Ending the war on everything

An ornate peace sign scratched into the sand on a beach with the waves in the background

It’s time to declare peace on people, places and the planet

• by Geoff Olson

“War!” Edwin Starr roared in the 1969 Motown protest song of the same name, “What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!” Yet from the evidence of everyday speech, you might get the impression it must be good for something. North American social programs, foreign policy, medical research, business communications and sports talk are riddled with explicit references to war.

War on Crime. War on Poverty. War on Homelessness. War on Drugs. War on Gangs. War on Terror. War on Human Trafficking. War on Cancer. War on Obesity. For decades, pressing social policy initiatives have name-checked humanity’s most destructive collective habit.

FBI director J. Edgar Hoover kicked off the semantic ball in 1930 with his “War on Crime.” Rather than target organized crime networks, Hoover’s G-Men went after lone criminals such as John Dillinger and “Baby Face” Nelson. Strangely, the FBI’s most infamous cross-dresser denied the very existence of the Mafia for decades. By the late sixties, the war morphed into something else entirely, with the FBI spying on tens of thousands of “radicals” in universities, antiwar organizations and social justice groups.

The militaristic meme lay dormant until 1964 when President Lyndon B. Johnson declared the “War On Poverty” in his first State of the Union speech. (Johnson’s program produced real results, although the poverty rate in the US has not fallen for over 30 years.) Richard Milhous Nixon followed in 1971 by announcing the “War on Drugs,” a globe-girdling campaign of prohibition, foreign military aid and paramilitary intervention. Nations around the world suddenly found their diplomatic and trade relations with the US bundled together with the prosecution and apprehension of their domestic drug traffickers and users.

Modern business communications are riddled with military references, including the past campaigns of long-dead warriors. Uncounted numbers of MBA graduates and middle managers have flipped through Sun Tzu’s The Art of War or the Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun in an effort at self-advancement in the workplace. The battlefield rhetoric seeps from conference rooms, best-selling books, motivational posters and corporate retreats. An effective CEO “lays siege” to competitors, through “trench warfare,” “surgical strikes,” “carpet bombing” or “guerrilla warfare.” In this zero-sum-game language, success is always measured by someone else’s failure.

The War on Everything cajoles us into believing we must continually battle against the forces of darkness, which swirl from a competitor’s brand to a terrorist’s laptop to the cargo hold of a Columbian jet to the DNA of a malignant tumour. There is no room for peace, which is the incidental byproduct of war’s tribal bonding.

The mainstream media plays its part, too. Every December – the month supposedly dedicated to peace on Earth – commentators on Fox News revive their talk about a supposed “War on Christmas,” conducted by the nations’ multiculturalists. In Toronto, Mayor Rob Ford declared a “War on Graffiti” and now fulminates about an urban “War on Cars.”

Our leaders in politics, industry and communications appear to be hooked – semantically, at least – on sticking white hats and black hats on every other aspect of our lives.


In professional sports, especially football, the language of war is so blatant we hardly even recognize it as such. Years ago, comedian George Carlin contrasted baseball, “a nineteenth-century pastoral game,” with football, “a twentieth-century technological struggle.” Carlin mused, “In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz… With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line. In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! – I hope I’ll be safe at home!”

In 2009, the NFL announced it was cooling its overuse of military-speak in its promotional materials. However, old habits die hard. Later that year, the NFL reinvited Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of the Central Command, to make the Super Bowl’s opening coin toss, and had the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds perform a pregame flyover at Raymond James Stadium. The flyovers are now fixtures in the yearly rituals. (Five Navy F-18 strike fighters flew over Cowboys Stadium to open Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas.)

“From fighter jet flyovers to military performances at halftime shows, the National Football League and U.S. military have shared more than 40 years of Super Bowl history,” notes the official homepage of the United States Army. Little wonder that World War II general and US President Dwight D. Eisenhower allegedly said, “The true mission of American sports is to prepare young people for war.”

American entertainers are regular tapped for football’s mass programming. The performance by pop singer Madonna at the Super Bowl XLV halftime show underlined the nation’s resurgent triumphalism. The parading Roman centurions, swordsmen and predatory bird imagery gave her live gig a gung-ho makeover. When she performed Like a Prayer gospel-style with Cee Lo Green and a formation of black-robed singers, it looked like a cross between a black mass, Mad Max’s Beyond Thunderdome and a very confused episode of Glee. In a chthonic closer at the ground zero of US gladiatorialism, Madge disappeared with a puff of smoke into a hole in the ground, as the words “World Peace” glittered across the stage in a thousand points of light.

The military and professional football trade terms like bacteriophages exchanging genes: Nixon called a Vietnam bombing campaign “Operation Linebacker” while Manitoba is home to the “Winnipeg Blue Bombers.” With that in mind, we shouldn’t think our Canadian Football League is any less war-minded than its American counterpart. Consider the pomp and circumstance that surrounded the transport of the Grey Cup trophy in 2007. In its voyage to the host city of Toronto, the CFL’s Holy Grail was “given the VIP treatment,” according to CBC anchorman Peter Mansbridge. Bagpipes ushered the gleaming fetish object out of its home at the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and into a waiting limousine. The broadcast cut to a shot of the Cup reclining in the limo’s back seat, travelling Trump-style through the streets of Hamilton.

The trophy then had a police escort to the Ivor Wynne Stadium where it was picked up by police helicopter, flown to a nearby airport and transferred to a Canadian forces helicopter. The Canadian navy entered the picture to escort the Cup across a lake and hand it off to the Canadian army, which transported it in a military convoy to Toronto City Hall. All three armed services played fealty to the Cup, which finished its journey in, yes folks… a tank.


If you think the connection between pigskin and epaulettes couldn’t possibly get any tighter, think again. The skies of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other nations are patrolled by death-dealing drones: unmanned, camera-equipped Predators and Reapers. This has resulted in a flood of raw battlefield surveillance video and more work for US forces in distinguishing friend from foe while sidestepping the messy PR problem of obliterated wedding parties. The solution, according to a report the New York Times, is television sports production trucks.

Picking up on the story, ESPN notes, “Football broadcasters have long benefited from specialized software that allows them to quickly organize and utilize real-time video information – think instant replays, player-specific highlights, infographics – and the U.S. Air Force is installing a $500 million computer system that works in similar fashion. Military analysts reportedly spent time inside broadcast vans outside NFL stadiums, studying how TV crews tagged Tom Brady.”

Targeted assassinations of insurgents in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and throughout the mideast are routinely performed by joystick from command posts in the American Southwest. The gap between virtual killing and killing virtually is closing; some years back, the Pentagon released the source code for soldiers’ virtual training exercises to commercial games developers. When it comes to the CIA’s remotely piloted drone attacks and digital media, who knows? Perhaps one day there will be “an app for that.”

The War on Everything never seems to attain final victory, which is just over an endlessly retreating horizon. The War on Terror has only multiplied enemies abroad while curtailing civil liberties at home. The War on Drugs often comes bundled with the War on Terror, which has strengthened narcotrafficking networks at the expense of the public purse and resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent bystanders in Latin America while sweeping millions of minor drug offenders into a widening US prison-industrial complex. The drug war is now regarded as an abject failure by many policy experts, judicial figures, retired politicians and law enforcement officials.

Ironically, while all the above-mentioned programs are still going gangbusters, Lyndon Johnson’s laudatory War on Poverty has not advanced any further since the sixties – presumably because the enemy was too subtle or devious to engage for long.


Let’s turn now to the War on Cancer. A global network of private laboratories, drug companies, university departments and foundations have been focused for decades on finding a magic bullet or armoury of weapons that will supposedly destroy this cellular scourge once and for all. Like many other public policy wars, it has shown only incremental wins, as cancer rates continue to climb in industrialized countries. However, the war has also generated massive profits for the pharmaceutical-industrial complex and helped create a planetary gulag for rats, cats, pigs, monkeys, apes and other laboratory animals.

Scientists know cancer is largely a lifestyle disease, with genomic triggers in the environment. Many of its forms are associated with diet, stress, environmental toxins and radiation. Yet relatively little money has gone into preventative health measures; such investment in funds and public policy would soon collide with powerful industrial interests. This particular war, along with the feel-good “Pink Ribbon” and “Fuck Cancer” campaigns, can never succeed because the ends and means are completely backwards. We will never defeat cancer by staging after-the-fact attacks on an environmental symptom or by promoting think-positive bumpf for its victims. We will only reduce its cellular dominion by reaching peace with the planet – and that means defying the holy scripture of the balance sheet.


“War! What is it good for?” Unfortunately, Edwin Starr was dead wrong with his musical response: “Absolutely nothing!” It appears many modern wars are never meant to reach any definitive conclusion, if we go by the statements of political leaders and military commanders. In 2007, Senator John McCain said US forces might be in Iraq for “a hundred years.” Canada’s defence minister in 2006, Gordon O’Connor, observed, “It is impossible to defeat the Taliban militarily” in Afghanistan, a line echoed by British Brig.-Gen. Mark Carleton-Smith, who told the Daily Mail that an “absolute military victory in Afghanistan is impossible.” Canada’s former Chief of the Defence Staff General Rick Hillier was even more explicit in a statement reported in the Toronto Star in 2006: “That’s never been the strategy – to defeat them [the Taliban] militarily.”

In 1991, two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Washington policy journal Foreign Affairs quoted Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “I’m running out of demons, I’m running out of villains. I’m down to Castro and Kim Il Sung.” Ten years later, the War on Terror would tap a new pipeline of endlessly renewable enemies.

Both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars have outlasted World War II in length and the talk of troop withdrawal by the US and Canada often fails to mention that private security forces have outnumbered the coalition’s armed forces for years and will continue to do so. The Global War on Terror – rebranded by the Pentagon in 2009 as “Overseas Contingency Operations” – is moving on under President Obama, “one of the most militarily aggressive American leaders in decades,” according to the New York Times. The winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize has presided over drone attacks in at least six countries, and has added four undeclared wars to his predecessor’s record: Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

As George Orwell wrote in his novel 1984, “In accordance with the principles of double-think, it does not matter if the war is not real. For when it is, victory is not possible. The war is not meant to be won, but it is meant to be continuous.” In the spirit of 1984’s Newspeak, there is no “Ministry of War” in AngloAmerican nations, only a “Department of Defence.”

War is the dark side of economist Joseph Schumpeter’s sunny vision of capitalism’s “creative destruction.” It is a cross-generational, mass spiritual affliction with its roots in the material world of energy and resources. It is, to put it in simpler terms, business conducted by other means. That was true long before George Bush Sr.’s Gulf War and his son’s “Shock and Awe” sequel. In 1933, US general Smedley Butler reminisced how he had spent 33 years in active military service as a member of America’s “most agile military force,” the Marine Corps. “I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”


When Lewis Carroll wrote, “Tweedledum and Tweedledee agreed to have a battle,” he was telling us mortal enemies are codependent; they need one another to define themselves. Zen philosopher Alan Watts connected this to the “game of black and white,” his description for a comic book worldview we learn at a young age. As we grow into adulthood, most of us learn the world is mostly a complicated spectrum of greys. Others remain stuck in the game of black and white their entire lives and some of them are rewarded handsomely for promoting this Manichean worldview.

Like the Great Oz, The War on Everything offers the audience impressive theatrical façades, even though behind the curtains it’s mostly timid technocrats, working the gears and pulleys for society’s plutocrats. Hypnotized by the brilliant spectacle, the Munchkins – young men and women – are forever marching off to battle under suspect banners. Most have no inkling the War on Everything is rarely about anticipated peace. It’s usually about indefinite conflict.

Words shape the reality we perceive and their thoughtful use can go a long way towards breaking what visionary poet William Blake called “mind-forged manacles.” Or as the old sixties expression put it, “Free your mind and your ass will follow.” We can start by rejecting war as a verbal placeholder for policy initiatives, while verbally declaring peace on people, places and things – starting with our very own hearts and minds. Perhaps the day will come when we can celebrate a final victory over war itself.


iphoto © Gavril Margittai

What peace means to me

Global Elders’ mission is to aid humanity

by Lorraine Sims •

Despite all of the ghastliness in the world, human beings are made for goodness. The ones that are held in high regard are not militarily powerful, nor even economically prosperous. They have a commitment to try and make the world a better place. – – Desmond Tutu

In 1999, Peter Gabriel had a brilliant idea. Yes, Peter Gabriel, former lead singer for the rock band Genesis.

A boy wearing a tshirt which reads "it will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber

It occurred to Peter that, in traditional societies – North American First Nations, African indigenous peoples, Pacific Islands’ natives – the people had village elders to resolve conflict and to guide the people forward. Now that we live in a global village, we also need our global elders to resolve conflict and guide the people forward. Peter took his stroke of genius to his friend Richard Branson who supported Peter in bringing life to the idea. They approached Nelson Mandela to head the organization, which became known as The Elders.This global initiative began in 2007 with a group of senior statespeople from around the world, whose purpose is to seek new approaches to global issues, bring an end to human suffering and bring hope and wisdom back into the world.

The following are some excerpts from the speech by Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, at the announcement of The Elders, Johannesburg, South Africa, July 18, 2007:

“In traditional societies, it was the Elders of the village who were trusted to resolve conflict and provide wise guidance. Today, we live in a global village, yet we don’t have our global elders to lead and inspire.

I am very humbled and honoured to announce a new initiative to provide much-needed global leadership: The Elders, an effort led by the esteemed group of leaders who meet here today.

This group, dear friends, is one that has an understanding of the essential interdependence of all of us human beings.

It is a beginning and we look for a glorious tomorrow when we will discover that we are actually members of one family, the human family, God’s family. It is ultimately the goodness, and laughter, and joy and caring and compassion – those are what we want to convey in the end.”

Never before has such a powerful group of leaders come together, free from political, economic or military pressures. The only agenda of The Elders is that of humanity. And their only purpose is to ease human suffering in three essential areas:

  1. Offering a catalyst for the peaceful resolution of conflict.
  2. Seeking new approaches to seemingly intractable global issues.
  3. Sharing wisdom: reaching out to the next generation of leaders. Listening worldwide.

Chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Elders include:

  • Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa, now Honorary Elder.
  • Desmond Tutu, former Archbishop of South Africa.
  • Graca Machel, International advocate for women’s and children’s rights, former freedmon fighter, and first Education Minister of Mozambique.
  • Mary Robinson, former Prime Minister of Ireland and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
  • Martti, former President of Finland, Nobel Laureate, Peace Negotiator.
  • Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Nobel Peace Laureate, Initiator of the U.N. Millennium Goals.
  • Ela Bhatt, Founder, Self Employed Women’s Association, Founder of India’s first Women’s Bank, Member of Parliament.
  • Lakhdar Brahimi, former Algerian freedom fighter, U.N. Diplomat, Peace Negotiator
  • Gro Brundtland, former President of Norway.
  • Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States, Nobel Peace Laureate.
  • Fernando H. Cardoso, former President of Brazil.
  • Aung San Sui Kyi, Burmese pro-democracy activist. An honorary seat was held for Sui Kyi while she was held under house arrest for 20 years.

Since its inception, Kofi Annan and Sui Kyi have taken a leave of absence, in order to fulfill other national and international duties

The Elders’ beliefs

  • The Elders represent an independent voice, not bound by the interests of any nation, government or institution.
  • The Elders are committed to promoting the shared interests of humanity, and the universal human rights we all share.
  • They believe that in any conflict, it is important to listen to everyone – no matter how unpalatable or unpopular this may be.
  • They aim to act boldly, speaking difficult truths and tackling taboos.
  • They don’t claim to have all the answers, and stress that every individual can make a difference and create positive change in their society.

To learn more about this inspiring group, please visit www.theelders.org

Lorraine Sims is a Vancouver-based activist, writer and leadership coach. She is currently writing a book about how each of us can contribute to world peace. www.lorrainesims.com


Peace then and now

This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness. – Dalai Lama

When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace. – Jimi Hendrix

Be the peace you want to see in the world. – Mahatma Gandhi

Get active in creating peace

by Dheera Nithyananda

All the best teachings from business, sports and spirituality tell us to “be proactive” in creating the future we want and not to slip into idleness or laziness in our creativity. Keeping focused on proactivity is how Richard Branson, Michael Jordan and the Dalai Lama have shaped their worlds. We can do the same.

Common Ground’s entire history is about keeping the flame of dynamic future thinking and action in full force and this initiative is no exception.

Join the Walk for Peace and shape your world into greater peace.

Another initiative with the same focus is Minute 4 Peace. We can each spare a minute or more of meditation for peace each day and when we do, the research shows us that violent crime rates drop.

Each minute of meditation reduces violent crime cost by $0.20. The website www.minute4peace.org tracks your contributions, and since starting a month ago has recorded 10 million minutes from people in over 50 countries, reducing crime by 1,500 violent crimes. Please join us as we aim for seven billion minutes, one for each person on the planet, by 12.12.12.

Dheera Nithyananda is the first person to lead expeditions to the three extremes: Everest and the North and South Poles. He teaches leadership and meditation.

crowd on bridge

Photographing Peace

by Myriam Dinim

I dedicate my photographs and this writing to June Black, who for years stood in front of the library in downtown Vancouver, on behalf of peace, collecting signatures to stop the Vietnam War.

My involvement with the peace movement really started when I met Joseph Roberts. Our life as a duo was made all the more powerful by the simple fact we were anti-nuclear and peace activists together. kid on balcony with peace flag

In 1981 we participated in the Anti Nuclear Day of Protest, Choose Survival that only drew a small crowd, may be 200 or 300. Next year in 1982, with the prior organizers no longer around, we took a new, positive approach. To inspire more Vancouverites to join, we needed to move beyond the anger associated with protesting. We worked with our friend Rick Testa, a brilliant copywriter, to find the best words for our fresh movement, and birthed the name Walk for Peace. What a delight when 35,000 people gathered at Kits Beach in front of our house in 1982 to walk from Kits over Burrard Street Bridge to Sunset Beach where a stage full of musicians and speakers inspired us all!

Many meetings happened in our living room and most of us sat on the floor, with a few chairs for the elders among us. I produced a newsletter at my dining room table and most of our networking to get people involved took place on one phone: our home phone, there were no cell phones or internet then. Interviews with the French network were done by phone or in my backyard at Cornwall and Yew, sometimes while breastfeeding my baby.

Rafe Mair once interviewed my daughter who was nine years old at the time and he was amazed at how she handled his questions.

It felt good to raise awareness and to educate ourselves through meeting people like Sister Rosalie Bertell and Dr. Helen Caldicott. Ask anybody who did the first few walks from 1982 to 1984 and they will have their own special stories.

So come and join us on Saturday, June 30th in Kitsilano to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Walk for Peace. Guaranteed you will have your own stories to tell the next generation.

Note: Myriam Dinim supplied most of the photo for this special walk for Peace edition.

peace marchers

Military spending at highest levels since WWII

There are now plans to expand Canadian military bases around the world. And the military is fast becoming a central thread in the fabric of society. We need to stop this new Canadian militarism.

The Canada First Defence Strategy is the Conservatives’ blueprint for military spending, which already totals $480 billion. But some costs are already way over budget, including the proposed purchase of F35 fighter jets and the construction of new Canadian warships. This could push military spending over half a trillion dollars.

veterans for peace
Veterans Against Nuclear Arms at Walk for Peace

Spending money on weapons will not create security. Real security is only possible when the people of the world can meet their basic needs.

Sadly, the Conservatives are increasing funding for things we need the least, while decreasing funding for the things we need the most.

Prime Minister Harper plans to expand the reach of Canadian forces overseas. Canada already has agreements to establish bases in Jamaica, Kuwait and Germany.

It is planning bases for Singapore, South Korea, Senegal, Kenya and Tanzania.

This expansion would give Mr. Harper the power to embroil Canada in the affairs of sovereign states and would redefine Canada as an aggressive military power.

The new Canadian militarism also includes dramatically raising the military’s profile in more aspects of Canadian life. In the last few years, Canada Day celebrations have been dominated by military displays and recruitment drives.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada has agreed that all citizenship ceremonies must include a military speaker, in order to promote military service as the highest form of citizenship.

The new citizenship handbook, Discover Canada, emphasizes Canada’s involvement in wars abroad and heaps praise on the country’s military history.

We believe that money earmarked for military spending must be reallocated to social and environmental programs: to protect jobs and pensions, preserve public healthcare and education and create a green economy. We oppose any attempts by the government to expand Canadian militarism abroad or to entrench it in Canadian society.

Adapted from a Declaration of the Canadian Peace Alliance (cpa@web.ca) Reprinted from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom newsletter Peace Lines, March 2012. WILPF was founded in 1915, The Hague.

The Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal

Here are a few of the principles in the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal adopted by the International Law Commission of the United Nations, 1950. You can see why certain heads of state have chosen to pretend that International Law does not pertain to them:

Principle III The fact that a person who committed an act which constitutes a crime under international law acted as Head of State or responsible Government official does not relieve him from responsibility under international law.

Principle IV The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.

Principle V Any person charged with a crime under international law has the right to a fair trial on the facts and law.

Crimes Against Peace: Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances; Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned …


Food matters

globe and green apples isolated on white

Take a seat at the big table

by David Tracey

• Food is a delight, a wonder, a blessing, a need and a problem as big as the world. One billion people don’t have enough to eat, according to the UN World Food Programme, and hunger kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. At the same time, another one billion people are eating too much so we now have a global epidemic in obesity.

You don’t have to look around the globe to find a broken food system. Here at home, 900,000 Canadians must visit food banks every month just to get by. When the United Nations’ leading food expert visited last month to report on how food issues affect people even in a country like Canada, the government response was stunning. Rather than thank Olivier De Schutter for pointing out some major problems and recommending a national right-to-food plan, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq called him “ill informed and patronizing” because he didn’t know the real food issue in northern Canada was “fighting environmentalists.”

What to do? Plant the seeds of a brighter food future. Here’s the good thing about food politics: just as it affects everyone, everyone has a role in making it better. It takes a big table when you invite people together to talk about food. Farmers, nutritionists, activists, teachers, producers, distributors, recyclers and others are joining together in communities throughout North America to discuss alternatives to the industrial food system.

Their efforts typically target local issues, which is as it should be, but because many of our food system problems are the result of institutional forces making decisions far from our own neighbourhoods, it’s vital that local groups combine their efforts and work together. Here in BC, we have the BC Food Systems Network which holds its 2012 Gathering July 5-8 on Gambier Island (open to all). The BCFSN is a province-wide grassroots organization bringing people from diverse areas and backgrounds together to share knowledge, strategies, success stories and, of course, food.

The Gathering, held every year since 1999, is like a family reunion that turns up relatives you never knew you had. Even those immersed in the struggle for food democracy can be surprised and energized to see the depth and breadth of work going on throughout the province.

Because the network operates on the principle that we – meaning all of us – are the experts, the Gathering is not a convention of celebrity speakers and corporate sponsors. Instead, members share what they’re doing and what they’ve learned. This could be through seed-saving workshops, discussions on creating community gardens and round-table talks on best strategies for non-profit groups to attract donors.

With a federal government showing all the smarts of a schoolyard bully and growing pressures from the food industry – did you hear about the application to sell a GMO apple or the BC government’s move to make it illegal to even talk about reportable diseases in animals destined for human consumption? – the theme for this year’s Gathering couldn’t be more timely: “Reclaiming Our Food System: Policy and Practice.” For more information on the Gathering, visit the BCFSN website at fooddemocracy.org.

David Tracey is the author of several books including Urban Agriculture: Ideas and Designs for the New Food Revolution. He is on the board of the BC Food Systems Network.

9/11: Have we been bamboozled?

by Jim Fetzer

• Here are four stories that didn’t make the mainstream news. They range from some you will find easy to believe to some you’ll find incredible.

If you want to know more about the fabrication of 9/11 and you’re tired of the lies we’ve been told or want new independent information, you’ll want to attend The Vancouver Hearings, June 15-17 at the Denman Theatre, 1737 Comox Street in Vancouver.

Story 1: The “collapse” that wasn’t a collapse

collapsing towers

Videos show Flight 175 completely entering the South Tower before it explodes, when that should have happened on contact. Would you believe that Pilots for 9/11 Truth has studied air/ground communications and discovered that Flight 175 was in the air but over Pittsburgh at the time?

http://pilotsfor911truth.org/ ACARS-CONFIRMED-911-AIRCRAFT-AIRBORNE-LONG-AFTER-CRASH.html

Did you know the fires in the towers did not burn hot enough nor long enough to cause steel to weaken, much less melt? Have you noticed those buildings are blowing apart in every direction rather than falling to the ground – that they did not collapse?

http://jamesfetzer.blogspot.com/2010 /02/new-911-photos-released.htm

Story 2: The first death of Saddam Hussein

How about the hanging of Saddam Hussein? You probably saw it on television. It was widely broadcast at the time. But Saddam Hussein, his two sons and about 60 members of his general staff were killed on April 7, 2003.saddam hussein


Chris Wachter, a B-1 bomber pilot, took them out with 2 JDAM bombs at a restaurant on the outskirts of Baghdad. He was lionized when he returned to his base, put on CNN, awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and honoured by The Rev. Robert Schiller at The Crystal Cathedral on May 25, 2003.


The following day, he was flown back to Langley, VA, home of the CIA, and told that, while they admired his flying skill, “officially,” Saddam had gotten away. Killing the leader of a foreign nation had been made illegal by executive orders from three presidents: Reagan, Carter and Ford. So they put one of his doubles in a spider hole, “found him” and then tried him and hung him on December 30, 2006. Almost no one noticed the difference.

Story 3: The second death of Osama bin Laden

Everyone knows that Barack Obama took out Osama bin Laden during that daring raid on his compound in Pakistan, right? There was a famous photograph of Obama, Biden and Hillary watching as it went down.


However, Leon Panetta, Director of the CIA, explained there had been no coverage for the first 20-25 minutes and these assaults only take five minutes or less. Osama bin Laden actually died of medical complications on December 15, 2001 and was buried in an unmarked grave.

Scholars for 9/11 Truth published editorial about it. David Ray Griffin wrote a book on it, Osama Bin Laden: Dead or Alive? Nicholas Kollerstrom wrote his article, “Osama bin Laden: 1957-2001.”

http://jamesfetzer.blogspot.com/ 2011 /05/osama-bin-laden-1957-2001.html

Story 4: What didn’t happen at the Pentagon

The official account claims a Boeing 757 hit the Pentagon, but there’s no massive pile of debris, no wings, no tail, bodies, seats or luggage. Not even its massive engines were recovered from the building even though they are virtually indestructible – they weren’t there.real aeroplane superimposed over photo


The plane is supposed to have skimmed the ground at 500 mph and taken out a series of lampposts en route to its target. But “ground effect” makes that impossible and those lampposts would have ripped off the wing and exploded the jet fuel stored inside it.

It didn’t happen. And the only photo the Pentagon has provided shows a plane that is far too small to have been Flight 77.

Jim Fetzer is a former Marine Corps officer, the founder of Scholars for 9/11 Truth and a journalist for Veterans Today. He has written dozens of articles on subjects like 9/11 and JFK.


Speak out on June 4


Portrait of David Suzuki• Canada would be a different place without our 80,000 registered charities dedicated to everything from health to economic policy to the environment. Recent efforts by the federal government and its backers in media and industry front groups like Ethical Oil to demonize and silence legitimate organizations ignore the important role charities play in Canada. That’s why environmental and other organizations are joining with Canadians for “Black Out Speak Out” (blackoutspeakout.ca or silenceonparle.ca en), launched on May 7 and culminating in a website blackout June 4.

Canadians understand the value of charitable organizations. Close to 85 percent of us over 15 years of age donate to charities every year. Often, it’s to help people in other parts of the world. According to Charity Village, Canadians gave $20 million… within four days of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. For supporting worthy causes, Canadians are entitled to a small tax break.

Canadians also know our spectacular natural environment is crucial to our national identity, health, and survival and that we can’t always count on governments and industry to look out for its interests. And so they give their time, money and voices… The David Suzuki Foundation relies on Canadians for close to 94 percent of its funding. Canadians also expect transparency and results, which is why our funding and spending information is public.

With the help of many Canadians, we’ve enjoyed many successes… [so] we’re astounded by the increasing efforts to stifle so many people and organizations that devote countless hours to ensuring that Canada remains a stellar example of an open and democratic country with strong social values and a clean and healthy environment.

If we are committed to these ideals, it follows we should also value freedom of speech on matters of national interest. It’s fair to place limits on the extent and types of work organizations with charitable status can do. It’s fair to ask questions about donations and what, if any, influence they may have on activities. But it is unacceptable to try to silence people with smear tactics designed to discredit them and deny their funding.

If our leaders want to pin all their hopes and our future on a twinned pipeline through Alberta and BC to ship raw tar sands bitumen to China, then Canadians at least deserve a proper conversation about it. We’ve seen recent signs of hope, with the Alberta government calling for a national energy strategy, for example, and with people in the media and elsewhere questioning the wisdom of employing an omnibus budget act to gut environmental laws and attack charitable organizations.

With continued suppression of those who speak out about the environment and women’s and human rights, along with muzzling government scientists and cuts to government scientific and environmental programs and departments, it’s clear we’re facing a growing campaign, in part backed by industrial interests, to silence opposition.

We expect and deserve better. That’s why we’re speaking out. Silence is not an option. We’re asking all Canadians to join us to help preserve two core national values: nature and democracy. Let’s keep Canada strong and free. Please visit the websites of your favourite environmental organizations on June 4 to add your voice.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation editorial and communications specialist Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org


The Food Fight of Our Lives

A photoshopped image of a green and red pear, sliced open to reveal the centre of an orange

Millions Against Monsanto

by Ronnie Cummins

• Finally, public opinion around the biotech industry’s contamination of our food supply and destruction of our environment has reached the tipping point. We’re fighting back.

“If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it.” – Norman Braksick, president of Asgrow Seed Co., Monsanto subsidiary, Kansas City Star, March 7, 1994

“Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.” – Phil Angell, Monsanto communication director, New York Times, October 25, 1998

For nearly two decades, Monsanto and corporate agribusiness have exercised near-dictatorial control over American agriculture, aided and abetted by indentured politicians and regulatory agencies, supermarket chains, and giant food processors.

This November, in a food fight that will largely determine the future of what we eat and what we grow, Monsanto will face its greatest challenge to date: a statewide citizens’ ballot initiative that will give Californians the opportunity to vote for their right to know whether the food they buy has GMOs.

A growing corps of food, health, and environmental activists – supported by the Millions against Monsanto and Occupy Monsanto Movements, and consumers and farmers across the nation – are boldly moving to implement mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods in California through a grassroots-powered citizens ballot initiative process that will bypass the agribusiness-dominated state legislature.

Passage of this initiative on November 6 will radically alter the balance of power in the marketplace, enabling millions of consumers to identify – and boycott – genetically engineered foods for the first time since 1994, when Monsanto’s first unlabeled, genetically-engineered dairy drug, recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), was forced on the US market,

This is not the first time Monsanto has been challenged by citizens’ initiatives or state and local legislative efforts. But this time, the momentum is in our favor.

In the past, GMO “right-to-know” activists have been outmaneuvered and outgunned by Monsanto and its minions in every state, except Vermont and Connecticut, where passing a labeling bill is still, at least theoretically, a long-shot. Monsanto recently threatened to sue the state of Vermont if legislators there pass a GMO labeling bill.

Efforts to pass GMO labeling laws at the federal level have gone nowhere, despite the fact that more than one million consumers have emailed “Just Label It” petitions to the FDA, demanding mandatory labeling. The FDA counted only 394 of the signatures claiming that the main petition was submitted as a single document, or docket, and therefore counted as only one signature.

The battle has been raging for decades. But this time, it’s different.

Behind this historic California initiative is a broad, growing and powerful health, environmental, and consumer coalition, which includes the Organic Consumers Association, Organic Consumers Fund, Food Democracy Now!, Mercola.com, Nature’s Path, Lundberg Family Farms, LabelGMOs.org, Eden Foods, Alliance for Natural Health, Dr. Bronner’s, United Farm Workers Union, American Public Health Association, Cornucopia Institute, Institute for Responsible Technology, Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network, California Certified Organic Farmers, and scores of others.

This time, the industry faces informed – and alarmed – consumers who understand the danger of allowing out-of-control chemical and biotech companies like Monsanto, Dow, or Dupont – the very same corporations that have assaulted us with toxic pesticides and industrial chemicals, Agent Orange, carcinogenic food additives, PCBs, and now global warming – to dictate their food choices.

Why has it taken so long to get this far? How have Monsanto and its cohorts been able to grow and maintain market supremacy while force-feeding unlabeled “Frankenfoods” to the public for decades? By buying off politicians, bullying farmers and scientists, and keeping consumers in the dark.

Monsanto has sued over 150 farmers across the US and Canada (see Percy Schmeiser vs Monsanto, January 2004, Common Ground) and threatened thousands of others, for refusing to pay for “intellectual property theft” after their fields were contaminated by Monsanto’s patented genetically engineered crops.

The company has harassed and used the media to bully scientists who have exposed the public health and environmental hazards of genetically engineered foods and crops in the United States, Canada, Latin America, and Europe. The renowned scientist Dr. Arpad Pusztai from the UK, was pressured and discredited for reporting on the dangers of genetic engineering until he was eventually fired from his job. The same thing happened to the UK’s Environmental Minister, Michael Meacher.

In a number of other cases, scientists such as Ignacio Chapela, have received death threats. Chapela also said he received death threats to his children from “a high government official” in Mexico after he showed contamination of native corn with Monsanto’s GMOs. Other scientists, most notably Andres Carrasco from Argentina, have been assaulted by thugs. Monsanto has even hired the notorious Blackwater mercenaries to spy on its opponents worldwide.

Why has Monsanto gone to such great lengths to thwart GMO labeling laws and initiatives? Because it understands the threat that truth-in-labeling poses for GMOs – and biotech industry profits. As soon as genetically engineered foods are labeled in the U.S., millions of consumers will read these labels and react. They’ll complain to grocery store managers and companies, they’ll talk to their family and friends. They’ll switch to foods that are organic or at least GMO-free. Once enough consumers complain about GE foods and food ingredients, stores will eventually stop selling them.  Farmers will stop planting them.

In Europe, there are almost no genetically engineered crops, while here nearly 75% of all supermarket foods are GE-tainted.  Why?  Because Europe requires labeling of genetically engineered foods – and the US does not.

This is exactly why activists have launched the California Ballot Initiative. Passing mandatory GMO food labeling in just one large state, California, the eighth largest economy in the world, where there is tremendous opposition to GE foods as well as a multi-billion dollar organic food industry, will ultimately have the same impact as a national labeling law.

Once food manufacturers and supermarkets are forced to come clean and label genetically engineered products, they will likely remove all GE ingredients, to avoid the “skull and crossbones” effect, just like the food industry in the EU has done. In the wake of this development American farmers will convert millions of acres of GE crops to non-GMO or organic varieties.

Monsanto, the Farm Bureau, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association – under the guise of its front group, the so-called Coalition Against the Costly Food Law – are building up a massive war chest up to battle the California Ballot Initiative. They will literally spend millions to spread lies and disinformation that GMO foods and crops are perfectly safe – and that we need more, not less GMO food and biofuel crops in this era of climate change and growing population.

They will lie and say that GMO labels will be costly to the food industry and raise food prices. They will say that it is the job of the FDA to decide whether GMOs are labeled, not the states. Yet we already know that this battle will never be won in Washington DC, where Monsanto and Food Inc. lobbyists have politicians in their back pockets. It will only be won in places like California (or Vermont), vital centers of organic food and farming and anti-GMO sentiment, where 90% of the body politic, according to recent polls, support mandatory labeling.

It’s time to take back control over our food and farming system. It’s time to stand up to Monsanto and the Biotech Bullies.

Ronnie Cummins founded the Organic Consumers Association and wrote Genetically Engineered Food: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers. You can help by contacting organicconsumersfund.org

This little piggy will be GMO-free

A friendly pig in a sign that reads GM Free! Thanks to you and me.

by Lucy Sharratt

• After more than10 years, active research into the genetically modified (GM or genetically engineered) pig called “Enviropig” is being abandoned. In late March, the hog industry group Ontario Pork decided to stop funding GM pig research at the University of Guelph and the university is now closing down its active research and ending its breeding program of GM pigs.

Scientists at the university began their research in 1995. In 1999, a team of three researchers in molecular and cellular biology, led by Dr. Cecil Forsberg, named their first GM pig “Wayne.” The university patented the technology in Canada, the US and China.

In a surprising announcement, Dr. Forsberg told the New York Times on April 3, “I had the feeling in seven or eight or nine years that transgenic animals probably would be acceptable. But I was wrong.” He added, “It’s time to stop the program until the rest of the world catches up.” Nonetheless, the GM pig is technologically irrelevant as well as socially unacceptable and is therefore unlikely to ever be commercially attractive. The pig was engineered with genetic material from a mouse and E-coli bacteria to produce less phosphorus in its feces. It could have become the first GM food animal in the world, but it was never needed and it was always controversial. Consumer backlash threatened the domestic and international markets for Canadian pork and with public awareness intensifying in Canada, Ontario Pork decided to remove its support.

The GM pig is an example of how genetic engineering is applied to solve problems that already have one or more solutions. There have always been many solutions to the problem of excessive waste from large hog farms. In addition to structural changes, there is the simple technological fix of a feed supplement that does exactly what the so-called “Enviropig” promised to do. The hog feed supplement (phytase) has increased in effectiveness over the years and is cost-neutral for farmers. Manitoba hog producers are using the supplement and manure management practices to meet new provincial phosphorus pollution regulations.

The University of Guelph never had a public mandate to bring the GM pig to market. Yet even in the face of deep social conflict over GM food animals and dubious commercial prospects, public funds were used to develop the GM pig and support the goal of commercialization. Additionally, public resources at Health Canada were spent reviewing the safety of this GM animal that no one wanted. In fact, the university has yet to officially withdraw its requests for approval from Health Canada and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

When the university decided to seek commercial interest in the GM pig, it stepped outside the traditional boundaries of university research and became a commercial actor in the biotech industry. The university became engaged in the global social conflict over genetic engineering. It also became party to secret decision-making about GM foods in Canada. By requesting approval from Health Canada, the university became a participant in our secret regulatory system. When the university asked Canadian regulators to assess the safety of the GM pig, it accepted a system that classified its data as “Confidential Business Information” and rather than releasing this information to the public, the university accepted this secrecy as legitimate.

The hard reality now is the 16 GM pigs housed at the university need to be euthanized and incinerated under careful biosafety procedures. This is a necessary step to ensure the end of “Enviropig.” The university will send the genetics for storage and as “sole owner and researcher,” it says it will “continue to have the responsibility to make appropriate decisions regarding future use of the technology.” This means the genes will stay on the shelf at a federal government facility in Saskatoon until the university decides otherwise. The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network is asking the university to withdraw its applications for approval from Health Canada and the US FDA in order to finally leave the GM pig at rest.

Despite the demise of “Enviropig,” the first GM food animal could still be introduced because the small US company AquaBounty is seeking approval for its fast-growing GM Atlantic salmon. All polls show consumers do not want GM fish and the aquaculture industry itself says there is no market for it. However, the lack of democracy in genetic engineering means unwanted GM experiments can still be approved.

GM animals are neither commercially viable nor socially acceptable and yet they may still be released into our food system because there is no public participation or debate. There is no gatekeeper between the University of Guelph or AquaBounty and Health Canada. At the moment, there is no public arbitrator to intervene to stop GM food animals. There is only public protest. Find out more at www.cban.ca

Lucy Sharratt is the coordinator for the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) www.cban.ca

Smart meter’s top-down agenda

A photograph of a so-called smart meter

by Josh Del Sol

• In the technetronic society, the trend seems to be toward aggregating the individual support of millions of unorganized citizens, who are easily within the reach of magnetic and attractive personalities, and effectively exploiting the latest communication techniques to manipulate emotions and control reason. – Zbigniew Brzezinski, Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era (1970).

When Barack Obama was just a toddler, Zbigniew Brzezinski was envisioning the day of making just such a technetronic “smart” society.

Fast-forward to 2012 and what we’re seeing is a so-called “smart” grid being forced upon an unwilling, but awakening population. This issue is unfolding with great grassroots notoriety here, as part of BC Hydro’s “smart metering” program, and unfurled simultaneously around the world.

If the people of BC and around the world allow the installation of the smart grid, democracy will fall. Tens of thousands of people in BC alone, and millions globally, are waking up to the deceit of this global agenda.

BC Hydro has recently recalled 1,000 smart meters due to their not functioning. Hundreds of thousands of BC citizens have now received Hydro bills anywhere from 30 to 1000 percent higher, following smart meter installation – increases with no real justification. It now appears possible that none of these meters measure accurately. One scenario will be a complete recall of smart meters across the province, if public outcry continues to grow.

According to BC Hydro’s figures, our cost of each smart meter in BC is approximately $555. In Quebec, where citizens now officially have a free opt-out option, the cost is $263.16 – less than half our amount. In Ontario, it is $232.56. In many US states, the cost is less than $200 per meter, including in Idaho, where no meters transmit wirelessly.

BC hydro awarded a multi-million dollar contract for smart meter installation to US multi-national giant Corix. David Emerson joined CAI (private equity) in 2008 as a senior advisor, with Corix in its “portfolio.” This is the same David Emerson who defected in 2006 to Stephen Harper’s government from the Liberals (previously Minister of Foreign Affairs) to become Minister of International Trade. Follow the dots. Would this be a conflict of interest? Emerson was executive chair of BC Transmissions Corp, chair of the BC premier’s advisory council, co-chair of the Alberta premier’s council, co-chair of the prime minister’s advisory committee. In the BC government, Emerson was the Deputy Minister of Finance, Deputy Minister to the Premier, and President of the British Columbia Trade Development Corporation. Emerson privately was CEO of Canfor Corporation, CEO of Vancouver International Airport Authority and Chairman of Canadian Western Bank. He is either extremely talented or well appointed.

In March’s Wired magazine, current CIA director David Patraeus admitted governments plan to spy on citizens through their “smart” appliances and we’ll be forced to re-think “our notions of identity and secrecy… Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters – all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost and high-power computing.”

Via the US Freedom of Information Act, researcher Angel De Fazio obtained documentation showing a $298 million grant for smart meter deployment in Nevada. One funding source was the “US Armed Forces Research and Development Projects.” The US has acknowledged its research programs around microwave radio frequency radiation and its effects on the human body and mind.

In a California lawsuit, Pacific Gas & Electric had to supply information on how frequently each smart meter transmits wirelessly. The average meter pulses 14,000 times per day, each for 4.5 milliseconds – every six seconds. Some meters pulse up to 190,000 times per day, or twice per second. Utility companies are fond of using a cumulative total (i.e.“60 seconds per day”) rather than admitting the constant emissions. These totals do not include the emissions from each wireless “smart” appliance the grid will require of us in the future, creating a veritable soup of electromagnetic radiation that the WHO calls a “class 2B potential carcinogen.”

Health concerns have led the American Academy of Environmental Medicine and the Austrian Medical Association to publicly call the immediate ban of the smart metering program.

Most smart meters in BC are not yet actively transmitting; most meters are still being read manually, which means we still have time to recall the entire smart metering program in BC.

BC Hydro has stated, “We will not force you to have a smart meter.” However, it has failed to inform us we have a choice. An estimated 30,000 British Columbians have, on their own accord, notified Hydro of their non-consent (though Hydro’s public figures may still be lower) and installation has been delayed for most. Mail BC Hydro your letter of non-consent. See the templates at CitizensForSafeTechnology.org. If a smart meter has already been forced on you, you can demand to have it replaced.

For more information, see Take Back Your Power, ThePowerFilm.org

Constellation Kardashian

A giant ball on the road, it's surface covered with television screens showing different channels.

Star phenomena? People aren’t looking up at the sky – they’re tracking celebrities

• by Geoff Olson

There’s a great jpeg floating around the Internet that shows the star systems within range of Earth’s radio and television broadcasts. Aldebaran, a red giant, located about 65 light years away, is in the range of President Roosevelt’s first televised speech. Mu Arae, a main sequence G-type star like our Sun, is about 50 light years away and would now be getting The Twilight Zone, Bonanza and Leave it to Beaver.

Beta Aquilae is within broadcast distance of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. The fab four are already old news to Zeta Reticuli, which recently got the Apollo moon landing. Chi Draconis would be getting The Dukes of Hazzard. Altair would have Entertainment Tonight, Cops and – unfortunately for any intelligent life – The Arsenio Hall Show. Wolf 359 just picked up Janet Jackson’s 2004 Superbowl “wardrobe malfunction.” Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to Earth, would have the full media menu, starting backwards with the sitcom The Big Bang Theory.

If there is any intelligent life around this binary star system, the ETs may soon come to the conclusion that a slinky creature called “Kim Kardashian” rules our planet along with her sisters. Because right now, it sure seems that way.

On Earth, we have full-spectrum saturation by the Kardashians. It seems you cannot surf the web or turn on the tube without encountering something about the talent-free socialite and her equally unremarkable siblings. I’ve set my homepage to Yahoo.com because that’s where my email account resides, and bodacious Kim is always there in some lifestyle update. I channel-surf and there she is with a sister, on their own reality TV show. I go to the supermarket and there she is again at the checkout stand magazine rack. I go to the local recreation centre for a workout and citrus-tanned Kim is there too, on the cover of one of the magazines left for gym patrons. And now here she is in Common Ground magazine – and I’m responsible. The horror.

The daughter of celebrity lawyer Robert Kardashian, big-breasted Kim first hit public consciousness in 2007 through a sex video co-starring her friend-with-benefits, the rapper Ray J. She leveraged this Internet notoriety into tabloid sovereignty, dragging her sisters behind her like Louis Vuitton bags to the top of the Twitterverse. The pneumatic 31-year-old is like a William Gibson science fiction short story gone viral, although she undoubtedly prefers the Wikipedia entry, “American socialite, television personality, model, actress and businesswoman.”

Kim’s career-lite arc was foreshadowed in the rise of Paris Hilton, who also leapt from sex video amateur to international celebrity without ever bumping into a script, teleprompter or catwalk along the way. Wikipedia informs me it was Paris herself who introduced Kim to the global socialite scene. If the Hilton daughter was H1N1, a pandemic that was more likely to make people giggle than sniffle, then the daughter of O.J. Simpson’s defence lawyer is weaponized Ebola: a level 4 biohazard that has zombified great swaths of media, both online and off.

The 24/7 “Kimformation” feeds on itself, in a perpetual motion machine of glossy pics, jpegs and witless gossip. No one, online or off, can seem to get a fix on how real or fake Kim is, beyond her admission of Botox use. Bloggers parse recent and past photos to determine how much reconstruction has been done. The question of fake/real can get a bit Byzantine. How much is a genetic factor and how much is Max Factor? Or even the surgeon’s scalpel? At some point, the gossip about Kim’s face and body shades into straight-on epistemology.

In June 2010, The Guardian noted Kim’s ability to attract payments of up to US$10,000 from sponsors for each tweet that she broadcasts. What I want to know is this: if Kim tweets and no one reads it, has she still communicated nothing of substance?

There is no need for me to describe further this woman’s victories across media platforms, including the current reality television show, Kourtney & Kim Take New York. Until science succeeds in squeezing the “God Particle” from a complete vacuum, the Kardashians are the best example of creating headlines out of absolutely nothing. Kim herself could be any old celeb and some other vapid beauty will take her place in time. But for now she reigns supreme on the Earth’s electromagnetic spectrum.

That ringlet-haired interpreter of pop culture, “Weird Al” Yankovic, has given us a new word with the “Kardash:” a period of 72 days, the length of time Kim was married to some Transformer-sized athlete whose name I can’t be bothered to Google (she reportedly got a $2 million-dollar ring out of this quickie arrangement, which she intends to keep). It occurred to me that Kardashian could serve as a perfectly good adjective, as well. I define it this way:

Kardashian | Kardashiy’n | adjective
1 Cosmetically beautified, but without the substance to back up the mass attention. 2. A state of slickly produced artifice, masquerading as the real thing.

There are many other aspects of our hi-tech, high-bandwidth culture that can be described with this adjective. Even popular music is going increasingly Kardashian, with off-key singers cutting their android albums with the aid of the pitch-correcting software program, AutoTune. Here are some other signs of our sim-culture in full swing.

Kardashian politics

Four years ago, weary US voters chose Barack Obama as President, in a benchmark moment for American race relations. Yet the campaign itself was a victory of warm and fuzzy over hard and specific, with voters sold on the abstract nouns of “hope” and “change.” Tellingly, the trade magazine Advertising Age named Obama’s campaign as marketer of the year for 2008, beating out runners-up Apple and Zappos.com

The Financial Times reported on the public relations industry’s enthusiasm for “brand Obama.” Among those cheering were PR execs that pioneered the packaging of candidates as consumer brands 30 years ago, when they helped California governor Ronald Reagan win the White House. “Take it from the professionals, Brand Obama is a marketer’s dream,” wrote author Chris Hedges in an essay at Truthdig.com “President Obama does one thing and Brand Obama gets you to believe another. This is the essence of successful advertising. You buy or do what the advertiser wants because of how they can make you feel.”

Upon election, America’s most Kardashian politician immediately parachuted Wall Street insiders into his administration. The University of Chicago’s former lecturer on constitutional law not only failed to reverse many of the policies of the Bush administration, he also deepened and widened them, from wireless wiretapping to extraordinary renditions to bank bailouts to extending the Bush era tax cuts, to the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows any acting president to imprison any American citizen indefinitely without due process.

Closer to home, Republican-style dirty tricks seem to have accompanied the last federal election. Ottawa’s pale cipher with the helmet hair and cold, grey eyes is not visually appealing – but he is Kardashian, and the “robocall” scandal only raises further questions about deceit within the Tory social circle.

Kardashian defence policy

The 2003 invasion of Iraq was nothing if not Kardashian, with a phony WMD threat cooked up by a circle of White House neocons around Dick Cheney. The story was built on the testimony of a single alcoholic Iraqi source known by the code name “Curveball.” The neocons reanimated this pig of a tale, while the CIA and State Department reluctantly applied the lipstick. Media shills like Judith Miller of the New York Times did their part by attaching wings to the beast and training it to fly – not very well, but enough to convince the American public that it was some rough beast soaring towards Brooklyn.

The other bookend to this saga also seems Kardashian: the story of Osama bin Laden’s murder in Abbottabad, Pakistan, by Navy Seal Team Six, the disposal of his unphotographed corpse at sea and the rumoured death of some of the team in a subsequent helicopter crash. News consumers were expected to take the storyline on faith, in spite of its ongoing tweaking by official sources.

Kardashian finance and economics

Kardashian finance kicked into high gear with Wall Street’s post-2000 explosion in securitized mortgages, sliced and diced and sold to unsuspecting buyers in ticking time-bomb packages, after being signed off by complicit rating agencies. As the crash of 2008 and the current crisis in the eurozone have demonstrated, there is no moral hazard for robber barons who are rewarded with bailouts for crashing the system – just as there is no disincentive for captured politicians to tell the people the truth about a reckoning to come. Political leaders kick the can down the road so the inevitable consequences of bad behaviour – ecological, economic and social – are left to the next administration or generation (or, at least, the next Kardash, in 72 days).

When I say Kardashian, I’m talking about the triumph of surface over substance, of artifice over reality, of public relations over common sense, across many spheres of endeavour. It goes without saying the outlines have been around for decades. Back in the fifties, sociologist Erving Goffman wrote about the social construction of reality and the American penchant for turning performance into a social mask. In the nineties, Neal Gabler argued in his book, Life: The Movie, that American consumers have incorporated the values of film and television into their daily lives, becoming performers in their own private worlds.

No matter which way we try to get an academic fix on late capitalism’s production of junk-diet infotainment, there is no longer any line separating news and advertising, justice and entertainment, war and public relations, politics and pretty much everything else. And that’s been the case for some time. Just after the Gulf War victory in 1990, I was relaxing in a Seattle hotel room, watching TV. Henry Kissinger was doing the weather on Good Morning America – something he had always wanted to do, he told the hosts. I switched over to another channel and there was General Schwarzkopf marching in a victory parade with Mickey Mouse. The general and Mickey were singing together.

A real general celebrating a made-for-TV war with a fake rat. A former Nixon advisor and accused war criminal pretending he was a weatherman. It was a Kardashian moment, back when Kim herself was still playing with Barbie.

Fictitious wars, fake leaders, phony celebrities, simulated worlds online and off. So what else is new? Fakery and deception has been going gangbusters on this planet ever since the first orchids evolved organs that resembled the female versions of certain insects, thereby tricking males into pollination duties. Human beings didn’t invent deception, though language allowed us to lie about where the good berries were. The true evolutionary novelty humans brought to the game was gossip: the idle parsing of the behaviour of others. In fact, some anthropologists theorize that gossip was the prime mover in the evolution of language. A hominid’s survival hinged on the ability to assess and properly predict the behaviour of its own kind – and sometimes getting a leg up on a competitor with a tall tale. So today’s trash-talking checkout rags and celebrity television may not be so much a cultural maladaptation as a Darwinian overshoot. After all, it’s only a few million years from the savanna to the supermarket, a mere eyeblink in geological time.

Today, the rise of digital media has taken gossip to previously unimaginable heights, as traditional media retreats from old-school who-what-when-where-why journalism. As newsrooms’ budgets are slashed and advertising revenue dries up for media outlets, the cultivation of gossip becomes more seductive. The glossy celebrity magazines “Pimple” and “Pus” – sorry, I mean People and Us – outsell all other Time Warner publications put together, while the celeb-stalking TMZ has sprung from an obscure online tabloid to a massively popular cable show.

I don’t want to give the impression I’m somehow above celebrity culture myself. If you stick me in a plane with a drink in one hand and copy of Pimple or Pus in the other, I’m a happy camper. Some disreputable part of my brain hungers for this gossipy mind-candy, which is why I usually try to avoid it. It’s like info-crack for me, as it is for millions of others. But it doesn’t necessarily mean the End Times are upon us simply because millions of shoppers are tossing remedial reading into their grocery carts, or turning to Perez Hilton for celebrity updates. That fate may have to wait until an entire generation has visions of The Matrix dancing in their heads, mediated either through Google goggles or megastar-endorsed implants.

In any case, there are already harbingers of generational revolt to celeb-heavy digital overkill. According to a recent essay in the New York Times by Pico Iyer, marketers are trying to pre-empt what they see as the next big thing among the young: retreat from their gadgets into prolonged periods of electronic silence.

Not everything around us is Kardashian, thank God or Gaia. We are still capable of having unmediated experiences with nature and other human beings. In fact, these experiences become all the more precious as the world and people around us are increasingly digitized, mashed-up, hacked and sold back to us the real thing. At this stage, you cannot spurn the electronic gadgets that rule your schedule; but you are still capable of using them critically and unplugging once in a while to reconnect with the average-looking, non-famous human beings nearby.

Meanwhile, back in outer space… Alpha Centauri appears to the naked eye as the brightest star in the southern constellation Centaurus. It is actually a double star, like the twin suns that hung in the skies of Tatooine in Star Wars. If there are any radio-friendly intelligent beings near these interstellar tango partners, they should be getting the first electromagnetic ripples about Kim and her sisters anytime now. We probably shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for a response. Scientists have been puzzled by the century-long absence of discernible radio signals from other civilizations in the Milky Way. Perhaps this static doesn’t argue so much against extraterrestrial intelligence as for it. Considering what Earth has beamed out already over the past 60 years, the ETs may have chosen to kill the cable, or at least point their dishes away from Earth – sparing them from thinking our planet is ruled by megastar Kim and her orbiting siblings.


image by perubluesky.ca