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MORE MONEY WON’T FIX CBC

John Chuckman

I’ve heard leaders of both the Liberal Party and the NDP promise more money for CBC should either of them be elected later this year. We know CBC has suffered fairly severe cuts in funding from Stephen Harper’s bleak government. But at the same time, something else has been happening for years at CBC, and much of it has little to do with money. CBC relentlessly has dumbed itself down, hiring hosts with little interesting knowledge or even effective intelligence, muting and censoring the content of shows, and demonstrating, again and again, its implicit rejection of what should be its mandate.

A national broadcaster can never compete directly with commercial broadcasters. You don’t have to be an expert to understand that. A national broadcaster only makes sense if it focuses on quality, as a showcase for the nation’s talent, as an educator for children and the nation’s immigrants about the political and cultural nature of a country, as a forum for new ideas, and as a contributor to general understanding by others about what Canada is.

CBC is failing miserably today on all fronts. I address radio broadcasting since I am not someone who watches television, and besides it is the radio service which long has enjoyed the superior reputation, but that now has ceased to be the case. Much of what now is broadcast day-in, day-out, both on Radio One and Radio Two, is simply a waste of airtime. Blubbering about pop music for hours of every day, as CBC Radio has done now for years, is about as far as you can run away from the responsibilities of a national broadcaster.

Some once-excellent shows are decaying even as we listen. “The Current,” for example, with Anna Maria Tremonti, one of most capable interviewers Canada has ever produced, has her doing few incisive interviews, avoiding topics, and substituting Oprah Winfrey-style fluff, as for example, a half hour about plus-size women recently. I’m eagerly anticipating the “complete make-over” show. Apart from the noticeable decline in political or cultural interviews, which to my mind were the show’s raisons d’être, the now-usual Friday host and temporary fill-in is a person (aka, future possible replacement in training) who has neither the skill nor sharp intelligence to conduct an enjoyable, hard-hitting interview.

Moreover, that fill-in host just happens to be the wife of a senior newsman on the same station, raising once again the problem of nepotism and favoritism which has long plagued the radio network.

The “Sunday Edition” with Michael Enright is a mere shadow of itself, not only cut from three to two hours but filled with boring crap like precious personal essays and documentaries from wannabe producers and there is a noticeable limit on the worthiness of the people being interviewed. There is a rather viciously quiet, persistent strain of bias on some topics, one being the Middle East, injected regularly and without the least effort to balance other views. Such news and current event shows have been drained of most of their meaningful content.

The show, “As It Happens,” has been literally run into the ground, its original premise of telephone interviews with an assortment of the day’s newsmakers or eccentrics having become outdated by the timeliness of events on the Internet. Anyone who spends a bit of time on a computer knows those things before this show gets around to them today,  yet the show desperately tries to hold on and find a purpose with not-very-good interviews and even boring little panel groups.

The National News and the regional news, coming out of Toronto, border on embarrassing at times. Apart from the now-often poor grammar of newsreaders, the content is just thin and uninformative. There is no digging, there is no follow-up, and there is no judgment or concern demonstrated over clearly unanswered questions. It comments on events in other parts of the world today with no understanding and often considerable bias, often sounding as though as though press releases from Washington were being read. A truly Canadian viewpoint has just about disappeared. Reportage on other stories throughout the country is often by very young women correspondents who sound as though they just graduated from Ryerson, using the obviously-learned gimmicks of journalism courses, always attempting to end with little punch-lines, which are more often than not predictable and desperately contrived.

The parade of not even second-rate musical talent jammed into every available opening – everything from junky rap to knock-offs of soul or 1960s stuff and a lot of silly girlie-sounding elevator music – has increased steadily everywhere so that barely a few minutes pass before it starts up again. I doubt one out of ten of these is worth broadcasting, making CBC sound like what I imagine the old, fabled Ted Mack Radio Amateur Hour must have sounded like. And besides, the main content of Radio One should be intelligent talk, not music, much less starving-artist style pop music.

All of the classy, knowledgeable people on specialty shows – from Bernard St Laurent to Bob McDonald or Eleanor Wachtel or Ed Lawrence – are getting old, and one can only imagine with what teeny-bopper horrors they will be replaced.

The show, “Ideas,” originally of some interest, now is pretty much a tired, deflated balloon. There rarely is anything worthy of the name idea making an appearance. The show buys documentaries of remarkably little worth and broadcasts them with a vapid voiceover by the host.

A complete lack of imagination and meaningful direction at CBC has been running things into the ground for years. The management has only one theme, come up with some pop stuff so that we’ll be popular, and of course that’s questionable assumption as well as a dereliction of its duty as a national broadcaster.

I think the hideous Jian Gomeshi saga nicely illustrates what has happened, serving almost as an allegory, his dreary career closely corresponding with the descent of CBC into meaninglessness. Apart from his grotesque personal life, the man always was a walking mediocrity with almost nothing he said worth hearing but with a lot of bad judgment and bad taste thrown in as flavoring, yet because the show achieved some popularity – after all, if you throw enough crap on a wall, there will always be people entertained by the act – the man was allowed to run his show for years as a sadistic bully, supposed CBC principles of humanity and fairness cast to the wind by all involved. No, there’s far more in that dreary story than a man charged with rape and abuse of women, there’s the mask of the CBC ripped off to reveal a whining, inadequate, and timid management.

I simply do not see how handing over hundreds of millions of additional public funds can change CBC for the better, given the people who are entrenched there now and have made nothing but poor decisions for years.

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LIVING WITH INSANITY

Harper, Abbott, and Cameron at the Brisbane G-20

 

John Chuckman

Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, is reported by a spokesman, to have had the following exchange with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin during the Brisbane G-20 summit: “Well, I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I only have one thing to say to you: you need to get out of Ukraine.” Putin is said to have replied, “Impossible. Since we are not there.”

A graceless bit of diplomatic crudity from a truly graceless man, Stephen Harper, someone Canadians know has a history of underhanded practices at home, from introducing ugly personal-attack campaign advertising, using secretive and bullying tactics in parliament, failing to deal with corrupt practices by subordinates especially an American-style election scandal of robo-calls which sent some voters to the wrong polls, to having appointed several unbelievably incompetent and corrupt ministers. He is known for a ferocious temper in private, a very controlling man who grants his political associates absolutely no freedom of expression, and is reported by insiders as having on at least one occasion thrown a chair in a meeting. His silencing of Canadian government scientists from offering their opinions on issues in areas of expertise has been a simmering international scandal, as has his complete suppression of environmental issues.

Before Harper, Canada enjoyed for many decades a reputation for fairness and decency and intelligence in international affair with statesmanship and openness exhibited by figures like Lester Pearson or Jean Chretien or Paul Martin. Harper has destroyed a great deal of that as he pursues a single-minded role as American junior partner in almost all things.

He completely abandoned Canada’s traditional policies of fairness and balance in the Middle East, literally shocking many Canadians at times with fervent outbursts about Israel, including suggestions that Canadian critics of Israel are anti-Semitic. He does this, as any astute political observer recognizes, to solicit increased campaign funds from Canada’s financially successful Jewish community, taking his cue from Republicans in the United States such as Newt Gingrich who alone received $18 million dollars from one wealthy supporter of Israel for his last nomination campaign in exchange for inserting into his speeches that there was no such thing as a Palestinian, an utterly insincere and ridiculous statement. Since Israel is no admirer of President Putin’s, he being too independent-minded and opposed to the American exceptionalism Israel tightly embraces and by which it prospers, this activity of Harper’s puts him in an anti-Russian frame of mind from the start.

Harper has made an annual photo-op journey to Canada’s North, always trying to appear to voters as the man most concerned with a future there of melting ice creating free access through the Northwest Passage. Ironically, he periodically mentions Russia as the nation he is most concerned about, but Canada’s recent history couldn’t make it clearer that it is the United States which represents the great threat to our Northern waters and shore. Everything from unauthorized American atomic submarine prowling to a giant American oil tanker passing to published American charts showing this future open water as international tells a pretty harsh story. But in every detail, Harper only pretends America is a great and non-threatening friend.

Harper is the single most obsessed leader in Canada’s history with pleasing, almost fawning over, the United States. Had the history of Canada, which included a great deal of disagreement and contention with the United States over its many imperialistic behaviors, included many leaders of Harper’s character, there quite likely would not be a county called Canada today.

So here are the demonstrated qualities of the man performing as Canada’s diplomatic ass at the G-20 in Brisbane. He demonstrates a genuinely anal-retentive temperament, is intolerant of differences of opinion, and embraces a willful blindness to the world’s greatest threat to peace, the United States in its self-appointed role as imperial arbiter among nations.

In case you wonder why a man like Harper even holds office in Canada, it is because the effective opposition was split with internal battles and because the last leader they selected in desperation following those battles was a man of no political intelligence or even experience and a totally unattractive personality to the public, Michael Ignatieff, someone who managed to do almost everything wrong. It also reflects a democratic deficit in our parliamentary structure where a party with just over 39% of the vote can be a parliamentary majority. So despite Canadians consistently being about 60% or higher inclined to somewhat progressive parties, Harper has had a free run at pole-axing the country’s traditional international reputation. Every day we come to be seen as a bit more like the deceptive and brutal American colony in the Middle East he embraces so closely.

We unfortunately live in a time utterly lacking statesmen in the West. I don’t know the detailed backgrounds of those other aggressive fools at the G-20, Abbott of Australia and Cameron of Britain, but I know they are both men who have lied exceedingly and been intimately involved with such nasty business as favors for the unsavory Rupert Murdoch empire. I can think of nothing which recommends either of them as statesmen. Indeed, they both, quite literally, kowtow to America.

Putin is head and shoulders above these men in intellect and focus, readiness to communicate clear views to the world, someone demonstrating considerable patience, and, from all evidence, someone notably free of the blowhard ideology which virtually characterizes Harper, Abbott, and Cameron.

Putin’s moves in Ukraine seem to me appropriate for dealing with a deliberately-induced crisis in an important neighboring country, and one with a long history of connections and associations. He has not invaded Ukraine, something which he could easily do were he so inclined. I suspect he has supplied weapons to East Ukraine, but that is something the United States does all the time, including supplying weapons to some of the most brutal groups and governments on earth, as it is right now doing in Syria, with secret night cargo flights out of Turkey to terrorist cutthroats. Just ask yourself what America would do about a comparable situation in Mexico: patience simply would not exist, and Mexico City would be quickly overrun by tanks.

The people of East Ukraine, Russian in background and sympathies, deserve protection as much as they deserve the huge amounts of emergency supplies Russia has supplied in a conflict owing its origin entirely to the covert acts of America. Had the coup-established government of Ukraine originally offered protection of Eastern interests, including language rights they openly tried suppressing, the story might have been different, but they did precisely the opposite, passing unfair laws, making threat after threat, and attacking their own citizens. Who wouldn’t rebel in that environment, including any of the states of the United States? How easily people forget past rebellions in the United States, the greatest of which was the Civil War, still the bloodiest war Americans ever experienced.

It is quite clear that the United States is responsible for destabilizing Ukraine. Its CIA funds have been invested into many unsavoury projects, perhaps most disturbing is its paying support to a collection of neo-Nazi groups ranging from extremist parties to violent militia forces, some of the very groups who have committed atrocities such as murdering many hundreds of civilians and some of whom actually march under swastika-like flags. It does seem more than a bit strange that men like Harper, Abbott, and Cameron implicitly support that kind of filthy work while charging Putin with dark acts, dark acts which are stated ambiguously and certainly never proved.

It is also clear that the United States has pressured all authorities involved to delay and obscure the investigation into the destruction of Flight MH17, and the only explanation for that can be America’s preventing, for as long as possible while the new coup-created government of Ukraine consolidates its position, the highly embarrassing finding that Ukraine in fact shot it down. The United States has said over and over it has evidence about the crash, yet it has never produced a scrap of it. Just as it never produced evidence for so many past claims from what actually happened on 9/11 to the assassination of a President.

The great irony of the G-20 summit in Brisbane is that its only substantial agreement concerned doing everything possible to promote growth in a world whose economy is dangerously stagnating, yet it wasted time and energy on America’s fantasy stories about Russia and Ukraine, insulted Russia’s President, and threatened in some cases further growth-suppressing sanctions. Nothing could be more contradictory and unproductive or, frankly, just plain stupid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UNDERSTANDING ISRAEL’S CORROSIVE INFLUENCE ON WESTERN DEMOCRACY

John Chuckman

 

Something troubling is quietly underway in the Western world, that portion of the world’s governments who style themselves as liberal democracies and free societies. Through a number of avenues, people’s assumptions about the role of government are being undermined as their governments evolve towards a pattern established in the United States. No, I do not mean in building a neo-Roman marble repository of sacred founding writ and adopting three wrangling branches of government with empty slogans about freedom and justice for all. I do mean in the way governments, however elected and organized, regard their responsibilities towards their citizens and the world community.

Of course, the United States in many matters often prods, cajoles, or threatens other states to follow where it leads, such as with votes at the U. N. or whether a country should send at least token forces for one of America’s colonial wars to lend appearances of international effort. Despite America’s poor economy and declining relative future prospects, it still has many resources for pushing others, much like the profligate grandson of a magnate whose once great family fortune is in decline but still large. Still, a good deal of what is happening results from new forces which only reinforce America’s imperial tendencies.

People in the West often elect governments who turn around to do things voters did not want done, and they realize they being lied to by their governments and corporate press, but they pretty much feel helpless to remedy the situation. London saw the largest peace march in history just before Tony Blair secretly threw in his lot with the criminals who hit Iraq with the equivalent in deaths and destruction of a thermonuclear bomb on a large city. Special interests increasingly dominate the interests of government because they increasingly pay its campaign costs and extend other important favors. Citizens in many places feel the meaning of casting a ballot has been diminished as they watch their governments ignore extreme injustice, hear their governments make demands and threats over matters which do not warrant threats, see themselves become ensnared in wars and violence they never wanted, and generally feel their governments are concerned with matters of little concern to them. That, if it needs to be said, is not what democracy is about. And where do we see governments making reforms to remedy the situation threatening democracy? Almost nowhere.

It might at first seem an odd thing to write – considering the influence Israel exerts in the Western world (what other country of 7 million is in the press virtually each day?) and all the favorable press it receives (every major newspaper and broadcaster having several writers or commentators who see their duty as influencing public opinion on Israel’s behalf, and The New York Times submits all stories about Israel to Israeli censors before publishing) – but Israel is an inherently unstable state. No matter how much money is poured into it for arms and force-fed economic development, it cannot be otherwise. Its population is hostile to the people with whom it is surrounded and intermixed, living something of a fantasy which shares in equal parts ancient myths and superstitions and white-picket-fence notions of community with no neighbors who do not resemble each other. Its founding stories also have a fairy tale quality, heroic with a mythical division of good and evil, always ignoring the violence and brutality which cannot be forgotten so easily by its victims and the manipulation of imperial powers which defrauded others as surely as any phony mining stock promotion. Its official views and the very language in which they are expressed are artificial constructs which do not accurately describe what they name, words like “militant” or “terrorist” or “existential.” Its official policy towards neighbors and the people it displaced has been one of unrelenting hostility. Its leaders in business and government almost all securely hold dual passports, hedging their bets. Its average citizens face a hard time in an economy shaped, not for opportunity and economic freedom, but for war and the policing of millions of captives and unwelcome residents. None of this is indefinitely sustainable, and modern Israel is a highly artificial construct, one neither suited to its regional environment nor amenable to all the powerful trends shaping the modern world: globalization, free movement of peoples, multiculturalism in immigration, and genuine democratic principles, not the oxymoron of democracy for one group only.

It is the many desperate efforts to work against these hard realities, almost like someone screaming against a storm, which have unleashed the forces now at work on the Western world. Israel, as just one example, against the best judgment of many statesmen, was permitted and even assisted to become a nuclear power. The thinking being that only with such weapons can Israel feel secure and be ready to defend Jews abroad from a new Gotterdammerung. The truth is, as is the case with all nuclear weapons, Israel’s arsenal is virtually unusable, except, that is, as a powerful tool for blackmail. Israel has blackmailed the United States several times, the latest instance being over Iran’s nuclear program, a program which every reliable intelligence source agrees is not aimed at producing weapons. More than one Israeli source has suggested that low-yield nuclear weapons are the best way of destroying Iran’s technology, buried deeply underground, a suggestive whisper in American ears to do what Israel wants, or else.

Analysis suggests that what Israel truly wants is the suppression of Iran as a burgeoning regional power so that Israel can continue to perform the powerful and lucrative role as the United States’ surrogate in Western Asia along with its always-held-quiet, numerous dealings with that other great bastion of democracy and human rights, Saudi Arabia.

There have been many unanticipated, and extremely unpleasant, results from just this one matter of Israel’s nuclear weapons. Take Israel’s relationship with the former South African government and that country’s own drive decades ago to achieve status as a nuclear power. We do not know all the details, but we know from now-published documents that Israel once offered literally to sell nuclear warheads and compatible missiles to apartheid South Africa. We know further that South Africa did achieve its goal, there having been a rush, secret program to remove its weapons when the apartheid government fell, Britain’s late weapons expert, Dr. Kelly, possibly having been murdered for the detailed information he possessed on the disposition of South Africa’s fissile material. We know further that there was a nuclear device tested at sea, likely a joint Israeli-South African test, its unmistakable flash having been recorded by an American satellite. Just this one aspect of Israel’s behavior worked directly against the aims and wishes of many in the West, supporting both apartheid and proliferation of nuclear weapons. Further, in order to accomplish these things, large efforts had to be made at deception and secret dealing with a number of governments whose intelligence services would certainly have come across trails of evidence. Those are rather weighty matters for governments to decide without the knowledge of voters.

Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons acts both as a threat and a stimulus to other states in the region to obtain their own. Iraq tried to do so and was stopped, twice. Finally, America used, as a pretext for a bloody invasion which killed at least half a million, Iraq’s nuclear weapons when it was clear to all experts by that time that Iraq no longer had any working facilities for producing them. It violently swept Iraq off the region’s chess board to please Israel, much as today Israel wants it to do with Iran. Countries which have seriously considered, or once actually started, working towards nuclear weapons in the region include Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, and Libya, and in all cases their motives involved, at least in part, Israel’s arsenal. The United States today is in the midst of a massive, years-long campaign to cleanse the Middle East of what its rulers regard as undesirable elements. What determined these undesirable elements? The chief characteristic was whether they respect the general foreign policy aims of the United States, including, importantly, the concept of Israel as favored son of the United States in the region with all the privileges and powers accorded that status.

Certainly the selection had nothing to do with whether the countries were democracies, and certainly it had nothing to do with whether the countries recognized and respected human rights, John Kerry’s pandering or Hillary Clinton’s histrionics to the contrary. America pays no attention to such niceties when it comes to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, and many other places of strategic interest to it, including Israel. The values given lip service in the American Constitution and at Fourth of July picnics have as much to do with foreign policy as they do with the muffled screams from Guantanamo and the rest of the CIA’s torture gulag or the horrific invasion of Iraq and the systematic, large-scale use of extrajudicial killing.

There is elaborate machinery which has grown up around the relationship between America and Israel since 1948, when President Truman made the fateful decision, reportedly against his own best private judgement, to quickly recognize the government of Israel and extend to it the then-immense prestige of the United States in the immediate postwar period. That machinery – its chief features being highly-organized and well-funded special interest campaign financing, assays of every elected or appointed American official for his or her friendliness to Israel as with regular junkets for new Congressmen, and the most intimate and regular access by both lobbyists and Israeli officials to the highest officials in Washington – is now part of the political landscape of the United States, taken for granted as though it were the most natural thing in the world. But it is not natural, and, over the long term, it is not even in keeping with the interests of the United States.

Being enmeshed in that decision-distorting machinery, rather than simply demanding Israel return to the Green Line and support a reasonable settlement, is what ultimately produced 9/11, the war on terror, the invasion of Iraq, systematic extrajudicial killing, the consignment of tens of millions of people to tyranny, including the people of Egypt and Palestine, the dirty business of the engineered civil war inflicted upon Syria, and swallowing America’s national pride many times as with the Israeli attack on an American spy ship, Israel’s seizure of neighboring land, and Israel’s incessant espionage on its greatest benefactor. And some of these avoidable disasters had further internal effects in rationalizing the establishment of many elements of an American police state.

The nature of this relationship itself demonstrates something about the unstable nature of Israel. America has many allies and friends who do not behave in these ways because it is simply not necessary, but Israel is constantly reaching, trying to improve or enhance or consolidate its situation, trying to seek some greater advantage. It assumes in its external affairs what appears a completely amoral, results-at-any-cost approach, from stealing farms and homes and water to stealing secrets, playing a long series of dirty tricks on the world along the way, as it did at Entebbe or in the Six Day War or in helping South Africa or in releasing horrible malware like Stuxnet or in abusing the passports of other nations to carry out ugly assassinations – all secure in the knowledge that the world’s most influential nation is captive to the machinery, unable to criticise or punish. The trouble is that such acts endlessly generate new hostilities every place they touch. It cannot be otherwise, yet Israel and its apologists speak only in terms of rising anti-Semitism to shut critics up, a practice which generates still more hostilities since most people don’t like being called names and the act of doing so only increases awareness of the many dishonesties employed to keep Israel afloat.

The nature of the American-relationship machinery has proved so successful in shaping policy towards Israel that it has been replicated in other Western countries. Only recently, we read the words of a former Australian Prime Minister warning his people of the machinery there now influencing government unduly. In Canada, traditionally one of the fairest-minded of nations towards the Middle East, our current, extremist prime minister (an unfortunate democratic deficit in Canada making it possible to win a majority government with 39% of the vote) has trashed Canada’s traditional and respected position and worked steadily towards establishing the same backroom-influence machinery. So now we experience such bizarre events as a federal Minister suddenly, much like Saul struck along the road to Damascus, blurting out some sentence about Israel, unrelated to anything else he was saying or being asked by reporters present. Our 39% Prime Minister himself has assumed the exalted role of Canada’s Don Quixote in the fight against Anti-Semitism, despite the fact that genuine anti-Semitism almost does not exist in our tolerant country. But prominent apologists for Israel have in the past complained of Canada’s balanced policies not favoring Israel enough, and our Don Quixote has ridden to their rescue. Of course, along the way, his party will enjoy a new source of campaign funding, adding yet a new burden to Canada’s existing democratic deficit.

No one I think entirely planned from the beginning this set of outcomes. It really has been a matter of innumerable adjustments, accommodations, and opportunistic maneuvers which no one might have predicted in 1948, those days which were, at one and the same time, joyful for many Jews staring back into the utter darkness of the Holocaust and tragic to a people having nothing to do with those murderous events, who were stripped of property and rights and dignity, a situation which has only become worse since what they quite understandably call Nakba. But the corrosion of democracy in Western governments afraid of ever saying no to Israel and too willing to add to party political coffers in exchange for favorable words and acts is real and palpable, and it is going to do nothing but become worse. The situation is best characterized as a race for the bottom.