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     Silly me.  I thought Alberta was timidly embracing the idea that the province was going to be run for the benefit of someone other than the corporations and the rich.  This latest poll (via the CBC) suggests that many of the people of Alberta want to get back to the good times of kowtowing to the business class and letting the rest of us dine on the meagre scrapes that ‘trickle down’ from the lavish head-table feast. 

   “In focus groups CBC conducted after the survey found that most people — from all political stripes — said the NDP wasn’t to blame for Alberta’s tough economic times, but that the party wasn’t doing enough to dig the province out.

Yet, there was praise for Premier Rachel Notley.

“There’s not too many politicians that could have navigated what she’s had to,” said 44-year-old Kelly Kernick, who participated in CBC News’s focus group of middle-of-the-road voters.

Right-leaning Tristan Arsenault, 22, echoed others in the focus groups, saying the recent recession hit people hard and many still aren’t feeling the recovery.”

Undoing the damage of 40 plus years of one party rule isn’t exactly a small endeavour.  Cleaning out the cronyism, and rot takes time.  Yet it seems that after a brief 5 year stint we Albertans are done with this idea of government being run for the benefit of the people and are rushing back to the party that best enshrines the idea of the neo-liberal corporate state.

The election is still far away, and there is the chance that our dear UCP party will have more than a few bozo eruptions that boldly illustrate their incompetence and inability to govern.

I’m not ready to be plunged back into yet another dark conservative political regression.

Hey Alberta, can we not vote in the regressive conservatives?  That’d be great, thanks.

Why do we act surprised when areas of the world erupt into bloody vicious conflict.  We are shocked at the intensity and absolute disregard for human life.  Yet how do the ‘bad guys’ get access to all these calamitous weapons?  

We sell them.  We sell a whole bunch of weapons in nearly every corner of the world to pretty much anyone who has the cash.  That’s how.  This has been a feature, as Mr.Hartung states, of every presidency from Nixon on in.  It is the status-quo and has bi-partisan support, for decades.

Another prestigious brick in the monument attesting to the trivial worth of human life.  We in the civilized West speak of human rights while ensuring through our arms sales they they will never become universal rights.

Fuck.

If it makes you feel better, slap the ‘business is business’ rhetorical dodge all over this appalling fact.  This is what happens when we divorce the public from the political decision making process.  This is what happens when we lose the basic trait of empathy toward others.  The feelings are the same when someone on the other side of the globe loses a loved one.  Gunshot wounds maim people and cripple family units for life whether it is here in North America or in San Salvador, Syria, or Yemen.

Yet geography makes a (fateful) difference.  We disassociate from the losses people experience ‘over there’.  We remain ignorant of our contribution in the slaughter of innocent people across the globe.  It is a moral chasm that follows us. arms dealers to the world, ignorant or not, of to what we are really committed to as a nation.  The lofty rhetoric we hear on the news from the political class is divorced from the realpolitik in which we actually operate and base our foreign policy on.

My real fear is this – what if people are informed of the real nature of this aspect of the world, and their response is apathy.  I would not know what to do after that.

Anyways, my moralizing aside read the entire article at Tom’s Dispatch, but this is the part I was commenting on:

 

 

“Though Saudi Arabia may be the largest recipient of U.S. arms on the planet, it’s anything but Washington’s only customer. According to the Pentagon’s annual tally of major agreements under the Foreign Military Sales program, the most significant channel for U.S. arms exports, Washington entered into formal agreements to sell weaponry to 130 nations in 2016 (the most recent year for which full data is available). According to a recent report from the Cato Institute, between 2002 and 2016 the United States delivered weaponry to 167 countries — more than 85% of the nations on the planet. The Cato report also notes that, between 1981 and 2010, Washington supplied some form of weaponry to 59% of all nations engaged in high-level conflicts.

In short, Donald Trump has headed down a well-traveled arms superhighway. Every president since Richard Nixon has taken that same road and, in 2010, the Obama administration managed to rack up a record $102 billion in foreign arms offers. In a recent report I wrote for the Security Assistance Monitor at the Center for International Policy, I documented more than $82 billion in arms offers by the Trump administration in 2017 alone, which actually represented a slight increase from the $76 billion in offers made during President Obama’s final year. It was, however, far lower than that 2010 figure, $60 billion of which came from Saudi deals for F-15 combat aircraft, Apache attack helicopters, transport aircraft, and armored vehicles, as well as guns and ammunition.

There have nonetheless been some differences in the approaches of the two administrations in the area of human rights. Under pressure from human rights groups, the Obama administration did, in the end, suspend sales of aircraft to Bahrain and Nigeria, both of whose militaries were significant human rights violators, and also a $1 billion-plus deal for precision-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia. That Saudi suspension represented the first concrete action by the Obama administration to express displeasure with Riyadh’s indiscriminate bombing campaign in Yemen. Conducted largely with U.S. and British supplied aircraft, bombs, and missiles, it has included strikesagainst hospitals, marketplaces, water treatment facilities, and even a funeral. In keeping with his focus on jobs to the exclusion of humanitarian concerns, Trump reversed all three of the Obama suspensions shortly after taking office.

Fueling Terrorism and Instability

In fact, selling weapons to dictatorships and repressive regimes often fuels instability, war, and terrorism, as the American war on terror has vividly demonstrated for the last nearly 17 years. U.S.-supplied arms also have a nasty habit of ending up in the hands of America’s adversaries. At the height of the U.S. intervention in Iraq, for instance, that country’s armed forces lost track of hundreds of thousands of rifles, many of which made their way into the hands of forces resisting the U.S. occupation.

In a similar fashion, when Islamic State militants swept into Iraq in 2014, the Iraqi security forces abandoned billions of dollars worth of American equipment, from small arms to military trucks and armored vehicles. ISIS promptly put them to use against U.S. advisers and the Iraqi security forces as well as tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. The Taliban, too, has gotten its hands on substantial quantities of U.S. weaponry, either on the battlefield or by buying them at cut-rate, black market prices from corrupt members of the Afghan security forces.

In northern Syria, two U.S.-armed groups are now fighting each other. Turkish forces are facing off against Syrian Kurdish militias that have been among the most effective anti-ISIS fighters and there is even an ongoing risk that U.S. and Turkish forces, NATO allies, may find themselves in direct combat with each other. Far from giving Washington influence over key allies or improving their combat effectiveness, U.S. arms and training often simply spur further conflict and chaos to the detriment of the security of the United States, not to speak of the peace of the world.”

The parochial attitude of North Americans is quite disturbing, and unjustified.  We have unparalleled access to information and news from across the globe and by this feature alone we should be attuned to the plight of others and the injustice in the world.   Yet, most of us are not.  As long as shit happens ‘over there’ whether it be across an ocean, or the local river the daily pattern of our lives does not change.

Only when our routines are disrupted and our comfort zones threatened do we awake from our slumber.  In our defence, there really isn’t another way to go about one’s life as the amount of horror in the world is a completely paralyzing notion and can only be examined at arms length if one wishes to remain sane.

But.

I think the balance between our safe cocoons and concern for the situations others needs to be reordered.  The slow-fast human catastrophe that is Syria highlights exactly what I’m talking about.  

“A chemical attack in Douma, the last rebel-held stronghold near Syria’s capital, Damascus, has killed at least 70 people and affected hundreds, rescue workers have told Al Jazeera.

The White Helmets, a group of rescuers operating in opposition-held areas in Syria, said on Saturday that most of the fatalities were women and children.

“Seventy people suffocated to death and hundreds are still suffocating,” Raed al-Saleh, head of the White Helmets, told Al Jazeera, adding that the death toll was expected to rise as many people were in critical condition.

Al-Saleh said that chlorine gas and an unidentified but stronger gas were dropped on Douma.”

We sit complicit while the Assad regime gasses its own people in their efforts to ‘stabilize’ their country.

“We are currently dealing with more than 1,000 cases of people struggling to breathe after the chlorine barrel bomb was dropped on the city. The number of dead will probably rise even further.”

The Douma Media Centre, a pro-opposition group, posted images on social media of people being treated by medics, and of what appeared to be dead bodies, including many women and children.

Rescue workers also posted videos of people appearing to show symptoms consistent with a gas attack. Some appeared to have white foam around their mouths and noses.

Symptoms of a chlorine attack include coughing, dyspnea, intensive irritation of the mucous membrane and difficulty in breathing.”

Being a civilian is Syria isn’t such a welcoming proposition.  Chemical warfare is an agreed upon ‘no-go’ for most of the nations of the world.  There is a treaty and everything.

“The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is an arms control treaty that outlaws the production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons and their precursors. The full name of the treaty is the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction and it is administered by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), an intergovernmental organization based in The Hague, The Netherlands. The treaty entered into force in 1997.”

This image released early Sunday, April 8, 2018 by the Syrian Civil Defence White Helmets, shows a rescue worker carrying a child following an alleged chemical weapons attack in the rebel-held town of Douma, near Damascus, Syria. White Helmets via AP

Yet this happens.  And most of NA placidly accepts this.  Maybe some tsk-tisking and/or a lament on how horrible the gassing of civilians is.  But then, most of us just scroll onward past this tragedy that has been disconnected from our consciousness.

What is missing, at least in part, is the feeling of responsibility (not to mention the empathy of what it must be like trying to survive during a civil war) of our part in their ordeal.

Joseph Massad on Al Jazeera said the term was “part of a US strategy of controlling [the movement’s] aims and goals” and directing it towards western-style liberal democracy.[17] When Arab Spring protests in some countries were followed by electoral success for Islamist parties, some American pundits coined the terms “Islamist Spring”[20] and “Islamist Winter”.

Also this from The Atlantic:

“Egyptian military officials wagered, rightly, that they could get away with what became, according to Human Rights Watch, the worst mass killing in modern Egyptian history—as well as one of the worst single-day mass killings in recent decades anywhere in the world.

America’s relative silence was no accident. To offer a strong, coherent response to the killings would have required a strategy, which would have required more, not less, involvement. This, however, would have been at cross-purposes with the entire thrust of the administration’s policy. Obama was engaged in a concerted effort to reduce its footprint in the Middle East. The phrase “leading from behind” quickly became a pejorative for Obama’s foreign-policy doctrine, but it captured a very real shift in America’s posture. The foreign-policy analysts Nina Hachigian and David Shorr called it the “Responsibility Doctrine,” a strategy of “prodding other influential nations … to help shoulder the burdens of fostering a stable, peaceful world order.” In pursuing this strategy in the Middle East, the United States left a power vacuum—and a proxy struggle. During Morsi’s year-long tenure, Qatar became the single largest foreign donor to Egypt, at over $5 billion (with Turkey contributing another $2 billion). Just days after the military moved against Morsi, it was Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait that pledged a massive $12 billion to the new military-appointed government.

 The United States, along with the conservative Gulf monarchies and many others, also viewed Islamist parties with considerable suspicion.”
   Being a world power, only when convenient, isn’t being a world power.  Behaving only to protect the national interest places us squarely in the realm of realpolitik and the (a)moral compass associated with that mode of thinking.  Syria lies on the border of two spheres of influence.  The Russian empire and the American Empire.  Arguably, Russia has greater influence, not least of all because of geographical proximity, on Syria and the maintenance of the current regime is in their national self interest.  Thus the frisson between the American tacit support for the revolution (toward a US friendly regime) and the Russian support for the status quo and continuation within their own sphere of self-interest are the only realpolitik concerns on the table.  The humanitarian disaster resulting from this friction between empires is but a footnote and not really mainstream news worthy – at least not past the ratings ‘bump’ procured for showing disconnected images of human suffering.
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    A non-corporate real media would be all over the context of the situation portraying the real cost in human misery of what happens when spheres of influence collide and how little the ‘national interest’ cares about people dying ‘over there’.  Yet with all our glitzy internet power and googleplexes of information at our fingertips has this sort of contextual analysis even been hinted at in North American mainstream media?
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   Not really.
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   Compare how the Associated Press and Al-Jazeera frame the article (also the sources on which this piece is based).  A telling difference,  the focus on the ‘facts’ versus the human angle that the Al-Jazeera piece.  I think we need more of the second variety as we need to inspire empathy and the common human nature that binds us all together, so we can work toward a more peaceable future.
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   (Unlikely as it may be.)

We’re playing with nuclear fire.  Hell, we’re doing a fire dance with twirling batons ablaze in a fireworks factory.  This all started after the US nuked Japan in 1945.  Since then, we’ve just been piling more fireworks around the fire dancers and giving the dancers bigger batons to twirl.  There is no logic to this death dance we inflict on ourselves and the world.

Noam Chomsky takes a historical look at the post 1945 nuclear world.

“That conclusion [USSR could not compete with the US] was underscored repeatedly in the years that followed. When Nikita Khrushchev took control in Russia in 1953 after Stalin’s death, he recognized that the USSR could not compete militarily with the U.S., the richest and most powerful country in history, with incomparable advantages. If it ever hoped to escape its economic backwardness and the devastating effect of the last world war, it would need to reverse the arms race.

Accordingly, Khrushchev proposed sharp mutual reductions in offensive weapons. The incoming Kennedy administration considered the offer and rejected it, instead turning to rapid military expansion, even though it was already far in the lead. The late Kenneth Waltz, supported by other strategic analysts with close connections to U.S. intelligence, wrote then that the Kennedy administration “undertook the largest strategic and conventional peace-time military build-up the world has yet seen… even as Khrushchev was trying at once to carry through a major reduction in the conventional forces and to follow a strategy of minimum deterrence, and we did so even though the balance of strategic weapons greatly favored the United States.” Again, harming national security while enhancing state power.

U.S. intelligence verified that huge cuts had indeed been made in active Soviet military forces, both in terms of aircraft and manpower. In 1963, Khrushchev again called for new reductions. As a gesture, he withdrew troops from East Germany and called on Washington to reciprocate. That call, too, was rejected. William Kaufmann, a former top Pentagon aide and leading analyst of security issues, described the U.S. failure to respond to Khrushchev’s initiatives as, in career terms, “the one regret I have.”

The Soviet reaction to the U.S. build-up of those years was to place nuclear missiles in Cuba in October 1962 to try to redress the balance at least slightly. The move was also motivated in part by Kennedy’s terrorist campaign against Fidel Castro’s Cuba, which was scheduled to lead to invasion that very month, as Russia and Cuba may have known. The ensuing “missile crisis” was “the most dangerous moment in history,” in the words of historian Arthur Schlesinger, Kennedy’s adviser and confidant.

As the crisis peaked in late October, Kennedy received a secret letter from Khrushchev offering to end it by simultaneous public withdrawal of Russian missiles from Cuba and U.S. Jupiter missiles from Turkey. The latter were obsolete missiles, already ordered withdrawn by the Kennedy administration because they were being replaced by far more lethal Polaris submarines to be stationed in the Mediterranean.

Kennedy’s subjective estimate at that moment was that if he refused the Soviet premier’s offer, there was a 33% to 50% probability of nuclear war — a war that, as President Eisenhower had warned, would have destroyed the northern hemisphere. Kennedy nonetheless refused Khrushchev’s proposal for public withdrawal of the missiles from Cuba and Turkey; only the withdrawal from Cuba could be public, so as to protect the U.S. right to place missiles on Russia’s borders or anywhere else it chose.

It is hard to think of a more horrendous decision in history — and for this, he is still highly praised for his cool courage and statesmanship.”

I’d hate to see what incensed, insane leadership looks like…

 

I sincerely hope the MAGA’s down south are enjoying the bountiful economic gifts the cheeto-in-cheif and his republican bag men are bestowing upon them.  I mean the establishment of an military oligarchy in the US was well under way under Obama, but at least he made the obligatory nods to democracy and caring for the American people (while of course, still screwing them).  Nuance isn’t a thing anymore in terms of US domestic policy.  It is being sky-written for the populace to see, you (the general public) are paying for the military and corporations first and maybe, if there are few scraps left in the budget, you may get some society and civilization as a part of the bargain.

The New Gilded Age is proceeding quite monstrously in the USA.  Perhaps this latest give away to the military industrial complex will fuel the rise of organized labour and demands that US society should prioritize its citizens, rather than its military.   William Hartung writes with great detail on what is going on in the budgeting process:

 

“While domestic spending fared better in the recent congressional budget deal than it would have if Trump’s draconian plan for 2018 had been enacted, it still lags far behind what Congress is investing in the Pentagon.  And calculations by the National Priorities Project indicate that the Department of Defense is slated to be an even bigger winner in Trump’s 2019 budget blueprint. Its share of the discretionary budget, which includes virtually everything the government does other than programs like Medicare and Social Security, will mushroom to a once-unimaginable 61 cents on the dollar, a hefty boost from the already startling 54 cents on the dollar in the final year of the Obama administration.

The skewed priorities in Trump’s latest budget proposal are fueled in part by the administration’s decision to embrace the Pentagon increases Congress agreed to last month, while tossing that body’s latest decisions on non-military spending out the window.  Although Congress is likely to rein in the administration’s most extreme proposals, the figures are stark indeed — a proposed cut of $120 billion in the domestic spending levels both parties agreed to. The biggest reductions include a 41% cut in funding for diplomacy and foreign aid; a 36% cut in funding for energy and the environment; and a 35% cut in housing and community development.  And that’s just the beginning.  The Trump administration is also preparing to launch full-scale assaults on food stampsMedicaid, and Medicare.  It’s war on everything except the U.S. military. 

Corporate Welfare

The recent budget plans have brought joy to the hearts of one group of needy Americans: the top executives of major weapons contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics. They expect a bonanza from the skyrocketing Pentagon expenditures. Don’t be surprised if the CEOs of these five firms give themselves nice salary boosts, something to truly justify their work, rather than the paltry $96 million they drew as a group in 2016 (the most recent year for which full statistics are available).  

And keep in mind that, like all other U.S.-based corporations, those military-industrial behemoths will benefit richly from the Trump administration’s slashing of the corporate tax rate.  According to one respected industry analyst, a good portion of this windfall will go towards bonuses and increased dividends for company shareholders rather than investments in new and better ways to defend the United States.  In short, in the Trump era, Lockheed Martin and its cohorts are guaranteed to make money coming and going.”

Civil society is for chumps after all…

 

We’ve had a few pieces on the disconnect between the public and the political process.  This essay by Richard D. Wolff looks to answering the question why, despite there being two different political parties in the US, that the overall arc of the US body politic maintains the same general direction.

 

“In short, “democracy” has been applied to societies whose political/residential sphere was at least formally democratic but whose economic sphere was decidedly not.

The ideological rigidity of most brands of anti-statism across US history served nicely to keep the focus forever on state/public versus individual/private in thinking and acting about social change. Democracy was redefined in practical terms as the liberty of the individual/private from the intrusion of the state/public. The democratic quality of the individual/private enterprise – the central structure of the economy – was exempted from analysis or even from view in terms of its structural incompatibility with democracy. Legalistic equations of capitalist corporations with individual personhood also helped to distract attention away from the undemocratic structure of the corporation. Likewise, the US government’s commitment to a “democratic foreign policy” fostered the reproduction elsewhere of the same undemocratic economic structure that characterized the US.

The right wing of US politics has long understood and responded to social movements for equality and democracy as threats to capitalism. Its leaders built their coalitions by working to mobilize public opinion against those movements as threats to the “American way of life.” It built its ideology on the notion that democracy meant a state kept from intruding on the lives and activities of persons and enterprises rendered as equivalently “individuals.” Equality to them meant equality of opportunity, not outcomes: and then only if opportunity was strictly disconnected from the wealth, income and social position each individual was born into.

The left wing of US politics has always tried hard to sustain the notion that capitalism was not only compatible with egalitarianism and democracy. It would also be strengthened, not threatened, by moving capitalist society closer to equality and democracy. In practical terms it contested against the right wing by insisting that the mass of people – the workers in capitalist enterprises – would become disaffected from and disloyal to capitalism if it indulged its anti-egalitarian and anti-democratic tendencies. Capitalism, it argued and argues, will be strengthened not threatened by less inequality and more democracy.

Both left and right – and their expressions in the leaderships of the Republican and Democratic Parties – live in fear, conscious or otherwise, that the mass of people, the working class, will become disaffected from capitalism. “Populist” is the currently popular epithet that expresses this fear.  Both parties contest for the support of the leaders of capitalism – major shareholders and the corporate boards of directors they select – by offering their alternative strategies for avoiding, controlling, or safely channeling mass disaffection with capitalism.”

Want to know moar, citizen? Check out Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky.

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