Thursday, September 3, 2015

After Election Speculations

Andrew Coyne Wrote an interesting article, on which a number of people have commented, about the uncertainly that might prevail even after the election. Coyne, though he has sometimes been a rather mindless supporter of the Conservative government, has become enlightened enough to understand the depth of Harper's duplicity. He has finally realized that this mentally disturbed, power obsessed Prime Minister might do almost anything to hold on to power including trying to form government even after an election loss, refusing to recall parliament, or pressuring the GG into calling another election.

Let me just say that I take Coyne's musings to the next level and suggest that Harper could even attempt to actually nullify the election results themselves, or (more drastically) avoid an election loss by doing something many imagine is inconceivable such as orchestrating a fake "terrorist" attack or finding a way to pull the writ at the last moment. (No one should forget that there is evidence, for example, that the Republicans paid the Iranians to hold the hostages until after the election battle between Carter and Reagan) None of this might be an issue anyway because the depth of Conservative voter fraud might be so extreme that they know that they have the election in the bag anyway, and they are just going through the motions.

Let's assume, however, that by some miracle the Cons do lose the election. Then what? Well let me answer Coyne's last question first. I don't think that either of the other parties would prop up a Conservative government. It seems to me that Trudeau has nearly blown the whole election by supporting the Harper government on one issue (Bill C-51), any wholesale support for Harper would, I believe, destroy the Liberal Party of Canada once and for all. They have surely watched the example of the LibDems in the UK, who four years ago looked like they had a bright future and now look like a defunct political organization. Regardless of Mulcair's dubious political style and questionable past, I don't think he would prop up a Con government either, for the simple reason that such an act would also destroy the future for the NDP and probably bring the Liberals eventually back to power.

However, none of Coyne's other post-election notions seem far-fetched to me. I have certainly been laughably wrong in my political prognostications before. And maybe, just maybe, if Harper ended up with fewer seats than the Libs or the NDP, or both, he would gracefully bow out. It would be drastically out of character for him to do so. However, he may figure that he has done the necessary damage to the Canadian government and figures it will never recover anyway so it doesn't matter if he retires now. On the other hand, I don't actually think Harper is that clear and calculating at this point. I think, as is the case with so many such men, power has driven Harper crazy and he actually sees himself now as the lifetime Prime Minister. I thus suggest that he will do anything, and I really mean anything, to hold on to power.

However, at this point such speculation is little more than entertainment. No amount of anticipation really prepares you for the political chaos of a constitutional crisis. Though, I hope we can say, at the very least, that nothing will entirely surprise us.

Perhaps our Hearts Need breaking to remind us we are human. . .

The refugee crisis in the Middle-East and Europe is a complex issue. International turmoil, political economy, deep-seated historical conflicts. You can't blame people for feeling bewildered by the events they see unfolding. As they used to say about the issue of Northern Ireland: if you're not confused, you don't know what is going on.

But this isn't a complex issue -

This couldn't be simpler - it's a dead child, a child who should be laughing and running around in joyful wonder, happy to be alive and revelling in boyhood pleasures. This little boy's death isn't complicated, it breaks our hearts in as straightforward a way that any event can. 

It speaks to our Western privilege and general callousness, that this has been going on for years in the Middle-East, yet it is only when it begins to affect Europe that we are collectively shocked and begin to really take notice. But let's put that aside for a moment and let this sink in. 

You don't have to be a expert on politics to understand. You don't need to know the history of Middle-East or the role that Europe has played in these conflicts to know this is bad. You simply have to be a human being with all the empathy and compassion that goes along with it. 

These are people. They are traumatized, hungry, vulnerable, worried, frightened, and in need of help. 

You can judge a people by how they treat the most vulnerable among them. And we will surely be harshly judged. 

Now, after you have looked into these faces, and perhaps wept for the fate of that poor drowned boy, return your mind to the politics of this and look into the face of this criminal. 

This is the man who rejected the refugee application of the boy and his family. This is the man who has spent years tirelessly trying to deny healthcare to refugees, and continually misrepresented those refugees to whom he wanted to deny benefits as "fake claimants," even when they weren't. This is the man who has aided Harper and his Government in ignoring thousands and thousands of those in need and take in only a paltry number of refugees from conflicts which are in part a result of Western greed and carelessness. 

And perhaps the most sickening part of all is that these politicians call themselves Christians, as many callous, mean-spirited rightwingers do. But Jesus didn't assume that beggars were shiftless and lazy. Jesus didn't stand above the lepers and condemn their personal hygiene and assume that they were responsible for their fate. The ethics of Christ don't allow us to look to assign blame or second guess people's motives. Rather, Christian ethics require only this - help people, reach out your hand and lift people up, you are your brother's and your sister's keeper and you can never do enough. 

Fate can be heartless. We don't have to be.  

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Sociology of Neo-Liberalism in One Easy Lesson. . . .

Looking back now over many years, I think we can say that Stephen Harper’s goal during his time in politics has been fairly simple and clear. The overarching goal has been to make government less able to respond to the social needs for the people. This is, essentially, the very purpose of the Neo-Liberal agenda. Upon reflection this goal seems rather bizarre. Why would someone want to weaken a fundamental socioeconomic institution to the point where it can no longer properly respond to the population and can no longer provide social and economic skeleton of society?

By weakening government’s ability to respond to peoples’ needs, Neo-Liberals make people more vulnerable to the demands of the market. By weakening the education system and gradually taking away elements of the social-safety net you make people more vulnerable to the demands of employers, you make them less able to, for example, demand higher wages, organize their workplace, and be choosy about what kind of jobs they will take. But, again, this seems, prima facie, a rather strange objective. But to understand this goal you have to understand the social model within which Neo-Liberals are operating.

Neo-Liberalism is, in a way, a symptom of a wider disease; the disease of corporatism. Over the past century or so the (so-called) public corporation has gradually become the primary socioeconomic institution, the one that is taking over from the old institutions such as the church, the family, and even the individualist entrepreneurial spirit. Where ‘good’ Catholics were once the children of the Church, Neo-Liberals are children of the big corporation. They see the corporation as the primary institution for the creation of wealth and power, the model on which social behavior and socioeconomic ambition must be based. Thus, Neo-Liberals work toward the supremacy of this corporate model. The entire social pattern of Neo-Liberals, and the pattern that they are trying to foster in others is one of anticipatory-socialization toward pleasing, toward fitting in to the institution of the corporation.

Thus, to Neo-Liberals, their agenda of weakening government seems like common sense. If the corporation is the primary social institution, the institution by which society is to create wealth and by which individuals are to gain financial and social success, then it simply makes sense to strengthen corporate power over the whole of society. It makes sense to Neo-Liberals to weaken people’s ability organize, to demand higher wages and better working conditions, to be choosy about what jobs they take and what hours they work. By weakening people’s ability in this regard you strengthen the corporation’s power over society in general, thus further strengthening the primary socioeconomic institution on which Neo-Liberals see society to be now based.

The majority of conservatives in society really don’t understand that this is what is going on. To do so would be to commit the crime of sociology. The danger of understanding the underlying social changes that the Neo-Liberal agenda implies is what is at the root of contemporary conservative ‘know-nothingism.’ If people understand the root causes of social behaviors there is a danger that they will understand what is really happening and the implications of making the corporation the central social institution. In the middle-ages the average person certainly didn’t understand that the Inquisition was a very basic way for the Church to broaden and strengthen its overall social, political, and economic power. Rather the average person in the middle-ages believed what they were told, to wit., society was full of sinners and they needed to weed them out in order to strengthen society. Similarly today, average people just ape Neo-Liberal talking points, such as - “Taxes are too high, we need to lower taxes.” They don’t understand that by aping such talking points they are actually contributing to a fundamental shift in our model of socioeconomic power.

Perhaps more important than what your average gullible conservative thinks is the question of what you average left of centre citizen thinks. You see, by failing to understand the sociology of Neo-Liberal corporatism, many traditional left of center citizens are also falling into the grip of the changing social model. Thus, the NDP, for example, is becoming a Neo-Liberal political party not because of any one particular policy, but because it has begun to operate in the very mode of corporatism. By falling into the discourse of low-taxes, balanced budgets, fiscal restraint etc., NPD supporters are falling into a classic case of anticipatory-socialization and they are only strengthening the corporate model that is at the very heart of Neo-Liberalism. By changing the priorities of your discourse you change the discourse itself, and when you change discourse you change understanding. This corporate model has also become a central element in the very organization of the NDP and other ‘left of center’ political institutions. By aping the organizational structures of corporatism, such institutions are actually embracing the very model itself.

The reason that it has been so difficult to change political discourse and political priorities in recent years is the very same reason that the Inquisition lasted for so long. When you questioned the legitimacy of the Inquisition (besides putting yourself in personal danger) you were questioning what had become, for many people in Europe, common sense. For most people a challenge to the institution of the inquisition was a challenge to what people saw as common sense notions such as sin and evil. People saw evil and sin all around them, they were there, and the Inquisition was rooting them out and making society better as a result. Thus it was very difficult for the Renaissance Humanists to make people understand it was the very model of apostolic power that needed to change. Similarly, it is very difficult to make your average, say, NDP supporter understand that it is the very model of corporatism that has to be challenged, and it has to be challenged in the way we talk and the way we organize. Otherwise, the sociology of Neo-Liberalism goes merrily on. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Deficits, the left, and Twitter confusion. . .

I got into an interesting, though entirely unproductive, twitter exchange this morning concerning the issue of the Left and balanced budgets. It all began when someone posted a link on the issue of balanced budgets and the leftwing. The accompanying twitter statement was "if you think the NDP is rightwing to balance a budget, you need a history lesson." My simple reply was that "it is not rightwing to balance a budget, but it is rightwing to insist that all budgets have to be balanced." This set off a small storm in a teacup exchange with a blogger who I respect but who, I think, was confused about what I was saying. (To be fair, this confusion is easy to generate on Twitter where complex issues cannot be explained.)

Now, of course, it is easy to see that many leftwing governments have balanced budgets and many rightwing governments have failed to balance budgets. It is not rightwing or leftwing to balance a budget. But what I believe is rightwing is to buy the Neo-Liberal discourse on "fiscal responsibility" or "balanced budgets." For years, regardless of their poor performance on the issue, the corporatists and Neo-Liberals have attempted to generate the false notion that balancing budgets is an objectively good thing. But, of course, it isn't. The desirability or undesirability of a balanced budget depends entirely on the circumstances. It would be great, I suppose, if we were always awash with lots of cash and could always balance budgets while making the investments necessary for a better future. But those circumstances don't obtain and sometimes it is necessary to fall into deficit. The rightwing, (again, despite their poor performance on the matter) have attempted to generate a pubic discourse that always condemns deficits. And my claim is simple - it is rightwing to buy into this discourse.

Now, again to be fair, the original twitter post was one among many that is attempting to counter the rightwing claim that left of centre governments are 'fiscally irresponsible' and always fall into structural deficits. But there is something else at stake here. I think that many NDPers have pushed that envelope so far that they are failing to see that Mulcair has tipped the party into the realm of rightwing discourse. If you don't believe me watch the exchanges this week on CBC's Power and Politics between Andrew Thomson (the NDP candidate for Eglington-Lawrence) and the Liberal spokeswomen. (I am sorry, I can't remember her name offhand.) Thomson, a former NDP Minister from Saskatchewan, went after the Liberals like a good-old fashioned Tory for suggesting that they might run a temporary deficit in the cause of infrastructure spending. Instead of accepting the real nature of the Liberal claim (that they would earmark particular deficit spending for specific and temporary infrastructure programs) he went on like a Tory about how this was an open faucet of planned structural deficit spending. These attacks (and they went on for several days) from a high-profile NDP candidate, is a fairly basic demonstration of the way in which the NDP has adopted the rightwing discourse of balanced-budget madness.

Of course it is not rightwing to balance a budget or leftwing to run a deficit. But what my blogging colleague either didn't understand or intentionally misconstrued was my claim that it IS rightwing to fall into the discourse that budgets have to be balanced. Now, granted, I have never heard Mulcair specifically say that (though I have heard other NDP supporters make just such a claim). But what I was pointing out was that the NDP leadership has fallen into a rightwing discourse of balancing budgets as an objectively good thing. (The professed confusion on the part of my Twitter opponent was the claim that because I said that it is rightwing to INSIST that budgets have to be balanced, that I had therefore implied that it is not leftwing to balance a budget - unfortunately, it was a confusion hardly worthy of his intelligence) And this discourse has been nowhere more in evidence than in the NDP attacks on the Liberals for outlining a fairly modest (and actually very rational) plan for running a few small targeted deficits.

We cannot presently know how an NDP government would act once in power. Neither can we really know if Trudeau would, like past Liberals Governments, shift decidedly right once in power. What we do know (if we are paying attention) is that the NDP has shifted significantly in its discourse and accepted the corporatist discourse that eschews deficits as a terrible thing and lauds balanced budgets as though they will save the world.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The (un)fortunate Luck of our Oligarch. . .

The widespread belief that Stephen Harper is some kind of political genius does not even vaguely conform to anything in reality. In fact, I suggest that like most petty oligarchs he is not even above the average intelligence of a ambitious and driven political opportunist. However, people often mistake focused devotion to a cause, or extreme ambition for intelligence.

Instead of being a political "genius," Harper has built a political career out of a very fortunate (for him) confluence of events. The first, and most obvious, of these fortunate occurrences was the fact that Harper won the leadership of a newly united rightwing party at a time when the Liberals had been in power for a long time and were widely perceived as scandal ladened and politically out of gas. Furthermore, almost his entire time in power has been spent at a time when the Liberal Party, which was for so long thought of as the "natural" party of power, has been through a difficult time of trying to rebuild itself, a process that it hasn't been particularly successful at accomplishing. Harper succeeded on the backs of two rather hapless Liberal leaders neither of which resonated with the public. And perhaps more importantly, the second of those leaders (Michael Ignatieff) was arguably so rightwing that Liberal Party ceased for a time to have any real reason for existing. Then, more recently, Harper had one of his greatest strokes of luck of his entire career when Trudeau made what I think may turn out to be the single greatest political mistake in Modern Canadian history (outshining even Hudak's one hundred thousand layoff promise and Prentice's stunning effort to blame average Albertans for his Party's financial mismanagement). Trudeau's support of Bill C-51 (regardless of how you feel about the bill itself) could be, I believe, the undoing of the Liberal Party itself. For years the Liberal Party was perceived by people on the left and in the centre as being little more than a rubber-stamping committee of Harper's government. Under Dion and Ignatieff the Liberals voted over and over to support Harper's legislative program. Whatever the reasons for this support, it turned out to be, I think, a colossal mistake that made the very existence of the Liberal Party seem meaningless to many. Then the Liberals got lucky: Harper won a majority and Trudeau took over the leadership of the party. The Liberals could look forward to a period of stability for their rebuilding and Trudeau, for a change, did seem to resonate with the public and he had a chance to rebuild the party as something distinct from the Conservatives. Sure he made some gaffs but what politician, particularly young ones, don't? Things were basically going well until Trudeau made a fatal error. In supporting Bill C-51 Trudeau suddenly reiterated all the negative feelings that had caused the real decline of the Liberal Party in the first place - he rubber stamped a Conservative bill, and not just any bill but one that is a fundamental and profound attack on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a bill that former PMs, constitutional experts, international rights groups, and almost every jurist in the country have said is dangerous and wrong-headed. Trudeau essentially handed the head of the Liberal Party to Harper on a plate. It wasn't a genius move on Harper's part, most rightwing politicians would have tried this. Rather, it was just a very blatant mistake on Trudeau's part. Harper must have been elated at his luck.

But Harper has enjoyed other political good fortune that has kept him in power and made him seem like a political master-mind to those who don't pay enough attention. Perhaps Harper most unexpected good fortune was that he has faced what I would argue is the most compliant media of all Western Democracies. Harper has a dark and troubling past that has never become an issue with the media. Perhaps more importantly, he has treated the media and public with absolute disgust and disrespect with almost no blowback for over ten years. I have lived in both the US and England during turbulent times and it is almost impossible to imagine the media of those countries giving a leader a continual pass on so many things. Harper has also been lucky in the sense that our proximity and close cultural association with the United States allowed much of the rightwing extremism of that nation to creep into our own culture. This has helped Harper take advantage of a wing-nut base that has increased as the Tea-Party wackiness in the US has gained more power.

On top of all this political good fortune, Harper has engaged in good-old-fashioned political corruption, fraud, and illegality to maintain his power.

But here is where all of Harper's luck coalesces: Harper is often been said to be a master of "message control," but this is a misunderstanding of Harper's underlying strategy. The idea of message control is only a part of Harper's real political cause which is the continual limiting and destruction of information at every level. Harper's political efforts are always centred on undermining the free flow of information. End the long-form census, muzzle civil servants, muzzle his own MPs, refuse to reveal basic financial information to the House or to the People, stop funding adult literacy programs, don't talk to average Canadians, never talk to the media in a meaningful and unvetted way, undermine the freedom of information; these are all part of Harper basic strategy - destroy the life-blood of democracy: information.

Let me make this clear - this is NOT political genius, it is just the basic program of all dictators and oligarchs throughout history. It is a strategy which all effective politicians are aware of, but which only those afflicted with a fundamentally anti democratic spirit are willing to take advantage of.

The only constant being change, Harper's cabal must eventually fall. It is just in the nature of things. You can't limit information forever, particularly in a technologically driven society. Furthermore, I believe that the supremacy of Neo-Liberalism is coming to an end. Like capitalists always do, they let their greed destroy the basis of their power. People have been surprisingly willing to tolerate unequal political systems in modern times as long as they seem to be in a process of gradually generalizing the wealth. But over the past forty years as the wealth of the system seems to be doing the very opposite of this and concentrating in fewer and fewer hands, the system itself is generating dissatisfaction that will eventually lead to real change.

When Harper finally does fall, and when the younger generation begins to rebuild, one thing we have to hope above all others is we can put in place very basic protections of information so that a future maniac like Harper will not be able to cripple our system by keeping the nation in the dark.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The RCMP and the Banality of Evil . . . .

There has been increasing anxiety among many of us that the corruption of Mr. Harper goes much deeper than most suspected and that the RCMP has become an extension of Harper himself. I, and many of my fellow bloggers, have written about this issue in recent days and now Michael Harris has added his voice to the growing chorus.

Of course, many have been suspicious that this was what was going on for a long time, years in fact. Ever since the RCMP, against its own protocols, announced in the middle of an election campaign that they were investigating Ralph Goodale, a fact that arguably brought Stephen Harper to power, many of us have thought that there is something rotten in the state of policing in this country.

I once lived in El Salvador and I spent years studying development and the corruption of so-called 'third-world' regimes, and I understand just how effective this kind of corruption can be. In the end, despite the fact that people tout the international success of 'democracy,' many countries that are hailed as democracies are nothing of the sort. Even countries like Mexico (which has a much higher profile as a democracy than countries like, say, El Salvador or Honduras) is a state with a government that so effectively controls, in political terms, the upper echelons of its national police that it can hardly be called a democracy at all.

Unfortunately, the lessons that we can derive from the corruption of 'third-world' states are not at all encouraging. The fact is that once a government effectively controls a national police force in its own political interest, there is almost nothing that a domestic population can do about it. The fairly simple, and depressing, fact is that a government in such a position can do almost anything it wants, all the while claiming to be a democratically legitimate force. Harper's control of the RCMP, coupled with his gutting of Elections Canada means simply that he can steal the election in  host of ways and we are absolutely helpless to stop him. The effectiveness of such a regime of corruption explains why corrupt 'third-world' governments can so effectively hang on to power for decades. And, more's the pity, it also means when an opposition party does sometimes take over a government they are very often, by that time, so steeped in the corruption themselves that they just maintain the status quo.

We will know in the next few weeks if our democracy is even vaguely salvageable. To what extent will Harper suppress votes and/or use just plain fraud to win this election? And if it looks like these efforts will fail, will he have his personal police force announce that they are investigating opposition leaders for spying or some other trumped up charge? Or will he throw caution to the wind and actually have Tom Mulcair arrested in the last week of the campaign? Or perhaps, as so many have suggested, Harper will opt for the politically less obvious tactic of announcing a major 'terrorist' plot in the closing weeks of the election? If any of these possibilities come to fruition we will have to face up to the painful fact that we have lost (for now) our democracy and that we will have to tell our children that we let a grey-haired, petty, self-interested, banally-evil man take away our country.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Conspiracy behind the Conspiracy. . . .

It is becoming increasingly clear and ominous that not only was the PMO involved in a bribery cover-up, and not only has the Prime Minister been consistently lying to the Canadian people, but that the RCMP has been acting at the behest of the Prime Minister. Michael Harris has written a great article today about the systematic way in which the Prime Minister has made lying central to his time in office.

But what he only touches upon, and what is becoming increasingly disturbing is the obvious way in which the RCMP has been acting as a branch of the PMO. When it was first revealed that Duffy was going to be facing bribery charges but Nigel Wright was not, the country did a collective double take. How could, we all wondered, a bribe be taken if a bribe wasn't given. When people wondered publicly about this strange contradiction, the Commissioner Bob Paulson assured us that it would all become clear in time. However, no explanation has ever been forthcoming, and anyone with any sense can smell a rat here. And now that the extent of the conspiracy has been made clear in court, this smells worse than ever.

There is, in other words, more than one conspiracy here. There are the ones that took place in the PMO, one to pay off Duffy's expenses and hide where the money came from, and the other to interfere with the audit. But the other, more ominous conspiracy, and the one few people are really talking about (and no one in the MSM) is the RCMP conspiracy to insulate the Prime Minister and the PMO from the full extent of the original wrong-doing. Harper's lawyer, Benjamin Perrin gave a sworn statement concerning the extent of those who knew of Wright's payment to Duffy. He had no conceivable motivation to lie about it, he just told what he knew. He then confessed to being shocked that the RCMP had ignored that information and publicly reiterated the PM's line that only Wright and Duffy knew of this conspiracy to pay off the money and then mislead the public into thinking Duffy had paid his own expenses. If the RCMP was, in fact, still an independent expression of the law, at the very least Wright would have been charged with bribery. But, more importantly, a raft of conspiracy charges would also have been laid.

It is now obvious to anyone who choses to look without a partisan eye that this country has been compromised in the most sinister, banana-republic fashion - the federal police force has lost its independence at the very highest level and become the plaything of the Prime Minister. They have intentionally ignored the real nature of the conspiracies inside the PMO and exonerated the people involved, all to avoid harming Stephen Harper. One can only imagine the real reasons that they even charged Mike Duffy. One must assume it was an effort to appear not entirely corrupt and to give the PM the ammunition to say that he had taken "appropriate action." Make no mistake, this makes all other national scandals in Canada pale in comparison. When you can't rely on the law enforcement system to act independently, when the Prime Minister and his cronies are above the law, that's when you know that the country is in deep, deep trouble. One can only hope, if Harper losses the election (and actually decides to voluntarily give up power and not stage some sort of coup) that the next Prime Minister will gut the management of the RCMP and begin a new unbiased investigation into the depth of this conspiracy. Otherwise, all really is lost.