People’s Voice February 1-14, 2017
Volume 25 – Number 02   $1

CONTENTS

1) CANADA NEEDS A NEW TRADE POLICY - NOT A NEW NAFTA DEAL

2) THE WOMEN’S MARCH: PROFOUND RESISTANCE TO TRUMP’S MISOGYNY AND RACISM

3) “THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING”

4) FIRST, THE BAD NEWS.... - Editorial

5) THEN THE GOOD NEWS - Editorial

6) MI’KMAQ NATION FILES CLAIM TO A THIRD OF NEW BRUNSWICK

7) “TRUMP IS NO FRIEND OF THE WORKERS”

8) A DISCUSSION OF HOMOPHOBIA IN CUBA

9) BACCHUS SETS FACTS STRAIGHT ON V.S.B. BUDGET

10) EIGHT BILLIONAIRES VS. 3.6 BILLION IN POVERTY

11) MUSIC NOTES, by Wally Brooker

12) THE INTERSECTION OF RACE AND CLASS

 

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(The following articles are from the February 1-14, 2017, issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading socialist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $45 US per year; other overseas readers - $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 706 Clark Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5L 3J1.)

1) CANADA NEEDS A NEW TRADE POLICY - NOT A NEW NAFTA DEAL

By Liz Rowley, leader of the Communist Party of Canada

             The first two decisions by President Trump following his inauguration were to withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, and to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He campaigned on the mass permanent unemployment, slashed wages and living standards, and de-industrialization that NAFTA caused in the US, blaming the carnage on the Democrats and Bill Clinton who negotiated the deal in 1994.

            But Trump’s plans aren’t intended to help workers, to reduce climate change, or to respect the sovereignty and independence of its trading partners, or their economic needs and well-being. A quick look at the Trump Cabinet tells the whole story: this is a government of billionaires intent on running the country like a corporation. They aim to rack up the biggest private profits ever, for themselves and for the US-based transnational corporations they speak for. Their foreign and trade policies fit the same mold.

            A January 10th Op-Ed piece in the Globe and Mail by Gordon Ritchie, former ambassador for trade negotiations and deputy chief negotiator of the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement (FTA) warns that there is no level playing field in US-Canada trade negotiations. The US is coming to get the things it couldn’t get in 1994.

            Ritchie writes, “If, as president, Mr. Trump is determined to rework NAFTA in favour of the US protectionists, Canada must come to the table with its own serious demands and negotiators tough-minded enough to stand up to the neighbourhood bully. High-minded tinkering will not be enough.”

            But NAFTA is, and always has been a bad deal for Canada, and efforts to renegotiate it can’t change that. Standing up to the neighbourhood bully means Canada should pull out of NAFTA now.

What Trump Wants

            Richie’s Op-ed piece summarizes the key demands that the US is likely to make in NAFTA negotiations. First, to impose restrictions on BC’s softwood lumber exports, which the US has tried to curtail since 1994 with legal challenges under NAFTA’s Chapter 11 (investor state dispute settlement mechanism). Those attempts failed, but finally forced Canada to sign a 10-year agreement restricting its exports. This agreement has now expired. Trump wants to impose these unacceptable conditions on softwood exports into the NAFTA agreement.

            It’s clear that softwood lumber is at the top of Trump’s demands to change NAFTA. But why would Canada agree to that? This is a very important resource industry, and jobs for Canadian workers.

            Trump also wants to change the investor state dispute settlement (Chapter 11) which is a cornerstone of NAFTA, and a powerful reason to get out now. But he doesn’t want to get rid of ISDS, he wants to strengthen it to benefit US capital, at the expense of Canada and Mexico. If Trump gets his way, all future trade disputes will be resolved in favour of the US, under NAFTA.

            Trump is also out to change the agricultural supply management system, which has been vital to protect Canadian agriculture, and to protect the food supply from companies like Monsanto, and from additives like rGBH which is already in the milk supply in the US and Mexico (and would have been allowed here under the terms of the TPP). The US strongly objects to the marketing boards that are also part of the supply management system. Trump wants free access for US producers to Canadian markets, and to restrict exports of Canadian food products, including dairy and pork, to the US market. This includes restrictions on imports of Canadian meat, using country-of-origin rules that are illegal under NAFTA.

            Trump wants US and foreign car-makers to move their parts and assembly plants, so that cars sold in the US are all made in the US. Cars and trucks made outside the US, including Canada and Mexico, will face stiff tariffs and border taxes. His threat to slap a 35% border tax on Toyota cars and trucks, unless the company cancelled planned investment in Mexico, is a prime example of “America First”. He wants to add this to the new NAFTA deal, which would cost Canada thousands of direct and indirect jobs in the auto sector, profoundly impacting Canadian workers, manufacturing, and the economy as a whole.

            Trump wants more access for mass corporate culture, in the way of US television and movies. State support for Canadian film, television, books, and culture is seen as an unfair trade subsidy that should be eliminated.

            He wants to open up access for US healthcare corporations to operate in Canada, in competition with our single-payer Medicare system, and more access for Big Pharma.

            Trump wants access to Canadian water, and to commodify the Great Lakes. He wants pipelines to transport Canadian oil, including bitumen, to US refineries in the Gulf. He is about to confirm the Keystone XL pipeline, which millions of Canadians oppose, and which Indigenous peoples have committed to stop. His rhetoric against climate change science will also likely find its way into the new NAFTA.

            There is much more that the new US government wants to re-negotiate in NAFTA, including reductions in workers’ rights and in the powers of elected governments at all levels, in favour of the large national and multi-national corporations and supra-national institutions like NAFTA itself, and the Investor State Dispute Settlement sections of NAFTA.

            There is nothing in NAFTA of benefit to working people for negotiators to salvage. This rotten deal should be finally buried.

Needed: a new trade policy

            What working people urgently need is a new trade policy that protects our interests, respects the sovereignty and independence of our trading partners, and works for multi-lateral and mutually beneficial trade, secured in a foreign policy of peace, disarmament and mutual security. This new trade policy should include extending long-term credits to the developing countries.

            Canada also needs an industrial strategy that includes a basic steel industry, and builds up value-added manufacturing and secondary industry, to create good jobs, raise living standards, and build the country. This should be done in an environmentally sustainable way, using science and technology to reduce greenhouse gasses and carbon emissions. 

            It should include a national strategy to build affordable social housing across Canada, and to expand publicly-owned municipal and provincial infrastructure.

            It must include improved social programs and public services, expanded to include a national childcare program that is universally accessible, affordable, and public. It should include expansion of Medicare to include vision, dental, long term care, pharmacare, and mental health care; and enforcement of the Canada Health Act. It should include free tuition for post-education and stipends for students in post-secondary institutions.

            The real change that working people seek includes expanded labour, civil, democratic and equality rights, and the protection of all citizens and residents from racism, xenophobia, sexism and homophobia.

            That’s the Canada working people want. Not capitalist globalization, not NAFTA, and not far-right demagogues and governments like Trump’s.

            Trudeau should take note of the outpouring of resistance at the Women’s March. Bowing down to Trump will cost him dearly. Now is the time to stand up for Canada - no weaseling allowed.

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2) THE WOMEN’S MARCH: PROFOUND RESISTANCE TO TRUMP’S MISOGYNY AND RACISM

The January 21 Women’s March on Washington, and its sister marches in cities across the world, have thrown down a powerful challenge to the new US administration of Donald Trump. For the interest of our readers, we reprint here the initial documents of this important movement, including its “Mission and Vision” statement, guiding principles, and basis of unity.

Mission & Vision

            We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families - recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.

            The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us - immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault - and our communities are hurting and scared. We are confronted with the question of how to move forward in the face of national and international concern and fear.

            In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore. The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women's rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.

            We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities. We call on all defenders of human rights to join us. This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up. We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society. We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.

            HEAR OUR VOICE.

            “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” - Audre Lorde

Guiding principles

            Women’s rights are human rights, regardless of a woman’s race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, sexual identity, gender expression, economic status, age or disability. We practice empathy with the intent to learn about the intersecting identities of each other. We will suspend our first judgement and do our best to lead without ego. We follow the principles of Kingian nonviolence, which are defined as follows:

            Principle 1: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. It is a positive force confronting the forces of injustice and utilizes the righteous indignation and spiritual, emotional, and intellectual capabilities of people as the vital force for change and reconciliation.

            Principle 2: The Beloved Community is the framework for the future. The nonviolent concept is an overall effort to achieve a reconciled world by raising the level of relationships among people to a height where justice prevails and persons attain their full human potential.

            Principle 3: Attack forces of evil, not persons doing evil. The nonviolent approach helps one analyze the fundamental conditions, policies and practices of the conflict rather than reacting to one’s opponents or their personalities.

            Principle 4: Accept suffering without retaliation for the sake of the cause to achieve our goal. Self-chosen suffering is redemptive and helps the movement grow in a spiritual as well as a humanitarian dimension. The moral authority of voluntary suffering for a goal communicates the concern to one’s own friends and community as well as to the opponent.

            Principle 5: Avoid internal violence of the spirit as well as external physical violence. The nonviolent attitude permeates all aspects of the campaign. It provides a mirror type reflection of the reality of the condition to one’s opponent and the community at large. Specific activities must be designed to maintain a high level of spirit and morale during a nonviolent campaign.

Unity Principles

            We believe that Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights. We must create a society in which women - including Black women, Native women, poor women, immigrant women, Muslim women, lesbian queer and trans women - are free and able to care for and nurture their families, however they are formed, in safe and healthy environments free from structural impediments.

ENDING VIOLENCE

            Women deserve to live full and healthy lives, free of all forms of violence against our bodies. We believe in accountability and justice in cases of police brutality and ending racial profiling and targeting of communities of color. It is our moral imperative to dismantle the gender and racial inequities within the criminal justice system.

REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS

            We believe in Reproductive Freedom. We do not accept any federal, state or local rollbacks, cuts or restrictions on our ability to access quality reproductive healthcare services, birth control, HIV/AIDS care and prevention, or medically accurate sexuality education. This means open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education.

LGBTQIA RIGHTS

            We firmly declare that LGBTQIA Rights are Human Rights and that it is our obligation to uplift, expand and protect the rights of our gay, lesbian, bi, queer, trans or gender non-conforming brothers, sisters and siblings. We must have the power to control our bodies and be free from gender norms, expectations and stereotypes.

WORKER’S RIGHTS

            We believe in an economy powered by transparency, accountability, security and equity. All women should be paid equitably, with access to affordable childcare, sick days, healthcare, paid family leave, and healthy work environments. All workers – including domestic and farm workers, undocumented and migrant workers - must have the right to organize and fight for a living minimum wage.

CIVIL RIGHTS

            We believe Civil Rights are our birthright, including voting rights, freedom to worship without fear of intimidation or harassment, freedom of speech, and protections for all citizens regardless of race, gender, age or disability. We believe it is time for an all-inclusive Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

DISABILITY RIGHTS

            We believe that all women’s issues are issues faced by women with disabilities and Deaf women. As mothers, sisters, daughters, and contributing members of this great nation, we seek to break barriers to access, inclusion, independence, and the full enjoyment of citizenship at home and around the world. We strive to be fully included in and contribute to all aspects of American life, economy, and culture.

IMMIGRANT RIGHTS

            Rooted in the promise of America’s call for huddled masses yearning to breathe free, we believe in immigrant and refugee rights regardless of status or country of origin.  We believe migration is a human right and that no human being is illegal.

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

            We believe that every person and every community in our nation has the right to clean water, clean air, and access to and enjoyment of public lands. We believe that our environment and our climate must be protected, and that our land and natural resources cannot be exploited for corporate gain or greed - especially at the risk of public safety and health.

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3) “THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING”

Speech by Angela Davis at the Women’s March on Washington, Jan. 21, 2017

            "At a challenging moment in our history, let us remind ourselves that we the hundreds of thousands, the millions of women, trans-people, men and youth who are here at the Women's March, we represent the powerful forces of change that are determined to prevent the dying cultures of racism, hetero-patriarchy from rising again.

            "We recognize that we are collective agents of history and that history cannot be deleted like web pages. We know that we gather this afternoon on indigenous land and we follow the lead of the first peoples who despite massive genocidal violence have never relinquished the struggle for land, water, culture, their people. We especially salute today the Standing Rock Sioux.

            "The freedom struggles of black people that have shaped the very nature of this country's history cannot be deleted with the sweep of a hand. We cannot be made to forget that black lives do matter. This is a country anchored in slavery and colonialism, which means for better or for worse the very history of the United States is a history of immigration and enslavement. Spreading xenophobia, hurling accusations of murder and rape and building walls will not erase history.

            "No human being is illegal.

            "The struggle to save the planet, to stop climate change, to guarantee the accessibility of water from the lands of the Standing Rock Sioux, to Flint, Michigan, to the West Bank and Gaza. The struggle to save our flora and fauna, to save the air—this is ground zero of the struggle for social justice.

            "This is a women's march and this women's march represents the promise of feminism as against the pernicious powers of state violence. And inclusive and intersectional feminism that calls upon all of us to join the resistance to racism, to Islamophobia, to anti-Semitism, to misogyny, to capitalist exploitation.

            "Yes, we salute the fight for 15. We dedicate ourselves to collective resistance. Resistance to the billionaire mortgage profiteers and gentrifiers. Resistance to the health care privateers. Resistance to the attacks on Muslims and on immigrants. Resistance to attacks on disabled people. Resistance to state violence perpetrated by the police and through the prison industrial complex. Resistance to institutional and intimate gender violence, especially against trans women of color.

            "Women's rights are human rights all over the planet and that is why we say freedom and justice for Palestine. We celebrate the impending release of Chelsea Manning. And Oscar López Rivera. But we also say free Leonard Peltier. Free Mumia Abu-Jamal. Free Assata Shakur.

            "Over the next months and years we will be called upon to intensify our demands for social justice to become more militant in our defense of vulnerable populations. Those who still defend the supremacy of white male hetero-patriarchy had better watch out.

            "The next 1,459 days of the Trump administration will be 1,459 days of resistance: Resistance on the ground, resistance in the classrooms, resistance on the job, resistance in our art and in our music.

            "This is just the beginning and in the words of the inimitable Ella Baker, 'We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.' Thank you."

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4) FIRST, THE BAD NEWS....

People’s Voice Editorial

            For weeks after the US presidential election, some observers urged caution, arguing that the new president, despite having campaigned on an ultra-right policy platform, might decide to “bring Americans together” by appointing some so-called “moderates” to his cabinet.

            Those naive hopes were dashed by subsequent events, and by the first actions of the new administration. Instead of putting together a cabinet of mixed outlooks, Trump has put “a fox in charge of every chicken coop in Washington,” as one speaker at the Jan. 21 Women’s March pointed out. Trump has nominated a die-hard billionaire enemy of public schools as Education Secretary, a former ExxonMobil CEO as secretary of state, a Wall Street profiteer as Treasury Secretary, a private health care advocate to head the Department of Health, ad nauseum. His new regime is determined to roll back every achievement won through decades of hard struggles by the working class, racialized communities, women, environmentalists, civil rights and equality movements, and others.

            The new president’s views on the global situation are also ominous. Nobody was surprised that Trump and his big energy pals would move quickly to push for higher carbon emissions. But for some, Trump’s call to renegotiate NAFTA and scrap the FTT, and his seemingly anti-NATO views, indicated that he might be open to “fair trade” and reduced military tensions. Instead, he has issued loud warnings that the world must dance to the tune of Yankee imperialism, or face dire consequences. There will be no “renegotiation” of NAFTA, simply orders to change trade policies for the benefit of US-based corporations. NATO will not be dismantled, but Washington’s European imperialist allies must pay a larger share of the alliance’s costs.

            As Bob Dylan warned in a different time period, “a hard rain’s gonna fall.” This is no time for illusions.

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5) THEN THE GOOD NEWS

People’s Voice Editorial

            As the bad news came out of Washington in recent weeks, it was inevitable that resistance would develop. And what a show of resistance it was, when millions of women and their allies took to the streets of thousands of cities, towns and even villages on January 21. The Women’s March on Washington and its sister events were organized in just a few weeks or even one or two days in many cases, and largely without significant funding from major movements. This was truly a grassroots uprising, reminiscent of the massive global anti-war day of action on February 15, 2003.

            There were two notable strengths of the Women’s Marches. First, the huge and largely spontaneous level of participation shows that the pro-fascist, fundamentalist, racist, anti-working class, misogynist bigots challenging for political power in many countries will meet with a huge wave of opposition and public anger. Second, while the January 21 marches were led by women (and in particular racialized women who face the most immediate and terrifying threat), these events brought together a breathtaking range of people’s forces. The message everywhere was similar: every single attack on immigrants or women or LGBTQ communities or trade unions must be met with a solid united front of resistance.

            This broad understanding of the nature of the present danger, and of the level of unity needed to fight back, is a great beginning to the next stage of the international struggle for labour rights, democracy climate justice, gender equality, reproductive rights, fair trade, and solidarity against imperialist wars and occupations. This struggle will be complex and difficult, with no easy short cuts. It will require an unwavering commitment to put the needs of working people and the environment ahead of corporate greed. But the way forward is clear: No Pasaran! They shall not pass!

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6) MI’KMAQ NATION FILES CLAIM TO A THIRD OF NEW BRUNSWICK

By Norm Knight

            Leaders from Elsipogtog, a Mi’kmaq first nation community in eastern New Brunswick, have filed for Aboriginal title to the traditional Mi’kmaq district of Sikniktuk, which covers the south-eastern third of the province. The claim was filed in the Court of Queens Bench in Saint John on November 9, 2016.

            If the claim were to succeed today, it would create the largest area under Aboriginal title in Canada outside the northern territories and Québec.

            Elsipogtog Chief Arren Sock, one of two plaintiffs bringing forward the claim, characterizes it as being “about protecting our lands and waters for our children and our future generations.” The other plaintiff is Kenneth Francis, Speaker of Kopit Lodge, formed by the First Nation to handle natural resources issues.

            Elsipogtog was heavily involved in the fight against shale gas fracking in 2013. Several times that year, RCMP squads violently broke up protests and blockades of shale gas seismic testing equipment. More than 60 people, mostly Native, were arrested during those struggles.

It was shortly after that experience that Elsipogtog leaders decided they should pursue a title affirmation by the courts.

            The First Nation is also concerned about ongoing degradation of their forest by clear cut logging.

            Even if the Sikniktuk claim is successful, it will not give the First Nation absolute control over the territory. Under current Canadian law, Aboriginal title is not radical or underlying title. The crown retains underlying title, and can encroach or infringe on the Aboriginal title holder’s rights of occupancy, enjoyment, benefit, and control if the government can justify the encroachment as being “in the broader public interest.”

            In a recent land claim case from British Columbia, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada wrote: “In my opinion, the development of agriculture, forestry, mining, and hydroelectric power, the general economic development of the interior... protection of the environment or endangered species, the building of infrastructure and the settlement of foreign populations to support those aims... can justify the infringement of Aboriginal title” (Tsilhqotin Nation v. B.C., 2014).

            Holding officially recognized Aboriginal title does, however, improve a Native group’s chances of forcing government to consult and accommodate its interests.

            Bruce McIvor, the lawyer representing Elsipogtog in the title claim, says it “is not a silver bullet”, but “a strategy to force the provincial government to seriously engage” the Native people concerning the land.

            It is an expensive strategy. Aboriginal title cases typically take years or decades, involve professional anthropologists as witnesses, and cost millions or tens of millions of dollars. There is serious asymmetry between the resources that the state can deploy in the legal battle and those of the Native side.

            It has also been questioned why a people such as the Mi’kmaq, who never ceded their land by treaty and are asserting sovereignty, should have to plead their case in the court of the colonial power which opposes them, rather than before a neutral tribunal; and why they should have to make their arguments in the terms of English common law, not Aboriginal concepts of justice.

            Stan McKay, a Cree spiritual leader from Manitoba has written: “As a marginalized people, forced to live on tiny plots of land, we encounter the worldview of the wealthy and powerful in the land claims process and are forced to compromise or die.”

            And even a staid legal scholar, Kent McNeil, has written: “the domestic law context... is not the only context for analyzing Aboriginal claims.”

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7) “TRUMP IS NO FRIEND OF THE WORKERS”

Morning Star Editorial, Jan. 21, 2017

            Anti-racist campaigners will express their anger over the inauguration of Donald Trump in over 20 towns and cities across Britain today in solidarity with protesters across the pond.

            It is clearly a matter for US citizens alone to decide who is their president — and the alternatives offered were less than enticing — but their choice affects the whole world.

            It beggars belief that a country with a population of 325 million could narrow down the decision facing the electorate to a binary choice between a warmongering Wall Street shill with an aura of entitlement and a brash billionaire bigot ready to spout vile racist abuse any time he believes it will help his cause.

            Racism is the only accurate description for Trump’s casual threat to ban Muslims from entering the US or his ludicrous pledge to build a giant wall — at Mexico’s expense — on the Mexican border to keep Mexicans out.

            His sexism is equally marked, as is his contempt for the almost universally held belief among scientists that human activity causing climate change should be curbed and indeed reversed.

            Trump’s vanquished opponent Hillary Clinton would never have given vent to such obviously obnoxious expressions of bigotry and prejudice, but she shares the assumptions of the US ruling class.

            Her backing for regime change in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa reflects contempt for the aspirations of people in these regions unless they can be exploited, as in the so-called Arab Spring, to the benefit of US imperialism. She, in common with other leaders of the US Democratic Party, has been adept at paying lip service to the equality demands of national minorities and calls for jobs and better living standards for working people, or the “middle class,” as they are known in the US.

            But when Wall Street demands free trade treaties that involve jobs being exported overseas and pay levels being degraded, national minorities and organised labour are cast aside.

            Trump was able to profit electorally from the Democrats’ record of letting down the working class by claiming that he will bring back “US jobs” and invest a trillion dollars in infrastructure renewal to boost employment.

            He boasted that a mere threat to put import taxes on cars produced in Mexico had reversed plans for a large new car factory there, but the president-elect is no friend of workers of any colour or nationality.

            His record of union non-recognition, employment of labour at starvation rates and arranging accounts so that his companies pay zero federal taxes illustrates clearly his priorities.

            Trump’s corporate agenda is aimed at “encouraging” business by eradicating so-called red tape, such as health, safety and environmental standards that are supposedly holding back the sacred cause of maximising profit.

            Excusing businesses from paying taxes means that there will be insufficient funding for public services such as education, health and welfare. This could put the Trump administration on a confrontation course with the organised movement.

            At the same time, despite his presidential campaign pledges of opposition to wasteful overseas wars, his aggressive stance towards China and possible swift cooling of relations with Moscow could reintroduce the threat of war.

            If the US working class turns in on itself, seeking domestic and global scapegoats rather than organising against the political and economic elite represented by Clinton and Trump, it will destroy itself. Only a class-motivated response to the ruling elite’s divide-and-rule strategy can deliver a firm rebuff to the warmongers and capitalist exploiters and lay the basis for a real progressive alternative.

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8) A DISCUSSION OF HOMOPHOBIA IN CUBA

By Melaney White

            In the aftermath of Fidel Castro’s death, western mainstream media jumped upon the opportunity to further demonize the gains made by the Cuban people since their revolution effectively freed the nation from the imperialist grip of the United States.

            Among many other falsehoods perpetuated by imperialist media sources, a common thread woven by media regarding Cuba is that the nation is repressive and homophobic. Indeed, Cuba’s history with LGBTQ2SI folks is complex and Cuba continues to fight against homophobia domestically however mainstream media are quick to over simplify facts and exaggerate whenever possible as part of the overall imperialist agenda to discredit the gains Cuba has been able to achieve.

            Cuba, much like any other country, has not always treated members of the LGBTQ2SI community fairly. Prior to the Cuban revolution, anti-gay laws existed in the Cuban Social Defence Code. However, anti-gay laws and attitudes were and remain rampant around the world – these ideas are not limited to only Cuban history and likely developed in Cuba as a legacy of colonial and imperial inference.

            The 1960’s saw a dark turn for gay men in Cuba. Many were sent to camps designed to incarcerate all who were deemed unfeasible for military training, including gay men, Jehovah’s Witnesses and counter-revolutionaries.

            As early as 1975, anti-gay laws began to be overturned by the Cuban Supreme Court, however it wasn’t until 1987 when public homosexual acts were removed from the penal code and jailed offenders of such acts were released from prison.

            During the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, there were several people in Cuba who had contracted HIV and were involuntarily quarantined, causing Cuba to receive harsh criticism; however this quarantine did not explicitly target gay men. Cuba now offers the best HIV treatment in the region, and has made many medical advances despite the trade embargo placed on Cuba by the United States. Further adding to the Cuban homophobic rhetoric from the 1980’s, several thousand gay Cubans (though the numbers have been exaggerated by the United States), left the island when Fidel Castro allowed huge numbers of people to leave in what was dubbed the Mariel Boatlift. Many more in the LBGTQ2SI community chose to remain in Cuba.

            Cuba has made incredible gains in recent decades, by carrying out active measures to facilitate Pride organizations, denounce homophobia, improve sexual health education and enact more progressive policy by embracing sexual diversity.

            By 1989 the first transgender surgery was performed and in 1993 gay Cubans could join the Communist Party. In 1993 the Cuban film Strawberry and Chocolate criticized homophobia in Cuba. In 1995, Cuban drag queens had the honour of leading the annual May Day procession, and the documentary Gay Cuba was shown at the Havana International Festival of Latin America Cinema to critical acclaim. In recent decades there have been major gains in access to free gender reassignment surgery, and same-sex marriage. Cuba continues to participate in the annual International Day of Action Against Homophobia.

            Leslie Feinberg, in Rainbow Solidarity in Defense of Cuba, has compiled a number of resources regarding same-sex love and sexual diversity, addressing issues such as homophobia in pre-revolutionary and revolutionary Cuba, the AIDS crisis and Cuba’s subsequent efforts to improve attitudes through arts, entertainment and education.

            The work of Mariela Castro Espin, the daughter of President Raul Castro and revolutionary feminist Vilma Espin, has made major gains in the fight against homophobia in Cuba. Mariela is a sexologist and the director of CENESEX (Cuban National Center for Sex Education), a government organization which works towards improving attitudes towards members of the LBGTQ2SI community through education, media, rallies and marches as well as promoting healthy and inclusive ideas about sexuality.

            Indeed, homophobia is still present in Cuba and in the world at large, including in Canada and the United States; however, Cuba has quickly become a leader for LGBTQ2SI rights around the globe.

            (The author is a member of the Central Pride Commission of the Communist Party of Canada.)

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9) BACCHUS SETS FACTS STRAIGHT ON VSB BUDGET

In our previous issue, we reported on the BC Teachers’ Federation victory in forcing the Liberal provincial government to allocate more funding for public education. This Jan. 19 commentary on the same topic, by former Vancouver School Board chair Patti Bacchus, is reprinted from vancouverobserver.com.

            In a written statement this week the Vancouver School Board (VSB) says it’s “delighted” to have “additional resources” in the form of  95 full-time teaching positions it’s restoring due to the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) Supreme Court of Canada win.

            It’s great news to see some of the previously cut teaching positions starting to be restored after so many years of cuts. The court found in November that the government acted unconstitutionally in 2002 by stripping the teachers’ contract which led to thousands of teaching positions being cut from B.C. public schools.

            Having made the difficult decision to vote for some of these cuts in my eight years as a Vancouver school trustee, and then getting fired for refusing to make more of them, I’m relieved they are starting to be reversed.

            However, I was taken aback that Acting VSB Superintendent John Lewis used the word “additional” nine times in his 253-word statement.

            In fairness to Lewis, the positions are in addition to current staffing levels but to me they’re actually a small down payment on a long-outstanding debt to B.C. kids. That’s because the VSB’s $4.4 million-dollar piece of the $50 million pie being divided up among school districts — as the government’s first step in response to its stunning loss at the Supreme Court of Canada — is just a fraction of what’s been cut from Vancouver schools since the B.C. Liberals have been in government.

            To put Lewis’s “additional” teaching positions in perspective we need to look back 15 years.

            (Editor’s note: The online version of this article includes a VSB infographic highlighting how much it would take to restore staffing, services and resources to the equivalent level provided when the BC Liberals first came to power. The 2002/03 VSB budget was $415 million. By the year 2015, the amount required to maintain the service levels from 2002 was an estimated $559.4 million. Yet the VSB budget for 2016 was only $480 million - a shortfall of $79.4 million. This amount would cover the hiring of 810 entry-level teaching positions, and $13.2 million in lost services and supplies.)

            As a former VSB Chair who wrote or signed off on many statements and news releases, I would have chosen my words more carefully to provide context. After all, those positions are just a partial restoration of what students were robbed of for 15 years.

            However, I was elected and Lewis is a government appointee, and it may be that he’s just doing his part to carry the government’s message, hoping voters forget the past and give the Christy Clark government credit for the “additional” teaching positions.

            The BCTF deserves credit and thanks for fighting and winning this long and difficult battle through the courts in the face of pressure to give up and give in. Students will benefit from having those teaching positions back and teachers’ increasingly heavy workloads will likely begin to improve.

            But as we head into a provincial election in May, it’s important to remember what’s being put back this year is just part of what government stole from B.C.’s public school students for the last 15 years and that they’re only doing it because they have to.

            And the thousands of kids who’ve left the system over the past few years will never get back what the B.C. Liberal government took from them.

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10) EIGHT BILLIONAIRES VS. 3.6 BILLION IN POVERTY

From the Morning Star (UK)

            Rampant inequality has reached the point where a group of men owning the same wealth as half the planet’s population could squeeze onto a single golf buggy.

            Eight billionaires now have a combined wealth equivalent to 3.6 billion of the world’s poorest people, according to an alarming revelation from Oxfam. The anti-poverty charity is calling for an overhaul of a “warped” economy that allows a small group of people to hoard more wealth than they can spend while billions go hungry.

            Out-of-control pay ratios also mean the average FTSE 100 company boss rakes in 129 times as much as a typical employee’s earnings — and equivalent to 10,000 people working in Bangladeshi garment factories.

            The shocking statistics were released as new improved data on global wealth distribution, particularly in India and China, found that the world’s poorest are worse off than previously thought. And the report also warned that if things carry on the way they are going we could see the world’s first trillionaire in just 25 years.

            Oxfam’s study is directed at world leaders gathering this week for their exclusive annual knees-up at luxury Swiss ski resort Davos. The annual World Economic Forum has been heavily criticised as being little more than a networking event for the rich and powerful.

            Oxfam is demanding the international political and business leaders clamp down on global tax dodging, build in more benefits for staff rather than just shareholders back and wealth taxes to fund healthcare.

            Businesses should also commit to paying the living wage and provide more opportunities for women, it said.

            If the new data had been available when the charity conducted similar research last year its report would have found nine billionaires, rather than 62, owning the same wealth as the poorest half of the population.

            Among the eight billionaires from this year’s research is Bill Gates, who tops the list, and Warren Buffett, the world’s third-richest man. Both have pledged to eventually give away most of their wealth, but the charity said cases of individual largesse do not replace the need for a fairer tax system.

            Oxfam chief executive Mark Goldring said: “This year’s snapshot of inequality is clearer, more accurate and more shocking than ever before. It is beyond grotesque that a group of men who could fit in a single golf buggy own more than the poorest half of humanity. While one in nine people on the planet will go to bed hungry tonight a small handful of billionaires have so much wealth they would need several lifetimes to spend it. The fact that a super-rich elite are able to prosper at the expense of the rest of us at home and overseas shows how warped our economy has become. Inequality is not only keeping millions of people trapped in poverty, it is fracturing our societies and poisoning our politics.”

            Oxfam’s study is based on the Forbes billionaires list and Credit Suisse global wealth distribution data.

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11) MUSIC NOTES, by Wally Brooker

Talib Kweli's solidarity with Palestine

Hip-hop star Talib Kweli is a consistent political activist. In 2000, in the aftermath of the New York police department's brutal killing of Amadou Diallo, he co-founded Hip Hop For Respect with rapper-actor Mos Mef. In 2005 he called upon the Bush Administration to remove former Black Panther Assata Shakur (living in exile in Cuba) from the terrorist watch list. In 2011 he performed at New York's Occupy Wall Street camp. More recently, he's been on the front lines in support of Black Lives Matter. But the Brooklyn rapper does not limit his activism to the USA. In 2014 he responded to calls to from the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign and cancelled a concert in Israel. In 2015 he joined hundreds of Black activists, artists, scholars, students, and organizations, and signed the Black Solidarity With Palestine statement www.blackforpalestine.com. Interestingly, the statement acknowledges the solidarity that Palestinians have shown for Black Americans. Palestinian solidarity was evident last November, after Kweli's concert in Leipzig, Germany was cancelled because of his outspoken support for Palestine. In response, more than a dozen Palestinian cultural organizations published an open letter thanking him for speaking truth to power, and likening the suppression of his show to the shutting down of cultural centres in Occupied Palestine. Read the letter at www.bdsmovement.net.

Iran's imprisoned Rajabian brothers

The International Federation of Musicians (FIM) is campaigning on behalf of imprisoned Iranian musician Mehdi Rajabian and his filmmaker brother, Hossein Rajabian. The two were sentenced last June to six years in prison for “insulting the sacred” and “propaganda against the state” through the production and promotion of underground music. The Rajabian brothers began a hunger strike on October 28, and are now facing increasingly severe medical conditions. The Iranian state frequently intimidates, persecutes, imprisons, and bans artists and cultural producers. Musicians need government authorization in order to perform concerts and produce music albums and videos. Online distribution of alternative music is also a political challenge. Even when they're issued concert licenses, there's no guarantee that musicians can safely hold their scheduled appearances. FIM is urging Iranian authorities to drop charges against the Rajabian brothers and release all artists who are detained for having exercised their fundamental right to freedom of expression. For more information visit www.codir.net.

SF Symphony protests anti-gay laws

The San Francisco Symphony announced on December 12 that it had cancelled a pair of April concerts in North Carolina to protest the new state law curbing anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The orchestra joins a growing list of luminaries who have shunned the state, including rockers Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr, and classical violinist Itzak Perlman. The action affects concerts in Chapel Hill, where the symphony was scheduled to play music by John Cage, Béla Bartók, and Gustav Mahler. The North Carolina law nullified local ordinances establishing anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. It requires people in public buildings to use restrooms that correspond with the gender listed on their birth certificates. It was signed into law by Republican Governor Pat McCrory, who was defeated in the November elections. The new Governor, Democrat Roy Cooper, quickly abandoned his pre-election promise to repeal the bill. The orchestra was inspired by the mayor of San Francisco, Edwin M. Lee, who has barred city employees in publicly funded positions from travelling to North Carolina on business.

Leonard Cohen: 1934-2016

Tributes to Leonard Cohen abounded in the weeks after his death on November 7th. Of particular interest to me were the many homages to Cohen on Facebook by left-wing activist friends. While he's known and loved as a poet who explored personal relationships and the "human condition", Cohen expressed progressive political sentiments in many of his songs. His first overtly political recordings were released on Songs From a Room (1969). "The Partisan" celebrates the heroism of the anti-fascist French Resistance, and "Story of Isaac" is a biblical parable condemning the Vietnam War.  "Joan of Arc" (1971) is an admiring portrait of a strong woman, personified by the 15th century French heroine. "Dance Me to the End of Love" (1984), embraces life in the face of atrocity and death, and was inspired by stories of Jewish musicians in the Nazi death camps. The wry "Everybody Knows" (1988) confronts a neoliberal world where "everybody knows that the dice are loaded", but makes it clear that the world of the rulers is coming apart too. "Democracy" (1990) is replete with irony. "Democracy is coming to the USA", but its present rulers are not capable of it. Unfortunately, Leonard Cohen did not observe the call for a cultural boycott of Israel. Instead, in 2009 he played "A Concert for Reconciliation, Tolerance, and Peace" in the country, and donated the proceeds to Israeli and Palestinian peace groups.

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12) THE INTERSECTION OF RACE AND CLASS

By Zoltan Zigedy, Dec. 24, 2016

            Convinced, with the election of a Black president, that we had finally arrived at a post-racial society, US opinion-makers and political leaders retired the charge of racism from public discourse.

            With the doors to most private clubs, plush neighbourhoods, and fancy accommodations now open to African-American elites, with Black celebrities, sports heroes and entertainers “crossed over” to be widely accepted by whites, the racial barriers — we were told — were a thing of the past.

            Barack Obama himself did much during his presidency to highlight this image, assiduously avoiding any allusion to patterns of racial injustice or intolerance.

            And when previously ignored racist police violence was brought to the fore through the explicit exposure using the ubiquitous mobile phone or video camera, the media and political leaders dismissed it as aberrational or legally ambiguous.

            President Obama sought to minimise that awareness in April when he lectured a group in London on the value of patience and incrementalism: “You can’t just keep on yelling” — a remark aimed at the leading US voice against police violence, Black Lives Matter.

            However, racism is back. Actually, racism never left, but it has caught the attention of the previously blind and deaf. The catalyst for the new awareness is Donald Trump. Trump’s systematic racism in constructing his real estate empire is well documented, though it has not troubled the media or Democratic Party leaders until now.

            His hysterical and heavily publicised attempt at lynching five innocent black youth — the Central Park Five — did not keep him from reality television stardom or elite celebrity. The Clintons socialised with him, graciously attending one of his weddings.

            Like the Clintons and most elites, his racism is entangled with ambition. When it is economically or politically expedient — imposing racist real estate covenants (Trump) or dismantling welfare (Clinton) — publicly espoused principles are readily compromised.

            Hillary Clinton would like us to forget her labelling Black youth in gangs as “superpredators,” a racist term conjuring imagery of wild animals.

            She opportunistically dropped her liberal facade to promote President Bill Clinton’s draconian Crime Bill that effectively criminalised hundreds of thousands of African-Americans and terrorised even more.

            So it is easy to see the media campaign against Trump’s bigotry as hypocritical. But it is worse than special pleading for Clinton — it is a cynical play on racism as vulgarity, a superficial reaction to locker room and private club banter. The contemptuous crudity of Trump’s appalling insensitivity to African-Americans, women and immigrants is rightly rejected by the mainstream media, but little is made of the crippling effects of institutional or structural racism, the social and economic burdens that oppress African-Americans as a group.

            US elites, politicians and their servile media attend to racial manners while systemic inequality grinds away at the lives and opportunities of US Blacks.

            The bloody first step toward the emancipation of African-Americans came with their escape from the bondage of slavery. After over 200 years of forced labour and the indignity of existing as chattel, the hope of full citizenship that came with the overthrow of slavery was quickly stifled.

            Segregation, civil rights denied and the broken promise of even minimal economic independence ("40 acres and a mule") left Blacks nominally “free,” but bound to a universal inferiority.

            The long and persistent civil rights struggle bore fruit in the 1960s with the gaining of a broad suite of rights barring legal segregation, delegitimising discrimination and removing many barriers to voting. African-Americans took another important step toward full emancipation, but one that — again — fell short of gaining full equality.

            For liberals, the road to racial equality ran through public education. Placing Black students among white students and vice versa within urban school districts was thought to break down existing barriers and provide equal educational opportunities. Liberal elites who sent their children to private or parochial schools were fine with this solution. But when educational reformers took the logical step of integrating poorer urban districts with well-funded middle and upper-middle strata suburban communities, the campaign for equality folded.

            After the 1974 US Supreme Court decision in Milliken versus Bradley (argued over integrating the 85 per cent Black Detroit school district into white suburban school districts), school integration has been in full retreat.

            Today, excepting the former segregationist South, US schools are more racially divided than they were before the landmark Brown v Board of Education decision and with no remedy on the horizon.

            The other route favoured to achieve full emancipation was affirmative action — effective policy goals for including African-Americans in public and private life.

            After some initial successes, the policies of affirmative action have been eroded to the point where they are virtually nonexistent today, outside of higher education.

            The Democratic Party, the party benefitting the most from the African-American vote in the modern era, has virtually abandoned the quest for full equality and the elimination of structural and institutional racism.

            Twenty years after the passing of historic civil and voting rights legislation, the Democratic Party policy commission of the Democratic National Committee presented a policy proposal that barely mentioned African-Americans.

            New Choices in a Changing America (1986), an 83-page document, recognises no obstacles to black citizens, offers no solutions specific to African-American problems, and affirms the “benign neglect” that has been the Democratic Party policy ever since.

The struggle for full emancipation of African-Americans in the US remains unfinished business.

            African-Americans significantly trail their white counterparts in every major indicator of social and economic wellbeing.

            Until blacks are guaranteed the means as well as the formal opportunities to participate in all of the institutions of US society, they will remain shackled to the legacy of slavery.

            When a people lacks the economic means to advance, when they remain held back by physical isolation, when they are weighted down by substandard homes and public services, then formal opportunities are clearly not enough.

            Put simply, the liberal ideal of equality of opportunity is not alone sufficient to continue on the path toward full equality.

            It is increasingly clear that 21st-century racism intersects overwhelmingly with class. While a substantial stratum of “successful” African-Americans enjoy the fruits of the civil rights era — a group that the writers at Black Agenda Report derisively call the “Black Misleadership Class” — the masses of US Blacks still struggle with poverty, low incomes, shabby services and neglect.

            Assassinated leaders like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were recognising the limitations of formal equality and stressing the necessity of economic equality before we lost them — they were beginning to challenge whether capitalism could ever deliver equality.

            There are encouraging signs that groups in the US like the Black Radical Organising Collective and the Black is Back Coalition are, in that spirit, seeking answers beyond electing a Black president and moralising about an election outcome.

 

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