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Seattle and the Socialist Surge in the U.S.

Sat, 2019-08-17 00:51

Photo by Clay Showalter

Kshama Sawant’s second re-election battle is on track to be the most expensive, hard-fought city council race in Seattle’s history. The race pits the richest man in the world, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, against one of the U.S.’s most prominent Marxists.

Bezos aims to tighten Amazon’s grip over his home city’s political future by flooding the election with cash. Through Political Action Committees (PACs), there are no limits for corporate spending on elections. Two big business PACs have already raised well over $1 million, with $250,000 of that from Amazon alone. On top of that, most of Amazon’s top executives around the world have given personal donations directly to Kshama’s opponents, indicating a coordinated effort from the very top of Amazon’s global empire.

With the November 5 general election more than three months away, already PAC spendingalmost equals the total spent in 2015, which set the all-time record. At this rate, by November PAC spending will more than triple the 2015 numbers! Amazon and big business are spending big in all seven of the city’s council races this year, but no one is surprised that their most aggressive cash infusion is in the District 3 race to defeat Kshama Sawant.

This all-out drive by big business to defeat Kshama is spurring a sharp reaction by working people, who have stepped up in record numbers to defend their seat on the City Council. Already our campaign to defend Sawant has assembled the biggest, most sophisticated door-knocking operation in modern Seattle history. Kshama’s call for rent control, taxing Amazon and big business to fund a massive expansion of public housing, and a Green New Deal for working people have got an excellent echo.

With over 3,000 individual donors – a majority of them from within Seattle – Kshama’s campaign has nearly triple the number of our nearest competitor. We’ve raised over $250,000 so far, more than double what any other candidate in the city has raised (excluding corporate PAC money), without taking a dime from big business. The campaign is on track to raise $500,000, which would shatter all previous council campaign fundraising records.

The corporate cash lined up against Sawant, alongside the working-class dollars donated in her defense, testifies to the real impact Socialist Alternative has had in bending Seattle politics toward the needs and aspirations of working people since Kshama was elected in 2013.

Kshama has now served nearly six years in office, and more than anywhere else in the U.S., Seattle has been a living test for the program and class-struggle strategy of Marxism and independent working class politics. Alongside her impressive list of legislative victories won through building grassroots campaigns, Kshama has shaped popular debate in Seattle more than any other figure in city politics.

A careful study of this experience should be of interest to every serious socialist around the world, but in the coming weeks and months Seattle voters will also be asked to pass judgement on the record of Socialist Alternative and Kshama Sawant in City Hall.

“Seattle is a live demonstration of how class struggle works.”

On the eve of 4th of July Independence Day celebrations, the top front page headline in the Seattle Times read “Socialism Faces a Key Test in Seattle City Council Elections.” While the Seattle Times has, predictably, joined Amazon and the Chamber of Commerce in endorsing Egan Orion against Sawant, the article nonetheless had to acknowledge Socialist Alternative’s successes:

When Sawant upset an incumbent in 2013 by pushing for a higher minimum wage, she became perhaps the country’s leading socialist. Her success pressured then-Mayor Ed Murray to broker a deal on a path to $15 per hour, putting Seattle ahead of the curve. The rest of the country began to catch up when other cities adopted wage hikes and when Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, surged as a 2016 presidential candidate… …Backed by red-shirted Socialist Alternative activists, who packed City Hall to cheer, Sawant worked to halt rent hikes and block a pricey new police precinct, among other causes, winning praise from some clergy members, social-justice activists and community leaders. She won re-election in 2015, despite the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce backing her opponent.


Over the last two years, Amazon has taken center stage in Seattle politics. In 2017, they spent $350,000 to buy the mayoral election for Jenny Durkan, who quickly repaid Bezos by orchestrating the City Council’s repeal of the “Amazon Tax” three months after she took office. Kshama and Socialist Alternative played a central role in winning this tax on the largest 3% of businesses in Seattle, to pay for permanently affordable public housing and desperately needed homeless services. The unanimous passage of the tax in March 2018 was a hard-fought victory, the product of a big campaign including a tent encampment inside City Hall and repeated protests at Amazon’s headquarters.

To bully City Council into submission, Amazon shut down construction on one of its downtown towers, threatening thousands of jobs, and funded a ferocious media campaign to repeal the tax. Facing the threat of a business-backed referendum, all but one of the Democratic Party councilmembers capitulated, repealing the tax just a month after passing it. Kshama voted against the repeal, and sharply condemned the betrayal of the housing rights movement by even the so-called progressive wing of the City Council.

Responding to Amazon’s hard-knuckled tactics, the July 1 Seattle Times article quotes Kshama:

“Seattle is a live demonstration of how class struggle works,” [Kshama] said, describing the target on her back as proof socialists now wield serious power. “The billionaire capitalist class is not going to take this lying down.”


Wishing for a return to the veneer of class consensus in city politics before Kshama’s 2013 election, our opponents accuse Kshama of being “too divisive” and refusing to “listen to all sides.” This narrative, relentlessly pumped out by the corporate media and establishment politicians over the last four years, has seeped into the consciousness of many working- and middle-class residents in Seattle.

In thousands of conversations at the doorsteps of District 3, Socialist Alternative members and campaign volunteers answer by pointing to the massive inequality in a region where two of the three richest men in the world live alongside a severe housing crisis. Half of renters are considered “rent burdened,” paying over a third of their income on housing. As Seattle rents have risen over 70% since 2010, tens of thousands have been forced out of the city or into homelessness. Despite ongoing police sweeps, sprawling tent cities continuously spring up in every neighborhood. Scenes of extreme human degradation and desperation are now the backdrop to daily life in Seattle, prompting a new upsurge of racist, right-wing populism in the city.

The class battles that have shaped Seattle politics since Sawant’s 2013 election should be seen, in many respects, as a microcosm for national U.S. politics. Especially since Seattle was, in many respects, “ahead of the curve,” our local experience is rich with lessons for the burgeoning socialist movement nationally.

After four decades of decline, socialist ideas are suddenly ascendant in the U.S. Many of the central policy demands of the U.S. left now enjoy majority support, including Medicare-for-All, a Green New Deal, a living minimum wage, cancelling student debt, and ending the billionaires’ control over politics. Four-in-ten Americans now prefer socialism to capitalism, including 55% of women aged 18-55.

Popular understanding of what socialism means remains varied and widely debated, though the social democratic ideas embodied by Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) remain the most influential. However, for Marxists, the most important feature is the direction of things: Tens of millions of working-class people, especially young people, are beginning to understand that capitalism offers no way forward and are consciously looking for a path to win fundamental social change.

For the still small but growing forces on the socialist left, many of whom are gathered around Bernie’s campaign or the 60,000 strong Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the central question is this: How can we transform this still loose, disorganized, but broad support for socialist ideas into a cohesive mass movement capable of breaking the power of big business. Our experience over the last six years in Seattle has some lessons.

Illustration courtesy Truthout.org

Elections and Movement Building

At present, the growing mood to fight back and support for socialist ideas in the U.S. is still mainly reflected in the electoral arena. While Socialist Alternative’s 2013 campaigns in Seattle and Minneapolis first proved the potential for rebuilding mass support for socialist candidates, Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign should be credited with galvanizing the mass revival of socialist ideas. This was followed by the dramatic rise of DSA’s membership and DSA-backed candidates like AOC and Rashida Tlaib, among others.

As the Seattle Times commented in January, “When voters here elected our first socialist five years ago, it was so unusual it made national news. But in November [2018], 43 socialists won around the country, including two in Congress.” Trump’s rise and his right-wing rhetoric also played a central role in radicalizing millions, especially young people. The 2020 elections remain the main tool most people are looking toward to defeat Trump and his agenda.

Yet for Marxists, elections are not the most favorable terrain for working-class struggle or the central tool for changing society. Voting remains a mostly atomized act, heavily influenced by the corporate media, whereas the dynamic mass social movements, strikes and demonstrations, allow working people to better feel their collective power, educate one-another, and come to understand their distinct class interests.

At the core of Kshama Sawant’s message, repeated in every campaign speech, is that change can only be achieved by building social movements of working people and oppressed communities. The greatest power working people have is their ability to withhold their labor, to strike, and shut down the profit-making operations of capitalist society. The impressive wave of teachers strikes, which also featured the crucial role of newly radicalized socialist union activists, points toward a potential revitalization of the U.S. labor movement.

For Marxists, the central role of socialist election campaigns and elected offices, is to use their positions as a platform to build movements. The legitimacy and access to the media that comes with elected office, alongside our ability to influence legislation and expose the back-room machinations of other politicians, should be used by socialists to help raise working-class consciousness, self-organization, and confidence to collectively fightback.

Before Socialist Alternative ran Kshama Sawant for City Council in 2013, nobody in Seattle City Hall was talking about a $15 minimum wage in Seattle. But by linking our election campaign to the spreading strikes of fast food workers demanding $15 in their workplaces, a citywide minimum wage movement was born. After the election we launched 15 Now, a campaigning organization with neighborhood chapters, open to all, which then spread across the country. In the space of one year, total opposition from Seattle’s political establishment was transformed into a unanimous passage of $15 in June 2014, transferring $3 billion from big business into the pockets of Seattle’s multi-racial low-wage workforce over the following decade.

The victory of $15 in Seattle spread across the U.S., with workers in many cities and states winning increased minimum wages. In Canada, millions of workers have won significant increases in their minimum wage including $15 in Alberta, $14 in Ontario and a path to $15 in BC by 2021. The fight for $15 continues to inspire workers around the world.

Following the historic $15 victory, Kshama continued to use her office as an organizing center for numerous struggles, from the fight to block 400% rent hikes and the privatization of public housing in Seattle to teaming up with the growing urban Indigenous movement to make Seattle among the first major cities to recognize “Indigenous Peoples Day.”

In a public letter to their fellow Seattle Democrats urging support for Kshama’s re-election, nineteen grassroots Democratic Party activists painted a clear picture of how Kshama has used her office as an organizing center:

…in 2016 Kshama’s office led the way to winning two landmark renters rights laws — a limit on move-in fees and a ban on rent increases in buildings with code violations … This was despite the big landlord lobby group RHA spending $52,000 to oppose these vital protections for Seattle renters. Referring to their failed efforts, now-retired RHA lobbyist Jamie Durkan (yes, he’s the Mayor’s brother) bitterly complained that, “Anybody who spends a dollar lobbying the Seattle City Council is wasting a dollar.” Durkan said other Councilmembers would “say all the right things in their offices, then they get out on the podium and it all goes south.” The lobbyist chalks up his failure to “Sawant’s army,” referring to the organized renters, working people, and community members who worked with Kshama’s office to finally have their voices heard and rights respected in City Hall.


At the center of Kshama’s 2019 re-election campaign is the fight for universal rent control. At street tables across Capitol Hill, and on every doorstep in the District, our army of volunteer canvassers open conversations with: “Do you support rent control?” The response has been excellent. Within a few weeks over 10,000 signed a petition for rent control circulated by Kshama’s council office, and over 300 attended a rally and organizing meeting on July 20. Just as we used our 2013 campaign to mobilize mass support for $15, Socialist Alternative aims to transform the 2019 District 3 race into a referendum on rent control and taxing the rich to fund a massive expansion of public housing.

Building an Alternative to the Democratic Party

Distinct among virtually all the newly-elected socialists across the U.S., Kshama Sawant has used her campaigns to promote building a broad working class and socialist political alternative to the Democratic Party. Despite the growth of left challengers within the Democrats, the party remains dominated by big business interests. Given the lack of a real working class alternative, Democratic leaders succeed in fostering some positive illusions in their party, and the successes of Sanders in 2016 and DSA candidates since is opening a fresh debate over whether the Democrats can be transformed. Still, most working people see the Democrats mainly as a “lesser evil” to the Republicans, and polls consistently show a majority in the U.S. want a new party.

Our experience in Seattle underscores that this is possible to win mass support for independent socialist candidates. Kshama’s office has helped build fighting campaigns completely independent from the business-backed Democratic establishment, which has proven vital to consistently represent the needs of working people and win victories.

Across the country and around the world, the last decade of capitalist crisis has severely undermined support for every major capitalist institution. Previously dominant so-called center parties of the left and right, which have carried out neo-liberal policies, have collapsed or experienced deep crisis. As politics polarizes, new parties on both the right and left are emerging. In the U.S., popular anger has created deep divisions within both the Republican and Democratic Parties.

Following the lead of Bernie Sanders, most of the new socialist candidates around DSA are running as Democrats, attempting to upend the corporate domination of the party. The growing rift between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, on the one hand, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and “The Squad” on the other side has become the most visible example.

These public divisions reflect sharpening divide between the Democratic Party’s mainly working class voting base and the corporate control of the party apparatus. The whole dynamic is creating the conditions for an historic political realignment along class lines including splits in the Democratic Party’s big tent coalition.

The contradiction is illustrated by the fact that despite broad popular support for Sanders, AOC, and other left Democrats, they remain extremely isolated in the halls of power. Big business has always maintained a stranglehold on both the Democrats and Republicans. Reflecting on the completely rigged Democratic Party primaries that denied Bernie Sanders the nomination in 2016, the famed author of The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander, commented:

hold little hope that a political revolution will occur within the Democratic Party without a sustained outside movement forcing truly transformational change. I am inclined to believe that it would be easier to build a new party than to save the Democratic Party from itself.


Socialist Alternative has warned that attempts to transform the Democrats will lead the left into a deadend. We urge all socialists and left organizations, especially DSA with its huge growth, to join with us in preparing the ground for a broad, working-class political alternative. Especially if Bernie is again undemocratically blocked in the primaries, the potential will grow to build support for breaking out of the Democratic Party straight-jacket and preparing the ground for a new party for working people.

At the local level, Kshama and Socialist Alternative have campaigned for this idea as well. In a mass-distributed leaflet last summer, we argued that: “After Mayor Durkan and seven of the nine city councilmembers caved in to big business pressure to repeal the Amazon Tax, it is clearer than ever that corporate Democrats won’t reliably stand up for the needs of working people. It’s time to build a new alliance of progressives and socialists in Seattle, independent of corporate cash and the Democratic Party, to kick out the big business politicians in 2019.” While we did not succeed at pulling such an alliance together, the need for it remains at the core of our program.

Fighting Trump and the Right

On the night of Trump’s surprise election, Socialist Alternative issued a call for immediate coordinated mass protests in cities. Kshama’s national prominence as one of the most well-known elected socialists in the U.S. was a vital platform to spread this call. Across the country, over 50,000 answered the call by Socialist Alternative to demonstrate. These events and Kshama’s platform helped turn potential despair at Trump’s election into anger. This fed into the mass protests on Trump’s inauguration, with millions attending the historic “Women’s Marches,” the largest day of protest in U.S. history. There have been waves of resistance ever since.

Even bigger opportunities to build a mass movement against Trump and support for socialist ideas exist today if nationally-prominent socialists like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez took a similar approach. Aiming to whip up his base for the 2020 election, Trump has repeatedly declared that “America will never be a socialist country.” This has been combined with his racist crackdown on refugees and immigrants, attempting to blame them for the rising economic insecurity faced by a growing majority of working- and middle-class people.

Most recently, Trump’s ferociously racist, red-baiting attacks on four new congresswomen of color, known as “The Squad,” has put a huge national spotlight on Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Ayanna Presley. While only AOC and Tlaib identify as socialists and members of DSA, together the four have become the face of the new youthful left, making its mark on U.S. politics since Trump’s rise. The Squad’s forceful rebuttals to Trump’s racist attacks have dominated news headlines. They have used this platform to step up their calls for impeaching the president and shutting down the horrific immigrant detention centers.

Unfortunately, despite anger at Trump reaching a fever-pitch and a clear mood developing to protest and fight back, neither Bernie Sanders nor AOC have used their enormous public platform to campaign for the kind of nationally coordinated mass protests and direct action that would be needed to win their demands. Linking calls for mass protests for immigrant rights to bold demands like a federal $15 an hour minimum wage, Medicare-for-All, and a massive jobs program connected to a Green New Deal – all class demands closely associated with Sanders, AOC, and the new socialist left – would go a long way in undermining Trump’s base and building working class solidarity against racism and bigotry.

If the socialist left and labor movement fail to offer a clear plan for mass action, working-class anger will remain atomized and largely channeled into the 2020 election. This will mostly take the shape of corporate Democrats facing off against right-wing Republicans, leaving most working people with no real representation, and expanding the space for right-populism to make gains. While Bernie’s campaign and some of the DSA-backed candidates may offer important vehicles to fight back around working-class demands, the potential for these campaigns to win will be greater if they are backed up by mass movements and workplace struggles.

The last few years have seen the rise of Trump-like figures such as Bolsanaro in Brazil, Modi in India, Salvini in Italy and others. At the same time, there is a new left including figures like Corbyn in Britain, Podemos in Spain and Melénchon in France. In Greece, the recent electoral defeat of Syriza (coalition of the radical left) following their ascent to power and subsequent betrayal should be a warning to the left internationally on the impact of limiting our program to reforms within capitalism. The dangers facing the left are also illustrated by Corbyn’s failure to offer a clear class policy in relation to Brexit, resulting in sagging enthusiasm for him, and by Podemos’ dangerous agreement go into coalition government with the former left PSOE despite that party’s record of neo-liberal austerity.

Internationally, there is a searching for ways to defeat the right and build the left. The principled class approach of Kshama Sawant and Socialist Alternative in Seattle is rich in lessons for socialists everywhere.

Sawant Against the Entire Political Establishment

In our 2013 campaign, big business ignored Kshama’s campaign, believing a socialist could not win a majority of Seattle voters. After our 2013 election win, followed by the historic $15 minimum victory in 2014, Socialist Alternative had tremendous momentum going into the 2015 race.

Kshama received the support from every union that endorsed a candidate in 2015, despite the private grumblings of many conservative union leaders who fiercely oppose genuine class struggle politics. Similarly, many prominent Democratic Party politicians like Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and two sitting city councilmembers felt compelled to endorse Kshama in 2015, despite her calls for building a left political alternative. This also reflected a hope among many in Seattle’s liberal establishment that Kshama, like so many previous radicals elevated into the halls of power, would be tamed and learn to play by their rules.

Kshama’s refusal to tone down her socialist, class-struggle politics, and her refusal to keep political disagreements in the back rooms of City Hall, has meant that the entire Seattle establishment, from big business to many so-called “progressive” elected Democrats, are lined up against us. Fifteen unions have endorsed Kshama, reflecting strong rank-and-file support, but the conservative leaders dominating the regional Labor Council are backing one of Kshama’s opponents.

Kshama has challenged the longstanding alliance between many labor leaders and the Democratic Party establishment, and Socialist Alternative members have helped cultivate rank-and-file opposition to the conservative, top-down approach of some unions. At the same time, our leadership winning the $15 minimum wage, alongside other victories, has given new confidence to workers to fight. In these ways we’ve played a role in helping to crystalize a left activist layer in Seattle unions, which has the potential to grow into a more serious force in the years ahead.

Big business, the Democratic establishment, and the corporate media have also had four years since our last election to wage a relentless smear campaign against Kshama and Socialist Alternative. So more than in any previous election, when voters go to the polls in the District 3 election, they will be making a very conscious vote for or against electing an avowed Marxist onto Seattle City Council.

For this reason, alongside the growing support for socialist ideas, Kshama has emphasized her support for socialism more in this campaign. Even as we use this election to campaign for more immediate reforms within capitalism, it remains vital for socialist candidates to popularize the need for a socialist transformation of society and a democratically planned economy that can meet the needs of everyone and ensure a healthy environment. Prominently on her campaign website, as part of Kshama’s call for a Green New Deal for working people, is our call to bring “the big U.S. energy corporations into democratic public ownership and retool them for clean energy.”

Our campaign platform ends with a clear condemnation of this system: “Capitalism has failed the 99%. Socialists fight for a fundamentally different kind of society, based on democracy, equality, sustainability and solidarity.”

A victory in Seattle, re-electing Sawant, will be a victory for workers and socialists everywhere. It will be one further step toward ending the misrule of capitalism and replacing this system with a truly democratic, socialist society capable of meeting the needs of all people and the planet.

This article originally appeared on SocialistAlternative.ca.

Categories: Canadian, Socialism, World

There is reason to fear for the safety of every Kashmiri in India

Fri, 2019-08-16 22:27

An Indian army soldier patrols on a bridge during restrictions in Jammu on 5 August 2019 (Reuters)

Earlier today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP government has rushed through a presidential decree to revoke the part of the constitution that gives Indian-administered Kashmir special status, fueling growing Kashmiri fears of a new round of violence in the restive Himalayan region. Kashmiris consider the revocation deceitful and illegal.

Article 370, which has been the basis of Kashmir’s complex relationship with India for seven decades, ensured the state its own constitution, flag and independence over all matters except foreign affairs, defence and communications. Moreover, it maintained the territorial sovereignty of the state by giving its permanent residents the right to own property and the right of franchise. By revoking Article 370, the BJP government automatically made it possible for Indian citizens from outside the Muslim-majority state to be able to permanently settle, buy land, hold local government jobs and secure education scholarships in Kashmir.

While the decision came as a shock to many international observers, Kashmiris have been waiting for a move that would irremediably change the disputed region’s already tense relations with New Delhi for weeks.

And now that India, with scant regard to its own constitutional moorings and UN resolutions, has finally announced to the world their intention to annex Kashmir completely and rule its population indefinitely, they are gearing up for a new period of conflict, oppression and bloodshed.

Preparing for the worst

The first signs that the Indian government was preparing to make an unprecedented move on the status quo in Kashmir came on July 25, when the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs announced the deployment of 10,000 paramilitaries and 28,000 extra troops to the state. The government claimed this decision was taken simply to strengthen “law and order measures”. Soon, it has been reported that various other government departments ordered their staff to remain on high alert and also to stock food and water.

These precautionary moves by the central government raised alarm among Kashmiris. The government tried to calm the situation by claiming the reports were “fake news”, but when the annual Hindu pilgrimage in the Himalayas, Amarnath Yatra, was suspended, it became clear to all Kashmiris that something was afoot.

Authorities once again tried to calm the situation by claiming that they decided to cancel the pilgrimage simply because they had intelligence indicating that Jaish-e-Muhammad, a Pakistan-based armed group aiming to unite Kashmir with Pakistan, is planning an attack on the pilgrims. The armed groups active in the state denied any such plans, but the government still airlifted the pilgrims out of Kashmir, using the C-17 aircraft that arrived in the region to bring in the extra paramilitary troops.

Later, it has been reported that tourists and non-local students were also ordered out of the region. Authorities once again denied these reports even as tourists and students were seen being bussed out of the valley.

Having faced similar misinformation campaigns and gaslighting attempts many times in the past few decades, Kashmiri civilians took to social media to disprove the official denials and speculate on the BJP government’s likely intentions. They had no way of knowing exactly what was in store for them, but they knew for sure that the troop deployments and secretive security measures meant that something big and destructive was on the horizon.

With rumours and speculations rife, Kashmiris began to do the only thing in their control: stockpiling resources. People flocked to the markets for rations, medicines, baby food, and gas. They also moved their sick or pregnant relatives closer to the hospitals fearing curtailments.

In a matter of days, all their fears proved right. At 6am on August 5, the government imposed a curfew on citizens and banned the assembly of more than four people. Soon after, the internet and phone lines were also shut down.

And around 11 am on the same day, the BJP government finally revealed what all the secretive preparations were for. Home Minister Amit Shah told Parliament that the president had signed a decree abolishing Article 370 of the Constitution. “The entire Constitution will be applicable to Jammu and Kashmir state,” Shah said.

Shah’s announcement was confirmation of something Kashmiris feared for many years: Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government will settle for nothing less than complete annexation of Kashmir and permanent silencing of all Kashmiris.

Since it took power in 2014, the BJP government has been determined to remove Kashmir’s special status. The party’s far-right base has always perceived the Article 370 as a stain on the Indian constitution and wanted rid of it.

Posturing to Pakistan

Today, by revoking this article in its entirety, the BJP government not only pleased its base and undermined Kashmiris, but also flexed its muscles to its archenemy, Pakistan.

Recently, Pakistan has been getting a lot of positive attention on the international arena as a result of the pivotal role it has been playing in the Afghanistan peace talks. Moreover, following Pakistani PM Imran Khan’s first official visit to Washington last month, US President Donald Trump offered to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir - a move that indicates White House is moving away from India’s claim that Kashmir is merely a domestic issue.

All this, perhaps, led the BJP government to feel the need to engage in some posturing.

It has been clear from the beginning that the Indian government viewed the move to revoke Article 370 not only as a move against the Kashmiris, but also Pakistan. When the government deployed thousands of extra troops to Kashmir prior to the announcement, it also increased the number of troops deployed on the Line of Control (LoC) - the de facto border between Indian-administered and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Only on Saturday, Pakistan condemned the alleged use of “cluster munitions” by Indian security forces in firing across the LoC, and said at least six civilians had been killed and 48 wounded in Indian firing since July 19.

All in all, the decision to revoke Article 370 was a crowd pleaser for the BJP. It gave Prime Minister Modi something to brag about in his August 15 Independence Day address, as it reinforced the far-right government’s claim that it is working tirelessly to achieve its vision of a Hindu nation. It also allowed him to demonstrate that he is not scared to engage Pakistan, even when Washington is not by his side.

Since the Hindu nationalists took power in 2014, they slowly herded the people of India towards the far right. Today, thanks to their efforts, discrimination, persecution and even lynching of Muslims, Dalits and other marginalized peoples of the country and the oppression of millions of Kashmiris have been normalised in India.

The revoking of Article 370 is just the latest step in the BJP’s grand plan to transform India into an aggressive and unapologetically Hindu-only nation in which no other identity is welcomed.

Kashmiris were not surprised by this latest aggression by a government that has been attacking them and other minorities of India to evoke the public’s nationalist sentiments for years. Nevertheless, this legal and political attack on the very being of Kashmir, as well as the siege imposed on its people is unprecedented. The Kashmiris will sooner or later respond by taking to the streets. With thousands of troops already deployed across Kashmir to silence dissent, there is every reason to fear for the safety of every single Kashmiri living under Indian rule today.

With that decree, India’s president signed the death warrant of not only the future of Indian-administered Kashmir, but also India’s democracy.

Ather Zia is a poet and a political anthropologist who teaches at University of Northern Colorado Greeley.

This article originally appeared on AlJazeera.com.

Categories: Canadian, Socialism, World

Tailings Dam Collapses in the Americas: Lessons Learned?

Fri, 2019-08-16 01:37

Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Jan 31, 2019. Protest against mining company Vale. Photo: Lincon Zarbietti

The catastrophic collapse of yet another Vale tailings (mine waste) dam in Brumadinho, Brazil brings us to thee major tailings dam collapses in the Americas in less than five years. The spill at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine in British Columbia occurred in August 2014. It was the worst tailings dam disaster in Canadian history, spilling 25 million cubic meters of toxic tailings, polluting surrounding water systems, destroying salmon-spawning areas and jeopardizing livelihoods of Indigenous communities and small businesses. The much larger spill at Brazil’s Mariana mine, jointly owned by Vale and BHP Billiton, happened in November 2015. This resulted in 19 fatalities with destruction of communities – fields, homes, crops and livestock – plus major environmental damage throughout the entire Rio Doce river basin. On January 25, one of the tailings dams collapsed at Vale’s mine in Brumadinho, burying company offices, cafeteria and rail lines. Rescue efforts have continued unabated; by April 7, the Minas Gerais Civil Defence department reported 224 dead and 69 still missing. Property and environmental damages to nearby river systems are still being assessed. What are the lessons to be learned from these mining catastrophes? Can the citizen indignation and anguish generated by the tragedies at Mount Polley, Mariana and Brumadinho actually translate into measures to curb the unregulated power of the mining industry and reduce corporate impunity? I raised these questions in my comparative study of the tailings dam spills at Mount Polley and Mariana, subtitled Chronicles of Disasters Foretold. Far from learning lessons from these tragedies, mining companies and governments are continuing business as usual, making Brumadinho yet another “disaster foretold.” The graffiti on many Vale properties in Brazil today says it all: “Brumadinho was not a tragedy. It was a crime. Vale assassinates.”

Mount Polley’s aftermath

In Canada, the British Columbia (BC) government established an Independent Expert Engineering Investigation two weeks after the tailings dam collapse at the copper/ gold mine. Norbert Morgenstern, recognized at home in Canada and internationally as an expert in geotechnical engineering, chaired the three-person review panel. The panel report ruled out any option for the BC government and mining industry to carry on business as usual with these much-quoted words: “if the inventory of active tailings dams in the province remains unchanged, and performance in the future reflects that in the past, then on average there will be two failures every 10 years and six every 30.”

The highly technical report focused on mine waste storage. Mining technology today allows access to lower grade ores in remote ore bodies. Mining these ores becomes financially viable only with boom market conditions. The extractive process, however, creates exponential increases in mine waste, including rock, water, and tailings, which become toxic from chemicals introduced to extract the minerals. Tailings storage facilities need constant monitoring during the mine’s active life, at closure, and indeed into perpetuity. Wet storage methods in upstream dams create the most dangerous conditions. Both Mariana and Brumadinho were upstream dams.

Dangers made clear

A historical risk profile of tailings dams throughout BC was included in the experts’ report, with specific recommendations for adoption of best available technology (BAT) and best applicable practices (BAP). Yet a study of four new transboundary copper- gold projects in the BC-Alaska border area, commissioned by civil society organizations in March 2016, found that not one project was following the expert panel recommendations, although three of them could readily have been altered to meet them.

The mining industry is fully aware of the dangers of tailings storage, whether in Canada or Brazil. As the Mount Polley report stated: “Tailings dams are complex systems … also unforgiving systems in terms of the numbers of things that have to go right. Their reliability is contingent on consistently flawless execution in planning, in subsurface investigation, in analysis and design, in construction quality, in operational diligence, in monitoring, in regulatory actions, and in risk management at every level.” Yet a close look at events leading up to all three collapses shows a multiplicity of things that did not “go right” – choice of cheap over safe tailings storage methods, warnings unheeded, whistle-blowers fired, monitoring reduced, inspection recommendations not followed, lack of emergency and evacuation plans, and electoral campaigns financed by mining companies.

Workers, communities and all of us, as citizens, are left with very big questions. Who can ensure the rigour necessary to create and manage safe mine tailings storage and prevent more Mount Polleys, Marianas and Brumadinhos? Mining companies themselves, now largely self-regulated and driven by profit margins ahead of public safety? Government bodies, in a conflict of interests between promoting and regulating mining companies? Indigenous people, torn between defending traditional land and the lure of revenue, jobs and modernization? Unions – even though few mine workers are unionized, most being employed by subcontractors on short-term contracts? Environmental groups, now all too regularly criminalized rather than listened to? Affected communities, often working collectively, only, after tragedy has struck?

Photo by Miguel Schincariol AFP/Getty Images

Regulatory capture at the core

BC Auditor General Carol Bellringer was busy auditing mining enforcement and compliance when the Mount Polley disaster occurred. She was aware of the boom-bust tendencies in global commodity markets and the urgency of protecting British Columbia’s environment, whichever market cycle prevailed. She argued for strong regulatory oversight from the Ministry of Energy and Mines (now Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources) and the Ministry of the Environment (now Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change Strategy). Yet Bellringer’s harsh report documented a decade of neglect by these Ministires in which “almost every one of our expectations for a robust compliance and enforcement program … were not met.”

The auditor general tackled the core question – BC government regulatory capture by the mining industry. Her overarching recommendation was the creation of an integrated and independent compliance and enforcement unit: “Given that the Ministry of Energy and Mines is at risk of regulatory capture, primarily because MEM’s mandate includes a responsibility to both promote and regulate mining, our expectation is that this new unit would not reside within this ministry.” The audit also made 16 specific recommendations, some of which addressed regulatory breaches at Mount Polley.

BC government’s lack of response

The NDP and Green parties had been fiercely critical of the Liberal Party and its cozy relationship with its corporate backers from the mining industry. When a narrow electoral victory put NDP in power with the support of the Greens in May 2017, however, they introduced only minor changes. New laws preventing contributions to political parties by corporations and trade unions were passed. Some efforts were made to end the practice of the mining industry hiring and paying professionals to play regulatory roles. The central issue – the conflict of interest within the Ministry of Energy and Mines, tasked with both promoting mining and regulating it – has not had even a mention from the new government. Nor did the NDP take up the private prosecution filed by Bev Sellars, Chief of Xat’sull First Nation at the time of the spill, along with MiningWatch and several advocacy groups. MiningWatch filed 15 charges against Imperial Metals under the BC Mines Act and the BC Environmental Management Act.

Just after Brumadinho, a “who’s who” in mining gathered in Vancouver for BC’s annual Association for Mineral Exploration (AME) Roundup. The AME Roundup website displayed the usual corporate narrative, lauding continued expansion of mining as guarantor of good jobs, economic growth and global competitiveness. There was silence on catastrophic tailings dam spills and mining’s substantial contribution to global warming. John Horgan’s upbeat welcoming message endorsed the vision of more mining investments in order to position BC to play a major role in “meeting growing global demand for natural resources.”

Horgan portrayed the mining expansion as readily compatible with the commitment to “low carbon impact,” all with the full collaboration of “Indigenous partners.” Despite his vociferous critiques of mining practices as leader of the opposition, Horgan’s own watch as BC’s premier shows little evidence of his having learned the lessons from Mount Polley, Mariana and Brumadinho.

Keeping eye on Vale

What do we as citizens do when we recognize that the institutions in our democracy – elected governments, the judiciary, the media, universities, think tanks – are all being subjected to pressure and, in some cases, have effectively been bought by transnational corporations? When our elected representatives govern as if the corporations’ interests are equivalent to the public interest, what are our options? Where do we turn to when we recognize that we cannot depend on our governments to protect the lives of workers, the well-being of communities, or indeed, the sustainability of human life on planet earth?

Keeping our eyes on the mining corporations themselves, and how they gain, use and legitimate their power is one way. In 2010, a group of Brazilian organizations working on mining issues put out a call for a global meeting of people affected by the mining giant Vale. The meeting convenors included activists from Justice on the Rails – a coalition in northern Brazil advocating for communities along the railway line linking Vale’s giant iron mine at Carajás with the port for Vale’s especially built iron tankers in Maranhão. There were activists from Rio, site of Vale head office and a major and highly polluting partnership with Krupp steel. There were activists from Minas Gerais, where Vale’s multiple mines threatened pristine mountain areas like Gandarela and city water supplies of the many towns living cheek by jowl with the mines. Groups from Canada at that first meeting in Rio included United Steelworkers (USW) and MiningWatch Canada. USW represented mine workers from Sudbury, Port Colborne and Voisey’s Bay, whose first round of collective bargaining after Vale’s purchase of Inco had resulted in a strike that eventually stretched on for 11-18 months.

A group of 160 people from 14 different countries participated in the founding meeting. The International Articulation of People Affected by Vale (AV) that formed was very diverse, including labour, environment, human rights and faith groups as well as Indigenous groups and people from communities directly affected. After retirement, I have continued to participate in AV as a Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC) associate. The work of AV includes exchanges of information, annual face to face meetings, exchange visits, sharing of Vale AGM strategies for inside and out on the streets and counter-reports to Vale’s annual sustainability report.

Graphic by Margie Adam/ ArtWork. Map source: ESA / Copernicus Sentinel-2A-L1C Satellite and OpenStreetMap. org contributors; Jan. 27, 2019. Wikimedia Commons

Situation in Brazil

The Brazilians urged caution to AV members in their dealings with Vale because “Vale buys people.” They recounted situations in Brazil where Vale had bought community, labour and government leaders. Revelations of a whistle-blower from Vale’s security department in 2013 included documents showing how Vale spied on journalists, lawyers and priests connected with AV, and infiltrated AV’s inaugural meeting. The recent collapses of the tailings dams highlight another kind of lying by Vale. In Mariana, Vale had elaborated a plan for emergency procedures and evacuation drills, only to file it in a drawer unused when the commodity price took a downturn. In Brumadinho, there have been allegations that Vale dismissed a consultancy company that found weaknesses in the dam, replacing it with another one more amenable to giving the results that the company wanted to have on record in its licensing application.

Nineteen days after the Brumadinho catastrophe, Vale CEO Fabio Schvartsman, was invited to answer questions from elected deputies at a public hearing in the Federal Chamber. In six hours of questioning, Schvartsman maintained that Vale remained ignorant of the cause of the “accident” and that regular mine inspections had been carried out with no problems identified. At one point, Schvartsman, who had remained seated during the moment of silence to honour the victims, made this startling claim. “Vale is a Brazilian jewel that cannot be condemned for an accident that happened in its dam, however great the tragedy was.” By early March, however, Schvartsman and other senior Vale executives had “stepped down” temporarily. By this time, prosecutors had recommended their dismissal. Official documents had been leaked, proving that Vale had prior knowledge that the Brumadinho dam was at risk of collapse.

AV’s Brumadinho report

In the days after the collapse, the Articulation of People Affected by Vale sent a three-person mission to Brumadinho. Their recommendations are as pertinent to Canada after Mount Polley as they are to Brazil after Mariana and Brumadinho. The AV report notes “the confusion of roles between the company and the state in responding to the disaster,” a confusion not caused by the disaster but resulting from years of dismantling multiple state regulatory organizations and agencies. The state’s submission to the mining company model of privatization and neoextractivism is also noted. The representatives also stress Vale’s active role in disqualifying, silencing and criminalizing the organizations in Brazil that defend human rights and the environment.

The report argues that the current mining model depends on “flexibilization” (justified by claims of state bureaucratization and delays), “self-regulation” (which allows mining companies to contract ostensibly independent professionals to attest to the security of their operations), and systematic dismantling of the state apparatus responsible for compliance and enforcement. Add to this the revolving doors in both countries between senior leaders in mining companies and state bodies and the regulatory capture by the mining companies is complete. All that is missing is the new element added by the SNC-Lavalin saga in Canada, the deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) for corporate crimes, making it possible for “jewels” like Vale and SNC-Lavalin to avoid legal prosecutions by negotiating admissions of guilt, fines and promises of future good behaviour.

A vital role for activists & researchers

Some of the AV activists are also linked to the Politics, Economy, Mining, Environment and Society research group (PoEMAS), a multidisciplinary working group of professors and graduate students in six Brazilian universities that has done high quality research of all aspects of mining in Brazil. With the credibility of both industry and government sources in question, PoEMAS’ publications play an important role. Folha, the main newspaper in Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo, has twice run articles on Brumadinho written by PoEMAS coordinators Bruno Milanez (construction engineer/environmentalist) and Rodrigo Santos (sociologist).

Have there been any lessons learned by mining companies and governments from Mount Polley, Mariana and Brumadinho? Virtually none. Have there been any lessons learned by the civil society? It yet remains to be seen whether the furor created by these catastrophes can be harnessed by social movements. Can other social actors like universities, advocacy groups, and independent think tanks actually carry out the independent research and the monitoring of mining that the governments and companies have abdicated? Can these forces, in collaboration with other actors such as the judiciary and the media, act in ways that compel elected governments to re-establish robust regulatory regimes. This would mean regulatory regimes asking much harder questions about whether to permit mining, how much and where. It would mean regulatory bodiesgenuinely protecting the safety and health of mine workers as well as the lives and livelihoods of citizens in communities immediately affected by mining. It would mean states at all levels grappling with mining’s contribution to global warming.

Judith Marshall recently retired after two decades in the Global Affairs department of the United Steelworkers. Her work included member education on global issues and the organization of many international exchanges of workers, especially in the mining sector.

This article appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of Canadian Dimension (CD Goes Digital).

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Categories: Canadian, Socialism, World

Coverage of Hong Kong protests shrouded in hypocrisy

Thu, 2019-08-15 19:59

Photo by Las Vegas Review-Journal

Where to start? For nearly 40 weeks hundreds of thousands of French people have been on the streets in anti-government demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron’s rule.

Some have lost eyes and hands in the police response. The public has begun to view the smell of tear gas as a normal part of a weekend in Paris. France is 29 miles from the coast of England. Siri just told me that “Hong Kong is about 5,992 miles from London as the crow flies.”

So complete has been the British media blackout on the Yellow Vests that many believe, wrongly, that there is some British government order banning on any mention of “les événements en France.” The truth is that there is no need for one.

Like a homing pigeon in reverse the entire UK media has flown like a bat out of hell away from France all the way to Hong Kong (as they had earlier flown to Caracas until the big protests turned into the wrong kind of protests).

There is nothing, except the shoe-sizes, of the demonstrators in Hong Kong that I don’t know thanks to the veritable blizzard of in-depth analysis of the protestors there and their each and every demand. Protesters in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain can be executed, but we will never be told their names.

And the hypocrisy of the media is just for starters.

If a group of British protesters broke into the British Parliament and hung, for argument’s sake, a Russian flag over the Speaker’s chair it is “highly likely” that a commando force would quickly and violently overwhelm and arrest them accompanied by volleys of accusations about Russian interference.

If a crowd of British protestors occupied Heathrow Airport in such numbers and so disruptively that British Airways had to stop flights in and out of the airport, causing massive financial loss, dislocation, and personal inconvenience, I promise you that their protest would have been cleared out by the above mentioned commandos on the very first day of their protests.

If protesters in London were hoisting Chinese flags and singing the Chinese national anthem then, well, I’m sure you get my point.

The struggle between the government of China and its citizens is no more the business of the British than it is of the Slovakians. It’s true that Hong Kong was a British colony for 150 years but the least said about the shame and disgrace of how that came to be, the better, I promise you.

Suffice to say that to acquire territory by force, followed by unequal treaty at gunboat-point to punish the actual owners of the land for resisting the British opium trade, is, even by British Imperial standards, extraordinary. So shameful is it you’d think the British would want to draw a veil over it. But not so.

The British tell us that Hong Kong want democracy but nobody ever says that across a century and a half of British rule in Hong Kong the people there were allowed no democracy of any kind.

They tell us about the justice system without ever mentioning that even today the ‘draconian’ courts of Hong Kong are still stuffed by white English judges.

They tell us about NGOs and “civil society” without telling us whose pounds and dollars the “NGOs” are stuffed with.

In fact, these foreign-funded and guided organisations are carefully stabled Trojan Horses chomping their British and American supplied hay until the time came for them to be told to gallop, and gallop they now are.

This is all plain hypocrisy! No other country in the world would have shown such forbearance in the face of foreign-sponsored rioting destruction and sabotage of the national economy as China has. If in the days to come China’s patience runs out, it will not be before time so far as the great majority of Chinese citizens, including Hong Kong citizens, are concerned.

China signed up to the one country, two systems in the territory. It did not agree to two countries, two systems. Not one inch of Hong Kong belongs to anyone but China. The days when foreign countries could impose their will on China are long gone.

George Galloway was a member of the British Parliament for nearly 30 years. He presents TV and radio shows (including on RT). He is a film-maker, writer and a renowned orator.

This article originally appeared on RT.com.

Categories: Canadian, Socialism, World

PC Government Plans Many More Healthcare Cuts

Wed, 2019-08-14 02:22

Photo from Doug Ford (Twitter)

The Financial Accountability Office of Ontario (FAO) Economic and Budget Outlook review has identified planned government spending savings that come via announced program changes (program cuts like the government’s cut to OHIP+), announced efficiency targets (identified areas where the government hopes it will find savings without service cuts), and [3] cuts that have not yet been announced by the government.

While the government has identified some spending cuts of type 1 or 2 above, the government’s spending plan needs billions of dollars in extra, unidentified and unannounced cuts to meet its savings targets according to the FAO (type 3 cuts, as above). For healthcare, this amounts to $5.2-billion in unidentified and unannounced cost savings needed for the government’s health spending plan to work in 2023-24. Even though the cuts identified to date have been major and painful, $5.2-billion is many times more than the cuts announced and implemented to date.

The unidentified and unannounced health cuts exist even for this fiscal year – but they become a much bigger issue as the years go along until they account for $5.2-billion out of $8-billion in total healthcare cuts required by the government’s fiscal plan in 2023-24.

Other ministries also must make billions of dollars in unidentified cuts for the government to meet its spending plan. In two years the government plans to implement some $5.9-billion in cuts that are currently unannounced (in addition to the $5.7-billion already announced for that year). And it gets much worse in the years after that. Here’s the chart for all program spending.

The FAO notes the cuts are similar to the level of cuts in the 1990s, and equal to about 10% in real terms for all program spending – about a $1,100 per person cut (in constant dollars) for all program spending.

Ontario already has the lowest provincial government program spending, over $2,000 less per person than the Canadian average.

While the cuts imposed by the Mike Harris Progressive Conservative government (1995 to 2002) were particularly painful in its first Budget, they lasted only a couple of years before that government was required to reverse its policy in its third year, when it recognised reality and increased program spending by 8%. The new Progressive Conservative government plans at least five years of austerity (there are no reports from the government yet about what it plans to do in years six and beyond).

The FAO also reveals that the government’s plan also has some unannounced tax changes that will reduce revenue by $0.2-billion in 2020-21, and by $3.6-billion in 2023-24. So, not only has the PC government introduced billions in tax cuts this year, we will also get more, as yet unannounced, tax cuts in the years ahead. These revenue cuts delay the achievement of a balanced budget, deepen the provincial debt, and require more cuts to social programs. And these tax cuts are planned even as the government continues to claim – with shameless hypocrisy – that the program cuts it is imposing are required by the province’s fiscal situation.

Revenue Impact of Unannounced Tax Policy

Bottom line – The government must identify and implement very major cuts for healthcare (and all social programs) over the next five years if it keeps to its Budget plan.

Local communities need to speak out and require this government to change direction – just as the previous PC government did.

Doug Allan writes regularly on healthcare, the public sector, class, and collective bargaining in Leftwords for the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/CUPE web site and Defend Healthcare blog Defend Public Healthcare.

This article originally appeared on SocialistProject.ca.

Categories: Canadian, Socialism, World

Raptors President embraces bloodstained dictator

Mon, 2019-08-12 19:42

Paul Kagame with Masai Ujiri at the NBA Africa Summit (Flickr)

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri claims to be an ambassador for Africa, but his embrace of the most bloodstained African leader makes a mockery of any pan-Africanist pretenses.

On July 26 Ujiri traveled to Kigali to visit Rwandan president Paul Kagame. He was photographed next to the ruthless dictator sporting a T-shirt with a small map of the continent. Ujiri posted on Instagram: “Put your money where your mouth is. So proud of President Kagame building the Kigali Arena. Told us a year ago that he was going to do it. DONE. A shining example that — Africa is NOW!!”

A Rwandan media report highlights how the trip bolstered Kagame. “Toronto Raptor’s president lauds Kagame for fast tracking construction of Kigali Arena”, read the headline.

In a December article titled “Why do Raptors associate with blood-stained dictator?” I detailed Ujiri’s “friendship” with Kagame, which has blossomed amidst growing recognition of his violence. Among numerous examples, Ujiri invited Kagame to participate in a number of events at the 2016 NBA All-Star week in Toronto, responding to a Toronto Star inquiry about the matter by saying “there is no controversy.”

But there should be. CNN recently headlined a story, “Opposition members keep going ‘missing’ in Rwanda. Few expect them to return” while a Deutsche Welle article noted, “Rwanda’s disappearing opposition”. An August Harper’s story titled “Brutal from the beginning: everyone’s favorite strongman” discussed the NBA’s romance with Kagame who “for a quarter century… has maintained power through familiar authoritarian means — rewriting constitutions to establish one-party rule and extend term limits, administering elections in which he received up to 99 percent of the vote. His reign has also been marked by widespread human-rights abuses, likely including the assassination of political opponents.”

That’s a benign description of Kagame whose record is anything but “familiar”. The “military genius” played an important role in toppling governments in Kampala in 1986, Kigali in 1994 and Kinshasa in 1997. After the latter effort Rwandan forces reinvaded the Congo, which sparked an eight-country war that left millions dead between 1998 and 2003. Over the past two decades — again last March — Kagame has repeatedly invaded the Congo, which has as much as $24 trillion in mineral riches. Rwandan-instigated violence in eastern Congo has contributed to the Ebola outbreak, sexual violence and dreadful conditions of coltan miners there.

Rwanda has been in conflict with Burundi for years and during the past year Kagame and former brother in arms, Uganda President Yoweri Museveni, have nearly gone to war. Uganda accuses Kagame’s operatives of infiltrating the country and carrying out countless abductions and killings.

Five years ago Pretoria expelled Rwandan diplomats from South Africa after the country’s officials were implicated in the assassination of Kagame critics. Former Rwandan intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya was murdered in Johannesburg while former army chief Faustin Kayumba survived an assassination bid.

In publicly and forthrightly backing Kagame, Ujiri is aligning himself with Washington’s main ally in East Africa. Trained at the US Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Kagame is close to liberal imperialists such as Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. Kagame has also drawn close to Israel and Justin Trudeau’s government has continued Canada’s support for the dictator.

After the Raptors won the NBA championship in June many progressives celebrated Ujiri’s on-stage snub of Trump-light Ontario Premier Doug Ford. While hostile to conservative political forces that denigrate African countries as “shitholes”, Ujiri has aligned with an inequitable power structure that forces most Rwandans, Congolese, Burundians, Ugandans etc., to live on under three dollars a day.

It takes chutzpah to wear a T-shirt with a little map of the continent as you embrace a leader whose hands are dripping in African blood. Ujiri’s liberal capitalist political brethren — Trudeau, Obama and Clinton — are surely impressed. But those of us who see Africans as fellow human beings, not simply a “market” to be exploited, must be sad and at least a little angry.

Yves Engler has been dubbed “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I.F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), and “part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths” (Quill & Quire).He has published nine books.

Categories: Canadian, Socialism, World

Compassion as social policy

Fri, 2019-08-09 08:25
Compassion: A Global History of Social Policy

Alvin Finkel

Red Globe Press, 2019

Compassion: A Global History of Social Policy is the latest and most ambitious work of Canadian historian Alvin Finkel. It is an impressive book filled with rich detail and grounded in solid research. It is comprehensive and extremely well-organized and well-written.

In 306 pages Finkel appears to have accomplished the impossible. He chronicles how human beings have treated each other and particularly the most vulnerable members of society over the course of human history, from 200,000 BCE to the present day, and from around the world. He examines a multitude of factors that have contributed to the creation of compassion, or lack thereof. Finkel uses the term “social policy” as the main indicator of compassion. He argues that the histories of compassion and social policy cannot be separated from “histories of competition among social classes over the distribution of wealth and competition within elites over who has the right to provide social aid and in what form.”

The book consists of 13 chapters organized into three sections and a conclusion. It begins with the early hunting and gathering societies and moves on to feudalism, advanced agriculture, capitalism and ends with the current era of neoliberalism. An expansive range of regions and nation states are covered: Russia, Italy, Germany, France, Scandinavia, the U.S., Canada, Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, Asia and Africa. Within each of these regions and eras, Finkel provides details of the major social, economic, cultural and political factors that have created particular approaches to social well-being.

Finkel’s project is an extraordinary undertaking. In a single manuscript, he has produced a concise history of societal compassion across the globe. This broad sweep through human history provides an important context for understanding our contemporary social climate. Such a global perspective assists us to comprehend the similarities and divergences in social policy in the world and what combination of factors gave rise to them.

Unlike many English language books on social policy, the monograph includes not only the western developed world but also Africa and Asia and developing nations, from Communist and former Communist regions. While Finkel does not explicitly focus on some important details of the subject matter, several significant threads are pulled together throughout – regarding gender, race, class, Indigeneity, slavery, colonialism and culture.

Finkel’s study makes a significant contribution to the literature on social history and policy. Its global nature will undoubtedly attract a wide audience both inside and outside of Canada. For researchers interested in comparative or cross-national comparative social policy studies, this book is foundational. Compassion is also an essential resource for those who study history, sociology, political science, social administration, social policy and social work. Moreover, this work will be of interest to anyone who wants to understand more about how and why human beings treat each other the way they do, why we have poverty, why we have wars.

Therese Jennissen is an Associate Professor at Carleton University. She teaches in the areas of social policy and history at the School of Social Work. She has written on women and social policy, social work history and is joint author of One Hundred Years of Social Work: A History of the Profession in English Canada, 1900-2000.

This article appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of Canadian Dimension (CD Goes Digital).

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Categories: Canadian, Socialism, World

“A world of people without a people”

Fri, 2019-08-09 08:17
Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism

Quinn Slobodian

Harvard University Press, 2018

Quinn Slobodian’s masterful exegesis, an old term befitting his subject, tells of the ur group of thinkers, the globalists, who formulated the assumptions and prescriptions of global neoliberalism. This intellectual history tells of their underlying semi-delusional nostalgia for the Austro-Hungarian Empire after the First World War when beliefs about the smooth functioning of the old order ignored its exploitation of the majority of the people and of the resources in the world. Foremost, the neoliberal Hayek thought that the workings of capital were fundamentally “sublime,” beyond human comprehension, “pristine” in Marxist historian Ellen Meiksins Wood’s term, and not palpable and material. To this reader, this small group of men seem similar to Arendt’s Eichmann in their dehumanizing of humans; Slobodian’s conclusion is aptly titled “A World of People without a People.” The importance of ideas, of intellectual history, should not be underestimated by people committed to changing the world: these neoliberal theorists influenced the formation of the prime national and international laws and institutions that protect capital from the people, a system that now threatens our very existence.

Slobodian focuses on the writings of mainly European theorists who congregated in Geneva and then at Mont Pèlerin. These thinkers include F.A. Hayek, Wilhelm Ropke, Ludvig von Mises and Ernst-Ulrich Petersmann, among others. Slobodian also provides a comprehensive picture of the group’s pertinent historical contexts. He challenges at the outset the misconceptions about neoliberal principles: they did not see humans as motivated only by economic rationality and they sought “neither the disappearance of the state nor the disappearance of orders.” Rather, they aimed to globalize the “ordoliberal principle of ‘thinking in orders,’” to create institutions that would protect the world economy from autonomous democratic nation state interests that could interfere with global capital. They saw two levels of order: imperium was the partitioned, territorial state in which governments ruled over people; and dominium which was the world of property, in which people owned things, money and land scattered across the earth. For the globalists, the function of constrained, “militant democracy” was to encase and protect capital from the masses. The supranational arrangements came to include the European Central Bank, trade treaties, the World Trade Organization, international investment law and many types of economic zones.

The Geneva School thinkers saw three 20th century ruptures to the world economy: the First World War, the Great Depression and decolonization. He describes the fundamental shifts following the 1938 Walter Lippmann symposium in Paris. The Geneva School focused on supranational orders and rejected a narrow economistic reliance on models and data. They conceived their task as “enabling the conditions of the grander order itself.” Slobodian traces their battle against the 1973 United Nations New International Economic Order (NIEO) with its demand for redistributive equality and social justice. Slobodian includes primary source discussions on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the European Economic Community (EEC) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). For globalists, sovereignty lay in individual consumers and in the superstructure. They tasked the nation with enforcing negative freedoms against a broad range of economic and human rights protections that could infringe upon the global encapsulation and autonomy of capital. According to Slobodian, “against human rights, they posed the human rights of capital.”

In his conclusion, Slobodian describes two book covers from this group’s publications. Petersmann’s cover ironically uses the work of Communist artist Diego Rivera titled Calla Lilly Vendor, showing a woman bowed under the weight of a mountain of beautiful white flowers. Petersmann, blind to suffering, called it an icon of the “freedom to sell in the market place.” Slobodian points out that across the street from the Centre William Rappard in Geneva, which first housed the International Labour Organization and then the GATT, Petersmann would have seen the monument to work: “miners picking at a coalface, fishers at sea, farmers tilling and hauling crops, a hooded indigenous man carrying pelts, a man in a worker’s apron holding pincers, and a black African man with a hoe.” Engraved in the plinth of the statue: “Labor exists above all struggle for competition. It is not a commodity.” The second cover is from Pascal Lamy’s book: barely perceptible beneath a grid of crosses and flecks of colour is a Mercator projection of the world – no people and no life.

There is much to think about here, we live in a world of much intellectual confusion in which words often obscure the relationship of people with each other, how we are divided by various boundaries, and how we relate to different forms of authority. Slobodian’s original source material helps to disentangle the reversals: the hand of the market is not an invisible sublime process, but rather the hand belongs to Eichmann-like individuals for whom people are invisible. Similarly, in Shakespeare’s great play about justice, the merchant of Venice could not see ordinary human materiality as represented by the figure of Shylock. What urgently demands our attention is double government: how many people actually give a thought to this seemingly omnipresent supranational political/economic order, backed by the military and law, that can well cause human extinction?

Judy Deutsch, a psychoanalyst, teaches and supervises at the Toronto Psychoanalytic Institute, and is on the board of Science for Peace. Judy is a long-standing CD contributor.

This article appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of Canadian Dimension (CD Goes Digital).

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Categories: Canadian, Socialism, World

Turning the page: CD goes digital

Fri, 2019-08-09 08:00

Illustration by Jason Reed

With this issue of Canadian Dimension, we draw the curtain on 56 years in print.

This decision – the result of perpetual penury due to debt, shrinking grants, a decrescent subscriber base, and the pressures of the contemporary media environment – would be more heart-rending than it is, were it not for the promise of eternal life in cyberspace. So, in fittingly dialectical terms, this is at once a demise and a transcendence of English-speaking Canada’s longest-lived radical left magazine published in Winnipeg for the last six decades.

This defiant and scrappy periodical for people who want to change the world was launched at a historical moment when changing the world, or at least bringing about some sweeping changes in Canadian society, seemed a more distinct and immediate possibility than it does now. But the very first issue to see the light of print reminds us that the false promises of capitalism and the threat of nuclear war weighed heavily on the generation of the New Left. Introducing the magazine, Cy Gonick wrote “Despite the terrifying (and terrified) world in which we were born, we are not without hope for a better future. We have not become so disillusioned, so swamped by commercialism, so paralysed by the bomb that we have halted the search for ‘the good society’ and the use of reason as a guide to action.”

Those sentiments resonate today as the still terrifying possibility of nuclear war is now coupled with the existential threat of ecocide, making the quest and struggle for a post-capitalist, ecologically sustainable “good society” more imperative than ever. And while the New Left emerged in the United States in part from a struggle against white supremacy, today’s Left faces its resurgence throughout the Global North together with the recrudescence of fascism, as we bear witness to the blurring of boundaries between the assurgent populist right and the extreme right.

But fascism was scarcely a major preoccupation of the New Left of the 1960s, having been defeated – very temporarily, as it turns out, only some 15 years earlier. In Canada as in so many other places across the globe “There was music in the cafés at night and revolution in the air,” to borrow a lyric from Bob Dylan. And young people had a thirst for change that Dimension channeled.

Founded in 1963, it was an oasis in what was then a largely bleak media landscape for the Left. The only independent left publication of note in English speaking Canada was the anarchist monthly Our Generation, published in Montreal. Dimension preceded The Last Post, Briarpatch, In These Times and many other periodicals that emerged to satisfy the need for radical left analysis of Canadian politics, economy and culture.

However, the kind of radical movement of which Dimension was a reflection and an integral part has ebbed over the decades. The organized labour movement is a shadow of its former self, having mostly retreated into corporatism and futile rear-guard action against the assaults of neoliberal capitalism, when what is needed is mobilization for massive class struggle. The peace movement too has flagged. Outside Québec, where students were the advance guard of the popular movement known as the Printemps érable in 2012, the student movement hardly exists. The NDP has moved steadily rightward in spite of periodic efforts to infuse it with some semblance of fighting spirit – this at a time when socialism, however vaguely defined, is inspiring a new generation of young people in the United States.

Nevertheless, the struggle in English Canada, although diminished is not defeated. It takes different forms, and most significantly it finds expression in solidarity with the inspiring Indigenous resistance to the settler colonialist state that has burgeoned on Turtle Island in the last two decades. Moreover, with the mean-spirited and willfully blind right-wing leaders coveting and gaining power across the country with an agenda of demolishing the social state and facilitating colonialist extractivism, a resurgence of revolt is a reasonable bet.

Canadian Dimension’s raison d’être therefore remains intact. And although CD is a political project that first found expression in print, that project is not tethered to a specific medium. Our aim has always been to give voice to left ideas and to spark discussion. Today, with the irrevocable rise of the Web, the conversation to which we want to contribute is taking place principally online. And we plan to continue speaking our piece in that vital virtual space.

CD has already made a home and a name for itself in the digital village. Our website and our Facebook page receive thousands of visitors every day. In fact we have a bigger readership in the digital realm than we have, or have ever had, in print. And we are buoyed by the encouraging feedback we get from online readers.

So we’ll take our cue from Joe Hill: rather than mourn the demise of the print magazine, we are embracing CD’s digital platform as a springboard to a lively role in the 21st century resurgence of radical socialist thinking and organizing.

We will still offer the in-depth analytical pieces that have been our hallmark for more than half a century, but going digital will enable CD to be more responsive to the fast pace of left debate and intervene more quickly in ongoing discussions.

We invite our readers and supporters to join us online as we make this transition, and we look forward, in the months and years ahead, to engaging with a new generation of people who want to change the world.

As we bow out of the tangible world of print, we want to thank our subscribers – both the stalwarts and the relative newcomers to CD – for their sustaining solidarity. ¡Hasta la victoria siempre!

This article appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of Canadian Dimension (CD Goes Digital).

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Categories: Canadian, Socialism, World

Dishonouring the “Treaty Bundle”

Fri, 2019-08-09 07:52
No Surrender: The Land Remains Indigenous

Sheldon Krasowski

University of Regina Press, 2019

Historian and Indigenous Studies scholar Sheldon Krasowski makes a sterling contribution to the dialogue about treaty negotiations in Canada. Such dialogue was once dominated by colonialist apologetics claiming that cultural misunderstandings between Euro-Canadian and Indigenous negotiators caused the latter to fail to comprehend that they had given up most of their lands to Canada. The not-sohidden message was that the Canadian negotiators behaved honourably but unfortunately their Indigenous counterparts were none too bright.

Holes were punched into such denigration of Indigenous leaders long before the treaty negotiations were revisited by numerous studies of the Canadian fur-trading period. These studies demonstrated both the dependence of the Europeans on Native peoples and the sharp skills of Indigenous hunters and middlemen in extracting good value for their products. The fur trade’s labour force requirements made it necessary for Europeans to abandon their normal colonization strategies of plantation slavery or forced labour in mines and industry. Indigenous trappers and traders could hardly be confined in small spaces with colonial overseers as they had to travel huge distances to hunt fur-bearing animals. But the transition from fur trade to settlement changed everything, reducing the bargaining power of Indigenous people. That did not mean that they had no maneuverability and that they suddenly forgot all that they had learned about European values and behaviours as they entered into treaty negotiations. Nor for that matter did the Europeans suddenly unlearn Indigenous protocols and understandings. Sheldon Krasowski’s close analysis of the negotiations for the first seven numbered treaties after Confederation makes this abundantly clear.

What Krasowski demonstrates painstakingly, using both the work of earlier historians and many primary Indigenous and Euro-Canadian sources alike, is that the Canadian government negotiators behaved dishonourably. While they followed Native protocols in the negotiations to create the impression that they would live up to agreed-upon promises during the talks, their real goal was to produce treaties that claimed that Indigenous people had surrendered their land rather than simply agreed to share it in restricted ways that were made transparent during the negotiations. The Canadian negotiators made clear, oral promises to the Indigenous people that they failed to include in the written treaties. This was done in full knowledge that Aboriginal peoples regarded the combination of ceremonies, oral promises, and expressions of mutual solidarity as a “Treaty Bundle,” to which the European written documents were an add-on but not separable from the rest of the bundle. As Krasowski shows, while some of those promises are mainly documented through the oral accounts that Indigenous historians within First Nations passed down from generation to generation, the evidence is amply buttressed in contemporary materials. Those include written manuscripts of the conversations that occurred during the negotiations, manuscripts that earlier historians conveniently ignored in favour of the official record, and observations at the time by eyewitnesses, including clergy and traders. What this evidence shows is that the Canadian negotiators produced their own “Treaty Bundle,” a tissue of distortions and omissions of what actually occurred during negotiations.

“Avoiding the surrender clause during the negotiations was the cornerstone of Canada’s negotiating strategy,” argues Krasowski. While the Indigenous negotiators were often alarmed when they heard the words of the treaties themselves and became reluctant to sign, many were prepared to accept the sincerity of negotiators who had expressed sympathy with Indigenous goals through days of negotiation. Promises of additional language to be added after their signatures or Xs were affixed assuaged skepticism and when no such language was added, written historical records and oral history alike demonstrate that Native leaders lobbied hard to have such promises entrenched. For a century the courts ignored the “Treaty Bundle” in favour of the written treaty documents sliced out of the context of the long conversations, ceremonies, and promise-making from both sides that preceded their composition by one side alone. Recent court decisions have promisingly set aside earlier colonialist assumptions that such documents could be dealt with in splendid isolation and have accepted at least some evidence that Indigenous people never surrendered their lands, never accepted that they were to be dispossessed, and were never given reason to believe that the colonial negotiators had any doubt on either score.

This is an important work on Canadian colonialism from the perspective of colonized people, although the author himself is Euro-Canadian. Krasowski emphasizes that treaties involved both Indigenous and new Canadians and both sides have rights and responsibilities as a result of the “Treaty Bundle.” For non-Indigenous people, that means that we have indeed been invited to share the land with Indigenous people but within a framework that respects the continued ownership of land by Indigenous people. This framework includes their principles of respectful dealings with animals and plants so that we can follow common paths to preserve the land and the air that provides life to all of us.

My only bone to pick with this book is one that I also have with much of Canadian historical writing on all subjects, including some of my own work. It’s just too claustrophobic. What was happening between settler-colonialists and Indigenous people in Canada occurred in a larger, global colonial context. I think it would have helped Krasowski’s account immensely, without compromising his excellent empirical evidence, to have provided some of that international context and to interrogate where the Canadian experience fits in and what unique features it presents.

Alvin Finkel is a prolific historian and president of the Alberta Labour History Institute. See page 47 of this issue for a review of his recent book, Compassion: A Global History of Social Policy.

This article appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of Canadian Dimension (CD Goes Digital).

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Categories: Canadian, Socialism, World

Murder Bay: Investigations into the deaths of Indigenous youth

Fri, 2019-08-09 07:42
Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City

Tanya Talaga

House of Anansi Press, 2017

Thunder Bay

Ryan McMahon

Canadaland, 2018

Investigative journalist and Toronto Star columnist Tanya Talaga couldn’t ignore the similarities in the recent suspicious deaths of seven Indigenous teenagers in Thunder Bay. Talaga wanted answers; moreover, she wanted the cases to gain exposure. Thunder Bay, Ontario, a city located at the top of Lake Superior with a sprawling 120,000 people, has sparked mainstream media attention over the past few years in the deaths of the teens. The corruption and bizarre behaviours of the city’s top officials and lawmakers have also hit the headlines. But is there a connection between the tragic deaths and the scandalous activities of the city’s leaders?

Talaga, in her book Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City, and Anishnaabe comedian Ryan McMahon, in a five-part podcast series, Thunder Bay, produced by Canadaland, aim to reveal the scandalous and shameful nature of the city and to expose the consequences of that nature, primarily through a study of the auspicious deaths of several Indigenous teenagers. Regardless of the extraordinary similarities in the deaths of these teens, local police investigators have regarded the incidents as accidental and not suspicious.

The initial basic points to consider are the similarities found in the cases discussed in Talaga’s book. The seven teenagers, Jordan Wabasse, 15, Jethro Anderson, 15, Curran Strang, 18, Paul Panacheese, 17, Robyn Harper, 18, Reggie Bushie, 15, and Kyle Morriseau, 18, were all previously from remote reserves in northwestern Ontario. They left their homes and communities to pursue a high school education in Thunder Bay. In the remote communities of northwestern Ontario, only substandard education is available, and there are almost no options to continue schooling past Grade 9. For this reason, many Indigenous students move to Thunder Bay in attempts to complete their studies, and yet the challenge of entering a large city as an Indigenous youth from a remote reserve community often means that their studies are not completed. Finding a place and fitting into the settler community of Thunder Bay means an uphill battle, one which many students are not prepared for or interested in fighting. Many don’t complete their studies and move back home, or worse: they don’t complete their studies and they don’t move back home.

Despite the similarities in the deaths, law enforcement continues to sidestep pointed questions and has communicated very little with the families regarding developments in the cases. The Kaministiquia River runs through the city and is the site where the bodies of five boys out of the seven dead teens were found. The deaths were officially categorized by the coroners as “accidental” even though all the kids had excellent swimming skills and experience being in and around open water, especially given that they grew up surrounded by it. Death by drowning is not common in the communities where these teenagers came from, so how did it become a regular occurrence in Thunder Bay? This question was never explored let alone answered by the local police or coroners during the subsequent investigations and inquests.

An unmistakeable and notable detail of all seven deaths discussed by Talaga is that the children were deeply loved and cared for by their families and communities. Upon each missing person’s report, a significant number of people from Thunder Bay and the youth’s home community and surrounding areas came to the city in search of the body and some answers. With refined tracking skills from the northwestern Ontario bush, the search teams coordinated by the families were able to uncover more information in the disappearances and the deaths of the teenagers. Talaga highlights the resiliency of the Indigenous families and communities impacted by the deaths while simultaneously exposing the deep love and sorrow they felt for the teenagers. Through compassion for the families and for the lives of the lost, in combination with her journalistic instincts in exposing details of corruption and negligence, she brings to light the meaningful story of the tragedies and gives the victims a humanity that failed to be captured by the mainstream media.

McMahon seems to pick up where Talaga left off. Though he doesn’t explicitly state this, I felt that his five-part podcast was inspired by the meticulous and heartfelt work of Talaga. He acknowledges her in “Chapter 3: Deathly Low Priority,” but the anger in his tone regarding the deceit and scandal leading to the negligence of the authorities’ investigations is a departure from her compassion and sorrow, and rightly so. Because McMahon starts to answer why this has happened – racism, both overt and systemic – he ignites the rage within. We learn from McMahon that Thunder Bay’s mayor Hobbs has told the Ontario Human Rights Commission to kiss his ass in response to their concerns that the local government is not doing enough to help Indigenous peoples. We also learn that evidence continues to build against Thunder Bay’s criminal defense lawyer and former Ontario Crown Prosecutor, Agnew Johnston, who is wrapped up in sex scandals with underage girls – specifically Indigenous underage girls. These men show that critical scruples are entirely absent in the power structures of the city. By exploring the sex scandals of Johnston and the absurd behaviours of the mayor, McMahon opens up the shady nature of the city’s authorities. His true-crime style mixed with passionate anger captivates the listener. Like Talaga, McMahon highlights the fierce resistance of Indigenous communities, such as the Bear Clan, who have stopped waiting for law enforcement to find the truth about what had happened to these teens and have begun their own investigations of the deaths (nine at the time of McMahon’s podcast, averaging one to two deaths per year).

LeftI appreciated reading the book and listening to the podcast back-to-back. They seem to work together, weaving a narrative throughout – from different angles but with a similar lens – exposing racism, continual effects of colonization, and the fallacy of the settler justice system. Talaga’s book has won numerous awards including the 2018 RBC Taylor Prize, and in 2018 she become the first Anishnaabe woman to deliver the prestigious Massey Lectures. It is not difficult to understand why there’s been such a sudden success for Talaga – her work is thoughtful, well-researched, and emotional.

Ryan McMahon has also accomplished much. From his comedic series, Red Man Laughing, to CBC’s Unreserved, and his current independent Indigenous media project, Indian & Cowboy, McMahon produces hilarious and punchy narratives about the absurdity and injustices of settler-colonial relationships in Canada today. The two artists, working together on the case of the murders in Thunder Bay, are a perfect team interweaving literature, broadcasting, history, politics and style.

The case of Thunder Bay in the book and the podcast series has been placed against a backdrop of a well-thought-out history of colonialism and its continuation in the settler society today. Both the book and the podcast have elucidated the unsolved deaths of far too many Indigenous teenagers living in unnervingly similar circumstances, most important of which finds them all dead in the city of Thunder Bay, rampant with its scandal, corruption and racism. Oscillating back and forth from tones of compassion, sorrow, and rage, Talaga and McMahon shine an abrasive light on Thunder Bay, making it difficult for either mainstream media or accused lawmakers to be let off the hook. They leave little doubt as to the origins of the city’s despised nickname “Murder Bay.”

Kimberly Wilson is a coordinating editor of Canadian Dimension. Kim works as an adult educator facilitating an Academic Upgrading class with Alexandra Park Neighbourhood Learning Centre in Toronto’s West End. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies from Trent University.

This article appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of Canadian Dimension (CD Goes Digital).

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Categories: Canadian, Socialism, World

China is on track to meet its climate change goals nine years early

Fri, 2019-08-09 07:35

Photo from Pixabay

China appears on track to reach its carbon goals up to nine years earlier than planned under the Paris agreement, in a potential huge boost for efforts to tackle climate change.

The world’s biggest polluter accounts for a quarter of humanity’s emissions today, making the nation a crucial part of any efforts to avoid dangerous global warming.

Now an analysis has found that China’s emissions could peak at 13 to 16 gigatonnes of CO2 between 2021 and 2025, making what the researchers call a “a great contribution” to meeting the Paris deal’s goal of limiting temperature rises to 2°C. The official target is a peak by “around 2030.”

“It reflects China’s great efforts in mitigating climate change and the ‘new normal’ of the economy, from high speed to high quality, which might cause CO2 emissions to peak earlier,” says Haikun Wang of Nanjing University. His Chinese-US team calculated their dates by looking at historical carbon emissions and GDP data for 50 Chinese cities between 2000 and 2016. They found that emissions tend to peak at 10.2 tonnes of CO2 per person when GDP hits around $21,000 per person.

The cities are responsible for 35 per cent of China’s total emissions, from which the researchers extrapolated a national picture, projecting it forward to find a peak. The possibility of China delivering early on its international target will be a boost for UN climate talks. Under the Paris deal, countries are due to submit revised and improved carbon targets next year.

The possibility of an early peak has been driven by the changing nature of China’s economy, a shift which is likely to continue. “As China moves towards a higher tech and service economy, it is likely to show how the passage to a low-carbon economy and robust and sustainable growth in an emerging market economy can be mutually supportive,” says Nicholas Stern, of the London School of Economics. The expectation of a peak by 2025 is in line with the lower end of other projections.

However, Haikun and colleagues admit they didn’t analyse many small cities, which have the potential to develop more, so the real emissions may end up higher. The US-based thinktank World Resources Institute also says that while more countries are peaking emissions – 57 are due by 2030, up from 19 in 1990 – it will still not be enough to make global emissions peak in the next few years.

This article originally appeared in New Scientist.

Categories: Canadian, Socialism, World

‘This is Our Land’: An Interview with Ellen Gabriel about Ongoing Land Fraud at Kanesatake

Thu, 2019-08-08 01:52

Land back is land back.

For the Kanien’kéha:ka (Mohawk) of Kanehsatà:ke, the return of stolen land – fraudulently sold first by a religious order and then by the municipality of Oka, Quebec and the Government of Canada – has been at the heart of their demands for 300 years. Mohawk resistance to the ongoing theft of Kanien’kéha:ka homelands is well-known. Most notably, in the summer of 1990, during the so-called “Oka Crisis,” Mohawks defended a forested area known as the Pines from development. Since then, community members like Ellen Gabriel (Katsi’tsakwas, Turtle Clan) have continued to protect the Pines and call on all levels of settler government – municipal, provincial, and federal – to return the land.

So when news broke in July that a developer was going to gift 60 hectares of land, including the Pines, to the community, many people declared it a win for the Mohawks. The developer – Gregoire Gollin – said that he is making the gift “in the spirit of reconciliation.” What’s more, Gollin has stated that he’s willing to sell an additional 150 hectares of the disputed land to the Government of Canada to then transfer back to the community.

On the surface, this story seems to offer a model for what reconciliation in Canada could look like. Stolen land is being returned.

But the devil is always in the details.

Gollin’s “reconciliation” comes with strings attached. His “gift” to the Mohawk does not actually return the land to the community, and his promises to stop development on disputed land is contingent on the federal government compensating him for land he fraudulently purchased with no guarantee that the land will be returned to the Mohawks.

More information, and a longer view of colonization at Kanehsatà:ke, reveals that Gollin is not unselfishly contributing to reconciliation but is rather continuing accumulation by dispossession. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Ellen Gabriel to shed more light on the situation.

Sean Carleton for Canadian Dimension (CD): Many people look back on the events of the so-called Oka Crisis and say, “well, the golf course was never built in the Pines, the graveyard was protected, so the Mohawks won.” Is that an accurate assessment?

Ellen Gabriel (EG): Well, it was a small victory. The proposed development – the golf course extension, the building of luxury condos over our ancestral graveyard in the Pines – didn’t continue. That’s a good thing, but what many people don’t realize is that the issue of control over our land got lost in the “crisis” that all levels of government – municipal, provincial, and federal – manufactured. Once the federal government stopped its siege on our community in September 1990, it promised to resolve the land issue; however, when the tanks left and the 2500 troops were redeployed, we didn’t get the land back. The cameras left and people – Canadians – stopped caring. But we are still struggling for the return of our land.

In the years afterwards, the government promised to work with the community to transfer the land back, but instead fraudulently sold it to a developer who in turn sold it to Gollin. People need to understand that this is what has been going on for 300 years. This is what we are fighting to stop.

This is how “Oka” was created. Our homeland was systemically sold out from under us by the Sulpicians to create Oka, and the municipality of Oka, supported by the federal government, has only continued the land fraud. Oka is not near or around Kanehsatà:ke; Kanehsatà:ke is Oka. That’s the problem. The major of Oka, Pascal Quevillon, wants this to continue to the benefit of the municipality.

This is how Canada operates. Canada steals land from Indigenous peoples and fraudulently sells it – at a profit – to settlers and “developers.” People think Gollin’s so-called “gift” will end this story, but it is just another chapter in the saga of settler colonialism.

CD: Why is the “land gift” story so problematic?

EG: Gollin’s so-called gift comes with terms and conditions that only furthers colonization. First, because it is an ecological gift, the land will continue to be controlled by the federal government and not by Kanehsatà:ke. Sure, there can be no development in the Pines, which is good, but our land is not being returned to us. The federal government will still oversee our land, it will be subject to federal rules and regulations. We will have no say.

Second, Gollin’s gift will give him a hefty a tax break. He is rich for a reason. He knows we will always resist development of the Pines, as we did in 1990, so he is cutting his losses in the face of our persistent resistance. We protested his development project in the summer of 2017, and he stopped. So, better get something for your investment, right? He is smart. He is making the “gift” to liquefy some cash, which he can use to purchase and develop other land. Most notably, he is “gifting” 60 hectares of our land but is doing so to force the government to buy his other 150 hectares, probably at a profit, that he shouldn’t have been able to purchase in the first place. If the deal falls through, he says he will continue to develop our land. People are getting rich off of selling stolen land back and forth. That’s Canada. The land fraud just continues. So, had he gifted us with everything that would be one thing, but he said he has to eat, well, this is a rich man who owns a lot of land.

Third, and I can’t stress this enough, people need to understand: this is our land. The federal government, Canada, all of the governments, including Oka, are guilty of land fraud. This is something that already is ours. We never relinquished or surrendered control; the land was – and still is being – stolen from us.

CD: What is the role of federal government here?

EG: Well, the bottom line is that the federal government and politicians don’t really care if the land is transferred.

The history is there, and there is a lot of digging; if we dug deep enough and took Canada to court – we could break Canada, easily. Just this community alone, because of the land-fraud, because of all the things that have been taken from us, that have been denied. Canada has never upheld the honour of the Crown here in Kanehsatà:ke and indeed in many cases, and so the Quebecois people, their concerns are more important to Canada than the people of Kanehsatà:ke and the Mohawks everywhere.

I think if there is any kind of reconciliation people need to understand there needs to be reparations. That makes people – Canadians – nervous, but it’s the truth. We need to work on this together, nation-to-nation. Right now, negotiations are one-directional and the band council supports this against the wishes of the majority of the community. We are being dictated too and told to celebrate it as a victory. That’s not what nation-to-nation looks like to me.

And if Mr. Golan is going to be allowed to continue to sell more land, then we’re losing more land again. We’re between a rock and a hard place. If we say no to this, then we’ll hear, “oh, you guys don’t want a resolution…you’re just violent people,” which is what mayor Quevillon and many others in Oka are saying. The mayor is afraid that Kanehsatà:ke control of our homelands will lower housing prices in Oka property. Give me a break.

We’re just supposed to accept the crumbs thrown our way, accept the conditions, we have no say in what those conditions are and the band council isn’t communicating with the people. Tensions are rising. It’s very frustrating that 29 years after the “crisis” we’re still discussing this. The federal government had an opportunity to do something about it and did absolutely nothing.

If the government of Canada gets it way, somewhere down the line they can sell our land to a developer again, as they did in 1990, they sold to a private individuals on disputed land, so they should be compensating these people (in Oka) that they fraudulently sold the land to, but they won’t acknowledge or take responsibility for creating this mess.

Everyone wants to demonize us for wanting our homelands back but that is absurd. Canadians need to direct their outrage at the right people: the Sulpicians, Oka, the provincial and federal governments – they all need to be held accountable for their ongoing complicity in land fraud and colonization at Kanehsatà:ke.

CD: What message to do you want Canadians to understand as this story unfolds?

EG: Learn your colonial history, learn why we are so frustrated, and let’s get back to nation-to-nation relations. We have a history – At the Woods Edge – that helps people understand the complex story of Kanehsatà:ke. This has been going on for more than 300 years.

We are people of the land. We are made from this land. It is priceless. We want to have the ability, like everybody else, to be able to live in a safe and secure environment, and we cannot do that when the Government of Canada continues to control our lives and our lands. And if Canadians want to pressure their governments – municipal, provincial, federal – to do something, if they really care about peace in this country, then they need to learn their own colonial history.

We have so little land left from our original homeland. We’re not asking for much. We’re asking for justice. And that means that Canadians need to become educated and activated.

Ellen Gabriel (Katsi’tsakwas) is a Mohawk activist and artist from Kanehsatà:ke - Turtle Clan, known for her involvement as the official spokesperson, chosen by the People of the Longhouse, during the 1990 “Oka Crisis.” She is the recipient of the Golden Eagle Award from the Native Women’s Association of Canada (2005) and the Jigonsaseh Women of Peace Award (2008).

Sean Carleton is a coordinating editor with Canadian Dimension.

Categories: Canadian, Socialism, World

Midsommar Madness: the problematic portrayal of Bipolar Disorder in Film

Thu, 2019-08-08 00:33
Midsommar

Ari Aster

B-Reel Films, 2019

Midsommar has been turning heads since it debuted in theatres earlier this month, and the jury is still out on whether it is incredibly scary or incredibly offensive. However, if you or someone you love suffers from bipolar disorder – you probably consider it the latter.

Midsommar centers on Dani, a young girl who follows her arguably shitty boyfriend and his friends to Sweden to escape a family tragedy. The group attends a pagan summer festival that has been going on in Sweden for centuries. Idyllic at first, horrific in the end - Midsommar is a slow building roller coaster that’ll have you feeling like you just took a bucket of mushrooms (and not the kind you find in the produce aisle).

The trajectory of our hero’s story begins with her undergoing a life altering event; in this case, her entire family dying – at the hands of her sister. Understandably for the plot, they wanted Dani free of emotional ties before exploring the weird Swedish pagan cult. The problem is, Midsommar has the protagonist’s bipolar sister murder their entire family in a double homicide-suicide, and uses her disorder as the rationale for the killing. It is an unnecessary plot device meant to drive home the tragedy, but instead drives home a stigma.

Misconceptions in the media surrounding mental illness are nothing new. The portrayal of anorexia in Netflix’s To the Bone was irresponsible and thoughtless, and the portrayal of depression and suicide in 13 Reasons Why downright disturbing. As problematic as these representations of mental illness have been, the characters suffering from those ailments were not portrayed as a murderer. This seems to be reserved for discussing bipolar disorder.

Unfortunately, Midsommar is not the first to employ bipolar as an entry way into horrific events; the disorder has been used as a horror device for decades. Let’s not forget the thriller horror hybrid Repentance wherein the lead literally tortures their life coach for half the movie. Why? Because he’s bipolar – this apparently gives you irrepressible murderous tendencies. In the popular movie The Roommate, we see one college roommate stalk the other, ultimately murdering the other’s boyfriend. It’s revealed later in the film that this too is due to untreated bipolar disorder.

The problem with these depictions of bipolar disorder, beyond the gross misrepresentation, is the stigma they create around mental illnesses generally and bipolar specifically. The consequences of the stigma manifest long after the credits have rolled. For the average audience member who may not know much about bipolar disorder, these movies set a precedent. A precedent where the viewer walks away, and knowingly or not, brings these uniformed and hurtful representations of a serious mental illness into the wider world. Next time the viewer meets someone who shares their bipolar diagnosis with them, their only previous “knowledge” about the condition will be what they saw in these films. This is too often congruent with violence and puts up a wall between human connection and more importantly, empathy.

Most movie critics and audience members thus far seem to be unfazed by this tangibly distasteful story telling device, as Midsommar continues to be both criticized and praised, for everything other than their portrayal of bipolar disorder. It is easy to consider something as benign as a horror film to be inconsequential, but unfortunately films like this play directly into how we treat our sick friends and family. With the world hyper focused on opening the dialogue surrounding mental health (#BellLetsTalk), you would think that our media would adjust. Unfortunately, horror fans are not so lucky.

The way to solve this is simply to make it clear; mental illness is not a plot device. Writers need to develop characters without taking the easy way out. Using bipolar disorder or any other mental illness as a shortcut to explaining a character’s murderous motivation is too easy and ultimately wrong. Your neighbor, friend, or coworker with bipolar disorder is not some blood thirsty killer just waiting to emerge when the meds wear off. They are people just like the rest of us, with unique personality traits that probably don’t include the insatiable desire to kill, kill, kill.

Theresa-Anne Clarke Harter is a restauranteur by day, a feminist pop culture junkie by night, and a part-time communications student in between.

Categories: Canadian, Socialism, World

Non-Aligned Movement gathers in Venezuela to resist dictatorship of dollar

Wed, 2019-08-07 02:17

Late in the evening on July 19, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif stepped out of a plane and met his Venezuelan counterpart, Jorge Arreaza, on the tarmac outside Caracas with an enthusiastic embrace. Zarif was in town to participate in the ministerial conference of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

“Today in the Middle East and the regions of South America and Latin America, the US is creating instability and insecurity,” Zarif declared to reporters gathered for his arrival. “The resistance of the people of Venezuela against the United States is very important for all the countries of the world.”

A day later, the two embattled foreign ministers appeared alongside an assortment of high-level delegates from around the world, from Africa to Latin America to Asia. Zarif and Arreaza’s position at the front and center of the group sent an undeniable message about the Non-Aligned Movement’s purpose in 2019.

Officially founded in 1961 by post-colonial icons like Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Jawaharlal Nehru of India, and Yugoslavian leader Josef Tito, NAM was originally conceived as an alliance between countries seeking independence from both the US and Soviet power blocs during the height of the Cold War.

Yet the end of the USSR’s collapse did not negate NAM’s relevance. Nearly 30 years since the end of the Cold War, the US is still attempting regime change operations or carrying out unparalleled economic aggression against NAM member states, as well as Russia and China. With participation from Moscow and Beijing, the group is now experiencing renewed significance as it prepares to confront US financial tyranny like never before.

For decades, the US has aimed to intimidate independent states through unilateral coercive measures like economic sanctions. Of the twenty-one nations currently named on the Treasury Department’s sanctions list all except South Sudan are either official members of NAM or enjoy observer status.

The conference in Caracas was focused on uniting NAM member states against US unilateralism. Despite their diverse and often conflicting political agendas and ideologies, the delegates unanimously affirmed their pursuit of a multipolar world and a desire to construct an international financial system independent of US control.

At the conclusion of the meeting, The Non-Aligned Movement unanimously adopted a final document which officially established a NAM Working Group on sanctions to be led by Venezuela. The Caracas declaration stated that NAM members will explore plans to sue the US at the International Court of Justice over its ham-fisted application of economic sanctions.

Sensing a threat from the NAM summit’s agenda, Venezuelan FM Arreaza told The Grayzone that US officials had tried to pressure diplomats not to fly to Caracas. But they were rebuked across the board.

According to Arreaza, the successful convocation of the summit represented “a failure of US diplomacy” driven home by “120 countries [that] are not aligned with the US… they want to be free, they want to be independent.”

“We are the vaccine against unilateralism,” the foreign minister emphasized. “The Non-Aligned Movement is the vaccine to the cancer that represents the infliction, the domination of this powerful government to control men and women who believe in humanity.”

A global endorsement of Maduro’s legitimacy

NAM’s gathering in Caracas took place a mere six months after the US attempted to install the opposition politician Juan Guaido as president of Venezuela. Fifty-four European and US-aligned governments around the world joined Washington in recognizing Guaido despite the fact that he had failed to establish control over a single institution of governance.

“We have the support of the world,” Guaido insisted on July 18.

But the NAM summit provided a clear rebuke to Guaido’s claim of international approval. Representatives from over 120 nations as well as international organizations like the African Union, the United Nations, and The National Hostosian Movement for the Independence of Puerto Rico descended on Caracas in an explicit endorsement of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s authority.

Venezuelan UN Ambassador Samuel Moncada noted the irony behind Guaido’s assertions of legitimacy. “In the world there are 193 countries and the United States cites only 54,” Moncada said, referencing the delegates that filled the summit hall before him. “Here there are 120 nations. Two-thirds of the United Nations believes that the government of Nicolas Maduro is the legitimate government of Venezuela.”

The NAM summit’s success was particularly relevant to Ambassador Moncada’s fight to maintain Venezuela’s UN status. This June, US Vice President Mike Pence delivered a condescending tirade at a General Assembly meeting in which he demanded Mocada “go home” while admonishing other states to revoke his government’s credentials. But at the NAM meeting, the UN’s largest member bloc implicitly rebuked Pence.

Delegates at the NAM summit unanimously approved a document that denounced US efforts to carry out regime change in Venezuela. It went on to thank Maduro for his work as NAM’s Chairperson and announced support for his country’s candidacy to serve on the UN Human Rights Council.

As delegates arrived for the NAM summit on July 18, photos of a swimsuit-clad Guaido diving into the Carribean surfaced in local media. Guaido had been visiting Venezuela’s Margarita Island, where he publicly thanked the European Union’s parliament for requesting even more crushing sanctions on the country.

Remind me again, who is the President of Venezuela? pic.twitter.com/YquNdKsPYx

— Anya Parampil (@anyaparampil) July 21, 2019

Maduro’s appearance at the summit two days later provided a stark contrast to Guaido’s daffy photo op. Clad in a dark suit and projecting confidence before hundreds of diplomats and foreign ministers from around the globe, the president reflected on the challenges his government had to confront throughout its three year term as chair of the movement.

“During these three years we have not lacked, and we have not failed the Non-Aligned Movement,” President Maduro asserted during his address before delegates and ministers on July 20. “And these three years are three years in which we have faced our greatest internal political tests in Venezuela.”

Maduro’s tenure as president has seen Venezuela’s US-backed opposition attempt to overthrow him through numerous violent destabilization campaigns, most notably through the guarimba protests in 2014 and 2017. After just a few months in office, the Obama Administration categorized Maduro’s administration as a “national security threat,” setting the stage for sanctions that drastically reduced its ability to access credit on the international market. Last year, Maduro survived an attempt to assassinate him with explosives strapped to drones at a military parade. Then came this year’s coup attempt.

Before his audience at NAM, Maduro struck a tone of optimism. “This 21st century is our century,” he proclaimed. “It is the century of freedom, it is the century of the end of empires, and it is just beginning in 2019. Although the battle is hard… no matter how bloody or criminal the attacks are, if we are determined to be free, nothing, nor anyone will stop us. Brothers and sisters of the world, nothing, no one can stop the course of the new story that is making its way!”

Maduro and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov at NAM

“This is economic terrorism”

At the NAM summit, countries took the floor one by one to describe the horrific impact that sanctions have had on their own populations. The dramatic scene was the byproduct of an effort undertaken by Venezuelan FM Arreaza last February to unite as many nations together as possible around a mutual defense of national sovereignty, self-determination, and territorial integrity – the founding principles of the UN and an inspiration for the 1955 Bandung founding charter that guides NAM today.

The US Treasury Department punished Arreaza this April for his efforts, announcing sanctions against him and threatening to do the same against Zarif, the Iranian FM.

In July, the US imposed onerous limits on the movement of Iran’s UN mission, restricting diplomats and their families to several blocks in New York City, John F. Kennedy Airport, and travel routes pre-approved by the State Department. The severity of the constraints were unprecedented.

At the NAM summit, Zarif delivered perhaps the most forceful denunciation of US sanctions. “Just Google ‘terrorism,’” Iranian FM Zarif urged. “This is the definition that the dictionary will give you: ‘unlawful use of violence or intimidation, especially against civilians, in pursuit of political gains’… so please friends, stop using [the term] ‘sanctions’… sanctions have a legal connotation. This is economic terrorism… we have to say it again and again.”

Turkey, a NATO member which has been threatened with sanctions by the Trump Administration over its plans to purchase the Russian S-400 missile defense system, also spoke up against US unilateralism during the discussion.

“Power is not a zero-sum game,” Ankara’s envoy insisted, asserting his government’s firm rejection of US efforts to overthrow Venezuela’s government.

Speaking on behalf of the Syrian Arab Republic, Ambassador Khalil Biar reiterated “the full and compelling solidarity” of his government with Maduro’s administration, “in thwarting aggressive plans to forcibly change the legitimate Government of this fraternal country.”

China, Cuba, Nicaragua, Namibia, The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Surinam were just a few of the other countries that spoke up against sanctions at the meeting.

Though Russia was not an official member of the Non-Aligned Movement, it sent its second most powerful diplomat, Vice Minister Sergey Ryabkov, to observe the summit and hold bilateral meetings in the Venezuelan capital. Ryabkov accused the US of strangling Venezuela with one hand through its imposition of sanctions while pickpocketing it with the other by freezing its assets held in Western banks.

To counter Washington’s increasing reliance on economic sabotage against independent nations, Ryabkov emphasized the need to decrease international reliance on the US dollar with alternatives to the US-controlled financial system.

“Let’s turn dependence into independence,” he suggested.

In an interview with The Grayzone, Ryabkov reflected that “in recent times, the culture of negotiation, the pattern of compromise, became almost completely absent from the toolbox of US diplomacy.”

“After the end of the Cold War, it took particularly long for the US to realize there is no such thing like everyone agreeing to what the US asks or demands,” he explained, “in absence of these sophisticated tools, the next cost efficient one would be sanctions, before restoring to military force.”

Ryabkov told the Grayzone that according Russian government analysis, the US has sanctioned almost 70 countries in recent decades, impacting the lives of over one-third of the world’s population.

“I think it will backfire, it cannot be sustained in this way,” he predicted, adding “people will bypass [the measures] in literal terms and people will find ways to defend themselves and to protect themselves.”

Challenging the dollar, sending the US into a frenzy

US unilateral sanctions are only effective because the world economic system relies so heavily on the dollar and Western financial structures. As even Foreign Policy, a favorite outlet of the US diplomatic establishment, acknowledged this June, “All this bullying is made possible because the US dollar remains the world’s reserve currency.” The over-reliance on economic intimidation has accelerated the birth of an alternative system that allows nations outside the Western sphere of influence to conduct business on their own terms.

“China, Russia, others– we at the moment create alternatives [to the US-controlled international economy],” Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov informed The Grayzone, “then we will probably move to [use] not just national currencies, but baskets of currencies… we will use ways that will diminish the role of the dollar and US banking system.”

In recent years, NAM participants including Russia, India, Turkey, China, and Venezuela, have sold off significant holdings of their US debt while simultaneously increasing their stockpiles of gold.

In September 2018, Russia, Turkey, and Iran committed to trade in local currencies, including for gas and oil. In April, Moscow and Ankara created a joint-investment fund bankrolled entirely in euros. The following month, Venezuela sold $570 million worth of gold to the United Arab Emirates which was paid for in cash, and in euros.

During the St. Petersburg Economic Forum this June, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that it was time to “rethink the role of the dollar, which has become an instrument of pressure for its issuers on the whole world.”

Following the NAM summit, Venezuelan Economy Minister Tareck El Aissami announced his country’s establishment of a payment system to meet obligations to Russia that will be covered with rubles.

The developments have sent the US establishment into a frenzy.

In January, White House National Security Advisor John Bolton issued a veiled threat on Twitter:

My advice to bankers, brokers, traders, facilitators, and other businesses: don’t deal in gold, oil, or other Venezuelan commodities being stolen from the Venezuelan people by the Maduro mafia. We stand ready to continue to take action.

— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) January 30, 2019

Five months later, the US dollar experienced a sharp decline. This July, Credit Suisse predicted it would continue to fall while JP Morgan’s private bank advised clients to diversify currency holdings because “the US dollar could lose its status as the world’s dominant currency.”

One day after JP Morgan released that report, it was up to President Donald Trump’s unusually active thumbs to revive confidence in the dollar.

On his Twitter account, Trump insisted, “We have only one real currency in the USA, and it is stronger than ever, both dependable and reliable. It is by far the most dominant currency anywhere in the World, and it will always stay that way. It is called the United States Dollar!”

…and International. We have only one real currency in the USA, and it is stronger than ever, both dependable and reliable. It is by far the most dominant currency anywhere in the World, and it will always stay that way. It is called the United States Dollar!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 12, 2019

The birth of an alternative financial structure

Yet it is not just US currency that is facing a challenge unlike any other since World War II, but the financial architecture of Wall Street and Washington that provides the basis for Western empire. At the heart of this structure is the SWIFT system, the global network which has processed all international banking transactions since it was established in 1973.

Bloomberg reported this July that Venezuela had taken steps to join Russia’s alternative to SWIFT. Russia began developing its own System for Transfer of Financial Messages (SPFS) in 2014 after the US threatened to block Moscow’s access to SWIFT as punishment for Putin’s refusal to cede eastern Ukraine to NATO-aligned forces.

Over the years, SWIFT has faithfully abided by US sanctions demands. Last November, the institution announced it would disconnect from Iranian financial institutions including the country’s central bank in order to comply with sanctions, prompting European nations to construct their own payment system in order to maintain business relationships with Tehran.

The development underscored the extremism of the Trump Administration’s sanctions policy, which threatens to alienate even traditional allies of US capital.

“It’s of deep concern that the more the US pushes Europe away from a common policy, the more they push Europe into finalizing true alternatives to the US financial system,” the former head of the US Treasury Department’s sanctions office, John E. Smith, commented to Foreign Policy.

Despite the malevolence of US sanctions policy, Russia’s Ryabkov is not convinced Europe will break with Washington any time soon. “Ultimately I think they will follow the US,” he commented.

Toward a new world order

NAM has historically provided a space for formerly colonized countries to act as a unified league in pursuit of common interests. And in its initial form, it was designed to be free from US or Soviet influence. But in 2019, Russia participated in NAM as an observer state. Meanwhile, North American and European nations make up the vast majority of the seventy-three states which remain excluded from the movement.

Today, the Non-Aligned Movement exists simply as a coalition of nations united in their resistance to the brute assertion of US and European economic and political supremacy.

As delegations arranged themselves for the official photo of NAM’s 2019 summit, countries typically understood to be mortal enemies like India and Pakistan or Saudi Arabia and Iran stood shoulder to shoulder in an expression of unity. For these nations, the image was an acknowledgment that their individual survival as sovereign states, regardless of ideology, would require more cooperation than ever before.

Western corporate media scarcely conveyed these images, but the future that they represent as the global majority may soon be impossible to ignore.

nya Parampil is a journalist based in Washington, DC. She previously hosted a daily progressive afternoon news program called In Question on RT America. She has produced and reported several documentaries, including on-the-ground reports from the Korean peninsula and Palestine.

This article originally appeared on TheGrayZone.com.

Categories: Canadian, Socialism, World

Big Oil is the real foreign meddler in Canadian affairs

Tue, 2019-08-06 23:41

With the exception of Donald Trump’s claim that he’s draining the swamp, it’s hard to imagine a clearer example of gibberish than Jason Kenney’s claim that he’s defending Alberta against “foreign-funded special interests.”

The Alberta premier has launched a public inquiry to expose the foreign funding behind environmental groups opposing his efforts to increase production of Alberta’s carbon-heavy oil.

But Kenney’s claim to be shielding Albertans from foreign “special interests” is absurdly selective; he’s planning to shine the light on a small slice of foreign influence, while keeping the spotlight away from the massive foreign influence exerted by Big Oil.

If there’s ever been a foreign player wielding influence in Canada, it’s been Big Oil, which has exercised a virtual stranglehold over Alberta politics during the last few decades. But that story — and Kenney’s complicity in it — is one the premier is determined to keep under wraps.

“Big Oil was the original special interest meddling in Canadian affairs,” says Donald Gutstein, an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University and author of The Big Stall: How Big Oil and the Think Tanks are Blocking Action on Climate Change. “From the very beginning, Canada’s oil and the tarsands were an American affair, financed by American capital to provide petroleum for the American market. Canadians and the environment be damned. Now Canadians, environmentalists and First Nations are saying ‘enough.’”

Let’s be clear: enormous amounts of money are being spent in the global battle to lobby governments and sway public opinion on climate change in the roughly dozen years we have left — according to the UN’s panel of climate experts — before it’s too late to stop the world’s descent into climate hell.

But the vast majority of this money — by a margin of about 10 to 1 — is spent by the fossil fuel industry, according to research by Drexel University’s Robert Brulle.

What is truly absurd is the notion that the relatively small amounts of foreign money coming from the Rockefeller and Tides foundations are any match for the huge resources unleashed by corporations and wealthy individuals to defend their investments in fossil fuels.

Some of the most powerful U.S. oil interests — including Koch Industries— have major holdings in Alberta, as the Star’s Olivia Ward and the Washington Post have documented.

The Kochs have been leading funders of the climate denial movement in the U.S., and a potent force shaping conservative politics.

While foreign interests stay out of the Canadian limelight, allowing Canadian oil advocates to speak for them, their reach into Canadian politics is astonishingly deep and comprehensive, according to Kevin Taft, who served as leader of the opposition in the Alberta legislature from 2004 to 2008.

Former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed attempted in the 1970s and ’80s to limit the power of foreign oil interests and to direct a larger share of oil profits to the people of Alberta, but his successors — particularly Ralph Klein and Jason Kenney — have largely capitulated to Big Oil.

“Jason Kenny is an instrument of the oil industry, full stop,” says Taft, whose book, Oil’s Deep State, describes the extraordinary grip Big Oil has on Alberta (and Canadian) politics. “The biggest oil companies in Canada all depend on foreign investors, and most are majority owned by U.S., Chinese, and European interests. These people are smart, ruthless, and greedy, and their number one concern is corporate profit. They’ve captured political parties, regulators, and civil servants.”

Ironically, environmental groups tend to be upfront about their foreign donations. The Pembina Institute, one of Kenney’s targets, declares on its website that 15 per cent of its funding is foreign.

Meanwhile, according to Brulle’s research, the climate denial movement is quietly funded by Big Oil and conservative billionaires, who funnel enormous resources through secretive networks of charities that don’t disclose funding sources.

Yet it is environmental groups that Kenney wants to harass and hold up to ridicule.

As the debate over climate change intensifies, Kenney’s refusal to shine the spotlight on the real foreign meddlers grows ever more absurd — like investigating the type of weapons used in recent mass killings, but refusing to consider guns.

Linda McQuaig is a Toronto-based freelance contributing columnist for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @LindaMcQuaig.

This article originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

Categories: Canadian, Socialism, World

20 Essential Books on Marxist Ecology

Tue, 2019-08-06 23:29

Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Evrik and Mets501 / Wikimedia and Rafaelgr

It’s two years since I published my last Essential Reading list. Since then I’ve received many suggestions for additions, and many new books have been published. It’s time for an update.

As before, the list does not pretend to be complete. I could easily triple the number of titles without covering the field, but I’ve arbitrarily limited it to 20 books, which forced me to drop some very good books, including some that were on previous lists.

My selection criteria are subjective: these are books that I have found particularly valuable, that I refer to frequently, and that I often recommend to others. I make no apology for including two of my own books — if I didn’t think people ought to read them, I wouldn’t have written them.

I’ve limited the list to books that are in print and readily available. I’ve avoided academic texts, and books that aren’t clearly Marxist. There are many good non-Marxist books, of course, but this is a Marxist reading list!

An Ecosocialist Starter Kit

Each person approaches ecosocialism with a different background and different interests. A basic book for one might be too difficult for another. With that caveat in mind, these are books that I often recommend to people who want an introduction.

▸ Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster. What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know about Capitalism. Monthly Review Press, 2011

▸ Martin Empson, editor. System Change Not Climate Change: A Revolutionary Response to Environmental Crisis. Bookmarks, 2019

▸ Ian Angus. Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System. Monthly Review Press 2016

▸ Victor Wallis. Red-Green Revolution: The Politics and Technology of Ecosocialism. Political Animal Press. 2018

▸ Chris Williams. Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis. Haymarket Books, 2010

▸ David Klein and Stephanie McMillan. Capitalism and Climate Change: The Science and Politics of Global Warming. (pdf)

▸ Michael Löwy. Ecosocialism: A Radical Alternative to Capitalist Catastrophe. Haymarket Books, 2015

Marxist theory and ecology

These are essential books but they are not easy reading. They require careful attention and study. Each investigates Marx’s views on the relationship between society and nature from a different angle —and as Marx said somewhere, there is no easy road to knowledge.

▸ Paul Burkett. Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective (2nd edition). Haymarket Books, 2014

▸ John Bellamy Foster. Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature. Monthly Review Press, 2000

▸ Kohei Saito. Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism: Capital, nature, and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy. Monthly Review Press, 2017

Important Topics

▸ Ian Angus and Simon Butler. Too Many People? Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis. Haymarket Books, 2011

▸ Hans Baer. Democratic Eco-Socialism as a Real Utopia: Transitioning to an Alternative World System. Berghahn Books, 2018

▸ Mike Davis. Planet of Slums. Verso, 2006

▸ Ashley Dawson. Extinction: A Radical History. OR Books, 2016

▸ Martin Empson. Land & Labour: Marxism, Ecology and Human History. Bookmarks, 2014

▸ John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York. The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth. Monthly Review Press, 2010

▸ Hannah Holleman. Dust Bowls of Empire: Imperialism, Environmental Politics, and the Injustice of ‘Green’ Capitalism. Yale University Press, 2018

▸ Fred Magdoff and Chris Williams. Creating an Ecological Society: Toward a Revolutionary Transformation. Monthly Review Press. 2017

▸ Andreas Malm. Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming. Verso, 2016

▸ Daniel Tanuro. Green Capitalism: Why It Can’t Work. Merlin Press, 2013

This article originally appeared on ClimateandCapitalism.com.

Categories: Canadian, Socialism, World

The Global Currency War Has Begun

Tue, 2019-08-06 20:57

Over this weekend, China’s Yuan currency broke out of its band and devalued to more than 7 to $1. At the same time China announced it would not purchase more US agricultural goods. The Trump-US Neocon trade strategy has just imploded. As this writer has been predicting, the threshold has now been passed, from a tariff-trade war to a broader economic war between the US and China where other tactics and measures are now being implemented.

Trump will no doubt declare that China is manipulating its currency. A devaluation of the Yuan has the effect of negating Trump tariffs imposed on China. But China isn’t manipulating its currency. Manipulation is defined as entering global money markets to buy and/or sell one’s currency in exchange for dollars (the global trading currency) in order to influence the price (exchange rate) of one’s currency in relation to the dollar. But China is not doing that, so it’s not manipulating. What’s happening is the US dollar is rising in value (or expected to) and that rise in effect lowers the value of the Yuan. The same is happening to other currencies as well,as the dollar rises. Why is the dollar then rising? There’s a global stampede to safety and that means buying US Treasuries–which are now in freefall in terms of interest rates (and escalating in terms of price). Prices from one year or even less, to 10 and 30 year Treasuries are accelerating. But to buy Treasuries, foreign investors must sell their currencies and buy dollars before buying Treasuries. That escalating demand for dollars is what drives up the value of the dollar, which in turn drives down the value–i.e. devalues-the Yuan in relation to the dollar.

In other words, the slowing global economy which is being driven by the Trump trade wars is what is causing the flight to the dollar and to the safe haven of US Treasuries. Trump’s policies are at the heart of the global slowdown (already in progress due to fundamental forces stalling investment and growth). That slowdown is what’s driving the dollar and in turn lowering the Yuan. Trump policies are ‘manipulating’ the Yuan.

China is of course allowing the devaluation to occur. Previously, it was entering money markets to buy Yuan in order to keep it from devaluing. Now it’s just allowing the process to occur. This is China’s response to Trump’s imposing an additional 10% tariffs on $300 billion of China imports last week. It signals that the ‘trade’ war (now becoming an economic war) has moved beyond tariffs.

With Trump’s recent actions, and China’s now response, the potential for a trade agreement in 2019 looks even more unlikely that before.

What will Trump now do? If he remains true to his past behavior when bargaining partners stand up to him, he’ll try to find a way to ‘up the ante’ as they say, and take additional action. He could step up his attack on Huawei and on other China corporations’ partnerships and investments in the US. China will in turn impose restrictions on US corporations doing business in China (i.e. more licensing, more customs inspections, and imposing more non-tariff barriers). It could unleash an anti-American goods boycott in China. It could reduce the export supply of critical ‘rare earths’ it has. It could suspend its previous decision to allow US corporations doing business in China to have a 51% ownership of those operations. And then it has its ‘nuclear options’, as they say: to cut back sharply or cease purchasing US Treasuries and thus recycling US dollars back to the US. Should that happen, the US government would have to borrow more from other sources to offset its annual budget deficit. That would raise the national debt annually even faster than it has been growing–now more than $22 trillion and projected now to rise more than $1 trillion this year. Should recession occur, the deficits and debt could rise as much as $1.7 trillion, according to the US Congressional Budget Office, CBO, research arm.

But with demand for dollars to buy Treasuries surging, the US Treasury and Fed would have more difficulty selling Treasuries, equal to China’s decline of purchases, given that Treasury prices are escalating and interest rates falling.

In short, the US-China trade war, the slowing global economy (now about to spill over to the US economy), the US budget deficit, and Fed interest rates are all inter-related. Trump policies are creating economic havoc on all these fronts.

What are some of the likely responses therefore to the China responses to Trump’s hardball strategy-driven by US neocons since May?

The neocons will have attained their goal, which has always been to scuttle negotiations with China unless the latter capitulated on the technology issue. Behind the tariffs, behind the trade war, has always been the war over next generation technologies (cybersecurity, 5G, and AI). It’s now clear that China will not capitulate, so no trade deal is possible so long as the US neocons remain in control of the trade negotiations which, at this point, they still do. The neocons will now use China’s strong response to Trump’s latest tariffs to convince Trump to take an even harder line against China corporations in the US and abroad with obsequious US allies like the UK and Canada.

Trump’s campaign re-election staff will see this as an opportunity to start blaming China for the slowing US economy. Themes of ‘China the currency manipulator’ and ‘China the source of US opioids’ may become the mantra from the White House.

US big business and multinational corporations will be further motivated to put pressure on Trump to go back to the negotiating table and settle. To date, however, they’ve been largely unsuccessful with influencing Trump and the trade negotiations. The Pentagon, military industrial complex, and US war industries have Trump’s ear and they’re shouting ‘technology capitulation’ or no deal’.

Globally, emerging market economies are likely to be big losers from the worsening trade relations between Trump and China. Their currencies will decline like the Yuan. But they have far fewer resources than China has to weather the crisis. Declining currency values in emerging market economies (EMEs) will mean more capital flight from their economies, seeking ‘safe haven’ in US Treasuries, in other currencies (Japan’s Yen as ‘carrying trade’), or in gold. That capital flight will slow their domestic investment. Their central banks will then raise interest rates to slow the flight, but that will slow their domestic economies further. The declining currencies will also mean rising import goods inflation and drive their domestic inflation levels higher, as their economies simultaneously slow.

The China-US trade deterioration will also likely exacerbate inter-capitalist conflicts, as is already beginning to appear in the current South Korea-Japan trade dispute.

The worsening US-China situation will also have a negative effect on Europe’s economy, already about to slip into recession soon. More dependent on exports, especially Germany, the deterioration of global trade will accelerate Europe’s slowdown. The growing likelihood of a ‘hard’ Brexit coming at the same time in October, will almost certainly plunge Europe into another major recession as well.

As the global economy slows and contracts, financial markets–already declining sharply from record highs–can be expected to become threateningly unstable. High on the list of ‘fragile’ financial markets are the non-performing bank loans in Europe, Japan, and especially in India. Corporate dollar based bond markets in Latin America. And in the US, junk bond, triple B investment grade corporates (also junk), and leverage loans (i.e. junk loans) are candidates for financial instability events following recession.

In short, Trump has been making a mess of US economic policy, The Fed and monetary policy cannot ‘save’ him. Recent (and future) cuts in interest rates will have virtually no effect on the real US economy as it slows. And Trump has essentially negated fiscal policy. His massive 2018 tax cuts ($4 trillion over the next decade) has played a primary role in the US annual $1 trillion budget deficits now baked into the US economy every year for another decade. US national debt will go to $34 trillion and, according to the CBO, interest on the debt alone will rise to $900 billion a year by 2027. So fiscal policy as tax policy is now painted into a corner. And massive deficits and debt mitigate against political action to increase government spending as a way out of Trump’s crisis.

For the past decade or more, US policy has been to use both monetary policy and tax policy to subsidize capital incomes to the tune of trillions of dollars a year, every year. It used to be that monetary (Fed) and fiscal policy were used to ‘stabilize’ the economy in the event of recession or inflation. No longer. A decade and more of using these policies to subsidize capital incomes has led to the effective negation of the effectiveness of these policies for economic stabilization.

The US is now headed for a major recession, with neither ‘monetary ammunition’ nor fiscal ammunition at its disposal with which to try to stimulate the economy as it enters recession. This has never happened before. But its consequences could be enormous–for the depth and duration of any recession to come.

Dr. Jack Rasmus is author of the forthcoming book, ‘The Scourge of Neoliberalism: US Policy from Reagan to Trump’, Clarity Press, September 30, 2019. Dr. Rasmus blogs at jackrasmus.com. His website is kyklosproductions.com. His twitter handle @drjackrasmus.

This article originally appeared on ZNet.org.

Categories: Canadian, Socialism, World