29 January 2009

Baghdad Clogger immortalized

The Baghdad Clogger, Muntazer al-Zaidi, is being honoured for his famous shoe-hurling of George W. Bush. A statue of a giant shoe, complete with poem, has been erected in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown. The artist, Baghdad-based Laith al-Amari, says his impressive copper and fibreglass masterpiece is a homage to the pride of the Iraqi people. To paraphrase Winston Churchill: Never was so much owed by so many to a shoe.

Can we de-nuke the world, after all?

When the conversation turns to nuclear weapons these days, the focus is almost entirely on Iran. The rumour is the Iranians may be developing a nuclear weapon and that, among other things, would violate the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Iran has, after all, signed the treaty. What is rarely mentioned, however, is that the treaty not only calls for non-nuclear signatories to not develop nuclear weapons, it also requires nuclear signatories to get rid of their weapons. This they have not been doing. On the contrary, they have been enhancing their nuclear potential. They, who are violating the treaty every day of the week, are hardly in a moral position to criticize Iran because it may, at some time in the future, violate the treaty.

But this may change. The United States, at least, may achieve that moral position. The most important signatory of the treaty may actually live up to its obligations. In his election campaign, Barack Obama declared, "It's time to send a clear message to the world: America seeks a world with no nuclear weapons." He promised that, "As long as nuclear weapons exist, we'll retain a strong deterrent. But we'll make the goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons a central element in our nuclear policy." Now ensconced in the White House, he appears to cleave to that promise. His newly appointed ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, recently stated that the new administration will, "work constructively and securely toward the goal of a world without nuclear weapons."

This goal can only be achieved by the co-operation of all nuclear nations, of course, including both those who have signed the treaty and those who have not, but what's important is that the world's major nuclear nation is apparently prepared to lead the way. If it does, if it follows through on its promise, it may finally have some moral leverage in its effort to prevent Iran from developing a weapon. But much more important, it will make a nuclear weapons-free world possible. Now there is something to hope for.

28 January 2009

The churches are on to something

I have always been something less than a fan of organized religion. Observing the hostility and violence the world suffers because of faith-based thinking -- the recent terror in Gaza being a good example -- I wonder where the morality is to be found in these ostensibly moral institutions. Somewhere, I suspect, buried under their self-righteousness. And yet sometimes it emerges, and when it does it would be churlish not to acknowledge it. Such an emergence was in evidence recently when Kairos, a coalition of eleven Canadian churches and church organizations, wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Harper and other first ministers that examines how global markets focused solely on profit led to the current economic crisis while ignoring poverty and environmental destruction.

As for the stimulus efforts, the coalition perceptively observes, "Governments seem prepared to spend trillions of dollars to recreate the old destructive model, while refusing to deal directly with the causes of the devastation," and suggest that, "We must change course and invest meaningfully in a new economic framework that will combat poverty, ill health and climate change." In other words, instead of simply rebuilding the same old capitalist system, we should be challenging the very ethos of the system and seeking a new model that allows us to live harmoniously with our environment while enjoying a reasonable and equitable degree of economic prosperity.

The emphasis on growth for growth's sake at a time when we are devouring our planet is not a solution. Yet that's exactly what we hear from our politicians, the press and the business community. And that is certainly what we will hear from the panel of corporate executives appointed to advise the federal government. We will not likely hear ideas from outside the corporate box from a panel, bright as they may be, who are dedicated to selling stuff.

Kairos points out that many Canadians other than banks and investors were suffering well before the current crisis hit. In 1989, our federal politicians promised to end child poverty in Canada by 2000. In fact, they only managed to reduce it from 11.7 % in 1989 to 11.3 % in 2006, an almost total failure despite a decade of prosperity. Furthermore, social assistance benefits have dropped 21% and food bank use has nearly doubled. The current system fails the ethical principle of equity. The rising tide raises fewer and fewer boats.

This economic failure is compounded by environmental failure. Kairos claims, "Recent research by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change shows that if we are to give ourselves a real chance to stop an increase of more than two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels (a measure of dangerous climate change), global emissions must peak no later than 2015." The growth-based economy won't allow us to get even close to that. This brings Kairos to talk about "God’s economy of Creation, within the limits of which all other economies function." I would attribute the "economy of Creation" to nature rather than God, but I love the phrase so I won't quibble. The point is economies must fit nature, not nature fit economies which is the assumption of the growth-based approach.

The Kairos letter goes on to discuss the principles of Ecojustice, naming four: solidarity, sustainability, sufficiency and equity. Solidarity refers to an ethical commitment to all people and creatures; sustainability to adopting "environmentally fitting habits of living and working that enable life to flourish"; sufficiency to "a standard of organized sharing, which requires basic floors and definite ceilings for equitable or 'fair' consumption"; and equity to fairness in both decision-making and outcomes. Here are four fitting goals for a new economy.

Kairos concludes their letter with an appeal for "the creation of a just and sustainable international financial order – not minor reforms that will shore up an unjust system." Unfortunately, in Canada the emphasis, including the emphasis in the new federal budget, is on the latter rather than the former. I urge our politicians to read and absorb this letter. It is superbly written, full of inspiring and creative phrasing, worth a read for the pleasure of the writing alone. But more importantly, it sends the message that the current crisis is an opportunity to think beyond growth, GDP and other yardsticks of an economy unfit for the modern age. We need a paradigm shift.

26 January 2009

Big day in Bolivia

Fifty years ago, Bolivia's native people were banned from the presidential palace in La Paz. Last week, their leaders met in the palace to honour President Evo Morales, one of their own, for delivering a new constitution designed to empower the indigenous majority and redress half a millennium of grievances against colonialism, discrimination and humiliation. According to Morales, it will "refound Bolivia as a new state with equal opportunities, a new state where everyone will have the same rights and duties." On Sunday, Bolivians approved the constitution in a referendum.

Among other things, the constitution will recognize self-determination for 36 indigenous nations and set aside seats in Congress for minority groups; place all gas, oil and mineral reserves under state control; provide for election of high court judges; prohibit discrimination by sexual orientation; and guarantee freedom of religion.

Not everyone is happy. Conservative opponents among the European-descended population vehemently oppose the changes. They disagree with such provisions as state control over natural resources, penalties against privatization and the separation of church and state. Some of their criticisms may indeed be justified, but they have no one to blame but themselves for the document. If they had accepted the indigenous people as equals to begin with, a new constitution would have been unnecessary and highly unlikely. Not all supporters of the president were happy either, some thinking it didn't go far enough. That's politics for you.

Notwithstanding the criticism, it signals a new dawn for the native people of Bolivia and perhaps elsewhere in South America. Eugenio Rojas, head of an Aymara group, declared, "We are indigenous people that for the first time in history are in power. ... We want to be an example to other peoples, to show the world that us, the indigenous, can manage a country."

I wish them the greatest luck.

23 January 2009

Hypocrisy, the handmaid of terrorism

In his inaugural address, President Obama laid out a powerful warning for certain types of evil-doers: "And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you." The irony of his warning, of course, is that one of America's closest allies and dearest friends has just concluded an attempt to advance it aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents.

Israel's assault on Gaza sent a clear message to Gazans: if they support Hamas, they will be severely punished. That of course defines what terror is: the application of extreme fear to coerce a civilian population into adopting a certain political posture. But President Obama would never apply the word "terrorist" to Israel. When it's one of your friends doing it ... well, they're your friends, and it's rude to call a friend a terrorist, even if it's true. And it gets worse. Many Americans not only condone Israeli terror but support it. As do many Canadians, including most of our press and both the two leading political parties. And why not? They are our friends.

At the same time, we wonder why the Arab street is so anti-American. It is, of course, because of the hypocrisy. The Third World generally, victims of Western imperialism for centuries, understands and so, often to our frustration and dismay, generally supports the Arab view on Palestine.

There are hypocrites on that side, too, of course, who support suicide bombings and other violent acts by Palestinian militants. Although, to be fair, the Palestinians are the victims. They are the refugees, the ethnically-cleansed, and therefore deserve a bit more slack. Terror is sometimes referred to as the weapon of the weak. The Palestinians, unlike the Israelis, have no army, navy and air force, no nuclear weapons, and aren't supported by the most powerful nation on earth. If anyone is justified in using terror, it is those who have nothing else.

Personally, I still don't believe they are justified. I believe that if they have nothing else, that is to say no instruments of violence, then they should rely on non-violence, on the methods of Gandhi. These can be immensely effective -- Gandhi freed India, the second most populous nation on Earth, employing passive resistance. I suspect that if the Palestinians had employed passive resistance all along, they would have made much more progress. But that's me. How many people anywhere actually believe this? How many people believe, as Christ advised, that if you are smitten on one cheek, you should turn the other also? Not many Christians, certainly. So we can hardly expect the Palestinians to believe it. Nonetheless, I don't agree that that makes violence against innocents acceptable.

The West's problem is convincing the Third World to take it seriously when it condemns actions such as those of the Sudanese government in Darfur while at the same time condoning the actions of Israel in Gaza. Why are the Sudanese so bad? Because we don't like them? Because they go further and commit torture and gang rape? That is a matter of degree, and of course, degree is very important, but if terrorism is wrong in principle and not just in the details, it deserves condemnation whatever form it takes.

If we want to be taken seriously in condemning terrorism for its own sake, not just because of who does it or how they do it, we need to be consistent. It's wrong when religious fanatics do it, it's wrong when insurgents do it, it's wrong when governments do it, and it's wrong when democratic governments do it. It was wrong when Islamic extremists bombed New York and it was wrong when the United States nuclear-bombed Japan.

Or was it ? Do we, in truth, believe terrorism is appropriate in certain places at certain times? If we do, let's say so and stop acting as if it is wrong in principle. Let's identify when it is acceptable and when it isn't, and who is allowed and who isn't. Let's end the hypocrisy. And for heaven's sake, let's stop talking about a war on terror if it's really just a war on people we disagree with.

21 January 2009

"Obama is Lyndon Johnson"

"Obama is Lyndon Johnson." This rain on the Obama parade comes from Glen Ford, executive editor of Black Agenda Report, in an article in Al Jazeera. It is a harsh judgment, but does it have merit?

In his inaugural address, Obama challenged his fellow Americans to "remake America." He has vowed to build infrastructure, invest in scientific research, improve health care, harness new sources of energy, and transform education. He has already committed to a stimulus package that could exceed $1-trillion. All this he will do while expanding the war in Afghanistan, even into Pakistan if necessary.

Does this not stir a memory? Didn't another president promise to reform society, in fact to build a Great Society, while at the same time expanding a war in Asia? His name, of course, was Lyndon Johnson. As rich as the United States was, it wasn't rich enough to fight a war on poverty at home and a war abroad at the same time. As a result, both failed.

Moreover, as Glen Ford points out in his article, the Vietnam war, which precluded victory in the war on poverty, is where Martin Luther King departed from Johnson. And Obama's support for the Afghan war is largely where Ford departs from Obama. "National revitalization," Ford insists," including redress of historical African-American grievances, is impossible unless military expenditures are dramatically reduced." Yet Obama has promised to expand the military.

The U.S. is richer today than it was in Johnson's time; nonetheless, it is hard to believe it is now so much richer it can afford to massively resuscitate its economy, reform its society and fight at least one major war all at the same time. At least not without a significant raise in taxes and Obama has promised to cut taxes. America's debt is massive, its financial institutions enfeebled, consumer spending has collapsed, social programs are poorly funded, 45 million citizens lack health care insurance, the war in Afghanistan gets worse ... how is all this to be fixed and paid for?

In any case, we have a new emperor: vigorous, enthusiastic, inclusive, open-minded, highly intelligent and curious -- immeasurably superior to the last one and perhaps the best in living memory. We are immensely relieved not only to see the last of the appalling Bush presidency but to have been spared -- I shudder to think of it -- a McCain/Palin administration. We cannot help but be optimistic. And yet ...

Yesterday, he told his fellow Americans in the soaring rhetoric for which he has become famous, "Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short." Perhaps, Mr. President, but I also hope your memory is not too short to remember LBJ.

20 January 2009

The U.S. ... our new Mexico?

Since the advent of agreements such as NAFTA and the WTO, and the rush to "free" trade generally, Canadian workers have worried about having to compete with workers in low-wage countries such as Mexico and China. Who would have thought the threat to auto workers would come from the United States? Industry Minister Tony Clement has said General Motors and Chrysler must reduce their labour costs to U.S. levels if they want to participate in the $4-billion federal bailout. Canadian auto workers could see their wages and benefits cut by $15 to $20 an hour.

The idea is to match the tough demands of the Bush administration bailout that require American-owned plants to get their compensation in line with Japanese-owned plants. That the industry must not just lower wages and benefits but must conform to the non-union Japanese plants suggests the goal is union-busting as much as economy-saving. (Our government's attempt to limit the right to strike for civil servants suggests that might be part of the goal here as well.) One can say with confidence that without union plants setting the standard, the Japanese plants wouldn't even be paying the wages they are now, particularly keeping in mind that a number of the Japanese plants are in the Deep South, where exploiting labour is a tradition. Now, with weakened unions ... well, the bottom's the limit.

It is reasonable to ask workers to make a sacrifice if an industry is accepting welfare. But the U.S., pride of the free market, serving as the excuse for lowering wages is a bit of a comedown. How the mighty have fallen ... and continue to fall.

17 January 2009

Madness in Mugabeland

Wanna get rich quick? Head for Zimbabwe. For a mere forty bucks you can get a 100-trillion Zimbabwe-dollar banknote. That's right, one hundred trillion. It's not worth much -- well. forty bucks, actually -- but think about just once in your life having 100 trillion dollars in your pocket. The country has just issued new $10-trillion, $20-trillion, $50-trillion and $100-trillion notes to try to keep pace with inflation.

Zimbabwean dollars, unfortunately, are like everything else in the country these days -- worth little and rapidly worth less by the minute. Prices double every day. And then there's other bothers like the cholera outbreak, which has taken more than 2,000 lives so far, human rights workers are systematically tortured and talks on a power-sharing agreement between opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and the country's lunatic president Robert Mugabe have stalled. The madness never ends.

16 January 2009

Canada as slacker?

I seem to remember that Canada was once a world leader, but the memory is fading. More and more these days we seem to be a follower.

Take foreign policy, for example, and the current crisis in Palestine. Our objectivity once allowed us to be a peace-maker in the Middle East, winning a Nobel Prize in the process, but now we are such a slave to Israeli and American policy we are irrelevant to making peace in the region. In the not too distant past, we contributed significantly to achievements in international law and security such as the Land Mines Treaty and the International Criminal Court. Now we seem indifferent and uninvolved. Once we were leading peacekeepers, now about the only military action we see is in Afghanistan, faithfully following the American initiative.

We once had some small importance in the effort to achieve international responsibility toward the environment. We signed Kyoto, after all. Now, if we are not pariahs on climate change, we are close to it. At the last round of international meetings on greenhouse gas emissions in Poland, we were singled out for criticism by South Africa. South Africa, for heaven's sake! In an assessment ranking the 57 largest greenhouse gas emitters on their efforts to combat climate change, we came 56th, ahead only of Saudi Arabia. Bereft of initiative, we wait patiently for Barack Obama's lead.

Our efforts on social policy don't seem to be setting the world on fire, either. In a ranking of 25 developed countries on the care and education of young children, we came dead last. Needless to say, Sweden ranked first.

Not that the country isn't in rather good shape. It is. Our economy is suffering like everyone else's, but nonetheless it is in much better shape than most (thanks largely to Paul Martin's brilliant eight years as finance minister). Our health care and education systems creak and groan but continue to provide excellent service. So life in good old stable Canada is fine indeed, as usual. Yet . . . when it comes to making a difference in the world we seem to have stalled. We are in something of a dead zone.

It shouldn't be hard to come up with some creative leadership in a world desperately in need of it. The international economy is in a mess. Global warming advances almost without heed. The Middle East succumbs to death and destruction. There's room for a million inspiring ideas here. We just don't seem to be in the mood.

14 January 2009

Hillary Clinton and "stupid power"

At her Senate confirmation hearing, Hillary Clinton claimed she wants to shift American foreign policy toward the use of "smart power," something she defines as "principles and pragmatism, not rigid ideology,"and then -- clearly cleaving to rigid ideology -- said she won't talk to Hamas. Hamas is of course a major player on the Palestinian side and one of the few organizations in the Middle East that legitimately represents Arab people through the democratic process. To refuse to talk to them is to persist in folly and bodes ill for peace in the Middle East. In Clinton's own words: "We cannot negotiate with Hamas until it renounces violence, recognizes Israel and agrees to abide by past agreements. That is just, for me, an absolute."

Normally with negotiations you bring what you want to the table, the other side brings what it wants, and you talk. Clinton is demanding Hamas submit on major points before they are even allowed to approach the table. This is less a call to negotiate than it is an imperial command. One wonders if she will allow them to submit standing up or whether she will insist they do so on their knees.

An underlying reality is that the Arab people oppose the state of Israel. This is exemplified by at least two powerful pieces of evidence. A recent poll on American popularity in the world showed that it is by far the lowest in the Middle East. It hasn't sunk under Bush, just remained very low. At the same time, the popularity of pro-Palestinian movements soars. The popularity of Hezbollah went through the roof during Israel's invasion of Lebanon and the popularity of Hamas among the Arab masses is increasing now. Are the Americans really too obtuse to get the message?

We might not like this reality but reality does not conform to our likes and dislikes. It just is. If the the West. particularly the United States, wants to contribute to peace in Palestine, it must accept the views of the Arab street, and this means sitting down with groups like Hamas who genuinely represent them. It isn't impossible to talk to people you don't like or agree with. We despised the Soviet Union and they threatened to bury us, yet we managed to negotiate agreements covering every thing from trade to armaments to culture.

The West's failure to deal with the realities of the Middle East over the past 60 years aggravated by its constant meddling has left the region worse off. The largest and most long-suffering group of refugees in the world, the Palestinians ethnically cleansed from their homes, has suffered three generations of exile and incarceration. The toxicity of all this has spread beyond the Middle East, arriving in New York in 2001. Now Hillary Clinton offers nothing but more of the same. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

10 January 2009

My daily fix -- The Globe and Mail

I confess, I'm addicted. Not to anything that has me sweating and trembling if I don't get my daily fix, but addicted, nonetheless. I simply have to have my daily paper.

My current drug of choice is The Globe and Mail. I use the word "choice" loosely because I really don't have much of a choice at all. Living in Calgary, I am offered four dailies: two local, two national ... all conservative. This is the "choice" the vaunted free market offers me. It is rather like Henry Ford's famous offer on his Model Ts: any colour you choose as long as it's black. I am offered any philosophy of daily paper I like as long as it's conservative. So, as my politics float somewhere in the liberal-left range of the philosophical spectrum, I am reduced to buying the least conservative of the four, the moderately conservative Globe and Mail.

The Globe's regrettable militarism does not make my choice easier. Their support for Israel's most recent aggression is nearly as unequivocal as our federal government's. In an editorial of December 30th, while wondering if the Israeli slaughter of hundreds of Palestinians and wounding of thousands more wasn't enough, they went on to heap the entire blame on Hamas. Despite claiming to oppose capital punishment, they fail to quibble with the collective capital punishment of the Palestinians. They would oppose the execution of Robert Pickton, a man who killed more people than Gaza's Qassam rockets, but have no objection to Israel's assassination of Hamas leader Nizar Rayan along with his four wives and six of his children.

A December 13th editorial supported extending our adventure in Afghanistan beyond 2011, partly for "practical considerations." The editorial explains, "As Canada attempts to navigate its way through economic crisis … the federal government must consider its relations with Barack Obama’s incoming administration.” In other words, we should prepare to kill people in order to cultivate our relationship with the United States. The amorality of this sort of National Post quid pro quo is astonishing.

I am reluctant to support an organization that wallows in this sort of warmongering, but I do need that fix. I roam the web -- the CBC, the Guardian, Al Jazeera, The New York Times -- but it just isn't the same as kicking back with a coffee and reading the daily paper. It has been part of my routine for far too long, longer than I can remember. And sometimes the Globe gets it right. I agree with their editorial views on issues such as gay marriage and Omar Khadr, and there's delicious reading in Rick Salutin's columns, Tabatha Southey's humour pieces and John Allemang's poetry. Along with a daily dose of the news, there's some good stuff in there. And I have reasonably good luck at having my letters to the editor published. As an inveterate scribbler, I find this quite satisfying. My ego approves.

But oh, it would be nice to have a left-wing, or even liberal, daily to choose from in this benighted city. That won't happen of course. Newspapers have fallen on hard times. The possibility of a new local or daily paper is slim to none, and in any case no one on the left has the money to start one. So, I'll soldier on with the Globe, the lesser of four evils.

08 January 2009

Canada condones war crimes

The Isreali assault on Gaza is unequivocally a criminal act. To cite only one item of international law Israel has violated, I offer Article 33 of Convention IV of the Geneva Conventions relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War:
No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.
Israel's massive collective punishment of the Gazan people clearly violates this article. Staunchly defending Israel's behaviour, as our government is doing, just as clearly puts this country in the position of condoning, indeed supporting, war crimes.

We might also keep in mind that the root cause of the crisis, Israel's refusal to allow the one million Palestinian refugees in Gaza to go home, is also in violation of international law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 13(2), "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country." Israel illegally denies the largest and most long-suffering refugee population in the world this basic right.

I am a law-abiding citizen of my country, and I expect my country to be a a law-abiding citizen of the international community. I am less than happy, therefore, when my government supports criminal behaviour.

The rocket attacks by Palestinians are also criminal, of course, but our government isn't condoning them. On the contrary, it has categorized Hamas as a terrorist organization as a result of such behaviour. While I wouldn't recommend condemning Israel as a terrorist state, even though it has committed far more egregious acts than firing Qassam rockets, we should certainly be calling it to account for its crimes. If we don't, we can hardly call ourselves a nation of law. At the moment, it seems, we are not.

06 January 2009

Why we support Israel

The tolerance of Western politicians and media for Israel's crimes in Gaza is remarkable. The inmates of Gaza include almost a million UN-registered refugees -- victims of Israeli ethnic cleansing. Their response to this incarceration -- firing off ineffectual rockets -- well illustrates the hopeless state they have been reduced to. Nonetheless, they are cruelly punished for their sorry protest as Israel launches a reign of terror, complete with reckless assassination and mass murder. The West reacts with at most cushioned criticism or even support for the brutality. North Americans in particular seem to place Israel above serious censure regardless of what it does. There are commanding reasons behind this bias:

The most common justification for unequivocal support of Israel is its status as the only democracy in the Middle East. Certainly this creates both a powerful tie to its fellow democracies as well as a powerful responsibility to defend that democracy. The tie isn't only democracy of course. Israel's Jews are essentially a European people with a long European history and a European sensibility. They have in fact contributed disproportionately to European culture -- in the arts, sciences, business and politics -- and remain a major part of it. This common experience quite naturally creates a bond with their fellow Europeans as opposed to the more alien Arab/Muslim culture of their neighbours.

A second reason is the massive burden of guilt that Europeans feel for centuries of mistreatment of the Jews culminating in the ultimate atrocity, the Holocaust. It is the Palestinians bad luck they have to bear the brunt of this guilt.

North Americans were not responsible for the Holocaust, so it is somewhat puzzling they should feel guilty about it, but anti-Semitism has invaded our shores, too, and like any infection creates a reaction. In any case, North Americans have another bond with Israel. We, too, stole our countries from the native inhabitants. As fellow colonizers, we feel an empathy with the Israelis as they build their settlements among hostile natives.
Winston Churchill, a strong supporter of a Jewish state in Palestine, once declared that like the "Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia," the Palestinians would be replaced by "a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race."

And then there is the power of the Israeli lobby in North America. Dominated by hard line organizations such as
the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and fundamentalist Christian groups, this highly influential American lobby consistently supports an expansionist Israel. Here in Canada, one intensely pro-Israel family controls almost half the private mass media. Courageous would be the politician or political party that would brave the wrath of the Asper family's media empire. On top of all this is Israel's own highly-sophisticated propaganda machine.

The result of the above is an overwhelming bias unrelentingly in favour of Israel. Western, particularly North American, politicians are so terrified, so abjectly terrified, of being accused of anti-Semitism, one almost wonders if they are capable of contributing to peace in the Middle East.

So as Israeli soldiers march into the ghettos of Gaza to have their way with the Palestinians, the Western world either tut-tuts a modest disapproval or clucks consent. The victims of Israel's ethnic cleansing and its apartheid mentality now endure collective punishment. In the Old Testament, Moses (or was it Charlton Heston) said unto Pharaoh, "Let my people go" and, after Egypt suffered ten plagues, Pharaoh did indeed let them go. The Palestinians could use a Moses with his ten plagues (or at least better rockets). Or a fair hearing from the West.

02 January 2009

NAFTA fails Mexico

While Canadians continue to debate what the North American Free Trade Agreement has done for us -- or to us -- we pay rather little attention to how it's affecting our two partners. A recent article in the Guardian discusses how it has affected Mexico and the verdict is not good. I strongly recommend reading the article; however, a few points are worth emphasizing here:
  • While exports to the U.S. increased sevenfold, much of it in manufacturing, and foreign investment increased fourfold, the Mexican economy grew more slowly than before NAFTA. It also grew much more slowly than the economies of other developing countries such as China, India and Brazil. These countries follow policies that would be illegal under NAFTA.
  • Mexico gained about 600,000 manufacturing jobs after NAFTA took effect, but lost at least two million agricultural jobs, as cheap imports of heavily subsidized products such as corn flooded the now liberalized market from the U.S. This at a time when the country's baby boom has about one million young people entering the work force each year. Not surprisingly, twice as many Mexicans are crossing the border into the U.S. each year as before NAFTA.
  • The wage gap with the U.S. has increased, and about half the population can't find formal employment. Poverty rates and inequality are down slightly, but in part at least because of increased remittances from the additional Mexicans who migrated north.
In summary, those who benefit from increased trade and investment have prospered; the people at large have not. This isn't surprising. NAFTA was always about trickle down: make life better for investors and some of the benefits will trickle down to the toiling masses. Well, there's been damn little trickling in Mexico.

Terror in Gaza: comment by cartoonist Mazen Kerbaj