JR'S Free Thought Pages
The Vile Theocratic Conservatism of Stephen Harper
by Johnny Reb
As I write on this day April 20th 2012, there has been encouraging political news from the results of a British Columbia by-election in my home riding of Chilliwack-Hope. In this highly religious community that has voted conservative since Noah and the Great Flood, we've had a convincing defeat of two extreme right wing neo-conservative parties by the social democratic NDP.
Hopefully this is the beginning of the end of more than a decade of free market racketeering, corruption, cronyism, vicious illegal and immoral attacks on working class people and the wanton pillage and privatization of public assets.
It provides optimism for what I hope may lead to the total extermination of this vile mutation of conservatism in the upcoming elections in 2013. Yes, I'm referring to the unprincipled neo-con political vultures who uphold draconian regressive economic policies that have led to the demolition of the global economy. And despite the comforting words of financial gurus and political conservatives, there's no end in sight to the economic pain and suffering of all but the top 1%.
And while on the subject of pain and suffering from the actions of callous conservative reptiles, I now turn my attention to our pious evangelical war mongering hypocrite and free market ideologue, Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Diatribe on Stephen Harper
by Johnny Reb
It should be patently evident for anyone paying attention that Stephen Harper is an intellectually and ethically challenged hard ass Christian Fundamentalist.
Before I vent my spleen on Stephen Harper and Conservatism in general, allow me to clarify a few conceptions, like so many others, that during the past few decades have become badly maligned, distorted and even re-defined by pundits and ideologues on both the political right and left.
First, I admit to philosophical support of anarchism and you can visit my web site at www.skeptic.ca to understand the wide spectrum it covers. My preference is the brand of anarchism promulgated by Noam Chomsky.
Second, I am neither a Marxist nor a Capitalist but can appreciate both their merit and flaws and consider Adam Smith and Karl Marx to be brilliant philosophers. And it's important to realize that both Marxism and Capitalism have evolved to cover a broad spectrum of doctrinal deviations. On the Marxist-Leninist side for example, Communism urges a revolution of the working class (the proletariat) and a complete overthrow of the capitalist system whereas socialism has, particularly it's social democratic formulations and from the onset of the 20th Century, focused on reforming capitalism and providing it with a human face. This approach to social democracy has been the experience of the CCF/NDP in Canada and, until recently, the Labour Party in Britain (which is now just another British Conservative Party after the Bush-loving Catholic Tony Blair mutilated it). This approach has been the case throughout most of Western Europe, Canada and in the most celebrated case, Sweden, which, despite the devastating effects of neo-conservatism and globalism, still has the lowest inequality in the world according to the most commonly employed measure, the GINI Coefficient. Incidentally, the United States ranks near among the highest in inequality along with countries in the Third World. Equality after all, or at least the pursuit of it, is a vital characteristic of any country that aspires to a genuine democracy.
Third, when I refer to the "working class", many people either assume I'm a Marxist or refuse to accept the quite obvious continuing phenomenon of a class system. It's a observable fact that conservative pundits regularly deny. I hold to a broad definition of "working class", entailing anyone who runs a small business or who works for hourly wages or salary, both blue or white collar. I shouldn't have to mention that I do not include as "working class" those who sit on their posteriors siphoning off an inheritance or collecting dividends, interest and capital gains. And I don't mean parasites like Warren Buffett, Donald Trump, Bill Gates or corporate CEOs who take in thousands of times, in addition to obscene bonuses and stock options, what their employees working in the trenches earn.
Stephen Harper and the Theo-Cons
Even though I disagree vehemently with Harper's neo-conservatism and Christian fundamentalism (follow link), I had at an earlier time considered him a reasonably intelligent man, albeit in a cunning and manipulative sort of way. But since he has been Prime Minister for a few years now, and particularly since gaining a majority in parliament, it ought to now be patently evident to Canadians that Stephen Harper is not only the owner of a third rate intellect, but gravely lacking in ethical sensibilities. One of the most accurate litmus tests for a person's morality is what he does with power. In the case of Stephen Harper his true colours have emerged - and it's not pretty. It's become patently apparent that you, yes you in the 99%, are not on his list of folks he gives a rats ass about. But as I will maintain later, this is the quintessence of the reactionary mind of conservatism.
Harper's intrinsic conservative inability to demonstrate compassion for the concerns of the working class and the underprivileged is likely a function of his elitism, Old Testament ethos and libertarian neo-conservatism. He's an arrogant controlling man who rarely shows any signs of warmth or affection for his fellow human travellers. He's clearly uncomfortable in small groups, reticent and rarely smiles, reminding me somewhat of the personalities of former BC Premier Bill Bennett and US President Richard Nixon. He's also lacking in any understanding of the meaning of democracy or fair play and is the owner of a controlling authoritarian personality.
Harper's vile vision for Canada is to replicate the brazen nationalism, militarism and imperialism of the United States, a country whose government has no conscience for the rest of the world - or even its own citizens. The US government, whether Republican or Democrat, operates out of an ethical vacuum, is controlled by corporate lobbyists (there were 170 during the Nixon era and 35,000 today) and is rapidly turning the country into a fascist police state and corporatist banana republic.
Stevie v Tommy
As a basis of contrast to Stephen Harper I'd like to consider another Christian Canadian political figure whose personality and brand of Christianity stands in stark contrast to Harper's aloofness and austere Christian fascism. That man is Canada's most revered Canadian according to a CBC poll, Tommy Douglas (1904-1986), a social democratic politician and champion of the social gospel movement. I believe a case can be made that Tommy has done more for Canada than any other political figure despite never having held political power federally. His warmth, empathy, sense of humour, ever-engaging smile, incisive intellect and uplifting vision for Canada stand in total opposition to that of the robotic heartless Harper.
Harper gleans his ideas from a fanatical fundamentalist Christian sect that believes in the imminent return of Jesus Christ and the Rapture. This, despite countless predictions and the fact that JC has been AWOL for over two millennia. Harper's limited mind is further warped, not just by his narrow Christian fundamentalist world view and preference for closed systems of thought, but by the dogmatic embrace of extreme right wing proto-fascist political and economic doctrines, primarily via the neo-conservative teachings of Leo Strauss.
Harper cares not a whit about your concerns
Following the phony Old Age Pension fear mongering, "robo-call" election scam, $10 billion waste of taxpayer money on more prisons (traditional solution to systemic social problems for conservatives) and $25 billion F-35 fighter jet scandal (war mongering and militarism - another conservative orgasm), Harper's sanctimonious jack boots are now turning to using taxpayer money to propagandize the bewildered Canadian herd on the ecological disaster of the Alberta Tar Sands, referring to the project as "God's work". Surely for any sincere Christian, the Tar Sands would more like "Satan's work". George W Bush claimed to be following God's orders when he invaded Iraq, turning the country into a trash heap while murdering over a million of its inhabitants, including the US's former pal during the 1980s, Saddam Hussein. The former CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein also referred to the criminal activities of his vulture capitalist firm as doing "God's work. These fanatical ghouls obviously belong to the same Christian fellowship. It would be no surprise I suspect that Harper, like his village idiot American chum, accepts policy direction from the Big Man in the Sky. This might help ease his conscience (if he has one) and justify his support for the big oil mafia in his former stomping grounds of Calgary, the CAPP and their insidious campaign ads that run non-stop on BNN, disseminating endless misinformation and blatant lies about the violations of First Nations Cree treaty rights and widespread environmental damage in the Athabasca Valley ecosystem near Jasper National Park. But to Harper the toxic gunk that's extracted from the Tar Sands is manna from heaven. The environment and the First Nations people can go to hell because the Rapture is in the pipeline (no pun intended). And if the return of JC is delayed again, the cost for "externalities" like environmental degradation will, like the bank bailouts, be covered by the taxpayers.
The fact that he was once the head of the National Citizens Coalition, a right wing libertarian "think tank" set up to eradicate all social services and Medicare, shows where he stands. Sociopathic propensities are written all over Harper's thoughts and actions. Would traditional conservatives such as John Diefenbaker, Robert Stanfield or even a Dwight D Eisenhower, recognize this reptile who calls himself a "conservative"? I think not. In fact many Christians friends I know would not, according to their conception, consider Harper a bona fide Christian. For political philistines and crass materialists like Harper, hiding behind his Christian piety, there's always billions in tax breaks for big business, billions for military expenditures and imperialistic wars - but the piggy bank is mysteriously empty for health care, education, the arts or helping people living on the streets. But conservatives have always loved war.
Hail to Herr Harper!
Conservatism is an abominable relic from the Dark Ages
Ever since I was able to understand and differentiate among the various political philosophies, I've regarded conservatism to be a most gloomy and ethically vacuous political stance. It has few redeeming or inspiring values and I consider it a bankrupt and draconian political philosophy that can be summed up in two sentences:
(1) What's in it for me?* and (2) Follow the money!**
*(1) In other words, self-interest and greed are now deemed virtues and God wants you to be rich according to the 21st Century concoction of Joel Osteen Christianity and Ayn Rand libertarianism.
**(2) Wealth can only be measured in terms of money and if someone, somewhere is not turning a profit from something it's of no use to humanity. Cost and value are now conflated and socialism and democracy inverted to mean government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. Profits are privatized and losses socialized, all with the blessings of the conservative corporate welfare state.
Conservatism has always been elitist, exclusive, reactionary and regressive - and in all its various formulations, remains so today. At every step of the way in our efforts to advance enlightenment and scientific principles, social justice or any political or social progressive movement from below, it has mobilized its power, often with violence, to oppose them. Police forces, the military, hired thugs and other state and corporate sponsored goons have been pressed into service by conservative governments to "serve and protect" the interests of wealthy elites and big business against strikes and other protests for social justice by the working classes. Throughout its history conservatism has translated into opposition to the French Revolution and every subsequent revolution that the French Revolution inspired. Edmund Burke (1729-1797), deemed by conservatives to be the founding father of its movement, wrote an important book called Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) and ought to be read by anyone who seriously considers himself a conservative or others who want to know about the ideological foundations of conservatism. I'll never forget one contemptible quote from Burke's book in which he refers to the working classes as "the swinish multitude". It speaks volumes about the conservative mindset.
The ideology of anti-freedom anti-egalitarianism
In Britain, the United States and elsewhere in the western world, the extension of the franchise was a long and difficult struggle and conservatives fought it every step of the way. The US Constitution, contrary to popular perception, was a conservative and, in many aspects, an undemocratic document that granted the vote to only wealthy male landowners. Conservatives fervently opposed the abolition of slavery, the rise of labour unions and all the working class movements from Bolshevik revolutionary socialism to the mildest form of social democracy. It terrified them that the revolutionary workers movements might spread to the working classes in the West and threaten their historical privileges and entitlements. Conservatives challenged the civil rights movement, opposed feminism, rights of indigenous peoples and regularly supported extreme right wing fascist dictatorships and theocratic and monarchical feudalisms in order to sabotage the advancements toward freedom, liberalism, social democracy and the Enlightenment. They sided with regressive and oppressive fascist regimes against the liberalizing popular front in the Spanish Civil War and elsewhere. They supported the Romanoff monarchy as against the Bolsheviks in Russia after 1917, inciting a civil war and provided financial and military support for the tyrannical monarchy that lasted for years.
I've mentioned just a few of the kinds of historical touchstones that one must examine in order to understand so many of the arguments that conservatives mobilize.
Conservatives in the US are perennial fans of their country's long history of imperialistic wars and support of tyrannical dictatorships in Latin America, South east Asia and the Middle East. But it's been a continuing foreign policy agenda for conservatives throughout the Western World for centuries in order to enslave and exploit third world countries for their valuable natural resources. For the uninformed I recommend for starters they read John Perkins Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (2005) and The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals and the truth about Global Corruption (2007) for the uniquely violent and revolting American experience.
Combine Harper's neo-conservative political ideology with a his brand of fundamentalist Christianity, the program undertaken by the Republican Party in the United States for the past three or four decades, and you end up with a vile poisonous brew that is antithetical to freedom and real democracy.
Stephen Harper and the Corporatist Police State
The Delusional Democracy
Harper's Gestapo Legislation is not new, as a little historical memory reveals...
By Johnny Reb
“I am not ashamed of anything I have done. I fought against war, Negro oppression, and social injustice. I am proud of my books. I regret that in some of my political articles I went overboard - but by and large I stand by what I wrote.” - Howard Fast (former member of the Communist Party and author of dozens of books including "Being Red" (autobiography), "Spartacus", "Freedom Road" and "Citizen Tom Paine")
Several months ago I read two books on the relentless spiteful attacks on the left that occurred in the US following World War Two (Red Scare ver. 2) that was not unlike those following the Russian Revolution of 1917 (Red Scare ver. 1). These attacks by conservative political elites continue today in various forms. The demon may have changed but the objective remains the same: fear and control. The current conservative bogeyman is Islamic "terrorism".
The surveillance state has existed for a long time and given the technology that has currently been made available for this purpose, it's more foreboding and oppressive than ever. Before the idea of the nation state, there was control of free thought, dissent and disobedience by the church and religious hierarchy that invariably aligned itself with the power of the monarch and feudal lords.
Conservative power elites in pre-industrial societies have always been terrified of any potential political power by the peasantry and now it's the mass of wages slaves we refer to as "working people". The few paltry gains hard fought for by the working classes before and especially following the Great Depression have been, in the past three decades, subjected to a slow erosion, heading toward a neo-feudalistic plutocracy. Our present conservative political masters, now mere puppets controlled by huge corporations, want to take it all back - and their greed understands no limits - they want it all.
There is a long history of at least 150 years of using propaganda and, failing that, the police and military, to eradicate left wing, progressive and revolutionary movements that were organized to emancipate and create some semblance of justice for the masses of poor. There is a name for the pre-emptive surveillance, harassment, intimidation, ransacking of activist offices, interrogation, police brutality, arrest and detention. It's called tyranny. Socialists, anarchists, communists, labour unions, social activists, pacifists, war protestors and groups that fought for civil rights and against racism have all been victims of state tyranny in both the United States and Canada.
In our faux democracies, conservatives have always been aware that the masses (the "bewildered herd", as Walter Lippmann called them) must be rendered docile and ignorant. Indoctrination by organized religion, the education system and our corporate dominated media have been extremely effective in creating this sad state of affairs. With the advent of i-phones, i-pads and other self-lobotomizing distractions that permeate our cultural and technological landscape and the endless wasteland of mind-numbing corporate network news, celebrity worship and sports talking head programs, the state has in the media a useful ally in anaesthetizing the populace. Corporations are no longer simply a useful partner of our plutocratic governments in subduing the populace, they are in fact the government itself. Key decisions are not made in parliament or the legislature, but rather in the back room boardrooms of big corporations and financial conglomerates.
For anyone who thinks the US (or Canada) are or ever have been democracies, consider the experience of Eugene V Debs, prominent American Socialist Party Leader and labour activist. During the First World War Debs was incarcerated, handed a five year sentence by the Woodrow Wilson administration for simply delivering a pacifist speech against the US joining the slaughter of the Great War and urging resistance to the draft. Debs, by then in his 60s, was prosecuted under the 1917 Espionage Act, which was another sedition law designed to block freedom of speech and assembly. Debs was a Presidential candidate in several prior elections, but was imprisoned for making a speech in a country that incessantly preaches freedom.
In a 1915 speech Debs stated, "When I say I am opposed to war I mean ruling class war, for the ruling class is the only class that makes war…I would be shot for treason before I would enter such a war….I have no country to fight for; my country is the earth; I am a citizen of the world…I am opposed to every war but one; I am for that war with heart and soul, and that is the world- wide war of the social revolution. In that war I am prepared to fight in any way the ruling class may make necessary, even to the barricades." His health suffered greatly during his imprisonment and died at the age of 71 in 1926 not long after his release in 1921 following a commutation of his sentence by the Warren G Harding government.
This was not the first time Debs was incarcerated. As president of the American Railway Union, he led a successful strike against the Great Northern Railroad in 1894. Two months later he was jailed for his role in a strike against the Chicago Pullman Palace Car Company. While in jail, Socialist and future Congressman Victor Berger talked with Debs and introduced him to the ideas of Marx and socialism. When he was released from prison, he announced that he was a Socialist.
Consider the Smith Act of 1940 whereby people went to jail under this act, a law that made it illegal to join a group (specifically the Communist Party) which advocated regime change, yet never really did anything about altering the social order of conservative and big business plutocracy. All of these prosecutions were upheld by the Supreme Court and deemed consistent with the precious antiquated Constitution. The repression of left wing groups, including labor unions, in both the US and Canada following the Bolshevik revolution (the fear of elites that this people's revolt would spread) was extreme. The Palmer Raids by J Edgar Hoover were especially vile. This fascist police state experience of the "Red Scare" (ver. 1) was repeated after the Second World War (ver. 2) with the emergence of McCarthyism by which thousands of people with leftist sympathies were blacklisted, unable to find employment anywhere in their countries. The experience of these reactionary assaults also arose in Canada and its effects were equally oppressive and unjust.
The relentless attacks on labour unions, the peace movement, the civil rights movement, the communist party and any other group on the political left have always existed, but these two periods were especially harsh and violent. Honourable and peace-loving patriotic people and thousands of others such as Pete Seeger were blacklisted and even jailed for their political beliefs.
Many in the peace and civil rights movement and even those who wrote about "social justice" were automatically called "commies" or "reds" and, of course some were. But so what? Teachers, for example, were forced to take annual oaths of allegiance, a practise unique to dictatorships and fascist tyrannies, not real democracies.
However, it was perfectly acceptable to belong to the US Nazi Party, the Christian based KKK or Fascist Party in Canada. As mentioned, these police state actions occurred in Canada as well, but not with the ferocity and hatred of the governments (both Truman and Eisenhower) in the United States.
It's difficult to believe that these things actually happened to people, but they did. It was a crime to belong to the Communist Party and anyone who was in a peace group, the civil rights movement, or who wrote about social justice, was labelled a "commie". The leader of the Communist Party of Canada, Tim Buck (a pacifist) was sentenced to the infamous Kingston Prison where prison guards attempted to murder him, ostensibly on orders from the RCMP.
Even Canadian political icon Tommy Douglas (referred to as "Tommy the Commie" by his right wing adversaries), considered our most admired and respected Canadian by a CBC poll, has the distinction of a 1152 page RCMP dossier. His family is still trying to have it released.
The two aforementioned books with a brief review of each:
(1) Red Scare: Memories of the American Inquisition by Griffin Fariello
This remarkable book documents the era that permanently changed the American political landscape, offering dozens of personal accounts of the 20 years of anti-labour and anti-Communist repression instigated by the U.S. Government in 1947, during which millions of Americans were hounded, persecuted, blacklisted and jailed by the government, primarily via the FBI. Many were prominent artists, writers, musicians and leftist intellectuals and labour leaders. Even veterans who fought with the International Brigades on the side of the Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War were victimized by this witch hunt. Arthur Miller, Alger Hiss, Ring Lardner, Linus Pauling, Dalton Trumbo, and Pete Seeger join more than 60 others to reveal how the hunt for the "disloyal" and "unpatriotic" penetrated every rank of American life from professors and scientists to schoolteachers and union members and throughout every layer of government. Here too are stories from the other side: from an FBI agent, a paid informer, and a government security man, rat finks, provocateurs and red-baiters like Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, famous film star Robert Taylor and many others famous and infamous. Together these voices capture the sorrow, rage, and heroism of one of America's darkest hours. Many conservative Christian groups displayed placards with the caption "Kill a Commie for Christ" - they shouted it out and they meant it!
It's no hyperbole to liken the time, as Fariello does, to the Inquisition. Fariello talks with dozens of participants in the whole sordid business, people like retired FBI agent M. Wesley Swearingen, who ferreted out suspected Reds in Chicago for nearly two decades and who confesses,"It strikes me now, and it struck me then after a few years, that this was a waste of time and a waste of taxpayers' money.'' Harvey Job Matusow, a Communist, worked as a paid government informant until a Justice Department investigation revealed that his testimony was pure fiction. Robert Meeropol, a son of the convicted atom-bomb spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, recalls his early life as a "red diaper''* baby and the pain of losing his parents. The writer Kay Boyle speaks of her husband, an Austrian-born former OSS officer who was hounded out of military service by federal authorities who decreed him guilty of "premature antifascism.'' And the blacklisted filmmaker Edward Dmytryk, who went on to direct Raintree County, The Caine Mutiny, and The Young Lions after enduring an official government campaign of harassment, comments on the contemporary film industry: "Why don't we put out a decent film that has something to say? There are still people who are afraid to say anything for fear someone will get on their backs.'' To his interviews Fariello adds generous, accurate footnotes, along with a fine introduction. The tenor of our own time, with talk of cultural war, the cleansing of liberal politicians from Congress, and the restoration of "American values,'' makes this good book especially timely.
* An interesting and revealing personal account from the Canadian perspective is James Laxer's Red Diaper Baby
At the time of publication of his book Griffin Fariello simply believed that he was unearthing an anomalous period in American history, the Red Scare of the late 1940's and 1950's, that had either been conveniently forgotten, dismissed as an important but episodic blemish on American democracy or had been reduced to the sound bite ravings of one man-Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy. Reading this book in the post 9/11 anti- Islamic, anti-immigrant, anti-foreigner period in America made me realize that the author had rendered much more than a historical narrative of a particularly disturbing period. He has presented, in the form of interviews of the participants on both sides of the issue, a collectively compelling story that parallels the anxieties and fears of contemporary America. Despite differences of time, place and target it is hard to argue against the proposition that there is something endemic in the American experience that exhibits both a xenophobic and cruel streak that the rest of the world has come to fear. Make no mistake- it can and did happen here, twice following each of the two World wars, and it can happen again as I would argue is the case with the surveillance and police state legislation crafted by George W Bush in the United States and his pal Stephen Harper in Canada.
Beware Harper's proto-fascist Bill C-51.
(2) Being Red by Howard Fast
Howard Fast, born into poverty in New York city in 1914 and primarily
self-educated (a consummate autodidact) eventually became a brilliant prolific
writer at a very early age. He eventually joined the American Communist Party,
was a victim of McCarthyism and sentenced to prison for contempt of Congress for
refusing to name names. This memoir offers a captivating account of the
upbringing and youthful impressions and experiences that gravitated his
intellect to the left and how he was eventually drawn to communism. He also
helps keep in perspective how -despite the xenophobic hysteria of the time, and
the eventual failure of the Soviet Union - American Communism was no threat at
To highlight the hysterical persecution of the era, here is an excerpt from Fast's book, the infamous 1949 Peekskill Incident:
Below are links to a fascinating interview with Howard fast from a program called "Open Mind "from the 1990s:
As the reviews suggest, these two books are incredibly shocking "must read" first-hand accounts of the era of McCarthyism (1946-65) and the relentless attacks on labour unions, the peace movement, the civil rights movement, the communist party and any other group on the political left. Honourable and peace-loving people and thousands of others such as Pete Seeger were blacklisted and even jailed for their political beliefs. This "bottom-up" history is not what we were taught in our high school; instead we were spoon-fed air brushed top-down history written by conservative elites. What was left out is a travesty and the selective rubbish (kings, queens, glorified wars and dates) we were taught was either bullshit or outright lies. Any explanations as to why events in history happened was deemed irrelevant.
Many in the peace and civil rights movement and even those who wrote about "social justice" were automatically called "commies" and, of course some were. Teachers, for example, were forced to take annual oath of allegiance, a practise unique to dictatorships and fascist tyrannies, not real democracies. People who care about the environment, pollution, global warming and the desecration of the planet are now called "eco-terrorists" by corporate leaders, conservatives and other reactionaries. They are harassed, manhandled and arrested by the police as criminals when engage in peaceful protest. How can this be?
It was and continues to be perfectly acceptable to belong to the US Nazi Party or the KKK. These events occurred in Canada as well, but not with the ferocity and hatred of the governments (both Truman and Eisenhower) in United States. Anyone who deludes themselves into thinking we've ever had genuine democracy in our respective countries ought to read these two books.
If you don't want to buy them, the books may be in your local public library. Both are unfortunately out of print. I bought both books used from Ebay and Abebooks. Howard Fast is a talented and thoughtful writer, the author of Spartacus, Citizen Tom Paine and Freedom Road (I read these three many years ago) - and over 100 others. Being Red is autobiographical and a personal account of the persecution and hounding by J Edgar Hoover and the FBI. It's all hard to fathom in a country calling itself a democracy. People are free, but some are more free than others. It's difficult to believe such things happened to people, but they did. It was a crime to belong to the Communist Party and anyone who was in a peace group, the civil rights movement, or who wrote about social justice, was labelled a "commie".
Even Canadian political icon Tommy Douglas (who was referred to as Tommy the Commie by his right wing adversaries), considered our most admired Canadian by a CBC poll, has the distinction of a 1152 page RCMP dossier.
And now Bill C-51 (March 2015 Police State update):
Lost in the '50s McCarthyism with Harper's anti-terror pabulum
BY MATTHEW BEHRENS | MARCH 24, 2015
Last Friday, viewers of the CBC's flagship news program, The National, could be forgiven for thinking they were back in the Leave it to Beaver 1950s. Indeed, they ran a saccharine story that would have done proud former Soviet and East German state news agencies. In fact, had it run during the Cold War, it would hopefully be touted in today's journalism schools as an embarrassing parody of what their profession is supposed to be.
It's the tale of little six-year-old Jacob, who really likes spies. So much so that he wrote to CSIS to ask if they could help him set up a spy club. Little Jacob did not know, perhaps, that CSIS is an agency found to be complicit in a variety of illegal acts, from complicity in torture and recording solicitor-client legal calls to uttering threats, coercing Muslims into spying on their own communities, and lying in front of judges during secret hearings.
After a four-month delay, Canada's spy agency, perhaps sensing a wonderful whitewashing opportunity, sent Jacob a CSIS hat, medallion, and patch. In a classic example of servile stenography to power, a CBC reporter then produced a puff piece celebrating an agency littered with human rights abuses (as confirmed by two judicial inquiries, Supreme Court and Federal Court decisions, and even the agency's own weak review committee and since-disbanded inspector general).
"I was so surprised that they would take the time to really make the day of a six-year-old, and send all this gear, it was very surprising and heartwarming," said Jacob's mother.
"I'm gonna send a letter, I want some stuff," the reporter chimes in.
"You should," the mom replies, as they both share a laugh and fade in to the chuckle of CBC anchor Peter Whitemansbridge.
Old KGB and Stasi veterans no doubt wept a tear remembering how they, too, enjoyed such free publicity with Izvestia and Pravda.
The only thing missing from the puff piece was the heroic theme music of something like The FBI Story, the barnstorming Jimmy Stewart film, and subsequent spinoffs celebrating G-men, many of which were vetted by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to ensure maximum patriotic celebration for a similarly scandal-plagued institution. Indeed, The FBI, the long-running TV series, gave the real-life coppers casting control, and so troublemakers and alleged commies like Robert Blake and Bette Davis were forbidden from appearing.
Media as servile stenographers
Canada's mainstream media's similarly shoddy reporting on issues related to "radicalization" and so-called national security in general is also reminiscent of the Cold War years, when the smallest of news items that followed a specific anti-Communist narrative was blown up to scare the public into silence, sending them into their backyards to build fallout shelters stocked with Campbell's soup. Those were good years for the powers that be, who were able to easily divert attention from issues of social inequality, racism, and the perils of open-air nuclear testing. As Charles Wilson, a former GE executive, told the Newspaper Publishers Association of America in 1950, their role was to keep Americans convinced that:
"the free world is in mortal danger ... if the people were not convinced of that, it would be impossible for Congress to vote the vast sums now being spent to avert that danger ... with the support of public opinion, as marshaled by the press, we are off to a good start. But the mobilization job cannot be completed unless such support is continuous ... It is our job, yours and mine, to keep our people convinced that the only way to keep disaster away from our shores is to build America's might."
And so it remains today, with many reporters breathlessly buying the narrative of Canada at war and in mortal danger, playing the role of Greatest Generation reporters reliving the glory of the Second World War. Back then, or so we are told, we were all on the side of the good guys, and any abuses that may occur in that noble fight (say, Canadian concentration camps for tens of thousands of Japanese heritage) were committed by officials who were only trying to, in the words of a former Canadian Supreme Court judge excusing the more recent actions of Canadian officials complicit in torture, "exercise their best judgment."
By focusing on the alleged virus of terror incubating in immigrant communities and places of worship (and not in the basements of white supremacists planning mass killing in malls, who are dismissed as "murderous misfits" by Peter McKay), Canadian media have put on the backburner the real threat to global citizens: last week, the UN issued two landmark reports on the "alarming" global epidemic of violence against women and an imminent freshwater crisis. Instead, they jumped all over the story of an RCMP Edmonton arrest of a 17-year-old allegedly planning to go to Syria, as well as a man currently being held in detention who was allegedly planning a series of attacks but who has yet to be charged and may well, in the supposed interests of security, be deported! Both have served to conveniently wipe from memory the disturbing reports that someone working on behalf of Canadian state security appeared to be assisting in the recruitment and travel plans of young people headed for ISIS territory.
Conservative terror grist
Such stories will provide grist for the Conservative mill as show hearings continue on Bill C-51. Those twice-weekly Parliamentary gatherings have been a showcase in how similar hearings would have been run in the former Soviet Union: opposing voices, like Amnesty International and the National Council of Canadian Muslims, are being terror-baited and insulted, and time that is supposed to be delegated for questions and discussion is being filled by Conservatives defending the bill and pounding the table, reminding us of mortal danger. Upcoming hearings will be largely dominated by Conservative witnesses whose tales of terror and menace will be aimed at a public opinion that has seen a dramatic plummet in support for C-51 (from over 80 per cent to 38 per cent).
Meantime, throwbacks to the '50s and '60s Cold War nightmare years continue. Oddsmakers are laying bets that Stephen Harper's performance over the past six months as Canada's self-appointed avenging angel will win him the 2015 George Wallace Memorial Racism Award, along with the gold medal of the J. Edgar Hoover Paranoia Society.
For those unfamiliar with the history, half a century ago, Alabama Governor Wallace stood in front of a state university, barring entrance to an African-American student while proclaiming "segregation forever." Harper's similar stance with respect to rejecting full citizenship rights for women who wear niqab has been dismissed by many commentators as a distraction from "more important" issues, but it is, in many respects, symbolic of the deep-seated racism that underlies the "anti-terrorism" Bill C-51, whose targets will, as always, be racialized communities, First Nations, immigrants and refugees.
There's been some timidity around using the terms racism, bigotry, and intolerance, but Harper is clearly playing those cards as he stokes the flames of hatred by consistently equating Islam with violence, abusing the term "jihad," and claiming adherents of Islam emerge from an "anti-women culture." The actions of his state security agencies underscore such racism by continually treating First Nations activists as security threats and by inserting themselves into the holiest of Muslim celebrations, even setting up booths at Eid celebrations. Would the United Church tolerate uniformed Mounties showing up to keep an eye on things during Easter celebrations?
Harper's rhetoric has been coked up with apocalyptic rhetoric, from describing ISIS as everything from a "death cult" (a term more appropriate to NATO, an alliance that has always reserved the right to unleash nuclear weapons and thereby contribute to the end of human life altogether) to a gigantic squid. Indeed, when he welcomed German Chancellor Merkel to Ottawa, Harper bragged that "one of the jihadist monster's tentacles reached as far as our own Parliament."
Such nonsense is fodder for an election that cannot be about an economy that is faltering because of Harper's reliance on another death cult of sorts, the petroleum industry and the tar sands (which scientists have pointed out also threaten the future of life on earth). But it is consistent with the paranoia of former FBI director Hoover, who also used a convenient "enemy" to justify horrific acts of repression at home under the infamous Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) that engaged in the kinds of "disruption" that are prescribed in Bill C-51. (That program was, notably, exposed by a small group who heroically broke into an FBI office, seized documents, and shared them with the media. Such actions are well worth repeating to expose similar crimes today.)
Anti-Semitism underlying Red Scare
Hoover variously called communism "a brutal, godless, materialistic way of life which would ruthlessly destroy the values and ideals we cherish … a deadly menace … a worldwide conspiracy … a scourge which threatens the very existence of Western civilization." Sound familiar? While much has been written about Committees on Un-American activities that destroyed the lives of thousands with allegations of Communist membership, few scholars have noted that there was also -- like today's Islamophobia -- a virulent vein of anti-Semitism underlying much of the Red Scare. Indeed, a good number of progressives who stood against racism, capitalism, and war in the 1930s and '40s as socialists and, sometimes, Communists, were Jewish (or perceived to be Jews). In Canada, the RCMP used to park outside the entrance to the progressive Jewish summer getaway, Brampton's Camp Naivelt, taking down the licence plates of summer campers who were singing union songs with Pete Seeger and Paul Robeson.
In the same way that the Red Scare narrative was used as an excuse to repress those seeking a better world and make the planet safe for corporate profit, the "Global War on Terror" has been used both to crack down on dissent in all forms and to divert discussion from the real threats faced by the human race. Indeed, CSIS and the RCMP, as new documents reveal, treated Northern Gateway protests as security threats, and earlier this month, Canadian Pacific CEO Hunter Harrison entered that fray when he called terrorism a greater threat than train derailments (conveniently forgetting the 47 people killed amidst the devastated town of Lac-Mégantic and the hundreds of derailments annually despoiling the environment.)
Similarly, Finance Minister Joe Oliver recently complained at a Manning Institute panel discussion about people opposing pipelines. He said they abuse what he called "social licence," while his panelmate agreed that such licence is becoming "a de facto regulatory burden." Translated, this means people exercising their democratic rights of conscience are posing a problem for the global elite, and recalls the contempt for democracy that was so proudly proclaimed by Mr. "Clash of Civilizations," Samuel Huntington, and his colleagues on the Trilateral Commission. That group, which included key members of the Trudeau and Carter administrations, produced an early-1970s book, The Crisis of Democracy, which alleged the 1960s and 1970s had been a particularly dangerous time for the rich and powerful because members of the civil rights, anti-war, women's liberation, and related social movements had suffered from "an excess of democracy." The antidote for this serious consideration of democratic principles required, in language Joe Oliver would approve, "some measure of apathy and non-involvement on the part of some individuals and groups … There are also potentially desirable limits to the indefinite extension of political democracy."
In today's toxic environment of death cults and evil empires, divide-and-rule will, as it did in the 1950s, play a key role in allowing domestic repression to flourish. Recall that during the post-Second World War era, peace groups, labour unions and the American Civil Liberties Union, among many others, shamefully engaged in purges of alleged "Communists" and "fellow-travellers," rather than question the dominant narrative promulgated by Charles Wilson and his willing press accomplices. Acquiescence to the anti-Communist line poisoned social movements throughout North America with effects still seen today, most recently documented in the wonderful new Brewster Kneen memoir, Journey of an Unrepentant Socialist.
One senses that a similar divide-and-rule is infecting numerous communities, with language like "we're not terrorist" or "we only engage in peaceful protest" being used in the fight against the Harper agenda. Worryingly, this plays right into their hands, reinforcing, for example, the Good Muslim-Bad Muslim narrative, with some mosques barring entry to "difficult" members of the community and lining up to declare they will be the first to turf the "radicalized." And yet what really appears to be happening is a moral panic focused -- as most such panics are -- on the young. They see a messed-up world, have questions, and want to do something about it, but our society has few places for them to go and share their thoughts and concerns on challenging topics (and fewer still will exist under C-51).
Divide and rule: G20 protesters 'terrorists'?
A perfect example of this divide-and-rule arose at the recent disciplinary hearing of Toronto Police Superintendent Mark Fenton, currently facing five charges of discreditable conduct and unlawful arrest during anti-G20 protests in 2010. Last week, Fenton said of those who threw things at the police and broke windows, "They were engaged, in my view, in terrorism." One may disagree with those protesters' tactical choices -- and I certainly count myself among those in disagreement -- but where was the outrage from activist groups across the country decrying such a statement? Is it that C-51's terms of discussion and toxic debate have so placed people on the defensive that it is just not a good time to speak out against such defamation, in the same way too many did not feel it was the right time to speak out for those who had, in fact, joined the Communist Party because they did not believe in racism, war and capitalism? (Disclosure: Some of those who were eventually charged and jailed for G-20 protests are friends and colleagues, and while we still debate such tactics as "smashy smashy," I refuse to dissociate from them, and hope others who recognize who the real terrorists are will publicly refuse to do so as well.)
Going forward, perhaps we can take some lessons from the '50s by asking specific questions and naming government and state security agency behaviour for what it is. For example, we can point out that if the Harper government is serious about stopping terrorist plots, it needs to stop organizing them. Most terror trials of the past decade feature an RCMP or CSIS mole, without whom the plot would not have gone beyond the verbal posturing stage. The recent Via Rail plot in Toronto featured an FBI agent (and what was he doing working in Canada?) trying to keep two deluded individuals on the same page, while the B.C. pressure cooker plot, again, features an agent trying to keep his challenged co-conspirators focused on keeping the plot alive.
It would also be helpful to throw the terror term back at those who commit the grossest acts of violence on a daily basis, whether that be destruction of the environment, daily drone strikes, indiscriminate bombings from 10,000 feet, and complicity in torture, among others. Such a reframing proved incredibly successful in what the Toronto Star called one of the most significant political actions of the 1980s, when members of the Alliance for Nonviolent Action placed on trial the G7 leaders for crimes against humanity in advance of their Toronto summit in June 1988.
That summit -- designed to rubberstamp various pronouncements against terrorism (right down to the staged high-profile arrest of an alleged IRA member the night before the summit that turned out to be nothing more than a minor immigration violation -- again, sound familiar?) -- was the first time in North America world leaders had to meet behind a massive walled complex. The crimes of Reagan, Thatcher, Mitterand and others were detailed by ex-CIA agents as well as witnesses from Wounded Knee, apartheid South Africa, death squad dictatorships in Latin America, and the survivors of the jellyfish baby generation in the South Pacific (victims of open-air nuclear testing). Using the then-new Canadian war crimes legislation as a template, a people's jury found the G7 guilty of terrorism.
Turning the tables on the REAL terrorists
Following three remarkable days of testimony, lawyers went to court seeking to bar entry to the six visiting leaders, only to be informed that an order in council had been passed two months previously declaring immune from prosecution G7 leaders and their entourages. Faced with no other choice, thousands took to the streets in resistance to a ban on the march, and headed down a University Avenue full of thousands of police, rooftop snipers, barricades, and standby members of the Canadian Forces. "Arrest the REAL terrorists," they chanted, and over 200 people were busted for trying to carry out just such arrests. Two days later, fresh out of jail, many demonstrators returned to try and serve arrest warrants during an Art Gallery of Ontario luncheon, and were arrested again. All charges were dropped when the threat of turning the courtroom tables and putting the G7 on trial in a Canadian court seemed too politically dangerous.
As the debate opens on expanding the war in Iraq and possibly Syria this week, it is also worth remembering that current Canadian legislation exempts under anti-terror measures anything undertaken by the military. What does this exception tell us, other than that militarism and war is legalized terrorism? With that in mind, members of Homes not Bombs and other groups will descend on the annual massive weapons fair CANSEC 15 (a.k.a. Terrorfest15) for a 10-hour protest on Wednesday, May 27 in Ottawa. "We kill everything in sight, you don't even see us," proudly proclaimed a recent CANSEC exhibitor, with another government exhibitor, Defence R&D Canada, claiming their challenge is (like the same one faced by 9/11 hijackers): "Will technology allow us to fit 70 tons of lethality [killing power] into a 20 ton package?"
Other examples of resisting state-terrorism abound, and it is fitting on the 50th anniversary of the Selma-Montgomery civil rights march to recall the true courage of those civil rights activists who, like Diane Nash, at a tender age filled out their wills before boarding Freedom Rides to protest the terror of segregation and lynchings, bombings, and assassinations then ruling the South via groups like the FBI-infiltrated Ku Klux Klan. Notably, Nash remains consistent in her understanding of terrorism: she refused to join the 50th-anniversary march because terrorists would be there (including ex-President George W. Bush and current terrorist-in-chief, Barack Obama, subject of a new lawsuit regarding his kill-list drone strikes).
Martin Luther King, murdered by the U.S. government (as found by a U.S. jury in 1999), would have had no trouble taking on the Harpers and Obamas and proudly accepting the term "radicalization" for the simple reason that radicalization is a good thing: it means to get to the root of a serious social problem and to do something transformative about it. Our reclaiming of that term prevents its gross misuse, as does reclaiming terms like militant, confrontation, and extremist. King famously wrote from a Birmingham jail that:
"though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.' … So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?"
Let us go proudly forward as radicalized extremists for love, justice and solidarity with those unjustly targeted by state terror.