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December 6, 2008

Pow! Bam! Comics give it to the system

BOOK REVIEW: Inside the World of Comic Books

Jeffery Klaehn, Ed.
Black Rose Books, 2008
Paperback, 258 pp., $24.99

By Tim Pelzer

While there are no longer comic racks in every corner store, comics
are still around. More recently, comic book characters such as the
Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Batman and Hellboy have enjoyed success in
the movies. "Inside the World of Comics" is a timely, amusing
collection of essays and interviews exploring comics from the
perspective of writers, academics, artists, editors and readers.

In "Tales of the American Crypt", Bradford W. Wright reveals how
Entertaining Comics' (EC) line of horror, crime, science fiction and
war comics from 1950 to 1955 subverted and critiqued American
attitudes and practices. In Shock Suspense Stories, a Korean war vet
returns to his home town and discovers that his family did not carry
out his request that his friend, who died saving his life in combat,
be buried in the family cemetery because he is black. The soldier, at
a ceremony to welcome him home, tells everyone that his black comrade
thought he was defending democracy in Korea, but even in death faced
discrimination. "I am ashamed of you" sobs the soldier.

In "Judgment Day", a black astronaut visits a planet and discovers
that the planet is inhabited by orange and blue robots. Orange robots
receive all the benefits while blue robots, living on the southern
part of the planet, are second class citizens.

"In EC comic books American society was not a great melting pot that
dissolved racial, religious, ethnic and political differences into a
national anti-communist consensus. It was a society at war with
itself. In their intolerant crusade against various 'others', white
American ultimately stood exposed as the real villains. The more
respectable the individual's status within society, the more likely it
was that the individual was evil", writes Wright.

Warning about the dangers of anti-communism, in an issue of Shock
Suspense Stories a parade honoring Korean war vets is taking place and
a group of onlookers are angered by a man who looks indifferent to the
event. Thinking that he was "a lousy red", they jump and kill the man.
After, they learn they had killed a blind war veteran.

Artist Harvey Kurtzman, who first contributed cartoons to the Daily
Worker during the 1930s - forerunner of the Peoples Weekly World -
became EC's most influential writer and illustrator. He created two
war comics that presented the ugly side of war unlike conventional
portrayals that glamorized it. Kurtzman would later go on to edit Mad
magazine.

"EC's crime and horror comics explored the psychosis and evil that
lurked beneath the gilded exterior of the American home."

In the end, boycotts by nervous distributors and self-censorship
forced EC to fold in 1955.

Julian Darius in "Exposing Status Quo Superheroics" explains how DC
comics censored one of its popular titles Authority, written by Mark
Millar, because he created a character that tried to create a just
world.

Editor Jeffrey Klaehn, a professor at Canada's Wilfrid Laurier
University, also includes interviews with writers and editors from
independent labels such as Dark Horse. Since the early 1990s, there
has been an explosion in the number of independent comic book
companies, challenging DC and Marvel's dominance of the industry.

In another interesting interview, Canadian artist Steve Niles talks
about his monster vampire hit comic "30 Days of Night", which
Hollywood made into a movie last year. According to Niles, who was
working for DC at the time, he did "30 Days of Night" for the
independent label IWD for fun without pay. Little did he know that it
would turn out to be an overnight success.

Klaehn's "Inside the World of Comics" is a unique meditation on the
comic book landscape.

tpelzer @shaw.ca

"WORKSAFE" NOT WORKING FOR B.C'S YOUNG WORKERS

By Stephen Von Sychowski

In 2005, the Campbell Liberal government changed the working name of
the Workers Compensation Board of British Columbia to "Worksafe BC",
claiming that it was "a name that more accurately reflects our focus
on prevention, customer service, and return to work." The move was
largely rejected by labour and progressive movements, including the
Communist Party and Young Communist League, as a ploy to place the
bulk of responsibility and blame on the victims of workplace injury
rather than on employers who provide insufficient or nonexistent
training and unsafe or unsanitary conditions.

The focus of the WCB's message to the workers of B.C. was clear
"be careful at work, or it'll be your own fault". But one can only be
careful within the conditions provided, which too often include speed
ups, lack of training, and exposure to unnecessary risks. Workers are
sometimes too afraid to exercise their right to refuse unsafe work,
because this often leads to reprimand and even firing.

Young workers have abnormally high levels of injury especially
considering that, if anything, they should logically be the most
healthy and agile. But the reality is that many employers see youth as
nothing but cheap, dispensable labour for their low paying, non union,
insecure and unsafe jobs. Young workers face intimidation and ageism
from bosses who want to save a buck by cutting corners and bending
rules.

The number of young workers injured on the job in 2007 was up to
11,540 from 10,980 in 2006; part of an overall picture that saw
173,538 total reported injuries, up from 172,874 the year before and
156,770 in 2004, the year before WCB was re‑named and re-programmed as
"Worksafe" by the Liberals. Amongst these there were 228 fatalities,
up from 223 in 2004.

Yet almost 4,000 more health and safety inspections were carried
out by the WCB, over 5,000 orders were written and almost three times
as many penalties were imposed on employers all according to WCB's
2007 annual report. So, isn't "Worksafe" working?

While these numbers are a positive improvement from the dismal
ones of the year before, the numbers of injured workers prove that
these activities have been ineffective.

Some improvement should be seen with the enactment of legislation
promoting safe workplaces. "Grant's Law" was won by the BC Federation
of Labour and the De Patie family after a young worker, Grant De
Patie, was killed on the job at the gas station where he worked. He
was chasing a car which was attempting a "gas and go". His employer
had illegally told him that if he did not stop "gas and go's" he would
have to pay for them out of his own cheque.

But unfortunately, laws like this are only one part of the
solution. As always under capitalism, profits have been put before
people. No more parents should have to live with the pain of their
daughter or son being disabled or killed at work. No more workers and
no more families should be crippled by workplace "accidents".

With a provincial election around the corner, it's time for
workers in B.C. to ask the parties vying for their support what they
are prepared to do about this epidemic.

A tough stance is needed to get results and ensure that there are
no more Grant De Paties's in this province. This should include the
introduction of further legislation similar to Grant's Law, protecting
workers who work after dark or in isolated conditions in all sectors
of the economy. It should include a WCB focused on prevention through
training, education and strict enforcement of health and safety
standards, not just putting the onus on workers and placing the blame
on the victims. It should include stiffer penalties for employers who
put their workers at risk, including more and higher fines, more
inspections and financial, legal and criminal liability for injuries
on worksites.

It also means an end to "Worksafe" and a return to the WCB,
programmed around creating and enforcing safe and healthy work
environments, ensuring training is provided by employers and so on. It
won't be popular with those in power. They will say it's radical, or
impossible. But one has to wonder what those 228 workers who are no
longer with us would say.

December 2, 2008

OHMIGOD! WHY WE LOVE TO HATE BRITNEY

Dynamic Magazine Fall 2008, Issue 20



Was Britney running around town again without panties? Oh my god! Look she shaved her head! Is Lindsay Lohan gay? Maybe so, but she’s definitely still on drugs! Did you see the new Paris Hilton sex tape? And when do you think Amy Winehouse will finally just die?

We are bombarded daily with this endless frenzy of media coverage of young women like Brittney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton. They are held up as glamorous icons, and then gleefully torn apart by the very same people who seem to adore them.

When it comes to young female celebrities today: Do we build them up just to tear them down?

More Americans pay attention to celebrity gossip than to world news, but that doesn’t explain why we are so obsessed with females struggling with drug addiction and sex scandals, maintaining their weight, and whether or not they keep their private parts covered in public. It also doesn’t explain why we disproportionately gossip about women’s private scandals over men’s.

The magnitude and profitability of these scandals are unimaginable. For example, when Miley Cyrus/Hanna Montana broke her girl-next-door image for the first time with a semi-sexual Vanity Fair photo shoot, VF.com racked up 1.8 million unique visitors, as opposed to its usual 20-40 thousand, and a staggering 17 million page views.

These views were not generated from positive reviews of the photo shoot, but from articles calling the photos scandalous the weekend after the VF publication.

As more people stated their shock at Cyrus’s age and the sexuality of the photos, VF posted more photos and videos of the shoot on their website—which only increased the number of people who logged on to look.

Cyrus had to publicly apologize to her fans, and then was trashed by the very same websites that published any photos of her deemed to have sexual implications, including silly pictures she took with her friends and posted on her MySpace page. Somehow, in the world of public scandal, there is more “shock and awe” at a 15 year old taking typical-teenager pictures of herself, than at the fact that bloggers and gossip sites attempt to use them to publicly humiliate her.

However, Miley Cyrus is hardly the face of scandal, comparatively at least.

Britney Spears has been the golden child of humiliation and scorn for the past couple years. She has been called everything by the gossip magazines: fat, addicted, out of control, out of her mind, bad mother, white trash, bad wife, and a fake.

The same Britney Spears whose cutesy teenage pictures were glamorized, whose so called virginity was publicly praised, and who was held up as a role model for teen girls, has now been publicly torn apart.

She may or may not have made ‘bad’ choices, but why her life has been so public, why there has been so much interest in what has been called “her fall” and how so much money was made in the process, is hard to understand.

Women’s behavior, good and bad, raises lots of public attention, and judging it, seems to generate a lot of revenue.

Male celebrities are also harassed by gossip reporters and suffer public humiliations over break ups and breakdowns; however, they do not make up an equal share. We just seem less interested in what they look like without makeup, what their tummy rolls look like magnified with big red circles around them, or what their best outfit of the month was.

They also seem less bound by PR produced images that are too ‘perfect’ for them, not to mention the everyday women who feel judged against them, to ever live up to.

Britney Spears was painted as an innocent, protected virgin throughout her teen years, when in fact she was taken out of high school, sent on tours away from her family-- where drugs and sex were everywhere. She was not protected as an artist or as a young woman. Instead, she was exploited by record industries, older men and her own family. When she couldn’t live up to her own public image, she was publicly shamed.

Now, if she ‘acts right’ she will eventually gain praise again. Maybe she will get some peace to spend all her money, and lucky us, judging women will still be a popular public pastime we can all enjoy. To some women this pastime may feel like revenge against iconic women, but we are only participating in setting the standards we are all judged by.

Judgments that control us, that make us insecure, and that devalue us. Controlling women’s behavior, especially sexual behavior, has long been part of our culture. But is this how we continue it today in the 21st century?

In The Origin of Family State and Private Property, Engels described the connection between the creation of private property and the development of gender based inequality. He drew attention to how as families began privately accumulating wealth, the need to pass it on through generations became important, and from that a need to know whose child was who became increasingly important as well.

Women’s bodies became the carriers of lineages of property and wealth to the point where their bodies themselves became property-- property that had to be controlled, especially sexually.

While capitalism today does not function along family lines in the same way, and the patriarchal control of women’s sexuality is no longer necessary for capitalism’s function, this history has not stopped. Today it is inherent in our views of women’s bodies and sexuality.

While most women agree that comments about J Lo’s weight a month after giving birth to twins, such as “Is J- Lo’s booty just another fat ass?” from celebrity gossip blog Dana’s Dish, are disgusting; there was no decrease in production of these articles. Why are we still buying into it?

Maybe it’s because we are conditioned, from the earliest age, to be “princesses,” to be like Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana, to look like Britney Spears, to become BFF’s with Paris Hilton. This leaves a lot of us confused about who we are or who we ‘should be.’ Teenage girls aspiring to be “Mean Girls” and “Plastics” are left with the resulting nastiness that turns into glee when those people we want to be—but aren’t—“fall from grace.”

Competition over unity leaves women fighting each other, judging each other, and ultimately participating in controlling each other. We learn how to compete on TV too, like in all 13 seasons of the popular reality television show “The Bachelor,” where 25 women trash each other to win the acceptance of one man.

(And that’s just on prime time TV. The Cable networks offer similar, even more sensationalistic programs like “Flavor of Love” where various women must vie for the affection of 49 yr old rapper Flavor Flav.)

With women competing for acceptance against standards that we will never reach, who benefits? We can start with all the companies that profit from seemingly endless beauty products, but the buck does not stop there.

It moves into the workplace, where we are still unsure if women’s labor is worth the same paycheck. And even besides those billions made in profits from wage discrimination, there is lots of other money made in shaming women.

If women privately feel shame around their ability to mother, or to be ‘good wives,’ then a political demand for public child care for working and single mothers is stifled. In the end, hating on women like Britney may be the same as hating ourselves.

December 1, 2008

Reflections by comrade Fidel: THE GREAT CRISIS OF THE 1930s

Reflections by comrade Fidel

THE GREAT CRISIS OF THE 1930s

Although it may sound simple, it is a very difficult
subject to explain. The U.S. Federal Reserve system, resulting from a
fully developing capitalism, was established in 1913. Salvador
Allende, a man we remember as someone of our times, was already 15
years old.

The First World War broke out in 1914, when the prince
heir to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in the very heart of the center
and south of Europe was murdered in Sarajevo. Canada was still a
British colony. The British pound sterling enjoyed the privilege of
being the currency used in international transactions, with gold as
its metal backup. This had been the case over one thousand years
before in the capital of the Roman Empire in the East, that is,
Constantinople.

The bloody wars against the Muslims in the Near East, with
religious pretexts, had been initiated by the feudal lords of the
European Christian kingdoms. Their true purpose was to be in command
of the commercial routes and other more obscene and mundane objectives
which could be discussed some other time.

At the end of the First World War, the United States
joined the war, that is, in 1917, two years after the sinking of the
Lusitania, a ship carrying American passengers that had left from New
York. It had been sunk by torpedoes shot from a German submarine
following the absurd instructions of attacking a vessel carrying the
flag of a distant, rich and potentially powerful country whose
government, from supposedly neutral positions, was looking for a
pretext to join the United Kingdom, France and other allies in the
war. The attack took place on May 7, 1915, as the vessel was crossing
the Strait between Ireland and England. Actually, very few passengers
could abandon ship in the 20 minutes before it sank, thus, the 1,198
people still on board lost their lives.

The U.S. economy grew steadily after that war, except for
recurrent crises which were resolved by the Federal Reserve without a
major impact.

Then, on October 24, 1929, a date that would go down in
the history of the United States as the "black Thursday", the economic
crisis started. According to the right wing theoretician and famous
American economist Milton Friedman, an economics Nobel Laureate
(1976), the Bank of the New York Reserve in Wall Street, the same as
other major banks and corporations, reacted "instinctively" by
adopting the measure it considered most appropriate: "injecting money
into circulation." The Washington Reserve Bank, which was used to the
dominance of its criteria, finally forces the opposing view. President
Hoover's Treasury Secretary supports the Washington Reserve Bank, and
that of New York eventually gives in. "But the worst was yet to come,"
says Friedman, who explains clearer that any other outstanding
economist --some of them with an opposing view-- the sequence of
events as he writes: "It was not until the autumn of 1930, that the
recession of the economic activity, although serious, was affected by
financial difficulties or by the petitions of the depositors trying to
withdraw their money. The nature of the recession experienced a
dramatic change when a chain of bankruptcies in the Midwest and South
of the United States undermined confidence in the banks leading to
numerous attempts at turning the bank deposits into cash."

"The American Bank was closed on December 11, 1930. This
was the critical date. It was until then the most important commercial
bank in the American history that had collapsed."

Just in the month of December 1930, 352 banks were closed.
"The FED could have tried a better solution buying on a large scale
public debt bonds in the open market."

"On September 1931, when the United Kingdom abandoned the
gold standard, the other pursued an even more negative policy."

"After two years of strong repression the system reacted
by raising the interest rates at a level never known before in its
history."

Be mindful that Friedman is exposing a view that is still
prevalent in the U.S. official circles, almost 80 years later.

"In 1932, under Congress pressure, the FED concluded its
sessions and immediately cancelled its buying program."

"The final episode was the banking panic of 1933."

"The fear was intensified during the interregnum between
Herbert Hoover and Franklin D.Roosevelt, who was elected on November
8, 1932 but was only inaugurated on March 4, 1933. The former did not
wish to take drastic measures without the cooperation of the new
president, while Roosevelt did not want to take on any responsibility
until his inauguration."

The episode is a reminder of what is happening today with
the president elected on November 4, less than a month ago, Barack
Obama, who will be inaugurated on January 20, 2009. Only the
interregnum has changed; in the 1930s it was of no more than 117 days
and at present it is of no more than 77.

As Friedman indicates, at the moment of the greatest
economic boom there were up to 25 thousand banks in the United States.
Early in 1933 that figure had decreased to 18 thousand.

"When President Roosevelt decided to put an end to the
closing of banks, 10 days after it had started," said Friedman, "a few
banks short of 12 thousand were allowed to open the doors, followed
later by only 3 thousand others. Therefore, all together, some 10
thousand of the 25 thousand banks in 1929 disappeared during those
four years, due to bankruptcy, merging or liquidation."

"The closing of businesses, production cut down and
growing unemployment all fed the agitation and fear."

"Once the depression had started, it expanded to other
countries and then, of course, there was this reflected influence:
another example of the always present feedback in a complex economy,"
Friedman concludes.

The world of 1933 described in his book is quite different
from today's. This is an absolutely global world made up by more than
190 nations represented at the United Nations. Its population is
threatened by risks that scientists, even the most optimistic, cannot
ignore and that a growing number of people know and share, even
prominent American politicians.

The echo of the impact of the current crisis can be felt
in the desperate efforts of important world leaders.

The Xinhua press agency has reported that Hu Jintao,
President of the People's Republic of China, a country with a
sustained growth exceeding two digits in the past few years, warned
yesterday that "China is under increasing pressure from its enormous
population, its limited resources and environmental problems." This is
the only country that we know has foreign currency reserves amounting
to almost two trillion dollars. The Chinese leader lists "a series of
indispensable steps to secure the primary interests of the people and
preserve the environment in the framework of the Chinese strategy of
industrialization and modernization." Lastly, he indicated that "with
the expansion of the financial crisis the world demand for products
has been markedly reduced."

These words from the leader of the most extensively
populated country on Earth make it unnecessary to add any more
arguments on the depth of the present crisis.

Fidel Castro Ruz

November 30, 2008

6:15 p.m.

November 30, 2008

Progressive Leaders Urge Opposition Parties to Form Coalition Government

Progressive Leaders Urge Opposition Parties to Form Coalition Government

    OTTAWA, Nov. 28 /CNW Telbec/ - Prominent progressive leaders have come
together today to urge Stéphane Dion and Jack Layton to put partisan concerns
aside and form a coalition government to serve the best interests of citizens
suffering from a global economic crisis.

The open letter follows.

November 28, 2008

An Urgent Message to Stéphane Dion and Jack Layton: Only a Coalition
Government Can Provide the Leadership Canada Needs

Dear Leaders,

We, the undersigned, write to you during this time of economic crisis to
urge that you set aside all partisan considerations in favour of decisive
action to help Canadians who are suffering and whose livelihoods are in
jeopardy.

At this critical moment, a coalition government would be the most capable
of delivering the kind of stewardship the economy needs, and the least likely
to put partisan interests ahead of responsible government.

Barely five weeks after promising to work cooperatively with the
opposition parties - representing a majority of voters - Prime Minister Harper
failed to deliver a plan to halt the devastation being wrought upon hard
working families. Instead his Conservative government is using the crisis to
attack the democratic process, violate the rights of public servants to
bargain collectively and end pay equity. Canada now stands alone as the only
government in the western world without a coherent economic stimulus plan. The
Harper government talks of balancing the budget by selling off assets and
restraining spending, the exact opposite of the stimulus response that
virtually all economists and many others are arguing is necessary.

Time is of the essence. You have an unprecedented opportunity to deliver
to citizens a coalition that is capable of putting aside partisan ploys and to
work cooperatively and swiftly in the interests of all.

Despite Mr. Harper's contentions, the outrage of citizens and opposition
parties is not about public funding of political parties, but rather, it is
about a Conservative plan that would actually deepen our country's economic
crisis. The Harper government's taking party funding off the table should not
be a reason for backing down from your efforts to construct a coalition
government.

Please be assured that we all stand ready to offer constructive ideas on
ways to help workers, their families and communities weather this storm and
emerge stronger than ever.

Signatories:

Ken Lewenza, President, Canadian Auto Workers
Paul Moist, National President, Canadian Union of Public Employees
Dave Coles, President, Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of
Canada
Denis Lemelin, National President, Canadian Union of Postal Workers
Steven Staples, President, Rideau Institute
Bruce Campbell, Executive Director, Canadian Centre for Policy
Alternatives
John Urquhart, Executive Director, Council of Canadians
Mel Watkins, Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of Toronto
Peggy Mason, Former UN Ambassador For Disarmament


For further information: please contact the respective organizations or
Anthony Salloum, Rideau Institute, c. (613) 724-1070,
asalloum@rideauinstitute.ca

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