Thursday, December 18, 2008

Galen Weston is a Plastic Bag Hero

In November 2008 the city of Toronto announced that grocery stores would soon be charging $ 0.5 a unit for plastic bags. The move was hailed as a hugely important initiative, and the announcement stressed the full collaboration and support of the corporations involved. The puppet spokesperson giving the press conference praised the enthusiastic involvement of the selfless corporate giants as a groundbreaking stepforward in philanthropy and environmentalism; "The recommendations are bold but our targets are ambitious and require bold actions." pronounced Toronto Mayor Miller.

This "initiative", for lack of a better term, because it is far from progressive, is nothing short of arrogant, hypocritical, and deceitful. It is a ploy only to make the general public victim to the false impression that the corporations are doing this for the people as a noble gesture of care and concern for the environment, when in fact it will change nothing. Their explanation is that a $ 0.5 charge on plastic bags will deter shoppers from using them because of the cost. As if the environmentally indifferent person who needs eight bags to get his groceries home is going to think twice about the $ 0.40 charge. The only measure which has worked to reduce plastic bag usage in stores is the environmentally friendly re-usable canvas bag, introduced a few years ago, which reaches only the green crowd. Those who don't care about the environment are immune to this, and so the $ 0.5 plastic bag charge will make absolutely no difference.

What makes this scheme even more laughable and insiginificant is that half of supermarkets already charge for plastic bags, and that the measure includes only grocery stores, and excludes other giant plastic bag users such as wal-mart, and many others. Through this "initiative", corporate supermarket chains and cities across North America try to pass themselves off as deities of environmental reform. Many naive people will think that this is actually a positive step forward, that it will make a difference, and that is exactly the reaction the corporations want to create. Those who have sense enough to appreciate the state of environmental emergency that the planet is currently in, however, will understand that the 5-cent plastic bag charge is an underhanded, self-serving move, and an insult to people's intelligence.

After all the hype of this ridiculous publicity stunt, the City of Toronto announced in January of 2009 that plastic bags were now recyclable.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Humanity Under Capitalism

This paper will attempt to expose the deceitful inner-workings of the oppressive system of capitalism, looking closely at the role played by institutions of higher learning. The majority of people are unconscious of the true nature of universities and colleges in the western world. They are factories for the producton of subservient robots. These institutions administer a hollow, valueless, and underlying purpose as purely operational institutions of conditioning for the hierarchy. Of course certain programs at certain universities are progressive, and certain students and graduates are politically aware and use their education to change the world in positive ways, but unfortunately the exceptions are very few. It is important to recognize the dangerous dogmatic cycle of this system; universities conditioning students into functional pawns, to then lead them by the millions into professions within the underhanded capitalist structure of competition. This sort of training which eventually leads individuals to the aggressive, and blind pursuit of success can be observed first at a national level, but is then transferred internationally through imperialism. The motor of these two systems, capitalism and imperialism, functions on the causal, successive relationships of success, money, power, and ultimately, war and violence, a process which fundamentally stems from human greed. This work seeks to shed light on the basis, or the mainsource of the ENTIRE system, but without moving too far ahead, it will explore mainly the role of post-secondary education, and the rat-race of young graduates and "urban professionals" as the earliest and most siginificant levels in this chain of indoctrination and systematic conventionality. Pop culture also plays a main role as an accessory in maitaining the stagnant status-quo.

It is not my intention in this paper to compare poitical systems, but when thinking of socialism*, people in general are usually quick to associate this system with restrictions on freedom when it comes to choosing professions or type of work. Surely a certain level of management is involved, recommendations perhaps, but certainly no one is forced to take up an undesired trade or profession. Under capitalism the system functions differently. Every one is free to receive formation for whichever trade or profession he or she chooses, and it is a seemingly real choice, but

“Freedom exists in those professions only to the extent that the student chooses the profession himself. That produces an appearance of freedom… Let us say that the freedom exists, but it is limited to the one unique act of choosing the profession. Afterward all freedom is over. When he begins his studies at the university, the doctor, lawyer, or engineer is forced into an extremely rigid curriculum which ends with a series of examinations. If he passes them, he receives his license and can thereafter pursue his profession in seeming freedom. But in doing so he becomes the slave of base powers; he is dependent on success, on money, on his ambition, his hunger for fame, on whether or not people like him. He must submit to elections, must earn money, must take part in the ruthless competition of castes, families, political parties, newspapers. In return he has the freedom to become successful and well-to-do, and to be hated by the unsuccessful, or vice versa.”

In other words, the working world after post-secondary formation becomes a contest among wolves. This completely unmanaged freedom to choose trades and professions, in fact, is one of the fundamental structural flaws of capitalism. This creates an unbalanced distribution of professionals, and skilled and trade workers, which causes a competition so fierce amongst citizens that one can advance and become successful only at the expense of others. This leads to an overabundance of workers and even professionals, which causes unemployment, keeps wages and salaries low, and compromises working conditions, basically putting all power and control into the hands of the bosses. It creates a very large and desperate working pool for the corporations to dip from, and consequently allows them to keep salaries miserable, workers' rights confined, and labour progress stunted. This is why so many university graduates end up working jobs completely unrelated to their field of ‘expertise’, either because they have studied irrelevant, insubstantial programs that serve only to financially profit the institution, or because their skills and know-how are in very low demand, or not in demand at all.

Furthermore, the quality of post-secondary education in North America is generally very poor, at least at the undergraduate level. The system is quite simply far too intensive; two four month terms with students taking on four to six courses, each of which requires the writing of at least two or three major examinations, and at least two or three major essays or projects, usually more, and students can be studying dizzying combinations of subjects from geology, to philosophy, to microeconomics all in the same term. In the midst of all this chaos the majority of students are forced to work at least part-time to maintain livelihood, even if they are fortunate enough to earn student loans and scholarships. So hysterical is this capitalist model of ‘higher learning’ that quality is so seriously compromised for quantity, education so compromised for time and profits, that it becomes a purely mechanical and symbolic affair, and after four years of scrambles and struggles the majority have retained almost nothing. This system is simply “a course of studies designed to prepare the student as thoroughly as possible in the shortest possible time for a specialty in which he could earn his livelihood, and to stamp out whatever sense of freedom and universality he may have had.” Post-secondary education in North America is not, as it should be, a serene sanctuary for academics and personal growth, but rather it is a frantic labyrinth of stressful turmoil, often defined by struggle, anxiety, and desperation. Under the system of socialism, on the other hand, education is free of cost, and living grants are handed out to all students.

What is worse is that students also, over time, have become aware of the systematic sterility of post-secondary institutions, and have responded with unenthusiastic, unmotivated, and jaded disillusionment. This also contributes to the deterioration in quality of education. As an ex-university student I can vouch for this statement as an accurate description of how many students interpret their courses; “the whole thing had from the start the feeling of being a half-baked, useless affair, a make-up course whose random collection of students no more believes in its importance or chance of success than does the teacher, although no one involved will admit it.” The unfortunate reality is that professors have come to terms with the fact that scholarship is compromised to maximize the institution’s profits, and most students have accepted the fact that they must do this in order to obtain a piece of paper.

Then finally students are done with post-secondary stress, and a huge weight is lifted off their shoulders, they are now free to go out into the world and do whatever they want. But now they have ten, twenty, maybe thirty thousand dollars in student loans to pay off, and even more if they are graduating from colleges or universities in the U.S. Maybe they’ll be lucky enough to find a position in their field, but their entry level status will pay no more than thirty thousand a year, at least for the first few years. Before they know it they are settling into an adult situation, so they have no choice but to eventually buy a car, a house, and they are even further in debt on top of their student loans. But then suddenly they are offered a promotion, a higher position, “we are needed, are given a teaching assignment, a mission, a post, and from then on move up to a higher one, and unexpectedly find ourselves caught in a network of duties that tightens the more we try to move inside it. All the tasks are in themselves small, but each one has to be carried out at its proper hour, and the day has far more tasks than hours.” Of course this big new promotion comes with only a marginal pay increase, but the new duties at work require far more than before, and they find themselves with increasingly less time for themselves. Life becomes work, and almost every little concern becomes financially oriented; paying off debt, salaries, buying furniture, payment plans, buying a new computer, mortgage for the house, five years to pay off the car, and they are almost instantly locked into this pre-conceived vortex, indebted over their heads for the next thirty, forty years. Valuable personal time so consumed with work, and so deeply drowning in debt, they become passive, and the passive either don’t vote at all, or vote for the wrong party for all the wrong reasons because they have no time whatsoever to get involved with politics. They become hopeless when the two party system maintains things unchanged, and the system continues on virtually unopposed. The 40 or more hour work-week also allows very little family time, and so that social fabric breaks down as well.

The small amount of disposable income is spent on things that make them feel better, on material things such as clothing, or a new knife for the kitchen, or a painting for the living room, a new tent they have time to use only once a year, or on going out to see a movie, or for an expensive dinner out. Even their homes are decorated in such a way as to provide them with what amounts to a false and hollow sense of security. Hermann Hesse remarked that inside the home of the average westerner “There was no sense of growth, of movement, of renewal…this beauty of the house and its belongings was also meant as a kind of spell, a defensive gesture, and that these rooms, pictures, vases, and flowers enclosed and accompanied a life of vain longing for harmony and beauty which could be attained only in the form of tending such well coordinated surroundings.” In other words the most necessary human yearnings are manifested for all the wrong reasons through all the wrong channels, and valuable energy is wasted on shallow, fruitless purposes. Human spirituality under capitalism is fulfilled only with fake, material ambitions.

They baste themselves with the artificial comforts of western culture and lead completely stagnant, generic, pointless lives in which they waste away amidst the simple pleasures of junk-foods, reality television, drugs, and alcohol. This futile practice of withdrawal serves only as a refuge of feigned consolation, a feeble crust against the miserable, overbearing reality of capitalism. In referring to this existence as “narrow-minded crudity” one author observed that “People in the world were no less proud of their bad manners, their meager culture, their coarse, loud humor, the dull-witted shrewdness with which they kept themselves to practical, egotistic goals.” All the features of this culture are combined and calculated into a pre-conceived core to draw us as far away from our humanity as possible. Even though the majority of these misdeeds are unconsciously committed, one does not have to be intentionally malicious to commit offenses; simply being unaware, indifferent, inactive, compliantly defeated, is immoral. To be drowned into the abyss of the crude and indecent vices of capitalism is a completely disgraceful, and reprehensible insult and violation against the righteousness of humanity.

By enveloping themselves in this decadent, decayed culture, the majority of people half involuntarily, half willingly understand life only in their communities and cities, and comprehend the functioning of societies only on a national level, if that, which is a very dangerous and dogmatic way of thinking in today’s increasingly international world. Comfortable in their small one-dimensional lives they “…never face necessity or the struggle for existence, neither know or wish to know anything about that portion of humanity whose labor and poverty provide the base for our lives of luxury." They lack vital understanding of the most fundamental element of humanity, and cannot relate or share in the struggle of the majority of the planet’s inhabitants. They are committing international class crimes through participation in the passive acknowledgement, and acceptance of capitalism and its numbing, lethargy-inducing culture.


*I have to make clear that when I refer to socilaism or communism, I refer to true socialism, participatory democracy, or people's governments like Cuba, Venezuela, or Bolivia, not cold war Stalinism, or degenerated workers' states such as Vietnam, China, or post Lenin/Trotsky Russia.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Kenya's Tragic Flower Crisis

Nevermind Afghanistan and Iraq, the Great Lakes region of Africa is the most disastrous conflict zone in the world, by far; the heart of Africa is hemorrhaging. Two of the continent's three largest countries, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are suffering crippling civil wars, and the entire region surrounding them, a area which all-together accounts for about one third of Africa, is on fire. Together, ten countries comprise the Planet's focal point of death and refugees.

Furthest to the south, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is in a seemingly never-ending conflict, or at least a series of conflicts, ongoing for almost a decade. In the initial war from 1998-2003, an estimated 3.9 million died of direct and indirect causes, which makes it the second bloodiest conflict since WW2. All together and up to the end of 2007, a total of 5.4 million people have been killed as a result of the conflict, probably the most underreported human crisis in history. Recently the country's government, the Congolese Army, and a few rebel groups fighting against them, and amongst each other, seem to have come to a ceasefire for the time being. This despite reluctance from Laurent Nkunda's Tutsi fighters who operate mainly in the east of the country. The "peace" will almost certainly be short-lived. Mr.Nkunda this week removed his side from the negotiations after being accused of massacring 30 rival Hutus. The disaster persists despite heavy U.N military presence and involvement.

Its tiny neighbour to the east, Rwanda, is still extremely poor, very short on options and resources, and still recovering from the effects of the 1994 genocide which left over 800,000 people killed in less than four months; victims of the worst ethnic cleansing in human history. Their president Paul Kagame is able, well-intentioned, and extremely intelligent, but can do very little in the face of overall instability in the region, for such a small country in the midst of such large overwhelming conflicts. Meanwhile Nkunda's Tutsi rebels in eastern Congo threaten to set off another conflict in Rwanda; Paul Kagame is also Tutsi.

Bordering Rwanda and the Congo to the north-east is Uganda. The Lord's Resistance Army there has been fighting the gvt of Yoweri Museveni since 1986. Although a "permanent ceasefire" is due to be finalized and signed by next week, the conflict has killed tens of thousands and displaced nearly two million people in the two-decade-long war.

Then the west and southern parts of the giant to the north, Sudan, are rife with ethnic violence and secessionist rebel groups. The nomad Arabs from the north are attempting to cleanse the black populations in Darfur, and a racist, greedy government in Khartoum allied with the West is granting them impunity and making matters much worse. The United Nations and the under-resourced token African Union have some presence in Darfur, but these efforts have been undrecut by incompetence and bureaucracy. The world's powers have no sincere intentions to prevent ethnic cleansing anyway, unless they can siphon resources and benefit economically afterwards. The tribal war which began in early 2003 has so far claimed over 200,000 lives, and has forced the movement of around 2 million Sudanese, many of them refugees to the neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) and Chad.

To the west of Sudan is Chad. Mainly in the north-east of the country there are currently about 400,000 displaced people, many of which are coming from Darfur. The U.N. is attempting to set up a make-shift chapter 7 assistance mission in eastern Chad, but as usual bureaucracy is again dominating those efforts, and the resources, soldiers, and contributor nations are all disorganized and disunited. Not that it would make much of a difference anyway, but now the deployment will be delayed for months. Meanwhile France already has a unilateral neo-colonial military presence in both Chad and the CAR. In Chad, French assistance aims at helping the self-serving military dictator Idriss Deby, the country's president, at fending off Khartoum backed rebels. Chad is also one of Africa's poorest countries.

Hopelessly lodged in between Chad, Sudan, and the DRC, is the Central African Republic. Likewise in the CAR, French troops are busy fighting off rebels based in the north-east. The country which has been victim to a series of reckless dictators and coups in the last ten years or so, is mired in violence, and boasts around 300,000 displaced people of its own.

Sudan's biggest neighbour to the east is U.S. backed Ethiopia, which is fighting a religious war "on terror" against Somalia, and a territorial one against Eritrea. Ethiopia's internal affairs are extremely divided as well.

And the latest victim to fall, apparently a wonder of "economic development" and a bright beacon of exemplary "democracy" amidst the heart of darkness that is Africa, is Kenya. In the last two months or so after the presidential election was rigged in favour of the now illigetimate president Mwai Kibaki, ethnic violence has ravaged the country as the vast majority of oppostion Luos, Kalenjins, Luyhas, and Kisiis have taken to revenge killing of Kikuyus, the ethnic kin of Mwai Kibaki. They have done so in angry response to decades of political domination and exploitation by the Kikuyu oligarchy. Perhaps tens of thousands have died already, but for some reason the media will not admit to more than just over 1,000 deaths. Oddly enough, the violence and killings continue, yet that number has remained neutral for about a month.

But, perhaps the West's biggest concern in all this was making sure that Kenya's roses arrived to Europe on time for Valentine's Day. Millions of Africans are dying and they have no food, but lets first and foremost make sure that we mobilize manpower and resources so that February 14th isn't interrupted. The powers-that-be keep the rich populations ignorant, with extravagant, egocentric holidays. Pop culture is the opium of the masses. Kenya's prized export accounts for about one quarter of Europe's flower imports. A newsfeed from The Associated Press reported that "Armed escorts are being used to ensure Kenyan roses arrive in time for Valentine's Day", and that "Growers have charted planes, enlisted police to protect flower-truck convoys and made pleading calls to frightened workers urging them to return." It almost reminds of me Rwanda when French and American forces were sent in as the conflict intensified to fly their expatriates out of the country. All the white Europeans and Americans had the green light to go, but the Black Rwandans who were taking refuge inside a hospital surrounded by blood-thirsty Interahamwe rebels who were waiting outside with machetes, they weren't allowed to leave. This time it is flowers and not expatriates being flown out of Africa, but the Black gardeners are being pleaded to work and risk their lives so that the roses can be delivered on time for the white people. If only a catastrophic earthquake could rip apart Central Africa and the Great Lakes Region, and a powerful tsunami devastated the Swahili Coast, then maybe people would start paying attention.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

El Medico Del Siglo 21

On Monday February 4th 2008, Nabeel Yar Khan left Canada as the first student ever to go study medicine in Cuba at ELAM (Latin American School of Medicine). Each year Cuba trains thousands of doctors, hundreds among those students from the poorest, most remote, most neglected areas of countries all over the world. Cuba's internationalist mission in healthcare is a program which offers scholarships to poor students to study medicine on the island, with the intention for them to return to practice in their home communities in need, or wherever they may be needed througout the world. In the most dire situations all across the globe, Cuba also sends medical teams, always first on the scene, to secure those who are abandoned by the international community.

Worldwide Cuba has over 30,000 doctors providing free medical care to more than 60 countries, they have been praised, loved, and appreciated by thousands accross the world for their unconditional, selfless sacrifices. To illustrate a few examples, they have been greatly complimented by Pakistanis for their efforts and refered to as having the "souls of angels". They work often in the most difficult conditions, with language barriers, and are dispatched to relieve the most horrific natural disasters. While they were working in Haiti, the country's president Rene Preval said, in expressing appreciation for their contributions, that the "Cuban doctors are second only to God." Fidel Castro sees their contributions as a crucial message of human solidarity, and says that the international teams set examples for "this humanity which will someday be truly humane."

Cuba's medical efforts in Canada were initially intended to reach out to the aboriginal community, to offer opportunities to students from these often overlooked communities, and for them to have the ability to give back to their communities upon returning. However, one particular comrade insisted on being an exception to the rule. Last year, Nabeel now a Canadian who's parents originated from India, participated in an exchange program which gave him the opportunity to travel to Cuba. While he was there he did volunteer work in a community clinic, an experience which opened his eyes two the exceptional realities of the Cuban healthcare system. He later wrote: "What I learned was that Cuba utilizes a system of preventive medicine, which Canada does not utilize. I believe Cuba could be a model for the Canadian health care system...I believe that this system is not only a model for Canada but the World entirely." After his experience, Nabeel was determined to become an internationalist doctor, and began taking the necessary steps to go study at ELAM.

Nabeel who is also involved in Cuba solidarity work in Canada, draws inspiration from Ernesto Che Guevara. In a letter sent to Fidel Castro, Nabeel wrote that "Ernesto’s characteristics have placed an imprint on me...I want to portray Ernesto by also fighting, not with arms, but with medicine, to help people around the world who are in desperate need." After his six year committment in Cuba, this young revolutionary has said that his "primary goal is to become a doctor, not to migrate back to Canada and practice, because it is a country that has substantial aid, but to take the education, skills, and capabilities to help the less developed and war-torn countries in this world." Nabeel is a pioneer who has made the valiant and selfless decision to offer the medical expertise he will learn for the well-being and prosperity of all the world's children; he is an inspiration and example to future Canadian students who aspire to study medicine. So in the spirit of Che Guevara, an exemplary human being who was also a doctor, we do justice to this cause by recalling some of his insight. In August of 1960 while giving a speech to Cuban medical students and health workers, in refering to the road taken by revolutionary doctors, Che said that "nobody can point out that stretch; that stretch is the personal road of each individual; it is what he will do everyday, what he will gain from his individual experience, and what he will give of himself in practising his profession, dedicated to the people's well-being."

Julien Lalonde for
Toronto Forum on Cuba.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Uphill Battle of the Afghan Resistance

A CP news feed printed in the Jan18-20 weekend edition of Metro reports of two Afghan farmers being shot by Canadian gunfire a few days before christmas last year. The report states "A 12-year-old boy said he was there when soldiers - whom he insisted were Canadian because he recognized their vehicles - shot and killed his father and seven-year-old brother while they tended crops north of Kandahar City." That is the unfortunate reality of war-ravaged Afghanistan to which the role of the Canadian military is contributing. This particular story is a perfect example of just how difficult and almost impossible it is for conventional armies to defeat guerrilla warfare and civilian militas, something NATO and U.S forces are obviously having a hard time with, which often results in the tragic deaths of innocent civilians.

Mainstream media reports claim that the ISAF is gaining ground and controls most provinces, but 2007 was the bloodiest year since the 2001 invasion, and independent research groups claim that Taliban presence still dominates the majority of the country's provinces. A November 2007 report by the Senlis Council (Stumbling Into Chaos: Afghanistan on the Brink) states that "The Taliban has proven itself to be a truly resurgent force. Its ability to establish a presence throughout the country is now proven beyond doubt; research undertaken by Senlis Afghanistan indicates that 54% of Afghanistan's landmass hosts a permanent Taliban presence, primarily in southern Afghanistan, and is subject to frequent hostile activity by the insurgency. The insurgency now controls vast swaths of unchallenged territory including rural areas, some district centres, and important road arteries. The Taliban are the de facto governing authority in significant portions of territory in the south, and are starting to control parts of the local economy and key infrastructure such as roads and energy supply. The insurgency also exercises a significant amount of psychological control, gaining more and more political legitimacy in the minds of the Afghan people who have a long history of shifting alliances and regime change." The fact that Taliban support is growing and that the civilian population is increasingly involved in the Afghan Resistance to U.S/NATO Imperialism is a clear indication that the majority of Afghans want the ISAF to leave their country. The occupation's persistence is a tyrannical violation of the Afghan people's right to self-determination.

Civilian opposition and involvement also higlights how Afghanistan, much like Iraq, is now more and more becoming an unwinnable war. An Al-Qaeda strategist, Ayman al-Zawahiri, stated in 2001 "The leadership made a decision to dismantle the Taliban and integrate into the Afghan society once again. This move will enable it to return in seven years, in harmony with a well examined plan to defeat the Americans and their plans." This could be an indication as to why the Taliban managed to come on so strongly in 2007. And even if U.S/NATO forces were to somehow gain the upper-hand, the militias always have that option open to them, to scatter back into the civilian population and simply play the waiting game. The Taliban is not going anywhere, they are at home in their own country, time is on their side, but the imperialists at some point will have to go back home.

Another huge problem for U.S/NATO forces is the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the Achilles' heel of the so-called war on terror, which are completely controlled by and have served as a base for the Taliban divisions of both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and all sorts of other insurgent activity, with an Al-Qaeda presence. Again the Senlis report states: "Ever since their egress from Afghanistan in November 2001, the Taliban’s Command and Control structures have re-established themselves in Quetta, Pakistan, directing insurgency propaganda and activities from a safe haven just 60 kilometres from the border with Afghanistan. Furthermore, the North West Frontier Province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas have become a training ground for an array of actors intent upon driving NATO forces from Afghanistan. Bolstered by support from elements of Pakistan’s overbearing military establishment, the Taliban have established firm roots within these regions. Parts of Waziristan in NWFP are now controlled by militant islamists..." So again the situation simply amounts to a waiting game for the Taliban. Neither Pakistan's military nor the imperialist forces in Afghanistan have taken the initiative to do anything about the NWFP and FATA; in any case, even if they wanted to they would be unable to do so.

It was revealed last week that British diplomat Paddy Ashdown will become the United Nation's new super-envoy to Afghanistan. In a response of desperation to the impossible situation of Afghanistan, the UN thinks that added bureaucracy will somehow provide the solution to their problems. So typically egocentric American isn't it, to use the word super to refer to the chief executive of a major imperialist intervention. But there is reason to believe that Mr.Ashdown will take a different approach to NATO's failure in Afghanistan. He is not a typical politician and is in much better touch with the realities and nuances of a military intervention than anyone else involved. He acknowledges "that Afghanistan has become a disorganized disaster, that we are repeating the worst mistakes of the Balkan Wars, that we are on the verge of a loss that would be even more dire than the West's defeat in Iraq." He also openly admits that there is more to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan than just the war on terror: "Our failure relies on the fact that we believe, for some bizarre reason, that we have such a unique system of government in our own countries - by the way, not a view shared by many of our citizens - that we believe we have a right to impose it lock, stock, and barrel, along with the values and everything that goes along with it, on other countries with the use of B-52s, tanks and rifles." What is manifest through these wars is the imperialists' distorted, contradictory theory of democracy, the self-righteous assumption that western-style "democracy" is the envy of all nations.

Mr.Ashdown says that these nations before being able to embrace any sort of democracy are in need of something far more basic; "Look at Maslow's hierarchy of needs. They want security. Actually, I think democracy is what people choose when they have enough prosperity that they want a system of government that will protect it. The big thing about democracy is not that its efficient, but that its the best means of protecting what you have." In other words, Afghans at the moment are worried first and foremost about surviving, not about what sort of government is best for them; a country cannot prosper when it is consumed by war. The Senlis Council report puts it this way: "Living conditions in Afghanistan, particularly in the south, remain appalling. Overall health indicators for women and children are at exceptionally low levels, with only two countries having worse child mortality rates than Afghanistan. Access to healthcare, education and other basic services is dramatically hindered by the lack of essential infrastructure. Today, the majority of the Afghan population is malnourished and lacks essential access to safe drinking water." The result so far of the more than six year military occupation is that unemloyment in Afghanistan is over 80%, only 13.5% of Afghans have a stable income, and 48.8% of families have at least one child that works. Afghanistan has the lowest per capita income in the world. The U.S/NATO forces try to legitimize the occupation on the grounds that, by rescuing them from the inhumane customs of the Taliban, they are vastly improving conditions for women. Yet, one of five women dies of pregnancy related causes every thirty minutes in Afghanistan. Only 13% of Afghans have access to safe drinking water. In 2004, three years into the occupation, less than 40% of Afghans had access to basic healthcare. There is only one doctor for every 50,000 people. A war-torn reality renders impossible the capacity for stability and human prosperity.

In essence, democracy is the freedom to choose, so a military intervention to impose it is a complete paradox. I do not condone terrorism or some of the brutal religious practices of the Taliban, but I categorically state that the war on "terror" is primarily just a convenient pretext for ruling class ambitions. The culture crusade of neo-democracy to pacify the resisters, and forceful neo-liberalism to produce the conquest of capitalist globalization. The resistance in Afghanistan and internationally must consolidate its strength and solidarity in demanding with a loud voice that imperialism grant humanity to the Afghan people immediately.

U.S/NATO Forces Out of Afghanistan Now!
Self-Determination for All Oppressed Nations!

Letter to the Editor submitted to The Globe And Mail (Those Stumblimg Strongmen - Jan.19)

Pinochet's Chile

I occassionally disagree with what is printed in The Globe And Mail, but I am very rarely offended by it. To give any sort of credit to Pinochet's brutal dictatorship in the 70s,80s, however, struck a nerve. Your article on democracy and dictatorship (Those Stumbling Strongmen - Jan.19) claimed that "Chile's Augusto Pinochet pushed through a successful program of free-market economic reform". Lets have a quick look at what the policies and results of this "successful program of free-market economic reform" consisted of. State spending was cut 20 to 25 %, capital markets deregulated, over four hundred state industries were privatized and sold off in an astonishing transfer of wealth to the private sector, multinationals were given the right to repatriate 100 % of their profits, and the public pension fund and healthcare were privatized. As a result of these policies GNP plunged 13 %, purchasing power broke down to 40 % of its 1970 level, GDP fell 15 %, the private debt rose from $2 billion in 1978 to over $14 billion in 1982, and the Central Bank lost 45 % of its reserves. Bankruptcies tripled all around the country, and thousands of government workers were layed off as skyrocketing unemployment soared to 30 % spreading accross the board among chile's poor and working class. That quite simply amounts to a program of economic reform that just cannot be defined as successful. In fact, so brutal were Pinochet's policies, that only the killings and disappearances of tens of thousands made possible the forceful implementation of Friedman's economic injustice. But even if we cast aside the killings, torture, hunger, and political repression that characterized the years of the dictatorship, Pinochet's reforms, nonetheless, led to the economic ruin that devastated Chile in 1982. So next time before making such a distasteful, careless, and unenlightened statement on such a delicate issue, perhaps the information presented should be more thoroughly examined.

Julien Lalonde, Toronto

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Whims of Multinationals, The Distress of the Working Class

As capitalist globalization is mushrooming throughout the world, its effects are also apparent, and being felt in Canada. The most frequent victims of this system's erratic instability are the young, the poor, and the working class. Canada is a country rich in natural resources, a haven for multinationals, but it is also a rich country with expensive labour and energy costs. And, although it is rich in natural resources, it is reliant on mainly oil, natural gas, lumber, and minerals. When so many people are reliant on one industry, and corporations because of unfavourable economic conditions decide to move camp and set up in other more cost-efficient countries, the social consequences for many working class people can be dire.

In the small community of Dalhousie in New-Brunswick, a paper mill which has generated the livelihood of the town's majority for decades, is about to be shutdown by AbitibiBowater(AB), a siginificant player in the North American forest products industry. The announcement comes after Abitibi-Consolidated and Bowater Incorporated have recently merged to form the new company. Now as a result of big business decisions, and in the name of cost-efficiency and maximizing profits, the working class people of New-Brunswick dependent on the forestry sector will take a hard hit, as AB moves some of its Canadian operations to be relocated elsewhere. This story came out in a Dec.22 article of last year in The Globe and Mail. Telling of how difficult the situation truly will be for the small community, Dalhousie will loose $2 Million in taxes paid by the paper mill, a figure which accounts for almost one third of the city's budget. The article also poitns out that "there will be less wealth circulating to support local businesses and real estate values are expected to take a hit." So essentially the people of this community will loose everything all at once; many of them will loose their jobs directly, others will loose their businesses as a result of the damaged economy, and even if they wish to sell their homes and start over elsewhere, it will be very difficult for them to do so with very little money, because even if they are lucky enough to find buyers who are looking for ghost town real estate, the value of their homes will already have fallen drastically.

In response to community concerns, AB officials have said they will help find a buyer for the building, but that they refuse to sell to a competitor, and that they intend on removing some of the paper-making equipment. But Dalhousie's residents are aware that AB's malicious intentions of removing machinery are illegal if the workers are not sufficiently compensated for their losses. In many situations in Argentina during the 2001 economic crash, factory-owning multinational investors were closing factories and disappearing overnight, in most cases owing large sums of money to their workers. In some cases, owners claiming the factories were non-profitable even managed to extract government subsidies in order to pay workers, only to keep the money for themselves, and to sell off the factories' supplies and machinery after vanishing. Argentinian workers began obtaining government issued licences to inspect the factories in order to make sure nothing had been removed from inside, and if they found any of the equipment missing then had a case to eventually occupy and run the factories themselves. Many of them did so by these legal channels, others did so "illegally", nationalizing their factories or forming worker cooperatives, making their workplaces productive and profitable once again. I'm not sure how much the workers of the Dalhousie paper mill know about the Movement of Occupied Factories in Argentina, but they are seemingly militant union workers who have a good level of awareness about the injustice being commited them. One of the mills' union leaders told The Globe and Mail, "I know the people in this mill and they'll have people at every gate....And believe you me they'll make sure nothing moves out of the doors."

In a similar closure in New-Brunswick, in the small city of Miramichi, a Finnish company UMP-Kymenne closed down the city's facility only to invest in overseas mills to exploit Russia's forests, effectively putting 600 people out of work. It is estimated that the forestry sector in New-Brunswick alone has discharged 5,000 workers in the past few years. ABs announcement in December has already affected 3,600 workers, and they may still announce a second round of closures as early as April or May of this year.

In order to water down the grave magnitude of this situation which is becoming an issue in other parts of Canada as well, the Harper government announced on Jan.10th a $1 billion trust fund to offer one-time assistance to communities in need. But if multinationals weren't allowed to operate with such impunity, this sort of thing wouldn't happen in the first place. The $1 billion relief being offered is only a quick fix that does not remedy the social and financial instability of wild west capitalism.

Capitalism is an economic and social system that is inherently volatile and unreliable. Capitalist governments have no control over the security and welfare of their own people. The substance which holds capitalism together is based on movements, on change, on ups and downs, on booms and recessions, and its profits are made on the nature of this instability. Capitalism is big, intimidating, and extravagant, yet it is held up by a dissproportionate, top-heavy, frail, hollow structure. It is like an immense, glamorous palace made entirely out of delicate crystal, or a vulnerable castle of cards. Governments are there only to preside over the spending of tax dollars which go one of either two directions, public or private. When national money goes into public projects, it is an investment to create its own institutions, to construct human capital for its people. When public wealth goes into private hands, it is wasted, it is wealth that is leaving the country, wealth that will never be retrieved. Capitalist governments are there only to create empty spaces for the corporations to fill. When governments privatize hospitals, or sacrifice public schools to the charter system for example, they are simply opening up new markets for large private companies or corporations, facilitating the dominance of multinationals. The objective is for the working class to possess only the bear minimum amount of wealth, just enough to keep them alive and the capitalist machinery functional.

A nationalized economy on the other hand, with consolidated central planning, provides economic, and thus social stability. We need to build our own system where the economy is managed and controlled by us, for our interests. Che Guevara wrote that economic planning should be seen as humanity's first chance to reign over economic forces. Carlos Tablada, a Cuban economist, in continuation of Che's theory on political-economy wrote that "the planned economy becomes the instrument by which men can know reality and make decisions about it, thereby creating and shaping both their present and their future." The idea that the economy is successful only insofar as it serves as a tool to shape the prosperity and advancement of humanity. So to the mill workers of Dalhousie, and to the poor and working class people all across the world, we stress that their self-determination will not be attained until "man ceases to be the slave and instrument of his environment and becomes an architect of his own destiny."

Workers of the World Unite for Economic Independence!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Ludicrous Slander of the Empire

To those who won't stop ranting about Hugo Chavez's alleged dictatorial aspirations, perhaps its time you start observing the process a little more closely. Everything Hugo Chavez has done since he was democratically chosen by a passionate electorate in 1998 has always been fully democratic and constitutional. Since Hugo Chavez lost the referendum on December 2nd of last year by a margin of 0.7 % only because there was an abstention rate of 45 % of the electorate, of which the overwhelming majority were supporters of the Bolivarian Revolution, the opposition and hostile reactionary governments and media have clamoured that the Revolution is dead. The referendum failed only because the PSUV and the Revolutions' supporters took victory for granted, and didn't sufficiently mobilize the rank and file. When the next referendum arrives by alternate channels, the Revolution will not make the same mistakes, and it will continue moving toward the full construction of Socialist Venezuela.

Since the MVR's (Movimiento Quinta Republica) victory in 1998, the Bolivarian Revolution has won no less than 12 electoral processes, elections and referenda. Hugo Chavez's "crime" is his aspiration to be president "indefinately". However, he made this proposal to the Venezuelan people through a referendum, and gallantly conceded the 0.7 % defeat. The most siginificant factor in all this, is that everything in Venezuela is decided either through elections, referendum, or through direct, grassroots, participatory democracy in collaboration with the people's communal councils, which is not the case in the Western "democracies" who slander the Bolivarian process. If Hugo Chavez was in fact a strong-arm, autocratic dictator, he would have simply rigged the referendum, which of course he did not; instead he embraced the setback as a shining illustration of Venezuela's healthy and exemplary democracy. I could go on, but I think thats enough.

I call on all the the juvenile, one-dimensional reactionaries to please, please, stop singing the same old hollow song! If you insist on bringing slander against the Bolivarin Revolution, I challenge you to try and find something substantial and legitimate.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Imperialists Are Insatiable

On December 14th, 2007, Brigadier-General Andre Deschamps of the Canadian forces released an exaggerated affidavit in response to an injunction request by Amnesty International and the British-Columbia Civil Liberties Association to ban detainee-transfer to Afghan prisons because of the risk of torture or abuse. A very legitimate request considering our Canadian soldiers are members of a military force led by top General Rick Hillier, who sees Afghans as "detestable scumbags and murderers". Given the type of men who lead the Canadian military, is it even reasonable to think our troops give any consideration to the fate of the detainees after they've been transfered? In the affidavit Gen. Deschamps makes fatalist claims that if the federal court rules in favour of the injunction, the combat portion of Canada's mission will be lost. But the general goes even further by claiming the injunction would also force Canadian troops to halt the medical treatment of Afghan children, to cancel the inspections of Afghan prisons, and to cease the training of the Afghan forces and police. Of course the Harper government backs Gen. Deschamps' affidavit as part of their push against the injunction, proof that the Canadian government desperately wants to extend the war drive in Afghanistan. The Republicans as well are eager to maintain a troop presence in Afghanistan; there is even talk of a 3000 troop increase of American Marines to counter the projected Taliban offensive in the spring. Along for the ride with the Canadian and American imperialists are the other NATO military contributors to Afghanistan, all seek to keep ISAF and the occupation alive as long as possible.

In Iraq, with no end to the war in sight, violence seems to have stagnated for the time being, but it will flare up again. The Americans are arming Sunnis and tribal militias in a country with a weak, divided, and incompetent Shia-dominated government, which has failed miserably at reaching any sort of consensus with the rest of Iraq's political players on sharing power and oil. The obvious consequence of this glaring mismanagement will see the American's newly armed "allies" turn on the Shia government as soon as the Yankee troops leave the country.

In Northern Kurdistan, the first region where the dust has settled, the only region in Iraq with relative peace and human prosperity, the Kurds slowly have been re-establishing themselves. The oil finally has been flowing consistently. As a result of this, the Americans want a piece, and so 100,000 Turkish troops have gathered at the Iraqi Border, and the U.S. has approved air strikes on kurdistan. On Dec.16 of last year, about three weeks ago, fifty Turkish warplanes bombed ten Kurdish villages in Northern Iraq, killing a few civilians and wounding eight more.

Meanwhile Israel is proceeding with hypocrisy; they continue to kill Palestinians with bombs over Gaza, while ongoing peace talks are expected to progress. Since Hamas' takeover of Gaza in June, Israel has systematically cut the flow of cash, electricity, and food. It is estimated that 80 % of Gazans rely on the World Food Program. Even the normally silent International Committee of the Red Cross spoke out in a statement released recently, essentially condemning Israel's policy on Gaza as a reprehensible crime against humanity, saying that Palestinians "are prevented from doing what makes up the daily fabric of most people's existence", and that "The Palestinian territories face a deep human crisis, where millions of people are denied their human dignity. Not once in a while, but every day." Is it because they suffered through the holocaust that the international community stands by and does nothing while Israel decimates a people with impunity? After all it wasn't Palestinians who killed six million Jews, but what the Zionists are doing to Gaza and to the Palestinians is beginning to resemble genocide.

In Afghanistan, 2007 was the bloodiest year since the invasion in 2001 with an all around rise in violence; a peak in the number of suicide bombings, and a 20% increase of attacks by the Taliban as their resistance has spread to much of the country. More than six years on, the possibility of winning the war looks increasingly unlikely, but if forces do manage to somehow "succeed" in Afghanistan, the U.S., Canada, and other NATO members will have interest in the Caspian Sea natural gas pipeline running through Afghanistan, which is why the occupation so stubbornly persists.

In Iraq, as violence in generally abating in many parts of the country, bombs dropped by one of America's closest allies coincidentally began to fall on Kurdish villages, the only region where oil is flowing freely. Is it a coincidence that already having established a considerable degree of autonomy, and desperately wanting their sovereignty and independence, Iraq's Kurds may set off a revolutionary tide that would rouse the Kurds in Turkey to rise up, a popular struggle Turkey and the Americans desperately need to avoid? Is it also a coincidnce that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is a U.S. designated "terrorist" organization?

When we are out doing Anti-War rallies or talking to people on the streets or in universities, people often tell us we shouldn't compare Iraq with Afghanistan, that they are two completely different situations. But I reserve the right to refer to these wars together because although they have different features, they are both being fought under similar pretexts, under the name of "freedom" and "democracy", and fundamentally they are both military occupations for the geo-political and economic advancement of the imperialist ruling class. Occupation is not liberation, it is simply substituting one oppressor for another.

Through their culture crusade to impose capitalist globalization and control over international markets, they are robbing the sovereignty of millions upon millions of people. By forcing themselves upon the world in search of oil and by dictating the geo-political landscape, the imperialists are creating a planet of death, destruction, and refugees. The formula is clear; petroleum wars to feed the war economy, and puppet governments to assist the multinationals with open markets and deregulation.

The war on Palestine is Israels's ticket to maintaining a strong elite-oriented economy to feed the wealth of the ruling class, and so the ongoing "peace" talks are nothing other than political postering full of completely insincere intentions. While Israel continues to bomb and starve Gaza, the Palestinians scoff at the insulting naivete and hypocrisy of the American led peace efforts. To the suggestion that they make amends and compromises with ruthless Israel that has killed and displaced millions of its people over more than five decades, the Palestinians respond with "existence first, co-existence later." When a people is faced with the threat of extinction, a militant resistance is the only option. Hamas attacks Isarel only in response to the fact that it is under siege economically and militarily, and lacks food and electricity. When Israel puts an end to the sonic booms, the air strikes, and the various sanctions, Hamas' rockets will cease to fly over the border.

We demand
An immediate end to Imperial violence!
Free Palestine!
Give the Middle-East a chance!
All troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan Now!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Revolutionaries and the Status-Quo Left

The status quo left is the sector of the left which sees the international struggle for social justice as a 40 hour work week. They can also be refered to as the institutionalized left. They are at peace with the roles they play as long as a small place is reserved for them within the establishment, as long as they can put a little bit of occasional pressure on reactionary governments, as long as their voice is heard. But taking a revolutionary approach to changing society only half way is not viable; it is naive, it is conciliatory, it is contradictory and hypocritical.

The problem with the status-quo left is that it is satisfied, it is comfortable with its position. For revolutionaries on the other hand, 24 hours of daily struggle is never enough, not until every sinlge oppressed nation attains sovereignty, not until every single exploited person is liberated.

Being a member of the status-quo left is an agreement to compromise with the ruling class. Essentially the ruling class tells them, 'we will allow you to pratice your leftist politics within our establishment, as long as you do things our way and abide by the same rules as us'. It is collaborating with the very system that perpetrates all the injustices we struggle against. How can they attempt to extinguish fires while being in partnership with the arsonists?

The aim of the status-quo left is to do things to create awareness and to cause reaction, but to not aggravate the powers that be too much, to not push our luck. 'You're too loud, you're overly active, you're giving the left a bad name' they tell us. Martin Luther King once said, "This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism." Yet the reformist "revolutionary" strategy of the staus-quo left can be described as a passive state of comfortable drowsiness. It is taking our so-called "rights and freedoms" under the system of capitalism for granted, all while allowing the reactionaries to further our oppression and exploitation. In 1952, before the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro wrote, "There is nothing in this world as bitter as the spectacle of a people who go to sleep in liberty and awaken in slavery." We can never allow the authenticity of our struggle to be watered down, yet the example that the status-quo left is setting for the working class is that the international struggle for the liberation of humanity is a submissive one, a privilege granted us dependent on the consent of our antagonists.

Being a revolutionary is making a concious decision to give your life to the cause of humanity. Che Guevara wrote that a revolutionary is "a self-sacrificing worker who gives up his hours of rest, his personal tranquility, his family or his life for the revolution." He noted that "Our sacrifice is a concious one: an installment paid on the freedom that we are building", and furthermore, we add that our struggle is not conditional on whether those sacrifices bear fruit in our lifetime or in our grandchildren's lifetime, rather it is an ongoing fight against capitalist globalization's advance toward the extinction of humanity.

We demand:
No concessions to the ruling class!
Solidarity and struggle in line with the true interests of the working class!