An Insight from The Atlantic (Magazine) on ISIS

I am indebted to Bill Hertha for the following pointer.

I did not understand ISIS before reading this article.

I’ll bet most of us don’t understand it yet either.

This is not trivial. Please click the link above, when you have several moments, and read the article.

Thank you for your time.

What to do? Any way you can, raise awareness. Stephen Harper and Barack Obama should have this information, but appear not to. Their foreign ministers should have this information, and act accordingly.

ISIS is not Al Qaeda. It might be easier to deal with if it were. Please, read the article.

About poetry, life, and this blog

I don’t do a lot of marketing here, and that’s possibly a mistake. I expect the average blog reader to look around the website and see what it’s all about.

On the blog sidebar are hotlinks to my author pages. You are encouraged to have a look.

I do not create poetry books the way most writers do. Alan Dugan, or Margaret Atwood, put together their last N poems that they have both finished, and become satisfied with. I put together poems I’ve been satisfied with for a while.

I select from a large inventory, written and checked and revised over years, sometimes decades. I choose poems that more or less fit together. I waited several years before including my four 9-11 poems in a book (Retirement Clock) because I wanted to be sure I wasn’t just pandering to a current disaster.

Once I’ve selected, I revisit every piece and re-test any changes with my critiquing writers’ group. I don’t mess around with my readers: you can expect top quality, every time.

Why do I write? I honestly can’t really answer any more than I can say why I breathe or want sex. It’s so built-in I can only see the motivation do its work in others; for me, it’s always been that way.

What do I write? That’s even tougher to nail down neatly. Stuff happens. Friends, relatives, strangers, visible figures, have things happen to them. I have things happen to me. Poetry is about experience, and I will try my darndest to deliver an experience to my reader in every poem. Experience, good and bad. Religious, and irreligious. Funny, tragic, or something simply beautiful. Philosophy, but not too much.

Given all that, why do I bother with a blog? I feel a responsibility.

Our very lives are being shifted away from our national founding principles. This is true in the European Union (austerity for the weak), the United States of America (secrecy, police powers, concentration of wealth), and Canada (pretty much all of the above.)

Obviously, I have opinions on these trends. I believe our governments are not defending the majority of us, but increasing their power and the wealth of corporations. For example, we seldom notice these facts about corporations:

  • They never are executed, and never go to jail.
  • They are legally persons, and can spend money as a form of ‘free speech.’
  • They exist only for profit, including illegal activity where the balance of profit over cost/risk/fines is in their favour.
  • They have no stakeholders outside of the executives and board of directors and, sometimes, powerful shareholders.
  • Stakeholders do not include customers, suppliers, or employees.
  • They can, and do, lobby governments for favourable treatment: tax breaks, loan breaks, outright gifts, law changes (eg environmental protection dismantling.)
  • They can go bankrupt and simply disappear. There’s no real person to hold accountable.

Especially egregious examples of the above will sometimes appear in my blog. I pretty much always include hotlinks to additional information so you can check my sources. You are encouraged to search for your own as well.

Other actions of our government and public figures, such as military procurement follies, military mission creep, inexplicable trade deals, will also appear here.

And, anything else I find fun, interesting, or provocative.

I want to be part of a shift, where public opinion rises like a tide against the creeping changes that are lessening our quality of life. I will ask dumb questions hoping to make you think again about issues. I will provoke you to contact your governments and news outlets.

There. I’m done. To recap:

I write poetry, and I want you each to get your hands on your own copies. I’ve made it reasonably easy to find and acquire these.

I blog because my social conscience won’t let me keep quiet. It’s like eMail: cheap to distribute, of potential interest to recipients, and warranting careful composition.

Why I Don’t Trust my Prime Minister – Part One

Let me walk you through the latest mission creep in Iraq.

Last October 1, Stephen Harper told CBC News that, although some 69 troops was ‘the maximum’, only some 26 were actually in Iraq. Here are some quotes:

Employment Minister Jason Kenney told the House that same day that “69 brave men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces are providing tactical advice to the Kurdish militias.”

On Sept. 26, James Bezan, parliamentary secretary to Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, told MPs there were “69 members of the Canadian Armed Forces who are providing tactical advice in Iraq,” although in a separate answer he’d said “up to 69” special forces were being deployed.

This was supposed to end after thirty days. Instead, by October 4 we were contributing fighter jets.

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper finally made his long-awaited pitch Friday for sending Canadian fighter jets – but not ground combat troops – overseas to go to war in the latest global fight against extremists in the Middle East.

Notice, we only have tactical advice on the ground. Or so we were led to believe.

What was put to us as a training discussion of troop placement, leading to a look at the battlefield, turned out to be, by January 2015, our troops using lasers to designate air strikes. And, when coming under mortar fire (surprised? when you’re shining a laser at somebody?), our troops conveniently had snipers ready ‘providing tactical advice’ who shot back.

Earlier this month, Canadian special forces operators came under fire while travelling near the front lines as part of a training operation.

News of the firefight, which was revealed by mission commanders Jonathan Vance and Michael Rouleau during a briefing Monday, sparked a debate over whether Canada had quietly expanded its efforts in Iraq to include a combat role.

The resolution passed by the House of Commons last year explicitly ruled out ground combat operations.

“If you go back to the official record … to what the prime minister said in the House of Commons, it was very clear that the kind of things that were reported as having happened last week were not contemplated by Canadians, by Parliament or by the prime minister, if you take his comments literally.”

Harris said it’s “pretty clear” that this sort of participation on the front lines — including having special forces operators calling in “over half the airstrikes” — was not what was discussed in the House last September.

If you got this far, thanks for your patience. Now for the interesting bit.

It appears that our Prime Minister lied to Parliament and to the Canadian people. It appears that the original thirty-day limit was never held seriously. It appears that sending planes was always in the cards. It appears that direct assistance to ground troops, helping aim incoming missiles in effect, was always in the plan. It appears that shooting back was always in the plan – unless our very best ‘training operation’ personnel all happen to be snipers.

If you’re waiting for the dumb question, here it is.

Why to the Canadian people put up with this crap? Why is Parliamentary debate muzzled? Do we have a PM who is the master of the wedge issue? Will he echo George W Bush and say any criticism is ‘failure to support our troops?’

Are we drifting, actually paddling hard and revving the outboard, toward a police state?

Have a look at the next post for more on my favourite politician.

Why I Don’t Trust my Prime Minister – Part Two

Stephen Harper continues to chip away at our, Canadian, civil liberties. This time it’s more police powers, secret unwarranted arrest with no oversight, et cetera. Here you will find these words: (quoted text in italics)

Stephen Harper is proposing the most sweeping increase in power for Canadian security agencies since the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, including jail time for encouraging terrorism on the Internet, while playing down concerns over the impact on civil liberties.

Mr. Harper rejected a reporter’s question about whether this might conflict with civil liberties, saying it’s his rivals who worry about that. “This is really what we get from our opposition, that every time we talk about security, they suggest that somehow our freedoms are threatened,” the Prime Minister said.

Asked whether Ottawa would distinguish between real jihadis and a teenager making idle talk in his basement when it comes to statements that encourage terrorism, Mr. Harper signalled the government doesn’t intend to make exceptions for people.

Extending the length of time authorities can detain suspected terrorists for up to seven days from three.

allowing Ottawa to bar those whom the government believes are heading abroad to take part in terrorist activities.

To the civil liberties activists trying to question this, the Harper government’s answer is, “Over the last few years a great evil has been descending over our world,”

May I point out that it is six thousand times more likely that I will be killed in Chicago than in Israel. My chances of being killed by a terrorist in Canada are less than being hit by lightning.

Edward Snowden made some comments on this kind of legislation, which you can find here. You will find these words:

“We saw on Friday the Prime Minister of Canada proposed a new law,” Mr. Snowden told a teenaged Toronto audience via an Internet link on Monday night.

He told the high school students that they should “always be extraordinarily cautious” and press for answers, whenever governments rely on “fear and panic” to set up powers that can be exercised in secret.

Now for some comic relief. Here you will find a Toronto Star article on how our secrecy agencies want to expand their scope and power.

They clearly describe themselves as incompetent. Here are a few quotes:

The documents stated the Forces could harness “all of (the) strengths and capabilities” of the overall intelligence community, and should gain an understanding the complexities of Canada’s domestic and foreign spy agencies

In other words, they don’t understand Canada’s domestic and foreign spy agencies, which is themselves.

Just to make you feel worse, here’s another quote:

Christopher Parsons, an intelligence and security researcher with Citizen Lab in Toronto, said the planned structure seemed similar to the integrated intelligence operations in Afghanistan. Under the plan, CJOC could function as a “clearing house” for defence intelligence, Parsons said.

“(The plan looked) to be building the infrastructure so it can be used in peace time and in active combat environments, and everything in between,” Parsons said in an interview.

In short, our intelligence community intends to run this like a war. With wartime powers and wartime lack of accountability.

Have a nice day.

Harper’s at it again, and a question for Trudeau and Mulcair

Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada.

Mr. Harper is a control freak, imho. Scientists cannot speak to media without checking their scripts first. Cabinet members appear to be all yes-men. Environmental protections are inconvenient delays to resource (read, tar, gas, oil and ore) projects.

But that’s not enough. We need more police and spy powers.

Here you will find BBC’s take on our proposed new terror laws, which Mr. Harper will get passed due to his majority in our ‘government.’

Here are some of the new provisions. Italics are quotes from the hotlinked page above.

  • anyone suspected of being involved in a terror plot may be detained without charge for up to seven days
  • officials may remove material considered terrorist propaganda from any website
  • Canada’s spy agency may direct approach subjects and cancel travel reservations, with judicial approval

You will note that ‘judicial approval’ only appears in one bullet above. Expect that to be watered down as well.

May I point out that ‘suspected’ can mean what any gun-toting enforcement officer thinks it means. Remember how our police, defending Mr. Harper’s G20 summit, found it necessary to kettle a large crowd in the rain at Spadina and College, kilometres away from the seven metre fence. Remember how they found it necessary to ride horses over demonstrators in the ‘designated demonstration area’ kilometres away from that same seven metre fence. Remember how it was impossible to identify cops who removed their identification, until the Toronto Star did it on Page 1? and, finally, remember that the police officer convicted of beating Adam Nobody will serve no jail time, and will probably be armed and patrolling again any day now?

I don’t need to beat to death the word ‘considered’ in bullet two above. I’m sure you can figure out exactly how ‘interpretable’ that will be.

Here’s the saddest quote from the BBC news item:

Canada’s two main opposition parties have said they have not decided whether to back the bill, the CBC reports.

Today’s dumb questions are for Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair, opposition party leaders. Ready?

Are both of you utterly gutless? Isn’t there a core principle here that you should uphold, and vote against this bill? Should you not be causing a lot of public debate?

A final quote from the BBC article:

Among the critics of the bill are the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association which called the legislation “misguided” and said it would not make Canadians “any safer”. “We will be less free, less democratic and less likely to know who to keep an eye on,” policy director Michael Vonn said, adding it was “likely unconstitutional”.

Being unconstitutional has rarely bothered the Harper government. Witness the mess-up, deliberate imho, in the ‘new’ ‘prostitution’ laws.

Comments, anyone? Feel like contacting your MP? Your newspaper? Please?

Abortion in Chile – and a related question

This is a hard topic. Please bear with me.

Let me first quote Chile’s president Bachelet.

“Facts have shown that the absolute criminalization of abortion has not stopped the practice,” she said. “This is a difficult situation and we must face it as a mature country.”

I find the abortion debate morally difficult. I can defend various points of view with more or less equal uneasiness. It seems clear that reckless abortion is a bad thing. It seems clear that there are at least some desperate situations that make abortion the ‘choice between evils’ that a mother might sensibly make.

This post is not really about abortion. It’s about US interference in a foreign country.

If you click on the link above, you’ll find these words:

The absolute prohibition on abortion was introduced in 1989, in one of the last acts of Gen Augusto Pinochet’s 17-year-long military rule.

Pinochet was put in charge of Chile by an American-aided coup to prevent Allende being sworn in. This was arranged partly by Henry Kissinger under the direction of American president Nixon. All this is documented in Chomsky. It’s also in the book, The Trials of Henry Kissinger, which you can find out about here. Chile is mentioned in the synopsis of Hitchens’ book, which apparently became a movie as well.

This puts Bachelet’s move in a different historical perspective, eh? I read her actions as stating these as fact:

  • anti-abortion laws don’t really work, and may actually increase health risk
  • younger girls may need a bit more time to realize a pregnancy
  • the anti-abortion laws we already have are the result of an oppressive dictator’s rule.

So, once again, Bachelet comes across as a patriot leading her country as well as she can.

Will there be condemnation from the US press and diplomats? That’s the dumb question you might have been looking for, eh?


On Debt, Greece, and Germany – and a small history lesson

At the end of the first world war, Germany was stuck with a huge reparations debt, designed to cripple the country. I have read this in Keynes, who blamed this for the second world war.

In 1953 half of Germany’s debt was forgiven. No holdouts allowed. No exceptions, all forms of debt. And, repayment was limited to 3% of exports earnings each year. So, debt holders were motivated to import German products in order to get paid.

You can find all this here, an article in The Guardian a couple of years ago.

Greece and Spain helped Germany recover.

For those of you too lazy (or too time-pressed) to click a link and read some fascinating facts, I will include a few quotes here, in italics. Emphasis mine.

That cancellation, and the way it was done, was vital to the reconstruction of Europe from war. It stands in marked contrast to the suffering being inflicted on European people today in the name of debt.

Germany’s creditors included Greece and Spain, Pakistan and Egypt, as well as the US, UK and France.

German debts were well below the levels seen in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain today, making up around a quarter of national income. But even at this level, there was serious concern that debt payments would use up precious foreign currency earnings and endanger reconstruction.

Needing a strong West Germany as a bulwark against communism, the country’s creditors came together in London and showed that they understood how you help a country that you want to recover from devastation. It showed they also understood that debt can never be seen as the responsibility of the debtor alone. Countries such as Greece willingly took part in a deal to help create a stable and prosperous western Europe, despite the war crimes that German occupiers had inflicted just a few years before.

The debt cancellation for Germany was swift, taking place in advance of an actual crisis. Germany was given large cancellation of 50% of its debt. The deal covered all debts, including those owed by the private sector and even individuals. It also covered all creditors. No one was allowed to “hold out” and extract greater profits than anyone else. Any problems would be dealt with by negotiations between equals rather than through sanctions or the imposition of undemocratic policies.

Perhaps the most innovative feature of the London agreement was a clause that said West Germany should only pay for debts out of its trade surplus, and any repayments were limited to 3% of exports earnings every year. This meant those countries that were owed debt had to buy West German exports in order to be paid. It meant West Germany would only pay from genuine earnings, without recourse to new loans. And it meant Germany’s creditors had an interest in the country growing and its economy thriving.

Following the London deal, West Germany experienced an “economic miracle”, with the debt problem resolved and years of economic growth. The medicine doled out to heavily indebted countries over the last 30 years could not be more different. Instead, the practice since the early 1980s has been to bail out reckless lenders through giving new loans, while forcing governments to implement austerity and free-market liberalisation to become “more competitive”.

If we had no evidence of how to solve a debt crisis equitably, we could perhaps regard the policies of Europe’s leaders as misguided. But we have the positive example of Germany 60 years ago, and the devastating example of the Latin American debt crisis 30 years ago. The actions of Europe’s leaders are nothing short of criminal.

Now for the dumb questions.

Is that straightforward enough? Is it now clear that ‘austerity’ is not a solution?

Is the hardship in Greece not already, to quote Popeye, a case of ‘enough is too much?’

Will Germany be better off with Greece stagnant, and Italy and France risking recession?

and finally,

Churchill (I think) once said, war is the continuation of politics by other means. Would you agree that economic war is the continuation of war, by other means?