Friday, November 20, 2015

More on Syrian refugees (coming to Canada)

Coming from the United States, it has been a bit difficult for me to understand why Canadians have been, by and large, very willing to support our government's plan to accept 25,000 refugees from the Syrian conflict into this country by the end of the year ... six weeks from now.

Contrast that with the US, which has committed to admitting 10,000 by the end of next year.  Since the Syrian civil war began, the US has taken in 1800 refugees from the war.  Germany has accepted 38,500 Syrian refugees and Canada has accepted 36,300 since 2013.

I believe the stark contrast in the actions of Western countries toward these victims of war is very telling; and you can bet the entire Muslim world is watching and learning.  I believe American resistance to rendering aid and asylum to these unfortunate people has very little to do with fear of terrorists and far more to do with fear of Muslims (or, for some, fear of brown people in general). It's Islamophobia.

Refugees coming to Canada will undergo three separate screening processes. First, they are selected from those screened by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. The UNHCR uses sophisticated anti-fraud tools like biometrics. Second, they are interviewed before coming to Canada. Third, once in Canada, they are screened by Canada's security services. Security experts say the chances of an ISIS terrorist getting through are infinitesimal; they'd choose another, easier, avenue of entry.

Canada is prioritizing families
(particularly female-headed households) not individuals, unaccompanied children, and the sick. These groups were selected because they pose the least risk of radicalization.

Experts in national security, terrorism, radicalization and intelligence agree that not accepting refugees is a greater threat to national security than admitting them with proper screening. According to Munk School of Public Affairs Professor Wesley Wark and Georgetown University Professor Anne Speckhard, the squalid refugee camps are hotbeds for extremism. ISIS recruiters find it remarkably easy to find recruits among people living in a state of hopelessness, desperation and disenfranchisement (no control over their own futures). According to Prof. Speckhard: "Experience from many conflict zones teaches us that the longer these refugees are left to languish in despair in camps the more prone they become to radicalization."

Accepting refugees strikes a blow at ISIS. ISIS relies on extortion and the taxes they collect from the vast swaths of territory they control. "They want to stop the refugee process because one of their main sources of income in the ISIS-controlled territory is taxation of the people there, extortion of the people there," according to University of Ottawa law professor Errol Mendes.

A few (two are Canadian) links:
I don't fear refugees fleeing ISIS.  Bring 'em.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Joe Hill, martyred 100 years ago

19 November 2015, is the 100th anniversary of the execution of labor activist Joe Hill.  Joe Hill became something of a folk hero and legend (and a martyr) after he was executed for a murder he probably didn't commit, mainly because he was part of the Industrial Workers of the World (also known as the "Wobblies").  He was killed to silence his voice.

If you value the standard 40-hour week, and the standard 8-hour work day, overtime pay, paid sick leave, unemployment benefits if you are involuntarily separated from your job, and company-paid health insurance for full-time employees, especially if you retired with a company-provided defined benefit pension plan, then you have an obligation to support the American labor movement and to respect the men and women who made great sacrifices for the sake of all American workers.

You can look down on Wisconsin's striking teachers with disdain if you wish.  You can believe that they just don't realize how good they have it, but the truth?  They know how exactly how good they have it, and they know that they can keep what they have only if they are willing to organize, cooperate, and fight for it. The right to bargain collectively (as a "union") wasn't handed to them gratuitously.  Just like the fair labor standards, wages, and retirements we all have. Unless we have the backbone to defend them, they will be steadily eroded until they no longer exist.  Power never yields without a fight.  And America's workers need to realize that nothing being taken from them now is being done so as a final measure, or as a temporary measure.

We owe the fighters.

I'd like to recognize one of America's great heroes of the struggle for America's workers.  Joe Hill became something of a folk hero and legend (and a martyr) after he was executed for a murder he possibly did not commit.  Circumstantial evidence did seem to implicate Hill, but he was executed mainly because he was part of a labor movement, the Industrial Workers of the World (also known as the "Wobblies").  He was killed to shut him up.  That's how serious the fight for fair labor standards and safe working conditions is.

Joe Hill was executed at the Utah State Penitentiary in Salt Lake City by five riflemen.  He is said to have stood before them straight and stiff and proud.

And his last word was spoken defiantly:  "Fire!"

And before his death, he wrote to a friend and fellow labor organizer, "Don't waste any time in mourning. Organize."

Here's an interesting twist to his story:

Some of Joe Hill's ashes were sent belatedly to an Industrial Workers of the World organizer in 1917 to be scattered in Chicago.  The envelope was seized by postal inspectors who were acting under the Espionage Act, passed after the United States entered World War I that year, which made it illegal to mail any material that advocated "treason, insurrection. or forcible resistance to any law of the United States."  Even after his death, they were afraid of Joe Hill.

The envelope, containing only a few grams of Hill's ashes, was sent to the National Archives in Washington, DC, where it remained hidden until 1988, when it was discovered and turned over in Chicago to the men who presided over what little remained of the Industrial Workers of the World, shrunken to only a few hundred members.

The post office apparently had objected to the caption beneath a photo of Hill on the front of the envelope.  The caption read:

Joe Hill – murdered by the capitalist class, November 19, 1915.

Even after his death, they were afraid of Joe Hill.

You know, most of us are faced, at least once in our lives, with a decision that requires a great deal of courage ... I'm thinking now of a father, who had to decide to remove his wife and my mother from a respirator in 1991.   But most of those decisions won't bring us fame or fortune, notoriety or renown, they are just what they are ... decisions that have to be made.   And they are no more difficult, and our choices no more courageous, than those that we read about in history books.

All of us, regardless of our circumstances, should be prepared to meet life's challenges with resolve and with courage.

We remember Joe Hill today because Joe didn't whimper.

 Joe Hill (1879–1915)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Emad Hassan has been released

Emad Abdullah Hassan was one of the 5 Yemenis released last weekend from the Guantánamo Bay detention camp.  All five men were held extra-judiciously for 13 years.  They were transferred to the United Arab Emirates for resettlement in that country, after the US admitted they had no evidence that any one of them was guilty of anything.  They were always innocent.  (source)

That reduces the number of men still held by the Americans, without charge, without legal recourse, to 107, 53 of who have been cleared for release (there is zero evidence to charge them with any crime).   A total of 780 prisoners have been held there.  Of that number only eight have been convicted by military courts. Four of those convictions have been overturned by the US Supreme Court  Only three men have been convicted by a military court and are still held in Guantánamo Bay.  Three only, one of whom was Salim Hamdam, who was convicted of being Osama Bin Laden's frigging chauffeur.  (source)

Maybe they're still planning to convict Osama bin Laden's dog-walker on evidence obtained by torturing Osama bin Laden's pastry chef.

From: Charles Aulds <>
Date: Thu, Mar 13, 2014
Subject: Emad Hassan is an innocent man:

Inline image 1

On Tuesday of this weeek, March 11, 2014, a US federal (civil) court heard a motion brought before it on behalf of a Yemeni citizen, Emad Abdullah Hassan, who has been on hunger strike in the  Guantánamo Bay detention camp intermittently since 2005 and continuously since 2007.
During that time, Emad Hassan has been force-fed more than 5,000 times, in conditions that his lawyers allege are abusive, illegal under international law, and amount to torture. The motion filed Tuesday calls for a preliminary injunction that would put an immediate halt to the the force-feeding pending a full review of the practice.

Hassan, now 34, was picked up by Pakistani security forces in February 2002, when he was a 22 year old man who had traveled from his native Yemen to Faisalabad Pakistan to attend university. He has been held without charge for almost 12 years at Guantánamo, despite the fact that he was cleared for release in 2009.  In other words, there is no evidence against him of any crime.  None.  No charges ever filed.

By the most American of all legal precepts, the presumption of innocence, Emad Hassan is an innocent man

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

10 years ago: I have my first "close encounter of the 3rd kind"

It was 17 November, 2005 ... we'd been in Canada for one month.  That day, during my daily lunch-time walk down Main Street Moncton, I approached two young girls who were holding hands, obviously lovers.

I remember thinking, "Oh, cripes, here it comes," and bracing myself for the wave of revulsion that I knew was going to wash over me. I mean, when a man has over forty years of the "proper" social conditioning, the reaction is involuntary. Consider: I was baptized into the proper faith, a member in good-standing of the 1st Baptist Church of an all-white Bible Belt Community, and I voted almost exclusively Republican for 28 years. I knew how I was "supposed" to feel and react.

I was about to confront the last big taboo.

But it didn't happen the "correct" way. I remember watching as the couple parted with a sweet kiss outside a business where one of them obviously worked.  Her partner glanced at me and smiled.

God help me, I smiled back.  In completely violation of everything I'd been taught, I smiled back.  It felt good.

I smiled because I knew how she felt; I've been there, I understand. I saw it in the radiance of her smile. She was in love, and she was proud of that, and wanted me to know it. How could I not, as a human being, understand? Whatever might have once separated the two of us, irreconcilably, vanished.

And I wrote a short account of that simple incident so I wouldn't forget it.  It was a landmark in my life; an evidence of a change I wanted to see in myself.

Friends, there are things, unspeakable things, happening in this world every single day that are infinitely worse than two people of the same gender finding themselves in love. 
I'm just glad I realized it, even if it was awfully late in my own life.  Who wants to grow old harboring some unjustifiable prejudice?  A prejudice based on fear; who wants to live in the grip of fear?

Friday, November 13, 2015

"Just watch me"

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, held that same position from 1968 until 1984.  P.E.T. was famous for a line he delivered when asked how far he'd go in imposing martial law and suspending civil liberties to deal with a terrorist threat from an extremist organization (the FLQ) during what was called The October Crisis in 1970.   His answer was, "Just watch me."
Recently, I googled that now famous quote, to hear it in in context.  I never doubted that the decision to invoke the War Measures Act was justified; and so it was a surprise to me to hear Pierre Trudeau make several statements that I'm not comfortable with.
The video of that impromptu interview:    (6 minutes)
1) Trudeau said, "If it hasn't affected you, personally, yet ... then why should you be concerned?" What is that?  Is than an appeal to look away when an injustice is being done to someone else?  Actually, I think it's more an appeal to the "normalcy bias", which is a rationalization people use to deal with threats or disasters; the flawed logic being that if something hasn't happened yet, there's no reason to believe that it will. Trudeau was basically appealing to this state of mind, I believe.  Pay no attention, he was saying, to that man behind the curtain.
2) Trudeau said "Is it your position that we should give in to the FLQ?  Your position seems to be that we should call off the police and let the FLQ abduct anybody."  That's the logical fallacy of a false dichotomy or false dilemma.  If you don't support the imposition of martial law, he was implying, then you obviously sympathize with terrorists.  That faulty logic would haunt me in the run up to the Iraq War.  If you weren't for that invasion, remember, you were on the side of the terrorists. Remember?

3) Finally, Trudeau tries to denigrate the young reporter who expressed concern for a free society as a "bleeding heart."  The young CBC reporter (Ted Ralfe), who was just 32 at the time, had expressed his own opinion that "This is about choices.  My choice is to live in a society that is free and democratic," and one of the things, he said, that we have to give up for that choice is the absolute safety and security of a police state. He had a valid point ... the choice he perceived, between the abandonment of liberty in the pursuit of security is another that's become a recurrent one.  Personally, I think he was expressing a courage that says, "no, I'm not willing to yield my liberty for the promise of safety."  I agree with him, now more than ever before in my entire life.  I'm not afraid of ISIS, or Russia, or whoever they hold up before as an "imminent threat" to our safety.  ISIS has never harmed me; or anyone I know or care about, or anyone I will ever know or care about. It won't happen.  It's such a remote possibility, it isn't even worth worrying about.  I do know, however, know that my liberty, my natural rights as a human being, are being threatened, and have been attacked.  That's a real concern; and an immediate concern.  That young man was absolutely right to make liberty the more important concern to Canadians.  While the War Measures Act was in effect, 465 Canadians were arrested and held without charge. 
Canadians have often reminded me of the elder Trudeau's imposition of martial law, in which Canadians were arrested, without charges, and denied legal recourse.  It was Pierre E. Trudeau who began concentrating power in the Prime Minister's Office.  Unlike Americans, though, Canadians are not willing to allow the use of a perpetual state of war and "emergency wartime" measures to justify the imposition of a permanent police/security/surveillance state.