December 2, 2009

Today we featured an interview with Yves Engler regarding the Honduran ‘elections’. “Yves Engler is a Montréal activist and author. He has published three books, The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Playing Left Wing: From Rink Rat to Student Radical and (with Anthony Fenton)Canada in Haiti: Waging War on The Poor Majority” (Frenwood Publishing).

Some Background

Statement on the TML Daily:  On December 1, Canada’s Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas), Peter Kent, issued a disgraceful statement congratulating “the people of Honduras on the country’s presidential and legislative elections last Sunday.”

“Canada congratulates the Honduran people for the relatively peaceful and orderly manner in which the country’s elections were conducted,” a press release says. Admitting that the elections “were not monitored by international organizations such as the Organization of American States,” Kent dismisses the significance of this fact. Through sleight of hand he declares an altogether spurious method for legitimization of an election by elements which would never pass muster under any conceivable legitimate circumstances. “We are encouraged by reports from civil society organizations that there was a strong turnout for the elections, that they appear to have been run freely and fairly, and that there was no major violence,” Kent says. He totally ignores verdicts rendered by President Zelaya and the Honduran resistance. Why such a prejudice against the people of Honduras, Mr. Kent?

The stand of the government of Stephen Harper is revealing the lengths it is willing to go to establish a new self-serving definition of democracy — a new kind of totalitarian democracy. Just because it controls the levers of power in Canada at a time there is no viable opposition to replace it does not mean Canadians will tolerate this totalitarian notion of democracy. Peter Kent’s undisguised promotion of the U.S. agenda for Honduras is disgraceful as well. Here is what he says:

“The election results make it more important than ever for the parties to refocus their attention on implementing the Tegucigalpa-San José Accord. We call for strong political leadership on the part of Porfirio Lobo in forming a government of national unity to help Honduras move out of this lengthy political impasse and enable a speedy return to democratic rule and constitutional order.

“Canada calls on all Honduran stakeholders, including all branches of government, the private sector and civil society, to work together in a spirit of constructive reconciliation.”

According to the Real News Network, “[o]n June 28, 2009, the elected President of Honduras, Manuel “Mel” Zelaya, was removed from office. The day was significant because it was to be the first day that all the people of Honduras would be asked their opinion by the government. They were to vote on whether or not they wished to see a question on the upcoming general election ballot regarding re-writing the country’s constitution, a document which severely limits public participation. Five months later, the election is going ahead, but Mel Zelaya is pinned in the Brazilian embassy and the resistance movement that rose up by the hundreds of thousands in the days following the coup is almost invisible after more than 4,000 documented human rights abuses including: assassination, rape, torture, illegal detention, and repeated attacks on anti-coup media outlets. The regime is looking to renew itself through Sunday’s elections, and is preparing to lock the country down militarily in order to do so. But while the movement is not as visible as it was before, this report shows that it is very much alive in the minds of the capital’s inhabitants who are boycotting the elections.”

Click on link to hear the complete program including the feature Interview with Yves Engler: 68-The_Shake_Up-20091202-1200-t1259755200


More Program Stuff

Obama’s Goldilocks plan for Afghanistan

By James Laxer

|December 1, 2009

Barack Obama got mired in Afghanistan during his campaign for the presidency in 2008. To fend off attacks on him from Hillary Clinton and John McCain that depicted him as a geo-strategic lightweight, Obama talked tough about Afghanistan. To lend credence to his criticism of the U.S. conflict in Iraq, Obama said the war the Americans really had to win was in Afghanistan. To show how unflinching he could be, Obama said he would be prepared to launch attacks on Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, along the Afghan border, even if the government of Pakistan withheld permission for this.

Now, following two months of lengthy consultations with his national security advisers in the Situation Room, the president has come up with his plan to handle the so-called “forgotten” war.

With West Point as his backdrop — the academy from which such legendary figures as Robert E. Lee and Dwight D. Eisenhower graduated — Obama announced what is being depicted as an “extended surge” which will see an additional 30,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan. By the end of May 2010, the American force in that country will total nearly 100,000.

The goal of the surge is to downgrade the Taliban insurgency to the point where a trained and expanded Afghan military can handle the job. By July 2011, Obama pledged, the United States will begin to pull its troops out of Afghanistan.

While the president did not claim that the fight was to transform the Kabul regime into a democracy, he did lay down some performance targets, in the areas of good governance and the fight to rid the country of corruption, that he says that Afghan President Hamid Karzai must meet.

What leaps out of Obama’s speech is that this is not so much a plan to achieve victory in Afghanistan as a scheme to ensure the political health of the U.S. president. It is a Goldilocks plan, not too hot, not too cold, not too big, not too small.

While the planned surge is not as massive as General Stanley A. McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, wanted it to be, it is big enough to fend off Republican critics who are all-too-ready to accuse Obama of endangering American security by risking defeat in Afghanistan. By holding the line at 30,000 troops — additional cost, 30 billion dollars a year instead of 40 billion if McChrystal had had his way — Obama shows that he’s concerned about keeping Washington’s deficit manageable. By announcing a firm date for the beginning of the troop withdrawal, the president is trying to placate Democrats who believe that the war is unwinnable, that America has had enough of war, and the government should spend to combat poverty and homelessness in the United States, instead of wasting money and lives on a forlorn crusade in Central Asia.

The more you look at Obama’s plan, the more evident it is that the White House strategy is designed to suit the American political agenda at home, not the geo-strategic realities in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The surge should have its maximum effect by the summer of 2010, just in time to hold off the Republicans in the midterm elections in the autumn of that year. The withdrawal of troops is to begin in July 2011, perfect timing as Obama seeks the re-nomination of his party and the ardent support of Democrats for the presidential election of 2012.

Does anyone in Obama’s inner circle actually believe that the plan will transform Afghanistan into a country that lives under the rule of law, with an effective non-corrupt central government, and a regime that respects the rights of women? Do any of them expect the Afghan army to become an effective fighting force? Probably not.

This porridge is being served up for the American people, not for the people of Afghanistan. Canadians, who have seen their soldiers suffer the highest casualties, per capita, of any NATO country in this war, should avoid this delicacy, and any temptation to continue our mission beyond 2011.

James Laxer is regularly asked to comment on current national and global issues by the Canadian media and frequently writes columns in major newspapers and periodicals.  In 1969, he was one of the founders of the Waffle Group, Canada’s largest New Left political movement. In 1971, at the age of 29, he ran second for the national leadership of the New Democratic Party.  In the mid 1970s, James Laxer was a leading crusader against the power of multi national petroleum companies. His books, speeches and television appearances helped lead to the creation of a nationally owned oil company, Petro Canada, established to counter the power of companies like Exxon in Canada.

The lazy king of Consumerland

The backbone of capitalism is a docile public.

Dateline: Monday, November 30, 2009

by Charles Gordon

As Christmas approaches, noisily on our television sets and brightly in the coloured lights of the premature celebrators in the neighbourhood, it’s a good time to consider the state of the force that brings it all to us — capitalism, in other words.

We know, because we have been told often, that in our free enterprise system the consumer is king. Anything that the producers and owners do is in our name, and if we don’t approve, it fails.

We know that, and yet we see all around us examples of things capitalism has brought to us that we don’t want and things capitalism has taken away from us that we do want and nothing much seems to stop it.

If we are kings, the kingdom doesn’t seem to working all that well for us. And whose fault is that? Well, usually when things go wrong in the kingdom, you blame the king.

Consider some of the recent goings-on in the kingdom. Last month, CHUM Radio of Toronto decided to shake up some of its stations, including stations in Ottawa and Vancouver. In Vancouver an all-news station became an all-sports station. In Ottawa, about a dozen people were fired from two stations owned by CHUM. Victims included such popular hosts as rabbi and a former Canadian Football League star.

Was there an outcry? Did people rise up and demand the reinstatement of the fired radio personalities? Did they threaten to boycott CFRA and the Team 1200 until their favourite broadcasters were rehired? No. You can find a grumbles online in reader comments at the end of news stories, but that’s about it.

It’s sad, but as consumers we are way too used to it. Radio stations change formats all the time and the people put up with it. Today’s country station is tomorrow’s soft rock station; today’s all-news is tomorrow’s all-sports.

The urban legend is that the new format, fully computerized and ready to roll, arrives on a hard drive somebody brought as carry-on on the plane from Los Angeles. People say oh well. Some of them may change the station but the station itself only changes when the owners decide it’s time. Then all-news becomes classic rock and tough if you don’t like it.

Something similar has been afoot, as you know, at the CBC, which has become, in outlook, one of our most capitalistic enterprises. The national news was simultaneously jazzed up and dumbed down in a shift that brought about a ton of comment, if online contributions could be weighed.

It was quite an experience to read the comments on the CBC’s website, hundreds of them, overwhelmingly negative, impressively articulate. The near-unanimous view was that viewers loved the CBC, loved Peter Mansbridge, but hated what the CBC was forcing Mansbridge and his fellow-journalists to do, namely stand up, do inane chatter and fluffy stories.

CBC’s response was that they expected all that but that people would get used to it. In other words, people will say oh well and continue watching.

In a perfect kingdom, those people would vote with their feet — or, more properly, their thumbs, changing the channel to watch news somewhere else. A chastened CBC would return to the traditional journalistic practices that have won it such a loyal audience. It would once again be run for grown-ups by grown-ups.

We’ll see. The crucial question is whether the viewers can keep the pressure on — and the history is not encouraging.

The backbone of capitalism is a docile public. For every consumer uprising against New Coke there are thousands of instances where the consumer said oh well and accepted some new product that worsened his life.

There might be a little squawk at first. TV sports fans, the most energetic variety of couch potatoes, muttered when their NHL and NBA games began migrating up the dial, shifted in that direction by cable and specialty channel operators eager to force viewers onto digital packages.

Viewers hated it when the Toronto Raptors game was suddenly on Channel 846, while the sports station the regular cable package showed poker. But what were they going to do? Go without the games?

Uh-uh. No principle is worth that. So they ceased muttering after the shortest time and bought the digital package, bringing hundreds of unwanted channels into their house, not to mention added expense and extra remote controls to lose under the chesterfield, and settled back to enjoy the game.

Consumer docility has brought us graver consequences than this in the world of sports. The infamous designated hitter rule was brought into effect in 1973, allowing a specialist to bat in place of the pitcher. This meant that the pitcher was no longer expected to be an all-around athlete and would instead become something like a football player. The pitcher was a thrower only, the designated hitter was a batter only and soon baseball would bring in another specialist to kick the extra point.

The rule change was unpopular enough that it was adopted by only one of the two major leagues, but fans did not boycott the adopting league, the American League. They said oh well and kept coming to the ballpark.

They continued to say oh well decades later when confronted by evidence that some the most cherished baseball records were being broken by players who pumped up their muscles with drugs.

In a world where the consumer was really king, as he is constantly told that he is, baseball would have been brought to its knees by public outrage and forced to rebuild, returning the game to its purer self.

It didn’t happen. It doesn’t happen in our neighbourhoods, where developers and city politicians have destroyed local businesses and eliminated green space in order to inflict big box stores on the kingdom. Does the king complain? Yes, he complains about all the traffic caused by people flocking to the stores.

It doesn’t happen in the airports of the world, where passengers flock to the check-in despite having been subjected to decades of worsening service, increasing discomfort and frequent humiliation. If the consumer is still king, the king is a lazy king, slow to anger, reluctant to stir and easily distracted by shiny objects. Look around. It’s your kingdom. What are you going to do about it?

Charles Gordon is a humour columnist, who occasionally lapses into serious commentary on politics or music. Gordon is married, with two grown children. He is the author of six books with his latest, Still at the Cottage, being published in 2006. All his books are published by McClelland and Stewart. Gordon has written for National Lampoon, Canadian Forum, Cottage Life and Maclean’s. He has won three National Magazine Awards and been nominated three times for the Stephen Leacock Medal. In his spare time, Gordon plays jazz trumpet and cheers for the Senators.

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