In two recent announcements the Manitoba Government has revealed how it intends to regulate cannabis when it is legalized in July 2018. In short, the province will source and regulate it and the private sector will retail it. So far, so good. Unhappily, Manitobans will continue to be criminalized if they grow their own for non-medical purposes and, in a bid to protect children that is doomed to fail, the province will prohibit citizens who are otherwise considered adults (able to vote, join the military and consume alcohol) from partaking until their nineteenth birthday. You can read the details here and here.

Since quitting drinking around the turn of the century I have come to appreciate the ability to think clearly. I am amazed that Younger Me was so eager and willing to abandon clear-headedness so easily and frequently. For various reasons, I’ve come to prefer the joy of experiencing the world as it is to stumbling through drug-induced alternate realities. It logically follows, then, that I am not a consumer of cannabis. I have no skin in this game. Still, I have to wonder what Brian Pallister was smoking in his Costa Rican retreat when he came up with this half-baked plan.

Winnipeg, Dec. 5, 2017: Manitoba Justice Minister Heather Stefanson announces how the province will regulate cannabis consumption in 2018.

In announcing Manitoba’s plans, Justice Minister Heather Stefanson said “This new legislation sets out the regulatory framework, enforcement structures and compliance provisions that will help keep cannabis out of the hands of our youth and away from the black market.”

At best, this statement suggests she is hopelessly naive. If current enforcement efforts have not kept pot out of the hands of kids, it is difficult to see how this government’s plans will address this. Canadians love their dope. Despite government expenditures of $500 million per year on cops and courts, more than two million Canadians consume an estimated 770,000 kg annually. On average, they begin to toke up at age 15 and a quarter-million kids aged 12 to 17 smoke it daily.

Along with setting the age of consumption at 19, Manitoba’s legislation will restrict where retail outlets can operate (away from schools and parks, for example) and allow municipalities to outlaw retail cannabis sales by holding a plebiscite.

There is no plan protect children. The government knows it as should anyone who reviews the colossal failure otherwise known as the War on Drugs.

However, undeterred by the lessons of history our provincial government is determined to keep the costs of law enforcement unnecessarily high by prohibiting home cultivation of cannabis for recreational purposes. Even though citizens may lawfully make beer and wine at home, they will not be able to grow their own weed without the fear of cops kicking in their doors.

Of all of the measures in this bill, this is the least defensible. It serves only to protect the government’s monopoly, which is not a sufficient justification in my view.

As Moses would have said to Pharaoh under these circumstances, “Let my people grow!”


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Winnipeg, Dec. 6, 2017 – Professor Johnny Márquez, speaking at Winnipeg’s historic Ukrainian Labour Temple on the political and economic situation in Venezuela. Photo: Paul S. Graham

When it comes to Venezuela, the mainstream media is awash with lies and distortions and the Canadian government is complicit (with the United States) in an attempt to force the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Nicolás Maduro. One can easily imagine Trump and Trudeau agreeing that it would be a crime to leave the largest proven oil reserves in the world (about 297 billion barrels) under the control of a socialist government pledged to use this wealth on behalf of some of the poorest people in the world.

In Winnipeg, a group called the Venezuela Peace Committee has organized a number of educational events to encourage citizens to learn about Venezuela and the struggles of working people for a socialist society. The VPC has a petition on the House of Commons E-Petition web site that calls on the government to cease its sanctions campaign. Here is the text:

E-1353
Petition to the Government of Canada

Whereas:

On September 22, 2017, the Government of Canada imposed new sanctions against Venezuela, Venezuelan officials, and other individuals under the Special Economic Measures Act in violation of the sovereignty of Venezuela;
Such sanctions impede dialogue and peace-building in Venezuela and in the region more generally;
These sanctions impede the normal operation of Venezuela’s duly constituted political processes including elections;
The Government of Canada has supported the U.S. government’s sanctions against Venezuela
The Government of Canada has met with, supported, and continues to echo the demands of Venezuela’s violent anti-government opposition;
The Government of Canada refuses to recognize the legitimacy of Venezuela’s democratically elected government and falsely refers to it as dictatorial; and
The government of Canada seeks to promote foreign intervention in the internal affairs of Venezuela.

We, the undersigned, residents of Canada, call upon the Government of Canada to immediately lift all sanctions against Venezuela, Venezuelan officials, and other individuals, retract all statements in support of US sanctions against Venezuela, immediately cease its support for the efforts of the US and other right wing governments in the Organization of American States (OAS) that violate the sovereignty and self-determination of another member-state and immediately cease all intervention against Venezuela.

The VPC is asking Canadians and friends of Canada to sign the petition. Just sign here.

The petition arose out of a resolution approved by the attendees of a conference held at the University of Manitoba to mark the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. One of the keynote speakers at the conference was Julia Buxton, an internationally recognized expert on Venezuela. I recorded her talk.

Most recently, the VPC arranged for the visit of Professor Johnny Márquez to speak in Winnipeg. Professor Márquez is a Venezuelan lawyer, diplomat and scholar and president of the Latin American and Caribbean Center for Energy and Environment Studies. His first appearance was at the University of Manitoba on Dec. 5, 2017, where he discussed the history of Venezuela’s oil industry and its strategic importance. The following day he presented at Winnipeg’s historic Ukrainian Labour Temple on the current political situation in Venezuela. Both of these videos are linked below.

I’ve recently changed computer operating systems, moving from Windows 10 to a version of Linux called Mint. I was motivated primarily by concerns about privacy and had grown weary of a computing environment that was constantly trying to sell me stuff I didn’t need.

I won’t bore you with what is wrong with Windows. Others have done so in some depth. If your Inner Geek is up to it, here is one of the better anti-Windows rants I’ve come across.

Changing operating systems is not easy. Different OS’s “think” differently. Habits of mind have to be overcome. Muscle memory needs to be reoriented. As well, one needs assurance that one can do all the things in the new system that one did in the old one – in my case, finding decent video editing software was the biggest challenge. Finally, one needs to ensure the new system will work with one’s existing hardware.

I did a lot of research before installing Linux Mint. In the course of that research, in which I looked at a bewildering array of Linux versions (called “distros) and software, I discovered a philosophy of technology development that makes me optimistic about the potential for the transition from capitalism to a more liberated state of political economy.

The philosophy I’m referring to is encapsulated in something called the Free and Open Source Software movement. FOSS is not an organized entity in the sense that a political party, trade union or professional association is. It is decentralized. There are no dues to pay, no flags to salute. Rather, it is a principle that software should be “free to use, modify and distribute.”

“Free” doesn’t necessarily mean “free of charge” although most Linux distros are available for free as are thousands of Linux-based software applications. The “free” in FOSS is freedom from capitalist property rights. One is free to use and modify the software to meet one’s needs and to share the modified and in many cases improved product with others who can, in turn, improve and share their version. And the beat goes on.

This freedom is facilitated by the “Open Source” part of the formulation. Simply, the code that used to run the application is readable by anyone who knows how to program. Unlike proprietary software (think Microsoft Office), programmers can look at open source code, see how it works, change it and use it without having to pay licensing fees (think Libre Office, the FOSS equivalent of Microsoft Office).

The FOSS philosophy encourages and facilitates cooperation in the development of technology and has even begun to influence other forms of cooperative endeavor. A prime example of open source thinking is Wikipedia.

Values associated with FOSS are the polar opposite of those common to capitalism: cooperation as opposed to competition, sharing as opposed to selling, openness as opposed to secrecy and social benefit as opposed to private profit.

I very much doubt that typical FOSS enthusiasts (and their numbers are legion) think of themselves as socialists. However, in practice they embody the core values of the socialist movement – a belief in sharing, openness, cooperation and the public good. This makes me optimistic about prospects for changing the system.

Have you ever noticed that the people who are the most vociferous proponents of radical social change are often the least competent in providing for the everyday needs of the people around them? By everyday needs, I’m talking about the goods and services that glue a society together, like building a house, growing food, fixing a car, or delivering babies. While they are usually well read and hip to the latest political trends, if left to themselves, most social justice activists would starve to death in a few short weeks.

I call this condition “revolutionary fecklessness” and (regretfully) consider myself to be an older member of this hapless social layer. We are the products of the middle class that grew out of the post World War Two economic boom and which has persisted until relatively recently. This economic growth enabled the expansion of post-secondary education which in turn allowed growing numbers of young radicals to leave the working class and join the ranks of corporate and government bureaucracies. In doing so they never properly developed the practical skills that society needs to function.

Now Marxists argue that unless one owns the means of production one is a worker. In that sense, educated bureaucrats are members of the working class. However, I think one can argue that there are workers and there are WORKERS. Some do the work and produce the goods and services that people need (WORKERS) and others move paper and pixels around in nonproductive endeavors (workers). The ranks of the revolutionary feckless are swollen by the latter.

Now in the process of becoming nonproductive workers we lost more than practical skills. We lost a sense of ourselves as workers and our connection to that social class. In a very real sense, we failed to develop necessary social skills.

This could explain why most radicals are incapable of talking with, much less leading the rest of the working class; so much of radical politics resembles the practices of bizarre cults whose rituals and vocabularies guarantee their irrelevance to the vast majority of working people. I’m often left with the impression that we don’t even understand each other. How, therefore, can we expect to inspire and motivate others outside of our little groups?

In one sense, none of this matters because revolutions are never caused by revolutionaries, however dedicated and fierce. Nonetheless, if you want to be taken seriously when the revolutionary shit hits the fan of history, learn to be useful. Regardless of your professional or academic choices, develop skills and attitudes that enable you to meet the concrete needs of people in your community. If you do, when the opportunity arises, your fellow workers will be more likely to listen to you. And perhaps, what you have to say will be more useful as well.

Seventy-two years ago this Sunday, a United States Air Force bomber dropped an atomic bomb, code-named “Little Boy,” on Hiroshima; an estimated 130,000 people perished. Three days later, on August 9, 1945, 70,000 citizens of Nagasaki were vaporized when the atomic bomb code-named “Fat Man” was unleashed. Over the years that followed, many thousands more were disabled or killed by a bewildering array of radiation burns, cancers and birth defects. The psychological impact on the survivors, their families and their communities was profound.

The dying days of World War Two seem impossibly far off. For those born after the postwar baby boom, we might as well be recalling the Peloponnesian War. However, for Boomers whose mental faculties are more or less intact, “The Bomb” is not ancient history. Those of us who grew up in the fifties and sixties have vivid memories of the Cold War and the arms race: the duck and cover drills at school, the Cuban Missile Crisis, strontium 90 raining down and contaminating our food, and so on. We had a healthy, rational fear of nuclear weapons and the actual experience of nuclear weapons being tested and used within living memory propelled a large and lively anti-nuke movement.

Today’s anti-nuclear movement is a shadow of its former self and that is perhaps one of the reasons why members of NATO (excluding Holland) felt they could refuse to participate in the development of the nuclear weapons ban treaty that was passed by the United Nations General Assembly on July 7, 2017. Perhaps that is why the United States feels confident that it can threaten to strike North Korea, even though this would likely precipitate a nuclear conflict.

We cannot afford to be complacent. Nine countries that we know of (United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel) have nuclear arsenals and the slightest miscalculation by any of them could plunge the world into the darkness of a nuclear winter. 

What to do? We need to rebuild the movement. We need to start by talking to our families and our neighbours. We must educate, inform and remind. This will not be easy, but we need to cut through the clutter of contemporary life. We need to sweep away an array of political distractions and help focus attention on a truly existential threat. (It’s not that many or these issues aren’t important, it’s just that they will be totally irrelevant to the millions of dead that will result from a nuclear war.)

As I have done for many years, I will be participating in the Winnipeg’s Lanterns for Peace Ceremony. I hope you will join me.

 

 

Francisca Linconao is a healer and a spiritual leader of the Mapuche, the largest of the indigenous peoples of Chile. On March 30, 2016 she was arrested along with ten others in connection with the killing of an elderly couple that had occurred January 4, 2013 in the midst of a demonstration on the couple’s farm. Those arrested were charged with murder, arson and terrorism and detained under Chile’s draconian Counter-Terrorist Act.

The only evidence linking the eleven accused to the killings was the testimony of one Jose Peralino (above, centre), who claimed he had participated in the attack and knew everyone involved. Peralino has since recanted, alleging police torture and coercion. His allegations are reportedly under investigation, but the eleven accused remain in custody, either in prison or – as is the case with Linconao, under house arrest.

The eleven maintain their innocence and are demanding a trial in order to prove it. Supporters have launched an international solidarity campaign and organizations such as Amnesty International have spoken out in their defence.

On June 24, 2017, Winnipeg supporters of Francisca Linconao held an evening of Solidarity at Broadway Disciples United Church. Here are some of the highlights.

L. B. Foote / Winnipeg Free Press Archives 1919 Strike Crowd gathers at Victoria Park

L. B. Foote / Winnipeg Free Press Archives
1919 Strike
Crowd gathers at Victoria Park

Sometime in the 1990s, it became fashionable for many socialists to refer to themselves as “anti-capitalists.” I’m not sure why this was the case, but I suspect it involved a large measure of opportunism; socialism (at least that variant represented by recently imploded Soviet Union) had become discredited but the dominant capitalist system still refused to deliver the goods, hence the “anti.” Anti-capitalism also worked nicely with the “anti-sexist, anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-imperialist” patter that Leftists liked to rattle off whenever ask to describe themselves. Unfortunately, upping the ANTI made it difficult for the uninitiated (and for younger comrades who lacked the history), to understand what it was we stood FOR.

In Canada, the NDP purged the word “socialism” from its program and relegated the Regina Manifesto to the memory hole. Activists increasingly described themselves primarily in terms of ethnicity, race, gender and physical ability. Lacking an overall vision that could inspire and unite all of these various identity groups, activists have been unable to stop the downward spiral of living standards. Rather than challenge the system responsible for the impoverishment of growing numbers of Canadians, the Left fragmented into fighting single issues in isolation from one another, forever on the defensive, increasingly ineffective and incoherent.

I think it is time we began to say what we stand FOR. Furthermore, I think it is time to reclaim the socialist vision that underpins so many of the progressive aspects of Canadian society. More on that in future posts.

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