what i'm reading (and why): for whom the bell tolls

In anticipation of an upcoming trip to Spain, I'm re-reading For Whom The Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway's novel based on his experiences in the Spanish Civil War. I haven't read Hemingway since the 1980s, and I'm enjoying it much more than I expected to.

I had mis-remembered Hemingway as a harsher, more macho voice. Maybe it was his love of bullfighting and hunting, or his personal image as a tough guy, but I was expecting bellicosity and possibly sexism. I didn't find it. The voice is warm and generous, and he writes with great sensitivity and respect, and keen insight into human motivations.

The Spanish Civil War itself is about resistance to fascism, more a story of rebellion and revolution than armies and battlefields. (I imagine the anti-fascists are more properly called counter-revolutionaries, because Franco's military takeover was a revolution.) Hemingway was part of the famed Abraham Lincoln Brigades, Americans who fought for the Spanish Republic, to try to stop the fascist threat to Europe and the world. But while For Whom the Bell Tolls is obviously sympathetic to the anti-fascists, Hemingway is still clear-eyed and unromantic about them. You see personal failings and moral dilemmas, and the many compromises a movement faces while trying to live its politics.

I also had forgotten the simple power and beauty of Hemingway's writing. It is an absolute joy to read.

It's almost impossible for a contemporary reader to appreciate how different Hemingway was in his own time, and how influential. His writing might even seem ordinary now, but in its day, it swept out the old and ushered in the new. Think of Hemingway's writing next to, say, E. M. Forster or D. H. Lawrence. All three are roughly contemporaries, but Forster and Lawrence's writing belongs to an older school of thought and style. Forster sounds more like a Victorian, while Hemingway sounds like a modern man.

Also in anticipation of Barcelona, two people have recommended Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind, a literary thriller that takes place in Barcelona (and is now waiting for me at the library!). And of course we will re-watch both "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and the 1994 film "Barcelona". We love Almodovar, and have seen most of his films, but maybe we will go back to valium in the gazpacho with "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown".

* * * *

I've wanted to go to Spain for many years, and this is our first major trip in a few years, as well. I'm very excited! Since I know this will be asked in comments, here's the plan.

We have a quick stop in London to see some friends, people we originally know from New York, one as far back as our Brooklyn days, who we haven't seen in a long time. After two days in London, we'll take the Eurostar train to Paris and spend two days there. On our last trip to Paris*, I vowed that whenever we were in Europe for any reason, we would go to Paris. That's a promise it will never hurt to keep.

From Paris we go to Barcelona. We'll have a good 4 or 5 days to explore Barcelona, then we'll pick up a car and do a lot of driving! The Alhambra, the great Mosque and Cathedral of Cordoba, Roman ruins, at least one pueblo blanco, the Bilbao Guggenheim and hopefully cave paintings in Basque Country, art in Madrid, and who knows what else. We have three weeks total, and about 2-1/2 weeks in Spain.

Even planning and thinking about travel makes me happy, brings a lift to my mood and my thoughts. Finishing school, good job prospects, and travel?? As George Costanza once said, I'm busting.

* Allan and I have been to Europe together in 1993 and 1998. I was in Europe pre-Allan, with my friend NN, in 1982 and 1985.



Revolutionary thought of the day:
Across the road at the sawmill smoke was coming out of the chimney and Anselmo could smell it blown toward him through the snow. The fascists are warm, he thought, and they are comfortable, and tomorrow night we will kill them. It is a strange thing and I do not like to think of it. I have watched them all day and they are the same men that we are. I believe that I could walk up to the mill and knock on the door and I would be welcome except that they have orders to challenge all travellers and ask to see their papers. It is only orders that come between us. Those men are not fascists. I call them so, but they are not. They are poor men as we are. They should never be fighting against us and I do not like to think of the killing.

Ernest Hemingway
from For Whom the Bell Tolls


today bradley manning has been imprisoned 1,000 days without trial

One thousand days. Think of where you were one thousand days ago, and all you have done since then. In all that time, Bradley Manning has been in prison.

For 62 days, he was held in a cage in Kuwait.

For 265 days, he was held in solitary confinement.

For 1,000 days, he has been imprisoned.

And when Manning does receive a hearing, it will not be a trial. It will be a court martial: his accusers will be the only judge and jury.

Manning's "crime" is exposing the truth about the murder of civilians by US forces in Iraq. While the real criminals go unpunished - indeed, while they lead lives of wealth and privilege - a courageous whistleblower is persecuted.

This weekend, people in more than 70 cities around the world will stand in solidarity with Manning and mark his 1,000th day in jail without trial.

To find an event near you, go here.

To remember why Bradley Manning is being persecuted, go here, and watch the video.

Good reading: Nobel Laureates Salute Bradley Manning, by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel.


mississauga m.p. calls for "investigation" of abortions: conservative m.p.s continue their anti-choice agenda

Wladyslaw Lizon, Member of Parliament for Mississauga Cooksville East (my own riding), is back in the news. The Conservative MP has teamed up with two of his fellow backbenchers in an attack on Canadian women's reproductive rights.

The last time Lizon surfaced, he had "alerted" Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney that a Mississauga woman had worn a niqab during a citizenship ceremony. Thanks to Lizon and Kenney, face veils are now banned from those ceremonies. This man is anti-choice in more ways than one.

More recently, Lizon, Maurice Vellacott (Saskatoon—Wanuskewin), and Leon Benoit (Vegreville—Wainwright) demanded that the RCMP investigate all later-term abortions performed in Canada over the last decade. According to these MPs, the doctors who performed these procedures should be charged with homicide.

The three MPs claim that there were 490 later-term terminations performed in Canada between the years 2000 and 2009. Where did the men get this 490 number? From an anti-choice blog. Where did the blog get the number? They made it up. They took published statistics about abortion in Canada, and extrapolated from there. The blog claims that these procedures involve a live delivery. Their basis for that claim: anti-choice propaganda. They really have no idea how many of later-term abortions were performed, nor do they know the medical details of those procedures.

Let's be clear on exactly what's happening here. Later-term abortion is the perfect wedge issue for the anti-choice minority to drive into the pro-choice majority, in order to begin reducing Canadian women's access to abortion. Many people who are moderately pro-choice regard abortion as acceptable only in the first trimester of pregnancy. After that, the woman is showing. A fetal heartbeat might be present. The procedure itself is more complicated and presents a greater risk to the woman.

Second and even third trimester abortions aren't pretty. But they are necessary.

Women who choose to terminate later-term pregnancies are usually in desperate circumstances. They are carrying nonviable fetuses - the fetus is dead, or would die immediately after birth. Or the fetus may be healthy, but the continued pregnancy puts the woman's own life in grave danger.

Women who terminate later-term pregnancies are usually mourning the loss of a wanted baby. Some women in these situations choose to carry the pregnancy to term, even knowing their fetus is dead or will live for only minutes. That's their choice. But many women and their partners feel it's better - feel it's necessary to their sanity and their grief - to end the agony as soon as possible. Imagine what a safe, available procedure must mean to them.

(In the US, there is a third reason for later-term terminations: "chasing the funds". The woman wants a first-trimester procedure, but can't afford one. As she tries to scrape together the money, her pregnancy advances, which makes the procedure cost more, so she needs to find more money, so the pregnancy advances, and on it goes. I wrote a more in-depth piece about later-term abortions, and my small part in helping women obtain them, here: blog for choice day: providing a safe haven.)

This latest Conservative attack on women's reproductive rights must be seen in context of all the others. With Motion 312, MP Stephen Woodworth called for a Parliamentary committee to examine fetal personhood. With Motion 408, MP Mark Warawa seeks to ban sex-selective abortions, disingenuously couching his anti-choice bill in the language of women's rights. A few years back, MP Ken Epps tabled the "Unborn Victims of Crime Act": he claimed he was protecting victims of domestic violence, but we caught him revealing the truth. Now these MPs want the RCMP to charge doctors with homicide.

Through all this, Prime Minister Stephen Harper repeats that his government is not re-opening the abortion debate, a claim that by now has become almost laughably transparent.

Meanwhile, in Ontario, Conservative MPs are seeking to defund abortion services. Conservative leader Tim Hudak distances himself from this just as Harper does, but women's rights cannot depend on political theatre.

It's vitally important that we see these attempts to limit abortion rights and access for what they are - and that we beat back every single one. The vast majority of Canadians are pro-choice. But many people have mixed feelings about abortion in certain circumstances - be that sex selection or later term or anything else - and those are the areas that anti-choice forces use as their wedge, to begin chipping away at our rights. That steady chip-chip-chipping away results, eventually, in the situation we see in the US: a right to abortion that is virtually meaningless, that exists only on paper, only for the privileged few that can afford access.

Our reproductive choices do not need investigating. They do not need approval by Conservative MPs or the RCMP - or our neighbours - or anyone else. Whether or not we ourselves would choose abortion in whatever circumstances, we must denounce these anti-choice actions, loudly and publicly. A threat to any reproductive rights is a threat to all.


and one great read from harper's: nicholson baker on "why i'm a pacifist: the dangerous myth of the good war"

After finally getting Jill Lepore's "Lie Factory" posted on this blog, I will go back even further, to something I've wanted to post for nearly two years. No matter the date, this piece is timeless, and more relevant with every passing day.

This lengthy essay by Nicholson Baker ran in Harper's in May of 2011: "Why I’m a pacifist: The dangerous myth of the Good War". It's available by pdf download with a Harper's subscription, or (I hope) at your local library, or from me by request. (Artwork from the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Swarthmore, PA.)

Baker charts his evolution from moderately antiwar to complete pacifist, in part from learning about the "surprisingly vocal group of World War II pacifists".
They weren’t, all of them, against personal or familial self-defense, or against law enforcement. But they did hold that war was, in the words of the British pacifist and parliamentarian Arthur Ponsonby, “a monster born of hypocrisy, fed on falsehood, fattened on humbug, kept alive by superstition, directed to the death and torture of millions, succeeding in no high purpose, degrading to humanity, endangering civilization and bringing forth in its travail a hideous brood of strife, conflict and war, more war.”

Along with Kaufman and Ponsonby — and thousands of conscientious objectors who spent time in jail, in rural work camps, in hospitals, or in controlled starvation studies — the ranks of wartime pacifists included Vera Brittain, Rabbi Abraham Cronbach, Dorothy Day, and Jessie Wallace Hughan.

I admire these people. They believed in acts of mercy rather than in fist-shaking vows of retribution. They kept their minds on who was actually in trouble. They suffered, some in
small ways, some in large, for what they did and said. They were, I think, beautiful examples of what it means to be human. I don’t expect you to agree, necessarily, that they were right in their principled opposition to that enormous war — the war that Hitler began —but I do think you will want to take their position seriously, and see for yourself whether there was some wisdom in it.

. . . . But I still think the pacifists of World War II were right. In fact, the more I learn about the war, the more I understand that the pacifists were the only ones, during a time of catastrophic violence, who repeatedly put forward proposals that had any chance of saving a threatened people. They weren’t naïve, they weren’t unrealistic — they were psychologically acute realists.
Baker studied the pacifist movement at the time of World War II, and came to this conclusion, quoting from an afterward to one of his own books.
"They tried to save Jewish refugees,” I wrote, “feed Europe, reconcile the United States and Japan, and stop the war from happening. They failed, but they were right."
Baker then argues that the United States' entry into WWII escalated the Holocaust, as the Jewish population of Europe became expendable, no longer valuable as hostages. He argues - using historical facts rather than propaganda - that only an end to the war in Europe could have saved the European Jews.

Now, I don't know enough about history to either support or refute this argument, but I will tell you this: the soundness of Baker's case may surprise you.

And I know this: I am sick to death of Hitler and WWII being used to justify the slaughter of innocent people all over the globe in resource wars and for corporate profits.

I also know this: World War II was not a "good war". It was a war. Hideous excesses and atrocities were committed by both Allied and Axis forces. Accepted wisdom says World War II was necessary, but accepted wisdom is chock full of falsehoods that crumble upon close examination. Perhaps this is one of them.

The article is fascinating and eye-opening. Harper's printed many letters refuting Baker's view, but none of them made as much sense to me as Baker's. He concludes with this.
If we don’t take seriously pacifists like Cronbach, Hughan, Kaufman, Day, and Brittain — these people who thought as earnestly about wars and their consequences as did politicians or generals or think-tankers — we’ll be forever suspended in a kind of immobilizing sticky goo of euphemism and self-deception. We’ll talk about intervention and preemption and no-fly zones, and we’ll steer drones around distant countries on murder sorties. We’ll arm the world with weaponry, and every so often we’ll feel justified in taxiing out a few of our stealth airplanes from their air-conditioned hangars and dropping some expensive bombs. Iran? Pakistan? North Korea? What if we “crater the airports,” as Senator Kerry suggested, to slow down Qaddafi? As I write, the United States has begun a new war against Libya, dropping more things on people’s heads in the name of humanitarian intervention.

When are we going to grasp the essential truth? War never works. It never has worked. It makes everything worse. Wars must be, as Jessie Hughan wrote in 1944, renounced, rejected, declared against, over and over, “as an ineffective and inhuman means to any end, however just.” That, I would suggest, is the lesson that the pacifists of the Second World War have to teach us.
If you would like a copy of this illuminating essay, please email me.

two great reads from the new yorker, part 2: jill lepore on political advertising

The current New Yorker stories by Joseph Mitchell has given me an opportunity to post something I've been meaning to share for ages.

Last September, Jill Lepore unearthed an incredible bit of history, a piece of the American past that is  alive with us today, and more dangerous than ever. (I am generally interested in anything Lepore writes; last year I gushed over her reviews of books about Clarence Darrow, one of my abiding heroes.)

In this piece, Lepore writes about the roots of political advertising - the falsehoods and trickery, the lies and slander, the deception and distortion, the swiftboating and smearing that make us grit our teeth in frustration. The advertising firms that design and disseminate those orchestrated lies can be traced back to one company, an operation called Campaigns Inc.

Its first victim was Upton Sinclair, the writer and socialist and one-time candidate for Governor of California. He called it The Lie Factory.
In 1934, Sinclair explained what did happen that election year, in a nonfiction sequel called “I, Candidate for Governor, and How I Got Licked.” “When I was a boy, the President of Harvard University wrote about ‘the scholar in politics,’ ” Sinclair began. “Here is set forth how a scholar went into politics, and what happened to him.” “How I Got Licked” was published in daily installments in fifty newspapers. In it, Sinclair described how, immediately after the Democratic Convention, the Los Angeles Times began running on its front page a box with an Upton Sinclair quotation in it, a practice that the paper continued, every day, for six weeks, until the opening of the polls. “Reading these boxes day after day,” Sinclair wrote, “I made up my mind that the election was lost.”

Sinclair got licked, he said, because the opposition ran what he called a Lie Factory. “I was told they had a dozen men searching the libraries and reading every word I had ever published.” They’d find lines he’d written, speeches of fictional characters in novels, and stick them in the paper, as if Sinclair had said them. “They had a staff of political chemists at work, preparing poisons to be let loose in the California atmosphere on every one of a hundred mornings.” Actually, they had, at the time, a staff of only two, and the company wasn’t called the Lie Factory. It was called Campaigns, Inc.

Campaigns, Inc., the first political-consulting firm in the history of the world, was founded, in 1933, by Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter.
If you like history and you deplore the Lie Factory, you will love this article: The Lie Factory: How politics became a business, by Jill Lepore.

two great reads from the new yorker, part 1: joseph mitchell on himself

The New Yorker has given us a singularly rare gift: new writing by Joseph Mitchell.

Joseph Mitchell wrote about New York City and the multiplicity of people who inhabit it. Mitchell wrote nonfiction portraits of quirky people, overlooked trades, unknown professions, obsessive collectors. His warm, meticulous prose brought people to life before your eyes. He wrote beautifully, and with great respect for the endless diversity of humanity, long before diversity was a buzzword.

First edition, found here.
Mitchell wrote from 1929 to 1964. Then he stopped writing - stopped completely, as far as we know. In one of the most famous writer's blocks known in this corner of the world, Mitchell continued to show up at The New Yorker magazine, sitting in his office every day, not writing. After Mitchell died in 1996, New Yorker colleague Roger Angell described it like this.
Each morning, he stepped out of the elevator with a preoccupied air, nodded wordlessly if you were just coming down the hall, and closed himself in his office. He emerged at lunchtime, always wearing his natty brown fedora (in summer, a straw one) and a tan raincoat; an hour and a half later, he reversed the process, again closing the door. Not much typing was heard from within, and people who called on Joe reported that his desktop was empty of everything but paper and pencils. When the end of the day came, he went home. Sometimes, in the evening elevator, I heard him emit a small sigh, but he never complained, never explained.
I can't recall how I discovered Joseph Mitchell's writing. It was before his work was reissued in new editions - and before the internet gave easy access to any title you might want - so his books were always on my list to hunt down in used bookstores. It was also while Mitchell was still alive, so I was able to tell him, by letter, how much his gift meant to me, how illuminating, how transporting his writing was.

This week and next week, The New Yorker is publishing the initial chapters of what Mitchell intended to be his memoirs. This is their introduction, print edition only.
Joseph Mitchell was on the staff of this magazine from 1938 until his death, in 1996. Born in 1908 into a prosperous family of North Carolina cotton and tobacco growers, he came to New York City at the age of twenty-one, to pursue a career as a writer. Arriving just as the Depression set in, he heeded the advice of one of his first editors, at the Herald Tribune: walk the city; get to know every side street and quirk and character. He did this, obsessively, for the rest of his life. Mitchell profiled the Mohawk steelworkers who erected many of Manhattan's skyscrapers; and McSorley's Old Ale House, the city's most venerable tavern; and George Hunter, the caretaker of a ramshackle African-American cemetery on Staten Island; and Lady Olga, the bearded lady in countless circus sideshows. What follows here is the initial chapter of a planned memoir that Mitchell started in the late sixties and early seventies but, as with other writings after 1964, never completed.
Joseph Mitchell's stories are collected in the books My Ears Are Bent (1938; reissued in 2001), McSorley's Wonderful Saloon (1943), Old Mr. Flood (1948), The Bottom of the Harbor (1959), Joe Gould's Secret (1965). In 1992, most of those stories were combined in Up in the Old Hotel.


ten years ago today, the world said no to war. say no to obama's wars, too.

Ten years ago today, my partner and I took the day off work, dressed in many layers of clothing, and joined nearly a million people in the streets of New York City. It was February 15, 2003, and the world was saying no to war.

The bitter cold didn't stop demonstrations in 80 Canadians towns and cities, including 150,000 people who braved minus-30 wind chill in Montreal. In the US, protests were held in 225 communities.

In London, at least one million people gathered. Every European country saw huge crowds, but they were all topped by Rome, where three million people formed the largest antiwar demonstration in one place in history.

In Australia, major protests were held in all six state capitals. The scientists stationed on Antarctica held a protest on the ice. In Brazil, in Argentina - in Tokyo, in Beirut - in Dhaka and Calcutta - in Seoul and Johannesburg - in every continent of the planet - large crowds gathered, all with the same message.

In all, up to 30 million people in 800 locations came together to say no to war.

Commentary in the New York Times conjectured "that there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion".

* * * *

Of course, the United States invaded Iraq, as they had intended to from at least 2001. The resident of the White House at the time, an unelected figurehead, became the most hated man on the planet.

Many Americans viewed the invasion of Iraq as a turning point in their country's history, as something unprecedented, an aberration. They couldn't have been more wrong.

The US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq was in keeping with US history from the very beginning - from the western expansion, on to Hawaii, straight through to Guatemala and Vietnam. In this regard, I recommend reading Stephen Kinzer's Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. Kinzer tells you up-front that he uses a very narrow definition of overthrow as his focus. Dozens of other military coups, assassinations, and dismantlings of democratically elected governments, all bought and paid for by the United States, didn't make the cut. Kinzer's book is just a beginning, but it's an excellent starting place to see the Iraq invasion in historical context. And of course, the United States still occupies Iraq, maintaining thousands of "security contractors," otherwise known as occupying forces.

Americans viewing the unjustified and unprovoked invasion of Iraq as an aberration only underscores so many people's ignorance of their own country's history. I'm not talking about the gun-nuts and the bible thumpers, or so many Canadians' stereotypes of Texans. I'm talking about moderate US liberals, the people who elected Barack Obama. They breathed a sigh of relief; the nightmare was over. For the people of Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan - and who will join the list tomorrow? - the nightmare continues.

I found this excellent page from St. Pete for Peace: Obama Fact Sheet. I thank the good people of St. Petersburg, Florida, who put this together.

* * * *

So what of February 15, 2003? Was it a failure, since we were unable to stop the US from invading Iraq? Here's what my friend James Clark, writing at Socialist.ca, has to say.
Despite the unprecedented success of the February 15 protests, which helped keep Canada and other states outside Bush’s “coalition of the willing,” they ultimately failed to stop the war. The consequences for Iraq have been horrific: 1.2 million Iraqi deaths from war and occupation, on top of 1.5 million Iraqi deaths after 12 years of sanctions. The country remains deeply divided on sectarian grounds and its landscape and infrastructure have been completely devastated. As we mark the anniversary of the protests, we must remember these facts and remain sober about the movement’s limits, both then and now.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also recognize and celebrate the successes we did achieve. February 15 gave us a glimpse of the immense potential of mass movements, and trained a generation of activists who, in many cases, continue to be active on other fronts. The long-term effects of the protests, especially in the social movements, helped change the political terrain we operate on today, by raising our expectations about international solidarity and collective action, and by giving confidence to resistance movements throughout the region—from Iraq to Palestine to Lebanon to Egypt, the frontlines of resistance to imperialist war and occupation.

If anything, this is probably the most important effect of February 15: the developing bonds of solidarity between ordinary people in the Arab world and those outside it, particularly in countries whose governments backed the war. According to some activists in the region, those bonds contributed to emerging struggles that have subsequently developed into far-reaching revolutionary movements. Our role in this is no doubt small, perhaps even imperceptible, but it nevertheless shows that, although we didn’t stop the war, we still helped change the world.


marxism 2012 program notes: from each according to their ability: the role of socialists in disability movement

This is the final post of my notes from the 2012 Marxism Conference. This was the first Marxism conference to include a talk on disability, an exciting development full of potential. I wanted to blog about it in great detail. A friend was recording the talk, so I stopped taking detailed notes... and then the audio didn't come out.

Melissa Graham was kind enough to give me her notes, but the others didn't have anything written to share. What follows, then, is the general idea. What does disability have to do with capitalism and socialism? Where do disability and socialism intersect, how do they relate to each other?

* * * *

From Each According to Their Ability: the Role of Socialists in Disability Movement
May 25, 2012
Melissa Graham, Michele Macaulay, Patricia Reilly

Melissa Graham
Member of IS Canada, Social Worker, Disability Rights Activist, Wheelchair User

Melissa began by praising Marxism 2012 for being the first of the annual conferences to include a talk on disability, but emphasized that radical activism within the disability community is nothing new.

In the UK, the British Deaf Association and the National League of the Blind and Disabled were both radical groups. The NLBD was founded as a trade union in 1899. Members included blind war veterans, mainly working in sheltered workshops, who campaigned for better working conditions and state pensions. The league organized a national march of blind people on Trafalgar Square in 1920, carrying banners with a new slogan: "Rights Not Charity". Despite the small numbers, its aims were widely supported. The first legislation specifically for blind people was passed in the same year, followed by more in 1938.

Much later, in the 1960s, many people with disabilities started to reject being labelling as deviants or patients, and to speak out against discrimination. Inspired by many social movements, especially by the US black civil rights struggle, the disability movement really began in the US.

One example of this shift was the "Rolling Quads", a group of student wheelchair-users at the University of California Berkeley, who established the first Independent Living Centre in 1971. Within a few years, hundreds more ILCs were created across the US and other countries, including Canada. The Independent Living Movement opposes institutionalization and stresses self-reliance; through this, it has had a lasting influence.

These days the movement has shifted again. With the development of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (patterned after the US's Americans with Disabilities Act), many organizations that were once active advocates now take their direction from government legislation, while they fight each other for funding. While there are individual activists rising to the challenge, the movement is still divided by disabilities and class.

Image from PeaceNews
The disability movement, said Melissa, needs to rebuild its history, to get in touch with its radical roots. The first-ever Disability Pride march in Toronto took place last year, calling attention to how austerity budget cuts disproportionately affect people with disabilities. The government thinks people with disabilities are compliant and quiet, and will swallow the cuts quietly.

Accessible transportation is a huge issue for people with disabilities, and an enormous obstacle to organizing. During the recent struggles in Quebec, many students with disabilities were afraid to strike, afraid of losing their grants. Many people with disabilities work for agencies funded by the government, and are afraid they'll be targeted and fired if they agitate.

The recession in the UK has hit disabled people hard. Massive cuts to public spending further reduce already inadequate - but vital - disability benefits. The cuts hit all working-class people; understanding disability discrimination can play a part in uniting resistance to the attacks.

All struggles for freedom from oppression share common ground with Marxism. Ironically, a primary source of oppression of people with disabilities is their exclusion from capitalist exploitation. Many disabled persons are unemployed or underemployed against their will. Their non-conforming bodies are deemed less (or un-) exploitable by the owners of the means of production. The ideal worker is one whose body can work like a machine for the ruling class.

On the other hand, people who receive disability benefits are routinely portrayed as cheats and freeloaders. Even though it's been shown that fraud accounts for less than one percent of benefits - and even though the benefits themselves take up a minute portion of the overall budget - the media and conservative governments create a perception of rampant fraud and waste. Melissa quoted a study in Glasgow showing that people in focus groups believed 70% of disability claims were fraudulent.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (of which Canada was one of the last countries to sign) creates a paradigm shift: from charity to rights and inclusion. There is a very real fear that current and future austerity measures will drastically infringe on the rights contained in the CRPD - including social protection (Article 28), the right to live independently in the community (Article 19) the right to mobility (Article 20).

The European Disability Forum has been compiling data from across Europe on the impact of austerity budgets on people with disabilities. Cuts are affecting people's lives in very real, very scary, and very permanent ways, affecting people's ability to live independently. The cuts also contribute to negative stereotyping of people with disabilities. The language and messaging - describing disabled citizens as "expenditure items" and "drains on economic efforts" - further contributes to stigma and exclusion.

And yet in the UK and Canada, people with disabilities are better off than in many other places in the world, a very sad commentary. In many countries, people with disabilities live in a de facto state of apartheid. They are forced to the fringes of society, ostracized from things that many of us take for granted, such as getting a job or taking public transit.

So what can we do as a movement? Build connections. Reach out to people we see doing activist work, and connect with them through related struggles. One of the biggest barriers people with disabilities faced is isolation. Even when groups of people with disabilities do become active, it is rare for allies to reach out.

Melissa is a great comrade with a lot of energy and a wry sense of humour. You can read her blog here: B-tch on Wheels.

Michele Macaulay
Psychiatric Consumer Survivor

Michele described how the neoliberal governments of the past ended or defunded the office of psychiatric advocates in hospitals. Now there is no one in hospitals to ensure that people with mental illness are not mistreated, or retraumatized, or denied access to services they need.

The health care system is completely inadequate when it comes to mental illness. She described the attitude as "be quiet and take your meds". Michele spoke briefly about the anti-psychiatry movement, which I also heard about in this talk.

Lack of mental health services disproportionately impact low-income communities, racialized communities, aboriginal people - people dependent on the public system with no resources to opt for private care - and people who the dominant culture would rather not deal with. She described the anti-psychiatric movement as an "equity-seeking movement," with much in common with other people's movements.

Psychiatric survivors often can't find work, can't even get interviews, and are often put in "sheltered workshops" where they are paid below minimum wage.

I wish I could tell you more about Michele's moving and important talk. But sadly...

Patricia Reilly
Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups

ONIWG is a nonfunded, grassroots group advocating for injured workers. Patricia described the history of workers compensation funds, and it was an eye-opening view.

The concept of workers' compensation - of a system whereby employees who were injured on the job could be compensated - arose in response to corporate complaints about workers' lawsuits. To get the compensation system, workers gave up the right to sue.

In the early years of the 20th Century, there was a great deal of social unrest, all over North America. In Canada, a royal commission created a system meant to quell that unrest, to alleviate the burden on families of caring for family members whose work left them disabled, and to protect companies from the growing unrest. The idea was to take care of people for as long as they were injured, including for the rest of their lives, if necessary.

The Harris Government destroyed all that. (For non-Canadian readers, Mike Harris governed Ontario from 1995-2002. In brief, he destroyed as much of the social safety net as he could. Most of the difficult and unjust conditions Ontarians struggle with today can be laid at the feet of Mike Harris.)

The Harris Government changed the Workers Compensation Board to the Workplace Safety Insurance Board. Think of the difference in emphasis; the agency's name change reflects a change in orientation. Where once workers were compensated, now workplaces are insured. Now, injured workers are left to battle it out with their employers through a system whose goal is to pay out as little as possible.

Under the Harris Government, the province's vocational rehabilitation program was first privatized, then discontinued altogether. The person who oversaw that change is now the chair of the WSIB.

With the change, the WSIB has overseen a 50% increase in claims denials, with $630 million in benefits cut, vocational retraining slashed from 19 months to nine months, a 30% reduction in permanent impairment awards, and similar reductions on every level.

Image from Diary of a WorkCover Victim (AU)

Patricia described the massive disconnect between disability brought on from workplace injury and the compensation system - how she lost her home, and cashed in all her retirement savings, in order to survive. This may sound familiar to US readers, who know these stories affect millions of Americans who lack basic health insurance. In Canada the bar is a little higher, but it doesn't cover nearly enough. A huge number of injured workers live in poverty. ONIWG's studies show that after injury, 80% of injured workers lost full-time employment, fully half lost their homes, and half were forced to rely on food banks for survival.

The Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups are workers organizing to creat change. They run a speaker school to train people for public speaking, they hold letter writing campaigns, and they teach about the history and social basis of their work. Among their greatest allies are the United Steelworkers, Ontario Federation of Labour, and OFL President Sid Ryan.

From the ONIWG website:
What we are fighting for!

Reform of the Workers' Compensation Act and Policy and return to the founding principles.

Dignity, Respect and Justice must be the foundation for a renewed Workers' Compensation System. We want a new Workers' Compensation Act, with stated purposes to truly assist and compensate workers injured, made sick and disabled at work.
You can read injured workers' stories here.

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The discussion after this talk was particularly powerful. UK organizer Judith Orr spoke about how the cuts to social benefits have brought an increase physical attacks against people with disabilities, with government rhetoric legitimizing the idea, framing people with disabilities as "draines" on the system and freeloaders. People with disabilities are not considered valuable under a capitalist system, because they don't create profit.

Dr J said that the struggles of people with disabilities is the most damning indictment of capitalism - capitalism at its most raw. People need time off work. They need accessible transit. They need safer workplaces. They need shorter working hours that can still meet their material needs. But capitalism cannot accommodate conditions that do not augment the labour market, that do not create profit. If there's anything most damning about capitalism, it's this inability to deal with any deviation from the profit-making norm.


dyke duo dupes fox news

The wingnut media continues to redefine irony. Yesterday Fox News ran a piece called "To be happy, we must admit women and men aren't 'equal'". (Sorry, no link. Linking to bigots is a violation of wmtc policy.) To illustrate their homophobic, anti-woman twaddle, they used a picture of a wedding atop the Empire State Building, apparently not realizing it was... the wedding of two women! What a riot.

Read the story: you'll come for the laughs, and stay for the wisdom. From Feministing.
Yesterday the feminist internet collectively lol’d at Fox News when Jessica Valenti realized that the “wedding kiss” picture they’re using to accompany a piece about traditional gender roles is actually of a same sex couple.

Turns out, the two women whose love was mistakenly highlighted by the tirelessly homophobic news outlet are no strangers to the spotlight. Lela Mc Arthur and Stephanie Figarelle of Anchorage, Alaska won a contest last year to have their dream wedding in New York at the Empire State building, becoming the first same-sex couple to be married at the historic site (here’s a kickass video of them reciting their vows and defending their right to do so). They are currently on their honeymoon (!) but Stephanie Fiagrelle gave us permission to publish her pitch perfect Facebook post about the recent, hilarious kerfluffle with Fox News...
Go to Feministing to read what Fiagrelle said - simple, wise, powerful.


war resister jules tindungan telling you some basic truths

Please watch this excellent clip of war resister Jules Tindungan and lawyer Alyssa Manning discussing their recent victory in Federal Court.

Really, watch! It's great.


Revolutionary thought of the day:
"Mankind. Ready to kill. I wonder how humanity managed to survive."

"We overcame our instinct for violence."

-- Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk, "Spectre of the Gun", Star Trek, original air date December 31, 1969


breaking news: federal court rules in favour of war resister jules tindungan

Another win in federal court! From the War Resisters Support Campaign:

On Friday February 1st, the Federal Court of Canada released a decision granting U.S. war resister Jules Tindungan a new hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). The Court found errors in the original IRB decision pertaining to issues which are at the heart of asylum claims by U.S. soldiers in Canada.

Mr. Tindungan is one of dozens of former U.S. soldiers who have sought asylum in Canada because of their objection to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tindungan refused to return to combat for the United States military in 2008 after serving a 15 month combat tour and seeing first-hand the breaches of the Geneva Conventions committed by U.S. forces.

Mr. Tindungan argued before the Refugee Board that he faces differential punishment in the U.S. because he has spoken out publicly against U.S. military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also argued that he would not get a fair trial if returned because the U.S. court-martial system is not an independent and impartial tribunal as required under Canadian and International law.

After reviewing Tindungan’s case, the Federal Court found that Tindungan “submitted voluminous documentary evidence from credible, third-party sources … that suggest that the U.S. has not complied with its international obligations”. However, the Refugee Board improperly ignored this evidence.

The Court further found that the U.S. court-martial system “fails to comply with basic fairness requirements found in Canadian and International Law”, therefore impacting whether Tindungan would receive a fair hearing if returned to the U.S.

For more information, see the full press release and the Court decision.

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Update. I'm reading the court's decision now, and it is amazing.


Revolutionary thought of the day:
Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is humanity’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion.

Oscar Wilde
from The Soul of Man under Socialism


must-watch video: how canadian women won abortion rights and what we must do to keep them

The Harper anti-choice brigade is back in the news, this time taking aim at a different abortion controversy to try to chip away at our fundamental rights.

Wladyslaw Lizon - sadly, the MP for my own riding - is holding forth against later-term procedures. (You may remember Lizon's name through his memorable Islamophobia, which caused Jason Kenney to forbid the wearing of niqabs during citizenship ceremonies.) When it comes to later-term abortions, don't be fooled. The overwhelming majority of abortion procedures in Canada are performed in the first trimester of pregnancy. In the tiny minority performed later, the fetus is either dead or non-viable, or the woman's life is being endangered by the pregnancy. Women needing later-term abortions are usually in dire circumstances, mourning the loss of a wanted pregnancy. Even if a Canadian woman wanted to obtain a late-term abortion on a healthy fetus, she could never find a doctor to perform it.

But whether it's sex-selected abortion, later-term abortions, or violence against pregnant women, it's always the same strategy: find a wedge, misrepresent the issue for broad appeal, and try to drive it in, using private members' bills so that Harper can still claim to not be reopening the abortion debate. But when the most powerful MP in the House of Commons, the de facto Deputy Prime Minister, votes in favour of one of these bills, just who do they think they're fooling?

The frightening truth is that they may be fooling many people. These proposed restrictions appeal to many people who are nominally pro-choice but still squeamish about abortion in some circumstances. But it doesn't matter if they approve, if you approve, or if I approve. Women's basic human rights - the right to bodily integrity and security of person - cannot be conditional on public whim. The right to abortion must be absolute, and subject to no one's approval.

Pro-choice Canadians need to educate themselves and others on these anti-abortion-by-stealth threats - why they are real, and why we must continue to push back against them.

This week I attended an inspiring event co-sponsored by Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics and University of Toronto Medical Students for Choice: a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Morgentaler decision, which legalized abortion in Canada. Innis Hall was packed to the rafters, with people listening in the hallway, unable to fit in the room.

We heard a series of terrific speakers, and watched the film "The Life and Times of Dr. Henry Morgentaler". All the speakers were great; I wouldn't have missed any of them. But this woman, my friend and comrade Carolyn Egan, brought down the house.

Please watch, and please share. And please, defend your rights.

I highly recommend watching all these videos!

Jillian Bardsley, Medical Students for Choice, Toronto Chapter, on Canada's lack of abortion providers, and what students are doing about it

Michele Landsberg, author, former columnist for Toronto Star, instrumental in writing about abortion and other feminist issues

Angela Robinson, Women's College Hospital, on anti-abortion by stealth, and how she found the movement

Author and activist Judy Rebick, with memories of working alongside Dr. Morgentaler, as "the girl from the clinic," and the widespread public support for their work. I know of Judy as the founding editor of Rabble.ca and as an anti- Israeli apartheid activist, but I hadn't known her vital role in the movement to legalize abortion in Canada.

To get involved:

Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada

Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics

Canadians for Choice