Sunday, February 28, 2016

8 great American leftist films -- An alternative Oscar playlist

Tonight, as I am sure everyone knows, is the Oscars. Every year the new aristocracy of the famous get together to celebrate each other, collect trophies, be seen on red carpets and get expensive swag bags that they do not at all need!

I have always, despite that cynical introduction, actually enjoyed the Oscars in an abstract way. The terrible spectacle of it all, the occasionally surprising and correct choices, getting involved in Oscar pools, etc. Now that I have kids we make a yearly ritual of it with popcorn, fun foods and, for the grown-ups, champagne (or rather, inexpensive Preseco!)

To be honest, though, I usually take a pass on many of the nominated movies. And despite its grandiose pretensions and its occasional nominations and nods to the cinema of other countries, the Oscars are, in reality, all about English language and, even more often, American movies.

This year -- though they have raised the possible nominees for Best Picture to ten recently -- eight movies are nominated for the top prize.

As an alternative "playlist" to these movies, whatever their merits -- (MAD MAX FURY ROAD FTW!!!) -- I want to take this opportunity to celebrate eight great moments in American leftist cinema! I do not claim my "nominees" are the "best" necessarily, (and as with all lists of this type many great films get left off) but they are all terrific movies and an antidote to much of the usual fare. (As is the case with the Oscars, they do not include documentaries, which are never nominated for the ultimate statue).

So now, in no particular order, here are the nominees:

Salt of the Earth 1954

Salt of the Earth is a truly amazing film for many reasons. A fictionalized account of a real strike in New Mexico, it used real miners and their families to tell a tale of resistance and worker's struggle. Directed by blacklisted  Herbert J. Biberman, the film itself was essentially blacklisted at the time with theatres refusing to screen it, politicians denouncing it and even film critics like Pauline Kael joining in the attempts to make sure it did not find an audience.

It has in the years since, however, and it stands as a courageous moment in American cinema. It is also a damn fine film!

You can now watch the entire film on You Tube!

Missing 1982

Directed by Greek director Costa-Gavras, unlike our previous nominee Missing had some Hollywood heavy hitters in the cast. namely Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek. It was also actually nominated for the Best Picture prize and won for Best Screenplay.

Missing tells the true story of Charles Horman -- who went missing during the fascist military overthrow of the Allende regime in Chile in 1973 -- and the quest of his father and wife to determine his fate. In doing so it also examines American participation and complicity in the coup. Like Salt of the Earth, Missing was unavailable for a time, as the former US ambassador to Chile unsuccessfully attempted to sue Costa-Gavras.

Norma Rae 1979

Based on the true story of Crystal Lee Sutton, Norma Rae looks at the efforts of the lead character, played perfectly by Sally Field in an Oscar winning performance, to get a union and better wages and working conditions in the factory she works at.

It is a triumphant, inspiring story and features one of American cinema's iconic moments when Rae defiantly raises a placard with word Union written across it. Powerful stuff!

Milk 2008

Featuring a mesmerizing, and again Oscar winning, lead performance by Sean Penn, Milk is a look at the rise, life and times, and tragic assassination of the heroic activist Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be elected in California.

Beautifully directed by Gus van Sant, it is a powerful and moving film that shows Milk's fight not only for gay rights, but for civil rights and worker's rights broadly. One of the best films of its decade.

  Lone Star 1996

One of my favourite movies of the nineties, Lone Star, written and directed by John Sayles, is ostensibly a murder mystery, but is in reality so much more than that. It is a trenchant look at race, class and immigration in Texas that moves back and forth through time and confronts its subjects head-on without much of the whitewashing of history that is commonplace in US cinema.

Featuring marvellously witty dialogue and great acting from its leads -- including a notably menacing turn by singer Kris Kristofferson as the vicious, racist and deeply corrupt Sheriff, Charlie Wade -- Lone Star is one of those rare movies that gets better with age and with each viewing.

Reds 1981

Reds, which is rightly seen as Warren Beatty's masterpiece, was an attempt to bring the story of American Communist John Reed, Louise Bryant and the Russian Revolution to the screen in an epic and notably sympathetic way, especially given that it was released in the Reagan era of the Cold War.

It is a flawed movie, but any film that attempts to weave in characters as diverse as Emma Goldman, Lenin, Eugene O'Neill, Zinoviev  and so many others is, at the very least, ambitious! For the most part Beatty pulls it off, with images and scenes worthy of the best in epic scale cinema, with his amazing interspersion of flashback mini-interviews with actual people who lived through the events and knew the real characters, and with the profoundly moving penultimate final scene  of reunion between Reed and Bryant on the platform of a Moscow railway station.

Spoiler alert on the film clip...but I cannot help but share one of the great romantic scenes in film history!

Malcolm X- 1992

A movie that, thanks to Spike Lee's exceptional direction and an absolutely perfect performance by Denzel Washington, is as good a "bio" pick as you are ever likely to see.

Nuanced, powerful and very moving, it also has a devastating and yet deeply inspiring final scene featuring Nelson Mandela. Keep the Kleenex ready.

and the winner is...


Ok...I said no particular order, but Matewan stands as an exceptional moment in American leftist cinema.

Written and directed by John Sayles, this masterpiece is based on the fight to unionize the coal mines in West Virginia in 1920.

It is a stunning film, epic in scope, with amazing period detail. Tense, dramatic and violent, it also in its climactic moment even pays homage to the American Western, while turning its standard narratives on their head.

The bosses and their Pinkerton henchmen are really evil here, and the townspeople and the union activist have to overcome terrible odds. For once an accurate and beautiful representation of American history not as it is romanticized and taught, but as it really was.

At any rate, here is to the joy of the cinema!

Whether you intend to watch the Oscars or not, watch a good movie with friends or family soon...and, Go Mad Max!

See also: 5 Great Songs for International Workers' Day! Featuring Paul Robeson, Billy Bragg, The Red Army Choir & more

Thursday, February 25, 2016

In praise of the "social justice warrior"

Have you heard lately about some "social justice warrior" hysterically standing up against sexism, racism or some other oppression that a wide variety of people seem to think we should all be more polite and demure about opposing if we can be bothered to at all?

Well, of course you have. The term social justice warrior is the new version of the old "politically correct" canard. It has become pervasive.

Like the term "politically correct" the origins of "social justice warrior" are entirely reactionary.

As the misogynist keyboard militants that were spawned by Gamergate sat in their dad's basements furiously ranting at and threatening women who sought to make gaming more inclusive and who exposed its base, pervasive and juvenile mindless sexism, one of their number or of their allies in the pathetic "Men's Rights Movement" spawned this new phrase as a label to attack them. Apparently they viewed their opponents as some threat to their truncated and ugly, toxic vision of "masculinity",

It was an interesting choice of words.

Social justice, as a general rule, is not seen as a negative thing other than perhaps by unrepentant white supremacists, old line conservatives, Republicans, fascists and other assorted detritus of the decline of the white male political hegemony of the 20th Century. And being a warrior -- well that is generally how these sad types see themselves when they play World of Warcraft 57 or Grand Theft Auto Version Who Gives a Shit or whatever other fantasy of death and destruction floats their boat.

But heading out to get fresh bags of Ketchup flavored potato chips to fuel their harassment campaigns, these experts in masturbation -- in this case mental -- spawned a phrase unmatched in its intellectual laziness and perfect for the era of reaction embodied by politicians like Rob Ford or Donald Trump.

The "social justice warrior" was now a negative. Being a fighter against injustice was now framed as somehow shrill or elitist or privileged.

Reality, as it so often is by the right, was turned on its head. Ours is a society of racism, sexism and inequality as institutions, and yet opposing any of this was really what was the issue.

But something happened on the way to the Comic-Con convention. Suddenly it was not the predictably useful idiot fellow travelers on the right using the term, but lefties were tossing it around in their debates as well.

Shell-shocked from decades of irrelevance and infighting there is little some wings of the left seem to love more than expropriating the language, framing and contempt for other leftists that their alleged opponents on the right hold.

Perhaps they seek approval. Perhaps it is an inferiority complex. Who knows?

Either way use of "social justice warrior" as a pejorative has made its way fully from Men's Rights fringe commentary, to mainstream enough to make it into the Oxford Dictionary lexicon, to being tossed all over the place by people who should know better.

Why should they -- or you if you are using it -- know better?

Well that one is easy. There is absolutely nothing fucking wrong with being a social justice warrior.

Nothing. At all. Period.

In fact, if you have done enough to earn such high praise you should be very proud. You are in truly courageous company. Social justice warriors over the course of history have been just that. The human embodiment of courage, fortitude and strength.

People like Martin Luther King. Rosa Parks. Harvey Milk. Sophie Scholl. Malcolm X. Tommy Douglas. Leonard Peltier. Louis Riel. Angela Davis. Gandhi. Nelson Mandela. Rosa Luxemburg. Cesar Chavez. Joe Hill. Salvador Allende.

There are many others, though also altogether too few. Including many millions whose names will never be known who stood up when it mattered and were counted in the tremendous and broad struggle for human emancipation. often paying with their lives.

They were all social justice warriors.

It is a sad commentary and sad statement when this can, somehow, be seen as an insult.

A testament to our frivolous era of supreme self-indulgence and a pathetic pseudo-hipster pose of studied indifference and scorn for people who care about something more than whatever the new idiot viral video of the day is or worrying about whether condo fees are going to increase.

This rank intellectual emptiness and capitulation to ugly narratives has reached its pinnacle in the turning of a phrase like social justice warrior into an attack. Re-framing a collective history of struggle and sacrifice and those who fight for equality and justice today as somehow doing something odious or wrong, and doing so by using what should be a badge of honour, as a simplistic and bullying derisive instead.

What, exactly, is wrong with being a warrior for social justice? Is it better to be a warrior for social injustice? Or just some indifferent asshole out there in the world who does not give a flying fuck about social justice or anything other than themselves or their own personal sense of entitlement?

That so many people see the idea of being someone fighting for social justice as a bad thing is both deeply depressing and an indication of just how pervasive reactionary thinking still is across society.

Any of us should be proud to know and be associated with activists engaging in the very difficult task of fighting for social justice. I admire them and their efforts.

And if you think this is somehow a bad thing...what the fuck is wrong with you?

See also: The myth of the leftist, feminist, anti-racist, elitist

Mimico and South Etobicoke 1827-1927 -- A look at the centennial and local history of Christ Church Mimico

Today we are going to take a look at a truly remarkable piece of both Toronto and Etobicoke local history. 

Published in 1927, this small booklet related the first century of Christ Church in Mimico -- an Anglican church that was built on what is now Royal York Rd. and the final incarnation of which burned down in 2006 (though an historic cemetery that was adjacent to the church remains.)

While it is the history of the church and parish, it is also a history of the early days of South Etobicoke and tells of some important formative moments in the evolution of the communities of Mimico, North Toronto and Long Branch. 

The booklet was divided into three broad sections with the local history, a memorial page for those who died in World War I and then some brief biographical sketches of the church's first rectors and some prominent early laypeople -- including the very important local politician and personality, John William Gamble.

Here we are featuring the history. It includes how the Township of Etobicoke began with land grants to former soldiers among which was a 1200 acre one to Col. Sam Smith for whom the spectacular lakefront park at the foot of Kipling Ave is named. It talks of the origins of Mimico, how it supposedly got its name and also relates how Mimico was at one time envisioned as a "model working man's village" that was to be built along the railroad from Toronto to Hamilton -- as you walk along Mimico Ave. which to this day lies just south of these rail tracks you can see how Mimico as a community grew out from this.

The grounds of the Christ Church and it cemetery lie just to the north of these same rail lines and can be seen as you exit the Mimico Go station. 

Just shy of ninety years from this first centenary, of course, Toronto has expanded to engulf these former satellite towns that now are not even suburbs anymore. While no doubt to those writing and reading this history in 1927 it would have seemed South Etobcioke had already evolved greatly, it has changed far more dramatically still since.

(click on images to enlarge)


The Sausage Hero -- Reinventing "Chunky Wiener Hero" Sandwiches -- Vintage Cookbook #TBT

The Nokomis Hospital Auxiliary Cook Book is one of that subspecies of once very prevalent fundraising community cookbooks -- a number of which we have looked at over the months here at The Left Chapter and the earnestness and reflection of time and place of which I really love.

This one was put together, as is the norm, by submissions from the community and was to raise money for a hospital in Nokomis, Saskatchewan. It was published in 1980.

It has lots of recipes worth a look and the whole cookbook is very charming. As is always the case with cookbooks of this type the recipes vary greatly in quality. But today I wanted to reinvent one that was, to be honest, not one that I would have ever made in its original form!

This is a recipe for "Chunky Wiener Heroes". It was conceived as a triple-decker sandwich using hot dogs and, among other things, a mustard-margarine mixture!

While this recipe is very dated, the idea of a triple-decker sausage (as opposed to hot dog) sandwich with cheese and a sauce did appeal me. I decided to reinvent the recipe while keeping these aspects.

Our Sausage Hero Sandwich starts with sausage that has already been cooked. I would suggest using Hot Italian Style (which I did) or a German Bratwurst Style sausage.

You can prepare the sausage anyway you want, but for reasons that will become clear, I would suggest making them as I did in a previous Left Chapter recipe, Slow Cooker Beer and Sauerkraut Sausages.

For the sandwich bread we are going to replace the French Bread (which would have been very hard to cut in three as the original recipe suggests anyway!) with three toasted slices of rye bread. Make sure to toast the bread as otherwise the bread will become soggy (and the toasting replaces the oven portion of the original).

In place of the (awful) mustard-margarine blend, we will use instead a blend of hot mustard and mayonnaise. You want one part hot mustard for each two parts mayo stirred thoroughly to make this sauce. For the mustard you can use Coleman's or one of any number of European ones. I used a Polish style one I bought at a local deli.

Coat the first piece of bread with the sauce and then place the cooked sausage on top cut in half lengthwise. On my sandwich I managed to fit three slices of sausage.

On top of this layer place another slice of rye. Top this slice with Swiss Cheese and cover the cheese with a thick layer of sauerkraut. You can use fresh deli bought sauerkraut, sauerkraut from a jar or, if you made the recipe I linked to above, the incredibly flavorful kraut you get from slow cooking it with beer, seasonings and the sausages themselves!

Top with another slice of the toasted rye, slice in half, and serve with ice cold beer!

It is an absolutely delicious sandwich. Enjoy.

See also: The Oliver: Reinventing a 50's Colossal Salami Sandwich -- Vintage Cookbook TBT

See also: The Ninkasi: The Ultimate Game/Party Day Submarine Sandwich

Monday, February 22, 2016

There is no socialist case for supporting Hillary Clinton

There is no serious left-wing or socialist case for supporting Hillary Clinton, and not just for the Democratic nomination but for the Presidency itself.

As a Canadian leftist I have become somewhat immune to the terribly defeatist "lesser-of-evils" logic. In our context it was used for many years to justify voting for the electable and pragmatic Liberal Party instead of the socialistic NDP before the NDP abandoned its socialist roots.

Then it simply became the line for those who insisted that Canadian socialists had to stick with the NDP after it had shed any meaningful semblance of what had made it not a lesser-of-evil but rather a left-wing alternative worth voting for.

It has been a very long time since the Democratic Party in the United States was an alternative worth voting for. A solid argument could be made that it has never been that alternative.

It has been a very long time since there was an actual mass socialist alternative along the lines of Eugene V. Debs or Norman Thomas running for President in the United States.

And Bernie Sanders, despite his insistence on describing himself as a "democratic" socialist ( a redundant Cold War term ) may not be that alternative in a fully realized sense. But he is far more so than Hillary Clinton who is not that alternative in any way, shape or form at all.

There have been many debates in the left as to whether or not Sanders is a "real" socialist. A fair number of these are uninteresting in the same way the medieval theologians debating the angels on the head of a pin are. Sanders' positions and ideas are, of course, open to criticism and many of them deserve this criticism. He does not, ultimately, propose a socialist transformation of capitalism as socialists in the ideological sense ultimately envision, but what he does is advocate for a government and Presidency that would intervene in the economy and in society in ways entirely reminiscent of what reformist socialists and social democrats were advocating for prior to the era of neo-liberal reaction and retreat and doing so in a way that no other American politician has on this scale in decades.

That matters and is, in the present context, a radical shift of note that is, in my opinion, worth supporting.

The same cannot be said of Hillary Clinton.

Clinton not only does not do anymore than pay lip service to "radical" ideas, she has a long and very established history of actually supporting and advocating for policies that are reactionary and that demonstrably hurt women, people-of-colour, working people and people living in poverty.

If one is a leftist this history matters and has to matter.

While many have written at some length on aspects of Clinton's terrible legacy there is not just one point to highlight and it is not really about what Clinton may or may not be saying now.

It is about the totality of what she represents ideologically.

And, unlike Barack Obama whose ultimately fake "hope" narratives led to little in the way of domestic change and even less in terms of curtailing American imperialism and adventurism, Hillary Clinton's reactionary fundamentals are well established for all to see unless they chose not to.

Bill Clinton's Presidency was one that declared war not on poverty but rather on the poor and it did so with the full and avowed consent of Hillary Clinton.

As was noted in The Intercept:

Republican presidential candidate John Kasich has promoted himself both as a friend of the working poor and as a foe of Hillary Clinton, but as House Budget Committee chairman in the 1990s, he worked with the Clintons to roll back welfare programs, helping double extreme poverty in America.
In 1996, the Clinton administration and congressional Republicans worked hand in hand to pass what they called the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, colloquially known as “welfare reform.”

Hillary Clinton was involved with publicly advocating for passage and implementation of welfare reform in her role as first lady. In a Newsweek cover story in 1993, she weighed in on the upcoming welfare reform debate.
“How do we as a society address the 15-year-old mother on welfare? What do we owe her? Can we demand a set of behavioral standards from her?” asked the interviewer. “Sure, I’ve been talking about that since 1973,” replied the first lady. “You know, I am one of the first people who wrote about how rights and responsibilities had to go hand in hand.”
“When you talk about moving someone to work from welfare in two years, what happens to people who don’t want to work? Would you impose sanctions?” followed up the interviewer. “Oh, I think you have to. What happened in Arkansas is that people who refused for whatever reason to participate had their benefits cut,” she replied.
Hillary Clinton continued to defend the welfare cutback over the years. “Too many of those on welfare had known nothing but dependency all their lives, and many would have found it difficult to make the transition to work on their own,” she wrote in a 1999 op-ed. In a 2002 interview she said the policy has resulted in recipients “no longer” being “deadbeats — they’re actually out there being productive.”
It must be noted here that these vicious and violent changes, which Bernie Sanders actually voted against at the time, impacted women, the marginalized and racialized communities more than anyone else and that they could only do so.

It is inconceivable in any meaningful way to claim to support a political agenda that is allegedly on the side of women, the marginalized and the racialized while having supported, defended and having continued to defend such an outright assault on them.

Not being able or willing to see or acknowledge this represents liberal hypocrisy at its worst.

And, sadly, the story does not end with "welfare reform". As Michelle Alexander wrote at some length about, the horrific Clinton legacy is found in the underlying racism of the crime bills that Bill Clinton, with Hillary's support at the time and since, both promoted and enabled.

Alexander writes:
Bill Clinton presided over the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. Clinton did not declare the War on Crime or the War on Drugs—those wars were declared before Reagan was elected and long before crack hit the streets—but he escalated it beyond what many conservatives had imagined possible. He supported the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine, which produced staggering racial injustice in sentencing and boosted funding for drug-law enforcement.
Clinton championed the idea of a federal “three strikes” law in his 1994 State of the Union address and, months later, signed a $30 billion crime bill that created dozens of new federal capital crimes, mandated life sentences for some three-time offenders, and authorized more than $16 billion for state prison grants and the expansion of police forces. The legislation was hailed by mainstream-media outlets as a victory for the Democrats, who “were able to wrest the crime issue from the Republicans and make it their own.”
When Clinton left office in 2001, the United States had the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Human Rights Watch reported that in seven states, African Americans constituted 80 to 90 percent of all drug offenders sent to prison, even though they were no more likely than whites to use or sell illegal drugs. Prison admissions for drug offenses reached a level in 2000 for African Americans more than 26 times the level in 1983. All of the presidents since 1980 have contributed to mass incarceration, but as Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson recently observed, “President Clinton’s tenure was the worst.”
Some might argue that it’s unfair to judge Hillary Clinton for the policies her husband championed years ago. But Hillary wasn’t picking out china while she was first lady. She bravely broke the mold and redefined that job in ways no woman ever had before. She not only campaigned for Bill; she also wielded power and significant influence once he was elected, lobbying for legislation and other measures. That record, and her statements from that era, should be scrutinized. In her support for the 1994 crime bill, for example, she used racially coded rhetoric to cast black children as animals. “They are not just gangs of kids anymore,” she said. “They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”
She goes on to state:
This is not an endorsement for Bernie Sanders, who after all voted for the 1994 crime bill. I also tend to agree with Ta-Nehisi Coates that the way the Sanders campaign handled the question of reparations is one of many signs that Bernie doesn’t quite get what’s at stake in serious dialogues about racial justice. He was wrong to dismiss reparations as “divisive,” as though centuries of slavery, segregation, discrimination, ghettoization, and stigmatization aren’t worthy of any specific acknowledgement or remedy.
But recognizing that Bernie, like Hillary, has blurred vision when it comes to race is not the same thing as saying their views are equally problematic. Sanders opposed the 1996 welfare-reform law. He also opposed bank deregulation and the Iraq War, both of which Hillary supported, and both of which have proved disastrous. In short, there is such a thing as a lesser evil, and Hillary is not it.

And that is the point. Hillary is not it.

Not at all. As Cornel West noted:
The Clintons’ neoliberal economic policies—principally, the repeal of the Glass-Steagall banking legislation, apparently under the influence of Wall Street’s money—have also hurt King’s cause. The Clinton Machine—celebrated by the centrist wing of the Democratic Party, white and black—did produce economic growth. But it came at the expense of poor people (more hopeless and prison-bound) and working people (also decimated by the Clinton-sponsored North American Free Trade Agreement).
He asks:
Bill apologized for the effects of his crime bill, after devastating thousands of black and poor lives. Will Hillary apologize for supporting the same measures?
And yet we know she won't when we see her daughter standing in as a circuit surrogate calling out Sanders' stated aim of ending the American culture of mass incarceration as him being both "unrealistic" and seeking to act as a king!

The "unrealistic" jibe is one entirely typical of liberals and do-nothing social democrats or mainstream labour leaders and is reflected in Clinton's statements that Sanders' plan for a universal version of medicare, as exists in every other developed country in the world, is "unrealistic". This capitulation on her part alone should disqualify her from any serious consideration by leftists. It is ludicrous to support a politician who does not believe that health care is a universal and achievable right and still claim to be supporting a leftist candidate.

This aspect of Clinton's false "progressivism" is reflected as well in her opposition to a $15 an hour minimum wage (which Sanders does support) despite the best attempts of her labour movement apologists to claim otherwise and to gloss over the fact that they are campaigning for someone who opposes what they claim to support and against someone who supports it! Although this kind of convenient double-think is, in fact, nothing new for the labour movement leadership in North America.

It is impossible to ignore the established and proven record of Clinton as a paid speaker for Wall St. including her having given what amounted to a rousing pep talk for one of the very worst of America's capitalist predators, Goldman Sachs, for a fee of $675,000.

After having sold out so many she has claimed to have represented for so very long, I am sure it was gratifying to be paid so well  to sing the praises of those who have benefited the most from the economics of the last thirty years.

One of the last defenses of Clinton that her supporters turn to is her "experience" in  foreign policy -- as if this could be remotely framed as a good thing in the American context.

Clinton has experience indeed. And it is largely terrible.

While foreign policy is something of an Achilles' Heel for Sanders whose positions are neo-imperialist in their own right, Clinton's are aggressively imperialist and while one suspects that Sanders would focus on the domestic and be a relative isolationist internationally (which in the case of the United States would be a good thing) there is no reason to feel the same way about Clinton.

Her experience includes such moments as helping to enable the coup in Honduras  and having totally distorted her own and the American role in the civil war in Syria. When Sanders called her out for seeing Henry Kissinger as a foreign policy mentor it was a rare moment where a prominent American politician actually acknowledged how horrific Kissinger's disgraceful and criminal record was. Her praise of Kissinger is as telling as one needs.

She has been a part-and-parcel of Obama's relentlessly violent foreign policy legacy and this is absolutely nothing for anyone opposed to imperialism or American militarism to point to as something that makes her deserving of support.

It is, indeed, a case where "inexperience" trumps "experience" at least insofar as in the latter case we know exactly how awful Clinton will be.

One could note, also, that Hillary Clinton and others seemed to lose track of something of their moral compass when it came to Bill Clinton's disgraceful and misogynist behaviour as President -- in ways that they clearly would not have for anyone else or for anyone on the right.

What it amounts to, however, is that no matter how one sees Sanders and his "socialism" from a leftist perspective, there is absolutely no way to frame Clinton as representing anything other than epitomizing American liberalism in all of its terrible and reactionary, imperialist and phony hypocrisy.

Sanders faces a very uphill battle to win the Democratic nomination and he would only represent perhaps a shift towards sanity in American political discourse if he does. But that remains, whether you would chose to vote for it or campaign for it or not, light years ahead of what Clinton represents.

And what she represents is everything the socialist and anti-capitalist left has fought against while she and her family became millionaires doing the opposite.

Sanders has made the Democratic nomination battle relevant again and has put actually left-wing ideas back into the American electoral discourse. If Clinton wins the nomination this ends and the Democratic Party will revert entirely to the right-of-centre socially liberal wing of capitalist imperialism that it is and has been.

Hillary Clinton will be nothing more than the latest standard bearer of this.

See also: It's Not Over -- Bernie Sanders releases campaign ad unlike any you have ever seen

See also: America deserves to dream big...and it needs Bernie Sanders -- An Open Letter to Democrats from a Canadian socialist

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Truth is on the side of the oppressed

Time is on the side of the oppressed today, it's against the oppressor. 
Truth is on the side of the oppressed today, it's against the oppressor. 
You don't need anything else.
-Malcolm X
May 19, 1925-February 21, 1965

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Toronto budget prioritizes policing -- Yet again

When it comes to the passage of John Tory's second "austerity-without-the Ford spectacle" budget of his term, there is a least the small silver lining that -- unlike in the farce of last year's near budget unanimity -- this time 9 Councillors voted against it.

33, however, voted for it.

In doing so they voted for a budget that continues to, quite literally, nickle-and-dime city residents when it comes to city social programs and services, infrastructure, maintenance, housing and anti-poverty initiatives. Despite attempts to claim otherwise and despite minor new gestures that are trumpeted as far more substantive than they really are, these services and budgetary items are pushed to the breaking point while the largest single item in the city budget, policing, continues its relentless and staggering expansion -- an expansion that has continued in inverse proportion to a long term decline in crime rates!

It has now reached the stunningly bloated level of over $1 billion. Yet another in a long line of yearly increases to this budget came at least in part  due to a pay increase for police just last year -- all while the city's mayor and political class insist, obviously falsely, that alleged fiscal constraints make necessary its ongoing attempts to roll back benefits and job security (among other things) for all its other unionized front line workers providing the services that actually allow the city to function.

While an almost absurdly token $220,000 was taken from the police budget and allocated instead to "crime prevention programs", this came in the wake of failed attempts (also basically token) to take between $12-24 million from the police budget.

The attempts failed (and failed by a very large margin) in large part due to the, by now very familiar, over-the-top rhetoric of Tory and Police Chief Mike Saunders that sought to claim that such a small diversion of funds relative to such a huge budget would result in the "loss" of 400 officers and the police not being able to properly "protect" the public -- an obviously and transparently absurd contention that sadly neither the media nor most of council were willing to call them out on.

In the lead up to these votes Tory's office had described the proposed police cuts as "arbitrary" with no apparent sense of irony as to the totally arbitrary way the city has been launching an outright assault on the benefits of city workers or the entirely arbitrary choices that have led to persistent waves of cutbacks, underfunding or non-funding of critical social and infrastructure objectives under two successive Toronto administrations.

The political choice -- and make no mistake that it is a choice -- to prioritize the increasingly militarized wing of austerity enforcement, the police, ahead of the programs, services and infrastructure for Torontonians that so desperately need greater funding, says a lot about the nature and ideology of government in the neo-liberal era. Especially as this choice is occurring, yet again, despite the shift in public perceptions of police in the wake of cases of police brutality, the murder of Sammy Yatim and the shameful and ongoing racist practice of "carding", and despite the fact that it is now known that a report the city paid for but essentially attempted to shelve showed that the police budget is likely substantially higher than it needs to be.

While Councillors and the Mayor then voted, (with the sole dissenting vote of far-right police stalwart Giorgio Mammoliti), nearly unanimously for "radical change" to the police budget next year, there is no reason -- given the long history of promises like these followed by political capitulation to police pressure and the police manipulation of short-term crimes waves or incidents -- to take this remotely seriously.

Mammoliti, at least, was being upfront.

The reality is that the money is there to increase funding for the staff, programs, infrastructure and services that would be of most benefit to those living-in-poverty and the marginalized communities and neighbourhoods that have been left behind by and that face ever greater obstacles and pressures as a result of this city's supposed economic and real estate "boom".

But Toronto's Mayor and Councillors would rather spend it on policing those communities and neighbourhoods instead.

See also: It is not just the police spending in Toronto that is out of control -- it is the police themselves

See also: 42-2: John Tory, Toronto City Council and the austerity consensus

See also: John Tory's Stupid Track derails transit in Toronto yet again

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

12-Hour Slow Cooked Caribbean-Style Oxtail

I love oxtail, a truly succulent and delicious meat when properly prepared, though this generally requires long cooking times.

Today I am going to take a look at preparing oxtail in the slow cooker and doing it Caribbean style.

While oxtail is a popular ingredient in many cuisines and is used in a wide variety of stews and soups, I love West Indian oxtail dishes and they are one of my favourite things to eat out.

When making oxtail at home I do it in both the Dutch Oven and in my clay baker, but the meat also lends itself very nicely to being cooked over many hours in a slow cooker.

The first step is to take around 2-4 lbs of oxtail (depending on how much you want to make and how big your slow cooker is) and dust the pieces with some flour. Put into the bottom of the slow cooker and then season them liberally with curry powder (use West Indian style curry powder if available) and black pepper. Season them as well with salt to taste.

Sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons of mustard powder over the oxtail and add 4-8 cloves of minced garlic as well as around 2-4 tablespoons of minced ginger. If you have it I also like to sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons of Vegeta seasoning over the oxtail. Stir up the oxtail pieces to mix all of this together and distribute it.

For the oxtail you can add 1-2 Scotch Bonnet peppers. You do this by slicing the peppers down the middle so that they are intact but have an opening in them to the seeds. They then cook with the oxtail. Alternately you can add a few teaspoons to taste of your favorite West Indian style hot sauce.

I added 2 teaspoons of El Yucateco's fiery Caribbean Hot Sauce.

The addition of the peppers or hot sauce adds not just some heat but a lot of flavour and the dish is not the same with out it!

Pour into the slow cooker enough beef broth so that it almost covers the oxtail pieces all the way. Add also 2-3 bay leaves, 1-2 tablespoons of soya sauce and 1-2 tablespoons of Worcestershire Sauce.

Cover the slow cooker (of course) and cook on low for 10-12 hours. If at all possible cook the full 12 hours!

Stir up a bit gently and remove the bay leaves before serving and serve with rice, rice and peas, naan or roti on the side, extra hut sauce and red wine or ice cold beer. Be sure to spoon lots of the rich juices that are produced when you cook this over your rice.

The oxtail will be incredibly moist and truly delicious. It will fall right off the bone. And, as an added bonus, your house or apartment will smell fantastic for hours!


See also: Pepper Goat Soup

See also: Caribbean Style Goat with Potatoes in a Dutch Oven

A Walk in the South Etobicoke Snow

The neighbourhood of Toronto I live in, South Etobicoke, is known for its extensive green spaces, wonderful parks and easy-to-access waterfront areas.

With its (sadly slowly disappearing) small town atmosphere, you can almost, on certain days, feel that you are not in the city.

Here are some photos from the snow storm today taken between Second St. and Sam Smith Park along Lake Shore Blvd. W.

(Click on images to enlarge)

The Assembly Hall -- Sam Smith Park

Friday, February 12, 2016

It's Not Over -- Bernie Sanders releases campaign ad unlike any you have ever seen

Yesterday, the Bernie Sanders campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination released a campaign ad unlike any you have ever seen.

There has never been a political ad for the candidate of a mainstream party like this in either the United States or Canada ever. Period.

It is a powerful and stunning piece that features the moving and forceful words and reflections of Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner who was murdered by New York police.  In it Sanders actually stands up against police violence and systemic racism in policing and the "justice" system in a way almost unimaginable in our stunted political discourse and stands with the activists on the frontlines fighting it.

This is an important political statement and moment and many activists and people fighting for civil rights across the continent have waited forever to see something like it. It takes up the cause directly not of the "middle class" or the business class but of the marginalized and oppressed whose fight is truly not over and who have been abandoned and, indeed, assaulted by three decades of neo-liberal attacks. These were often perpetrated by those who purported to represent them, including Bill Clinton who as President actively supported the dismantling of the welfare state and the passage of terrible new crime bills that targeted people-of-colour and those living in poverty and that led to the creation of the now vast American penal gulag.

Bernie Sanders may not be perfect, but he is willing to tell at least some truths in ways absolutely no else in mass politics right here, right now is.

That is why his campaign is important. That is why it matters.

There has been nothing like it on this scale in a very, very long time. And it may yet help turn the tide.

See also: America deserves to dream big...and it needs Bernie Sanders -- An Open Letter to Democrats from a Canadian socialist

See also: Bernie ascendant

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The NDP's campaign disaster was much more than a failure to communicate

According to the NDP and its leader it is now official --  what we've got here is a failure to communicate!

In a note entitled "Personal Reflections" that was posted to the NDP's website and emailed out to those on its email list, NDP leader Tom Mulcair made a show of appearing to "take full responsibility" for the debacle of a campaign he ran and accepted the predictably tepid conclusions of the 'Interim Report' of Rebecca Blakie's Campaign Review Working Group that he had appointed to allegedly look into what went so very wrong.

"I agree with the over-arching assessment [of the report] that our campaign came up short" Mulcair writes, in one of the great statements of the obvious in recent political memory.

While, one might note, that a leader who accepted full responsibility for such a totally catastrophic result would actually generally do the right thing by their party and resign to leave its stewardship in abler hands, as always with the NDP the devil is in the details when it comes to both the report itself and the mea culpa on Muclair's part.

After stating that "there remains within the Party a rock solid confidence in our core social democratic values" Mulcair goes on to say "we are addressing the important observation from the interim report that the campaign lacked an over-arching narrative that could easily communicate our progressive proposals."

And this is when it begins to become clear that to Mulcair and apologists for the party's campaign, its fundamental narratives and its strategists, the policies that the NDP ran on were just fine.They were, apparently, simply expressed poorly.

It was not that the party's policies were basically misguided, it was all in the presentation and the fact that they were misunderstood by the electorate.

It was not them, it was you Canadian voter!

The new line emerging is brought more into focus as Mulcair goes on to state:
This became apparent when our commitment to balancing the budget overshadowed our social democratic economic vision which saw new government revenues generated through higher taxes for corporations, closing CEO tax loopholes and a crackdown on tax havens. 
This is a fascinating attempt to frame the reactionary balanced budget pledge as "social democratic" -- something that it was not at all -- while also seeking to imply that the "revenues generated" by the, in fact, minor tax commitments the party made during the election (which would have been offset by boutique tax cuts) would have enabled the NDP to keep this pledge without cutbacks.

They would not have. Despite the best attempts of New Democrats to claim otherwise, the choice on offer was not between running deficits and a set of "fiscally-responsible" leftist initiatives, but between a modest deficit accepting Keynesian infrastructure programme proposed by Trudeau and two parties pledging to balance the budget in ways, with tax policies and under a set of economic conditions that would have led to them either having to break the pledge almost immediately upon winning government or to implement severe austerity measures.

In other words, the NDP balanced budget pledge was either going to lead to the worst attack on what is left of the Canadian state since the Liberal budget of 1995 or was a total fiction. You can decide which is worse, but by pretending it was simply poorly communicated Mulcair accepts responsibility not for what was a fundamentally terrible policy but rather for his inability to spin it.

And if it was only the spin, as opposed to the overall narrative itself, that was wrong, then Mulcair likely feels he can make a somewhat compelling case to those left in the party and willing to listen that, given another chance, he will spin this and other basically bankrupt "Third Way" ideas with a new paint job that will, indeed, deliver the dream of power next time.

Mulcair, whose leadership of the party has been, to say the least, top down, also appears to cryptically acknowledge that perhaps the purges of candidates and the burying of things like the member policy resolutions went too far when he says "We spent far too much energy trying to avoid mistakes in the lead-up to the last election" and "the parliamentary wing must work more closely with the party and the grass-roots". Predictably he does not elaborate much on what he intends to do about this other than having appointed insiders to somehow "ensure this happens".

And, again, as he did recently in an email I discussed in a previous piece, he makes an attempt to portray himself as deeply concerned about income inequality while continuing to not articulate one single meaningful policy to do anything about this inequality in a serious way.

This specific attempt to portray himself and the NDP in left-wing terms is especially galling when in comes in the wake of the NDP caucus voting in favour of the very Liberal tax changes they had supposedly opposed and had claimed -- likely correctly -- would actually increase inequality!

So what you get is Tom Mulcair "accepting" the conclusions of a report that does not tackle the fundamentals at all, still trying claim that the balanced budget pledge was somehow misunderstood, and now claiming that it was all the emphasis and that he is, despite all the evidence of his leadership to this point, a great standard bearer of the social democratic cause!

This is, it must be said, all a whitewash that makes the Andrea Horwath ONDP maneuver to save her leadership look like one of the greatest moments of political self-reflection and introspection of all time by contrast.

When Mulcair cruises to victory on the back of this farce at the upcoming NDP convention, get ready for a very long trip into the political wilderness of centrist narrow-vision emptiness for the NDP just when so many opportunities on the left might have been opening up.

Opportunities that cannot and will not open up so long as Mulcair remains leader and so long as the party and its caucus labours under these fundamental self-delusions and with this complete inability to truly accept that it was not the communication it was what the party was communicating that led to an entirely warranted and self-inflicted defeat that did not even have the solace of sound principles to make it worthwhile.

(This piece is posted with all due apologies to a classic cinema moment!)

See also: Dear Mr. Mulcair: Fighting income inequality is not just an email petition away

See also: Just forget about a Canadian Corbyn -- How a lackluster left in Canada gets the Mulcair it deserves

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

26 Incredibly Evocative Photos of 1956 Soviet Moscow

As any regular reader of this blog knows, I am a very big fan of streetscape photography. While photos of monuments or buildings can be interesting, streetscapes give more of a sense of time and place.

One book of very evocative, striking and unusual urban photography, including many street scenes, is a stunning collection of 1950's Soviet Moscow that was released in the Soviet Union in 1956.

Interestingly the book was meant for domestic consumption and what little text there is is in Russian. It contains 163 photographs with some truly spectacular photos -- more sadly than we can look at in one single post, so you can expect a follow-up!

It has a little bit of everything. Nighttime and daytime shots, photos of monuments, parks, buildings, streets, stores, sports venues and more.

Here are 26 of the volume's best photographs with an emphasis on the streetscapes.

(Click on images to enlarge)