SOPA-PIPA threat to internet free speech

By Chris Bruno

Two bills going through the American congress have provoked the largest online protest in history. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), commonly referred to as “the internet censorship bills”, have garnered criticism from thousands of tech companies, professionals, and human rights organizations.

A day of action was organized on January 18 for the internet to “go on strike”. Wikipedia blocked the English language portion of their site for a full 24 hours, and over 50,000 websites expressed their opposition to the bills, including Google, Twitter, and Facebook.

Lawmakers were cyberbombed with petitions and angry emails. Thousands also protested outside their senators offices in New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington DC.

The contents of both the bills are very similar, and have the objective of restricting access to foreign web sites that are believed to be infringing upon copyright laws. If enacted into law, the Attorney General would be given the ability to force the removal of all sites that make copywrited content available or that link to such websites. Since these orders can be made without due process and without probable cause, it is ripe for abuse.

Websites that rely on user-submitted content, like Youtube, Tumblr, or Reddit would be unable to continuously remove links to banned web sites and would have to resort to overzealous moderating and censoring.

Unlike other attempts to censor parts of the internet–like the Great Firewall of China–under SOPA and PIPA websites would be censored worldwide. The point of these bills is not to block Americans from interacting with sites that host illegal or copyrighted information, but rather to make it impossible to access such sites by compelling American-owned websites to remove any references to them; that’s including search engines like Google or Bing.

The sponsors and supporters of SOPA and PIPA include both Republicans and Democrats. Media corporations and right wing organizations have heavily lobbied both laws. Notable supporters include the Chamber of Commerce, Disney, Comcast, the Recording Industry Association of America, News Corporation, and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which have all spent millions of dollars each in lobbying for the bill.

On January 20th, PIPA was tabled indefinitely by the Senate and at least 13 pro-PIPA senators immediately reversed their position. Although anti-SOPA/PIPA activists are declaring victory, both bills still have enough support to remain alive. The war to control the internet is not over.



Syria: the battle between national resistance and intervention

By Yusur Al-Bahrani

Western powers are threatening to derail the revolution in Syria, intervening directly or through the dictatorships they are arming in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The best solidarity is stopping military intervention.

The anti-Assad protests in Syria began peacefully, but have now turned into military clashes as the number of army defectors continues to increase. The United Nations says that more than 5,000 people have been killed in the past ten months of the revolution. Assad’s regime claims that the militant rebels have killed about 2,000 soldiers and police. Violence is escalating in several cities, putting the country under the threat of a civil war.

While the Arab League observers proposed to extend their so-called “peace mission”, the Gulf Co-Operation Council that represents oil rich countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar withdrew their observers. The Arab League “peace plan” suggested that Al-Assad should hand over power to his deputy. The League also demanded he accept a unity government with the opposition followed by elections within six months. In addition, the observers called for UN assistance to end the violence in Syria. According to Reuters, several diplomats said that Britain and France are working with the Arab League to endorse a plan regarding the situation in Syria.

Some Syrian opposition groups have called for Western intervention to put an end to the government violations. The Syrian National Council (SNC) called for a “no fly zone” in Syria, while the Free Syrian Army (FSA) urged the Security Council to intervene considering “the Syrian security as international security.”

Saudi Arabia and Qatar have called for international intervention in Syria and agreed to supply military aid and weapons to the FSA. This should be a warning to all those who support self-determination of the Syrian people. Saudi Arabia is an ally for the United States and defends the American policies and plans in the region. In December 2011, the Obama administration announced a $30 billion arms deal with the Saudi government.

Western military intervention is the worst choice, whether directly or through Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The turmoil left in Libya as NATO invaded the country gives us a vivid image as to how Western intervention would more likely result in brutal civil war in addition to controlling the wealth of the nation. With several religious groups that are already in conflict with each other, any international intervention in Syria would result in increased sectarian violence.

In order to stop the bloodshed in Syria, activists around the world should stand against the repression and oppression practiced by Al-Assad’s regime against innocent civilians. At the same time, any foreign intervention should be condemned.

Ottawa Salvation Army workers strike for fair wages

By Carter Vance

Sixty Salvation Army aid workers in Ottawa, members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, went on strike on January 6. The strike began over a large wage disparity of $5 an hour between those workers at the Salvation Army and those doing similar work at organizations such as Union Mission.

The Salvation Army is remaining open and resisting the demands on the grounds that they’re concerned about the homeless and low-income Ottawa residents they serve. But as one striking worker said, “the majority of the clients support this. They feel that we’re their family, we’ve been taking care of them for long periods of time

Regardless of the sector they work in, all workers deserve to be paid a fair wage, and those the Salvation Army serve seem to agree. One homeless man was quoted as saying, “They should have equal parity with the Union Mission and the Shepherd’s of Good Hope. They do exactly the same work just as well.”


Guantanamo: ten years of human rights violations

By Salmaan Khan

To mark the 10th anniversary of Guantanamo prison, Amnesty International held a 10 hour event in Montreal demanding Omar Khadr’s repatriation, with participation from Quebec artists and Québec solidaire spokesperson Françoise David.

On January 11, 2002, the Bush administration authorized the transfer of 20 men captured in Afghanistan to the Guantanamo Bay detention centre. They would be the first of almost 800 men who would pass through this “dark stain on the nation’s soul”. Ten years later, 171 detainees from over 20 countries remain at the facility, almost all without any formal charges laid against them. In fact, to date, only six have ever been convicted of a crime.

To mark the 10 year anniversary, detainees at the facility planned three days of passive resistance and protest. A common form of resistance has been communal hunger strikes. However, these have been quickly quashed by military guards who would “force-feed them with dirty feeding tubes that have been violently inserted and withdrawn as punishment”.

The reckless disregard for human rights and the safety of these men is commonplace at “Gitmo” as countless reports have emerged of systemic torture, sexual degradation, forced drugging, and religious persecution. The trauma associated with these violent acts has had a profound effect on the detainees as there were a “reported” 350 acts of attempted suicide in just the first 2 years of the prison’s operation.

Yet despite calls for its immediate closure, including a report by Amnesty International that was supported by “UN experts, former US presidents Carter and Clinton, and heads of state from Europe and elsewhere”, the Obama administration continues to maintain its operation—two years after he promised to close it. Meanwhile Prime Minister Harper has ensured that Omar Khadr, kidnapped and incarcerated at Guantanamo as a child, has still not been repatriated to Canada.

Movement pushes back Ford agenda

By Carolyn Egan

On the morning of January 17 over a hundred Steelworkers gathered at a union hall in Toronto preparing to make their way to City Council chambers. They came from workplaces across the city to voice their objections to a budget that would make drastic changes to municipal services that had been built over decades.

For more than a year people have been organizing against the austerity agenda of Mayor Rob Ford and his neoliberal allies on city council. Today was the day that councillors would vote on a slash-and-burn budget presented by the executive committee.

During the past months people have waited through the night to put forward their views against the cuts, community meetings have taken place in every ward, mass demonstrations of thousands besieged city hall.  Trade unionists went door-to-door talking to their neighbours about what the cuts would mean to jobs and services.

Hundreds of thousands of emails have been received in council offices. Community councils have heard angry citizens speaking up for public services. The city has been ablaze with organizing efforts to turn back the tide of the austerity agenda that is being forced down people’s throats around the globe.

The working class and the poor have been the victims of attacks on pensions, public services, public housing, education, and unions and have been fighting back in Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Britain. Workers in China and India have taken to the streets. The Arab Spring has shown the power of ordinary people, who with tremendous courage have used their collective power to topple despots.

Mayor Rob Ford won the election over a year ago promising to cut the gravy at City Hall but without affecting services.  It turned out to be impossible and with the help of KPMG, Ford came forward with a long list of service “efficiencies”. Well it didn’t wash with the voters and a recent poll showed that a majority in every ward was opposed to his wish list of cutbacks.

His heavy handed bullying of individual councillors was beginning to backfire. As the Steelworkers packed City Hall chambers with community members from ACORN, Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) Riders, Mothers for Childcare, Toronto Community Housing activists, and members of Stop the Cuts, it was becoming clear that the vote would be very tight.

Councillors who had backed the mayor in the past were standing up and saying that their constituents were calling in by the hundreds demanding that they maintain library hours, community programs, childcare subsidies and so many other services that were on the chopping block.

As the day progressed the tension was mounting.  Thousands began to gather in City Hall square for a planned rally by Respect Toronto, a coalition of labour and community groups, and Stop the Cuts.  An omnibus motion was put forward by a middle ground councillor to significantly role back the attacks by millions of dollars and after long debate and attempts at stalling by the mayor’s allies, it won by two votes to the cheers of the hundreds occupying the chambers.

Everything wasn’t won, but it was a huge setback to the Ford agenda.  It showed that people can fight City Hall and that the tens of thousands of community and union activists who have been working night and day were able to mobilize the support necessary to win.

There are still many fights ahead of us and the anticipated lock out of city workers is the next struggle.  The recent success has given confidence that we can push back and win, and now we have to rally support behind the city workers.

Stop the war against Iran. Harper is a threat to peace and security

By Bradley Hughes

The world’s most dangerous countries are preparing once again for war, and Canada’s Prime Minister Harper is out in front.

After missing out on the invasion of Iraq, Harper is missing no chance to exaggerate the threat from Iran to try to build support for another disastrous war.

“Iran is a very serious threat to international peace and security. In my judgment, it is the world’s most serious threat to international peace and security,” Harper said early in January in a Calgary radio station interview. Since it’s 1979 revolution, Iran has been involved in one war: when Iraq, with American assistance, invaded. Although Canada has been attacked by no one in this period, it has gone to war against Iraq, Somalia, Serbia, Afghanistan, Libya, and occupied Haiti. Harper has denied Canada’s own colonial history, which continues to produce human security crises like Attawapiskat, and is promoting one of the world’s greatest threats to planetary security: the Tar Sands.

In the same interview Harper said that Iran “is clearly trying to acquire nuclear weapons, and it has indicated some desire to actually use nuclear weapons.”

Later in January on the CBC he declared that Iran “would have no hesitation about using nuclear weapons.”

This sounds exactly like the furor that was raised about Iraq and its supposed chemical and nuclear weapons that were used as a pretext for a war that killed over a million Iraqis and found no such weapons.

Iran has a military budget that is less than two per cent of that the size of the American budget. It has also been the target of numerous terrorist attacks on its soil. In the last two years four nuclear scientists have been assassinated.

Now the US and the EU are implementing new sanctions to try to cut off Iranian oil exports. In response the Iranian regime has threatened to blockade the Strait of Hormuz, through which around one fifth of the world’s oil shipments pass. Both the US and Britain have now announced “routine” deployment of war ships to the area.

The results of the decade long sanctions against Iraq, after the US led war against it in 1991, were terrible suffering for the people of Iraq including the death of over half a million children, while strengthening the regime of Saddam Hussein. The road to democracy in Iran, or anywhere else, is solidarity with its people, not more wars.

A pan-Canadian anti-war movement involving thousands brought hundreds of thousands into the streets in 2002 and 2003. This movement was big enough to stop then Prime Minister Chretien from taking us to war against Iraq. We can build such a movement again to stop this next war.


After mass protests push back Ford agenda: Stop Harper’s budget cuts

By John Bell

Budget cuts and staff layoffs have paralyzed many federal ministries that provide crucial services. And rumours from Ottawa warn that even deeper cuts will be in the next Tory budget, due early in March.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is already facing cuts of $21.5 million. That will lead to layoffs of up to more than 230 full-time inspection positions.

Some 170 of those inspection jobs were created by the Tories in 2008, reversing earlier cuts. They didn’t do it out of public spirit; they were forced to act to quell outrage following an outbreak of deadly listeria food poisoning in meat processing plants, causing the deaths of 23 people and sickening hundreds more.

Bob Kingston, president of the Agriculture Union representing the inspectors warned: “Food safety costs money, but less safety can cost a lot more–both in terms of money and human suffering.”

Tory Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. Ritz dismissed concerns over cuts as “union tactics”, and claimed that “Canadian families can be assured that the safety of our food supply will not be affected as federal departments and agencies look for ways to be more efficient and more financially prudent with taxpayer’s dollars.”

Harper’s government, which wraps itself in “support our troops” rhetoric, is already cutting $220 million from Veterans Affairs Canada. The Public Service Alliance of Canada projects that this will translate into 500 lost jobs.

Minister Steve Blaney justified the cuts by saying that 1500 veterans die each month. His department objects to the use of the word “cuts”. “We simply expect to have a lower uptake for our programs to fewer veterans,” said Deputy Minister Keith Hillier.

As the official unemployment rate rises to 7.4 per cent, Employment Insurance workers are being laid off. In August Human Resources Minister Diane Finley shut down 98 local EI processing centres resulting in 1200 lost jobs.

“With continuous improvements to the way that we do business, such as increased automation, improved online services, and a nationally-managed workload distribution, Service Canada will be able to manage service demands in a more cost-effective and efficient way,” said Finley’s press secretary. Tell that to EI applicants who have seen their wait times for their first benefit cheque double.

In ministry after ministry, the cuts are breaking down services that workers and their families need most. The only federal sectors declared “off limits” for Tory cuts are the RCMP and military spending.

A mass grassroots campaign pushed back millions of cuts threatened by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, and much bigger mobilizations are needed to beat back the Harper attack.