Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Harpocricy Wins the Day

Harper’s appointment of 18 senators is one of the greatest exercises in political hypocrisy in recent years. And like all great acts of hypocrisy, the hypocrite blames someone else for his lack of integrity. Thus Harper, who said he would never appoint a senator (at least not an unelected one), says it is his political opposition that is to blame for this reversal. So it goes. But even more outrageous than Harper’s hypocrisy are the 18 individuals who accepted an appointment to the senate under such conditions. To accept an appointment to the senate while parliament has been prorogued for partisan political gain demonstrates a remarkable lack of integrity. Harper has a clear constitutional right to make these appointments but to do so when he has continually been opposed to such appointments and while the House has been prorogued demonstrates his amazing lack of leadership. Harper is just another political hack who makes promises that he has no intention of keeping or should know that he cannot keep. It is ironic that the Conservatives have tried to portray every other political leader in the country as dithering and hypocritical, when their own leader is so hopelessly dishonest and fickle in his supposed political commitments.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Political Hypocrisy

It is always the hypocrisy in politics that makes me crazy. People will rationalize and justify things that are done by the party or parties that they sympathize with, but if the party they opposed did the exact same thing they will criticize them with visceral aggression. The recent events are a very good example of this hypocrisy. Harper prorogued parliament because he didn’t have the confidence of the House. If a Liberal had done this Conservatives everywhere would be going crazy telling us all that this is a typical example of the Demagoguery that is in the very nature of the Liberal Party. We would never hear the end of it! This is what drives me crazy. It is just pure hypocrisy.

People’s reactions to labour disputes are another common example of political hypocrisy. People will fight and complain about their own working conditions no end, but if some group of workers is willing to go on strike to defend their rights for better working condition, then anyone who is inconvenienced by this strike will go on alarmingly about how greedy and inconsiderate the workers are and how they shouldn’t even have the legal right to strike.

Political hypocrisy is consistently evident in the always problematic area of political promises. Politicians constantly make promises that they either have no intention of keeping or should know that they probably cannot keep. And political supporters always rationalize these broken promises. The Liberals didn’t eliminate the GST even though they said they would. They knew that they probably would be unable to keep such a promise. And their failure to follow through was rationalized by Liberal supporters and has been an area of criticism for Conservative ever since. And remember when the elected members of the Reform party said that they would never take the MP pensions? When they opted to accept the pensions, most of their supporters just quietly forgot their promise. Now we have Harper who said he would never appoint unelected senators, and is now about to appoint twenty of them right after a precedent setting proroguing of parliament. No problem, quick rationalization and the Conservatives actually blame the Liberals for the broken promise, suggesting that they have left Harper with no choice. This is rich! Not only do they break promises they blame their political opponents for forcing them into it.

In many cases the politicians simply make promises that they know they won’t be able to keep. This demonstrates political opportunism and lack of leadership. Our mayor here in Ottawa made a big deal of running on a promise that he would ensure Zero city tax increases. Now, besides the fact that this is an irresponsible promise because the city taxes should at least keep up with inflation, the mayor has no power to keep such a promise since taxes are determined not by the Mayor’s office but by the council in general. Then, when taxes predictably rise, the mayor’s supporters don’t blame him for making a promise that he had absolutely no way of being sure that he could keep, instead they blame the council for undermining the mayor. Similarly Harper has, for years now, been making a big deal about the fact that he would NEVER run a deficit. This is a promise that anyone who has any sense of how the federal budget works knows you might not be able to keep. If a government looses tax revenues half-way through the year because of a sudden economic downturn, they have already made spending commitments which will result in a deficit, pure and simple. But when the Harper government goes into deficit do you think its supporters will blame Harper for a broken promise? Will people say that he should never have made such a promise because as a trained economist he should have known better? No, Conservative supporters will say it’s not his fault, it is just the economic forces beyond his control. But of course if the Liberal did the same thing Harper would be on television everyday telling us what hypocrites and poor leaders the Liberals are.

How exhausting!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Convention of Cintra

The Convention of Cintra was an agreement signed in August of 1808 which allowed the defeated French Troops to evacuate from Portugal, thus allowing Napoleon’s forces to escape from the British, ensuring nearly six more years of French occupation for Spain. The Convention of Cintra deeply disturbed many in England including radicals who, though they supported the early days of the French Revolution and similar political reforms at home, were disgusted by French aggression on the continent and the wilful slaughter of Spanish citizens. Several of the English Romantics spoke out against the Convention. Leigh Hunt, close friend of Byron and Shelley, used his periodical the Examiner to attack the Duke of York, the King’s brother who had been the head of the army and was seen as the main perpetrator of the Convention. Hunt’s attack nearly landed him in jail but he managed to escape with the help of a very good defence attorney. Wordsworth wrote a pamphlet condemning the Convention which was edited by his friend Thomas De Quincey. In a poem written at the same time as the pamphlet Wordsworth wrote:

I weigh the hopes and fears of suffering Spain;
For her consult the auguries of time,
And through the human heart explore my way;
And look and listen – gathering, whence I may,
Triumph, and thoughts no bondage can restrain.

Lord Byron also lamented the Convention in lines fro his Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.

And ever since that martial synod met,
Britannia sickens, Cintra! at thy name.

What will the poets write about our own political troubles? The tribulations of Canadian politics are, perhaps, only a storm in a teacup compared to the Peninsular War. But our parliament has been prorogued and the precedent has been set for all future Prime Ministers to simply squelch the sovereignty of the House on a partisan whim. And now, just to reiterate his rule by decree, Harper will appoint a bunch of senators after he had lost the confidence of the House. The implications of this are monumental for our political system. Our soulless and sinister Prime Minister would be glad to rip the very heart out of our system for his own petty and partisan interests. Consider in what interest he is really acting.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Shelley's political language

One of Percy Shelley’s greatest poems was the Masque of Anarchy written as an attack on the brutality of the British government of the 2nd Earl of Liverpool who was Prime Minister from 1812-1827. Liverpool surrounded himself with such distasteful men as Viscount Castlereagh and Viscount Sidmouth. Shelley’s attack on these brutal and cruel men was visceral and passionate. For those who don’t realize that even a Romantic poet can use provocative political language, here are a few verses from the Masque of Anarchy.

I met Murder on the way--

He had a mask like Castlereagh--

Very smooth he look'd yet grim;

Seven bloodhounds followed him:

All were fat; and well they might

Be in admirable plight,

For one by one, and two by two,

He tossed them humanhearts to chew,

Which from his wide cloak he drew.

Next came Fraud, and he had on,

Like Lord E--, an ermined gown;

His big tears, for he wept well,

Turned to mill-stones as they fell;

And the little children, who

Round his feet played to and fro,

Thinking every tear a gem,

Had their brains knockedout by, them.

Capitalism and the Auto Bailout

The US Senate failed to approve the congressional bailout of the auto industry today. The bailout didn’t pass largely because Republicans wanted the UAW workers to take significant pay and benefit cut to bring them in line with non-unionised workers in the same sector. The right has been continually suggesting that the failure of the US auto industry is almost exclusively the cause of auto-worker greed. And this is a common refrain of many people. Somehow capitalists and right-wing elements in the media have convinced people that workers are greedy and think of nothing but increasing their wealth. They have convinced people of this despite the fact that most worker’s strikes are not motivated by pay issues but by working conditions.

And here is the sixty-four thousand dollar question: why are people so willing to condemn worker greed and so unwilling to look to the unbridled greed of the market and upper management? Companies like Nortel can be pushed into bankruptcy simply because their ‘projections’ for profit are not sufficient for investors! They are still making a profit you understand, just not a high enough rate of profit. Meanwhile, in the auto-sector for example, upper-level managers can make multi-million dollar salaries.

When workers struggle for a few more dollars or a couple of extra sick days, they are just trying to carve out a slightly better life for themselves. They want better lives for their children, an occasional vacation, homes that are not in a constant state of disrepair. That is not greed. Meanwhile in some industries managers are flying in private jets and buying homes with cash.

If the north-American auto industry fails, or the US economy in general goes into recession, it will not be because of worker greed. It will be because capitalists have fashioned an economy that is driven by a market that requires greater and greater rates of profit for public companies to stay afloat, by companies that have no conception or concern for the public good, and by managers whose rates of pay increase to outrageous levels even when the companies they control are going bankrupt. Of course, this is not an unusual occurrence in history. Before the French Revolution as the French economy began to sink, the aristocracy was so out of touch with reality that it was not uncommon for them to complain of the laziness of the peasants as a cause for their nations troubles. All this while most of the poor ate bread that was made with as much sawdust as wheat.

The next time you ate worried about the economy or your daily struggles, don’t blame your bus driver or the guy who assembled your car. Blame those who make millions of dollars while producing nothing for society.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thomas Hood, Mrs. Biddell, and the Song of the Shirt

Thomas Hood was an English poet and humorist of the 19th century whose work is largely forgotten today. Hood edited several journals and periodicals and his work appeared in many of the early issues of Punch magazine which began in 1841. Hood’s work is interesting and amusing, though some of the humour is now lost because times have changed so significantly from when Hood was writing. Perhaps Hood’s most memorable achievement is a poem that appeared anonomously in the Christmas edition of Punch in 1843 called The Song of the Shirt. It was written in honour of a Lambeth widow named Biddell, a seamstress living in wretched conditions. In what was common practice Biddell sewed pants and shirts in her home using materials given to her by her employer for which she was forced to give a £2 deposit. It seems that in a desperate attempt to feed her starving infants, poor Mrs. Biddell pawned the clothing she had made thus accruing a debt she could not pay. Mrs. Biddell, whose first name remains a mystery, was sent to a workhouse and her ultimate fate is unknown, but her story became a symbol for those who actively opposed the wretched conditions of England’s working poor who spent seven days a week labouring under inhuman conditions, barely managing to survive and with no prospect for relief. The Song of the shirt quickly became a phenomenon, centering people’s attention not only on the Briddell case but on the conditions of workers in general. And though Hood was not a genuine political radical, his work, like that of Dickens, contributed to the general awareness of the condition of the working class which fed the popularity of trade unionism and the push for stricter labour laws.

Here are a few lines from The Song of the Shirt.

With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread –
Stitch! Stitch! Stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
She sang ‘The Song of the Shirt!’

Work – work – work!
My labour never flags;
And what are its wages? A bed of straw,
A crust of bread – and rags.
That shattered roof – and this naked floor –
A table – a broken chair –
And a wall so blank, my shadow I thank

Let’s remember poor Mrs. Biddell, whose struggle is ours. And remember Thomas Hood, poet and friend of humankind.

The Arc of Justice

The great Dr. King said (though I believe the quote originated elsewhere) that the ‘arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.’ But if the arc does indeed bend toward justice it does not do so without our constant struggle and vigilance. We move toward justice through the constant effort of countless people who make a continual effort to fight prejudice, inequality, and the arbitrary exercise of power.

We have a bus strike going on here in Ottawa and I am amazed at the degree to which people condemn the workers for the labour strife. The bus drivers are basically striking to retain the right to play a roll in determining their own work schedules. In order to ensure that the Union would have no public sympathy for the struggle, the employer put a $2000 signing bonus in their offer, an effort at bribing the majority of workers and which, if unsuccessful, would ensure that the public would have no sympathy for the transit workers. The right-wing radio hosts are livid at the thought that transit workers (people they constantly belittle as ‘mere bus-drivers’), receive a living wage in a time of economic troubles and then have the gall to want to take part in their own scheduling. And much of the public just mimics the right-wing talking points. Yet these are the struggles which workers have been waging for centuries. Most average people enjoy the basic rights and working conditions that they do because average people have sacrificed their lives for generations in an effort for rights and protections. Most people are unable to see the big picture of history and their place in it, and they forget that when workers struggle for their rights, they are struggling for everyone; because it is only when people win their rights through struggle that these rights and protections become generalized. Furthermore, many people imagine that things are different now; that age when workers were forced to work countless hours under terrible conditions, sometime literally chained to their machines, for little pay, is now over.

“That’s all in the past,” people will tell you, “no one would do such things today.” But the appearance of civilized behaviour by capitalists and corporations in Western countries is only ensured through constant diligence. Simply travel to a country like Guatemala and you will see that, in the absence of laws and unions, workers are still treated like slaves. The arc of justice only bends toward justice if we pull hard on it. It is so sad that so many average people are so quick to buy the right-wing demonization of unions. Every struggle of every worker is made in the name of all people. The arc must bend toward justice for all of us.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New Leadership

Mr. Ignatieff is correct in taking a cautious approach to his up-coming confrontation with Harper and his thugs. He is smart not to appear to have judged a budget that has not been written. He has nothing to lose by suggesting that he is ready to work with the Tories if they write a decent budget; one that is not simply an ideological attack on democracy. This is a kind of Pascal wager because if he is wrong he has lost nothing and made himself look as though he is ready to be cooperative.

Ignatieff is particularly free to take this approach because there is such a slim chance that the Tories will come up with anything meaningful. It is generally accepted that Harper is the most fiercely partisan Prime Minister in Canadian history. He is mean spirited and obsessed with destroying his political opponents to the point that he will end up destroying himself. His budget will only pay lip-service to the financial crisis and he will surely be unable to resist his desire to add a number of neo-conservative attacks on worker’s rights, freedom of information, women’s rights, and other basic elements of democracy. Ignatieff’s only real concern is to determine how to ensure that the people of Canada see Harper and his policies for what they are; a Machiavellian effort to make the rich richer and shaft the rest.

I guess we will see what happens. But we know that the Tories have already begun to work on efforts to portray the new Liberal leader as an undemocratic leader who was parachuted into the position by elite Liberals from Ontario and Quebec. But they are not dealing with Dion anymore, and I suspect that Ignatieff will not be so easily cornered. I get the feeling that he is ready to fight back in a way that Liberals have not done for years. Liberals have good reason to celebrate today, and hopefully we will all reap the benefits if Ignatieff can unseat Harper and his evil regime. The problem is that to defeat the Tories Ignatieff will have to resort in part to the same tactics that Harper and his bullies have used for the past few years. I just hope that once they destroy Harper, Ignatieff can give up that seductive strategy and bring some civility back to Canadian politics.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Kevin Coleman

My good friend, Kevin Coleman, died 17 years ago today. I honour him and remember him in the struggle for greater human freedom and prosperity.

Democracy and Money

There is a spectre haunting democracy; the spectre of money. Modern democracy is in a terrible state of decay as money colonizes every little corner of the structure. While many on the right and in the centre of political spectrum continue to imagine that democratic governments are an expression of the general will, others with a more dynamic definition of power understand that so-called democratically elected governments are less and less the expression of any general will as money plays an increasingly powerful part in the process of elections and the daily running of government. As society sees an startling increase in the difference between the wealthiest and the majority of working people, apathy and alienation rob people of their belief in democracy and their commitment to electoral results.

This democratic deficit is made considerably worse by the fact that the majority of people have no clear idea of how their own system of government works. This is true throughout western democracies but was made particularly clear in recent events in Canada. The majority of Canadians appear to believe that their votes translate into a general will of the people in the House of Commons. For this to be true we would have to have a system of proportional representation. But of course we do not. Instead we live in a constitutional monarchy in which representatives are chosen by a series of first past the post, local elections. In our system, sovereignty is held first in the monarch or her representative. That sovereignty then flows down to the body of representatives who sit in the House. Though we have political parties, in the House, parties actually mean very little in an ideal sense because the House elects a leader to be a first minister. It matters little in our Parliamentary system whether you voted with the goal of one party leading over another. What matters is the sovereignty of the House. The will of the House determines the Government, period! Whoever maintains the confidence of the House will be the First Minister and will form a Government. This person might be someone who represents the party for which the majority of electors voted, or it might not. Tradition dictates that whichever party got the greatest number of seats has the first opportunity to form a government but the will of the House can ratify this or not as it pleases. The problem is, of course, that in a fractured parliament, whichever party gets the most seats is unlikely to reflect the majority of voters. This creates a democratic deficit. As a result of this many parliamentary systems have opted to look toward coalitions so that the government better reflects the general will of the voters. The most democratic option is for proportional voting coupled with coalition governments. In extremely fractionalized countries this can be unwieldy so they opt for a combination of some proportional representatives along with some first past the post, local representatives. Either way, in a parliament we elect representatives who constitute a higher sovereignty than individual votes.

Of course, all of this is perverted if the majority of people do not understand it, and is doubly perverted by increased concentrations of wealth in politics. But if Canadians are to move toward greater levels of democracy we must come to grips with the system we have. We do not live in a system of plebiscites in which everyone votes on everything. Such a system itself is actually impossible in the modern age because a system of direct democracy can only be meaningful with a small number of people. In a large complex system someone would still have to fashion the policies on which everyone could vote. If Conservatives in Canada are really concerned about democracy and making their vote count they would be actively pursuing some form of proportional voting system. But of course most conservative don’t give a toss about democracy, they care about power. And in our ‘democracy’ power flows through those with the money, pure and simple.

So next time you hear a Conservative (or a Liberal for that matter), complain about lack of democracy, slap them firmly across the mouth. Tell them to learn about their own system of government or actively work to change it, or keep their mouth shut.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Rite of Passage

The other day I had to partake of one of the great rites of passage for any parent; the teacher-parent interview. Many of the other parenthood obligations pale in the face of this dreaded duty. Choosing a name, midnight feedings, hundreds of diaper changes, being vomited on, all of these are mere child’s play in the face of the first teacher-parent interview. Of course, nothing is ever as dreadful as the fervent mind imagines it will be. But still, what a difficult responsibility it is to have to face your child’s first teacher with all the requisite obligations and possibilities.

After all, nothing can bring your own childhood back to the foreground of your mind than having to face a teacher again. The smell of the class-room, the chalkboard, the posters reminding you of the letters of the alphabet; they all serve to transport you suddenly back to a time of sheer terror. Then you find yourself crushed into one of those little under-sized chairs staring a teacher in the face and you are a child again. No matter how hard you try to look old, to act experienced, it’s just no good. The circumstances make you a child and you are paralysed with inadequacies. Somewhere in your head, you are still an adult worried about the fact that you forgot to put snow tires on your car, but all your grown-up responsibilities are nothing in the face of the teacher’s powerful gaze. You could be a emergency-room doctor who just sewed someone’s finger back on after a bagel cutting accident, but if that teacher tells you to sit down and be quiet, you are suddenly a helpless six year old who will do whatever you are told.

Not that there wasn’t many moments of joy and excitement in your school-days. But somehow they all fade into the background when you find yourself back in the classroom. You don’t want it to be so but there is seemingly nothing you can do about it. And to make matters worse, my daughter’s teacher was suffering through a bad cold, making her voice deep and raspy, and therefore even more authoritative then it might have otherwise been. She is a nice woman, she really is, but as nice as she might be, it is difficult to see her as anything but a teacher. I am quite certain that she could have told me to write “I will not bring gum to parent-teacher night” fifty times on the blackboard and I would have done it.

It didn’t begin very well. When I got to the classroom, the previous parent was still there talking to the teacher so I sat down on one of the very low tables to wait. I didn’t think anything of this. After all, it is a pretty big class and from where I sat I couldn’t hear what was going on between the teacher and the parent. Anyway, how much confidential information is revealed concerning the details of a kindergartener’s school career? But my daughter’s teacher quickly put me in my place. With little ceremony, she asked me to wait in the hall and I was quick to oblige. Then I found myself sitting in the hall for nearly ten minutes with my mind in overdrive. Because, as sure as one is that your child is basically intelligent and well behaved, there is still a part of you that worries what the teacher is going to say.

When I was eventually let into the class and approached the little table that served as a stand-in for the teacher’s desk, my trepidation was by no means eased by the teacher’s first words. “I will just take out Cairo’s file,” she said in her flu-infested voice which made her sound more like John Lee Hooker than a grade-school teacher.

“Take out her file,” I thought to myself. Is she a kindergarten student or an FBI suspect? This really disturbed my equilibrium. Seeing my daughter’s teacher lay her ‘file’ gently on the table like she was J. Edgar Hoover on the hunt for some public enemy really did a number on me. At that moment I don’t think I would have been surprised by anything. She could have told me that my daughter was the class bootlegger and I would have taken it in stride.

But she had no major crimes to report. Instead, she showed me a detailed sheet of student evaluation on the various tasks that my daughter regularly undertakes. And there was nothing negative to report. Not only was my she adequately fulfilling all academic expectations, but she was even exceeding them in a few areas. It seems that she loves drawing and produces unusually colourful and elaborate drawings which seemed to genuinely surprise the teacher.

And after being shown a few dozens drawings and being assured that Cairo is happy at school and plays well with others, I began to feel more at ease. These assurances allayed my biggest concerns because my daughter has always been at home with me and though she has three siblings, her brothers and sister are considerably older than she, which means she has never been compelled to compromise with other children her own age.

After the interview I was sent on my way with my daughter’s school pictures and the teacher’s assurance that all was well. All in all, a pretty favourable outcome given my concerns and fears. Of course, this is only junior kindergarten and there has been little time for things to go wrong. But I am proud to say that I have conquered another of the great rites of passage of parenthood with little more than the loss of a few nights sleep and few difficult childhood flashbacks.

A Window on Childhood

I have never been a big fan of winter. It is probably because I spent a substantial part of my important childhood years in southern California. Melancholy old men talk as though everyday of their childhood was bright and sunny. But for me it was true. Southern California is essentially a desert and one so seldom sees rain that people even write songs about it.

As a child, winter consisted for me of that time of year when it was a little too chilly to spend a comfortable day at the beach. My sister and I usually only saw snow in Christmas movies or on one of those rare occasions when we would go to the mountains and see the real thing. In those few years before my parents were divorced and we had something of a normal family life, there were a few such occasion when we would be bundled excitedly into the car for a two hour drive into the San Bernardino mountains where some patch of snow was making a brave stand against the California sun. It was as though we were going to see some nearly extinct animal in a zoo; like the snow was a Blue-sided Treefrog of which there were only a few specimens left in the wild and it was our good fortune to see it for one last time before it disappeared forever.

And of course my sister and I loved it because it was like a holiday; and as everyone knows, everything looks better when you are on holiday. You can be in some hot, humid third-world country on a vacation, and as long as you don’t have to live like the majority of the local citizens, you will just see the beautiful vistas, the colourful traditions, and the exotic foods. The snow was like this for my sister and I; we didn’t have to shovel it off our driveway or dress in six layers of warm clothing to go to school every morning, so all we saw was a beautiful white playground. Furthermore, our snow-day earned us bragging rights at school where a handful of kids had never even seen snow first hand.

In retrospect, I have no idea where my sister and I got all the supplies for a day in the snow. I have photos of us with big coats, hats, and gloves playing in the snow. But we surely possessed none of these things as a matter of course, we must have purchased them for that particular occasion, just so we could enjoy an afternoon in the snow.

But these are nothing but fond childhood memories now. Today winter is no longer just some holiday opportunity of childhood; I have to live with it. Freezing feet and hands, snowdrifts blocking the end of our driveway, ice-dams on the roof constantly threatening to create leaks; all of these things are part of the struggle of daily life at least four months out of the year. It is difficult to maintain the excitement of childhood when the daily threats of winter press upon you. On the days when we wake up to a foot of snow, the only excitement that I can look forward to is the smile on my daughter’s face who still lives in that distant country of childhood where snow is an opportunity for fun. But even that excitement dissipates somewhat after the ten minutes of struggle that it takes to put on her snowsuit, her boots, and her gloves. Her socks are never quite right and I am forced to remove her boots several times before she is satisfied. Inevitably her gloves have been turned inside out and we can never get her fingers to fit comfortably inside. It is a palaver with which most parents are familiar and it can quickly rob one of the joy that one gets from the face of your child playing in the snow.

Nowadays, when the weather report predicts a serious snowstorm I hope that either they will turn out to be wrong or that the storm will be so significant that we will all be snowed in, giving us an excuse to stay home under blankets. This is one of the few occasions that I am still able to recapture an occasional moment of enjoyment from the snow through the illusion provided to me by windows. Sometimes when the snow falls leisurely on a Saturday afternoon but with sufficient heaviness to coat the trees with thick blanket of white, I am momentarily able to see the beauty in the snow, the beauty that I saw when I was a child. Of course, I can no longer enjoy the blind excitement of playfulness, but there is still some magic to be had in the beauty of the snowfall.

It recently occurred to me that windows do this for us. All of the pleasures that age has compelled us to abandon, can be at least partially recaptured through a window. Whether it is just our living-room window looking out on a snowy day, or the window of a train or airplane making a picture of some perfect landscape, there is a subtle magic worked by a window which allows somehow for us to recapture part of our youth. Windows are like filters which take out some of the burdensome elements of the world for tired eyes. The lightness of the world that usually only a child can see, can be partially recaptured in that filtered protection. Even dilapidation can be picturesque. Travelling through the countryside in a comfortable car, a rundown farm can look beautiful. As long as it is not my barn that is falling down, it can look Christmas card perfect through the window of a car.

Just around the corner from my house is one of the oldest farms in the entire region. And from the road you can see a wooden silo that must be a hundred years old. It is beginning to twist under its own weight and is threatening to come crashing down at any moment. The other day as we drove by, my daughter noticed it and told me with unbridled excitement that the building was going to fall. And from the warmth and comfort of the car I could see the teetering silo just as she saw it. I didn’t think about the danger it presents to the barn to which it was attached nor the money that the clean-up might cost.

Of course I am certain that there are many things on which the filter of a window could never produce a picturesque glean. I remember driving through Montana some twenty years ago and seeing thousands of acres of dead, brown trees; killed by the Colorado pine beetle. There was something irretrievably sad about the scene even from the comfort of my car. But for the most part even winter, once the occasional playground of my sunny childhood, can be partially returned to its beauty by a frosty window.

Friday, December 5, 2008

what's next

Anyone who believed in the Coalition might as well forget it. If the Governor-General allowed Harper to porogue parliament when it was clearly just to avoid a confidence, then she will never allow a Coalition Government to go ahead. But this morning things seem even worse. A poll shows that Harper is now even more popular than before the Crisis began! This is a man who hates democracy, displays an utter contempt for the House, and will attack the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in society just to make the rich and powerful even more so! And the people are lapping it up! The reason is simple; the opposition is fighting a modern war with stones and arrows. Harper has shown that he will do anything to win; he lies, he cheats, he calls people names, he red-baits, and he is even willing to entirely marginalize Quebec with rhetoric that verges on racism, just to win. But the opposition are still trying to be ‘gentlemen of the House.’ You cannot fight fascists with polite debate and a simple appeal to truth! It would be equivalent to playing a game of chess in which you opponent plays as though all his pawns are queens and you allow it, and then wonder why you are losing. You cannot win such a game. You can’t put out an oil-well fire with a squirt-gun. As distasteful as it is, you must fight Harper, in large part, on his ground. He must be shown for the man that he is. And his thugs and bullies like Baird and Poillievre, and Kenny and all his other lapdogs that pretend they are bulldogs, must be battled the same way! I don’t know about you but I remember being bullied as a kid and calm, rational discourse was never very effective in stopping their shenanigans. This is the sad truth.

Thus the only hope now for the Liberals is to use the emergency measure in their constitution to choose a new leader immediately and get on with the real battle. Will they do it? I doubt it. But you can forget about the Coalition and probably democracy in Canada because once Harper gets a majority God help us all.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Victory or Loss?

So it really happened. The Prime-Minister prorogued the parliament. Some people have suggested that there is still a victory here. After all, the opposition stopped the Government from taking away the right to strike, and Harper was unable to take away public funding for political parties. But this victory is purely temporary. At a practical level the Governor-General has shown that she will not stand up an protect the constitution. This means that she would never have allowed a Coalition in the first place. This means that in January, when the Tories bring a budget to the House with all those things from the Economic Statement that we have temporarily stopped, the opposition will just have to let them go through in the budget. Because the GG will not sanction a Coalition and they can’t have an election three months before the Liberals choose a new leader. All that has happened is that the Tories bought enough time to spend millions on advertising, lying to the public about pretty much everything. There is no victory here.

Instead we have suffered a terrible loss. Because the Governor-General has shown that Governments of Canada can put an end to parliament any time they wish. This means that if a Government is clever they will never have to face a confidence vote again. What we really learned today is that the Government of Canada can rule by decree and that we live in a dictatorship. No, there is no victory here, neither at a practical nor at a principled level.

Remember the words of Yeats

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed eye is loosed and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


How to make no sense of Democracy
Here is a simple rational exercise to demonstrate what is wrong with what Prime Minister Harper has been saying.

Harper has said time and again that the Coalition is a ‘threat to democracy.’ But he asked the Governor-General to porogue the parliament to avoid a confidence vote because he clearly believes that the Governor-General would give the Coalition an opportunity to govern the nation. However, if the Coalition is a threat to democracy and the Governor-General could legally let them govern, then it follows that the Governor-General is a threat to democracy. But the Governor-General represents the ultimate authority in the Parliamentary System. The Prime Minister believes therefore that the Parliamentary system is a threat to democracy. But Harper is supposed to be the leader of the House of Commons in that very system. So what exactly is he defending?

In simple terms, Harper keeps telling us that he was duly elected in a system that is, ipso facto, a threat to democracy. It necessarily follows that Stephen Harper believes that Democracy is a threat to Democracy.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Political realities and political mistakes.

I have made it clear how I feel about the idea of a coalition government. It is not only constitutional but beneficial. The Conservative government is little more than a criminal organization full of thugs and bullies.
Having said that, I believe that Dion and Layton made a political blunder almost as significant as that made by the Prime Minister last week. If the Coalition partners really wanted to oust the government and bring in an alternative they should have kept that entirely quiet until they had defeated Harper in a normal house vote. In the mean time they could have sent their letter to the Governor-General and probably gained the outcome they were hoping for. However, now with all the hype they have given the Harper government all the ammunition they could want to discredit the Coalition forces and undermine democracy. They will run radio ads and maybe even television ads trying to portray the coalition effort as a coup and they will most likely succeed. And they will succeed in large part because Canadians don’t understand their own form of government. They think that the people elect the government in Canada, when in fact in the British parliamentary system, the people have never elected the government. Rather the people elect a set of representatives and whoever has the confidence of the majority of those representatives elects the government. You may not like it. You may think the system needs reform but that is the system as it exists and has for hundreds of years. Before this system worked in Canada it worked in England. By all means reform the system but make no mistake, the Conservatives are just wrong when they say this is a coup. People forget that Winston Churchill himself, often considered one of the great leaders of any parliament at any time, was elected not by the people but by a majority of the representatives in the House, many of them in the party he opposed, to lead a coalition government. But now, because of the prematurity of the coalition partners, we will now have to watch the Harper bullies and thugs misrepresent the very nature of our political system as well as the opposition parties.

And one last thing – I wish the Tories would stop suggesting that the Bloc somehow has no right to be in parliament and represent the people who elected them! Many people may not like the Bloc and may disagree with their political program. However, they have as much right to be elected and represent their electors as anyone in the house.

Coalition Government

I am amazed that people have been belly-aching for years about the need for our representatives in the House of Commons to cooperate and now suggest that it is undemocratic and undignified when they actually do it. Rex Murphy, who proves time and time again that he has absolutely no serious abilities for political analysis, said yesterday on CBC that these events prove that Canadian politics are nothing more that partisan politics. What a beautifully Orwellian moment! Three major parties making an agreement to work together proves that they are overly partisan!? Double-speak in spades. Sorry Rex, as always, you are completely wrong. This is an attempt to step beyond partisanship. Granted the three parties are cooperating against another party. But only because the Conservatives presently are the most overtly partisan, ideological, and anti-democratic party in living memory. Finally some sanity returns to parliament and Rex Murphy, the Conservatives and many others, are trying to portray it as undemocratic, shame on all of them! This is why I am a cynical and jaded man.

Of course, I believe that Harper would do almost anything to avoid losing power. He is Machiavellian in his lust for control. The Conservatives are arrogant, boastful, fascistic, and completely and utterly partisan. They are so afraid of losing power that it has shaken them to the very core, you can see it on their faces. Harper will, if the GG lets him pirogue parliament. And if not I wouldn’t even be surprised if he declared marshal law. More than anything Harper wants to have and keep power. And the Conservative’s claim that a coalition would constitute a coup is the real attack on the constitution. Desperate men do desperate things. Let’s hope that nothing untoward occurs, but have no doubt, Harper is a dangerous man and the Economic Update just displayed his meanness and lack of judgement. Let’s hope it doesn’t continue.

And my advise to the Governor-General; remember that your primary duty is to the general will of parliament, clear and simple. In the English parliamentary system, elections don’t elect governments, the House of Commons does. You have a letter in you hands Ms. Jean, which demonstrates the will of the majority of the House. Your constitutional duty is to listen to that majority.