Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The G20 in Toronto (or: I want my country back)

There's a very thorough account by this guy Tommy Taylor who was arrested while walking home, ended up as a bystander near some protesters, and got thrown into a makeshift detention centre for 23 hours (without charge), all on behalf of the Toronto G20 summit. Unfortunately it's only on Facebook right now. But it is well worth the read if you can access it. It's a very detailed, heart-felt, and ultimately heart-breaking first-person account.

Here he is after about 15 hours in a cell with 39 other people, some peaceful protesters and many bystanders, from diverse walks of life:
I looked around at the screaming men, the scared kid, the huddled couple, the disgusted Germans, the confused old man, the First Nations man who didn't seem surprised at all, the guards laughing, the others dismayed. Thought about the peaceful things I saw at the park, the grandmothers with AIDS orphans, [girlfriend] Kate taken away in handcuffs, the kid with CP [cerebral palsy] roughed up, begging for water and my heart simply broke. That's the only way I can describe it. My beloved country, my city. I looked down at my t-shirt - bright blue with a big white maple leaf and in bold, caps letters below: FREEDOM.
Some of the cops crack nasty jokes. (I think I recognize that behaviour from accounts of soldiers engaged in grim business. It's a defense mechanism.) Others react differently.
The female officer who helped me aids in bringing some watery orange Tang to all the cells. We line up, quietly and broken for our drink. I find out from Kate that this same female officer broke down and cried with the women at their cell. She was sobbing and apologizing "This is wrong, you shouldn't be here. This is all so wrong". There own officers couldn't handle it, she was worn down by the injustices she was being ordered to do. This happened in Toronto.

Across from our cell Special Constable C. Smit, a short white female officer with blonde/brown hair stands guard. We nicely talk with her through the cage. "Please tell us how you can do this? We are begging for water in here. This guy is only 16 and this guy passed out. Your co-workers laugh. They are joking to us about our rights and laughing at a disabled kid. You know this is wrong, what's happening" after too much of this, with tears in her eyes she breaks "I don't know anything, no one here knows anything! I'm not even a cop.." she then leaves in a hurry. Madness.
He straggles home, well over 24 hours after being detained.
Kate's waiting outside. We hug and kiss. I'm starving, soaked, thirsty and sore. We go inside, I call my family and my friend Chris. I can't talk long, I just tell them I'm home and safe. Ben's mom hasn't heard from him, he's not answering his phone. We finally hear from him at 1:00am. They detained him and accused him of being Black Bloc. He was still in bright yellow shirt from work. Horrible things happened to him and Kate. I peel off my soaking wet Canada Freedom t-shirt. I throw it on the ground and get a lighter. I want to burn it. I don't.
* * *

Rooftop footage of the police boxing in a crowd including peaceful protesters, Tommy Taylor, his girlfriend, some tourists, some people who were just having dinner, etc., leading to their eventual arrest and detention.

Another group, at Queen & Spadina (the ending is grim):

Same scene, from the rooftop:

Naomi Klein attempts to explain:

In preparation for all of the above, the provincial government flipped the bird at the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in writing.

* * *

Like Tommy Taylor, I'm also kinda fond of Canada. On the other hand, I don't know from Toronto. But then it hit me that the only thing stopping this from happening in my beloved Vancouver is the scheduling whims of the G20 (or other organizations of their ilk). And I can't say how that realization made me feel without making myself look like a huge sissy.

I just found out a friend of mine went through the same thing when the OAS met in Windsor in the 90s.

Combined with Quebec Bill 94, this has been a bad year for keeping up with news from back home.

Tomorrow is Canada Day. In a couple weeks I leave for Vancouver. It's not going to be the same.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

We are all BP

The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is horrific beyond words. But just when you thought your heart was broken, you find out it's not done breaking. There are greater horrors still.

Because the Deepwater Horizon disaster is not very special.

The only thing that really makes it special is the fact that America is there. And that means the world, and in particular the American part of the world, is paying attention. And for this reason the shattered, ruined Gulf should count itself lucky.

In fact, more oil is spilled from the [Niger] delta's network of terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico, the site of a major ecological catastrophe caused by oil that has poured from a leak triggered by the explosion that wrecked BP's Deepwater Horizon rig last month.


"We see frantic efforts being made to stop the spill in the US," said Nnimo Bassey, Nigerian head of Friends of the Earth International. "But in Nigeria, oil companies largely ignore their spills, cover them up and destroy people's livelihood and environments. The Gulf spill can be seen as a metaphor for what is happening daily in the oilfields of Nigeria and other parts of Africa.

"This has gone on for 50 years in Nigeria. People depend completely on the environment for their drinking water and farming and fishing. They are amazed that the president of the US can be making speeches daily, because in Nigeria people there would not hear a whimper," he said.
This is the business model of the oil industry. This is how it generates profits: by giving itself the liberty of destroying one part of the planet after the other, and tossing those costs (can they even be measured in dollars?) onto the poor and defenseless. It does so with complete impunity in most of the world. In the Gulf of Mexico, because the Gulf is so fucking lucky, the industry can't ignore the damage it does entirely, due to consequences so dire that they can even cause some annoyance to a CEO.

Further, this is not just the business model of BP, or the oil industry in general. It is the logic of the multinational corporation.
The UN has hired the consultancy Trucost to estimate the costs dumped on the environment by the world's 3,000 biggest public companies. It doesn't report until October, but earlier this year the Guardian published the interim results. Trucost had estimated the damage these companies inflicted on the environment in 2008 at $2.2 trillion, equivalent to one third of their profits for that year. This too is likely to be an underestimate, as the draft report did not try to value the long-term costs of any issue except climate change. Nor did it count the wider social costs of environmental change.

A paper by the New Economics Foundation in 2006 used government estimates of the cost of carbon emissions to calculate the [unpaid] liabilities of Shell and BP. It found that while the two companies had just posted profits of £25bn, they had incurred costs in the same year of £46.5bn.
Finally, this is not just how one part of the world (the corporate part) works. This is not a system which exists somewhere out there. We are a part of it. We are complicit, and committed to complicity.
Whatever the courts may find about BP's culpability the real cause is our demand for oil and our refusal to pay its true price. Right now, everyone in America wants to do something to fight the spill. However, if you suggest that perhaps we should double the price of fuel and use the revenue to rebuild our transportation network, the general response is suspicious silence.
The logic of exploitation is part of our own lives. We depend on these corporations, and so we also depend on the ability to routinely violate creation and humanity with utter indifference. We depend on the ability to devastate a community along the Gulf coast, to bestow upon a pelican a slow death in the muck, to thrust a thirsty Nigerian child's face into a poisoned stream.

Are we not yet ready to change?

Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

The flotilla and the isolation of Gaza

From Amira Hass at Haaretz. The best piece of commentary I've read so far. (Click on her name on the Haaretz site for some other great articles.)
But unknowingly, this flotilla, like its predecessors and the ones still to come, serves the Israeli goal, which is to complete the process of separating the Gaza Strip from the West Bank. The process, it will be said here for the millionth time, started in 1991 and not after the rise of Hamas rule. It's purpose was to thwart the two-state solution, which the world understood at that time as based on all of Gaza and the West Bank, and the link between them.


And what serves the goal of separating Gaza from the West Bank better than forgetting the sealed the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel, and focusing on Rafah [between Egypt and Gaza] and cement?

Long before Israel prohibited the entry of cement into the Strip, it prohibited Gazans from studying in the West Bank. While it still permitted guavas to be exported from Khan Yunis to Jordan, it forbade Gazans to enter the West Bank even via the Allenby Bridge or to meet relatives and friends. Step by step, Israel developed draconian restrictions on Palestinians' freedom of movement, until it declared every Gazan in the West Bank, now and especially in the future, an illegal alien and an infiltrator. These are the essential prohibitions that must be breached.
Lack of unity has been a constant obstacle to Palestinian emancipation. And what better way to perpetuate disunity than to make contact just plain impossible? Do that, and you needn't concern yourself with the possibility of a peace process.

Wal-Mart teaches us a lesson

It is possible to stop the world's largest public corporation from getting its way all the time.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

"A Christian Perspective on Prisons"

Getting tough on crime is just another version of an anti-Christian moral code.


Very simply, as the nation with by far the highest incarceration rate in the world, neither the public nor the mainstream news media wants to know anything about prisons. Prisons are the depositories of our social programming and education failures. "Get them out of our sight."
In the mid-70s, the American middle class began its decline as real wages stagnated and social safety nets were undermined. Coincidentally, the incarceration rate sky-rocketed shortly thereafter.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010