WilliamHere’s the deal. Many of us learn something in the news or read something in a newspaper (they still exist) that prompts us to fire off a Letter to the Editor. Nothing wrong with that.  In fact, the LTE page is one of the most widely read pages in every paper.  However, the paper may not publish our brilliant and insightful letter. Moreover, it will certainly not publish multiple submissions over a short period of time.  I have been submitting 2-3 letters per year. My record of publication is quite good, but I often think there is more I would like to say and have heard.  Enter DearVirtualEditor.com

image013Instead of a LTE, I will post my reactions or observations about anything that strikes my fancy right here—publication guaranteed. Your LTE can be a comment on the posts. I also play the role of the newspaper, reserving the right to edit, etc. Your submissions can be forceful, direct, passionate, humorous. There is absolutely no requirement that they share my perspective.  Please, however, keep it civil. We are truly all in this together and we will never get out alive anyway.  In the words of Fareed Zakahria, a reasonable person with whom I reasonably disagree on occasion, let’s get started.


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Saving Civilians: Why the West Cannot “Win” in the Middle East, Part II Afghanistan

U.S Marine Master Sergeant Todd Boydstun of Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines takes a short break before going on patrol outside Camp Gorgak in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, June 30, 2011. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY) - RTR2OAT9

Dear Virtual Editor,

The usual reminder that I seek to lower the number of dead and displaced civilians by urging western powers—the only ones purporting to act in my name— to cease military action and devote their massive resources to humanitarian work.  Country by country, I am arguing the case that the West cannot “win” in the Middle East by making war.  In fact, the West has not won any war since 1945. It is not a coincidence that after that date warfare largely ceased to be a nation vs. nation activity.  As we will see, western powers have not fully recognized this shift and often continue to act as if drawing a line on a map can define a country. Examples are the artificial creation of Korea, Vietnam and earlier of Iraq.  It is even truer in the region we refer to as Afghanistan.

Afghanistan: Graveyard for Foreign Intervention

All that has been yet accomplished has been the disintegration of the state…the assumption of fresh and unwelcome liabilities in regards to one of its provinces, and the condition of anarchy throughout the rest of the country”.  British Diplomat commenting on his country’s invasions of Afghanistan in 1838 and 1878.

 Sound familiar? 

The British conducted the first western invasion in 1838 as part of an imperial contest with Russia. It was, of course, justified as a mission to civilize backward people. The invasion is always the easy part, but after initial success the British were forced into a bloody withdrawal in the dead of winter. In 1878, they tried again, this time gaining some concessions but having to buy their way out of another humiliation.

Before departing, the British persuaded the Afghan ruler of the day to sign the Duran Line Accord, establishing what the West mistakenly assumes today is the border with Pakistan. The line literally split tribes, clans and families.  When modern Pakistan came into existence in 1947, Afghanistan formally rejected the line.  The Afghan people have never paid any attention to it.

They’ve already repeated all our mistakes. Now they are making mistakes of their own, ones for which we do not own the copyright. Russian Diplomat, commenting in 2008 on his country’s failed 1973 invasion and U.S. failed 2001 invasion.

Unfortunately for the Afghan people, the area was drawn into the Cold War, giving the Russians their chance in 1973 to demonstrate their overconfidence and ignorance of Afghan society. A series of coups produced a resistance group called the Mujahedin. The West blindly supported this group with no attempt to examine its components or goals. Being against the Russians was enough.

Afghan tribes have a history of warring viciously with one another, but also of putting aside differences in order to repel foreign invaders. Using the flexibility and decentralized tactical command and control that powerful nations never seem to understand, they drove the Russians out in 1989. Tribal war promptly resumed and the Taliban, with a good contingent of former Mujahedin, emerged in 1996 to exert the limited authority available to a government in Afghanistan. They brought brutal religious zealotry, but also order.

A few years later, it was the turn of U.S. invaders to fail.  Following the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. demanded that the Taliban government surrender Osama Bin Laden. Consistent with a long Afghan tradition of negotiating, the Taliban asked for evidence of his guilt. The U.S. responded that its demands were not negotiable and issued an ultimatum.  The Taliban dropped the demand for evidence.  Instead they suggested negotiation about a trial for Bin Laden in a country other than the U.S.—perhaps his home country of Saudi Arabia, which had an extradition treaty with Washington.  On October 7, 2001 in violation of international law, the U.S. responded by bombing a place that had not attacked her, bringing the first civilian deaths in a war that would kill tens of thousands. In the words of Canadian journalist Linda McQuaig: “By what logic or moral code are the lives of these people worth less than those who perished at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?”

Most of the allies the U.S. persuaded/cajoled/coerced into joining her in Afghanistan have left the field.  Meanwhile, for more than 15 years, the steady trickle of military and civilian blood has continued. On 6 July 2016, U.S. President Obama announced that 8,400 troops would remain in Afghanistan as part of the futile effort to prop up a corrupt government of warlords whose writ does not run beyond Kabul. His successor would be left to decide how long it will take to finally learn that this war will not be won, and has little or nothing to do with terrorism if it ever did. Meanwhile, ordinary Afghans die.

Long ago, the British invasions established the pattern for Russian and U.S. incursions:  1. Justifications. 2. Initial success. 3. Gradually widening resistance. 4. Stalemate. 5. Withdrawal.  At the moment, the U.S. is caught somewhere between 4 and 5.

The U.S. is the third major power to learn the futility of invading Afghanistan. It appears, however, that the lesson has not sunk in.  Sixteen years after invading, the U.S. slogs on, adding its part to the toll of military and civilian deaths and providing one side in a civil war with the valid assertion that the other side is backed by a foreign invader.

Mother and Child

Whether civilians are killed directly, or indirectly as a consequence of the war on foreign invaders, they die in significant numbers because the West does not learn.  Notwithstanding the pompous pontification of pundits who are apparently unconcerned about how wrong they have been how many times, there is no military, humanitarian, or even geopolitical reason to continue making war in Afghanistan. Get out.

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The Test for a Bigotry Exemption under State “Religious Freedom” Statutes

Dear Virtual Editor,

Recall that I promised, with only a few exceptions, to devote 2016 to an effort to reduce the toll of war on civilians.  Today is one of those few exceptions. Fear not, the story of why the U.S. cannot “win” in the Middle East will continue anon.  But the recent spate of state “ Religious Freedom” legislation granting merchants and others the right to deny their products and services to their LBGT brothers and sisters requires attention.




These laws leave out an essential process. I want to help these noble discriminators. I will describe a requirement that is necessary to make these statutes work and the process for deciding if the requirement has been met.  I trust that the brilliant cadre of state representatives who enacted “Religious Freedom” laws will put it in place forthwith.

It is futile to point out to these legislative guardians of Godliness that everyone knows these laws are nothing more than the last mean-spirited gasp of a dying old order.  So let’s try to help out the poor state representatives.

It is clear that the laws must have a way to determine who gets to discriminate. Fortunately, the U.S. already has a perfect model for such a process. It is the test for exemption from the military draft based on conscientious objection. I have extensive experience with that process, and I can see that it will do splendidly.


The State Laws

Let’s look at two typical “religious freedom” statutes.   Of course, they do not purport to allow just anyone to discriminate for any reason. Justice Thomas may be working on that, but it is not yet permitted.  And at present, “I just hate fags” does not qualify one for exemption from public accommodation laws.




So, some folks will have to follow the law that applies to almost all of us, but some will not.  How to determine who is in which group?  Who qualifies to discriminate? What is the test for exemption from a law of general application?  The “religious freedom” laws have no mechanism for answering these questions. But the Military Selective Service Act does.




Incidentally, these state statutes are an outgrowth of a Supreme Court case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, that not only came up with the bizarre finding that commercial corporations had religious beliefs but ruled that closely held corporations could discriminate based on those beliefs. Even this decision did not rest on the free exercise clause of the First Amendment, but that distinction is a bit too much for some of the aforementioned state lawmakers.  Hobby Lobby could be seen as a transgender case, clarifying the rights of artificial persons who were human before reassignment.

Indiana – Allows individuals and companies to assert as a defense in a legal proceeding that their exercise of religious freedom has been, is or is likely to be substantially burdened by complying with the law that the rest of us must follow.

Obviously, several questions must be answered.  Does the person who is discriminating have religious beliefs?  Does he/she exercise them? How?  Would obeying the general law burden that exercise?  If so, would compliance be a slight burden or a substantial burden? Failure at any of these points would deny a person the exemption.

It is immediately apparent that the personal life of the discriminating party must be examined closely before the law can apply.  And why go through the time and expense of sorting all this out through evidence in a legal proceeding?  What is needed is a process whereby potential discriminators can be assured in advance of their entitlement to ignore generally applicable laws.




Mississippi – Ah, Mississippi.  Smarter than their Yankee cousins, legislators did not require a legal proceeding. The recently enacted law pre-emptively forbids government from penalizing an individual or business for acting according to sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions. But, of course, the same questions arise.  Note that the requirement of sincerity that is implicit in Indiana is explicit in Mississippi.  And sincerity does not refer to a sincere desire to discriminate. It refers to the sincerity of the religious belief. A searching inquiry into personal life is plainly required here also.

We need not dwell on the remainder of Miss. HB 1523, but perhaps should note that it includes a stunning biological finding, no doubt supported by scientific evidence found somewhere in the legislative history of the act. After pronouncing that marriage is only for a male to a female, and sex is reserved for marriage, the act goes on to reveal that “male” and “female” refer to immutable biological sex as determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth. With a stroke, these brilliant lawmakers have solved one aspect of the issue:  There is no such thing as a transgendered person!


The Answer!  Test for Exemption from the Selective Service Act

It is sometimes forgotten that the draft is alive well in the U.S.  All men ages 18-25 are required to register to be called up.  There are numerous penalties for failing to participate. They include bars to student financial aid, obtaining a security clearance, participating in job training programs and, oh yes, 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The burden is on an applicant for exemption from the draft to demonstrate that his objection to war is prompted by deeply held moral, ethical or religious beliefs that are sincerely held. 




So, there is no need to reinvent the wheel here.  The test for determining who gets out of a requirement to kill people is virtually identical to the one now required to determine who gets to refuse to sell flowers to gay people. And there is an administrative model to follow.

While the active draft was in force and the U.S. was forcing people of color without much formal education to die in a senseless war in Vietnam, I represented several applicants for draft exemption based on conscientious objection.  I can tell you that the inquiry into the personal life of the applicant relevant to the elements of the test for exemption was quite thorough. And it was mostly focused on religion.  The Supreme Court required the part about moral beliefs held with the same fervor as religion, but the draft boards were mainly interested in God stuff.

In sum, there is a pre-existing body of government procedure for working out all those tough questions about sincerity, substantial versus minimal burdens, etc. Fair-minded state legislatures adopting it can be assured that nobody gets an entitlement to discriminate who does not qualify under the law.

You’re Welcome (Sincerely)

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Saving Civilians:  Why the West Cannot “Win” in the Middle East, Part I Iraq

Dear Virtual Editor,

A reminder that the purpose of these posts is to advocate for reducing civilian casualties in war. An important means of achieving that is for Western nations to end military action in the Middle East and devote their considerable resources to humanitarian efforts. The US, of course, would not end civilian casualties. But it would reduce them and reduce the level of western moral hypocrisy as well. Who knows, it might even win some “hearts and minds,” something warfare has yet to accomplish.

The need to reclaim some sense of morality is not the only argument for getting out militarily.  Another is the reality that the West cannot “win” the Middle East wars. Today, we focus on Iraq.  We will examine Afghanistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and perhaps others in future posts.


The Morality of Killing Civilians

One reason this matter is important is the moral failure to address advances in weapons technology.  No weapons should be used against civilians; certainly not weapons that shield the users from the horror of their actions.  Beheadings and burnings are no less horrible when they originate from 10,000 feet in the air.

In respect of killing civilians, the Western world began to lose its moral compass in World War I. Earlier wars were brutal, to be sure. Many civilians were killed or displaced, but there was at least a semblance of rules regarding civilians. WWI marked a massive forward leap in weapons technology that enabled civilians to be killed on a scale never before known. That presented the moral question:  Shall a weapon be employed simply because it can be? Shall advanced weaponry be used to kill civilians? Unfortunately, the answer to both questions has been a resounding yes.

In WWI, German Zeppelins killed civilians. France bombed villages in Morocco. Giant German guns bombarded Paris from a distance of 70 miles. In the next war, the Blitz of London killed 13,000 civilians. The Allied firebombing of German cities killed more than a half million in a day.  Contrary to popular belief, the incineration of another half million in Japan did not appreciably hasten the end of WWII.  Even if it had, the bombings would represent a callous sacrifice of the lives of women and children to save soldiers. Today, air strikes and drones continue to kill thousands of civilians and make millions homeless.  Making war on civilians, especially from the air, is completely acceptable these days, but it is important to remember that this was not always so.

Though propaganda works hard to keep this reality from public discussion, there have always been those who recognize it.  Here are a few examples.  A modern French diplomat:  Another cause for the return of barbarism … has been the growing gap between the progress of science and technology and the absence of comparable progress in the ethical realm.  A current historian, on WWII in the Pacific:  The pressures of war, technological imperatives, and disregard for civilians all contributed to decision makers not really caring about civilians.  A WWII bomber crewman:  Always in the back of my mind was the bombing of civilians…civilians were always killed…I never saw at close quarters the death and destruction delivered by a bombing attack.

Still blind or unconcerned about the issue are political and military leaders who continue to play geopolitical games and struggle over “spheres of influence” in other people’s lands.

If you doubt that the western campaign in the Middle East is about these games, then what is the justification?  Exactly why is it imperative that “we” defeat ISIS?   What does defeating ISIS mean?  Given the mess made so far, it surely does not mean that all civilians in western countries will be completely safe from attack in the near future.  In fact, without doubt, more of them would be safe if the West changed course.  You will not find these two realities discussed in today’s discourse about “winning the war on terror” and  “keeping us safe.”  In absolute terms, there is no winning, and there is no keeping us safe. The sane and moral policy goal is harm reduction.

The Futility of Military Action

 In the U.S. and some other Western countries, moral and ethical pleas on behalf of families in war zones as well as calls to preserve fundamental principles of justice appear to be falling on the deaf ears of a nation of cowards.  In a recent survey, two-thirds of Americans approved of torturing terror suspects.   So, understanding that many are unaccustomed to examining matters in depth greater than a tweet, let’s consider that value-free reason to change course in the Middle East:  The West Cannot Win. Once again, the origin of the reason for that lies in the legacy of WWI.  Too many colonial and Cold War chickens have come home to roost.

As we look at key countries in the Middle East, the reasons western military action must fail will become apparent.  First, the borders of the “countries” were drawn by Western colonial powers in the 20th century without regard for ethnic, cultural, religious or language differences among the inhabitants.  Second, the inhabitants of the “countries” have for centuries been sorting out their differences, often violently, while at the same time uniting to resist foreign invaders. Third, since Western nations created the “countries”, they have formed alliances and played them off against one another in an ongoing geopolitical struggle for influence— and resources.  The big losers from these developments have been ordinary families.

Iraq is a good example of the reason guns will never fix the mistakes of colonialism.  The Allies after WWI, mainly the US, UK, and France, had an opportunity to abandon imperialism and conduct international relations in a better way. Instead, they created artificial countries based on factors such as who had contributed most to the war effort, location of resources like oil, and the pre-war competition among imperialist winners and losers.

One of the artificial countries was Iraq, or rather Mesopotamia. Contrary to the beliefs of radical Christians, their God did not create heaven and earth 6,000 years ago.  Mesopotamia had existed for about 40,000 years before its British rulers named it Iraq.

A conflict in the area, of which westerners are now belatedly becoming aware, was the question of the rightful successor to the Prophet Muhammad, who died in the Christian year 632 A.D.  He was followed by what are known as the four rightly guided caliphs, the last of whom was Ali, Muhammad’s cousin.  His supporters became the Shi’ites.  Islam in Mesopotamia fought two civil wars between 658 and 685. The faction that looked to the line from the four rightly divided caliphs became what we know today as the Sunnis in 661 and the area was divided into those two sects in 680.

That conflict has yet to be settled. Aside from its effect on the continuing post-colonial struggle for power and resources in other people’s lands, its outcome is no business of the West.

Flash forward a few more centuries. Off and on for 400 years between 1500 and 1900, Baghdad was a leading world cultural center, despite enduring invasions by Mongols, the Turkish Ottoman Empire, the Russians, and the Ottomans again.  From 1831-1914, the Ottomans governed Baghdad directly.

The critical period is 1900-1950, when the British, pardon the pun, screwed things up royally:

1912—Brits gain oil concession from the Turks.

1913—Brits and Turks dictate boundary with Kuwait.

1914-1918—WWI Ottoman Turks out.

1920—League of Nations gives Iraq/Palestine “mandate” to Brits. (The democratic principles in Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points were never thought to apply to Africa).

1921-1926—Brits create “Iraq” by supporting Kurdish and Arab rebellions and combining the Ottoman provinces of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra. In 1921, Brits install a Hashemite Saudi client ruler and dictate boundary with Saudi Arabia.

1927—Oil discovered near Kirkuk. Pipeline to Mediterranean begun.

1932—Iraq independence….. with continuing British military presence.

1941—Brits invade. Didn’t like ruler. Concerned for wartime oil supply.

1948—Iraq joins fight against Israeli expulsion of Palestinians.

With no small amount of Western help, the situation in Iraq and the region had gone downhill ever since.

1953—US CIA overthrows Iranian government and installs Shah.

1979—Iranian revolution creates Shi’ite theocracy next door to Iraq, which has Shi’ite majority, but ruled by Sunni regime.

1980—Iraq starts war w/Iran

1981—Israel attacks Iraqi nuclear research center near Baghdad

1988—Iran/Iraq cease-fire. Iraq reasserts claims to Kuwait.

1990—Iraq invades Kuwait. UN OK’s US intervention.

2003-2011—US re-invades.  Expects to be greeted as liberators. Doesn’t happen. US dismantles Sunni forces and institutions, installs Shi’ite regime that promises not to mistreat Sunnis but does.

2013—Rise of radical, nominally Sunni group, Islamic State in Syria (ISIS) or Islamic State in Levant (ISIL). (An offshoot of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, whose growth fed off the US invasion).  Group seizes 90% of Anbar province; works to bait West into another invasion; commits atrocities; establishes order and civil institutions in occupied territory




The results of a century of Western meddling:

1. Death and displacement for civilians.  One easily discernable truth about wars is that every effort is made to count military casualties precisely.  The number of dead civilians is only estimated.  Given the massive rise in civilian casualties in recent years, however, that may be changing. There are now reputable organizations able to come much closer to documenting the toll on families like yours.Approximately 3,000 civilians died on 11 Sept 2001 in an event that had nothing to do with Iraq. Here are the results of U.S. revenge in Iraq— not Saudi Arabia, home of the attackers.

In contrast, a peer reviewed study by several universities published in 2013 put civilian deaths in Iraq 2003-2011 at 500,000.  Of these, 60% were deaths above the normal mortality rate attributable to violence; the remainder to collapse of infrastructure, including sanitation, and other causes directly related to the war.

Iraq Body Count (IBC) is an independent public database only of civilian deaths reported by the media. Its studies are also peer reviewed, and its totals have been criticized from both the political left and right.  IBC put the total of non-combatants killed during the same period at more than 112,000.  Not surprisingly, it found also that 70% of the reviving children had symptoms related to trauma.

Another project of independent journalists counts 450 civilian deaths in the first year of the recent campaign against ISIS, 100 of them children.  The US admits some of this, but the propaganda machine continues to speak soothingly about a “precision” campaign.

These figures, of course, do not include civilians killed and maimed by the current crop of designated enemies of the West in the region. But “He started it” or “He’s worse than I am” is a poor argument in a playground dispute. Such excuses ring particularly hollow when innocent lives are being destroyed.

Numbers are sterile.  Try to imagine your son, your daughter, your parents, your grandparents. Try again.

2. Further intermittent attacks on civilians in the US, Europe, and elsewhere in Africa. Lacking jet aircraft, attackers employ guns and explosives.

3. Fearful westerners hand over civil liberties; oppress Muslims generally.

4. The cycle of revenge continues on all sides.  Violence fails to offer the prospect of victory, security, or anything other than additional bouts of elaborately justified violence.

Iraq is Exhibit 1 that innocent civilians are dying in a conflict the West cannot win. Afghanistan is the next piece of evidence.



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Sons of….

Sons of the thief, sons of the saint
Who is the child with no complaint
Sons of the great or sons unknown
All were children like your own
The same sweet smiles, the same sad tears
The cries at night, the nightmare fears
Sons of the great or sons unknown
All were children like your own

Jacques Romain Georges Brel 1929 – 1978

Dear Virtual Editor:

OK. Right out of the box, I am going break my own rule.  I said that we would not get far by appealing to our shared humanity on behalf of civilians killed and displaced by war.  Self-interest and economics are better approaches. After all, for example, it was not a sudden awareness of our shared humanity that advanced civil rights in the US. Mainly, it was sagging sales at Ollie’s Barbecue. (Look it up.)

I did say, however, that humanitarian appeals were worthwhile and maybe marginally beneficial.  I hope that by revisiting a heart-wrenching story that you know, the margin can be expanded somewhat.

The story I am sure you know of captured our attention briefly last September, before media returned to important matters like which Kardashian married/divorced/had a baby with/ which sports/entertainment figure. (Today’s news…this is real…: Kourtney Kardashian’s Kit Kat Eating Technique is Borderline Insane!)

I am asking that you put aside your anticipation about KK’s eating skills and consider more of the story you remember from September. It is the one about this kid. His name is Alan Kurdy. He was 2 years old. His body washed up on a beach in Turkey.

Migrant boat accident in Turkey

Alan’s mother and his 5-year-old brother also drowned in the waters between Turkey and Greece.  Alan’s aunt is Fatima (Tima) Kurdy, my neighbor here on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. At the end of December, with help from her Member of Parliament, Tima welcomed her brother Mohammed and his family to Canada.

There is much more to the story of little Alan’s family than the emotional impact of his death. One of Mohammed’s sons now safe in Canada is 5 months old. He will grow up without bombs and guns. He and his brothers, aged 8 and 14, are unlikely to heed calls to violence by ISIS or anyone else.  This is not just humanity; it is “counter-terrorism” in action.

And Alan has given us more to learn from his death. Alan’s family belonged to a Kurdish minority, oppressed by the Syrian government. But the family lived in Damascus, identified themselves as Syrian and joined no religious or political faction. They simply wished to live their lives.  When the war broke out, just wishing to live one’s life became a dangerous liability. As one journalist put it, political ties, sect, and ethnicity became life or death matters.  War makers of all stripes require that you choose sides and you fail to do so at your peril.

After interviewing family members scattered over Iraqi Kurdistan, Germany, and Syria, the journalist found a story of a family chewed up by one party to the Syrian conflict after another: The Syrian government, the Islamic State, neighboring countries, the West.

Why did Alan, his mother and brother drown trying to cross from Turkey into Greece?  After all, they had made it to Turkey, a member of NATO, that great western alliance against….whatever.  An attempt to sort out the regional morass will follow in future posts. For now, know that Turkey also oppresses the Kurds. But private enterprise in Turkey also includes smugglers and it was in one of their leaky boats that Alan set out.

Alan’s father, Abdullah had decided to attempt the trip after seeing that Mohammed’s original refugee application to Canada was turned down for insufficient documentation—documentation Turkey would never provide. It was the fortunate October change in Canada’s government that affected waiver some of the paperwork requirement and eventually got Mohammed’s family to Vancouver Island.  The previous government not only did not care about refugees, it worked actively to discourage them from coming to Canada.

Alan’s story gives us another lesson we will also discuss further later.  Neither the previous Canadian government nor cowardly US politicians wish the death of two year olds. But obsessing about the miniscule risk that some refugees will do violence if allowed to come here can, and does, result in the death of children every day.  There is, of course, some risk to countries accepting refugees.  We will talk more about how to reduce it. But it is passing strange that Americans, in particular, appear quite willing to accept the greater existential threat to their own children represented by the absence of any gun control. US children are 9 times more likely to die in gun accidents than children anywhere else in the developed world. There were 100 such deaths in the first year after the Newtown, Connecticut school massacre. Trigger locks? No. Mandatory safe storage? No. Guns only the owner can fire? No.  Guns and more guns, yes—Muslim immigrants? No.  Must have delays and “vetting” to make sure not one terrorist gets in.  What is happening during those delays?  Thousands of Alans are happening, sans dramatic photo.


Sudarshan Pattnaik sand sculpture of Syrian toddler

Wars in which the West is actively involved on one side or another, sometimes changing, have created tens of millions of refugees. Mohammed Kurdi’s family is part of 10,000 who have been welcomed to Canada by the new government, which has identified and pledged to take 15,000 more in the next month.  To make this happen, Canadian families, churches, and organizations must come up with the money to guarantee that the financial stability of refugee families for a year.  In British Columbia, and Vancouver Island in particular, Canadians are lining up to assume that burden.  I am very, very proud of them. But these numbers are like making the minimum payment on a credit card bill. You never get it paid off and the negative side effects of interest and fees can be crushing. The only way you ever have a chance is to start by ceasing to make purchases with that card.  For the sake of millions of families, it is time for the West to stop buying war and spend its money productively.

Can you picture…..?

While I have concluded on the evidence so far that compassion evoked by events like Alan’s death is short-lived and largely ineffective, I hope I am wrong. I know that I am able to picture my grandchild on that beach and it moves me to action. I am sitting here with a pile of reports of similar stories and I considering whether to bring more of them to your attention in future posts. To help me decide about that, I am asking you to tell me what you think.

In the meantime, I will close with another emotional appeal, this time through music.   Many of you are familiar with the lines that began this post. They are part of the beautiful music of Jacques Brel.  But if you think the song is merely sappy and sentimental, please watch and listen to this version, especially the last part.


Next time: How it became OK to kill civilians, and more on the futility of current wars.

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2016: Resolve to End the War on Civilians

Dear Virtual Editor,

Fair notice to readers:  For the year 2016, with only occasional digressions, this space will be devoted to raising awareness about the generally accepted practice of killing and displacing civilians— particularly in war, particularly in the Middle East and Afghanistan, and particularly by western nations and their allies.  Fake News Service (FNS) reports will seldom be relied upon, though I shall from time to time try to treat even this grim subject with some degree of humour.  I have learned that this is essential to maintaining one’s sanity when discussing senseless violence.  But the posts will reference largely uncontroverted facts.

“Raising awareness” is often a catchphrase these days for a meaningless activity.  Once we are “aware”, then what?  Act. We will talk about that, but first things first—  Information. Following this introduction, we will learn about when and how killing civilians first became an accepted practice in warfare and how it has come to be accepted as a non-issue.  We will attempt to untangle the hopeless web of Middle East alliances, and examine some of the history of Afghanistan. We will not overlook the violence against civilians in Israel and the Occupied Territories. I will tell you something about terrorism that no political figure of any stripe has yet had the courage to say. Finally, we will look at better policies and how we might promote them.

As this story unfolds, I hope readers will comment, especially if they believe I have a fact wrong. I will not clutter the narrative with citations but I retain source materials. It is also perfectly acceptable to contest my conclusions— reasonably and respectfully.  I know that Taylor Swift spoke the truth, as anyone who scans the comment section on news stories can readily see. Haters, however, won’t be allowed space to hate here. If you know any, pray for them and perhaps make a referral to a qualified mental health professional.

Why the West?

This is important. I will explain here once why the focus will be on the part played by the West in killing and displacing civilians.  There is no need to tell me how bad the other guys are. I know that.  My position is the same I have held since I learned it from Joan Baez in 1969:  There is no “good” violence and “bad” violence. There is only violence, and it is all bad.

The reason I will focus on western violence is that the killing and displacement of families is being done in my name. There is plenty of violence to go around, to be sure. It makes little difference to the father and mother pulling the mangled body of their child from the rubble whether the child was killed by a Syrian government barrel bomb, an ISIS booby trap, a Canadian CF-18 fighter jet, or a US drone.  Neither are the parents likely to be comforted that measures are taken to minimize this “collateral damage”, or that the “bad guys” are way ahead in the current slaughter count.

But whether that child was killed in my name matters to me.  When people of my ilk protested the killing of civilians in the failed US attempt to preserve post-WWII colonialism in Vietnam, they often heard the retort: Tell it to Hanoi. But Hanoi was not killing people in our name. Washington was.  Today, we must again tell it to Washington.  We must tell Washington to reject the message of the armed and fearful shown here. We must tell Washington not only to accept refugees but also to stop doing its part to create new ones.

Say No to Syrian RefugeesAnd Canadians must tell it to Ottawa. Canada today finds herself once again under pressure from a powerful patron to fight in another futile military adventure.  Once again, as has been the case in the past wars of the US and the UK, Canada is ambivalent, going along reluctantly. Her new government has promised to end Canadian air strikes but that has not yet happened and there is pressure to renege. The government, as many past governments have, is seeking alternative activities to support the US. But the military mindset still dominates.  Yet there is hope. Unlike cowardly US governor’s, Canada’s leadership has welcomed Syrian refugees. That is a good start, but it makes no sense to continue helping to create new ones.  I will no doubt have strong disagreements with newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. I already do.  But he has expressed a desire to commit more resources to humanitarian projects. I urge my fellow Canadians to express their support at this critical time.

War doesn’t work— and it costs money

It is quite clear that no one can raise awareness and spur action about the plight of civilians through emotional appeals to our humane instincts.  SPCA ads showing the half-starved dog pacing the pen and looking up with pleading eyes may be a somewhat effective fund raising tool.  Ads showing a small child holding a bowl of gruel, with flies gathering on her face may lead to some help.  Both appeals are worthwhile. But emotional appeals have limits and will work only marginally well to save some dogs and some children from abuse and death.  Also, unlike refugees, the dog and the little girl are not competing against a propaganda message that they are somehow a threat to the God-fearing citizens of Alabama.  Individual stories are important, to be sure I will use a story of human tragedy in the next post.   But in truth, most of us really don’t care.  We are simply unable to picture our own children blown apart, drowning, or at best making it to a squalid refugee camp.  It is ending the reliance on war, not $19 a month to the Christian Children’s Fund that will save innocent civilians.

The most effective means of making this point may be through a good old capitalist cold-blooded cost-benefit analysis.  Let’s start with WWI. Remember, the war that would make the world safe for democracy? That’s the one that we will see legitimize killing civilians. It also gave the world the guidebook for production of fear propaganda. 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the year that conflict should have been recognized for the petty imperial contest it was and halted.  Instead, it is likely to be another year when its tragic legacy is celebrated.

US Military PolicyMore than 50 years ago, Abraham Maslow captured the essence of western foreign policy:  If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. He might have said that yesterday.  It seems that all that vaunted democracy can produce is leaders, covered by an equally unimaginative media, who ponderously ponder whether ISIS can be bombed into submission or whether it will require that tedious cliché, “boots on the ground” and if so, whose boots?  That’s it. That’s all they’ve got. To the current wielder of the world’s biggest hammer, everything indeed looks like a nail.  In the Middle East and Afghanistan however, the exercise is not carpentry but is instead a giant game of whack-a-mole.  And so, civilians continue to die.

What if we evaluated this policy from a business perspective? Picture, if you will, an all-powerful corporation. The board is meeting in 1918, the year WWI ended, to fashion corporate policy for achieving the company’s goal:  The safety of citizens in western nations. The chair:

Gentlemen, we have 100 years to achieve our objective. We have tens of millions of human lives and thousands of billions of dollars to spend. We have a sound operational plan that includes identifying enemies and destroying them, identifying and supporting people who are either friendly to us or unfriendly to our enemies, no matter what they do to their own people.  With this plan and these resources, I see no reason we cannot accomplish our goal on time and on budget. By 2018, the people of the West will have nothing to fear.

We now have two years to go.  Do you feel safe?  Will you feel safe in two years?  If not, was there another company plan that got voted down?  Any chance of updating and trying that one?  Might it be implemented on a smaller human and financial budget?

You and I know that if this corporate scenario were real, long before 2016 the shareholders would have sacked the CEO, CFO, and the entire board of directors. But, you see, it is real.  The only difference is that the corporation is a conglomerate of governments and commercial interests.

Hearing those in power pompously pronounce that those who seek a path to safety other than war are naive, never fails to bring a smile. How naïve is throwing more good lives and good money into a failed plan will one day make the world safe for what they choose to call democracy?  The only real argument they can muster seems to be that there is some dominant celestial force that will forever ensure that wars, like the poor, are always with us.  It might be well to consider the reminder from Canadian journalist Linda McQuaig that this was also once just as strongly deemed to be an eternal truth about dueling and slavery.

A Picture of Where We Are Now?

Saving this New Year’s resolution from the fate of most others will not be easy.

Arnold-Schwarzenegger-in-Command-Center-Branding-in-AsiajpgYou may have seen a TV video game ad that ran ad nauseam during the Christmas season. You know, the time we mark the birth of the Prince of Peace. It illustrates how easy it would be to laugh at the war makers, if they did not represent such a pervasive mindset. In the ad, a washed up body builder, actor, and former governor strides forcefully forward in full US army dress green uniform with a chest full of ribbons and medals. (Veterans will note that the insignia are fake, hopefully an indication of the absence of army cooperation. Also, the ribbons and medals that do appear real are incorrectly placed. The fake CIB goes on the top, Arnold, not the bottom.)  He is flanked by what looks like a couple of rejects from the East German Stasi. After delivering a rousing call to arms, he hits a button (I am not kidding) on his smart phone and things start blowing up everywhere. In spite of the devastation, the ad depicts no casualties, military or civilian.  Viewers are urged to download “Mobile Strike” from the “ahap store”. There, in a nutshell, or bombshell, you have the US understanding of war.  The game will probably sell millions.

Whether because you are one of the few who can in fact picture your own loved ones killed or uprooted or because you are a clear-thinking business person, I invite you to examine the story of civilian casualties for the last 100 years and consider whether comparatively speaking, there might be a somewhat better way.  I apologize for restating some matters that have appeared in earlier posts. Saving some civilians in 2016 will require considering those matters again. It will also require patience and perseverance.

God bless everyone— no exceptions.  Happy New Year

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Happy New Year News?

guns r us copy

Dear Virtual Editor:

As we approach the New Year, an important story is developing. Fake New Service (FNS) has learned that secret negotiations are underway that could soon end the US division over guns. An intrepid FNS investigative reporter has incomplete but stunning information about the progress of the talks.  Here is the very latest, as reported by FNS Ongoing Insanity Correspondent Nita Newclip:

What I can tell you is that negotiations have been ongoing for several months. They have been tense but the parties are near agreement. The negotiators on one side (the Shootemups) include Wayne LaPierre, representing the government; Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, representing the executive compliance division of the government, and Ben Carson, who wanders in and out from time to time.  The other side (Cutyerlosses) is a team that includes Jim Brady Jr., son of Reagan aide Jim Brady, and three citizens randomly selected from the shrinking pool of non-gun owners.

answer-to-gun-violenceNegotiators are reported to be finding common ground in the mantra “Guns Everywhere” and its axiom that the solution to the problem of gun violence is to arm more people. The draft agreement suggests that both sides have made significant concessions. The Cutyerlosses camp has essentially agreed to the overall “guns everywhere” approach. In return, in the conciliatory spirit of the season, the Shootemups have agreed to provide AK 47’s to every US Planned Parenthood clinic, Glock 9 handguns to every black male between age 14-28, and  .22 calibre pistols to every US Muslim. 

 Negotiations have been difficult and there is still not agreement on some details. Examples include: 1. Who will pay for ammunition, including the “little bitty bullets” Nancy Reagan referred to for the .22? 2.  Is it better for black males to have concealed carry or open carry permits?  Spokespersons for each side, however, are confident that these and other details can be worked out in time for an announcement on 3 April 2016, the first anniversary of the death of Jim Brady’s mother, Sarah.

FNS will keep you updated on further developments in this promising story.

Happy New Year


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Refugee Interview Leaked!

Dear Virtual Editor:


MORE BREAKING NEWS!  Fake News Service (FNS) has come into possession of an audio recording that appears to be a portion of the vetting interview of a Syrian refugee claimant.  The quality is poor and the only audible portion is the voice of the U.S. interrogator. FNS cannot verify its authenticity, having only checked it by CNN standards. Here is a transcript:

Good morning, Nala. I am agent Ted Trumpio, Dept. of Homeland Security and I will be your obstacle for today. Congratulations on passing the UN High Commission on Refugees screening and being referred to the U.S. for resettlement. Feels good to be alive, am I right? Would you like a cup of coffee? Do Muslims drink coffee? OK. Well, let me know if you need anything.

As you know, this process can take awhile. So far, the U.S. has taken 20,000 referrals from the UN. After two years of further vetting, I am happy to report that 2,000 of you have made it in. Just quickly doing the math on the 3-5 million people in camps in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, we should be able to make a real dent in the backlog in about two centuries, three max. It’s all part of our long humanitarian tradition.

So…. When I am through you will be asked pretty much the same questions by the State Dept, NSA, DEA, SPCA, Pascagoula Miss. Chamber of Commerce, George Pataki campaign and the League of Women Voters in Duluth.  So let’s get started.

I understand your husband was killed when the building he was working in exploded, right? And we don’t know whether it was an ISIS car bomb, a Syrian barrel bomb, a bomb or missile dropped by the U.S., France, Russia, whoever. No matter. Anyway, it’s a good thing.

Why are you crying? 

No. No. Sorry. I don’t mean it’s a good thing your husband is dead. I mean it’s a good thing for your refugee application. It’s also a good thing you have two young daughters. We don’t take men, or boys old enough to wear shoes or carry their own liquids.

Now before we get down to the hard questions, out of the goodness of my heart I want to give you some tips on assimilating and becoming part of this great land of freedom and justice. OK?

First, have you thought about becoming a Christian? I have a number of pamphlets here from fundamentalists groups that I am required to show you.  Just skip the section on abortion and the pictures of fetuses and read the part about how Jesus will tell you who your enemies are and what to do with them. I probably don’t need to explain the bible verses about women—Eve being the one who brought sin into the world— and the quotes from St. Paul about women being obedient, in case you find another husband.  Anyway, I am sure Christianity will be better for you than that Maria law or whatever.

Second, as you may know, Americans are generally acting like a nation of cowards these days, so a couple of tips. If you stick to being a Muslim, which I don’t recommend, you will be allowed to worship at a mosque, but be sure the Imam says it is safe. We don’t call them terrorist attacks, of course, but we have had a bit of firebombing and arson at mosques lately. Likewise, if you insist on wearing that hijab, or whatever that thing is, don’t bother trying to travel by plane. And if you are on any public transportation you might want to bring along some earplugs and a towel. There may be a bit of jeering and spitting. 

Finally, if you do make it in, I don’t know what state you will go to. Most of the governors are trying to keep you out, but their fence construction budgets are a little thin now so I’m sure you will find a place.  I don’t know what the laws will be when you arrive but the first thing to do is find out whether you will be required to own or carry a gun. If not, I recommend getting one anyway. There are still a few gun shops around that have not been declared Muslim free zones. There is no better way to become part of this great country than owning your own piece— or several.

Oh. Actually one more thing. If you are ever finally approved you will probably have to fly into the country.  Be very careful about any travel agency you use. If the agency has ever booked a flight to anywhere for someone on our no-fly list, you may be disqualified or have to start the whole process again. We would hate to see that happen, of course, but I’m sure you understand that the safety of the American people is our first priority.

No need to thank me. Let’s get down to business. Do your daughters have shoes? Have they ever played with plastic? What about their underwear?…………..[INAUDIBLE]


FNS will keep you updated on further details of the ongoing effort to protect Americans as they happen.

In related news, Republican candidates asked about the interview called it an example of totally inadequate and weak administration policy, stating that the danger to Americans is plainly the result of Obamacare and Hillary Clinton’s emails.




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West to Consider Meeting ISIS Demands?

Dear Virtual Editor:

OK. I am back.  I still know why Jon Stewart left the Daily Show and there is certainly not much good news lately.  But we all have a duty to continue, in our own small way, the fake news legacy he bequeathed us.


(FNS Worldwide)   West to Consider Meeting ISIS Demands

In the wake of the Paris attacks, investigators have uncovered an apparently authentic list of ISIS demands. Lowly placed sources have leaked this document:

Islamic State flag waving on the wind

Whereas Western powers have killed upward of 20,000 ISIS (aka ISIL, aka Heroes) fighters and

Whereas these casualties require ongoing replacements in the fight to establish the glorious Caliphate and resist the Crusaders, we demand that the West take the following actions to ensure that our numbers can be sustained and even grow:

1.     We demand that you invade with ground forces. At the very least, we demand that you intensify your bombing campaign and if possible kill even more civilians.

2.     We demand that you enact laws to further restrict the civil liberties of your citizens, administer them in an even more discriminatory manner, and spend even greater sums of money on safety measures that can never completely guarantee that there will never be another attack. Keep your population fearful and angry. We will do our part by posting videos of more barbaric acts and making threats.

3.     We demand that you get over the photo of the dead child on the beach and seal your borders.  Do not accept refugees. Play up that a few of us might be among them. Keep up the rhetoric if you like, but continue to default on pledges of aid. Above all, ignore refugee camps in the region. Pay no attention to the fact that Jordan is trying to care for refugees equaling 20% of its population.  Heed this demand. This is where we get our people.



4.     We demand that you continue to spend billions on weapons (the $40 billion for the F-35 fighter was a nice touch) and continue to allow weapons to flow to all parties to the conflict in the region.

In sum, we demand that you escalate military action against us, ignore humanitarian crises, and never, ever, consider ending your part in the war. If we don’t have you guys to kick around, it is going to be difficult to keep this wonderful slaughter going.



Reliable sources report that Republicans are urging the U.S. to give serious consideration to meeting these demands. Sen. McCain and Donald Trump will reportedly hold a joint news conference urging Democrats to get on board lest they appear “weak” as an election year approaches.

More fake news as it happens.

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Dear Virtual Editor,

I know now why Jon Stewart left the Daily Show. He came to the same place at which I have now arrived. Stewart was at the peak of a brilliant career. He was making big money. At a time when news had become entertainment, he turned entertainment into the most reliable source of news for millions. How could someone walk away from all that?

I am at the peak of an anonymous career. I am not making money. For a valued few hundred subscribers, I have also tried to inject a bit of entertainment into news stories. So it obvious that Stewart and I have much in common, right? That is how I know why he left.

Stewart left because he could not find much humour in the news any more. Neither can I.

 I cannot find any entertainment potential in the U.S. bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan. The attack killed medical staff, children, and burned patients alive in their beds. (Strange how a ritualized atrocity like the ISIS burning of a Jordanian pilot evokes such horror, while a high-tech killing from above does not.) Why did these people die? The attack was part of a war that the U.S., like all nations that invade Afghanistan, has lost. The location of the hospital was clearly communicated to U.S. forces. The Kabul government statement that the Taliban were in the hospital is probably false and in any event irrelevant. The official U.S. response that there may have been “collateral damage” makes it hard to keep food down, as does U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s “hearts and prayers” condolences.


 A gag reflex also kicks in when I see the “hearts and prayers” condolences from the zealots of the U.S. gun culture after the latest mass murder in Oregon. (Correction: recent mass murder. By the time of this post, it will not be the latest.) My disgust is only heightened by the fact that I have a dear friend who lives in the area of that shooting; another dear friend was a few buildings away at Virginia Tech; WDBJ Roanoke was my source for local news. President Obama’s response said much of what needed to be said, but not all. Let me finish for him. One who does not commit a murder and is not present aiding and abetting the shooter may nevertheless be guilty of the crime of accessory before the fact by counseling, procuring, or encouraging the act. Those who continue to obstruct even piecemeal measures like an assault weapons ban, or closing the gun show loophole, or limits on compiling of arsenals like the one possessed by the Oregon shooter, about which his mother boasted, come very close to fitting that description. Hard to find any entertainment potential here.


 I cannot find any entertainment value in the continuing murders of young black men. The Black Lives Matter movement may not always be well led but its rage is understandable given the tepid “All Lives Matter” statements of public figures. Of course all lives matter. Who knows, one day the problem might be protecting the lives of old white men from deadly violence. But today the issue is the killing with impunity of too many young black men in the streets and imprisoning too many of those who survive.


 Of course, all lives actually do not matter. The lives of families in the Middle East and Afghanistan do not matter to any of the combatants in that tangled mess. Those who cannot flee are killed every day as the U.S. blunders along, employing its weaponry and assembling “coalition partners” in a futile effort to distinguish her allies from her enemies. Why? There are really only two justifications offered and they are simply warmed over versions of excuses for earlier stupid wars. The first is the old “If we don’t stop them there, we’ll have to stop them here” line, repackaged into a “global war on terror”. Never mind that the President was correct in pointing out that gun violence is the far greater threat. In fact, Western countries would be safer if they stopped creating bitter enemies by attacks like the one on the Afghan hospital. The second justification is to point out how evil the enemy is and minimize not only your evil acts but also those of your allies. ISIS and the government of Syria are brutal. So are the governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The question of who is worse is one of degree, not kind. The contest is of little concern to the dead and displaced civilians.

And some lives matter too much. If you are not a friend or family member of one who was a casualty on 9/11, it is past time to get over it. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people have been killed in revenge for the attack. Cherished freedoms have been surrendered. It is time to start fashioning a post- post 9/11world.


 I can find no entertainment potential in the tragedy that is the state of Israel. I have heard enough of Benjamin Netanyahu to last a lifetime. His determined effort to scuttle agreements with Iran is one of the least of his errors. Contrary to what you hear too often from him and from western media, the security of Israel is in no danger from external forces. Internally is another matter. Israel has chosen to live by the sword. Perhaps she will prevail. It is a gamble. If she does, however, she will have abandoned the beautiful Jewish faith tradition.

Netanyahu says he wants a Jewish state. If that is true, his will have little connection to Judaism. Little connection at least to the Judaism of Rabbi Hillel, who said that the Golden Rule was the Torah and everything else was just commentary. Little connection to the proportionality principle of Exodus 21:24—no more than an eye for an eye. Right wing Christians who blindly support Israel will also have to forget the message of their guy, Jesus, who told them in Matthew 5:28 to suffer any injury they could bear for the sake of peace. Responding to random rockets by bombing civilians, responding to stones with bullets, destroying homes while families watch, building walls separating communities, enacting apartheid laws. All this may be part of Netanyahu’s vision for a Jewish state. But such a state will constitute repudiation of the faith that has sustained the Jewish people through years of oppression.


There are a few news items that have provided many these days with entertainment value. First among them is the candidacy of Donald Trump. The comedy is understandable. But after all the jokes about the ridiculous hair and grandstand stunts, we are left with the fact that an arrogant misogynist, xenophobic bully is being taken seriously. That sort of deflates the comedy. Mocking Trump also diverts attention from the voter suppression, corruption, and absence of leadership that characterizes U.S. politics these days.

Canada is not much better. We have an election coming in which a broken system may keep in power a corrupt, secretive government, a willing participant in U.S. international violence, with no regard for the environment. Instead of debating these matters, Canadians are arguing about whether a woman who has qualified for citizenship and whose identity has been confirmed may choose to cover her face at her citizenship ceremony. Unfortunately, it is an “issue” that could decide the election.


Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 1.11.44 PMAs I was thinking about my shared experience with Jon Stewart, my memory played a trick on me, as memories sometimes do. I thought I clearly recalled Walt Kelly’s Pogo right after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Pogo was in his boat, with his fishing line bobbing in the Okefenokee and reflecting: We have met the enemy and he is us.

But the wondrous internet tells me that Pogo first used that in a 1971 poster for Earth Day. No matter. It fits.

Kelly and Pogo were, of course, paraphrasing Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s report to William Henry Harrison in the War of 1812: We have met the enemy and he is ours. Perry in his war was as wrong as war makers are today. As part of its campaign to recast Canada as a warrior nation, the current government is spending millions to paint Perry’s war as a U.S. defeat and the defining moment of Canadian independence. When it comes to the fight to break the addiction to violence, Pogo was right on.

Thank goodness for John Oliver and Rachel Maddow, who continue to raise serious matters with grace and humour. Jon Stewart is out. For the time being, so am I.




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Stephen Harper’s Canada IV: “Never Been Ready”

As Canadians begin to see that the Tory’s last line of defence—“Good Stewards of the Economy”— is coming apart, maybe it is time to examine another subject. It is one that should earn the government some sort of recognition for Most Laughable Exercise in Hypocrisy. The subject is the exercise of good judgment in appointing people to positions of power.

Unless you are a snowbird who is really late returning to Canada after avoiding the naturally occurring winter weather disasters (in which humans, of course, play no part), you have no doubt seen the latest Tory attack ad.  It raps Justin Trudeau as “just not ready” to be prime minister. The ad features a group of just ordinary folks sitting around a table discussing that sad conclusion. “I’m not saying never”, says one woman earnestly, “just not now”.

Old ex-pat Americans like me will quickly recognize the ad as a replica of the “Harry and Louise” TV campaign paid for by U.S. insurance companies in the early 90’s to defeat health care reform. Harper’s folks get a lot of ideas and guidance from the U.S. right, especially when it comes to media.

The Canadian Harry and Louise ad is but one example of the Tories’ professed concern for Trudeau’s judgment.  I have no particular brief for the Liberal leader.  Mine is an ABC campaign, remember?  I recommend voting for Marty the Marmot before any Conservative candidate. But comparing the attack on Trudeau with Harper’s own record of exercising judgment is what supplies the comic relief here.  Take a look at just a few samples of Harper’s judgment of people and see if you want to laugh or cry.

A Harry and Louise ad about Harper’s judgment would require the line: “I am saying never—- never been ready”.

Duffy, Brazeau, Wallin, and Wright: Three Minor Leaguers and an All-Star

When it comes to Harper’s judgment in making appointments that affect our lives, the most highly publicized embarrassments have actually been relatively minor ones compared to others that have received less attention.


WrightHarper selected Duffy to be a Senator from a place where he didn’t reside. This was a minor “oops”, outweighed by the fact that it allowed Duffy to travel the country making speeches and raising money for the party, while attending public events that let him charge the whole trip to all of us.  A further advantage to the appointment was that we not only got to pay for the speeches and fund raising, we also got to pay Duffy for traveling to work from the house he didn’t live in.

Senators are not big power figures in the Canadian system. But when a scandal reared its politely Canadian head from all Duffy’s shenanigans, Nigel Wright, an appointee with real power, tried to make it go away.  One does not get any closer to a prime minister than the position of Chief of Staff. Wright was the All-Star in charge of getting minor leaguer Duffy, and the Tories, out of trouble. Wright wrote a personal cheque for $90,000 to deal with Duffy’s  suspect expense accounts and cooperated in a scheme to obfuscate the nature of the payment.   Was Harper in on the deal, as Duffy claims?  Harper is famous for micro-managing personnel matters, but maybe an elaborate conspiracy by his right hand man kept him ignorant.  If so, does that say anything about the choice of Wright?

MAC2398Duffy is now on trial. He is not happy with his position under the proverbial bus and claims that he has a lot to say about the PM. This is old but ongoing news to Canadians. The trial resumes 11 August with Wright as the first witness.


Untitled-1While we are checking the court calendar, we should not forget Patrick Brazeau, another Senator appointed on the advice of Stephen Harper. It is an unfortunate fact that oppressed peoples are sometimes subjected to the additional burden of self-aggrandizing leaders. It takes good judgment to recognize these folks.  Brazeau saw no problem in continuing to draw his public money from the Senate and his post with the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, but that turned out to be the least of his problems.

Brazeau has been suspended from the Conservative caucus and is currently juggling court dates to face various charges, including fraud, breach of trust, assault, sexual assault, and cocaine possession.  Says Brazeau: “I’ll be making a political comeback. At the end of the day, governments of every stripe need to stop placing roadblocks in front of what is aboriginal people’s rights and benefits”.  One may hope that First Nations people will sort out whose rights and benefits are really at stake and who can best advance their surely legitimate cause.


Pamela WallinIn some respects, poor Pamela Wallin is the least culpable of Harper’s questionable appointees.  Sure, she lived in Toronto, not Saskatchewan, her putative province of appointment that the Constitution requires.  Given the presence of a rather large patch of land called Manitoba on the way to Saskatchewan, it is pretty obvious that Toronto is considerably closer to Ottawa where the Senate sits, making travel somewhat less of a burden.  On the other hand, until recently, ignoring the residency requirement had never been a big deal. Her $29,000 travel claims for “regular” travel to Saskatchewan and back over two years is nothing to get bent out of shape about.  Wallin, however, was a well spoken and well known media figure. One suspects it was her claims for “other” travel for “networking” events similar to Duffy’s publicly funded Conservative campaign stops, that got her in trouble.   Overall, in expense claims for a two-year period, her $359,000 bill to the public is second all time only to another Tory, Gerry St. Germain, who comes in at $378,000. An audit has determined that Wallin should pay back $121,000. She is still fuming, but she at least does not appear on anyone’s criminal court docket.

Before we leave the Senate and look at some less well known but more frightening failures in judgment, let’s dispose of the excuse that “everybody does it”.  Sure, there is also ongoing scrutiny involving expense accounts of Senators from opposition parties. But, with respect, if that prompts you to shrug at Conservative actions that reflect poor judgment at best and ideologically driven corruption at worst, there is something you do not fully grasp. It is the reality of comparative wrongdoing. Nobody does this stuff to the degree that the Tories do. Since the days of the Canadian Pacific Railway, no government has.

Some Real All-Stars


arthur-porter-620x349In Party of One, Michael Harris terms putting Porter in charge of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) the worst appointment decision Harper ever made. When his story had played out, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May called it “perhaps the most shocking failure of judgment and due diligence in Canadian history”.  Let’s see if that was hyperbole.

Harris and May made their statements well before the infamous internal spying bill, C-51became law. (See April 22d 2015 post)  The SIRC is supposed to be an independent external review body that monitors the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and reports to Parliament on the activities of the domestic spy agency.  The SIRC chair has access to all information held by CSIS including, to put it plainly, everything they know about you.

When he was not zealously overseeing CSIS, Porter apparently had sideline involvements in bribery, as well as dabbling in Canada’s $12 billion dollar weapons trade.  He, of course, had U.S. right wing credentials and liked to display photos of himself with George Bush and Dick Cheney. Oh yes, at the time of his appointment he was already a recognized agent of a foreign country, his native Sierra Leone.

Apparently Harper does not read the National Post. In light of its editorial policy, that is surprising. But two weeks before his appointment to head SIRC, the paper reported on Porter’s efforts to be recognized as a diplomat from Cote D’Ivoire, a country at the time run by a strongman later sent to The Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity.

Porter did not get to represent Cote D’Ivoire but he did manage to get himself a place here on the Privy Council and the board of Air Canada.

Porter, a medical doctor, secured another position where he found time to be quite active after his appointment to SIRC.  There is a bit of scandal in Quebec that you may vaguely recall.  It is involves government, organized crime figures, and other unpleasant things. Part of it involves the award of a development contract for a  $1.38 billion hospital in Montreal.  McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), a health care consortium, recommended to the Quebec government that  SNC-Lavalin, a global company based in Montreal, was the one for the job.  Heading MUHC, and instrumental to the award was, you guessed it, Arthur Porter.

There is circumstantial evidence from which one could reasonably infer that SNC-Laval undertook to pay in installments a $30 million kickback to Porter. A court should decide whether that is true. On this and other matters, Porter has been charged with 13 counts of, inter alia, fraud, accepting a bribe, and money laundering. Unfortunately, he is in Panama fighting extradition.  SNC-Laval has not specifically admitted bribing Porter, but has copped to the general practice of paying bribes to get government contracts. The World Bank barred the company and 100 of its subsidiaries from bidding on bank projects for 10 years.

By the time Porter’s dealings pointed him toward the criminal justice system, he had resigned from SIRC in 2011. Harper thanked him for his service to his country. Harris notes that the PM didn’t specify which one.

A footnote, lest we get the impression that the PM had learned anything. When Porter resigned from SIRC, Harper named Tory MP Chuck Strahl to replace him.  Strahl lasted 18 months. He was forced to resign when the extent of his continued lobbying on behalf of Enbridge became known.   Enbridge is the company that wants to build a tar sands pipeline from Alberta to BC.  (The pipeline that I, and most British Columbians, fervently hope never comes to pass.)  Since CSIS spies on First Nations and environmental groups and the government has labeled us eco-radicals or worse, there was something of a conflict of interest with Strahl, one that was apparent to just about everyone with the exception of Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson, also appointed in 2007 on advice of the Harper cabinet.


1303338625682_ORIGINALCarson was a Harper insider from the jump in 2006.  At the time Harper invited him to join the Prime Minister’s Office staff he was also a disbarred lawyer with convictions for theft and fraud that had earned him 18 months in jail.  In the PMO, he had a top-secret security clearance and soon become the PM’s chief policy analyst.

Carson served in the PMO twice. After the first two years, Harper managed a mutually beneficial gig for him. He was appointed head of the Canada School of Energy and Environment (CSEE), administered by universities in Alberta. The official goal of the new school was to move Canada toward becoming a clean energy leader. Instead, Carson  continued in his old role, dismissing international climate control agreements and shilling for the oil industry and Harper’s energy policies.  Not a great scandal, except that CSEE got $15 million in public funding to help Carson’s efforts.

Carson returned to the PMO. There, while involved in preparing the 2009 budget, he lobbied for a CSEE program that later got $25 million more of our money.

The end game began in 2011 when the Aboriginal People’s Network (APTN) aired an investigative report on Carson’s unlawful lobbying on behalf of a company trying to sell water filtration systems to First Nations reserves.  In fairness, the combination of poor native leadership and government neglect made this a tempting market for any entrepreneur.  The final straw was an RMCP investigation into Carson’s dealing with another water filtration company.  In that one, the company signed a deal that gave a healthy share of the profits to Carson’s fiancé, a 22-year-old former escort that he had met as a client. In all these ventures, there is evidence that Carson used his political connections.  Carson, 68, has been charged with influence peddling. His latest trial date is September 8th.

In addition to the standard “it’s not our job to do the vetting” response, the government offered for Porter and other appointments gone awry, the prime minister’s spokesman noted that Carson’s activities took place “after he was in our office” and concluded that they did not reflect badly on the image of the Conservative government.

“Ethics, Schmethics”

I will never forget sitting in a law school class when one of my fellow students asked, “But professor, wouldn’t that be unethical?”  To which the professor responded, “Ethics, Schmethics. Ethics is for Episcopalians.”


former-mp-dean-del-mastro-is-led-away-in-handcuffs-and-shack2-e1435265882372Former Tory MP Dean Del Mastro seems to be a direct ideological descendant of my professor. Del Mastro was recently sentenced to jail for various election law delicts, including overspending, lying, and intentionally filing false documents.  The judge called his offences an affront to the principles of Canada’s democratic system. Whether that is an overstatement, there is a particular distinction that earns Del Mastro his place in this list.

Remember the accusations of election fraud around the 2011 election that brought Harper his “majority”?  The robocall scandal? (For a quick summary, see the post below: Stephen Harper’s Canada III)  Del Mastro sat on the House of Commons Ethics Committee and Harper chose him as his go-to guy to answer questions about the illegal Conservative party robocalls.

Why All This Matters

4292341871_faf02f1a4e_bIt is almost too easy to expose Harper’s dreadful lack of judgment, especially against the backdrop of his law and order posturing and the absurd ads attacking Trudeau.

But so what?

I can only offer the wisdom of a friend and colleague given years ago. I was thoroughly fed up with both U.S. parties and not even planning to vote.  He said, “Look, the party in power gets to name the people who operate the bureaus and agencies that affect people directly and make their lives better or worse. The public doesn’t even know the names of these people, much less anything about them. But, on the whole, it is better for everyone that Democrats appoint them than Republicans.”  That was hardly a fiery endorsement of one party, but true.

It will be equally true for Canada on October 19th.  I hope you will look at the candidates in your riding and vote for the one, from whatever party, with the best chance to defeat the Conservative. Vote for anyone except the candidate who will return to power a prime minister who has never been ready.  Remember, we bear responsibility for electing people like Del Mastro and the latest Tory shining star, Wai Young. She is the Vancouver MP  who recently announced that the government was working “in the same vein” as Jesus when it gave us the C-51 spy bill. (FYI, the shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:36 “Jesus wept”.)

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Stephen Harper’s Canada III: “We Will Tell You What You Need to Know”

Dear Virtual Editor,

benny steve phone 4 The hits just keep on coming in Stephen Harper’s Canada. In the continuing effort to destroy Canada’s international reputation, the government has just joined the U.S. to block a proposed UN conference on nuclear disarmament in the Middle East. This was done at the insistence of Israel and is yet another example of the Israeli tail wagging the U.S. and Canadian dog. Had it happened, the conference could well have forced Israel to acknowledge publicly its worst kept secret: Israel has nuclear weapons. Israel called the shots, though not even a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Netanyahu phoned Harper to thank him. Perhaps it is a little easier to understand why some of us are less than thrilled with Netanyahu’s campaign to scuttle negotiations with Iran.

I won’t go into detail on this latest exercise in obeisance, but calling out Israel and exploring better paths than Bibi’s has been a subject here before. If this sort of thing matters to you, start with the 29 January 2014 post: Israel, Chilled Speech and…A Tail Wagging Two Dogs. You will find there some Jewish voices you are unlikely to hear in the official narrative. If that works at all for you, go to the 30 July 2014 post: Can the International Community Save Palestinian Civilians?

But today, with the election now on for 19 October, we take a further look at the challenge of overcoming the Harper government’s control over what you are allowed to know. Doing that will take effort on your part; an effort the Tories are betting that you are not willing to make.

The 140 Character Attention Span Challenge

about_banana_colorTo paraphrase the recent observation of a Canadian journalist: When your government enacts a retroactive law to shield the national police force from investigations into wrongdoing, you know you are in a banana republic. The journalist may have called up an unfortunate stereotype of bygone Central and South American countries governed in reality by U.S. multinationals, but the image as a description of Canada’s current approach to transparency is spot on.

As it was in the real or imagined banana republics, secrecy and control of information is a cornerstone of the current Tory government. And no, not every government does it. Not to this degree. Apart from governments in power during actual wars, the Harper regime has no equal in dispensing propaganda and censoring response. The vast majority of Canadians know this. The question is whether they will overcome the obstacles inherent in the parliamentary system and throw the bums out in October.

It may be of interest to U.S. readers to know that Harper was schooled and groomed for office by the extreme right there. One figure, Arthur Finklestein, a right wing political strategist was a particularly effective mentor. Here is a sample of his advice:

* Good politicians will first tell you things that are true and only later begin to mislead.
* Money is important because it determines who gets to hear what.
* Issues do not matter.
* Content has become the victim of speed of communication.
* People only skim the surface of events and really do not want to know deep content.

Anyone who wants to play on Harper’s team must memorize the Finklestein playbook. Let’s start with the 3rd and 4th of the guru’s maxims. The scandal that prompted the banana republic comparison is a perfect example of government reliance on public unwillingness to invest in considering content that cannot be reduced to 140 characters or fewer. Is Finklestein talking about you? Test your attention span. How willing are you to follow the content of this next story and consider its implications?

“Like it Never Happened”

Canada once had a long gun registry, maintained by the RCMP. The Tory government abolished it. No surprise there. They would love it if Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms contained a U.S. 2nd Amendment.

Canada also has an Access to Information Act (AIA) (U.S.=FOIA), and an independent Information Commissioner to watch over its implementation.

post-127-0-91359100-1378739397The Tories introduced legislation to destroy the records collected for the gun registry. Before that destruction bill became law, there were requests under the AIA that the RCMP provide data from the registry. Before the destruction bill became law, the RCMP stonewalled the requests, demanded exorbitant fees to comply, and eventually destroyed the requested records. All of these acts are illegal. The AIA is as much the law of Canada as the long gun repeal. (The RCMP sometimes do good work, but it has been a long time since Dudley Do-Right was saving Nell.)

The decidedly-not-independent Minister of Public Safety is the chief Mountie. At the time the scandal was brewing, the minister was Vic Toews. Vic was a hard line law and order guy–with some exceptions. Suzanne Legault, the Information Commissioner wrote Toews, advising him that she was investigating RCMP violations of AIA and warning him to preserve the registry data until she was finished. She reminded Toews that even though the records destruction law would come into force, the RCMP was legally required to respond to requests made before that happened and not to destroy pertinent data. Toews ignored the warning and the RCMP destroyed all the data after passage of the act. Where did that leave the federal cops on the question of their illegal acts? Apparently, in need of protection.

Are you still with me?

Enter Bill C-59, a 167 page budget measure. Buried in the bill was a unique provision to protect the RCMP from possible criminal charges. In effect, it decreed that the pre-passage requests never happened. C-59 did that by providing that all registry records are exempt from any request, complaint, investigation, application or other proceeding under that AIA or the Privacy Act related to those records, retroactive to before the records destruction legislation came into force. In other words, lawful requests for information, and the unlawful RCMP acts to thwart the requests in this matter are no longer part of Canadian history. They never happened. The legislation also grants immunity from prosecution to the RCMP and all other actors.
Congratulations on getting this far in the challenge. Would you like to keep going?

So What?

For a start, here is what. Can the government retroactively protect destruction of any records it does not wish to see revealed? As Legault has said, there is no ElectionsCanadaCartoon-Gary_Clement-National_Postreason this precedent could not be used to retroactively erase an investigation into election fraud. Funny that example should come to her mind. If the gun registry story was a bit hard to follow, as the government hopes, the robocall scandal should be a bit easier to grasp.

Canada also has a body to administer and oversee elections: Elections Canada. It tried to investigate some very suspicious doings in the 2011 election that brought the Tories their “majority” government. There is strong circumstantial evidence, not conclusive, that the Conservatives tried to tamper with that election. Contrary to what many believe, cases based on circumstantial evidence are often quite persuasive. Here are just some of the circumstances reported by Michael Harris in Party of One:

* In the election run-up, thousands of pre-recorded phone calls were made to voters in more than half the ridings in the country, including several that the Tories narrowly won. The caller, often purporting to be from Elections Canada, falsely advised the voter of a change in the location of the polling station. Other calls, selected from a list of voters unlikely to vote for the Conservatives, purported to be from opposition parties. They were made at times of the day or night designed to annoy the voter.

* The phone numbers were selected from a Conservative Party of Canada database. They originated with a tech company called Rack Nine that had the technical capacity to make 200,000 calls per hour and conceal their origin. Rack Nine works exclusively for Conservative Party Candidates.

* Elections Canada, with only limited powers, tried to conduct an investigation. It was difficult, to say the least, to get through the highly sophisticated and technical means employed to conceal the identity of the maker of the calls, or the identity of those who orchestrated them.

* The Tories first denied any knowledge and joined in the general outrage. As the circumstantial evidence piled up, they tried other diversions but eventually settled on a new message: It was all the work of one rogue staffer. The government enlisted sympathetic media to get this narrative out, including the help of Sun News VP Kory Tenycke, now the government PR man.

* Two suspects were campaign workers Andrew Prescott and Michael Sona. When Elections Canada sought to interview Prescott, he immediately called the party’s political director who told him to be quiet until she could get him a lawyer. The lawyer was Arthur Hamilton, the official counsel of the party. Meanwhile, the party stonewalled every attempt at contact from odd man out, Sosa.

* Unfortunately, Elections Canada gave Hamilton complete access to the investigation, including the right to participate in witness interviews and control over the timing of Prescott’s interview. Surprise. Sosa became the only person convicted of an offence.

damage-control600pxThe Harper government soon made sure that it would not have such a close call again. Not yet on the scene was the genius who might have recommended a piece of retroactive legislation similar to C-59. That would have been one way to make the Elections Canada data on robocall wrongdoing disappear. Still, the measure they chose was effective enough. The Tories passed the laughably titled Fair Elections Act.

Although Harper solidly resisted an official inquiry into the robocall scandal, an advisory commission that included a former auditor general, a former supreme court justice and prominent political leaders recommended that Elections Canada be given greater investigative tools, including subpoena power. Instead, the act removed investigative authority altogether. Further, the act forbids Elections Canada from advertising to promote election turnout, or even to warn about election fraud. That should do it.

Now do you see why the obscure little vignette about the RCMP, the gun registry, and control of information is a big deal?

You are doing great. Now the final plateau in the challenge.

“A Message from the Government of Canada”

If you still have doubts about the arrogance of the Conservative Party of Canada, check out the fine print in the TV ads extolling all sort of great things the party is going to do for you. The fine print says “proposed legislation” or “subject to parliamentary approval”. Nothing wrong with that kind of partisan spot, EXCEPT that the voice over tells you that this is a message from the government of Canada and does not tell you it is really a Tory campaign ad that is being paid for with your money. The party controlling the government is only authorized to use public money to provide information about existing programs. That little legality does not trouble the disciples of the Finklestein school of electioneering.

I close with this.

You may have seen on Facebook a Conservative Party ad that asks you to vote yes or no on supporting Harper’s government. It will do you no good to click no–you get directed to the same propaganda. But there is a comment section. One recent critical comment suggested that C-51 (the phony “anti-terror” bill) has doomed the government in the coming election. In reply, a supporter said: “Harper is doing a good job. Enough said.” But that is the point. It is not enough said. Exactly why would any Canadian support this government? If you can come up with reasons, send them here as a comment. As long it embodies Canadian civility, I promise to post it.

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Stephen Harper’s Canada II:  Contempt for International Law, Indifference to Civilian Deaths, and Destruction of a Peacekeeping Heritage

Dear Virtual Editor,

This is the second post in my plea to Canadians to oust the current government. I am aware that the state of Canada’s place in the world is not the primary concern of voters.  But when the policies of one government are so destructive of what Canada was, and could be, it is worth taking notice.  That is especially true when the Canada that Harper wants casts aside a record that could be very helpful in world affairs today and breeds violent opposition.  Before this election, it is time to pay attention to foreign policy.


Moudakis March 24 2015Most recent headlines have noted Harper’s expansion of the activities of Canada’s pitiful little fleet of fighter-bombers, to include bombing Syria. Beyond killing a few people- combatants and civilians- the air strikes will have little impact in the war.  They will have a much greater symbolic impact on the world’s halting, imperfect attempts over the last 70 years to emerge from violence and chaos and construct a peaceful international order.  The impact is wholly negative. The airstrikes formally align Canada with two other international scofflaws, the United States and Israel, who have little but disdain for the United Nations and claim the right to attack anyone, anywhere they see fit, with the flimsiest of justifications.

Set aside the fact that none of the members of the bombing coalition have the slightest idea of what they hope to achieve by it, beyond “degrading” ISIS, whatever that means. Set aside they fact that the bombing helps the brutal Syrian regime. Set aside the fact that we are fighting on the same side as Iran, which is supposed to be an enemy, except in Yemen where the West is supporting the Saudi dictatorship in a sectarian proxy war against forces supported by Iran.   Set aside the fact that a uniting factor among the myriad of warring factions in the Middle East is a rejection of the western claim of exceptionalism.  Instead, take a moment to consider law and its potential.

Law, of course, is the last thing this government wants to discuss.  Harper, when asked whether he had sought the consent of Syria, a UN member state, to bomb its territory, joked that he was not worried about a lawsuit launched by ISIS lawyers.  I trust it is not too much to ask that we go beyond Harper’s facile rhetoric.

The  “good guys can decide” theory of self-defence

For some reason, the U.S., Israel, and now Canada do not simply admit that they act on the assumption they are always the good guys, exceptional, and therefore entitled to rain violence where and when they see fit. Instead, they construct tortured legal arguments that can barely pass the straight face test.  I am hard pressed to recall any of my thousands of law students who would have seriously asserted such porous pronouncements.

I can flyThe same government that hopes you will not think through Bill C-51 also hopes you will not think through Article 51 of the UN Charter.   The UN, with great help from Canadians, was brought into being with the hope and assumption that it would be the first option for resolution of international disputes. So it is not surprising that Article 51 provides that nothing abrogates the inherent right of self-defence of a member state, until the UN acts.  Ignoring the plain intent of the section, the U.S. and its “coalition partners” have decided that if they say they are acting in self-defence, that makes it so.  Please note that this argument does not wiclaim legal authority to simply retaliate for the horrible things the guys they are bombing have undeniably done. No, the half billion dollars Canada is spending to bomb in Syria is supposed to be for self-defence. One argument is that it is the self-defence of Iraq, that mess of a U.S. client state bequeathed to the world by George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Paul Wolfowitz. After treating its Sunni minority badly for years, Iraq is apparently shocked to find so many of them joining groups like ISIS and would appreciate some help. They would especially like help because, thanks to their own policies and US genius, the Iraqi army is inept. For good measure, your government argues that bombing the Middle East is somehow necessary to defend Canada— all in accordance with Article 51!  Please.Until

The U.S. and Canada may have learned this novel theory of self-defence from Israel, the country that apparently dictates Middle East policy to both. (See 29 Jan 2014 post)  The response of that nation to rhetoric condemning its existence is to assume the right to invade and bomb other countries pre-emptively, as Israel has already done more than once.  Most recently, while doing its best to undermine the nuclear negotiations with Iran, Israel, itself a nuclear state, has threatened to bomb Iran.  In such a case, unless we all buy western exceptionalism, Iran would be perfectly justified under Article 51 to attack Israel tomorrow.  For many reasons, let us hope that sane voices in both countries prevail and this does not happen. Yet this is the theory of self-defence to which Canada has now signed on.

20140119_pg_09If indeed the perversion of the United Nations vision of self-defence has roots in Israeli policy, there is a special irony at work. Israel was the formal creation of the United Nations, an understandable reaction of the world to the horror of the holocaust. Since that time, the child has had little use for its parent.

One of the clearest pieces of evidence to that effect is the building of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land, in plain defiance of international law.  The biggest flaw in the UN structure is the veto power given a handful of WWII victors as permanent members of the Security Council.  Sadly, the major powers, east and west, use the Security Council only when it suits them and ignore it as they see fit, often reverting to the old practice of assembling military coalitions and alliances of the sort that brought the world two horrific wars.  Yet even the Security Council is united in condemning Israeli settlements.

For example, consider UN Security Council Resolution 465 from 1980:

After setting out other instances of Israel flouting international law, the resolution continues:all measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem and any part thereof, have no legal validity and that Israel’s policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in those territories constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and also constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

color-west-bnksettle1-webThe resolution goes on to call upon the government and people to dismantle the settlements and calls upon UN member states not to provide any assistance for construction of the settlements.

To all of which, Israel’s response can be summarized as “Up yours. We have the right to self-defence and security as we and we alone interpret it.”  The number of settlements today dwarfs the number of those condemned by the international community in 1980.

The other side of the settlement coin is demolition.  Israel permits virtually no Palestinian home building and has demolished 48,000 Palestine homes since 1967, literally leaving families sitting in the dirt.  It would be bad enough if these demolitions had been reprisals, but less than 1% had anything to with even Israel’s exaggerated view of “security,”

The Harper government has always been a blind uncritical supporter of anything Israel chooses to do, for reasons we will explore in later posts.  But until that little contingent of jets went into Syria, it had never explicitly adopted the Dick Cheney, Benjamin Netanyahu theory of  “we will decide” self-defence. Do you care?

Perverting Responsibility to Protect

In truth, the world community should not be required to ask permission of brutal Syrian ruler Bashar Assad before intervening in the massive humanitarian crisis that exists there.

Where-R2P-Goes-From-HereThere is another justification in international law, an emerging doctrine for which Canadians, including former foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy, can take much credit. It is the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect. (RTP)  That doctrine has already been undermined by the U.S. and Canada in Libya and claiming it as a basis for bombing Syria  simply does further damage.  Let’s hope the harm is not irreparable.

The doctrine abrogates a notion of national sovereignty that has existed since at least 1648. That was the idea that as long as a state was not attacking another state, which Syria is not doing, what it did within its own borders was its own business. Responsibility to Protect incorporates the view that the human rights of all people include at a minimum the right not to be murdered, starved, raped, or tortured.  When a nation state is unable or unwilling to protect the basic human rights of its people, the international community may step in—for the sole purpose of protecting the people from loss of these basic human rights.  The Syrian government has surely been more than unwilling to protect the basic human rights of its people.

1107314_0Syria is a good candidate for intervention under the auspices of Responsibility to Protect and the Canadian government is indeed making that argument in addition to its convoluted interpretation of self-defence.  The problem is that the U.S., with Canada’s help, has already perverted the doctrine in Libya and is taking the same course in Syria. Here is what is wrong.

State sovereignty is a serious principle, not to be cast away lightly in pursuit of geopolitical advantage.  If that principle is not honoured, it is very difficult to criticize Vladimir Putin’s intervention to “protect” ethnic Russians in Ukraine, not to mention his own interpretation of self-defence.  Responsibility to Protect is about protecting human rights. It is not about “regime change” or influencing regional conflicts.  The western coalition in Libya did not honour that limiting principle and the people of Libya are suffering the consequences.

It should also go without saying that one does not bomb to protect civilian human rights. If Canada and its allies really want to implement Responsibility to Protect, they would have to get out of their airplanes, and go into Syria with the sole objective of protecting people, instead of killing some of them and writing it off as collateral damage, and trying to replace Assad with a government of their choice. Additionally, perhaps the greatest flaw in purporting to act under the authority of RTP is that western military coalitions are the wrong actors.  It is the presence of those forces that allow entities like ISIS to portray themselves as defenders against foreign invaders.  One would have thought that this lesson might have been learned by the failed war in Afghanistan. The involvement of the United Nations is essential to any attempt to counter that image.  There have been calls for a standing UN peacekeeping force for decades. Had they been heeded, there could be a 30,000 person force available for RTP in Syria.  Unfortunately, for now even real peacekeeping must be done by ad hoc coalitions. So be it. But any RTP intervention should have the smallest possible western nation component.

There is a role for the military in RTP, and some role for western nations, who have the greatest resources and training.  The sad fact being ignored is that Canada’s experience when it was actually involved in peacekeeping could provide valuable lessons and expertise to a true RTP humanitarian mission.  You will never hear this story from the Harper government’s war drum beaters who have reduced Canadian peacekeepers around the world to fewer than 100.

In the early hours of November 4th 1956, the General Assembly overwhelming supports Pearson’s proposal for the world’s first peacekeeping forces.

In the early hours of November 4th 1956, the General Assembly overwhelming supports Pearson’s proposal for the world’s first peacekeeping forces.

The historic contribution of Canadian peacekeeping, which the Harper government campaigns to erase from our national memory, is a credit to diplomats, civilian workers, and soldiers.  From the Suez mission of Lester Pearson, though Cyprus, the Balkans and elsewhere, Canadians were instrumental in at the very least affording the warring parties sufficient time to resolve their conflicts without further violence. Some did. Some did not. Canadians accomplished this in spite of the fact that their country denied them, and the UN, anything near the resources required. Remarkably, they also did so without a clear mandate or instructions for this new venture.  Canadians on the ground made up their own rules about when to declare a UN protected area and defend it with armed force, when to back off, when and how to negotiate will all parties, and how to get humanitarian aid through.  They compiled a storehouse of knowledge and lessons learned that is directly applicable today.

And, even in failed missions like Rwanda, they engaged in humanitarian work that saved thousands of innocent lives.  It is that experience that should not only be drawn upon but also celebrated today.

These missions were carried out before the development of RTP.  The delicate balance of intervention required operating under what is known as “the trinity”:  consent of the belligerents, impartiality, and minimal use of force. RTP obviates the requirement of consent, but only that. And let’s be honest. A true RTP intervention in Syria would require real bravery, real heroes.  Using bombs and drones is not only counterproductive, it is also cowardly.

You will, of course, never hear of this positive humanitarian option from the Tory government. But voting this government out might help preserve the potential of a valuable international peace option before the great powers co-opt and destroy it.


yarmouk-refugee-camp-palestinian-boyEight kilometers from Damascus there is an ironic example of where Canada’s priorities lie; of what your government is doing and not doing in your name.  There is a Palestinian refugee area, a neighbourhood really, called Yarmouk, where 18,000 civilians, including 3500 children, are starving.  The irony is that Palestinians who were expelled from their land by Israel in 1948 were the founders of the community.

UNRWABoth ISIS and the Syrian government are brutalizing the population of Yarmouk. The neighbourhood has been under siege for more than 750 days.  There has been no water since 2013.  The population exists on an average of 400 calories per day.  Ask Jenny Craig about that. More than 200 starved to death in 2014 alone.

Until 2013, members of the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) delivered food, water and medicine. It was not enough, but now there is no money, even though Yarmouk is technically a UN protected area.  There is currently no international plan to stop this humanitarian disaster.

Untitled1Canada, somehow able to find half a billion dollars to drop bombs, has cut $30 million from its contribution to UNRWA.

Did you know about Yarmouk?  About the UNRWA cut… done in your name?  Can you at all picture your own family members being attacked from the air by one force with anti-personnel bombs and attacked on the ground by another, while they try to exist on 400 calories a day?  In truth, none of us can really imagine what that is like.  But we can abandon our indifference about international humanitarian affairs, and the damage being done to our once proud record. Ten dollars a month to the Christian Children’s Fund will not help much. Getting rid of this government might.

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Stephen Harper’s Vision for Canadians: Ignorant and Terrified

Dear Virtual Editor,

With apologies to American readers, the next few posts will deal with a crisis in Canada. I hope some Americans readers may find them interesting as well. Americans generally are not fountains of knowledge about their northern neighbour. In these posts, however, they will recognize, from painful experience, much of what is happening here.

In my adopted country, we have an important election coming up. I can’t tell you exactly when because I don’t know whether our current ruler will again abandon a promise and manipulate the process to achieve a date that he perceives more favourable than the one established by law. Anyway, probably no later than October.

1297676679556_ORIGINALPoliticians of every stripe always see the next election as the defining one. In this instance, I think they are right. PM Harper and Co. have already done a lot of damage and if our democracy theme park (See post of 27 Sept 2013) results in another Tory “majority”, the Canada I embraced so proudly 15 years ago will be virtually unrecognizable before another election. So, I begin today a series of posts particularizing the damage and urging my fellow Canadians to vote and to vote for any candidate other than a Conservative. I really do not care which of the other parties becomes strongest and I have urged their leaders to identify areas of cooperation before the voting and to be prepared to form a coalition government.

I have said before that this is not a personal matter. I am sure Harper, McKay, Fantino, et. al., have redeeming qualities, love their families, do not kick their dogs. Like approximately 2/3 of my fellow Canadians, I just want to give these folks an opportunity to spend more time with those families and dogs. The best that is Canada depends on it.

I have already seen this movie. The US was on its way to becoming an arrogant police state long before 9/11. Harper & Co. are doing the best they can to imitate, though recognizing that not even they can sell “We’re No. 1! We’re No. 1!” to Canadians. Later, when we look into Harper’s right wing US roots, this miming will not be hard to understand. Still, it is pretty sad to consider that even our police state will probably be second rate.

For several years, I have kept an old-fashioned newspaper clip file, titled “Harper Outrages”. In this series, I will draw on the file for facts, as opposed to my take on what they mean. Opinions being like that celebrated universal orifice, your take may differ. But be sure you are basing it on what actually happened on the ground. I will also draw, for facts only, on Michael Harris, Party of One, Stephen Harper and Canada’s Radical Makeover. Frankly, the book can at times be a tedious read precisely because Harris takes such pains to lay out factual details. But the book is worth reading because dismissing factual truth with slogans and generalizations is stock in trade for the Tories. They are relying on you not to read the book and not even to read this series of simplified posts.

One reason I have heretofore probably spent a bit too much ink on the US, is because its public figures are such laughably easy targets. In contrast, the Tories are essentially a humourless bunch. There is simply no Canadian equivalent of Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and the like, not to mention the members of almost any southern state legislature, who regularly showcase the intelligence quotient of a rutabaga. In contrast, Harper & Co. are a pompously pious lot, deadly serious about what they are doing. In all of the coming posts, Harper’s effort to shape Canadians into an ignorant and terrified mass will be a thread that is easy to follow. There is no better place to begin than the most recent outrage.

Bill C-51: A Message for Dave Naïve

1_HarperAfraidIn the wake of two tragic but foreseeable acts of violence (See post of 7 Dec 2014), Harper has once again introduced an omnibus bill, once again prevented meaningful consideration of it in the House of Commons or the Senate, and once again impugned the patriotism of anyone who opposes it. Bill C-51 is purportedly an “anti-terrorism” law. It is no such thing. With an election at hand, the Tories are banking on tried and true maxims:  Fear is a winner. People are too busy to look beyond slogans.

Trusting that Canadians really do not wish to brand themselves a nation of cowards, we are going to look beyond slogans and examine C-51. I have read all 74 pages. I recommend that you do likewise.

There has been a fair amount of press raising concerns about the legislation, but the most prominent item seems to be that its terms are so broad and vague that the act can be used to criminalize legitimate dissent, especially in environmental matters. That is manifestly true, but such an argument simply does not reach Dave Naïve, a hypothetical character who for decades has been unwittingly undermining basic rights and freedoms. Dave is essentially a good guy. Dave wrote twice last week to my local paper. He doesn’t see himself as dissenting about anything. Dave sees himself as a completely law abiding citizen. So, his position is if you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.  I have been dealing with Dave since back when there was a right to privacy. This examination of C-51 is dedicated to Dave.

Dave, even if you were correct, you would still be ceding to government, for a mess of amorphous pottage, rights that others struggled to secure for you. That is not a very conservative thing to do. But you are not correct. I will try to highlight those portions of C-51 that have a pretty clear message that even if you have done nothing wrong, you in fact have quite a bit to worry about.

Unfortunately, if you are willing to see if I am right, you will have to take note of some basic principles of statutory construction. I will try not to be too legalistic here but this examination proceeds on the assumption that the English language (and French) is not meaningless. In particular, as I have urged generations of law students, the words and and or are very significant. Also, when examples are included, but expressly without limitation, they are not the only examples. So, in a definition of what conduct is covered in the act, if I tell you that an act that undermines the security of Canada means nothing more specific than an act that undermines the security of Canada that is true. All I have done is apply the two particulars I have described. So, whether you are in fact living a fully lawful life is up to the government to determine. Whatever act that undermines the security of Canada means, you could learn after you have commited it. I sure hope your Conservative Party membership is paid up.

Closer to Home? (Where you could be under the SATA)

I know you are probably not yet convinced, so let me move to a situation in which it might be easier for you to imagine yourself. In the interest of obfuscation and discouraging examination of the act, C-51 includes two new acts and amendments to three other major statutes, all themselves containing amendments to numerous other statutes. I do not profess to have sorted them all out. But I have seen more than enough to persuade me to oppose the act. If you have not been through the maze either, you will just have to trust Mr. Harper.

Dave, my hope is that one of the new acts that may give you pause is the Secure Air Travel Act. It incorporates some pretty onerous provisions already in place and adds some new ones.

UnknownLet’s assume for the moment that you are to fly from Vancouver to Ottawa to visit your very sick sister. You are prevented from doing so because your name appears on a “no fly” list. Why are you, who have done nothing wrong and should have nothing to fear, on the list? Is it because you were at a dinner party last week and chatted with someone in whom the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), or one of 16 other government agencies, has an interest? (A real example.) Maybe it is because the person in whom the government is interested is named Dave Nave, and the wrong spelling got on the list. (A real example.) The first thing you need to be aware of is that the law forbids everyone who knows why you are on the list to tell you. In fact, telling you is a crime.

You—and your neighbours—will soon know one thing. C-51 authorizes putting people on the list who generally pose a threat to transportation security and now specifically those who are suspected of travelling to commit a terrorism offence. It also authorizes the government to direct airlines to do anything the government decides it wants done about these folks. Welcome to the world of stigma, Dave.

What are your options now? Well, the act allows you 60 days to appeal—to the Minister of Public Safety. If you don’t hear anything in 90 days, the appeal has been automatically denied. No reason required. If you happen to have several thousand dollars in disposable income, you can then appeal to the courts. (Note: you have to do the minister thing first. We lawyers call it “exhausting administrative remedies”) C-51, however, also amends the Evidence Act. The judge in your appeal is allowed to hear secret evidence that you cannot rebut. You get a summary of the evidence, (welcome to Guantanamo) but the Rules of Evidence do not apply and the judge’s decision can be based on evidence not disclosed in the summary. Finally, you may know that when Canadian judges make decisions, they are usually required to provide reasons. C-51 specifically bars the judge from doing that in your case. And by the way, the act imposes this procedure on all courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada.

Do I have your attention yet, Dave? Is your sister still alive?

Even closer to home? Are you straight with the tax man?

The reason all those government agencies were able to provide information that put you on the no fly list is found in Part 1 of the Act. It is called the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act. One of the agencies in the information-sharing network is the good ole Canada Revenue Agency. C-51 amends the Income Tax Act to permit the taxman to share your information with the rest of the government. Here, to be fair, I have to report that there is a limitation. But once again, I have to remind you about the basics of the English language and some basic legal stuff. I apologize again for the latter.

Your taxpayer information is supposed to be shared only if there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the information would be relevant to commission of an act that undermines the security of Canada, as so precisely defined earlier. In case that limitation comforts you, I have to tell you that reasonable grounds does not mean more likely than not, or a balance of probabilities. All it means is that the requesting agency, e.g. CSIS, RCMP, can articulate a reason that is not completely whacko. Please keep this in mind about reasonable grounds because it appears all through the act. As we will see, a decision that the request for your tax data has met even that minimal standard is essentially unreviewable. I advise being really careful in preparing your next return, especially with respect to your charitable contributions and investments.

“Terrorism Activity”: Common Ground?

Dave, I know you are unlikely to be personally involved with this next one, and I am not today beating you up about your lack of concern for what happens to other people. But these two words, terrorism activity as they already appear in recent revisions to the Criminal Code and are amended by C-51, may provide us with some common ground for concern.

It is true that your fellow citizens in British Columbia who do not wish to see our forests and waters destroyed are particularly concerned by the provisions I will outline for you next. There is apparently good reason for the concern since the RCMP appears to be working hand in hand with the government to suppress dissent on this issue. One of their secret memos included a remarkable denial of human effect on climate change. (Who knew the most brilliant scientific minds on the planet are part of the federal police force?) The memo also concluded that continued expansion of oil and gas production is inevitable.  On that basis, the cops understandably expressed concern about the “anti-Canada petroleum movement”, and its “foreign funding”.rcmp-antipetro01

In all the circumstances, it is more likely that the unfettered and essentially unreviewable power of the Tory government to use terrorism legislation will be directed against these folks than against you or yours. But maybe there is another scenario that you should consider. After all, governments change.

Lets assume you have a son in university, or even God forbid, in law school. The kid is an adult, newly away from home, and necessarily interacting with all sorts and conditions of people. Assume that the young person, on religious grounds, is passionately pro-life and outraged by Canada’s permissive policies on abortion. Influenced by groups from the US, who have effectively managed to make abortion unavailable in that country to anyone save the rich, your child engages in a campaign to hinder access to a facility providing abortion services. At first he simply harangues incoming patients in the manner of an aggressive panhandler, and passes out pamphlets condemning abortion and providing information on alternatives. When those efforts seem to be failing, he joins with others who sit down and block entrance to the facility for three hours, as a symbolic gesture. Of course, he also gives money when he can to pro-life groups.

Congratulations. Your son is probably a terrorist, and the existing law plus C-51 provide two ways to deal with him. The statutes making this true are not easy to decipher, even for a lawyer, and that is by design. You are just supposed to listen to slogans, be fearful, and remain ignorant. I will try to simplify.

First, your son could be charged with a terrorist offence. Engaging in an act or omission that is a terrorist activity is a terrorist offence. So what is a terrorist activity?

It is an act or omission, inside or outside Canada (joining a US protest while on Spring Break could count) committed in whole or in part for political, religious, or ideological objective or cause, AND in whole or part with the intention of intimidating the public, or a segment of the public, with regard to its security, including economic security, OR compelling a person, government or domestic or international organization to do or refrain from doing any act that intentionally causes serious interference with OR disruption of an essential service, facility or system, whether public or private.

BullMooseDave, I have tried not to inundate you with numbers, but this is S. 83.01(1)(B) of the Criminal Code and you might want to look it up on line.

I will not even mention the provisions that make a terrorist out of your son through his contributions to organizations, except to say make sure he knows what every one of them, including all their affiliates does, everywhere in the world. Instead, let’s move on to another choice open to the government.

If the government officials decided on criminal prosecution, they would still have to deal with proving beyond a reasonable doubt that something your son had already done constituted a terrorist offence. Fortunately for them, there is an easier way to interfere in you son’s life, stop his protests, and perhaps even get him to jail, without having to bother with those two annoying obstacles. The great thing about this one, which was employed recently, is that he doesn’t even have to make it to the abortion facility.

Under a recent perversion of the traditional “peace bond”, designed to protect persons who reasonably fear for their safety, as amended by C-51, any person (read government agent), who believes on reasonable grounds that a terrorist activity may (formerly will) be carried out and suspects on reasonable grounds that imposing conditions on the person is likely (formerly is necessary) to prevent the terrorist activity may lay an information (charge) and bring the person before a provincial judge. For the protection of the majority of Canadians who disagree with your son’s activities Dave, a police officer may arrest and detain him without a warrant before the information has been laid. Even if the information has been laid and your son is notified of his court date, he can be arrested without a warrant and detained if the cops suspect, (again on reasonable, not whacko grounds) that his detention is likely to prevent terrorist activity.

Do things get better when your son is brought up from cells and has his day in court? Maybe not. If the judge agrees with government, not beyond a reasonable doubt but on a balance of probabilities, here are a just a few of the conditions she can impose:  participation in a treatment program, curfew, travel restrictions, and of course barring him from participating directly or indirectly in the “terrorist activity” or having contact with those who may engage in it. Being found eligible to endure these conditions is not in itself a crime, but breaching any of them is, and may result in severe criminal penalties. I assume you would wish to attend the hearing, so I should alert you that it is open to the judge to exclude the public. It is also open to the judge to order that government witnesses can testify from behind a screen. (Which of course raises no suggestion that your son is guilty of anything.)

Dave, I am adamantly pro-choice and I would find your son’s activities reprehensible. But I would vigorously support his right to speak out and to associate with others of like mind. If he crossed the line into relatively minor offences for conduct already prohibited by the pre-Harper Criminal Code, I would not weep if he were prosecuted for them. But even in those circumstances, he is certainly not a terrorist. Neither are those who, seeing that the game is rigged, are moved to direct action in support of the environment.

Two Final Cautions

There are many other aspects of this legislation that are offensive to the regard for fundamental fairness that most Canadians hold. I will not go into them because I appreciate that you have taken time to read this far. I will leave you with two final cautions about C-51, one of them based on the legislation, the other on personal experience.

The first caution has to do with permanency and accountability. When PM Harper rolled out C-51, he pronounced that the international jihadist movement had declared war on B821894438Z.1_20150315223752_000_GV31ELJJO.4_ContentCanada. When people declare war on you, the customary response is to declare war on them. What if Harper had declared war on ISIS? An interesting essay by Vincent Gogolek, director of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association provides an answer, comparing C-51 with the War Measures Act, now the Emergencies Act. If you are of a certain age, you may recall the hundreds of lives ruined when Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act in 1970, including his answer when asked how far he would go:  “Just watch me.” Stephen Harper has neither the chutzpah nor the honesty to admit that he is on the same path. Ironically, Trudeau later gave us the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, now loathed by Harper as the tool that allows the Supreme Court of Canada to occasionally thwart his wishes.

Permanency. If Harper had declared war, the Emergencies Act would require him to certify, again “on reasonable grounds” that an emergency exists that requires special temporary measures. Further, the government would have to get confirmation from Parliament by putting forth a motion before both Commons and Senate explaining the reasons and reporting on any consultation with the provinces. The declaration would last only 120 days, and could be renewed. A negative vote by either house would kill the declaration. In contrast, Bill C-51’s provisions are permanent enactments of Canadian law, no matter the extent or even the existence of a “terrorist” emergency.

Accountability. Dave, you have already had just a glimpse of the trust you will have to put in government officials, today and tomorrow not to abuse these laws. So you should be aware that there is no oversight in C-51, the bill introduced in the absence of a war. C-51 oversight is the responsibility of a review body, hand picked by the PM. And, though I have not set out for you the troubling parts of C-51 that authorize CSIS not only to monitor Canadians but to disrupt their activities, I want to give you an “oversight” example from that part of the bill. The hand picked review committee must at least once a year review at least one aspect of CSIS performance in taking measures, including disruption, to reduce threats to the security of Canada. The act does not specify which one is to be chosen.

In contrast, if we were in an actual war there would be a parliamentary review committee with members from all parties in House and Senate. The committee would be charged with examining how the powers granted in the emergency declaration were being used. The committee would report to Parliament every 60 days as long as the declaration was in effect. The committee would also have the power to revoke or amend government regulations.

Finally, the Emergencies Act requires an inquiry into the circumstances that led to the declaration within 60 days of the end of the emergency. And importantly Dave, you might also be eligible for compensation for damages suffered as a result of the emergency, like being denied travel to be with your sick sister. Under C-51, you and all of us remain uninformed and uncompensated.

Security or Politics?

Many of us who criticize C-51 say it is a cynical ploy to play on fears and gain support in the coming election. The Tories have recently provided evidence that we are probably correct. There is recent news that they plan to back off from some of the more extreme provisions of the act. Why would they do that, Dave? If they thought this carefully crafted massive piece of legislation was needed to protect us from a terrorist emergency, why would they modify it now? Could it be that it is because as Canadians take the time to get beyond the rhetoric and look at the law itself, they are much less likely to vote for Harper & Co.?

Dave, I was once where you are

In addition to my hope that you will be persuaded to help oust the Tories, I have directed this review of some of C-51 to you because I was once where you are. I left the US army after 8 years service. I had tired of burying friends killed in Vietnam and became the unofficial legal adviser to a group of young people who operated an anti-war coffee house near a huge military base. I chided them more than once for their fears that they were being followed, their phones being tapped, their mail intercepted. I lectured them. Didn’t they know that this was the US of A? After all, we were not breaking any laws, just exercising the right to oppose policy. Besides, we were not important enough to draw government attention. No reason to get paranoid. We were doing nothing wrong. We had nothing to fear.

A few years later, I obtained the file the FBI had compiled on me. The bureau had planted an informant who attributed statements to me that I had never made, as well as providing a general mischaracterization of group meetings. The file also demonstrated the FBI’s admirable attention to detail. It contained a photocopy of the vending machine license I had helped the war protesters acquire, allowing the coffee house to sell crackers and chewing gum.

That was the end of “If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear” for me.

A final word. I suspect that neither of us finds comparisons of apples and oranges persuasive. I know that you are aware, for example, that you are by several orders of magnitude far more likely be killed or injured operating a motor vehicle than by a terrorist. But C-51 may make comparison of the two risks more appropriate than it appears, especially the personally intrusive provisions. It is well established that alcohol, drugs, and distracted driving like texting and cell phone usage, as well as speeding are responsible for a significant number of highway deaths and injuries. Why would you not favour a law that required you to install speed monitors, interior cameras and voice recorders in your car? How about police authority to bring you into court and ask for restrictions on your driving if they fear, on reasonable grounds of course, that you may text and drive, or drink and drive? There is plainly more justification for such laws than exists for C-51. You don’t do any of those things. You have nothing to fear. The $ cost of implementing C-51 exceeds the cost to you of installing the equipment.

So my plea is this. Pick any candidate or party in the federal election who is not the Conservative Party candidate. If you are not yet persuaded, stand by. There is more to come about Harper’s Canada. If you are persuaded, please pass this along to a fellow Canadian. Thanks again for taking your time to get beyond a slogan. Just going that far is one of Harper’s worst fears.

Left to right: Chief Government Whip John Duncan, NDP MP Paul Dewar, former Liberal MP Don Boudria and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, centre, and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau

Left to right: Chief Government Whip John Duncan, NDP MP Paul Dewar, former Liberal MP Don Boudria, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, centre, and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

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Dean of Humanities

Dear Virtual Editor,

I don’t usually write to you about sports.  I think the only post remotely related to sports so far mentions the Calgary chuckwagon races, and that is a bit of stretch.  But when a giant humanitarian who happens to be a sports figure passes from the scene, attention should be paid.

Dean-SmithDean Smith died February 7th at age 83.  Smith was coach of the University of North Carolina basketball team and when he retired in 1997, he had won more games than any other coach. That is the least of the reasons to remember and honour this decent man. At several points, Dean Smith influenced my life and that of two of my close friends, Ray Goad and Paula Lee.  I have invited them to share this remembrance.

I came to law school at Chapel Hill in 1966, directly from serving three years with the army in Germany.  I knew nothing then about the basketball world or, more importantly, about the very recent civil rights struggle to integrate public facilities in the town—and Dean Smith’s role in that effort.  A star player in a weak league, I had learned painfully as an undergrad that I was not good enough to play basketball at the college level, but I have always loved the game for its own sake. To be at UNC when the team went to the Final Four all three years was a wonderful surprise.  To be there when Dean Smith was the coach was a blessing I would only later understand.

The first hint that this man was much more than the best coach in the game came when I was a Resident Advisor in Granville Towers, a private dorm that housed some of the team.  Smith would chat with us from time to time when he came to visit his players.   Once, he looked me right in the eye and told me that there would be no changes in the Heels’ deliberate offense to accommodate the speed and skill of Charlie Scott, whom he had recruited as UNC’s first black athlete.  Even saints have to lie once in awhile.

These visits were only part of Dean’s very human concern for the welfare of all his players, from the stars to the end of the bench, a concern that legions of them this week are reminding us continued long after they graduated, as virtually all of them did. Smith cared about them as people.  He was not coming to  Granville to investigate compliance with bed check.

I devoted much of my personal and professional life to working against the death penalty.  By the 1980’s, Dean Smith had already become a well-known public figure, revered far beyond the borders of Orange County, NC.  I had heard that he opposed the death penalty, but I was stunned to receive a prompt and personal reply to my request for assistance. He asked what he could do.  His interest and his assistance continued. In the 90’s, when I served on the board of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, I found that, although there was not a Tarheel fan among them, the other members already knew Dean Smith.  For years, he had been providing signed memorabilia for the coalition to auction. Believe me, this was important. Fund raising for this cause at that time was not easy.  At a fundraiser in New Orleans hosted by Sister Helen Prejean, I happily paid $300 for a Carolina Basketball Staff shirt with his signature. I thought at the time it might help me sneak into a game or two. That didn’t work out, but I cherish the shirt.

I have a special and lasting image that blends my remembrance of Smith’s excellence as a coach and the passion for justice he exhibited by helping this obscure alum.  In

The way we were

The way we were

1974, I was driving across the sand hills of NC near Carthage, listening to the Carolina/Duke game. With 17 seconds to go in the game, the Heels were down 8 points. There was no 3 point shot in those days. Carolina won. Why was I not in front of TV set as I always was for this epic rivalry?  I was searching for a witness in a death penalty case.

The last time I spoke with Dean was only a few years before he retired. The Heels were coming to Lexington, VA to play the lowly Virginia Military Institute Keydets. I was teaching at Washington and Lee. I had written with an invitation to dinner. He promptly wrote back with regrets, painstakingly outlining the team’s tight schedule so I would know that he was not just blowing me off.  He did agree, however, to meet me at the game and sign a book for my friend Ray.  I turn the post over now to Ray and Paula, with this final thought. These are dark days for the people of North Carolina. But the spirit of Dean Smith, and others like him is alive. Better days are coming.



You may never have heard of Dean Smith before the news of his death this weekend. The headlines are about his mark on the game of basketball in the latter part of the last century.  However, Smith became one of the most successful, respected and life-changing coaches to ever grace the college basketball landscape, because of who he was as a person.

When Smith came to Carolina, the 1960s still felt a lot like the 1860s. On my first visit to Chapel Hill, the bus station still had separate Black and White drinking fountains. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the country was changing much faster than the State wanted.

I first heard of Dean Smith sitting in a law class with Bill Geimer, hearing our beloved raging liberal Labor Law Professor Dan Pollitt tell about how ugly the integration of businesses in Chapel Hill became in late 1963 and early 1964. In one incident, he reported that a restaurant owner’s wife urinated on two demonstrators who had stretched out on the floor at the entrance to prevent customers from entering. Protesters were doused with ammonia at another business.

The basketball team was all white and the players had many of their evening meals in a very fine local restaurant called The Pines (where Bill, Paula and I would later dine often.) The Pines was rigid about not admitting blacks. One evening Dean, with his minister and a black student, went to The Pines and asked to be served. With Dean Smith at the door, they could not say no.

His fight for higher pay for domestic workers also demonstrated his integrity and sense of human fairness. He helped establish a settlement house in a low-income neighborhood. He brought his players into the neighborhood to play ball with the kids.


Charlie Scott

And in 1966, Dean Smith integrated the ACC with the arrival of Charlie Scott, who led the Tar Heels to their second and third consecutive NCAA Final Four appearances in 1968 and 1969. He was the first African American to join a fraternity at the University of North Carolina, and was a gold medalist at the 1968 Summer Olympics.

After that, Bill, Paula and I followed Carolina Basketball for the next forty+ years, and we have learned even more about Coach’s integrity and humanity as we watched his family of players grow with four National Players of the Year, including a player who would go down as the greatest of all time, and dozens of other special players making college basketball’s All-America list 23 times, each learning along the way what Dean called “the Carolina Way.”

In his book by that title, Dean says “The most important thing in good leadership is truly caring…I was a demanding coach, but my players knew that I cared for them and that my caring didn’t stop when they graduated and went off to their careers…”

The hallmark of the Carolina program became Coach Smith’s genuine lifetime caring and concern for all of his players, managers, and support staff. Phil Ford once said about Coach Smith, “I got a coach for four years but a friend for life;” and Michael Jordan’s quote running across the bottom of most TV sets this past weekend was “he was my mentor, my teacher, my second father…In teaching me the game of basketball, he taught me about life.”

In reflecting upon Dean Smith’s life, we now realize how grateful we are to have been a part of that time at Carolina.  While we have been addicted to its basketball team ever since, we too have appreciated becoming part of Dean’s family, knowing that our lives have also been influenced by the Carolina Way.

As we turn the post over to Paula, Bill and I recall the image she evoked for us of Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary, during those days when we all seemed to be taking our place on the great Mandala, as it moves through our brief moment of time. It was a time we were privileged to share with Dean Smith. We recall another hit from the trio: Don’t let the light go out.



I first became aware of the legendary Dean Smith while finishing high school in Greensboro, NC. My dad and brothers were serious basketball fans and the “Four Corners” drove them mad. The next year, I was a UNC Tarheel and fully in Dean Smith admiration mode.

For those who don’t know or remember, Four Corners is an offensive strategy to kill time when you have the lead. With four players in the corners, defenders were forced either to foul or risk a great player like Phil Ford driving right past them to the basket.  There was no shot clock during most of Smith’s time. He did not invent the Four Corners but he used it so effectively that opposing teams were as frustrated as my dad and brother.


The Old Well, Chapel Hill

In the winter of 1968-69, I vividly remember the thrills of watching Charlie Scott dominate the court and each game. The hook was in deep by then. While living in Chapel Hill after graduation, Ray and I were fortunate to come by seats at Carmichael directly behind the Tarheel Bench. We were able to see first hand the interaction between Dean and his teams. He seemed completely unflappable and unbelievably calm in the midst of the “Carmichael Roar” for those exciting home games.

Ray and I had a restaurant for a while, RJ’s, and Dean Smith was a regular customer. I remember him coming on Tuesdays for lunch with his friend, a doctor of Psychology. They had long intense discussions and I always had the sense that Dean was picking his friend’s brain for thoughts on how to guide his players’ development both on and off the court.

Many years and games passed with many thrills and close calls. I remained a loyal Tarheel living in Seattle, WA, and was a founding member of the UNC Alumni Club in WA.

After Dean retired, his friend Dan Pollitt came to my attention. Dan had been a favorite professor to Bill and Ray at UNC Law School. He was invited to Seattle to give a presentation to a large Labor Law conference. When we heard he would be in town, Ray and I arranged to have dinner with Dan and his wife. During our conversations, the topic of the Tarheels and Dean Smith of course came up. Dan told us they were neighbors with Dean and attended the same church. Dean and his wife were soon to celebrate an anniversary. Ray and I decided to send Dean a bottle of WA wine from Chateau St. Michelle with a note of our appreciation for all the wonderful basketball memories he had given us via Dan on his return. Within a short time, we had a lovely hand-written thank you from Dean. I still treasure that note in my keepsakes.

Dean Smith deserves all the accolades being received. He truly was a class act who inspired us all.

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Mother Earth, Native American Wisdom, and Our Grandchildren


Dear Virtual Editor,

I am writing on a very serious matter today, so I especially want to thank the Republican party for providing some much needed comic relief before I started. In the official response to the State of the Union Address, new Iowa Senator Joni Ernst was a hoot!  After she began by telling us how she grew up in a poor farm family and plowed the fields, I was expecting to hear how she had to trudge three miles in the snow to school.  It was even better than that.  Ernst told us how her parents put bread bags on her only pair of shoes to protect them from the wet.  But she was not ashamed when she got on the school bus because there were rows and rows of kids with bread bags on their shoes also!  Learning that she came from such a “Holsum” family background certainly enhanced her argument about how we should all support the Keystone pipeline’s eminent domain expropriation of farmland.

keystonepipeline1-2Sadly, there is a connection between the erstwhile Ms. Ernst and the matter that moves me to write today.  There is a danger that she and her supporters, including Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz and the Koch brothers may decide what happens to my three grandchildren.  If her views prevail, the grandchildren and many others will need a whole bunch of bread wrappers because there is going to be plenty of water, some of it permanently occupying downtown Miami and many other coastal areas. I mention Miami only because there is no higher ground in the area to which people may relocate.  There will be other worse environmental disasters that are likely to make lots of people more than a little unhappy with their grandparents.  Being remembered for putting $10 in a birthday card over the years or resorting to Blue Mtn. when we get Facebook reminders will not get us off the hook.

For some time, I have wanted to say a word about the state of our Mother Earth. Here are the reasons I have hesitated until now and the reasons I now write:

1. In the words of Republican climate change deniers, “I am not a scientist”.  My formal education through university did not even include the word  “environment”.  Growing up, I thought I was being responsible when I chided my friends for throwing trash out the car window. I always thought it should be responsibly placed in a refuse bin, where it would presumably disappear magically forever.  I gave no thought at all to the 35 cents per gallon gasoline, each gallon of which would take us 8 miles.

Wait. The part about no education on the subject is not entirely true. My army training did include the official way to field strip a cigarette butt:  Do not just throw it on the ground. Carefully tear the paper down the side, roll in a small ball. Scatter the tobacco. Throw the filter and paper ball into an area that is the responsibility of another unit to keep tidy.  That’s about it for my environmental awareness instruction.

2. The environment was not my issue. Others, whom I have always admired, fought on behalf of Mother Earth while I spent decades doing what I could in a small way to mitigate human violence of one type or another. I did not see the connection between the two.

3. Even when I became aware enough to quit smoking, reuse, recycle, compost, and conserve to the degree I could manage, given the lifestyle to which my years of blissful blind consuming had accustomed me, I had no sense of urgency.  After all, when I looked out the window I didn’t see any impending crisis.

Here are the reasons all that has changed.

ClimateChangeI may not be a scientist, but I am not an idiot.  I see very little reason not to accept the findings of 97 out of every 100 real scientists. This is a far greater consensus than the number of dentists who urge me to buy a particular brand of toothpaste or mouthwash marketed by the same corporate conglomerates who are the fossil fuel industry. Moreover, if that great leader Dick Cheney is for invading another county upon a 1% threat to the US, I should probably be moved to confront a 97% threat to every country.

Climate change is a naturally occurring phenomenon but it is being aggravated by human behavior to a degree that poses an immediate threat to the people of this planet. Unless most of the fossil fuel now in the ground stays there, warming will cause water to rise to a level that will make those bread wrappers quite useless.  More important to me is the fact that this will happen in the lifetimes of my grandchildren.  To say the least, it is now much less comforting to me that I personally can probably continue to ignore the matter and go merrily into my dotage without penalty.

The truth that we humans are bequeathing a disaster to our grandchildren is in one sense not really subject to political debate. What Ernst and other politicians think about the existence of human induced climate change really does not matter. Reality is not affected by whether legislative bodies accept it. At the point of no return, which some responsible voices say we have already reached, Congress or Parliament could pass a bill repealing the law of gravity. The result would be the same.  And that is what makes the likelihood that the deniers will prevail even scarier.

Native American Wisdom

cherokeeOn a recent trip to the Appalachian region of the US where I grew up and went to school, I was blessed to reconnect with my First Nations heritage (my great-great grandfather was a Choctaw chief), and to be reminded by a wise Cherokee writer, Marilou Awiakta, of the way my ancestors related to the earth and to life.  While those of European descent make lists, categorize, and put things in boxes, natives see all of life as an interconnected story.  Environment, spirit, relationships, economic matters, media, politics do not go in separate boxes.  They are all part of one story, and stories are powerful.

These different approaches produce starkly different means of communicating.  In the white European manner, I have here made a straightforward factual allegation in the “environment” box:  Humans are wrecking the earth. If something isn’t done soon, my grandchildren will suffer the consequences. I have also made a second contention in the same manner: The moral contention that we should be “good stewards” of the earth is somewhat misleading. Continuing on the same path will not destroy the planet. It will just destroy us. Mother Earth will recover. She always does.book4

In a 2103 video at the end of this post, Naomi Klein, Canadian author of This Changes Everything, eloquently makes the same points, also in the European way. I am aware that viewing a long video is a time challenge that not all readers will undertake. This is a very long clip.  But please watch it, even if you do so in little bites over time.  Do this because, in addition to the points I have made, Klein persuasively argues both that the danger to the environment trumps all other causes in importance and how that issue is connected to other causes that are important to people of our ilk. She not only argues that we do not have to abandon our work for peace, economic justice, minority rights, criminal justice, or other progressive causes, but also that the environmental crisis presents us with a unique opportunity to further them. Watch the clip. Read the book.  Be warned, however, of her forceful contention that change will demand much more from us than keeping trash from landfills and using energy efficient light bulbs.


One of the real costs of the European way of communicating is that imagery, poetry, and stories are seldom included in the transmission of ideas that have practical implications and call for immediate action. We are more accustomed to considering poems and stories for art or entertainment purposes. That is unfortunate.  Naomi Klein, for example, states that we should not take without giving back and that if we do there will be consequences.  Knowingly or not, her words precisely restate an essential element in the native Law of Peace, which was in force centuries before the first European arrived.  I think Ms. Klein has made her argument forcefully and persuasively.  She refers to scientific facts without inundating us with numbers. She is one of many who have made the case well—in the European way. Again, I urge you to watch the clip. But consider also a Cherokee poem and story with the same message.  I find them at least as valuable and persuasive.


When Earth Becomes an “It”     

When the people call Earth “Mother”,
they take with love
and with love give back
so that all may live.
When the people call Earth “it,”
they use her
consume her strength.
Then the people die
Already the sun is hot
out of season
Our Mother’s breast
is going dry.
She is taking all green
into her heart
and will not turn back
until we call her
by her name.


Little Deer

Awi Usdi, Little Deer, is a mythical teacher of wisdom, well known among the Cherokee of Oklahoma and North Carolina. In this story he teaches about taking and giving back with respect. This version was told by two tribal leaders to Anna Kilpatrick, author of  Friends of Thunder, Folk Tales of the Oklahoma Cherokees.

Long ago, hunters were killing too many animals… Meeting in council, the animals discussed ways of resolving their dilemma. Awi Usdi, the chief of the deer, came up with the solution.  “I see what we must do,” he said. “We cannot stop the humans from hunting animals. That is the way it was meant to be.  However, the humans are not doing things the right way. If they do not respect us and hunt us only when there is real need, they may kill us all. I shall go now and tell the hunters what they must do. Whenever they wish to kill a deer, they must do so in a ceremonial way. They must ask me for permission to kill one of us. Then, after they kill a deer, they must show respect to its spirit and ask for pardon. If the hunters do not do this, then I shall track them down. With my magic, I will make their limbs crippled. Then they will no longer be able to walk or shoot a bow and arrow.” Then Awi Usdi, Little Deer, did as he said.

(Poem and story from Marilou Awiakta, SELU, Seeking the Corn Mother’s Wisdom) 


Preliminary Cautions

Whether Klein or Awiakta, or both have reached you on this matter, if you decide to get involved, you will immediately face obstacles.  Even I have paid enough attention to see that.

1. Do not allow yourself to be guilted out of fighting for the lives of your grandchildren. One of the more facile refrains one hears these days is the tut-tutting about environmental protesters driving cars to the site of the protest. What hogwash!  We have all come only gradually to the realization that we are destroying Mother Earth. This is the world we have all created, and we must live in it as it is. Becoming a vegan hermit is not a moral prerequisite to opposing the abuse of Mother Earth and offering a new vision for our relationship with her. Many would be willing to live a simpler life, and many are in fact doing so. We should be thankful for them but also for all, at whatever level of enlightenment, who are working, in whatever way they are able, to halt the abuse.

2. Do not get sidetracked by a debate about creation or loss of jobs. More evidence emerges every day that a green economy works, but that is not really the short-term point. Environmentalists are simply trying to get a real change of course started before it is too late. I once represented farmworkers in North Carolina who cropped tobacco. (Brutal work, by the way.) At that time, the weed was considered absolutely essential to the state’s economy. But as times changed, a gradual process of replacing the tobacco economy got underway. It is long past time for a similar process to begin to replace the fossil fuel economy. Some jobs will be lost. More and better jobs will emerge. I am sure that some tobacco growers and some of my farmworkers lost jobs in the changeover. Henry Ford no doubt wiped out thousands of blacksmiths.  When I was five years old, I was certain of the job I wanted to have when I grew up: Elevator operator. (“Mezzanine!” “Sporting Goods!”) Technology robbed me of my dream. I moved on. So will oil drillers.

3. Confront the currently powerful with as much grace as you can muster. Anger at injustice is a valuable starting point but it cannot take us the whole way. But grace will require abiding an appalling level of ignorance and arrogance.  In another context, a modern Cherokee complained:  “Show them a rock slide and they’ll show you a map that says there is no rock there.”  An Irish short story author captured it this way: “Hers was the impregnable front of complacent ignorance”.  Still, the Koch brothers are our brothers. We will do better at taking power from them if we do not also try to cast them into outer darkness, challenging as it is to consider that prospect.


Finally, on second thought, there is a similarity between native wisdom and the way Naomi Klein asserts that although the environment presently trumps other issues, its connection to those other causes that are so important to many of us is inextricable. There, Klein is in effect tearing up the list and taking the environment out its “cause box”.   Of that, I think Awiakta and Little Deer would approve. So will our grandchildren.

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What Part of: “Violence Doesn’t Work”
Do You Not Understand?

Dear Virtual Editor:

I regret to inform you that I must restate many of the arguments made in to “How Not to Make a Country Safer” (See, December 7th, 2014) Delete Zehaf-Bibeau  and Couture Rouleau. Add Cherif and Said Kouachi.  Delete Ottawa. Add Paris. Add more civilian victims in Paris and Syria.

I recently watched again a documentary on Joan Baez, who is one of my heroes (outtakes below). Her visits to Chapel Hill in 1969 were the greatest influence on my decision to make a permanent commitment to non-violence.  Now, like me, a “senior” she reminds us again in the piece that violence simply doesn’t work.  It didn’t work in 1969 and it doesn’t work now. Recent events in Paris confirm this truth yet again, though few seem to be listening. I was reminded also that Joan has been making this point for 50 years with simple good grace and humor. Even though the Paris attacks, and the reaction to them, make me want to throw something or put my head in my water dish, I can do no less than try to follow her example.

I think that phrase, “What part of _____ don’t you understand?” originated in country music, which by the way is an under-appreciated source of simple wisdom. (Who can forget lines like “I’ve enjoyed as much of this as I can stand”, and “I shaved my legs for this?”)

I am reminded also of another popular phrase. I attribute this one to the great Sarah Palin and modify it only slightly: “How’s that violence thing working out for ya?” The answer is, still not very well. I will not pick on the former half-term governor of Alaska further. In fact, I truly thought her response to PETA criticism of her son standing on the family dog was pretty cool. She told them to chill out, the kid didn’t eat the dog.  I had been half expecting her to respond that he stood on the dog to get a better view of Russia. You have to keep an open mind about these things.


Paraphrasing the truth spoken by my mentor, Joan Baez, I have often said that there is no good violence and bad violence, only violence and it is all bad. That is the truth that the politicians and pundits responding to the attacks in Paris cannot bring themselves to discuss.  In fact, they will talk about almost anything except the appalling failure of everyone’s violence, including their own.  They will talk about the bad violence of terrorists and how there is no justification for it. (All true.)  What they cannot bring themselves to do is to discuss the practical, much less the moral failures of their own violence and the possibility that a change of course might be best for everyone.  So, the brutal circle game continues.

Canada’s stalwart PM, Stephen Harper, resurrected the old  “They hate us because of our freedoms” pitch, as his government continued working on legislation to take more of them away from Canadians, as well as to keep feeding our newly burgeoning prison industry.   Harper, and others, also threw in a real puzzler this time.  Somehow, the crimes were an “assault on democracy everywhere”.  Wow!  Let’s all hope that Parliament members can somehow survive the assault and make their way back to Ottawa. images-1Harper also made another telling observation.  Without any consultation or authority from the democracy that the criminals purportedly hate so much, he declared that Canada is at war with the Islamic State. Press reports noted that the use of the term “war” was important because it had legal significance and the government had avoided using it to describe the war in Afghanistan.

What the reports might also have noted is that when you declare war on someone you implicitly recognize the authority of people on both sides to try to kill each other.  Even so, as I have said repeatedly, war should not carry the right to kill civilians under any circumstances.  Except that these days it does—again, on both sides. How shall we reconcile “their” violence and “our” violence? The day after the first Charlie Hebdo murders, a US led “coalition of the willing” airstrike killed more than 50 innocent civilians in Syria. We know they were “innocent” civilians because they were being held prisoner by ISIS. In addition to these victims, the Syrian Network for Human Rights, an independent organization opposed to the same Assad regime that the US has condemned, counts 40 more civilian deaths from the bombing campaign.

What were these killings?  Were they acts of war? Crimes? Something else? Does “Oops” distinguish them?  Do the usual platitudes about how hard the bombers try to avoid collateral damage?  Are civilian deaths from drone strikes different?   I put aside the daily Jumble and NY Times Crossword and tried to come up with some common answer other than: “My violence is good. Your violence is bad”, but at the moment I am stuck. Feel free to give it a try.  Years ago, I was arguing to a state senate committee for more lenient treatment of kids who murdered. I just didn’t want them executed. One senator shot back a question about whether their victims were any less dead. Another one of those freedoms that the western narrative has the enemy hating is freedom of speech, press and association.

It has been undeniably heartwarming to see hundreds of thousands of people displaying “Je Suis Charlie” in solidarity with the journalist victims of Paris and I do not question their sincerity.  But given the tangled web into which the west has gotten itself in the Middle East, there may be a few problems with that one also. The French government has now arrested 54 people in a campaign to crack down on offenses that include expressing “anti-Semitism” and “glorifying terrorism”.  Ah, the French have always been so charmingly vague!  Along with their legendary savoir faire, I’m sure the people will quickly develop a certain savoir parler. along with understanding Ce que c’est interdit  parler. (Sorry, non-violence does not forbid murdering a language.)  

The US, of course, has the great 1st Amendment. Its speech and association rights, however, are subject to “reasonable time, place and manner” restrictions that oddly do not apply to the exercise of 2nd Amendment gun rights. 'Take me to your least insane leader...'Things get even a bit stickier when we consider the team the west has chosen to play for it in the Middle East. While all the “Je Suis Charlie” signs were beginning to appear, Raif Badawi was getting the first 50 of the 1000 public lashes he is to receive (only 50 per week), while serving a 10 year prison sentence.  After that, he can figure out how to pay his $266,000 fine.   Badawi is a blogger in Saudi Arabia who operated a website that invited people to discuss religion. That is his crime. (Crowd funding the fine money is probably not an option.)

On the plus side, the Saudis have a lot of oil and, save for that unfortunate slip of citizen Osama Bin Laden, they have been on the side of the west in the “global war on terror”. And that democracy thing really worked well for everyone in that great pillar of western-supported stability Egypt didn’t it?  A mass uprising overthrew a long time dictator even though his forces killed many demonstrators in 2011.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which had been trying to participate non-violently in the political process for 80 years, was freely elected. But… the elected government abused its power—an absolutely unheard of occurrence in a western democracy—and was itself overthrown by a crowd- supported military coup. Association with the Muslim Brotherhood became a capital offense, as 500 or so Egyptians learned in a mass trial, and just this week the former dictator was absolved of all his crimes.

Maybe if those who oppose western policies could just calm down and learn to do as the western powers wish, they could also have such a wonderful government! If sorting out the players on the “good violence” team is cause for some concern, so is dealing with the “bad violence” team.  After the Paris attacks, Iran issued a statement that violence and terrorism is reprehensible, whether in this region, in Europe, or in the US. Iran, you will recall, is the country the Republicans are terrified that the US will make peace with. The one Israel has threatened to bomb… the one that is on the US side in opposition to both ISIS and the Syrian regime, and is a de facto member of the coalition bombing campaign.

Hamas, once the democratically elected government of Gaza, the world’s largest outdoor confinement facility, said differences of opinion are no justification for killing innocents. Even Hezbollah, a Shiite extremist group formed in the Israeli province of Lebanon after the 1982-83 invasion and an ally of Syria, issued a statement that Sunni jihadists had caused more offense to Muslims than any cartoon, book or film. This was a remarkable statement in its breadth, even considering that it was an opportunity to take a shot at rival Sunnis.

Who to kill?  Who to kill?
Any Hope?

m_120614mgYes. As my hair and Joan’s gets whiter, real voices of reconciliation are beginning to be heard.  The overall response of the French people, as opposed to that of their government, has been inspiring. One day, children may have trouble understanding that great cartoon showing inmates in an asylum frantically bailing a flooding room with buckets while nobody thinks to go over and turn off the tap. Adults may bow their heads in gratitude that their leaders finally grasped Einstein’s definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

For that to happen, more people will have to appreciate the wisdom of what figures like Hannah Arendt have said for more than 40 years.  Arendt was a Jewish scholar who was interrogated by the Gestapo and interned by the collaborationist government of France in World War II.   She was later condemned in many circles for saying about Adolph Eichmann that one did not have to forgive an evildoer in order to try to understand him. Hannah Arendt was really onto something and there are more voices today pointing out the pragmatic advantages of getting beyond “that’s no excuse” and trying to see the world as an adversary sees it. If one does this, one of the first things that becomes apparent is that the adversary is probably not motivated solely or even primarily by religion. 051-cross-promotes-insanity

People have been using religion as a justification for violence since long before the Catholics gave Spanish Muslims the options of converting to Christianity or being executed, sometimes throwing in a little torture to help with the decision making process.

Like Zehaf-Bibeau, Cherif Kouachi, the Paris killer about whom we have the most information, was not a practicing Muslim. He was about as religious as the Catholic who faithfully shows up at mass every Easter. But both had connections to civilians killed and abused in Iraq. Kouachi was convicted in 2008 of recruiting fighters to send to Iraq, motivated by outrage over the torture of inmates at Abu Ghraib.  To many in the Middle East and Afghanistan, what is going on in the west is not a counterterrorism operation, it is a foreign military invasion. It is not necessary to resolve that argument to conclude that violence is indisputably not working.  Instead of arguing how much more horrible gunning down journalists is compared to killing families with drone strikes, it might be useful to recognize that neither practice is getting anyone anywhere.  Maybe it is time to rethink the whole enterprise. Here are a couple of ideas.

  1. How about a massive humanitarian invasion?  The only even arguably valid use of violence is in immediate self defense.  Believe it or not, the UN (Remember those guys?) has valuable experience in humanitarian assistance operating under just such a mandate, with both military and civilian elements.
  1. The big geopolitical struggle in the Middle East has produced more than 3.5 million refugees from the Syrian conflict alone.  Canada has agreed to take in 10,000. How about if Canada at least adds a zero to that number and other western nations follow suit proportionately?

Compared, not with some idealized peaceful region, but rather compared realistically with the results of current policies, any chance these measures would help to isolate and “degrade” violent extremists? Giving Muslim women the last word  What passes for moderation in some circles is the notion that “not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.”  Sorry Bill Maher, not even that is true.  To deal with that issue, and the meaningless term “terrorism” in general, I am giving the last word to two Muslims.

If you have not paid attention to anything so far, please watch this video clip. It is fitting that it is a conversation between two women. It is women who have always borne the brunt of violence. I also like the clip because it features an articulate young Canadian lawyer.  I often think law students are the hope of the world, and I always appreciate articulate lawyers of any age.  Finally, some of the content is drawn from studies done at UNC Chapel Hill. What could be more reliable than that? Content Warning:  This video is rated R for Reality and contains uncontested factual material that may not be suitable for all audiences. (Though we can hope for a G one day.)


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Dear Virtual Editor,

Screen Shot 2014-12-24 at 1.28.18 PMThe video clip below is my Christmas gift to the friends I know and the subscribers I do not know.  As you can see from the Welcome message, I began DVE for my own benefit to help me avoid bugging newspapers.  Being very tech challenged, I had no idea anyone would want to read it. It has been a surprise and a great honour to find that hundreds of perfect strangers have subscribed. Don’t get me wrong, we are not talking Taylor Swift twitter feed numbers here.  But the readership is steadily growing. Thank you.

Subscribers present both an honour and a challenge.  I have a book about Canada and other people’s wars that must go to the publisher in a few weeks. (Don’t worry, you will all get a chance to buy it!)  But all those DVE people I don’t know make me worry if I don’t post regularly.  The clip is a way to combine both projects.

In Canada, World War I is generally known as the Great War.  It is a much bigger deal here. This petty imperial squabble that got horribly out of hand cost Canada much more than it did the U.S.  It was a stupid, horrible war that is responsible for many wars, most notably World War II. But among ordinary soldiers, there were glimmers of hope. Many people know of the Christmas truce of the first year of the war.  British and German soldiers defied their generals and stopped fighting, came out of their trenches, exchanged gifts, and played football. (The Germans won, 3-2. Plus ca change….) Most of the small unit officers looked the other way.

What is less well known is that there were Christmas truces up and down the line in addition to that famous one of 1914.  Moreover, the opposing troops developed “live and let live” practices like firing over one another’s heads if two patrols met, and not shelling at all during the service of meals. Cynics downplay the Christmas truce, pointing out correctly that it did not stop the war. The troops went back to killing one another.  But the cynics understand neither the wisdom of the ordinary soldier nor the real value of symbols of hope.

The video is a testament to that hope. It is actually an ad for biscuits, but note that it is co-sponsored by the Royal British Legion.  That is like the American Legion buying a commercial for peace! That is a remarkable tribute to those nameless, muddy, lice-ridden Germans and Brits who celebrated one another’s basic humanity 100 years ago Thursday.  The 2014 Christmas season has been a particularly violent one, perhaps making it even more worthwhile to pause and consider symbols of hope.  Merry Christmas. Frohe Weinachten.

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NYC: “Let’s Go to the Video Tape!”

Dear Virtual Editor,

eric-garner-protestsI heart NY.  That was not always true.  Like many southerners, I have  sometimes been offended by arrogant northern bias, expressed by people who appeared surprised to find that we had indoor plumbing.  I especially did not heart people from New York City.  But now I do.  At least I heart every New Yorker who blocked traffic into Manhattan to protest the police killing of Eric Garner.

I am a rural person.  I absolutely despise sitting in beep & creep traffic.  I have cursed my way around the beltways of Washington DC more times than I can recall.  Being stuck in traffic is a miserable experience. So what a beautiful sight it was to see thousands of people inconvenienced that way as they headed into the city.  The sound of horns blaring was sweet music.  More people need to be inconvenienced until everyone begins to address the whitewash of macho cops killing unarmed black males.

What made it even sweeter was that many of those stuck in their cars were on their way to the Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center.  You know, Christmas.  That great celebration of the Prince of Peace, respect, and love for everyone.  From reviews of the event, however, it does appear that Mariah Carey may have mistaken the holiday for a latter one in the spring.  She laid a giant egg.  One observer said that all she should want for Christmas is a voice.

I could not wait to turn on my TV the next day and hear how this killing would be justified. Long before the Ferguson Farce decision, I had anticipated and written about the “He went for my gun” story, but I didn’t see how that one or even “I thought he was reaching for a weapon” could work in this case.  However, after more that 20 years of teaching the law of Criminal Procedure I had learned from Ferguson that I really don’t know anything about how grand juries are supposed to work after all, so I figured someone might be able to come up with some sort of explanation. Sure enough, someone did.

My favorite defense of the Staten Island grand jury came the next day from a police expert.  His enlightened comments let me in on the fact that the Staten Island criminal justice system has adopted the instant replay rules of the National Football League in specific types of cases. I had not known that. Given the pathetic performance of the Jets and Giants, I was mildly surprised to learn that anyone in NY pays attention to the NFL, but let me explain.

eric-garner-police-brutality-ramsey-ortaIn football, only certain plays are reviewed by video to determine if the official call on the field was correct; e.g., fumble, no fumble; inbounds, out of bounds, etc.  When this happens, the game stops and the play is agonizingly scrutinized from every conceivable angle by multiple video cameras positioned everywhere in the stadium, with the possible exception of the restrooms.  The rule is that the call on the field can only be reversed if all those cameras provide indisputable video evidence that it was wrong.

In the Eric Garner case, police officer Daniel Pantaleo made the official call on the field–no crime.  The TV police expert correctly pointed out that there was only one camera angle in the video of the killing.  He said (with a straight face) that had there been four or five camera angles the grand jury result might have been different.  I should point out that NFL replay rules do not deal with how to factor in a player gasping “I can’t breathe” 11 times.  It turns out, however, that this fact is irrelevant anyway. The union rep reminded everyone that, “If you can speak, you can breathe”. Hard to argue with that.

So, there was video evidence of Pantaleo’s crime but now we all know that it was not “indisputable”. Most of us in the legal profession think selectively adopting NFL rules produces grand jury rules that are ass-backwards, but what do we know?  If you want to understand the U.S. criminal justice system, don’t listen to lawyers. Watch more football.

There is one further detail about the inconvenience of all those people stuck in traffic on their way to Rockefeller Center that would have made my joy complete.  That would be to have learned that the Staten Island prosecutor and grand jurors were also trapped in the blockade and the pollution from all those idling engines caused them to involuntarily join the protesters in a chorus of  “I can’t breathe”.

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Dear Virtual Editor,

Three recent and related events are of general interest, but especially to my fellow Canadians. In late October, shortly before Remembrance Day, Martin Couture-Rouleau rammed a car into two uniformed soldiers in a Quebec parking lot, killing WO Patrice Vincent.  A few days later, Michael Zehaf Bibeau shot and killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo as he stood ceremonial guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

Canadians were understandably shocked by these two incidents. Remembrance Day, November 11th, is more important to us than Veterans Day is to Americans.  It is a day when most Canadians wear a red poppy in remembrance of military war dead. I am part of a growing campaign that encourages people to also wear a white poppy in remembrance of the millions of innocent civilians who have died in Canada’s wars.

There was a massive outpouring of grief on Remembrance Day this year, as well there should have been, over the murders of WO Vincent and Cpl. Cirillo.  Crowds jammed ceremonies around the country.

The third event was Canada’s joining of the U.S. bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria. Reports indicate that the first Canadian air strike destroyed an ISIS dump truck. Later strikes reportedly took out a warehouse.

7321db8128abe2Canada has been forced to use its old F-18 fighter jets. The Harper government wanted to spend $35-50 billion on neat new F-35’s, but a scandal over how it hid the actual cost from the public has delayed the project.  This government is very good at controlling and hiding information about what it is doing.  Secret negotiations with the U.S. to revive the project are apparently underway, but the F-35’s will be too late for this ill-advised mission.

Even if the government is able to pay for the F-35s by continuing to slash vital services to the Canadian people, it will still be a junior U.S. when it comes to spending money on wars.  American readers should know that you guys are spending $300, 000 an hour on the campaign against ISIS.  It is mind-boggling to consider how much higher that total would be if all those fiscal conservative deficit worriers had not been elected this month. Wait… As Gilda would say… “Never Mind”…  war money is not real money.

What connects these events?

To justify the continuing effort to be the junior U.S. military, the Harper propaganda spin is the same as it was for the now-lost war in Afghanistan: (1) The (delete Taliban, insert ISIS) are horrible people. (2) Joining the U.S. to kill some of them in another part of the world will make us safer here.  The first statement is quite true. The problem is that claiming it as a justification for making war violates every principle of international law, never mind that we pick and choose among horrible people, welcoming some of them as allies and friends. (At last count, the Saudis had a big lead in beheadings.)

The second statement is demonstrably false.  Forget the lawlessness for a moment.  Forget the immorality.  Will all this violence make anyone safer?  Will bombing dump trucks, warehouses, and people in Iraq really reduce the numbers of those willing to run down a soldier in a parking lot or shoot a guard at a monument?  The opposite is true. Those actions are an example of exactly how not to make a country safer.  Overlooked parts of the story of the killers helps to explain why.

michael-zehaf-bibeau1Most of the headlines concerned the crime of Michael Bibeau.  The symbolism was stunning. The national capital. The War Memorial.  Bibeau even made it inside the Parliament building where none other than the Sergeant at Arms shot him. It was a hell of a story, fully justifying massive coverage.  That coverage revealed three probable motivations. Unfortunately, two of them have been largely overlooked.

Media attention focused immediately on the fact that the two killers were Muslim and the government promptly tabled legislation to restrict even more of what liberty is left to all Canadians.  Just about everyone began referring to Bibeau as a “terrorist”, and the killing as an act of “terrorism”.   (Props to Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair for at least challenging this and calling it a criminal act, not terrorism.)

Bibeau had indeed been expelled from a mosque in British Columbia and it is likely that a perverted view of Islam was a part of his motivation. Barely examined were two other factors that likely played an equal role.

michael-zehaf-bibeauMore important than his claim to be a Muslim was Bibeau’s life experience. Instead of continuing to cut education and health care, particularly in the area of mental health, and opposing most efforts at addiction services, the government might want to look a little more closely at Michael Bibeau.   He was a crack addict with a long criminal record and a lot of experience with hallucinogens. The addiction tormented him to the extent that he once committed a robbery in an effort to get into jail. Bibeau was indeed influenced by radical religion, but it could easily have been almost anything else. He was so screwed up that he could probably have been convinced that he needed to punish members of a worldwide conspiracy against vegetarians.

Anticipating the backlash from both incidents, a Muslim leader said: Why can’t Muslims have insane individuals?  When these actions are done by others, they say he is insane… Why, as a Muslim Canadian, do we always say it was a terrorist act?  Why indeed.

The RCMP identified another component of Bibeau’s motivation that continues to be studiously ignored.  Canada’s federal police concluded that he was driven by religious beliefs and his opinion about Canada’s foreign policy.  On the day after the murder of Cpl. Cirillo, buried in the avalanche of that story, was an obscure Reuters news release that U.S.-led air strikes had killed 32 civilians, including 6 children and 5 women in Syria.   Martin Couture-Rouleau appears to have been more influenced by religion than Bibeau, but his first effort was to get to Afghanistan, where thousands more civilians have died.

In any event, the most important issue is not determining the exact mix of motivation for these two individuals. The aftermath of their crimes raises a more important matter. What policies might make everyone safer? It does nothing to dishonour Cpl. Cirillo and WO Vincent or to justify the crimes of Bibeau and Couture-Rouleau to ask the hard, practical question: What approach would at least make it less likely that misguided acts of retribution will kill Canadians and Americans?  It is unlikely that continuing to drop bombs and entangle ones self in the Middle East civil strife would come up as the best idea in any rational discussion.  Maybe a bilateral meeting about how $300,000 an hour from the U.S. plus $50 billion or so in Canadian F-35 money could best be spent on improving the lives of ordinary people in the region would be a better one.

No politician appears ready even to discuss that kind of common sense solution, or other alternatives. To do so, would be distinctly un-macho and would require explaining the benefits of the current campaign of violence that seems to be producing a never-ending stream of angry individuals. From an efficiency standpoint, it would require explaining exactly how the great nations plan to kill enough people in that stream to reduce the risk to Canadians and Americans at home. The morality of killing civilians and of acting as international outlaws would never even have to come up in such a businesslike discussion.

So when Canada’s old jet fighters kill some women and children, as they surely will, how much safer will everyone be? Purveyors of violence are always attacking people of my ilk for being sentimental, naïve bleeding hearts.  They would have you believe that it is they that are the strong hard-nosed pragmatists—the efficiency experts. How many more times do they have to fail before a sufficient number of people see through this sham and order a change of course?

Selectively ignoring factors in the crimes of people like Bibeau and Couture-Roleau is part of the guidebook for how not to make people safer.


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Corruption, and Your Part in the Democracy Charade

Dear Virtual Editor,

jacket - Corruption in America.tifLet me begin with  an enthusiastic recommendation for a remarkable book by a remarkable author: Corruption in America  From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United  by Zephyr Teachout. The author, a law professor at Fordham University, is not a gentle breeze.  With very little money, she put a real scare into incumbent governor Andrew Cuomo in the NY Democratic primary. Teachout is frighteningly bright. When my dream ticket of Elizabeth Warren and Samantha Power is elected one day, she should be named Attorney General.  The book is quite readable and the subject is one that should concern us all.  I don’t know Teachout and have no stock in the publishing company, but here is why you should read the book.

Teachout, ZephyrIn the 27 September ’13 post, a basic analysis of the ills of US and Canadian democracy,  you will see an account of a conversation with a friend and colleague who asked me which system of government, US or Canadian, was the better of the two. I replied that the US system is superior but, unfortunately, it is corrupt.  Before reading Corruption in America, I knew what was wrong, but there was so much I did not know of how it all came about.

Teachout demonstrates that serious concerns about the effect of corruption on democracy were paramount in the minds of the nation’s founders. Many prophylactic measures are found in the US Constitution and as well in early laws dealing with bribery, lobbying, and campaign financing. Such measures were designed to discourage ahead of time activities that undermine equality, maximum citizen participation, and the public good. When it was necessary to prosecute after the fact, the definition of the term “corrupt” was left to juries—sort of like the “prevailing community standards” test for obscenity. The law could not provide a comprehensive definition of corruption, but jurors were expected to know it when they saw it in particular cases.

The current US Supreme Court, however, —the one with the right wing activist judges who apparently care not about the original intent of the founders after all—neither knows it nor sees it. In a series of cases, beginning in the late 1970’s and culminating in Citizens United vs. FEC, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), the Court decided that there is but one kind of corruption. Even as to this kind, preventive measures are forbidden.  It must be punished after the fact, and the evidence required to prove it would have to look more or less like this:

Prosecution Exhibit #1: Offer to Buy Influence/Vote   

The undersigned PAC/Lobbyist/Corporation hereby offers to pay Congressperson/Senator/Legislator the sum of _______   provided Congressperson/Senator/Legislator uses her influence and best efforts to support/oppose Bill # ____, notwithstanding any personal reservations s/he might have, and notwithstanding his/her belief that the requested support/opposition is not in the public interest.

Signed and Sworn this day under penalty of perjury, etc.: PAC/Lobbyist/Corporation

Prosecution Exhibit #2: Acceptance of Offer to Buy Influence/Vote    The undersigned Congressperson/Senator/Legislator hereby accepts the above referenced Offer to Buy Influence/Vote and acknowledges that acceptance is motivated solely by his/her desire for personal financial gain and not for any other purpose.

Signed and Sworn this day under penalty of perjury, etc.: Congressperson/Senator/Legislator

Such evidence would probably be sufficient to convict.  Evidence of any less specific transactions, or any preventive measures, including limits on campaign contributions by artificial persons are deemed to violate the free speech rights of the Koch Brothers.

Teachout explains all this much better than I.  Buy the book.


What to Do?  

Throw in the gerrymandering I explained in the earlier post, as well as increasingly blatant Republican voter suppression laws and you have a picture of the charade that is democracy in the US. Can anything be done in the short term?  Frankly, maybe not.  But here are two suggestions:

1.  Fight your way through the voter suppression obstacles and vote next month for every Democratic candidate for every federal, state, and local office, including school boards. Urge your friends to do likewise.  There may well come a time when you should vote for a Republican. I myself have done so.  This is not such a time. This is not a story with two equal sides.  Forget CNN.  Primary responsibility for the current damage to democracy lies with Republicans.

2.  To further a sense of compassion and community, to help one another, get together with like-minded people and figure out ways to ignore or work around governments.  There is much good that community organizations can do on their own, even if it is not fair for them to have to do it.  Consider ignoring unjust and unenforceable laws. Just as conservatives are wrong when they see an all-powerful government coming after their guns and bibles, some progressives think they are powerless if their people are not in office. The power of government over our lives is significant, but it is also considerably exaggerated.

For now, that’s all I’ve got.  Now back to what can be done about that damned Stephen Harper in 2015!

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