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Saying no to Canada’s death game June 22, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in Arms, Canada, Human Rights, Uncategorized, War.
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Roger’s note: it is a widely held myth that Canada is a basically peaceful nation, a kind of antithesis to its bellicose neighbour to the south.  Despite some nuances to Canadian government policy (e.g. staying out of the initial invasion of Iraq, but not Afghanistan), Canada has been and remains a faithful ally of U.S. war mongering foreign policy.  Yet the myth persists, not only internationally but as well as amongst the Canadian population.

Here is the true story.

 

| JUNE 22, 2016, http://www.rabble.ca

Matthew Behrens

Photo: Jamie McCaffrey/flickr

 

 

In a reminder that the warfare state is never affected by who gets elected in Canada, the Trudeau Liberals are about to embark on a militaristic spending spree that will draw no opposition from the Conservatives or the NDP. All major parties are firmly committed to spending obscene amounts of money on war, and in Canada, the War Department’s annual sinkhole of over $20 billion is by far the largest use of discretionary federal spending (i.e., spending that is not mandated by any legal commitment).

While Parliament is away this summer, Justin Trudeau is expected to pony up countless billions for Super Hornet fighter jets whose only purpose is to drop bombs on human beings. The Super Hornets are expected to play the role of “interim” tools of mass murder from the air until the Liberals can figure out the best sunny ways PR to massage the Canadian public into accepting even greater spending on F-35 fighter jets further down the road. In addition, the Liberals are on board for a $26-billion Canadian warship investment that will continue to leave the cupboard bare when it comes to daycare, desperately needed investments in Indigenous communities, environmental clean-up, affordable housing, and dozens of other social programs that remain miserably underfunded.

As the Canadian military quietly wages war in Iraq with Trudeau’s earlier, expanded commitment on the ground and continued contribution to aerial bombardment of people below, the Liberals are also considering sending hundreds of troops to the Russian border in yet another provocation against Moscow. This is in addition to the hundreds of troops already stationed in the region who, instead of helping refugees cross the dangerous Mediterranean, are playing war games to provoke the Russian Bear. Such escalations all help set the stage for bigger investments in war just as War Minister Harjit Sajjan gets set to hold his window-dressing consultation with Canadians over war policy.

Absurd assumptions

The idea that Canada “needs” warplanes and warships is absurd. The only ones who “need” Canada to have them are those corporations who profit from such massive purchases. Sajjan claims Canada faces a “capability gap” by not purchasing new warplanes, but in saying so he is merely acting as the pathetic public face of a muscular military industry that, as George Bernard Shaw pointed out in his brilliant play Major Barbara over a century ago, is the real force conducting and forming foreign policy.

In that play, arms dealer Andrew Undershaft (of the munitions firm Undershaft and Lazarus), declares quite clearly to the small group who raise moral concerns about the nature of his business:

“I am the government of your country: I, and Lazarus. Do you suppose that you and half a dozen amateurs like you, sitting in a row in that foolish gabble shop, can govern Undershaft and Lazarus? No, my friend: you will do what pays US. You will make war when it suits us, and keep peace when it doesn’t. You will find out that trade requires certain measures when we have decided on those measures. When I want anything to keep my dividends up, you will discover that my want is a national need. When other people want something to keep my dividends down, you will call out the police and military. And in return you shall have the support and applause of my newspapers, and the delight of imagining that you are a great statesman. Government of your country! Be off with you, my boy, and play with your caucuses and leading articles and historic parties and great leaders and burning questions and the rest of your toys. I am going back to my counting house to pay the piper and call the tune.”

It is not just the arms-makers like Undershaft who call the tune. The tune is also hummed, eerily enough, by human rights NGOs who have bought so far into the system that they cannot reject its core principles. The language they use in opposing things like the $15-billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia is compromised by accepting the assumption that there is nothing wrong with the production of killer brigade vehicles: they just should not be used by certain countries.

A compromised letter

On April 25, a group of NGOs released an open letter, expressing “profound concerns” about the Stéphane Dion-issued export permits for these warrior vehicles, calling the decision “immoral and unethical.” Fair enough. But the letter suffered from a fatal flaw: it accepts as legitimate far too much of state violence. And it proposes that peace groups, rather than working for disarmament, work with the government to facilitate the weapons trade.

They also ask the government to “rescind the export permits, ensuring that this deal does not go ahead unless and until relevant human rights concerns have been resolved.”

A question arises: what human rights concerns would have to be resolved to ensure that it is safe to supply a regime with vehicles whose sole purpose is the crushing of human rights? The letter continues that the Canadian government’s arms control regime’s “integrity has been utterly compromised with the government’s decision to proceed with the largest arms sale in Canadian history to one of the world’s worst human rights violators.”

No similar letter appears to have been issued with respect to the billions annually sold to governments which commit gross violations of human rights on a scale that makes Saudi war crimes in Yemen and surrounding countries small potatoes. Like the United States, for example, the single-largest purchaser annually of Canadian-made weapons. The groups argue that Canada’s arms control regime is designed to prevent deals like those that went to Saudi. But how can a regime that simply regulates who gets the killing machines have any sense of “integrity”?

While the letter is a welcome voice on the one hand that says no to this particular sale, it serves to legitimize the execrable business of the production of mass murder by Canadian manufacturers. Here is the rub. The letter states: “Our export control system must ensure that export authorizations are granted for only end-users that are in full compliance with applicable safeguards.” But when you produce a killer brigade vehicle or a machine gun that rattles off 4,000 rounds a minute, it has only one purpose: legalized murder.

Human rights groups to facilitate weapons trade

The groups hope Canada will soon sign an additional arms control measure that legitimizes the wholesale profit from slaughter, but under more stringent conditions. They even offer their assistance in helping Canada figure out a more sanitized manner of pursuing the death merchant business “to improve the legal and political machinery for regulating Canadian arms exports, and we stand ready to contribute to any and all efforts in this regard.”

Such entreaties are not helpful. The role of human rights groups is not to assist in the better regulation of the business of murder. It would instead, one would hope, call into question the whole nasty business itself, and recognize that, if one wants to go by law, Canada is a signatory to the Kellogg-Briand Treaty, which comes as close to outlawing war as any treaty could hope for.

The letter finishes with the standard salute to Canada’s ultimate goodness, those “core values that define Canada’s character as a nation.” They don’t mention those values, but it is assumed, since such groups repeat them with nauseating consistency, that Canada is an honest broker, a peaceful player on the world stage, a Pearsonian boy scout in a world of dangers lurking in the shadows.

If we are truthful, however, the Saudi arms deal, and the implicit support for the war crimes being committed with them, does not violate Canada’s core values. It is a reflection of them. Indeed, a core value of Canada, as history repeatedly shows, is genocide and the profiting from murder. The Truth and Reconciliation was only the latest reminder that Canada as a nation is built on, and continues to pursue, policies of genocide against Indigenous peoples at home and abroad.

One would have hoped for a more principled approach to taking on one of the signature issues of our time. But it has always been thus in Canada, where the very cautious approach (including the endless accolades for Pearson, a prime minister whose government contributed to major war crimes against the people of Vietnam, as documented by Victor Levant) was once skewered by the late Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan, who passed away just over a month ago at the age of 94. Berrigan, a long-time recidivist who was constantly arrested for resisting war, challenged Canadians in the 1980s in his review of a book by Ernie Regehr and Simon Rosenblum, The Road to Peace.

While this quote is lengthy, it does speak to the heart of what ails so much advocacy, whether it be against the war industry or for an end to climate change. This would be an inability, or a refusal, to plainly call things for what they are, for fear of losing the “ear” of governments who are all too happy to appear democratic by “consulting,” all the while going ahead with their original plans. This is indeed the PR job being shovelled at Canadians who were tired of not being heard by Harper. Trudeau has promised he will listen, but there is no guarantee he will act on what he hears.

In the Berrigan review of this tome on nuclear weapons, he writes that:

“[O]ne can imagine certain academics, scientists, researchers…soberly assessing matters, assembling a volume whose chapters would read like this (if I may adapt from “The Road to Peace)” “Auschwitz and the “Possibilities” (quotes mine) of No More Auschwitzes; A Mad Mad World: The Evolution of Auschwitz Strategies; How Our Vision of Auschwitz has Changed; Verification of Auschwitz: Promise, Politics, and Prospects; Canada’s Auschwitz Policy: redefining the Achievable; New Approaches to Auschwitz. But perhaps the point is something else. Certain unquenched Canadian spirits, deciding simply that Auschwitz had no conceivable right to pollute the human scene, might ‘break and enter’ the vile place, rendering it at least symbolically inoperative. That story, no figment, lies outside the book in question. Outside the law, it goes without saying. Outside true history, and the blessing of the unborn? Perhaps not.”

That reference to breaking and entering came out of Berrigan’s own experience, whether during draft board raids (in which hundreds of people, many of them Catholic priests and nuns, invaded U.S. government offices and destroyed almost 1 million draft files with homemade napalm) or as part of the Ploughshares movement, in which nuclear weapons and warplanes have been symbolically disarmed with hammers and blood, beating swords into ploughshares.

Berrigan’s point is rendered clear enough: by using the government’s official language, we dehumanize and decontextualize what is going on, erasing the victims at all ends of the weapons process, whether they be those who suffer at home for want of social spending or those who live and die under the bombs once they are “delivered” overseas.

An absolute refusal to co-operate

On May 25, the very first absolute, complete refusal to comply with any aspect of the current Saudi arms deal (and the idea that it is OK to export killer weapons to some nations but not others) took place when eight members of Homes not Bombs and Christian Peacemaker Teams entered the Global Affairs edifice in downtown Ottawa and, after unfurling a banner, simply refused to move. Despite repeated entreaties to leave and demonstrate on the street, they refused to do so until Dion cancelled the deal and opened a dialogue on ending the arms trade once and for all. Three were arrested and will face trial later this year. Mr. Dion can expect a subpoena.

While ending the weapons trade is a multifaceted campaign that requires work at all levels, hopefully that work can proceed by refusing to accept the assumptions of the Undershafts of the world. Opposition to Canadian military spending is difficult to muster in a culture that so idolizes the War Dept. and buys its noble aims propaganda. Hence, many groups fashion their approach to the issue based on tinkering with the spending or shifting some resources from the air force to the navy (the Jack Layton approach) without recognizing that if love really is better than hate, as so many MPs are wont to be saying these days, then investments in an institution based on murder is certainly not a good route for conflict resolution.

Decades upon decades of buying into the idea of arms control (instead of disarmament) have left us at a point where the most recent Global Peace Index indicates the world is increasingly a less peaceful place, with the gap between those countries insulated from war versus those suffering through violent conflict continuing to widen:

“The world continues to spend enormous amounts on creating and containing violence and little on building peace. The economic impact of violence on the global economy in 2015 was $13.6 trillion in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms… or $1,876 for every person in the world.”

Which brings us back to the immediate problem. The self-proclaimed “feminist” in the PMO who is selling $15 billion worth of weapons to arm Saudi misogyny is eagerly perusing the latest in bomb-dropping killer aircraft, Super Hornets that will split the eardrums of overseas children, rip their legs off, blow apart the faces of their mothers, demolish their schools and places of worship, poison their land and water, and permanently scar countless people for life.

Trudeau’s killer priorities

This is the priority for Trudeau, and many will accept it because it’s coming from the nice guy who isn’t Harper. At home, those who will be hurt by the purchase are many. Each Super Hornet will cost approximately $100 million, in addition to the ongoing costs of fuel (and the outrageous contribution the military continues to make to climate change), maintenance and upgrades that provide even niftier means of murdering people.

What could we use with each $100 million spent on Super Hornets? Some 4,000 students could attend university for four years for free. Some 400 affordable hosing units could be built. Over 6,563 free, year-round child-care spaces would open up. The price of Two Super Hornets would meet the funding gap that Cindy Blackstock identified as missing for First Nations children in Budget 2016. The price of one Hornet is three times what the Trudeau government has committed annually to meeting the mental health needs of Indigenous youth.

Warplanes of any type and variety are offensive by nature. Their use is in violation of the Nuremberg Principles (which prohibits “Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression) as well as the Kellogg-Briand Pact (a.k.a. the Treaty Providing for the Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy, signed by Canada in 1929), in which:

“[T]he high contracting parties solemnly declare in the names of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another….The High Contracting Parties agree that the settlement or solution of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them, shall never be sought except by pacific means.”

Purchase of warplanes, in addition to the countless tens of billions spent annually on warfare (and the planned $26 billion in warships) stand Canada in contravention to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which guarantees all people an adequate standard of living, “including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions…. the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” Canada cannot meet the huge need for mental health services, environmental clean-up, and income equality measures while it continues to make war spending its highest use of federal discretionary funds.

While Canada undergoes a summertime “review” of War Dept. priorities, it provides us with an opportunity not to play the arms control game, but to ask serious questions about why we continue to pump untold capital into an institution that — while no doubt peopled with many good folks who have good intentions — serves no truly useful social purpose. We don’t need heavily armed people to help with flood relief or to stop forest fires. Rescue at sea can be conducted by ships and planes that are not armed to the teeth.

What helps, as a step forward, is to name things for what they are. Writing while underground and always staying one step ahead of the massive FBI manhunt for a man who committed a crime of peace, in 1970, Father Daniel Berrigan, in an open letter to other war resisters then underground, put it thusly: “When madness is the acceptable public state of mind, we’re all in danger… for madness is an infection in the air. And I submit that we all breathe the infection and that the movement has at times been sickened by it too … In or out of the military, in or out of the movement, it seems to me that we had best call things by their name, and the name of this thing, it seems to me, is the death game, no matter where it appears.”

Perhaps the best way to end the death game is to stop playing along with it.

Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. ‘national security’ profiling for many years.

Photo: Jamie McCaffrey/flickr

 

Health-Care Reform Could Kill the GOP December 6, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Health, Political Commentary.
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“…for most of my lifetime, prominent Democratic leaders have been chucking liberalism itself for the sake of immediate tactical gain.”

This is a quote from the article posted below that appeared in the Huffington Post.  Although the article focuses on the issue of universal health care, it raises much wider issues.  After one reads the article, one cannot help but asking the question: Why is this the case?  (Why does the right tend to implement its agenda when elected to government, while the left has a marked tendency to waffle and back track?)

My comments continue after the article.

 

Huffington Post, December 3, 2008

 Thomas Frank

 Can policy be both wise and aggressively partisan? Ask any Republican worth his salt and the answer will be an unequivocal yes. Ask a Democrat of the respectable Beltway variety and he will twist himself into a pretzel denying it.

For decades Republicans have made policy with a higher purpose in mind: to solidify the GOP base or to damage the institutions and movements aligned with the other side. One of their fondest slogans is “Defund the Left,” and under that banner they have attacked labor unions and trial lawyers and tried to sever the links between the lobbying industry and the Democratic Party. Consider as well their long-cherished dreams of privatizing Social Security, which would make Wall Street, instead of Washington, the protector of our beloved seniors. Or their larger effort to demonstrate, by means of egregious misrule, that government is incapable of delivering the most basic services.

That these were all disastrous policies made no difference: The goal was to use state power to achieve lasting victory for the ideas of the right.

On the other side of the political fence, strategic moves of this kind are fairly rare. Instead, for most of my lifetime, prominent Democratic leaders have been chucking liberalism itself for the sake of immediate tactical gain.

Former President Bill Clinton, who is widely regarded as a political mastermind, may have sounded like a traditional liberal at the beginning of his term in office. But what ultimately defined his presidency was his amazing pliability on matters of principle. His most memorable innovation was “triangulating” between his own party and the right, his most famous speech declared and end to “the era of big government,” his most consequential policy move was to cement the consensus on deregulation and free trade, and many of his boldest stands were taken against his own party.

The results were not pretty, either for the Democrats or for the nation.

Still, conservatives have always dreaded the day that Democrats discover (or rediscover) that there is a happy political synergy between delivering liberal economic reforms and building the liberal movement. The classic statement of this fear is a famous memo that Bill Kristol wrote in 1993, when he had just started out as a political strategist and the Clinton administration was preparing to propose some version of national health care.

“The plan should not be amended; it should be erased,” Mr. Kristol advised the GOP. And not merely because Mr. Clinton’s scheme was (in Mr. Kristol’s view) bad policy, but because “it will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests.”

Historian Rick Perlstein suggests that this memo is “the skeleton key to understanding modern American politics” because it opens up a fundamental conservative anxiety: “If the Democrats succeed in redistributing economic power, we’re screwed.”

In the Clinton years, of course, it was the Republicans who succeeded. And the Democrats’ failure — the failure to deliver national health care that is, not the act of proposing national health care — was a crucial element, in Mr. Perlstein’s view, in the Republican Revolution of 1994. Assessing the accomplishments of the “party of the people” after those first months of Clintonism, middle-class Americans were left with what? A big helping of Nafta. Mmm-mmm.

Fourteen years later, we find ourselves at the same point in the political debate, with a Democratic president-elect promising to deliver some variety of health-care reform. And, like a cuckoo emerging from a clock, Mr. Kristol’s old refrain is promptly taken up by a new chorus. “Blocking Obama’s Health Plan Is Key to the GOP’s Survival,” proclaims the headline of a November blog post by Michael F. Cannon, the libertarian Cato Institute’s director of Health Policy Studies. His argument, stitched together from other blog posts, is pretty much the same as Mr. Kristol’s in 1993. Any kind of national medical program would be so powerfully attractive to working-class voters that it would shift the tectonic plates of the nation’s politics. Therefore, such a program must be stopped.

Liberal that I am, I support health-care reform on its merits alone. My liberal blood boils, for example, when I read that half of the personal bankruptcies in this country are brought on, in part, by medical expenses. And my liberal soul is soothed to find that an enormous majority of my fellow citizens agree, in general terms, with my views on this subject.

But it pleases me even more to think that the conservatives’ nightmare of permanent defeat might come true simply if Democrats do the right thing. No, health-care reform isn’t as strategically diabolical as, say, the K Street Project. It involves only the most straightforward politics: good government stepping in to heal an ancient, festering wound. But if by doing this Barack Obama also happens to nullify decades of conservative propaganda, so much the better for all of us.

Thomas Frank’s column, The Tilting Yard, appears every Wednesday at OpinionJournal.com

Continuation of remarks by Roger Hollander:

 The answer to this question (Can policy be both wise and aggressively partisan?) I believe, is both simple and complex.  Complex in its detail with respect to the myriads of forms in which decisions are made in a capitalist democracy; but not that hard to understand in its broadest terms.

Follow the money.

The Republican agenda, again broadly speaking, is very much in tune with the objectives of corporate America, the military-industrial complex, the financial industry, etc; in other words, with capital.  If it goes to extremes, as with the current Cheney/Bush administration, some Republicans may take a longer perspective and believe that it needs to be reined in.  Nevertheless, no one could seriously argue that the Republican Party is much more than a front for organized capital.

Is the Democratic Party then, the opposite, its foil?  Dream on.  Because even in a capitalist democracy the power structure must at times respond to popular demands, the Democrats have taken the advantage of this by being the repository for such phenomena.  But within strictly defined limits.

Bob Dylan wrote, “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.”  Now I have nothing against money per se, I use it all the time.  It’s one of my best friends.  But what we are talking about here is enormous concentrations of money that exert an influence through campaign contributions and lobbying that cannot possibly be matched by any one or ones who represent the general interest. 

To go back to the original question, “can policy be both wise and aggressively partisan,” if we assume by “wise” that we mean the general interest, than from that perspective the answer in no.  Lobbyists have been referred to as the fourth branch of government.  The metaphor is useful to the extent that it demonstrates the colossal power of corporate and military lobbyists; but in effect the influence of lobbyist permeates all branches of government.  My favourite example of the effective lobbying is the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, which tightened the restrictions regarding doing business with Cuba, and was apparently actually written by staff at Bacardi and passed on the legislators who introduced it.

Of course the most obvious example of the Democratic Party’s winning representation in support of popular sentiment only to renege on its promise is the Iraq War (or, rather, the invasion and occupation of Iraq).  In the 2006 mid-term elections, the Democrats were able to gain control of both Houses of Congress based upon their support of enormous public sentiment for an immediate or prompt withdrawal.  With that power and authority under its Beltway belt, the Democratic Congress proceeded to approve every budget request for the war and went so far as to allow for its escalation, which was thinly disguised by the Orwellian use of the word “surge.”

Thomas Frank, the author of the posted article on which I am commenting, identifies himself as a Liberal.  We all know that the past two decades have been dominated for the most part by Conservative ideas and policies: anti-labor, anti-welfare, anti-environmental protection; pro-war, pro-corporate, pro-rich, etc.  But you wouldn’t know that by looking at the results of polling American voters, which consistently support universal health care, environmental protection, more equitable taxation, etc.; that is, the Liberal agenda!  But the Democratic Party (Clinton 1992-2000; Congress 2006-2008; Obama 2008?????) for a variety of reasons is neither willing nor able to give Americans what we want.

Two factors, not entirely unrelated to “money,” should be mentioned as means by which the general will and interest are thwarted in our capitalist democracy: manipulation through massive spending on public relations and influence bordering on control of the mass media; and manufactured crises or the appropriation of actual crises (this well documented in Naomi Klein’s blockbuster, “The Shock Doctrine”) to scare us into accepting unpleasant medicine.  The current economic crisis is being used, for example, to give Wall Street and its supporters in BOTH parties the opportunity to maintain its advantages while millions of Americans lose their homes and/or their jobs).

In effect the United States is a one party democracy with two branches: the Democrats and the Republicans.  Wikipedia lists 210,000 entries for the word “Republicrat.”  The notion is not original with me.  Look at the political spectrum.  The Republican Party pretty much represents every interest almost to the extreme end on the right side.  On the left side, the distance between the left wing of the Democratic Party (with the exception of a tiny handful such as Dennis Kucinich and Barbara Boxer) and say Ralph Nader (whose policies on the environment, the war, corporate taxation, regulation of the financial industry are virtually congruent with public opinion) and Noam Chomsky – both of whom are no where near to being criminally mendacious or as irresponsibly and ludicrously extremist as the Bill O’Reillys and Rush Limbaughs – is gaping.

Going back to the money, Barack Obama has tried to create the illusion that his massive campaign contributions came largely from ordinary Americans making relatively small donations.  While it is true that much of the Obama movement has been fuelled by the enthusiasm of American youth and liberals, and small contributions have been considerable; nevertheless, the bulk of the nearly trillion dollars in his war chest came from similar sources as were traditional for both parties.  Once the band wagon gets rolling, the big boys know when to jump on.

And going back to health care, Canada provides an excellent example of the thesis stated by Thomas Frank.  In 1942, Tommy Douglas was elected Premier of the Province of Saskatchewan, and introduced the first democratic socialist government in North America.  In 1962 Saskatchewan, after a “fight to the death” with the North American medical establishment and the provinces’ physicians, introduced universal health care, another first for the western hemisphere.

In that same year, a Conservative (!) Prime Minister of Canada, John Diefenbaker, established a Royal Commission to study health care in the country, and that Commission, headed by a former Supreme Court Judge, Emmett Hall, recommended nationwide adoption of Saskatchewan’s model of public health insurance, which led to the introduction and passage of the Canada Health Act in 1966 under a minority Liberal government, headed by Lester B. Pearson.  Thus Canada became the only country in the Americas, apart from Cuba, to offer its citizens universal health care.  And it did so under the political pressures that were a consequence of Saskatchewan’s successful and enormously popular and socially beneficial initiative.

It is also interesting to compare the results of leftist governments coming to power via democratic election versus those coming to power via revolution.  I have not made a comprehensive study of this, but will just name some examples.  In Europe, in the second half of the last century, two avowedly socialist governments came to power in France (under François Mitterrand) and Greece (under Andreas Papandreou).  Neither of the two governments were able (or willing) to deliver on their promises from the standpoint of either domestic or foreign policy.

On the other side of the ledger, during roughly the same time period two socialist governments came to power in the Americas though armed revolution: the July 26 Movement (under Fidel Castro) in Cuba, and the Sandinistas (under Daniel Ortega) in Nicaragua.  In the early years of both revolutions, their governments made huge inroads in eliminating illiteracy and in introducing free education (in Cuba up to and including university level studies) and universal health care, along with other progressive social programs.  Although the Cuban government has ossified into a Stalinist style dictatorship (though not nearly as brutal) and had to withstand the hardships imposed by the US blockade, it has been able to maintain these social programs.  In Nicaragua, the Sandinista government was seriously disabled by the US supported Contras.  The major targets of their terrorist attacks incidentally, were schools and clinics.  It lost power in a democratic election and recently has regained it.

I’m not saying that these examples necessarily prove anything, they are anecdotal , but I think it is worth pondering.

The example with which I am personally most familiar has to do with the Province of Ontario in Canada, where I resided for many years and where I served on the Municipal Council of Metropolitan Toronto as a elected Councillor for seven years.  In 1990 the New Democratic Party (NDP), which originally considered it socialist, but over the years evolved into a non-socialist leftist social democratic opposition, won a large majority in the provincial parliament and its leader, Bob Rae, became Premier of Ontario.  

The very first thing that Rae did upon being inaugurated was to travel to New York and speak on Wall Street to assure that they had no fears from his government.  Although his government was mildly progressive in some areas (a large percentage of women in the cabinet, some environmental protection), on the whole it could not be distinguished from traditional Liberal or Conservative governments when it came to protecting corporate interests and other instruments of capitalist control (policing, for example, where the Rae government failed to implement effective civilian oversight). It’s most notorious legislation was blatantly anti-labor.  It introduced what it called the “social contract” for government workers, a measure whereby they could accept voluntary roll backs or the government would do it for them.

Ironically, the Rae government was attacked viciously by the right and the corporate media as if it had in fact introduced a democratic socialist progressive policy agenda.  It was soundly defeated after a single term in office despite its efforts to appease capital.  It may as well have implemented its “radical” platform and left the province with a progressive legacy.  Instead,the Rae government was replaced by the government of Conservative Mike Harris, who did not hesitate to keep his promises to deregulate, privatize, and drastically reduce social and environmental programs.  He left office in disgrace, but his legacy remains.  Not only that, his major advisors and cabinet members are now effectively in charge of the Conservative government of Canada under Stephen Harper, another rightist who more or less “keeps his word” when it comes to his regressive policies on labor, social programs, taxes, environmental protection, etc.

A final and unpleasant irony.  One of the major arguments coming from the right when progressive measures are on the table is that such things as taxing business or increasing government spending on social programs (which involves more taxation) have the effect of driving business out of the jurisdiction.  If we increase corporate taxes or increase costly benefits and wages in X state or Y province, business will abandon them and move elsewhere.

When the Woodrow Lloyd (successor to Tommy Douglas) government introduced universal health care before the Saskatchewan parliament in 1962, the right and the medical establishment went ballistic.  Saskatchewan doctors went on strike and threatened to leave the province.  The opposition used this to play on latent racism by raising the specter of having to be attended to by “foreign” doctors, who would be brought to the province to replace the good White Saskatchewan docs.

Of course, as we have seen, exactly the opposite occurred.  When the general public in one jurisdiction can see that progressive social programs can actually work in another, it puts enormous pressure on their governments to act in a similar way.  No political party, no matter how far to the right, would dare suggest that the Canada Health Act be repealed (although they do their best to hack away at it whenever they get the chance).

Those of us from the Vietnam era remember the phrase “domino effect.”  It was used to frighten Americans into believing that if Vietnam remained a Communist state, all of Asia (if not the entire world) would follow.  In this case it was a bogus argument, but as the Republicans seem to be well aware, the Democrats actually being able to achieve a workable universal health care plan for the country could cause other dominos to fall (Kyoto, disarmament, affordable higher education, etc.) and undermine what the Republicans have so laboriously built up in the way of firewalls against progressive domestic and foreign policy. This “Chicken Little” strategy along with the enormous lobbying influence on both parties of the AMA and the private health insurance industry (of whom Hillary Clinton had become the major beneficiary in the Senate) is what Barack Obama and his Democratic Congress has to face if they are serious about universal single payer health care.  Place you bets.

A final word about universal health care.  Plans that involve the Byzantine network of private health insurance are probably doomed to failure once in operation for a variety of reasons not the least of which is cost and unworkable bureaucracy.  The weakness of existing single payer health plans such as that of Canada is that, while the coverage is “socialized,” the costs remain private.  In Canada the government negotiates with the Medical Association on a schedule of fees, but cost containment remains a serious problem.  In Canada drugs and dental care are not covered.  In the US, when the drug benefit was introduced to Medicare, it specifically prohibited the government from negotiation with the pharmaceutical industry for lower prices.  In Great Britain, where the National Health Service represents genuine “socialized” medicine in that it is government “owned and operated,” pressures to limit services in order to contain costs persist, of course, because costs are directly related to taxation. 

This takes us to the question of the role of the state in a capitalist society and what might things be like if and when capitalism were replaced with genuine democratic socialism, a minor issue but one which I will leave for future discussion.