When sections of a website are labelled “Entitlement Princess of the Month” and “13 reasons women lie about being raped”, it’s usually easy to tell the website belongs to an angry internet troll – someone who never leaves their house and whose opinion no one gives much thought to. Unfortunately Mike Buchanan is no anonymous troll.

Buchanan is, in fact, a UK writer and conservative politician, who previously worked as a consultant for the Tory government. Not surprisingly Buchanan quit in 2009, when British Prime Minister David Cameron announced support for an all-female parliamentary candidate shortlist. Since then Buchanan has devoted himself to being a men’s rights advocate, founding the political party “Justice for Men and Boys (And the women who love them)” in 2013.

Researching Buchanan quickly becomes infuriating. Not because he claims to fight for the rights of men and boys. It’s infuriating because Buchanan is a hypocrite. Buchanan continuously argues online and in the media that feminism is nothing more than a hate-filled ideology. But Buchanan then uses his Justice for Men and Boys website as a personal arena to attack and belittle women.

A quick scan of the J4mb website shows that Buchanan posts emails from the type of fans that compare feminists to dogs. Buchanan argues in his party’s election manifesto that more women in the workplace have collectively ruined pretty much every industry in the UK including medicine, education and policing. He even declares that female genital mutilation  has less impact on women then circumcision does on men.

The law in the UK forbids all forms of female genital mutilation – FGM – including those which have less impact on females, than male genital mutilation – MGM – has on males. FGM is justifiably regarded as a human rights issue, and the law makes no accommodation for religious or cultural considerations.”

Statements like these (and much, much more) are just on the J4mb website. Buchanan has also written three books on anti-feminism including The Glass Ceiling Delusion: The Real Reason Women don’t Reach Senior Positions (spoiler alert: it’s all a conspiracy orchestrated by militant feminists). But the twice-divorced Buchanan insists he’s not a misogynist. “Insinuations of misogyny invariably come in the wake of my presentations of reasoned arguments,” Buchanan writes on his website.

Buchanan’s idea of proving he’s not a misogynist includes praising the website “Women against Feminism.” He congratulates these women on their “independent minds” as oppose to “miserable whine merchant” feminists. His comments begs the question has Buchanan actually read the website WAF?

Because as I pointed out in my last post, while many WAF posters don’t want the stigma of being called a feminist, they do in fact support many of the same issues feminists do. Could it be that Buchanan is grasping at straws to make his points that he’ll simply praise anything that claims to be against feminism?

Buchanan’s ideals are especially troubling in regards to his political ambitions. The Justice for Men and Boys party is currently running for three seats in the May 2015 general election in Nottingham, England. Effective political leaders need to work towards the good of everyone in their community, not a narrow-minded view of what the right kind of people are. While it’s hopefully doubtful anyone in the J4mb will be elected, it’s important for Nottingham voters to be reminded on some of issues Buchanan will be running on the following topics.

Rape: The manifesto declares that the allowed time for abortions should be cut down from 24 to 13 weeks. It makes compensations for abortions when the woman’s physical health is at risk, but not mental health.  So who cares if you were raped or the victim of incest, have an unwanted child already.

Women should be held morally accountable for the children they conceive… There’s no evidence to support the thesis that abortion reduces the risk to mental health of women with an unwanted pregnancy, and clinical trials to investigate the matter would, of course, be highly unethical.”

Education: Gender stereotypes on the types of careers men and women should have need to be enforced, and how dare the British government try and encourage otherwise!

“We also take issue with governments continuing to spend large amounts of taxpayers’ money ‘encouraging’girls and young women into STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) subjects and careers. These subjects were historically the routes to careers for many young men, yet the government is spending £30 million ‘encouraging’ women into engineering careers, although women have for decades expressed little interest in engineering as a career choice.”

Family: The entire notion of family has been ruined by feminism. Feminists are destroying fatherhood, and women are solely to blame for society’s high divorce rate. All these feminists family-destroyers really want to do is use our sperm and become lesbians.

“In only forty years or so, the entire institution of the family, underpinned by a lifelong commitment to marriage, has been overturned. This was driven by feminist politicians such as Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt […] Divorce is at an all-time high, having increased by 800% since 19603 and almost half of all children now see their parents break up by the time they are 15 […] Furthermore, women are the principal agents in ending their marriages – at more than three times the rate men are. Fatherhood is deemed unnecessary by the state, so taxpayers are subsidizing sperm banks for single women and lesbians.”

All this being said, Buchanan does bring up certain points that I agree with. Raising awareness and helping prevent male suicide, supporting male victims of domestic and sexual abuse, creating more balanced custody arrangements after divorce, and ending stigma around homelessness are all issues of Buchanan’s that I support. But where he loses my respect is when he twists each of his arguments around to demonstrate how things were just fine under a patriarchal society, and feminism has subsequently managed to ruin it.

That’s when Buchanan becomes less of an activist, and more of a man who’s upset about more women becoming doctors, women who have abortions after the mental trauma of being raped, or single women deciding to have a child without a father. Instead of Buchanan, let’s praise real activists and politicians in the UK who fight for HUMAN rights. And for god’s sake don’t vote Buchanan into office.

Student politics may not seem like the most interesting of ‘current affairs’ to follow. That’s understandable. After all, if you are not a student, a lot of the things that students care about don’t really matter to you. That can be contested, however.

I have two strands of student politics in mind. One of them actually takes place within campuses, with elected student representatives doing their business. There is, however, a broader sphere of student politics, which actually involves lobbying governments, provincial and even federal.

Let us focus on the federal level for today, because what is happening right now is some Westeros-level political intrigue. The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) is the largest student association in Canada. Basically, student unions from universities are able to become members of CFS; just like how individual labour unions can unite under a larger confederacy. From the Pacific to the Atlantic, 81 student unions are members of CFS; but here’s the kicker, not all of them want to be members anymore.

What usually happens, if you feel like you want to stop being a member of a federation? If you are a large union yourself, you hold a referendum, asking your constituency, “Hey, do we want to keep on being members of this thing?” Your constituency says either yay or nay, and then you go on your merry way.

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See, that’s not how CFS rolls. In CFS, first you need to hold a petition, collecting hand-written signatures of 20 per cent of your members. Then, you need to send this document full of hand-written signatures to CFS, where CFS will count the number of signatures, and determine whether or not the signatures are ‘legible.’ That is, if they receive the petition and that it doesn’t get ‘lost.’

Anywhere during this, CFS may just declare your petition to be invalid on any of the reasons I’ve stated above. In the case of McGill University’s Post-graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) – the case I’m most familiar with – the invalidation of the petition was brought to the Quebec Superior Court; where the judge presiding compared the situation to a ‘bad marriage.’

But that’s not all! Even if you manage to get the petition in, and force CFS to recognise its validity, holding a membership referendum itself is extremely restricted. Everything and anything that the people campaigning to leave CFS say must actually be approved by a CFS appointed overseer before it’s released to the public. The rules of the game are set by CFS. If there is any violation, CFS will declare the referendum invalid. And then, you cannot petition for a referendum for another five years!

(Also, PGSS is holding a referendum this week. Took them roughly five years to get here.)

I’ll get to the financial aspect of this entire spiel momentarily.

On their website, CFS says that there are four student unions in Quebec that are its members. What it doesn’t say is that all four of them are struggling really hard, or have been lucky enough to leave CFS. Concordia’s student unions also are struggling with CFS, and they’re in much more of a pickle than PGSS.

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Palais de Justice de Montreal. Photo by Jean Gagnon (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The University of Toronto’s Graduate Student Union (UTGSU) also tried to leave CFS, and last November they held their own referendum. Allegedly, 66 per cent of the eligible voters voted no to CFS, but they failed to meet the quorum of 1606 people, by seven people. Because seven people failed to vote, UTGSU cannot hold a referendum for another five years.

There are a bunch of other examples, but I’m not gonna bore you with details. You can find details here, and here if you want to be bored, or if you are genuinely curious about this, for which I thank you.

What does that mean? I promised I’d talk about finances, so here’s finances. CFS charges its member unions $13 per student per year. UTGSU has roughly 16 000 members. That makes $208 000 per year. UTGSU cannot hold another referendum for five years. The cost of failing to leave CFS, therefore, is $1 040 000.

But wait, there’s more! I mentioned before that some student unions take this to the court. You can imagine, easily, that legal fees for running years long legal battles against a federation the size of a medium city (CFS has a total of roughly 1.5 million students under its umbrella). Conversely, CFS also needs to pay legal fees. Where does that money come from? That’s right! The very students they are suing!

But why do student unions want to leave CFS? What the hell is wrong with it? To be perfectly fair, CFS does have some interesting campaigns. For instance, they have a campaign called “Let People Vote,” which essentially involves CFS lobbying against the federal Bill C-23. Bill C-23 is law now, so clearly their lobbying did not work – perhaps, along with other reasons, but still.

Students and their allies joined communities across Canada in actions today opposing Bill C-23, the Unfair Elections Act. (CNW Group/Canadian Federation of Students - Ontario)
April 26, 2014. CFS protest opposing Bill C-23, the Unfair Elections Act. (CNW Group/Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario)

I’m just going to give you a few seconds to let the irony of having a campaign called “Let People Vote” while making it extremely difficult for people to hold referendums sink in.

Going back to Quebec in specific, CFS has not been active in la Belle Province since 2010. That year was crazy in terms of CFS politics, because some internal leadership disputes caused the provincial wing of CFS – aptly called CFS-Quebec – to leave CFS. Or rather CFS disowned CFS-Q. Or perhaps CFS-Q transformed into something called Rassemblement des associations etudiantes? It was more or less all of this.

CFS did create a new Quebec wing, however the actual members from Quebec (namely Dawson Students’ Union, Concordia Students’ Union, Concordia Graduate Students’ Association, and PGSS) were not part of this new wing. So there was no Quebec representation in the National General Meeting of CFS.

Also, CFS has a national general meeting, where they make decisions about the regulations regarding leaving CFS. With no Quebec representation, it’s obvious why problems may arise.

I’ll cut to the chase. If this was about the small labour unions or local political parties trying to leave their federal umbrella organizations, but actively denied their right to free association (that is, freedom to become or stop being a member of any organization/club/whatever of your desire), it would make top news – political party more so than the labour union, but I digress.

There are unimaginable political games happening within the realm of student politics, and it is mostly going under the radar. If these stories ever appear in mainstream media, they are treated as trivial. In fact, CFS still retains its title as the ‘legitimate’ voice of student concerns on a federal level, yet with all these legal battles against it, its lack of accountability, and overall shadiness shows to me that it should be otherwise.

What is austerity? Very simply put, it is when governments decide to ‘tighten the belt’ in order to resolve ‘debt crises.’ A government starts running a deficit, and thus has to review its budget. While that sounds like a very basic accounting job, it is inherently extremely political. Why? Because you have to decide on which expenditures to cut, or which sources of income to raise.

Two large scale anti-austerity protests have taken place in the past couple of months. All around Montreal, you can still see ambulances, firetrucks, and police cars covered with “On n’a rien volé” stickers. Clearly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Parti Libéral du Quebec’s (PLQ) cuts are real, but they are in no way new, or unexpected.

The Maple Spring of 2012 brought hundreds of thousands of students to the streets. Why did the students take to the streets? Back in 2012, PLQ announced that it was planning on raising tuition fees by $1625 over five years. That was an unacceptable policy, mainly because education is supposed to be a basic right, and not a privilege.

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From the November 29 Anti-Austerity March

Of course, the PLQ’s decision to raise tuition fees was not out of the blue. Quebec was (and curiously, still is) facing a rising debt crisis. What happens when you find out that your balance is in the negative? You try to break even. This sounds all logical and rational. Yet, breaking even can turn out to be problematic, if you have your priorities set wrong.

In 2012, PLQ assumed incorrectly that students could be made to bear the burden of the provincial government’s debt crisis. The Maple Spring was the students’ response to this misjudgment, and it was without a doubt very polarizing. While there were hundreds of thousands of students taking to the street almost every week, there were others who wanted none of this.

The problem with the pacifist mind frame is that not everyone can afford to be apathetic. To some, an increase of a thousand dollars over the course of five years might not be too much; but for others it effectively means that higher education is barred to them.

At any rate, after the Maple Spring, the PLQ was replaced by the Parti Québecois (PQ), which declared that the tuition hikes would not take place. However, the PQ decided to cut university budgets by $123 million. So instead of directly barring education to some students, the provincial government succeeded in reducing the quality of education for everyone.

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From the May 22 student protests in 2012.

Similar to Bill 10 which would overhaul Quebec’s health bureaucracy, and Bill 3 that will overhaul municipal pensions, the cuts to university budgets are part of the same austerity regime based on all the wrong priorities. The provincial government finds itself in a debt of about $3.9 billion and figures that the solution is cutting social services.

The Maple Spring showed that students were more than willing to fight a government that encroached on its basic rights. And more recently, the past two months have shown that mobilization against austerity is not just a possibility, but a reality. It is a little disappointing that people start caring about the consequences of austerity only after they themselves are affected, but that does not matter anymore.

Enter the Spring 2015 Committee. Take a look at what they say on their website:

“While they reach for the last pennies in our pockets, federal and provincial governments increase military spending, invest in prisons, police, and security measures, and roll out the red carpet for the extraction industries. People with friends in high places, the rich, large companies, multinationals, banks and lobbying firms are running the show. A small minority is strangling the community. If the interests of the majority do not orient the actions and priorities of the government, it is illusory to continue to speak of this as a democracy. In a just and equitable society, wealth should not be accumulated at the expense of our environment and should be fairly redistributed among all.”

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“Like wolves, humans act collectively and form groups in order to survive and defend our common interests.”

There is nothing innocent about austerity. It is not simply an apolitical economic decision to break even; mainly because there can be no such thing as an apolitical economic decision. Governments have priorities, and this government has shown us that their priorities are not social justice, social equality, or even simply social services.

It seems, however, that there is enough money in the provincial coffers to fund the $1.2 billion required for the infrastructure projects for the infamous Plan Nord.

It is clear that the governments of this province, both PLQ and PQ, have got their priorities wrong. It then falls on us to collectively fight against austerity and stand in solidarity with one another.

Of course, none of the political choices available might be pleasing. In fact, you might be completely against the system to begin with. But the realistic choice is fighting one battle at a time; while keeping the dream of social justice and social equality alive. It is realistic, because at least we know we can fight the good fight.

This is not just the students’ fight anymore; although I daresay students have led the charge, and are still leading the charge. But it is time to realize that austerity affects us all. As such, it is our collective responsibility to stand in solidarity, and say no to austerity.

 

On the March 5, 2013 Paulo Portas, the vice prime-minister of Portugal, and leader of the Partido Popular (the right-wing neo-liberal member of the austerity governing coalition) visited India for a business trip. The objective of this short visit on behalf of the vice admiral of a sinking Portuguese vessel was to insure a safe route for the influx of foreign capital — in this case Indian capital — to reinvigorate the ailing Portuguese economy. There, in New Delhi, and in front of flashing cameras and journalists Paulo Portas gave out  the first ‘Golden Visa,’ which has become quite infamous in Portugal over the past weeks.

Now this ‘Golden Visa’ might seem like the Golden Ticket in the fable of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and that idea isn’t that far off. The system of Golden Visas was implemented, in the words of its promoters, to facilitate foreign investment in Portugal, and to boost the economy with innovative projects. Thus any foreign citizen with enough money and a project to invest in some section of the Portuguese economy a considerable amount of money was given access to the Via dei Fori Imperiali, a sort of express lane without tolls which would allow the rich and the affluent, in other words, the job creators of this world to come and spread their magical dust, and spread economical healthiness throughout the land of Lusitans. It was the magical solution to resolve of Portugal’s economic woes, insourcing entrepreneurship and the audacity of the foreign masters of capital.

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The only problem with the entire scheme is that things didn’t quite work out according to plan. Thus on November 13, a political earthquake shook Lisbon. Four public offices became the targets of special anti-corruption unit raids: Portuguese border services agency, the entity which was in charge of directly issuing the Visas; the Ministry of Justice and the Institute of Registries and Notaries, the equivalent of our Ministry of National Revenue; and the Ministry of Internal Administration, the equivalent of our Ministry of Public Works and Governmental Affairs.

The heads of all these institutions have been questioned by Portuguese police, and have been accused of, corruption, trafficking of influence and money laundering, among other things. Two companies Golden Visas Europe and JMF-Projects and Business Inc. offered services for foreign private investors looking to dry their money in the sun on some picturesque Portuguese beach.

A travel agency for capital, Marx would have been delighted!

Both of these companies had direct ties to the legal public authorities, who were quintessential in the issuing of the infamous Golden Visas. For example Miguel Macedo the Minister of Internal Administration had a direct stake in Golden Visas Europe; he had been the founding partner of the enterprise — even though he was already minister at the time — with a young lady by the name of Luísa Oliveira Figueiredo, who happened to the daughter of António Figueiredo, the head of the Institute of Registries and Notaries.

Miguel Macedo

It was all a coincidence obviously!

In the year 2013 alone, 110,000 Portuguese of all ages, and from all walks of life migrated and initiated ajourney whichwe call saudade, the longing for the return to the mother land. Austerity measures continue to hit Portugal hard, but at least some at the top of the Portuguese political ladder have understood the mechanisms that will allow them to profit from the suffering and the misery of the common Portuguese Joe or in this case João.

Some authors in the past spoke of monopoly capitalism when referring to the uber concentration of capital within the orbit of a few corporations, multinational enterprises, of wealth. For Paul Sweezy, capitalism under Pax Americana in the mid-1960s was far from being the rule of the ‘free-market’ that Adam Smith had theorized. Rather it was an oligarchy, a saturated orgy of the rich and powerful that always reproduced their power through new business ventures and “created” new markets when necessary.

The scandal of the ‘Golden Visas’ underlines the hypocrisy of the extreme right-wing rhetoric, which is in vogue throughout Europe, and is represented in Portugal by the Partido Nacional Renovador (PNR). Hundreds and thousands of poor and toiling African immigrants amass at ‘Fortress Europe’s’ borders; the “wretched of the earth” as Frantz Fanon said. Upon their arrival in Europe they join the ranks of the lowest of the lowest classes, yet form the invisible and voiceless backbone of an economy in shambles.

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We demonise them, tarnish their image. They are the incarnation of all the wrath that the laborious people of Portugal feel. In the meantime multi-millionaire gangsters have made a paradise, coached in the misery of both the Portuguese and the migrant working classes. The focus that the extreme right puts on immigrant populations is a diversion tactic, used as a veil to hide the real illegal immigrants that capitalize on the economic crisis: The ‘Golden’ immigrants, the avatars of the ‘free’ circulation of capital. Unfortunately for them, this inherent contradiction has been unveiled and the emperor is revealed to be naked.

The Golden Visas and the story of Portugal since 2011 is the perfect example of the rise of a new form of capitalism, which can be called ‘casino capitalism.’ It is a mix between libertarian paradise and state-capitalism à la Xiaoping. Its most brutal manifestation is this system of Golden Visas; a rigged lottery which only favours the ‘free’, and the automatization of capital servant of the markets and financial cartels pushed through by a neo-liberal state — the state after all isn’t that bad when it serves the interests of capital!

Within this new economic world everything becomes possible. While millions of young and talented Portuguese leave toiling to put an end to their precarity, the country is being stripped to pieces and sold to the highest bidder. Soon every aspect of Portuguese life will be liberated from the constraints of the state — no regulation whatsoever. In this brave new world modeled through the lense of Atlas Shrugged, everyone will be under the yoke of those that have enough influence and power to make and break the market, those that write the laws of an unfree market.

A luta continua!

Creative Commons - Loavesofbread

The news that came after the ‘grand’ deliberation of the jury last night in response to the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO wasn’t one bit surprising. It did, though, feel like an electroshock of seismic magnitude.

Although it’s obvious that a judicial system that gives the same definition of ”personhood” to multinational corporations as it does to an actual person is rigged and corrupt to the core, it was a shocking verdict given the public outcry revolving around the case, the popular mobilization and the massive sensitization campaign that swept like wildfire throughout communities in the United States.

It seemed more like a sermon on the benefits of the system: St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch’s tone was that of a bureaucrat, dishing-out bunches of reports, pharisaic evidence and physical proof, in his attempt to make us believe that officer Darren Wilson was right to murder in cold blood an 18-year-old Afro-American male for the crime of stealing a box of cigarillos. McCulloch said time after time that the accounts conveyed by the witnesses were contradictory, that it was all speculation and that, all in all, the legitimate fear that Afro-Americans (and others) have of the judicial system (one that not that long ago was the firewall of segregation) were unfounded, in other words, ridiculous.

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McCulloch, a white, middle-aged man, was standing in front of the cameras last night speaking from the top of his altar down to the amassed crowds of Afro-American residents of Ferguson. It was the perfect metaphor for the hypocrisy of the entire situation. The subaltern can’t not speak. That was the message that rang out, the message that was supposed to quell once and for all the riots that had engulfed the impoverished St. Louis suburb since mid-August.

McCulloch was merely the avatar of a system, the message wasn’t his or that of the members of a jury, it was the message of law. Once McCulloch, from his prestigious position, with all the lights and the cameras driven on him, spoke, that was the word of ”god”: the word that would twist, turn and bend reality to fit its image that we had adjusted for it. In this reality, the people of Ferguson — their anger, their sorrow, their sense of alienation, their profound frustration — don’t fit within the canvas. It’s almost as if this new deity of law could remake events to suit its own pre-established narrative.

It  was a thorough investigation, they say, and out of the 162 000 cases that involved grand juries in 2010 only 11 decided not to return an indictment. But beyond that, there is a profound difference between indictment and conviction. In no measure was it the Grand Jury’s role to convict officer Darren Wilson of murder or manslaughter, voluntary or involuntary but to examine if there were grounds to… Were there grounds? I wonder…

Is the fact that a police officer shot an unarmed teenager several times with forensic evidence that the teenager was shot in the back considerable grounds for indictment? Is the fact that there are several contradictory accounts of the events sufficient grounds for a more in depth investigation through a full trial? The fact that the corner store from which Michael Brown supposedly stole the infamous box of cigarillos that would cost him his life denies that they called in law enforcement, is that grounds for indictment? Maybe the fact that his corpse was left 4 1/2 hours in broad day light, terrorizing the entire community, is reason for indictment on the grounds of negligence?

Forget all of that. There are sufficient grounds in the fact that every 28 hours, an African-American is shot dead by American law enforcement or vigilantes. Let’s shed a bit of light here. Michael Brown’s death is not the first and not the last brutal murder of a young Afro-American at the hands of the police and thus Officer Wilson should have been indicted and convicted within this framework. Unfortunately, the message sent back from the grand jury’s non-indictment was clear: it’s okay for the police to use lethal force against subaltern groups.

It’s okay for Americans to exploit the working force of millions of ”illegal” immigrants and treat them inhumanely. It’s okay for American law enforcement to kill in cold blood young and poor African-Americans, such as 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was shot dead while in a playground, playing. It’s okay to take the poor and toiled to court when they fraud welfare, but when the banks make millions in bonuses and stash them off in the Bahamas to avoid taxation, it’s also okay. It’s illegal in most places to smoke or deal weed to a make a few extra bucks but when too-big-to-fail financial institutions launder blood money from cartels, that’s okay.

This is the state of our judicial systems, that the mainstream media uphold this veil of ideology that casts law as the ultimate truth and the maker and breaker of reality. What is law is truth, what is law is real, all the rest is nonsense…

But ”law” is nothing else than the crystallization of subjective interests. You only have to look at those who benefit from the law, you only have to take a look at the barriers that allow some to have a greater access to justice than others, to see that law is merely the crystallization, in many ways, of ideology.

In this sense, the grand ideal of the American Dream found its wreckage on the rocks of the grand jury. The ideology that uses the symbols of equality, liberty and freedom in practice abides by the notion that some are more equal than others, that everyone has the right to speak but only a few to be heard and if you’re never heard, the question is did you ever speak in the first place?

Law is always the structuring framework of ideology. Example laws vary in countries with different ideologies and forms of law vary in different times, but law is always the subject of the reigning ideology and the economic and social elites. That’s why banks used tight debt laws as leverage on the poorest sections of American society and yet no law could jail the bankers that knowingly, maybe even willingly, instigated the economic downturn.

Law is a silex shaped by ideology, a tool of legitimization of violence, used to keep the subaltern under the grip of the ideological apparatus. Law defines what violence is legitimate in Webberian terms and what violence isn’t, what special interests can use coercive force and what forces have to be denuded of their coercive force.

That’s why the tears, the anguish, the blood, the misery and the voices of the subaltern are rarely taken into account in ”legal” terms. We are tricked into believing that Lady Justice is blind-folded. Justice isn’t blind, it’s blinding.

A luta continua.

Photo used under Creative Commons by Loavesofbread

This past Monday, November 17, marked the 41st anniversary of the Athens Polytechnic Uprising, which pitted young Greeks against the oppressive regime of a military junta.

Fast forward 41 years, and once again young Greeks are up in arms, not against a military junta, but against a technocratic junta, which has imposed severe austerity measures and liberalization policies across the board. 41 years ago, the protesters were met with the bone-cracking force of the military. On Monday, the protests were met with a similarly lethal force; but this time it was disguised under the mantle of so-called ‘responsible’ economic management.

The revolutions of the 1970s brought about the downfall of dictatorships, such as those of Salazar and Franco in the Iberian Peninsula, and of military juntas, such as those in Greece and Cyprus. This marked the start of the velvet revolutions. The term velvet revolution is usually used for the Eastern European uprisings of November 1989, but it can also be used for the Southern European revolutions of the 1970s.

As seen through the lens of official historiography the velvet revolutions signified the overthrowing of antiquated socioeconomic structures; By which, we are to understand an amalgamation of Communist regimes, fascistoïd dictatorships, and military juntas openly supported by the ‘free world.’ History has re-framed these revolutions, and portrayed them as the vindication of economic laisser-faire  and liberal democracy. Thus the bells of have history rung, the curtains fell. The play was over chaps!

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Václav Havel, Czech playwright, dissident, and statesman, honoring the wounded at the Prague protest in 1989.

What a brutal awakening it must have been for those who have said, time after time, that no matter how bad the dictatorial measures of austerity might be, that “we’re still better off”, that “we’ve got freedom now”, when they saw the images of the central campus of Athens Polytechnic under a cloud of tear gas. A subliminal image, almost as if it were looped. In 41 years we had traveled only to wind-up back at square one. It was a bone-chilling reminder for those who want to impose their neoliberal model, that the shadows of the unfulfilled revolutionary aspirations will not be quenched so effortlessly.

The velvet revolutions were the amalgamations of various dissident movements ranging from liberal movements, to left-wing socialist and communist movements. However, the official discourse is that that liberals and conservatives were the ones that caused the velvet revolutions. We must not forget that the instigator of the velvet revolutions in Eastern Europe was a libertarian socialist trade union named Solidarność (Solidarity). Similarly, the bulk of the opposition against military juntas and dictatorships alike was made up of militant left-wing movements, which had no intention of trading the direct dictatorship of the few, for an invisible dictatorship of the few.

From the Iberian Peninsula, through Eastern Europe, and thence to Greece and Cyprus these velvet revolutions had the objective of creating new structures, in which economic and social rights were guaranteed. Adequate housing, social housing and land reform were the central objectives of the Portuguese, Spanish and Greek velvet revolutions. New forms of direct democracy were put in place during a brief period of time in many Eastern European countries during the post-velvet revolution period — a heritage of the anti-authoritarian Budapest and Prague uprisings.

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Anti-austerity protests in Greece.

The clergy of austerity and neoliberal policies has claimed that its ideology was vindicated by such velvet revolutions, and that such velvet revolutions were produced by the fact that the oppressed peoples of Eastern and Southern Europe ‘wanted in’ on Western capitalism. This clergy argues that these people wanted complete market liberalization, mass privatizations, and now massive unemployment; and that they wanted to ‘liberate’ the job market and their stock exchanges.

In the wake of the velvet revolutions, the peoples of the newly ‘liberated’ Europe said that they were in awe of another form of liberation. They wanted liberation from hunger, liberation from homelessness, liberation from poverty, liberation from precarity, and liberation from the brutality of state sanctioned violence. And they set these demands in stone, by putting them in their new constitutions.

Today, as millions of young Greeks, Portuguese, Hungarians, Czechs, Cypriots, and Italians are protesting, they carry the revolutionary flame of the past generations of 1973, 1974, 1975, and 1989. Austerity in this case is a strategy. It is a strategy to remove from these states all of their social aspirations; a strategy to transfer the public wealth, amassed through the struggle of many generations to build a social structure that would provide for everyone, into the hands of an elite. Austerity is thus a form of ‘new’ primitive accumulation, as Marx would call it, and the transfer common capital into the private sphere. Austerity is a direct assault on the established social rights that are the heritage of such velvet revolutions.

Austerity is nothing more, and nothing less, than rhetorical prowess capable of legitimizing systemic robbery. Austerity is thus a synonym for kleptocracy!

A luta continua!

Recently, a headline caught my eye. It said, “Minister of Immigration Chris Alexander tables Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act.” I had to read the it twice because frankly I thought it was satire. Silly me. I should have gotten used to the Harper regime’s xenophobic extravagance by now.

Journalists, commentators, and pundits with some sense of decency have brushed aside the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, treating it simply as another one of those wacko Conservative acts. This act is just like a fading smoke signal to the Conservative voter base.

“If we had 100% of the power this is what we do, vote for us, and we’ll abolish the Supreme Court so we can pass such iniquitous laws,” Harper seems to be saying.

Olivia_Chow_mayoral_debate

This newly tabled act is just the last in a series of xenophobic bills put forward by the Conservative cabinet. Furthermore, it is part of a pan-Canadian trend of racism and xenophobia, which has been on the rise for the past few months. Just think about the Charter of Quebec Values, the Conservative plan to modify the framework of Canadian citizenship for creating a two tiered Canadian citizenship standard, racism against Olivia Chow during the municipal campaign in Toronto, and Islamophobia in the wake of the Ottawa shooting. All of these events have unveiled the ugly truth about Canadian society: It is still far from being exempt of systemic racism.

One of the things that Toronto’s mayoral race proved is that racism can still garnish some political ground in Canada, if it is intertwined in an insidious manner with right-wing populism. Maybe what didn’t work in Quebec’s provincial elections might work for the Neo-Tea Party in Ontario, if Doug Ford becomes the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. It most certainly was an essential factor of his mayoralty bid.

What both elections have in common, to a certain extent, is that there exists in Canada an electoral base that might be swayed by some blatant demagogic xenophobia – in the vein of the France’s Front National. The Conservative government, through their anti-immigration rhetoric and their metaphor of barbaric cultures has turned to a page right out of the extreme right-wing playbook.

Up until now, the way the Conservatives have been handling the immigration issue has essentially been economic. Their discourse has been one of unbridled exploitation. “Immigrants are only good, if they generate profit for the Canadian economy. On the other hand if they don’t, they are useless and we must get rid of them,” goes their discourse.

There are other examples to this discourse and its politics: the Bogus Refugee claims, refugee health care, the temporary migrant workers program etc. In this sense, the Conservative party has many similarities with the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and its leader Nigel Farage, who has used the anti-immigrant rhetoric to undermine the traditional hegemony of the British Conservative Party on the British right wing. Doesn’t that ring any bells? Reform Party, anyone?

Parliament_building

But it seems like the Conservative Party ,with their two last bills, has gone further than UKIP and its politics of “soft extreme-right,” which plays on immigration, but not on identity matters. The hard extreme-right, a constellation of all of humanity’s demons, has this visceral need to define identity. To them identity is based on the exclusion of those that are not like us, those that are not part of the “nation.’’  Such is the political agenda of the Le Front National in France or the extreme-right Dutch Party for Freedom.

The Conservative government is clandestinely, through their debate about “Barbaric Cultural Practices,” calling for a debate about the true nature of Canadian identity. Etymologically speaking, barbarian means the other, the person that isn’t us, and by extension not part of Canada. And beyond this, the blanket statement “Barbaric Cultures” also refers to some sort of hierarchy of cultures. It perpetuates the idea that some cultures on that ladder are inferior or superior to others.

It seems that the cultural practices that stem from Western or European groups are quite alright, but “other” cultures have to be put under the loop for their barbaric cultural practices. Thus, with this rhetorical ingenuity, the Conservative regime has redefined Canadian identity.

Too long have we comforted ourselves with the idea that Canada, and Canadians aren’t racist, and because of this we have this false idea that we haven’t let racism creep into the highest spheres of power. The Conservative move to introduce legislation that bans “barbaric cultural practices” is no different than the extreme right-wing proposals on the European continent. Unfortunately in our case, the Conservative party has managed to achieve power, and its threat is very real.

A luta continua.

A specter is haunting democracies throughout the world. A barely visible cloud, an entangling nebula is settling in throughout large swaths of modern political rhetoric. Many pundits and opportunistic spokespeople are saying that the Ghost of Ideology from days long past is speaking from beyond the grave, and that it has resurrected and is walking among us again.

But, surely the question we must ask ourselves is, “Did ideology ever die in the first place?”

Ideology — as a word — is used for the most diverse purposes nowadays. It can mean almost anything in the current state of world affairs. Ideology is seen as the equivalent of a political agenda or religious dogma; thus, the religious extremism of ISIS and the “neo-fascistoid” elements of Greece’s Golden Dawn or  France’s Front Nationale become conflated. Ideology has also become individualised; ideology is not a systemic development anymore, but rather a personal one. Individuals can build their own ideologies.

On the other hand, we apparently live in a “non-ideological” world. Modern day apostles have announced, in a very Nietzschean manner, “Ideology is dead”.
bush_mission_accomplished_uss_abraham_lincoln_reuters_img

At the same time, ideology has been “democratized” to the extent that it doesn’t mean anything anymore and has been declared irrelevant in the context of the advent of a non-ideological world.

Ideology can only be understood as a system of symbolic representations. It is, first and foremost, the articulation of a world-view through symbols. For instance, the current dominant global ideology of neo-liberalism uses growth, free trade, free markets, free enterprise and representative democracy as its symbols.

For many contemporary commentators, ideology was buried under the ruins of the devastation it created. From this vantage point, the death of ideology marked the end of a century of ideological struggles, which brought about war, famine and misery to most of mankind. The bi-ideological, and bipolar struggle that defined the Cold War is over. Capitalism is triumphant, all is well, ideology is dead, good night and good luck!

President Bush and President Gorbachev

But it is exactly when you think that you are roaming through the desert of ideology, exactly when the absence of ideology is supposedly self-evident, that is exactly when you’re submerged in ideology. You’re in the thick of it and can’t get out.

In his most recent public interview broadcasted on French national television 2 weeks ago, Nicolas Sarkozy confirmed his intention of reentering the French political scene. During the one hour interview Sarkozy made the case for a new “non-ideological” political movement that would move beyond the drawn fault line of left versus right. For Sarkozy, the main problem with the current Socialist regime was its ideological stance. I couldn’t disagree more. If anything, with the nomination of Manuel Valls as prime minister and his relentless grab for power, the Socialist government has proven that they too abide to this logic of a so-called non-ideological stance.

The problem with this discourse is that ideology, far from having disappeared from the French political scene, has, within the past few years, reinvigorated itself and has become so omnipresent that it now appears to be invisible, even non-existent. And this, because the majority of the French population has internalized the dominant ideology of austerity as being the ultimate truth — as has the majority of human beings on this planet.

In reality a non-ideological stance doesn’t exist. The political project to move beyond the ideological dichotomies of left versus right, of liberalism versus socialism — in the economical sense — doesn’t amount to anything more than a mirage of wishful thinking. Sarkozy is ideology at its purest form.

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Protesters against austerity in France

The left — read here socialists — might have abandoned their ideological attire, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t ideological. In many ways socialist parties throughout the European Union have shedded their social vision and have become another one of those -isms without a suitable prefix. Within this new political dimension of fluid -isms, the driving force is the market and the free circulation of capital, better known as austerity. Differences are non-existent, but one ideology clearly reigns all mighty.

This abandonment of ideology by left-wing movements has allowed extreme-right movements to fill in the void and appear as alternatives. The story is the same throughout Europe, but also with the Tea Party in the US, the Reformists here in Canada, and Modi in India. These neo-nationalist and neo-liberal movements may take various forms, specific to the context to which they belong, but their raison d’être is the same, to fill in an ideological void.

Sarkozy can proudly parade his “non-ideological” message, and he will encounter no dignified opposition, because the ideologically left-wing alternative is dead — if it isn’t dead, then it’s in tatters. From the ruins of this ideological surrender, we must strive to rebuild an alternative dialectic; the ontological survival of the “Left” depends on it. The battle against neo-liberalism and the rise of neo-fascism is, first and foremost, a direct assault on their symbolic mobilizers: The key words, like growth and jobs, that are at its symbolic foundation. Only though this deconstruction can come the construction of a true alternative. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that an alternative ideology be built from the ideological ruins of the Left’s upcoming self-destruction.

A luta continua.

It’s trickling down. Snow falling from the condensed steam of downtown high rises. It begins to fall gently and you barely even notice it. But when that perfect storm hits, those snowflakes will blind you. Winter is coming.

Regular Canadians, us, our friends and families, who watch tv, listen to the radio and live normal lives are being manipulated by career tricksters and their corporate puppeteers. In English Canada, it’s Brian Lilley and Michael Coren, in Quebec it is Michel Hebert and PQ minister Benard Drainville, all so called journalistsBrian, Michael and Michel work directly for one of richest people in Quebec and Canada, Pierre Peladeau.

Pierre knows whats up. He’s watching his billionaire buddies in Europe. They’re ripping their countries apart, privatizing everything, destroying pensions and throwing people on the street. He’s got his eyes on Hydro Quebec, as the CLSCs are closed down, perhaps private health care too. They’re softening the blows with distractions. Cue the Charters. Attacking minorities becomes a pastime in Europe and slowly, in Canada.

Those few allowed to speak against it publicly don’t make sense. Liberals talk about loving the “others.” They spend their precious words whining about political correctness. The words fly over our head. Racism sells easier than political correctness. Reasonable accommodation, the ultimate liberal mental masturbation, hides a deep austerity. Are we so impoverished that we cannot provide for those whose spirituality calls for the covering of hair or not touching others who are not their spouse? We all work in the same places, play in the same parks, love the same and laugh the same. We don’t need to embrace the language of difference. Why can’t we accommodate everyone? Why are we so impoverished? Who stole our money?

On the banks of the Ottawa River, in the dirt of industrial Montreal, on the piers of Newfoundland, in the mountains of British Columbia, we were played against each other. Quebecers fresh from the farm and Irishmen fresh from the famine fought to the bottom for pennies in factories and forests. Immigrants from Eastern Asia met violence from angry Englishmen in Vancouver over starvation wages.

Historical memory is short. There was a time when Catholics, in many countries, were not allowed to have jobs in the government and were oppressed mercilessly. Now their descendants want to share their forgotten experiences with Muslims, Sikhs and Jews.

If there has been one thing consistent across time and space, it is that good, regular people, unfiltered by the poetic trickery of the elite and the pain of poverty, have always shared a bond. Humans have a natural solidarity and, I believe, want to love one another. It is the rich and powerful that benefit from dividing us.

Top hat wearing English blokes, not so far removed from Brian Lilley, used to write poems and stories about how much they hated those poor people working in factories and living in slums. Even today, think about how big television stations now portray trailer parks and ghettos in popular culture. They call us fat. They call us stupid. They want us to hate ourselves. And then, as if stealing from the poor of their own country wasn’t enough, these top hat wearing, cigar smoking monopoly men wanted the world. They sold lies about Native Americans, Indians, Chinese people and African people so they could send poor white folks to murder them, steal from them, and die.

The bodies of the poor are the weapons of the rich. And not much has changed. They still use us. Their ranks have swelled. They look and sound more like us. They’ve removed their hats, but they hold their reigns tightly and they’re riding us into each other with the force of a nation.

I’ve been thinking hard about writing. Wrestling with purpose, my flying elbow ego meets an existential Walls of Jericho when considering any intention or wish to live in a world where grave injustices don’t occur systematically. I want to think and live “otherwise.” My Macho Man axe kicked. I’m tag teamed every time.

On one side of the ring, a fatalist hegemonic culture and on the other is a fragmented left. We’re constantly bombarded with news of tragedy and injustice, but rarely are we told what to do about it, or given suggestions how to think about it. The news cycle and the internet isolate and then dis-empower. It speaks directly to no one. Then we have a left that is all over the place. Common cause is beautiful, but rare. Maybe worse, many activists and sympathizers have a tunnel vision towards a particular issue.

The left needs pundits, not necessarily to lead, but to repudiate, make claims, analyze and inspire. Journalism provides us with little to nothing. I see a constant connection being made between non-hierarchical approaches to writing and an absolute need to avoid editorializing.

It is as if we should leave writing solely to those few pure journalists whose convocation it is to assemble the words and wisdom of the “dispossessed” and present it in a fact sheet or ledger. Subaltern instances should not overcompensate for unifying narratives or lack of unifying narratives, or worse, be worshiped and fetishized. No, the opposite, they should give authority to unifying narratives.

Unifying narratives are perhaps the best to fight hegemonic discourse and fatalism. They must be articulated and if not followed, at least kept in mind. What do I mean by the ambiguous and almost scary phrase unifying narratives?

I think, almost all causes, migrant justice, gender justice, environmental justice, anti-colonialism and anti-capitalism depend on a realization that issues are not just systematic and many times structural in our society and government, but that they have intersection and most importantly are alterable and can be challenged.

This is where we can move past broader fatalism, the feeling that nothing can be done and these are simply the way things are. If not united in tactics or organization, then at least being cognizant of each others’ existence and struggles is an essential first step.

In Rebels, Reds, Radicals, Ian McKay puts it simply, we can be united in our thinking and potentially in action because we think of and hope for things “otherwise” than how they are presently.

This goes well beyond any individual. As it should. The wide left needs a contemporary canon. I put forward that Montreal writers on this blog and others, Quebec writers in all languages, writers across Canada and around the world should make an effort to read one another but, more importantly, mention one another and engage in dialogue.

I am going to list off some folks I think should be read and read often:

Kai Cheng (McGill Daily pen name) or Kai Cheng Thom (tumblr name) is a poet/ activist/ social work student. Thom, all at once, is funny, emotionally powerful, and intellectually engaging. Also the writing is beautiful. The rare mix of social work, a gigantic brain and countless hours of writing poetry and performing live have given this writer the unique ability to explain and engage often complicated and marginalized subjects to any audience. Check it out.

Chelsea Vowel, lawyer and activist, tackles a long range of subjects on her blog. Her style of writing can be characterized with unparalleled precision and clarity. One must revel at her ability to, step-by-step, rip apart any issue or argument. Chelsea might be most well known for her informative and analytical role she played to correct misinformation during the Attawispskat crisis. I have also had the honour of being disparaged on her tumblr.

Up on the left coast, on the land of the Coast Salish, Harsha Walia fights the good fight in Vancouver, British Columbia. She is well known for activism in No One is Illegal, an anti-colonial migrant justice group. Her powerful opinions have made waves within leftist discourse and frequently splash poignant analysis in national media. People still share on social media videos of her articulate defence of Black Bloc tactics. She used to blog for Rabble, many of her articles are still up there. I personally follow her on Facebook (she’s also on Twitter). I get gitty when I see her in my newsfeed.

Edited by Glenn Ford, Black Agenda Report is one of my favourite place to go for news, commentary and analysis. They occasionally get big name guest commentators and tackle news stories no one else is talking about.

La Riposte and Fightback are two great publications focused on Canada and from Trotskyist Marxist perspective.

Obviously I read fellow writers on ForgetTheBox. We’re very lucky to have the multilingual Niall Clapham Ricardo. If you want to know what is going on in western Europe, or any country with a Latin derived language, he is your man.

Now I am not trying to equate the quality of writing or experience of any of these writers or websites to one another. This is just what I try to read. It is by no means exhaustive and it shouldn’t be. I’d love if people were to comment below some writers or bloggers or websites they find inspiring and interesting.

This past Saturday Concordia University welcomed noted intellectual, prolific writer, MIT Professor Emeritus, movie-maker, linguist and self-described anarcho-syndicalist Noam Chomsky to its downtown campus. Booking Mr. Chomsky, who was in town for another event later that same day was quite the coup for Concordia Student Union’s VP External and Mobilization Caroline Bourbonnière.

Despite some outcry by those who were unable to snag one of the 350 tickets, the event went off without a hitch; organizers set up a live feed that could be viewed in a adjoining room, the footage of which should soon be available to all online.  In the meantime, the transcript of an almost identical lecture can be found online.

In his talk tilted “The Neo-Liberal Assault on the Population” Mr. Chomsky discussed the chasm that exists between democracy and what he labels “really existing capitalist democracy” or in other words, a plutocracy. For examples that highlight how out of touch the political system is with those it espouses to represent, Mr. Chomsky contrasted public opinion with public policy: while a clear majority of the US population is in favour of tax hikes for the rich and environmental regulations, those in power are more concerned with deficit reduction and ignore looming environmental catastrophes.

To be sure, these issues, while viewed largely as matters of domestic policy, have global repercussions. Mr. Chomsky also pointed out that America’s always-at-the-ready nuclear arsenal and its behaviour as an irrational and out-of-control state actor as a matter of policy places us all on the precipice. Nuclear war, along with environmental degradation, are the two most serious threats the world faces today.

But Mr. Chomsky is no Debbie-Downer. Hope for a more egalitarian society in which the will of the people is truly expressed and manifested can be seen in the likes of contemporary student movements and in the move towards more worker-owned co-ops.

On a larger scale and in a not-so-historically-distant-past the strides made by the women’s movement and the increasing self-determination of Latin American states are examples of changes possible within the system. Interestingly, he claimed that it is now Canada and the United States that risk being isolated from the rest of the Western Hemisphere.

Benjamin Prunty, CSU’s VP Sustainability who helped organize the event, hopes it will galvanize the student body into action: “having such an important intellectual essentially reinforce as fact that feeling that I think many of us have, that the system is not only fundamentally failing today but is also on course to fail us all much worse in the future, will help thrust those on the verge of political action right into its throes.”

“Power is very fragile,” Mr. Chomsky reminded the rapt audience at the end of his lecture; food for thought in this world where we often feel powerless against political and corporate behemoths.

* photo of Chomsky at the UdeM conference by Marco Simonsen-Sereda (blogocram)

* This post originally appeared on QuietMike.org, republished with permission from the author

As Canada celebrates it’s 146th birthday, I’m thankful to have a break from the corrupt circus that has become our parliament. Unfortunately, even with our government on an extended summer vacation we are constantly reminded that they’re around.

Canada’s Economic Action Plan ads, our government’s propaganda campaign to convince us that everything is A-OK continues to drive everyone in the country crazy and cost a fortune.

They’re everywhere on television, most of all on our news networks. They’re all over the internet, our radio stations, our newspapers and god knows where else. If you are a Canadian, there is no escape.

According to Treasury Board guidelines, taxpayer-funded government ads are supposed to inform citizens about programs and services. Instead the ads are being used to brainwash people into thinking the economy is in top shape, our environment is being protected and other wished-for results.

The Conservative government has been cutting back on spending every which way to Sunday over the last couple years and yet their “marketing” campaign has continued unabated, even increased.

Since 2009 the government has spent $113 million on their Economic Action Plan ads. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau recently asked Prime Minister Harper how heavy ad spending in a time of government cutbacks helps middle-class Canadians.

His answer was nothing short of civic pride: “Canadians understand and are very proud of the fact that Canada’s economy has performed so much better than other developed countries during these challenging times.” Apparently it doesn’t matter how well we’re actually doing so long as we feel good about ourselves.

And how we’re doing isn’t as good as advertised; Canada is no longer the leader of the G7 in growth, that honor now belongs to the United States. Other developed economies have also outpaced Canada since the 2009 recession, including Australia and all the Scandinavian countries.

Part of the reason Canada was able to whether the economic downturn better than most is Canada’s consumer debt being at an all-time high. Our unemployment rate has hovered around 7% for the last year, still 1% above where we started in 2009.

More surprisingly, the number of Canadians who need food banks are also at an all-time high. You have to wonder just who is benefiting from our tip top economy. I’d put money on the oil sand barons more than you or I.

The Action Plan ads aren’t fooling too many people these days, in fact a growing portion of the population are finding themselves annoyed or angered by them (glad I’m not alone). According to four different surveys the majority of respondents took to calling the material “propaganda” and a “waste of money.”

Canadians are ignoring them as well. As of April 2012, only 7% said they did something as a result of viewing one of the ads.

All this begs to question just why the Conservative Government is steadfast in its support and defense of these tiresome, useless ads. The Conservative Party has been polling lower than it has in years, running between second and third place despite the onslaught of advertising to convince us of their bang up job.

So, with the economy stagnating, people fed up of their propaganda and $113 million dollars spent, what is the logical thing to do? Double down of course!

A couple months ago the Conservatives put out a tender for a major new ad agency contract that might see the substance-free economic action plan brand continued until 2016 (even after the next election). Yes sir, three more years of this shit…

Happy Canada Day everyone!

* This post originally appeared on QuietMike.org, republished with permission from the author

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized”

Violations of the Fourth Amendment have been rising in the last couple decades, particularly since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Every part of this constitutional amendment has been debased in the last ten years and for the most part, the people it’s supposed to protect don’t care.

uncle-sam-622x777These truths came to the forefront of the national dialog this past week with the leaking of the National Security Agency‘s controversial data mining programs. First reported by Glenn Greenwald at the Guardian; the NSA had been obtaining millions of phone records every day.

A couple days later the Washington Post revealed that the NSA program “PRISM” had tapped into personal data from several major tech companies, including Google, Apple and AOL. This same week, the Supreme Court came to another 5-4 decision in Maryland v. King which found DNA testing to be constitutional upon any arrest.

Just like the Justice Department’s subpoenas of Journalist’s phone records, the NSA’s actions here don’t qualify as a scandal, although it is just as shameful. Many of these spy programs started under George W. Bush and are legal under the USA Patriot Act.

What makes these programs shameful in my view is that they shouldn’t be legal in the first place. The Patriot Act effectively overrode the privacy we held dear under the Fourth Amendment. To add insult to injury, Barack Obama promised to change things back in 2007.

“That means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens. No more (spying) on citizens… No more tracking citizens…” Instead of repealing the patriot act or allowing it to expire, Obama extended it in 2011.

Before I move on, I’d like to address the Supreme Court decision on DNA collection. DNA can be critical in prosecuting criminals and clearing suspects. The question is should it be allowed to be taken without a warrant or the suspect’s permission?

In the 1980s The Supreme Court affirmed that corporations could patent living organisms, the DNA of which would become corporate property. If that’s true, DNA is personal property and according to the Fourth Amendment you need a warrant to search or seize it. Just a little bit of hypocrisy on the Court’s part in my view.

Back to the NSA, is the government listening in on every phone call? No. Is the government reading every one of our emails? No. Does this mean we should sit idly by and surrender our privacy in the name of security? No.

Few people are very surprised by the National Security Agency’s data mining, but what’s troubling is the few who care. Everyone seems to have some kind of Facebook disease. We’ve gotten so used to sites like Facebook and Google using our information to direct their advertisers toward us more effectively, that we’ve lost all desire to keep our data to ourselves.

I have many friends who refuse to sign up to these sites simply due to privacy concerns. Herein lays the difference; people who sign on to Facebook know about their policies and can choose to stay away, the NSA is not giving people a choice. If you’re feeling patriotic, by all means let them collect your data.

Quiet Mike’s writers have covered this topic in recent days and the feedback has been mostly positive, but as always there are differences of opinion. The most common response in favor of the data mining is the classic “who cares, you’re fine if you have nothing to hide.”

patriot-act-surveillanceThat’s a fairly apathetic, but dangerous comment. People with that type of opinion are basically saying it’s OK for the government to supersede their rights. Furthermore, it’s my experience that almost everyone has something to hide, whether it’s an adulterer, a drug user or a political activist. The NSA’s actions are classified, who’s to say whether the data will be used against you eventually.

The Patriot Act was passed on a bi-partisan vote with little debate, only a handful of politicians who bothered to read it and only one Senator voting against it. I’m not surprised to see supposed Liberals and conservatives defending it still.

What really gets my blood boiling is those who are so quick to defend a false interpretation of the Second Amendment by opposing background checks for gun purchases, but are just as quick to see the death of the Fourth Amendment. It’s as if they think the Patriot Act is kind of patriotic act.

As most of my readers know, I’m a Canadian and according to some people I have no business writing about American affairs whether I have the knowledge to do so or not. Well, this story does affect me and my fellow countrymen, the NSA is not restricted to the US and neither is their practices.

How much privacy should we be willing to give up in the name of security? If we are complacent in giving up the little things now, it won’t be long until they ask for more and more.

This post originally appeared on QuietMike.org, republished with permission from the author

The main promises Stephen Harper made during his 2006 campaign were to reform Canada’s Senate and make our government more accountable. So far, mission failed.

Harper said at the time that if Senate reform failed, it should be dismantled. Back then, Harper’s vision of the senate completely Americanized our upper chamber.

Harper wanted to see an elected senate with a maximum term limit of eight years. This would no doubt have led to the same partisan stalemates we see in Washington.

Harper’s initial stab at senate reform was shot down by the Liberals in the Senate who dominated the chamber when the Conservatives first came to power. However, shortly after their majority win in 2011 they introduced bill C-7, also known as the Senate Reform Act. The bill would limit Senators to a nine-year term and would allow the provinces to hold elections to choose their representatives.

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Instead of passing the bill through parliament which hasn’t even been debated in 15 months, the Conservative government asked the Supreme Court of Canada to look at the constitutional requirements for five possible options for Senate reform:

• Fixed-term Senate appointments

• Repealing the property qualifications required to become a senator

• A system in which the federal government consults the provinces, but still appoints senators at a national level

• A system in which the provinces choose their own senators

• Abolishing the Senate altogether

The Canadian Senate was created with the intention of having a “place of sober second thought” before bills become law. Unfortunately some politicians serving in the senate, past and present, have come to respect the upper chamber as a place of second income.

There are so many problems with our senate the least of which are the senate expense scandals. Whether we keep the status quo by appointing our senators or we choose to elect them, the senate has no business in a parliamentary democracy.

We presently appoint our senators which is anti-democratic to begin with. We elect our members of parliament to the House of Commons to write our laws and table our budgets. It’s ridiculous to think the people we elect can be overruled by those who were not.

But what is the alternative, an American style election for senators that could grind parliament to a halt just the same? Let’s not forget to mention the added cost of holding the elections in the first place. Those of you who think this works need only look south of the border.

Even the notion of limiting the number of years a senator can serve is counterproductive and could cost the tax payers more money in pensions. Our MPs and Prime Minister can serve as long as the population chooses to keep them in office, if it isn’t broken, why fix it, right?

The senate is and has always been an elitist institution. Elected or not, there has been a law in place for the last 145 years that stipulates that a senator must own $4000 worth of land. It isn’t much compared to 1867, but if you rent your home, you cannot sit in the senate.

Canadian-Senate-Cartoon (1)

The senate is broken and in my opinion beyond repair, it doesn’t work, it costs too much money and it gets in the way of governing the country. I’m not the only one who believes this historically useless establishment should go the way of the Dodo. Over 40% of Canadians now feel the senate should meet its end, although the number might be fueled a little by the expense scandals.

Some of the most successful parliamentary democracies in the world do not have an upper chamber or a senate including every Scandinavian country (Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark). Advancement thrives in these progressive countries because there is no second House to obstruct it. Why do we need to be different?

There are those in Canada who insist on defending the Senate because they care about our history and about Canada’s links to the British parliament (which were severed decades ago). Quite frankly, the Canadian senate is as useful to the Canadian people as the Queen of England, but at least the Queen only costs us the salary of one Governor General.

* This post originally appeared on QuietMike.org, republished with permission of the author

Taking a look at President Barack Obama’s latest budget proposal, you’ll find it trims Social Security benefits for millions and concentrates very heavily on deficit reduction. What you might not realize is that Obama is playing right into the hands of a decades old Republican strategy.

If you were paying attention during last year’s election, you may have heard several comments by conservatives referring to democrats as the party of Santa Claus. Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, even Mitt Romney made these references both before and after Obama’s victory.

Obama-SantaSince the Great Depression, Democrats have given the American people Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare and other social programs to cut poverty. These programs (among other things) led to the rise of the middle class, a cut in poverty rates and a better American life in general.

There to fight them every step of the way were Republicans, who by opposing these programs became the party of Scrooge. Unfortunately for Republicans, their position was widely rejected by the majority of Americans who loved these programs.

Democrats were rewarded for deciding to give back to the American populace. They held on to a majority in the House of Representatives for fifty years and it got to a point where the only way Republicans could get elected to national office was to cheat (Nixon, Reagan, Bush Jr). It took a long time for Republicans to diagnose the problem correctly, particularly in Washington.

Along came conservative journalist and commentator Jude Wanniski who introduced the “Two Santa Claus Theory” to the Republican Party in 1976. Wanniski argued that the only way to beat the party of Santa Claus was to become old Saint Nick themselves.

Wanniski suggested to Republicans that they couldn’t fight democrats by cutting spending, it was a losing battle. Instead, he recommended Republicans become Santa as well by giving the gift of tax cuts.

At the time, these propositions were laughed at and dismissed by many in conservative circles; they knew you can’t balance the budget by giving out tax cuts without cuts in spending. However, Wanniski knew that this simple formula for Republican success would have a two pronged effect.

Four years after the introduction of the two Santa Claus theory and it appeared someone was paying attention. Ronald Reagan came into office and made Wanniski an advisor. Over his two terms in office, tax rates (for the wealthy in particular) fell drastically, but so did revenue. Reagan left office in 1988 after tripling the national debt and raising the debt as a percentage of GDP from 26% to 41%.

With low taxes now part of the conservative (and American) psyche, Reagan’s policies forced Bill Clinton to make cuts in welfare and other social programs in order to balance the budget. More importantly, Republicans knew they could use the deficit as a rallying cry. Whenever Democrats were in office, Republicans held them responsible for balancing the budget even though they were accountable for the ballooning deficit in the first place.

god-and-santa-claus-god-santa-republicans-democrats-mencken-politics-1364339044George W. Bush’s two terms in office was essentially a repeat of Reagan’s. Revenues rose by 35%, but spending rose by 65%. Tax cuts for the wealthy and two unfunded wars allowed Bush to take a balanced budget he inherited from Clinton and nearly double the national debt from $6 trillion to $10 trillion.

Just as they did with Clinton in the 1990s, President Obama has been pressured by Republicans to cut social spending for the past four plus years in order to reduce the debt. As I mentioned, Obama has signaled a willingness to give in to Republicans and make changes to social security, something no Democratic president has ever done.

Wanniski’s strategy has worked for the last thirty years. Not only have Republicans been allowed to present themselves as Santa Claus with the gift of tax cuts, but by refusing to cut spending, they have forced Democrats to shoot their own Santa Claus in the back upon taking office. Democrats can now be seen, particularly on the right, as the party of Scrooge, a complete role reversal.

The two Santa Claus strategies are different in more ways the one. Tax and spend liberals use the revenue to ease the burden on the poor and middle class and make the country a more equal society. They follow this principal to first and foremost make the country a better place, if they happen to get elected in the process, all the better.

On the other hand, tax cutting conservatives view their strategy simply as a way to get elected. If their policies destroy the economy or the working class that’s just fine, they’ll just blame it on the next Democratic President. You’ll notice conservatives never complain about spending when Republicans are in office.

Obama needs to open his eyes to the game that’s being played around him. He was elected on the promise of protecting the gifts that were given generations ago. By pushing for chained CPI social security and other program cuts, he’ll be playing right into Republican hands… again.

If Obama turns his back on the programs that have helped the country and his party, he’s not only allowing Republicans to kill the Democratic Santa Claus and the party identity, but the American middle class as well.

“Embrace the role of Scrooge, playing into the hands of the Democrats, who know the first rule of successful politics is Never Shoot Santa Claus. As long as Republicans have insisted on balanced budgets, their influence as a party has shrivelled.” – Jude Wanniski

This post originally appeared on QuietMike.org, republished with permission from the author

If you were to speak of Justin Trudeau’s charisma and character, you would know he is his father’s son. Justin will tell you however that he is not his father, Pierre Trudeau, the beloved former Prime Minister of Canada during the 70s and 80s.

Pierre’s son Justin fulfilled part of what some would call his destiny by winning the Liberal Party leadership race this past weekend (with 80% of the vote). People are already wondering whether a new generation of “Trudeaumania” will take hold. If Justin is to follow in his father’s footsteps and become Prime Minister, it will be a far more difficult task than when his father was first elected in 1968.

Back then, the Liberal Party was already considered the natural governing party of Canada, having ruled the country for 31 of the previous 42 years. Pierre Trudeau also had the luxury of succeeding Lester B. Pearson, one of the most influential Canadians of the 20th century.

Son Justin might have inherited his father’s name, but he didn’t take over the same Liberal Party. Less than two years ago, then Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff oversaw the worst defeat in party history.

In the general election of 2011, the Liberal Party not only lost the election to the Conservatives, but they lost their status as the official opposition to the orange crush of the NDP. The Liberals were relegated to a third place finish for the first time in Canadian history.

Now with two years remaining until the next election, Justin Trudeau has time to pick up the pieces and re-establish the Liberals as the natural governing party it used to be, but it will not be easy.

A National Poll that was taken before the conclusion of the Liberal leadership race showed Trudeau with a slight lead over Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Some might consider these numbers to be a good sign, but they’re based more on Trudeau’s name than his policies. Justin has spoken very little on the policies he supports.

The Liberal Party stood divided following the three consecutive majority governments of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien; the party took a slight shift to the centre of the political spectrum as a result. Thanks to the policies of the Liberal leaders who followed, they are now considered Canada’s centrist party.

Some say the beginning of the Liberal fall from grace came from years of party infighting and its perception that they no longer speak with progressive voices. These realities can explain why the NDP has done so well of late.

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Pierre Trudeau with son Justin at a 1987 Montreal Expos game (Paul Chiasson / Canadian Press)

Unlike his father, Justin has more than one party to contend with. As Liberal delegates were casting their votes, the New Democrats were hosting their policy convention in Montreal.

The NDP voted overwhelmingly to strip socialism from the preamble to the party constitution. This action might have angered some hardcore democratic socialists, but they say it was necessary to modernize the party and appeal more to liberals and progressive conservatives. Either way, it’s clear the NDP have no intention of bowing down to the newly elected Liberal leader.

Justin’s father is famous for the “just society” speech he gave when he accepted the leadership of the Liberal Party back in 68’. It is not yet clear whether Justin Trudeau will remember his father’s words and bring the Liberals back to its more progressive roots or re-mould the party into a yet unknown mixture of progressive/conservative policies.

Canada has become an increasingly polarized country under Harper. If Trudeau decides to stick to the middle ground, it may come back to haunt him much to the delight of the Conservatives and NDP.

Trudeau and his Liberals have an uphill battle to be sure, but if there is anyone who can turn the party around, it’s his name/him. Good leadership doesn’t come from someone’s genetic makeup (just look at the Bush family), but it if it did, Justin would have an abundance of it from both sides of his family.

The new Liberal leader will spend the next two years honing his skills, rebuilding the party and reaching out to Canadians. At the same time we can’t deny that his name could be advantageous come election time, but only if his leadership is worthy of it.

The media will undoubtedly concentrate on Trudeau’s attention grabbing name, not just because of his father’s accomplishments, but because of Stephen Harper’s public disapproval of him. Pierre Trudeau is regarded as the reason why Harper got into politics on the other side in the first place. It seems like something only Hollywood could make up.

If Justin plays his cards right and he is able to use all the media attention to his advantage, he just might outdo his dad. For better or for worse, the Liberal Party has finally found a leader who can unite them and his name just happens to be Trudeau.