Friday, August 26, 2016

Let's Go to the Ex -- A Left Chapter look at some of the sights and food of the 2016 CNE!

This year's edition of the Toronto end-of-summer institution the Canadian National Exhibition (otherwise known as "The Ex") kicked off last Friday and runs until Labour Day as always.

You still have lots of time to go or go for a second visit.

Just as we did last year, The Left Chapter paid a visit to track down some new food items, sights and sounds, as well as to return to some old favourites!

Pizza Nova offers up an always reliable and tasty snack slice in the Food Building.

The Bug Bistro, new to the food building, is literally a bug bistro! You can get a few dishes that come with crickets marinated in Tabasco and other sauces. One example is a cricket topped hot dog!  

I must admit that I did not try it. Maybe next time. 

Ali's Roti is one of my favourite food booths at the food building serving up terrific West Indian fare (as they do at their year round Queen St. W. location in Parkdale). 

I got the goat with rice and peas and a side salad ($11) and topped it with their fiery in house hot sauce!

Always a destination for my kids is the lollipop booth in the Arts & Crafts Building. Dozens of different flavours, the lollipops are $1 each or 6 for $5.

This year's hot sauce discovery, also at the Arts and Crafts Building, was the Spice of Life Gourmet Hot Sauce booth. They have five options, all delicious, that progress from a little bit of kick to the incendiary and awesome Million ++ Pepper Sauce! This is a GREAT hot sauce, but not for the timid with its blend of Ghost, Trinidad Scorpion and Naga Viper peppers.

Incredible stuff. You can order from them online here.

Art Show at the Arts and Crafts Building! 

Cookies and Jams from Nova Scotia

Turkeys at the Farm Building

Free recipes...something I can never say no to!

A Giant Squirrel Butter Sculpture

Get your fix of Ontario honey products at the Farm Building!

You know who...

One new food item, at least to me, was the $9 Big Pickle Corn Dog! It can be found at a booth by the midway, It is a hot dog inside a giant pickle that is then battered and deep fried. I hate to say it, but it was pretty terrific! 

At the Mac and Cheese booth in the Food Building you can get a variety of Mac and Cheese mains and grilled cheese sandwiches. 

They also have a tasty Tater Tots dish ($7) that has cheesy tater tots with beef and Mexican style nacho toppings and sauces. A solid treat. 

Could not resist getting a San Francesco veal sandwich with hot peppers ($8) from their booth at the Food Building. A Toronto classic, you can never go wrong with any of their Italian sandwiches. They have all the classic options: Veal, chicken, steak or eggplant. 

Bouchard's Poutinery in the Food Building offers a variety of well executed and tasty versions of the Quebec classic.

I like the traditional poutine option, and a large (and it is quite large) is good for a couple folks. They range from $11 to $15 depending on the toppings. 

See you next year!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Bully: B'nai Brith reveals a not so pretty version of "human rights advocacy"

B'nai Brith Canada, which bills itself as an organization that does "grass-roots human rights advocacy" and as a " a lifeline for our community", recently posted a book review for Toronto Sun columnist Sue-Anne Levy's upcoming memoir Underdog: Confessions of a Right-Wing Gay Jewish Muckraker.

Leaving aside for the moment the review itself , what is particularly fascinating is what the original review said about the left-wing website,, which I occasionally blog for, is a site that shares a wide array of progressive and leftist viewpoints that range from mainstream social democratic writing and NDP or labour viewpoints, to articles and blogs by writers or activists who are somewhat or well to the left of that.

It is a forum and site that is dedicated to opposing racism or racist viewpoints and this is rather easily demonstrated.

And yet the book review, written by Simon Pelsmakher, originally described as a "racist, white supremacist, and antisemitic website". (Screenshots of the entire original review, which is still available for now via Google cache, can be found at the end of this post)

This is an outrageous and false characterization of rabble and, by extension, makes a fairly serious implication about Uzma Shakir, "longtime Director of Equity, Diversity and Human Rights for the City of Toronto" who they note has written for rabble.

After being called on it by the website Ricochet, B'nai Brith pulled down the review for a time and replaced the original characterization of rabble with "After investigating Shakir’s background, Levy discovered that she has contributed to the website, which Levy calls, “a virulently anti-Israel website that strongly supports Israeli Apartheid Week and the BDS movement.”"

While B'nai Brith issued a rather tepid (given the extreme language and the nature of the accusation) apology on twitter, as of the time of this post there is no retraction, clarification or apology for the original statement on the new version of the review that has been reposted.

This type of grotesque and inflammatory rhetoric is used all too often by those who seek to conflate any opposition to the actions of the state of Israel with anti-Semitism. While this particularly vile example was (to a degree) retracted due to its total absurdity -- and quite possibly legally actionable content -- that it would have been asserted at all and posted originally is telling, dangerous and indicative of a neo-McCarthyist tactic of making extreme claims and implications about critics of Israel that has to end.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


We were supposed to meet at 7pm but Andrew was always late.

I got there, punctual as usual, and slid into one of the booths at the back.

Jackson's was busy, even for a Friday, and I was lucky to get a spot. Waitress, pale, skinny, unfriendly, was a composite of every girlfriend I had ever had. I should have made a one had told me to fuck off in days.

But I was older than that now. Better than that now, right?

I ordered a plate of the Tandoori style wings and a Corona and watched the start of the hockey game on the big screen TV they had across the far side of the bar.

I was working on dead soldier number two and the first period was ending when he finally got there. Still in the office clothes. Dark blue sports jacket. Crisp white shirt with light yellow tie. Pants that almost seemed freshly pressed. Remarkable how he could pull that off.

He worked a quick ten minute walk away. I knew there was no fucking chance he had stayed late at week's end, so I had a pretty good idea that he had had a few before coming.

Usual small talk to start. Andrew never said anything important until at least the third drink.

I had met him in university. Fifteen years ago now. He had joined the same drama club I had. Took me just a couple of meetings to realize that he was after the same woman as well.

Solely at a Liberal Arts College would you read Moliere and Arthur Miller as a way to get laid.

In the end he married Klara.

Paul, look, things between Klara and I are finished....she asked me for a divorce....

Quiet descending as the waitress came with his scotch.

A young looking pseudo-cowboy with an acoustic guitar was tuning up on stage and the business women in the dressy outfits behind him suddenly laughed loudly.

Andrew looked down, eyes averted, almost as if embarrassed.

What are you going to say?

I said what we all would say. Why? Have you tried counselling? What about the kids?

It took me awhile to ask the single question of any interest at all... what happened?


Long pause. He smiled tentatively. Knowing I didn't believe him.

Honestly Paul, nothing happened...we just...we...well, we just grew apart.

An hour or so flows past. Game boring. Conversation awkward and uncomfortable. A few too many pregnant pauses. Laughter over past exploits. Stories recycled yet again.

Andrew smiles finally, sadly, small wrinkles the tiny blemishes to an otherwise handsome face. I always thought he had a bit of a Cary Grant gee-whiz quality. Infectious and effortless.

Do you remember our wedding Paul?

Yes of course I remember. I was his best man.

His folks had gone all out. Open bar, live band, late-night DJ. It was great. I danced with a cute bride's maid until 2 a.m.

Klara had looked just too beautiful.

It was time to go.

Andrew knew it. I knew it.

We paid the bill and were walking out just as the live show started.

It sounded a decent Dylan knock-off but I was tired.

Paul, was your Dad at the wedding?

My Dad...

My Dad had definitely not been at the wedding.

He died didn't he?

He had died. The lifetime of chain smoking had finally caught up to him.

Withered and wheezing, decrepit looking, so many tubes and a single tear falling from his left eye. Fuck I knew I should never have visited him.

I don't think I ever met your Mom... you couldn't have.

We shook hands. Odd for us. He walked off, dissolving into December dark.

I seem to think it was a Tuesday that I was newly seven and sitting on her lap.

My mother, stern and silent, gazing away from me, chastising for a minor transgression.

My father pulling up in his car. Her face so very sad.

A couple days later there was Dad. Lucky Strike in hand. Holding a tea towel in Grandma's basement. Telling me she was gone.


At the house that night I knew there was something he wasn't saying. Everyone avoided me. All his friends whispered. There was an underlying sense of shame.

I had never seen my father cry.

We lived in a squat suburban bungalow and I slept in a small bedroom up at the front.

Mickey Mouse and Guy Lafleure posters. Books of one kind or another. A small radio that I listened to to go to sleep.

After Mom died I had this recurring dream where I would wake up in my bed, calling out for my father.




Jumping up from beneath sheets. The house would be empty. Every corner vacant. No furnishings.

No people.

No Mom.

No Dad.

I would run room-to-room, increasingly frantic, yelling more-and-more loudly.

There was nothing.


My father would always rush in to grab me in bed screaming.

He would hug me, pull me tight to his chest, almost crushing me in his ribs.

Paul... is are is only a dream Paul...

It was five years later, I think, when I was twelve.

We were driving back from Grandma's late one night. We had eaten order-in Chinese food, but as we left the sky had turned morbid dark and brooding.

Near halfway home it had opened up in a terrible downpour.

I sat in the back of the old Cutlass Supreme as the torrents hammered harder and harder until, sideways slanting rain blurring out all visibility, my father pulled off of Dwight Ave. into the vacant parking astride the huge sidings of the soup factory.

For a few minutes we rested there. Motor idling. Bonnie Tyler on the radio.


There was no response for a moment.

Dad...when Mom know...when she went...well some of my friends...well...what do you think happened to Mom?

My father sat, smoke pooling above his head, lingering in the near vacuum of the Cutlass interior.

When he spoke he never even looked back.

Your know no one knows what happens to people when they die. Some people think we come back again. Some think...some think that when you die...when your mother go to heaven...they think she is there, safe, among the angels.

Bonnie Tyler faded to Willie Nelson. The loud horn of a fast passing truck split the cab of our car as the rain eased up enough that my father seemed ready to go.

That Mom is up that what you believe?

The empty air between us as the car pulled slowly away from the siding, advancing into the now gently rhythmic patter.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Blinded by the right: My past as an anti-abortion activist

By Natalie Lochwin

This piece was originally published as a guest blog on Michael Laxer's Blog and then on It is a very powerful account of Natalie Lochwin's family's involvement in the anti-choice movement when she was a teenager.

It is soon to be featured in an upcoming book, Without Apology from Athabasca University Press.

To start, I didn't want to write this. So I searched hoping to find someone that had a similar experience to share and to read their take on their progression from "pro-life/anti-choice/anti- abortion" to believing in and advocating for abortion rights. I'm sharing this story of my past anti-choice activism because it is a past I have been ashamed of. Yet it also shaped me and is part of what, ironically, made me who I am today.

This, in the end, is a story about how destructive an influence this movement can be not only socially, but to individuals as well.

In the late 80's, when I was 16, my mother had decided to move the family away from the inner 'rough' city of Toronto and to take us to live, tucked away, in safe, clean, boring suburbia.

The day Canada's abortion law was struck down I recall my mother watching the news and listening to the reaction from the public. She was motivated to do something and to get involved. Determined to take a stand. I didn't really know or care about this issue. I was still a kid really, in high school, geeky, blessed with an awkward nature and teenaged skin.

My mother, however,  decided that we (my mom, my sisters, and I) would go down and picket the hospital circuit with our home made anti-choice signs and hand out pamphlets spouting anti-abortion propaganda. Regularly after school we would travel down with her from Etobicoke, grab some veggie pitas en route and protest the "killing"of the unborn in front of the hospitals. I'd beg to do something else after school, to go out with friends, but the answer was always no. There was no other option. Picketing and homework were my lot.

We had become Born Again Christians. My mother had believed that this would save her crumbling marriage and stop her kids from turning into wayward anarchist heathens. To my mother Christianity and Pro-life activism changed everything. It delivered us from skull earrings, sprouting multicoloured hair and from 'satanic' black nail polish. We were saved!

We began to "fellowship" with other like-minded folks, as is done in movements like this. We were going to church and youth events all the time.

I grew to like the attention, negative or positive. We became known and somewhat famous in the anti-choice movement as an "activist family". At one point Toronto Life magazine even featured us in a piece.

A sick and paranoid mythology was part of anti-choice ideology. We'd heard about the evil "pro-aborts", how they hated children, how they'd get pregnant and  intentionally have abortions. They really believed "feminazis", as they called feminists, were evil, and that they sacrificed fetuses in some sort of satanic ceremony. Clinics were rumored to sell fetal parts for medical experiments and to meat processing plants and fancy cosmetics companies for the collagen. They claimed there were experiments on "living" fetuses, decapitated fetuses and so forth.

We'd hang out at Aid to Women, an anti-choice, "counseling" organization that was littered with Christian propaganda and expressed a truly extremist anti-abortion ideology. The atmosphere was extremely oppressive and very controlling. According to them, the mainstream, secular media were all liars and any stats or information that seemed to contradict their views were lies or government conspiracies.  Followers were always strongly encouraged to follow Christian or Catholic sources and to avoid mainstream media. The world presented through their eyes was a very ugly place.

In addition to being very good at controlling their followers, all of whom were religious, it must be noted that few, if any, were involved who were not Catholic, Born Again or some faction of Christianity. Their stated goal was to save babies. But their broader agenda was to "save the world" from the secular, non-Christian agenda, and they had an over the top anti-gay (homosexuals were seen as "aids carriers" who were out to "get the family") and anti-woman manifesto of beliefs and works. Ultimately abortion is just a stepping stone into their paranoid, homophobic, hate-filled world.

Accosting female patients on their way to abortion clinics was just like a game for them. My mother had begun to regularly sidewalk counsel and did convince a young, nineteen year-old woman from Grenada whom she met in the alley not to have an abortion. She dragged her into the fake "pregnancy counseling  centre", the one beside The Morgentaler clinic on Harbord St., and shoved a bunch of pamphlets and a plastic fetus in her face asking her why she wanted to "kill her baby". The young woman began to weep. This was a "victory" for her and made her the envy of other, more experienced, sidewalk "counselors" as they lamented "why do you get to save a baby, I've been doing this longer than you."

Ultimately, we joined Campaign Life Coalition (CLC). My mother was rather generously supporting them, back in the days when they had charitable status, with donations to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. We became involved with many, truly extreme characters. There was Vlad, a Soviet defector, who actually lived at their Dundas St. headquarters. He was an eccentric who worked in the office and was devoutly religious. He would accompany us on regular trips to Buffalo to participate in their Operation Rescue efforts. He hated abortion providers. Asking him once why he would never traditionally protest, he answered me that he would kill the doctors if he saw them. I don't think I brought it up with him again.

We also came to know Ken Campbell, who was a prominent anti-choice Evangelical Christian who spewed his own special brand of reactionary hate via a Christian radio show in the early 90's. He would pontificate on air at great length, often with the blessings and dollars of  his faithful listeners, which included my parents. They, sadly, donated tens of thousands of dollars to him as well.

He would rant on-and-on about the "pro-aborts" and how anti-family they were. He was also extremely fixated on homosexuality, oddly so for someone so hateful to gays. He related stories of how he was tormented by gay men in his dreams!  Every broadcast Campbell made was a call to action against the supposed anti-family, anti-traditional marriage, homosexual agenda. Then, of course, he would beg for money.

Eventually my mother had a falling out with him when he kept pushing for more and more money. The last straw was when he showed up at our home with prearranged loan papers all ready for them to sign. Fortunately, they declined.

Operation Rescue & the Exploitation of the Young

Lots of exciting things were happening in the Anti-Choice movement in the USA, led by the Christian hardline fanatic pastor Randall Terry, whose "Operation Rescue" movement appropriated civil rights activist tactics and then dared to compare itself with the civil rights movement, even going so far as to sing their songs and twist their slogans. "They ended slavery, we're ending slavery in the womb!", they would say. Randall Terry embraced the role of "prophet" that his followers cast him in. He, and others, worked everyone up to a frenzy in Washington in the early 90's with calls to take action against the murderous doctors. Unfortunately, some of those followers did.

In 1994 the Morgentaler clinic in Toronto was bombed. In private in the movement the anonymous cowards who did this were seen as heroes and extolled as noble. They had obeyed a higher law. Morgentaler was said to "deserve" it. They would make comments on how it was ironic he had survived the holocaust only to now kill North American babies.

Emulating the USA, in Canada we started to block clinics too. The movement's male leaders, preferring to lead by words, not example, never put their neck on the line. Often the front line activists at the clinics; Morgentaler's, the Scott, the Cabbagetown clinic, were kids and teens. My 10 and 14 year old sisters were arrested as were many other children. Time after time, kids and teens were encouraged by the anti-abortion adults to do this as they liked the media attention we got.

Sometimes we'd attach our necks with Kryptonite locks to gates or to each other. We were imitating the Lambs of Christ (an extremist American anti-abortion group at the time). A good family friend of ours was a "Lamb". He was a single 40 year old who wanted nothing more, as he put it, than to die in service to the lord. He also had ties to the Army of God who were Christian anti-choice terrorists. He was proud of his explicit Army of God manual, (an underground instruction manual for vandalism and violence against abortion clinics and providers). He was such a fanatic that his father had taken out a million dollar life insurance policy on him. He would accompany my mother and sisters on their  strange and confusing "missions" to many U.S. cities campaigning against Christians using birth control. Sometimes she'd suggest that I marry him. Given that  I was 17 at the time, I have always hoped she was joking!

A big part of being a pro-life youth involved socializing and attending various conferences across Ontario and the USA. But this was all a part of of socialization into extremism and their ideology of control.

At one Human Life International conference my sister and I were "shamed" for being vegetarians as this meant we were going against the Bible and against our parent's wishes. Our vegetarianism was deemed anti-Christian.

At our Evangelical church  there were people who spoke in tongues "chosen" to convey a special message from "the Lord". It was, of course, always the same two people who "received" and interpreted. One of the tongue speakers looked me over one time and proclaimed to my mother that she detected witchcraft. This started a whole mess of trouble for me, and my mother got rid of the palm reading books that I had along with many other things.

No matter what, I felt like I could do nothing right. Any thoughts, especially anything sexual, normal for a 16 year old girl to have, were sinful. We were taught we could not trust a single natural thought. Everything about being a teenage girl was evil and unclean. I was convinced and constantly reminded at church and at home that God would judge us and that His vengeance would be visited upon us.

My mother would inquire about our sexuality and remind us that masturbation was wrong and sinful. We were to practice chastity until marriage. Their answers to teenaged hormones were lame. "I'm worth waiting for" buttons were thrust into our palms. The movement and Christian churches had a fundamental mistrust of youth and felt that all of us were in grave danger of becoming sex crazed animals and drug addicts. It is like they simply forgot, or never knew, what it means to be human, to be a young adult, and were unwilling to accept that it is an awkward age meant for discovering and learning about who and what you are.

Why did I go along?  I think for a young person it was about the attention at this point. The excitement of the lead up to an Operation Rescue action, the camaraderie, the police, the media interest, and all of the people. Then to get arrested, to go to jail for a few weeks for a tactic that you aren't even entirely sure makes sense anymore and to get even more attention from those within the cult; much more because of your youth and "dedication". I'd been involved for a few years now and the magic number 18 wasn't too far off, which would mean the end of my Young Offender charges and sentences. Soon I would be in adult court. Just how dedicated was I?

If I could speak to my long-dead mother now, I might ask her why she let us do this? It destroyed our already fractured family. All we did was obsess over "the cause" and it ate up every weekend and all our free time. It became our focus and it was as though a stranger had  moved into our lives.

What did the "pro-life" movement teach us as kids and young adults? It taught us that god's "law" overrides any other laws or rights. These were the anti-social "values" they instilled. Their family values involved showing graphic and misleading imagery to kids and violating the rights of women repeatedly. It involved invading privacy, doing insane acts like stealing clinic garbage to scrounge for fetal parts, picketing escort's homes, committing vandalism and the condoning and even encouraging of violence against abortion providers and their property. They taught us that there was to be no concern  for anyone's rights or property because we were obeying a higher law, and we answered only to our "god".

When I read about current anti-choice activists, or when I see them at demonstrations or in their propaganda videos, they seem so sincere. Yet many are full of hatred and are sickened by the sight of women standing for reproductive-rights. They see us as the enemy and as bloodthirsty 'baby killers'.

I see familiar faces, like the McCash's, Jim Hughes, Linda Gibbons and others. I see those who I once stood alongside and who now involve their offspring, creating future generations of activists in the sole cause of quashing women's reproductive autonomy and carrying out their reactionary agenda.

Painting a false portrait of abortion rights activists is key to their movement. This portrayal must be as ugly and paranoid as possible to succeed with their flock. Hence their over the top literature, as demonstrated by the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR) or Lifesite News. The lies the anti-choice perpetuate and the tactics they use are fundamentally wrong-headed. They are controlling, anti-woman and fundamentally anti-family.

Their agenda reaches far beyond abortion. The beliefs they hold dear are part of an unholy trinity of hate that is anti-abortion, anti-homosexual and anti-feminist. They work tirelessly at scheming new ways to complete or promote their agenda, of which abortion is only a way to draw people in. This is why Campaign Life was also so prominent in opposing Bill-13 in Ontario, and Gay-Straight alliances in general, even though they have nothing at all to do with abortion.

Their vision is of a world where women are happy breeders, at home making dinner and raising their children, fulfilled by their duty as baby-makers with no selfish thoughts of education, career or personal achievement. Pregnancy was viewed as a duty, a must, and a completely natural and necessary rite of passage. They believe that making-babies is for everyone. Whether you are a 15 year old girl who just had sex once and got pregnant, or if you're a rape victim. Married, single sinning "sluts", or even if you have cancer. To them the circumstances are irrelevant.

It would make sense that such a movement, if it was actually about the love of  "unborn babies" would be concerned with the well being of pregnant women and the potential life they carry. You might think that these activists would support a government that would fund daycare, prenatal programs, affordable housing, programs to assist single parent families, or fight for an end to hunger and poverty in our country so women might be in a position more often to be able to safely, when they wanted to, bring a new life into the world. This is not so at all. Anti-abortionists are encouraged to vote according to one issue: abortion and abortion alone. They are fixated, paranoid and poisoned with an anti-female ideology.

This is why their heroes are the Mitt Romneys, Rush Limbaughs and Michael Corens of the world. They are not at all concerned with children or women. Only with fetuses.

It is a truly cult-like movement. Cutting ties if one wants to is not simple as so many of your friends are anti-choice, Evangelical or Catholic. They make sure of that. Weekend retreats and pro-chastity, anti-abortion conferences were held in out of town locations, far from most attendees homes. This made them a great opportunity for bonding and brainwashing. You really believed that when you blocked clinics you were doing something good. Doing the right thing. We believed we were involved in the noble cause of saving women and babies from being dragged to a horrible fate.

Seeing the Light 

I can't exactly say what opened my eyes. It wasn't one specific incident but rather several. The shootings and anti-abortion violence helped to wake me up of course.

Then there was anti-choice hysteria surrounding the Nancy Cruzan case in Missouri. She was a woman who after a terrible car accident was in a coma (persistent vegetative state) and whose family requested that she be removed from life support after several years. They believed they were following what would have been her wishes. The Right to Life (RTL) movement in the United States and Canada went berserk, hatching plans to go and 'rescue' her. They claimed that she showed signs of brain activity and that her doctors and family were out to kill her.  There were protests. The court ruled in favour of her family and Nancy was finally allowed to die. The movement's heartless action around Nancy and her family were pivotal in changing my mind and the case stayed with me.

I'd happened to watch an incredible Frontline documentary  "The Death of Nancy Cruzan". The tenderness and love that her father showed for Nancy really moved me. I wondered why the "right to life" movement didn't talk about this? Surely they could see  how much her family loved her and see their pain watching this once vibrant young woman who was brought back by "roadside heroics" to be an empty shell. The real Nancy was never coming back. Her body, now pale and bloated would be unrecognizable to her former self. This was not living with dignity.

I was in art school now, and was being exposed to liberal thinking. I flourished. My best friend was a wonderful gay man and we became kindred spirits. I read authors like Toni Morrison and experienced the arts education I'd only dreamed of. And yet I would avoid intimate relationships, drinking, and most types of socializing. Feeling uncomfortable in my own skin, unable and unwilling to connect in a healthy, non-paranoid way because I was so used to having a movement and a religion looking over my shoulder.

Fortunately the next twenty years would take me on a new personal and political journey.

Having become a feminist and socialist, as well as the proud mother of a daughter I hope will embrace the freedoms her foremothers fought for, I now see things very differently. I understand that the anti-choice see the world through hate tinted glasses. They are the proverbial wolves in sheep's clothing. Their ugly construct of women and the world bears no resemblance to reality.

See also: Anti-choice extremists target Trudeau and women's reproductive rights

Friday, August 19, 2016

Obama, Trudeau & Clinton -- Feeling good about the lies of liberalism

Do you remember this moment?

That time when newly minted President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for absolutely nothing other than having won an election in the wake of the George Bush apparent catastrophe and for having given nice speeches about "hope", closing down Guantanamo and supposedly taking the US in a new direction that would be a departure from the death dealing of the past.

So how did that all work out?

Obama has presided over a blood drenched administration whose foreign policy has not only been about the projection of American might, violence and imperialism, but that has also actually increased the numbers of victims of indiscriminate drone attacks and that has turned the world again into a playground and cemetery for America's ambitions and failed projects predicated on utterly bankrupt claims -- still believed by a credulous media, public, and peculiar brand of liberal and even at times left apologist -- of fighting somehow for justice, freedom, democracy or some other ideal that American backed coups in places liberals do not care about like Honduras put the lie to.

Whether he actually said "I am really good at killing people" or not, he is really good at killing people.

He is an eloquent murderer, But a murderer none the less.

You would not at all sense this with the rivers of Obama love flowing as his term in office winds down.

Even from leftists.

At times it is if they lived through a different 8 years without Libya, Syria, ISIS, Honduras and countless other examples of American imperialist adventurism and its consequences. At times it is actually like people think he has a domestic record worth praising, though it is staggeringly hard to find anything to praise other than from the perspective that McCain or Romney would have been "worse".

One must suppose the now ongoing and profound falsification of his murderous history in office serves to help justify supporting the certain to be murderous and domestically vile Clinton regime to come.

A history and future, of course, that will at least in the short term primarily kill people we don't know or seem to be concerned with.

We are in a dangerous stage in western civilization where liberalism and those who become its useful idiots -- either permanently or supposedly temporarily for "lesser of evil" reasons -- are willing to play a game where it is the image that trumps the actuality.  A game where it is the fake and entirely token gestures of  talking about"inclusion" or "equality" or of bemoaning impending disasters like climate change that count while doing nothing meaningful to actually stop them.

Or at least not doing anything that would be even slightly inconvenient to a North American rapacious lifestyle in any real way. .

The liberal has become the person who will admit that the evils they actually don't really want to combat do exist, and then feel that by that admission alone they have accomplished something.

After Obama's two terms, is the world any safer? Has anything really been done to tackle massive inequality and corporate power in the United States? Is the planet any better off?

We all know the answers, and none of them are good.

And so it is with the perfect, vacuous Canadian counterpoint to Obama who emerged in the shirtless form of perpetual glad-hander Justin Trudeau whose notion of remaking society is confined to acknowledging that society exists, has a bunch of problems Conservatives won't admit, and that showing up unexpectedly at weddings makes people feel good.

It is the feeling good that is the key point. It felt good to believe that Obama would be the bringer of peace just as it feels good now to think Trudeau has truly transformed Canada or that Clinton will suddenly prove to be something other than what she always has.

It makes sense that people are finding a way to feel good for supporting what they really know will change little and that will consciously try to avoid changing anything of any systemic meaning.

By voting for Trudeau, Obama or now Clinton, the good feelings can blossom -- as you know you have surely stopped that which was worse -- even as the poverty, oppression, bombings, colonialism, imperialism and environmental degradation continues unabated. It even expands.

Liberalism is an assault on workers, the marginalized and racialized, women and those living in poverty that represents capitalist violence with the thinnest veil of a human face.

Obama and Trudeau are a perfect representation of denial in the face of collapse. They make supporting ugliness seem sanctimoniously beneficial. They grant a middle class satisfaction  to those who voted for them to be smug in the certainty of having made a statement without the statement impacting them personally in anyway whatsoever.

It is, in fact, the easiest of statements to make.

The vicious killer Obama is leaving the grand stage of the US Presidency. Clinton has lined up to take his place.

Now we all supposedly have to fall into place, as always, due to the threat from the right/Trump/insert excuse.

We must  remember that when we buy into this sad logic, when the drones bomb down, when the democratic governments are overthrown, when the workers are sold out again to trade deals and capital, and when things actually stay as bad or get worse than they are now for women, the marginalized and racialized and for people in the rest of the world (they do actually matter) under the extended liberal regime to come -- it is not just that we compromised, we did the easy and the personally comfortable thing for a North American to do.

We will have voted for a set of self-justifying middle-class lies brought to us by charming, charismatic or simply convenient dealers of misery, poverty and death.

But they give good speeches. They say nice stuff. They use stirring phrases. They talk about important things.

And some of them even look good carrying a surfboard.

See also: An American Horror Story -- Clinton vs Trump

See also: There is no socialist case for supporting Hillary Clinton

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Sketches of the Soviet Union in the 70's: Anton Refregier -- Part I Moscow and Leningrad

Published in 1978 in Moscow, Sketches of the Soviet Union is a fascinating series of recollections of the travels of American artist and peace activist Anton Refregier through the USSR in the mid-70's.

Refregier visited a wide variety of cities, regions and republics and recounted events he attended and the people and places he encountered from weddings, to factories, to city planners, to collective farms and scientific academies, etc. While the recollections are clearly told from a pro-Soviet perspective, they remain very interesting as they are not devoid of a critical eye and as he met so many different types of people from different backgrounds and walks of life.

The book is well worth seeking out if for no other reason than as a refreshing counterpoint to standard American Cold War narratives of the period about the USSR.

Happily, there is another reason to seek the book out, however, and that is the incredible sketches of daily life that Refregier did and that  are to be found throughout the book.

These sketches are amazing and should not be lost. While seemingly simple in style, they convey a real sense of character, time and place.

Today we take a look at some of the sketches from his travels to Moscow and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg of course). In a future post we will look at some of those from the Ukraine, Latvia, Armenia, Turkmenia and Georgia.

Refregier died while working on a mural in Moscow in 1979. Some biographical details of his life can be found from the book at the end of this post.

(Click on images to enlarge) 



Anton Refregier