Articles and Opiniones

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Truth Revealed:  The UK comparison exposes Wildrose Alliance’s plan for pubic services
Ricardo Acuña

Article published in Vue Weekly.

For the past year in Alberta the back and forth between those Albertans warning that the Wildrose Alliance is an extremist right-wing party and party leader Danielle Smith has taken on an almost Monty Python-esque quality. The latest episode of “who’s the extremist?” played out at the March 2 Wildrose fundraising dinner in Edmonton.

In her speech to the faithful, Smith referenced those dire warnings about “right-wing extremists masquerading as moderates,” and proceeded to quickly discount them: “Quite frankly, these sinister-sounding terms are meaningless. They are used to create fear. They are the resort of people who have run out of useful things to say. And they will not work. Albertans will not run away and hide from a scary word. They will not be fooled.”

Take a close look at the above quote, however. In a departure from the Monty Python bit, the above doesn’t actually say “we’re not extremists.” It says, “Albertans will not run away and hide from a scary word.”

Danielle Smith and her crew are expert communicators, and they have toured the province over the course of the last year being very careful about what they say and to whom. They choose their words carefully to imply that they are rational, moderate and in favour of public services, but the meat of their policies says otherwise.

A good example of this is their response to the provincial budget, where they criticized the government for investing in public infrastructure (schools and hospitals) that they can’t afford to staff. The implication is that the Alliance is aware of the need to properly staff public services, and that they would properly staff them. What is not said publicly, however, is that the Alliance is actually interested in the opposite: privatizing education and healthcare so that the government wouldn’t have to staff them at all. That really is the essence of right-wing extremism masquerading as moderation, and they’ve been doing this not only in education and health care, but also in social services and infrastructure.

In the March 2 speech cited above, however, Danielle Smith’s communications team either slipped up or experienced a rare flash of honesty. A few paragraphs after saying that use of the word extremist is just a fear tactic, Smith went on to align herself and her party with one of the most extreme policy platforms anywhere: UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s “Big Society.”
In case you’ve missed it, here’s the essence of Cameron’s plan in the UK: cut public services, cut taxes, eliminate any and all government support for the poor, disabled and vulnerable, and let churches and charities work it all out.  Social services will be off-loaded to local councils, which are already completely cash-strapped, and all local services and facilities (like libraries, public transit, rec facilities, and infrastructure and maintenance) will be made to disappear.  Volunteers will be become the defacto go-to people for making things happen in communities.

At the same time, decent health care will be available only for those who can afford to pay, with everyone else having to prove they are worthy and beg for access to whichever charity is willing to provide it, while a tripling of university tuition is ensuring the exclusivity of access to advanced education.

In other words, Cameron’s vision for the UK is largely based on a return to that Victorian society articulated so well by Dickens in A Christmas Carol  and Oliver Twist. A society where supports, housing and services for the poor, disabled and down-on-their-luck is based not on their rights and entitlements as human beings, but rather on their ability to beg for their gruel more effectively than the next person.

This is the vision of society that Danielle Smith aligned herself and her party with on March 2 when she publicly held up Cameron’s “Big Society” as an ideal they would emulate in Alberta. So much for her claims of moderation and common sense.

But in the end, as scary and distasteful as this vision will be for most Albertans, it is positive that Smith has embraced them so openly.  Hopefully this signals a turn away from the double-talk and misrepresentation we have seen from the Alliance up until now, and a turn toward more honesty and openness in the kind of Alberta they want to build.  Hopefully the mainstream media and the other political parties in the province will latch onto this and spread the word. Albertans need to be aware of what the party truly stands for, and make their electoral decisions accordingly. V

Ricardo Acuña is the executive director of the Parkland Institute a non-partisan, not-for-profit public policy institute housed at the University of Alberta.

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Thursday, March 10th,2010


An op-ed in this week’s Vue Weekly by PSN’s Siavash Saffari on the uprising in the Arab world and the implications for Palestine. The topic will be explored in more detail during Edmtonton Israeli Apartheid Week on Wednesday, March 16 at 7:00 pm in Telus Building 236/238 with a panel entitled The Season of Revolt: New Arab Uprisings and Implications for Apartheid.

The Arab world and Palestine:
What do the democratic movements mean for a struggling Palestinian state?
Siavash Saffari

For 18 fateful days, the world watched as events unfolded in Egypt. While people around the globe found inspiration in Egyptian protesters’ steadfastness as they fought against the dictatorship, here in North America the major concern of many political circles and media reports was the hegemonic interests of the US empire, especially where it concerned the Israel-Palestine question.

There is no doubt that any democratic change in Egypt will have an effect on the country’s relationship with Israel. Egypt under Mubarak was an important friend to Israel, providing, among other things, 40 percent of Israel’s natural gas needs and helping to maintain a brutal and illegal siege on Gaza. In the words of Aluf Benn, editor-at-large for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, “Without Mubarak, Israel is left with almost no friends in the Middle East.”

It leaves some commentators wondering if this tsunami of social and political change will be a catalyst for a mass movement demanding Israel’s recognition of Palestinians’ equal rights. So far, that hasn’t happened. Nevertheless, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza held rallies in solidarity with Egyptian protesters and in defiance of the Fatah-and Hamas-imposed bans against such rallies. And, there are reasons to believe that Palestinians, too, might witness a turning point in their struggle against a decades-old occupation, and an expanding structure of apartheid.

With the failure of the secular-nationalist political elite to bring an end to the Israeli occupation, and with the limitations of Islamism in creating a broad social movement, in recent years we have witnessed the growing popularity of the Palestinian anti-apartheid movement. The movement is the convergence of various individuals and groups around a common agenda with an emphasis on universal human rights, commitment to non-violence and grassroots activism, and cooperation with Israeli and international solidarity activists and networks.

In 2001, a number of South African and Palestinian civil society groups launched the International Anti-Apartheid Movement against Israel. But it was the 2005 call for an international campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel by over 170 Palestinian parties, trade unions and non-governmental and grassroots organizations that solidified the anti-apartheid movement within Palestinian civil society. It also made possible the prospect of a popular resistance with an appeal to international law, universal human rights and opposition to colonialism, apartheid and racism.

The BDS campaign was formed around three objectives: an end to colonization and occupation of all Arab lands and dismantling of the Israeli-West Bank barrier wall; recognition of the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respect, protection and promotion of the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands as per UN resolution 194.

While a growing movement around the world is assembling under the BDS banner, here in Canada Harper’s Conservative government has effectively become Israel’s closest friend and ally. From supporting the 2006 invasion of Lebanon and the 2008-09 assault on Gaza, to condemning the calls on Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Canada has also vetoed key UN motions on the rights of Palestinian refugees, to cutting funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, and labeled any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism. The Conservative government’s position has consistently been unqualified support for Israel. In fact, both Canadian and Israeli officials insist that “Israel now has no better friend in the world than Canada.”

It came as no surprise when the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lawrence Cannon declared that Canada’s chief concern with regard to Egypt is a stable transition that would protect the peace treaty with Israel. This time, there was little talk about supporting democracy and human rights.

While the government’s official policy has been one of unconditional support for Israel, in recent years the Canadian civil society has established strong links with the anti-apartheid movement. Many Canadian unions including the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario, Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) and la Centrale des syndicats du Quebec (CSQ), have joined the broad coalition that is forming around the anti-apartheid movement.

Most significantly, Israeli Apartheid Week, which is held in cities around the world this month, began as a Canadian initiative. It was launched in 2005 by students at the University of Toronto with the idea of raising awareness about the structures of legal, political, economic, social and cultural domination imposed on Palestinians within Israel and in the occupied territories. In its seventh year, IAW continues to make a significant contribution to the opposition of Israeli apartheid and to bolster support for BDS.

Siavash Saffari is a political science doctoral student at the University of Alberta and an organizer with Palestine Solidarity Network.

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Friday, October 1st, 2010

Ernesto Che Guevara

Ernesto "Che" Guevara Born June 14, 1928 in Rosario, Argentina Died October 9, 1967 (aged 39) (execution) La Higuera, Bolivia

The Legacy of Ernesto Che Guevara
rosouljah

Many people recognize the iconic image of Che but how many can articulate what he stood for? At the core of his beliefs, Ernesto Che Guevara was a promoter of life. Ask any practitioner of a traditional martial art like karate and they will tell you that self-defense is about preserving life, not about violence. This philosophy of protecting life, espoused by Ernesto Che Guevara and others, is what provides the foundation for revolutionary approaches to social change. For many in western societies, the word ‘revolutionary’ conjures images of AK 47’s and masked men such as Subcomandante Marcos; however, I would argue that they are only seeing a caricature that was painted by a corporate-controlled media that wants to portray these individuals in an exaggerated context.

As Ernesto Guevara professed, the revolutionary is guided by great sentiments of love—specifically, love for humanity and justice. Che’s passion, as so many others who fight in the same struggle, is born out of the desire to reverse the social ills he saw in his society, from poverty to the lack of democracy, from coercion to corruption. These social ills do not exist because there is something wrong with the people, but because society has been shaped by a legacy of colonialism and unequal relations in a system of global capitalism.

Few stop to ask the question, “what is the true root cause of poverty?” and instead think that the issue of inequality can be solved by throwing more money at it, such is the world of philanthropy. What liberal humanists fail to realize is that only a just political, social and economic system can correct the inequities that colonialism created, and continues to maintain through coercion and corruption. As long as we continue to prop up the very system of capitalism, whether it be through corporate conceived sustainable economic development projects, or economic bailouts, we will never truly address the root causes of poverty.

Ernesto Guevara introduced a social system of learning that asked the individual to identify the contradictions within and offered suggestions on how to change them, and did so himself regarding his own actions. He understood that colonialism and capitalism have left their seed within us and it has fully matured. What he called for was that each one of us decolonize our minds.  It is this contribution and example of constant reflection and ambition to become a better human being that serves as an example to so many other revolutionaries and those who struggle to end the legacy of colonialism. Ernesto Che Guevara loved humanity so much that he gave his life for what he believed.  In the town where he was assassinated by the Bolivian army, the peasant farmers refer to him as San Ernesto de la Higuera, he reached saintly status. So the next time you see the image of Che, whether it be on a piece of merchandise or spray painted on a concrete wall, ask yourself, what am I doing to contribute to humanity and to what degree am I willing to go to preserve the life of those marginalized by colonialism and the current capitalist system.

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