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Quick, sparky political digs, crabs, and short bursts of sometimes thunderous applause.

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Friday, July 15, 2005

This Blog is Migrating to Vista! 

After 15 months and thousands of hits, the Sparky blog is migrating to the Vista blog at http://dgiVista.org. Join me there!


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Saturday, July 09, 2005

London Bombings: One View 

I think this about sums it up, except that the US/UK imperialists don't have a monopoly on terrorism:

"Terrorist Blair, who assisted The US Empire in raining death down upon the Iraqi populace, though Iraq harboured no weapons of mass destruction and posed no direct military threat to either Britain or the US, and is admitted, even by Rumsfeld, to have had no connections to Al Quaida, has regrettably reaped for the British people what he has sown in their name. And his sanctimounious posturing about "terrorism" doesn't change the reality of who are the real terrorists all one wit. And we all really know it."


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Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Lie of Non-Partisanship 

My previous post has helped me gel some ideas that have been bubbling in my head for years now.

Non-partisanship sounds spectacular. In BC, Gordon Campbell's neoLiberal government has spent its entire time in office--and then some time before that--complaining about special interest groups (SIGs): big labour, teachers, environmentalists...essentially, anyone with a bias, ideology, or belief system. The goal is to posit themselves as unbiased, objective and not swayed by hidden backroom string-pullers.

Campbell himself was mayor of Vancouver with the Non-Partisan Association, a political party that currently exists to counter the presence of COPE, a civic political party with NDP (partisan, yikes!) roots. So the NPA have been strolling around pretending to not have partisan affiliations, a political party with no political partisanship: a pure paradox.

Two of the NPA's philosophical elements are quite entertaining:
  • Individuals have the right to enjoy the fruits of their labour, and to own private property, and individual enterprise is generally preferable to government intervention.
  • Elected civic representatives should make decisions based on the viewpoint of many individuals and organizations, and not be under obligation to policies or platforms of political parties.
The first is a standard philosophical foundation for capitalist, right wing parties that exist in direct opposition to big government ideologues: communists, socialists, democratic socialists...generally, wealth redistributors. The second exerts the absence of particular political party platforms guiding decisions. If it looks like a neoLiberal, talks like a neoLiberal and acts like a neoLiberal, but says it is not a neoLiberal party, we can just nod and smile knowingly.

The problem, though, is this notion of non-partisanship is giving anyone with a political ideology a bad name, when those claiming to be unbiased, objective and free from ideology are as ideological as the SIGs they denegrate. They are getting away with it. Thus the lie of non-partisanship.

It's easy to see this play out in American federal politics lately. The Democrats are big-L Liberal scourges who want to tax and spend and erode the moral fibre of America. More accurately, I'd call them Republican-lite. The Republicans hate big government and taxes, want the courts to uphold the moral fibre of the land and tend towards evangelical imperialism. When the Democrats controlled the executive and legislatures, the Republicans demonized them Liberals [which is 21st century lingo for Godless Commie] and would not co-operate with their despicable agenda.

Now that the Republicans are in the White House, both houses of Congress and are set to appoint one, then soon another supreme court judge, they are demanding the Democrats not be so partisan. They should cooperate with bi-partisan efforts to expand their empire, reduce domestic civil rights and cut taxes to the rich and the corporations. If they don't give in, they're being difficult and swayed by SIGs. Bad Democrats. Truly, this is what the Republicans did when in opposition: oppose and stand firm to their ideology. As the Democrats give in and cooperate, they show how Republican-lite they really are; they do, after all, take huge campaign contributions from the same rich folks and corporations that the Republicans do.

And new paradoxes emerge as well. The Republicans are not doing the old tax and spend Keynesian trick, but neither are they following the traditional right wing balanced budge rhetoric. They are cutting taxes (not so much a new thing for them), but they are blowing open the government coffers and spending into huge deficits to justify cutting social programs: all the things that big government ideologues love. This way, they can fund imperial pursuits, reward their rich and corporate backers with more cash and erode the role of government impeding unregulated free markets.

This radical morphing of Republican fiscal priorities has forced Democrats to play the fiscally responsible conservatives, promising balanced budgets and fiscal control: just what the Republicans have always sought.

Back to BC, the same neoLiberal tax cuts for the rich and corporations has created an artificial cash flow problem motivating Campbell's dreaded "tough choices" reflecting three of the four horsemen of global neoLiberal Structural Adjustment Programs that the western funded IMF loves to foist on the majority world: privatization (BC Ferries, BC Rail, health care support workers), deregulation (trimming "needless red tape"), and free trade (build BC ferries outside BC); increasing foreign direct investment is the fourth horseman.

And just like the Democrats, the provincial NDP has slipped to the centre, elected a moderate leader, promised balanced budgets over Keynsian or neo-Keynsian approaches and are fiscally as conservative as Social Credit used to be. The pendulum has not just swung to the right, but the whole thing has moved to the right.

So as citizens, it is our responsibility to remember that everyone in political life is ideological. People who claim to be non-partisan are lying if they have some economic, political, moral or social priorities that exist over others. People who claim that Special Interest Groups pull the strings of their political enemies likely have groups or even personal ideologies that motivate them as well.

In the end, politics SHOULD be about ideologies. Ideologically vacant politicians are worthless, though can often get elected because as chameleons, they reflect the will of the pollsters' snapshots of public will. We should be electing people with ideologies and we should be wary of people who claim to have none to appear to be unbiased: they are dangerous, dangerous liars.


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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Longing for Ideologically Vacant Politicians? 

I was quite shocked by Marshall Norgan's letter to the editor [Vancouver Courier, see below] regarding Vancouver city council's decision to not let the vomitous dog Wall-Mart into our city. He is dismayed that Vancouver city councillors Louis and Roberts "don't seem able to separate their personal ideology and agenda from their public position."

Does Mr. Norgan wish politicians to be completely free of the burden of personal ideologies and agendas? Would such morally and philosophically vacant politicians please Mr. Norgan with their utter inability to form opinions, preferences or goals for society?

As Mr. Norgan "anxiously await[s] the next election," I wish him well in trying to vote for candidates who show no sign of ideology whatsoever. Perhaps he'll get sucked in by the "Non-Partisan Association" whose name seems to suggest they have no ideologies when they clearly do.

To the editor:

Re: "COPE council delivers 'stunning' blow to big box giant," July 3.

I am so disappointed with our city council and specifically councillors Tim Louis and Anne Roberts. They don't seem able to separate their personal ideology and agenda from their public position.

Tim Louis bringing up Wal-Mart's support of the Bush campaign is just embarrassing on so many levels. I'm certainly not a fan of Bush but honestly, where does Mr. Louis think he is sitting? He consistently brings up world events and even dead foreign revolutionary leaders to justify his actions on a civic council. It's pathetic to be honest.

It's all been fun and games with this circus group but to the everyday working person who actually needs to stick to a budget in order to afford the high living costs of Vancouver, I can tell you I will now have to continue to find a way to get to North Van's Wal-Mart to pinch my pennies so that I can pay my taxes to keep Mr. Louis in his privileged job.

In my opinion, this council has had its day. I anxiously await the next election.

Marshall Norgan, Vancouver


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The Futility of the Left-Right Political Spectrum 

The left-right spectrum is pretty obsolete, what with right wing w.Caesar running crazy deficits to undermine government's ability to meddle with individual freedom to become rich and free from social regulation and left wing governments pledging to balance budgets: typically the reverse of the old Cold War Keynesian days.

In November of 2002 a friend sent me a link to a site, Political Compass, to do a survey to see where I would live on a two-dimensional spectrum consisting of left-right and authoritarian-libertarian, like so:

The next two images show estimates of where other well-known people could be on this spectrum.

So 2.5 years ago I did the survey and ended up in the bottom left quadrant:

These days, as I get older and wiser and parental and more mature and more commited to the establishment I did the survey again to find myself--shock--even more radical:

Ultimately, I think everyone ought to swing by this website, Political Compass, to see where they are. The sooner we get more and more people releasing themselves from the tyranny of a 1-dimensional political spectrum, the better. The next task will be to create 3 and 4-dimensional models.


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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Cleverly Ignoring the Forest for a Tree of Hypocrisy 

Mark Steyn's petty critique of Live8 in What rocks is capitalism... yeah, yeah, yeah [see below] is a cynical attempt to blow smoke up a legitimate action because a bunch of rich, selfish celebrities are involved: just the kind of people, by the way, to get hundreds of millions of folks watching a bunch of commercials with fingers snapping every 3 seconds to highlight the gong show we've made out of developing countries.

Sure these celebrities are rich and likely won't carve out heaps of their own cash to fix Africa, but in Steyn's effort to make it all look like a hypocritical scam, he creates a straw man out of the whole point of Live8. Live8 goals can be found here if Steyn cared to look at their whole approach: http://www.live8live.com/whatsitabout/index.shtml

It's not to toss aid to African nations, however corrupt they may/will be in the future. It's about more and better aid which focuses on community development involving citizens, not corrupt leaders sucking on the CIA tit of suitcases full of cash and US Marine bases.

It's about eliminating the debt of not just the poorest countries [the HIPCs: Heavily Indebted Poor Countries], but countries that have paid off the principal many times over through interest rates, principal incurred by criminal, kleptocratic leaders: odious debt.

But most importantly, it's about trade justice. The lie that is free trade currently allows the EU and USA to protect domestic textile and agricultural producers against foreign imports when those industries are the best hopes for developing countries partaking in the global capitalist marketplace. Such lies are unbearable.

Ironically, it's this hypocrisy that Steyn captures when he lambastes Linda McCartney's shrewd use of jurisdictional dancing to avoid "fair" tax payments. That's the same hypocrisy that kills millions a year through trade injustice. This is why the developing countries are stalling WTO talks: because they know developed countries' definition of fair trade is a lie.

The truth ultimately, though, despite Steyn's bitterness at the rich celebrities, is that it is not the job of the rich to fix global trade injustice and exploitation leading to a child dying every 3 seconds. It's citizens' job in democratic countries to force their leaders to stop the system from killing people. Cheques from Dave Gilmour and Madonna won't fix anything and Steyn is off-base hinting that as capitalists, celebrities have no right to speak when it's citizens of capitalist countries that gain from the death and exploitation of the poor.

Even my local Liberal MP got into the act of justifying virtual inaction when he responded to my Live8 email to Paul Martin with a rationalization that we're doing so much, when in reality we're helping with one hand and slapping with the other:

"When Prime Minister Martin was Finance Minister, he led an initiative at the G20 to establish a program to relieve the most indebted nations. As a result, the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative was created. The HIPC is a comprehensive international debt reduction strategy, to help the poorest nations of the world reduce their external debt burdens. Canada was the first creditor country to call for forgiveness of all bilateral debt owed by countries eligible for the HIPC program. The HIPC is used as a complimentary program to the Canadian Debt Initiative which was introduced in March 1999; our Government recognized the grave implications of unsustainable debt levels of HIPC countries. You may wish to read more information about the HIPC at http://www.fin.gc.ca/toce/2005/cdre0105_e.html "

Shame on us and shame on Mark Steyn.

What rocks is capitalism... yeah, yeah, yeah

By Mark Steyn
(Filed: 05/07/2005)

'To sneer at such events," cautioned The Sunday Telegraph apropos Live8, "demeans the generosity which they embody".

Oh, dear. If you can't sneer at rock stars in the Telegraph, where can you? None the less, if not exactly a full-blown sneer, I did feel a faint early Sir Cliff-like curl of the lip coming on during the opening moments of Saturday's festivities, when Sir Paul McCartney stepped onstage.

Not because Sir Paul was any better or worse than Sir Elton or Sir Bob or any other member of the aristorockracy, but because it reminded me of why I'm sceptical about the "generosity" which these events "embody".

Seven years ago, you'll recall, Sir Paul's wife died of cancer. Linda McCartney had been a resident of the United Kingdom for three decades but her Manhattan tax lawyers, Winthrop Stimson Putnam & Roberts, devoted considerable energy in her final months to establishing her right to have her estate probated in New York state.

That way she could set up a "qualified domestic marital trust" that would... Yeah, yeah, yeah, in the immortal words of Lennon and/or McCartney. Big deal, you say. We're into world peace and saving the planet and feeding Africa. What difference does it make which jurisdiction some squaresville suit files the boring paperwork in?

Okay, I'll cut to the chase. By filing for probate in New York rather than the United Kingdom, Linda McCartney avoided the 40 per cent death duties levied by Her Majesty's Government. That way, her family gets all 100 per cent - and 100 per cent of Linda McCartney's estate isn't to be sneezed at.

For purposes of comparison, Bob Geldof's original Live Aid concert in 1985 raised £50 million. Lady McCartney's estate was estimated at around £150 million. In other words, had she paid her 40 per cent death duties, the British Treasury would have raised more money than Sir Bob did with Bananarama and all the gang at Wembley Stadium that day.

Given that she'd enjoyed all the blessings of life in these islands since 1968, Gordon Brown might have felt justified in reprising Sir Bob's heartfelt catchphrase at Wembley: "Give us yer fokkin' money!" But she didn't. She kept it for herself. And good for her. I only wish I could afford her lawyers.

I don't presume to know what was in her mind, but perhaps she figured that for the causes she cared about - vegetarianism, animal rights, the usual stuff - her money would do more good if it stayed in private hands rather than getting tossed down the great sucking maw of the Treasury where an extra 60 million quid makes barely a ripple.

And, while one might query whether Sir Paul (with his own fortune of £500 million) or young Stella really need an extra 15 million or so apiece, in the end Linda McCartney made a wise decision in concluding that her estate would do more good kept out of Mr Brown's hands, or even re-routed to Africa, where it might just about have defrayed the costs of the deflowering ceremony for the King of Swaziland's latest wife.

And that's why the Live8 bonanza was so misguided. Two decades ago, Sir Bob was at least demanding we give him our own fokkin' money. This time round, all he was asking was that we join him into bullying the G8 blokes to give us their taxpayers' fokkin' money.

Or as Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd put it: "I want to do everything I can to persuade the G8 leaders to make huge commitments to the relief of poverty and increased aid to the Third World. It's crazy that America gives such a paltry percentage of its GNP to the starving nations."

No, it's not. It's no more crazy than Linda McCartney giving such a paltry percentage of her estate - ie, 0 per cent - to Gordon Brown. And, while Britain may be a Bananarama republic, it's not yet the full-blown thing.

Africa is a hard place to help. I had a letter from a reader the other day who works with a small Canadian charity in West Africa. They bought a 14-year-old SUV for 1,500 Canadian dollars to ferry food and supplies to the school they run in a rural village. Customs officials are demanding a payment of $8,000 before they'll release it.

There are thousands of incidents like that all over Africa every day of the week. Yet, throughout the weekend's events, Dave Gilmour and Co were too busy Rocking Against Bush to spare a few moments to Boogie Against Bureaucracy or Caterwaul Against Corruption or Ululate Against Usurpation. Instead, Madonna urged the people to "start a revolution". Like Africa hasn't had enough of those these past 40 years?

Let's take it as read that Sir Bob and Sir Bono are exceptionally well informed and articulate on Africa's problems. Why then didn't they get the rest of the guys round for a meeting beforehand with graphs and pie charts and bullet points in bright magic markers, so that Sir Dave and Dame Madonna would understand that Africa's problem is not a lack of "aid". The tragedy of Live8 is that its message was as cobwebbed as its repertoire.

Don't get me wrong. I love old rockers - not for the songs, which are awful, but for their business affairs, which so totally rock. In 1997, David Bowie became the first pop star to hold a bond offering himself. How about that? Fifty-five million dollars' worth of Bowie "class A royalty-backed notes" were snapped up in minutes after Moody's in New York gave them their coveted triple-A rating.

Once upon a time, rock stars weren't rated by Moody, they were moody - they self-destructed, they choked to death in their own vomit, they hoped to die before they got old. Instead, judging from Sir Pete Townshend on Saturday, they got older than anyone's ever been. Today, Paul McCartney is a businessman: he owns the publishing rights to Annie and Guys & Dolls. These faux revolutionaries are capitalists red in tooth and claw.

The system that enriched them could enrich Africa. But capitalism's the one cause the poseurs never speak up for. The rockers demand we give our fokkin' money to African dictators to manage, while they give their fokkin' money to Winthrop Stimson Putnam & Roberts to manage. Which of those models makes more sense?


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Sunday, July 03, 2005

Ralph Goodale's [Predictable] Rain on Live 8 

I would have had to pinch myself if Canada's Finance Minister Ralph Goodale did not rain on the Live8 momentum to eradicate poverty.

Not only has Canada completely ignored its early 1990s pledge to eliminate child poverty in Canada by 2000, but our finance minister cannot be seen to buckle to the pressure of actual citizens getting together to push for political change. That would certainly make the politicians--leaders, decision-makers, beacons of hope and direction--look like they are being driven around by the electorate motivated by the latest rock star whim...regardless of the prime minister's eagerness to have Bono speak at a federal Liberal convention before blowing off the promise to actually fulfil Canada's 0.7% aid pledge by actually providing the cash for foreign aid to the level we pledged.

Finance Minister Ralph Goodale, in his post Live8 spin, blew a great big number out of his bum to scare us into the depth of crushing poverty it would thrust us if we actually spent 0.7% of our GDP on foreign aid. Forget for a minute that so much of our foreign aid is tied aid, where recipient nations must spent the money on Canadian companies to provide services and products, thus enriching our own economy. Forget also about all we aren't doing to address corrupt governments in recipient nations and we can look at Goodale's number for what it is: fearmongering in the only G8 nation with a current government budget surplus.

"The numbers involved are very, very large," Goodale told reporters. He said it would cost Canada C$41 billion in new spending over the next decade if Ottawa were to start boosting funding this year.

"Now, that is in the order of magnitude of our (new) investment in health care over the next 10 years ... Those are very large numbers to be able to absorb within the fiscal framework," he said.

$41b over 10 years is just $4.1b per year on average, but let's deal with a big big big number over 10 years. So to improve our already [virtually] universal health care of the next decade, the government plans to spend $41.3b over those ten years:

On September 16, 2004, Canada's First Ministers signed the 10-Year Plan to Strengthen Health Care. Under this plan, the Government of Canada will provide $41.3 billion in new health care funding over the next 10 years.

This leaves Canadians with the bitter, selfish task of deciding if a decade of improvements to our universal health care is worth the same to us as doing our part--taking a lead even--in helping a child not die from severe poverty every three seconds.

My sad fear is that too many Canadians will not feel those two $41b items are worth the same. Way to go, Ralph.


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Friday, July 01, 2005

Relative Monstrosity Versus Absolute Monstrosity 

Max Boot's piece about how the Americans aren't so bad if we compare them to the right monsters is an unfortunate excuse piece. Ultimately it's comparisons that are the problem. Boot gets it right in the second paragraph: "Who wouldn't expect the 'land of the free' to behave better than the most monstrous regimes in history?"

But then it goes downhill in the next sentence: "So let's use a better comparison."

The whole point of moral acceptability is not that we or they are not as bad as someone or someone else; it's whether we live up to our own standards. Comparisons themselves are red herrings.

Saying the Americans are not as bad as butchers and better than some other group is still irrelevant if they cannot live up to their own moral standards.

Ultimately, the closing phrase, "I'm not saying that unlawful conduct by U.S. service personnel should be ignored or excused" betrays the real purpose of this piece: to excuse Americans because no one is perfect and the British were worse. Where is the second half of his article that talks about how Americans should hold American soldiers and leaders accountable for not living up to their standards.

So sad.


Torture at Gitmo? Ask the Mau Mau

History proves that the U.S. has been remarkably restrained.
Max Boot

June 30, 2005

By now it hardly needs saying that, contrary to the animadversions of Dick Durbin and Amnesty International, Guantanamo Bay bears no resemblance to Nazi concentration camps, Soviet gulags or Khmer Rouge killing fields. Millions of people were murdered in those places. The sum total of those killed at Gitmo is...zero.

But perhaps the critics of U.S. detention practices are correct in saying that this is damning with faint praise. Who wouldn't expect the "land of the free" to behave better than the most monstrous regimes in history? So let's use a better comparison. Look at how the United States' closest ally, Britain, handled an insurgency much smaller and much less threatening than the one we face today.

In Kenya during the early 1950s, a movement known as Mau Mau arose to challenge British colonial rule. Though Mau Mau became a byword for savagery, it was actually pretty restrained as far as guerrilla movements go. Its 20,000 adherents killed fewer than 100 Europeans and 2,000 African loyalists--fewer than the toll from 9/11 alone. Unlike the Iraqi rebels, the Mau Mau had no outside support and no sophisticated weapons. (They mainly killed with machetes.) Unlike Al Qaeda, they did not target the British homeland.

Yet the British used disturbingly harsh tactics against them, as revealed in two new books--"Histories of the Hanged" by David Anderson of Oxford University and "Imperial Reckoning" by Caroline Elkins of Harvard.

The British admitted killing 11,000 Mau Mau, but the real figure, these authors make clear, was much, much higher. Security forces held hundreds of thousands of suspects without trial in a system of penal camps known as the Pipeline. Unlike detainees at Gitmo, who receive three meals a day and all the medical care they need, prisoners in the Pipeline were half-starved, worked to the point of collapse, and sickened by the poor sanitation.

Torture was standard during interrogation, and was not what passes for "torture" in anti-American screeds today (e.g., stepping on a Koran). This was the real thing. According to Elkins, "the screening teams whipped, shot, burned, and mutilated Mau Mau suspects." Some men were forcibly castrated or sodomized. Others were beaten to death or summarily executed.

Little distinction was drawn between guerrillas and civilians. The Mau Mau were primarily Kikuyu, Kenya's largest ethnic group, and the British detained nearly all 1.5 million of them.

Men, women and children were forced off their homesteads at gunpoint. Those not sent to the Pipeline were herded into villages surrounded by barbed wire where they had to endure forced labor while denied adequate food or medical care. Many women were gang-raped by guards. Has anything like this happened in Iraq? Of course not. If it had, you'd hear about it on "60 Minutes."

Mau Mau was defeated by the mid-1950s, but colonial rule did not long survive. In 1963, Kenya achieved independence under Jomo Kenyatta, who had spent eight years in prison after being falsely convicted of being the Mau Mau mastermind.

There was really nothing unusual about the British counterinsurgency strategy. It was similar to the methods used by the British in South Africa during the Boer War (1899-1902) and in Malaya (1948-1960), by the French in Algeria (1954-1962), by the Dutch in Indonesia (1945-1949), and by the Americans in the Philippines (1899-1902).

These Western democracies were not guilty of genocide, a la Hitler or Pol Pot, but they did commit brutality light-years beyond anything that happened at Abu Ghraib, much less Gitmo.

Seen in historical context, what sets apart the U.S. campaign in the global war on terrorism is not its savagery, as the critics would have us believe, but its unprecedented restraint.

Military investigators have found that out of more than 50,000 suspected terrorists held since 9/11, 26 may have died wrongfully and another 100 or so were abused. Even if the real figure is higher (as it probably is), it is not worth mentioning in the same breath with the excesses committed in Algeria, Kenya or any other serious counterinsurgency. And, unlike in those places, the perpetrators are being prosecuted.

I'm not saying that unlawful conduct by U.S. service personnel should be ignored or excused. I'm simply suggesting that we can't judge U.S. soldiers by impossible standards of perfection attained by no other army in history--especially when they are battling fanatical mass murderers who make the Mau Mau look like Boy Scouts.


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