Canada’s race problem? It’s even worse than America’s

July 28th, 2016


PHOTO/Bernard Weil/Toronto Star/CP

The racial mess in the United States looks pretty grim and is painful to watch. We can be forgiven for being quietly thankful for Canada’s more inclusive society, which has avoided dramas like that in Ferguson, Mo. We are not the only ones to think this. In the recently released Social Progress Index, Canada is ranked second amongst all nations for its tolerance and inclusion.

Unfortunately, the truth is we have a far worse race problem than the United States. We just can’t see it very easily.

Terry Glavin, recently writing in the Ottawa Citizen, mocked the idea that the United States could learn from Canada’s example when it comes to racial harmony. To illustrate his point, he compared the conditions of the African-American community to Canada’s First Nations. If you judge a society by how it treats its most disadvantaged, Glavin found us wanting. Consider the accompanying table. By almost every measurable indicator, the Aboriginal population in Canada is treated worse and lives with more hardship than the African-American population. All these facts tell us one thing: Canada has a race problem, too.

How are we not choking on these numbers? For a country so self-satisfied with its image of progressive tolerance, how is this not a national crisis? Why are governments not falling on this issue?

Possibly it is because our Fergusons are hidden deep in the bush, accessible only by chartered float plane: 49 per cent of First Nations members live on remote reserves. Those who do live in urban centres are mostly confined to a few cities in the Prairies. Fewer than 40,000 live in Toronto, not even one per cent of the total population of the Greater Toronto Area. Our racial problems are literally over the horizon, out of sight and out of mind.

Or it could be because we simply do not see the forest for trees. We are distracted by the stories of corrupt band councils, or flooded reserves, or another missing Aboriginal woman. Some of us wring our hands, and a handful of activists protest. There are a couple of unread op-eds, and maybe a Twitter hashtag will skip around for a few days. But nothing changes. Yes, we admit there is a governance problem on the reserves. We might agree that “something” should be done about the missing and murdered women. In Ottawa a few policy wonks write fretful memos on land claims and pipelines. But collectively, we don’t say it out loud: “Canada has a race problem.”

If we don’t have a race problem then what do we blame? Our justice system, unable to even convene Aboriginal juries? Band administrators, like those in Attawapiskat, who defraud their own people? Our health care system that fails to provide Aboriginal communities with health outcomes on par with El Salvador? Politicians too craven to admit the reserve system has failed? Elders like Chief Ava Hill, cynically willing to let a child die this week from treatable cancer in order to promote Aboriginal rights? Aboriginal people themselves for not throwing out the leaders who serve them so poorly? Police forces too timid to grasp the nettle and confront unbridled criminality like the organized drug-smuggling gangs in Akwesasne? Federal bureaucrats for constructing a $7-billion welfare system that doesn’t work? The school system for only graduating 42 per cent of reserve students? Aboriginal men, who have pushed their community’s murder rate past Somalia’s? The media for not suf?ciently or persistently reporting on these facts?

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The repression in Bahrain

July 28th, 2016


A protester holding the Bahraini flag confronts riot police during clashes at an anti-government in the village of Sitra south of Manama, Bahrain January 1, 2016 PHOTO/Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters/Times Live

Bahrainis are calling their government’s intensified repression of all opposition “the Egyptian strategy”, believing that it is modelled on the ruthless campaign by the Egyptian security forces to crush even the smallest signs of dissent.

In recent weeks leading advocates of human rights in Bahrain have been jailed in conditions directed at breaking them physically and mentally, while others, already in prison, have been given longer sentences. The Bahraini citizenship of Sheikh Isa Qasim, the spiritual leader of the Shia majority in Bahrain, was revoked and the headquarters of the main opposition party, al-Wifaq, closed and its activities suspended.

Bahrain, once considered one of the more liberal Arab monarchies, is turning into a police state as vicious and arbitrary as anywhere else in the region. Mass protests demanding an end to the Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty’s monopoly of power during the Arab Spring period in 2011 were violently suppressed with Saudi military and financial help. The authorities agreed to an international investigation into what had happened that revealed widespread use of torture, unjust imprisonment and killings of protesters. Repression continued over the following five years but failed to eliminate entirely the protest movement, despite imprisoning at least 3,500 Bahrainis.

Brutalisation of these detainees has markedly increased in the past few months, a prominent example being the arrest of Nabeel Rajab, Bahrain’s leading human rights advocate. He was arrested on the 13 June on the grounds that he had made comments in the social media alleging torture in Jau prison and criticising air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Rajab had been imprisoned for expressing dissent in the past, but this time he was placed in solitary confinement for 15 days.

Conditions in East Riffa police station, and later in West Riffa police station, to which he was transferred, appear to have been deliberately geared to break his morale, forcing him to use lavatories so filthy and infested with insects that he tried to eat very little so he would not have to visit them.

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IPS interview with Bernadette Lahai on the Pan African Parliament Food and Nutrition Security Agenda

July 28th, 2016


Bernadette Lahai

Dr.Bernadette Lahai is a Sierra Leonean politician and the current Minority Leader of Parliament. She is the leader of the main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party in the House of Parliament. She is also the Vice President of the Pan African Parliament.

IPS: In what ways has the Pan African Parliament (PAP) ensured that partners are upholding their commitments following the Parliamentary meeting held during the International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) organized by FAO and the World Health Organization?

Dr.Lahai:PAP, as an advisory body, and their members on both national and regional levels, have continuously called for the attention of governments, international agencies, NGOs as well as individuals to fulfil their various obligations that adhere to international commitments and declarations. In order to communicate these responsibilities, expert hearings, workshops, media outreach and advocacies, lobbying and experiential exchanges have been implemented. There has also been a push for the ratification of treaties and protocols which hinder development. Lacking adequate power to slam sanctions on defaulters, PAP can only advocate and lobby for adherence to these commitments. As a result of the granting of legislative and oversight powers over the African Union, it is hoped that PAP will be calling for more accountability and transparency, with the possibility of sanctioning non-compliant governments and institutions.

IPS: In light of the multiple challenges facing the African continent, in your view, how has the PAP fared in consolidating partnerships to impact policy-makers to consider food security and malnutrition when they design and formulate policies?

Dr.Lahai: The PAP Committee on agriculture, rural economy, environment and climate change have and continue to collaborate with their counterparts in the African Union Committee, the New Partnership for African Development’s “The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme”, national and international agricultural organizations and research institutes. NGOs are also working on food security and nutrition-related matters to exchange information on the subject, undertake joint activities and review data on progress. They also plan to make joint resolutions, declarations, and a memorandum of understanding (MOU) reminding governments and international organizations of their commitments, especially related to laws and policies to address nutritional and food security challenges. Fully aware of the fact that food security and nutrition issues are cross-cutting, PAP has also called for joint collaboration of committees and sectors whose work compliments food security and nutrition. Such sectoral coordination will help in addressing food security and nutrition in a holistic manner, which in turn, will help maximize limited resources and gains. Partnership with other institutions has also helped PAP access data, which is critical for inform decision-making, debate, advocacy, and lobbying.

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A Quarter Century of War: The US Drive for Global Hegemony 1990–2016 (preface)

July 27th, 2016


“In the period of crisis the hegemony of the United States will operate more completely, more openly, and more ruthlessly than in the period of boom.”

— Leon Trotsky, 1928

“U.S. capitalism is up against the same problems that pushed Germany in 1914 on the path of war. The world is divided? It must be redivided. For Germany it was a question of ‘organizing Europe.’ The United States must ‘organize’ the world. History is bringing mankind face to face with the volcanic eruption of American imperialism.”

— Leon Trotsky, 1934

This volume consists of political reports, public lectures, party statements, essays, and polemics that document the response of the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) to the quarter century of US-led wars that began in 1990–91. The analyses of events presented here, although written as they were unfolding, stand the test of time. The International Committee does not possess a crystal ball. But its work is informed by a Marxist understanding of the contradictions of American and world imperialism. Moreover, the Marxist method of analysis examines events not as a sequence of isolated episodes, but as moments in the unfolding of a broader historical process. This historically oriented approach serves as a safeguard against an impressionistic response to the latest political developments. It recognizes that the essential cause of an event is rarely apparent at the moment of its occurrence.

Much of what passes for analysis in the bourgeois press consists of nothing more than equating an impressionistic description of a given event with its deeper cause. This sort of political analysis legitimizes US wars as necessary responses to one or another personification of evil, such as Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the “warlord” Farah Aideed in Somalia, Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, Osama bin Laden of Al Qaeda, the Mullah Omar in Afghanistan, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya; and, most recently, Bashar al Assad in Syria, Kim Jong Un in Korea, and Vladimir Putin in Russia. New names are continually added to the United States’ infinitely expandable list of monsters requiring destruction.

The material in this volume is the record of a very different and far more substantial approach to the examination of the foreign policy of the United States.

First, and most important, the International Committee interpreted the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe in 1989–90, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, as an existential crisis of the entire global nation-state system, as it emerged from the ashes of World War II. Second, the ICFI anticipated that the breakdown of the established postwar equilibrium would lead rapidly to a resurgence of imperialist militarism. As far back as August 1990—twenty-six years ago—it was able to foresee the long-term implications of the Bush administration’s war against Iraq:

It marks the beginning of a new imperialist redivision of the world. The end of the postwar era means the end of the postcolonial era. As it proclaims the “failure of socialism,” the imperialist bourgeoisie, in deeds if not yet in words, proclaims the failure of independence. The deepening crisis confronting all the major imperialist powers compels them to secure control over strategic resources and markets. Former colonies, which had achieved a degree of political independence, must be resubjugated. In its brutal assault against Iraq, imperialism is giving notice that it intends to restore the type of unrestrained domination of the backward countries that existed prior to World War II. [1]

This historically grounded analysis provided the essential framework for an understanding, not only of the 1990–91 Gulf War, but also of the wars that were launched later in the decade, as well as the post-9/11 “War on Terror.”

In a recently published front-page article, the New York Times called attention to a significant milestone in the presidency of Barack Obama: “He has now been at war longer than Mr. Bush, or any other American president.” But with several months remaining in his term in office, he is on target to set yet another record. The Times wrote:

If the United States remains in combat in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria until the end of Mr. Obama’s term—a near-certainty given the president’s recent announcement that he will send 250 additional Special Operations forces to Syria—he will leave behind an improbable legacy as the only president in American history to serve two complete terms with the nation at war. [2]

World Socialist Web Site for more

Mark Twain… and Zombies!

July 27th, 2016


After Mark Twain first glimpsed the girl of his dreams, he never forgot Laura Wright’s “frank and simple and winsome” charms ILLUSTRATION/Jody Hewgill/Smithsonian

In violation of his own rule “ that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others,” Twain’s writings are full of the walking dead

Mark Twain was obsessed with zombies. Huck Finn’s adventures in the antebellum South, for example, can be traced in part to Pap’s lurid nightmare about what my students recognize as zombies: “Tramp—tramp—tramp; that’s the dead; tramp—tramp—tramp; they’re coming after me; but I won’t go. Oh, they’re here! don’t touch me—don’t! hands off—they’re cold; let go. Oh, let a poor devil alone!” In violation of his own rule “that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others,” Twain’s writings are shot through with ghosts, skeletons, resurrected cadavers, and the walking dead. We know Twain as an author who dealt with great themes: childhood, innocence, slavery, freedom, conscience. But all these themes are entangled with his fascination with reanimated corpses—a fascination that has much to teach us about our own preoccupation with zombies. Like The Walking Dead and other 21st-century zombie plots, Twain’s writings bring the dead to life in order to meditate on the social and economic circumstances that produce hungry, ragged, and diseased masses. In Twain’s corpus, divergent iterations of the walking dead dramatize how unevenly cultural prestige and human rights are distributed across the lines of class, race, and nation.

Dead celebrities

As an irreverent realist and a regionalist author invested in tall tales and vernacular speech, Twain found his fellow Americans’ admiration of dead authorities absurd. In early hoaxes published in the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, Twain satirized the popular fascination with dead bodies by describing a recently exhumed petrified body thumbing its nose at spectators and a man riding into Carson City “with his throat cut from ear to ear.” In his account of his travels in Europe, The Innocents Abroad (1869), Twain describes a trick that he and his travel companions frequently played on their European tour guides:

There is one remark (already mentioned) which never yet has failed to disgust these guides. We use it always, when we can think of nothing else to say. After they have exhausted their enthusiasm pointing out to us and praising the beauties of some ancient bronze image or broken-legged statue, we look at it stupidly and in silence for five, ten, fifteen minutes—as long as we can hold out, in fact—and then ask:

“Is—is he dead?”

According to this joke, the grandeur and accomplishments of historical personages such as Michelangelo and Christopher Columbus count as nothing next to the prestige of death. For Twain—who famously contrasts the ruined landscapes of the Old World with the natural sublimity of Lake Tahoe and Niagara Falls—the Grand Tour of Europe maintains artificial notions of greatness and hierarchy through the ritual adulation of long-dead authorities.

Common Place for more

Question superstitions/miracles, and you’re dead

July 27th, 2016

The two individuals are dressed up as the “holy” men who routinely stuff “miracles” down the throats of the superstitious. There was a sit-in to demand that those who killed Narendra Dabholkar, M. M. Kalburgi and Govind Pansare — all of whom were active against superstition — be brought to book. TEXT/PHOTO by Mukul Dube/Static Photo Net

What alzheimer’s feels like from the inside

July 26th, 2016


William Utermohlen, U.K.-based artist was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1995. The picture on the left was painted by him in 1996 and on the right in 2000. PHOTOS/Bored Panda

I was up again at 4 a.m. the other night, one of five nocturnal ramblings in the early morning, the new me. No sleep. Picking my way in the dark, familiar territory of a home on Cape Cod where I have lived with my family for 34 years.

I fumbled into the bathroom as I felt the numbness creep up the back of my neck like a penetrating fog, slowly inching to the front of my mind. It was as if a light in my brain had been shut off. I was overcome by the darkness of not knowing where I was and who I was. So I reached for my cellphone that substitutes as a flashlight, and called the house. My wife, deep asleep in our bed just 20 feet away, rose like Lazarus from the grave to grab the phone in angst, fearing a car crash with one of the kids or the death of an extended family member.

It was me, just me. I was lost in the bathroom.

was diagnosed in 2009 with early-onset Alzheimer’s, after Alzheimer’s stole my maternal grandfather and my mother, and several years before my paternal uncle died of Alzheimer’s. Clinical tests, MRIs and a brain scan confirmed my diagnosis. I also carry the Alzheimer’s marker gene APOE4. Two traumatic head injuries “unmasked” a disease in the making, my doctors tell me.

Today, 60 percent of my short-term memory can be gone in 30 seconds. I often don’t recognize friends, including, on two occasions, my wife. I get lost in familiar places, fly into inexorable rages, put my keys and cellphone in the refrigerator, my laptop in the microwave, and wash business cards in the dishwasher simply because they are dirty.

And at times, I see things that aren’t there. The most disturbing symptoms in my private darkness are the visual misperceptions, the hallucinations—those crawling, spider-and-insect like creatures that crawl along the ceiling regularly at different times of day, sometimes in a platoon, turning at 90 degree angles, then inching a third of the way down the wall before floating toward me. I brush them away, almost in amusement, knowing now that they are not real, yet fearful of the cognitive decline. On a recent morning, I saw a bird in my bedroom circling above me in ever-tighter orbits, before it precipitously dove to the bed in a suicide mission. I screamed. But it was my imagination.

Years ago as a journalist, I thought I was Clark Kent, Superman, an award-winning reporter who feared nothing. But today, I feel more like a baffled Jimmy Olsen. And on days of muddle, more like a codfish landed on the dock. A fish rots from the head down.

I never know who’s going to show up. Will I be on or off? I was off the other night, yet another reminder of the denouement of this plot. Stephen King couldn’t have written a better thriller.

When I sat down to write my own story, in my book, On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s, my purpose was to offer a blueprint of strategies, faith, and humor, a day-to-day focus on living with Alzheimer’s, not dying with it—a hope that all is not lost when it appears to be. I was with my mother in the nursing home when she passed away, and told her moments before she died, “Mom, we’re riding this one out together.” She had always taught me to confront the demons in life.

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Why girls’ eucation in Morocco needs more than money

July 26th, 2016


PHOTO/Arne Hoel/World Bank/Flickr

The White House announcement, to great fanfare, of nearly $100 million in U.S. aid via the Millennium Challenge Corporation to support school attendance by Moroccan girls is a necessary but insufficient step.

In southeastern Morocco, where I served from 1995 until 1997 as a Peace Corps volunteer, it was estimated at the time that 85 percent of school-age girls were not in school. That figure was echoed by the first lady’s aides. Only 36 percent of girls in rural Morocco enroll in secondary school. The female adult literacy rate in Morocco is a mere 58 percent, according to the World Bank.

Why does a country that is just nine miles from Europe suffer from such dismal education indicators? The reasons are myriad. In isolated areas, parents keep girls at home to mind younger siblings; do housework; and marry as early as 12, notwithstanding a minimum legal age of 18. Some parents keep girls at home because they cannot see the utility of education in an agrarian economy.

In Berber areas, parents keep girls at home because they do not speak Arabic, the language of instruction, and all too often the teacher supplied by the Moroccan Ministry of Education does not speak Berber.

America’s $100 million must not go towards constructing schools. There are elementary schools throughout the country, even in remote villages.

Instead, the money should be invested in a thoughtful, deliberate campaign to boost the status of girls in Moroccan communities. Girls’ education is often regarded as useless or even harmful. Ideally, this U.S. investment will help local leaders see how girls’ education is not only fuel for economic growth, it is an essential human right.

The Let Girls Learn Program, in which Peace Corps volunteers and local leaders work to advance girls’ education and empowerment, uses this approach. But the first lady’s program will not be the only one administering this money.

To the extent that U.S. money is spent on construction projects, I hope it will be applied to the kinds of construction projects that improve access to secondary education. USAID’s commitment of $400,000 to construct girls’ dormitories at secondary schools, for instance, is well spent, since many secondary schools are in towns that are too far to access when transport from the village is uncertain and roads are poor.

The promised aid should also support the Ministry of Education in improving a curriculum that is notoriously poor, producing high school graduates that are ill-equipped to excel in university or a profession.

Cautionary Tale

I learned much about sustainable development as a Peace Corps volunteer, but one particular experience serves as a cautionary tale to reformers who wish to effect change.

Womens E News for more

Miracles and mummeries

July 26th, 2016


Jennifer Murphy, Butterfly Skull. 2010, Paper and Thread IMAGE/Clint Roenisch Gallery

Antonin Scalia and American Religion

Late in life, Thomas Jefferson took a razor to his King James Bible and cut out all the nice parts from the Gospels: Christ’s life and death, the Sermon on the Mount, the parables, the Golden Rule. He pasted those parts alongside corresponding Greek, Latin, and French translations and gave the world The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Gone are the angels, the miracles, Christ’s divinity, the resurrection, anything supernatural. What’s left is a clean and ethical extraction. (You can still read the chaff at the Smithsonian: Jefferson kept his carved-up King James intact, like the preserved skeleton of a vanished species.) For Antonin Scalia, this arrogant violation made Jefferson the first activist judge. It is cowardly and ungrateful to cut out the parts you don’t like, to take the good without the bad.

Scalia’s antipathy to the Jefferson Bible, which he expressed in a 1996 speech at the Mississippi College of Law, was key to his variety of “originalism,” the philosophy of constitutional interpretation with which he was most associated. Originalism insists on interpreting the Constitution as it was understood at the time of its ratification, but this definition only raises questions: about whose understanding matters, about the virtues and vices of the framers, about the framers’ intentions versus the text’s public meaning, about whether our responsibility is to 18th-century language or 18th-century values, about whether we can know the past at all. The clearest thing one can say about originalism is that it opposes the idea of a “living Constitution.” Beyond that, it is a label that obscures a great many contradictions within the ranks of conservative jurisprudence.

Scalia’s originalism was a form of self-abnegation consistent with the ritual self-abnegations of Catholic history. It says to the interpreter, don’t be led into temptation, but it acknowledges how tempting those temptations can be. (Not for nothing did Robert H. Bork, the first originalist martyr?—?and later a convert to Catholicism?—?title his book The Tempting of America: The Political Seduction of the Law.) Who wouldn’t want to carve up the Bible and ignore the hard parts? Who wouldn’t want to extrapolate a general right to privacy from the rights specifically mentioned in the Constitution? (In Griswold v. Connecticut [1965], Justice William O. Douglas found that general right in the Constitution’s “penumbras” and “emanations”?—?the kind of vocabulary, and decision, that originalists despise.) Who wouldn’t want to believe that the Constitution lives, that its meaning evolves as our own sensibilities and technologies evolve, that the old We the People who wrote and ratified the Constitution includes the modern We the People, too? Alas, the living Constitution is a false miracle: “The Constitution that I interpret and apply,” Scalia wrote in 2002, “is not living but dead?—?or, as I prefer to put it, enduring.” Originalism kills the Constitution so that the Constitution can endure, so that the Constitution won’t betray itself.

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How the Greeks changed the idea of the afterlife

July 25th, 2016


Assembly of twenty gods and goddesses, predominantly the Twelve Olympians, as they receive Psyche (Loggia di Psiche, 1518–19, by Raphael and his school, at the Villa Farnesina) IMAGE/Wikipedia

Their secret cults help shape the way we think of what happens after death

The world of ancient Greece was filled with gods, led by the towering Olympians—Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Poseidon, Athena, and other giants of mythology. Alongside worship of these divine inhabitants of Olympus were hundreds of cults focused on local deities and heroes.

People prayed to these gods for the same reasons we pray today: for health and safety, for prosperity, for a good harvest, for safety at sea. Mostly they prayed as communities, and through offerings and sacrifice they sought to please the inscrutable deities who they believed controlled their lives.

But what happens after death? In this, the ancients looked to Hades, god of the underworld, brother of Zeus and Poseidon. But Hades gave no reassurance. Wrapped in misty darkness, cut by the dread River Styx, the realm of Hades (“the unseen”) was, the poet Homer tells us, a place of “moldering horror” where ordinary people—and even heroes—went after they died.

Sympathetic interest in the human condition eventually led the Greeks to adopt new forms of religion and new cults. No longer seen as a joyless fate, the afterlife became more of a personal quest. Mystery cults, shrouded in secrecy, promised guidance for what would come after death. The mystery rites were intensely emotional and staged like elaborate theater. Those of the great gods on the Greek island of Samothrace took place at night, with flickering torch fire pointing the way for initiates. Guarded on pain of death, the rituals remain mysterious to this day.

By the fourth century B.C., cults had emerged that claimed to offer purification by cleansing initiates of the stain of humanity. The foundations for new religions were falling into place. And when Christianity swept the ancient world, it carried with it, along with guidance from a single deity, remnants of the old beliefs: the washing away of human corruption through mystic rites, the different fates awaiting the initiated and uninitiated, and the reverence for sacred texts.

Moods of the Gods

As described by Homer, the gods and goddesses who ruled from Olympus possessed human traits such as lust, petulance, jealousy, and dishonesty. They also had a superhuman advantage: immortality.

National Geographic for more