Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Urban Sprawl and Expanding Waistlines

A new Statistics Canada study has revealed that adults who live in cities are less likely to be obese than those who lived in outlying areas.
"as the size of the city increased, the likelihood of being obese fell. In CMAs with a population of at least 2 million (Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver) only 17% of adults were obese. The comparable figure for CMAs with a population of 100,000 to 2 million was 24%. In urban centres with populations of 10,000 to 100,000, 30% of adults were obese."

While the diet and fitness industry promotes individual solutions to obesity through the consumption of high-priced "specialty" foods (low-carb being the latest craze) or purchasing a whole gammut of excercise equipment (exercise balls, palates bands, etc.), the real solution to obesity is pro-people urban planning. Larger numbers of poor and working class are being pushed out of downtown Toronto by the lack of affordable housing into the suburbs, where there is less access to public transit, recreation facilities, or local shops within walking distance. The government let the developers make a killing off of urban sprawl, but the health of the people is being sacrificed in the process.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Fear and Loathing in the UK and Toronto Terror Plots

Last weeks arrests in the UK of an alleged terorist ring was accompanied by the usual hype and hysteria, as the media reprinted uncritically every apocolyptic image spun out by the British police. Massive security crackdowns were justified with images of a "new 9/11" - of thousands of people meeting their flaming deaths in simultaneous suicide bombings of trans-Atlantic flights unless flyers poured out their bottles of wine or mouthwash.

Yet there are some facts about the recent "terrorist plot" that the British government has either neglected to mention or downplayed:

* No bomb had been constructed.
* No airline tickets had been purchased.
* Many of the men arrested didn't even have passports.
* None come even close to matching the psychological profile of a suicide bomber.
* Most of the evidence against the "plotters" comes from a man currently being "interogatted" by Pakistani intellegence. Given the methods frequently used in "interogations" conducted by military dictatorships, he has probably also linked the men to 9/11, the Kennedy Assassination and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Craig Murray, who was fired from his position as British ambassador to Western-allied Uzbekistan for critcizing that country's horrendous human rights record, points out:

"...the timing is deeply political. This is more propaganda than plot. Of the over one thousand British Muslims arrested under anti-terrorist legislation, only twelve per cent are ever charged with anything. That is simply harrassment of Muslims on an appalling scale. Of those charged, 80% are acquitted. Most of the very few - just over two per cent of arrests - who are convicted, are not convicted of anything to do terrorism, but of some minor offence the Police happened upon while trawling through the wreck of the lives they had shattered."

Such was the outcome of the terrorist scare in Toronto two years ago. Project Thread, carried out by the RCMP and CIC, alleged to have uncovered a "sleeper cell" of 26 Pakistani Muslims out to detonate "dirty bombs" at a nuclear power plant. Coincidentally, the arrests took place just as CSIS (Canadian Security Inteligence Service) was raising demands for more funds to "fight terrorism." In the end none of the Pakistanis were charged with any criminal offence and most were deported, their only offence having been getting ripped off by a phoney business school.

The more resent arrests in Toronto are equally suspect. Little information has been released and so far the only evidence against the accused is that they engaged in trash talking on internet chatrooms. The explosives on display by the police turned out to be props brought for the photo-op, and there is no evidence that anyone other than an RCMP agent ever had anything resembling explosives.

If the cases are so flimsy, then why the hype? It's not for public safety, but it does attempt to accomplish other important objectives:

First, to build social support for ever-greater state intrusion into our lives. The state creates fear and then paints a picture of a trade-off between freedom and security, demanding that we sacrifice the former for the latter. Of course if we accept this trade-off, we will wind up with neither. First the repression was directed against "foreigners", then the "foreign-born", then "Canadian-born of X descent". It seems we are already pretty far down the slippery slope. Second, it encourages passivity in the face of the war for empire in the Middle East. By demonizing Muslims and Third World peoples anything can be justified - be it invasion, occupation, or war crimes.

War and the restriction of civil liberties go hand in hand, so we must demand an end to both! We should have the right to privacy and security from government witch-hunts just as the Afghani, Iraqi, and Hatian people should have the right to be free of invaders and occupiers!

For additional info on these and other "terrorist" cases, see
William Blum's article
on Counterpunch.