Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Indigenous People, Palestine, and History's Judgments. . . .

             In 1840 the Comanche chief Buffalo Hump raised a huge party of warriors and began raiding towns in the Republic of Texas. During the raids they killed approximately 30 whites, nearly burned down the entire town of Linnville, stole hundreds of horses, and stole quiet a bit of bullion. The Great Raid of 1840, as it is now called, was one of the largest single raids by an organized ‘war party’ of  Native Americans in the history of Western “settlement.” And the killing and pillaging by the Comanche raiders was widely used as an illustration of Native “brutality” and “savagery” as the process of “settlement” went on through the rest of the 19th century.
            However, as we know now, the people of the West commonly used such events to characterize the Native Americans as ‘savages,’ and ‘settler’s’ used the argument “we have a right to defend ourselves”” in their process of genocide. Very few people today, except the most racist, would ignore the fact that it was, in fact, the Native Americans who were defending themselves against an ongoing, concerted effort to take all their land and commit what amounted to genocide. We might look back and be saddened by the deaths of ‘average people’ who were just trying to live their lives at the hands Natives, but we are separated from the history enough to understand that what was really going on was genocide and that the relatively few numbers of whites that died in conflicts with the Natives, though sad for those people and their family members, amounted to the very small efforts that the Natives could go to in fighting against the theft of their land and the destruction of their culture. When Western “settlers” massacred Native communities with the claim of “defense” we know that such an argument could only be made by isolating  individual events from the backdrop of land theft and genocide. (Of course, racism against natives is still extremely wide spread and, sadly, even culturally accepted. However, eve those who have a racist, twisted, or radically misinformed view of North American Indigenous peoples, understand that it was, generally speaking, the Natives who were defending themselves, not the other way around.)
            But the realization of genocide and White atrocities has taken a long, long time. And we can, sadly, conclude that it was only once the theft of the land was assured that anyone began to listen to the idea that whites had acted atrociously and were, in fact, guilty of the worst kinds of human crimes. And this struggle continues even today as a case can be made that North American Governments continue to be guilty of ongoing crimes against humanity in their treatment of the Indigenous peoples.
            However, what I find saddest of all is that we have learned so little from our crimes against the Indigenous population of North America. Today in Palestine, the very same thing is going on. Almost all of the land of the Palestinians has now been taken with the exception of a few, very crowded and isolated areas. Like the Manifest Destiny of the Whites who came to North America, Israel seems bent on taking all the land of Palestine for itself and running the others off or killing them in the process. The Palestinians now live in a series of open-air prison camps and have very few resources at their disposal. Occasionally the Palestinians fight back with their meager resources against the most powerful, per-capita military in the world. And like the White “settlers” of the Old West, Israelis and their apologists claim that they are defending themselves against a “savage” enemy. But just as in the Old West, it is the Palestinians who are, in fact, defending themselves against a much more powerfully armed peoples who are hell-bent on taking all of their land until the Palestinians are little more than a handful of people with nothing to their name and subjugation becomes a really simple matter. It is another genocide, committed with a claim of moral righteousness, and it is no less savage or unjust than the committed against the Indigenous peoples of North America. They don’t want you to look at the “big picture.” They don’t want you to look at the historical facts. They don’t want you to see the maps which illustrated the gradual, but consistent swallowing up of Palestinian land against UN Directives and International Law. Like the White “settlers” of North American, Israel and its apologists want you to look at every effort by the Palestinians in complete isolation so they can mischaracterize it as savagery and characterize themselves as victims simply trying to “defend” themselves. All the while, they continue their illegal settlements, continue talking the land, and continue committing genocide while the West looks the other way.
            But if the human race is still here in a couple of hundred years, the destruction of Palestine will be seen as no less a crime than the destruction of the Indigenous cultures of North America. Perhaps more so. And the few of us who speak against it will be like those few Easterners who spoke against the brutal nature of Western Settlement, people on the right side of history at decidedly the wrong time.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Changing Winds. . . .

I have said for quite a while now that, unless something drastic happens between now and next October, I believe that the Liberal Party will form the next government. Events in recent by-elections further convinced me, and many others, that the political winds have changed in this country and that Brian Mulroney is probably correct in his assessment of Justin Trudeau as the so-called 'real-deal.' Olivia Chow had won her seat with an astounding twenty thousand votes, and under Trudeau the Liberal Party took it back with a comfortable 6500 hundred plus. This is a sure sign that Trudeau is appealing to NDP swing voters as well as disaffected Conservatives.

Harpers blistering, if tired and ineffective, attack on Trudeau this weekend at the Calgary Stampede, illustrates not only the desperation of the Conservatives regarding the clear change of wind, but also their startling inability to change their political strategy of smearing anyone who opposes their agenda. Harper's rather cringe-worthy attacks which included the old standby of "the Liberals will coddle the criminals," seems to generate an endless supply of sympathy for Trudeau and his followers. After nearly ten years of totally ineffective government under Harper and his Con-men, more and more Canadians seem to be increasingly alienated by the politics of anger and hate.

One of the strangest developments in recent months has been the apparent legal ineptitude of the HarperCons as they enact law after law that they seem to know violate the Constitution. Their 'damn the torpedoes' attitude regarding laws that they seem to know will be overturned is a grand illustration of their basic inability to responsibly govern Canada. More and more Canadians are seeing them for what they are - ideologues who are unconcerned with actual meaningful governance and are hell-bent on ramming through any ideologically motivated legislation even when it violates and the laws and the general values of the country as a whole.

The joke, of course, is that (as so often happens with radicals of any political stripes) the strategy could have worked if the Conservatives had taken a more inclusive, less combative approach to governing, one that respected the political system and traditions of the Westminster system of government. From what I am seeing, even more and more conservatives are seeing the Harper regime as not representing the values of Canada or conservativism. To say nothing of how the rest of the population feels.

I still contend that the moment the Conservative Party sealed its future failure was when Harper suddenly announced while on a trip overseas that he was upping the retirement age and beginning to de facto dismantle the federal pension system. But regardless of which hateful or incompetent debacle one points to as the moment of Conservative downturn, the winds have decidedly changed. In Ontario, the provincial Conservative Party was soundly defeated by appealing not only to negativity but to what is looking like an increasingly tired ideology of favouring corporations and the rich while real wages stagnate and average people are increasingly struggling.

Whether the Liberal Party would actually be any better for average people is a fairly open question. Either way, the winds really seem to have changed and the Conservative have demonstrated again and again that they have no intention (or ability) to change tack. The road to political failure is paved largely by those who were once successful but were unable to see the real sources of their success, and the real nature of their limitations.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Piketty, Capitalism, and the new fight. . .

I have never had much time for the so-called "neo-conservative" agenda. I am old enough to remember when Milton Friedman entered into mainstream culture and I always found the arguments ridiculous. I don't think it takes much brain-power to understand that eliminating taxes on the rich and on corporations is not going to create jobs or enrich the general population. And in a context of increasing globalization I actually think the argument is less convincing. But thanks to a gradual corporate strangle-hold on the media the voodoo economics of the new right gradually became the default position of most of the political spectrum. It has only been the drastic and obvious increase in social/economic/political inequality that has really woken up many people to the real results of the new-right agenda. Then with the global economic recession of 2008 and the massive increase in the wealth of the richest while the majority were suffering badly, the real economic issues began to enter into mainstream discourse.

Now we have a new economic poster-boy in the face of Thomas Piketty, author of the meticulously researched Capital in the Twenty-first Century.  I think Piketty is a game-changer and here's why. Economists and activists have been warning for decades of the dangers of the new-right agenda. Many thoughtful commentators have pointed out that trickle down doesn't work (and let's face it, in the final analysis that is all the new-right agenda amounts to; make sure that the rich and the corporations have lots of money and the rest of us will get some), and many have even used analysis and statistics to demonstrate that income inequality is growing, innovation is slowing, and capitalism and democracy are suffering as a result. But Piketty is the first major, post-recession high-level economist to demonstrate through meticulous research with analyses decades of capitalist development, that inequality is an inevitable result of new-right policies and that inequality will significantly and rapidly increase unless capitalism enacts certain necessary reforms. From what I understand, what Piketty's argument partly rests on is a fairly simple formula that can be expressed this way - capital returns increase faster than economic development. Therefore as returns on capital increase exponentially, the more capital someone has the more they make and the less able they are to spend it and the less incentive they have to use it for development. This is by no means a revolutionary idea and in fact Karl Marx himself understood this when he talked about the concept referred to as the "relative impoverishment of the workers." Marx observed the same phenomenon and said that one of the results would be that the majority would become increasingly impoverished in relation to those holding the capital. And it did happen for a long time. But Marx, understandably, did not anticipate progressive taxation and huge state investments in education, two of the primary methods of decreasing relative impoverishment (or in today's parlance - inequality). And for a long time, it looked as though, at least at a national level, the force or tendency toward relative impoverishment, or inequality, would be mitigative by these two primary processes of state intervention. Then the new-right changed all that, and as they took control of the media they began to espouse this low-taxation, pro-corporate agenda. And because inequality had receded so significantly, many people had essentially forgotten the lessons of the socialists and social democrats (and, of course Marx) and the rich were once again able to begin to construct an oligarchy around their wealth and power. The reason that Piketty might be a game changer is that he is the first economist to gain a high, international profile in the post-recession era who has once again outlined how this process of oligarchy building takes place and how it is the direct result of less-progressive taxation, and decreases in state investment in education and other benchmark measures of quality of life and equality.

One need not be a Marxist, by any means, to understand the process of relative impoverishment, and creeping inequality. In fact, an increasing number of Capitalists are taking the problems seriously, including people at the World Bank (hardly a bastion of left-wing ideology). Because just like those who built the New Deal in the US, many capitalist are smart enough to understand that the building of a new capitalist oligarchy is a threat to capitalism itself.

Because of globalization, capitalist reforms will be more difficult in our era than they were in the past. This is because of the very simple fact that the rich can move their wealth so easily and that corporations can play nations off each other in what becomes a race to the bottom. But realization and understanding of a problem is the first step toward its solution. And I would contend that if those in power don't want another era of revolution and/or fascism, they will begin to see the need for a change.

In the election that is going on in Ontario at the moment we can see a microcosm of the cultural debate that is swirling around us. And for the first time in as long as I can remember people across the political spectrum are questioning the rightwing orthodoxy. When the Conservatives say that they will gut the public service and lower taxes for the rich and for corporation and that wealth will just "naturally" trickle down to the rest of the people, fewer and fewer believe them. After all, we have been lowering corporate and wealth taxes for forty nearly forty years now and the good jobs have been disappearing at the same rate. The relative wealth of the majority has been sliding for decades and the rich have been getting shockingly richer. Meanwhile even supposedly rightwing economic advisory groups have been beginning to point out that infrastructure investment is becoming painfully necessary, state investment in jobs wields much greater returns than "tax breaks," and income inequality is becoming a serious problem.

Make no mistake, this fight will take a long time. But I believe that Piketty has helped to open up a new front on what sub-commander Marcos called the Fourth World War.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Vile creatures of the New Right. . .

I haven't post here much lately because I have, as a matter of emotional survival, turned more toward the aesthetic, with my new website and new blog about art. But with new revelations appearing all the time about the government spying on us I thought I should write a political blogpost on principle in order to say (as my peer bloggers have) I won't be silenced.

I have never had any qualms about stating my opinions concerning the Harper regime. I have said that Harper (and many of his cronies) are narcissistic, pathological autocrats because they are. I have called them fascists because I believe them to be. They have created a petro-state in which corporations have more power than citizens, they have done everything in their power to undermine democracy and free speech, they have undermine the judicial and legislative branches of government. They are vindictive, mean, racist, evil people with an obsession with power and money and no concern for a good society.

Like their friends the Ford brothers, the Harperites are addicted to lying. They have no honour, and continually marginalize and attack anyone who disagrees with them. And, like the Ford Brothers, when it becomes clear that they are wrong and that their attacks are nothing more than a tasteless demonstration of crass, childish, ignorant, self-serving, mean-spirited rapaciousness, they never apologize or set the record strait. That is pure evil. And evil is all they know. Meanwhile they fly around in private jets and chauffeured limousines all the while condemning supposed elites - the very elites that they are working to make richer and more elite. And a certain class of the woefully ignorant mass lap it up while spending their time attacking real working people who are trying to keep their heads above water.

Will this change? Will Harper and his ugly orc-like minions sink back into the disgusting ooze from which they emerged?
Harper and some of his Cabinet

Will Ford, that Azog the defiler, get the drubbing he deserves and end his days in prison as justice would demand? 
Rob Ford as Azog
Or will these vile creatures drag us back into the dark ages?

I don't know but we won't go gentle into that horrible night.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Crimea, Ukraine, and Western Hypocrisy. . .

I am glad that I am not the only one who is weary of the hypocrisy of Western nations in their reactions to the situation in Ukraine. Yesterday and today one of my favourite bloggers, Montreal Simon, mentioned the pattern of hypocrisy in of his postings. (Here and here) Once again the West has managed to outdo itself in its remarkable ability to say one thing and do something different.

The hypocrisy began at the beginning. The West's reaction to what was clearly a coup by a diverse group of left and extreme-right activists. They overthrew an elected president and then portrayed the president as the villain. Now I am no big fan of Viktor Yanukovych but let's face it, he was the elected president, and he was elected, I should add, with a significantly larger majority than our own prime minister and his Con-men cabal. But Harper was quick to recognize the overthrow of a legitimate president. Does it make you wonder how the Conservatives would react if tens of thousands of activists showed up on Parliament Hill, many of them armed, and demanded that Harper resign. We all know the army would quickly be called out and if the crowds fought back against their removal from the hill the way the crowds fought back in Ukraine, they would be gunned down. And if you have any doubt about that, look at the only concerted effort on the part of protesters since Harper took office - those at the G20. Thousands were corralled, beaten, arrested on no charges or trumped-up charges. And those crowds weren't even a genuine threat to Harper's power. Any real threat from the streets to Harper's status as Prime Minister would be met with swift and brutal violence.

But the West's reaction to the coup was just the tip of the hypocrisy iceberg. Hypocrisy was stepped up into high gear when Russia began to act in Crimea. Now, there is no doubt that Russia had signed an agreement to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine. And their unilateral actions were deeply problematic. However, the claims by the West to this effect, ring entirely hollow to anyone who has been paying attention to recent history. At least Russia had a long-standing interest in, if not partial claim on Crimea. The West, on the other hand, routinely engages in or supports unilateral, self-interested, military actions in foreign nations. The West's invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were two of the most recent examples. Russia used the tired old line that they had to protect Russians in Crimea and that justified their actions. Well this is exactly the excuse the US once used to justify their invasion of Granada in 1983 and their invasion and carpet bombing of Panama in 1989. If a school-yard bully beats kids up in the playground every day, one surely treats with suspicion their moral indignation when another bully does the exact same thing.

Then there is the West's reaction to the recent referendum in Crimea. They tell us it is illegal and that any kind of vote taken during an occupation has no democratic or moral authority. However, the West did exactly this in both Iraq and Afghanistan (again just to mention two recent examples). Apparently, if we are to judge by their actions, the West thinks that voting during occupation is a perfectly suitable route to democratic decision making. So why the blatant double-standard? Well it is clear that men like Harper are not interested in democracy, legality, sovereignty or any other high-minded principle of justice. In fact, quite the contrary, while he is busy touting such principles in Ukraine with crocodile tears, he is busy undermining them here at home. As with all such politicians, Harper only likes democracy, or revolutions when they offer the results that he favours. Thus if the Ultra-right overthrows a President in Ukraine in favour of a more pro-Western government, then we hear heart-felt appeals to the people's cause. If a vote is taken in occupied Afghanistan it is a 'step toward' democracy. But if it is taken in Crimea under Putin's watchful eye, it is illegal.

The fact is clear to anyone who knows anything about Crimea, the largely Russian population would probably have voted for secession given the events in Kiev regardless of presence of Russian troops. But interestingly, the Ukraine constitution doesn't allow for the people of any one region to vote on separation. Rather, any such issue has to be approved by the entire nation. I wonder if Harper is going to be consistent and come back to Canada and enact a similar law to wave in the face of Pauline Marois? I doubt it.

Consistency has certainly never been a trait of politicians. And the power of hypocrisy has certainly been on dramatic display in recent weeks concerning events in Ukraine. The people of Ukraine overthrew a legitimately elected President. But far be it for me to question a revolutionary moment. Maybe he needed to be overthrown, I can't say, and not being Ukrainian it is not my place to say. However, when you play the game of realpolitik you can't complain too much when others play it too. And when you turn your back on a gangster like Putin don't be surprised if you get shot from behind. But let's not buy the moral indignation of Western nations who seldom (if ever) come to the defence of democracy for anything but self-interested reasons. If anyone is expert at condemning foreign invasions and oppressions while simultaneously undermining their own democracies it is men like Harper and Obama. For them, the Russian invasion of the Crimea is aggression while the Western invasion of Afghanistan is a humanitarian mission. Those of you who are old enough will remember what the codename for the US invasion of Panama was - "Operation Just Cause." If that is not a fine moment in political irony I don't know what is.  

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Harper's war of attrition. . . .

I haven't blogged much lately because politics has become increasingly frustrating and difficult. Furthermore, there are people blogging with similar opinions to my own who can be more effective in inciting emotions or gathering useful political information. And as far as blogging on art and literature, I have been too busy with my own work to expend the intellectual energy necessary to write interesting material in this regard.

I appreciate bloggers like Montreal Simon who can continue to write biting and insightful material even in the face of our horrific government.

Speaking about it rationally is fairly simple. Good governance requires certain basic elements - commitment to the fundamental principles of democracy, the desire to foster dialogue, a basic commitment to an effective civil-service and the good programs that they need to deliver, a commitment to giving a voice to the voiceless and providing care and protection for society's most vulnerable, a strong commitment to the constitution, a respect for fairness and the democratic traditions of the House of Commons, a respect for the judicial arm of government and the necessary roll it plays, and a commitment to protecting the environment for future generations. Our government has no commitment to any of these. In fact, it actively undermines all of them. There is not a single element of good governance to which this government is committed.

At a rational level it is as simple as that.

But as with most forces of evil, there is something more at stake here - a gestalt of the Harper regime. With the introduction of the so-called "fair-elections act," it is clear that this government is not simply a bad government but a treasonous one. This act is nothing less than an effort to enshrine into law the ability to engage in electoral fraud and is in my mind a basic act of treason because it is an effort to actually undermine the principles of the constitution.

Such a treasonous act undertaken by the government itself is something that requires more than rarefied political discourse. People have to be woken up to the dangers of an encroaching fascism, to a government that is attempting to gradually replace our democratic system with an autocracy in which any democratic processes have been rendered exercises in futility, and where, by extension, the government serves a narrow corporate interest and a small percentage of wealthy patrons.

It is difficult to live in a society which is inching gradually toward autocracy as many of the citizens seem to blithely ignore the coming danger. There is a certain nonchalant attitude taken by many to the dangerous and insidious actions of a government that is falling into fascism. They have trouble believing that it "can happen here" or that our traditions can be subverted and perverted by a bunch of men dressed in suits. But not every coup is a violent one and sometimes what is best in a society is lost in a quite war of attrition.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Gags are not Transparent . . .

We all come into contact with confidentiality rules as third party associates. We talk to lawyers, doctors, and psychologists, from whom we rightly expect confidentiality. We even have, naively, certain expectations of confidentiality with certain online corporations, sites, and servers. However, these kinds of confidentiality agreements serve very clear purposes; we understand what they are for and what they are supposed to protect. Furthermore, the confidentiality arrangements used by doctors or lawyers are designed by professional associations and are intended to protect the professions themselves. We all understand, for example, that the legal system wouldn't work without some significant form of client-lawyer privilege.

However, when our legislators begin to write hugely broad confidentiality agreements for their employees, we should sit up and take notice. When a large group of public employees are asked to sign an agreement that says they won't reveal anything about what they see while on the public payroll, alarm bells go off in my head. It is one thing for a professional association to create their own confidentiality rules, it is entirely another when employees are compelled to sign such agreements. This is because a mandatory agreement like this can easily be used not simply to protect confidentiality but to scare and intimidate employees into maintaining extreme obedience.

Looking at the big picture, one has to ask "what exactly are these agreements intended to protect?" If the goal is to protect very sensitive material relating to security, then they should be written very specifically to reflect that intent. But they are not. Anyone looking at such agreements, particularly the one now being proposed, is struck by how broad they are.

There is a huge problem of corruption in politics everywhere. And it doesn't require an insightful mind or political knowledge to understand why. The problem is that the people who create the rules that are supposed to protect the nation from corruption are written by the very same people who benefit from that corruption. We might as well have a group of millionaires write our tax code or the oil companies write our environmental protection rules. (Of course, with Harper in office, some might say that this is already happening.)

The gag rules that this government is going to impose on civil servants is not intended simply to protect security issues or sensitive personal information. Rather, they are intended to create an atmosphere of fear among civil servants with the long term goal of insulating the government and allow its favoured members to break the law without fear of discovery or prosecution.

Almost every major political scandal emerges into the public eye because someone bypassed official channels and went public with the information. Though few people have talked about it, the only reason the recent Senate scandal occurred is because someone fed emails to the media. Even the events of Watergate and the depth of Nixon's malfeasance were only known because one man went to the media.

If we want to improve our political institutions we should be looking at how to make them MORE transparent not LESS. We don't need to worry about MP staffers writing books about personal information relating to what they have seen in the back-rooms of government. Rather we need to start asking what our MPs need to so badly to hide from citizens. But once again, our political class is simply reacting to public scrutiny aimed at the depth of their corruption, and attempting to shore up the avenues of possible leaks of information relating to their malfeasance.