Radicalism, Trump and the Past

In  the era of Trump and Hillary, we may occasionally forget about strange and seemingly ‘radical’ political moments.  But there have always been times of flux, of discrete moments of radicalism. I’ve tried my best to engage with some of these moments and some of the literature that surrounds these moments.

“The term political radicalism (or simply, in political science, radicalism) denotes political principles focused on altering social structures through revolutionary means and changing value systems in fundamental ways.”

Below are a few examples of specific radical’ moments.

EARLY 19th CENTURY RADICALISM

For example, Peter Adams’s The Bowery Boys: Street Corner Radicals and the Politics of Rebellion (Praeger, 2005). A fly-under-the-radar expose of 19th century radicalism, the book has a lot of resonance now.

bowery boys

At the heart of The Bowery Boys – and of street corner radicalism – is Mike Walsh. His was a New York of ethnic and class division. In his 2005 book, Adams contends that the Industrial Revolution had fostered division by modifying the nature of the urban workplace. People felt disenchanted. Empty. The body was a vessel to be exploited.

He also holds that, by 1820, economic and political power had come to be controlled by a group of commercial and merchant elites (26). Walsh was an anti-intellectual rabble-rouser, who recognized and inveighed against this growing inequality. He voiced the frustrations of New York’s poverty-stricken immigrants and nativeborn alike with his incendiary newspaper Subterranean.

In short, Mike Walsh was radical in a radical time and place, a point
hammered home with vigor in this book. Adams cites Walt Whitman, one
of Walsh’s on-again, off -again supporters as writing, “At this moment New York is the most radical city in America” (63). Adams himself characterizes New York as “a center of radical thinking,” a safe haven rife with bohemians, trade-unionists, and utopian socialists (63). Walsh, a product of this environment, touted the Subterranean as “the most radical paper on earth” (xxi). And Walsh’s Bowery Boys, according to Adams, represented “a radical insurgency that threatened the public order and existing class relations” (xxii)

This sounds very familiar…

The Bowery Boys is also an instructive book for those readers interested in the history of Tammany Hall, the Democratic Party’s internecine squabbling, and as popularized by Martin Scorsese in 2002, the radical ruffians and scrappers that participated in certain Gangs of New York.

 

POST-WAR 60s RADICALISM

I’ve also been very interested in the women and activists of the 1960s & 1970s. Hence, my close reading of Anne Valk’s Radical Sisters: Second-Wave Feminism and Black Liberation in Washington, D.C. (Illinois Press, 2010)

Valk investigates numerous grass-roots movements and organizations, such as the D.C. Women’s Liberation Movement, D.C. Area Feminist Alliance, and Gay Liberation Front. She offers absorbing portraits of movement figures like Mary Treadwell and Etta Horn, but the core strength of Radical Sisters is the delineation of the synergy, cross-fertilization, and antagonism between strains of feminism in Washington, D.C. This monograph, Valk’s first, is thus instructive for those readers with a broad interest in social movement interactions and feminism in the United States.

The book capably captures the points of both convergence and departure that characterized ‘radical’ women’s groups in Washington, D.C. On the one hand, Valk skillfully articulates how dogmatism stunted collaboration and consequently the longevity of certain organizations (the Metropolitan Abortion Alliance). Liberal feminists, she suggests, wanted legal and statutory reform and displayed a “fundamental faith in the soundness of America’s economic and political institutions,” whereas radical feminists, often far more bellicose, wanted to free women “within both personal and public realms” (4).

radical sisters
Read a full review here: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/465454

Radical feminists, in some instances, advocated the toppling of America’s capitalistic economy to terminate patriarchy, racism, and imperialism, thereby creating conditions in which an inclusive democracy would blossom.

In some cases, pugnacious radical women established shelters for battered women, children’s programs, rape crisis centers, and feminist publications such as Aegis andQuest. They were taking control of their bodies.

On the other hand, Valk correctly contends that the scholarly distinctions between radical and liberal are misleading and somewhat overplayed. She illustrates how “the line separating liberals and radicals often blurred” (8) and takes care to clarify how flexibility and adaptation also characterized interactions between movements like the Washington Area Women’s Center and National Black Feminist Organization. In explicating these tensions and negotiations, Radical Sisters paints a picture of a dynamic and protean feminism in the 1960s and 1970s.

Valk’s narrative begins with an overview of antipoverty and civil rights activism in the early 1960s, describing how branches of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) supported women participants in these initial efforts. Together, these groups campaigned to influence welfare policies, reproductive rights, and the socioeconomic status of women. Meanwhile, Valk traces the concurrent rise of radical feminists, who not only took cues from liberal feminism but also served to spark a fiery exchange of ideas about ethnic and class division in Washington, D.C., social movements. She then addresses this evolving dialogue as she unpacks and highlights the Black Power era. “Most Black Power advocates reacted negatively to organized feminism,” she explains, “and black women sought to advance gender equality through racial oppression” (11).

Black-Power-Gossip

Finally, the narrative turns to lesbian feminism, another vital element of the fractionalized feminist landscape. According to Valk, the Furies, as the gay feminist collective was called, distinguished themselves by attacking homophobia in extant feminist organizations, igniting discussion around feminist philosophy, and ultimately alienating others in the broader Washington, D.C., feminist movement.

RECENT ‘BUSH’ RADICALISM

But then I got even more ambitious and modern with Radical in the White House?, which explored a number of books on George W. Bush and radicalism. These books included:

Fred Barnes. Rebel-in-Chief: Inside the Bold and Controversial Presidency of George W. Bush. New York: Crown Forum, 2006. ISBN 030-7336492

Bruce Bartlett. Imposter: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. New York: Doubleday Books, 2006. ISBN 978-0385518277

Sidney Blumenthal. How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0691128887

Sean Wilentz. The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008. New York: HarperCollins, 2008. ISBN 978-0060744809

I felt that clashes over George W. Bush’s legacy – his radical legacy – had begun in earnest.

Authors of all political colorations had begun crafting books and articles about the appalling mishandling of the U.S. economy, the tepid response to broken levees in New Orleans, and the early failed strategy in Iraq, among a host of other topics. Conservatives, for their part, were especially introspective about and critical of their agent in the White House. Michael Tanner, a writer at the Cato Institute in Washington, pilloried the Bush administration’s disloyalty to principles held by those on the Right, whereas others in the conservative establishment – for instance, Daniel Casse – strived to rebrand Bush as a pro-government conservative.

gwb

A significant element of this debate centered on Bush’s putative domestic and foreign policy radicalism. In fact, the topic was broached as early as January 2003. According to Bill Kellar, Bush, the ideological torch-bearer of Reaganism, had a high-quality “chance of advancing a radical agenda that Reagan himself could only carry so far.” Not only were political and economic conditions apposite for the continued promotion of a radicalized version of Reaganite doctrines, but the Bush administration in early 2003 proved adept in pivoting off scandal. In foreign affairs, moreover, Bush’s Middle East policy was considered a “radically new approach” to the region. According to Daniel Pipes, it was time for Americans to buckle up. Succeeding years were going to be a “wild ride.” By 2008, a number of authors – including Barnes, Bartlett, Blumenthal, and Wilentz – began to address the thrills and perils of that ride.

It appears Bush was a radical of various shades. He audaciously and radically bucked the approval of the conservative establishment because he believed in the veracity of his own ideas: on prescription drug entitlements, education policy, and Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, just to name three examples. Yet Bush also oversaw the enactment of hefty tax cuts, first in 2001 and then again in 2003, and these measures – historic in size and scope – symbolized to moderates and liberals a radicalized adaptation of President Reagan’s economic conservatism. Moreover, after his “bullhorn moment” at Ground Zero in 2001, Bush embarked on a radical foreign policy that not only expanded the wartime powers of the presidential office but also included the sanctification of torture and domestic spying.

bush bullhorn

This stimulating and provocative selection of George W. Bush books asks us to acknowledge wildly disparate views of Bush and his administration. The first, a macabre vision, holds Bush as an obdurate radical ideologue who oversaw the precipitous economic and moral decline of the nation.

The second, by contrast, casts Bush as a transgressive conservative, a man driven not by dogma, but rather by a desire for results, for positive conservative outcomes in American society – and by whatever means necessary, including government intervention. His radicalism thus lay in his willingness to defy the shrill cries of his own base. The third view, Bartlett’s forceful argument, holds that Bush was a disloyal scoundrel – in effect, a liberal – and it condemns the president for his very lack of radicalism.

Bush was pretty serene about the whole thing. As he told Bob Woodward: “History. We don’t know. We’ll all be dead.”

The debate continues.

Now, however. Now.

The era of Trump. And Clinton. And Sanders. In 2016, we have a different version of radicalism. According to National Review, “Sanders and Trump Have Risen from the Wreckage of a Broken Culture” and suggests pop culture can “normalize” radicalism with “astonishing speed.” Trump, for his part, has called for a Radical Islam Commission.  He’s also been recast as a Marvel super-villain.

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Let the good times roll.

A blast from the past…

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Legal pot won’t affect workplace drug testing, expert says

In today’s Star Phoenix, Alex MacPherson reports on mandatory drug testing in the workplace.

It’s a thoughtful piece and useful for the business community.

Drug-test-Results-Report

The legalization of marijuana will raise numerous issues in the business community, in labour law, and among unions and union members, including pre-employment and random drug testing.  We can see just how complex this will be when we take a look at the United States.

In June of last year, Colorado’s Supreme Court found it legal for a given company to fire an employee who has legally smoked marijuana. But here’s the thing: this shouldn’t be viewed as a sign that employers in every state will have the right to fire employees who use marijuana under the protection of state laws. The reason is that Colorado has its own specific set of labour laws and marijuana laws that led to the court’s finding. 

Basically, different states have different laws when it comes to the consequences for employees who test positive for drugs. Take Maine: the law there prohibits companies from firing employees the first time they test positive, and requires them to offer an opportunity to enter rehab.

Read MacPherson’s article.

drug-testing

SMOKE AND MIRRORS – MORE ON VAPING

Last year I had opinion-editorials published in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix and elsewhere. Both focused on “vaping,” Oxford English Dictionary’s word of 2014.

My take was this: we need to think more clearly about e-cigarettes in Saskatoon – as well as the wider world. The government needs to get proactive. We, as consumers, should also think about them more critically. Essentially, we need to cut through all the smoke and mirrors.

300px-Humphrey_Bogart_by_Karsh_(Library_and_Archives_Canada) imagesarticle-1316595870295-0E038E5700000578-348441_466x436

Now, Saskatoon’s city council is voting (that is, tonight folks) on “a vaping ban” in the city.

As reported by the local paper, “If city council approves a proposed change to the local smoking bylaw, use of electronic cigarettes — also known as vaping — will be banned anywhere in Saskatoon that regular cigarettes are. The change, which will be considered at Monday’s council meeting, would expand the city’s Smoking Control Bylaw to include vaping as of Jan. 1, 2016. It would make vaping prohibited in public buildings, bus shelters, schools, businesses and other places cigarettes are currently not allowed.”

So, big changes are afoot here. And these changes could influence the smoking of traditional cigarettes at the local and provincial level. Indeed, many supporters of e-cigs make the case that the new technology deters relapses.

The Star Phoenix also quotes a local “vaping” business owner, Jim Wollf, who said he understands the argument that vaping puts unnatural chemicals into a person’s body, but argued it should be looked at as a harm-reduction strategy.

This is exactly the problem that my opinion-editorials have tackled. Here’s a taster:

“In September 2014, federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose called for more research on e-cigarettes from the Commons standing committee on health. Last month, the committee released its initial report, which called for an end to the legal grey zone that surrounds the technology in Canada and the implementation of a new set of rules that balances the benefits and risks of “vaping.”

Premier Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan government would be wise to take the committee’s advice and do the same. In their brief history, e-cigarettes have proven to be divisive products. They have raised serious challenges for consumers, politicians and health officials. It is time, however, to cut through the fog and for the provincial government to get proactive.”

 

Dallas Buyers Club and Saskatoon Marijuana

I just penned a short piece on Dallas Buyers Club and the current debates about medical marijuana in Saskatoon, SK for the Star Phoenix.

Dried Buds
Dried Buds

With the federal election fast approaching, the Harper government’s move to enlarge Canada’s marijuana industry, and the RCMP’s potential actions against dispensaries here in Saskatoon, a lot is happening!

 

The piece begins this way:

In the award-winning 2013 movie, Dallas Buyers Club, we are exposed to heroic patient activism during the AIDS crisis in the U.S. Based on the true story of AIDS-stricken Ron Woodroof, a hard-partying Texas tradesman, the film shows a strikingly thin Matthew McConaughey battle his sickness and the legal authorities in Texas.

images

Woodroof, who’s unhappy with his illegally purchased AIDS medicine, and on the edge of death, seeks out alternative and experimental drugs from a doctor in Mexico. Then Ron, being the savvy entrepreneur that he is, quickly establishes a club (a dispensary) to sell his unregulated, sometimes dangerous, imported medicines. In doing so, he operates outside the law and is forced to confront the existing power structure of drug regulation. At one point in the film, Ron storms a town hall meeting of citizens, drug company leaders, and regulators and starts finger-pointing. “People are dying. And y’all up there are afraid that we’re gonna find an alternative without you.”

Saskatoon’s current struggle with illegal marijuana dispensaries has many parallels.

Mark Hauk, who operates Saskatoon’s first medical marijuana dispensary, is one of 13 pot club owners across Canada who has recently received a notice from Health Canada warning of possible RCMP raids.

These stores and clubs are illegal because they procure and sell their products outside the federal medical marijuana system, which was overhauled and expanded last year to allow industrial-scale production of pot products that are mailed directly to licensed patients.Dallas-Buyers-Club-poster-2013-movie-poster-HD

While this system was certainly upgraded through the Harper government’s Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulation, there are still areas for improvement.

According to Neil Boyd at Simon Fraser, “…it is really quite bizarre that they’re using a mail-order system for marijuana as medicine; that’s not the way medicine is usually dispensed. Medicine is usually dispensed through a visit to a physician and through a pharmacy.”

The entire opinion-editorial, which is called “Pot problems have a familiar ring,” can be found here.

The Canadian Election and Sask Marijuana

The federal election is going to have a profound impact on Saskatchewan’s marijuana industry. So writes D.C. Fraser in a new article for the Regina Leader-Post.

I told Fraser during an interview for the story that “Depending on what the winner suggests about medical marijuana legislation, (it will have) a direct impact on the economy, and on this sector of the economy…”

In many ways, SK has the potential for tremendous growth in the realm of medical marijuana and I’m genuinely intrigued to see what happens in the next few years.

A link to the full Leader-Post article is here.

Dried Buds
Dried Buds

Cannabis Conundrum in Canada

I recently wrote on Canada’s changing medical marijuana laws for Alternet.org and a number of other sources. See below:

On June 11, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canadians with a valid prescription could take medical marijuana in other forms besides just a dried form.

Dried Buds
Dried Buds

In short, the Supreme Court enlarged the definition of medical marijuana, meaning restrictions on extracts and derivatives are now gone and brownies, cookies, shakes are no longer illegal.

And the Canadian government wasn’t pleased.

Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose scolded the Supreme Court and told the press she was “outraged” by the ruling.

“Let’s remember, there’s only one authority in Canada that has the authority and the expertise to make a drug into a medicine and that’s Health Canada,” she said during a press conference.

“Marijuana has never gone through the regulatory approval process at Health Canada, which of course, requires a rigorous safety review and clinical trials with scientific evidence.”

She also asserted that the Supreme Court’s decision “normalizes” medical marijuana, something that she and the Conservative government would continue to fight against.

Devil's_Harvest
A 1942 Film, directed by Ray Test

This response was not a surprise. Ambrose, who has been at the forefront of Canada’s current drug war, has overseen the passage of regulations in October 2013 that have prevented any heroin-assisted addiction therapy outside of limited trials. She has delayed the introduction of e-cigarettes into the marketplace. And she has pushed for more regulations on prescription drug abuse.

From a political perspective, the Supreme Court decision could be interpreted as a rebuke of the Conservative Party’s tough-on-crime, anti-drugs strategy. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been waging a Canadian War on Drugs since 2007 and the Safe Streets and Communities Act includes mandatory minimum sentences for possession of pot.

Considering the Conservative Party’s approach, then, Rona Ambrose’s reaction was predictable. She, along with the Tories, start from a position that regards cannabis as a “drug of abuse” rather than a drug of “potential use.”

At the same time, the Liberals, led by Justin Trudeau, have advocated an evidence-based approach to marijuana and is promoting its legalization and controlling access.

As the federal election in the fall grows nearer, the cannabis issue – and its use in the medical marketplace – will surely become heightened.

But is the story of medical marijuana purely a political issue in Canada? Not really. The medical establishment in Canada continues to grapple with the stigmatization and lack of evidence surrounding cannabis.

It’s important to be clear. Medical marijuana is not approved as a medicine by Health Canada, although there is a growing body of clinical evidence regarding its pain-alleviating effects.

As such, physicians in Canada have struggled with the science and ethics of medical marijuana. At the 147th annual meeting of the Canadian Medical Association in Ottawa last August, many doctors expressed serious reservations about prescribing marijuana.

Some doctors said they felt threatened or intimidated into signing prescriptions, whereas others felt as though patients were shopping for doctors. Worst of all, there were reported cases of malfeasance, where doctors charged their patients for a prescription.

The result of this is that the CMA remains divided on, if not outright opposed to being the gatekeepers of medical marijuana.

Just like Americans, in the years ahead Canadians are going to have to negotiate the politics of pain, pot, and pills. The fall election – a full year before the U.S. presidential election – will feature themes of consumer protection and drug regulation, the right to choose one’s medication and the government’s responsibility to protect Canadians.

The Supreme Court decision in early June made the issue of medical marijuana a lot more intriguing.

This article can also be viewed at http://www.alternet.org/drugs/canada-medical-cannabis-conundrum