Slim Pickens on the set of Dr. Strangelove or How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb.

Last year, the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to abolish nuclear weapons. On July 7, 2017, 122 member countries voted to approve the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Opponents of the treaty declined to participate in the vote. These included the nine countries that are known to possess nuclear arms and some of their allies. Sadly, Canada was one of the countries that refused to support the treaty.

Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove from Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film, Dr. Strangelove.

What gives? Have Canadians lost their minds. Have we become a nation of Dr. Strangeloves and “learned how to stop worrying and love The Bomb.”

No. Not in the least. The truth is, our government has let us down on this issue (and many others, but let’s not digress). Polling conducted by Environics in 2008 indicated that almost 90 percent of Canadians support the abolition of nuclear weapons. Research reported by Environics in 2018 shows that Canadian opposition to nuclear weapons remains high.

Not surprisingly, there is an international campaign to promote the treaty. You can track the progress and access many educational resources at the website of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

ICAN has drafted a Parliamentary Pledge, and encourages citizens of countries that have not yet approved and ratified the treaty to get their Members of Parliament to sign on. To date, only 13 Canadian MPs have signed: Daniel Blaikie, Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet, François Choquette, Don Davies, Linda Duncan, Cheryl Hardcastle, Carol Hughes, Gord Johns, Hélène Laverdière, Sheila Malcolmson, Irene Mathyssen, Elizabeth May and Thomas Mulcair. Clearly we have a lot of work to do.

As always, for every cause you can find an online petition. Clicktivism has become an automatic response. Here’s one on the Parliamentary petition web site that gleaned 1451 signatures. By itself,  this will have little impact. I think we need to have a concerted lobbying campaign that makes it clear to each MP that nuclear disarmament is an election issue.

We can’t afford to delay. There are too many “trouble spots” where a miscalculation by one or another of the major powers could lead to world war and a nuclear holocaust.

If not now, then when. If not you, then who?

If you are unsure of how to contact your MP, start here.

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Last week, anti-poverty activists in Winnipeg released a report aimed at encouraging the City of Winnipeg to develop a strategy for reducing poverty in the city. They called on the mayor to champion poverty reduction, observing that the most promising civic antipoverty programs in Canada (in Edmonton and Calgary) are promising specifically because of the leadership of the mayors in those cities.

I read the report with a mixture of despair and frustration. My despair was stimulated by the depressing and familiar litany of statistics that describe the depth and breadth of poverty in my hometown. The frustration was rooted in the knowledge that this well-intentioned report would, like its predecessors, consume the energy of its proponents but ultimately lead nowhere unless we focus on challenges unacknowledged in the report.

The report is worth reading. It is particularly strong in illustrating the shocking extent of poverty in the city.  When it gets around to policy prescriptions it’s a mixed bag. There are some good ideas, and there are others that will do little more than create busywork for government and NGO bureaucrats.

In trying to be comprehensive, the report is often superficial. But more problematic is the elephant in the room that does not get a mention. We live in a capitalist political economy that benefits from the existence of poor, unemployed, under-employed or under-paid working people. This “reserve army” of poor workers helps depress wages, dampen labour power and discipline the working class, all of which serves the interests of the capitalist class – that unacknowledged elephant.

If we accept that proposition as a starting point it follows that any decent anti-poverty strategy has to focus on creating jobs that pay living wages. Nothing is more empowering than a good, secure job with a decent salary.  However, we can’t rely on capitalist market forces to create jobs; our governments must take steps to foster these developments.

I would have liked to have seen a section of this report devoted to exploring how the City could support the development of worker co-ops, social enterprises, and new, innovative industries that would create green products and services while training and employing inner-city residents. Without a serious economic strategy that focuses on creating industries and jobs for the 21st century, all we are left with are social work solutions which, up to now, have failed to contain poverty, much less eradicate it.

Poverty in one of the richest countries in history is unacceptable. Despite my misgivings about the report, I hope people get behind the campaign to get the City to step up to the plate. A place to start is to sign this petition. But this is just for openers.

Winnipeg, Jan. 23, 2018: The local Kurdish community rallied at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in solidarity with Kurds under Turkish attack in Afrin, Syria. Photo: Paul S. Graham

According to a January 23, 2018 story from Reuters, Turkey has killed at least 260 Syrian Kurdish fighters and Islamic State militants in its four-day-old offensive into the Kurdish-dominated Afrin region of northwest Syria.

The target of Turkey’s attack is the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, also known as the YPG, who are based in Afrin, though the offensive is expected to widen in the days ahead.

Because the YPG has been armed by the United States to repel attacks by ISIS, one might wonder why Turkey, also an ally of the United States, would attack them. To make a long story short, and possibly to over-simplify it, the Turkish government views the Kurds as enemies because of an almost century long bid by Kurds in the region for a national homeland.

In Winnipeg, the local Kurdish community rallied today at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Many are recent immigrants and they fear for the lives of family and friends in the path of the Turkish offensive.

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!”


Additional Reading

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.