Saturday, December 25, 2010

passing on

I have decided to concentrate on my other blog dealing with New Brunswick, its politics and its jounalism. Curiously, it attracts a far bigger and more international audience than this one, Graeme the Chatterer, does. (This one is read largely in the US and Russia. The one dealing with New Brunswick has a far larger audience, and a worldwide one. Go figure.)

It may be that New Brunswick is a useful tool to see what is happening in much of the world, a sort of sample of all the world's seas in a fishpond. I think I shall keep that in mind as I write future blogs about this province.

I think I'll start the next blog today, Christmas Day. The site is:

That should work. If it doesn't, google the moncton times and transcript - good and bad.

Graeme Decarie

Friday, December 17, 2010

Why War is Wrong

War is wrong. Forget the morality stuff. Forget love thy neighbour, Forget forgiving. Forget any morality preached by any religion in the world. Forget all that.

War is wrong because it is no longer practical. It's broken; and it won't work any more. That's why it's wrong.

One of the reasons it's wrong is the one I wrote of earlier, when I pointed out how easy and cheap it once was for western powers to conquer vast areas, to make huge profits from the killing. But that stopped working at least as far back as the 1940s - and maybe we can take it back even to the Russo-Japanese War of more than a century ago. We can't win wars as we used to. The rest of the world has caught on, and has figured out how to beat us even with primitive resources. That's one reason war is wrong.

The other reason is that it has become so destructive of life and the environment that we can't survive it. The great turning point was perhaps the American Civil War of the 1860s.  By that time, the development of explosive shells, along with the development of repeating weapons, made war hugely expensive in human life. To that, one can add the use of the airplane as a bomber - and a very indiscriminate bomber.

High explosive and aerial bombing, together, made wars, at least as early as World War One more dangerous to civilians than to soldiers. By now, it is not unusual for civilian deaths to outnumber military deaths a hundred to one. Indeed, even the most conservative estimates would place the civilian to military casualty rates for Vietnam and Iraq far higher than that.

For the last 65 years, we have also had nuclear weapons. Will they be used? Of course they will. If we keep warring, someone will resort to the use of nuclear weapons. It has already been quite openly threatened by leading countries of both sides. Indeed,  the decline of the West's ability to win easy wars in the old way makes it almost certain that the West will be the first to resort to nuclear weapons.

We can add to to that the largely unstudied damage to all of us and to Earth itself by the increasing use of chemical weapons and nuclear waste. We cannot survive that, even if the increase levels off.

We have to go to war to fight terrorism? That's nonsense. First, fighting terrorism is the major cause of terrorism. Second, we in the West are the world's largest users of terrorism. Just take a count of which groups have suffered the heaviest losses of civilians over the last 60 years. Hint: none of them are groups of European or North American origin.

We could always wiggle with religious values so that Thou Shalt Not Kill could mean Thou Shalt Not Kill (unless the oter side is bad.)  But it is not possible to wiggle with the facts of explosive and chemical power that is indiscrminate in its killing, and its poisoning.

War doesn't work anymore. That's why it's wrong.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

History and patriotism

In my home province, a school principal was forced to resign. He had done something terrible. He had stopped he practice of beginning the school day with the playing of the national anthem. Parents were furious. The Minister of Education rode forth, lance in hand to slay the dragon and make it mandatory for the national anthem to be played every day in every school. So, across the province, students must stand to listen in a sort of embarassment to scratchy sounds coming faintly over intercoms designed for things nobody listens to - like school announcements.
It's a dreadful experience, particularly because "O Canada" is one of those anthems that needs all the help it can get, rather like the way Scottish haggis really needs ketchup. But, according to the minister, the children must hear it every day - to become patriotic. I was a history teacher; and when I heard the minister say that,  I thought, "well, there goes history out of the curriculum."

I mean, it would really damage patriotism if I were to say that all the way back to the 1600s Canadians made slaves out of both native peoples and Africans; and in such brutal conditions that few lived beyond their twenties. I've probably also have to skip that part about how the New Brunswickers of 1850 would commonly, virtually all of them, spend much of a  Sunday smashed out of their minds on cheap rum from the West Indies. Over a hundred proof.  Children joined in. Even babies were given enough to keep them happy.

The first Prime Minister of Canada was an alcoholic scoundrel who acted as a front man for bank and raliway barons. He gave the latter millions of acres of land, including rich mines that are still in production. While he was in office, he also happily sat as a well-paid director of companies that he helped out with governments giveaways.

Abortion was once widely accepted in the most dignified social circles in Canada.  At your local library, check out an 1880's copy of The Globe. Find a page dedicated to medecine ads. You'll be one that looks like an ad for a cure for constipation. But the label says "For Female Irregularity". Well, I mean...I know we're different in some places. but I don't think that is one of them.

In fact, the label was in a well understood code for abortion. (I have no idea whether the stuff worked. But it sold well to the middle classes - which suggests even the most respectable ladies didn't spend all their time hiding their ankles and fluttering Chinese fans.)

Americans are often looked down on by Canadians because we didn't murder nearly so many of our native people as the US did. But that had nothing of kindness in it. We didn't settle the west in any numbers until US and Canadian hunters had made the buffalo almost extinct. As a result,we didn't have to resort to mass murder. We had starvation doing our work for us.

American history is a big a crock as much Canadian history. Maybe bigger. George Washington was an enormously wealthy man who wanted to be wealthier. That's what the revolution was about. It had nothing to do with people being born equal. Washington was one of the biggest slave owners, and as brutal as any.  At no point in its history has the US been a nation of equals. Quite apart from discrimination against Africans,Japanese immigrants (a discrimination as brutal as that in Canada), Jews, Irish and many others, the poor and the middle class have never in any sense been equal to the rich. In general, Americans were arguably freer and more tolerant BEFORE 1776.

Abraham Lincoln was entirely opposed to allowing "freed" slaves to have any rights at all.

Oh, yeah. Davey Crockett was a slave trader,and ruthless land speculator.

But Americans are ahead of us Canadians in at least one respect. They're allowed to cover the dreadfulness of both tune and words of The Star Spangled Banner by letting second rate performers sing it in kinky style. Us Canadians have to listen to O Canada on intercom systems while we stand around avoiding eye contact our of sheer embarassment.

Monday, December 13, 2010

fortune telling for north america

Actually, you don't need to be a fortune teller to make a pretty good guess about the future. You just have to see - really see - what is going on around us. When you see a staggering drunk getting into his car to head  onto the highway, you don't have to be a fortune teller to make a pretty good guess about what will happen. Our problem, all us people, is that we just don't see what's really happening all around us - perhaps that's because we don't want to see it.

The growth of corporations and the wealthy in political affairs in North America has been phenomenal over the past forty years. In the process, the growth of private wealth has been stunning. So has the growth of poverty. There was no need for a crystal ball to see where that was leading. The gluttony of the rich was acheived by the starvation of the poor. As the numbers of poor grew, it simply became impossible for them to continue buying the things their corporations nade. As well, regulations slipped away, so that banks and other mortgagers had a field day. Obviously, this was going to cause a financial crisis.

A few days ago, New Brunswick's leading industrialist wrote that people like him with his other friends in neo-conservative "think tanks" and various people like university presidents  are now in "a coalition" with government. That means they now share power with the government we just elected. But we did not elect industiralists or members of think tanks.

The basic concept of democracy is that we all have the same rights. Because we are all equal, we all get an equal say in who governs us. But not any more. Not in New Brunswick. Some people now have a direct hand in government without the bother of being elected. They're there because they put themselves there.

It must have been like this in Italy in the 1920s - the rich and the military moving in on a wave if group power, closing down individual freedoms, and imposing what was called fascism. And the public stood around with their faces hanging out, neither concerned with or understanding what was happening before their own eyes.

It should have been obvious. They were watching the end of freedom and equal rights. But few saw it. People don't like seeing seeing things they don't want to see. So they simply refuse to see them.

Nothing has changed. Mention fascism or corporatism, and most New Brunswickers will give you a blank stare. Mention that people we did not elect are now effectively and openly in control of our government - and  you will get a shrug. People will not see what they don't want to see. That's why they cannot grasp where we are heading.

The movement, sponsored by a thousand untra right wing "think tanks", is gaining credibility across North America  thanks to the help of our news media in pretending these are serious research groups, and thanks to the general ignorance of what corporatism and fascism mean And hanks to an ignorance of what democracy and equality mean.

You don't need a fortune teller to figure out where this is heading. I shall be very surprised if any real democracy in North America can survive as much as ten years longer.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Greatest Threat to democracy in North America

I live in New Burnswick, a small and relatively poor province in Canada - and one dominated by a few, large corporations. Corporate leaders here are very much influenced by what they like to call "think tanks', but which are really propaganda fronts for neo-conservatives. These "think-tanks", given credibility  by our thoroughly debased news media, have achieved stunning influence across the continent. Where they are leading us is well illustrated by a recent conference in New Burnswick.

Leading private businessmen held what they called an "economic summit" to advise government on economic and social policy. We did not elect the delegates. They were chosen to represent social and economic groups across the province -people such as university presidents, "think tanks", community groups and, of course, lots and lots of reps of big business. A business leader, the most prominent one in the province, recently published a column on it in the local newspaper. (His family owns all of the daily newspapers in the province.) He wrote that the economic summit had succeeded in forming a coaltion of government, business, community groups, etc. to determine the province's social and economic course.

This is coming your way. Perhaps it already has. You don't see what's serious about it?

Notice -- The "coalition" does not represent people as individuals. It represents them as interest groups. There are words for that. But democracy and individual rights and freedoms are not among them. In fact, this is the opposite of democracy and freedom. Representation by groups is called corporatism.

In Italy in the 1920s, corporatism had an emblem, an axe-head encircled with rods, and all bound together tightly.. Italians called the symbol a fasces. That was the symbol under which Mussolini came to power with his fascist party.

The greatest threat facing North America is neither terrorism nor the economic crisis. It is a threat to individual rights and freedoms. The greatest threat is a form of fascism heavily sponsored by people who call themselves neo-conservatives.

Things like this happen terribly easily. Partly it's because we don't want to recognize what is happening. Partly, it's because we have such dishonest and/or cowardly news media. It was easy in Italy. It was easy in  New Brunswick. I expect it will be easy where  you live, too.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why The US Economy is Not Likely to Recover

Governments in the US have been kind to the wealthy. Throughout American history, but especially since Ronald  Reagan, the wealthy have enjoyed low tax rates. That, as we are seeing in the recent days with Obama, is not going to change in any foreseeable future.

The theory behind it sounds good. Let the rich keep as much money as possible because they will invest it,;and that will create more jobs and greater wealth for everyone. That way, we all win. Sometimes we do. But like any economic system, captialism is man made. Nothing man made has ever worked perfectly in all times and under all conditions.. If the system is forever maintained in its purest form, as if it were part of the divine order, it will break. Capitalism, like anything man made, has to be balanced with hman needs, with changing conditions. No system will work if allowed to run wild and out of control.

Fedualism and aristocracy broke; communism broke; American captialism is breaking.

The trouble is, you see, that capitalism can work - but only when it can find customers. And American capitalism, by giving free rein to greed and economic ideologues, has destroyed its own domestic market.

In the 1970s, the wealthiest one percent of the US population had about 1/8 of all the country's wealth. Today, that one percent has doubled its share. Wealth was certainly created in the intervening boom years; but not much of it worked its way down. On the contrary, the gap between rich and poor in the US today is the greatest it has ever been. In fact, most Americans living in that booming economy were actually getting poorer even in the good years as wages rose more slowly than inflation.

In the same period, the US has maintained some social programmes to help the struggling poor and the middler class. But they've taxed the poor and the middle class to supply those services, while cutting taxes for the rich in the mistaken  belief that letting the rich get even richer would somehow ease the poverty of the poor.

It didn't. And that's part of  the reason, much of the reason, the US is deep into recession. American capitalism, without adequate taxation or regulation, proved a great creator of wealth, but a terrible distributor of it. As a result, American capitalism has destroyed its own domestic market.

Don't worry about the wealthy. Capital is easy to move around. Ford can just as easily build and sell its cars in Asia. For others, the writing is pretty much on the wall. Most Americans will have to settle for lives much different from those of their parents, because American capitalism has bled the country dry. Canada will follow because, as in so many things, it is following the American example - just a year or so later.

The one thing that  capitalism needed from government (apart from bailouts) was military force to enable it to enter unwilling markets. But wealth is so concentrated now in the US that it can afford its own armies. Indeed, a major part of the American armed forces now is privately owned.

None of the above is left wing. I don't think in terms of right wing and left wing because I've never seen a bird with one wing that was able to fly. And the US has become a one-wing bird, furiously flapping its wing and spinning itself in circles.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Human freedom and Corporporation Freedom Don't Go Together

The US Supreme Court recnetly ruled that corporations ae people. As people, they have the rights and the freedom to donate as much as they like to any political parties - just as people do. The same sort of thinking lies behind free trade. And that's strange.

Modern industry in both Canada and the US was based on a high tariff to keep out foreign competition. That gave a captive market to companies like Massey Farm Machinery that couldn't possibly compete against foreign manufacturers without a tariff to raise the price of foreign goods. In the US, the drive against a free market and for high tariffs pitted the industrializing north against a cotton-growing south which feared, rightly, that a high tariff would cut off cheaper manufactured goods from outside the US.

That's what the America civil war was about. Abraham Lincoln had no great sympathy for Blacks, and no particular desire to end slavery. The issue was whether there would be a protective tariff for northern industry. And the north won.

High tariffs were the gospel for American and Canadian industry for over a century. In Canada, the Conservative Party was well financed by industry to keep the tariff high. Indeed, the Liberal Party, which began as a free trade party, had to adopt a high tariff policy to get elected.

Then, quite suddenly, there was a change to hallelujahs for free trade as the only possible way to go for righteous and God-fearing people. Why the change?

The change came because Canadian and American industry had not only matured and could now beat other countries' prices, but also had such manufacturing output that they had to get access to other markets.  As well, free trade would open up investments in other countries which had cheaper labour than Canada and the US did. Though Free Trade has been put forward as an economic and almost religious cause, it's really just old-fashioned oppotunism.

What it has done has, as the "crackpots" warned us, transferred jobs from Canada and the US to cheap labour markets, helping to hold salaries below even the rate of inflation at home, while pushing American and Canadian goods into countries whose industries are not ready to compete - and won't be allowed to get ready.

Once a nation is caught in a free trade agreement, it loses the power to control its own economic policy. All have to accept much the same social and economic policies as the big powers in the agreement. Government, and the people who vote for it become irrelevant.

We will learn, but probably slowly and too late, that if corporations are people and have the freedoms of people, then real people can have no freedoom at all. Giving human rights to corporations means taking human rights away from humans.

Any society, to survive as a democracy, has to find a balance between social and economic elements, with each complementing the other.  We've thrown the social part of that balance out. What we're left with is using free capitalism as if it were a magic wand that can solve all problems. It can't. We need rights and freedoms and power for people, too. Freedom and human rights for corporations won't work. And it will also destroy democracy. Indeed, given the political influence of corporations in both Canada the the US, it may already has done so.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Wikkileaks Fallout?

Wikkileaks shows that the major supplier of money for Islamic terrorism has been coming from Saudi Arabia, and from people close to, perhaps of, the royal family. That's not really a surprise. there have been strong hints of it on international news web sites for years. But now we know Americans governments have known it, perhaps from the start.

9/11 was financed by Saudi money. Most of the bombers were Saudis. The planning was done in Germany.and the training was done in the US.

So why do we have troops in Afghanistan?

Governments are in full panic mode over the leaks. I very much approve of the courage and rightness of those who made the leads available. But it may have consequences we should be thinking of now.

Americans are already disillusioned with government, any government. That's why voter turnout has been in such a long decline. It has also already accustomed itself to being a police state, with habeus corpus and other principles long since cast away. Domestic spying on just about everyboody has reached levels of hysteria. Wikkileaks is almost certain to strengthen the deistrust of government already seriously damaged by the reigns of both Bush and Obama.

The North American press will do (has done) its best, as always, to suppress the news. It may not work this time.  So where will US hysteria, fear and distrust turn to for relief? Watch for a sharp move to the right in a form we used to call fascism. It's long had elements of fascism. Now, it may well become wider and more obvious.  There is no American historical myth that could be called socialist or even liberal. Even the myth of all men being born equal is pretty silly if you think of how many were slaves, how they were denied rights until very recently, and how the rich are so much more equal than other Americans. The only myths to fall back on are the belief in divine choice of the US for "leadership", the old beliefs in Manifest Destiny and the American manliness of force.

There's a real danger of the US sliding very far to the right. And that is bound to have an effect in a Canada which has also seen a plummeting drop in voter participation, and a lack of enthusiasm for either of the traditional parties.

The truth is coming to a North America that has never been told the truth by its politicians or its news media. I see no evidence of any acceptable political response in the US. We may well end up with a president Palin and her band of psychotics.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Haiti - poster child for the American version of capitalism

I am neither capitalist nor socialist, neither liberal nor conservative. I believe a workable system has to balance elements from all of these. And I believe the balance has to change according to the conditions. American capitalism has gone far beyond sense of balance. There is no better example of what it now does than the wretched nation of Haiti.

A thousand have died of cholera, and many thousands more will die. The earthquake is only a part of the cause. The streets of Haitian slums (most of the housing) have been running with raw sewage for a century. There has been no sanitation. The earthquake worsened things, but only a little worse than they were before it when Haiti was the most poverty stricken land in this hemisphere. How does this show something wrong with American capitalism?

For almost a century, the US has run Haiti. It invaded in 1917 (pleading Germany might invade it!!!) It then ran the country for twenty years, in those twenty years, it gave capitalism a free run in Haiti -no regulations, no minimum wage, no safety requirements, no public schools, no taxes. As neo-conservatives are fond of telling us, capitalism is a great producer of wealth. At the end of twenty years of free run, capitalists had driven farmers off the land except as low wage labour on factory farms producing exotic produce for the tin can market. The people were desperately poor and living in some of the vilest slums ever to exist.

But the US didn't quite leave Haiti, not ever. For generations, Haiti suffered even worse from brual dictators imposed and paid off by the US. The Haitian army, equipped and paid by the US, was a gang of thugs to torture, rape and kill anybody who complained. And even those who didn't complain. Capitalism continued to flourish.

Then, at last, Haitians managed to elect a president, Aristide, who was going to build schools and sewer systems and livable housing. He also disbanded the army - since it was just a gang of thugs - and was able to keep the country quite peaceable with just the regular police.  But US capitalists were not pleased. Sanitation and housing would cost taxes; and taxes would cut into their profits. Worse, it might spread silly ideas to other poor countries.  So the ex-army thugs who had fled Haiti suddenly reappeared, heavily armed and well supplied with ammunition and money to blaze a trail of death into Haiti.

The US then sent troops to restore order. Strangely, though, they didn't bother the thugs. Instead, they arrested President Aristide and sent him into exile. Then they got the UN to send "peacekeepers", actually occupation troops. Not suprisingly, Haitians don't like the peacekeepers, and rioted against them. Capitalism was back in the saddle. Then came the earthquake.

Almost nothing has been done since the earthquake to rebuild Haiti. The US government even to this day has not delivered a cent of its promised aid.  There is no intention of rebuilding Haiti. There never was. The owners want Haitians to be poor and cheap. They have had their way. And the result is cholera.

There are elements of capitalism that are quite workable and desirable. But nothing that goes so far out of balance is either workable or desirable. We're watching the American version of capitalism descend into depths that reach beneath contempt.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Obama the Executioner

Contrary to popular belief, the US did not invent freedom. In fact, its roots in the western world go back well over a thousand years - in England before there was an England. It began in tribal laws that no person could be punished for a crime without evidence that a crime had been committed, and that the accused had done it. Ideally, a killer should be caught with the blood on his hands (thus "red-handed"). Even habeus corpus, the use of a summons to arrest the accused has been in use for almost a thousand years. On that rests all our individual rights and freedoms.  No government can imprison a person without evidence that a crime was committed, without a formal charge, and without a fair trial.

Part of that was lost with George Bush, who took the right to imprison anybody indefinitely with no evidence of a crime, no charge and no trial. That alone took the US back a thousand years.

As this is being written, the Obama White House lawyers are defending President Obama's claimed right to order the assassination of any American citizen - with no warrant, no trial, not even evidence of a crime having been committed. The American Civil Liberties Union is fighting his use of such an order, in this case involving a Moslem. Given recent tendencies of the Supreme Court, it is quite possible it will rule in favour of this extroardinary power that effectively destroys the whole basis of American democracy and freedom.

(Well, it concerns a Moslem to be killed. This should be a no brainer for a Supreme Court which has recently decided that coporations are really just like people - so they should have rights just like people.)

Haven't seen much about his in the North American news media? Well, maybe that's because corporations own most of the news media. Corporations are also annoyed at Moslems for sitting on land they want. And, hey, corporations have rights. And the American people? No sweat. The only radical party in the whole country is a bunch of nutbars who want to go back to 1775. Heck, the US would have to progress at a frantic rate to get all the way up to 1775 again.

and so it goes..."not with a bang but a whimper".

Friday, November 5, 2010

Oooooh! The Exciting US Congressional Election

Nothing new. The US is continuing to implode as it has been doing since 1945. Nobody in that time was won any election of any significance without massive support from corporations and the wealthy. In terms of general policy, it really doesn't matter who gets elected. That was clear during the presidential campaign as Obama became a darling of Wall St.

The US long ago decided on a policy of world "leadership". It's a nice word to cover an ugly truth. If everybody must follow the leader, then how can any country have a democracy that means anything at all? Indeed, the closest allies of the US have been puppet dictators - the Shah of Iran, the King of Saudi Arabia, the dictators of central America.

If you google The Project For the New American Century, read its statement of purpose. It is to spread "American values" (torture, invasion, terror bombing?) around the world for American economic benefit. And, for an example of who gets the benefit, look at Haiti. It has been under the control of untrammelled American capitalism for almost a century, through American-sponsored dictators and American military government. That's why it is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. That's why Haiti's President Aristide was exiled by US troops. He was going to spend money in silly ways, like hospitals and schools. That's why the US has never sent its promised aid to Haiti after the earthquake. There is no intention of rebuilding Haiti. The intention is to keep it forever a pool of cheap labour.

The US now needs constant war to sustain its major and thriving industry - weapons. In good days, before the crash, that meant free trade (with free meaning American business was free to exploit and contol countries before they could develop their own industries.) But now it's bad days. So watch as "free" trade gradually became "fair" trade - meaning the subject countries much now admit American products free, but imports to the US will be taxed with customs duties to protect big donors to the Democrats and Republicans.There will also be a renewed drive to privatize public services like water, sewage, and education.

The Tea Party has no answer to any of this. It hasn't even asked the question. All it wants is a return to traditional values, most of which, like most of American history, never existed. The US Constitution was never intended to create a democracy - except within the limits of a two party system in which both parties were actually the same. It was also a system to exploited racism (against Blacks, and Native Peoples, and Mexicans, and  Latin Americans in general, and Hawaiians, and Phillipinos, and  now Moslems) to keep power in the hands of the rich. (Check out the incomes and slaves and landholdings of good ol' boys like George Washington and Andrew Jackson.) Tea Partyers are just the latest suckers to try to guess which shell the pea is under.

The US has been rotting inside since 1775. The Tea Party is just one more, small step away from reality for American voters. American leadership (world dominance by military force) is what it has always been about. Now, with even the pretend capitalism that the US lives on, war is all the more necessary. If ever Islam is defeated, American corporate leaders and the propagandists they call news media will just have to seek another bogeyman.

Once upon a time, we Canadians were the bogeymen. I expect we will be again. Been there. Done that.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Walls of Rome

As the barbarian cavalty stormed into Rome, the people of the city were within earshot of the screams of those dying in the fighting.But the people paid no attention. They were watching the gladiators and the games. That's what we're doing. A world that we knew is dying. And few are noticing.

The western powers rose to military dominance with Columbus. It wasn't so much Columbus. It was the development of ships like Santa Maria, Pinta and Nina that could handle long distance voyages, and give easy access to the world. The military dominance was also based on an inheritamce of an understanding of war going back at least to the ancient Greeks. With ships and trained armies, even small Euopean countries could conquer the world.

Spain and Portugal  defeated, enslaved and robbed millions in South American and Central America with armies that were sometimes barely over a hundred figthing men. Britain conquered what is now India, Bangladesh and Pakistan with only2,000 soldiers. Tiny Belgium murdered some five million and enslaved and looted the living with its small army in Congo.

With military dominance came the economic dominance that built European and American prosperity. But it's over. And we're too busy watching the games to see it.

The reversal came with the fall of Singapore to the Japanese in World War Two. Such a fortress had never before fallen to a non-European army. The Korean War, pitting Europe and North America, as well as South Korea against China, could barely be fought to a draw. France lost in Indo-China, followed by the US in Vietnam.  Then France lost in North Africa. The US lost in Cuba. There was no serious fighting in Cuba; but Castro outlasted the US so that now US dominance in Latin America is in serious trouble. Britain saw the writing on the wall; and was wise enough to get out of the empire game.

The US could beat Iraq only with a massive technological superiority and a willingness to kill a million innocent people. Even now, almost ten years later, Iraq can still be held with an army of occupation. The US is losing in Afghanistan. And American citizens, like the Romans before them, have lost their enthusiasm to "spread democracy". Like George Bush in his youth, they prefer the safety of home. Like that of Rome, the wars of the US depend on mercenaries.

As with the Roman Empire, the West conquered colonies by the military but for the economy, for the profit in them. What we are watching now is the fall of the last western empire. It began with the fall of Singapore. That's what first showed the conquered could learn the lessons of war. They could adapt them even to fighting against a technologyically advanced enemy. And win, even against the West.

From Columbus to Singapore was a long time. From Singapore to the collapse of the US will be much shorter.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A story in progress (7)

The officers' mess was all men, cavalrymen. Of course, few of them had ever ridden a horse; not since that day almost a century ago when the regiment had been called out to chase demonstrators in the first great depression, the one back in the 1930s.  The colonel, a chubby, red-faced man at the head table, was the only person there who actually owned a horse; he stabled it near a great park must behind the regimental armoury. He rode it every Sunday.  Civilian guests were always reminded of the colonel's love of riding. He was a symbol of the regiment's spirit. They drove tanks, now. But they were hussars, every one of them descended from that breed who charged into guns, leaning forward over their horses' necks, sabres held high with blades curving downwards.

Nowadays, Captain Dan wore pretty much the same dull camouflage as even the commonest soldiers. But  as he glanced at his old friend and guest, George, he felt the pride of his formal mess kit -  with boots, spurs, sabre, and a deep blue cloak flung over his left shoulder. . Dan was a soldier, not just a thug like the mercenaries George contracted out.

"Strange, isn't it Dan? I was the big kid. I kept the school bullies off you. Now look at us. I'm still big. But you're the one who turned out to be the real fighter."

"Couldn"t do it without you, George. I always have a squad of your boys going well ahead of me. I don't move until they tell me it's clear. Wouldn't last a day without them."

George grinned. It was true. He knew he'd done a good job recruiting them, or as good as could be done with men from every and any part of the world, men who wanted work, any kind of work. Hardly anybody at home wanted to join the army anymore.

There was no choice in this endless war against terrorism. The country needed "private contractors", whoever they could get from wherever. Then he looked thoughtful. Patriots like Dan were rare these days. Very few men or women, even in these hard times, were interested in military service  And mercenaries were getting expensive. He glanced at the head table. It really reflected the importance of the regiment. Heads of the biggest corporations in the country were there. And right at the centre was the President, himself. Like all the presidents, he had to be tough and confident. That was the only way to win election by the Council of CEOs.

A sound like gunshots silenced the mess as the Colonel tapped a finger on the microphone. The officers snapped to attention as one man, with the civilian guests rising like a ragged and awkward puppets to stand in their business suits beside the rigid men in spurred boots, the men with the deep blue cloaks flung over their shoulders.

"At ease, gentlemen." The officers raised and stamped their left feet in unison, each left foot exactly the same distance from its right mate. "We will now be honoured with a short address from our Commander-in-Chief and President of the Council of CEOs. As the familiar form of the president rose to the microphone, the officers in unison snapped to attention, to a salute,then hands rigidly down along the trouser seams and feet back at attention. Civilian guests fluttered,wondering what to do.

The president nodded to the Colonel, "Thank you for inviting me to this annual dinner of the Royal Canadian Hussars." Then, turning to the officers, "This is a short message. I really want to tell you all how much we thank you for your untiring work in this long war on terrorism. And you are winning. This nation of North America, along with our Russian friends, is going to protect North American and Russian values, and spread them over the world - thanks to you and your courage and sacrifice and pride. God bless you all."

A major took the mike. "Saddles."

The officers resumed their seats, each placing both hands flat on the table.

Each officer, along with some guests who knew the regimental ceremony, clapped hands on the table at a walking pace  - left, right, left, right...
"Advance at the trot."

The hands beat more quickly. Some officers leaned forward, grinning in anticipation.


The hands now beat fast and wild, all of the officers leaning foreward in a frenzy of whoops. A young officer leaped to  his feet, leaned forward, and held high his sabre with the blade curving downward.. The madhouse of the charge lasted for a full two minutes, then slowed and stopped in triumphant exhaustion.

"Pass the port."

A private came to Captain Dan's table to give him a bottle. Dan poured it into his glass; then handed the bottle to George.

"No, George. Don't put it down. Pour yours, and pass it on. The bottle must never touch the table."

"I guess these old cavalry traditions are pretty important, eh?"

"When you're out there, on your own, these traditions are all that keep you alive. I love them."

George's chauffeur was waiting for them as they left the armoury. Captain Dan knew George was rich; but he had had been surprised earlier in the day by the magnificence of George's home and car. As they sank into the lounge chairs in the rear compatment, and George offered him a very fine scotch (from Hungary), Captain Dan had to say, "I'd heard things were pretty tough here on the home front. How do you afford all this?"

"Things are tough. But that's the law of the marketplace. People are cheap. That's why I can afford a chauffeur and cook and maids. It's tough.  But the law of the marketplace is the only way we'll bring prosperity back."

"Getting any terrorist problems?"

"No. Nothing to speak of. The news media have been a big help.  They put the news out so people can understand what this is all for. They understand it's for them. And they get all the free entertainment they want. I can tell you, most people up here don't have any time or sympathy for terrorists. They appreciate what you're doing."

The electrified gates opened automically as the car approached to sweep through, then closed  as silently as they had opened. The chauffeur stopped; and the car gently sank below the lawn. George led Captain Dan to a doorway. He opened the door.

"I know you're tired." He put his hand on Captain Dam's shoulder. "Get a good sleep. We'll have time for a talk tomorrow before you head back to the front." Dan nodded. He was tired. There had been a lot of travel for one day. Tired as he was, he took the time to hang up his mess kit neatly before he sank into the bed, and drifted into a deep sleep.


Captain Dan jumped out of bed, head shrunk into his shoulders as he peered at the virtual trees around him, and the virtual sunlight streaming through. Then he felt the sour port in his mouth, and remembered he was in George's house.

"Damn," he thought. "Nerves."

He showered, put on his workaday camouflage uniform, He stepped into the hall. "This way," called Melanie. "George and I have breakfast all ready one the patio." Captain grinned a good morning. Melanie kissed him on the cheek, then led him to a well-set table surrounded by rose bushes on the vitrual patio

"Whoa," said George. "You must have been wearing a girdle under that mess kit. What happened to that skinny kid I used to know?"

Captain Dan grinned ruefully. "The Council of CEOs look after us pretty good in the field. Maybe a bit too good, I guess."   He grinned again, almost cheekily, and reached for a plateful of bacon and several eggs. As he did, a hand gently tapped him on the wrist.

"I think we need to have the Lord's blessing, first."

Captain Dan jumped up an embraced a tall man whose own gestures and style had a more practiced enthusiasm.

"I didn't even see, Revernd Tommy. It's been a long time."

"Indeed, it has been. I just wanted to drop iin for a moment before chapel. It's been a long time."

"Could you give me a few words to pass on to the boys at the front?"

That drew a smile of practiced vibrancy, followed by a look of depth tand sincerity. "Tell them they have the Lord's blessing and our gratitude. I t just goes to show - wouldn't his me a much better world if people were just nice to each other? Gotta rush to chapel. So long, Dan; and God bless all of our soldiers."

With that he left; and Captain Dan and George sat down again to breakfast.  It was a silent meal with a tension that Captain Dan sensed from his years of military service.

"Dan." George's voice was low, almost repentant. "We have to talk."

"Sure, George. There's lots to catch up on. What would you like to talk about?"

"Well....the fact is....I don't know what they're telling you....but the fact is we're running out of patriotic North Americans like you. If we're to hang on, we have to hire mercenaries to do the sort of work you're doing."

Captain Dan stared at George, then, "But they can't. What I do takes a lot of training. Mercenaries are okay for the foot work. But that's about it."

George nodded. "Exactly. We're going to have to train them. We have no choice. Soon, it will be them or nothing. I want you as my VP of armoured training."  He sat, quietly tense as he waited for a response. It took several seconds.

"I'm flattered, George. I really am. Bu but you know me. I'm a field man. I've always been out there where the action is.That's where I belong. Right in the action. I don't see myself in a suit."

George chuckled. You won't be in a suit. You'll be with the men you're training. You'll be taking each batch into the field with you until they get  - almost - as good as you are. Think about it. I need an answer in a week. Come on board, Dan. It'll be like old times." He clapped Captain Dan on the shoulder. Now, I see I need to get you to the airport. Let's go. The car is waiting. Take a week, Dan. Take a bit more if you have to. But please say yes. The Council of CEOs asked for you peronally. I know that because the President of the Council passed it on to me last night."

Just two hours later, Captain Dan strode to the tank park at the armoury in Arlington, Virginia. He climbed up a ladder, then down through a hatch into a tank. As he lowered himself to the commander's seat, he pulled the hatch shut.  A screen lit up in front of him.  He turned the camera, tracing a circle around the tank. He paused. There were his mercenaries, waving him on. He completed the cricle, kept going until he saw the mercenaries again, just by the jungle edge. Then the engine roared into life; and he And he watched the jungle come closer.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

what this is about.

I have two blogs. One is pretty local - the politics, journalism and education of the province of New Brunswick in Canada. To find it, it's easiest just to googe   The Moncton Times and Transcript- Good and Bad. (It's mostly bad.)

This one is far more general, and even vague - whatever is on my mind at the time. It might be a very short story. It might be something that struck me in Canadian or in world politics; (commenting on those daily was my job for some years.) Maybe to ease in, I'll just pass on a story.

Tonight, I found some old sheet music, among it a copy of “Mighty Lak a Rose.”
That brought back memories of Eve Stervinou. When I was a kid, Eve lived in our very working class district, and attended our church. And nobody thought anything of it.

Now, you have to understand that in our poverty we were proud of our respectability. We were as properly Victorian as the Victorians never were. Even the coarsest and crudest of us in our church had a respect for respectability. When I got the Sunday school prize for memorizing bible verses, Stanley, the kid who sat beside me and would grow up to become a muscle man for the mob, muttered, “You lucky buggar.” And no-one thought that an unreasonable comment.

But Eve was very different, by all our standards. There was no Mr. Stervinou. I don’t know whether there ever was. I never heard of one. Now, in our social setting, divorce was unspeakable and unthinkable. So, not to have a husband in the first place, and to have two daughters, was, well, it just didn’t happen. But there was Eve. And nobody thought anything of it.

She was regularly in church. There were no conspiratorial nudges or grins, no disapproval. She was a good friend of my very respectable parents who neither smoked nor drank and who sang in the choir. She regularly visited our flat, as we visited hers.

Oh, and she was a nightclub entertainer, too. Those were the glory days when Montreal nightclubs were world class, the days before TV when the nightclub was the only source of stage entertainment for the price of  a few beers. Montreal was a magnet for jazz musicians from all over North America. And the clubs, run in wide open style by the mobs who pretty well ran the whole city, and made sure every club had hookers and gambling 24/7. Even the cops could be found hanging out in the clubs after closing hours My parents wouldn't have dreamed of even looking at the door of a nightclub as they passed it. But they could also be perfectly respectable places for a woman. They were even necessary.

Nightclubs meant jobs for quite respectable women in a time when most jobs were closed to them.  Black women in Montreal, for example, could hope for nothing more than baby sitting or char work. The club was a way out. And so it was that the girls you saw dancing in the chorus on Saturday night were the same girls who sangin the choir of the Black church on Sunday morning.

It was that way for white women, too, who hadn't finished high school and had no secretarial training. So Eve worked in the clubs. Nobody questioned her respectability.

She was a whistler. They billed her as The Whistling Nightingale. It still meant she lived in poverty; but it was a poverty which was better than nothing at all.

By the time I was twelve, I could play most popular songs on the piano, so Eve would bring sheet music – like "Mighty Lak a Rose". I’d play; and everybody would gather around the piano; and we’d sing the opening verse; – and then Eve would whistle along with us in soaring harmony and tremolos.

We moved when I was fourteen, and I forgot Eve for the next fifty years. Then I heard she had married in New York, and her husband had died. I didn't know she had married. In fact, the one who died was her fifth husband. (I never found out who the other four were, either, or what happened to them.)

Eve, by then in her nineties and living in New York, decided the east coast was not for her. So she climbed into her old VW Beetle and drove, alone, to Los Angeles.

I heard no more. And thought no more. Until I found that old copy of “Mighty Lak a Rose”. I took it to the piano, sat down, struck the first chord.

And I’m sure I heard a whistle joining in.