December 23, 2009

Conversation with Jim Stanford (Hoping for an interview in February 2010 so stay tuned!)

Jim Stanford is one of Canada’s best-known economists. He works for the Canadian Auto Workers union, Canada’s largest private sector trade union, and writes a regular economics column for the Globe and Mail. He speaks regularly to the media on current economic issues, and to audiences of unions, community activists, and others concerned with building a more democratic, critical approach to economics. He received his Master’s degree in Economics from Cambridge University, U.K., and his Ph.D. from the New School for Social Research in New York City. He was the founding chairperson of the Progressive Economics Forum, Canada’s network of progressive economists. He is the author of several books including Economics for Everyone: A Short Guide to the Economics of Capitalism

His previous book, Paper Boom (James Lorimer & Co., 1999), was well-reviewed as an accessible critique of the wasteful practices of the financial industry.


The   B u l l e t
Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 289
December 21, 2009

Shambles in Copenhagen

Greg Albo

The United Nations conference to address climate change in Copenhagen over the last week has illustrated several crucial features about the contemporary political setting, as Obama completes a year in power in the United States, NATO plots a military surge into the war setting spanning Palestine to Afghanistan and an economic recovery staggers along.

First, in the current balance of social forces in North America and globally, it is impossible to get committed political action to change the existing economic model of development. This is in the specific sense of a reform of the fossil fuel-dependent, outward-oriented, finance-led, labour-repressing economic model of neoliberal globalization; and in the larger sense of a rupture with the ecologically-destructive profit-driven system of capitalism.

Second, it is clear that despite the financial crisis of 2007-09, there has been no break with the power structures of neoliberalism: any interference in market relations to shift distributional relations (including the relations with how much humans withdraw from nature) is blocked (as opposed to government interventions to preserve the power of banks and financial capital); finance capital remains a central force backing the financialization and commodification of the environment; and that the U.S. state and imperialism remains at the core of global decision-making and the ordering of the relations between states. While there are cracks and some modulations in these power structures (notably, the rise of China, Brazil and India), there is no dramatic shifting in power alliances so as to open new vistas for alternate developments (although the interventions at Copenhagen of Bolivia, Venezuela – leaving aside some aspects of their own oil and gas policies for the moment – and others in the ALBA pact were notable for their insistence that an alternate path is more necessary than ever).

Third, the turn to market environmentalism of so much of the environmental movement in North America has been in equal parts political and ecological disasters. This effort to form alliances with the capitalist classes and the state within the confines of neoliberalism has done nothing to advance solutions to the most crucial ecological issue of the day – carbon emissions reduction. At the same time, it has shifted the ecology movement to the political right where it spends most of its time in concertation with governments and business and the rest spinning out green entrepreneurship and localism as solutions to global economic and environmental crises.

There is a particular tragedy here of the ecology movement embrace of the market over the last decade as a solution to ecological problems and especially greenhouse gas reductions (GHG). This is the best GHG reduction strategy that can immediately be implemented – but also better for the long-run in its focus on quality of growth and human development and not quantity of sustainable capitalist growth – lies with many of the traditional demands of the Left.

Some of these are: worktime reduction and increased leisure-time; massive expansion of collective services such as daycare, education, parks, recreation facilities, museums, and so on; increased funding of the ‘grant economy’ for cultural workers, community festivals and the like; a mass shift to public transportation funded by long-term (50 year) bond floats; major income redistribution to account for the huge class differences in causing environmental degradation; increased worker input into the ecological and health conditions of labour processes; expansion of the cooperative and worker-controlled enterprise sectors as a basis for building alternate local communities; debt relief for the global south; mass transfer of sustainable technologies; sharply constrained growth in the north to provide room for higher equalizing growth in less developed zones; and so forth.

From this foundation, it is the possible to integrate energy-switching strategies, retro-fitting, carbon taxes and so forth in a way that builds actual alternate social and ecological relations in a system of responsible production. Instead, the mainstream of the North American environmental movement has been absorbed in the politically fruitless and intellectually dishonest pursuit of a cap-and-trade financial-market led strategy for carbon emissions reduction – like bloodletting, a cure that can only worsen the disease. [See “The Story of Cap and Trade”]

There is only one good thing to have come out of the Copenhagen debacle. The sordidness of the final agreement may well stall extensive implementation of the cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions, and the ‘clean development mechanisms’ foisted on the global south– the latest mechanism of imperialism – in the name of GHG reduction. Well, maybe another positive note: it showed clearly the Conservative government of Stephen Harper in Canada toadying behind the U.S., bought and paid for shills of the Alberta oil and gas industry and as strong of defenders of neoliberalism as exist anywhere on the planet. Now the whole world can see what Canadians should know well: the ‘ugly Canadian’ can no longer be shielded by nationalist cultural mythologies.

The Bullet prints here two important interpretations of the Copenhagen events and the political openings they might signal.

Why We Took to the Streets

Maude Barlow and Andrea Harden-Donahue

Inaction from business interests and political leaders in Copenhagen
has forced the rebirth of the movement founded in Seattle

When stuck between a rock and a hard place, there comes a time when a decision must be made. Will you lie down and suffer or choose to push with all of your will to move the rock out of your way?

Caught between increasing marginalization at, and exclusion from the Bella Center (the site of the climate negotiations) and the failure of the summit to address the climate crisis, the Dec. 16 Reclaim the Power march in Copenhagen chose to move the rock. The march, thousands strong, literally pushed for climate justice.

Joining this multi-faceted mass action of non-violent civil disobedience were people from all around the world organized in diverse networks.

The objective was not to close down the summit but rather, for one day, to open a space in the UN area for a people’s assembly. Hundreds of delegates, led by members of the Bolivian delegation and the Indigenous Peoples Caucus, walked out of the Bella Center to join with the thousands of people on the other side of the fence. People were attempting to overcome physical barriers that stood in the way of holding the people’s assembly and uniting the two groups.

It is of fundamental importance to emphasize that there was no violence on the part of demonstrators.

While the action was one of civil disobedience, it was non-violent; the demonstrators did not respond to police with violence. Video footage clearly attests that participants remained peaceful, which is no easy task when your eyes are burning from pepper spray and tear gas and your body is bruised from batons. We personally witnessed police officers clubbing protesters, large police trucks being used to herd protesters to the point of falling over and police dogs being used for intimidation.

Some will question whether this was necessary. But this action physically and visually demonstrated against the direction climate talks had taken.

Despite the responsibility for emitting more than two-thirds of historical greenhouse gas emissions into an atmosphere all life shares, most developed countries continue to resist deep emission cuts. While it appears there may be short and long-term commitments to climate financing emerging from Copenhagen at the time of writing, the numbers are still below predicted need, particularly if states fail to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees.

There are also legitimate concerns being raised about the sources for funding and potential conditions.

On the streets, false solutions discussed in the Bella Center were denounced. This included examples such as carbon offsets, which allow corporations to avoid reducing emissions in the global North by purchasing credits generated by projects in the global South – projects which often do little to reduce emissions and can cause serious social and environmental harm.

There is a lot of concern and, yes, even anger at the fact that so many voices and perspectives have been actively silenced from official talks.

Deep concern has been expressed about the role of corporations and the business lobby. While most accredited non-governmental organizations were shut out in the final days of negotiations, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (known to advocate for industry self regulation as well as promoting carbon capture and storage and global carbon markets) hosted a side event alongside the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on Dec. 16, with privileged access to key decision makers. It is not a stretch to see how profit-driven business interests can and do conflict with the objective of addressing the climate crisis and advancing climate justice – ensuring this process reduces inequity and promotes greater equality.

Further, with insiders reporting that U.S. negotiators were likely to back the World Bank as the trustee of a new climate fund, it appeared that we would see more business as usual. The World Bank has shown disregard for the transition to a low-carbon future, continuing to significantly fund fossil fuel development and promoting problematic carbon markets.

The movement behind the Reclaim the Power action challenges the world to recognize that we cannot address the climate crisis until we recognize root causes of this crisis, including unsustainable production, consumption and trade. Real solutions have been much of the focus at the Klimaforum, the alternative peoples summit in Copenhagen.

Real solutions discussed include keeping fossil fuels in the ground, respect for indigenous land rights, just transition plans for workers and communities, water as a commons, climate reparations for the global South, vastly increased conservation and energy efficiency, locally owned and controlled sustainable energy alternatives and agriculture as well as sustainable transportation. These solutions are intimately tied to building a just economy for people and planet, where the pursuit of economic growth does not trump public interest.

Ten years ago a highly effective civil society movement was born in Seattle to challenge the domination of transnational corporations in determining economic, social and environmental policy through the World Trade Organization and International Monetary Fund. The climate justice movement has transformed Copenhagen into the second coming, direct descendant of Seattle.

This is why the Reclaim the Power action was of such importance and this is why the Council of Canadians took to the streets in Copenhagen.

Maude Barlow is national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, and Andrea Harden-Donahue is an energy campaigner with the Council of Canadians.

“Imperial” Climate Deal
Rejected by Poor-Country Delegates

Speaking on behalf of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela took the floor at the plenary of the COP15 climate talks in Copenhagen to denounce the final “deal” that was soon to emerge and be imposed on the majority poor-country delegates, and which would fall far short of their demands. Chávez accused U.S. President Barack Obama of behaving like an emperor “who comes in during the middle of the night … and cooks up a document that we will not accept, we will never accept.”

Chávez declared that “all countries are equal.” He would not accept that some countries had prepared a text for a climate deal and just “slipped [it] under the door” to be signed by the others. He accused them of “a real lack of transparency.”

“We can’t wait any longer, we are leaving … We are leaving, knowing that it wasn’t possible getting a deal,” he said.

Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, also took the floor to express annoyance at the way a climate deal was being thrashed out by a small group of world leaders at the last minute. “If there is no agreement at this level, why not tell the people?”, he said at the plenary meeting. He called for further consultations with the people.

“Who is responsible?” Morales asked. Concluding that “the responsibility lies on the capitalist system – we have to change the capitalist system.”

Sham Deal

The so-called “Copenhagen Accord” was pushed by the U.S. and Australia, and sealed in meetings behind closed doors with the leaders of China, India, Brazil and South Africa. It was announced by Obama late on the evening of December 18, and presented as “final” even before the COP15 delegates had a chance to vote on it. It does not commit governments to interim 2020 carbon emissions-reduction targets, or to legally binding reductions and only expresses a general aim of limiting the global warming increase to 2 degrees Celsius – well above the 1 degree C-1.5 degree C target most delegations were calling for.

Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, delegation head of the G77 group of developing countries, rejected the accord and vowed to fight it. “Obama, acting the way he did, definitely established that there’s no difference between him and the Bush tradition,” he told Time magazine.

Nnimmo Bassey, prominent Nigerian environmentalist and chair of Friends of the Earth International, described Copenhagen as “an abject failure.”

“Justice has not been done. By delaying action, rich countries have condemned millions of the world’s poorest people to hunger, suffering and loss of life as climate change accelerates. The blame for this disastrous outcome is squarely on the developed nations. We are disgusted by the failure of rich countries to commit to the emissions reductions they know are needed, especially the U.S., which is the world’s largest historical emitter of greenhouse gases.

“In contrast African nations, China and others in the developing world deserve praise for their progressive positions and constructive approach. Major developing countries cannot be blamed for the failure of rich industrialised countries.

“Instead of committing to deep cuts in emissions and putting new, public money on the table to help solve the climate crisis, rich countries have bullied developing nations to accept far less. Those most responsible for putting the planet in this mess have not shown the guts required to fix it and have instead acted to protect short-term political interests.”

“Real Leadership” On The Streets

“The only real leadership at the conference has come from the hundreds of thousands of ordinary people who’ve come together to demand strong action to prevent climate catastrophe. Their voices are loud and growing – and Friends of the Earth International will continue to be part of the fight for climate justice.”

Greenpeace criticised the accord for not having “targets for carbon cuts and no agreement on a legally binding treaty.” Oxfam International called the deal “a triumph of spin over substance. It recognises the need to keep warming below two degrees but does not commit to do so. It kicks back the decisions on emissions cuts and fudges the issue of climate cash.”

The “accord” confirms the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Developed countries commit collectively to providing $30-billion (U.S.) in new, additional funding for developing countries for the 2010-2012 period. It also says developed countries support “a goal of mobilising jointly 100 billion dollars a year” by 2020 from a variety of sources.

Erich Pica, president of the Friends of the Earth (USA), said that the:

“Climate negotiations in Copenhagen have yielded a sham agreement with no real requirements for any countries. This is not a strong deal or a just one – it isn’t even a real one. It’s just repackaging old positions and pretending they’re new. The actions it suggests for the rich countries that caused the climate crisis are extraordinarily inadequate. This is a disastrous outcome for people around the world who face increasingly dire impacts from a destabilising climate…

“With the future of all humans on this planet at stake, rich countries must muster far more political will than they exhibited here. If they do not, small island states will become submerged, people in vulnerable communities across the globe will be afflicted with hunger and disease, and wars over access to food and water will rage.

“The devastation will extend to those of us who live in wealthy countries,” said Pica. “The failure to produce anything meaningful in Copenhagen must serve as a wake up call to all who care about the future. It is a call to action. Corporate polluters and other special interests have such overwhelming influence that rich country governments are willing to agree only to fig leaf solutions. This is unacceptable, and it must change.

“Fortunately, while the cost of solving the climate crisis rises each day we fail to act, the crisis remains one that can largely be averted. It is up to the citizens of the world – especially citizens of the United States, which has so impeded progress – to mobilise and ensure that true solutions carry the day. I firmly believe that together, we can still achieve a politics in which climate justice prevails.” •

This article originally published by Links.


Waffle ‘s 40th anniversary

Toronto hosts a party for the party within a party.

Dateline: Monday, December 21, 2009

by Tracy Morey

“There may not be pie in the sky, but there are waffles with maple syrup.”
— Mel Watkins

The political was personal, and even passionate, at the 40th anniversary soiree for the Waffle in late November. More than 60 Wafflers, spouses and fans attended. All of them had all been deeply touched by the movement. At a downtown Toronto restaurant, they wined, dined, mingled and — naturally — went to the microphone.

“Life in the Waffle was the most joyous period of my life,” said Mel Watkins, who originated the idea of an anniversary event.

“We did great politics together and we left our mark. Just check out Wikipedia or the Oxford Canadian Dictionary.” Besides the definition for the lower case waffle, the OCD dictionary refers to the upper case Waffle as a “specific Canadian meaning”: a caucus of NDP members formed in 1969 to promote a socialist, nationalist agenda involving independence for Canadian labour movement, support for Quebec and advancement of the feminist movement.

Jim Laxer told the group he’s not nostalgic for the old days, “because the fights of then, we’re still fighting. The things we said would happen, happened. We fought the petroleum industry and look at it now.” He recalled a 1972 Waffle conference in Windsor, attended by 400 auto workers, about the future of the industry and the idea of a Canadian auto industry.

“And what’s happening now is a disgrace. We need an agenda to re-build the transportation industry to meet the peaking of oil.”

Nor is the Waffle a closed chapter. Says Laxer: “You’d be surprised at the number of students who beat a path to my door to talk about it. There are hundreds of thousands of progressive young people in the country.”

There was something very special about what Wafflers shared, Patricia Smart told the group. “There was a sense of passion for this country that was intellectual as well as political. We were lucky, it was a fun and unique moment in Canadian history.”

Doris Jantzi said that, for her part, “Speaking from the trenches, the Waffle was the Ph.D. I didn’t do. It was a wonderful learning experience, from political economy to how splits happen.”

Gordon Laxer came from Edmonton to his Toronto home-town to co-emcee the party. He was eager to “join in, remember the cause we fought for together, the relationships, our youth.” Gord re-created the original Waffle buttons that read “Nixon Drinks Canada Dry.” He sold them at the party, as a fund-raiser for Alberta’s progressive Parkland Institute.

Co-emcee Kelly Crichton lamented the Waffle’s passing because “now we’re stuck with one of the meanest, nastiest governments in Canadian history.

“Do you sometimes feel as if you’re living in a Margaret Atwood dystopia, huddled around the fire in the middle of a depleted forest as she comes toward you leading group of poor people? But, hey, we’re here together, gathered round a pizza oven, so let’s enjoy ourselves while we can.”

Ellie Prepas was a 1960s visionary whom the Waffle failed to heed. “I had no background in politics or history, I believed as a young person that the environment was as important as anything…people and the environment, we should treat both with equal care. But that wasn’t mainstream at the time.”

Kim Malcolmson interjected only two sentences at the microphone: “When the War Measures Act was declared, only 1 percent of English Canadians opposed it. We had a lot of courage in opposing it — good for us!”

Linda Hutcheson recalled her parents, Bob and Edna Laxer, who had been such eminences in the movement. “I remember my father coaching Bonnie Benedik, who was to speak at a rally in support of striking workers at the Dare Cookie plant in Kitchener in the early 1970s. Standing at the other end of his house, he trained Bonnie to shout out her words, believing that she would be very timid on the day of the protest. There were 5,000 people at the event and Bonnie began ‘Brothers and Sisters’ at a volume which practically blew away the labour leaders on the platform.”

Learning to speak at the mikes was a big part of the development for women in the Waffle, recalls Pat Smart, who delivered a paper on Waffle Women at a one-day Waffle conference at the University of Manitoba in October 2009. “We put key women’s issues on the agenda in this country. Waffle women were pioneers. There was daycare at Waffle meetings. We promoted universal childcare, abortion rights, equal pay and parity for women on the governing structures of the NDP.”

Women in the Saskatchewan Waffle had a strong impact on the movement in the rest of the country. One of them, Maija Kagis, came to the Toronto party straight from a 70th-birthday party in Regina for Lorne Brown, one of the architects of the Waffle. She noted that, in Saskatchewan, women won parity on all NDP councils in 1971. “We were more integrated into the party and a Waffler was president of the provincial NDP.”

Jack Murray was president of the Ontario NDP when the issue of gender parity on the party’s federal council came up. He told the group about a meeting where CLC president Bob White noted that the major argument against gender parity seemed to be that it might lead to some token women on the federal executive. “Bob said that having put up with many ‘token men’ from various unions and labour bodies over the years, he didn’t see how some token women would make things any worse. Then we voted in favour of it.”

Being at the 40th anniversary party “is rejuvenating,” said John Smart. “I feel it more and more as I’m here with you.” He had the same feeling in Ottawa last year when he organized a 75th anniversary event for the Regina Manifesto, attended by almost 100 people, including Mps and local city councillors.

Howard Kaplan noted that he used to take his two children to most Waffle events and meeting. “They still remember. The demos and indoctrination had a great effect on them. One is an acupuncturist and the other is a labour lawyer.”

You know you’re old when there’s an archivist at the your anniversary party. Suzanne Dubeau of York U also attended the party, to encourage folks to hand over their files, documents and momentos for the Archives Waffle collection. Paul Barber explained to the guests that there’s a tax credit for such donations. “So, there’s gold in them there old files.”

Cy Gonick came to the soiree from Winnipeg, and distributed copies of the Nov-Dec 2009 issue of Canadian Dimension, the grand and enduring magazine of the Canadian left.

“We had radical ideas,” he told the group, “nationalizing the commanding heights of the economy, the rights of Quebec, a bold exit from the U.S. empire, workers’ control.We failed for a good reason — it couldn’t be done. And the NDP couldn’t be an anti-capitalist or anti-imperialist party.

“In my view, we need something like the Waffle today. I’d like another kick at the can.”


Media Releases


Anti-Mining Activist Ramiro Rivera Murdered in El Salvador;
Demand an investigation and an end to the murders!

Ramiro Rivera Gómez, vice-president of CAC
(Comité Ambiental de Cabañas/Environmental
Committee of Cabañas) and a local leader in the
community struggle against the
environmentally-destructive gold mining projects
proposed by Pacific Rim, was assassinated on
Sunday, December 20, 2009 in the Trinidad
neighborhood of Ilobasco, in the department of
Cabañas where he lived.

Héctor Berríos (report attached below) reports
that Ramiro Rivera was killed by hitmen carrying
M-16 rifles. Ramiro's thirteen-year old daughter
who was with him on Sunday afternoon was also
injured but is reportedly in stable condition.

On August 7 of this year, Ramiro Rivera was shot
8 times, but survived the vicious attack. Oscar
Menjívar, previously implicated in physical
attacks on anti-mining activists, was arrested
and charged with Ramiro's attempted murder.
Community members report that Menjívar had
previously worked for Canadian mining company
Pacific Rim; Pacific Rim denies that he has ever
been an employee.

Since his recovery, Mr. Rivera had been under the
protection of two police officers from the
Witnesses and Victims Protection Unit of the
National Civilian Police. On the afternoon of
December 20th, they were apparently unable to
protect him.

Since June of 2009, when anti-mining and FMLN
activist Marcelo Rivera (no relation to Ramiro)
was found tortured and killed in Cabañas, there
have been continued attacks, death threats and
attempted kidnappings of community members and
activists who have vehemently opposed the
proposed El Dorado gold mine. The Ministry of
Environment denied mining exploitation permits to
Pacific Rim, a Vancouver-based mining company,
which subsequently announced a $77 million dollar
lawsuit against the Salvadoran government under
CAFTA, the U.S.-Central America Free Trade
Agreement (watch the Real News video HERE

Despite the overtly political overtones of this
wave of violence, local police authorities and
the former Attorney General's office have
classified these cases as common crimes.
Salvadorans are fearful and outraged by the
continued violence but also by the inability or
unwillingness of the police and the office of the
Attorney General to protect community activists
like Ramiro Rivera and to halt the violence.

Join the international response to this
repression of anti-mining organizers in Cabañas
TODAY. Call on the Salvadoran authorities to
carry out an exhaustive investigation of these
crimes and their motives.


1) E-mail Rodolfo Delgado, head of the
Organized Crime unit of the Attorney General's
Office (Sample e-mail text at the end of this
alert) Please copy Human
Rights Ombudsman Oscar Luna to your email, via
his front desk:

2) In Canada please email:
Hon. Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Paul Dewar, NDP Foreign Affairs Critic,
Joanne Deschamps, Bloc Québecois Foreign Affairs Critic,
Bob Rae, Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic,

SAMPLE E-MAIL (English translation below):

Estimado Señor Rodolfo Delgado:

Como miembro de la comunidad internacional,
quiero expresar mi profunda preocupación por lo
más reciente hecho de violencia contra un líder
social en Cabañas, el asesinato de Ramiro Rivera
Gómez. Después de que él fue baleado ocho veces
en agosto del 2009, fue bajo la protección de la
Unidad de Protección de Víctimas y Testigos de la
Policía Nacional Civil.

El asesinato de Ramiro Rivera parece otro hecho
de violencia sistemático que ha traspasado en
Cabañas desde el junio de este año: el secuestro
y brutal asesinato del activista Gustavo Marcelo
Rivera; las amenazas de muerte a periodistas de
Radio Victoria, al director de la Asociación de
Desarrollo Económico y Social Santa Marta (ADES)
y a varios líderes comunitarios de Cabañas; el
sabotaje al sistema electrónico de Radio
Victoria; y los intentos de asesinato de los
líderes comunitarios, Padre Luis Quintanilla y
Ramiro Rivera.

Considero que existen suficientes evidencias para
presumir que el asesinato de Ramiro Rivera y los
demás crímenes están relacionados y forman parte
de una campaña para intimidar a las
organizaciones sociales en Cabañas. Es
preocupante que la Fiscalía, bajo la dirección de
Ástor Escalante, adjudicó a priori estos crímenes
a la violencia común, ignorando las evidencias y
antecedentes presentados que indican la
naturaleza política de los eventos.

Por lo tanto como miembro de la comunidad
internacional, hago un llamado para que ahora
bajo la dirección del nuevo Fiscal General de la
República Romeo Barahona, la Fiscalía realice una
investigación imparcial, exhaustiva y efectiva en
el caso del asesinato de Ramiro Rivera y de todos
estos casos, para dar a conocer a los autores
intelectuales y materiales de estos crímenes y
garantizar así la protección de los líderes
sociales en la región de forma verdadera.

Después del asesinato de Marcelo Rivera en junio,
más de cien organizaciones de los Estados Unidos
y Canadá mandaron una carta a la Fiscalía
expresando su preocupación grave con los
atropellos a los derechos humanos. También el
Congresista Jim McGovern de los Estados Unidos
expresó la misma preocupación en reuniones con el
Señor Fiscal General, Romeo Barahona, y
representantes de la Administración del Señor
Presidente Mauricio Funes, durante su visita
reciente a El Salvador.

También le estoy mandando una copia de este
mensaje al señor Procurador para la Defensa de
los Derechos Humanos, licenciado Oscar Humberto
Luna, quien ha mostrado un compromiso fuerte para
proteger la seguridad y los derechos humanos de
los líderes sociales en Cabañas.

De quedar estos eventos en la impunidad, se
estaría generando un clima de temor e
incertidumbre para los demás líderes
comunitarios, contrarrestando así los avances
logrados en el proceso de democratización del

Agradezco de antemano sus gestiones para agilizar
las investigaciones y espero que pronto se haga
justicia en estos casos y se brinde protección a
las víctimas y reparación a los familiares de

[Tu nombre/ Your name]

Translation of Email:

As a member of the international community, I
want to express my profound concern about the
most recent act of violence toward a community
leader in Cabañas: the assassination of Ramiro
Rivera Gómez. After being shot eight times in
August, Mr. Rivera was under the protection of
the Victims and Witnesses Protection Unit of the
National Civilian Police.

The assassination of Ramiro Rivera appears to be
another systematic act of violence that has
occurred in Cabañas since June of this year: the
kidnapping and brutal assassination of the
activist Gustavo Marcelo Rivera; the death
threats against journalists at Radio Victoria,
the director of the Association for Social and
Economic Development (ADES) and other community
leaders in Cabañas; the sabotage of the
broadcasting equipment at Radio Victoria; and the
assassination attempt against the community
leaders Father Luis Quintanilla and Ramiro Rivera.

I believe there is sufficient evidence to assume
that Ramiro Rivera's murder and the other crimes
are linked and part of a campaign to intimidate
community organizations in Cabañas. It is
alarming that the Attorney General's Office under
the direction of former acting Attorney General
Ástor Escalante attributed these crimes to common
violence, ignoring the evidence and antecedents
that indicate the political nature of these

Therefore as a member of the international
community, I now call on the Attorney General's
Office under the leadership of new Attorney
General Romeo Barahona to carry out impartial,
exhaustive and effective investigations of the
assassination of Ramiro Rivera and all of these
crimes in order to bring to justice the
intellectual and material authors of these crimes
and guarantee the protection of other community
leaders in the region.

After the assassination of Marcelo Rivera in
June, over 100 organizations in the U.S. and
Canada sent a letter to the Attorney General's
office expressing their serious concern about the
human rights abuses. Representative Jim McGovern
of the U.S. Congress expressed the same concern
in his meetings with Mr. Attorney General Romeo
Barahona and with representatives of the
administration of Mr. President Mauricio Funes
during his recent visit to El Salvador.

I am sending a copy of this message to the Human
Rights Ombudsman, Mr. Oscar Luna, who has shown a
strong commitment to protect the security and
human rights of social movement leaders in

Leaving these crimes in a state of impunity
creates a climate of fear and uncertainty for the
rest of the community leaders, undermining the
advances in the democratic process in El Salvador.

I thank you in advance for your efforts to speed
up the investigations and I hope that there will
soon be justice in these cases and that the
victims' lives will be protected and Ramiro's
family will be compensated for their loss.

[Your name]


December 16, 2009

Crunch time in Copenhagen
In Copenhagen so far negotiators and celebrities alike have struggled to achieve any firm commitments December 16, 2009. View clip HERE

December 12, 2009
Copenhagen and capitalism
Minqi Li: No legally binding agreement the result of elites seeking short term profits first. View clip HERE.


Justice for Migrant Workers & IAVGO off to Ottawa

December 10, 2009
Justicia for Migrant Workers and the Industrial Accidents Victims Group of Ontario Receive Intervener Status at Supreme Court of Canada

Community Group and Legal Aid Clinic Prepare Historic Arguments Relating to Plight of Migrant Workers in Canada.
TORONTO – For the first time in Canadian legal history, arguments relating to the plight of Canada’s migrant workers will be heard at the Supreme Court of Canada on December 17th, 2009. The Intervention brought jointly by Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) and the Industrial Accidents Victims Group of Ontario (IAVGO) will be heard as part of Fraser v Attorney General of Ontario, which relates to the right to organize and bargain collectively for Ontario’s 100,000 agricultural workers.
J4MW and IAVGO will highlight the particular experiences of migrant workers and how their rights are being violated under the following sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:
• Section 1 (The Right to Guaranteed Freedoms)
• Section 2.d (The Right to Freedom of Association)
• Section 15 (The Right to Equality under the Charter)
In particular Justicia for Migrant workers and IAVGO are arguing that the combination of both precarious employment and immigration status denies migrant workers the ability to exert their rights, something that puts migrant workers at a disadvantage compared to permanent residents or Canadian citizens.

“Agricultural workers are often employed under arduous, exploitative working and living conditions,” says Tzazna Miranda Leal, J4MW organizer. “However when you are tied to one employer and denied permanent residency status, it adds another layer to the complexities faced by workers employed under Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Programs.”
The J4MW/IAVGO factum detailing arguments both groups will bring forth can be retrieved from the J4MW website

For more Information please contact Chris Ramsaroop 647 834 4932,

The Industrial Accident Victims Group of Ontario (IAVGO) and Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) are excited to announce that we have been jointly awarded intervener status at the Supreme Court of Canada in Fraser v. Attorney General of Ontario .
This historic case challenges the exclusion of farmworkers, many of whom are racialized migrant workers, from joining unions and bargaining collectively. We believe that denying farmworkers the right to unionize and bargain collectively further entrenches the systemic wrongs that migrant workers/racialized farmworkers have historically and contemporarily experienced.
Although IAVGO and J4MW have been successful in our ability to secure funding for legal disbursements, we urgently need funding so that we may bus workers and allies to Ottawa to demonstrate to the Court and the Government that migrant workers demand equality, dignity and respect.
Please consider contributing to this historic action by making a donation on behalf of your clinic. We must to raise $5000 in a small amount of time to cover the costs of buses, food, and demonstration materials.
In addition, if you know of anyone/organization interested in supporting this mobilization, please feel free to forward them this message. All donations are sincerely appreciated.
Donations can be made to:
Justicia for Migrant Workers
c/o Workers Action Centre
720 Spadina Avenue, Suite 223
Toronto ON M5S 2T9
J4MW is proud to stand alongside workers demanding change, and thus, under current legislation, cannot be a registered charity or issue tax receipts.
*In the unlikely event of a donation surplus, all additional money will be used towards J4MW’s organizing work with migrant workers throughout Ontario .
Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) strives to promote the rights of migrant workers (participating in the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program and the Low Skilled Temporary Foreign Workers Program) and farmworkers without status. Promoting workers’ rights entails fighting for spaces where workers themselves can articulate their concerns without losing their work or being repatriated. We start with workers’ knowledge and concerns and collectively devise strategies to make necessary changes. We see ourselves as allies and strive for a movement that is led and directed by workers themselves.
The Industrial Accident Victims Group of Ontario (IAVGO) is a community legal aid clinic funded by Legal Aid Ontario since 1975. We serve the injured worker community in Ontario by providing summary advice, representation, public legal education, and library resources. We also engage in injured worker community development and law reform.


On the morning of December 9, long-time Baltimore Community activists Sharon Black-Ceci and Steven Ceci were dragged from their home by Baltimore police. The two, long-time leaders in the anti-racist, and poor people’s rights struggle, had been under police surveillance for their political activism. They have each been falsely charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, a felony, and possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor.

On Nov. 14, while both Sharon Black-Ceci and Steven Ceci were attending a workers’ rights conference in NYC, Baltimore police broke down the door of their Baltimore home purportedly based on mysterious and false reports of heroin being sold from their residence. A roommate, Patrick Allen — who was present at the time of the police break-in — was arrested and the home was senselessly damaged.

Sharon Black-Ceci and Steven Ceci believe that this is not just an attack on them, but an attack on all activists and organizations that are fighting for a society based on social and economic justice and peace.

A year ago, the Baltimore ACLU revealed that the Baltimore All-Peoples Congress, the organization that Black has led for more than a quarter of a century, was named as one of four political groups in Baltimore that the Maryland State Police had been spying on.

Sharon Black-Ceci and Steven Ceci were planning to hold a public event December 9, the evening they were arrested, as a political response to the police attack on their home in mid-November. That event was carried out as a press conference and emergency rally to free the activists.

Sign the petition to demand:


Sign the petition at the link below. Let U.S. Attorney General Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano, Maryland Governor O’Malley, Maryland State Attorney General General Gansler, Maryland State Police Superintendent Sheridan, Baltimore State’s Attorney Jessamy, Baltimore Police Commissioner Bealefeld, the Baltimore City Council, Congressional leaders, the Maryland Congressional Delegation, the Maryland Legislature and representatives of the Baltimore and national media know you want ALL CHARGES DROPPED AGAINST SHARON BLACK-CECI, STEVEN CECI AND PATRICK ALLEN!

Take Action Today:

* Sign the online petition HERE.
* Make an emergency donation to help with the campaign to get the charges dropped
* Forward this message to your contacts
* Join the Facebook group

Forthcoming book by Yves Engler:
Canada and Israel: building apartheid
Most Canadians believe our country acts and has acted as an honest broker or peacekeeper on the world stage. While this belief may indicate a widespread desire for a democratic and humanistic foreign policy it often does not reflect reality. My Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy was a broad overview of the subject. This work, on the other hand, is an attempt to understand Canada’s role in one of the world’s longest standing conflicts. To develop a peace-promoting altruistic Canadian foreign policy, the first step is to understand the past and current reality. Only then can we demand change. The aim of this book is to educate Canadians about what has and is curently being done in our name in an important part of the world.
Thousands of books describe various aspects of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Only a handful detail Canada’s ties to the dispute and most do so from a pro-Israel perspective. This is the first book to focus on Canadian support for the dispossession of Palestinians, for a state building a nation in favour of one religion, and for the last major European colonial project.
Most Canadians believe their government should treat all citizens equally and that everyone born in Canada is Canadian. They support the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which bans discrimination based on religion, ethnicity and place of origin. A majority believes multiculturalism is a good a thing and are proud that people from all religious backgrounds, from every ethnicity and from every corner of the globe can be accepted as Canadian. Our constitution recognizes and most of us believe that First Nations have rights to their land and self-government. Despite numerous ongoing abuses, many Canadians regret the historical treatment of indigenous people and our colonial past. The federal government has apologized for some of its most egregious past behaviour.
I believe most Canadians want their government to uphold the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, support multiculturalism and oppose colonialism when determining our foreign policy. Yet, in many respects Israel represents the antithesis of these principles. It proclaims itself the nation of one religion. It controls millions of people lives without allowing them to vote. It refuses to allow hundreds of thousands of people born in the land of Israel and their descendents from becoming citizens or even visiting the country. In many ways Israel’s current reality resembles the worst of Canada’s colonial past.
Still, this book is not about Israel, or the nature of Zionism. It does, however, begin with the position that Israel is an “apartheid state”. [Israeli apartheid: a beginner’s guide, 4] In recognition that this analysis is controversial in some quarters, a short explanation is necessary.
In Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid former U.S. President Jimmy Carter argues that Israel’s policies in the Palestinian territories constitute “a system of apartheid, with two peoples occupying the same land, but completely separated from each other, with Israelis totally dominant and suppressing violence by depriving Palestinians of their basic human rights.” [Palestine: peace not apartheid?, 215] On numerous occasions Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu has compared the treatment of Palestinians to Blacks under South African apartheid. The 1973 UN International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid described the “inhuman acts” of apartheid as:
• Denial to a member or members of a racial group or groups of the right to life and liberty of persons… By the infliction upon the members of a racial group or groups of serious bodily or mental harm, by the infringement of their freedom or dignity, or by subjecting them to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
• Any legislative measures and other measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country … including the right to work, the right to form recognized trade unions, the right to education, the right to leave and to return to their country, the right to a nationality, the right to freedom of movement and residence.
• Any measures, including legislative measures, designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups … the expropriation of landed property belonging to a racial group. [Israeli apartheid: a beginner’s guide, 4]
Certain aspects of Israeli reality fit this definition. Israel’s laws are fundamentally racist, forcing citizens and institutions to make racist decisions. “Legal apartheid is regulated in Israel,” notes Uri Davis, by “ceding state sovereignty and investing its responsibilities in the critical area of immigration, settlement and land development with Zionist organizations constitutionally committed to the exclusive principle of ‘only for the Jews’.” [Apartheid Israel, 48] With quasi state status the World Zionist Organization, Jewish Agency and Jewish National Fund are constitutionally committed to serving and promoting the interests of Jews and only Jews. [Apartheid Israel, 48]
Through the Law of Return, my longtime friend in Vancouver Michael Rosen — who hasn’t been to Israel, has no familial connection to the country and has never even been religious — can emigrate to Israel. On the other hand, Noor Tibi, a woman I met at Concordia University in Montreal whose grandfather fled from Haifa in 1948, could not enter (let alone live in) Israel until she got a Canadian passport. Justified as an affirmative action measure to protect besieged Jewry, the Law of Return becomes patently racist when Israel refuses to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.
Zionist forces expelled 87% of the Arab population from the soon-to-be Jewish state in 1947/48. [Israeli apartheid: a beginner’s guide, 33] This was the first major act of apartheid waged against Palestinians. Refusing to allow them to return is an ongoing form. Since its establishment Israel has been in a state of emergency to keep the properties of Palestinian refugees in the hands of the state and the Jewish National Fund. [Israeli apartheid, 126] This theft is sanctified by the Absentees’ Property Law of 1950. []
Most of the land Israel grabbed from Palestinians is off limits to the Arabs that remain in Israel. A fifth of the population, Arabs are legally excluded from owning 93% of Israel (not including the occupied territories). [Israeli apartheid: a beginner’s guide, 49] They are also politically disenfranchised. Between 1948 and 1966 the Arab sectors of Israel were under martial law and today political parties that oppose the Jewish supremacist character of the state are outlawed. [] 7 (a) of Israel’s Basic Law stipulates that “A candidates’ list shall not participate in the elections to the Knesset if its objects or actions, expressly or by implication, include… negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people.” []
In addition to legal structures that discriminate against the indigenous Arab population, government services prioritize Jews. Despite making up 18% of the population, Arab Israelis receive about 4% of public spending. [Israeli apartheid: a beginner’s guide, 53] A March 2009 report found that the “government invested [US] $1,100 in each Jewish pupil’s education compared to $190 for each Arab pupil. The gap is even wider when compared to the popular state-run religious schools, where Jewish pupils receive nine times more funding than Arab pupils.” [] According to Israel’s National Insurance Institute, half of all Arab Israeli families live in poverty compared to 14 percent of Jewish families. [The Electronic Intifada Nov 30 2009]
In the West Bank, Israeli apartheid should be obvious to even the most blind. The population has been pushed into bantustan-like enclaves, encircled by a massive wall, had their water and land appropriated, and are subjected to daily humiliation at military checkpoints. For more than four decades supposedly democratic Israel has dominated the West Bank population without allowing them to vote in national elections. In Gaza 1.5 million Palestinians — many of whom were forced from their homes in 1947/48 — live in a giant prison cut off from the world by the mighty Israeli military.
In fact, Zionism is an expansionist settler ideology. For more than a century the Zionist movement has steadily usurped Arab land. Many Zionists believe Eretz Israel (the land of Israel) includes the West Bank, Gaza and much more. The 450,000 state-supported settlers illegally installed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are an expression of this expansionism. [] So is Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, which was captured from Syria in the 1967 war.
To achieve its aims this expansionist ideology requires military might. Israel has bombed Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon, Tunisia, Iraq and threatens to bomb Iran. Israeli military historian Zeev Maoz explains: “Between 1948 and 2004, Israel fought six interstate wars, fought two (some say three) civil wars, and engaged in over 144 dyadic militarized interstate disputes (MIDs) that involved the threat, the display, or the use of military force against another state. Israel is by far the most conflict prone state in modern history. It has averaged nearly four MIDS every year. It has fought an interstate war every nine years. Israel appears on top of the list of the most intense international rivalries in the last 200-year period.” [Defending the holy land, 5] Later in Defending The Holy Land: A Critical Analysis of Israel’s Security & Foreign Policy, Maoz notes: “There was only one year out of 56 years of history in which Israel did not engage in acts involving the threat, display, or limited use of force with its neighbors. The only year in which Israel did not engage in a militarized conflict was 1988, when Israel was deeply immersed in fighting the Palestinian uprising, the intifada. So it is fair to say that during each and every year of its history Israel was engaged in violent military actions of some magnitude.” [Defending the holy land, 231] Maoz concludes that, “None of the wars — with a possible exception of the 1948 war of Independence — was what Israel refers to as Milhemet Ein Brerah (‘war of necessity’). They were all wars of choice or wars of folly.” [Defending the holy land, 35]
This book will demonstrate that, with the exception of Israel’s 1956 invasion of Egypt, Ottawa openly or tacitly endorsed these military endeavors. Despite claims to the contrary, Canada is not, nor has it ever been, an “honest broker” in the Palestine-Israel conflict. The different elements that make up Canada’s foreign policy – from diplomacy to security services, to tax policies related to charities, to “non-governmental organizations” such as churches – have largely sided with Israel.
This book will argue that, from the beginning, Israel was primarily the creation of European/North American sociopolitical forces, including Canadian ones. Ideologically, Zionism’s roots come from Biblical literalism and European nationalism. Both also played significant roles in Canadian history. Zionism can be described as the ideology of the last major European settler movement. Canada is also a “settler state”, which made Israel a familiar face and garnered it support.
This book will also describe the important role Canadian diplomats played in the 1947 UN negotiations to create a Jewish state on Palestinian land. Uninterested in the welfare of the indigenous population, Lester Pearson chaired two different UN bodies discussing the issue and Canada’s representative to the UN Special Committee on Palestine, Ivan C. Rand, pushed a partition plan bitterly resisted by Palestinians. After the UN-backed partition vote Canadians supported efforts to expel Palestine’s Arab population. Hundreds of Canadians fought in the 1947/48 war, while many more financed and procured weapons. During the war 700,000 Palestinians were driven from their homeland and Israel conquered 24% more territory than it was allocated in the already generous partition plan.
This book will argue that, unmoved by Palestinian suffering, Canadian diplomacy continued its one-sided backing of Israel after the 1948 war. Ottawa actively supported Israel before, during and after the 1967 war, for instance. A number of studies in the 1980s found Canada to be among Israel’s best friends at the UN. While, on occasion, Canadian pronouncements and UN votes have supported Palestinian rights, rarely have the different arms of Canadian foreign policy provided concrete support. Canadian intelligence and military services have been one-sided advocates of Israel. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service works closely with Mossad and many Canadian weapons-makers ship their products to Israel. As well, private charities support Israeli militarism and every year Canadians send hundreds of millions of dollars worth of tax-deductible donations to Israeli universities, parks, immigration initiatives etc. More controversially, millions of dollars in private money, often subsidized by Canadian tax write-offs, is funnelled to illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
This book will discuss how Canada’s political culture has spurred a political party two-step where the Conservatives and Liberals one-up each other in proclaiming their love of Israel. Both Liberal and Conservative governments — from John Diefenbaker to Lester Pearson, Brian Mulroney to Paul Martin and Stephen Harper — staunchly backed Israel. And rarely has the opposition challenged the ruling parties’ positions. Even the Left has historically supported Zionism, which explains (part of) Canada’s staunch support for Israel. The book will argue that this lack of opposition has allowed the current government to make Canada (at least diplomatically) the most pro-Israel country in the world.
Finally, this book will discuss why Canadian politicians have exhibited such one-sided support for Israel. This country’s ties to U.S.-led imperialism is the central reason. Support for Israel has largely mirrored different governments’ relationship to Washington.
The book concludes with a discussion of how to reverse course. We need to create a political climate where justifying killing Palestinians and stealing their land is no longer acceptable.
Katrina as a Natech Disaster

Project Description:

The findings summarized below come from a survey of relevant research on different types of disasters and their consequences. This survey was conducted as part of an effort to determine whether the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast region were more indicative of a “natural” or a “technological” crisis event. The resulting conclusion was that the effects of Hurricane Katrina were and are consistent with both natural and man-made disaster typologies and that, therefore, Katrina combined the worst of both types of event and should be considered a “natural and technological” or “natech” disaster.

Key Research Findings:
• Natech disasters are system-wide impacts that “chronically permeate and contaminate both the ecological and social environments. ”
• Natech disasters occur frequently. From 1990 to 2003 the annual number of such disasters in the U.S. ranged from 530 to 820.
• Natech disasters often lead to direct, indirect and intentional despoiling of living environments through the contamination of air, water and soil.
• Natech disasters are particularly deadly for four reasons: 1) they are widespread, 2) they often result in infrastructural destruction that impedes response efforts, 3) they frequently lead to widespread environmental contamination, and 4) they are exceedingly expensive to clean-up.
• Air pollution – Dangerous levels of mold spores, endotoxins, dust, smoke and other pollutants were found in New Orleans’ air after Katrina. This was the result of large-scale debris removal, open-pit burning of waste, the aerolization of mold spores through floodwater pumping, etc.
• Water contamination – Katrina floodwaters became contaminated through contact with sewers, fuel and chemical stores, industry, etc. When these floodwaters were later intentionally pumped into Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Borgne and the Gulf of Mexico to reduce flood levels, those bodies were also contaminated.
• Soil contamination – Receding floodwaters revealed that land in and around New Orleans was contaminated with large amounts of diesel fuel, arsenic, benzo(a)pyrene, etc. This soil contamination posed serious long-term health risks for residents and workers in affected areas.
Researcher Recommendations:
• Policy-makers and risk assessors must recognize the true hybrid nature of disasters like Hurricane Katrina, and see them as both “natural” and “man-made.”
• Natural and technological hazards have been traditionally viewed as separate risk domains. However, for natech disasters a dynamic system of risk assessment is needed, one that incorporates “information on interactive chains of causality.”
• Natech disasters inflict long-term damage on the biophysical environment. Because of this, response efforts must address the long-term and chronic health effects of environmental pollution.

Research Contacts:
J. Steven Picou, Professor, Department of Sociology, University of South Alabama, (251)-460-7118,

Related Bibliography:
1) J. Steven Picou, “Katrina as a Natech Disaster: Toxic Contamination and Long-Term Risks for Residents of New Orleans.” Journal of Applied Social Science, Fall 2009, no. 4, pp. 39-55.

The SSRC Katrina Task Force oversees a range of research projects on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and acts as a clearinghouse for information emerging from those projects. For additional literature on Hurricane Katrina see our Research Bibliography. For more information about the SSRC Katrina Task Force see the Katrina Hub or contact Siovahn Walker at For other Research Bulletins see our Archive.
Social Science Research Council
One Pierrepont Plaza, 15th Floor Brooklyn, NY 11201 USA
The Hurricane Katrina Social Science Research Database and Hub is a platform for sharing information and promoting collaboration among social science researchers working on issues surrounding Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
The Social Science Research Council (SSRC) is an independent nonprofit organization devoted to the advancement of social science research and scholarship. Founded in New York City in 1923 as the world’s first national coordinating body of the social sciences, it is today an international resource for interdisciplinary, innovative public social science.


Harper is attempting to defy Parliament
Dateline: Monday, December 14, 2009
by Geoffrey Stevens
There was a time, not all that long ago, when the principle of parliamentary supremacy actually meant something.
Parliament really was regarded as the highest court in the land. When Parliament spoke, governments and cabinets — even prime ministers — were expected to obey.
Like nostalgia, the principle isn’t what it use to be. Parliament voluntarily surrendered some of its supremacy when it decided three decades to follow the American route and entrench a Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Constitution, making the Supreme Court of Canada the ultimate arbiter of our civil liberties. Although many parliamentary scholars were distressed at the time, most Canadians have enthusiastically embraced the “constitutionalized” Charter.
More serious has been the shift of political power from the elected House of Commons to the unelected Prime Minister’s Office. This process began in earnest during the imperial prime ministry of Pierre Trudeau, when Trudeau — no big fan of Parliament or parliamentarians — set about to centralize control in the PMO by creating a system of regional political desks to coordinate policies for each region of the country.
These regional desks, reporting to the Prime Minister, sucked influence away from MPs and transferred it to the PMO. The Ontario regional desk in those days was headed by a young Liberal named Colin Kenny. Today, he is Senator Colin Kenny, one of the most respected and hardest working members on Parliament Hill, an acknowledged expert on national defence and security. But in his PMO days, he had more clout than any MP from Ontario and more than most cabinet ministers.
The regional-desk system was eventually disbanded but the power was retained in the PMO through the reigns of Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. Today, under Stephen Harper, the PMO has reached a state of near-perfect power, its authority virtually unchallenged, even by Parliament.
We’ve seen proof in recent days. Last week, with the three opposition parties joining forces, the Commons voted 145-143 to compel the Harper government to produce thousands of pages of uncensored documents concerning the treatment of Afghan prisoners after Canadian forces turned them over to local authorities.
In the old days, the government would have bitten its tongue and provided the documents with as much good grace as it could muster. In more recent times, the government would at least have tried to negotiate a compromise with the opposition — to provide the material MPs needed while respecting the government’s national security concerns.
But that was then. This is now. Unless absolutely forced, Harper does not back down; he does not admit to being wrong; he does not compromise; he is not a leader who looks for peaceful solutions. He took one look at that 145-143 vote and said, No! The government will not produce the documents. Period.
For better or worse, the Christmas recess intervened — the Commons is adjourned until January 25 — and nothing, not even issues of high principle, will keep MPs at their desks. The opposition parties will use the break to make the case to the people that the Harper Conservatives are in contempt of Parliament — which, of course, they are, not that the Tories give a tinker’s damn.
During the parliamentary “coalition” crisis a year ago, the Conservatives portrayed the Liberals and New Democrats as usurpers who were in bed with separatists. This year, the government is trying to persuade Canadians that the three opposition parties are in league with the Taliban, that they are betraying the Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan. It’s total nonsense, of course — the invention of a PMO that doesn’t know how to fight fair — but a lie repeated often enough may become believable.
The next move is up to the opposition — a motion of censure, perhaps, or a non-confidence motion that could precipitate an election. The opposition parties will have to weigh whether Canadians care enough about the principles of government accountability and parliamentary supremacy to risk a trip to the polls.
Cambridge resident Geoffrey Stevens, an author and former Ottawa columnist and managing editor of the Globe and Mail, teaches political science at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Guelph. He welcomes comments at the eddress below.

Gallup Poll: 44 Percent Of Americans Want Bush Back
By Dan Carter
December 15, 2009 “Air America” — December 10, 2009 — A new Gallup poll released today found that President Obama’s approval rating continues to dip. But the poll also uncovered a much more disturbing fact: 44 percent of Americans would be happier with George W. Bush back in the White House. My, how quickly we forget.
If the phrase “George W. Bush back in the White House” doesn’t make your blood run cold, it should. It seems an exercise in masochism to devote an entire article to rehashing the embarrassingly catastrophic nightmare that was the Bush Presidency just to remind our readers what life was like only a short year ago. So, if you are one of the 44 percent who may be thinking to yourself right now “that Bush guy wasn’t too bad, at least I had a job,” consider the opinions of those who are paid to study presidents: historians.
Over a year ago, History News Network conducted a poll of 109 professional historians, asking them to rank the presidents of the United States. A full 61 percent found Bush to be the worst president of all time. That list includes other presidential stand-outs like: William Henry Harrison, who spent most his 31 days in office sick with pneumonia; Richard Nixon, impeached for using the FBI for political espionage; Herbert Hoover, who stood by as the Great Depression destroyed the country; and Warren G. Harding, who kind of sealed his fate with this remark “I am not fit for this office and should never have been here.” And that’s not to mention the litany of other pro-slavery presidents who were on the wrong side of history. Yet the vast majority of historians found George W. Bush to be worse than even these duds.
Over time, after the sting of two endless wars, the willful disregard for science, the erosion of Americans’ civil liberties and the disgrace of torture wears off, Bush will probably take his rightful place in history as the 6th or 7th biggest presidential disaster ever. But it is exactly this sting that we should suck up just a little bit longer–until, say, December of 2012.
And if we don’t? Well, there is another, more feminine version of Bush just waiting to take advantage of a forgetful and historically ignorant public. She’s already amassing a huge following. Need a hint?
Maybe the British newspaper The Daily Mirror had it right when, after Bush was reelected in 2004, it asked its readers, “…Can 59,054,087 People Be So DUMB?”
Yes, we can.


The People’s Commission Network is a Montreal network monitoring and opposing the “national security agenda”. The network is a space for individuals and groups who face oppression in the name of “national security” – such as indigenous people, immigrants, racialized communities, radical political organizations, labour unions – and their allies, to form alliances, share information, and coordinate strategies to defend their full rights and dignity. The People’s Commission Network is a working group of QPIRG-Concordia The Quebec Public Interest Research Group at Concordia is a resource centre for student and community research and organizing. We strive to raise awareness and support grassroots activism around diverse social and environmental issues. Our work is rooted in an anti-oppression analysis and practice. We seek to make campus-community links and inspire social change through engaging, inclusive and non-hierarchical approaches. Court orders Mohammed Mahjoub released from detention centre Security certificate detainee will remain in prison until bail is raised URGENT call for support (details below): please help ensure Mr. Mahjoub is released quickly Background (new webpage!): UPDATE On 30 November 2009, Mohammad Mahjoub received a court order releasing him from the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre (KIHC). Until the court conditions are put in place, he will remain in hospital or prison – an intolerable situation that has already led him to a life-threatening hunger-strike. On the day that he received the news, Mr. Mahjoub had been on a juice and water hunger-strike for six months. The sole detainee at KIHC (dubbed “Guantanamo North” to draw attention to the practice of holding prisoners indefinitely at the facility on secret evidence), he began his hunger-strike on 1 June 2009, a month which marked the beginning of his tenth year of indefinite detention on a security certificate. He was hospitalized on Thursday, November 26th. On 30 November 2009, the Federal Court ordered Mr. Mahjoub released from KIHC into house arrest pending the final outcome of his case. This time he will live alone. The complex conditions which will govern his life can be read in full at As the details of the bail package are worked out, a process which could take weeks, Mr. Mahjoub will remain in hospital or prison. BACKGROUND The 50-year old father of two was accepted as a convention refugee in Canada in 1996, having fled Egypt, where he was tortured and subject to other ill treatment. He settled in Toronto, married and had two children. However, in June 2000 he was arrested on a security certificate and threatened with deportation to Egypt, the very country where Canada had determined he was at risk. Since then, he has been detained, including long periods in solitary confinement, and has been denied any meaningful opportunity to respond to the allegations against him. In February 2007, the Supreme Court struck down the security certificate process as failing to provide constitutionally-guaranteed rights to a fair trial, but this did not restore Mr. Mahjoub’s freedom. The government merely passed a slightly modified, still fundamentally unjust, law and issued a new security certificate against him. Transferred to house arrest in April 2007, Mr. Mahjoub returned to KIHC two years later, in March 2009, in order to free his wife and two children from the unbearable burden of the intrusive and suffocating house arrest regime. PLEASE CONTRIBUTE TO BAIL AND LIVING COSTS Many thanks to the outpouring of solidarity in response to our last appeal and for the many letters that were sent in support of Mr. Mahjoub to the Minister of Public Safety. Mr. Mahjoub urgently needs our continued support: bail must be raised before he can be released and – because he is prevented from working – funds are needed for his new apartment. The faster we raise the funds, the faster this man, who has already suffered enormous injustices and violence, could be moved to his own apartment. Please donate quickly and generously! Please ask others to contribute! 1) Make checks out to: “Marlys Edwardh Barristers Professional Corporation in trust” 2) Importantly, a) Include a note with your cheque stating that it is for Mohammed Mahjoub. b) Specify whether you are Contributing to the cash bail. Please indicate whether or not you wish your name to remain confidential. This money will be held in trust by the court; as long as the court deems that Mr. Mahjoub has abided by the bail conditions, the money will be returned to you when Mr. Mahjoub is completely freed from the security certificate. Otherwise, the money could be forfeit. Mr. Mahjoub will not be released from the detention centre until bail is raised. DURING THIS > TIME HE WILL REMAIN IN THE INTOLERABLE SITUATION THAT HAS ALREADY LED


– Making an outright donation. This will go towards Mr. Mahjoub’s
living expenses, including costs of outfitting a new apartment. Having
been unjustly prevented from working for over nine years because of
prison or court-imposed restrictions, Mr. Mahjoub must rely on
community support and solidarity. 3) Send by mail to:

20 Dundas Street West, Suite 1100
Toronto Ontario Canada M5G 2G8