Bob Broughton's Blog about British Columbia politics

The Republicans have stepped into it on the issue of abortion, and don't let the Republican down the street or the Republican at your office water cooler get away with saying, “Todd Akin doesn't reflect the views of the Republican Party”, or “Romney was pro-choice when he was Governor of Massachusetts.”

The fact is, the Republicans approved a platform at their national convention in Tampa, and in that platform, it says, “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.” There's nothing in there about exceptions for rape or incest.

The same platform also includes this curious sentence: “The Pacific territories should have flexibility to determine the minimum wage, which has seriously restricted progress in the private sector.”

What's that about? It's about the Mariana Islands, which includes Saipan. The minimum wage there $5.05 an hour, and it is scheduled to increase to $5.55 on September 30. When the Republicans use the word “flexibility” here, they mean the flexibility to lower it.

And why do the Republicans think that this is important enough to put it in their platform? The Marianas are important because goods manufactured there are labeled “made in USA”, and can be sold as such by companies such as Tommy Hilfinger, Nortstrom, and Wal-Mart. The sweatshops are represented in Washington by Jack Abramoff, and Abramoff has been assisted in lobbying efforts by another Republican heavyweight, Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay was their representative in the House of Representatives; he described the low-wage, anti-union conditions of the Marianas constituted "a perfect petri dish of capitalism. It's like my Galapagos Island." Their representative in the Senate was Rick Santorum.

There's a lot more to this than minimum wage, however. Women who work in these sweatshops have been forced into prostitution, and when they get pregnant, are forced to have abortions.

You read right: the same Republicans who believe that women shouldn't even be allowed to have abortions in cases of rape and incest have no problem with forced abortions if there's a few bucks to be made off cheap labour. And by putting the Mariana Islands plank in their platform, they've chosen to wear this on their shirtsleeves. The lesson we can learn from this is, Republicans don't want women to have control over their own bodies, period.

Article by Bill Moyers: Ralph Reed in the Marianas Trenches

Article by Rebecca Claren: Paradise Lost: Greed, Sex Slavery, Forced Abortions and Right-Wing Moralists

In the 21st Century, we have maps of the Moon and Mars, with names assigned to mountains and canyons. In this era of Google Maps and GPS's, I find it refreshing that there are still areas of this planet that are as terra incognita now as before Columbus' voyages.

The Darién Gap is the area of Panama adjacent to the border with Colombia, and it is called a "gap" because of a 100-km. gap in the Pan-American Highway. Completion of the Pan-American Highway was a goal of the Kennedy Administration's Alliance for Progress, but construction stalled in the 1970's, due to escalating costs. The last extension in the 1990's caused severe environmental damage.

I first became aware of the Darién Gap at about the same time as my first visit to Peru in 1986. I read an account in the South American Explorers Club magazine by a person when went through the Darién Gap by bicycle, which was possible because he was able to use dugout canoes as ferries. During my travels, I have met many people who want to ride their motorcycle or drive their camper van to Tierra del Fuego, and I get a mild sadistic pleasure from telling them about the absence of a road. There has been on-again, off-again ferry service between Colon, Panama, and Cartagena, Colombia. (Currently on; see Expedition Portal.)

May 31 is World No Tobacco Day. For people in British Columbia, the issues that initially come to mind on the subject of tobacco are smoking in multi-unit dwellings, smoking in parks and beaches, and sidewalk litter.

One of the themes for World No Tobacco Day for 2012 is how the tobacco industry has stepped up their efforts to have their way with national governments. A high-profile example of this is plain packaging for cigarettes, which is enacted in Australia, and under consideration in the United Kingdom. You can read more about it here.

Here's another one for British Columbians: child labour. Marty Otañez, a friend of Airspace, has published a paper about the tobacco industry's use of child labour in Malawi, the country that has gotten the most publicity in this regard. The tobacco industry's use of child labour is also widespread in The Philippines, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and India.

This is serious. Children that are exploited like this don't go to school or do other things that children normally do. Children that work in tobacco fields are beaten, sexually abused, and poisoned by the high exposure to nicotine.

OK, so you don't shop at WalMart, or buy cigarettes. Sorry, you're still not off the hook on this. Your Provincial government, through the agency British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (BCIMC), holds shares in at least seven tobacco companies, at last count. They hold $103 million worth of British American Tobacco (BAT), one of the biggest customers of child labour-produced tobacco. They also hold shares in Sousa Cruz, the Brazilian subsidiary of BAT and another major offender.

BCIMC is supposed to operate at arms length from the Provincial government, and they tend to fly below the public radar screen. However, BCIMC has standards that they are supposed to operate by; you can read them here. Yes, these standards include the fundamental standards of the International Labour Organization. For that reason, investment in the tobacco industry by BCIMC should be an automatic “fail.”

It's time to get your MLA, cabinet ministers, and the Official Opposition interested in this.

A Berlin-based organization,, is taking on the larger issue of tobacco cultivation. Not just the labour standards, but damage caused by deforestation and pesticides.

This article was also published on the Airspace Action on Smoking and Health site.

From The Razor's Edge, published in 1944:

"D'you remember how Jesus was led into the wilderness and fasted forty days? Then, when he was a-hungered, the devil came to him and said: If thou be the son of God, command these stones be made bread. But Jesus resisted the temptation. Then the devil set him on a pinnacle of the temple and said to him: If thou be the son of God, cast thyself down. For angels had charge of him and would bear him up. But again Jesus resisted. Then the devil took him into a high mountain and showed him the kingdoms of the world and said that he would give them to him if he would fall down and worship him. But Jesus said: Get thee hence, Satan. That's the end of the story according to the good simple Matthew. But it wasn't. The devil was sly and he came to Jesus once more and said: If thou wilt accept shame and disgrace, scourging, a crown of thorns and death on the cross, thou shalt save the human race, for greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Jesus fell. The devil laughed till his sides ached, for he knew the evil men would commit in the name of their redeemer."

And, on the next page of the same book:

"I couldn't but surmise that the devil, looking at the cruel wars that Christianity has occasioned, the persecutions, the tortures that Christian has inflicted on Christian, the unkindness, the hypocrisy, the intolerance, must consider the balance sheet with complacency. And when he remembers that it has laid upon mankind the bitter burden of the sense of sin that has darkened the beauty of the starry night and cast a baleful shadow on the passing pleasures of a world to be enjoyed, he must chuckle as he murmurs: Give the devil his due."

Dominionism, Ralph Reed, Glenn Beck, and Santorum didn't exist when Maugham wrote this.

Playa Panteon, Puerto AngelLast week, I needed to take a taxi out to the suburbs of Oaxaca City to play some tennis. The place where I'm staying is close to the main bus station, and that's a good place to catch a taxi.

When I got there, I asked the first taxi driver in line to take me to "Deportivo Brenamiel, Carretera Internacional". This turned out to be a problem, because I mis-pronounced both "Brenamiel" and "carretera". The driver understood me to say "deportivo internacional" which, for all I know, could be in Huatulco.

There was a group of three people waiting for a taxi, so I thought, I'll just let these people take this taxi, and I'll get the next one. However, a young woman in this group of three observed what was happening, and said "Deportivo Brenamiel" to the driver, with the proper pronunciation. (You have to roll the "r" in "Brenamiel", which is something we English speakers aren't very good at.) The driver said, "Oh, Deportivo BRENAMIEL". I got in the cab, and we were on our way.

However, for all I know, those three people had just gotten off a long bus ride, and would have liked to be on their way home. Instead, they gave up a chance to get in a taxi right away in order to help me out.

As was the case in previous incidents like this, documented on this blog, I thanked these people profusely, but my limited ability to speak Spanish is an obstacle to communication, so I've taken the trouble to write this as another way of expressing my gratitude.

Now, the former Senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, said last week that President Obama should not have sent his daughter Malia to Oaxaca City. (No, I didn't cross paths with her group.) Here's a message especially for you, Rick: There's no need for you to ever go to Mexico. There are plenty of mental institutions in the United States that are capable of taking care of you.

Click here for more pictures I've taken along the way.

Ex-convento de Churubusco, one of the sights I saw in CoyoacanAt the time I'm writing this, I have been traveling in Mexico for 19 days. By bus, except for a ferry between La Paz and Mazatlan. I've made stops in Ensenada, Loreto, La Paz, Mazatlan, Mexico City, and Oaxaca de Juarez, and I plan to stay in Oaxaca de Juarez for four weeks.

At no time during this trip have I felt unsafe or threatened. Because I'm on a long trip, I'm carrying along a lot of stuff, and I have a justifiable concern about the stuff being stolen. That hasn't happened. There have been military checkpoints along my route, a military presence in Loreto and La Paz, and a visible police presence in Oaxaca. When I arrived at the Terminal Norte in Mexico City, they have the same arrangement for taxis that they have at the airport; there's a desk where you tell the lady where you're going, she tells you how much it will cost, and sells you a ticket that you can use only on approved taxis. (Taking an unlicensed taxi is the most dangerous thing you can do in Mexico City.)

My experience has been the opposite of warnings that have been issued by people who should know better, such as the Texas Department of Public Safety. Here's two experiences I've had that say a lot more about this country.

1. I went out late at night in Mazatlan to purchase some fruit. I found a juice stand at the Mercado in the Old Town, and asked for a banana and a grapefruit. Then I asked the lady, "how much", and she said "nada". I even pulled out a few pesos to pay for the stuff, and she still refused to accept them.

2. I had to go to an agency on Avenida Insurgentes, a major north-south thoroughfare in Mexico City, to purchase my bus ticket for Oaxaca. My next destination was Coyoacán, a neighbourhood in the south part of Mexico City. There's a rapid bus line on Insurgentes, similar to ones that exist in Bogata and other cities working on low-cost transit solutions. So, I got on a southbound bus, with the intention of making a left turn somewhere to get to Coyoacán. Once on board, I learned from nearby passengers that I should get off at the Altavista station, and take a bus marked "General Anaya".

I did this. However, the bus stop wasn't very visible, and I walked right by it. When I saw the next station on the Insurgentes line, I realized I had done something wrong, and turned around and started back. As soon as I did this, I saw a short middle-age lady, one of the people who provided the directions on the rapid bus. She saw that I had walked by the stop, and followed me down the street in order to show me the error of my ways. Since she was shorter than I am, she couldn't walk anywhere near as fast. She escorted me back to where the stop for the General Anaya bus is, and made sure that I got on the right bus.

Of course, I said "muchas gracias" to this woman and the one at the Mercado in Mazatlan several times. Because my Spanish is very much a work in progress (that's why I'm in Oaxaca, as a student in a Spanish immersion program), I was unable to say more to them. So, I'm writing this article as another way of thanking them.

The message I want you to get from the two anecdotes presented here is, think about them the next time you see a story in the news about some new inconvenience legislated by some state for Mexicans, such as the one passed in Arizona requiring police to ask for papers from any brown-skinned person. Or the law passed in Alabama requiring brown-skinned people to carry identification at all times.

I've described people here that deserve the same respect from you as the people at your country club or Rotary. They want their children to go to good schools, and have a secure future.

Click here for more pictures I've taken along the way.

The Kindom of Saudi Arabia was in the news twice during the month of December, 2011. On December 12, a woman in her sixties named Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser was beheaded for practicing "witchcraft and sorcery." On December 29, a deal between Saudi Arabia and the United States was announced; Saudi Arabia will purchase 84 F-15SA fighter jets for $30 billion.

You can read the details of the fighter plane sale here. The F15 is more sophisticated than the F35's that Canada is buying, and Canada will manage to defend a much longer coast line with only 65 of them. Arms sales to foreign goverments have to be approved by the President and Congress of the United States, and Obama and Congress had no problem with it. That's not hard to understand; the sale will put $3.5 billion annually into the US economy, supporting 50,000 jobs with 600 suppliers in 44 states.

There's so much wrong with this that I don't know where to start, so I'll start here: where were the screams from the wingnuts who believe that Obama is a secret Muslim? The ones who were having a fit over a proposed Muslim cultural centre in a former coat factory in lower Manhattan. (First Amendment? What First Amendment?) Why weren't the talking heads on Faux News devoting a couple of days worth of air time to this subject? Why do we need Stephen Colbert to remind us that "only 15 the the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi citizens?"

We know, of course, that it's US dependence on oil that causes the US government and media to enable the behavior of the Saudi regime. The suggestion I'm going to make here is, the next time you're having a holiday dinner ruined by a relative who spends too much time watching Faux News, you can respond with any of these reality checks:

  • Since most Repugnikans (except Ron Paul) are competing with each other over who can be the biggest support of Israel, why is the US supplying a lot of weapons to the regime that doesn't care much for Israel?
  • If Repugnikans want to offer us "Sharia Law" as a boogie man, does it make sense to enable the behavior of a regime that really practices Sharia Law? Maybe the people who want to turn the US into a theocracy think that Sharia Law and the beheading of sorceresses aren't such bad things.
  • How come Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Beck, Palin, et al aren't going after Obama for supporting this deal? (If you get this answer: "Beck was fired by Faux News because he criticized the Saudi regime", you can respond "touché". It's a fact that the second-largest shareholder in the Fox Network is Alwaleed bin Talal, a Saudi prince.)
  • If there is indeed some sort of "war on Christmas" going on, does it make sense to provide weapons to a culture that doesn't celebrate Christmas?

We shouldn't forget for one minute that the Middle East is a very dangerous place, and having nuclear weapons in the hands of Islamic religious fanatics would be a very bad thing. However, making irrational public policy decisions based on Denial over dependence on Middle Eastern oil will make a dangerous situation even more dangerous.