Northern Lights

by Barry Weisleder


The July 2007 edition of Northern Lights, a regular column from Canada by Barry Weisleder, appears in the San Francisco–based monthly newspaper Socialist Action. To subscribe to the newspaper, please visit the SA web site.

Harper’s worthless concession on Afghan war

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s pledge not to extend the Canadian military intervention in Afghanistan beyond the February 2009 deadline without the agreement of all parties in Parliament, isn’t worth the proverbial paper on which it is printed.

Between now and then a federal election will occur. Regardless the political stripe of the next government, the big business parties likely to form it will come up with an abundance of “reasons” to prolong the miserable foreign military occupation.

The “mission” will be extended, unless the anti-war movement effectively mobilizes the majority of public opinion which has been hostile to the war almost from the start.

Harper’s concessionary pledge, however disingenuous, reflects the powerful gains of the peace movement in organizing regular, cross-country mass protest actions, and in backing leftist forces in the New Democratic Party to win the federal party’s convention in September 2006 to a “Troops out of Afghanistan Now” position.

Harper’s concession also signifies growing public awareness of the deepening quagmire, the growing popular resistance to foreign occupation, and the rising death toll of Canadian soldiers, which stood at 60 in late June 2007. It indicates the apparent futility of the situation, six years after the United States and its allies toppled the Taliban, in which today 7 million Afghanis are “vulnerable to hunger” and barely 13 per cent have safe water to drink.

In the Mirwais Hospital, in Kandahar where Canada has 2,500 troops, there is no regular blood supply, few medicines and shoddy equipment. Refugee camps are “full of starving people”, despite Ottawa’s $1.2 billion so-called aid effort. These facts are reported by the liberal-minded Senlis Council think tank that is active in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-backed puppet Afghan President Hamid Karzai chastised Western troops on June 23 for “careless operations” and accused them of killing more than 90 civilians with bombs and bullets over the preceding 10 days (hardly the first such killings, or the first of such complaints by Karzai). Canadian forces have also been guilty of killing civilians in Kandahar and elsewhere. Post-mortem apologies don’t go very far in winning hearts and minds across an increasingly impoverished, brutalized and militarily occupied population.

Another strike against the Harper government is its visible complicity with U.S. repressive measures, from airline no-fly lists to the notorious prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Canadian Omar Khadr has been held at Gitmo for over five years, without trial, even after a U.S. appointed military judge recently tossed out the latest charges against him — and Ottawa hasn’t lifted a finger to ascertain Khadr’s health, much less demand his release.

Harper, thus, has many reasons to retreat from deceit and war crimes, but he should not be trusted to do anything other than what he, and his Liberal predecessors in government, have done. Only independent, mass, anti-war action can force his hand. Involvement of the mass membership of labour unions and the NDP in coordinated protest events will be key to success in ending imperialist intervention in the Middle East and beyond, and re-directing public funds to meet human needs.

United for Peace and Justice, the leading national anti-war coalition in the U.S., has taken an important lead. At its assembly in Chicago, June 22–24, which this writer had the privilege to attend, UFPJ issued a call for coordinated mass protest actions to occur on October 27, 2007.

Now the task of sister movements in the Canadian state, Europe and around the world is to make October 27 a global day of anti-war action.

Good advice for Tony Blair

As rumours first circulated that retiring British Prime Minister Tony Blair would become “a peace envoy to the Middle East,” some alternative suggestions surfaced for the war monger’s political afterlife.

One commentator proposed that Blair “change his name and reside in America under the federal witness protection program.”

On the web site of The Guardian, a London-based daily, one cheeky writer described the Bush administration as “the Imperium” and Blair as “Antonius Poodlisimus,” which implies a certain care and feeding regimen.

Another suggested that rather than becoming an envoy to the conflict in Palestine, Blair should instead be dispatched to Gaza in a direct swap for kidnapped BBC correspondent Alan Johnston.

Corporate takeovers: Inter-penetration of Capital works both ways, against workers

Lately, some die-hard Canadian nationalists, including top flight business executives, have been wringing their hands over the so-called “hollowing out” of the country’s corporate landscape due to foreign buy-outs.

As it turns out, Canadian companies did more shopping abroad last year than foreign big business did here.

According to the Investment Industry Association of Canada, as reported in the Toronto Star on June 26, Canadian business scooped up almost 800 foreign firms in deals worth a total of $111 billion. Foreign companies purchased 175 Canadian companies with a total transaction value of $84 billion in 2006.

And the trend appears to be continuing this year. Canadian companies bought 134 foreign firms during the first three months of 2007 compared to foreign takeovers of only 46 Canadian businesses.

Huge acquisitions by the barons of Bay Street include Goldcorp’s takeover of Glamis Gold Ltd. for $8.5 billion, Thomson Corp.’s $18.2 billion (U.S.) deal to buy Reuters Group PLC, and Great-West Lifeco Inc.’s acquisition of Putnam Investments Trust for C$3.9 billion.

Foreign takeovers of prominent Canadian companies, such as Inco Ltd., Falconbridge Ltd., and Fairmont Hotels and Resorts made headlines over the past year. And now with telecommunications giant BCE Inc. up for grabs, there are loud demands that Ottawa intervene.

So, what’s going on here, and who would benefit?

Well, one set of tycoons want protectionism (e.g. banks, telecom). Another set wants all restrictions on capital removed. Neither side in this shell games represents the interests of working people. Mergers and takeovers primarily mean job losses and consumer price gouging — regardless the nationality of the owners.

So, what’s the answer? Neither Canadian nationalism nor so-called “free trade.”

To put human needs before private profits we need a government that moves decisively to democratize the economy, to bring the giant corporations and banks into public ownership under the control of workers and our communities. That’s called socialism — which all the tycoons and CEOs worldwide will fight to the bitter end.