Saturday, October 28, 2006


October 26, 2006


A Man of Poor Character and Thin Talents

Were a senior member of any national government to insult a woman in public, there would be reason for concern. An apology might put the act down in the public's mind to poor judgment in the fierce heat of partisan debate. Were the senior member then to refuse admitting what he had done, despite many witnesses, surely a question of character is raised.

But reportage of Peter MacKay's sleazy remark in Parliament about Belinda Stronach has revealed other behavior far more disturbing. Apparently for months, MacKay has been glaring and making faces at Stronach. His abusive behavior continued with such intensity that her party changed her seat to one behind another member.

This is not the mooning of a lovesick pup or the melancholy of a jilted lover, although the mainline press has tended to treat it in this light fashion. This is aggressive behavior by an obsessive personality, carried out repeatedly in a public place without any concern for embarrassment or shame, behavior typical of a stalker, warning signs of a dangerous personality.

We already knew there were serious flaws in MacKay's character. There was his unapologetic, hasty breaking of a written agreement made at the former Conservative Party leadership convention. He simply brushed it off with saying politics was a blood sport, a rather odd choice of words coming from the representative of a party trying to promote itself as doing business in a new and ethical way.

Following Stronach's crossing the floor to the Liberals, MacKay busied himself doing simpering interviews about being abandoned both as deputy party leader and as lover. In fact, without MacKay's bizarre little press blitz, most Canadians would never have known about his affair with Stronach.

This, too, was commonly attributed to the freshly-jilted lover's overwrought emotion. His words and tone in these interviews seemed tailored to give that sympathetic impression, but they were quite unconvincing coming from a self-professed, blood-sport politician. What MacKay was actually doing was character assassination only slightly disguised as sympathetic pouting.

What also bothered me at the time was that no one in the press raised the important issue of a senior executive in an organization, the deputy leader of the new Conservative Party, having an affair with someone directly under his authority. This is not considered ethical in the business world, a situation fraught with many possibilities for abuse, and is often a reason for dismissal.

MacKay has shown himself unfit for high office, not because of an affair, but because of his repeated display of questionable character and personality traits, and these traits are accompanied by what can only be called a slim endowment of talent. MacKay has made blundering statements as foreign minister several times that certainly have embarrassed his boss. It really is time for him to go.

Friday, October 20, 2006


October 21, 2006


Canada's Thirty-Percent Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, just made a speech at a B'nai Brith banquet. Normally, there would be nothing notable in this, but his words this time reinforced controversial statements he made while Israel savagely bombed Lebanon. He also continued driving an ugly new Republican-style wedge into Canada's national politics after calling Liberal leadership candidates "anti-Israel."

Harper said that his government supports a two-state solution in the Middle East. That is the policy of most Western governments, and there was nothing original in Harper's way of stating it. It was the kind of vague, tepid stuff we might hear from Olmert himself.

"Our government believes in a two-state solution -- in a secure democratic and prosperous Israel living beside a viable democratic and peaceful Palestinian state."

It is interesting to note the lack of symmetry in Harper's "secure democratic and prosperous Israel" versus "a viable democratic and peaceful" Palestine. I don't know why prosperity does not count for Palestinians, but as anyone who understands developmental economics knows, prosperity is key to developing modern, democratic institutions. You only get the broad middle-class which makes democracy possible out of healthy growth.

I suspect Harper was signaling, while calling for peace with two states, hardly a stirring theme for a B'nai Brith audience, that he saw no equivalency to the two sides. If not, perhaps he will explain another time what he did mean.

Harper did not define what he means by viable. Palestine, as anyone familiar with the situation knows, cannot be viable as a walled-off set of postage-stamp Bantustans, the only concept of a Palestinian state Israel has ever considered.

The key element in Harper's statement is what he means by democratic and peaceful. Those words are not so self-explanatory as they may first appear. Both these adjectives are regularly twisted in meaning, particularly by the United States.

Hamas won an honest and open election in Palestine, internationally scrutinized, but the result of that election was rejected by Harper and others, inducing chaos into Palestinian affairs, the very thing Israel's secret services likely intended when they secretly subsidized Hamas years ago to oppose Fatah. Hamas has not learned the required mantra about recognizing Israel, yet Hamas is no threat to Israel, or plainly Israel's secret services would never have assisted it in the first place.

Hamas is not well-armed, nor is it, surrounded and penetrated by Israel, in a position to become so. Israel speaks as though not recognizing Israel is an unforgivable defect, but governments often fail to recognize other governments. The United States has a long list of governments it has not recognized in the past and ones it does not recognize now. This is not always a smart thing to do, but it is not a crime, it is not even a faux pas, and it may just be a negotiating point.
Hamas has not invaded Israel, nor has it conducted a campaign of assassinating Israeli leaders - both actions Israel has repeated against Palestinians countless times. Every time some disgruntled individual in Gaza launches a home-made, ineffectual rocket, Israel assassinates members of Hamas or sends its tanks into Gaza, killing civilians. Presumably, a peaceful Palestine would be one either where there were no disgruntled people or where an efficient police-state stopped them all.

This is a preposterous expectation. It simply can never be. With all of Israel's violent occupations and reprisals, it has never been able to impose absolute peace, not even on its own territory. There have been scores of instances of renegade Israeli settlers shooting innocent Palestinians picking olives or tending sheep, and there have been mass murders of Palestinians a number of times, as at the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount. How much less able is any Palestinian authority to enforce absolute peace when Israel allows it pitifully limited resources and freedom of movement?

Realistically, the expectation for absolute peace should be interpreted as a deliberate barrier to a genuine peace settlement. Why would Israel use a barrier to peace when its official statements never fail to mention peace?

Because most leaders of Israel, probably all of them, have never given up the frenzied dream of achieving Greater Israel, a concept which allows for no West Bank and no Palestinians. Not every leader has spoken in public on this subject, but a number have. Other prominent figures in Israel from time to time also have spoken in favor of this destructive goal.

There seems no rational explanation, other than wide support of this goal, for Israel's persistent refusal to comply with agreements which could have produced peace, the Oslo Accords perhaps being the greatest example. Israel worked overtime to destroy the Oslo Accords, always attributing their failure in public to the very Palestinians who had worked hard to see the Accords born. More extreme Israeli politicians openly rejected the Accords from the start.

The crescendo statement in Harper's speech, his voice rising in force and his audience literally rising to its feet, was, "The state of Israel, a democratic nation, was attacked by Hezbollah, a terrorist organization -- in fact a terrorist organization listed illegal in this country," and "When it comes to dealing with a war between Israel and a terrorist organization, this country and this government cannot and will never be neutral."

Harper's definition of democracy appears to be the American one: those governments are democratic who agree with American policy. We know America has overthrown many democratic governments in the postwar world, including those in Haiti, Chile, Iran, and Guatemala. Today it threatens a cleanly-elected government in Venezuela and utterly ignores a cleanly-elected government in Palestine.

America shows itself always ready to work with anti-human rights blackguards when it feels important interests are at stake, General Musharraf of Pakistan and some of the dreadful Northern Alliance warlords in Afghanistan being current examples. There were dozens more during the Cold War, including the Romanian Dracula Ceaucescu and the Shah of Iran, put into power by a coup that toppled a democratic government. The American definition of democracy is highly selective at best.

Israel has demonstrated a similar understanding of democracy from the beginning. Israel was ready to help France and Britain invade Suez in the 1950s, an action which represented a last ugly gasp of 19th century colonialism. Israel worked closely for years with apartheid South Africa, even secretly assisting it in developing and testing a nuclear weapon (weapons and facilities were removed by the United States when the ANC took power). Savak, the Shah's secret police, whose specialty was pulling out people's finger nails, was trained by American and Israeli agents.

Harper's statement of total support for Israel in Lebanon is not in keeping with traditional Canadian views and policies. Canadians want balance and fairness. Unqualified support for Israel is tantamount to giving it a free pass to repeat the many savage things it has done, things most Canadians do not support.

Israel has proven, over and over again, it needs the restraining influence of others. Criticizing Israel does not make anyone anti-Israeli. Israel, sadly, has done many shameful things that demand criticism from those who love freedom and human rights, starting with its keeping a giant open-air prison going for forty years.

Harper should know that when Israeli leaders such as Olmert or Sharon speak of two states, they do not mean the same thing that reasonable observers might expect.

They mean a powerless, walled-in rump state in which elections must consistently support Israel's view of just about everything, a state whose access to the world is effectively controlled by Israel, and a state whose citizens have no claims whatsoever for homes, farms, and other property seized by Israel. The hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank, living on property taken bit by bit since the Six Day War are there to stay. Palestinians' property rights to homes and institutions in Jerusalem, from which they are being gradually pushed, are being voided.

Israel has invaded Lebanon twice with no legitimate justification. It killed many thousands the first time and about 1,600 the last time. It flattened the beautiful city of Beirut the first time and a fair portion of the re-built city last time. It dropped thousands of cluster bombs, the most vicious weapon in the American arsenal, onto civilian areas. In effect, this action created a giant minefield, an illegal act under international treaty, with mines which explode with flesh-mangling bits of razor wire.

The Hezbollah that was Israel's excuse for invading Lebanon last time never invaded Israel. They launch their relatively ineffective Katysha rockets only when Israeli forces violate the border, which they do with some regularity in secret. Hezbollah's main function, despite all the rhetoric about terrorists, has been as a guerilla force opposed to Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. Israel has long desired to expand its borders into that region, and there are statements on record to that effect, another aspect of Greater Israel. Israel occupied southern Lebanon for many years after its first invasion, and still held on to an enclave after its withdrawal.

Democratic values are not just about holding elections now and then. Otherwise, apartheid South Africa would have deserved our support. So would Northern Ireland when it repressed Catholics for decades. So, in fact, would the former American Confederacy. These states all had elections but only some people could vote, and other people were treated horribly.

Democratic values must reflect respect for human rights, which apply to all, something about which Israel has been particularly blind. There are no rights for Palestinians. Indeed, Israel has no Bill or Charter of Rights even for its own citizens because of the near impossibility of defining rights in a state characterized by so many restrictions and theocratic principles.

The relatively small number of Arabic people given Israeli citizenship, roughly 19% of the population, descended from 150,000 who remained in Israel after 1948, mainly those who were not intimidated by early Israeli terror groups like Irgun and the Stern Gang into running away or who simply could not escape. Despite subsidized immigration to Israel, accounting for the bulk of Jewish population growth, Israeli Arabs have managed roughly to keep their fraction of the population through high birth rates. They are, however, under constant pressure, often being treated as less than equal citizens. On many occasions, prominent Israelis have called for their removal.

According to a recent study of Jewish Israeli attitudes, 41 percent think Arab citizens should be encouraged by the government to leave Israel, and 40 percent want segregated public facilities for Arabs. The survey also found 68 percent of Israeli Jews would not live in an apartment building with Arabs, and 46 percent would not let Arabs visit their homes.

Harper's dichotomy between democracy and terror, the crescendo subject of his speech, is simply nonsense. It mimics Bush's garbled words about terrorists versus American freedoms or everyone's being with us or against us. Israel is not so admirable a democracy nor is Hezbollah so terrible a group as he would have us believe.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


October 12, 2006


You might think from all the political noise that something extraordinary happened when North Korea conducted an underground nuclear explosion. But let's put the test, apparently a small-yield, inefficient device, into some perspective.

The United States has conducted 1,127 nuclear and thermonuclear tests, including 217 in the atmosphere. The Soviet Union/ Russia conducted 969 tests, including 219 in the atmosphere. France, 210, including 50 in the atmosphere. The United Kingdom, 45, with 21 in the atmosphere. China, 45, with 23 in the atmosphere. India and Pakistan, 13, all underground. South Africa (and/or Israel) one atmospheric test in 1979.

From a purely statistical point of view, North Korea's test does seem a rather small event. You must add the fact that my title, North Korea's Bomb, is aimed at being pithy and is thereby unavoidably inaccurate. Having a nuclear device is not the same thing as having a bomb or warhead, much less a compact and efficient bomb or warhead. North Korea still has a long way to go.

But North Korea's test is magnified in its effect by several circumstances. First, war in the Korean peninsula has never formally ended, and American troops might well be vulnerable to even a school bus with a nuclear device. Just that thought is probably horrifying to many Americans who are not used to being challenged abroad, but I'm sure North Korea has already been warned that that would constitute national suicide.

Two, the test comes when Bush has been exploring military means to end Iran's work with nuclear upgrading technology. There is no proof that Iran intends to create nuclear weapons, but, being realistic, I think we have to say it's likely. Iran faces nuclear-armed countries, hostile to its interests, in several directions. Security of its people is an important obligation of any state.

I doubt Bush intends invading Iran - invasion's extreme advocates, neo-con storm troopers like David Frum and Richard Perle having proved totally wrong about Iraq - but that doesn't exclude some form of air attack. Iran has deeply buried its production sites, so the usual American bombers and cruise missiles will be ineffective. There has been talk of using tactical nuclear warheads, but I think there would be overwhelming world revulsion to this. The Pentagon may be considering non-nuclear ICBMs, there having been talk of arming a portion of the American fleet with non-nuclear warheads to exploit the accuracy and momentum of their thousands-of-miles-an-hour strikes for deep penetration. But Russia's missile forces are on hair-trigger alert against the launch of any American ICBM, and the time for confirming error with shorter-range sea-launched missiles is almost nonexistent.

Bombardment of Iran may now be more questionable, something we may regard as a good outcome of the North Korean test. How do you justify an attack to prevent the development of nuclear weapons in one country when you have done nothing of the kind in another that actually has them? This is even more true because Iran, while not Arabic, is Islamic, and public relations for America in the Islamic world already are terrible.

Third, what many analysts fear most from North Korea is its selling weapons or technology to terrorists. North Korea sells a good deal of its limited military technology to others, although this does not make the country in any way special, the world's largest arms trafficker by far being the United States. Many would argue that American weapons have supported terror, those used in Beirut, for example, ghastly flesh-mangling cluster bombs dropped on civilians. The answer to this fear about North Korea brings us to the simple human matter of talking. The U.S. must give up its arrogant, long-held attitude against talking and dealing with North Korea, for here it is certainly working against its own vital interests.

It is an interesting sidelight on North Korea's test that at least portions of its technology came from A. Q. Kahn's under-the-table operations in Pakistan, America's great ally in its pointless war on terror. Perhaps Kim Jong Il should volunteer troops for Iraq. This would undoubtedly change America's view of him dramatically. Cooperation won a lot of benefits for the dictatorship in Pakistan regarded by America as a rogue nuclear state just a few years ago.

All completely rational people wish that nuclear weapons did not exist, but wishing is a fool's game.

Efforts for general nuclear disarmament are almost certainly doomed to failure at this stage of human history. Why would any of the nuclear powers give up these weapons? They magnify the influence and prestige of the nations that have them. And why should other nations, facing both the immense power of the United States and its often-bullying tactics, give up obtaining them? Moreover, technology in any field improves and comes down in cost over time, and it will undoubtedly prove so with making nuclear weapons.

The entire Western world has conspired to remain silent on Israel's nuclear arms, even when Israel assisted apartheid South Africa to build a nuclear weapon. If nuclear weapons are foolish and useless, why does little Israel possess them? Why did South Africa want them? Why did the Soviet Union, despite a great depression and horrible impoverishment after the collapse of communism, keep its costly nuclear arsenal?

If Western nations can understand the dark fear that drives Israel, why can they not understand the same thing for North Korea? The United States has refused for years to talk and has threatened and punished North Korea in countless ways. When the U.S., under Clinton, did agree to peaceful incentives for North Korea to abandon its nuclear work, it later failed utterly to keep its word.

Bush has treated the North Koreans with the same dismissive contempt and threatening attitude he has so many others. How on earth was this approach ever to achieve anything other than what it now has produced?

We keep hearing that North Korea is irrational and unstable, but I think these descriptions are inaccurate. A regime that has lasted for more than half a century can be called many things, but not unstable. Soviet-style regimes were very stable. It was when such governments attempted reforms and loosened their absolute hold on people's lives that they toppled, but there seems little likelihood of a Gorbachev assuming power in North Korea.

North Korea has done some bizarre things over the last fifty years, but I do not think a careful speaker would describe the nation as irrational. North Korea has been isolated and ignored by the United States. It is American policy that frequently has been irrational, Bush's mob having been especially thick in their behavior towards the country.

I may be exaggerating when I write of bizarre North Korean acts, for since World War II, what nation has done more bizarre, damaging things than the United States? Over forty years of costly hostility and terror against Cuba? The insane, pointless war in Vietnam? The insane, pointless invasion of Iraq?

Harsh sanctions against North Korea, already advocated by the emotionally-numb Bush, are a foolish response. North Korea's rulers would not suffer any more than did Saddam Hussein under American-imposed sanctions against Iraq after Desert Storm. Only ordinary people would be driven to misery and starvation, just as they were in Iraq where tens of thousands of innocents died.

How much easier and more productive just to talk.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


October 7, 2006


The word fascism is used a lot, often pejoratively. The image that immediately comes to mind is Mussolini in a steel helmet, hands on hips, head tipped back, jaw thrust out. It is an image that influenced other fascists. Young Hitler was a great admirer.

It is always helpful for any discussion to define the subject carefully, a seemingly obvious principle often ignored. What exactly is fascism? Can fascism coexist to any extent with democratic institutions?

Fascism certainly is not the same thing as communism, although both these systems are represented by strongmen or tyrants and the state apparatus needed to support them. Those who like the nomenclature of the French Revolution might say that the two political extremes, right and left, almost meet somewhere in a bend of political space.

Private enterprise, of course, has been regarded as incompatible with communism, although contemporary China with its New Economic Zone begins to confuse the issue. Things have always been quite different with fascism. Fascist governments are favorable to the interests of enterprise, at least the interests of large-scale enterprises. Great private combines existed and were encouraged under Hitler, Tojo, and Mussolini. Fascism represents, if you will, a kind of large-scale, public-private partnership.

Fascism, much like the mental image of Mussolini, tends to be about power, generally a raw display of political and military power. These two things are welded together in a fascist state. Flags, banners, strutting, and marching feature prominently, with political occasions sometimes difficult to distinguish from military ones.

Fascism's strutting-peacock displays serve several purposes. One, with their rise to power, fascist parties brag about getting things done (the reality of entrenched fascism proves another matter altogether), as opposed to the mundane, boring inefficiency of ordinary deliberations.

This kind of promise appeals to the frustrations of many people who yearn for decisive change. Their yearnings may concern anything from building public projects to imposing moral rules.

There likely is a built-in component in human beings which finds authority attractive, at least over certain limits. Society mimics the show of power in many institutions from popes to presidents.

The display of power also intimidates enemies. Political opponents are not a common feature of fascist states, which always feature secret police, secret prisons, and heavy domestic spying, although they are sometimes allowed to exist in a neutered form for show or internal political purposes.

Aggression is closely associated with fascism. Partly the aggression is simply the result of having large standing armies and all the state and corporate apparatus associated with them. Large standing armies simply tend to get used - historians have offered this as one of the important explanations for the First World War - and the impulse to use them is undoubtedly increased by the psychology of fascism.

The psychology of fascist states tends to include penis-fixation - big guns, big flags, and big monuments. Aggression is a direct outgrowth of all the strutting, bragging, and marching.
Aggression also grows out of the fascist tendency to regard the nation as somehow specially blessed or endowed or entitled. There follows an assumed inherit right or even obligation to rule over others or at least to direct their destinies.

When you consider these characteristics, every one of them is an intrinsic part of contemporary American society. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that America is a kind of fascist state, certainly a softer-appearing one than some in the past, but then America excels at marketing, perhaps its one original intellectual gift to the world.

America does cling to ideals of human rights, something which it never fails to remind the world at international gatherings, but the truth is international gatherings are only regarded as useful for just such announcements. Despite clinging to human-rights ideals, at the very same time, America refuses to deal with others on the basis of these rights, and it often fails even to enforce the rights of selected categories of its own citizens.

This ambiguity about human rights is not so odd if you consider the many American Christians who enshrine Jesus' great commandment and the Ten Commandments and yet stand ready at a moment's notice to kill others in meaningless wars.

Genuine respect for human rights is surely more a matter of prevailing day-to-day attitudes in a society than words written on old pieces of paper.

But America is a democracy, isn't it? It certainly has many of the forms of a democracy, but when you closely examine the details, as I've written previously, American democracy resembles a badly worn wood veneer. The ugly structural stuff underneath sticks out the way elbows do in a threadbare coat.