The Return of the Wanna-be God-Emperor

December 1, 2022 at 11:44 pm (Uncategorized)

The announcement in December that Donald Trump was running for president again surprised no one. Considering Trump’s hunger for attention, and his need to revenge himself on those he deemed insufficiently loyal, it would have been a surprise if he had not run. Still, I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to write about him again; that he would retreat to Florida where he would become the old man shouting at clouds. Sadly, that hope remains unfulfilled.

So, with apologies to Shakespeare. Some people are born douchy fascist arseholes. Some achieve douchy fascist arseholeness, and others have douchy arseholeness thrust upon them. In the case of Donald J. Trump, it’s quite remarkable that all three apply to him.

According to Forbes and some of his biographies, Trump was a millionaire by the time he was eight (so much for the self-made man image he likes to brag about). Inheriting a colossal sum and having a father who encouraged a competitive streak bordering on viciousness virtually guaranteed Trump would turn out an awful human being (The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree; take Don Jr. for example)

But while racism and a malicious bullying cruelty have seemingly always been a part of Trump’s persona, there has clearly been an evolution. (Or is that devolution?). In the 1990s, the elements of Trump’s self were complete, but he was still a Democrat who, at least publicly, believed in gun control and a woman’s choice to abortion. Within a decade, he, like much of US political spectrum, had shifted considerably rightward. Riding to power on populist racism, Trump continued to move rightward throughout his presidency as he increasingly leaned into QAnon and nativist conspiracy theory. His authoritarian tendencies also grew, seemingly, unchecked. It’s possible to imagine that a younger Trump would have had trouble recognizing who he has become. (But perhaps, I’m glossing over his true essence for the sake on an extended analogy)

Yet resurgent fascist, white Christian nationalism is not the creation of Trump. He has merely become its normalizing figurehead. Nativist populism has existed in the US since the 19th century occasionally or often interjecting into the broader political discourse. Yet organizations like KKK were a significant force, more recent groups like the John Birch Society were always regarded as of the quirky fringe. When did it start to change? Was it Barry Goldwater? Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”? The rise of right-wing talk radio? The Militia movements? The Order? Posse Comitatus? Maybe the broader context of the end of the post-war compromise? Whatever the reason(s), the fringe became increasingly the mainstream. And Trump through his media presence and by adopting many right-wing grievances (perpetual victim status, birtherism, immigration, coded anti-semitism etc) was able to bring together a coalition of elements which polite society prefered to believe no longer existed.

For a long time people have asked me if Trump is a fascist. For a while, I used to describe him as a “lazy fascist.” I no longer use the term lazy, although I still believe it to be true. I simply describe him as a fascist. What’s that joke: Don’t compare Trump to Hitler. Hitler wrote a book. Is there anyone who actually believes Trump had the work ethic and focus to write the books that carry his name? And speaking of Hitler…

Last week, Donald Trump had dinner with Kanye West, a former Trump 2016 campaign adviser, Karen Giorno, the father of a student from West’s Donda Academy (huh?) and…Nick Fuentes. Let’s leave aside Giorno and the Donda parent whose reason for attending is unclear, the other two are of interest.

Kanye West, a man of tremendous talent, but apparently equally vast mental health issues is a contender for being the best known anti-semite in America today. After a series of offensive comments which he is has shown no signs of walking back, West saw the collapse of his financial world and the loss of several significant endorsements. Since then he has complained about Elon Musk’s decision not to allow Alex Jones back on Twitter. A few days ago, he stormed off of a right wing podcast after the host pushed back in an extremely genteel fashion about West’s anti-semitism. Despite this Trump has happy to meet with him as, in Trump’s words, he had known West for a long time and was grateful for the nice things West said about him on Tucker Carlson.

But it was West’s other guest Nick Fuentes who has created the biggest stir. Fuentes is currently one of the best known white supremacist Holocaust deniers in America (Can we just say Nazi?) He’s a professional troll. Did he get close to Trump so he could bend his ear about the Holocaust? No. He sucked up to Trump but was critical about Trump holding back. Is it possible as he claimed Trump didn’t know who Fuentes is? Maybe. Rather than being a very stable genius, Trump is intellectually lazy. He famous doesn’t read, and is only interested in things about himself. Still, Fuentes has risen in the alt-right ranks and has associated with other Trump toadies like Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene, so who knows?

I’ll be honest though, I’m not sure I would recognize Nick Fuentes in the unlikely event I were introduced to him (although like Richard Spencer, Charlie Kirk, and Tucker Carlson, he does have one of those extremely punchable faces). And according to comments by West’s new friend Milo Yiannopoulos, the attempt was to set up Trump. Yiannopoulos, who has sworn vengeance against Trump (how melodramatic!) has commented he set this up knowing it would politically embarrass Trump and he would blow the response. (he did). Fuentes has denied this was the purpose of the dinner, but in any event, the troll-in-chief got trolled.

What does it say about Trump that a public anti-semite could still have dinner with the former president of the United States, and who also brought along a more extreme friend for company? Actually less that you’d think. Trevor Noah probably said it best: Why are people surprised when Trump acts like Trump? How long has this been going on? Trump is not unknown for anti-semitism, racism, misogyny and so on, but Trump has always had time for people who say nice things about him no matter how odious they are.

Fuentes present and the reports of the conversation do raise an interesting point though. Fuentes insists he loves Trump and actively supports his re-election even though his relationship to West, who is also running for president clouds the matter. But Fuentes took pains to point out that Trump’s people are holding him back. Let Trump be Trump! (When is he ever not? Several advisors tried to dissuade him from having dinner with West) This has been interpreted at Fuentes signalling Trump that the fascistic elements of Trump’s base need reassuring that he will stay the course and not shy away. Trump told West that ‘[Fuentes] gets me.”

Since the poor showing of Trump’s candidates in the U.S. mid-terms, the tepid response to Trump’s announced candidacy, and now this PR disaster, many commentators have speculated, again, this is the end of Trump. Rick Wilson of the Lincoln Project recently argued that it is way too soon to make that prediction, and that should Trump show momentum or that other candidates like Ron Desantis (who really lacks Trump’s killer instinct) or Mike Pence (undoubtedly this year’s Jeb Bush) falter, Republicans will bend the knee.

It would be wrong to say every Republican is a fascist, but seemingly accurate to note every fascist is a Republican…for now. This bloc is among Trump’s most loyal base of support. And loyalty is among the things Trump prizes the most. While support falls from other areas, Trump will more likely be pushed into more extreme positions in order to maintain the QAnon / fascist-bloc’s support. Should Trump falter within the Republican Party and become incapable of winning the election or should he fail to fulfill the bloc’s demands, will he be replaced or will the bloc collapses back into its squabbling fractions?

For an election that will take place two years from now, this is idle speculation. What is not idle speculation is the existence of a malignant cancer within the American body politic. This is not to say “deal with the Nazis” and everything will be fine, but rather to note the danger to the working class, the LGBTQ+ community, women, immigrants etc. The list goes go (and it goes without saying that these are overlapping communities). Without resistance, the Trump campaign and the forces it is further mainstreaming can only grow. And that must not happen.

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Music Notes: November 2022

November 30, 2022 at 5:47 pm (Uncategorized)

1 PJ Harvey – B-Sides, Demos and Rarities.
I’ll start with a complaint. Blondie recently released a similar project. A 3 CD collection of demos and rarities, but in a vastly superior package with an accompanying book. Very nice. PJ Harvey’s collection, in comparison, is skimpy. Couldn’t we have gotten a little more? But…that aside, the collection is simply incredible: Demos, unreleased tracks and a lot of stuff that’s hard to find. An absolute must for any PJ Harvey fan.

2 V/A – Life Moves Pretty Fast: The John Hughes Mixtapes
OK, John Hughes’ movies haven’t all aged well. Sixteen Candles has unforgivable racist caricatures and appears to have a favourable view of date rape. I’ll never forgive the end of Pretty in Pink. And so on. But if you were young in the 1980s, Hughes’ films were likely a part of the soundtrack of your life. This 4-CD set collects a good chunk of it. Worth a trip down memory lane.

3 The Smile – A Light for Attracting Attention.
Well, it made all the “best of” lists, so that’s worth something. Two members of Radiohead and the drummer from Sons of Kemet release an album that’s broader than the bands they came from, yet contains elements of both. Best way is to listen to it.

4 Dr. Feelgood – Malpractice
If you read my piece on Wilko Johnson, you’ll know I’m a big fan of Dr. Feelgood. This is their second album, and while it’s not as great as the first, it’s pretty amazing. Along with Wilko’s originals the band take on Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, and Leiber and Stoller. Fantastic.

5 Will Birch – No Sleep Till Canvey Island
And if you want to know more about the pub rock scene and Canvey Island in the 70’s, Will Birch’s book is the place to begin (Birch was a member of the Kursaal Fliers and later the Records). Hard to find a cheap physical copy, but the e-book is quite reasonably priced.

6 Panda Bear and Sonic Boom – Reset
Here’s a thing. Panda Bear teams up with Sonic Boom to produce a 50’s, 60’s college of sounds though samples. An ambitious project which sounds likely to fail, but actually works very well.

7 Broadcast – Tender Buttons
The third album by Broadcast in which the band was essentially reduced to a duo. Electronica, but so much more. Poppy and desolate at the same time.

8 Gillian Welch – Time (The Revelator)
This third album by Gillian Welch has had so much praise showered on it, it seems that there is little I can add. It’s simply beautiful.

9 Bob Dylan – Live 1975: The Rolling Thunder Revue
The Bootleg series number 5. Somehow I missed this when it came out, but it came across my path a few weeks ago. What’s interesting is how Dylan reworked many of his old songs for the live performances. If you’re a Dylan fan, absolutely worth it.

10. Robert Gordon RIP
Somehow I missed Robert Gordon’s passing in October. Before the Stray Cats and the 1980s rockabilly revival, there was Robert Gordon. One-time singer with Tuff Darts, Gordon recorded a series of rockabilly albums with guitar greats like Link Wray and Chris Spedding. Classic covers and originals filled his albums. Well worth (re)discovering. Gordon passed away from leukemia in mid October. Another great gone too soon.

Till next time.

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Wilko Johnson RIP

November 26, 2022 at 8:58 pm (Uncategorized)

In 1975, Blondie drummer Clem Burke took a trip to England. Sometime after he returned to New York, he was at a party at Chris Stein and Debbie Harry’s apartment along with a collection of albums he had picked up in the UK. In addition to Blondie, members of the Ramones and Talking Heads, as well as Richard Hell, and Johnny Thunders were there, and the record that was played over and over was Dr. Feelgood’s debut Down by the Jetty. (this is the version of the story, I’ve always heard, but the current issue of Mojo states it was the second album Malpractice that commanded attention. It’s possible, as both came out in 1975 and both are brilliant, but it could also be a mistake)

It’s not hard to see why the Feelgood’s debut would have that effect. 45 years later, it still has a punch. While the rhythm section are tight and singer Lee Brilleaux growls his vocals, it’s Wilko Johnson’s distinctive guitar that slices through the speakers (he also wrote most of the songs). Although seemingly part of the pub-rock scene, the Feelgoods were a cut above. Tighter, harder. Listen to the early records by the Stones, the Pretty Things or the Yardbirds, and you’ll hear that same, almost punk, R & B. And many of the later punks heard something they liked in the Feelgoods. Both Paul Weller and Bob Geldof have praised those early albums.

The Wilko Johnson line up lasted for four albums: Down by the Jetty, Malpractice, the live album Stupidity, and Sneaking Suspicion. Then in 1977, depending on who you believe, Johnson either quit or was fired. The following year the Feelgoods released their second post-Wiko album Private Practice, which contained their biggest hit “Milk and Alcohol.” It was the first time I’d heard of the band (I still have the single). Johnson formed his own band Solid Senders playing much the same type of material as he had in the Feelgoods. In 1980, he joined Ian Dury as part of the Blockheads, but later resumed his solo career.

Johnson even had a go at acting playing the part of the royal executioner Ser Ilyn Payne on the HBO production of Game of Thrones. (I’m sure someone thought it clever to cast him as an axeman of another sort)

In 2013, Johnson was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He wasn’t expected to survive, but instead of moping, Johnson recorded a terrific album Going Back Home with Roger Daltrey. As it turned out, Johnson survived the cancer after participating in radical surgery.

Johnson’s death last week at the age of 75 is a felt loss; The passing of a musician whose work influenced many, many other musicians. Go listen to those early Dr. Feelgood records. Listen to Wilko’s solo records and the final one with Roger Daltrey. Scour Youtube for performance clips. Watch Julien Temple’s 2009 documentary Oil City Confidential. You won’t be sorry.

Rest in peace Wilko.

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Brief Notes on the CUPE Strike

November 21, 2022 at 10:35 pm (Uncategorized)

Let’s start with something that shouldn’t be too controversial: Trade unions are not revolutionary organizations. I’ll go further, whatever their origin, unions are a part of the mechanism of capitalism and have been for quite some time. As such, even when unions attempt to deliver on their rhetoric, they inevitably fall short; not because they are traitors to the working class, but because their world view and practice is entirely within the framework of capitalism.

Still, unless you are an utter cynic, the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ bloodying of the nose of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives and forcing them to withdraw Bill 28 just days after its imposition felt good. So humiliating was it that the Minster of Education couldn’t bring himself to show up to vote for the Bill’s repeal.

Soon after though, it was clear that the government still had no intention of changing its position. CUPE once again set a strike date, this time Sunday November 20 at 5PM with the strike to commence the following day. At 5:30 yesterday, it was announced that a deal had been reached. Few details were available, but an average annual wage increase of 3.59% was mentioned. Ominous. CUPE was asking for 11%. Inflation is running in almost double digit figures, and this was essentially the same proposal the government had offered and had been rejected. (It should also be noted that Ford gave most of his MPPs a $16, 000 pay bump by appointing them “parliamentary assistants.”) No ground was given about extra staffing.

Soon after the announcement, CUPE leader Laura Walton noted it wasn’t a contract she liked, but it was the best one she felt they could get. A strange thing to say given the open and enthusiastic talk of a general strike the previous week.

But the fix was in. During the June 2022 election, six private sector unions chose to endorse Ford’s Conservatives. But those six came out against Ford’s decision to invoke the Notwithstanding Clause and impose a contract. Solidarity forever? You’d think, right? On Thursday, representatives from those six unions attended a ceremony with Minister of Labour Monty McNaughten effectively signalling that it was Solidarity less than forever. At thre same time, according to an article in today’s Toronto Star, other unions were quietly encouraging CUPE to take the deal.

Perhaps Joe Hill put it best:

“Union scabbing is as if you’re about to be hung, and as you were lead to the scaffold the executioner turned to you and said ‘Gee I hate to do this, but if it’s any consolation, the scaffold was built by union carpenters, the rope was made by union rope makers, and here sir, is my card’. That is union scabbing.”

The CUPE membership will be voting on the tentative agreement this week. It’s possible that the membership outraged by a leadership which seemed to pluck defeat from the jaws of victory will vote “No.” It’s more likely that the membership will vote in favour but by a reduced margin. I’m not privy to the discussions and negotiations, so I can’t say if Walton’s comments were a good assessment of the possibilities (within a capitalist framework) or not. But it’s not the outcome that seemed possible a week or two ago.

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Never a Dull Moment in Ontario

November 13, 2022 at 11:20 pm (Uncategorized)

It was intended that this article appear earlier in the week, but other stuff got in the way. The delay has allowed for additional reflection on the strike.

On October 31, I posted an article on this blog called Notwithstanding about the Ontario Progressive Conservative government’s threat to criminalize a pending strike by education workers and impose a clawback contract on them through the use of Article 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms popularly known as the Notwithstanding Clause. We’ll get to that in a minute, but trying to trample workers rights wasn’t enough for the government; it had a few other pet projects up its sleeve.

Following the events of the so-called Freedom Convoy last winter in Ottawa, a Public Order Emergency Commission was established to investigate the events and the use of the Emergencies Act (the successor to the War Measures Act). Given that Ottawa is a major city in the province of Ontario, and also that Premier Doug Ford had asserted on more than one occasion that he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, it was not a surprise Ford was asked to testify. In June, Ford even explained he would certainly testify. The real story of course was a little different as during the occupation in Ottawa, Ford was nowhere to be seen (he was hiding at his cottage), and when the requests to testify did arrive, Ford initially lied about receiving them. When his lies were exposed, he asserted Parliamentary Privilege to get out of it. The basis for this privilege is that Members of Provincial Parliament may be excused this sort of onerous obligation which ordinary mortals have to endure if the legislature is in session (ironically, Ford has one of the worse attendance records in the house). In any event, a judge agreed Ford was above ordinary mortals and was shielded by privilege (yeah, loads of privilege)

At the same time as Ford was not standing up for the taxpayer by wasting money fighting legal challenges, he and some of his ministers were meeting with Katalin Novák, the Hungarian President and close ally of “proudly illiberal” (AKA neo-fascist) Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Getting tips perhaps? Oddly enough, for a government that prefers to communicate via social media where it can limit and block its critics, this meeting only became public knowledge after Novák posted it on her Facebook page.

But that brush with European fascism apparently wasn’t enough as in the same week, Ford appointed a wealthy Conservative donor, Mario Cortellucci, to the York Police Board. Cortellucci ran for a seat in the Italian senate in 2018 as part of a coalition led by neo-fascist Giorgia Meloni and former Prime Minister Berlusconi. He was unsuccessful. But still…

Lastly, on a Friday afternoon (traditionally the time governments announce policies they hope will escape the scrutiny of the news cycle), Ford announced that almost 8,000 acres of the greenbelt would be parcelled out to developers. It’s significant that in 2018, Ford was caught on tape announcing a similar policy, but after public outcry, was forced to backtrack and promised to leave the greenbelt untouched. Phew!

But despite all these other actions, the most important was the CUPE strike. As mentioned previously, the Canadian Union of Public Employees representing 55,000 custodians, office workers and educational assistants was in a legal strike position. CUPE asked to begin bargaining in the summer (refused by government), carried out a strike vote, and when bargaining broke down, issued the legal five-day notice they would be striking. This is all quite vanilla, and is how Canadian labour law operates. What happened next was not. Immediately, the government announced they would table Bill 28 which would illegalize CUPE’s proposed strike, impose a take-back contract on CUPE members, and impose fines of $4,000 a day on individual members and $500, 000 a day on the union if they struck. (this is twice what fines for wildcatting usually are) Most ominously the Conservative anticipated constitutional challenges by preemptively invoking the Notwithstanding clause thus overriding Constitutional rights and signalling that this would be the way they would govern throughout the rest of their term of office. The speed with which the government acted showed that they had this ready to go and were never serious about bargaining in good faith. As they laughed and cheers while passing the bill on Thursday it must have seemed like a slam dunk. But it wasn’t.

The day after the bill was introduced, the interim NDP leader Peter Tabuns was thrown out of parliament after he called Doug Ford a liar and refused to withdraw the entirely truthful statement. As in Britain, it is OK to lie in parliament but not OK to call someone on it (“unparliamentary language.”) Pretty much the rest of the NDP caucus was then thrown out for similarly disruptive measures. Not a fan of Canada’s social-democracy, but that was pretty satisfying. Worse for Ford and his cronies though was CUPE did not seem to be backing down despite the draconian (all articles about this strike are required to use the word draconian, so I’m covered) nature of the legislation and the immense fines.

On Friday November 4, they struck. 55,000 CUPE workers along with 8,000 members of the Ontario Public Servants Employees Union and others. Despite Ford and Minister of Education Stephen Lecce’s promise that the schools would stay open if this law was passed, the schools closed.

On, I attended a “Solidarity Saturday” at Yonge and Dundas, the commercial heart of Toronto. Approximately 300 people came to support CUPE. The police were there in numbers, but not horses. I saw a cop talking to a CUPE organizer warning them not to block traffic. The organizer shrugged. In any event, a few minutes into the protest, the crowd surged into the intersection blocking the street for the remainder of the protest. Many speakers mostly restricted their rhetoric to the “we shall fight; we shall win” variety, but the crowd responded enthusiastically. While some speakers pointed to the need to support the NDP, there seemed to be a sense that this was where the power was, not in parliament.The point is that a parliamentary solution will be no solution. The NDP will raise motions, gnash its teeth, and ultimately fail (and that’s the best outcome) But it is the power to shut things down that would make or break this struggle. The professional left itself was lightly represented. Some came with unsigned placards, others to distribute leaflets. One Trotskyist group notorious for arriving at events with a giant banner and standing in front of the crowd as if it was their event showed up, but sadly for them for much of the protest, the same person had to hold both ends of the banner).

But at this event and others, the words “General Strike” began to circulate.

At the passage of Bill 28, the Ontario government ran to the Ontario Labour Board to obtain a ruling that the strike was illegal. CUPE countered that this was a political protest not unlike the one Ontario teachers waged in the 1990’s against a previous Conservative government. The Board met Friday through Sunday, and while it did not issue a ruling, it did not appear to be as sympathetic to the government’s position as was expected. Then Abacus polling released its latest poll – 62% of respondents saw the strike caused by the government not the union; 50% felt the use of the Notwithstanding Act was wrong; 48% thought it would be OK if other unions joined the fight. And at the start of the second day, the government flinched.

At a press conference on Monday November 7, an ashen Doug Ford accompanied by his somewhat less-smug looking that usual education minister Stephen Lecce offered to withdraw in its entirely Bill 28 if CUPE would please, pretty please go back to work. CUPE asked for the promise in writing, then accepted. For all the bluster of the government, it’s not a good thing if on Thursday you triumphantly tout your victory, then just a couple of days later offer, pretty please to do the opposite. Not exactly a position of strength (the government withdrew its application to the Labour Board on WednesdaY)

Let’s look at this. It’s a defeat for the government’s immediate agenda. While the spin is already beginning, the fact remains they attempted to bulldoze a group of workers, most low-paid women, and failed. It virtually guarantees that they will be haunted by this failure in subsequent negotiations. That’s a good thing.

Some leftist groups have argued that CUPE’s actions represent a surrender; an effort by the treacherous union leadership to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. They argue that the movement was building toward a general strike, and by accepting this deal, the union leadership has betrayed the strike and the working class (again). Well, possibly. It’s absolutely true that the union bureaucracy at all times wants to control these kinds of actions. Even if CUPE had continued the strike for another week and there had been a general strike or whatever we want to call it, wouldn’t they have betrayed it then instead?

Another point to consider is that much of the talk has been around how CUPE members are poorly paid and have to resort to second jobs and food banks; to suggest an ongoing strike possibly giving up a week’s pay (strike pay was $50 a day) is a bit much to ask. (Especially when you’re arguing at the same time, the unions are going to betray the strike anyway) It’s true that in any struggle, sacrifices must be made, but it’s a lot easier when other people are making them.

What’s been pushed by leftist groups is the old leftist fantasy that the working class is at all times being held back by union and social democratic traitors and if they could be replaced , perhaps by an irrelevant Trotskyist group brandishing a copy of the Transitional Program we could all have socialism and be home for tea. If this sounds a bit like the old council communist critique (and dismissed as councilism by somme) I advanced when I published Red & Black Notes, there might be some truth to that.

This is the part of the article, the final paragraph, where once upon a time I would have proclaimed that only socialism can prevent this kind of thing from happening to workers. There would once have been a plea to build a revolutionary party, and god forgive me, maybe even a call to rebuild the Fourth International. No more. It’s true only socialism can bring an end to these conflicts, but to proclaim its need is not the same as achieving it. In times of relative social quiet, revolutionary proclamations fall on deaf ears; in times of social ferment, on some level or another, we’re all revolutionaries. Was this the moment? I doubt it. But it was a moment, where for a moment, the class shown a possibility of something different, something better.

Never a dull moment round here.

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Phil Ochs, We Miss you…

November 13, 2022 at 10:38 pm (Uncategorized)

When I was in my late teens, I got into folk music in a big way: Bob Dylan’s early albums, Joan Baez, Eric Bogle, Dave Van Ronk, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger etc etc. But, the guy who I really liked was Phil Ochs. It was Ochs’ distinctive voice and political songs that drew me in; after all music and politics were my two consuming passions at the time.

Ochs was born in El Paso, Texas in 1940. When he was 19, he was enrolled at Ohio State studying journalism, but after meeting JIm Glover and learning to play guitar, his interest in music and politics merged (Ochs played in a group called the Singing Socialists). Ochs went on to become a prolific singer-songwriter activist penning such songs as “The Power and the Glory,” “I Ain’t a-Marching Anymore,” “Too Many Martyrs,” “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends,” “Love me I’m a Liberal, ” “There but for Fortune, and many many more.” (Ochs also wrote beautiful non-political songs like “Changes” and a cracking adaptation of Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman.”)

By the end of the sixties, as interest in folk-music declined, so did Ochs’ career, but he continued to be active in radical circles; Ochs was present at the Democratic National Convention in 1968, worked with the Yippies and purchased the pig the latter ran for president. But it was a far cry from his early prominence; On his final album, 1970’s Greatest Hits, the back cover noted “50 Phil Ochs Fans Can’t be Wrong (A tongue-in-cheek reference to the Elvis Presley line about 50, 000,000 Elvis fans – Ochs also wore a “nudie” suit on the front cover).

Ochs visited Chile in 1971 and met folk singer Victor Jara (“the Pete Seeger of Chile). After the 1973 overthrow of Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity government and the murder of Jara, Ochs helped to organize “An Evening with Salvador Allende,” a benefit in New York featuring Bob Dylan. But despite this effort, Ochs’ life was filled with setbacks. In 1973, he was violently attacked in Tanzania and suffered permanent damage to his vocal chords (he lost the upper range in his singing voice). Ochs also suffered from an undiagnosed bipolar disorder (as had his father), and his alcoholism led to a brief period of homelessness. Friends and family tried to save Ochs, it was in vain. Ochs committed suicide in 1976 aged 35.

Like other topical songs, much of Ochs’ work is dated (Listen to “Draft Dodger Rag” or “Love me I’m a Liberal” and try to get all of the references without reaching for Google), and some has not aged well as language and perceptions have changed. Yet, a great deal of Ochs’ work retains its relevance as critique. His clever eye for observation and sharp tongue would have had a field day over the last decades (Ohs would have been 82 this year) It’s hard to have watched the U.S. mid-terms last week or think about U.S politics in general (domestic or overseas) and not wonder what Ochs’ take would have been.

The deleted fourth verse from his 1964 song “The Power and the Glory” could have been written this year.

Yet our land is still troubled by men who have to hate
They twist away our freedom and they twist away our fate
Fear is their weapon and treason is their cry.
We can stop them if we try.

Here’s the demo from The Broadside Tapes

The Power and the Glory

Ochs wasn’t a revolutionary or a communist in the way many would use the term today. Ochs once described himself as a left social-democrat. He was also someone who believed in an America in which everyone could share in the promises made for the republic. A country where poverty, racism and all the other problems would be a distant memory. Ochs had been dead for six years when I discovered his work. I listened to his second album I Ain’t Marching Anymore yesterday for the first time in years. It still sounds great.

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Notwithstanding…

October 31, 2022 at 11:04 pm (Uncategorized)

Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a part of the Canadian Constitution, is popularly known as the Notwithstanding Clause.

The “Yes, we know we’re breaking the law but we don’t care…” clause of Canadian politics essentially allows a government to override the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for a period of five years. The clause was offered as a bribe to provincial governments during the constitutional wrangles four decades ago to assure them they wouldn’t be forced to adopt progressive measures… right away. To date, it has been used most often by Quebec with regard to its language laws, but also over its racist headcovering laws. However, a new challenger is emerging.

Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government was re-elected in June 2022 with an increased majority despite gaining only 41% of the lowest turnout in Ontario history (43%) . Ford has promoted himself as a business leader (in reality he inherited the family business), but he and his government have demonstrated the totalitarian culture common to capital. Even its minor elements.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees representing education workers, but not teachers, in the province’s schools has been in negotiations with the province for several months. In a province where inflation is running around 8%, the government offered 2% for workers earning under $40,000 and 1.25% for those earning over $40, 000 along with strips to sick days; needless to say, any demands raised by CUPE were ignored.

The union followed the traditional path of negotiations: Make demands, make threats, call a strike vote, and finally present the employer with the five day warning. Yesterday, the government responded to the strike notice by upping its offer to 2.5% for workers under $43,000, and 1.5% for over $43,000. (The strips to sick days would remain) It described this as generous, but at the same time, it warned that it would be tabling legislation to ban CUPE’s right to strike.

Today it introduced legislation, that, for the first time since the introduction of the Charter, used the Notwithstanding class to “settle” a labour dispute. By invoking this clause, the Ford government continues to signal its willingness to ignore “democratic ” niceties in order to get its way. In 2018, Ford threatened to use the clause to get his way on the reduction of the size of Toronto city council, but did not as the courts ruled in his favour. In 2021, Ford did use the clause in order to get his way around issues of election advertising. Now, rather than actually deal with CUPE, a lazy government has employed a constitutional sledgehammer. As bargaining has only just begun with the other education unions, it seems inevitable that Ford will not use the same tactic. Why even bother to show up to bargain it the end game is to bulldozer the opposition in this way?

CUPE however has announced that despite the almost inevitable passage of the law tomorrow and the imposition of a contract, they will still call a full strike on Friday at a cost of $4,000 per day per member and a $500,000 fine for the union: A last stand which will accomplish nothing or the beginning of a fight leading to a general strike? More likely the former.

The other education unions, OSSTF, OECTA, and ETFO have expressed twitter solidarity and condemned the Ford government’s actions. But that and a couple of bucks will get you a cup of coffee. At countless rallies and on picket lines, I’ve heard union leaders, education and otherwise, pledge to fight to the end, only to watch them fold abandoning those they supposedly represented.

Many leftists frame this in terms of betrayal. It’s not a betrayal. The unions are a part of the machinery of capitalism, but oddly they don’t always seem aware of it. Rather the leaders insist that the capitalists play the game by the rules the capitalists designed, never quite seeming to be aware that the rules were designing to handcuff the working class. And at the very real risk of mixing my metaphors, you can’t use the master’s tools.

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The Continuing Evolution of the League for the Revolutionary Party

October 25, 2022 at 3:54 pm (Uncategorized)

Two years ago, the League for the Revolutionary Party changed its line.

Among Trotskyist groupings in Canada, the question was always whether to vote for the social-democratic New Democratic Party or not. The Mandelites and the I.S. always did, but the Sparts and the IBT generally did not. The temptation for the CP and the Trot was that the NDP did command the support of “progressives” in Canada and was tied to the unions. If they hitched their wagon to the social dems, maybe some crumbs would drop their way…

In the U.S., the choice seemed clearer. There was no choice between the twin parties of capital, the Democrats and the Republicans. But in the 2020, presidential election, the LRP broke ranks arguing that a victory for Trump and the Republicans would be a disaster for working people. At the time, it was unclear whether this was a one-time allowance or the beginning of a new orientation. With the publication of On the U.S. 2022 National Elections, it is the latter.

The LRP’s position is simple, while the Democrats remain a party of capital albeit one with considerable support from the working class and POC, not to mention the Sanders/DSA wing (less important than people think), the Republican Party has become something different. While the LRP do not use the term fascist, with the open embrace of white Christian nationalism, QAnon and openly racist organizations by Trump and the leadership of the party, it is difficult to escape that conclusion. Should the Republicans gain control of one or both the House and the Senate, leading to a Trump victory in 2024, what we have seen so far will seem like a walk in the park, and that’s leaving aside Trump’s lust for vengeance against his enemies (“Lock her up” will seem mild in comparison).

Still, the LRP twist themselves into knots arguing against their past that Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky never said you couldn’t vote for the Democrats or bourgeois politicians (you know, I’m pretty sure, that’s wrong…). But from their position it makes sense. For a United Front of mass leftist parties, there must be mass leftist parties. In the US, there are not, so the LRP is left to talk to organizations as largely irrelevant as themselves. The Democrats and the DSA/Jacobin group, not so much.

Over sixty years ago, the Independent Socialist League dissolved into the Socialist Party- Social Democratic Federation, itself an adjunct of the Democrats. By the mid-1960s, the Independent Socialist clubs had emerged in the Bay Area. From these clubs came the International Socialists, which in turn birthed the Revolutionary Socialist League in 1972. Within a year, a faction led by Sy Landy was expelled becoming the League for the Revolutionary Party. The LRP appears to be running the film backwards.

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Brief Note on the Ontario Municipal Election

October 25, 2022 at 2:43 pm (Uncategorized)

Non programmatic musings on Yesterday’s election

Yesterday’s municipal elections in Ontario produced few surprised, but were not entirely without interest. My favourite was in Port Colborne where two brothers who hadn’t spoken in three decades ran against each other for mayor – the incumbent emerged as the winner in a 60-40 split. And in Hamilton, former New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath became the city’s first female mayor proving that while she may have been uninspiring as a leader at the provincial level, she had what it took to be mayor. Perhpa even a “strong mayor,” but more about that in a bit.

Municipal politics are often both more and less interesting than other levels of government. Dealing with local issues such as street parking, snow and garbage removal, etc seem pretty dull, but the fact that candidates are not officially running as members of political parties makes for some interesting personalities to emerge. I once voted for a member of the Socialist Equality Party running for city councilor. In the Toronto mayoralty race 31 people stood for election, many of them…odd

Despite generations of school children being taught Canada has three levels of government, constitutionally, there are only two as municipal power is covered through the province. During the last municipal election in 2018, Premier Doug Ford, previously a Toronto councilor, announced mid-way through the campaign he was reducing the number of seats on Toronto’s council by half- while he claimed this would save money and be more efficient, everyone knew this was to fuck with Toronto because people had been “mean” to him and his brother Rob , who was mayor during Doug’s time on council.

This time around, Ford announced he would granting big-city mayors, “strong mayor” powers to allow things to get done more efficiently. It went without saying that the strong mayor powers will be limited to agreement with the province. In other words, the province was allowing mayors the authorities to implement the province’s agenda more easily.

In Toronto, at the mayoral level, two candidates emerged. Two-time mayor John Tory and urban planner Gil Penalosa.

John Tory was a long time executive at the Rogers Communication network, who first ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2003. After a disastrous tenure as Conservative Party leader, Tory retreated from the political area only to run for mayor in 2014, defeating Doug Ford. Tory was re-elected in 2018, and at the time promised he would not run for a third time. Despite his public image as a bland moderate Tory has always acted in the interests of corporate Canada. A few days before the election, the “liberal” Toronto Star endorsed Tory but essentially asking him not to be the politician he had been in his first eight years as mayor. Pelanosa was dismissed as a dreamer.

Gil Penalosa is an urban planner from Colombia. His campaign centred around two points – making Toronto a livable city, and that Toroy had failed the city. Perhaps he was a dreamer. In any event, Tory easily won re-election with 62% of the vote, while Penalosa took only 17% (in the 2018 contest Tory took 63%, while his nearest rival Jennifer Keesmaat got 23%)

There have been numerous efforts to create a more just social order at a local level although none of the campaigns in this election were that fundamental. Decades ago, Murray Bookchin developed the idea that fundamental social change could best be organized at a local level through a libertarian municipalism; whether or not “villages of socialism” could be developed as a sort of focu is an interesting point. It certainly won’t be happening in Toronto anytime soon.

But, to see the kind of disaster that could occur by concerned action by right wing libertarians, , read Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling’s book A Libertarian Walks into a Bar.

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Music Notes October 2022

October 23, 2022 at 8:17 pm (Uncategorized)

Just singles this time…

LCD Soundsystem – “New Body Rhuma”
Ooh, classic dance punk. LCD Soundsystem is playing at my house. Seven minutes of greatness

Queen – “Face it Alone”
How long you been waiting for this? Decades? And while Queen fans will no doubt love a new track, it’s, well, mediocre. Not terrible, but love them or not, it doesn’t sound much like Queen’s greatest stuff.

Weyes Blood – “Grapevine”
It builds slowly, but what a great sound. Sparse, but it pulls you in.

Alvvays – “Pharmacist”
With a running time of just over two minutes, it’s another great pop track from the Charlottetown band (who now live in Toronto)

Tegan and Sara – “Smoking Weed Alone”
Don’t smoke weed myself, but I know how sad drinking alone is. A poppy slice of electro-beat from T&S. Four other songs on this EP.

PJ Harvey – “Run on”
PJ tackles an old gospel song from the soundtrack to Bad Sisters.

Buzzcocks – “Manchester Rain”
Isn’t it always raining in Manchester? Great pop-punk single in the classic Buzzccks format. After Pete Shelley died, you could be forgiven for thinking that was it. Glad it’s not.

Beaches – “My People”
Never seen Beaches live, but their records are just so good – very retro new wave (not a diss at all).

Sleaford Mods – “Dirty Rat”
More of an electro-pop sound to this one than usual, but no less irresistible.

The Sex Pistols – “God Save the Queen”
Remember the first time you heard this? The danger and how it sounded like nothing else.

Back to albums next month.

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