Despite hopes for socio-economic and cultural progress with the election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, women in Canada have a long way to go before they reach de facto equality with men. Canadian women are paid an average of 72 cents for every dollar earned by men, but there is another sinister way in which society is systematically undermining women’s attempts to gain economic independence and equality.

It’s called Pink Pricing.

Pink Pricing is the commercial practice of dressing products up to look like they’re made to suit women’s needs so that companies can charge more for them.

The practice is brutally common, and it’s bullshit.

Don’t believe me?

Go shopping.

Unless we’re talking bras, dresses, and makeup (not saying that men don’t wear makeup, just saying it’s usually worn by women), and clothing items specifically designed to fit a woman’s shape, there is NO reason to pay more for items we all use regardless of gender identity.

Take deodorant.

Ingredient for ingredient, there is little difference between men and women’s deodorants. In spite of this, men will get about 85 grams of deodorant for the price of a woman’s deodorant containing half that amount of product.

What’s even sadder is that studies have shown that while only nine chemicals cover up the scent of male BO, there are twenty five chemicals that cover up the scent of female sweat. Theoretically it would make more sense for companies to charge men more for deodorant not less, but they don’t. Instead, they court female consumers with baby powder and gardenia scents and pretty packaging so they can charge more for less.

Save your money and buy men’s deodorant. Nobody will sniff your armpits long enough to notice the difference.

Razors are another great example. Women are charged more for razors that do the exact same thing as a man’s razor. The price difference is covered up by pretty colours and the lure of fancy moisturizing ingredients on or around the blades.

Here’s a wakeup call: men use razors on their FACES. If they’re safe to use on the sensitive skin of a man’s face, they’re safe to use on a woman’s body, and chances are that most women own enough moisturizers they can use to make up for the missing moisture strip.

T-shirts, jogging pants, and hoodies are another way companies steal from women’s already meager salaries.

Unless you have a model’s body, most women’s athletic wear isn’t going to fit comfortably, no matter the size. Men’s items are cheaper, come in more accommodating sizes, and do double duty as they’re comfortable to nap or work out in. All you need to do is buy smaller sizes.

Love women’s tees? Take a small or extra small man’s T-shirt and a pair of scissors and go on Youtube. There are TONS of tutorials on how to make men’s T-shirts fit a woman’s body.

Face Cream is probably the biggest gendered price gouge of them all. Despite dermatologist after dermatologist denouncing the beauty industry for false promises regarding anti-aging products, women still spend hundreds of dollars on creams and serums that promise to fight the signs of aging.

A random search on revealed anti-aging creams that range in price from nine dollars to upwards of two hundred forty dollars an ounce! For those of you who think these things actually work, please accept the pity of all of us looking younger for cheap.

The only things that are going to affect how you age are genetics and proper skin care and nutrition.

What counts as proper skin care?

Soap, moisturizer, and sunscreen, that’s all. Wash your face, moisturize it, and protect it from the sun. You don’t need fancy soap or cream to pull this off. You can get a bar of Dove brand soap for as little as three dollars and twenty five cents and a bottle or jar of face cream with SPF that will last at least a month and cost you only ten or fifteen bucks.

If you have sensitive skin fear not, the cheaper brands also carry hypoallergenic variations. People with acne should speak to a dermatologist before blowing their paycheck on products that may do more harm than good.

Want a cheap makeup remover? Throw out your micellar waters and cleansing oils – or use them up so the money isn’t wasted and never buy them again. A tub of Vaseline costs a fraction of the price and does the job just fine.

Then there’s sleepwear.

Unless you’re looking to get laid on a given night you don’t need to spend ridiculous amounts of money on something you’re going to sleep in. Lingerie is one thing, comfortable functional sleepwear is another.

You could always sleep in the nude but if you don’t feel comfortable doing that feel free to invest in a pair of men’s pajamas or a man’s T-shirt and boxers for about five bucks each. While prices vary, women will still pay at least two bucks more for a pajama set coloured and cut to suit their alleged tastes. Don’t waste your money.

Companies have been aiding and abetting attempts to undermine women’s financial independence. They do this by telling us a product is really for us when it’s really the same thing they sell to men with different packaging. This chips away at our hard-earned unequal pay, thus tipping the scales against us.

On this International Women’s Day pledge to make companies accountable for pink pricing by refusing to buy into it.

A boycott when done right sends a powerful message.

On this International Women’s Day let this be the message: UNTIL YOU PAY US RIGHT, WE WON’T PAY MORE FOR LESS!

* Featured image kropekk_pl via Pixabay Creative Commons

Guaranteed Minimum Income is always a sweet spot for “progressives” and left-wingers throughout the world. Its mere enunciation rings like poetic justice to the ears of some. Once the frantic racket mutes, and you actually take a better look at the current PLQ plan here in Quebec and most Universal Guaranteed Income implementation plans throughout the world, the objectives become clear.

It would be odd for an ultra neoliberal ideologue such as Philippe Couillard to all of a sudden declare a new-found love of social justice and endorse “commie” policies such as the redistribution of wealth. The practitioners of the shock doctrine à la Québecoise haven’t renounced prescriptions yet. Quite to the contrary Universal Guaranteed Income is but their latest pain-killer.

Universal Guaranteed Income has become dogma, promoted as a monolithic vaguely defined concept. Universal Guaranteed Income is good, first dogma. Second, it will reduce inequality within society. Third it will allow to a certain extent a decommodification of certain aspect of life. Our concept of time with regards to labor will be transformed and thus guaranteed minimum income has the amazing power to deconstruct our entire rapport with value, growth, production and consummation.

All of these things are true, but they must be put into perspective. Guaranteed Minimum Income is a tool, not the spearhead of a movement designed to take certain aspects of life out of the realm of the market.

(l-r) Premier Couillard and François Blais the new Employment and Social Solidarity Minister who will spearhead this project
(l-r) Premier Couillard and François Blais the new Employment and Social Solidarity Minister who will spearhead this project

Our current concept of production and value stems from the Ricardian theory put forward by 19th Century classical economist David Ricardo. It is based on time. Only labor can produce value and value is merely a crystallization of the labor time put into production. Needless to say this is an oversimplification of an idea that has been at the heart of political economy since its inception.

The principal premise of a Basic Income is that it would eliminate two important pillars of the capitalistic framework. First it would end the “need” to work, if every individual was attributed with a certain sum of purchasing power, enough to reproduce himself comfortably, no individual would be forced to work to feed himself. Secondly it would completely alter our notion of value and the productive forces, coercive powers that have for conceptual foundation that specific notion of value.

And yet one must wonder why would a neoliberal government be inclined to accept such an erosion of everything that is at its core and guiding principals? Because neoliberal theory has taken the utopia of a Guaranteed Minimum Income, altered it and sculpted it into the spearhead of a new phase of an in depth re-engineering of the state.

The blueprint is the following:

Guaranteed Minimum Income is put forward as a mechanism for the betterment of society, the abolition of poverty and all those good things. In reality, though, it actually serves the purpose of a complete commodification of the last aspect of society that are outside of the realm of the market.

In the book the Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State authored by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, a demagogic masterpiece and an anti-democratic pamphlet of reactionary social engineering,  Guaranteed Minimum Income joins privatization of public services and the transformation of universal health care and education into voucher systems as a way to reduce the state.

Guaranteed Minimum Income for Couillard & Co is a neoclassical economics wet dream. Each actor becomes its own isolated unit, then Guaranteed Minimum Income is used as an argument to slash social programs and to privatize large sectors of society, opening-up new parts of human life to the logic of the market.

In an age where the market needs expansion to bypass its internal contradictions, the dynamic of austerity is the avant-garde of this revolution, breaking down the barriers erected to ensure that society and not the market would still have some semblance of prevalence. Karl Polanyi argued that the market was in a struggle against society itself. To prevail, the market needed to disembed itself from society and control politics as well as society’s effect on its environment.

A striking parallel to this new liberal ideal of Guaranteed Minimum Income is the system that was put in place in reaction to the novice brutality of a nascent market system, the Speenhamland reforms. They were designed to keep rural wages artificially high in 19th century England. One of Polanyi’s most ardent critiques of the system was that it not only allowed the Bourgeois and corporate class to rob, pillage and abundantly privatize rural communities, but it also gave a direct subsidy from the government to private interests to do so.

Guaranteed Minimum Income, within the current dynamic, will be the same. It will be used as an argument to privatize galore, to introduce the user-payer notions into every last bastion of resistance towards commodification including health-care, education and more.

But most importantly it will silence the voices that are calling for wealth redistribution, equity and economic reparations. The notion of class, of inequality not only with the realm of economic capital but in heritage and assets and holdings, in cultural capital etc… will never take the spotlight. Guaranteed Minimum Income becomes the perfect mechanism to silence a powerful movement calling for the prevalence of the society over the individual, of the political over the market, of the people over the market, of uncomodifying every aspect of life, of the embedding of the market in society and not the other way around.

The biggest illusion of the Basic Income psychosis is that the ruling neoliberal consensus driven by the cult of profit would benevolently have a change of heart and embrace socialism. Social gains in any shape or form aren’t given, they are taken.

Equality and equity entail a struggle, protests, strikes, occupations, the creation of networks outside of the logic of the market. We will build our future, it won’t be dictated to us or handed down, crumbs from the throne.

A luta continua,


We are now entering the terminal stage of austerity, a disease whose symptoms are most acute and visible in Greece. Within the past few weeks, a macabre cortege of politicians, economists, bureaucrats and technocrats have tried in every way possible to asphyxiate any sign of recovery and nullify any sentiment of hope and optimism within the Greek people. The degenerate disease has spread to such a degree that even the antibodies, the last democratic pulsations, ultimate rampart of health, attempting to salvage a thread of dignity within a sea of humiliation, have been declared by the prognostics of the charlatans of high-finance as viruses that must be eliminated.

Today as Greeks turn to the polls, with the ponderous task of breaking with the dictum of austerity, never has the real purpose of such an ideology been as clear. No matter what the outcome of the Sunday referendum vote might be, the process in itself has already accomplished a great deed, that of debunking the mysticism of austerity.

It’s like the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Only the technicians of austerity think that their rhetorical verses still charm, when in fact the rhetoric of austerity is naked.

In the past week, the incompatibility of the democratic process with austerity was once again unveiled for all to see. First there were the calls from the European elite that a referendum was unreasonable.Then there were direct calls for regime change.

It has been a understood rule, since the onset of the 2008 crisis, that austerity and democracy don’t mesh, that austerity is fundamentally incompatible with democratic proceedings and the two are mutually exclusive. Through the intransigent stance of the Eurogroup, i.e the Troika, austerity has revealed itself to be more of a means than an end.

The Greek Crisis, the imposing of austerity by the world financial institutions, has never been about “debt” or the extreme moral necessity of repayment for the well-being of the global financial system. Austerity in itself is void, it services a specific purpose: creating a rhetorical and moral leverage for the restructuring of the societies in which it’s applied.

Austerity in Greece isn’t merely an economic doctrine, serving a specific economic purpose, but a means to justify the usurping of democracy, the transfer of the common wealth into the private sector through privatizations, the militarization of police forces and socially conservatives policies in the name of budget priorities and adjustments.  Austerity is an ideology as per the premise of The Fourth Revolution written by Woolderidge & Micklethwait as a “restructuring of the state,” not a downsizing of it.

As Lenin analysed the world of 1917, he concluded that imperialism was the highest form of capitalism, its final stage in many ways. Lenin identified that imperialism was a by-product of capitalism, that it could only exist as an ideology as an extension, as a rhetorical tool at the service of capitalism, of the “liberalization” of the markets i.e the forced creation of new markets through capitalism.

Within the analytical framework put forward by Lenin, ideologies that appear to be situated outside of capitalism such as nationalism, imperialism, colonialism, are actually fundamentally integrated into the capitalist dynamic. At the time (just like today), imperialism was an ideology that mobilized a humanist rhetoric to justify its utter brutality. The commercial and financial elites of the time used the Gun Boat Policy and delusional humanistic principles of the burden of the white man to subjugate and exploit most of the world.

What imperialism was for capitalism yesterday, austerity is for capitalism today. The so-called “need to civilize” of the time is called “the need to balance budgets” today.

Austerity is the highest form of capitalism we know today, a sort of necrophilic vampirism, an ideology that promotes capitalism in its purest form. But “purity” entails fragility.

At this point, given the current disposition of forces, the current rapport of forces, the Greek referendum appears as the shattering moment of this porcelain ideology. The victory of the OXI camp would call into question the legitimacy of the moral premises of austerity. Austerity as an ideology, such as imperialism, only exists because of the belief that people give to the moral premises that lay at its foundation.

The Greek people have the awesome opportunity to shatter the glass castle of austerity. But all in all, it’s only a matter of time until people see through the mirage. In that light, we can found a new moral foundation in which people trump profit.

* Featured image by Ggia via WikiMedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons

As Greece rejoiced with the victory of SYRIZA, a coalition of “radical” left-wing parties ranging from Maoists to Trotskyists to everything in between, calling it the annunciation of the end of the terrifying reign of austerity, the most impoverished Venezuelans were ransacking grocery stories in the hopes that they would stock-up just enough to sustain themselves through the next neo-liberal heist. Meanwhile, Argentinians were holding up the floodgates withstanding as much as they could the latest economical onslaught sponsored by Wall Street hedge funds.

Even though the glowing hope emanating from Athens might have seemed contagious on the evening of January 25th, one red-string of flowing open arteries, the catastrophic aftermath of an attempted neo-liberal suicide, ran through Buenos Aires, Caracas and Athens, bonding them together. It seems as though the “war on terror” is a perfect distraction from the “war of terror” that the free world is waging against the democratic aspirations of people throughout the globe. Here illustrated are three contemporary examples: Greece, Venezuela and Argentina. This obviously isn’t an exhaustive study of all of the cases.

Greece Fights Back


The electoral success of SYRIZA, even though a foreseen outcome, sent an electro-shock throughout the European continent. It was the proof that what had been deemed as dangerous, radical and suicidal could actually work. A program that was deemed to be the annunciation of the apocalypse, a program that dared to put human development over debt reduction and paying off interest, could actually be a winning motion!

“Scandalous” and “outrageous” must of been the first words to come to mind at the hedge-funds, the European Central Bank (ECB) and among Srasbourg technocrats when news of SYRIZA’s overwhelming victory hit. For the first few days, many within the mainstream media were under the illusion that somehow SYRIZA’s radical demands could be tamed. The strategy of containment that was prevalent for the past year, since the neo-liberal forces in Greece had started faltering, was at its apogee: “SYRIZA’s now in government will come to see the light, they will understand the logic of austerity, why austerity is necessary.”

And for the first week of SYRIZA governance, many on the left had that fear; the fear that SYRIZA under piling pressure might fall on their own sword, might be a victim, as are so many, of their own failed dreams. But they haven’t and it looks as if the coalition government lead by SYRIZA will stop at no lengths to bury once and for all the Troika. The first bombs, the first economical terrorist attacks to destabilize the newly elected government have landed on the Greek capital.

The War on Venezuela’s Poor

During that time while the world was engulfed in their war against terror a.k.a the war against ISIS, the “free world” of free markets and free trade was waging a war of terror. In Caracas, the war against the Bolivarian revolution was initiated (in the same manner the war against SYRIZA) on the night of Hugo Chavez’s election. Since Hugo Chavez’s death and the ascension of Maduro, his dauphin, to power, domestic neo-liberal elites with the help of their CIA foreign counterparts have declared an all out war on the most impoverished sections of the Venezuelan population.

Those who have directly benefited the most from the social transformation that started with the Bolivarian revolution and those who have been at the avant-garde of the social transformations are now under attack. For the past year, inflation has been soaring, stock markets such as Wall Street have been carpet bombing the Venezuelan domestic market and multinational corporations have been withholding basic goods in an attempt to make prices soar and turn the most in need against the government.

Argentina’s Debt Crisis

What is going on in Caracas is very similar to what happened in Argentina during their “debt-crisis”, their refusal to pay back a debt that was forced upon them by the IMF, the World Bank and their puppets within the Argentine military junta. Weren’t those the days, when neo-liberal austerity measures could be imposed with lethal force!

In Argentina’s case a vulture fund had set Argentina in its cross-hairs, buying its unsolvable debt knowing full well that Argentina had no intention to pay it. They set about strangling and bombarding the country in every economical sense of the term, until it did!

Argentina has withstood the economic assaults that have been made against it, for the time being, but its people have also paid the price. Cuba wasn’t the only country under embargo in Latin America from 1998 to 2002, Argentina, even though no media would report it, was defacto under economic embargo. Argentina, in many ways, had to go into autarky mode for the past few years, because of the pariah label that has been given to the country by the big institutions of deregulation, the IMF, the WTO, the World Bank. That’s the price to pay, I guess, for being counter current.

Austerity’s Self-Destruction

And this is why SYRIZA’s victory is truly groundbreaking, because the pariahs are making inroads into the epicenter of global capitalism. Like a gregarious disease, neo-liberalism and its ultimate and most violent form austerity, have bread the seeds of their own self-destruction. Within this self-destruction comes the opportunity, through revolt, to refute the system of values and principles and to rebuild, to change the behavior, to change the foundations of society.

Oedipus, in the words of Gilles Deleuze, is the norm, society, capitalism breeds schizophrenia, breeds suicidal tendencies, but beyond that codifies them and normifies them. Thus austerity becomes the norm. Anything outside of the box of austerity is radical and dangerous, even though the only thing in the world that is radical today is the radically limitless ascension of greed in every sphere of public life.

In these times of economic terrorism we must stand with those that have refuted the norm. To create a new norm, we must bond with them. Capitalism and austerity validity are the first and foremost mental blocks. The converts of radical capitalism are a zealous bunch and are growing at a rapid pace, the threat of neo-liberalization is eminent. If we we want to win the war against terror we must end the capitalist war of terror first!

It might seem incredible, even improbable, but as I write this article right now there’s a no-fly zone over an American town. It’s rarely stated in the mainstream media, it’s pretty much under the wraps. Maybe because the term ‘no-fly zone’ has been linked for the past few years with some of the world’s worst conflicts such as Libya, Syria and Ukraine. This might hit the point home for the regular Joe watching the news that a suburb by the name of Ferguson in Missouri is undergoing an occupation – there are no other words to describe it – worthy of a war zone.

The killing of African-American teenager Michael Brown sparked the massive uprising that has been omnipresent on our TV screens for the past few days. I feel that it’s important to state Michael’s name time and time again, even though by now it has become a household one, because unfortunately too many in the media are either quick to slander him or as quick to try and overlook the fact that an 18 year old African-American has, once again, died at the hands of law enforcement.

Michael BrownIt is important to remember Michael Brown and the exact facts of his story and his short-lived life because recently many within the mainstream media have been trying to drag his name and reputation through the dirt, trying somehow to use the petty crime of the shoplifting some candy and snacks to justify the police’s horrendous crime of killing an unarmed 18 year old pedestrian.

But one thing must be clear: Michael Browns and Trevon Martins, there are hundreds of them, hundreds of martyrs of police enforcement, thousands of victims of police violence and hundreds of thousands of law abiding ‘’citizens’’ whose rights and liberties are trampled by those who supposedly are there to ‘’serve and protect’’ them.

Michael Brown’s shooting isn’t an isolated case, far from it. While, for the sake of his memory, it’s important to remember the individual aspects of the case, it is also important to place this specific case within a broader framework to understand why and how this occurred and what were the underlying forces that instigated such a horrific outcome.

It is only within this broader framework that the details of the shooting, that some would want the general public to forget, become centerpieces to understanding the social and economic discrimination that is paramount. Omitted from much of the ‘reporting from the ground is the institutional racism and the systemic economic inequality which created the space, the breeding grounds for such police brutality.

It’s not a coincidence, unfortunately, that Michael Brown was an African-American youth. It’s not a coincidence that Michael Brown, being an African-American youth, lived in community where an important percentage of people live under the poverty line. It’s not coincidental that a poor African-American youth by the name of Michael Brown was shot seven times in the back, his only crime that he was born on the wrong side of the tracks in the wrong neighborhood.

To disconnect the events that occurred in Ferguson in the past week from a general understanding of the underlying, silently killing, economical violence is to rob the reaction of the inhabitants of Ferguson of any traction, of any righteousness. And to rob the Ferguson riots of any righteousness is to sterilize them, to disassociate them from their primordial political demand, which is equality. At the heart of the Ferguson riots is the struggle for democracy in America.

michael brown shoplifting cnnMany within the right-wing media would like us to believe that ‘’the mob’ – as they so dearly call them – that are looting and burning, confronting the police, were waiting for this moment like some sort of Christmas in July. Somehow in their twisted rhetoric, riots such as these are just occasions to provoke havoc which completely deplete any sympathy we should have for the cause. Although it is undeniable that the majority of Ferguson residences are profoundly shocked and angry at the killing of Michael Brown, seeing things from that sole vantage point doesn’t render justice to their cause, either.

At play here are two diametrically opposed forces, first of all the riots are not directed at the police forces (the individuals behind the riot gear) per say. When interviewed, local residents are very clear in their demands. They won’t be satisfied with just an end to the violence against their youth, they are demanding an end the economic equality which is the main enforcer of police brutality. The police are seen symbolically by the majority of the population of Ferguson as the defenders of status-quo, of a system that is overtly racist, a system that allows such brutality to perpetrated not only in a flash spark of violence like the death of Michael Brown, but on a regular basis.

Media outlets such as Fox News and Sun News here in Canada are right to a certain extent in their coverage of the events. Except they get it wrong when it comes to which side is fighting to uphold the laws and democratic aspirations of the American state and which is looting and burning. Those who have set Ferguson ablaze aren’t the people that live there, rather it’s the ultra-militarized police force that undergoes no checks or balances, that is completely above all of the laws and the constitution, that can violate with all impunity the rights and liberties of common American citizens.

one bullet hashtag
Image: @MediatedReality on Twitter

Fox News, Sun News and the KKK may applaud the ‘”patriot”actions of the brave police officer that shot an unarmed 18 year old seven times in the back, but the true patriots here, the true minutemen, are those that are resisting an occupying army and the unequal and profound corrupt system they enforce. Such a system is the main suspect in the death of Michael Brown, a system which usually doesn’t offer such gruesome spectacles, but does nonetheless kill on a regular basis, not with bullets of steel, but with bullets in the form of green dollar bills.

* Top image: The Daily Banter


In space of a few months the old continent has been rocked by a series of reactionary revolts that have spread like wildfire. Parallel to the rise of neo-fascist elements is an inverse movement: the retreat of the center-left and their embracing of neo-liberal, traditionally center-right policy.

The examples of the debacle of the socialist or social-democratic movement are self-evident, be it the humiliating defeat of the French Socialist Party at the municipal level, the incapacity of the left to govern in Italy, the defeat of the German social-democrats for the fourth time in a row or the Labor Party in Britain which is still dealing with the specter of Labor’s past. The once bright red flame of European socialism is but a pale shadow of its former self, a fading pink.

blair brown

For every defeat the left has succumbed to in the past months, it appears that the extreme-right has made leeway. There is much emphasis put on the “rise of neo-fascism” in Eastern Europe or on the Front Nationale, but this movement is a general one. We are seeing the comeback of neo-fascism in countries that in a not very distant past fought tooth and nail to establish a political system that would banish the gloom of fascism forever…  or at least they thought.

In Portugal, Spain and Greece, the countries that not so long ago emancipated themselves from some of the longest and most brutal dictatorships in Europe, the fascist movements, which were their graves before the economic meltdown of 2008 and the austerity measures of these past years, are now reinvigorated. The success of some of these movements translates into political parties with an unprecedented number of seats in their respective political arena, such as Greece’s Golden Dawn.

But something much more unsettling is happening in Europe. The neo-fascist message is getting generalized and some of the extreme-right’s fundamental ideals and principals now flow freely through the main arteries of the European political system.

In the 2012 French presidential election, Nicolas Sarkozy lost the first round mainly because the Front Nationale had succeeded in capitalizing on the disenchantment of certain sections of the right-wing which had previously voted for him. Before the second round, Sarkozy made a final campaign pitch to those further to his right to rally to him in this final duel between himself and François Hollande.

Sarkozy and LePen posters side-by-side during the 2012 French Presidential Election (image
Sarkozy and LePen posters side-by-side during the 2012 French Presidential Election (image

It wasn’t so much the fact that he tried to lure the votes of the Front Nationale, it was the way in which he did it that, in many ways, changed the face of French politics forever. During the final stretch of the campaign, Sarkozy made one simple pitch to the nationalistic, xenophobic, neo-fascist electorate of Marine Lepen at every rally and in every speech he made: “Don’t be ashamed of being a fascist, your values are my values and beyond that the values of the French Republic.”

Now let’s put this in the context of France which still toils to make peace with the demons of WWII. In the context of post-WWII France, the Gaullist movement (of which Union for a Popular Movement UMP is an heir) was one of the firewalls against fascism on the right. Traditionally, the center-right movement was furiously opposed to any form of recognition of the values of neo-fascist movements within French society. That was the most important heritage of the French resistance against fascism which was shattered by Nicolas Sarkozy’s brand of la droite décomplexer.

Unfortunately this is not a trend that is cornered or quarantined in France. It’s a dynamic that fits perfectly within pro-austerity and neo-liberal agendas.

The rise of fascist movements is inherently linked to the development of austerity measures in Europe. Thus to focus solely on the fascist movements which are mainstream and not on the fascist rhetoric and policies that are advanced by parties that “supposedly” are in complete opposition to the fascist ideology is to miss the real “breakthrough” of the extreme-right.

The potency of a political ideology is not how many seats political parties that claim such an ideology gain or lose, but how the rhetoric and the ideals of such a movement influence the political discourse in general. And one thing is clear in Europe and to a certain extent in most of the world: the infatuation of neo-liberalism and austerity with fascism is shifting the center of gravity of the political spectrum towards the right on a daily basis.

For those that would shun this thesis, its factuality is manifest on the European political scene. It’s manifest in the coalitions between neo-liberal forces and neo-fascist forces throughout Europe, it’s tangible in the recuperation of ideals of the far-right by the neo-liberal movement, the most important being the corporatist element of neo-liberalism, which favors a complete laissez-faire attitude towards multinationals and the unrestricted flow of capital.

Corporatism is the centerpiece of many center-right political platforms nowadays. It goes without saying that corporatism is the economic policy at the foundation of fascism. Fascism in politics is completed only by corporatism in economics and this is the point of junction between the neo-liberal and neo-fascist movements.


Unfortunately it seems that the socialist movement is fading into a political landscape that has become color blind. The revolutionary force of austerity is pushed further and further by neo-fascist movements which, in a very paradoxical way, find their source of attraction in the rebuttal of austerity measures, but couldn’t survive outside of the framework of austerity. The socialist movement, which was once a force that wanted to revolutionize the very structure of global capitalism, has become a reactionary force which only acts in reaction to the palpitations of the neo-liberal right.

The only hope that still resides within the European political spectrum is the establishment of a viable left wing alternative in the form of a coalition of the parties of the European Left that have rejected austerity and the rhetoric of neo-liberal populism. With the European elections around the corner, it seems like more than ever the traditional political divide between center-right and center-left is irrelevant and that the European parliament after the upcoming elections will be a true reflection of European society in the wake of austerity: polarized to the extreme.

To those that ask how are we to stop the rise of the neo-fascist movements? The answer is clear: the fight against austerity is a fight against fascism.

A luta continua.

In the past few weeks Venezuela has been shook by violent protests, some say violent repression of peaceful protests. The central notion in every narrative about Venezuela in the past week is violence, so what are the roots of this violence?

Let’s role things back a bit here. When Chavez first assumed the office of president in 1998, the Venezuelan Republic, although lavished with the greatest petroleum reserves on earth, was unable to  offer to half of its people adequate living conditions.

In 1997, the percentage of Venezuelans living under the poverty line was 67%. Thanks to the economic reforms of the Bolivarian Revolution, the percentage was 24.7 in 2011.

Venezuela Protests 2014 (2)

Chavez was elected on the “radical” idea that maybe the wealth generated by the exploitation of natural resources such as petroleum should be more equally redistributed between all walks of Venezuelan society. Thus Chavez launched a campaign to put the profits of the oil to work (the over-dependence of the Bolivarian regime on oil is a valid point of criticism) for the marginalized classes of society, to make sure that the majority of Venezuelans would be lifted out of poverty and the economics of strict subsistence when wealth was surrounding them. Chavez gave a voice to these disenfranchised sections of Venezuelan society.

Chavez created an economic revolution; his administration put full force in breaking down the barriers of social inequality in Venezuela, using the profits of the money-making oil industry to bring electricity and running water to the slums of Caracas and offering universal healthcare to all Venezuelans. Again, extremely “radical” ideas.

In 2002 the Chavez administration decided to take their democratization of the Venezuelan economy to another level through the complete nationalization of Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). This put an end to the concentration of the greatest source of wealth in Venezuela in the hands of a few.

Venezuela Protests 2014 (11)

It goes without saying that those who had benefited from the old way of things were not inclined to accept the coming changes. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was the attempt of the Venezuelan government to implement a redistribution of agricultural land in the country.

75-80% of all land in Venezuela was owned by 5% of the population and 60% of all agricultural land was owned by 2%. The violence to repress the demands of landless campesinos had already claimed 300 lives nation-wide but this wasn’t worthy enough to be news.

Thus in 2002, the business community, big oil multinationals, right-wing media elite and the corporate magnates of Venezuela gave Pedro Carmona, president of the Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce, the presidency on a silver platter, ousting Chavez, despite the fact that he had been duly elected. The Caracas stock exchange hit record levels, all was well…

Little did they expect that 48 hours later, Venezuelans of all walks of life would descended upon the American Embassy where Chavez was held prisoner and bring him back to Miraflores, the presidential palace. Since the coup attempt didn’t work out exactly in the favor of the Venezuelan oligarchy, they decided to do what they do best start an economic war against the Bolivarian regime.

Back to the current context of unrest in Venezuela. The narrative this time is the same: the communist thugs of Chavez and company are forcing an economic dictatorship on the people of Venezuela and to defend their hold on the Venezuelan economy they employ violence.

But who are really the violent ones in this situation? Who has used violence since the time of colonial expansion in Venezuela, exploiting the indigenous population, the poor immigrating farmers, depriving them of their land, racking-in the big profits and letting the rest subsist with what’s left? Surely the same that are the instigators of the violence now.

Venezuela Protests 2014 (8)

Maduro’s project to prevent Venezuelan companies from making more than 30% profit on any product on the market is directly linked to a new chapter of this economic war that has been waged by certain companies within Venezuelan society that have decided to use inflation as a political weapon. But nothing is new here, it’s just part of the never ending struggle for economic democracy aka real democracy and that’s exactly what this so-called revolution (it’s a counter-revolution) wants to prevent.

What is new and despicable in many ways is the fact that this economic war against the Venezuelan people is being carried out under the auspices of a student strike. Here is neo-liberal appropriation at its best: use the tactic that was used by left-wing movements in Chile and here in Quebec as the vehicle for a neo-liberal economic agenda. It’s hard to find the words to express how insulted I am to hear people insinuate that the Quebec or Chilean student strikes and the current Venezuelan student protest are in any way the same thing.

In conclusion, this is a war for democracy as many of the Venezuelan opposition say. This is war for economic democracy. If democracy means that you are entitled to the idea that you have the right to play a role in society, but that right never becomes anything else than symbolic then one’s relationship with democracy is but a platonic love. Be it said also to Leopoldo Lopez, the hero of this media sham, when you promote coups such as the one in 2002 against a democratically elected government, it’s hard to have any credibility when you call for more democracy.

A luta continua!

* photos by Joe Scarangella,

Recently, in the House of Commons, “middle class” has become the favorite buzz word, omnipresent in every debate related near or far to the current state of the Canadian economy. “The middle class is hurting” is an almost daily remark uttered from the Liberal corner of the house as is the question “What is this government doing for the middle class?” Every dip or bounce in the GDP or in economic indicators resuscitates the urge of many parliamentarians to take care of this vital and yet fragile section of Canadian society.

But no one has ever cared to define what middle class means in this day and age. Before claiming to be the champion of the middle class, one has to first identify what the middle class truly is and if the notion of middle class is the same as when the concept was first coined.

The truth is that in many ways the middle class as a sociological entity was born in the post WWII period, built in many ways as a consequence of the Spirit of 45, which is brilliantly portrayed in Ken Loach’s documentary of the same name. This Spirit of 45 was the motor behind a blueprint to sap the economical and social foundations that had bred fascist and extreme right-wing ideologies in the first place.

spirit of 45
Scene from The Spirit of 45

Through communist, socialist, social-democratic forces during the first post-WWII decade, the foundations of the social state were laid: universal public health, universal access to post-secondary education, social insurance and more. This social welfare state is the engine that allowed the development of a new kind of social class which was universally described as the middle class.

This development of capitalism with a human face went hand in hand with the construction of a mass consumerist class and here is where the dichotomy begins. Even though the accession of the middle class was enabled by the construction of a social welfare state, the majority of individuals of the middle class never considered themselves as the product of the social welfare state, or a product at all, because of the lack of class conciseness within the so-called middle class, the middle class never truly existed.

To form a political or social class, one must first identify with the bonding aspects that supposedly connect individuals to one classification or another. So what are the unifying aspects of the middle class in economical, social or political terms? None, if there were some before, they hardly exist today.

Unlike the working class, which is historically united around organized labor movements or expresses its political force through labor parties or the farmers which organized farmer organizations, be they unions, coops or political parties (the NDP is the alliance between those two social groups and political forces), the middle class has never succeeded in organizing around a certain set of values and principles. So the subsequent question is: if the middle class is not a class by definition, what meaning should give to this notion of middle class?

silent majorityOne interesting historical aspect is that the development of the middle class as a notion that is intertwined with the neo-liberal revolution spearheaded by Thatcher and Reagan in the 1980s. At the time, the middle class was used as a synonym for the “silent majority”that was against taxes, against welfare fraud and thus against the social welfare state as a whole, against government in many ways and inherently individualistic, only preoccupied by economic matters. Here taxpayers and middle class are interchangeable. In the Canadian context, in many ways the consequent “common sense revolutions” of Mike Harris in Ontario and of the Reform Party on the federal level used the same rhetoric and couched their legitimacy on the shoulders of an invisible middle class.

Today, global austerity, the tyranny of balanced budgets and growth as an end in and of itself use the same logic and are supposedly championed by the middle class. To be the “champion of the middle class” is to not challenge the reckless economic ideology that is at the root of the global recession despite the hardship of hundreds of thousands of Canadians, the true non-silent majority.

The middle class as a notion is the worst enemy of everyone who in purely economic terms is middle class, in between the affluent sections of society and the disenfranchised.

The motion that we are seeing today is the motion of disenfranchisement of the middle-class as a direct reaction to the advent of modern capitalism. Through austerity policies and the dictatorship of profit and the markets, the social welfare net which had been the motor of the ascension of the middle state is under assault.

There is a complete disconnect between the economical reality of most middle class families today in Canada and the reality portrayed by politicians in the House of Commons. In that sense, the middle class is a complete abstraction, with no ties to reality.

The middle class is anything and everything you want it to be, you can make it say what you want, however you want and when you want it and because it’s unrepresented, without a physical link to everyday reality, it will never contradict you. The Liberal and the Conservative parties fight in a meaningless debate to represent the silent majority of Canadians, the hurting middle class that needs jobs and economic growth, while on the other hand is okay with slashing corporate taxes and hand-outs for multinationals. Really, the middle class is Disneyland for political demagogy, it’s the link that reconciles the irreconcilable.

living wage

The truth of the matter is that today a clear majority of Canadian households barely survive from paycheque to paycheque. In this reality where a living wage is an unforeseeable utopia, a majority of Canadians are indebted to their necks and most of my generation will start their professional careers with an already unhealthy amount of debt and in precarious jobs positions.

This is the reality of the majority of Canadians and these elements constitute the new social class of the 21st century: the precariat.

The middle class of yesterday is the precarious unemployed youth of today, the minimum wage slaves, the young families struggling to provide a standard of living for their children. These are the tens of millions of Canadians that have fear for their future and their financial stability.

The notion of middle class cherished by many politicians is but an abstraction, it superimposes itself upon this dreaded reality with the objective to make it disappear. Forget your real situation, because as long as you considered yourself middle class, trust us and there will be a better tomorrow for you and me.

Little do they know that the prosperity and the growth they talk of created the dismay of the middle class as a tangible reality, as something to look forward to.

Now we are all precarious.

There’s really no other way to put it; Canada Post is being sabotaged. It’s politically expedient for the Tories to do so as recently announced cutbacks to door-to-door mail delivery can be spun as a government effort to modernize an ineffective old crown corporation. Lisa Raitt, the minister responsible for Canada Post, has even gone as far as telling opposition MPs critical of the announced cuts that they need to “get with reality” and then sarcastically welcomed honourable members “to the 21st century.”

The Tories are pitching this as a sensible method to cut costs and return Canada Post to profitability. They further argue that the elimination of mail carriers won’t have any dire effects on Canada Post’s customer service and that community mailboxes are already the norm in most of the country anyways. Further still, the head of Canada Post, a Tory appointee who scrapped previous revenue-generating schemes developed by his Liberal-appointed predecessor, has referred to market research of dubious quality to back up the decision.

It’s ironic. The social media surveys used to justify the government’s position excluded precisely the people who would interact with mail couriers the most. The data’s flawed – Canada Post’s express parcel delivery service is doing just fine.

Moreover, the argument that community mailboxes are already the norm is heavily biased towards those living in small communities and rural areas. Of course door-to-door delivery isn’t practical when neighbours live more than a kilometre away from one another. Cities are a different story altogether. Mail couriers play an important social role in large urban areas. It’s not just outreach to seniors and shut-ins; home mail delivery puts a mass of proud government employees on our city streets throughout the day. Eyes and ears walking past your home while you’re off at work. Call it a kind of social security.

Deepak Chopra

We should question the need of our government agencies and corporations from time to time, and the Conservative argument is an enticing one, no doubt, because it has the appearance of modernity, of cost-effective progress. I would argue it’s the Tory approach to nation-building, but rather than giving us something to work towards, the Harper administration is instead telling us what we no longer need or what appears to be impractical. The promise is paradoxical – economic growth by a thousand social cuts.

But here’s the problem. Cuts don’t lead to growth. Reducing government services serves no one better than before. And waste is almost exclusively gathered at the top, rather than the bottom, of these organizations. It’s not the thousands of unionized jobs that need to be eliminated, it’s corporate-level severance packages and executive compensation schemes for the all-too-often unimaginative and incompetent people chosen by equally unimaginative and incompetent government officials to run our government revenue generators and essential services.

The post office is an essential service, even if less mail is being delivered. If less mail is being delivered then perhaps we don’t need quite as many mail couriers, or perhaps they could work less, but eliminating all home mail delivery (and thousands of jobs) without any plan in place to replace them is so unbelievably careless and unnecessary it leads to believe, sincerely, that we are witnessing an act of sabotage.

Canada Post isn’t failing, it’s being set up to fail.

postal bank canada
Postal banking? (image Mike Palecek via Facebook)

The purported reason for the cuts, that the post office needs to be ‘returned’ to profitability is a bit of a stretch. It recorded 16 years of profitability before recording one of loss in 2011.

The service could afford to cut overhead costs, but could further stand to develop new revenue generation streams.

Again, it’s ironic that Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra once stated that his plan was to develop e-commerce solutions for small business as a new Canada Post business venture, yet scrapped a plan to re-develop postal banking in Canada. Many nations (including the UK, France, Germany, Japan, China, Brazil, Korea etc.) have postal banking services which can serve to generate revenue for the postal system, in addition to providing a kind of ‘no-frills’ banking service for people who, for whatever reason, don’t or can’t use private banking services.

Crucially, postal banking has been used to promote savings among the poor. Instituting a postal banking scheme in this country would be immensely beneficial not only because it would enshrine access to ‘cheap’ banking as an essential service, but would likely further serve to put predatory pay-day loan operations out of business. Who knows, maybe it would serve to get the banks to lower their fees too. A little bit of competition is good for the economy, especially our banking sector.

There are other ways to make the post office more useful to the public and avert the potentially destabilizing effects of eliminating home delivery in urban areas. Why not partner with Service Canada to include passport services at post offices? Why not develop a scheme to share the costs of home delivery with the cities that need the service the most? If one province wants home delivery in its cities and another doesn’t, shouldn’t they each get a chance to negotiate with Canada Post one-on-one?

Unfortunately this isn’t part of the Tory strategy because it’s not congruent with their overall political beliefs. The Conservative Part of Canada and its forebears have followed a strict program designed to eliminate or transfer responsibility of the nation’s essential services, whether via a series of fatal cuts or through privatization.

In their opinion government is completely incapable of running a for-profit company and that such crown corporations only serve to undermine the government’s efforts to eliminate debt and deficit. Thus, since the first efforts in this respect by the Mulroney administration, we’ve lost our national airline, our state oil company, our national aircraft manufacturers, our national railway, our uranium mines and have hacked away mercilessly at just about every other service provided by the federal government – including our military, despite all the rhetoric.

In almost all cases, taxpayer-funded state assets were sold off at a loss with no real return on investment. Worse still, we lost all the intellectual capital that went with it. Today many of these former crowns continue to exist as private entities, but their current success would never have come about if it weren’t for the incredible investment made by so many Liberal governments of the last century.

canadian national railwaysThough these firms continue to contribute to the Canadian economy, profits aren’t returned to the state. We’ve sold off the former assets of our state oil firm to foreign state oil firms, Canadian National Railways is now officially known as CN for marketing purposes in the United States and Air Canada has a near total monopoly on air travel in Canada.

Privatization is always spun as being beneficial to the taxpayer, but winds up hitting the consumer especially hard. It astounds me how often Tories don’t realize taxpayers and consumers are all the same people.

Gutting the state’s ability to sustain essential services and operate an economic foundation of crown corporations has been Tory policy for a very long time, and it contrasts strongly with the economic theories and models put forth by both the NDP and federal Liberals for most of our post-Second World War history. The effects of this policy have only ever been negative. Vital jobs are lost, and the wealth generated by unionized pension plans disappears entirely as it’s not in the private sector’s interest (or ability) to provide anything as competitive in the long-term. Our oil industry isn’t as well regulated, accidents happen and profits go anywhere but here.

In many ways the greatest damage has already been done, and so perhaps this might explain the lack of public outrage at the proposed cuts. We’ve already lost so much of what we invested in, who cares about the post office? We’ve been conditioned into believing the government is incapable of successfully running a business, and yet our economy was considerably stronger, our dollar more valuable and we were far more politically sovereign when our government not only ran multiple, massive crown corporations, but planned and regulated the national economy.

On a closing note, I mentioned earlier that Canada Post provides an unintended social service in that letter carriers provide a kind of a ‘lifeline’ to people living in urban areas who may, for one reason or another, have limited access to the outside world. Letter carriers are responsible government employees with access to trucks and cell phones and they spend most of their time walking around quiet residential areas while residents are off at work.

Their presence alone is enough to deter a thief from committing a B&E. If someone’s calling for help they’ll likely hear it. If they see smoke, they can put in an emergency call and prevent a whole house (or block) from going up in flames. And though the data isn’t available, I wonder how many lost dogs and cats (and even children) have been found by postal workers simply because they happen to be walking the streets of our neighbourhoods.

It’s the kind of responsibility, of going the extra mile, that we associate with government employees. The private sector doesn’t have the same social responsibility.

Consider the Lac Mégantic disaster (or any other recent derailment or pipeline explosion). There’s a reason this didn’t happen nearly as often (or as severely) back when pipelines and the railway was a strategic federal government interest. The Fed paid for inspections, the Fed organized and operated a better delivery system. Its employees were paid to make absolutely sure there would be no fuck-ups and we got precisely what we paid for.

When privatized, the first cuts are always to safety standards and inspections. And when an accident happens, it is the taxpayers who must attend to the bill.

It’s not fair, it’s not right, and the Tories would like you to believe it helps the economy. The announced cuts to Canada Post are unnecessary and overkill considering the nature of the problem and are quite simply a transparent effort to eliminate public sector unions in a misguided sense of ‘getting even’ with people who generally don’t vote Tory. It’s sad, petty and juvenile, and for those reasons an excellent example of the character of our nation’s befuddled government.

You get what you pay for…

It was new year’s eve 1994, through the rainforest that covers the majority of the Chiapas region of south western Mexico, a movement under the name of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) was in its embryonic stage. In 1984, thirty years ago, another movement was also was forming, uniting landless peasants from throughout Brazil, occupying fazendas (large properties owned by the affluent Brazilian landowners), setting-up up cooperative farms and building community gardens which allowed the resilient communities to be self-sufficient in many ways.

These two movements have been under the stoplight, capturing the international media’s attention through a combination of headline catching actions and an intelligent media blueprint. But the question of land reform is of utmost importance especially within an age of relentless inequality and climate change. Answers to some of the most important interrogations on the limits of capitalism and sensible solutions to the threat of climate change are enclosed within this quintessential question of land ownership.

zapatista sign

Since the start of time, the problematic of land ownership has always been central to the development of human societies. The struggle between the ‘owners’ of land and the ‘dispossessed’ was at the origin of the fall of the Roman Republic (see Lex Sempronia Agraria). Many historians also link the ultimate fall of the Roman Empire to the over concentration of wealth and power within the hands of a landed elite.

Such a string of events is far from being relative to political development within Latium. In many ways land control has influenced the trajectory of societal development throughout the world.

The development of capitalism as we know it, is inherently linked to the development of a coercive notion of private property, where private property is hereditary. In this skewed ideological development, private has become linked to the notion of freedom.

This system of ownership of the land is the foundation of every caste system within the history of mankind, the distinction between those that have and the have-nots, the dispossessed. Parallel to this ‘land-grab’ is a reaction of resistance of the landless peasants, of the serfs, of indigenous communities against the landed elite, the power structure or the colonial state.

The development of neo-liberal capitalism has altered in many ways the structure of this relationship. Two elements have been the motors behind these changes: first of all the construction of the insane notion of the ‘corporate individual’ and on the other hand the continued erosion of regulations.

Corporations now, in many ways, are the new landed elite and the biggest obstacles on the road to fighting climate change. But also tied to the question of the corporate ownership of land is the corporate ownership of natural resources and the problem of redistribution of the wealth generated by the extraction of those same natural resources. Also included within the problematic of land ownership is the growing crisis of food security and frantic rise in food prices throughout the world.

In the end, the corporate land-grab is an essential question in the burgeoning of the 21st century. Movements such as the EZLN and Sem Terra have shown guidance in offering an alternative perspective with regards to the way we conceive the ownership of land, the role of land within our societies and the importance of communal and local agriculture. Both movements have understood one important thing: that climate deregulation is a direct consequence of the deregulation of the world’s markets and no solution will be found to counter climate change within this system of wild, wild, west capitalism.

On January 1st 1994, EZLN took up arms against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which took away from the Mexican people their undeniable right to the land underneath their feet. This right to the land was the most important accomplishment of the Mexican Revolution and had since been enshrined in the Mexican constitution.

The revolt of the Zapatistas was directly against this globalized system of dispossession of small farmers and indigenous communities on one hand and the subsequent repossession of that land by private interests on the other. Those interests were motivated by  making the land ‘profitable’, by any means necessary. This is the attitude that turned the greatest delta in the world (the delta of Niger) into a massive oil spill.

brazil sem terra
The Sem Terra in Brazil (image

The Brazilian Sem Terra sprouted out of the inhumane conditions that landless peasants were facing within Brazil, wandering from one agricultural tyrant to another on a regular basis, enslaved by one agro-alimentary multinational after another. The Sem Terra movement understood that the root of inequality is this disproportionate gap between those that control the land and those that work the land. The only way to counter this was to create communities in which each man had his plot of land to cultivate to provide for the wellbeing of his family without an inch of that land being privately owned.

This communal vision of land ownership thus entails the construction of an inclusive and participatory decision making system. Not only did these alternative visions of land ownership empower the ‘dispossessed’ and enable the development and reproduction of traditional modes of agricultural protection (read here biological and respectful of the environment), it also planted the seeds of a stronger strain of democracy.

Both movements know that land is power, the power to determine the future of generations, to draw the outlines of a distinct society, the power to hold the keys to a better world. In this age of globalized free-trade agreements, that relentlessly breakdown the ‘barriers to trade’ with the purpose of ‘opening up’ new markets such as the markets of land and of natural resources, in an age of growing inequality and destabilizing climate deregulation, the seeds have been sown, amidst the tempest, for an alternative future.

In one of the most famous Sem Terra occupations in July of 1996, thousands of landless peasants occupied one of the most important fazendas in Brazil-which they still occupy to this day and have turned it into one of the most important agricultural communes in the world. First thing they did once they had occupied the fazenda was to take down the Brazilian flag and put the red one of the MST with words that read “The struggle for all.”

* This post originally appeared on, republished with permission of the author

Taking a look at President Barack Obama’s latest budget proposal, you’ll find it trims Social Security benefits for millions and concentrates very heavily on deficit reduction. What you might not realize is that Obama is playing right into the hands of a decades old Republican strategy.

If you were paying attention during last year’s election, you may have heard several comments by conservatives referring to democrats as the party of Santa Claus. Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, even Mitt Romney made these references both before and after Obama’s victory.

Obama-SantaSince the Great Depression, Democrats have given the American people Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare and other social programs to cut poverty. These programs (among other things) led to the rise of the middle class, a cut in poverty rates and a better American life in general.

There to fight them every step of the way were Republicans, who by opposing these programs became the party of Scrooge. Unfortunately for Republicans, their position was widely rejected by the majority of Americans who loved these programs.

Democrats were rewarded for deciding to give back to the American populace. They held on to a majority in the House of Representatives for fifty years and it got to a point where the only way Republicans could get elected to national office was to cheat (Nixon, Reagan, Bush Jr). It took a long time for Republicans to diagnose the problem correctly, particularly in Washington.

Along came conservative journalist and commentator Jude Wanniski who introduced the “Two Santa Claus Theory” to the Republican Party in 1976. Wanniski argued that the only way to beat the party of Santa Claus was to become old Saint Nick themselves.

Wanniski suggested to Republicans that they couldn’t fight democrats by cutting spending, it was a losing battle. Instead, he recommended Republicans become Santa as well by giving the gift of tax cuts.

At the time, these propositions were laughed at and dismissed by many in conservative circles; they knew you can’t balance the budget by giving out tax cuts without cuts in spending. However, Wanniski knew that this simple formula for Republican success would have a two pronged effect.

Four years after the introduction of the two Santa Claus theory and it appeared someone was paying attention. Ronald Reagan came into office and made Wanniski an advisor. Over his two terms in office, tax rates (for the wealthy in particular) fell drastically, but so did revenue. Reagan left office in 1988 after tripling the national debt and raising the debt as a percentage of GDP from 26% to 41%.

With low taxes now part of the conservative (and American) psyche, Reagan’s policies forced Bill Clinton to make cuts in welfare and other social programs in order to balance the budget. More importantly, Republicans knew they could use the deficit as a rallying cry. Whenever Democrats were in office, Republicans held them responsible for balancing the budget even though they were accountable for the ballooning deficit in the first place.

god-and-santa-claus-god-santa-republicans-democrats-mencken-politics-1364339044George W. Bush’s two terms in office was essentially a repeat of Reagan’s. Revenues rose by 35%, but spending rose by 65%. Tax cuts for the wealthy and two unfunded wars allowed Bush to take a balanced budget he inherited from Clinton and nearly double the national debt from $6 trillion to $10 trillion.

Just as they did with Clinton in the 1990s, President Obama has been pressured by Republicans to cut social spending for the past four plus years in order to reduce the debt. As I mentioned, Obama has signaled a willingness to give in to Republicans and make changes to social security, something no Democratic president has ever done.

Wanniski’s strategy has worked for the last thirty years. Not only have Republicans been allowed to present themselves as Santa Claus with the gift of tax cuts, but by refusing to cut spending, they have forced Democrats to shoot their own Santa Claus in the back upon taking office. Democrats can now be seen, particularly on the right, as the party of Scrooge, a complete role reversal.

The two Santa Claus strategies are different in more ways the one. Tax and spend liberals use the revenue to ease the burden on the poor and middle class and make the country a more equal society. They follow this principal to first and foremost make the country a better place, if they happen to get elected in the process, all the better.

On the other hand, tax cutting conservatives view their strategy simply as a way to get elected. If their policies destroy the economy or the working class that’s just fine, they’ll just blame it on the next Democratic President. You’ll notice conservatives never complain about spending when Republicans are in office.

Obama needs to open his eyes to the game that’s being played around him. He was elected on the promise of protecting the gifts that were given generations ago. By pushing for chained CPI social security and other program cuts, he’ll be playing right into Republican hands… again.

If Obama turns his back on the programs that have helped the country and his party, he’s not only allowing Republicans to kill the Democratic Santa Claus and the party identity, but the American middle class as well.

“Embrace the role of Scrooge, playing into the hands of the Democrats, who know the first rule of successful politics is Never Shoot Santa Claus. As long as Republicans have insisted on balanced budgets, their influence as a party has shrivelled.” – Jude Wanniski

*This post originally appeared on, republished with permission from the author.

It has been nearly two years in the making. What started out as part of the budget control act of 2011, later morphed into the fiscal cliff just two months ago and has now turned into the “Sequestration Order for Fiscal Year 2013.”

President Barack Obama signed the sequester order late on Friday effectively cutting $85 billion from the federal budget this year. The effects won’t be felt overnight, but in the coming weeks and months we can expect up to 700 000 government jobs to be lost. Half the cuts will come from an already over-funded military, but the other half will be spread evenly through every government agency and will affect education, job training, health care, etc.

These automatic spending cuts were intended to be so damaging that Republicans and Democrats would be forced to replace it with a well-thought out deficit reduction plan. Well, two years of negotiations later and no deal has been struck and naturally both sides blame the other.

Democrats have argued for years for a balanced approach of spending cuts with more tax revenue, Republicans meanwhile have demanded deep spending cuts to social programs with no new taxes. The GOP seems to think taxes were raised enough in the fiscal cliff deal that saw the Bush tax cuts expire. However, Obama has not asked for further tax increases per se, he has simply asked to close tax loopholes for corporations and the wealthy.

Keep in mind, since the budget control act in 2011, the budget deficit has already been reduced by $1.5 trillion over ten years. Only 25% of the budget cuts over that time have come from revenue increases. Any Republican claim that spending is out of control is simply false. Under Obama, government expenditures have grown at its slowest pace since Eisenhower and the debt is close to being stabilized as a percentage of GDP.

Since Obama was first elected, Republicans and in particular Tea Party conservatives, have claimed that reduced spending would spur greater economic development. They have been unwilling to settle for one penny of increased revenue and have refused to compromise with Democrats at every turn. It’s safe to say if Republicans had their way, austerity would be an American way of life.


It’s been truthfully understood that conservatives don’t pay mind to facts, science, or history. Evidently that includes present history. How House Republicans could cheer their leader for standing his ground and allowing sequestration to take place is beyond my reason of understanding. They’ve obviously never picked up a newspaper or watched a real news program (no, Fox doesn’t count as real news).

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past four or five years, you have seen the damage austerity can do in Europe. Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland and the United Kingdom have all suffered greatly under austerity measures.

Since implementing self-imposed austerity, the United Kingdom has fallen into a double-dip recession and has seen slower growth than during the great depression. Greece and Spain have seen great depression-like unemployment numbers which are even worse among their youth.

Cuts in social programs in many of these countries have left countless people without access to healthcare, welfare and affordable education. In Greece’s case, forced austerity has led to the rise of radical political parties not unlike the Nazis of the 1930s.

Austerity hasn’t been exclusive to Europe of course. In Canada, after a year or two of increased spending, the first Conservative budget of their Majority government called for the layoffs of nearly 20 000 government workers. It also included cuts to environmental protections, food inspections and the CBC, they even rose the retirement age to 67.

The austerity measures in Canada were very modest compared to those in Europe, but that just means they have had a modest negative impact. If it weren’t for Canada’s oil revenue, our economy would have gone from sluggish to a standstill. Despite promising to balance the budget years ago, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have not come close (I’m sure those corporate tax cuts didn’t help). In fact, no country practicing austerity under economic duress has managed to lower their debt.

If the United States lived in a bubble, my concern over their budget cuts would be replaced with apathetic laughter. Unfortunately we all know that’s not the case, what affects the US always trickles up over the border. When these cuts start to slow down their economy further, you can be sure it will throw a wrench in ours.

The one lesson lost on Republicans through all this is no country has ever cut their way to prosperity. Why do they believe they can be the first?

By now, everyone has heard the words fiscal cliff. It’s one of those terms coined by politicians that give a false impression on what it actually is, like the right to work laws or clean coal. The fiscal cliff refers to the economic consequences that might result from tax increases and spending cuts due to take effect on January 1st 2013.

The cliff comes from the result of a Supercommittee comprised of six Republicans and Democrats who failed to come up with a deal to reduce the US deficit following debt ceiling negotiations. Contrary to what some believe, thanks in part to what the term suggests, if the United States goes over the fiscal cliff, the country will not suddenly find itself crippled with more debt. Instead, the automatic tax increases and spending cuts will kick in and possibly lead to what many economists fear will be another recession.

What to do concerning the fiscal cliff has been debated well before the results of the presidential election last November. Barack Obama and Democrats have been calling for an increase in taxes on those making over $250 000 and a small stimulus to get the economy moving and to repair the country’s crumbling infrastructure. On the other side of the aisle, Republicans are standing firm against any type of tax increases preferring instead to reduce spending on social programs or what they call entitlements.

If there is no deal between the parties by the end of December, the Bush era tax cuts will expire. This will raise taxes on every American, not just the top 2% that Obama wants. It will also cut military spending by an insignificant amount and reduce unemployment benefits that could throw as many as two million would-be workers off the insurance program. Both parties stand to both win and lose.

The negotiations thus far have proven futile and painful to watch. President Obama who won re-election and a mandate to raise taxes on the richest Americans (who have been enjoying extremely low tax rates for thirty years) is still willing to give up too much to appease Republican law makers. His last offer to Republicans angered liberals across the country as he offered what amounts to cuts in social security after promising the insurance program wouldn’t be touched.

Republicans in the House of Representatives on the other hand, led by House Speaker John Boehner failed to pass Plan B. Boehner’s Plan B would have increased taxes on those earning over $1 000 000 and would have made cuts to food stamps, Medicaid and Obamacare. As it turned out, he couldn’t get his own caucus to back the plan, the extremist wing of the Republican Party, better known as the Tea Party, refused to let taxes rise period.

So here we are near the end of the road not unlike Thelma & Louise, if it were up to me I’d hold hands and keep driving. First of all, Obama seems preoccupied with the debt ceiling that will need to rise in the coming months. Not only is it how we got here in the first place, but he is willing to give up too much right now to see the debt ceiling raised and it’s not needed.

This brings me to another myth. The debt ceiling as some would have you believe is not a green light for the president to go on a spending spree. It is simply a congressional procedure that allows the country to pay its bills. Any additional spending must pass through Congress like any other bill and believe it or not, disallowing the country to pay its bills is against the constitution (see section 10).

The annual deficit which Obama has marginally reduced comes from his predecessor who gave out massive tax cuts and waged two wars, now Republicans want the poorest of Americans to make up for it. They will continue to hold the debt ceiling hostage throughout his second term unless Obama gives in to cuts on social programs. Personally I would like to see Obama take up the issue with the courts instead of getting pushed around constantly.

Getting back to my original point, Obama should have little fear of going over the fiscal cliff. Yes taxes will increase on everyone and people will lose their unemployment, but what is done on January 1st can be reversed on January 2nd. After taxes are increased on everyone, there is no reason why the Democrats can’t introduce a bill that cuts taxes on the poor and middle class. How bad do you think the Republicans would look if they rejected a law that cuts taxes (or extends unemployment)? 2014 isn’t that far away.

The fact is; going over the cliff in not nearly as bad as giving in to Republican intentions. There are so many ways to reduce the deficit other than cutting Social Security, Medicaid and food stamps, in other words on the backs of the poor and elderly. For starters, raise taxes on the wealthiest 2% to Clinton era levels. How about closing some of the 700 – 1000 military bases the United States has on foreign land or ending subsidies to big oil and farming companies.

In his second term Obama is going to have to learn how to stand up for the people that elected him. He has to stop giving in to those who would rather see him fail than help the American people or the those who look out for themselves and the wealthy interests that helped put them in office. If Obama caves on the fiscal cliff before his second term even begins, he won’t have many friends on either side of the political spectrum.

…Merry Christmas!

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Last week, Wal-Mart employees took to the picket lines to protest low wages and poor benefits on the busiest shopping day of the year. Black Friday protests took place in over a hundred cities in 47 States and attracted thousands of other activists outside of the company.

The nationwide, yet semi-isolated strikes may have brought a little more awareness toward the general public, but it did very little to dissuade Americans from partaking in one of their favorite pastimes; shopping. According to Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer sold over a million televisions on Thursday night alone.

I sometimes wonder what Sam Walton would think of the company he founded, now twenty years after his death. By the early nineties, Mr. Walton had built his company into one of the world’s biggest success stories with his friendly customer service approach and his deep understanding of logistics. At the time of his death in 1992 he was one of the richest men in the world; he employed 380 000 in over 1700 hundred stores (17 super-centers) that grossed $50 billion in sales per year.

Walton built his stores mainly in small towns and rural areas (a fact reflected in the 70% of Wal-Mart shoppers who vote Republican). He might not have known it at the time, but those normal discount stores would turn into super-centers and thus went from having a minor impact on the community to having a devastating one. There are now over 3000 super-centers across the country.

Wal-Mart’s competition eventually began to catch on to Sam’s formula for success and began to emulate it across the country, a strategy they continue today. Wal-Mart was forced to find other ways to increase profits and it has done so with a thumb up from Uncle Sam and a middle finger up to the American people.

Wal-Mart’s explosion of growth in the last twenty years could not have been possible without the help of the government easing of anti-trust laws, deregulation, lowering tariffs, free trade and providing incentives to off-shoring jobs and investing overseas.

The year Walton died; his company imported only 5 to 6 per cent of its products, but today it imports closer to 60 per cent (or more) from 63 countries, over 50 per cent of Wal-Mart goods are from China alone. Fifty thousand factories have closed in the United States in the last thirty years, Wal-Mart and the retailers that follow in their footsteps are a huge reason why.

Independent retailers also fell by over sixty thousand in the period of time. Not only does Wal-Mart steal business from local merchants with their government subsidized low prices, but they also wind up lowering the property value of local “mom & pop” businesses when a superstore opens up down the street, sometimes resulting in the property value falling under water. It has been said, for every Wal-Mart there is a loss of 77 (often middle class) jobs as a result.

Black Friday Wal-Mart strikers

There are few reasons why the low cost of Wal-Mart’s merchandise is considered to be government subsidized. Local and state governments have been known in the past to give Wal-Mart tens of millions of dollars in subsidies to open up shop in their towns, money that could be better spent on schools, police or infrastructure.
Aside from the American government offering incentives to companies who decide to offshore employment, most of Wal-Mart’s government subsidies revolve around penny pinching its American employees. Wal-Mart employs 1.4 million Americans, roughly 1per cent of the entire workforce.

Wal-Marts are typically understaffed to begin with in order to save money, but those lucky enough to gain full-time employment receive on average $8.81/hour (2010). This hourly wage converts to an annual pay of $15 576 based on Wal-Mart’s full-time status of 34 hours per week, nearly $7000 below the poverty line for a family of four.

These low incomes drive down wages by $3 billion/year nationwide and forces hardworking employees to seek help from Medicaid and food stamps. Just to get insurance through the company, it costs an average of $75 every two weeks, roughly 15 per cent of the average salary.

Wal-Mart has not only forced their associates to seek help from tax payers, they have actually encouraged it repeatedly over the years. In 2011, American tax payers forked over $2.65 billion in safety net benefits to Wal-Mart workers and the number has been steadily climbing for years. The percentages of employees on food stamps in some stores go as high as 80 per cent. You might think you’re saving a little money when you buy those double stuffed Oreos, but we’re all paying for it.

Even without the help of the government and our tax dollars, Wal-Mart represents so much of what is wrong with free market capitalism today. They spend millions to spy on their employees in order to root out any talk of unionization and close the stores that succeed in doing so, their promises to become environmentally friendly have gone largely unfulfilled (especially in China), they even take full advantage of the United States having zero paid holidays as we saw last Thursday when they opened their stores on Thanksgiving.

Sam Walton’s heirs are now worth a combined $102 billion and since life has been so kind to them, they have donated only 2 per cent to charity, compare that to the 50 per cent of Bill Gates or 75 per cent of Warren Buffet. Wal-Mart now generates more than $450 billion in revenue per year (more than the GDP of Norway who is ranked 23rd in the world), $16 billion of which is pure profit.

Wal-Mart is fully aware that they have us all by the balls. No matter what they’ve done in the last twenty years, they know that in many small towns Wal-Mart is now the only retail store and only employer. They know as long as people need to work, they can hire at near minimum wage. They know their low wages are duplicated elsewhere which forces more and more to shop at their stores. They know as long as their prices are so cheap, a hundred million people will continue to shop there every week and the average family will continue to spend $4000 a year at any given Wal-Mart.

I have the utmost sympathy for the hundreds of brave Wal-Mart employees putting their jobs at risk, carrying picket signs across the country in some cases just to be able to feed themselves. I look at them and wonder whether it’s 2012 or 1912.

I’m grateful that I’m in a position that has allowed me to avoid walking into a Wal-Mart since I got hired by an agency to prepare their inventory back in 1995, even then I bought nothing. Regrettably, a personal boycott is not going change anything here. Americans will continue to shop there no matter what Wal-Mart pays its associates. All we can do is show our support for those unafraid to fight the power of this Goliath from within.

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Flying in over Chicago two weeks ago, it was hard not to notice the network of brown and yellow lawns and parks throughout the entire city – even in its more affluent neighbourhoods that regularly flout water conservation ordinances.

This is because Chicago, like 56% of the continental U.S. is officially in drought, with 26 states having already declared they are in a “natural disaster.”

While in the short term it means temperatures in the high 30’s and even into 40 degrees Celcius (90 and 100 degrees Farenheit)– it will have a lasting impact on world food prices.  The Guardian reported yesterday that the U.S., one of the largest producers of corn and soybean, is officially running out of its reserve stocks.

This is big, big news not just for the U.S., but also for the rest of the world, including Canada. (And yes, Montreal!)

While the livestock industry in the U.S. is already reeling from shortages of arable land and high prices of feed, immediate impacts are expected on food prices in countries like South Korea, Japan, Peru, Guatemala, El Salvador and Columbia, and East Africa that import corn.

There are already grumblings in the international media of what this could mean politically. The Arab Spring was tied to high food prices, and it’s possible there could be a second wave of global protests, according to the Guardian.

“The high prices of food have resulted in accumulations of inventories at the same time as people can’t afford food,” said Bar-Yam, who noted that the Arab spring was triggered by the food-price bubble. In fact, Necsi’s quantitative model of speculation predicted the uprisings in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, and warned that if food prices remain inflated, riots and revolutions will go global sometime between July 2012 and August 2013.”

So, stay tuned for that.

But interestingly, it’s not just the weather that’s playing an antagonistic role. The other major factor is the way we trade corn in the U.S, which can lead to speculative practices regularly slammed by institutions like the United Nations and the World Food Programme. Institutions like the former Chicago Board of Trade/Mercantile Exchange (now merged) are credited with the last international food crisis in 2007-2008 that the WFP says “pushed millions of people deep into hunger.”

One reason for the recent spikes in corn prices is the biofuel industry, which consumes 40% of U.S. corn and has renewed interest in the crop by investors in futures markets. They essentially bet on the future price of crops – which back in the day was supposed to give farmers financing for the next years.

Last year Professor Yaneer Bar-Yam at the New England Complex Systems Institute (Necsi) told the Guardian:

“International thirst for biofuels has put a strain on arable land previously reserved for food production. At the same time as the rise of the biofuel mandate, the rise of investable commodity indexes and other electronically traded funds has offered investors of all stripes a chance to sink their cash in a sparkling new casino of derivative products. As a result, an ever-flowing spring of speculative capital sustains the status quo.”

Photo courtesy of Parker Michael Knight via Flickr 

Ten years ago I was outside Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebration. There’s a picture: I’m huddled with my parents and sibling amongst the heaving crowd outside the palace gates, looking pretty cold but mostly confused about why everyone was so happy.

And why wouldn’t I? The crowd erupted when the Queen came out onto the palace balcony (where, you’ll probably remember, Prince William and Kate Middleton kissed after their wedding last year), and she waved back for a few minutes. That’s it.

Compared to the Red Arrows flyover a few minutes earlier it wasn’t that cool, especially for a 12 year-old boy.

Sandwiched between those two thunderous moments, though, was a lot of sitting and standing—outside the palace, in the car, on the train, in the pub. Given the occasion, we passed the time mostly telling Queen stories, the same way weight loss storms back to relevance after New Year’s, or a celebrity everyone had forgotten about gets glorified after they die.

We didn’t have many stories. My dad, an officer in the Royal Navy, took the cake with an etiquette crisis during his lunch with the Queen while serving on the Royal Yacht.

That’s how the British tend to think of monarchy, myself included. Instead of thinking about how one person comes to be one of the wealthiest in the world by virtue of the hereditary ownership of roughly $600 million of land and other assets (still less than J.K. Rowling), we think, “Oh bollocks, should I swallow these cherry seeds or spit them out onto my plate in front of the Queen?”

The fact is, the Queen – and the monarchy as a whole – just sort of exist in Britain. Especially since the recession, they’ve kept a low profile while the rest of the country has struggled along, surfacing to throw the occasional huge party and long weekend distractions Britons are needing more and more of lately.

Because “jubilee” isn’t compatible with “austerity” – and both were on display in Britain for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee last weekend.

As we saw with the royal wedding last year, this latest pricey royal spectacle clashes head-on with the austerity agenda of British Prime Minister David Cameron, an agenda that faces mounting criticism with each day the British economy worsens.

While it may take an appearance from the Queen for the U.K. to make international headlines, protests against austerity are not new. In the intervening periods between royal celebrations, Britain has seen an ongoing campaign against cuts to health and social services, protests against – oh, hi Quebec – increasing tuition fees, and even recent Casseroles protests.

Austerity is now being called to question, even in the economic fortress of Britain. While the rest of Europe has fared far worse, the British economy has seen little improvement despite Cameron’s strict budget cutting, and cuts are being blamed for not only exacerbating existing issues like social inequality, but creating new ones, including (some have argued) last summer’s riots:

The Diamond Jubilee was marked by another significant moment, Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman attacking austerity’s effectiveness—from London no less.

Despite all these alarming signals, a disturbing cognitive dissonance seems to persist in Britian, and around the world, with international viewers fawning over the spectacles while their own countries experience similar cutbacks.

Indeed the Britain the rest of the world sees has migrated inside the Palace, visible in recent Academy Award successes like The Queen and The King’s Speech. While these films don’t always show monarchy in the most favourable light, they’re also a far cry from the harsh portrayals of Britain’s desperate and destitute underbelly in preceding works like This is England and Trainspotting (or my personal favourite The Full Monty).

The Queen returned to the balcony for another Jubilee last weekend. Apparently, the choice of having only six members of the royal family with her at the time “sent a message demonstrating both continuity and restraint at a time of austerity.”

If she’s going to push the austerity line (because she doesn’t have to), the Queen might want to try a little harder. She could just as easily point to the big tourism boost stimulated by the royal wedding last year to support Krugman’s recession-busting public spending theory. She remains mired in timid hypocrisy, however. With an international spotlight and a chance to be the kind of leader a monarch used to be, she came up mute.

While I can honestly say that, if I were in England last weekend, I would probably be drunk in the middle of the road with everyone else, this week everyone will wake up with the same hangover.

Nowhere is that more visible than in Scotland, whose slowly-advancing independence referendum will be a thorough test of whether last weekend’s party-fuelled display of national unity was real or imagined (I’m leaning towards imagined).

As far as Queen stories go, a popular one is her service as a mechanic during World War Two. This time, however, with a stagnant economy casting an ever-darker pall over festivities like the Jubilee, it will be the Queen keeping calm and carrying on, with the fixing up left to the rest of us.