scotland go up? What currency will an independent Scotland have? Is North Sea oil running dry? Will Scotland be able to join the European Union? One overwrought fellow, Kenan Malik, even claims that retaining the Queen as head of state, as the Yes side’s Alex Salmond proposes, is anti-democratic. (Canada, be very afraid.)

Natter, natter, natter.

But Malik does put his finger on something, if maladroitly:

The problem…derives from the same kinds of trends evident throughout the UK, and indeed throughout Europe - the disengagement of people from the political process, the breakdown of more universal movements for social change.

The challenge we face is to build new social mechanisms that can overcome the fragmentary character of contemporary politics, reverse the replacement of broader political and cultural identities with more narrow, parochial ones, confront the shift from the politics of ideology to the politics of identity. Scottish independence will not help achieve any of this. In fact, it will only exacerbate those very problems.

Indeed there are two contending forces visible around the globe, if not precisely as stated. Governments, too, are facing increasing “disengagement from the political process,” in thrall to corporate globalism with its overriding authority over sovereign states, enforced by unelected, unaccountable, secret tribunals. If I might divagate, the FIPA just signed with China by PM Stephen Harper effectively turns over a large chunk of our energy sector to Chinese investors. We can’t even enforce Constitutional responsibilities to First Nations, or observe provincial authority over natural resources, without the threat of billion-dollar lawsuits, which will be heard in camera, with taxpayers only learning after the fact how much they’re on the hook for. You’d think we might have learned from NAFTA, under which Canada almost invariably gets the short end of the stick, forced to pay out millions to private foreign corporations. Nope.

Against this backdrop, indeed imbued with a “politics of ideology,” but one of neoliberalism rather than social justice, various moves in the opposite direction, everything from “buy local” to sovereignty, are entirely understandable. Historical memories of oppression are reawakened by the new global economic realities: the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, while “austerity” is imposed upon increasingly immiserated populations. In addition, the central control of states over various minority populations/territories is weakened by the centrifugal impulses of world corporatism, making local counter-moves by those peoples more and more effective. The world over, those dis-placed by global trends, unable to be heard, unable to make those who decide on their fate accountable to them, are seeking new place in the comfort of their imagined communities, with accessible governance.

The centre cannot hold. But “new social mechanisms that can overcome the fragmentary character of contemporary politics” are in no way precluded by that fragmentation. Quite the opposite. Any such mechanisms, at this point highly theoretical (international solidarity is oppositional in character these days), can arise only from consensus among nations, and be maintained through continual processes of accountability. Knee-jerk opposition to the self-determination of nations on the one hand, and the hemorrhaging of national sovereignty on the other, are hardly conducive to the creation of those mechanisms. The positive international solidarity implied by such a concept is completely at odds with the global corporate hegemony in place today.

Put a different way, Scotland’s Yes side is plumping for a kind of subsidiarity, a concept with which more people should make themselves familiar. Malik bemoans “the disengagement of people from the political process, the breakdown of more universal movements for social change.” But a move towards local control, in which people do not feel helpless and are hence encouraged to become more politically and socially involved, is a step towards building those wider links. Solidarity, as the appalling history of the USSR should have taught us all, cannot be imposed from the top down: under that paper-thin crust, the national populations seethed with inter- and intramural antagonisms.

Does any of this mean that the Scottish National Party is leading its people to the socialist promised land? Hardly. If anything, the SNP leans to the right, and no doubt has its share of Scottish Thatcherites. But the point is, it’s easier for Scots to dislodge Scottish Thatcherites than English ones. Independence means new political possibilities, where all parties will be more readily held accountable when they presume to speak for them, and be held directly responsible for what they do in their nation’s name.

The Scottish people can open up opportunities and democratic potentials this week, without the Battle of Bannockburn or, more recently, the bloody uprisings and guerrilla war that gave birth to Eire. But voting No means to foreclose any such thing for generations to come. The choice seems clear enough. Take the leap, remembering the perfect self-description of the founder of the SNP’s precursor. the National Party of Scotland, major Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid: “Wrang-heidit? Mm. But heidit! That’s the thing.” Better by far than running on the same barren spot forever.

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Swallowing spiders

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Not all genocidal bad guys are Adolf Hitler. Even when/if they reach that level of industrial death. It should be obvious that historical analogy gets you only so far. Our favorite failed PM candidate, Iggy, built a good chunk of his fame on peddling a widely-accepted concept—-that when faced with a bad set of choices, you should choose the least bad—-as the latest greatest panacea, except that the “Lesser Evil” always seems to be whatever the elite consensus is, for some reason. Maybe they’re just smarter than the rest of us.

Except, the world is apparently about to embark once again on an old favorite: bombing Iraq! This time, the latest neo-Hitler is the Islamic State.

Last time I wrote about this (which I guess was my previous post, I’ve been busy!), it was a lamentation that the Iraq war had been piling up consequences, one of these being the forward march of yet another would-be Leader of the Faithful, this time signalled by a genocidal campaign against the Yazidi minority. I didn’t write that just to flog the “ChimpyBush” dead horse or to demand a gold star for my (and other Iraq War II opponents’) prescience. What I wanted to know is whether we had learned the lessons of that campaign and why it was a bad idea.

The pushback I got was interesting. Some of them who supported it back then didn’t seem to feel that they had made a mistake given what they knew back then. No shortage of reporting showed that Saddam Hussein was an atrocious ruler. But that’s the point. We seem to be trapped, perhaps because we feel we owe our modern world to the defeat of Hitler, in the belief that every maniacal ruler is Hitler and the solutions to all these problems must be the same. And we’re all supposed to be little Churchills, except for those who dissent, who are cowardly appeasing Chamberlains.

I am here to tell you, once again, that not every conflict is World War II.

The Islamic State is full of nasty characters and it does nasty things, but it is a product of machinations of exterior political forces and the political vacuum that was created by toppling Saddam Hussein. This is a vacuum that must be filled by something. It would be nice if we could now discuss the shape of that vacuum and what must fill it.

But instead, it looks like more bombing is in the cards, with a situation so comically complicated that it is not at all clear what it would achieve. It’s depressing.

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Politics in the raw

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ChildSpy1.jpgThere is outrage in the land. Stephen Harper’s short-pants brigade “trapped” a couple of Liberals into straying off-message. One was “pro-lifer” MP John McKay, grousing about Justin Trudeau’s insistence that Liberal candidates be pro-choice. The other was Liberal hopeful General Andrew Leslie, honest enough to describe the recent slaughter of women and children in Gaza as a case of “firing indiscriminately.”

I say, good on them. No, not the politicians. The Harper kids.

This sort of thing isn’t a part of our increasingly degraded political culture. It is its antidote.

We’ve become used to a fake party “solidarity” so rigid that the neologism “off-message” is by now common currency. What emanates from political parties these days is anodyne—or less than anodyne—“talking points.” It’s virtually contentless material, all about branding, focus-tested soundbites, facile “messaging.” While we might argue about just when this rot took hold, Harper’s iron control of his caucus set a new standard, it seems, for other political parties as well. Justin Trudeau will have no anti-choice candidates running for the Liberals (other than grandfathering existing “pro-lifers”). Tom Mulcair will tolerate no serious criticism of the wholesale killing of civilians in Gaza. Only Elizabeth May, in a corner all by her lonesome, can say what she really thinks and feels and wants, but sings unnoticed, like a bird.

It’s not that I agree (or disagree) with some of these messages. But their content is really immaterial, in all senses. It’s generated by backroomsters, issued internally by the various party Central Committees, then fed to MPs who tend to recite them robotically, as though they were reading them off a mental blackboard.

Consistency, absolute consistency. Political tapioca, gluten- and caffeine-free. A foolish consistency, in fact, without shade or nuance, the easier to be scarfed down by media and voters alike—exactly what Ralph Waldo Emerson meant when he referred to it as the “hobgoblin of little minds.” Any public difference, often without any real distinction, is a “gaffe,” or a “miscue.”

It’s newsworthy, in fact, when some politician or other “breaks” with these messages, daring to offer something individual. The indefatigable Shimon Fogel, of the powerful Canadian lobby group Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, says, “[General Leslie’s] choice of words regarding Israel’s tactics was unfortunate and we look forward to meeting with him again to receive re-assurances that his views are consistent with those articulated by Justin Trudeau.”

But why the hell should they be? Leaving aside the fact that Leslie’s experience in battle should grant him automatic expertise on what constitutes indiscriminate firing, how is his view contrary in spirit or principle to the values of the Liberal Party? Whatever happened to that Big Tent?

This is just a case in point, I hasten to add, but it’s an instructive one. The current political rot has sunk deep roots. We are supposed to believe that every single member of a party who holds office, or hopes to, will be in complete agreement with every policy plank the Leader may happen to “articulate.” We have come to expect lockstep politics, in other words, and that’s what we’re getting, all right: no deviations from the general line of the Party.

This has unpleasant resonances. Creeping totalitarianism has occupied our minds.

And then, in the nick of time, the PMO’s merry pranksters have offered us a way out of this godawful mindset. Just as spies during the Cold War acted as a kind of safety valve for both sides (hence they were not usually killed, but exchanged), so too the juniors on the Hill are getting valuable and necessary information to the public: what politicians really think.

The inevitable spin subsequently placed upon these utterances is easily countered. The public, as deadened as it is to the political process, knows better than to buy the absurd notion that a candidate who isn’t even in the House (Leslie) has somehow revealed a closely-guarded hidden agenda. But it may still be alarmed these days by politicians who give the appearance of thinking for themselves. Is the Leader losing control of his people? Is he showing weakness? Is he in over his head™?

This appalling frame needs to be smashed. Harper built it. Let’s bury him with it. It’s not how politics works, even in his own micromanaged circles.

There are, of course, practical issues. To what degree must politicians be in public agreement with the aims and principles of their party? At what level might they be permitted to express opinions of their own? But that question isn’t even being addressed. The very texture of politics in all of its rich complexity is almost completely missing from view today, replaced with vapid slogans and phrases—“Economic Action Plan,” “Hope and Hard Work,” “Today’s NDP”—and those damned sterile talking-points.

I’m not arguing for an “anything goes” approach—if we must have political parties, we have a right to expect that their representatives will share the core policies that make up their electoral platforms. But “core” is the operative word. Tactics, strategy, degree and interpretation are all factors where we want, or should want, our Members of Parliament to weigh in, whether publicly or during the legislative process where enforced conformity now reigns. There will be disagreements, and they won’t always be constructive, but so what?

The public isn’t getting to see how politics is really made. It should.

But folks, here’s where the Harper Youth may not realize just what they’ve let out of the bottle. Because the other parties, rather than recoiling in mock outrage, should be following suit. Think of the cauldron of bigotry seething just below the surface of Harper’s Billy-Joe Bob caucus. The obvious split over Gaza and other issues within the NDP that has led to muzzling and the occasional pre-emptive purge. The undoubted concern in Liberal ranks about developing a coherent, policy-based platform that the Leader can actually get his head around in scrums and debates.

Why not put as much of this as possible on the public record? Not as tit-for-tat, which would be a frankly stupid motive. Nor to crow foolishly about Aha! differences between party leaders and their foot-soldiers. But to reveal all the dimensions of politics, which is, after all, a process engaged in by individuals with their highly variable skills, knowledges, energy and creativity.

There’s no “ethical” question here. It’s not as though the politicians were trapped into saying something they didn’t actually believe. This prankish political espionage is just a different form of whistleblowing. And, as with the other kind, the public can only benefit.

Who knows? Under the glare of all of these no-doubt partisan spotlights, politics might even improve. Differences might be better tolerated. Leadership cults could lose their attraction. Open debate would be encouraged. Bogus homogeneity would be impossible to maintain.

I can’t see a downside. Can you?

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According to a document newly obtained through an Access to Information request, the august Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is under audit scrutiny because, according to CRA officials, its research and educational materials are “one-sided.”

I must admit I’m tickled by the notion of “one-sided” research. Does that mean investigating an issue without using contradictory hypotheses to do so?

In any case, we are informed that two prominent right-wing think tanks are not being audited for bias or indeed for anything else, and informed that two others are refusing to comment on the matter. That’s OK: we already know that one of the latter, that heterodox, broad-spectrum outfit known as the Fraser Institute, is not. We still have no word on the Montreal Institute or the Manning Foundation, true intellectual agoras both.

Despite Andrew Coyne’s recent spate of contrarianism, the evidence is rather clear that progressive charities, not conservative ones, are being singled out for punitive audits. Quite a few indignant words have been expended on this selective targeting: it would take only one announcement from a right-wing outfit to make us all look a little foolish. But no such announcement has been forthcoming, and I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.

The resources dedicated to this witch-hunt have been extraordinary. One four-person organization alone, the Vancouver-based Co-Dev, has been under sustained assault by three CRA auditors, including two “political activity specialists.”

Your tax dollars and mine at work here, folks. Nearly one auditor for every member of a charity board. Meanwhile Canada’s 1% are squirreling away countless billions in offshore tax havens, while the government has cut the CRA’s overall enforcement budget. This doesn’t add up, unless you are willing to concede that targeting dissent is more important to this government and its squad of CRA bravos than recovering fabulous mounds of treasure that could pay CPP to 65-year olds, re-open veterans’ service offices, start up a national childcare program, stop the cuts to essential public services, and still leave enough pelf to buy Harper a fleet of million-dollar security vehicles and a personal F-35.

The new revelation makes it glaringly apparent that a full-scale ideological inquisition is underway, of a piece with the muzzling of Canadian scientists, loyalty oaths for librarians, and suppressing art exhibits and book discussions.

Let’s review some elementary facts that appear to have escaped the yokels running this CRA salient on behalf of the PMO. Think-tanks do have governing values, as Bruce Campbell of the CCPA points out. That doesn’t mean that the research they do cannot be methodologically sound. Charities are based upon altruistic worldviews at some remove from the grubbing, acquisitive values of our current rulers. That doesn’t mean they’re ripping off the taxpayer.

But the audit blitzers have a job to do: paralyze and intimidate any conceivable dissent from the reigning orthodoxy. Any excuse will do. And their crudely obvious selectivity makes the whole thing plain—or should, unless, like too many of our punditocracy, you are wilfully blind or in pathological denial. It can’t happen here, right?

Well, on some levels it already has. Research is an imperfect industry, shot through with assumptions and biases. (Take the Fraser Institute’s tendentious broadsides on immigration and labour, for example. Please.) Progress arises out of critique: pointing out errors, new or overlooked observations, poor reasoning. It is not achieved by unleashing little Lysenkos from the tax office to conduct ideological filtration exercises.

Research is, of course, almost invariably one-sided in one sense: research projects tend to arrive at conclusions. But those conclusions are always tentative, subject to being falsified by informed, critique, more research (or even, in the case of the Fraser Institute, by its own numbers). Not so for political and ideological orthodoxies, however, surely the ultimate in one-sidedness, which are backed up, not by processes of testing and observation, but by repressive state apparatuses. Police. The military. And in this case, by delegation, the CRA.

“The facts have a left-wing bias” is a fun phrase to deploy if you’re in the mood for mockery, but hardly a serious analytical statement. Yet the odd thing is that, judging from its on-going program of suppression, the Harper government and its CRA proxy seem to have taken it to heart.

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Wilson with wings.jpgNothing, repeat, nothing, has been resolved in Ferguson—or in the America for which Ferguson iconically stands. A grand jury, of three Blacks and nine whites, is presently deciding whether the cop who gunned down unarmed teenager Michael Brown should be charged with anything. Eyewitnesses there are aplenty, most of whom agree that the officer, Darren Wilson, pursued the kid and fired a fusillade of shots into Brown. His body was then left on the street for hours, like lynched Black bodies in previous times left hanging from trees and bridges.

But all that makes no never-mind. Jubilant racists have now collected serious money for the cop, exceeding by half what has been collected for the family of the victim. To the slogan “Hands up! Don’t Shoot!” they respond: “Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!

Brown was large and Black—according to Republican flak Ben Stein, “armed with his incredibly strong, scary self.” For white America, that suffices: being shot on sight was the only safe option.

In fact, the Black population of Ferguson is no different from the Black populations of other American towns and cities: oppressed, poor, their boundaries (social and geographical) heavily policed. In Randy Newman’s words, they’re “free to live in a cage.”

Where but in the US are young Black boys given a facts-of-life lecture by their parents, not about the birds and the bees, but on how to survive encounters with the police? This is so commonplace that it even has a name—“the talk.” Racism enfilades American society, informing actions, instincts and social relations, infesting unconscious impulses, ensuring that Blacks are kept in their place and that the uppity ones are punished. It’s Jim Crow at a higher level, and the on-going carnage of Black kids at the hands of white cops is nothing more or less than a new form of lynching.

Yes, there are mixed marriages, and successful, rich Blacks, conservative Blacks, Black police officers (some of whom have got the goods on what’s going on), and even a Black President. But these are not representative of the stubborn American reality. The chasm persists: the racial profiling, the unfettered violence of the police, a grossly discriminatory justice system, and, in general, a complex of power relations that racializes a group and ensures their subaltern status, with everything from microaggressions to all-pervasive social and economic discrimination, to disproportionate rates of incarceration, to the guns and tanks of Ferguson, Missouri.

Ferguson, that microcosm of America, is not only the scene of open, casual racism and racist brutality. It’s the site of a massive shakedown racket as well. Nothing is so effective at immiserating a population than robbing them blind. A system of tribute to the masters may be arranged differently than in the past, but it’s still in full swing, and has the same effect: to establish and maintain dominance.

Children learn early in Ferguson that the police are dangerous, cowardly and cruel. They can illegally arrest journalists, toss tear gas grenades into people’s backyards for the hell of it, brutalize peaceful bystanders, ponce about in camo, and generally act like the savages they clearly are. And of course they can mow down unarmed Black teenagers and expect to be rewarded for it.

But let’s not pick solely on Ferguson. In New Iberia, Louisiana, a Black kid, his hands cuffed behind his back, was shot in a police cruiser. “He shot himself in the back,” said the cops. “No,” said the coroner, “he had to have shot himself in the front, because that’s where the gunshot residue is.” The deadly surrealism of life as a young Black male in America: not only are you weaponized simply by being born, but you’re apparently made of rubber as well.

In Beavercreek, Ohio, an open-carry state, a Black man wanting to buy a toy gun was executed without warning by police, called to the Walmart where he was shopping. (The idiot who made that call would likely be unhappy with this. But I’m a great believer in self-defence.)

You don’t get at racism in America by delegating the overseer work to various Ron Johnsons in the white folks’ yard. The truth? I’m not sure how the problem gets seriously addressed without dealing with class as well (see this excellent article, addressing race/class intersections in St. Louis). But of one thing I’m certain: we progressives will continue to talk about it.

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“[A] man cannot search either for what he knows or for what he does not know[.] He cannot search for what he knows—since he knows it, there is no need to search—nor for what he does not know, for he does not know what to look for.” ~Socrates, Meno

Echoing Socrates’ paraphrase of Meno, Andrew Coyne wonders out loud what the point of a public inquiry would be into 1,182—at last count—missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. What could we learn that we don’t already know?

I won’t join in the chorus of antipathy which, not surprisingly, has erupted in reaction to his column. But I will suggest that he demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of what, precisely, is being demanded in this case.

His starting-point is a recently released document prepared by the RCMP, which contains much useful information, but does not attempt to go much beyond that. We shouldn’t be surprised, for example, that neither the report nor Coyne deploys the term or the concept of settler colonialism, the root cause of First Nations anomie on reserves and in our cities. Nor does it confront the concomitant problem of systemic bias in our police forces, identified as a serious problem in the Picton inquiry. Police violence against FN women and girls isn’t addressed either, again unsurprisingly.

But the report does provide a field of statistics that could prove very useful in that public inquiry that Coyne doesn’t want. And some of the findings appear counter-intuitive, at least to the bien-pensants who have First Nations all figured out—the fact that domestic assault leading to death is significantly less common among Aboriginal populations, for example. There are many forces involved, and a public inquiry with open terms of reference could shed more light on how they interact, combine and clash.

But the main point in all this is what a public inquiry would signify.

We need to go beyond the gut-level, liberal response: that, given the disproportionate numbers of the dead and missing, if the First Nations want an inquiry, they should get one. Certainly it could be a form of catharsis, somewhat more substantial in that respect than Harper’s hollow apology to the victims of residential schools, and that in itself wouldn’t be a bad thing. The hard heads, for their part, will talk about costs, time and resources, but in the light of what has been taken from First Nations after contact—like, most of the country—it’s a drop in the proverbial bucket.

There will be those, then, who support the inquiry, not because they see merit in it, but out of white liberal guilt. There’s much more to all this, however, than a sop to the First Nations to calm uneasy settler consciences. “What is it about this crime in particular that singles it out…for the kind of urgent, crisis-level attention signalled by a public inquiry?” asks Coyne. That’s a fair question, even if he would not stay for an answer. There are two main reasons for the singling-out.

The first is that it a public inquiry would be another important step in a process of nation-to-nation reconciliation—itself urgent and crisis-level—that was initiated by the formal, official recognition of the gross abuses of the residential schools. Facing up to the staggering ethnocidal, even genocidal crimes of the Canadian state against First Nations and Inuit is essential if that process of healing is ever to occur.

The second is that the whole issue is cross-cut by gender, and, in recognizing this, we hold up a mirror to our wider Canadian society. Coyne pooh-poohs this aspect with a “what about the menz” response. In fact he performs spectacular acrobatics in dismissing the figures:

[W]hen compared with non-aboriginal women…aboriginal women now make up more than 20% of all female murder victims, twice the proportion of 30 years ago, and five times their share of the female population. But that’s not because more aboriginal women are being murdered. It’s because fewer non-aboriginal women are.

That one self-destructs in five seconds. But Coyne also note that the homicide rate among FN men is much higher than it is for FN women and girls. “It is not clear why the murders of aboriginal women should merit our special attention and concern, and not the murders of aboriginal men, even if the latter, like men generally, are also disproportionately the perpetrators,” he says.

Obviously we should be concerned about both. But I, for one, am more than a little tired of those who wave away crimes against individual groups on the grounds that other groups are hurting too. There are unique dimensions to violence against women, just as there are against minorities: lynching, for example, has a specific context, and so does sexual assault, in general. It’s not helpful in the least to dissolve these systemic forms of violence into larger, more intractable categories, and to ignore the intersections of gender and “race” that are so clearly at work in the matter at hand.

Coyne concludes: “The broad project of repairing that social destruction should absolutely be among the first of our concerns as a country, with aboriginal people themselves very much taking the lead. It is not evident what contribution another public inquiry would make to that end.”

And yet it is precisely those “aboriginal people” who are taking the lead in demanding an inquiry. They realize, as Coyne fails to, that the very fact of having one constitutes a form of recognition; and that this part of a much wider problem needs to be addressed on its own merits. The inquiry may or may not yield a trove of additional facts, but it would focus our attention, once again placing reconciliation, in all of its undoubted complexity, on the national agenda. Is that not worth doing?

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Fearguson, USA

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Borders in ferguson.jpg

“[A] space of exception….Whoever entered [it] moved in a zone of indistinction between outside and inside, exception and rule, licit and illicit, in which the very concepts of subjective right and juridical protection no longer made sense.” ~Giorgio Agamben

Captain Ron Johnson gave a brilliant speech to members of the embattled Ferguson community yesterday. It simply rang with sincerity. Give it a listen.

And then weep: the man had turned hypocrisy and betrayal into an art-form. He had us all fooled for a time. Move over, Hollywood.

Well before the mass house arrest euphemistically called a “curfew” was set to begin last evening, Johnson ordered his troops into battle, in full riot dress, and the worst night in Ferguson since the killing of Michael Brown unfolded from there. Police gassed peaceful protesters again, including children and elderly people, and threatened to shoot at least one journalist, many of whose colleagues were arrested again for reporting what the cops were up to.

Now Ferguson has been occupied by the Missouri National Guard, a motley assortment of weekend warrior yokels and good old boys who will play their appointed role in confining uppity Blacks to their houses and smashing their peaceful assemblies.

What we are seeing before our eyes (thanks to livestreaming) is a microcosm in space and time of the sorry history of racist oppression in America. And we see here more than two sides, although the latter are much in evidence—Aryans rallying to support the killer of Michael Brown, who has gone to ground, versus Black protesters demanding simple justice for a dead kid gunned down by one of Ferguson’s finest. But you will find whites among the protesters, some of them from the town in a show of solidarity, some genuine supporters from outside, some riot tourists and a few Black Bloc types who showed up to gratify their testosterone-fuelled desire for violence. And one Black joined the Aryan supremacists—a former Republican candidate, Uncle Tom on steroids.

Meanwhile, a third autopsy on Michael Brown will be conducted at the request of Attorney General Eric Holder. A preliminary report shows that Darren Wilson shot the unarmed youth at least six times. All of the bullets entered from the front, confirming the view of a lawyer for the Brown family that Michael’s death was a summary execution.

But there is another autopsy that perhaps should take precedence. For the people of Ferguson, justice is dead, mowed down in their streets by bullets, tanks, gas and false arrests. Whether it’s their own police chief running the show, or an African American glad-hander, the terror on the streets has been the same. The officer who killed Brown is still not under arrest. His victim has been smeared as a badass who got what was coming to him.

Due process, a crucial element of justice, has been amputated with a hacksaw. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, the fellow leading the “investigation” of the Brown killing, is hopelessly biased. The St. Louis County prosecutor is hopelessly biased. And the best the US government can do is investigate whether an unarmed Black kid’s civil rights were violated by a cop who emptied a gun into him.

What would that autopsy reveal? Multiple causes of death. A police force that is racist and brutal, sometimes to a Grand Guignol degree, but which has been granted virtual immunity from the strictures of the US Constitution and the law. Endless, grinding poverty and hopelessness, detailed by anthropologist Sarah Kendzior. Imprisonment without trial in ghettos of misery, whose borders are enforced by weaponry and armoured vehicles any time the establishment or its hired guns feel threatened. The suspension of human and constitutional rights on whim.

There can be no recourse, no redress. There is no justice for the Browns. There is none for the Black citizens of Ferguson or wherever else they are contained—or, more generally, for the poor and the marginalized in America the Beautiful. This is precisely how they are expected to carry on, in fact, reminded every day of their existential defeat, on occasion breaking the tedium with hopeless, quickly suppressed spasms of community rage. These spaces of exception, where they are permitted to be if not to live, are what they call home. Yet they dare to appeal to justice still, when the odour of her decay is all around them.

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Ferguson terrorism.jpg

The Chief of Police in Ferguson, Missouri, held a press conference Thursday morning, and spent most of his time talking about a petty robbery allegedly committed by Michael Brown, shot dead later that night by Officer Darren Wilson, who was then given a running start of a few days and is now nowhere to be found. In the afternoon, the Chief talked to the press again, and he admitted that the shooting of Brown had nothing to do with the robbery. Officer Wilson, he said, was unaware that the robbery had even occurred.

Brown was rousted for jaywalking, as it happened, and then summarily gunned down by Officer Wilson. Two eyewitnesses say so, including Brown’s alleged accomplice in the theft of a pack of cigars earlier. The other eyewitness says she took video, although it’s not known at this point what is on it, where it is or who has seen it. In any case, their stories jibe. Brown was unarmed. He had his hands in the air. And Wilson shot him, again and again, until he was dead. Brown’s body was allowed to lie in the road for hours.

Think this was some sort of one-off? Take a read of this, and be sure to remind yourself that you aren’t reading The Onion. An out-of-town Black man, Henry Davis, mistaken for another Black man, is arrested. His story checks out, but the Ferguson cops jail and beat him to a bloody pulp anyway, and then they hunt around for something to charge him with. “Ah,” says one inbred, “let’s charge him with getting blood on our uniforms!” And so he was. They held him for days.

Think that tops any satire you’ve ever seen? Well, read on. There are more chapters.

Davis started a civil action against the cops. The prosecutor wasn’t having that nonsense, and had him charged with felonious assault on top of the alleged uniform damage. The cops duly showed up in civil court to answer to Davis’ lawsuit—and admitted, under oath, that there had been no blood on their uniforms after all.

All criminal charges were dropped.

The end? Nope. The officers’ blatant perjury was winked at by a federal judge, who invoked the de minimus rule, claiming that the perjury was too minor to have affected due process, and that the victim’s injuries (a concussion) were too inconsequential to be considered excessive force.

An appeal will be heard this December. The smart money says that the Brown killing may have improved Davis’ chances.

Ferguson, Missouri. Mayor: white. City Council: all but one white. School Board: white, with one Latino. A 53-member police force, 50 of whom are white. The town: two-thirds Black.

God knows how many other American hellholes are operating like this, below the radar, beneath the media’s notice. #EverydayRacism in the United States of America, a carceral nation that holds 25% of the entire world’s prison population. You can guess at the demographics, too. Nearly 40% of that prison population is Black, and another 20% or so are Hispanics. And too many of the ones remaining outside the prison walls are confined to ghettos, socioeconomically shunted aside, and casually brutalized by cops, slapped around good or even murdered if they get too uppity.

Two investigations of the Brown slaying are now under way. One by the US Attorney-General’s department will determine if Brown’s civil rights were violated—about the only way you could get at the nests of Dixie peckerwoods enforcing Jim Crow with rope and gun back in the day. The other is being carried out by the St. Louis County Police. Yup, that self-same army of yokels playing dress-up who terrorized Ferguson for days until they were stood down by the Governor of the state.

The latter “investigation” is a completely pointless exercise, as we might already have surmised. The coming whitewash has effectively been announced in advance:

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, who’s leading the investigation, has made favorable comments about the Ferguson police department, telling reporters, “I would not think anybody would [ask for an investigation] if they had anything to hide.”

But back to the robbery stuff. This was manna from heaven for the racist Right, as you might imagine. Aha! Just another Black thug who asked for it and got it. Like young Trayvon Martin. Remember the stories dredged up about Trayvon’s past, to suggest he was a gangsta who got what was coming to him, to portray him as something other than he was, to make his killer the victim? And the media is always glad to play its part, running photos carefully selected to make the real victims look like violent, lawless ni—, er, African Americans. (One brilliant response to these media shenanigans was the volley of Tweets under the #IfTheyGunnedMeDown hashtag on Twitter. Go check it out.)

The aim here, as always, is to take the heat off the racist institutions that govern America—in fact, to legitimize them. And as we’ve seen again and again, it’s ridiculously easy to do. Too many folks like their victims pure as the driven snow, and I use that hackneyed simile advisedly. Brown may—or may not—have stolen a package of cigars. If so, he probably got what he deserved—even if stealing a handful of smokes is not, officially at least, a capital offence.

All just too predictable. Will Brown see posthumous justice? Not if the good burghers of St. Louis County and their hired guns can help it. And they have their share of supporters, so they do, in the Land of the Free.

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There’s going to be an interesting gathering in Ottawa later this month—a Peoples’ Social Forum, a convergence of many socially progressive organizations and individuals meeting in one place (the University of Ottawa) to learn from each other and plot some kind of common course against the Harper government and, more generally, the Right.

Good luck. I mean it. Because it’s going to take luck—a truckload of it—to allow us all to break bad old habits. We aren’t going to argue our way out of them this time any more than we have in the past, because the very way we tend to argue is part of the problem.

Last evening I plunged in on Twitter, as is my wont, when someone piously explained to someone else that the racism encountered by Blacks in the US is essentially, and I use that word advisedly, different from the racism experienced by First Nations in Canada. Ferguson, Missouri, is of course on everyone’s mind at the moment: it’s a reprise of Birmingham, Alabama half a century ago, complete with murder, mass police mobilization against an entire community, barking dogs, high-powered rifles, truncheons and tear gas. Yet there are undeniable parallels with what happened to First Nations people in Elsipogtog and Sechelt and Gustafsen Lake and Burnt Church and Ipperwash and Oka and Seton Portage, not to mention various Ontario locales where mining interests and the courts have been stuck together with Krazy Glue. In all of these cases, it’s been state power exercised with violence against minorities of Others who refuse to accept their ordained “place.”

But some insist on concentrating on the differences, creating rights silos and (at least implicitly) establishing hierarchies of struggle. As was earnestly explained to me, Blacks have a history of slavery, which is different from First Nations with its history of land-theft, forced assimilation, and on-going plundering of what lands and resources remain. Gosh, I had no idea.

If we conflate these struggles, I was told, we will obscure “anti-Blackness.” Anti-Black and anti-First Nations power structures, institutionalized racism, police power to keep the subalterns in their place—these are real, present, and are or should be the targets of any progressive movement. But instead we have all these new “-nesses”—whiteness, Blackness, anti-Blackness, and so on, rising like miasmas from the deep and clinging to the very clothes we wear. These metaphysical substances infect, obscure, oppress, exploit. Blacks aren’t racialized by whites: their essential Blackness is counterposed to an essential anti-Blackness. Whites don’t oppress and kill people; “whiteness” does.

Of course I was asked if I were Black or indigenous, and had to ‘fess up.

Identity politics and its corrosive essentialism, then, still rule in 2014. On what conceivable basis can we build solidarity if this kind of thinking prevails? If our differences are unchangingly fundamental, bounded wholes, if Blacks have only one history, First Nations another and Whites yet another, none of which can conceivably converge, how can alliances be built?

The buzzwords these days are “decolonization” and “intersectionality.” Chandra Mohanty’s “Under Western Eyes” is an early must-read on both subjects, and there has been a considerable literature since that has fleshed out both concepts. They are simply pregnant with practical meaning, and need to be deeply mined. Each requires considerable thinking and reflection on the part of those who would be allies but who share, however unwittingly, in the power and privilege that colonization and racism have bestowed. These things run deep. Our societies are imbued with them, as they are with sexism. Overcoming them is impossibly complex, especially when they are an integral part of who we are, that is, an inseparable aspect of our socially-constructed selves.

So they’re difficult to talk about at the best of times. But when they are simply waved about, when they are used as forms of devastating, silencing critique instead of a pathway to mutual understanding, they become part of the problem, not the solution. Last night’s conversation ended miserably, as they tend to do on Twitter. “Why are you arguing with me?” asked my interlocutor imperiously. Quite right. Silence is a far wiser course when faced with essentialist arrogance of that kind. This morning I woke up to many “mentioned in” reTweets where folks I respect were wagging their fingers. First Nations aren’t Blacks, I was informed. Their experiences are different. We don’t want to obscure those differences. Some thick Tweep even threw “mansplaining” into the mix, that magic word used to shut down all discussion of anything, anywhere.

There’s just no point in raising the obvious in defence: that cops bent on oppressing the Other aren’t terribly interested in the etiology of the racism they are engaged in maintaining under the guise of “order.” That structural racism is enforced in similar ways upon subalterns in many societies, and for the same reasons—to confine them to their assigned spaces. That a nightstick to the head, or pepper in the eyes, or a bullet in the back feel the same, whether one is Black or First Nations.

Instead we are told to focus on the differences. Woe betide anyone who “conflates,” even if we’re doing no such thing. We aren’t universalist liberals, after all, builders of a paper-thin “solidarity” achieved by wishing those differences away and pretending that unequal power relations don’t exist. All of us need to be aware of them. We need, in other words, to get to know each other. Struggles against oppression are not all one thing. There are wide areas of convergence, however, that should allow us to build common fronts, to turn our faces toward our common enemies. Yet convergence is the last thing on some people’s minds: instead, we are angrily told that their own struggle is unique in all respects, and never to be confused with yours or mine.

The deepest and most malevolent ad hominem, in fact, is this type of essentialism. Certainly we on the “whiteness” side of things need to listen deeply when people are moved to share the experiences of their own lives with us. These experiences are different from ours, and from each other’s. On mutual understanding a powerful solidarity can be built, one based upon respect, making the effort to hear what is being said, and privilege-checking. But this is not to be confused with silencing on the basis of mere disagreement, be it ideological, tactical or strategic. Nor are what differences exist necessarily articulated by angry individuals who suggest they are speaking for collectives and communities to whom they aren’t remotely accountable.

In any case, that deeper solidarity continues to elude us on the Left. Instead, we get bogged down in process and rules, endless speeches, much handwringing, and those old stand-bys, criticism and self-criticism—not on behalf of an effective outcome, but as ends in themselves. Movements quickly wither away once the effervescence subsides. Back to square one? The truth is, we’ve never left square one.

Meanwhile the Right seems to be able to overcome any such differences. Conservatives are of many stripes, but they tend to stick together almost instinctively. Harper leads a party that arose from a sneaky merger engineered by Peter MacKay, but few fell by the wayside when it was a fait accompli. The new Conservative Party headed off for victory, ending up with a majority government. Members didn’t spend a lot of time fussing about ideological differences, of which there are some, nor did they attack each other on the social media.

What does this all come down to? The Right are lumpers. The Left are splitters. To repeat: it’s not the differences that divide us. It’s the fetishizing of those differences. It’s also the creation of new ones—a DSM-5-like proliferation of categories to which we become passionately attached. On the Right, it’s a collective will to power. On the Left, it’s intellectual free enterprise, with competing constituencies, deep schisms and irreconcilable differences. No wonder we never seem to get out of the starting gate—don’t look now, but we’re missing a horse.

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