From Saudi Arabia to Israel, Stéphane Dion is continuing Harper’s policies

In his short time as foreign minister, the former Liberal leader is building a legacy of disgrace

Published by Ricochet Media: https://ricochet.media/en/1078/from-saudi-arabia-to-israel-stephane-dion-is-continuing-harpers-policies

Editors' note: Today the Globe and Mail reported, "Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion quietly granted Ottawa’s crucial approval for a controversial $15-billion shipment of armoured combat vehicles to Saudi Arabia in early April – even though the Liberals insisted they could not reverse a 'done deal' clinched under the Harper government."

Stéphane Dion has been an easy figure to ridicule. He was once famous for handing a silly video to media networks during the political crisis after the 2008 election. After Dion's departure, Canadians wondered if a Liberal could possibly do worse than Dion, and it took Empire Lite Michael Ignatieff in 2011 to prove that, indeed, one could. Dion's 2008 candidacy was probably sabotaged from within the Liberal Party. Back then, I thought it was unfair that the media were treating him as some kind of buffoon.

But that was then. Dion, as Trudeau's appointed foreign minister, has racked up quite a few new zingers. Recently, he's defended a $15-billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Cancelling the deal, he has said, “would not have an effect on human rights in Saudi Arabia.”

The Ossington Circle Podcast Episode 4 - Students for Justice in Palestine with Nora Barrows-Friedman

In this episode of The Ossington Circle, I interview Nora Barrows-Friedman, author of In Our Power: U.S. students organize for justice in Palestine. We discuss the U.S. campus movement for justice in Palestine, the challenges it faces, and the remarkable students and advocates that make it up.

The Ossington Circle Podcast Episode 3 - Against the Sharing Economy with Tom Slee

In this episode of The Ossington Circle, I interview Tom Slee, author of What's Yours Is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy, about the downside of sharing economy companies like Uber and AirBnB, and what is actually happening as they reshape cities in the name of sharing.

The Ossington Circle Podcast Episode 2 - Syria, Environment, War, and Refugees

This episode of the podcast is a lecture given on a panel at York's Faculty of Environmental Studies on January 28, 2016. The panel was on Environment, War, and Refugees, and the lecture was on Western policy and the war in Syria.

Paz Colombia: the latest US attempt to control Colombia?

The U.S. has announced funding for a new Plan Colombia as the country moves towards a resolution to its civil war. What is its real purpose?

Colombia's peace process has entered its final phase. Agreements have been reached on land reform, political participation, and the rights of victims. The discussions are now focused on ending the conflict and implementation and verification of the accords. The deadline for a final agreement is March 23, and it might be met.

In this last phase of negotiations, Colombia's president reached out to the US for aid. On February 4, a new initiative was unveiled in Washington by presidents Santos and Obama: the new version of Plan Colombia, which they called “Paz Colombia”. Obama began by commemorating the success of Plan Colombia, a plan that brought military helicopters and escalated aerial fumigation to the country. “We were proud to support Colombia and its people as you strengthened your security forces, as you reformed land laws, and bolstered democratic institutions,” he said. “And after 15 years of sacrifice and determination, a tipping point has been reached. The tide has turned.”

Santos elaborated on the successes since Plan Colombia was rolled out in 2000: “Today we can say without a doubt that the goals that we had in 2000 — such as fighting the drug war, strengthening institutions, and imposing the rule of law, and to take social programs to great parts of remote Colombian territory — those objectives have been met.”

The history of Plan Colombia is slightly different than that presented by Obama and Santos. As lawyer Dan Kovalik outlined in this article for TELeSUR English, the problems the presidents claim Plan Colombia solved were mostly made worse by it.

Take Santos's objectives, which Plan Colombia supposedly met: The drug war? There may be a peace agreement between the government and FARC, but the drug war promises to go on and on. The rule of law and the strengthening of institutions? These were certainly areas of struggle over the past 15 years, but any gains made there were fought for by the people, not flown in by the military helicopters of Plan Colombia. Social programs and protections? Many have been lost under neoliberalism – some have been preserved by struggle by Colombia's movements.

War is still not the answer: Antiwar sentiment may mostly have evaporated, but war is as horrible as ever

The unelected Saudi monarchy began the year by executing 47 people. It continues to bomb hospitals, homes, and civilians in Yemen as it has done for nearly a year. In October of last year, a few weeks before the election, the Turkish state almost certainly arranged bombings in Ankara that killed more than one hundred people at a peace demonstration. The ruling party won the election, have now accelerated their own war on the Kurdish population of their country, and are targeting anti-war academics. Egypt's current dictatorship came to power in a coup and cemented its power with a major massacre in August of 2013. Israel has spent the months since October extrajudicially executing Palestinians. When the Swedish Foreign Minister mentioned the possibility of investigating these executions, a former educational secretary in Israel suggested that the Swedish Foreign Minister should be assassinated.

All of this is to say, a quick regional roundup of very recent atrocities suggests that there are few governments in the region that have not lost the moral authority to govern. If Syria's dictator, Assad, must go, perhaps these other governments must, as well.

But how? What if, in a moment of republicanism, the US decided on regime change in the Saudi Kingdom? What if in a fit of sympathy for the Kurds, Washington were to draw up a plan to bomb Turkey from the air until it withdrew from the Kurdish areas? Or to bomb Cairo, until Sisi resigned and elections were held? Or to bomb Israel until it ended the occupation of Palestinian lands?

Vaccinations and the war on science: Donald Trump's championing of the "anti-vaxer" cause takes advantage of scientific illiteracy

Science is a massive, ongoing human undertaking. It is a creative endeavour: the greatest scientific discoveries have involved wild guesses and hypotheses. But it also depends on rigor, self-criticism, and self-correction. The wild guesses must be tested against evidence. Science is the most dynamic of endeavours: the accepted claims of today may be overturned tomorrow. Ambitious scientists dream of changing our understanding of the world.

So how can someone make decisions that rely on science? If science is always changing, if claims are being tested and overturned, if tomorrow's discovery could change our whole way of looking at things, why should we believe anything scientists say today? How can a creative and dynamic endeavour become a source of legitimate authority to be followed? Most of us are not going to collect and analyze atmospheric data to test whether burning fossil fuels causes climate change, but we have to decide whether to press for reduced emissions based on what scientists are saying.

This decision of the ordinary person to trust scientific authority is made even more difficult because scientific authority can be abused, and has been abused in the past. Take scientific authority in the area of mental illness. The manual of mental illness produced by the American Psychiatric Association is the famous DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. We are currently (as of 2013) on the DSM-V. Prior to a change made in the DSM-II in 1973, 'homosexuality' was defined as a mental illness. Before the DSMs, in the 19th century, an American physician defined 'drapetomania': a mental illness that caused African-American slaves to try to escape. Diagnoses of 'hysteria', 'frigidity', and many others were used to control women since the 19th century. Psychologist Bruce Levine has argued that diagnoses of ADHD and ODD are similar tools that “psychopathologize” and “medicate” people who are “natural anti-authoritarians”, “before they achieve political consciousness of society's most oppressive authorities.”

Who is ISIS afraid of? Popular outrage in Afghanistan sees the Islamic State avoiding responsibility for beheadings of families

Kabul is Afghanistan's capital, a city of over five million people that has transformed completely since 2001. Kandahar was, and remains, a stronghold of the Taliban. The highway between Kabul and Kandahar, which passes through Wardak, Ghazni, and Zabul, is sometimes called the Highway of Death. One British journalist, writing in 2012, called it a “bomb-cratered, 300-mile long shooting gallery”. Most Afghans have no option but to travel along it. Tens of people are killed taking the highway each year.

In early 2015, survivors of the highway told journalist Samad Ali Nawazesh about the pattern of attack:“When we go off the Kabul-Kandahar highway towards Jaghoori we are accosted by many types of robbers and armed individuals. They search the passengers, rob and release some. Sometimes they behead passengers”.

Before that, in 2014, the Kabul-Behsud highway (that intersects the Kabul-Kandahar highway) had become famous as a “Death Road” where Afghanistan's minority Hazara were specifically targeted for murder by the Taliban. The Hazara are a traditionally oppressed minority. In recent decades, they have begun a resurgence, attaining opportunities in education and employment that had traditionally been closed to them. The Taliban's persecution of them has been partly sectarian (Hazara are Shia, while the Taliban are Sunni), partly traditional oppression (trying to keep the Hazara in their lower-status place through terror). Many factions in the civil wars Afghanistan has suffered since 1979 have targeted Hazara civilians with a particular ferocity.

So, when, a few months ago, a group of Hazara civilians – four men, two women, and a child – were abducted on the Kabul-Kandahar highway, held for a month, probably by ISIS-Afghanistan (a split from the Taliban), and then beheaded, the authors of the atrocity, as well as the country's government, may have expected the same kind of terrorized response that they have grown accustomed to.

The response was not what they expected. The families of the victims refused to bury the bodies. They marched with the coffins in Kabul.

2015 in review (at this blog)

A report on 2015 activities for readers of this blog.

I spent a fair amount of time working on a couple of books, that I am hoping you will be able to read in 2016. Although I type fast, and write fairly fast, I haven't got the knack for getting books done fast. The truth is that the Demands of the Dead was started in 2000, and published in 2014, and Haiti's New Dictatorship was started in earnest in 2006, and published in 2012. The two books I am working on now have start dates around 2010 and 2014. There's a first draft of one and a half a draft of the other.

Always trying to improve my writing, so I took a MOOC at the University of Iowa on How Writers Write Fiction. It was a good time.

The Ossington Circle, Season 2, did not come out in 2015. It is in the works, and we do have plans to get the show going again in 2016. We're going to try to raise our game on the show, with better equipment and a different style. We'll see how we do.

I taught a course on online anonymity - how to encrypt your email, protect your chats, etc. at WISC. I also met the good people at toronto crypto in 2015, which was a good connection to make.

Mostly I focused on writing my TeleSUR columns, which covered the conflicts that I have studied and written about here: Iraq/Syria, Palestine, the DRC and neighbours, Colombia, Haiti, Afghanistan, and India. If I had something to say about an issue in North America, I also did a column about it.

Here are the TeleSUR columns: