Over the past few weeks, Canada has been hit hard. Serious and unprecedented flooding has struck Calgary and Toronto, along with others from Fort McMurray to Kitchener-Waterloo. Petrochemical spills of nearly every kind have dumped crude, tailings and “sour gas”, culminating in last weekend’s horrific train-crash in Lac Magantic which levelled the centre of town and killed an estimated 50. As images and video roll in, showing a sunken Union Station and a burning Lac Magentic, virtually everybody I’ve seen or spoken to for days has been in a state of shock and awe.

How could this happen to us?

We all know, of course, how and why this is happening. Weather being the default subject for Canadian small-talk, it’s something that comes up in conversation with just about everyone I see, and for years aside from a very tiny fraction of deniers, there’s been an overwhelming consensus among everyone I’ve spoken to from all walks of life. “Yeah, we fucked it all up”, I hear over and over again, almost always followed, of course, with, “but what are we gonna do?”.

That’s a question we should probably answer sooner, rather than later.

Scientists have been warning for decades that climate change would bring about this kind of extreme weather. Other experts have been trying to warn about the dangers presented by oil development and infrastructure for at least as long. Similar disasters have been afflicting the Third World for years now, and even beginning to hit the shores of America. As frightening as this was, it was still largely academic – pictures came in from places we’d never heard of and could scarcely find on a map. Now that the places we’re seeing underwater are ones we know well and identify personally with, the threat becomes real in entirely new ways.

How would we be responding, I wonder, if this devastation had been wrought by dark-skinned foreigners who spoke a different language and worshipped a different god? If “extremists” blew up a few dams to let loose floodwaters, or snuck a “suitcase nuke” into a small town? On a global scale, “environmental refugees” already outnumber those displaced by war, and with a growing number of super-storms, droughts, heat-waves, freezes, crop-failures, wildfires and floods, the damage being done is already well beyond anything Al Qaeda could manage.

For now, this anger is muted, but that won’t last forever. People are losing homes, farms and communities, and as the damage starts to pile up, resentment will begin to build. Just as it took a couple of years of widespread layoffs and foreclosures before mass political action started to take hold of public spaces, I suspect it will take more time and suffering before people start to get really angry. Once that happens, though, it won’t take much to spark a reaction. When people see the fortunes made by oil company executives in relation to their shattered lives, they’ll draw the obvious connections and begin to see this theft for what it really is.

This crisis isn’t hypothetical any more. It’s happening, and it’s only going to get worse. It can no longer be spoken about only as separate “climate”, “energy” or “financial” crises, but as a converging set of consequences. As conventional oil supplies dwindle we’ll continue to see rising fuel costs, economic slowdowns and risky new drilling technologies. The current rush toward tar sands and fracking development is a clear result of both desperation to revive ailing industrial economies and the growing shortage of conventional crude. These new sources of oil, in turn, emit far more carbon and present a significantly increased risk of accidents and disasters. All of this is connected and there aren’t going to be any simple solutions.

How will people react, I wonder, when the first major North American city has to be abandoned for good? Rolling Stone recently published a convincing argument that Miami can’t survive rising sea levels, no matter how many walls it builds. What about farming communities, fisheries and areas dependent on forests? How will we react when one of these floods strikes before people are able to evacuate? When scientists start to agree that we’ve passed “the tipping point”?

There is, of course, a point where life as we know it starts to become untenable and “civilization” will start to break down. Large-scale centralized decision-making depends on the ability to assume that things like climate are relatively constant. This is the literal foundation for everything we build – roads, bridges and buildings are all built on the assumption the ground under them won’t turn to mud. Our agricultural system, now planted often in thousand-acre fields of a single crop (or even a single clone) and managed globally, are becoming colossal gambles on the stability of local climates. Our nationally-networked power grids have limits and depend on thousands of miles of transmission lines. “Just in time” delivery, the new mantra of “warehouses on wheels” which drives the big-box economy, leaves only days worth of supplies in stores at any given time. In short, we are woefully unprepared for the future we’re probably creating, in ways which strike at the very heart of our way of life.

Long before that happens, though, we’ll see regional impacts scattered seemingly at random. Like everything else, they’ll hit poor regions harder than most and bring with them a whole host of ugly social side effects. In his new book, Tropic of Chaos, Christian Parenti illustrates some of the consequences we’re already starting to see. In Afghanistan, years of drought led poor farmers to switch from wheat to drought-tolerant opium in defiance of the occupation, a move supported by the remnants of the Taliban and one of many reasons they still enjoy so much support from those communities. In Africa and the Middle East the Arab Spring was preceded by increases in food prices linked to droughts and crop failures. Ultimately, our climate isn’t the only mind-bogglingly complex system involved here, nor is it the only one threatened with losing stability.

This “apocalypse” isn’t coming tomorrow, but if recent events are any indication, it’s not a threat we can afford to ignore any longer. This isn’t just happening in Bangladesh and the Maldives anymore, it’s happening right up the train tracks. We still have time to make changes, but no way of knowing how much. The IEA suggests that we have until 2017 to stop building fossil-fuel infrastructure before we’re “locked in” to a level of at least 450ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere by the middle of the century, and a warming of at least 2 degrees Celsius. Given how much chaotic weather we’re seeing now, it’s hard to imagine how bad it might get past that point.

I don’t know about you, but I plan on being alive in 2050, and don’t wish to spend my last years watching this planet tear itself apart. Every time something like this happens, I ask how bad it’ll have to get before we collectively change our ways, and almost inevitably the answer is “worse”. That’s not good enough anymore. We aren’t changing our ways – we’re doing the opposite. Does a 28 000% increase in oil-by-rail shipments sound like the act of a country that’s serious about tackling climate change and oil dependence?

Big oil blew up a small town. That’s a wake-up call we can’t ignore. Blame whoever you wish – the railroad, the engineer, anonymous vandals or a lack of regulation, but ultimately this disaster comes down to the choice to increase oil production on a continental scale. Whether this oil is transported by train, tanker or pipeline, the risks will still be spread across the land, and even if companies miraculously manage to avoid any more accidents, burning this oil will still produce more droughts, floods, crop-failures and wildfires. One way or the other, we will have to stop using these infernal fuels, the only question is what we’ll be left with when we do.

This morning police swarmed the blockade site and arrested at least 20 individuals for violating an injunction, starting with when the three “police liaisons” after they’d left the property. Rumors that some managed to escape through the surrounding fields. Details still very sketchy and it has not yet hit the media. I’ll post more info as soon as it becomes available.

Official updates: http://swampline9.tumblr.com/ and #SwampLine9

Update: 11am
Official arrest count stands at 16, taken to Mountain Station. Charges include “trespass” and disobeying a court order, though there’s been no word yet about how many have been charged with each.

Official press release

CBC Coverage

Update 11:50am
Official arrest count now being reported at 17, with all but five now released from HPS’ Mountain Station sporting new trespassing tickets.

Update 3pm
Everybody arrested this morning has now been released!

Final Update
Final arrest count: 18 (sorry for the confusion, these numbers are always hard to pin down), mostly tresspass and mischief. Check out the official HPS press release.

At 8:15 this morning, the Westover blockade was served an injunction (court order) by Enbridge. They’ve been given two hours to clear the site or face arrest. Some have begun to pack up and leave, staging a rally across the road on public property, others opting to lock themselves to the gates of the pumping station. I’ll post updates through the day as they become available.

This comes on a day with solidarity demonstrations are planned in at least twelve communities across Canada. For those in Hamilton, plans are to meet up at Gore Park @ 3pm.

Update: 11:45am Things are still quiet at the site, in spite of the injunction there has been no move yet to evict protesters and only one police cruiser in view. Most are still on public lands across the street, while a few remain locked to the hated of the pumping station. A small press conference is scheduled for noon at the gates, and any supporters who can make it are strongly urged to come support for whatever time is left.

Update: 1:45pm Still going. A statement was read to the press, though some weren’t able to make it due to nearby police roadblocks. Most of the camp is now reportedly on site in defiance of the injunction, with four people locked down underneath a massive barricade built from skids and cable spools found around the site.

Update: 6:45pm Protesters remain on the site, vowing to “hold the space as long as we can” and rumors are now suggesting that Enbridge got their own address wrong on injunction papers, delaying any eviction until they can get them corrected. In Hamilton, a rally and small march up King street was held downtown to support the demonstrators, one of many across Canada. Others included Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver. Since the march and workday concluded, car-loads of supporters have been heading up to offer more support – at this point any presence is appreciated.

Update 10:15pm Things are quiet and spirits are high at the blockade, which, it appears, will last at least one more night. Car-loads of supporters are still arriving, and there’s been a call-out for food and water, if anybody reading this is still heading up.


The blockade in Westover, now enjoying its fifth day, has been a stunning success. The surprise appearance of dozens upon dozens of protesters at Enbridge’s construction site Thursday morning managed to take the company by surprise, and as of this moment, demonstrators control the site and have dug in for a prolonged stay. At least 30 tents now line the long driveway and people are continuing to arrive from as far away as Toronto and Ottawa.

Within moments of the successful seizure, a website and twitter account went live and press releases began flooding out to media outlets. Adam Carter of CBC Hamilton was on the scene shortly and tweeted live updates throughout the morning. By the afternoon, even Enbridge was tweeting to #SwampLine9. Soon others began to arrive, including more reporters and representatives of Six Nations. In terms of (official) confrontation, there’s been very little – demonstrators pledged to fight for the workers pay, if necessary, and promised not to touch the equipment, most of which is locked inside a fenced enclosure. Regular “safety inspections” and a small, full-time (rotating) presence of watchful employees have been allowed, though campers have now blocked further deliveries of fuel for the all-night floodlights. In return, campers have been allowed access to the on-site bathroom trailer, at least for the moment. If that fails, campers have brought along a composting toilet, built fresh for the occasion. Police have maintained a small presence nearby, but have so far refused to act without a court injunction. The little ‘trouble’ campers have experienced (all peaceful, thankfully), I’m told, has come from angry drivers and residents, which is pretty much par for the course in an action like this.

Since the occupation began, they’ve been joined by a steady stream of friends, activists and neighbours. Events have been held, such as the support demo last Friday on public lands across the street last and a “Swampfest” concert yesterday, featuring local acts such as Lee Reed and Mother Tareka. When I visited yesterday, spirits were still high, if a little more tired and heat-striken than when I left Thursday, with many more tents and plenty of new tarp-and-cable-spool construction.

This tiny strip of barren land, amidst the rolling hills, fields, swamp and forest of Westover, has now come to represent a national debate over energy infrastructure. Given similar opposition to proposals for new westward or southbound pipelines (Northern Gateway and Keystone XL), a tri-partisan consensus formed around an eastbound route which would quietly re-purpose existing pipelines to get Tar Sands oil to terminals in Maine. Harper’s government, so intent on turning Canada into a mid-east style petro-state, has exempted the plan from environmental assessments and taken a hard line on critics. Since even Hamilton’s council has proven powerless to intervene, many had assumed this was a ‘done deal’, but they hadn’t factored in the millions of people who live along its path.

The Westover Terminal was an obvious choice for occupation. Appearing on continental pipeline network maps, it’s the meeting point of Line 9a (Sarnia-Westover) and 9b (Westover-Montreal), the two stages of the overall reversal. It also lies amidst the Beverly Swamp, the most significant watershed in the western Hamilton, feeding both the Spencer Creek and Cootes Paradise. A spill here (the vast majority of pipelines spill at terminals) or anywhere along the nearby pipes would put the entire area at risk ecologically, as well as the many farms and residents who are dependent on wells for water.

The danger this poses to Hamilton shouldn’t be hard for most long-time residents to grasp. Not only have we long suffered with the stigma (and reality) of being a “dirty” and “polluted” city, but we’re already home to Canada’s worst freshwater tar contamination – Randle Reef. After decades of bickering and inaction, the cost of remediating this sixty-hectare patch of coal-tar near (former) Stelco’s docks now stands at around $140 million (taxpayer) dollars. Along the Spencer Creek itself, a July, 2007 fire at the Biedermann pesticide plant in Dundas spilled an estimated million litres of (still unknown) chemicals into the creek, which then flowed into Cootes Paradise. Along their route they killed an estimated 6000 fish in the creek and 5-15 million in and around Grindstone Marsh. In both of these cases, the corporations escaped any kind of prosecution, leaving us to suffer the consequences and shoulder the cost of cleanup.

Whatever Enbridge wants to claim, the oil industry’s recent record isn’t comforting. Just over a week ago a leak was discovered from Imperial Oil’s eqipment in Sarnia, not far from Enbridge’s facilities there. Around the same time, a Plains Midwestern pipeline ruptured near Manning, Alberta, spilling a few thousand barrels of natural gas condensate. A couple of weeks before that, Apache Canada spilled almost ten million litres of contaminated wastewater near Zama, Alberta. In the past few days, catastrophic floods have brought more ruptures, one in a Turner Valley gas pipeline, leaking deadly “sour gas” from a submerged section of pipe and a widespread shutdown of Enbridge’s own lines after another spill south of Fort McMurray.

Alberta’s floods illustrate the double-edged danger of these gigaprojects. Their infrastructure is not (and cannot be) built to withstand the unprecedented and cataclysmic weather which it creates. Only a few days ago much of Ft. McMurray was besieged by flood-waters – if they’d moved much further north into the oil patch and breached the massive “tailings ponds”, the resulting dump of industrial waste into the MacKenzie-Athabasca River Delta could easily have turned much of northern Canada into a dead zone. Even without such a disaster, though, there’s enough carbon buried in the sands of northern Alberta to bring about “catastrophic” global warming without any help from America or China. That means more droughts, floods and super-storms, with all the decimated crop yields and underwater cities that entails.

Line 9 is not just a symbol. This thirty-inch pipe and the export capacity it represents is crucial to Tar Sands expansion plans, and to the new Canada Haprper is busy creating. Aside from the potential disaster it represents to every community along its path, this pipeline will spur new toxic development from Alberta to Asia. In literal, physical terms, it will further entrench our economic dependence on petrochemicals, even as global efforts to break the addiction are finally underway.

If we want to stop this, now’s the time. Once a project like this goes online, it becomes infinitely harder to stop, and that’s scheduled to happen later this summer. There will soon be no more construction sites or NEB hearings, just a hundred million barrels flowing through our ground each year. This is our chance to say “no”, and we may not get another one like it for years or decades. Whether or not this blockade survives, these brave land defenders have raised the bar for everybody from Sarnia to Montreal. If it is evicted, others will try elsewhere, and only one needs to successfully stop construction, at any point in it’s 1000+ kilometres, to bring the entire project to a halt.

If you want to support Swamp Line 9, there’s many ways you can help. As with any blockade, they’re constantly in need of people to maintain a presence on the site. Whether you can stay for ten minutes or bring a tent and stick around for a while, it’ll be appreciated. There’s also a need for supplies (see official list), rides to and from the site (especially accessible vehicles) and help spreading the word on and off-line. For those elsewhere, there’s been a call-out for solidarity actions tomorrow (Tuesday June 25th), encouraging everybody to grab some signs and head to their nearest Enbridge facility. As for direct actions elsewhere along the line, such as blockades of roads and other construction sites, they’re more than welcome. This was never meant to be a ‘last stand’ – it’s only the beginning.

SwampLine9.tumblr.com – Official Homepage
#swampline9 on twitter
https://www.facebook.com/SwampLine9 – Official Facebook Page
Directions to the site

(6:56am)Early this morning a convoy of  activists from across Southern Ontario (as far as Kingston and Kitchener) converged on the sleepy town of Westover and appeared at the gates of the Enbridge pumping station. Catching workers as they changed shifts, we handed out flyers. With a message of “enjoy your day off” (and a promise to make sure they get paid), they packed up with a smile. Few remain, at this point, and we have yet to see any police.

This action, nicknamed #swampline9, was taken in response to the pending reversal of Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline, part of the proposed network bringing Tar Sands oil to the coasts.

Protesters now control the site, at least for the moment, and are beginning to set up tents. The intention is to stay as long as possible, and others are eagerly encouraged to show up to stay or support.

Much more news on the way when I can get to a real computer. In the meantime, check out swampline9.tumblr.com or follow #swampline9 on twitter.

(Update 10:30am) Police have arrived at the site, but so far have made no move toward protesters. Most workers have now left the area, though there’s still a few doing “safety checks”. Adam Carter from CBC Hamilton is now also on the scene and tweeting live updates.

(Update 4:30m) Things are mostly quiet at the site, the police visit has been largely uneventful and workers are now completely off the site excepting the occasional “sweep” to check on their equipment (so far none has been touched). Representatives of Six Nations have arrived and made statements to the media, underscoring the contested title to area lands. Tomorrow morning, supporters have called for a rally in the park across the street from the pumping station’s front gates – if you’d like to visit but don’t want to risk stepping off public property, this is a great opportunity. For those who do want to visit or join the blockade itself, newcomers are more than welcome, especially this evening and overnight tonight.

Ever since leaks regarding the depth of NSA surveillance went public, there’s been a lot of “paranoid” talk. Revelations of this magnitude make it clear that we cannot trust our governments to abstain from these kinds of activities or to be honest with us about them. Naturally, this leads to questions about what else they’re hiding. What do they plan to do with all the intelligence they’re gathering, and what might they resort to in an “emergency”?

A quick web search brings up plenty of outlandish suggestions, like martial law, “false flag” terrorist attacks and “FEMA” internment camps. Given the context of secret societies and space-aliens, it’s often hard to take these allegations seriously. Honestly, I’m not much for Alex Jones, but am willing to admit that there is often a kernel of truth, or at least a little historical precedent to back them up.

Most people have about the internment of Japanese-Canadians and Americans during the Second World War. It’s one of the darkest chapters of our history and a frightening reminder that Hitler and his Holocaust weren’t as exceptional as we now like to claim. What’s not widely known and managed to remain secret until a few years ago is that this wasn’t the end of our government’s internment schemes. Under a plan named “Profunc”, lists were made of “prominent functionaries” in the Communist movement and plans made to arrest them and their families en masse in the event of a “national emergency”. This program and its lists remained in place until the 1980s, and while it was never enacted on a national scale, the individuals it targeted suffered for decades through “preventative” arrests and no-fly-list style restrictions.

Make no mistake: this can happen, even in Canada. It almost did.

Today documents are coming out of the Pentagon detailing new plans for domestic militarization. The Cold War has been replaced by 21st century threats like climate change, plagues and economic collapse. Instead of the “red menace”, we now have vague references to civil unrest and “domestic insurgencies”. We can only hope that these schemes, too, will die a quiet death and be filed away somewhere dark and remote. Even if we are so lucky, though, these documents and others should prove one thing: governments will do anything to maintain control if they get desperate enough.

Tonight’s movie comes from the CBC’s Fifth Estate. Enemies of the State tells the story of Profunc, its discovery and and the people who came to be on its lists.

The world’s media is now abuzz with revelations that telecom giant Verizon has been forced to hand over months of data to the NSA. The information being sought involves numbers, duration and location data for every call made by every Verizon customer, both foreign and domestic.

This leak makes official what most of us have suspected for some time – behind closed doors, there are no controls on our data. Corporations and governments now function as a single network, able to gather and share nearly any detail of our lives. With corporations free from constitutional oversight and the government insulated from legal consequences, there are few, if any, real limits to their reach.

The increasing complexity of communication technologies means the data they’re collecting tells a very detailed story. This isn’t just a matter of “Bill called Bob at 12:01, Jan. 1, 2008 and they talked for 23 minutes”. The Verizon order includes the kind of cell-tower routing information needed to identify where you were when you made the call. With daily access to this kind of data the NSA is now effectively tracking the (rough) movements of 70 million Americans.

Take a moment to let that sink in – one in four Americans. Where they were when they made every call. Every day. Recorded, databased and searchable. Then consider that this is only the very tip of this iceberg.

Other revelations included in the leak told of the “PRISM” program for monitoring corporate networks. Allegations suggest that Prism was “voluntarily” granted access to data hosted by Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple, giving them access to “email, chat logs, any stored data, VoIP traffic, files transfers, social networking data, and the ominously named ‘Special Project'”. The corporations involved are vehemently denying any knowledge of the system’s operations, but few seem convinced – after all, a non-disclosure agreement with the NSA is a virtual license (and promise) to lie to the public.

Complementing this eavesdropping network is a recently-disclosed plan for a private CIA “cloud” server, hosted by Amazon, intended to give them all the powers of “big data”. This kind of technology would grant them cutting-edge abilities to analyze enormous amounts of diverse data and compile incredibly detailed profiles of individuals, even without input from networks like Prism. The only real obstacle now is a challenge from IBM, who wanted the contract for themselves, a sad display of who’s actually allowed to object to these initiatives, and why…

Big data“, of course, is a terrifying prospect on its own. As you read this, digital footprints you’ve left all over the internet are being compiled into personal profiles. This information is then sold, ostensibly for the purpose of marketing products to us. This is a personal security nightmare for three reasons. First, as more data is generated, analyzed and sold, these profiles are only going to get a lot more detailed. Second, the companies which hold this data are being bought out at an alarming rate (especially by Google). And thirdly, because it’s already been established that we can’t trust any of these companies to keep our data from prying government eyes.

Then there’s “Trapwire”, which networks surveillance cameras at “high value” locations and scans for “suspicious behavior”. This system came under scrutiny last summer after Wikileaks revealed its existence. Since then, some of the scarier suspicions about the system’s capabilities have (apparently) since been debunked (facial recognition, social media integration etc), but in this respect the abilities of “Trapwire” itself may not be the issue. Because this data, too, is handed over to the government it’s hard to imagine that more complex kinds of analysis aren’t run later at “fusion centres”.

The extent of the surveillance society that’s suddenly crept up on us is truly staggering. No totalitarian regime has ever had this quality or quantity of information to sift through, or the computer power to do so quickly. Whatever capacity they don’t have now they’ll likely have soon – it’s simply a matter of connecting all the pieces in a common, searchable format. Once that has been accomplished, all that’s left is to learn to decipher the data, and that’s becoming easier than ever.

The advances now being made in computer power are pushing the boundaries of science fiction. Last month Google purchased a “quantum computer” for NASA researchers, hoping to push the boundaries of performance. If they’re successful they’ll be able to solve unbelievably complex math equations faster any existing supercomputer, effectively rendering modern encryption useless. All that “PGP” and similar systems do is encode data with enormous prime numbers. If you can solve for every possible 256-bit prime in moments, breaking the code will be nearly effortless, leaving no individual, corporation or government safe.

It’s time to abandon all illusions we had about electronic privacy. The rules of this game are now abundantly clear, if they weren’t already. No electronic communications are safe, secure or private, ever. We are all being watched and profiled. This may sound paranoid, but at times a little paranoia can be useful. We don’t know and can’t know what level of monitoring is going on, so we need to assume the worst. It’s easy enough to say that you don’t have anything to hide, but right now you’re reading an “anarchist” blog. Is that enough to count as a strike against you? To subject you to increased scrutiny? Not a fun thing to have to consider, is it?

We’re entering uncharted waters. In an age where even X-Boxes come with cameras watching your living room which never really turn off, we may have to admit that Orwell’s grim vision has finally come true. Every networked device in its own way has become a set of eyes and ears for the Leviathan. This kind of “profiling” is already being used to coordinate drone strikes and assassinations around the world – how long will Obama and friends be able to pretend “Americans” are exempt? And why should we (the 95% of humans known to America as “foreigners”) care if they are? His regime is quickly gaining the ability to see, hear or kill anything, anywhere on earth, a power bordering on “godlike”.

Did you vote for this? Did you click “agree” to a long list of frightening propositions? Does this make you feel safe? Or does it leave you sad, scared and angry? Can you trust a government which reserves the right to spy on us at any time, but will crucify any would-be Bradley Mannings who’re willing to expose their secrets? Can you even trust the computer you’re reading this post on right now?

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. And Obama is watching you.

IMG_6639A few months ago I posted Chasseurs de Skins, a French documentary which followed the adventures of “Antifa” street-fighters in the 80s and 90s as they took the fight to emerging neo-fascist street gangs, a story which would repeat itself in countless nations (including ours) before the bonehead scourge was driven out of countless cities (including ours;). I had hoped that I could leave it there. Sadly, today Nazism is enjoying something of a resurgence, even here, and that’s something everybody needs to be aware of.

The beating death of 19-year-old activist Clement Meric in France last week at the hands of Neo-Nazi skinheads underscores this threat. Coupled with renewed protests by the EDL in Britain, recent homophobic violence in Russia and the frightening growth of the Golden Dawn in Greece, it makes for a frightening trend. Locally, we’re again seeing their symbols on our streets (see photo) and an upcoming bonehead show in Burlington later this month.

Since local expressions of white supremacy lately have tended to be somewhat coded (“14/88”, Norse runes, “apolitical” hate-rock bands etc) there have been a lot of arguments about “free speech” and the like. ARA/Antifa are often accused of being “macho”, violent and repressive in their own right, but it’s important to remember that this isn’t just a clash of ideas and fashion sense. Fetishizing hooliganistic violence may not set much of an example for the children, but when we’re faced with hooligans who fetishize genocidal violence, it sometimes becomes a necessity. When some of us say “never again”, we mean it.

Tonight’s flick comes to us from the BBC, proving once again that they’ll make a documentary about anything (sorry for the poor quality). Also, it’s narrated by the lead singer of the Angelic Upstarts!

This post is dedicated to all the brave punks, skinheads and others on the front lines of what has been described to me as a “war” in Hochelaga right now. Bet you didn’t know this was happening in one of Canada’s biggest cities…

enbridgepo

It’s no secret that the Hamilton Police Department has been having some “money problems” lately. Budget discussions got so heated this year they threatened to take Council to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission if they didn’t get the increase they wanted. Hiring dozens of new officers while increasing pay and benefits can’t be cheap, I suppose, and so the HPD has found itself a corporate sponsor: Enbridge.

Last February the pipeline giant quietly handed over $34 910 to sponsor a new “ATV unit” for the Hamilton Police, as well as around $10 000 in 2010 . At the time it received little coverage (six lines) but since word started spreading on social media earlier this week it ignited a bit of a fury. A demonstration is planned for Central Station this morning to call attention to the deal and to present an official complaint in writing.

Enbridge, of course, is currently attempting the very controversial Line 9 pipeline reversal in an attempt to get Tar Sands oil east, a path which cuts right through Flamborough, which fell under the HPD’s domain with Amalgamation. As they attempt to finish repairs and get flows started through the ageing pipeline this summer, it seems only natural to expect the same kind of trouble seen with the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway plans reaching south and east from Alberta. Opposition to their plans has been stronger and started earlier here in Hamilton than most, with environmental activists, city councillors and nearby Six Nations all taking a critical stance. One (short) road blockade has already taken place, and it seems pretty likely that they’re expecting more – apparently of the off-road variety…

Hamilton’s not the only municipality along the route to see recent donations from Enbridge – the trend is now so blatant that the Montreal Gazette put together an interactive map. This follows a typical strategy of attempting to buy favour with gifts and sponsorships, to give the impression of generosity and “being a good corporate citizen”. In many smaller, more desperate jurisdictions, it can be quite effective at avoiding serious discussion or at least dividing communities. Most cheques, though, weren’t this large been this large and most have gone to Fire Departments or other services. Only in a few others have they directed their cheques to police. This suggests that Enbridge doesn’t have a lot of hope for winning over the public or council here, and have therefore decided to focus a little more directly on establishing a relationship with the (similarly unpopular) police.

It’s only natural to ask at this point, what Enbridge will expect in return, though the answer seems self-evident. The message is very clear. Should anything happen this summer along Hamilton’s chunk of the pipeline route, an aggressive police response isn’t likely to hurt their chances of getting more gas-guzzling toys in the future.

This sets a terrifying precedent. What other companies, I wonder, might be interested in this kind of “public-private partnership”? I’m sure US Steel, Porter Airlines, RBC, Marineland and many others would love to write similar cheques. Corporate sponsorship is an uncomfortable enough issue when cola companies sign deals with our schools or cigarette manufacturers buy naming rights to cultural events, but corporate donations to police forces raises the stakes in a frightening way. Police carry guns and hold the power to ruin people’s lives, we cannot afford to have them owe favours.

There is a long and ugly history associated with this kind of collusion, and it needs to be brought up. From police involvement with strikebreaking campaigns to the harassment of “undesirable elements” (homeless people, addicts, people of colour etc) from trendy business districts. In one particularly disturbing recent scandal which came to be known as “kids for cash“, an American judge was convicted of taking a million-dollar bribe from the builders of two nearby “juvenile detention centres” to fill them by awarding unusually harsh sentences to youths brought before him. Closer to home, the Toronto Police Association caused an uproar back in 2000 with a fundraising drive they named “Operation True Blue. With a telemarketing drive, they offered “windshield stickers” in exchange $100 “donations”, a move even the mayor couldn’t resist referring to as “paying protection”.

The real problem with donations of this kind really comes down to the size of the numbers involved. Much like donations to election campaigns, the amounts actually given are tiny, often a tiny fraction of what they’d spend on an advertisement or PR campaign for the same purpose. The windfalls, though, can be enormous, easily reaching into the millions or billions (especially for Enbridge) for government action in their favour, making it virtually irresistible. This is exactly why we (are supposed to) have such strong laws against this sort of thing. With this kind of money on the line, though, people are almost certainly going to try.

The real irony here is that Enbridge has probably accomplished the opposite of what they set out to do. A large public donation like this was unlikely to go unnoticed for long and it’s now going to put the police under extra scrutiny during any Enbridge-related enforcement. With any luck, it will set a precedent of a different sort, forbidding such nonsense in the future. Hamiltonians aren’t stupid, and its going to cost a lot more than that to buy our city.

What could be more boring, more benign and family-friendly than Ikea?

You’d be surprised…

News outlets are now reporting that the furniture giant’s offices in France and Germany (along with news outlets) have been receiving letters threatening to blow up or burn down Ikea stores and warehouses if they don’t meet a list of demands including a multi-million dollar ransom, a wage increase for its workers and to start making “significant” contributions to charity. The letters were signed “Franck Steel” and “Robin Wood”, though they’re apparently unconnected with the similarly-named environmental groups who recently targetted Ikea over their use of rainforest wood.

I suspect right about now you’re wondering why Ikea’s charitable donations are worth the time of any self-respecting terrorist. I might be wondering that too if it weren’t for the reason I was searching the web for “Ikea” and “charity” on this fine evening. I recently got an email responding to a couple years-old posts where I brought up some unsavoury allegations about the past of Ikea’s founder, Ingvar Kamprad, regarding his links to the Nazi occupation of Sweden (later followed by Soviet prison-labour revelations). The email came from a young woman who’d made a short video about Ikea’s brilliant (if somewhat disingenuous) business model: on paper, it’s a “non-profit”.

See the video

Ikea is many things. It’s the world’s largest furniture retailer, the third largest purchaser of wood, and possibly the world’s largest charity. Ikea is owned by the INGKA foundation, also started by Kamprad, unofficially known as the world’s largest charitable organization (with ~$36 billion in holdings), though very little of that (a few thousandths each year) actually gets donated. The stated purpose? “To promote and support innovation in the field of architectural and interior design” – hardly a dire humanitarian emergency. This status allows the corporation to pay next to nothing in taxes on their billions in profits, and there’s something of a consensus in the financial world that it’s all little more than an elaborate tax-dodging ownership scheme under the control of Kamprad, one of the richest people on earth.

This charity’s generosity is being tested at the moment in Richmond, BC, where workers at one of the country’s two unionized Ikea outlets have been on strike for more than two weeks over wage demands. As far as labour relations, the company doesn’t have the best record, having been in trouble in the past for hiring anti-union law firm Jackson Lewis to fight an organizing drive at a factory in Danville, Virginia, illegally accessing police records to check if employees were “anti-globalists” or “eco-terrorists” and of course employing prison labour behind the old Iron Curtain.

Boring? Benign? Hardly. Who knew bad furniture could cause so much controversy? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, what’s hiding behind other suburban big-box store-fronts in the area. I could tell you that the world’s number one and two wood purchasers also have local outlets at least as close as the Plains Rd. Ikea, and nine of the fifteen big chains who’ve refused to sign onto the new Bangladesh fire safety accords are operating in our region. Then there’s Walmart and the Hudsons’s Bay Company, which could each fill many posts of their own. Behind the drywall and display stands, these retail chains are some of the most powerful institutions on the planet, so I suppose it isn’t all that surprising to find skeletons in their closets or modern-day Robin Hoods at their doorstep.

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