The Grenfell Fire: Austerity is Terrorism

On June 14, the 220 ft. tall Grenfell Tower went up in flames in a matter of minutes, as if it were tissue paper, witnesses reported. The world watched in horror as residents desperately tried to flee the fire, with one mother even dropping her baby out of a window. The BBC has reported that the total number of those killed could be as high as 70.

The fire was no accident; it was an attack on the poor by the capitalist system and its political supporters.

As far back as 2004 concerns were raised about the safety of the building. The EMB Property Management Committee found that the lighting system was in such poor condition it would fail in an emergency situation, with two-thirds of the batteries dead. A 2012 fire risk assessment report found that some portable firefighting equipment hadn’t been inspected or tested in years. Some portable firefighting equipment even had the word “condemned” written on the side.

The building’s residents’ organization, the Grenfell Action Committee (GAC), expressed concern about the existence of only one escape route and the lack of a building-wide sprinkler or alarm system. In November 2016, the GAC warned of “dangerous living conditions,” but after years of being ignored, concluded that “only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO.”

When the building was under renovations in 2016, The Guardian reported, the owners requested the more flammable exterior cladding to save £2 (a little over $3 CAD) a square foot. Cladding of a similar material is banned in Germany and the U.S.

In the aftermath of the July 7th, 2005, London Bombings, Ken Livingston, the then-Mayor of London, said the attacks were “aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old.”

Weren’t the victims of the Grenfell fire also victims of such indiscriminate mass slaughter? Like the London Bombings, the victims of the Grenfell fire were working-class, mostly low-income, Londoners from all walks of life. And if the BBC is correct, more working-class Londoners have died as a result of the Grenfell fire than were killed in the London Bombings.

And like the men responsible for the London Bombings, those responsible for the Grenfell fire were motivated by their own political agendas. The owner’s of Grenfell Tower, the Kensington and Chelsea TMO (KCTMO), despite stockpiling £270 million in reserve, chose to disregard the safety of its Grenfell residents in favour of cutting costs. Even when a similar disaster was only narrowly averted in 2013, the KCTMO continued to downplay the seriousness of its residents’ concerns. The Conservative-controlled Kensington and Chelsea Council even went so far as to threaten the publisher of the GAC’s blog with “defamatory behaviour” and “harassment” if they continued posting concerns about the safety of the building online.

Central austerity budgets, moreover, ensured that when a did fire occur, it would cause terrible human suffering. Budget cuts of up to 80% in some communities have drastically reduced frontline services, “visible to all in unrepaired roads, uncollected bins and closed libraries, gyms and children’s centres,” writes George Eaton. Cuts to legal aid made it more difficult for Grenfell’s mostly low-income residents to obtain legal advice, Eaton argues, while the loss of 7,000 firefighters in the last five years, resulting in longer response times and less fire prevention visits, all but guaranteed a major disaster.

The terrible Grenfell Tower fire in North Kensington was entirely avoidable,” Deon Lombard, an architect, wrote.

Austerity kills. Capitalism kills. The only difference between those responsible for the London Bombings and the Grenfell Tower fire is that the perpetrators of the latter were mostly white men wearing expensive suits and sitting in plush offices.

(Image Source: The Sun (U.K.))

An Open Letter to David Anderson, MP for Cypress Hills-Grasslands

Dear David Anderson,

I am writing to express my disgust with your false and outright disgraceful polemic in the House of Commons recently about the death of Fidel Castro and the revolutionary government of Cuba.

I’d like to respond to some of your criticisms of Castro and of the Cuban “communist regime.”

Quoting an unnamed ‘Cuban friend’ of yours you claim that Cuban healthcare, far from being the ‘model of the world’ like that pesky organization called the United Nations says it is, is unable to provide the most basic services. According to this ‘friend’, Cuban hospitals don’t even have any aspirin!

Did it ever occur to you or this ‘friend’ that Cuba’s economic difficulties could be attributed to the U.S. embargo on this small island nation rather than being indicative of the failure of the Cuban social system? U.S. policy towards Cuba has always been to make life as unbearable as possible since the overthrow of Batista, the ‘good dictator’. Does Operation Northwoods or the Bay of Pigs Invasion sound familiar to you? Those operations certainly were in no way intended to benefit the masses of Cuban people. According to a 1997 report by the American Association for World Health, the 54-year-old U.S. embargo “has dramatically harmed the health and nutrition of large numbers of ordinary Cuban citizens,” causing “a significant rise in suffering-and even deaths-in Cuba.” The same reported applauded the Cuban government for averting a “humanitarian catastrophe” by maintaining “a high level of budgetary support for a health care system designed to deliver primary and preventive health care to all of its citizens.” I have included the link here to that report for you to share to your ‘friend’ and for you to read for yourself.

Your ‘friend’ claims that Cuban hospitals lack the most basic medicines and medical supplies, and this you use as evidence of the failure of Cuba’s healthcare system. Yet, despite the Cuban healthcare system’s apparent inability to provide its people with such basic medicines like aspirin, Cuba has managed to achieve a lower infant mortality rate than the U.S, the richest country in the world! Quite an impressive achievement for a country lacking painkillers, wouldn’t you say? A case could be made that if Cuba’s healthcare system is as you and your ‘friend’ describe and it has nevertheless achieved a lower infant mortality rate than the U.S., then this is indicative of the failure of the U.S. healthcare system, which by the way your Party and its former leader Stephen Harper enthusiastically support, not the Cuban.

Your criticisms of Cuba’s human rights record and lack of Western-style democracy are about as laughable as yours criticisms of Cuba’s healthcare system. With all do respect, you are far from being qualified to lecture the Cuban government about democracy and human rights! Let me remind you of the democratic and human rights achievements of the former Harper government, which you so dutifully served in as the Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Foreign Affairs:

  • First government in the whole Commonwealth to be found in contempt of Parliament.
  • Largest mass arrests in Canadian history.
  • Passed the most repressive security legislation. A Canadian citizen can now be arrested on the mere suspicion of future dangerousness!
  • Your government cozied up to apartheid Israel. Regardless of what you might think of Cuba’s human rights record, in no universe has Cuba committed a fraction of the heinous crimes the Israelis have committed against the whole Palestinian nation. Nobody, not even you with your flawed and distorted logic, can accuse the Cubans of genocide.
  • Your government systematically undermined Indigenous rights, medicare, environmental protection, democratic debate, and the right to collective bargaining.
  • Your government formed a majority government with 38% of the popular vote! On what planet is that a democracy? The Foreign Minister you served couldn’t even provide an answer to a Jordanian reporter that asked how a government could hold all the power with 38% of the popular vote?

With a record like this you are hardly in any position to be criticizing the Cuban political system.

As for Cuba’s human rights, are you aware that at no time under the rule of the man you called a “tyrant,” Fidel Castro, was Cuba’s incarceration rate as high as that in the U.S.? Neither has Cuba, unlike the U.S. and Canada, been bombing other countries back to the stone age and torturing people abroad in U.S.-run torture camps. There wasn’t a war in the world your government didn’t like, and your government aided and abetted the illegal incarceration and torture of one of its own citizens. Finally the United Nations slammed your government for “increasingly serious violations of civil and political rights in Canada.” Among these “violations of civil and political rights” were your government’s refusal to take action on the 1, 200 missing and murdered Aboriginal women, repressive security legislation, and the use CRA audits to shut down charities not in line with your government’s ideology among many other serious violations.

I hope that you do some research and fact-checking next time before you decide to fulminate in the House of Commons.

Best Regards,

T.J.

The Hypocri$y of Non-Profit$

Christmas, the season of giving, is rapidly approaching, and workers earning poverty level wages with no benefits or any job security are busy at work processing the annual flood of donations to charitable organizations and non-profits. The good intentions of donors notwithstanding, like using a band-aid to treat cancer, charity is incapable of any fundamental social change, incapacitated as it is by the socio-economic system in which it operates. Unbeknownst to many donors is how these same organizations perpetuate and profit from the very social ailments they are supposedly on a mission to end, a consequence of the non-profit industrial complex.

It is no secret that billionaire philanthropic organizations are corporate entities masquerading as charities. Even by capitalist standards one can hardly claim that an organization like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, whose questionable charitable activities are far surpassed by its investments in virtually every industry, is anything other than a corporation. With investments in private prison companies and mercenary firms to transnational oil and gas, chemical, food, construction, pharmaceutical, and retail corporations, the foundation profits from the most violent and destructive exploitation of working people and the environment that exists today, including war.

Yet hidden from the public eye through effective marketing schemes and social taboos is the anti-working class activities of public non-profit organizations. To a lesser degree, though not always by very much, these charities likewise suffer from the same contradiction between their highly publicized objectives and their less publicized quest for more wealth, power, and privilege. Continue reading “The Hypocri$y of Non-Profit$”

Peacekeeping: Fiction vs. Reality

(Image: Protest in Haiti against UN sexual crimes against women. Source)

The word peacekeeping is like the word terrorism: it is meaningless on its own and able to be molded to serve the interests of a political clique. Like Alex P. Schmidt’s description of terrorism in The Routledge Handbook of Terrorism Research, peacekeeping “is usually an instrument for the attempted realization of a political…project that perpetrators lacking mass support are seeking”[1].

Peacekeepers have never kept the peace in any conflict. On the contrary, peacekeepers themselves have been linked to an increase in violence and human rights abuses, particularly of a sexual nature. In Bosnia, Somalia, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Mozambique, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, peacekeepers have been “associated with criminal misconduct, including sexual violence. Crimes against women and children have followed UN peacekeeping operations in several locations, and the UN reported that the entrance of peacekeeping troops into a conflict situation has been associated with a rapid rise in child prostitution”[2]. Allegations of sexual violence against peacekeepers dates back to the 1990s. During the 1995-2002 UN mission in Bosnia, Kathryn Bolkovac, a human rights investigator, found that young “girls from Romania, Ukraine, Moldova and other Eastern European countries [were] being brought in to service the UN and military bases as sex-slaves. The cases involved the officers from many foreign countries, including the USA, Pakistan, Germany, Romania, Ukraine, government contractors, and local organized criminals”[3]. Bolkovac was subsequently fired for her investigation. As of 2015 more than 200 women and girls have been sexually exploited by UN peacekeepers in Haiti in exchange for food, clothing, medicine, and other basic necessities [4]. In the Central African Republic, French peacekeepers have forced young girls to have sex with dogs [5], starving and homeless boys as young as nine have been sodomized by peacekeepers [6], and an entire UN contingent was expelled from the country due to sex crimes [7].

Extrajudicial murder, torture, and mass murder – all war crimes under international law – have also been committed by peacekeepers. A 14-year-old Somali boy was beaten, tortured, and murdered by Canadian peacekeepers in Somalia; the peacekeepers having posed in photos with the boy’s bloody corpse. Not to be outdone, Belgian peacekeepers were photographed roasting a Somali over a fire. Continue reading “Peacekeeping: Fiction vs. Reality”

The Politics of Fear

The same message is clear everywhere you look: be afraid, be very, very afraid. Whether it is about terrorism, jobs, or who to vote for, fear is a powerful weapon, economically and politically, in the hands of the ruling class. Fear is divisive, it is incapacitating, and ultimately immobilizes the working class and everyone struggling for social change.

The power of fear is that it shuts down. It shuts down debate, it shuts down dialogue, it shuts down meaningful action. Whether or not the fear is rational is largely irrelevant. Many people fear many things with very little, if any, rational explanation for the fear. According to a public survey, Iran was ranked as the biggest threat to world peace in the U.S. and Canada. Why? Iran hasn’t attacked another country since 1798. On the flip side, Iran has been attacked on many occasions by the U.S.-NATO alliance. The U.S. and Britain overthrew Iran’s democratically elected government in 1953 on behalf of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, BP’s predecessor, ushering in a reign of terror by a brutal monarch. The U.S. supplied Saddam Hussein with chemical weapons to attack the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq War, the very same weapons the U.S. illegally occupied and destroyed Iraq for allegedly possessing. In 1988, the U.S. Navy shot down a civilian airliner, Iran Air flight 655, killing all 290 people on board, while the plane was over Iranian territory, in Iranian airspace, traveling the plane’s standard flight path. There is no basis to any claim that Iran is a threat to world peace, but there is overwhelming evidence the U.S. and its allies are. Continue reading “The Politics of Fear”

The Permanent War Economy and De-industrialization

(Image: Detroit, Michigan, the former centre of America’s auto industry. Source)

Politicians of all political stripes like to dress inflated military budgets, and the wicked arms deals that frequently accompany them, in terms of “job creation.” Former U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, arguing against any reduction in military funding, claimed that any decrease “would result in job cuts that would add potentially 1 (percentage point) to the national unemployment rate.”[1] Here in Canada, both Stephen Harper and his Liberal counterpart Justin Trudeau have justified the $15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, the largest such deal in Canadian history, as a means of creating jobs. “The fact is that there are jobs in London relying on this” deal, Trudeau said [2].

A closer examination will reveal something different. By not producing a life-serving product, i.e., an article used for either consumption or for further production, military spending is not only the worst of available choices for job creation, it contributes to industrial and infrastructure decay. Continue reading “The Permanent War Economy and De-industrialization”

Canada’s $15 Billion Saudi Arms Deal: What History Tells Us

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it is a “matter of principle” that Canada follows through with a $15 billion armaments deal with Saudi Arabia, a totalitarian state which funds international terrorism, stones women to death for the crime of being raped, and that leads the world in public beheadings. This decision has been sharply criticized by journalists, activists, and international organizations. In a public statement Amnesty International said that it has “good reason to fear that light armored vehicles supplied” to Saudi Arabia by Canada “are likely to be used in situations that would violate human rights” in both “neighboring countries” and for ‘suppressing demonstrations and unrest within Saudi Arabia.” Montreal students and a former Bloc Quebecois MP and law professor have filed a class action lawsuit to block the deal, citing that by selling weapons to countries with poor human rights records Canada is violating its own laws.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion, in response to criticism about how these weapons will be used, replied that Canada has undertaken similar deals with Saudi Arabia, and that country “has not misused the equipment to violate human rights” according to the government’s “best, and regularly updated, information.” This is an outright lie.

In 2011 more than a hundred thousand protestors participated in an uprising against the undemocratic monarchy in Bahrain, calling for “political reforms, right of political participation, respect for human rights, stopping of systematic discrimination against Shias.” The regime responded by banning all demonstrations, caging villages in barbed wire, firing live ammunition at doctors that tried to help injured protestors in hospitals, torturing some protestors to death in police custody, and calling in the military of Saudi Arabia. 1, 000 Saudi troops crossed into Bahrain in armored vehicles not unlike those sold to Saudi Arabia by Canada throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. The Canadian government has neither confirmed nor denied that Canadian armored vehicles were used to suppress pro-democracy demonstrations in Bahrain.

In Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies have been at war with the country’s Houthi rebels, the U.N. has accused Saudi Arabia of war crimes. The Saudi-led coalition’s war against the poorest Arab country has caused the deaths of more than 8, 000, displaced millions, and destroyed nearly all of the country’s schools, hospitals, and historical heritage. Hundreds of thousands of children are at risk of starvation due to the violence and the Saudi-led coalition’s naval blockade in a bid to starve the country into submission. Based on photos of Saudi ground forces in Yemen, the armored vehicles being used by the Saudi military bore a striking resemblance to those manufactured in Canada, while a retired Canadian general, speaking anonymously to the Globe and Mail, identified the armored vehicles as having been manufactured by General Dynamics Land Systems, the same company manufacturing the armaments in the latest $15 billion deal.

An arms deal with Saudi Arabia raises serious questions about the role of Canada in the international community. Critics of the deal have said that if Canada follows through with selling arms to Saudi Arabia “we can kiss Canada’s human rights credibility goodbye.” But such criticism presupposes that Canada has a credible human rights record. “Canada,” writes BJ Siekierski, “hasn’t suddenly been transformed from Boy Scout to arms merchant.” The history of Canada, both domestically and internationally, isn’t a history of a country dedicated to the defense of democracy and human rights, it is a history of an imperialist state built on the theft of Aboriginal land that faithfully serves as a junior partner to U.S. imperialism’s war of exploitation and subjugation of the world.

Canada’s first Prime Minister, John A. MacDonald, was an ally of the most racist section of the elite of that time. In the House of Commons he was in favor of a system of legalized racism, claiming Europeans and Chinese were different species, introducing “biological racism as a defining characteristic of Canadianness.” While starving thousands of Aboriginal people to death by withholding food, MacDonald argued that the disenfranchisement of the Chinese people was imperative to protect the “the Aryan character of the future of British America.” Liberal Prime Minister Mackenzie King wrote in his diary that after meeting Adolf Hitler he believed Hitler “might come to be thought of as one of the saviors of the world.” Trudeau, like his father before him, is an avowed supporter of apartheid regimes. The late Pierre Trudeau, Justin Trudeau’s father, “sympathized with the [South African] apartheid regime not the black liberation movement or nascent Canadian solidarity groups,” while one of the first acts of the Justin Trudeau Liberals was to pass a Conservative motion to condemn all Canadians who exercise their democratic right to support the non-violent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement as a form of resistance to Israeli apartheid.

Let us not forget the ongoing genocide of Aboriginal people in Canada. For more than a century Aboriginal children were taken away, sometimes at gunpoint and in handcuffs, to be shipped off to residential schools, where they were to learn how to “assimilate” and become “civilized” through a system for forced labour and re-education. The “Residential Schools were predicated on the notion that Indigenous children were less human than other children, so they were worked like animals in the slave labour many schools mandated.” Thousands of children died from malnourishment, disease, physical and sexual abuse, with many buried in unmarked graves near the site of the schools. To this day Aboriginal people are more likely to be born into poverty, are less likely to graduate from high school, and have a shorter life expectancy than non-Aboriginal people.

Internationally Canadian foreign policy has been reflective of the country’s imperialist system of exploitation. Canada was among the 14 imperialist states that invaded the Soviet Union in 1918 in an effort to bolster the forces of the anti-Bolshevik White Army and stop the Russian working class from establishing socialist government. More recently the Canadian military has been involved in Somalia, the former Yugoslavia, Mali, Libya, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. In Somalia, where Canadian troops were participating in the U.N. mission, Canadian ‘peacekeepers’ tortured and murdered a 16-year-old boy. In a sociopathic ritual that has repeatedly been documented wherever Western forces are active, these Canadian ‘peacekeepers’ photographed themselves with boy’s bloodied corpse like he was a trophy kill. In Libya, a country that prior to the NATO-led intervention had the highest standard of living in Africa, the Canadian military supported al-Qaeda-linked Islamist terrorists that ransacked the country’s wealth, brutally murdering the country’s former leader Muammar al-Gaddafi by sodomizing him with a bayonet.

Nine years before Canada’s invasion of the Soviet Union trains “loaded not only with supplies, rifles, and ammunition, but also with machine guns and light artillery pieces” were dispatched to Cape Breton in preparation for the military occupation of the island, where miners and steelworkers were striking for improved working conditions and higher wages. Such violence and disdain for the working class has been repeated throughout Canadian history. During the “Hungry Thirties,” striking miners in Estevan, Saskatchewan were murdered in cold blood by the RCMP, while the unemployed were rounded up and sent to labour in slave-like conditions in relief camps.

The deal to sell armaments to Saudi Arabia must be opposed on all moral and political grounds, but to be able to effectively oppose such a deal, the deal must be put into the historical context of Canada’s role as a junior partner of U.S.-led imperialism.