Saturday, September 22, 2007

The tyranny of the minority...

The Konservative Minority Guvmint, that is. Yes, King Stephen strikes again: the 33 y/o National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL) has shuttered its doors.

Over the last three decades, NAWL has fought very hard to improve the social, legal and economic standing of Canadian women: improving maternity and parental benefits, the criminalization of wife assault, and legislation against sexual harassment, for just a few examples.

This was not a sudden death, but rather a protracted, painful demise due to a starvation of resources. NAWL's fate was as good as sealed as soon as the HarperKons announced their cuts to Status of Women Canada (that's SWC, NOT "SOW," you Kretins). Cut, cut, cut...
  • October 4, 2006: "Tories to cut Funding for Womens' Advocacy Work (Canadian Press)
  • November 29, 2006: "Tories Shutting Status of Women Offices (CBC News)
  • November 30, 2006: "Ottawa Consolidates Status of Women Services" (CBC News)
  • ...
Ah hell. I can't bear to do the list. You see, NAWL was neither the first, nor the last organization to be cut by the HarperKons. April Reign has kept careful track of the bloodletting over at her blog.

But it's ok. Don't see this as another symptom of ruthless neglect. Clearly you misunderstand! Yes, Harper and his latest stooge Minister of Canadian Heritage, Josée Verner, would like NAWL to simply apply themselves a little better and follow their new & improved guidelines for SWC funding. On Thursday, Verner joined CBC Radio's Ana Maria Tremonti to 'splain things for us (The Current, Sept 20, 2007). Verner claimed to be "very disappointed that this group did not apply" for 2007/2008 funding and "did not submit any requests yet." When Tremonti countered that the New Government's (TM) funding rules do not apply to groups who perform advocacy functions (e.g. NAWL), Verner rolled out Meme#1: "We decided to fund concrete projects"

Ah yes. Concrete projects. None of that wishy-washy, namby-pamby advocacy horse-pucky.

Advocacy. As in avocat--French for lawyer. As in: people who practise law. Call me crazy, but it's hard to see how the National Association for Women and the Law could get around doin' a little advocacy now & then.

So what's a "concrete," ergo SWC-eligible project? Well, Verner rambled about funding for women's shelters, but failed to provide any solid--concrete?--examples. Verner repeated that she was confused about why NAWL simply didn't apply for SWC funding, leaving the impression that the organization had simply let itself starve to death out of sheer negligence.

But: NAWL is not dead...yet. The association is maintaining its board of directors and volunteers, but has closed its physical shop and laid off staff. Konservative Krazies, like Gwen Landolt (REAL women--I'm not linking!) have suggested that NAWL simply raise funds the 'traditional' way--after all, if they're really so important to women, shouldn't they be able to come up with their own support? REAL translation? Har har har, we know you radical feminazis don't have the same kind of grassroots support that we do! You don't speak for all women, or you wouldn't need your government-funded ivory towers!

Bullshit. Money does not equal democracy. A lot of the organizations decimated by the HarperKons were established to serve those without the means or the megaphone to speak--nay, advocate--for themselves. Think Court Challenges Program. Think federal programs for the homeless (e.g. SCPI, the 'Supporting Community Partnerships Initiative').

If you heard or read anything at all about the cuts, it was probably this word: Neanderthal. As in: "Harper called 'Neanderthal' for cuts to women's groups." (that was Opposition critic, Maria Minna, dropping the N-bomb there). But Minna wasn't the only one outraged by the cuts. Here is a sampling of official and unofficial rxn to NAWL's announcement:

NDP Reaction: Irene Mathyssen
The work NAWL has done in coalition with other groups to dismantle barriers to achieve women's equality will be greatly missed by the many women's organizations that depend on them for their research, advocacy and expertise [...]
The closure of NAWL will turn back the clock on women's equality in Canada [...] The Harper government is not committed to promoting women's equality. They don't understand the issues that women face today. They are abandoning everyday women in this country.
Liberal Reaction: Maria Minna
Women's groups that promote equality in Canada and around the world are fighting for the right to exist under the Harper government [...] NAWL is just the latest victim of the Conservatives' narrow-minded, right-wing ideological policies.
[...] NAWL has been instrumental in many areas of women's advancement including Sections 15 and 28 in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; amendments to sexual assault laws; positive changes to family law and to the Divorce Act; rape shield legislation; and criminal harassment legislation [...] I would like to know why Mr. Harper is against an organization that protects women's rights.
Le Bloc Québécois: Nicole Demers
En mettant la clé sous la porte, le groupe Femmes et droits montre à quel point les femmes sont mal servies par le gouvernement Harper, qui a procédé à des compressions budgétaires sans précédent dans les fonds destinés aux groupes de défense des droits de la femme. Le Bloc Québécois a dénoncé à plusieurs reprises ces coupes injustifiées et continue à contester cette attitude préjudiciable pour les femmes d'ici.
[...]Stephen Harper a décidé que seuls les groupes de femmes qui offrent des services à leur clientèle peuvent bénéficier des subventions gouvernementales. Comme Femmes et droits est un groupe de défense des droits des femmes, il ne reçoit plus de subsides du gouvernement. Est-ce à dire que les femmes n'ont plus besoin d'être représentées? Et qui va s'occuper de la défense et de la promotion de leurs droits si ce n'est des groupes comme ceux-là? Sûrement pas les conservateurs!
{NOTE: No official Green Party rxn, but their leader is smack-dab in the middle of hip-replacement surgery today--a successful surgery, from what I gather}

From NAWL itself:
Blog Rxns:
Other important links: Bookmark these, if you haven't already!
{'Far enough' Image courtesy of April Reign. H/T to Holly Stick, Sparqui and Alison at for The Current interview and other helpful links}

UPDATE, Saturday, Sept 22, 1:50 PM: added link to Alison's fab post @ Creekside :)
UPDATE, Saturday, Sept 22, 5:12 PM: added links to matttbastard's fab post @ bastard.logic, and CUPW sisters' 2 new posts @ F-email Fightback (here & here).
UPDATE, Sunday, Sept 23, 4:55 AM: added fab post at April Reign.
UPDATE, Sunday, Sept 25, 2:15 AM: added fab post by Prole at A Creative Revolution.

Read on, MacDuff!

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

Tonight, attendees of the Toronto International Film Festival will be treated to a very special short film by Naomi Klein. The premiere of the ~6 min film has been timed to coincide with the release of Klein's much anticipated book, "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism."

If you found this short-film upsetting to watch, you are in excellent company: Klein herself found it "disturbing." Yes, despite years of dogged research for The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein has not inured herself to the subject matter. And who can blame her? Let's take a quick look at some of the ground covered by the book (from Random House of Canada; emphasis added):
From Chile to China to Iraq, torture has been a silent partner in the global free market crusade. But torture is more than a tool used to enforce unwanted policies on rebellious peoples; it is also a metaphor of the shock doctrine’s underlying logic. Torture, or in CIA language "coercive interrogation," is a set of techniques designed to put prisoners into a state of deep disorientation and shock in order to force them to make concessions against their will. ...The shock doctrine mimics this process precisely, attempting to achieve on a mass scale what torture does one on one in the interrogation cell. ...The original disaster – the coup, the terrorist attack, the market meltdown, the war, the tsunami, the hurricane – puts the entire population into a state of collective shock. The falling bombs, the bursts of terror, the pounding winds serve to soften up whole societies much as the blaring music and blows in the torture cells soften up prisoners. Like the terrorized prisoner who gives up the names of comrades and renounces his faith, shocked societies often give up things they would otherwise fiercely protect.
—from Shock Doctrine
Torture. Bombs. Coups. Disasters. As a journalist, Naomi Klein has written about all of these things, in her work as a reporter. What is almost unique about Klein is that, while many other journalists have enriched our understanding of such events in our recent history, Klein provides us with the back story. The context. The history. The motives.

When post-invasion Iraq erupted in "looting" and chaos, Klein saw another, more insidious type of robbery at play. In "Baghdad Year Zero," Klein reached into the black, ugly heart of the matter, visiting Iraq to document the so-called reconstruction. And she found that nothing of the kind was happening. The Wolfowitz/American Enterprise Institute's free-market utopia was turning into a nightmare. The bombed-out Tabula Rosa (blank slate) that was post-Saddam Iraq was supposed to be the perfect venue in which to test their neocon/neolib fantasies. A kind of "economic shock-therapy" where the citizens would be too dazed, too confused and too desperate to object to their experiments.

When the first images of tortured Abu Ghraib prisoners appeared in the New Yorker and on 60 minutes, the American media exploded in an indignant chorus of "Never Before." Naomi Klein was there to remind us of The School of the Americas and The Phoenix Program. In Shock Doctrine, Klein promises to build on the important research unearthed by Dr. Alfred McCoy, including a treatment of the sinister McGill/CIA research performed in the 1950s.

When the South Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina resulted in devastating losses of life and livelihoods, Klein was there to document the unseen secondary disasters. After the December 2004 tsunami, Klein observed that the world's loan sharks (the World Bank and the IMF) were using the 'opportunity' presented by the disaster to "push through its cookie-cutter policies" and essentially impose privatization of State services on the disoriented survivors. After Katrina? Klein spoke with Jordan Flaherty, a New Orleans-based labour organizer, who told her, "Now the developers have their big chance to disperse the obstacle to gentrification--poor people." In Shock Doctrine, Klein further connects the exploitation of natural disasters by the Blackwaters and Bechtels and Halliburtons.

Naomi Klein has proved that she has the scholarly patience and rigour to make these important connections. Where others see only 'news,' Klein sees a multi-act play--often with many hidden actors.

And she sees hope. In her speech to the American Sociological Association, Klein concluded that--despite everything--another world is possible:
We who say we believe in this other world need to know that we are not losers. We did not lose the battle of ideas. We were not outsmarted, and we were not out-argued. We lost because we were crushed. Sometimes we were crushed by army tanks, and sometimes we were crushed by think tanks. And by think tanks, I mean the people who are paid to think by the makers of tanks. Now, most effective we have seen is when the army tanks and the think tanks team up. The quest to impose a single world market has casualties now in the millions, from Chile then to Iraq today. These blueprints for another world were crushed and disappeared because they are popular and because, when tried, they work. They're popular because they have the power to give millions of people lives with dignity, with the basics guaranteed. They are dangerous because they put real limits on the rich, who respond accordingly. Understanding this history, understanding that we never lost the battle of ideas, that we only lost a series of dirty wars, is key to building the confidence that we lack, to igniting the passionate intensity that we need.
I am very much looking forward to reading The Shock Doctrine. I could really use some more hope with my onions, lately!

About the video: Film Description and Director Biography
In the short The Shock Doctrine, author Naomi Klein and filmmakers Alfonso and Jonás Cuarón team up for an elegant illustration of a powerful idea: massive political change follows massive crisis, and it is never by accident. (Cameron Bailey)

Jonás Cuarón has directed the feature Año Uña (07) and the shorts Un Disparejo (Ro-Sham-Bo) (03) and The Shock Doctrine (co-director, 07).

Alfonso Cuarón was born in Mexico City and has directed several internationally acclaimed films, including Y Tu Mamá También (01), Children of Men (06) and The Shock Doctrine (co-director, 07).

Naomi Klein was born in Montreal. She wrote the documentary feature The Take (04). The Shock Doctrine (07) is a film by Klein and Alfonso and Jonás Cuarón.
DISCLOSURE: I have promised to review The Shock Doctrine, which I will do in the coming days. In return for this, and for posting the video, Random House has offered to send me a free copy of the book.

Read on, MacDuff!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Fly Swatter in Chief

I get it now. I have unravelled one of the great, lingering mysteries of our times. A great weight has lifted. The clouds have parted.

Be patient. I promise you it'll be worth it.

I have finally figured out WTF Condi Rice was talkin' about, that fine spring day in 2004, when she finally deigned to testify before the 911 commission.

You will recall that her appearance was no small beer, and came only after months of relentless shaming. You will also recall that famous--no doubt inadvertent--confession regarding the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing (more on that in my "911 Bookends" post, if you're so inclined). But there was something else amiss at that day's testimony: apart from her attempts to persuade the commissioners that Bush & friends had done their due diligence pre-911, there was something else that brought strange new wrinkles to my nose and brow.* (from her opening statement; emphasis added):
We also moved to develop a new and comprehensive strategy to try and eliminate the al-Qaida network. President Bush understood the threat, and he understood its importance. He made clear to us that he did not want to respond to al-Qaida one attack at a time. He told me he was tired of swatting flies.
Flies, you say? Commissioner Lee Hamilton was also curious: what exactly did Bush and Rice do to protect the US from the gathering threat. Hamilton noted, for example:
Your public statements focused largely on China and Russia and missile defence. You did make comments on terrorism, but they were connected _ the link between terrorism and the rogue regimes, like North Korea and Iran and Iraq.

And by our count here, there were some 100 meetings by the national security principals before the first meeting was held on terrorism, September 4th. And General Shelton, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said that terrorism had been pushed farther to the back burner.
So what did she do exactly? Rice responded with a meandering statement, testifying that Bush really wanted to do something about bin Laden, but his gosh-dern cab'net wasn't giving him any plans. She concluded:
All that I can tell you is that what the president wanted was a plan to eliminate al-Qaida so he could stop swatting at flies.
And so it continued, with the commissioners taking their respective turns with the witness. And then came Commissioner and Fmr. Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Nebraska):
KERREY: You've used the phrase a number of times, and I'm hoping with my question to disabuse you of using it in the future. You said the president was tired of swatting flies.
Can you tell me one example where the president swatted a fly when it came to Al Qaida prior to 9/11?
RICE: I think what the president was speaking to was...
KERREY: No, no. What fly had he swatted?
RICE: Well, the disruptions abroad was what he was really focusing on...
KERREY: No, no...
RICE: ... when the CIA would go after Abu Zubaydah...[**]
KERREY: He hadn't swatted...
RICE: ... or go after this guy...
KERREY: Dr. Rice, we didn't...
RICE: That was what was meant.
KERREY: We only swatted a fly once on the 20th of August 1998. We didn't swat any flies afterwards. How the hell could he be tired?
RICE: We swatted at _ I think he felt that what the agency was doing was going after individual terrorists here and there, and that's what he meant by swatting flies. It was simply a figure of speech.
Fly, flies, swatting...gah! I admit it: I was distracted by the image of Bush being distracted by swarms of flies. My brain's like that, unfortunately.

And then, three years hence, we meet Robert Draper, Bush biographer.

Now, I should hasten to add that I have not read 'Dead Certain.' Like many of you, I have read several excerpts and summaries, since the embargo was lifted on the weekend: how Bush put the shiv in Jerry Bremer's back, or how Bush likes to cry his evil l'il eyes out, just for two examples. Very interesting...very interesting indeed.

But then...then there was this little nugget:
Sitting in an anteroom of the Oval Office, [Bush] eschewed the more formal White House menu for comfort food — a low-fat hotdog and ice cream — and bitingly told an aide who peeked in on the session that his time with Mr. Draper was “worthless anyway.”

But as Mr. Draper described it, and as the transcripts show, Mr. Bush warmed up considerably over the intervening interviews, chewing on an unlit cigar, jubilantly swatting at flies between making solemn points, propping his feet up on a table or stopping him at points to say emphatically, “I want you to get this” or “I want this damn book to be right.”
And then the penny, she dropped. Just like that. Bush has been literally swatting at flies.

Not bin Laden. Not al Zawahiri.

Flies. Like, for 6 1/2 years...and counting.

You see? I promised you that it would all make sense. And, alas, it does.

*I would come to practise this particular wrinkling pattern with much regularity in the intervening years of the Bush dynasty.

**GDK note: you mean one of the guys you tortured half to death?

Read on, MacDuff!