Notebook #2

Articles Lists

Selected Topics


If you understand that your struggle is also somebody else’s struggle, or that your different concerns and problems are part of the same struggle, the potential is created for a stronger more effective movement. The working class movement has slogan: ‘An injustice to one is an injustice to all.’ If that is your approach you understand that solidarity, co-operation, mutual support, whatever you want to call it, is at one and the same time a duty to your fellow human beings and an act of rational self-interest.

Blogs & Notes

Compilations & Resources

Words of Wisdom

  • The law, in all its magnificent equality, forbids the rich, as well as the poor, to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, or to steal bread.
  • – Anatole France


The people who can’t manage to bring their own astronauts back alive assure us that they can keep nuclear weapons safely orbiting above our heads with no chance of anything going wrong.
The Iraq crisis in context

Private interests cannot be trusted to safeguard the public interest when it conflicts with their self-interest.
Abandoning the Public Interest

We don't know if we’ll win: history is made by human beings, and where human beings are concerned, nothing is inevitable. But because people do make history, we know that it is possible to build a new world, and we strive to realize that possibility.
Libertarian Socialism

Radical Digressions
Ulli Diemer’s Notebook #2

Toronto’s Finest

Seven News - February 16, 1981 - #

Bath house raids

When I was a kid I thought that I’d like to be a policeman. Several things attracted me: the idea of working for what was good and right; the exciting image, as well as – I have to admit – the idea of wearing a uniform, being in authority, and being able to make people obey me.

Things turned out rather differently for me, but I think my mix of reasons are – in varying proportions – what draw many men into the police force. Many do become policemen because of good reasons. But for a lot of cops, you have to suspect, that desire to lord it over others is a pretty important motive in their deciding to become policemen. Some cops are pretty decent people – at least when they start out. But many of them are not.

Continue reading here.

Keywords: PolicePolice MisconductPolice Raids

The police vs. the law

Seven News - September 4, 1981 - #

Police meeting

In these times, things that should seem strange to us often appear normal and even reasonable, One such event was the press conference last week of the Solicitor-General for Canada, Robert Kaplan, called to give his reactions to the McDonald Commission on the RCMP.

RCMP law-breaking, Mr. Kaplan announced, would continue as always, with his blessings. The Solicitor-General expressed the view that the police cannot be bound by exactly the same rules as the rest of us: he used the example of a policeman who takes a private boat out into a lake to save a drowning person’s life. Technically, this is theft, but we would all agree that under the circumstances the theft should not be prosecuted. The Prime Minister, Mr. Trudeau, is fond of using a similar example, of policemen who exceed the speed limit in pursuing a murderer.

One’s initial reaction is to be persuaded. Given these examples, Mr. Trudeau’s and Mr. Kaplan’s arguments for giving the police some flexibility appear sensible, and benign.

In fact, they are anything but: if one probes beneath their surface one finds dishonesty and cynicism.

Continue reading here.

Keywords: PolicePolice Powers

The Bomb won’t go away on its own

Seven News - June 4, 1982 - #

For the past twelve years, 7 News has made a practice of restricting itself mainly to local matters. In this issue, the first of our 13th year, we are breaking with that tradition to address a much wider issue – a matter of life and death for us all: the threat of nuclear war.

Bath house raids

The threat of the Bomb is something most of us ignore most of the time, in the interests of keeping sane. It’s too overwhelming to contemplate, and we feel powerless to do anything about it. Better to concern ourselves with the problems we can maybe do something about.

But the Bomb won’t go away on its own. Only we can get rid of it. And only if we try. If we decide the task is impossible and refuse to try, then it is impossible. But the fact is that if enough people come together strongly enough in a common cause, they can alter the course of history. Our challenge is to do it.

Continue reading here.

Atomic BombCold WarNuclear DisarmamentNuclear WarNuclear Weapons

Foggy Fireworks

Seven News - June 18, 1982 - #

Watching fireworks in the fog may not be your idea of a spectacularly good time. It certainly wasn’t mine.

So it was just as well that last Victoria Day Monday, I didn’t know just how foggy it was at the waterfront when I headed for Kew Beach to watch the fireworks. Because if I’d known, I probably wouldn’t have gone. And I would have missed a special evening.

For foggy it was, and the closer to the lake one got, the foggier it got. But when hundreds of cars are all heading for the same place, it gets rather hard to turn around. So we went.

The beach was alive as I’ve rarely seen it, especially at night. The boardwalk a river of people flowing to Ashbridges Bay – wherever that was – in the fog. The beach itself covered with little clusters of people, setting off their own fireworks displays, lighting small bonfires, drinking hot chocolate against the damp cold, or just watching each other. Kids with sparklers dashing about between the groups.

The smoke, fog, and the erratic lighting provided by the fast-fading scraps of daylight and the clusters of fireworks (when one person ran out, another one somewhere else started up the ones he or she had brought) gave everything a quite unusual, almost eerie, atmosphere. Something between a folk festival and an outtake from Night of the Living Dead.

I especially enjoyed the spontaneous character of it all – people weren’t passively waiting for the show to start, they were the show. There’s a bit of the pyromaniac in most of us, so fireworks seem to satisfy a definite need. Especially if we can set them off ourselves. It was a happy crowd.

And when the “official” fireworks started, we all cheered. (We knew they were starting because we could hear them.) If you rushed up closer to the water’s edge, as I did, you could even see the fireworks. For those of you who missed them because you stayed at home – or stood a few yards farther back – they were worth seeing. Different than clear-weather fireworks to be sure, but striking in their own right. If it’s foggy next year go down anyway.

Published in Seven News, June 18, 1982.

More biased reporting from the CBC

July 6, 1982 - #

CBC Radio’s major newscast of the day, “The World at Six,” carried a report on a protest by black miners in South Africa on July 5. I wrote a letter to complain about the way the item was slanted in a way that is all too typical of CBC’s news reporting:

The reporter stated that the police “had to be called in” to deal with the protests. Who says they “had” to be? The South African government, presumably, which believes that harsh police measures are the way to deal with protests directed against the racist structure of the country. The miners, or a reporter who didn’t identify with the perspectives of the South African government, might well conclude that the police did not have to be called in. The report could have remained factual by saying that the police were called in. Instead it went on to imply that the government’s views and actions were justified.

Equally objectionable was the uncritical use of the word “homelands” in reporting that some miners had been deported. The word “homelands” is a term deliberately chosen by the South African government to put a favourable public relations gloss on the small tribal reserves to which they are trying to confine the black population. South Africa is the real “homeland” of the black majority, but a CBC listener would not realize this from your report. The use of this term too serves to legitimize the South African government.

And finally, there as the patronizing comment that mine management was trying to “explain” to the [poor, ignorant, misled] miners why their raises had not been as high as they had hoped. Perhaps some should explain to your correspondent that the thing that sparked the protests was the fact that white miners had been given substantially higher raises than the black miners, rather than the amounts per se.

Keywords: Apartheid. Media Bias.

Toronto Ravines – Ours to Preserve

Seven News - July 9, 1982 - #

To naturalists, visitors, and many Torontonians, Toronto’s ravines are one of the city’s most beautiful features, islands of nature in the midst of a giant metropolis.

To some, however, the ravines have always been a nuisance, hard to build in, interrupting the smooth flow of traffic on the city’s grid of streets, ‘waste’ land unsuitable for commercial utilization. As a result, many ravines have simply been filled in, and the streams that ran through them have been permanently confined to underground channels. Others have been used for as dumping grounds: for rubble and garbage, expressways and railways, and for industries best kept out of sight, like gravel pits and brickyards. The city’s most important ravine system, the Don Valley, is still virtually inaccessible for much of its length, isolated by an expressway, a railway track, an arterial road, and high, barbed-wire-topped fences. Others have survived only because their terrain made them hard to build in or dump in.

Continue reading here.

Natural HeritageNatureToronto Ravines & Natural Areas

Photo by Ulli Diemer

The Connexions Digest - Volume 7, Number 4 - Housing

December 1982 - #

Connexions Housing issue

I started a new job as co-ordinator of the Connexions project in August 1982. Connexions produces a quarterly periodical, also called Connexions (subsequently The Connexions Digest). Connexions is a collective project, with the collective typically comprising eight to ten people, who together run the project and do the work of preparing each issue of the publication. I am the only paid employee.

The first issue I work on is a theme issue on Housing. In addition to spotlighting groups and resources on housing, the issue also features materials on International issues, Energy, Native Peoples, Racism, Community, and Labour. The issue also contains an annoucement informing readers that, for budgetary reasons, Connexions will be appearing four times a year, instead of the previous five.

Here is a scanned copy of the the first issue of the Connexions publication that I worked on: Volume 7, Number 4, published in December 1982.

Constructive criticism can be a good thing

Toronto Field Naturalist - December 20, 1982 - #

I was surprised and disappointed to see Roger Powley arguing that naturalists ought not to criticize other nature lovers even when they act in ways which are harmful to nature, because criticism, even when warranted, might weaken the cohesion of the naturalist movement.

I really cannot agree with his assumption that criticism of another person’s actions has to imply a holier-than-thou attitude on the part of the critic. Roger is surely right in saying that all of us sometimes act in ways which hurt the environment. To me, that means that we all occasionally make mistakes which need to be pointed out to us. How does it help the environment if we agree to keep quiet about each other’s sometime thoughtlessness or wrongheadedness for the sake of some abstract “unity”?

Continue reading here.

Keywords: Environmental Advocacy.

The Globe and Mail reports on protests

April 27, 1983 - #

Eighty thousand people gather in various centres across Canada to protest the Cruise missile, and Canada’s self-proclaimed national newspaper devotes 10 paragraphs out of 24, and two of four photographs, to a few moments of scuffling and water-spraying on the fringes of the Toronto rally.

A report in the same edition on a major gay rights rally spends six of seven paragraphs on a preliminary confrontation between marchers and the police, and a grand total of one paragraph explaining what it was that brought a thousand people to the streets in protest. (More police raids on gay baths, for those who may have blinked while drinking their morning coffee.)

Keywords: Media Bias

Medical Reform Group

Medical Reform Group Newsletter - January 1984 - #

MRG 28 MRG 29

In December 1983 I started working part-time for the Medical Reform Group of Ontario (MRG). The MRG was a physicians’ organization concerned with reforming the health care system, and with countering the ideology of the mainstream medical profession, which tended to support user fees, extra billing, and a two-tier health care system.

The three founding principles of the Medical Reform Group stated:

1. The universal access of every person to high quality, appropriate health care must be guaranteed. The health care system must be administered in a manner which precludes any monetary or other deterrent to equal care.

2. Health care workers, including physicians, should seek out and recognize the social, economic, occupational, and environmental causes of disease, and be directly involved in their eradication.

3. The health care system should be structured in a manner in which the equally valuable contribution of all health workers is recognized. Both the public and health care workers should have a direct say in resource allocation and in determining the setting in which health care is provided.

My job was to take care of the administrative tasks of the organization and to put out the group’s newsletter, working with a small editorial group.

The first newsletter I did was a quick mailing, rather than a full newsletter, containing, among other content, the MRG’s news release responding to the federal government’s introduction of the Canada Health Act. The first real newsletter came out in March 1984.

View the January 1984 mailing here, and the March 1984 newsletter here.

150 years of dirty water

Seven News - April 17, 1984 - #

“The causes of pollution have not been removed. I am convinced that the citizens have never been supplied with pure water at all seasons of the year.”

The above is from a report by Professor Laut Carpenter. His topic: Toronto’s drinking water, drawn from Lake Ontario. Two civil engineers, McAlpine and Tully, are scathing in evaluating and comparing sources of water: “how much more objectionable [are] the waters of Lake Ontario which are a natural reservoir for pollution of all kinds.”

If you think this is not news, you are right. Both quotes are from studies done for the City of Toronto in 1887. They in turn were a follow-up to a report done forty years before that, in 1847, by Thomas Keefer. Keefer’s plan for ending reliance on polluted Lake Ontario for drinking water shows us that some things have changed: his proposal was that Toronto take its water from the Don River.

The Don then, according to the historian and naturalist Charles Sauriol, was pictured as “a turbulent ‘mountain stream’ of Lake Simcoe water, swirling and churning its way through the East Don Valley with the rapidity of a spring freshet; the delight of the anglers, the fascination of hikers, the dream of dreamers.”

One suspects that today most dreamers would avoid the banks of the Don River for doing their dreaming. Many would think that only a dreamer would dare to imagine that the Don could ever again be a delight for Torontonians, a natural centrepiece for our urban setting.

And as for Lake Ontario – suffice it to say that the Don is one of the more modest contributors to the pollution of the lake among the dozens of similar rivers that discharge into it. Not to mention the sewers, the factories, the chemical plants, the legal and illegal dumps that ooze and seep their sludge toward the lake from which at least ten million Canadians and Americans take their water.

Continue reading here.

Keywords: Drinking WaterGreat Lakes Water QualityDrinking Water ProtectionRiversWater PollutionWater Quality

Chemicals in your water – a little is too much

Seven News - June 1984 - #

Is Great Lakes water dangerous? The question is a vital one for the 37 million of us – Canadians and Americans – who depend on the Great Lakes for our drinking water. The question is also not an easy one to answer, but it is one that is being asked with increasing frequency and concern.

The concern focuses not only on what the water is like now, but also on what may be happening to it. There are, for example, some 35,000 chemicals in use today which have been classified as hazardous to human health. The International Joint Commission has already found more than 460 different chemicals in the Great Lakes Basin, including some of the most toxic ones in existence. Fifty-three different chemicals have been detected in Toronto’s drinking water alone. More appear every year.

Continue reading here.

Keywords: Chemical SpillsDrinking WaterGreat Lakes Water QualityDrinking Water ProtectionWater PollutionWater Quality.

Rights and Liberties

Connexions Digest - Summer 1984 - #

In compiling Connexions, which focuses on a different social or political issue in each edition, we are often struck by how seemingly distinct problems turn out to be strongly intermeshed. Nowhere has this been more so than in this edition on "Rights and Liberties." Civil liberties and human rights appear as a key dimension in almost every other field of social justice and social change.

The struggle to change the role of women in society, for example, often revolves around equality and human rights. Environmental issues focus on our right to breathe clean air, drink clean water or lead lives in harmony rather than in conflict with nature. Economic issues pose the right to earn an income, to a fair share of society's wealth, to security for the future. The question of peace concerns the right to live itself, free of fear of annihilation.

Western society is strongly coloured by the idea that we have rights which are ours "by right," not as a privilege bestowed by authority. Defining human rights gives rise to many of the sharpest political divisions of our time. This is especially true of the right to "freedom." What is freedom, for the individual and for the group? Freedom from what? Freedom to do what? Subject to what restrictions to safeguard the freedoms and rights of others?

If freedom is the ability to shape one's life without domination by others, then what are its elements and pre-conditions?

How free are we, for example, if we are too poor to obtain decent housing, proper medical care, or education? How real is our right to "freedom of speech," if public discourse is dominated by a handful of large media chains, corporations and paid advertising and we have no realistic or effective way of making ourselves heard? How real is the right to equality nominally guaranteed by law in the face of immense inequities of wealth and power?

Continue reading here.

Keywords: Civil LibertiesFreedomHuman RightsThe State

Diemer: Rights are won, and they can be lost

Politics of Illusion

Seven News - August 1984 - #

One of the most striking but infrequently commented-on facts about elections is how few people vote. Depending on the type of election, anywhere from a quarter to two-thirds of eligible voters don’t turn out. In opinion polls, ‘undecided’ voters – ones obviously not smitten with the appeal of any of the parties of candidates – often outnumber those who express a preference for even the leading party in the polls.

Evidently there is a wide-spread alienation from elections and voting. Yet ‘free elections’ are supposed to be a cornerstone of democracy, and in the not-so-distant past people fought and died for the right to vote.

Today a common attitude is that elections don’t matter; that it won’t make much difference to your own life or to things overall, how, or whether, you vote.

Continue reading here.

Canadian PoliticsElection CampaignsElectionsElectoral PoliticsFederal ElectionsImage MarketingPolitical PersonalitiesPolitics/Rhetoric/Reality

Progressives shouldn’t be begging the police to take more power

October 9, 1984 - #

I find it appalling that people who see themselves as “progressive” can believe that defending the right to freedom of speech implies “promoting the social acceptability” of hate literature.

The point is that what constitutes “hate literature” is inevitably a matter of interpretation. The Toronto Sun and its ex-editor Peter Worthington recently demanded that Broadview-Greenwood residents organizing to defeat Worthington in the election be prosecuted for disseminating hate literature. Businessmen have called for unions and marxists to be charged with promoting class hatred. The people who decide what constitutes hate literature are the police, crown attorneys, and judges – in other words, people who would be glad to have more legal weapons to direct against leftists and liberals. What Chaplan and Woloski are doing is “promoting the social acceptability” of the police deciding what ideas may or may not be expressed. This idea is far more dangerous than the hate literature in circulation.

It is also well known to anyone who has bothered to investigate this kind of legislation that it just doesn’t work. The banned literature merely goes underground and circulates just as effectively, and with the added glamour of being something that the authorities (who of course are ‘in the pay of the Jews’ or ‘the Communists’ or ‘the Pope’, depending on the fanatic in question) don’t want you to know about.

Another danger of imagining that laws can deal with hate literature is that it misdirects people’s energy into pleading with governments for new laws, and encourages a passive reliance on the police to enforce the laws. The way to deal with racism is direct action, education, and (intelligently focussed) hard work. People like Chaplan and Woloski discourage this kind of activity while encouraging us to devote our energies to pleading with the government and the police to please take even more power to determine which ideas are ‘legal’ and which ‘illegal’.

Continue reading here.

Keywords: CensorshipHate.

Diemer: Censorship

The Capital Punishment Debate

Seven News - November 1984 - #

On December 11, 1962 the last execution in Canada took place here in the middle of our neighbourhood, at the Don Jail, when the murderers Lucas and Turpin were hanged back to back.

Ten years before that, in December 1952, the Don was the site of another double hanging when Jackson and Suchan went to the gallows at midnight while outside, waiting for news of the murderers’ death, a drunken crowd milled about, celebrating and providing living proof of the uplifting effect which the death penalty has on society.

The deliberate legally sanctioned taking of a human life is a potent emotional totem, an act through which we participate symbolically in the forbidden act of killing. No wonder then that the “debate” over capital punishment is so emotional, so categorical, so barren of analysis of whether the death penalty actually makes practical sense.

Continue reading here.

Keywords: Capital Punishment, Criminal Justice System

Against All Odds

New Internationalist - April 1985 - #

Here is a form of social organization which circles the globe, penetrating everywhere – societies calling themselves Socialist or Non-aligned as well as those styled Western or capitalist – claiming to be uniquely qualified to manage everything. Yet everywhere managing to produce crisis heaped on crisis.

The managers and experts prescribe their standard cures: more centralized management, more manipulated ‘participation’, more efficiency, more power to the powerful. Yet those who control all the levers of power find that the levers do not respond as planned, or do not respond at all. The more power the system takes unto itself, the more the crises deepen, the more unmanageable the managed society becomes.

The basic contradiction of the managed society is its complete dependence on the co-operation and allegiance of the very people whom it manages. If the system is to work, people have to be made to ‘manage’ themselves. Because Big Brother cannot be everywhere at once. he has to delegate the watching, manipulating and enforcing – to the various breeds of specialist who are a hallmark of the managed society, but finally to each one of us. We must carry our own Thought Police in our heads. But can we be trusted to do so?

Continue reading here.

Keywords: Power, Revolution, Social Change.

One Vote for Democracy

Connexions Digest - September 1986 - #

There was much that I found wise and helpful in Alexandra Devon’s article on meeting process (It ain’t the meeting it’s the motion! KIO #16), but I find myself in fundamental disagreement when she maintains that consensus is preferable to democracy.

To begin with, I think she confuses the essential defining characteristics of the consensus model and of the democratic model with things that have to do with meeting process in general.

For example, she rightly stresses the importance and value of things such as having “a social time before the meeting”, making “a special effort to connect” with new people at meetings, having “trust between group members”, having “shared values” in the group, and making the effort to “express our views, explain them, listen to the views of others and modify our views when others make points we might not have thought about.” On the other side, she points to the destructiveness of meetings in which “people constantly interrupt each other”, in which “a few people dominate”, or in which “the quieter people are ignored”.

However, there is nothing inherent in the virtues she lists which make them unique to consensus-model meetings, and nothing inherent in the faults she names which limit them to democracy-model meetings.

I can guarantee that if she asks around she will find plenty of people who can tell her about democratic groups based on shared values and trust in which special efforts are made to make new people feel comfortable, in which people listen to each other, are open, and change their minds when others bring up points they haven’t thought of, and in which decisions are usually negotiated compromises rather than rammed through. I can also assure Alexandra that there are many people who could tell her about their experiences in consensus-model groups in which a few people dominated, people constantly interrupted each other, and the quieter people were ignored.

Continue reading here.

Keywords: Consensus Decision-MakingDemocracyDemocratic ValuesGroup MeetingsParticipatory Democracy

“Free trade” fantasies

December 27, 1987 - #

My grandmother used to bounce me on her knee as the fire crackled merrily in the wood stove and, feeding me milk and home-baked pie, warn me, “Ulli, never trust anyone who tries to sell you their political agenda by using irrelevant homey anecdotes.”

Thus inoculated, I was unimpressed by Richard Lipsey’s account (Toronto Star, December 18, 1987) of how he buys his own groceries from a presumed fascist without becoming a fascist himself. Mr. Lipsey assures us that he has a mutually advantageous trading relationship with his grocer, and that his own identity has not suffered. He concludes from this (what else?) that we can enter into a free trade deal with the U.S. without risk of U.S. domination.

Mr. Lipsey, who is billed as “one of Canada’s foremost academic economists”, ought to know that the free trade debate is about economic power, not about “rubbing shoulders with Americans”. His little anecdote would be more relevant if his grocer was simultaneously his employer, his landlord, the owner of the company that sold him his heating oil and his gasoline, the owner of most of the businesses in his home town, and the source of much of the news and entertainment he watched on TV. At that point, even Mr. Lipsey might feel the relationship was a little unequal, and might worry about the prospect of his “trading partner” acquiring even more economic power.

Mr. Lipsey might then be less ready to pretend that a U.S.-Canada free trade deal is comparable to one between Holland and Belgium. The difference is that Holland and Belgium are evenly matched in size and economic power, while Canada and the U.S. are not. The U.S. has already acquired a degree of control over the Canadian economy that has no parallel anywhere in the world. Those of us who want Canada to survive want us to pursue policies that diversify Canadian trade, rather than ones that tie us even more closely to the U.S.

And what are we to make of Mr. Lipsey’s claim that Canadians, and consumers everywhere, can only gain by getting rid of tariffs? (“The higher their country’s tariffs, the more they gain by getting rid of them.”) If this is so, why aren’t countries all around the world rushing to scrap their tariffs? The answer, of course, is that we are not just “consumers”. More importantly, those of us who aren’t rich depend on a pay cheque coming in if we are to consume anything. A slight fall in prices is not much compensation to the hundreds of thousands who risk losing their jobs under free trade.

Keywords: Free TradeMedia Bias

Letter on Free Trade Emotions, Pro and Con

November 2, 1988 - #

Letter to CBC Radio on Free Trade Discussion:

Your panel of business columnists was unanimous in insisting this morning that the free trade deal should not be rejected out of fear or other emotional considerations.

Yet one of their main reasons for wanting the deal to go through was that rejection would cause a negative emotional reaction from much of the business community here and in the U.S. This reaction, they said, might have a detrimental effect on the “volatile” dollar and stock markets.

Why is it acceptable for the business community – and your columnists – to raise these fears of what might happen if the deal doesn’t go through, but unacceptable for those of us who oppose the deal to focus attention on what we will lose if it does?

Finally, I couldn’t help noticing how emotional your business panelists were in demanding that emotion not enter the free trade debate.

One-sided discussion of free trade avoids key issues

November 6, 1988 - #

I wrote this letter to the producers of CBC Radio’s Morningside program on November 6, after listening to their ‘business’ panel discuss the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.

I was driving along in my truck on Wednesday morning listening to the CBC, when Morningside’s regular business panelists launched into their passionately partisan defense of the free trade deal. I was particularly struck by Richard Osler’s strongly emotional reaction when Peter Gzowksi [the host] suggested that ordinary Canadians might conclude that “if it’s good for the ‘fat cats’ it’s bad for us”. Mr. Osler insisted that the worst thing we could do is to look at the trade deal in terms of “them and us”.

My own reaction was that that is precisely how we should look at it. If anything is certain, it is that some people will do well by “free trade”, while others will be hurt. Many business people will do well by it: hence their support for the deal. Some sectors of business, such as the textile, printing, and wine-making industries, will be hurt, hence their opposition to it.

In general, the deal promises benefits for those who are capitalists, and for those who deal in capital, such as investment brokers and economic analysts. But what is good for a male investment dealer is not necessarily good at all for a female textile worker who will be thrown out of work by free trade.

This simple truth makes it not only appropriate, but imperative, to look at the trade deal in terms of whom it hurts and who benefits. Your analysts seem to be quite unwilling to actually analyze the deal and its impact on different groups in society.

This brings me to the thought that the unanimity of your panelists in supporting a deal opposed by many Canadians points to a problem with your panel. The assumption underlying the ‘business’ panel seems to be that ‘business’ is about mergers, deals, interest rates, and stocks and bonds, and that the people best equipped to talk about business are people who belong to the world of capital and finance. But business is also about the people who actually work in the offices, factories, and farms, who are so profoundly affected by what happens in the world of capital.

Surely it is inappropriate to look at business only from the point of view of businessmen and women. Would it not make for a more balanced panel if it included the viewpoints of the great majority of us who do not deal in capital and corporate takeovers? Are there not knowledgeable economic commentators who could bring a labour or social policy perspective to business trends? Is it really necessary or appropriate to have a panel so exclusively tied to the perspectives of capital?

Ulli Diemer

Keywords: Free TradeMedia Bias

Giant Squid: Letter to the Editor

November 8, 1988 - #

According to the November 8, 1988 Toronto Star, Fred Aldrich has studied the giant squid for over a quarter of a century. The legendary sea creatures are so rare that no living person has ever seen one alive.

And what does Fred Aldrich plan to do if he manages to catch up to one with his mini-submarine? Why, kill it, of course.

How many species do we have to drive into extinction before we learn?

Smuggling Garbage: Letter to the Editor, Globe & Mail

- #

Making people pay according to how much household garbage they put out would undoubtedly change their behaviour, but not in the way Francesco L. Galassi naively assume (Is The Blue Box A Red Herring? - April 10).

The likely result of such a system would be that the environmentally irresponsible individuals whose behaviour Mr. Galassi hopes to change would take to dumping their trash on vacant land, in industrial areas and on the side of the highway. Higher dumping fees have already prompted illegal dumping of industrial and toxic wastes to the point where organized crime now finds it a profitable field.

Other would simply deposit their garbage in front of someone else’s house under cover of darkness. Large families would have a special incentive to do so, since a fee-per-bag system discriminates against households with more members.

If we are serious about reducing garbage, we need to begin at the point of production, using legislation and tax policies to discourage wasteful products and packaging. At the other end of the cycle, we need more incentives to divert as much as possible to the recycling stream, such as refundable deposits on everything from tires to household appliances.

What Do We Do Now? Building a Social Movement in the Aftermath of Free Trade

February 19, 1989 - #

The 1988 election was an important and bitter setback for all who desire a Canada that is more than an appendage of U.S. corporate capitalism.

We know that the free trade deal will erode Canada’s already limited independence. It will make it that much more difficult to resist the neo-conservative crusade to eliminate or cripple anything that stands in the way of making profits in the marketplace.

We will be facing an aggressive campaign to put in place a purer, harsher capitalism in which the rich get richer and the poor and powerless get hurt. Social and environmental programs will be attacked in the name of reducing government spending and staying competitive, as will working people’s wages, working conditions, and unions. This is a world-wide phenomenon, not simply a North American one: a concerted drive to reverse many of the gains of the welfare state which have been won since the Second World War.

We will be told that we have to cut the deficit, but without raising taxes, especially corporate taxes, since that would cause capital to shift elsewhere (i.e. to go on strike, but they don’t like to call it that.) Wages and fringe benefits will have to be kept low, or companies will move to anti-union states in the U.S., or to the Third World. We’ll be told that we can’t afford environmental safeguards and workplace health regulations because they will put ‘us’ at a competitive disadvantage. ‘Rolling back’ unions will be an important part of the agenda.

But the situation is far from hopeless. The groups and coalitions fighting free trade were able to rouse a substantial majority of Canadian voters to vote against the deal. Only an undemocratic electoral system – and tens of millions of dollars’ worth of corporate advertising in favour of free trade – enabled Brian Mulroney’s Conservatives to emerge with a majority government despite being rejected by well over half the electorate.

Continue reading here.

Keywords: AlternativesCoalition BuildingDemocratizationFree TradeInternationalismSolidarity

A conversation with Howard Huggett

May 24, 1989 - #

Howard Huggett was a long-time socialist activist. After he retired, he wrote articles for Seven News in the 1970s and the 1980s, and was on the Seven News Board of Directors. I interviewed him on May 24, 1989.

In this interview, he talks about how he became involved in left politics in the Great Depression of the 1930s, his involvement in the Lovestone Group and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), and his work experiences as a deckhand on a lake freighter and in the warehouse of a book publisher.

Read the transcript of the interview here.

The Connexions Annual - A Social Change Sourcebook - 1989

September 1989#

Connexions Annual 1989 cover

The Connexions Annual – A Social Change Sourcebook. A 224-page sourcebook, edited by Ulli Diemer, with information and ideas about social and environmental alternatives. Here is a scanned copy.

“The Connexions Annual is for people who are looking for information and ideas about social and environmental alternatives.

The Annual is dedicated to the idea that change is both necessary and possible. It is a gateway into vigorous grassroots movements of ordinary people who believe that there are viable alternatives to destructive and exploitative institutions and structures – and who are actively working to bring those alternatives into being.

The Annual is designed both for those already actively working for change, and for those who want to become involved. Its pages are crowded with information about groups and resources across Canada: names, addresses, and phone numbers, details of groups' activities, the resources and services they offer, their goals, how to join them.”

Introduction to The Connexions Annual

September 1989 - #

A coal miner who took part in the wave of strikes which shook the former Soviet Union summed up the problems facing his local strike committee as follows: “‘We have to answer two simple questions:’ ‘How are we going to live?’ and ‘What do we do now?’”

Those are questions we all have to answer. We live in a world in crisis. Governments, corporations, and institutions assure us they have everything under control, and that better times are just around the corner, but all around us we see poverty, violence, injustice, environmental disasters, and wars.

For more than a decade, they have imposed a new-right agenda on our societies, telling us we have no choice but to adapt to a ‘new world order’ based on ‘free markets’ and privatization. Instead of experiencing the promised benefits, however, most of us find ourselves worse off, economically, socially, and spiritually.

Most of us are not living the lives we would choose to live, but the existing order insists there are no alternatives to itself, and most of us are sufficiently convinced or pre-occupied or discouraged to keep society from coming unglued. Many, many people wish there were alternatives, or think there ought to be, but are resigned to the conclusion that it is utopian to entertain any hopes for real change. The ‘system’ is too big, too powerful, and we are too weak and too few in numbers.

‘What do we do now?’ ‘How do we live?’ All too often, we mind our own problems and don’t think about the rest.

Yet despite the pervasive feeling that ‘nothing can be done’, people do join together to act in common when they feel threatened or wronged, or when they have a goal in sight which they desire passionately enough. Sometimes they organize quietly and gradually. At other times a mass movement explodes into being, seemingly out of nothing, despite the risks and the odds.

Continue reading here.

Keywords: AlternativesSolidarity.

Keep stressing democracy

October 10, 1989 - #

It seems to me that one of the key themes which socialists should be hammering away at is that of democracy.

The issue of democracy, or the lack of it, connects, or has the potential to connect, a wide diversity of the struggles and movements. The perspective of a radical democratization of society can contribute to linking the concerns and demands of separate movements, and also has the potential to help move them forward. As socialists we should make it a priority to try to put the issue of democracy – and of the meaning of democracy – on the agenda of movements for change, and on the agenda of society as a whole.

The demand for democracy is intuitively attractive and reasonable to many, certainly including those already active in working for change. The idea of democracy is deeply rooted in our political culture. Why not take advantage of the generally accepted idea that democracy is a good thing, and raise the question of what democracy really is and why we actually have so little of it? What could be more subversive and radical than actually taking our society’s democratic rhetoric seriously?

We socialists could play an important role in making democracy a central theme in our social and environmental movements, and in making it a cutting edge of those movements as they challenge the status quo. Doing so can raise key questions of power and accountability and challenge the legitimacy of the existing power structures.

On a wide range of economic and environmental issues, we could work to make an issue not only of what is being done, but of how decisions are made. Why should there be a class of owners entitled to take decisions which profoundly affect thousands of people and entire communities, while those whose health, livelihoods and future are at stake have no say? Why shouldn’t economic decisions be made democratically, by those who actually do the work and need the goods and services?

What we socialists can offer, in other words, is a vision of a radically democratic socialist society, in which power is taken away from corporations, governments, bureaucracies, and experts, and dispersed widely. We can challenge the idea that politics is just about elections and elected office, presenting instead the goal of real democratic control of social and economic life, including workers’ control in the workplace and community control in our towns and neighbourhoods.

To do this, we don’t have to claim to have a blueprint for how a democratic society would look. We can acknowledge that there are important questions of how, for example, one balances majority rule and minority rights, of how individual freedoms can be safeguarded against potential abuse by a majority.

What we can strive to do is to put the issue of democracy high on the agenda, and to try to show how taking democracy seriously points toward a radically transformed, socialist, society.

Ulli Diemer

See also:
What Do We Do Now?

Keywords: DemocracyDemocratizationPower

Let’s Stop Kidding Ourselves About the NDP

Canadian Dimension - November 1989 - #

It is time we stopped kidding ourselves. Canadian socialists have been hoping for over 60 years that the NDP, and the CCF before it, would somehow become a socialist party leading a socialist movement, rather than an electoral machine interested in nothing more than bringing in a few reforms to make capitalism more humane and more efficient. We are deluding ourselves.

Unfortunately Canadian socialists are terribly reluctant to give up their illusions about the NDP. No matter how often we are beaten over the head with the hard facts, no matter how often the party lets us down, no matter how far to the right it drifts, we don’t want to face the bitter conclusion.

But if we are ever to move ahead, we have to face it: The NDP is not a socialist party. The NDP has never been a socialist party. And the NDP never will be a socialist party.

The NDP is not at a “crossroads” between “socialist principles” and “pragmatism”. It is not about to “rebuild itself from the bottom up” and become a “social movement”. It is not about to “choose to be a socialist party”. It is not going to miraculously transform itself and start “leading the Canadian people in a struggle for national survival and socialism.”

The NDP of the real world, as opposed to the NDP of our fantasies, was conceived, founded, and has always functioned as an organization that seeks to tame or improve the capitalist system, not to overturn it.

Continue reading here.

Keywords: AlternativesNDP

Looking for Democracy

Connexions Digest - December 1989 - #

Some of my friends consider me an incurable optimist. Having themselves grown cynical over the years about the prospects of ever achieving real change, they seem a little exasperated at times by my refusal to give up hope.

For all my hopefulness, however, I have been as astounded as anyone by the dramatic revolutionary upheavals in Eastern Europe. Despite my having insisted for years that the Communist regimes could and quite possibly would be swept aside by their own people one day, I still find myself amazed now that the day has actually arrived. Since the day the Berlin Wall opened, I’ve been dying to return to Germany (my birthplace) to see and feel the excitement myself, and to get closer to the events sweeping the Eastern bloc.

It’s a good bet that the people actually taking part in those remarkable events are every bit as surprised by them as we are watching from the outside. Even two or three months ago, the mood in Czechoslovakia, in Bulgaria, in East Germany, was reportedly one of pessimism and discouragement. Opposition groups were still illegal, and counted only a few dozen or a few hundred members. In the early autumn, some of the people who today hold government posts were still in jail.

And if we think back a few years, before Gorbachev, then we remember an Eastern Europe which appeared to be, from the inside as well as the outside, an immovable monolith. The system of social control, while in some ways crude by Western standards, was total and relentless, and few saw any hope of ever achieving change. Only a tiny minority opposed the regimes, and they suffered for it.

Yet almost overnight, those who but a historical moment earlier had no hope or thought of resistance or rebellion suddenly came together in their tens and then hundreds of thousands, and the powerlessness, passivity, and resignation of the people turned almost instantly into their opposites.

The truly remarkable victories they have achieved should inspire us in our own efforts in working for change in the West and remind us that fundamental change is possible even against formidable odds.

The Western media are now engaged in an orgy of self-congratulation, repeating endlessly that “capitalism” has defeated “communism”. Wishful thinking! The people of Eastern Europe are the ones who have won these victories, with little or no help from the capitalists who are rushing to take the credit.

Confronted with the explosive demands for freedom and democracy in Eastern Europe, the media are able to draw only one conclusion: that the people there want to have exactly the same political and economic institutions which we have here in the West. This too may turn out to be complacent self-delusion.

There are many indications that the working class majorities, in particular, want something else. They fervently want to be rid of their oppressive regimes and of the bureaucratically inept economic system, but many of them are saying very clearly that they don’t want to replace them with what they see as another evil: a capitalist system that will bring large-scale unemployment, reduced social services, and worsened living conditions for large numbers of ordinary people.

These East Europeans are looking for some kind of third alternative: a freer, more prosperous society than they have now, but one which offers more social justice and more real democracy than we have in the West.

It is the desire for freedom, for democracy, which has driven the Eastern Europeans into the streets in huge numbers. While the Western media see nothing except people wanting to imitate our wonderful political institutions, there is apparent for those who care to see, a more fundamental challenge to existing structures. It is entirely possible that some of the Eastern European countries may end up in short order with political systems which are more democratic than our own. Certainly the process of political ferment which is happening there now, involving millions of people directly in thousands of communities, neighbourhoods, and workplaces, is far more democratic than anything we have seen here in Canada in our lifetimes.

Instead of sitting on the sidelines congratulating ourselves on how wonderfully free and democratic we are, we should be pressing for a radical democratization of our own society.

For example, how democratic is our political system, if something as crucially important to the future of the nation as ‘free trade’ can be implemented after a decisive majority of voters (57% to 43%) voted against it in an election in which free trade was the only issue? How democratic is our society if a government, like the current Progressive Conservative one, can, shortly after the election, explicitly repudiate most of the election promises it made, and instead start implementing measures, like the GST, and cuts unemployment insurance, social and cultural programs, and VIA Rail, which it either never mentioned, or promised would not be brought in?

How much real democracy do we have here when decisions affecting the environment, health, and livelihood of thousands of people can be made by corporations which are subject to no democratic controls whatsoever?

We in the West should be putting democracy high on our agenda, and trying to get our own society to take its democratic rhetoric seriously.

Democracy in Eastern Europe? Wonderful! Now how about some more democracy here?

Ulli Diemer

Keywords: DemocracyDemocratizationEastern Europe

Interview with Ulli Diemer

June 1990 - #

Jeff Orchard interviewed Ulli Diemer in the Summer of 1990. The interview dealt with a wide range of issues related to social change.

Read a transcipt of the interview here.

Green Municipalism

June 1991 - #

The concept of ‘Green Municipalism’ as a strategy for social and ecological transformation is receiving increasing attention. I would like to offer a few reflections on this strategy and on how it is being formulated.

I am critical of some aspects of Green Municipalist strategy, but I there is a great deal which I find valuable and positive in this perspective. I am in whole-hearted agreement with the emphasis on local grassroots organizing, on the importance of building organic links with many different sectors in the community, on the development and nurturing of truly democratic processes and institutions, on human scale economic activities, and with much else.

Continue reading here.

Keywords: CitiesDemocratic MovementsGreen MovementThe LeftLibertarian SocialismMunicipal PoliticsSocialismUrban Affairs

War in the Gulf

Connexions Digest - January 1991 - #

A few hours before we went to press, the first wave of air attacks on Iraq was launched, thus setting off a war whose start could have been avoided and whose outcome could be far different from that foreseen by those who began it.

Those who will pay the cost will be those who had nothing to do with starting the war. Ordinary Iraqi working people, who have already suffered for years under an exceptionally brutal dictatorship, will face death and maiming, the loss of loved ones and of homes and possessions. Iraqi soldiers, most of them conscripted and forced into the front lines, many of them the survivors of the eight-year war that resulted from Saddam’s aggression against Iran, will face mass death.

On the other side of the lines, American soldiers, many of whom – like their Egyptian, British, French, and Canadian counterparts – joined the armed forces to escape poverty and unemployment, will also shed their blood in a needless war. The injured and shell-shocked survivors will return to the same neglect and ingratitude that greeted the American Vietnam veterans now living in poverty and pain, and the crippled Iraqi veterans who beg in the markets of Baghdad.

Continue reading here.

Dances with Guilt: Looking at Men Looking at Violence

Canadian Dimension - September 1991 - #

Recently, I attended a meeting in which a group of about twenty men were discussing violence against women and what men could do to prevent it.

The discussion was personal, yet practically oriented. Two men related how they had discovered that male friends were physically abusing their partners, how they had tried to confront them about it, how difficult and scary it had been to do so, how the abuser had responded when confronted, etc. A couple of other men talked about how they tried to make it clear to men who told racist or sexist jokes that such jokes are inappropriate.

Someone suggested a male solidarity march along the lines of ‘Take Back The Night’. Another man picked up the idea, recounting how he had participated in an action to leaflet men in bars about violence against women. Perhaps we could make a similar action in conjunction with the ‘Take Back the Night’ march scheduled to take place a week later?

Then one man spoke up to say, to sounds of approval from others, that we were ‘avoiding the real issue’ by talking about ‘what other men do’ and how to prevent it. He said that violence isn’t something that ‘other men’ do: it’s something in which all men are complicit. We’re ‘just as guilty’, so we should be looking at how we perpetuate violence in our own relationships with women.

Agreeing with him, another participant jumped in with an example: he had once called his wife a ‘dummy’, something he said he now realized was wife abuse. Someone else said that reading about rapes and murders in the newspaper made him wonder what was the matter with men that ‘we’ do these things. Are we violent because of biology (‘something to do with testosterone?’) or because of socialization? Is there any hope for the male of the species?

Others offered similar thoughts. The remaining minutes of the meeting were devoted to a cathartic wallowing in guilt: ‘Aren’t we all horrible?’. Any thought of planning an action was forgotten.

Continue reading here.

Keywords: Abuse/Emotional/PsychologicalGuiltMale-Female RelationshipsMenMen’s IssuesSexismViolenceViolence Against Women

Response to Criticisms of Dances with Guilt

1991 - #

Violet Black criticizes me for using the word “violence” to refer only to physical attacks. In her view, violence includes “attitudes”, “comments”, “eating disorders”, undermining someone’s self-esteem, and other forms of “indirect violence”, “emotional and verbal” violence, and “psychological violence.”

I use the word “violence” in the narrower sense of physical attacks for two reasons.

The first is that this is what the word means. My Oxford dictionary defines “violence” as “exercise of physical force” and defines a violent act as one “involving physical force or the threat of force.” That is what most people understand by the term “violence.” I think we create unnecessary confusion when we arbitrarily redefine words to mean what we choose them to mean. Using “violent” as a synonym for “bad” or “harmful” serves to blur the issue of violence rather than to clarify it.

The second reason for the distinction, as I stated in my original article, has to do with importance of making men who are potentially violent understand that violence against a woman is not just another form of conflict, like anger or arguing, but a criminal act which never acceptable under any circumstances. I argued, and I still maintain, that we undermine efforts to turn violence into a social taboo when we indiscriminately label every objectionable behaviour, including thoughts and remarks, as “violence.”

Read more here.

Cuba’s Invasion Fears

1991 - #

A Letter to the Editor of The Globe and Mail, in response to an article by Oakland Ross which implied that Cuba was being paranoid in thinking that it might be a victim of U.S. aggression.

Oakland Ross implies that Cubans who fear an invasion by the United States are out of touch with reality (Cuba haunted By Old Fears of U.S. Attack -- Oct. 8, 1991). It could be argued that Cubans are all too aware of the reality of U.S. intervention.

The United States used military force against Cuba in 1906, 1912, 1917 and 1933. The unsuccessful 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion was organized in, and launched from the United States, with active U.S. government support and involvement.

The U.S. administration continues to display pathological hatred toward the Castro government, which it has been continuously working to overthrow since 1959, with tactics which range from a 32-year total economic embargo (still in effect), through crop poisonings, to attempted assassinations. U.S. military forces are permanently stationed on Cuban soil, at the Guantanamo base, which a former Cuban government was forced to cede to the United States. U.S. planes routinely violate Cuban air space.

U.S. military interventions in the past decade include the launching of all-out war against Iraq to destroy a government that had defied the U.S., the invasion of Panama to overthrow that country’s ruler, the invasion of Grenada to get rid of a regime that was distasteful to the U.S., and the bloody eight-year contra war against Nicaragua's Sandinista government.

Given this record, anyone who thinks that further U.S. military actions are out of the questions would do well to re-examine their own grip on reality.

Ulli Diemer
October 8, 1991

Keywords: BlockadesCuba-United States RelationsInterventionU.S. Foreign Policy

Falsifying history

December 3, 1991 - #

In his review of Mel Hurtig’s book The Betrayal of Canada, R. T. Naylor perpetuates the myth that a majority of Canadians voted in favour of free trade in the 1988 election. Naylor claims that “there actually was a vigorous national debate and the free trade agreement won.”

Naylor is falsifying history. In fact, 55 per cent of the electorate voted against free trade in what Naylor himself characterizes as a “referendum-cum-election.”

It is only because Canada’s electoral system is profoundly undemocratic that it was possible for the Mulroney Tories to form a majority government with only 43 per cent of the votes. They then used that majority to force through the free trade deal even though a substantial majority of the electorate had voted against it.

Naylor adds insult to injury when he goes on to say that “people in liberal democracies ultimately get the governments (and therefore the government policies) they deserve.” In this liberal democracy, a clear majority of the people voted against the government and its free trade deal, only to get them anyway, thanks to an undemocratic electoral system.

Ulli Diemer

Labels: Canada-U.S. Free Trade AgreementCanadian PoliticsDemocracyElectionsFree Trade

Debating the NDP

Canadian Dimension - December 31, 1991 - #

I see that Canadian Dimension magazine is still afflicted with the Left’s debilitating NDP-addiction. Once again, several articles in the latest issue scrutinize the NDP to determine whether it is moving left, right, forward, backwards, or simply spinning its wheels. Once again, well-meaning contributors offer their sincere opinions about what the NDP should be doing.

The Left has engaged in these same futile pursuits since 1933, achieving pretty much the same result as a dog chasing its tail. Anyone who today still harbours hope that the NDP will change in ways the Left would like ought to join New Democrats Anonymous.

Continue reading...

Diemer: The Left and the NDP

Foreign funding for Canadian political parties

16 March, 1992 - #

Those who have been losing sleep worrying that agents of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) would find themselves on the unemployment lines now the Cold War is over can stop fretting. Solicitor General Doug Lewis has found a new line of work for CSIS. Since we’re a bit short of real live Moscow-style Communists, Mr. Lewis is dispatching CSIS to do historical research. The subject: allegations that the Communist Party of Canada used to receive subsidies from Moscow.

Never mind that there would have been nothing illegal about such subsidies, as Mr. Lewis himself acknowledges. Never mind that the payments, if they occurred, were obviously money down the drain, since the Communist Party of Canada lost all hope of credibility decades ago largely because it had turned itself into a transparent mouthpiece of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Kremlin. And never mind that the Communist Party is now in a state of terminal collapse. With Liberal MPs cheering him on, Mr. Lewis has concocted this make-work scheme for the under-employed CSIS snoops. If nothing else, this new-found willingness to spend money to keep people employed is a noteworthy change from the Tories’ usual obsession with cutting government spending.

But why stop there? Why not put CSIS to work investigating other Canadian political parties which receive money from foreign-controlled organizations? How about an inquiry into the campaign funds which the Liberal and Progressive Conservative Parties receive, year after year, from American-owned companies? How about an investigation of the extent to which the campaign in favour of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States was funded by U.S.-controlled corporations?

And why not put the Toronto Star’s reporters to work preparing a series of front-page exposes of secret CIA payments to political parties, government officials, senior police and military officers, trade unions, universities, newspapers, radio and TV stations, etc., in dozens of countries around the world? Or perhaps an in-depth expose of how the White House and the Vatican collaborated to secretly channel funds to Poland’s Solidarity movement and to other oppositional groups in the former Soviet bloc?

I’ll be watching for the results of these investigations with eager anticipation. But I won’t be holding my breath.

Postscript – The Ironies of History: In December 2007, Karlheinz Schreiber testified before a House of Commons committee that in 1983 he had been involved in funnelling foreign money to Mr. Lewis’s future boss, Brian Mulroney, to help him in his (successful) campaign to take the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party from Joe Clark. According to Mr. Schreiber, the money was supplied by Franz Josef Strauss, the right-wing premier of Bavaria, who at the time was also chairman of Airbus Industrie. The amount of German money secretly provided to the Mulroney campaign is said to have been substantial enough that it may well have been a deciding factor in the close-fought battle between Mulroney and Clark.

Psychotherapist out of touch

1992 - #

goose crossing

It would be difficult to imagine advice for children and parents more damaging than that offered by psychotherapist Darlene Hall in a recent article in the Globe and Mail.

According to Ms Hall, “enlightened parents” who want to reduce “childhood victimization” should stop hugging or touching their children unless they have first asked for and received permission to do so from the child. The offer of a parental hug or touch “should be given and articulated to the child in a clear and direct manner by the adult.” If touching the child is unavoidable, as in bathing or giving medicine, then the parent is to explain “why they need to touch the child, and they should continue to talk to the child as the activity unfolds.”

What a perfect recipe for raising children to be self-conscious and uncomfortable about their bodies, about touching, and about being touched! In Ms Hall’s emotionally constipated vision of family life, there appears to be no room for spontaneous physical expressions of affection. Touching one’s own child is an inherently suspect activity, never to be engaged in without prior discussion.

Someone needs to explain to Ms Hall that spontaneous touching and hugging are natural behaviour all over the world among people who like or love each other. They play a crucial role in developing a child’s sense of being loved and secure. Normal parents don’t ask a crying toddler “Would it be all right with you if I were to pick you up and comfort you?”

The best that can be said for Ms Hall’s advice is that it would be sure to generate plenty of additional business for “experts” on family problems like herself.

Ulli Diemer

Keywords: AffectionChildrenIntimacy – ParentingTouching

Yes Means No?

1992 - #

Betty Disero and Beverley Richardson, in a recent letter to the editor, profess support for the principle that “No Means No” and “Yes Means Yes”. However, after paying lip service to this admirably clear rule, they reveal that what they actually support is the position that “Yes means No”.

Adopting a line of argument which is rapidly gaining popularity among those who wish to use society’s desire to prevent assault as a cover for legislating their own brand of morality, Disero and Richardson claim that “Yes” means “No” if one or both of the parties are “under the influence of alcohol”. According to this point of view, drinking and sex should be equated with drinking and driving, and the law should view both with equal severity.

Those who equate these situations betray their incomprehension of what the issue of consent is all about. No one, whatever their state of sobriety, wishes to hit by a car, whether it is driven by a drunk driver or by a sober one. People who drive when intoxicated inflict a considerable risk of such collisions on others, and that is why we as a society refuse to allow people to drive after they have been drinking. The question of consent never arises, because being run into by a drunkdriver is never a consensual act.

However, people in varying stages of sobriety do willingly engage in sex. Individuals who are too intoxicated to drive safely are still quite capable of desiring sex, of consenting to sex, and of participating in sexual activity. It may offend the sensibilities of the new puritans, but some people actually find that they desire and enjoy sex more when they have been drinking or taking certain drugs. This should not be a matter for the law.

It should also not be the business of the law to legislate a paternalistic double standard by holding that a woman is no longer capable of distinguishing between "Yes" and "No" if she has been drinking, while a man remains capable of telling the difference when he has been drinking. There may be times when there is guilt or regret afterwards about the decision to engage in sex, but if there has been no coercion, that too should not be a matter for the law. Justice Minister Campbell has therefore acted correctly in removing the “intoxication” provision from Bill C-49.

The business of the law should be to make it clear that “No” means “No” and that society will not tolerate the use of force or coercion to obtain sex. Anyone who can’t tell the difference between “Yes” and “No” is part of the problem.

Ulli Diemer

Now they’re going to destroy the economy

29 October, 1992 - #

The geniuses who brought us the constitutional debacle have all announced that they will now be turning their energies to the economy. Isn’t there any way we can vote ‘No’ to that offer as well, before it’s too late?

Keywords: Economic PolicyNeo-conservatism

What’s wrong with front yard parking?

1993 - #

Parking can be a problem, no doubt about it. Front yard parking, however, is no solution.

1. Front yard parking frequently means fewer parking spots, not more

Front Yard Parking Front yard parking is attractive (if you don’t mind paving over your front yard) because it guarantees the person who has it a parking spot. With on-street parking, you can’t prevent other people from parking on the street in front of your house. With front yard parking, you can. However, your gain is often other people’s loss, because front yard parking commonly results in fewer parking spaces on the street overall. This is because the street frontage in front of each front-yard parking spot is no longer available for parking, and the space remaining between one front yard and the next is frequently too small to accommodate a car, given the typically small size of city lots. The result: fewer total parking spaces: not more. In other words, front yard parking benefits those who have it, since it guarantees them a parking space, but it often makes parking more difficult for everyone else. This in itself acts as an incentive for more and more home-owners to get front yard parking for themselves, once it is established, since fewer on-street parking spots are available. The parking problem in the neighbourhood gets worse, not better.

2. Front yard parking is dangerous for children

The more front yard parking there is, the more cars there are backing to and fro across the sidewalk. Children, especially small children, are fast-moving and unpredictable, hard to see, and don’t have much traffic sense. At present, they are safe from cars as long as they stay off the street. With front yard parking, the sidewalk is no longer a car-free safe area. Every year, children are killed by cars backing over them. With increased front yard parking, the question is not whether more children will be killed, but how many more.

3. Front yard parking kills trees and contributes to global warming

Front yard parking has serious negative environmental impacts. Front yard parking kills trees, prevents new trees from being planted, and significantly reduces the total amount of green space, replacing it with asphalt. Trees mitigate global warming, pavement makes it worse. Allowing front yard parking is a built-in incentive for people to pave over the green spaces on our streets. Dennis Laffan, a forestry co-ordinator with the City of Toronto, has stated that front yard parking is the biggest killer of street trees in Toronto today. Even when trees are not cut down to accommodate parking, their roots are often severely damaged by laying pavement or bricks, which also cut them off from moisture and nutrients. And of course once a yard is paved over, no new trees are going to grow there.

4. Front Yard Parking is a Bad Idea

The negative effects of front yard parking are significant, and affect us all. The benefits are small, and go only to a few. It should not be available.

Keywords: Parking.

The futile war on drugs and prostitution

1994 - #

John Sewell makes an important point when he says that public housing projects need to be physically redesigned to make them more like ordinary neighbourhoods with through streets, public sidewalks, front and back yards, and better laid out lobbies and hallways. Such changes would be important steps towards creating a sense of neighbourhood and community.

He is kidding himself, however, if he thinks this would address the root causes of drug dealing, prostitution, and street crime. At best, the result would be to shift these activities to another neighbourhood.

No redesign is going to overcome the effects of lack of meaningful work, lack of money, lack of control, and lack of hope. These inevitably breed crime, especially when they occur in the midst of a society whose dominant value system says that the only thing that matters is to get as much for yourself as possible.

Addressing these problems is going to involve a “redesign” of our entire society, not just of housing projects.

There is, however, a much simpler and more immediate solution to the specific problems of illegal drug dealing and prostitution: decriminalization.

Our obsessive and utterly futile “war” against these activities is not only turning tens of thousands of people into “criminals”, but is corrupting our entire society. The simplest way to get drug dealers off the street corners and out of public housing is to decriminalize drugs.

Ulli Diemer

Keywords: Drug DecriminalizationDrug TraffickingProstitutionPublic Housing

Self-determination for some

2 December 1994 - #

Pierre Bourgault takes English Canadians to task for not speaking out loudly enough in favour of Quebec's right to self-determination.

“The problem,” he writes, “is that a lot of people are in favour of the principle of self-determination for all the people of the world except the people of Quebec.”

Perhaps Prof. Bourgault could set us an example by speaking out himself in support of the right of self-determination for all the people of Quebec, including those who don’t want to be part of an independent Quebec.

When may we expect the publication of his spirited defence of self-determination for the Cree of Northern Quebec? If the people of some regions of Quebec, say the Eastern Townships or Montreal, want to remain part of Canada rather than join an independent Quebec, may we look forward to hearing Prof. Bourgault’s voice defending their right to self-determination, even if that means seceding from Quebec?

Surely Prof. Bourgault and his fellow independentistes would not allow themselves to be guilty of “the silence, the indifference, even the scorn” for the principle of self-determination which he claims typifies the attitude of non-Quebecers?

See also: Thinking About Self-Determination

Labels: Aboriginal Self-GovernmentNationalismQuebec SeparatismSecessionSelf-DeterminationSeparatism

Thinking About Self-Determination

Canadian Dimension - December 1994 - #

Canadian Dimension was absolutely right to say, in its October-November editorial, that the left needs to do some hard thinking about “self-determination”.

A good place to start would be to ask whether that familiar canon of the left, “the right to self-determination”, actually means anything, or whether it is another empty slogan whose main utility is that the left can repeat it like a mantra and so save itself the trouble of thinking critically.

The traditional leftist position was well represented by Leo Panitch’s response to CD’s editorial. Panitch’s position boils down to three points:

1. We should support Quebec’s right to self-determination.

2. The only acceptable way for Quebec to exercise its right to self-determination is to secede and set up an independent nation-state.

3. The role of the English-Canadian left is to support Quebec independence and not ask embarrassing questions.

Panitch’s position, broadly held on the left, will appeal to those who like simple answers to complicated questions. What he is really saying is that the left has nothing to contribute to the debate.

There isn’t the faintest trace of a socialist analysis here, nothing with which purveyors of the neo-conservative corporate agenda like the union-busting Jacques Parizeau or former Mulroney hatchet-man Lucien Bouchard would disagree. “Self-determination” is apparently exempt from class analysis, and evidently has nothing to do with changing who wields economic and political power, nothing to do with democratization, nothing to do with the struggle for socialism.

Continue reading here.

Labels: National RightsNationalismQuebec PartitionQuebec SeparatismSecessionSelf-DeterminationSeparatism

Diemer: Self-Determination in the real world

Things are good for everyone in Kyrgystan — except the vast majority

22 March, 1995 - #

No doubt things look pretty rosy from the salad bars of the “upscale restaurants” in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where foreign journalists like Geoffrey York rub shoulders with “swarms of Western advisers and consultants” (Obscure little country becomes big success).

Too bad it didn’t occur to Mr. York to find out how the people of Kyrgyzstan are faring under the marvellous “market reforms” which have turned the country into “the darling of the world's economic reformers”.

Had he troubled to do so, he might have discovered that while Kyrgyzstan is being “flooded with planeloads of foreign experts who have lavished praise on its reformist government and its liberalized economy”, the income and living standards of the vast majority of the population have dropped, unemployment has risen dramatically, average life expectancy has fallen, and rural poverty has increased.

Mr. York’s sole allusion to these unfortunate side-effects of the “model” free market miracle which has foreign investors drooling is to observe that “the reforms have been slow to bring benefits to the ordinary people of the country.”

In plain language, most people are worse off than they were before. Some “model”. Some “big success”.

Ulli Diemer

Keywords: Bullshit“Free Market” EconomicsKyrgyzstanMarket Economy

Absolutely disagree

23 March, 1995 - #

Susan G. Cole may like to think of herself as a “thoughtful anti-porn activist”, but it’s hard to take her claims seriously when she tells us that the difference between Americans and Canadians is that Canadians have a commendable desire to be subjected to censorship, while a belief in “absolute free speech” is an American peculiarity (Absolute Trash From ACLU Prez).

Anyone who thinks that the U.S. is a bastion of “absolute free speech” must have spent the last few decades on another planet.

And – no doubt this will come as a shock to Cole – many Canadians adhere to what she calls the “extremist position” on censorship, i.e., we’re against it.

Believe it or not, some of us would rather not have customs officials and cops deciding what we can read or look at. We’d rather decide for ourselves.

Ulli Diemer

See also:
Opposing Censorship
Free Speech and Acceptable Truths
Free Speech for me - you shut up

Keywords: CensorshipFeminismFree SpeechFreedom of ExpressionPornography.

Diemer - Censorship

Ten Health Care Myths: Understanding Canada’s Medicare Debate

Autumn 1995 - #

“To Every Complex Problem there is a Simple Answer: Neat, Plausible, and Wrong.”

– H.L. Mencken

Medicare is a Canadian success story. Not perfect, but good enough to be envied by much of the world.

Canadians now take it for granted they will receive high-quality health care when they need it, without financial or other barriers. In a country where we compare everything we do with what happens south of the border, we are surprised but pleased to find we have fashioned a health care program which delivers better care, with better results, to a much higher proportion of the population, at a much lower cost, than in the United States.

Confronted with these facts, policy-makers and the media have drawn the predictable conclusion: Canada’s health care system is in crisis – gravely ill at best, perhaps even on its death-bed.

The air is thick with prophecies of doom and prescriptions for drastic surgery. The health care debate has become a highly ideological battleground where pre-determined political and economic assumptions count for more than evidence and where myth is treated as fact thanks to uncritical media repetition.

What follows is a brief guide to 10 common health care myths:

Read the rest of the story here.

For an updated version of this article see Medicare Myths and Realities (published 2012).

Keywords: Health Care in CanadaMedicareTwo-tier Health Care

The meaning of democracy

23 October, 1996 - #

The Globe and Mail’s denunciation of the Day of Action protest as a violation of democracy makes perfect sense – as long as one understands the special way the Globe defines “democracy”.

“Democracy” according to this definition is a safe election every four years or so in which voters choose between corporate-dominated parties whose policies are virtually indistinguishable on all fundamental issues.

“Democratic government” in this context means rule by a political party, elected by a minority of the electorate, which in office breaks many of the major promises it made during the election campaign. The role of the vast majority of the population in this version of “democracy” is to remain passive and not interfere.

What “democracy” definitely does not mean, when the Globe uses the term, is the active involvement of the majority of the population in governing society to ensure that economic and social policy serve the needs and interests of the majority rather than a small wealthy elite.

The Globe is quite right. Popular protests like the Days of Action are a threat to its version of “democracy”.

Ulli Diemer

Keywords: Canadian PoliticsDemocracy

The Star’s biased reporting

20 February, 1997 - #

According to the Toronto Star, residents of Al Leach’s riding attending a public meeting in their own riding are “party crashers”, while Tories brought in “from around the province” are there to “bolster” the event.

George Orwell would be impressed. Residents of the community are illegitimate intruders at a public meeting to discuss the future of their community. Outsiders brought in to tell them that resistance is futile are the forces of legitimacy.

Clearly the Star’s journalistic standards have crashed beyond any possibility of bolstering. Sad news for those who can remember when the Star was something more than a government propaganda sheet.

Ulli Diemer

Keywords: Media BiasPropaganda

Four Books About Online Research

Sources - Summer 1997 - #

The era of the personal computer unleashed a torrent of hype about user-friendliness and productivity gains, and an equally endless flood of expensive 500-plus-page books to help frustrated users figure out how to use the easy-to-use software.

The Internet, having become an overnight success some 25 years after its birth, has been similarly hyped, with absurd claims that all the information in the world is now at our fingertips. And the shelves of the computer bookstores are groaning under the weight of books written to help us find information on the Internet.

Read the rest of the review here.

Labels: Online ResearchResearch MethodsResearchers

Today’s newspaper

1997 - #

In rural Newfoundland, where my father lives, gas stations frequently also sell groceries, alcohol, and newspapers. In addition to the Corner Brook daily The Western Star, you can even get the Globe and Mail at a gas station – as long as you are a bit patient, as this overheard conversation indicates:

Customer: Do you have the Globe and Mail?
Clerk: Do you want yesterday’s or today’s?
Customer: Today’s.
Clerk: Then you’ll have to come back tomorrow.

Polluted logic

10 May, 1998 - #

The business of allowing polluters to buy their way out of complying with the law is an innovation with vast untapped potential. (Article: Ontario Hydro sells pollution credits to Connecticut company).

For example, law-abiding drivers could sell their unused speeding and dangerous driving credits to drivers who want to be able to hit the road without having to worry about speed limits or the niceties of the Highway Traffic Act.

Agribusiness companies whose products contain pesticide concentrations exceeding those permitted by law could buy surplus pesticide contamination credits from organic farmers.

In the spirit of this new trend, I am now ready to entertain bids for my unused burglary and armed robbery credits from individuals who have exhausted their own quotas in the course of their trade. Cash only, please.

Let the free market rule!

Ulli Diemer

Keywords: Carbon OffsetsEmissions Trading‘Free Market’ EconomicsGlobal WarmingPollution Credits

Health care monopoly

22 October 1998 - #

Patrick Hewlett of the Ontario Physicians’ Alliance rightly observes that Ontario’s crisis-provoking Harris government is mismanaging the province’s health care system.

A pity, then, that Dr. Hewlett uncritically parrots the Tories’ free-market fundamentalism with his claim that “government-run health-care monopoly is unable to provide efficient health care”.

In fact, the evidence shows that the private sector is far more bureaucratic and much less efficient than the public sector when it comes to providing health care.

For example, when Germany shifted dental services from the public system to private insurance, administrative costs tripled from 5% to 15%.

The United States, which has the most privatized health care system of any OECD country, has been spending 14% of its GNP on health care, compared to 9% for Canada. Health care administrative costs are three-and-a-half times higher in the U.S. than in Canada, and administrative costs for health care insurance, specifically, are six times higher in the U.S. than in Canada’s public system.

The efficiency of the Canada’s public medicare system is reflected in the quality of care as well as on the balance sheet. Studies shows that on average, Canadians are more likely to receive needed care quickly than Americans. Canadians get more physician visits per capita than Americans, more immunizations, more hospital admissions, and more surgical procedures. A survey of 10 OECD countries showed that Canadians were the most satisfied with the care they received, while Americans were the least satisfied. In fact, Canadians are five times more likely to be satisfied with the health care they receive than Americans.

Infant mortality, maternal mortality, and life expectancy were worse in Canada than in the U.S. before the introduction of medicare. Canada’s infant mortality rate is now only 70% of that in the U.S., while American women are almost twice as likely to die during childbirth as their Canadian counterparts. The average Canadian now lives two years longer than the average American. Not a bad track record for a system that is supposedly “unable to provide efficient health care”.

Rather than advocating the destruction of Canada’s public health care system, critics like Dr. Hewlett should be speaking out against the Harris government’s strategy of running the system into the ground by mismanagement and underfunding.

Ulli Diemer

Labels: Health Care in CanadaMedicareTwo-tier Health Care

Noam Chomsky turns 70

7 December 1998 - #

In the summer of 1973, newly settled into our own flat, my partner and I took the leap and made a long-term commitment: we acquired two kittens. Determined to give them the best of everything, we decided to name them after two of the public intellectuals we most admired: “Stone”, for I.F. Stone, and “Chomsky”, after Noam. Whether Izzy and Noam would appreciate the “honour”, we didn’t know, but since it seemed unlikely they’d ever find out about it, it didn’t really matter.

My first encounter with Chomsky’s writings had come about four years earlier, when I read his essay “The Responsibility of Intellectuals”. I had recently become involved in the student movement, had been immersing myself in the writings of Karl Marx and Rosa Luxemburg, and considered myself a marxist (as I still do today). At the same time, I was uneasy with aspects of the radical student movement – tendencies to dogmatism, anti-intellectualism, and authoritarian Leninist models of political organizing – which seemed to be increasingly in the ascendancy.

Discovering Chomsky was a revelation. Here was a voice of rationality and of moral outrage. Chomsky’s writings were radical, anti-authoritarian, and critical, as well as closely argued, thoroughly researched, and copiously footnoted. He opposed the war against Vietnam on principle, because it was morally indefensible, not because it was costly; he was prepared to risk imprisonment for resisting the war, yet warned against lashing out with tactics which seemed likely to increase popular support for the forces of domestic repression.

I thought he was wonderful. Of course, we radical libertarian socialist types don’t believe in having heroes, but if we did....

I’ve been reading Chomsky ever since and foisting his books and articles on others. (I’ve also got the video, in case anyone wants to borrow it....)

Though much of what he writes about as a critic of the existing world order is necessarily horrendous – Vietnam, Cambodia, East Timor, the moral blindness of intellectuals and the media – I find that I almost always come away energized after reading Chomsky. He is an amazing source of information and analysis on so many topics. Beyond that, he makes me feel that research and critical thought, coupled with principled activism, can help to bring about change. I agree with him that one has a responsibility to act whether one feels optimistic or pessimistic about the chances of success, but Chomsky’s own immense contributions have helped me feel more optimistic and thereby helped me keep my energies focused on activism for the past thirty years.

Thanks, Noam.

Ulli Diemer

Pluralism, not religious proselytizing

11 February 1999 - #

I wrote to the CRTC, the public agency which regulates broadcasting in Canada, to express my opposition to the proposal by Crossroads Television Systems to extend its programming across Canada.

I believe that broadcast licenses for stations affiliated with particular religious denominations are in contravention of the principles of democratic pluralism which most Canadians value highly, and more particularly, in contravention of the principles which have governed access to the public airwaves.

A democratic, pluralistic society is possible only if there exists the opportunity for on-going dialogue and debate among the many different points of view existing in society. Such dialogue is already limited by the existing concentration of media ownership in a relatively few corporate hands.

If the trend is to be that each religious, political, and ideological group is to have control of its own stations, Canadian society will increasingly be fragmented into hostile ideological groups who do not communicate with each other or even get to hear each other’s views. If such a license is granted to one religious group which claims to have a monopoly on truth, then what possible argument could there be against giving a license to every group – religious, political, or special interest – that asked for one and had the finances to support it?

Religious freedom does not imply the right of any group to use the public airwaves to promulgate their own religious views while excluding all conflicting points of view. Nor does religious freedom imply the right to be exempt from the principles which govern all broadcasters in Canada.

I hope that the CRTC will firmly reject the application from CTS, and similarly reject any further applications from groups wishing to promote a single point of view while excluding others.

Ulli Diemer

Keywords: Broadcast PolicyBroadcastingChristian MediaPluralismReligious BroadcastingReligious DiversitySecularismTelevision


26 March, 1999 - #

Globe and Mail columnist Marcus Gee is off base in citing East Timor as an example of a civil conflict in which the Western powers failed to intervene.

First of all, Indonesia’s attack on East Timor was in no way a civil war. It was an invasion, an act of military aggression across an international border, comparable to Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Further, Gee is completely wrong in suggesting that the United States and its allies failed to intervene when Indonesia invaded East Timor. On the contrary, the United States intervened massively – on the side of Indonesia. The U.S. supplied the bulk of the weaponry used by the Indonesian military, even expediting additional shipments of ammunition and weapons to help crush the unexpectedly vigorous East Timorese resistance. Throughout, the U.S. provided diplomatic cover at the United Nations and elsewhere to protect the Suharto dictatorship from international sanctions.

Ulli Diemer

Keywords: Crimes Against HumanityEast TimorGenocideIndonesiaU.S. Foreign Policy

The myth of a free market in publishing and high-tech

30 March, 1999 - #

The two readers of Computing Canada who wrote to complain about Bill C-55 would have done well to familiarize themselves with the facts before sending off such spectacularly ill-informed letters.

Contrary to what Ryan Jamieson imagines, Bill C-55 has nothing in it to “impose huge cross-border penalties on U.S. magazines entering Canada.” The legislation has no provisions whatever affecting the sale of foreign publications, U.S. or otherwise: they would continue to be available on Canadian newsstands exactly as they are now.

Bill C-55 deals with advertising services: ads placed in American split-run magazines by Canadian advertisers would draw tax penalties. This is standard anti-dumping legislation, variants of which are used by many countries, notably the U.S., to prevent unfair competition. Split-runs are a classic example of dumping in that they can be produced without having to hire staff to produce the content, because the content is picked up free of charge from the U.S. edition. This means they can sell ad space far below normal market rates and wipe out Canadian magazines by eliminating their source of revenue.

Mr. Jamieson further betrays his lack of knowledge with his absurd claim that the IT industry flourished “because of a free-market environment”. He could not possibly be more wrong. The high-tech industries, in the U.S. in particular, owe their very existence to massive levels of government subsidies and intervention. The Internet, for example, was created and developed by the U.S. military in co-operation with government-funded universities. It was turned over to the “free market” only after more than 25 years of publicly-funded work had made it commercially viable. The electronics, semi-conductor, and computer industries, the communications industry, the aviation industry, the biotechnology sector – all the important high-tech sectors in the U.S. – have been developed through huge, and continuing, public subsidies backed by extremely aggressive protectionist legislation.

If Canadians are going to compete in the global market, we owe it to ourselves to understand how that marketplace really works. And that's a good argument for taking steps to protect our industries, including publishing, from unfair competition.

Ulli Diemer

Labels: AdvertisingCanadian MagazinesHigh Technology IndustriesMagazine PublishingSubsidies

Canada’s Distorted Electoral System

March 2000 - #

Canada’s electoral system is notorious for producing results at odds with the wishes of the electorate. It is quite normal for a party to win a landslide majority of the seats in an election on the strength of 38% to 45% of the vote. The Liberal Party received 38.5% of the vote in 1997, and took 51.5% of the seats. In Ontario, the Liberal Party received 49.8% of the votes, and took 98% of Ontario’s seats in the House of Commons. In the 1988 “Free Trade” election, a classic example in that the proposed Free Trade Agreement was the only issue in the campaign, a substantial majority of voters voted to reject the proposed agreement, and yet the Progressive Conservative Party, with 43% of the vote, won a majority of the seats and proceeded to force the legislation through Parliament.

It is even quite possible for a party to receive fewer votes than its chief rival, and nevertheless win the election with a majority of seats.

Read the rest of the story here.

Labels: ElectionsElectoral Reform

Rosa Luxemburg

May 16, 2000 - #

I see Rosa Luxemburg as the Marxist who did the most to carry on Karl Marx’s own theoretical-revolutionary praxis in the period after the death of Marx and Engels. In a time when the socialist movement was evolving in directions increasingly removed from Marx’s positions – Social Democratic reformism on the one hand, and Leninist bureaucratic centralism on the other – Luxemburg was the leading exponent of a Marxism in the spirit of Marx.

One indication of this, paradoxical at first glance, is that she was one of the very few leading Marxists who did not treat Marx’s writings as holy writ. Whereas the Marxist orthodoxy of the time, in all its variations, based itself on the assumption that a quote from Marx was conclusive proof of the correctness of a position – debates too often took the form of a battle of competing quotes or competing interpretations of Marx’s writings – Luxemburg was unafraid to say that Marx and Engels had been wrong about specific questions.

In this, she was very much in the spirit of Marx himself. Marx was relentlessly critical, always seeking new knowledge and deeper understanding, never feeling that his own understanding of any subject was adequate – hence his well-known difficulties in finishing any work because he was never finished investigating the subject matter in its infinite ramifications. It was Marx who scoffed “I am not a Marxist” and who said that “Since it is not for us to create a plan for the future that will hold for all time, all the more surely what we contemporaries have to do is the uncompromising critical evaluation of all that exists, uncompromising in the sense that our criticism fears neither its own results nor the conflict with the powers that be.” Luxemburg’s Marxism was critical and ‘Marxist’ in that thorough-going sense.

Read the rest of the article here.

Keywords: Rosa LuxemburgMarxismRevolutionary Politics

Contamination – The Poisonous Legacy of Ontario’s Environmental Cutbacks

Canadian Dimension - June 2000 - #

This is a story about fanaticism and death.

The dead are buried in fresh graves in the cemeteries of Walkerton, Ontario. The fanatics are very much alive, going about their daily business in the Premier’s office and the cabinet room in Queen’s Park, the seat of Ontario’s government.

Investigators are still working to determine exactly how deadly E. coli 0157 bacteria found their way into Walkerton’s water in May, causing at least seven and perhaps 11 deaths, and leaving hundreds seriously ill.

The story of the Walkerton tragedy is not, however, primarily a story about Walkerton at all. This was no unforeseen accident. It was the predictable – and predicted – result of deliberate policy decisions which gravely compromised the safety of Ontario’s drinking water.


The broader story of Walkerton is the story of repeated warnings, from many different experts, officials, and agencies, that the Harris government’s environmental cutbacks were putting public health in jeopardy. And it is the story of how those warnings were dismissed or ignored.

Step by step, a disaster was being prepared. The only question was where, and when, it would happen. Unluckily for Walkerton’s citizens, it was in their town that the system broke down, with fatal results.

To understand how a government could utterly ignore, over a period of five years, the warnings of its own environmental experts, it is necessary to know the mentality of the Harris government, a highly centralized administration where all important decisions are made by Premier Mike Harris and a small group of militantly ideological advisors, and where all outside input is scorned.

This is a government which prides itself on “making unpopular decisions,” on never compromising, on never changing course. The man in charge, Mike Harris, is as determined as the captain of the Titanic, disdainfully brushing off ridiculous warnings of icebergs and giving orders to push on, full steam ahead.

Read the rest of the story here.

Keywords: DeregulationDrinking Water ProtectionWalkerton Water Disaster

Asleep at the switch

New Internationalist - October 2000 - #

Abandoning the Public Interest

The date: Saturday, May 13, 2000. The weather: warm, sunny with cloudy periods.

The time: 3:15 pm in the Central European Time Zone, 9:15 am in North America's Eastern Time Zone.

Time to play outside if you’re a child. Time to relax if you’re an adult, do some housework, have a cup of coffee or a nice cold glass of water.

Time, if you live in the small Canadian town of Walkerton, Ontario, to walk down Durham Street to join your neighbours and look at the surging Saugeen River, which has flooded its banks after unusually heavy rains the previous day and night. The local park, a couple of adjacent streets, and several unlucky cars, are underwater, but, since everyone is safe, the property damage doesn’t seem too tragic.

Time, if you live on the Tollensstraat in the Dutch town of Enschede, to stop what you’re doing and watch the fire engines race by, headed for the paper factory down the street where, it seems, a fire has broken out.

Time, just enough time, to grab the children and run back into the house when two explosions at the burning factory rattle windows and send debris hurtling skyward.

Five short minutes later, time runs out....

Read the rest of the story here

Labels: DeregulationDrinking Water ProtectionPublic SafetyWalkerton Water Disaster

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