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If cultural appropriation isn't about white people's right to expression, then what is it about?

19 May 2017 - 9:47am
Arts & CultureIndigenous RightsMedia Matters

The cultural appropriation debate broke new ground this week, for me anyway. I confess I was among those who always saw it as essentially a matter of free speech: the right to write what one chose. Tell many writers what they can't write and they'll become obsessed with doing it.

Native writer and commentator Jesse Wente broke through this in his conversation with Jonathan Kay on CBC last weekend. He said it isn't about denying anyone's right to write on particular topics or to imagine others' lives.

Most Indigenous writers concurred, even if derisively, like Robert Jago's, "Do I care if you have a Native character in your stupid book about wandering pants …? No." But if you do, Wente warned, be ready to be challenged and critiqued.

So it's no longer: Am I permitted to do this? But: Do I really want to? Once the free speech banner is removed from the battlefield, people like me look around and wonder: if this isn't about me and my glorious right to expression, then what's it about? You might even start feeling bereft.

Cultural appropriation has had some good moments, like "Strange Fruit," written in the 1930s by Jewish-American leftist Abel Meeropol, about lynchings in the American south. It was reappropriated by Billie Holliday, Nina Simone and others. It's also had awful ones, like Al Jolson singing "Mammy" or "Swanee" in blackface.

And some highly peculiar ones, as when white record producer Sam Phillips in the 1950s said, "If I could find a white boy with the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a million dollars," just before Elvis wandered in.

But if it has particular moments, then it's not about a timeless principle -- everything depends on which moment we're currently in. Wente clarified this too, saying the appropriation of Indigenous culture in Canada today occurs alongside the appropriation (i.e., theft) of lands, children etc., which are finally being acknowledged, versus denied, ignored or glorified.

When Shakespeare, by contrast, appropriated ancient versions of Roman history, there were no Latin writers around to be legitimately aggrieved or to contextualize it socially.

There's also a particular technological moment we're in, that replaces an earlier one. During the long winter of mass media, Indigenous writers were often confined to reacting among their peers to the appropriation of the appropriation debate by mainstream whites. (All the white journalists who offered to put up money for an appropriation prize, and have mostly apologized, have made a good living there all their lives.)

But social media, as Wente also noted, changes this. Native writers can make their voices and reactions widely heard. This means less frustration even as more anger gets more widely vented; and it has opened up the possibility of publicly naming and explaining their outrage rather than rhetorically proclaiming bans and anathemas.

Jonathan Kay, formerly of the National Post and now also ex of The Walrus, played a uniquely instructive role this week, as always. He hovered above, even while loitering within, calling the initial Writers' Union piece on the topic by Hal Niedzviecki "too flippant;" but the reaction to it "over the top" and "excessively strident."

He's the Miss Manners of any debate, letting others know when they've gone too far and when they're straddling that line just fine. As such, he's the embodiment of the appropriative mode, the ultimate (he assumes) arbiter. You could stick him in Mme. Tussaud's symbolizing it.

He did it during the Boyden debate, saying critiques based on race are "never an entirely benign exercise." (What is?) When a journalist at the Toronto Star committed suicide, he demanded, "Show us the suicide note!" like the mob at Caesar's funeral crying, "The will, the will. We will hear Caesar's will!"

At the end of the CBC interview he intoned grandly, "And by the way, I'd like to commend Jesse, who has conducted himself extremely graciously on social media" as well as for his "civility."

Whence this detachment and largesse? Can you picture a racialized writer in this society striking the same proconsular note, about a heated controversy in which he or she is also a divisive player?

Still, a man's reach should exceed his grasp or what's a heaven for? Alternately, we could shut up once in a while and listen. We might even learn something, even if our own precious thoughts get to take a rest.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Image: Joan M. Mas/flickr

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cultural appropriationJonathan Kayfree speechwhite supremacyindigenous culturecanadian writersCanadian mainstream mediaRick SalutinMay 19, 2017As economics and culture blend, art is getting taken over by the privilegedWho rules in the arts? A recent depressing study of Toronto schools found that kids who go into public high schools for the arts are disproportionately white and wealthy.The embarrassing, stone-deaf whiteness of Canadian media leadersThe cultural appropriation prize that circulated on Twitter this week is evidence of how far Canadian media still has to go.Jonathan Kay's Walrus resignation long past dueIn addition to the recent cultural appropriation scandal, Walrus editor-in-chief Jonathan Kay has repeatedly smeared Arabs and Muslims.

Washington's Long War on Syria exposes the roots of a 21st-century tragedy

19 May 2017 - 9:04am
May 19, 2017Clearing the fog of war around SyriaWith his just-released book, Washington's Long War on Syria, Stephen Gowans blows away the twisted layers of disinformation and war propaganda around Syria, and exposes a great 21st-century tragedy.

Alberta PCs, Wildrosers agree to call new entity United Conservative Party, without ever speaking the initials aloud

19 May 2017 - 1:49am
David J. Climenhaga

Question: What happens when Alberta Can't Wait?

Answer: UCP!

Seriously, United Conservative Party? Well, it could've been worse. After all, it was basically the same group of people who floated the idea of the Canadian Reform Alliance Party around the turn of the century.

What's with that, anyway?

Alberta Can't Wait, for readers outside Alberta, is the "PAC" set up a few months ago by newly elected Progressive Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney's well-heeled supporters. Its goal is to create a slush fund outside provincial election laws to bankroll the former Harper cabinet minister's effort to unite Alberta's divided conservatives and push them ever further to the right.

Yesterday, the PCs under Kenney and the Wildrosers led by Opposition Leader Brian Jean held a news conference in Edmonton to announce they've come up with a plan -- a tentative one, actually -- to merge the two parties. They've signed an agreement in principle that calls for members of both parties to vote on the deal on July 22 and choose a leader on Oct. 28 if they say yes.

This will not necessarily be easy. The Wildrose constitution requires a 75-per-cent ratification; the PCs' 51 per cent. Many technical details remain to be resolved.

However, they agreed on the name United Conservative Party, presumably without anyone thinking to pronounce the initials aloud.

This prompted plenty of chuckles on social media yesterday. I believe the first commenter to note the You-See-Pee connection was Twitterist Edwin Mundt. You See Pee, pitched in political strategist Stephen Carter, "I see a party that wants to cut health care. You See Pee, I see a party that wants to attack minorities."

Oh well, this probably won't be that big problem for the UCPers, although it sure doesn't speak well of their ability to foresee problems and deal with all eventualities. Indeed, it's the kind of thing that might make a real cynic suggest these are folks who couldn’t, as the old expression goes, organize a piss-up in a brewery.

We'll get used to it soon enough, I suppose.

Alberta's New Democrats certainly take this very seriously. Even with two competing conservative parties -- which could still happen if the deal making comes a cropper, although it’s said here that's unlikely -- it will not be easy for New Democrats to get re-elected in this province. However, it is not, as so many on the right fervently believe, impossible.

Kenney certainly gave the impression at yesterday’s news conference in Edmonton that he thinks once the two conservative parties are united, the end of Premier Rachel Notley's NDP government is a slam-dunk the instant an election is called.

"This agreement ensures the defeat of this disastrous NDP government and the election of a free enterprise government that will renew the Alberta Advantage," Kenney said in the clip Edmonton radio stations played over and over yesterday afternoon.

Jean's comment was more thoughtful. The deal, he said, "cannot be based on a principle of gaining power for power's sake. It must be about more than that."

Arguably, three negative factors from the conservative perspective contributed directly to the election of the NDP in 2015. Only one was the division of the province's right-wing parties into two warring camps, which in many ridings didn't make as much of a difference as the pro-conservative media's narrative nowadays suggests.

The other two were Alberta voters' distrust of the extremist far-right social conservative tendencies that seemed obvious at the time in the Wildrose Party, and the arrogance, entitlement and contempt for voters shown by the long-in-the-tooth PCs. Alert readers will recall that the PCs, who were coming up on their 45th anniversary in power, had in late 2014 engineered the attempted takeover of the Wildrose Party's legislative caucus, a cynical maneuver Albertans across the political spectrum reacted to with revulsion.

Combined, these factors kept many voters who were fed up to here with the PCs from switching their votes as commentators expected to what was left of the Wildrose Party.

It is hard to see how the leadership of an intemperate social conservative like Kenney will remedy either of those problems for the Alberta right. Together in the UCP, it seems likely we will have a powerful political entity that combines the worst instincts of each party. This is quite clearly illustrated by Kenney's news conference commentary.

Returning to the 2015 campaign, a positive factor helping the NDP was Premier Notley's remarkable ability to leave voters with the impression she understood and respected them for voting for her opponents for so many years.

Given centrist voters’ dilemma in the spring of 2015, her political talent and empathetic personality, not to mention her law-trained debating skills, made it easy for them to give the NDP a whirl.

Kenney, by contrast, makes it clear in remarks like yesterday's that he views Alberta voters with contempt for daring to support his political opponents, even once. His caricature of Notley's pragmatic government in cartoonish ideological terms may please his most extreme supporters, but treats most middle-of-the-road voters as fools. His ongoing purge of moderate elements in his own party may satisfy the Wildrose hard core, but it will deprive him of the Red Tory early warning system when he oversteps his bounds and perhaps result in the creation of a new centre-right alternative party.

In this regard, Jean would be a better spokesperson for a united right, but the big money of the Tory Old Boys' network has settled on Kenney as the most likely character to give them carte blanche if "conservative" government returns. This kind of insider entitlement is presumably what Kenney has in mind when he speaks of the return of the "Alberta Advantage."

But the long-established conservative voting habits of Albertans will be hard for the NDP to overcome after a single term in office, though continuing improvement in the regional economy and Kenney's obvious hubris and social conservative baggage may help.

So while the You See Pee may enter the 2019 election favoured by political odds makers, they are as capable of blowing their lead as they were in 2015 under Jim Prentice, the conservatives' last Great Hope From Ottawa.

As Premier Notley observed yesterday, "whether it's the Wildrose or the Tories, they clearly agree on things like making massive cuts to services in order to finance tax breaks for people at the top of the one per cent. They agree collectively on the fact that they're not particularly sympathetic or supportive of LGBT rights. … They're a group that are moving increasingly to more and more extreme positions, to the point where they may fall right off the map."

If they do, and they're confronted with an NDP reelection, it will be interesting to see if Alberta conservatives then opt for the centrist moderation that kept the old PCs in power for 44 years, or double down on the extremism of Kenney.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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A full inquiry into Donald Trump should cover his real crimes and misdemeanours

18 May 2017 - 3:21pm
US Politics

U.S. President Donald Trump's alleged attempt to quash the FBI investigation into his former national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, and his subsequent firing of FBI Director James Comey, has rightly inspired endless speculation in the mainstream media about whether he could be impeached. Certainly, the evidence presented by The New York Times, along with everything else that is already consuming Trump's first few months in office, warrants an independent investigation. Perhaps, as with the Watergate scandal that forced President Richard Nixon to resign in disgrace in 1974 to avoid impeachment and removal from office, the cover-up will end up being greater than the crime. But what if Donald Trump were actually held responsible for real crimes: killing civilians in drone strikes, forcing refugees to suffer or die by refusing asylum, or driving the planet headlong into climate change catastrophe? What if Donald Trump keeps his outrageous and inflammatory campaign pledges, many of which, if implemented, would amount to high crimes? Sadly, excessive and too-often lethal executive presidential power is now considered normal.

Within days of taking office, Donald Trump, over dinner with his son-in-law Jared Kushner and other associates, approved a SEAL Team 6 raid in Yemen. The raid cost Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens his life, as well as the loss of a U.S. military helicopter. But what about the civilian casualties? Despite Trump administration claims that the raid netted extensive intelligence, reports surfaced of at least 30 civilian deaths, including many children. According to Reuters, U.S. military officials said, "Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations." This was just one raid in Yemen, among thousands, in a devastating civil war exacerbated by U.S. arms and involvement, both direct and indirect. He is going to visit Saudi Arabia this week, the first foreign country he will visit as president. Donald Trump is the commander in chief, and his casual order over that dinner led to the violent death of tens of innocent people. Is that not a high crime?

Jump ahead to mid-April. The U.S. military dropped a bomb on an alleged ISIS target in Afghanistan, which wouldn't garner a line in the news these days, as the longest war in U.S. history drags on into its 17th year, with promises by Trump to expand it by sending thousands more troops. But this was no ordinary bomb. Trump dropped the MOAB -- what the Pentagon has nicknamed "the Mother of All Bombs." The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb is the largest non-nuclear bomb in the world. It has been in the U.S. arsenal since early in the Iraq War, but was never used -- until Commander in Chief Donald J. Trump took office.

Dr. "Hakim," a medical doctor who has provided humanitarian relief in Afghanistan for more than a decade, reacted to the MOAB's first-ever deployment, on the Democracy Now! news hour. He works with Afghan Peace Volunteers, an interethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building nonviolent alternatives to war. Speaking from Kabul, he kept his back turned to the camera, afraid that he would suffer retaliation if identified:

"I think it's an insult to nickname the bomb 'The Mother of All Bombs.' One of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, Ali, said: 'Would any mother do that to Mother Earth? Or would any mother do this to any children?' The effect is what the U.S. military or what militaries across the world want to inflict upon ordinary citizens, which is fear, panic, hunger, anger."

While the mainstream media have assumed a more oppositional tone since Trump took office, it gets in line when he engages in military action. Then, the media declare, Trump is acting "presidential."

The same New York Times article that alleged Trump interfered in the Flynn-Russia investigation contained another startling revelation. "Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey's associates," the Times reported. A free press is the bedrock of our democratic society. Trump also has promised to expand libel laws to make it easier to go after his critics.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has just appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller III as special counsel to oversee the ongoing investigation of alleged Russian influence over the 2016 U.S. election. Mueller should pursue the facts vigorously, and make his findings public. But a complete inquiry into the crimes of Donald Trump must go much further.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,400 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan and David Goodman, of the newly published New York Times bestseller Democracy Now!: 20 Years Covering the Movements Changing America.

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr

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Donald Trumpjames comeywar crimesimpeachmentafghan warfreedom of pressAmy GoodmanDenis MoynihanMay 18, 2017Behind Trump's headline-grabbing chaos, the FCC is quietly dismantling media democracyWhen Donald Trump ousted FBI Director James Comey, it was more than just another of his shocking executive actions. Decades of progressive policy achievements are being quietly undone.James Comey debacle reveals a nation addicted to self-dramatization and mythI'd have fired James Comey too. The guy is delusional, grandiose and a drama queen (who does that remind you of?). The former FBI director thinks it's all about him.Trump keeps campaign promise to promote unfettered police powerAs the world focuses on state violence from Syria to Iraq to Yemen to North Korea, the groundwork is being laid in the United States for unchecked state violence at home.

There is no way to save the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women from its fatal flaws

18 May 2017 - 11:50am
Pamela Palmater

It looks like those who advocated for the long-awaited national inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women and girls will be waiting a little while longer.

Despite the promise from Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the national inquiry would be his first order of business, it has been 19 months since his election and the inquiry hasn't held a single day of hearings. Although the commissioners held two soft launches in September 2016 and February 2017 promising to launch the hearings soon, the inquiry has not started, nor will they hear from the families until fall 2017.

Given that the commissioners were given exceptionally limited time to conduct the inquiry, the fact that they have already used up nine of the 26 months allocated to them is a major concern. At this point, the commissioners have very little to show for either the time used or the money spent to date -- more than 10 per cent of its $53 million budget.

Given the lack of communication from the commissioners to date, we are all left wondering what is going on.

Equally concerning are reports that the federal government has been behind some of the delays by refusing to share its lists of potential witnesses with the commissioners or advance adequate funding to allow much-needed staffing to occur.

The long list of Indigenous families, leaders and advocates raising public concerns has been met with extended periods of silence. Recent cancellations of scheduled meetings of the inquiry have led to increased criticism by the same Indigenous families and advocates who originally pushed so hard for the inquiry. There are even calls for the inquiry to be "reset" both in terms of the panel of commissioners and the inquiry format itself.

But, as problematic as all this administrative mess is -- and it could very well unravel the inquiry -- it is relatively minor in comparison to the fact that the inquiry, legally speaking, is fatally flawed.

Even if the federal government had ensured the inquiry started earlier in Trudeau's term, and even if the commissioners had been able to quickly launch hearings, neither of these conditions could save the inquiry from its flawed Terms of Reference.

The Terms of Reference lack the two areas of inquiry that were most important to Indigenous families, leaders and advocates:

1. A review of all the known police case files of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls and;

2. A comprehensive review and investigation of police behaviour, specifically racism, abuse and sexualized violence of Indigenous women and girls by police forces.

Yet, these two things are specifically exempted or protected from review in the terms, forcing witnesses who want to give evidence about these issues, to go back to the very same police forces that committed the flawed investigations of their missing or murdered loved ones, or the same police forces that failed to act on abuses by their officers.

There is no way to save this inquiry from such fatal flaws. The provinces and territories all passed orders-in-council to allow the inquiry to proceed in their jurisdictions based on the terms as drafted -- in other words, based on these two exemptions. Yet this flies in the face of what Indigenous women, leaders and advocates have long requested and what the minister heard in the national engagement sessions leading up to the drafting of the terms.

Despite the Human Rights Watch report about police officers sexually abusing Indigenous women and girls in British Columbia with impunity; or the police officers in Val D'or, most of whom will not face charges for allegations of ongoing sexualized abuse of Indigenous women and girls in Quebec; or the rampant sexualized violence and discrimination within the RCMP as evidenced by the class action by its female members -- none of this will be open for examination.

At best, the commissioners might be able to look at systemic discrimination within policing policy -- but nothing that gets to heart of why so many Indigenous women fear police, and why so many of their investigations, or lack thereof, have been challenged by the families. This poses a real risk that we will end up with an inquiry that is more damaging than helpful. We could end up with a report like that of commissioner Wally Oppal from the Pickton inquiry which hints at generalized police failures in investigations but doesn't shine a light on the darker side of policing.

One of the worst outcomes would be a report that presents a general historical overview of colonization, a recap of the well-known socioeconomic problems plaguing First Nations or one that represents the voices of so few Indigenous witnesses that it misses the root problems altogether.

The inquiry terms are already biased toward violence in general and best practices related to violence prevention and safety. This has already led many commentators to focus on domestic violence, which is part of the issue, but by no means the whole issue. Such an unstructured inquiry means we could end up with a report on the already well-documented research on domestic violence but have nothing about police violence for example.

Given that the terms also focus the inquiry on the "vulnerabilities" of Indigenous women and girls as opposed to failures of federal, provincial and municipal governments and service agencies to protect the human rights of Indigenous women and girls -- the inquiry risks missing the whole point. The fatal flaws of the Terms of Reference are reason enough for a reset of the inquiry.

There is no shame in learning from the lessons of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's reset and making sure that the thousands of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, their families and communities get the inquiry they asked for and the justice they deserve.

This article was originally published in Lawyer's Daily.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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Clearing the fog of war around Syria

18 May 2017 - 9:31am
Funny things keep happening on the way to the war on SyriaFunny things on the way to the war on Syria have been happening ever since the war in Syria began two-and-a-half years ago, and they just keep on accumulating.The dilemma of Syria and the responsibility of progressivesIt is high time that the broad left dispenses with this politics of purity, and starts to mobilize against a new U.S.-led onslaught in the Middle East.Washington's Long War on SyriaCanada must not join U.S. intervention in SyriaStephen GowansThe drums of war are again beating in the West, their ominous clamour signalling U.S.-led air strikes against Syria and the Ba'athist regime of Bashar al-Assad.Baraka BooksJooneed KhanMay 18, 2017The roots of a 21st-century tragedyUS PoliticsWorld2017$24.95

With his just-released book Washington's Long War on Syria, Stephen Gowans blows away the twisted layers of disinformation and war propaganda around Syria, and exposes the great 21st-century tragedy in that West-Asian country in all its stark reality: a long war of aggression waged by the U.S.-NATO empire against a secular and pluralist Arab republic that, like Iraq and Libya, thwarted its hegemonic, capitalist interests, and resisted Israeli, Saudi and other theocratic and anti-democratic players in the region.

The international political reporter and analyst that I am, nearly 40 years with Montreal daily La Presse and three months of 2003 spent in Iraq, ploughed with frustration through the 105 pages of the stage-setting introduction and first two chapters, eager and hungry for the Ottawa-born author to get down to brass tacks and the nitty-gritty -- which he does with quiet but unswerving fact-based confidence and clarity in Chapters 3 and 4.

Lighting the flame of imperialist war

The single determining factor for the confusion, hand-wringing, hair-splitting and division over the Syrian tragedy is based in events that took place mid-March 2011 in the small southern town of Daraa, on the border with Jordan, with a mainly Sunni population of 100,000. "Daraa: The spark that lit the Syrian flame," wrote CNN's Joe Sterling, one year later. Daraa has also been called "The cradle of the revolution."

Quoting diligently from mainstream U.S. media and official U.S. sources, Gowans demonstrates that what happened in Daraa on March 17, 2011 and afterward was no "popular uprising," but an orchestrated provocation by armed Islamist jihadists, old foes of the secular Baathist regime in Syria, aided by jihadists trained in Jordan by U.S.-NATO powers and their conservative Arab monarchist vassals, and abetted by U.S.-NATO propaganda for war on Syria. The "Syrian flame" that was lit in Daraa was not the flame of revolution -- because the regime was popular, as was well reported at the time by the same Western mainstream media. It was the flame of imperialist war for regime change -- with jihadists and the so-called Free Syria Army (FSA) functioning as proxies.

Quoting abundantly from Time, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Democracy Now! and the Independent, Gowans shows more than he argues that the Daraa demonstrators were jihadists agitating for a sectarian Sunni Islamic State; that they were armed and "violent from the beginning," as recognized early on by the U.S. government but "obfuscated" later on; and that the "uprising" had no popular support whatsoever. It was not even a "popular uprising," as the anti-Assad narrative goes, that was "hijacked" by armed jihadists; it was a planned provocation from the start -- using the anecdote of a handful of youths, killed by some accounts, jailed in other versions, for painting anti-Assad graffiti on a wall.

Against the backdrop of the so-called Arab Spring under way in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, a Facebook page created in January 2011 announced a "Day of Rage" in Syria for early February, which fizzled out as participants called instead for Libya's Muammar Gaddafi to step down in the face of a rising NATO/jihadist onslaught against him. The Daraa agitators burned down the local Baath Party HQ, the governor's office and a cellphone company. But the story about the graffiti painters, said Assad, was "a fallacious narrative…only propaganda." Assad responded to the Daraa protesters by announcing a series of reforms they were demanding -- but to no avail, since what they and their backers really wanted was regime change and nothing else.

Roots of a long war

The "long war" on Syria is not only the one that's been going on ever since -- longer than the Second World War -- as Syrians are killed and injured, turned into refugees and internally displaced in the millions, and as their country is destroyed. Gowans sets the start of the long war in the '50s, as the U.S., deepening the Cold War against the USSR, tried to globalize NATO: it founded CENTO in 1955 (the Baghdad Pact) with Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey and the U.K. Syria, a republic, was not yet Baathist, but had a growing Arab nationalist and anti-Zionist component, opting for stronger ties with the USSR -- like India, which had joined the Non-Aligned Movement the previous year. CENTO soon collapsed as Iraq overthrew the monarchy in 1958, espousing Arab nationalism and socialism. Syria had its own Baathist Revolution in 1963 and Iraq adopted Baathism in 1968.

As early as 1957, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower and British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan had plotted the assassination of topmost Baathist and Communist figures in the Syrian government. The plan was entrusted to Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA's Middle East chief, who in 1953 had engineered the overthrow of Iran's elected prime minister, Mohammed Mosaddeq, for nationalizing Iran's oil. "Roosevelt planned to create internal uprisings in Syria, enlisting the aid of the country's Muslim Brotherhood," writes Gowans, adding, "[h]e also plotted to create and arm paramilitary groups to wage a civil war within the country." The U.S.-U.K. axis could not bring over Iraq and Jordan, so the plan went dormant, but "the features of Roosevelt's plan would show up later in the Syria 2011 uprising," he notes.

From Kermit Roosevelt to General Wesley Clark's revelation of the post-9/11 Pentagon memo about "taking out seven countries of the Middle East in five years," to Paul Bremer's systematic "de-Baathification" of Iraq after the 2003 occupation, and to the empire's mantra since 2011 that "Assad must go," runs the uninterrupted line of "Washington's long war on Syria" -- a varied economic, diplomatic and propaganda war before it became nakedly military -- and now pitting NATO and vassals against the Russia-China double veto at the UN, and Russia's active military and diplomatic role in the Astana peace process for Syria with the involvement of regional powers Iran and Turkey.

Gowans's book was launched in Montreal this month by Baraka Books Publisher Robin Philpot at a well-attended public function moderated by Université de Montréal Professor Samir Saul. He stressed that the empire's war on Syria was a perilous prelude to an ultimate war against Russia itself. This book is an indispensable contribution that dissipates the proverbial "fog of war" around Syria -- and brings clarity and understanding to the U.S.-NATO empire's historically unceasing and sustained project for a war of aggression on one Arab country that has always resisted its will.

Jooneed J. Khan is a journalist and human rights activist based in Montreal.

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war on SyriaU.S. foreign policyMiddle EastNATOimperialismBashar al-Assad

CLC awards Cindy Blackstock with human rights honour

18 May 2017 - 8:59am
May 18, 2017CLC awards First Nations child advocate with human rights honourIndigenous child advocate Cindy Blackstock was awarded the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) award for Outstanding Service to Humanity at the congress's 2017 national convention in Toronto last week.

WATCH: Our Toronto Zoo on the line

18 May 2017 - 8:45am
YouTubeHumberto DaSilvaMay 18, 2017Features

Toronto Zoo workers are on strike, fighting for job security that will protect endangered species and keep you safe. We speak to zoo workers about what's on the line.

Madmen in the White House … this time it's a thing, not just a 'strategy'

18 May 2017 - 1:14am
David J. Climenhaga

Richard Nixon wasn't actually out of control -- he just pretended to be to suit Henry Kissinger.

This isn't a joke. The "Madman Strategy" was an actual thing. You can look it up.

If you could make the Russians believe Nixon was more erratic than a shithouse rat, Kissinger theorized, maybe they'd back down long enough for the United States to exit Vietnam with its pride and dignity intact. Since Kissinger served at various times as both Nixon's National Security Advisor and his Secretary of State, he had some pull with the president.

Because both the Russians and the Americans were armed to the teeth with hair-trigger A-Bombs, H-Bombs, Z-Bombs and the like, the whole idea was basically textbook outhouse-rodent material, or so it seemed once we learned what had really been going on in the Nixon White House during the gaps when the First Tape Recorder wasn't running.

On the other hand, President Donald Trump -- who reminds a lot of people of Nixon nowadays -- appears to actually be out of control and presumably does his recording digitally. However, we can’t really be certain as Trump is also taking advice from Kissinger, who is now 93 and may even have a more fragile grasp of what most of us would call reality than he did 45 years ago. How do you like having the fate of the world in that guy's hands again?

The summer and fall of 1972 was the first time I had a real job on a real newspaper. You just couldn't get away from the Watergate Scandal that summer, even in a literally insular place like Victoria, B.C. Every couple of days the White House sprang a new leak, often to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post, and the Nixon Administration settled lower in the water, metaphorically speaking. Journalism seemed like an honourable way to make a living.

If I learned anything from this applicable to the years I spent doing PR, it was that if you have bad news, you should publish it all at once and let the chips fall where they may. The damage is bound to be less severe than that of the incremental leakage that eventually sent President Nixon to the graveyard of history. I reckon if President Nixon had admitted everything right after the cops arrested G. Gordon Liddy and the other Watergate burglars in the wee hours of June 17, 1972, he would have served out his term.

With Trump now completely out of control in the White House -- sitting up late at night Tweeting, instead of sitting up late at night drinking, as a more sensible president like Nixon would have done -- the summer of 2017 sure has the same feeling to it.

Well, not exactly the same. For one thing, as noted above, Nixon may have been a crook, but it turns out he wasn't actually unstable, although perhaps Kissinger was.

Neither had the Republican Party yet completely taken leave of its senses and principles. In addition, Nixon had managed to get re-elected before the stuff really hit the fan, a feat unlikely to be duplicated by Trump.

There are other differences. Nixon may have opened the door to Communist China -- a deal that subsequently proved to be beneficial to both parties, Trump's views notwithstanding -- but I doubt he ever would have invited the Russian foreign minister and an SVR film crew into the White House to tell them stories. Plus, every time he did something truly awful abroad, President Nixon would appease his Quaker God by doing something pretty liberal at home. Indeed, there's a case to be made that as a result he was tied with Lyndon Johnson, who had his own foreign policy cross to bear, as America's most liberal president of the post-war era. He was a member of that reviled species many of us are starting to feel nostalgic for: the professional politician.

That said, like pretty well every other president since the end of the Second World War except Johnson, Gerald Ford, and George H.W. Bush, Nixon got into office by pretending to be a Washington outsider, which he wasn't. Bush was the only one of the three exceptions who got into office in an actual election.

Nixon was also pretty smart, which doesn't seem to be a claim Trump can make, although the latter is sort of an outsider from the Washington establishment, if not from the American plutocracy.

What is the same is that Trump seems clearly to be cruising toward impeachment, just as Nixon appeared to be headed for the same destination after the events of June '72. We know how that movie ended, even if we don't yet know how the remake will end.

Like Nixon, who wasn't as bad as he's remembered, Trump isn't really bad enough yet to be declared Worst President Ever, or even to join the bottom five. It's said here that James Buchanan, Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson, Warren G. Harding and Andrew Jackson were all worse, and there's a case to be made Martin van Buren was too. George W. Bush, who seemed pretty terrible at the time but who is remembered nowadays with increasing fondness, doesn't even rate membership in that undistinguished company.

No, if Trump has ambitions to fall lower than that lot, he'll have to try a lot harder. The possibility he might recast himself as an American Caligula is something to fret about, I suppose. Indeed, some of us are so worried by the prospect that, like the Toronto Star's irreplaceable Heather Mallick, we may have come unhinged.

"Trump could die in office, be impeached, be replaced because of mental incapacity or in a military coup, or drop a nuclear bomb that causes retaliation that kills the rest of us too," Mallick wrote yesterday. "Which will it be and when?"

Her answer: "Trump will go. But will he take the planet with him? I say yes. Maybe yes."

Me? I’m more optimistic. I see impeachment and removal from office in Trump's future, not because of the Democrats, who may shrewdly want to keep him around until 2020 the better to wipe the Republicans from the face of the earth, but because Repugs like John McCain and former tarsands tourist Lindsay Graham recognize he poses an existential threat to their party.

Still, if you are one of those like Karl Marx who believes history tends to repeat itself, first as tragedy, then as farce, perhaps you should be concerned by this summer’s ongoing lunacy south of the Medicine Line. Remember, Watergate itself was pretty farcical, which raises the possibility that this time things have gotten out of sequence and we're in for tragedy.

For one thing, there’s that 93-year-old war criminal hanging around the Imperial Capital dispensing bad advice again. Plus, it's possible the baby man in the White House could sometime in the wee hours simply mistake the nuclear button for one that says "Tweet."

But unlike 1972 when we all thought the world might end the same way because Nixon was mining Haiphong Harbour, at least this time there’s someone around who might be able to talk the president out of it. I give you: Vladimir V. Putin!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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RCMP labels anti-torture caravan a 'Criminal Act by Terrorists'

17 May 2017 - 9:34am
May 17, 2017RCMP labels anti-torture caravan a 'Criminal Act by Terrorists'According to recently released Access to Information documents, during the spring of 2008, Matthew Behrens became -- and not for the first time -- the subject of an RCMP terrorism investigation.

RCMP labels anti-torture caravan a 'Criminal Act by Terrorists'

17 May 2017 - 9:29am
Civil Liberties WatchPolitics in Canada

According to recently released Access to Information documents, during the spring of 2008, I became -- and not for the first time -- the subject of an RCMP terrorism investigation.

At the time, I was coordinating the Caravan to End Canadian Involvement in Torture, a group of about 40-45 people who hit the road in central and eastern Ontario for 10 days in May alongside Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin. These three Canadian citizens had been falsely accused of being state security threats and were set up for torture by proxy in Syria and, in one case, Egypt, with the complicity of the RCMP, CSIS, External Affairs, the Justice Department, and other Canadian agencies.

Their cases -- along with that of Maher Arar -- were documented by two judicial inquiries that cleared them of the false allegations and which also chronicled a disturbing, systemic Canadian involvement with torture. Almalki, Abou-Elmaati and Nureddin recently received a settlement from the federal government after an exhausting legal struggle.

The Caravan's goals were straightforward: education, public action, and putting pressure on a secretive federal inquiry examining the men's torture. Led by former Supreme Court judge Frank Iacobucci, it was only the second inquiry under the Public Inquiries Act to be held in complete secrecy. Neither the men, their lawyers, the media, nor the public could attend. It was hoped that public action would crack open the secret inquiry, which seemed designed to protect the reputations of the government agencies that were eventually found to be complicit in the torture of Almalki, Abou-Elmaati and Nureddin.

We were also calling for the return to Canada of Abousfian Abdelrazik, another Canadian then being refused a ticket home from Sudan, where he had been detained and tortured with Canadian complicity. Other cases of Canadian involvement in torture -- from Omar Khadr and Benamar Benatta to the Secret Trial Five and Afghan detainees -- were discussed along the Caravan route, as was Canada's ongoing failure to condemn Guantanamo Bay and Bagram Air Force Base, among other sites of torture.

The Caravan also highlighted a broader context of torture on North American soil: Indigenous survivors of the first rendition to torture program, known as residential schools, as well as women routinely brutalized in their own homes by the men in their lives. All this was talked about in our daily discussions walking through communities, in schools, and at evening events in churches and community halls.

It was clear federal officials were concerned that the rosy image of Canada was being tarnished by our ongoing exposure of Canadian criminality. (Incidentally, we received significant support in many so-called "conservative" areas once folks were informed about what was going on). And Iacobucci, who was cruelly keeping a tight lid on the inquiry to prevent further exposure of CSIS and RCMP misdeeds, was no doubt displeased that his "good guy" human rights image was also being questioned.

RCMP begins to investigate

Against this backdrop, the Ontario Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (OINSET) immediately got down to work by having its Mounties open a file on myself and the Caravan under the heading: "Criminal Act by Terrorists -- Protest/ Demonstrations/Marches."

The labelling of our work as terrorist is not only of historical interest. It's also a cautionary tale that, despite all the assurances by the RCMP and CSIS that they would never, never, ever consider protests to be terrorism under the notorious C-51 (The Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015), in all likelihood this remains standard operating procedure inside the bunkers of Canada's state security agencies, as it has been for the past 150 years (and long before Confederation as well). Such assurances were also bandied about as the Liberals hastily passed the notorious C-36 "anti-terrorism" legislation over 15 years ago. However, that did not stop the Mounties, among others, from continuing to monitor Indigenous rights groups like Idle No More as alleged security threats under Project Sitka.

Indeed, this equation of terrorism with protest is so ingrained as a given within state security culture that no one even thought to redact the phrase from these documents.

A wide range of agency inquiries

The investigation of the May 2008 Caravan appears to have begun two months earlier, with a preliminary conclusion that there was "no indication of violence." Nevertheless, the documents indicate a wide range of inquiries being made, curiously linking me to the Bank of Canada (which was labelled a "possible intended victim of fraud" and the Office of the Legal Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa.

Among the RCMP divisions involved in investigating the Caravan were the following: the Criminal Intelligence outfit in Kingston, the Toronto Airport unit, the Alberta RCMP headquarters, Montreal HQ, the Montreal National Security Investigations Section's Threat Evaluation Group, London, Ontario's Threat Assessment Group, National HQ, a division assigned to "Canadian Executives & Foreign Missions and Visits," the Federal Policing Protective Policing Unit, the national Criminal Intelligence division's Threat Assessment team, and the National Operations Centre.

While it is not surprising that the authorities went to such lengths to investigate us, it was also an incredible insult to the men whose lives were at the heart of the Caravan. After all, these was the same RCMP and CSIS that falsely named them as threats to state security based on nothing other than racist profiling. These were the same agencies that passed along questions to the men's overseas torturers based on those false, inflammatory allegations. That these agencies would continue treating Almalki, Abou-Elmaati, Nureddin, and their friends and supporters as threats -- even after the 2006 O'Connor Inquiry into Canadian complicity in the torture of Maher Arar called them out on such practices, and government officials solemnly said they would change their ways -- shows that nothing changed behind the scenes in the years leading up to the Caravan.

These are the same agencies that would have us believe that the expansive, dangerous, torture-enabling legislative mandate of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015 (the notorious Harper/Trudeau C-51, which remains unaltered two years after passage) will not be abused. Yet as history clearly shows, it is in these agencies' DNA to abuse and disregard the most basic of human rights in the name of the never-defined "national security interest."

Despite no known threat, investigation continues

On April 29, two days before the 2008 Caravan got under way, the Integrated Threat Assessment Centre called in to report "NO KNOWN THREAT." Despite this, the Caravan remained under intensive surveillance.

On the first day of the Caravan, OINSET received an important update that the Caravan was outside Skyservice, a charter airline being protested for its role in deporting refugees to the risk of torture. Two Mounties reported "the group was demonstrating the fact that 'the Canadian government is using their airline to deport detainees to a Country where they will be tortured and killed.'"

The report on "Criminal Act by Terrorists" further notes that "many of the demonstrators were elderly with some students present," and one particularly sharp Mountie said "the name of the group was determined to be 'Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture,'" though whether he gleaned this information from our brochure, our banner, or the dozens of placards with that slogan is unclear.

The RCMP then did some quick research and concluded, in an area of the documents that is fairly redacted, that "the subject identifying himself as Matthew is possibly Matthew BEHRENS, an individual very active as an organizer of demonstrations and participant in a number of causes related to the homeless and immigration." Clearly, the Mounties cross-checked their extensive files covering campaigns to end hunger and poverty as well as stopping arbitrary detention and secret hearings -- all no doubt under similarly designated terrorism activities -- to identify their target.

On May 2, 2008, we learned that "Cst Chad MCLEAMING from OINSET has been doing an excellent job monitoring the Caravan from the start, he advised that the Caravan has so many locations to attend that they will stop for a few minutes, if there is no media they will move to the next location." (The Caravan stopped at scores of sites of Canadian complicity along the way, from RCMP and CSIS offices to corporations and other government agencies complicit in torture. But the length of the stay at each location did not depend, as the RCMP concluded, on the presence of media.)

Another May 2 report notes that the Caravan stopped at an RCMP airport detachment "with camera and boom mike," but makes no further comment (There was a documentary crew following the Caravan from RAMZ Media, whose award-winning film on the Caravan, Ghosts, is available online).

Later that same day, the RCMP's Newmarket branch learned the Caravan would be stopping at their location. While numerous sections of the report are whited out, someone at that location "advised that they were aware of the situation and had contingency plans to deal with the situation." Reports also take note of vehicles observed with the Caravan.

It appears that Cst MCLEAMING did not have a complete handle on the dastardly activities of the Caravan group. Indeed, McLeaming is reported to have stated that "there was [sic] numerous vehicles that had joined the caravan. Cst MCLEAMING had no way of knowing if the vehicles were for local demonstrators or if they would follow the caravan all the way to Ottawa. Cst MCLEAMING will upload the information to this file at his earliest convenience."

Filing reports 'just in case'

An unnamed official reports that he called Cst MCLEAMING to inform him he would be liaising with the Kingston detachment, reasoning that "there is no information about the caravan demonstrating at the RCMP Detachment but just in case."

By the time the Caravan reached Ottawa, the RCMP was hurriedly trying to produce reporting on potential numbers for the final day's activities, a Torture Tour of Ottawa. The Integrated Threat Assessment Centre and the War Department were duly informed that as many as 150 individuals might be demonstrating, while someone from National HQ called to advise that a certain individual "at Bank of Canada Security advised that he was seeking more information in relating to the demonstration 'End the Torture.' I called [whited out] and left a message."

Also of interest in an age when charities are subject to political interference is a report from one officer who, under the same heading of Criminal Act by Terrorists, explores a "file review exempt bank status." It is unclear exactly what this means, though the remarks later on that "reviewed file exempt bank status requirements not met" leads one to conclude that our group itself was investigated to see whether it had charitable status.

Additional Orwellian disclosure

Mixed in with some of the access to information documents I received from the Mounties was an occurrence report from October, 2014 when, working with Homes not Bombs and the Ottawa group NOWAR/PAIX  (NOWAR stands for Network to Oppose War and Racism), a vigil of 40 or so individuals opposed to the Harper government's bombing of Iraq resulted in a fairly lengthy investigation and final report.

The Ottawa protective Investigative Unit "learned of a vigil that was to happen in the afternoon on Parliament Hill by a group called Homes not Bombs. The information was received from the news." The report notes that at 3 p.m., a startling number of individuals -- two in total -- approached the top of the stairs on the Hill with a banner.

The following narrative is full of the kind of irony that is lost on secret police forces, with my comments in brackets. The reporting officer was miffed that as an organizer of the vigil, I refused to provide personal details about myself or other individuals. At the time, as the officer insistently demanded that information, he also kept claiming that anything I might share would not be used to open files or beef up protester profile databases back at headquarters.

"The second [individual] would only provide his first name: Matthew. He said that he did not want to end up on a police database [not true, but that was the Mountie's interpretation]. After some somewhat unpleasant conversation [which he neglects to detail, a discussion on the complicity of the RCMP in torture at home and abroad against Muslims and Indigenous people] Matthew opened up about his organization and their goals. He does not believe that war is the answer to anything."

The report continues that one constable:

"[a]sked Matthew to move his group to the lower part of the stairs as is the normal practice with demonstrators [but which defeats the purpose of being seen!] He refused. Parliament Hill members were interested in moving Matthew and what was now a significant (approximately 20 people) group to the bottom of the stairs."

Portions of the document are then whited out, with the RCMP's legendary knack for inaccuracy coming through with the comment that "there was a banner from War not Paix in the group for much of the vigil." [The Mounties, who regularly monitor the NOWAR/Paix group, kind of muffed that one].

The report ends ironically, given that the RCMP had maintained there is no fear of sharing one's personal information with them because they do not keep databases on activists. Nonetheless, at the bottom of the report it reads:

"Cst Johnson subsequently looked at the homesnotbombs blog and noted that it is run by Matthew Behrens. Age and descriptions are the same as for the Matthew of the demonstration, and as such he was carded to the file, but this information was not confirmed with formal identification or a statement from 'Matthew.'"

In other words, somewhere in the RCMP database under my name is a report that is linked to me, even though their own report questions my identity (putting "Matthew" in quotes) and is unable to confirm who I really am. Notably, the Homes not Bombs blog does not mention my age or identity, so this reference is more about matching up "Matthew" with the guy already in their database.

The final words of the report state: "Paper file created."

C-51 becomes further entrenched

Anyone who works for social change will not be shocked that the role of Canada's state security agencies is to protect the powerful from what the Trilateral Commission identified over 40 years ago as "an excess of democracy." Those who exercise democratic rights have traditionally been viewed as threats to powerful, secretive systems of power that are dressed up as democracies because they have elections every once in a while.

Canada has long specialized in making its secret police forces part of the big, happy Canadian family, the subject of fawning TV shows, annual summertime musical ceremonies, cute teddy bears, and photo-ops at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Junos, where liberal musicians and actors think nothing of smiling for selfies with representatives of an institution complicit in torture and other acts of violence. In no other country are the secret police celebrated on postcards and T-shirts.

The "we're just here to help" approach they take at demonstrations is nothing more than a fishing expedition, where everything that is shared will not only be used against you, but probably written down in an inaccurate, inflammatory manner that could wind up in some database shared with some country that you no longer dare visit.

Meanwhile, the calls to abolish C-51 and other so-called "anti-terror" legislation have been smothered by the Trudeau government's answer to everything: a symbolic "consultation" designed to suck away the grassroots oxygen into discussion papers, briefings, and other distractions that allow them to stall and, eventually, either do nothing or introduce toothless, window-dressing changes. With each passing day, the expanded powers of C-51 become ever more entrenched in the state security bureaucracy.

Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. 'national security' profiling for many years.

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TortureRCMP Investigationanti-terrorismBill C-51state surveillancepolice surveillancesecurity agenciesMatthew BehrensMay 17, 2017Apologies for torture seem to be the hardest wordsThe wording and delivery of the Trudeau government's March apology for its role in the torture of Canadian citizens are clear indications that Ottawa is not willing to make much-needed changes.Canada's torture consumers and the faux national security consultationAnyone following discussions on the ultimate disposition of the Harper regime's C-51 "anti-terror" legislation will soon be hearing a lot about "SIRC" -- the Security Intelligence Review Committee.The God that fails: C-51, review committees and the dangers of window dressingInstead of questioning the mandates and core practices of secretive, unaccountable security agencies, efforts are underway to save the system by putting up some nice-looking window dressing.

CLC awards First Nations child advocate with human rights honour

16 May 2017 - 1:49pm
Meagan Gillmore

Indigenous child advocate Cindy Blackstock was awarded the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) award for Outstanding Service to Humanity at the congress's 2017 national convention in Toronto last week.

Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, has devoted her career to fighting for equal treatment for First Nations children.

Speaking to delegates on May 9, Blackstock dedicated the award to these children, calling them "the real heroes of this country." In one of the world's richest countries, children living in First Nations reservations often can't access education, health care or basics of life, like clean drinking water, because of racial discrimination.

Blackstock urged attendees to take action to end systemic racial discrimination against Indigenous children. The 150 anniversary of Confederation is a "crossroads," Blackstock said, that invites Canadians to consider the legacy of racial discrimination and how it keeps the country captive.

"Through all of these years, First Nations children have loved all of you enough to believe that you would do the right thing," Blackstock told the crowd. "That you are good people. That you won't stand for it anymore. And one day, you will do what's needed so that this country rises up."

The day to rise up is now, Blackstock said.

To help illustrate just how critical the need is, Blackstock talked about the time she recently spent with a mother who had to re-wash catheter tubes for her daughter because the government wouldn't give them enough money for new ones. Her daughter was getting urinary tract infections. Her kidneys were being scarred.

Children are not only more vulnerable to discrimination. They are often more perceptive to it. A girl, who wasn't Indigenous, once told Blackstock discrimination is "when the government doesn't think you're worth the money."

The government hasn't thought First Nations children are "worth the money" for years, Blackstock told the more than 2,000 delegates in attendance.

Blackstock said she thought things were going to change last year when the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found the federal government is discriminating against First Nations families and children living on reserve. Ineffective funding systems mean people living in these communities don't receive adequate child and family services. The government was ordered to end its discriminatory practices. It has not. The government has been issued two non-compliance orders since January 2016. Another order is pending, she said.

The government gives out "a teaspoon of equality at a time towards First Nations children," Blackstock said. The worst part of this "incremental inequality" is that, because people are discriminated against in so many parts of their lives, they feel they have to be thankful for whatever small things they receive.

"It's not enough to smile and discriminate. It hurts as much as when you scowl."

Current inaction is the next part of the federal government's long history of discriminating against First Nations children in care. Blackstock reminded delegates of Peter Henderson Bryce, a public health official who in 1907 criticized the federal government for failing to give children in residential schools proper medical care, even during the tuberculosis crisis. Government neglect continues today. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 Calls to Action, released in 2015, clearly show the need for improved child welfare for Indigenous children, Blackstock told her audience. The first five calls to action relate to improving child welfare.

Blackstock criticized popular ideas that ending racial discrimination against First Nations children is too complicated because they live in remote communities or because the leaders of those communities don't manage money they receive from the federal government well. Neither argument works, Blackstock said. The government sends teams to provide clean drinking water to countries around the world, so it should be able to do the same a few hours north of Toronto. She acknowledged some First Nations have issues with managing their budgets but, "I live in Ottawa," she told the crowd to growing laughter. "We are not alone."

Spending scandals routinely plague the federal government. At the start of the Idle No More movement in 2013, activists coined the Twitter hashtag #Ottawapiskat to compare the federal government's spending to how money is spent in First Nations communities, like the northern Ontario reservation Attawapiskat. The hashtag is still used today to describe such things as how much of their family vacation the Trudeaus expensed.

CLC president Hassan Yussuff told Blackstock the CLC will write to the government about its non-compliance with the 2016 human rights tribunal order. The congress is also donating $10,000 to Blackstock's organization, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.

Blackstock was one of several Indigenous women to address delegates during the week-long convention, whose theme was Together for a Fair Future. Indigenous CBC personality, comedian and former lawyer Candy Palmater spoke on Tuesday morning. Inuit climate-change activist and author Sheila Watt-Cloutier participated in a panel discussion about green jobs on Wednesday afternoon. Indigenous spoken word artist Mahlikah Awe:ri aka AngelHeart spoke at Wednesday evening's panel discussion about feminism.  

Meagan Gillmore is rabble's labour reporter.

Photo: United Church/flickr

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Thanks to Twitter diplomacy, Trump reminds us that dairy supply management works

16 May 2017 - 9:58am
Food & HealthPolitics in CanadaUS Politics

In late April, Canadian dairy farmers suddenly found themselves the focus of the character count emanating from U.S. President Donald Trump's Twitter account.

The Donald would have us believe that Canadian farmers are purposefully destroying the lives of American dairy farmers through unfair competition. Of course, dairy farmers here are concerned about the amount of attention the U.S. president is exposing them to. No matter that there is little basis or fact to the Twitter feed from Trumpland -- being the focus, even wrongly, of Trump's warped perspective is unnerving.

Like me, you are likely tired of the endless babbling from south of the border -- but I always work hard to try and find a silver lining in troublesome times. In this case, the president has helped to remind us why supply management is key to treating dairy farmers fairly.

The problem is that Canadian dairy farmers, with the help of supply management, are too competitive. In order to deal with cheaper, tariff-free imports of dairy coming in from the U.S. due to a NAFTA loophole and driving Canadian farmers out of business, our dairy producers and processors have agreed to lower the price of some dairy products in order to compete with cheaper U.S. products. Supply management allows for this type of collective decision.

This new strategy is effectively encouraging Canadian companies to buy domestic milk products. And it is working -- our dairy industry is growing. Now Canadian cheesemakers can buy the ingredients they need in Canada. This newfound competitiveness means that Canadian cheesemakers who had been importing U.S. milk ingredients tariff-free can now access what they need on the Canadian market.

And Canada's 12,000 dairy producers are benefiting from this price adjustment because of supply management. Still, Trump has little to complain about since the dairy trade surplus is about $450 million in favour of the U.S.

But to help Trump understand how implementing supply management could benefit American dairy producers, the National Farmers Union (NFU) President Jan Slomp tried a bit of Twitter diplomacy -- tweeting the president a link to a little bit of educational reading material.

Here is what Jan Slomp said in a recent media release:

"We have compassion for American family farmers who are experiencing record low farm-gate milk prices. We understand many are forced to take on terrible debt loads. Those who cannot survive this crisis are seeing their hopes and dreams dashed. This is the very situation our own farmers were in 50 years ago," said Jan Slomp, NFU President.

"In President Trump's speech on Tuesday (April 18), he said he wasn't just looking for answers, he is looking for a solution. We decided to share with the President the principles of a system that will work for dairy farmers, rural communities, processors, workers consumers and governments."

"American dairy farmers are facing the same problems dairy farmers in the European Union, New Zealand and Australia are struggling with: prices so low they don't cover the cost of production. When everyone tries to make up for low prices by producing more of a perishable product, it just makes the problem worse," explained Slomp. "The USA cannot solve its dairy crisis by taking over the Canadian dairy market and putting our farmers out of business. But if it adopts its own supply management system, it could begin to restore prosperity to rural America."

"This solution, which we call Supply Management, was created by Canadian farmers and governments in the late 1960s. Instead of exporting milk, we would be pleased to export this unique and successful dairy policy innovation," added Slomp.

Touché -- tweet for tat!

Read the full letter here to enrich your understanding of how supply management has made a difference for Canadian farmers -- and how the NFU is looking for the silver lining by taking advantage of what can politely be called a "teaching moment" with President Trump.

Lois Ross is a communications specialist, writer, and editor, living in Ottawa. Her column "At the farm gate" discusses issues that are key to food production here in Canada as well as internationally.

Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture/flickr

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supply managementDairy Farmersdairy supply managementDonald TrumpNational Farmers UnionAt the farm gateLois RossMay 16, 2017Ideas that work to promote sustainable small farmsThere are many layers to farming, but there are plenty of farmers who know what is required. And they have been trying to get the message across for a long time. Will the federal government get it?Make American dairy farms great again! Adopt supply managementWhile supply management gives consumers a quality product at a price that allows local farmers a living wage, the alternative is not cheaper milk, cheese, eggs and poultry.TPP threatens Canadian food sovereigntyTrade ministers from 12 countries reached agreement yesterday on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, creating the largest trading bloc in the world. Canadian dairy farmers are big losers in the deal.

Jagmeet Singh pumps up the NDP leadership race

16 May 2017 - 8:36am
May 16, 2017Jagmeet Singh brings excitement to the NDP leadership raceJagmeet Singh has joined the NDP leadership race and his long-anticipated candidacy creates a new dynamic in a contest that runs until the fall.

Jagmeet Singh brings excitement to the NDP leadership race

16 May 2017 - 8:32am
NDPPolitics in Canada

Jagmeet Singh has joined the NDP leadership race. His long-anticipated candidacy creates a new dynamic in a contest that runs until the fall.

In a town hall rally, live-streamed on Facebook from Brampton, Ontario, an impressive line-up of provincial New Democrats elected from Ontario, B.C., and Manitoba, along with a former Quebec MP, attested to why Singh, the local Ontario MPP (Member of Provincial Parliament) should lead the federal NDP.

Singh wants Canadians to embrace the NDP as the party of social justice. He champions an inclusive Canada, where everybody has an opportunity to succeed and to live their dreams.

His launch statement highlighted his background fighting injustice and his belief (learned from his mother) "that if we lift up the people around us, we all rise."

Any excitement generated by the Singh candidacy will benefit NDP leadership debates over issues facing Canada, the place of the party in federal politics, and will draw attention to the ideas of the other leadership candidates.

Singh connects with mainstream media normally indifferent to NDP political life -- when they are not outright hostile. The intelligence, charm and photogenic persona of the Ontario MPP mark him out for coverage.

Much of the media interest in Singh comes from measuring his appeal against that of Justin Trudeau. In a charisma versus charisma match Singh holds his own, it turns out.

In the House of Commons, the NDP has been eager to bring Justin Trudeau down to size. For this to advance NDP fortunes, it would help if the Conservative party were to choose a leader few are prepared to vote for.

With the Liberal Party turning out to govern like Conservatives "in a hurry," those progressives who voted Liberal in 2015 mainly to defeat Stephen Harper will be targets for NDP strategists in preparing for the 2019 election year.

Singh looks like the candidate party insiders want to lead the party and showcase to the country.

Trying to be like the Liberal party or be willing to replace them is a strategy that has produced NDP governments on the Prairies. There are no Liberals to speak of in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, or NDP-governed Alberta.

In recent elections the same thinking has failed in Ontario (where Singh is the deputy leader).

In France, Emmanuel Macron recruited for En Marche, the political movement that propelled him to the presidency, by insisting that potential candidates for office put their country ahead of their party, an approach that rang out loud and clear in a country consumed by partisanship.

NDP partisanship has been a serious problem for the federal party.

In the 2015 election the party adopted the Conservative take on fiscal policy, believing that being deficit-adverse would make their leader prime minister.

The public interest got lost in partisan calculations.

It is a constant challenge for a leader of the NDP to build a party people are excited to support and that voters will see as good choice to win an election.

Trying to make the NDP an instrument of social and economic "progress" can conflict with the aim of winning seats. 

While wanting to lead people to the Promised Land the party has its activists out on doorsteps canvassing voters' concerns.

Undoubtedly, the next leader of the NDP has to speak directly to the challenges facing Canadians in their daily lives. Fear of unemployment and lagging wages are real concerns.

The temptation to appear moderate on economic and social policy is one that NDP leadership candidates Niki Ashton, Guy Caron and Peter Julian have resisted.

In a race that's about winning over party members looking for serious change, not gathering editorial board support, Jagmeet Singh and Charlie Angus have to show they understand the challenges of an economy where half of the employed population in the Hamilton-Toronto corridor depend on precarious work for their livelihood.

Many NDP party members have Bernie Sanders envy, wanting a candidate who declares: "the economy is rigged, and we need a political revolution to fix it."

Duncan Cameron is former president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: BGM Riding Association/Wikimedia Commons

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Jagmeet Singhfederal NDP leadership2017 ndp leadershipNew Democratspublic interestJustin TrudeauDuncan CameronMay 16, 2017What does the NDP have to offer Canadians?As the curtain goes up for the 2017 NDP leadership contest, the party needs to bring a distinct approach to what matters to Canadians.NDP leadership candidates will face big challenges in 2017Soon a number of aspirants will officially announce their candidacies for the NDP leadership. They will face an uphill battle to garner public attention and render their party a viable alternative.Leadership debate showcases NDP unity and a feisty spiritWhile the 14 Conservative leadership candidates squabble and attack each other, the four NDP aspirants agree on most issues.

'Worthwhile Canadian initiative': Rona Ambrose said to be departing politics to help out the Wilson Center

16 May 2017 - 1:24am
David J. Climenhaga

Well, that's no fun!

Rona Ambrose -- member of Parliament for the Alberta riding of Sturgeon River-Parkland on the west side of Edmonton and interim Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in the nation's capital -- will give a farewell speech this morning at which it is universally acknowledged she will announce her departure from federal politics.

Tout le monde political Alberta has been abuzz for ages with entertaining rumours Ambrose was about to take on Jason Kenney and Brian Jean for the leadership of the new, soon-to-be-united Alberta provincial conservative party or, perhaps even better, that she was ready to battle Calgary's popular Mayor Naheed Nenshi for the honour of serving as Cowtown's chief magistrate.

The first version always seemed a bit unlikely, since the man she so loyally served in Parliament in recent years, former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, is clearly part of Kenney's support apparatus in the conservative effort to wrest Alberta back from Rachel Notley's New Democratic Party and restore the province to climate villainy.

And the second version was widely mocked in social media yesterday evening, after it was rather apologetically mentioned in the Toronto Star, because Calgary is not Edmonton and the distance between the two was taken to be symbolic of eastern journalists' lack of understanding of western geographical and political realities.

In truth, though, this story was not as far-fetched as it might have seemed at first blush, Ambrose having been widely perceived to have given up on the Edmonton region not long after her divorce from her first husband, Bruce Ambrose, in 2011. Her present domestic partner, James Patrick (J.P.) Veitch -- who is inevitably referenced as a former rodeo bull rider but would probably be described better as a well-heeled and well-connected oilpatch insider -- is a Calgary guy, after all, and the couple would have to live somewhere after they move out of Stornoway.

This, by the way, is not mentioned as a criticism, except perhaps of over-sensitive Alberta journalists always on the lookout for some slight by their counterparts in the big smoke on Lake Ontario. As has been noted in this space before, both John A. Macdonald and Tommy Douglas, to name just two with easy-to-remember names, served electoral districts far from where they actually lived. (Indeed, prime minister Macdonald never even visited Victoria, B.C.)

Alas for everyone who follows politics here in Alberta, though, not to mention the myriad journalists he scooped, the capable Josh Wingrove of Bloomberg News reported that Ambrose is leaving politics to work on the free trade file for … the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars' Canada Institute based in Washington, D.C.

This is decidedly unexciting news -- and it fits well, as luck would have it, right under the most famously boring headline in history, "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative." Yet the report has the ring of verisimilitude, Wingrove having managed to get his hands on a copy of the think-tank's press release announcing Ambrose's appointment. She will confront the chaotic trade policies of President Donald Trump’s Administration as head of the Wilson Centre's “efforts to convene U.S. and Canadian officials to explore the benefits of an integrated and competitive North American economy that is focused on job creation and prosperity," said the presser quoted by Wingrove.

She is probably well qualified for the job, having confronted and successfully controlled the chaotic members of her own caucus, not to mention its leadership candidates, after the party's loss to Liberals led by Prime Minster Justin Trudeau in the 2015 Canadian election, a job that cannot have been restful. She did so with only one major stumble -- being caught aboard a billionaire's yacht the same week she was assailing the prime minister for being caught aboard a billionaire's helicopter. Ah well, it could have happened to any one of us.

The Wilson Center is tied closely to the U.S. government. It is housed in the Ronald Reagan Building. And so, if this report turns out to be correct, as a former Conservative Party leader Ambrose should feel right at home.

The Wilson Center is not related to the Wilson Climbing Centre at the University of Alberta. The former is named for President Woodrow Wilson, whose exploits are celebrated in the famous song by Warren Zevon, the latter after generous donors Dick and Carol Wilson.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: Number 10/flickr

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Venezuelan people battle ongoing coup d'etat

14 May 2017 - 4:27pm
May 14, 2017The Venezuelan people are dying in the streets againThe government of Canada should make clear its support for constitutional government, electoral democracy, and the rule of law in Venezuela.

Labour activists take to the streets at hallowed ground of Canada's financial elites

12 May 2017 - 9:34am
May 12, 2017WATCH: Canadian Labour Congress street party delivers message to Bay StreetOn May 11, 2017 activists and delegates of the Canadian Labour Congress gathered at the most hallowed ground of Canada's financial elites, for a street party, and to deliver a message.

WATCH: Canadian Labour Congress street party delivers message to Bay Street

12 May 2017 - 9:14am
YouTubeHumberto DaSilvaEconomyLabourMay 12, 2017Features

On May 11, 2017 activists and delegates of the Canadian Labour Congress marched to the corner of Bay and King Streets. The activists gathered at the most hallowed ground of Canada's financial elites, for a street party, and to deliver a message.

street demonstrationslabour rightscanadian labour congresscorporate elite Labour activists take to the streets

James Comey debacle reveals a nation addicted to self-dramatization and myth

12 May 2017 - 8:37am
US Politics

I'd have fired James Comey too. The guy is delusional, grandiose and a drama queen (who does that remind you of?). The former FBI director thinks it's all about him, in the sense that he's the guardian of U.S. greatness.

When he testified to Congress about his Hillary Clinton botch, he said his choice was between "really bad" and "catastrophic" and "I said to my team we got to walk into the world of really bad."

This is Hooveresque in the sense of placing the FBI at the centre of history and its director at the centre of the centre. J. Edgar Hoover took a minor police agency after the First World War and magnified it into a core U.S. myth. This is unique for mere cops. The RCMP is a Canadian symbol but not a fundamental myth.

Hoover's FBI (in preliminary form) began then by suppressing anarchist dissidents and persisted in the role, through the Red Scare of the 1950s, antiwar activism in the 1960s, and especially the civil rights movement. Hoover spied on Martin Luther King Jr., labelling him America's "most notorious liar."

Hoover's brilliance lay in that mythmaking, something unmatched among political police elsewhere. They took down gangsters in the 1930s, such as Dillinger, making sure Hoover was there for the arrests.

As a kid I read The FBI Story and saw the movie with James Stewart playing a sort of Father Knows Best special agent (with a Hitchcockian cameo by Hoover). They countered negatives about civil rights with 1988's Mississippi Burning, portraying how the FBI led civil rights victories in the south. One Black leader grumbled, "These guys were tapping our telephones, not looking into the murders." Hoover also collected dirt on presidents and intimidated politicians for 50 years.

Comey had the genius to recast the FBI myth for this century with himself as the new Hoover. He even criticized Hoover on 60 Minutes. He took over the "mission of protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution."

I'm not saying he's insincere but he's self-aggrandizing. I admire people taking selfless moral stands, but the way King did, not as top cop of a bureaucratized, militarized national political police. That's what you look to grassroots leaders or firefighters for. When he told FBI agents in his final letter, "I will be fine," it sounded Christ-like: this is my destiny, which I'm happily fulfilling.

Granted, those weren't Trump's reasons. I have no doubt he fired Comey to blunt the FBI's Russia investigation, confirming that Trump has something to hide. But the trouble with accusations of treason or collusion is that they rely on another core U.S. myth: the evil Russians.

It stretches back 100 years, to the revolution, and applies to Lenin and modern capitalists alike. If Trump voters stay loyal, it's because these myths have started sounding "fake." Even pop culture has moved on, with sympathetic Russian spies, like The Americans.

So if it's not treason, what are Trump's Russian links? Business, mostly. Unlike all other presidents, he has no sense of separation between his identity as businessman, which is what he's always been, and anything else he does, like golfing or being president. It doesn't occur to him.

He and his billionaire cabinet pals, or "advisers," such as Carl Icahn, have never had much respect for politicians because they've customarily been able to buy them. All realms flow together in the pursuit of money. Did the Russians influence his election? He couldn't recognize an illegitimate step over the line because there is no line.

Ivanka Trump's in-laws lobby for tax breaks on luxury towers they're building in New Jersey and name-drop the "family" in China while recruiting investors. Icahn makes an unlikely fortune based on his "advice" to Trump about who to appoint environmental overseer and what policies to demolish. It's business.

What will happen? Democrats seem to feel certain Republicans will move cautiously toward an independent inquiry that would somehow pressure Trump from office. Surely, many in his party would be happier with Pence as president. Nailing him for attacking the hallowed FBI to hide treasonous collusion with evil Russians manages to capitalize on two core U.S. myths.

It's probably as good a pretext as they'll get. For those of us looking on from outside, this truly is a nation tragically addicted to self-dramatization and mythification -- even if that's what finally saves it from the more awful fate of President Trump.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Rich Girard/flickr

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