Monday, December 21, 2009

Minority Governments as a route to absolute power. . . .

I have been thinking a lot, as many have,about the present political situation and why the Conservatives have been able to maintain a modicum of popularity despite incompetence record deficits etc. I have come to the conclusion that in an incredible irony it was his minority that has saved Harper's political skin thus far. By only getting a minority Harper has been forced to occupy (at least the appearance of) the political centre. If he had been elected to a majority Harper would have seen it as carte-blanche to do anything, which he would have done with abandon. By now Harper's would have done such outrageous things his popularity would be somewhere around where Brian Molroney's  was when he left office. Harper has done terrible things and corroded our democracy to a mournful degree, but much of this has been relatively quiet and behind the scenes, in ways average Canadians are unaware of. In the meantime, this minority has not forced the Liberals to go through a typical period of rejuvenation and properly define themselves in opposition. Instead they have just coasted and acted as though they just have to wait and things will somehow just 'naturally' turn around in their favor. 

Recent history suggests that Harper is not actually able to win a majority. If he was unable to gain a majority after the sponsorship scandal and with Dion as leader of the opposition, it is difficult to see how he can do it in the future. However, in the absence of a Harper Majority, the Liberals could still do their part and actually create a serious opposition with real policy alternatives. But they seem almost congenitally unable to do this. 

So it goes.  . . . . 

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wake up Canada!

If this country allows the Harper government to prorogue parliament again and sits by and does nothing, then as a nation we probably deserve to fall into fascism. When a nation is unwilling to stand up for democracy and justice it deserves what it gets. The very fact that people on the news channels blithely discuss the failure of the Government to abide by orders of parliament and the idea that the Prime Minister can just dissolve the nation's legislative body in order to avoid bad press and potential retribution from the majority of the House shows just how bad things have gotten. Shame on Michael Ignatieff for his disappearing act in the past week. 

This is what should be happening; the three opposition parties should be on the television every day making it clear that Canada has slipped into dictatorship. They should be filing cases and the World Court, they should be calling on the Canada to be immediately ejected from the Commonwealth of Nations. We have an serious crisis in this country, and just as Germany and Italy slipped into fascism in the 1930s, if we do nothing now we are in real trouble. But the Official Opposition is not even on the radar screen, it is like they have just given up. The NDP is making some noise but it amounts to very little unless we can get unified action on the part of the opposition. 

Wake up Canada, you are losing the fundamental structure of our democracy.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

This is what Harper thinks of Earth. . . .

Mr. Harper throws earth away. . . . 

Prorogue, again!

Frankly, I hope that Mr. Harper does try to prorogue parliament one more time as the rumor-mill has been suggesting. It will make it clear once and for all just how undemocratic and tyrannical Harper really is. Of course the down side is that the majority of Canadians don't even know what prorogue means and won't really understand what is going on. And we will also see just what a dangerous precedent was set last December when the GG allowed the Prime Minister to Prorogue for his own partisan interests. Some day we will all laugh (and then cry) when a Liberal Prime Minister prorogues parliament just to save his political skin and the Tories cry out at how undemocratic such a thing is.
So it goes. . . . . 

Our political discourse. . . . .

A couple of events in the blogosphere over the past couple of days have got me thinking about the process of political discourse, (if I may dignify what we do here with the epithet 'discourse'). One is the comment left on my last post by a reader who was somewhat offended by my little photoshop endeavor. Now, the reader's offense was really based on a misunderstanding because he/she thought it was a photoshop of Harper on Hitler's body which he/she thought was uncalled for and lowered the level of debate. Fair enough. Of course I had actually used an image of Charlie Chaplin from his amazing film 'The Great Dictator,' but still the critique was fair in as much as it could be easily misinterpreted. The other issue was from the Blog 'Troy's Journal' in which Troy apologized to me and other bloggers for the inflammatory language that he had used over the past months etc. The one exchange between Troy and me that I know of was based again on a misunderstanding in which I criticized him for something I thought he had said but what was actually just a missing word that changed the meaning of a sentence to the exact opposite of its actually intended meaning. Troy in turn replied with an excessive number of expletives and the rest, as they say, is history. 

But all of this got me thinking about the subtlety of words and the difficulties of political discourse, particularly in such troubled times. There is no doubt that the style of recent governments, particularly the Harper lead government, has poisoned the field of public discourse to a point that may in fact be irreparable. And we are all susceptible to the effects of this poisoned atmosphere. I honestly believe, and have said on a number of occasions, that this government has knowingly employed a strategy of lowering the level of public debate in order to turn many people off politics. They know that their core supporters will always vote for them because of the nature of contemporary political demographics, and the more people that they can turn off from the process in general the better chance they have of maintaining power. And many people have fallen into to this rather fiendishly simple idea. And it is hard not too. I mean me like John Baird are so monumentally offensive and mean-spirited that sometimes you just want to tear your hair out in frustration that such men can have jobs of power and respect. These are the types of men who, in their school days, beat up the handicapped kids and publicly humiliated all those who were 'different.' Yet here they are in our nations parliament. The recent events over the testimony of Richard Colvin is such a prime, and frustrating, example. The idea that you would attempt to publicly humiliate and discredit a civil servant who was giving sworn testimony in a public hearing is just so awful that it makes you mourn for the whole political process in this country. 

I genuinely believe that Harper's government is a serious threat to democracy and the future of human rights and this nation in general. And I believe that one can demonstrate that in clear, rational arguments. However, this begs the question; "how is one to face the threat of 
fascism?" I mean, as Woody Allen said so amusingly in 'Manhattan,' "it is hard to satirize a guy in shiny boots." We face a serious dilemma, to wit: 'how to we deal with a dangerous government which insists on using abusive, bullying, irrational tactics? How do we deal with people respectfully who demonstrate absolutely no respect for opposition, for the law, for the public, or for the House of Commons? Honestly, I am really not sure. It is profoundly difficult to function in such an atmosphere. It is particularly difficult because I believe that many people are unaware of the magnitude of the crisis and many in the official opposition are so close to the government on so many issues that there is very little push back. In the thirties, fascism rose to power in large part because there was no unified opposition to it in many countries. The Communists wouldn't talk to the Socialists, the Socialists wouldn't talk to the Social Democrats, etc. Today we have a similar problem. There is a genuine threat to democracy but no one seems capable of unifying against it, and so we edge slowly toward the precipice. 

There is no doubt that some people on the left say some inflammatory things, angry words that can seem counter-productive. But Harper is gradually backing the people of this country into a corner, and that corner is called tyranny. And there comes a time in the face of tyranny when flowery words and eloquent phrases are drowned out by the winds of despotism. And our voices are becoming sore with the screaming we are having to do just to be heard above the din of bluster and domination. 

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Real Leadership

Please stand for your revered leader

(Please look closely to see that this is Harper dressed as Charlie Chaplin from his role in "The Great Dictator." )

Saturday, December 12, 2009

How not to argue against climate change. . . .

I hardly ever read the column of David Warren which appears with frightening regularity in the Ottawa Citizen, because frankly he is so ignorant, ill-informed, and offensively racist and sexist that just knowing that someone like this gets paid to write a column makes me doubt the possibility of a benevolent force in the universe and certainly makes me wonder about the future of our race. However, once in a while I read the column out of some sort of morbid curiosity the way one might gawk at a gruesome sight such as a automobile accident. You don't want to look but somehow you just can't seem to avert your eyes. 

Today Warren's column was entitled "The Myth of Global Warming" and was, of course, pure drivel. He claims that Global Warming (not just the human contribution to climate change) is some kind of historically huge fraud and he compares it to a Ponzi scheme. As is almost always the case, however, with Climate Change deniers, Mr. Warren actually provides his reader with no evidence for his position, just a lot of rhetoric designed to feed people's paranoia and make them angry or suspicious. The only vaguely scientific thing Mr. Warren offers in the entire article is this little gem:

"The very premise is ludicrous: demonizing carbon dioxide as a 'pollutant,' when it is a vital part of the Earth's atmosphere, absolutely essential not only to plant life but everything that depends on plants." 

REALLY????!!!!! That is the best that Mr. Warren can do??? I wonder if even his deranged and intellectually disabled readers were able to pass this paragraph without shaking their heads and wondering if they had entered the twilight zone? Is Mr. Warren really so ignorant of almost everything that he imagines that this constitutes some kind of argument?? Even if one is just vaguely familiar with chemistry one knows just how stupid and absurd this is! Surely even he knows that a chemical property can be essential to a system, but in the wrong amounts it can also become hazardous to the system itself. I am sure Mr. Warren's doctor has told him at one time or another to cut down on the salt. Of course sodium is essential to his continued good health, but too much of it will kill him. How about if Mr. Warren took a few million tones of salt and dropped it into the nearest small lake? Does he think just because that water has some sodium in it that any amount will suffice to maintain the eco-system? Someone close to me is suffering from renal failure. Too much potassium will kill him. But yet he and all of us need it to survive. And the irony here is that anyone who is skeptical about climate change is just seeing the legitimacy of their augments systematically undermined by this kind of ignorance. If I can see through the science, you know it is bad! 

This article has brought a new level of embarrassing ignorance to the Ottawa Citizen (and any other newspaper that Mr. Warren's column appears in). What is next? A column by Andrew Lloyd Weber on structural engineering? Wow, it really is amazing. If this is the level to which Canadian newspapers are striving, no wonder the business model is broken. 

Say so-long to democracy guys. . . .

I am amazed that many, maybe even most, Canadians really don't get it. Yesterday by refusing to abide by an order of parliament the Harper government took us out of the realm of democracy and put us in the realm of a dictatorship. If the government is able to ignore an order of parliament, which by many legal accounts is the highest legal directive in the land, then our government is a de facto dictatorship. This is fairly simple folks. And all of those Conservatives out there who are acting as apologists for the tyrannous actions of this government, keep in mind the precedent that has been set here. When the Conservatives find themselves in opposition (if they ever actually relinquish power, and it is not clear that they will now that they have made their dictatorial powers clear) the next government can further entrench the dictatorship of the PMO until we have no democracy left. And what will the Conservatives say then? They will have no position to criticize a government that is extending the very principles they first enacted. We are now in very dangerous territory. And if the Liberals do not force the issue and they let the government get away with ignoring the real power of parliament then we are all in very big trouble. 

Even the last Liberal government, which was so vilified for its corruption was quick to call a public inquiry when faced with a real scandal ( a scandal that didn't even compare to a serious cover-up of torture). And honestly I cannot imagining even the Liberals ignoring an order of parliament, and if they ever had Harper would have gone crazy with his criticism. The last thing that compares to this in English parliament is, I think, when Prime Minister William Pitt refused to dissolve parliament when he lost a vote of confidence. 

And can someone tell me why Warren Kinsella is the face of the Liberal Party? I have seen almost no sign of any major Liberal MP in the media for several days now. Pathetic guys, really pathetic. 

Friday, December 11, 2009

Liberals continue their incompetence. . . .

Today was a perfect illustration why Mr. Ignatieff will never be Prime Minister of Canada. As for me, I am very frustrated by the outrageousness of the Harper government, but I think I am even more frustrated by the total inaction of the Liberal Opposition. Today the Conservative government of Canada announced that they will refuse to abide by an order of Parliament, an almost unprecedented action in the British Parliamentary system. And what did the Liberals do? Well . . . . . absolutely nothing! Any competent opposition would have been all over the news today, everywhere we looked we should have seen Ignatieff carrying on about this. He should have had major news conference explaining to people just how important it is for a government to ignore an order of parliament. He should have been pointing out to people that if the government can ignore an order of parliament it means we live in a dictatorship. He should have done media interviews demonstrating what he is going to do to save Canadian democracy. He should have already filed an injunction demanding full disclosure. Instead he decided to do absolutely nothing. All we saw on the news today was Stockwell Day. This has been the MO of the LPC for years now, let the conservatives do anything they want and expect that the people will protest and move naturally back to the Liberals. Well it AIN'T going to happen that way Mr. Ignatieff! Being in opposition means you actually have to do something! You have to be proactive and go after the Government in any way that you can instead of sitting there looking foolish. 

Anyone who thinks that Ignatieff is going to be the next Prime Minister is dreaming in technicolor. 

Criminal Government in action. . . .

WHAT?! You mean this government which has no respect for the law, no interest in democracy, and thinks of parliament as only something to get in the way of its perverse agenda, refuses once again to respect the will of the House? I am shocked! I sure didn't see that coming.

And in the next couple of weeks we will all be surprised as the LPC does nothing in return! 

Netanyahu's Peace?

Please don't read this if you are unwilling to engage in respectful and rational political debate. 

Saying anything about Israel is, of course, by the very nature of the situation, controversial. But I for one am very tired of the fact that if one is at all critical of Israeli policy you are slapped with the epithet of anti-Semitism. This is simply not right and not conducive to rational political discourse.

I was thinking about this because of Mr. Netanyahu’s recent proposal to stop issuing new building permits for the occupied territories with the notable exception of East Jerusalem. First of all it must be said that the exception of East Jerusalem is designed to thwart progress from the very beginning. It is like swearing to a judge that if he sets you free you will swear to stop committing crimes with the exception of shoplifting. Then you have to ask the question; why is the Israeli state issuing building permits for the occupied territories in the first place? This like the municipal government in Ottawa issuing building permits for contractors in Toronto. Listening to reports about the issue the other day on the radio I was once again appalled  at interviews with Israeli citizens who were criticizing Netanyahu for restricting any building since, in their words, ‘the Torah gives them the divine right to build anything they want anywhere in the occupied territories.’ Frankly, you cannot have a real political discussion with this as the post basic assumption.

And all of this reminds me of one of the most basic principles of politics; use your advisories to your advantage. The fact is that nothing generates as much anti-Semitism as the various expansionist acts of the Israeli government. But in a seemingly paradoxical but classic move of political strategy these attitudes are the very thing that keep the State of Israel firmly on its expansionist path. The very last thing that a man like Benjamin Netanyahu really wants is a real decline in anti-Semitism, let alone a cessation of such sentiments. Without these feelings the Israelis would have no serious excuse for continuing their gradual effort to take the entire occupied territories for themselves. This is the way in which the Palestinians are playing right into the hands of right-wing Israelis.  But being on the losing end of the stick, so to speak, it is very difficult to do anything else. If you were, say, a twenty-five year old Palestinian you will have never know anything other than occupation. And you will have grown watching your people live in squalor, poverty, and powerlessness in the face of one of the largest, best equipped military forces in the world. All this would be happening against the backdrop of the foreign occupier gradually taking more and more of your people’s land and you are helpless to stop it. It wouldn’t really matter what your politics are in such a case, in most instances the situation would decide for you. And this is the very thing that keeps politicians like Netanyahu going; as long as there are young Palestinians who are seething with resentment at Israeli expansion, and as long as there are people all over the world who sympathize with this resentment, Netanyahu will have the excuse he needs to keep up the policies of building. Under pressure from the Obama administration Netanyahu has temporarily halted the West Bank building. But he knows with all the building that is already going on as well has his exception of East Jerusalem real peace will be impossible – and that is just the way he wants it. 

Now, I understand that there are many Israelis who, also having lived in what they feel is a constant state of siege and that they assume that they cannot achieve peace. I think the better of these folks have simply been duped by men like Netanyahu who are willing to take advantage of anti-Semitism (much of which has been generated by such policies in the first place) to see their political goal move forward. 

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cover-ups and the will of the opposition. . . .

Everyone who has a pulse now knows that their is a serious cover-up going on in Ottawa. THere is now no question that a cover-up going on the only real question is how deep and significant the cover-up really is. We know the Prime Minister is trying to obfuscate and cover-up what people knew and when they knew is he covering up his own knowledge or that of some of his main ministers? Just as everyone knew that there was a Watergate cover-up, we all know something is going on but it is not yet clear exactly what. Now the question becomes, will the Liberals finally have the gumption to stand up and do something or will they just let the whole thing die down like they have with every other Conservative scandal? We will see.

But make no mistake, even if many Canadians don't really care that much about a few Afghans being tortured by their own military forces, even if our own military handed them over, proper exposure of a cover-up of the issue will finally destroy not only Peter Mackay but Harper's dream of ever having a majority in Parliament. Because this is a perfect scandal for a politician like Harper. Even many conservative supporters of Harper have been uncomfortable with Harper's secrecy, his tendency to demonize anyone who questions his government or policies, and his bullying tactics. The exposure of a cover-up by the Prime Minister himself will confirm the very worst feelings that many Canadians have about Harper and his government. 

My bet is this; if the Liberals push it, Mackay will eventually be sacrificed by Harper in the hope that this will avoid too much bad press or the threat of the opposition forcing a public enquiry on threat of an election over the issue. No one, even Harper, wants to fight an election precipitated by an apparent cover-up. But nothing will happen if the Liberals don't have the cojones to actually do something for a change. And as I said, I think it would be smart for them to pursue this issue from a political point of view. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Radical Protests and Liberal Sensibilities.. . . .

I was reading the Liberal Blogs yesterday and was not surprised to find one who was quite beside himself over the actions of Greenpeace at the House of Commons yesterday. It was pretty standard stuff about law-breaking antic being counter productive etc. However when I left a comment about the historical importance of such protests this blogger quickly turned it into some kind of moral argument about condoning violence as though anyone who engages in serious protest efforts is a member of the Red Brigade. 

But as I said this is not surprising because it came  from a Liberal Blogger and Liberals have delicate sensibilities when it comes to anyone actually stepping out on a limb, so to speak, concerning the process of social protest. This comes in large part from people being unable to put the struggles of their own time in historical context. It is easy to sympathize with the Peasant Revolt of 1381 or those who stormed the Bastille but when it comes to our own time radical protesters are just seen as a bunch of crazy, or at best misguided, left-wing maniacs. This lack of historical thought always amazes me but it shouldn't, because it has almost always been the case that people cannot see the wood for the trees in this regard. 

Those who are rational enough to mount a defense of the position of condemning radical protestors these days usually applies to some misguided idea that radical actions were fine in the past but today we live in a great liberal democracy and therefore any illegal action are absurd because people have to abide by the will of the whole, through their democratically elected representatives. This is typical 'end of history' thinking and itself has a long history. Edmund Burke argued basically the same thing over two hundred years ago and much of Hegel's philosophy was based on the same premise. More recently Francis Fukiyama has made the case once again. 

This argument is absurd for a number of reasons but primarily because it fails to understand the 'democracy' in which we presently live. The fact that the present government only represents less than forty percent of the eligible voters (and a much smaller percentage of the general population) is only the beginning of the trouble. The fact is that we have a system in which the political discourse and possibilities have been systematically narrowed and structured by a select group of corporate interests. This is done through the very simple influence that wealth can obtain in any context. 

The fact is that we now have a system that is nothing like a real democracy despite our rights (rights that largely exist because of radical protesters that refused to obey the law) and radical protests are essential to influence debate in a context in which debates are largely predetermined by monied interests. Martin Luther King one observed that one is not only obliged to obey the laws that are morally desirable, but we are obliged to disobey those that are morally wrong. Given this astute observation we should treat Liberal sensibilities of 'correct' behavior with the derision and disrespect they deserve and continue to praise those who are will to put their lives and freedoms at risk for the principles of right. History will vindicate the Protestors who scaled the House of Commons yesterday just as history vindicated Martin Luther King or those who stormed the Bastille. 

Long live radical Protest! 

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My City Councilor and the vagaries of Capitalist Ideology

Today I got my weekly update email from my city councilor, a one Mr. Glen Brooks, a man who instead of engaging in real political discourse once sent me an email telling me that on my next vacation abroad I should only purchase a one-way ticket. This weekly update is voicing his support for a legislated wage freeze for public sector workers. Now, Mr. Brooks isn’t all bad, he does make the concession that he thinks that instead of a total freeze he believes that it should be tied to the rate of inflation. Then he makes that always nauseating claim that he too is willing to take a wage freeze. Isn’t that big of him?

Well I will never support a legislative wage freeze because it goes against the very principle of collective bargaining which is one of the central mechanisms responsible for most of the workers’ rights and decent working conditions that people enjoy today. However, I will tell you what Mr. Brooks, if you vote to cut the City Councilor’s pay to the same rate as, say, the person who mops your office floor, then we will talk.

I am sick and tired of right-wing ideologues, whose very political impetus is the pursuit of personal greed, try to prevent people of earning even decent wages that allow them to raise a family and live in acceptable housing. Today’s right-wingers have really come no further than the ideological drivel expounded by Thomas Malthus two hundred years ago have they?! They continue to be guilty of the worst kind of conceptual idiocy and reification while at the same time parading themselves as intellectuals and genuine leaders. Well, my friends, if Edmund Burke, a man of remarkable eloquence and occasional brilliance, couldn’t make right-wing coherent, then what chance do intellectual midgets such as Glen Brooks have?  But put the reification aside people; our society does not consist of relations between things but between people. We build our society and we can take control of it as we wish. If our economy is not providing for people, it is not the people that need to change – it is the economy. And anyone who argues that this cannot happen is either hiding their own ideological greed behind conceptual clap-trap, is half-witted, or is the worst kind of materialist (philosophical and economic) and foolishly believes that as human beings we are simply subject to abstract laws of mechanism and have no control over our destiny. But if we can take hold of our individual destinies, then we can administer a significant influence on our collective destiny too. But you see, ironically right-wingers know this or they wouldn’t take part in government and pass legislation etc. It is only when average working people say we need to pass legislation that ensures that they cannot be exploited that right-wingers suddenly set the limits of our legislative possibilities. But this is just an ideological game played by greedy, self-serving people who set the limits of our collective power at the protection of corporations to enhance their bottom-line. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Harper's Gang. . .

Just a little fun with photoshop to remind us of the silliness of it all. 

Harmonized sales tax and Tory Bullies. . . .

On considering the recent flap over the issue of the harmonized sales tax, let me first say that I have never been a supporter of this Conservative instituted taxation scheme. I don't support sales taxes because they are essentially regressive and are much more difficult for poor and the working-class than for the more prosperous citizens. If you can afford to purchase a Lexus, you can afford to pay the tax on the Lexus. Income taxes make a lot more sense and I have never bought the argument put forward by many on the right that income taxes discourage innovation and success. If this were true Capitalism would have fallen apart many years ago. Furthermore, consistently the countries with the higher levels of income tax have been by far the most prosperous over the past seventy-five years; a fairly simple fact that most on the right are loath to even acknowledge let alone really address. 

Now having said all that, I have some qualifiers to add to the discourse. One is that 'if' you are going to have sales taxes it makes sense to harmonize them. The system is needlessly complicated and streamlining it obviously makes sense. However, it is unfortunate that the Provincial government in Ontario is using the harmonization to radically increase the sales tax that many will pay. The Ontario government is simply hiding behind this effort which they can blame in part on the Federal Government to increase their revenue on the backs of ordinary workers. 

However, the recent events in the Ontario legislature are probably the most ridiculous of all the events surround the introduction of the Harmonization plan. The show by the thugs of the Ontario Conservative Party is comical and sad. The primary reason that it is so comical is that it is so hypocritical. The leader of the opposition not only supports the harmonization (and would be the one instituting it if he were in office) but he has made it clear that he won't repeal it if he wins in the next election. His theatrical efforts are pathetic because they run contrary to all the principles that Hudak and his caucus claim to represent and they would condemn such tactics with all the pomp and circumstance they could muster if they were in power. The Conservative approach to such lawless tactics is usually "throw the bums in jail." And since the two MPPs that who are staging a sit-in are breaking the rules of the house and essentially breaking the law, it is their leader that should be held accountable. If we apply the standards of the Conservative Party the two MPPs who are engaging in the sit-in should be summarily arrested and put in jail and the speaker should ban the entire caucus from the house for the remainder of this session of parliament. This would be the attitude of the vast majority of Conservatives if they were in government so perhaps this is how they should be treated now. 

For the sake of Honesty Mr. Hudak should make it clear that he supports harmonization but he thinks the plan should change to ensure that it doesn't constitute a tax increase for most Ontarians.  Then he should kick the 'sit-in' MPPs out of his caucus to show that he respects the rules of the House. And then he should run in the next election on those principles. Instead he has just proven that like the Mike Harris Tories before him and the present federal government, he supports bullying, law-breaking tactics if he perceives a political advantage in them, and he has no real principles. Remember the antics of a one Mr. Chris Stockwell, Minister of the Environment under the last provincial government here in Ontario? Forced to hold public hearings (ironically the same kind of hearings that Mr. Hudak is now calling for) Chris Stockwell bullied the speakers at the hearings, often yelling at them and then walking out when they said things he didn't agree with. Obviously the Hudak approach is exactly the same. It is time for Tory Politicians to stop using illegal and bullying tactics to get their way like little school-yard nasties. 

Friday, November 27, 2009

One book done, another one begun. . . .

So this week I finally received the contract from the publisher for my book - Humble Men in Company: The Unlikely Friendship of Samuel Coleridge and Charles Lamb. It felt good to see the contract and know I am one step closer to seeing the book in print. Looking back on it now I can't really see how I actually finished all one hundred and twenty thousand words. I did it mostly in spare moments when Cairo was busy for a few minutes here and there or late at night or early in the morning. But somehow I managed to do it and it won't be long now that I can have a finished book n my hand. 

Recently I have been working on a new book idea that is in keeping with my desire to focus on the English Romantic authors in an accessible way that is meaningful to our present age. I have narrowed this idea down to dealing with the the three Romantic essayists- Lamb, Hazlitt, and Hunt. These were the three most influential essayists of the period and they knew each other well and worked quite closely for many years.  I find them interesting because they worked in an era that is similar to our own in as much as they spent their youth in an period of hopeful optimism only to spend their adulthood in a period of conservative reaction as the traditionally  powerful of Europe reasserted their strength. But in recent decades they are slowly fading into obscurity. However, their essays and letters are full of wit and wisdom much of it that is still interesting and useful today. Just like my last book, this one will not be overly academic and it is my hope that it can contribute to a more popular knowledge of the Romantic authors. I know I am fighting against the tide in an age when the only thing people read is text messages but someone has to do it. 

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Who is Right and who is wrong. . . .

The waters of politics have become seemingly very muddy in recent years. The traditional terms that people used to rely on like ‘progressive,’ ‘radical,’ and ‘conservative,’ seem less clear than they once did. I started thinking about this because of Sarah Palin’s statement that Canada should dismantle its public health-care system. You see, people who would traditionally be considered ‘conservative’ have tried to portray themselves as somehow ‘radical’ or ‘progressive’ by claiming that they are the ones with new ideas  and they don’t want to rely on the old political notions. This is, of course, a ridiculous claim if your so-called ‘new’ ideas are just a return to the past. It is not, in other words, progressive to want to eliminate the gains that radicals brought us through generations of struggle. This would be like the Bourbons in France claiming that they were ‘radicals’ because they wanted to bring back the divine right of kings after the fall of Napoleon. Radicals, you see, seek to preserve the rights and privileges that we have gained and push forward to new and better ones. This is why the political term ‘conservative’ was never very meaningful; most conservatives want to dismantle the gains that we have made in workers’ rights, healthcare, human-rights, social welfare, etc. This is particularly true of the present government in Canada which came to power with what was essentially a ‘secret agenda’ to dismantle every element of responsible government that they possibly could. That is why that haven’t minded running up the country’s largest deficit in history; because they know that it will give them, or future governments, the excuse they need to eliminate social spending, including health-care. And to top that they even want to dismantle other areas of responsible government like freedom of information, the rule of law, ministerial accountability, etc.  And since they really want to destroy government and society as we know it, calling them conservative is certainly something of a misnomer. Those who we commonly call conservatives are really just  people who want to bring back a time when money and power were what really mattered; when those who were most vulnerable had little or no chance to live decent lives. In other words, they want to return to the law of the jungle or the idea that might makes right. We should, therefore, properly refer to ‘conservatives’ as ‘regressives’ because they want the human species to regress to a more primitive form. As ‘progressives’ we want to see a society in which everyone lives a decent life and everyone has a chance to excel. We don’t think that just because you are born with a ‘disability’ or born a woman or a person of color, or born in the wrong part of town, it should be difficult for you to do well in life. In other words, we want the human species to evolve beyond the law of the jungle to a higher state where compassion, cooperation, and care are the laws to which our society adheres. This is what our political struggle is all about and the reason why we will continue to be the true torchbearers of ‘radicalism.’ 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Malalai Joya and democracy

Anyone who has been paying attention to the situation in Afghanistan has hopefully run across the remarkable Afghan woman named Malalai Joya. She is an amazing thirty year old Afghan MP who was suspended from parliament by the dark forces in that country for her outspoken criticism of the foreign occupation, the corruption in government, and president himself. While our government offers platitudes and has the gall to act as though President Karzai has been duly elected, this woman risks her life speaking about what a lie the Western invasion has been. Ms. Joya is an excellent and historic role model for young girls and women and will be proud to teach my own daughter about her life and work.

But one issue that the events surrounding Ms. Joya raises in my mind is the question of the legitimacy of democracy in our age. A great deal of what have come to expect from democracy has vanish slowly before our eyes and has gone unnoticed by many in our society.  Extreme events such as those in Afghanistan often give us a glimpse into the real workings behind a process like democracy. And watching such ‘elections’ as those they recently had there illustrate the real failings of the democratic process in the modern world. Ideally a democratic system should be nurtured by a healthy public sphere (now sometime mistermed ‘civil society,’ a term with a long and complex history) in which ideas about the ‘good life’ and our collective future are openly debated in honest meaningful way. However, in recent years such an ideal has receded so far beyond reach that we cannot even talk about a fair process let alone reach that process.  Money and power have corrupted the system so severely that the vast majority of people don’t even understand the possibilities of political debate anymore. The influence of money in the process gradually narrows the terms of debate and the essence of our collective possibilities to the point that democracy grows gradually meaningless. It is similar to being stranded on a desert island with, say, twenty people, and three of them have most of the supplies and guns. Even if one attempted to institute a democratic decision making process in such circumstances they would mean little because the three people with the inherent power would easily control the terms of the debate. And these three individuals were also mean-spirited and nasty (as our present leaders here in Canada are) democracy would become completely meaningless.

Ms. Joya reminds us of the courage of some individuals in the face of the threat of death to work for justice. Unfortunately she also reminds us of the corruption of democracy and the degree to which the ideals of democracy are quickly receding. 

Monday, November 23, 2009

Does Torture Matter?

A number of things are disturbing about the recent outbreak of the story concerning Canada’s role in the torture of so-called Afghan detainees. The first thing that comes to mind regarding the distastefulness of this story (other than the very fact of torture itself) is the fact that this story has been around for years but the media has largely ignored it. Anyone who was paying even the slightest bit of attention to the events in Afghanistan knew full-well that torture has been a matter of course in the prisons of Afghanistan ever since we began to prop-up what is a corrupt, undemocratic, essentially fascist state there. Until Mr. Colvin testified in front of a House committee, the media simply stayed silent on this issue and bought the line of the Harper Government that we have no hard proof and therefore torture must not be happening. Shame on the media one more time for largely ignoring a story until it becomes fashionable. By the way, all reliable sources tell us that torture is also routine in Pakistan, another Canadian ally, and no one talks about that story either. The media has also failed utterly to make it clear that for Government officials to be indictable for war crimes they didn’t actually have to have proof of torture. All that really matters is that detainees were handed over in the presence of a reasonable suspicion of torture. This is the part of the story that the government is most afraid of. Other distasteful elements in this whole story include the Government’s horrendous attempts at assassinating the character of Mr. Colvin as though suddenly this high-placed diplomat is a fool or a patsy because he has been willing to take seriously what everyone already knew.  Amnesty International has been an outspoken critic of the Afghan government’s use of torture so why don’t we see Peter Mackay stand up daily in the House of Commons and tell us that Amnesty International has no credibility and is being manipulated by the Taliban.

But by far the most disturbing thing about this whole story is the number of people, who have essentially don't really seem upset by the prospect of a few Taliban prisoners having been tortured because they are only Taliban, and the only thing that really matters is the idea of a cover-up. This is part of a disturbing trend since the events of 911 whereby groups of people are marginalized to the point that they don’t qualify for the very human rights for which we have supposedly been fighting. The fact is that this attitude is the very reason that this has been allowed to happen in the first place. People have systematically ignored the fact that torture has been happening because for far too many in the West the people of Afghanistan don’t really matter. Thousands of civilians have been killed, we have propped-up with military what Malalai Joya calls a photo-copy of the Taliban Government, we have stood by and tacitly endorsed torture, all in the interests of a geo-political struggle to assert Western power in a strategically important region at a strategically important moment in history. Until people realize that this war has never been about helping a few young girls attend school in Afghanistan, the torture that the media has ignored and that Mr. Harper secretly endorses won’t matter. 

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mr. Colvin and political principles. . . ..

I am somewhat surprised to see very little in the so-called ‘blogosphere’ being said about the testimony of senior diplomat Richard Colvin in front of a House Committee yesterday. This morning the NDP rightfully called for a full public inquiry concerning the events which Mr. Colvin talked about. For years now people in the intelligence community as well as many in NGOs have been talking about the torture of detainees that have found their way into the hands of the dubious forces of the Afghan government through Canadian hands. Yet any time anyone has asked important questions Harper’s government representatives have marginalized these concerned citizens by openly suggesting that they are naïve lackeys or even unconscious allies of the Taliban. This is, of course, the Harper way; instead of addressing actual concerns about corruption or incompetence they simply attempt to deflect criticism or potential scandal by accusing their accusers. Up to now this technique has been fairly successful, and it may yet work for a while. Eventually, like all such dishonest and centralizing strategies, it will come undone and the government will fall because of some scandal. Of course, the biggest strategy is the precedent that the Harper government will have set for future governments which will feel justified in ignoring scandals and accusing anyone who criticizes the government of being some kind of terrorist or evil-doer.

In the case of this impending scandal, the most distasteful thing I see is that a significant number of Canadians really don’t care if our armed forces or even our government has been directly complicit in torture. There has been a disturbing growth in the number of people who don’t believe that the principles on which our democracies are supposed to be established are to be applied to our supposed foes. However, principles are by their nature always applicable – that is the meaning of the word ‘principle.’ If we do not apply the principles of human rights to everyone, then we simply don’t believe in human rights. If we abandon the principles of rights and the rule of law in the face of some perceived foreign or internal threat, then we have already lost the very fight in which we are claiming to be engaged. 

Monday, November 16, 2009

The economic model and its victims. . . .

This morning on the CBC they were talking about a steel-workers’ strike. Not surprisingly the strike centered on the restructuring of pensions, an issue that has been inciting labour unrest all over the world in recent years. What struck me in particular was an interview with people around the community of the strike many of whom took the position, summed up by one interviewee, that “there is a new business model and people need to adjust to it, and if that means reductions in, or even elimination of, their pensions, that is just how it goes.” This position, though apparently widely held, strikes me as not only naïve but profoundly dangerous. It is naïve because it fails to recognize that business has always tried to undermine the power, the conditions, and the prosperity of workers. It was not that long ago in Western history that children worked in factories and mines and some workers were literally chained to their machines. And any effort to improve the wages or conditions of these workers, or to legislate the use of child labour, was met with terrifying predictions by business of economic disaster. These terrible conditions still prevail in many countries in the world and anyone who does not understand that business everywhere would be glad to bring back the bad old days is deeply naïve. Even where some people in business would find such regressive moves distasteful, they are structurally compelled to move whenever possible in this direction. What many people fail to understand is that what workers are actively pursuing are not just better conditions for themselves. Workers struggles are for all of us. Today we have rights to decent wages and working conditions because generations of union activists have struggled for these things. And every generation has been derided and cursed by many in the community while their victories have been enjoyed by all people in the labour force.

The prevailing opinion is dangerous because it fails to understand that it is not the people are not there to serve the economy, rather the economy is there to serve people. If we have an economic model that cannot provide adequate wages and decent pensions then it is the model that is wrong not the people. The simple fact is that the vast majority of wealth in every country and all over the world is in the hands of a very small group of people and there is plenty of wealth in the world for everyone to live a decent life and if someone claims that the model is changing in such a way that will not always, say, good wages, pensions, and a safe work environment, then the model must be changed. It is as simple as that. In the days when children worked in factories wealthy business people assured us that if we tried to change the business model it would just end in disaster. But here is the simple fact; the regions of the world which have seen the greatest number of regulations of such things as workers’ safety, environmental standards, and workers’ rights, as well as the strongest efforts at redistribution have seen the highest standards of living. The economics of this, and an idea that many would not like us to understand is that workers rights, high wages, and pensions, instead of being a drag on an economy are overall a impetuous to innovation. This has always been central to the development of capitalism. In fact capitalism grew in part out of the ravages of the black-death which made labour scarcer and more expensive, forcing innovations throughout the productive economy. When labour is expensive capitalists have been forced to innovate which has beneficial side effects for all of us. One of Marx’s most important insights was that the capitalist economy tends toward reification; that is the illusion that the economy is a set of relations between things and not between people. Capitalists will, of course, tell us that any efforts at changing the economic model will be disastrous. But the fact is that the economic model that exists today did not happen spontaneously, it was a creation of individuals acting quite consciously in particular ways. This is evident in the fact that we do not have a ‘free-market’ economy but a highly regulated economy the processes of which have been consciously designed to function in certain ways. The problem today is made more complex by the process of globalization. But it is still essentially the same problem and until people understand that we can make the economy serve the interests of everyone if we choose and as long as we let people promote the myth that the economic model is a force of its own then we will continue to be victims of the brutal self-interest of a small minority of wealthy and powerful people. It is a story as old as civilization which is rehashed for each generation but the struggle will and must continue. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Liberal sinking fortunes and the status quo. . . .

I keep wondering why the Liberals are sinking in fortunes while the Cons are rising. It obviously is not the fact that the Harper government is competent. I know that the majority of Canadians are not paying attention to the quiet ways that the Government is slowly taking apart this country and dismantling democracy. I also know, and even the polls and last election confirm this, that a vast majority of Canadians are closer politically to the Liberals than to the Conservatives. But when it comes down to it the Liberals simply are failing to do anything political. In order to come back from the political wilderness I believe that all the Liberals have to do is produce a significant policy shift which aims at reinventing the party and reinventing politics in general in this country. Included in this new policy approach would be a real decentralization of the power of the PMO, new measures to ensure access to information, a compulsory weekly free press conference with the Prime Minister with no pre-determined questions, a significant shift away from fossil fuel dependence and investment into new technologies (with private/public partnerships if necessary), a genuine commitment to electoral reform (something the Cons in particular are scared of). Overall, the Liberal party needs to commit to real changes in policy and approach. This would bring the Liberal Party back into the forefront of Canadian politics. Now I am no Liberal but I think any simple analysis of the political situation in this country makes this pretty obvious. Only the Liberals wont follow the obvious path because the powerful in the party have become beholden in recent years to many of the same forces that the Cons are beholden to. They are, in other words too much part of the political establishment to actually want to change things and that will be there very undoing.  

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Media and democracy. . .

I find recent event rather creepy an ominous concerning the political climate in Canada. This is not only because I find the governing party deeply corrupt and anti-democratic. What I find particularly disturbing is the fact that the media has gone silent on almost everything of significance. Now there is no doubt that the media can get very tedious with its constant sensationalizing of political stories. But in the past couple of years they have simply stopped talking about any story that makes the Tories look bad. In recent months there have been terrible scandals which normally we could depend on the media to talk about but nowadays these stories barely get any play at all. And it is much more than the giant check scandal. The Tories have done things which, in the past would have not only have forced governments to resign but the ruling party to plummet in the polls. They have now been found to be vetting potential civil servants for their support for the government. This is the kind of thing that brought down an Attorney General in the Bush administration. Here it barely makes it into the media at all. Conservative MPs heckle opposition members when they ask legitimate questions about things like swine flu while people are dying. Government ministers withhold important documents to manipulate votes in the House. The Government is steeped in financial abuses that the media barely covers. 

There was a time when these stories would be constant headlines that even a Prime Minister who doesn't watch Canadian news would be unable to ignore. 

The funny thing is that I am no Liberal but at least when they were faced with a serious scandal in the sponsorship event, they actually had a public inquiry. This government simply ignores serious scandals, blames someone else, or sacks a civil servant. And the media goes merrily on ignoring all of it. Just the isotope incident would normally be enough to bring down a government. I mean, the government actually sacked a public safety officer who was doing her job, following pre-established protocol while trying to avoid a nuclear accident! And then a year later she was proved right and Chalk River was shut down! But the media has nothing to say. 

All of this reminds me of the US media in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. 

The funniest part of all of it is that the Conservatives are setting so many bad precedents that they will lament later on when some other party is in power. All of us will eventually lament the Americanization of our political system, the concentration of power, the lack of accountability etc. etc. And when some new group of Tories are crying foul when the pendulum has swung the other way, I will laugh - then I will cry. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Obama and change. . .

It is funny that the degree to which people in the media are debating the status of Barak Obama now that he is nearly a year into his term. There is all this surprise that he seems to have done little of any significance and can hardly be said to be a very ‘different’ president from others in recent history. Citics on the left have pointed out that Obama has supported many of the same policies as Bush did including keeping the war machine going (despite a Nobel Prize), spending millions for Wall Street, and even supporting the same kind of domestic spying programs. I have only one question: who was naïve enough to expect anything different? Oh yes, we all had a moment there when we believed in the audacity of hope. But then we regained consciousness. The fact is that the American political system, though democratic in principle, suffers from certain fundamental  problems. Without any real party system, the US representatives are reduced to a bunch of individual politicians trying to maintain their little fiefdom; there is no national policy, nothing that the US public can get behind and fight for. Thus even though a strong majority supports a national healthcare program, for example, it can’t get done. Barak Obama isn’t getting anything done because his is one guy trying to get the consensus of hundreds of Representatives and one hundred senators, all who are acting on their own for their own political future. Barak Obama could be the greatest guy in the world and really want to make significant changes and it wouldn’t matter, he could only make these changes if, like FDR, he were willing to go way out on a limb to push a radical agenda, but he is just not that kind of politician. I grew up in the States and I went to high school and grad school there. I met many great people, may radicals who wanted to make changes that to me didn’t even seem very radical. But I realized fairly soon that the US is not unlike the Roman Empire, once power structures have been established and stabilized, and many people have huge amounts of money and prestige to protect, change doesn’t come easy, particularly in a political system which was created to maintain the power of an upper-class (think of the so-called founding ‘fathers’) change will not come easy.  

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

H.G. Wells and the failure of democracy. . .

I used to think we were learning something from history but the more I see the more I agree with H.G. Wells; that the only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history! I grew up in the US during the tumultuous time of the war in Indo-China. And I thought this would cure the US population from gullibly supporting another neo-imperialist war. But no. The US is now actively involved in two such wars with no end in sight. I guess I used to be naïve about a lot of things. But I am cured now. Not only is Obama a huge fraud who supports many of the policies of George Bush without any of the backlash, but voters everywhere seem to have an infinite capacity to ignore what is going on all around them. Our government in Canada is frighteningly awful. It not only has poisoned the entire political culture of the nation beyond repair, but it lies continually, has abandoned every principle it claimed to stand for, is centralizing power to a dangerous degree, is dismantling democracy in every way that it can, it is hopelessly incompetent and corrupt. And every day they become more popular. Why? Because democracy is an epic failure at the whim of those who have the most money and can manipulate the system most effectively.

And here is the rub. . . if the Conservatives left office today, it would be far too late to save Canada from the damage they have done. The only moment of amusement we have to look forward to is when the next government is in power and it cripples the conservative with the very standards that the Conservatives have instituted. Though amusing, it will be a hollow victory because as often happens the Conservatives will have pushed the political agenda in this country so far to the right that it won’t change for several generations. Have fun. . . . 

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Problem of paradigms . . .

Blogging has confirmed in my mind at least one particular idea; that one of the primary problems people have in understanding each other and finding creative solutions to our problems is that they think quite firmly within a particular paradigm. The inability to think outside the paradigm in which they are operating makes it very difficult for people to see that certain social interactions or even scientific problems have numerous, sometimes countless, solutions but they are prevented from seeing them because a paradigm, or worldview, is like a hard frame that forms around our thought preventing us from seeing beyond our thought to creative solutions. The philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn wrote extensively about this idea in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. But his conclusions are easily transferable to other areas of society. Ironically, academics are probably some of the people who are most vulnerable to paradigmatic blindness because they are steeped in a certain culture so deeply and because they are well educated they imagine that they are very open minded. It is doubly ironic that the process of peer review continually reinforces this process. Living as I did for many years on the margins of the academic community, I saw this process first hand and was continually shocked by it. But it happens everywhere in our society; in the arts, in politics, in religion, etc. Thus we often discuss things at cross purposes because people can seldom even identify the paradigm in which they are operating and if you don’t even understand that you are operating from a particular world view that is confining the ways and patterns in which you think, breaking out of this will be nearly impossible. Thus we often discuss issues at cross purposes with very little, if any hope, of coming to an understanding because we are operating from conflicting and unidentified world views. People are usually convinced that they are objective and can see all points of view but are only operating in an inter-objective manner, that is, within the confines of their own paradigm what they are arguing makes sense but looked at from another point of view the same argument might be entirely senseless.

I have no solutions for this problem. I just mention it because many of the comments I have received on my blog have been so completely beside the point that it has amazed me. But when I realize that the person is operating in a different paradigm it makes more sense. 

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A few words about global-warming. . . .

I was listening this evening to a ultra-right wing radio host here in Ottawa (I won't say his name because it will just give him free advertising - among my three regular readers), and was just amazed by what he said. He was one of these complete skeptics concerning global warming. Now while I am an avid skeptic regarding most things that scientists say, I think global warming is happening. I am not convinced that humans are the cause, but there seems to be general agreement that something is going on. But this guy went further than claiming that it wasn't happening, he claimed that the idea has been orchestrated by a bunch of people like Al Gore with the idea of making money from various things including carbon credit trading. (I love it when right-wingers engage in conspiracy theories because they are usually telling us that such things are the result of left-wing stupidity.) All the while ignoring the fact that those who deny the existence of global-warming usually have a stake in the oil and gas industry. 

Anyway, what I found most amazing about all this was that even if you don't believe in global-warming, this is only one reason among many to reduce our use of fossil fuels. There is clearly unanimous agreement that carbon particulates lead to numerous human and animal health problems, including cancer, asthma, emphysema, etc. Furthermore, fossil fuels contribute to numerous other environmental problems. Also, there is agreement that fossil fuels are a dwindling resource and will eventually run out. The development of renewable alternatives, therefore is necessary and will in the long term be very profitable. And to cap it all off, the use of fossil fuels as an energy source is very expensive. If we can develop better and cheaper alternatives we can make life better for a great many people. 

Thus, we must ask why was this (and other) right-wing ideologues are going on about how terrible this whole global-warming 'hoax' is? Three reasons: 1. Money, the establishment in this and many other countries has a vested interest in maintaining the current use of carbon fuels. 2. Ideology: these people can't stand that the majority of environmental activist are generally 'left-wing' and they would deny anything that these people asserted. 3. Conservatism: conservatives generally hate change, particularly anything that demands that we change our lifestyles and potentially our power structures. Right-wingers advocate the global power structure that modern capitalism has established and this system relies largely on fossil fuels, any change in this could threaten this system. Any serious innovation that creates a viable, cheap, and readily available energy alternative to fossil fuels could change the global power structure, potentially taking away the advantage that wealthy northern nations now enjoy.  This is certainly the last thing that right-wingers want. 

There you have it. . . 

A new book. . .

Today I got a new book in the mail which looks like it will be quite good. It is The Life and Times of Thomas Spence by Mary Ashraf. Thomas Spence was a radical democratic reformer who lived between the years 1750 and 1814. He was one of the most radical reformers of his time, outstripping the even Godwin and Thomas Paine. Spence anticipated a great deal of Marx and was one of the first of the modern European radicals to call for common property. 

Leafing through the book I hit upon this paragraph which is an excellent indication of the books interest and quality. 

"Labour gives the title no only to its products but to its means; not because it produces things but because it does so socially and is in fact the universal provider and civilizer. The claims to superiority of those who monopolize and misuse the bounty of labour or of nature are contemptible and ludicrous. Without workers the- gentry would revert to savagery, like Saltykov-Shchrendrin's 'wild squire.'"

Good stuff. . . .

So much for accountability . . .

One of the only issues that Harper ran on when he initially became prime-minister was accountability. Anyone who really paid attention at all knows that this was never really in the cards. From day one this government has centralized power and information and failed completely to be open, honest, and accountable. But their secretiveness is finally catching up with the Tories and it will eventually take them down. 

This government is spending billions on so-called stimulus and anytime you have that much money around people like this something is bound to go wrong. Though multiple sources are saying that the money is favoring Conservative ridings, exactly what is going on is unclear. This is because the government is not telling anyone, even the parliamentary budget officer, where the money is being spent. Because it is not difficult to track this kind of money, there must be a reason that the Conservatives are hiding the money trail. If there was nothing to hide they would simply put it on a government web site as they did with Harper's rather embarrassing singing. When Martin ran a long election campaign in 2006, he did so with the hope that the Conservatives, given enough rope, would hang themselves. Unfortunately, thanks to corruption at the RCMP, (with the release of information concerning an investigation into the budget leak against their own rules), the opposite happened. However, though it took a while, the Conservatives now have the rope and they seem to be using it liberally (no pun intended). This sh*t is eventually going to hit the proverbial fan. Let us not forget that Nixon was reelected after the Watergate break-in. But once the ship started to sink, it did so in an epic manner. Harper, the most secretive, corrupt, partisan, undemocratic prime-minister in this country's history is just now beginning to come undone. But like Nixon, his strength will eventually prove to be his weakness.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Harper and the egoism of politics. . .

As we all know, one of the primary problems with social and political reform is that those who resist it are driven by powerful egos and are convinced in almost all matters of life that they are correct in their judgments and that anyone who opposes them must be naive and/or stupid. Those who resist reform, who oppose the extension of democracy and the increase in generalized social interests, live in a constant state of irony because they accept major parts of society that were once considered radical and foolish by their political predecessors who would have rejected them as foolish and naïve.  Yet they accept these ideas while being convinced that while reforms toward greater social education and health, more worker’s rights and reduction of power for the  wealthiest class were fine in the past we have now reached the de facto ‘end of history’ and further reforms will end in total disaster. The conservatives told us that any system of minimum wage would make capitalism explode in total destruction. They told us that women voting would end society. Etc. Etc. Thus conservatives are people who accept radical ideas a hundred years after the rest of us understood them.

But the present class of ‘neo-liberal’ conservatives are much worse than traditional conservatives. A conservative like Edmund Burke, who is often considered the intellectual founder of Toryism, argued that social changes happen slowly through the gradual change in society. He understood at some level the powerful in society had an important social responsibility to society as a whole. Noblesse oblige, if you will. Modern Conservatives like Harper have a whole different M.O. They actually want to turn society backwards to a time when health and education was not universal but was the pleasure of those who could afford it. They want to take away the rights to collective bargaining and legislated safer workplaces. Harper and his ilk would like to take us back to a time when money and class made the decisions about whether some got a decent education or had decent housing. And they believe these things because they are driven by an extreme ego illness that convinces them that they are naturally part of the privileged class by dint of their A-Type personalities and that in a society of extreme inequality they will be somewhere near the top of the heap. This is why Harper never actually talks to average Canadians; he imagines himself as some kind of king who is complete beyond association with such commoners. And when people disagree with Harper or his ministers they get belligerent because they can’t believe that someone has the gall to disagree with them, their opinions must a priori be correct because they are the privileged ones. Thus the Conservatives never actually have a political discourse. They just deride and marginalize everyone else because no one deserve respect except those who agree with them.

This is the poison that has infected the Canadian political system, and democracy itself will be in danger until it has been purged. 

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Politicians and the letters we've sent

I have consistently criticized the Harper government for their corruption, lack of ethics, and total disregard for the people of this country. I do this even when many of the voters don't seem to care that they the government is acting consistently against the interest of the vast majority of the people. 

However, regardless of my politics, I will not indulge the perception that the other parties are somehow more concerned with average voters. 

Over the past seven years I have sent no less than twenty letters and countless emails to politicians of all political stripes. I have sent at least six of those to Jack Layton, two to Dion, two to Ignatieff, and one to Harper. And of course I have sent many to MPs of all parties. But here is the sad fact. I have never received a single reply from anyone except my local (Tory) MP, the dreaded racist Pierre Poilievre. Even though my politics, although non-partisan, would be closer to the NDP than any other party, no one in the NDP has ever bothered to reply to my letters or concerns. My letters to Jack Layton were clear and articulated my concerns about the course of the party and the country but he didn't bother reply to any of them. 

If you want to know why so many people are sick of politics and politicians you only have to look as far as your mailbox. These people just don't care, period.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cheque-scam and the voting public. . .

The fact that the Harper government is corrupt is easily demonstrable. Chose one of a dozen scandals. The In and Out scheme for example. This was considerably worse than the sponsorship scandal which so damaged the Liberal Party brand because the sponsorship scandal was a few peons trying to make money for themselves, while the In and Out scandal is a case of a party attempting, through corruption, to manipulate democracy at the highest level. However, even if one were a Conservative supporter and thought that the sponsorship scandal was worse, the only defense you have is that the Liberals were corrupt too (a school yard defense for a party that was elected claiming it would be the direct opposite of the Liberals). And there are plenty of other issues that demonstrate the Tory corruption is just as bad as Liberal corruption used to be. But of course then there is the fact that the Tories, beside being corrupt, are also rabidly anti-democratic, anti-woman, anti-gay, they hate any kind of genuine people's representation, or any kind of equity. 

Yet, the worse the Tories get the higher their poll numbers go. I for one can't entirely figure this out even with the incredibly biased work of CTV. Of course, like the explanation for most phenomena it is a confluence of factors. Many people just don't pay attention. Many are just not very politically savvy and don't understand the issues. Many people are so partisan that they could have pictures of Harper molesting Collies and they would still think he was a great leader. And many people actually support the total destruction of our democracy and social safety net. After all, the NAZI party was brought to power through the ballot-box, a fact many forget. 

The only part that is really a bit of a mystery to me is that most leaders who are blatantly corrupt like Harper is, and manage to maintain  a degree of popularity, have a good deal of charisma. Now, regardless of one's political stripes it is obvious that Harper is fairly deficient in the charisma department. And herein lies the rub; the real reason we are where we are is that while Harper appeals to the worst in people politically speaking (something which always gains in popularity during troubled times - again remember the Hitler lesson) , the only real bulwark against Fascist tendencies in difficult times is an opposition leader with real charisma. This is, of course, what we are sadly lacking. And in the absence of this there will continue to be a large part of the population in difficult times which finds the easy way out - the path of anger, blame, and hate. And this phenomenon will only get worse as the population ages because in my experience the older that people get the more susceptible they become to this kind of ideological trap. It seems to me that as many people age they too often fall into two poor political habits. One is that they become disappointed with their lives and start to lay blame for their supposed failures on other people. This it the - "It is single-mothers on welfare, or gay people that are getting all the government's attention and resources, and the rest of us are getting nothing" attitude. Or they begin to imagine that despite all the public services they enjoyed in the past - they were solely responsible for their successes. This it the - "I got there with absolutely no help from anyone, and anyone who can't do the same is just lazy" attitude. 

Anyway, as capitalism slowly changes and decays, one of the possible responses that people inevitably take is the one that many in Germany took in the early 1930s, to wit; things are getting bad because minorities and moral degenerates have taken advantage of our kindness and we need to attack these elements of society which are sapping our strength and wealth. This is precisely what Harper's politics represent, and even without the Charisma of Hitler there are enough people who take this negative response in our troubled times to make it a very real and dangerous possibility. Of course, as is almost always the case, conservatives will lead us to a disaster, and when things get really bad progressive people will have to clean up the mess. In the meantime, we must watch the difficult pendulum of history feed people's  anger and negativity and watch one more right-wing fool dismantle democracy and equality with the support of many of those who will eventually suffer the terrible consequences. The angry, spiteful, disgusting tirades of men like John Baird will fill our airwaves and some people will eat it up, as though MR. Baird is being publicly hateful the way many would like to be. And as the distribution of wealth gets worse and the education system decays, and democracy is dismantled, and workers lose their rights, and the gap between the rich and the poor increases, what is good in the human spirit will endeavor to persevere in the face of Harper's hatred and we, or our children will attempt, once again, to clean up the mess. 

Friday, October 9, 2009

Time to go Mr. Layton. . . .

It is time for people on the left of Centre to take back the NDP and make it a party of principle. I don't care what your political stripes, if you are committed to democracy (unfortunately many conservatives are not so committed) you must know that there is a place for a party at the left of center to make a contribution. Unfortunately, under Jacky Layton the NDP has become a party that seems to change positions with the changing of the weather. Unfortunately there are other NDP MPs who are even worse that Layton like Mr. Mulcaire. In recent decades we have have watched the political spectrum shift slowly to the right and the result has been more inequality of wealth, the centralization of power, radical increases in corporate crime against the environment and human rights, decreases in political participation, media concentration. The fact is that a handful of people have most of the wealth and through that wealth they control most of the political agenda. Global capitalism is failing and so is democracy. The NDP under Layton is part of the shift to the right. It is time for a change. It is time for principles to return. 

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Conservative government of Canada is more than just bad, it is evil. It is evil because they want social democracy to fail, they want all the things that make a country civilized to break down. They want a society run by the rich for the rich. They are the very reason the human soul is being lost in a quagmire of greed, self-interest, hate, and anger. 

And here is the irony; they want society to fail, and it is failing. The fact that the Conservatives register even a few points in the polls is a sign that democracy in the age of media concentration simply is not working. People are either not paying attention or so lost in a cloud of ideological misrepresentation and spin that they have lost all sense of reason. 

From the beginning, it has been central to the Conservative strategy to destroy the system. And, as always, it is easier to destroy than to create. The cons know that there is a certain group of society that wallows in hate and ignorance that will always vote conservative no matter what. All the conservatives have had to do is hold on to these and then create an atmosphere of cynicism and disgust at the system and it would alienate enough of the rest that they could stay in power because not enough people would bother with the system. It is a basic divide and conquer strategy that can be very effective. I believe that Harper probably even held meetings with ministers like Baird and told them to be as obnoxious and offensive as they could because that would help destroy confidence in the system itself. Surely nothing else explains such behavior from a party that was initially elected with the claim that they would bring decorum and legitimacy back to the system. (And I would like to believe that no one could be naturally as offensive and ignorant as men like Baird or Polleivre.)

So it goes.....

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Principle or no Principle . . . . that is the question. . .

Political principle is pretty easy in most cases and not hard to distinguish from. Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. The problem for Mr. Layton is that it is very difficult to spend years claiming to stand on a principle on an issue and then suddenly shift to a pragmatic position and still maintain political legitimacy. No matter how you spin it, it comes off appearing as opportunism. And here is one of problems with modern politics and its partisanship. Every party wants to claim both grounds; principle and pragmatism. And when a party taking the supposedly principled ground it spends all its time accusing the other parties of not being principled. And then when it takes a pragmatic stance, all the other parties suggest that all their principle was just spin and opportunism. Here's an idea, why don't all the parties just admit that they are pragmatically pursuing their own interest and then when other parties are acting in a pragmatic way not bother accusing them of some kind of political heresy. This would put an end to all the political crap that we put up constantly with the parties and leaders. 

Or even better, why doesn't one politician start acting on actual principle? If you don't have confidence in a government, don't vote that you do. Period. 

But if you want to be a pragmatist, fair enough, be a pragmatist. But then don't spend any time accusing other people of being bad for doing exactly what you would do. This is the whole problem with politics. Every party says "look what this other party has done, isn't it terrible!" Even when they would do something exactly the same or very similar.

People don't vote because politicians are just consistently and nauseatingly hypocritical. But unlike some patterns of behavior which are motivated by fear or addiction, this kind of behavior is easy for one to stop doing, just be principled about your pragmatism. . 

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Political doldrums and New Books

I haven’t blogged much in the past few days because it doesn’t seem worth it anymore, at least not from the political perspective. The NDP has rolled over and become Harper’s lab-dog, the Liberals are running namby-pamby ads which will have no impact at all because it’s like fighting against a guy shooting an Uzi by dancing ballet, and Harper is just getting worse every day. Writing about politics now seems like trying to a have a rational discussion about aerodynamic while the plane is going down, interesting but superfluous.

In light of this I will just mention the books I got in the mail this week. I got a three volume edition of the Letters of the Wordsworth family edited by William Knight, published by Ginn and Company, Boston, 1907. The set is in very good condition but is discarded from the library of Occidental University so the spines are numbered with typical white numbering. It should be interesting to read many of the letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth to some of the other great literary figures of the age. Though I am not a big fan of Wordsworth, he knew a lot of people and writes a surprisingly good letter. This is not, of course, the exhaustive collection of Wordsworth letters. The complete letters are published by Oxford I believe in a multi-volume edition and each volume can cost a couple of hundred dollars. But I am certainly not a Wordsworth expert and am more interested in the letters as background reading concerning the Romantics in general so this set will do for my purposes.

I also received six volumes of the writings of Thomas de Quincey. I already had two of these volumes but I won the set on ebay, and the two new ones are in better shape than the old ones. These published byf Ticknor & Fields of Boston and are part of a nineteen volume set of the complete works of De quincey published in the 1850s. I have never been able to figure out why a publisher like T&F, a company that was well known for their fairly good quality publications, would invest this kind of effort in publishing this multi-volume works of De Quincey. From what I have been able to determine, De Quincey was well known but hardly popular enough to warrant such an elaborate publication, particularly in the US. Interest in the Romantic poets was growing in the 1850s and De Quincey knew all of them and had written a great deal concerning them and their lives. But that would only have taken a couple of volumes, not nineteen of them. And the strange thing about this set is that it doesn’t include any of De Quincey’s correspondence.

De Quincey is, of course, most well known for his book Confessions of an Opium Eater which appeared in the London Magazine in serialized form in the early 1820s. This book quite needlessly exposed the addiction of Coleridge to Opium and was not a very flattering picture of the great poet. But De Quincey in general is quite an enigma and why he wrote certain things is a complete mystery to me. His prose is some of the most complicated of the whole romantic era and can be extremely difficult to read at times. Some of his work is very interesting if you can wade your way through the long digressions and get to heart of the matter. Such complex writing is best read out loud to get the true effect of the pomp of prose. I encourage people to read a biography of De Quincey because he presents such a strange and enigmatic picture that it is always interesting. 

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Open letter to Jack Layton

[I post this letter here because I have learned through experience that Layton does not answer letter sent to his office so I have given up trying for a personal response]

Dear Mr. Layton;

For months now I have been defending the NDP while Liberal bloggers have subject it to constant excoriation. Many have said that once Jack Layton thought it was to his advantage to support Harper and his cronies his so-called principles against the Torys would suddenly evaporate. They said that your criticisms of the Liberals for supporting Harper were just empty political games because under pressure you would stand up with some lame excuse to support the Tory government. And though I have never been one of your most outspoken supporters, I foolishly rejected this contention. I assured people that though you are not politically perfect, you would never stoop so low as to keep the worst, most dangerous Prime Minister in Canadian history in office. Imagine my shock and disappointment when I learned that all your talk about Harper being untrustworthy was just political rhetoric? I was doubly shocked to see that you are willing to sell out the people of this country for bogus EI legislation that will do nothing for the vast majority of workers.

If you think average NDP supporters are going to see this as anything less than crass political opportunism you are surely wrong. And all of this begs the question, if you were going to be willing to support the Harper government on something as empty as this EI reform, why did you spend so long criticizing the Liberal Party for doing exactly what you are doing now? Is it just outrageous political incompetence that would drive you to such a public reversal? Are you just so surrounded by yes-men and fools that you can’t see what your actions really mean out here in the world to average people?

What you are doing now Mr. Layton is the very reason that democracy is in crisis. Politicians constantly say one thing and do another. They play political games with constant harsh rhetoric which is suddenly contradicted by their actions. You don’t have to ask yourself why voter turn-out is so low, you need only look in the mirror. People are turned off by this opportunism and hypocrisy.

It is very sad that we now have no real alternative to look to in Ottawa because you are all playing the same game.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Harper's real principles. . .

There is a consensus among many people, even some conservatives, that Harper has jettisoned most of his political principles for the sake of political expediency. And indeed, it does appear this way. He certainly didn’t create a more open government, and the biggest deficit in Canadian history brought to us by a man who said he would never run any deficit; these are certainly damning events. Coupled with his appointment of so many political cronies to the senate and the radical increases in taxes (income trusts and HST both mean many people are paying a lot more tax under the CONS) makes Harper look more like a political opportunist than a man of principle. Now, die-hard conservatives will rationalize these policies as necessary compromises given the circumstances, but of course principles, by definition, are not abandoned simply due to difficult circumstances, if they are then they ipso facto are NOT principles.

However, I have begun to wonder whether we might look at this a different way. I think that the only principle that Harper came into office with was to destroy the major gains of our social democracy. Harper and his cronies couldn’t stand that Canada was a country with major social programs that worked fairly effectively, it was eating them up inside because of their cut-throat capitalist ideology and their hatred of anything ‘social.’ During the first couple of years the Harper government began to chip away at some very important aspects of our social democracy. For example, they cut all adult literacy programs, many women’s programs, the court challenges program, and they tightened up government so that it is now considerably less open and access to information (one of the prime hallmarks of a healthy democracy) is a joke. They geared all their social policies to ‘results based’ requirements, something that is notoriously ineffective for real social programs. They monumentally overspent in their first two years of government to bring the country to the brink of deficit because they knew that a recession was coming and the last thing they wanted was a fiscal cushion. Then when the recession did come and they were forced into running a deficit, this did not challenge their principles, rather it gave them a new opportunity to reach their goals. They brought forth a budget that had permanent tax cuts and insignificant and temporary infrastructural spending. This strategy has ensured that any future governments are going to be forced to make major cuts to social programs. Voila, the Conservatives have lived up to their principles because their only real principle was to destroy Canada’s social democracy. The Conservatives, by the way, faced no real challenge from the Liberals in laying waste to the country.

Judged thusly, the Conservative have done exactly what they wanted to do and Canada may never be the same. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wake up Liberals. . . .

I know the Liberal wants to live in a universe where negative ads don’t work, but they don’t. I am appalled at the distasteful ads that the Conservatives are running because they are not attacks on Ignatieff’s policy positions or what he has done as a politician, but instead they are attacks on his person. But it is time for the Liberal party to wake up to reality. They are running against the worst PM in Canadian history, a liar, a cheater, an amazing flip-flopper, a mean-spirited, incompetent, self-centered demagogue. They could be running ads that specifically point out to Canadians the terrible degree to which this Prime Minister has lied to the Canadian public.

He said he wouldn’t tax income trusts: HE LIED. He said he wouldn’t appoint senators: HE LIED. He said he wouldn’t run deficits: HE LIED. He said he would stick to four year elections: HE LIED. He said he would create open government: HE LIED. The Liberal Party should be running ads to this affect over and over and over. If they were they would be way ahead in the polls, pure and simple. You cannot fight a government like this with nice, warm-fuzzies, it just won’t work. If the Liberals were fighting Rommel’s panzer divisions would they use feather dusters??

Wake up Liberals, or prepare to lose another election.  

Let's respond Leftist bloggers. . .

The NDP bloggers on New Democrat Online have, for a long time now, taken every opportunity to deride and excoriate the Liberal Party of Canada for continually voting with the Harper Conservatives. They have, however, been ominously silent in recent days about their own leader’s overtures to Harper and his cronies, rationalizing the potential agreement as a genuine effort of the NDP to get some concessions that will help working (or no-longer working) people.

Anyone who has looked at these so-called concessions knows that they don’t even fulfill the Liberal demands let alone the demands of the NDP. Now I know that no vote has yet taken place (and the NDP may not support Harper) but come on Leftist bloggers, let’s see some indignation at the very idea that the NDP would keep the Harper government alive so that Jack Layton and Peggy Nash know how we feel out here!  


Monday, September 14, 2009

NDP hypocrisy, how sad. . ..

Today Paul Dewer, NDP MP for Ottawa Centre, talked to the media directly after the Tories presented their EI reforms. Mr. Dewer told us that it would be “irresponsible” for the NDP not to closely examine the proposals before making a decision on whether to support the government or not. This is nothing short of complete political hypocrisy and opportunism! They didn’t need to read the previous budget, and instead the NDP told Canadians that because Harper and his government simply couldn’t be trusted it didn’t really matter what the budget said. Now, suddenly when they cannot blame the Liberals for propping up Harper, the NDP is into political responsibility. How disappointing! I agreed with the original NDP position, to wit; this government cannot be trusted, period! But it is disappointing to learn that they didn’t really mean it and it was just political posturing. Mr. Layton has now proven himself to be just like any other political leader in this Parliament; an opportunist who is more concerned with his own pension than real principles. (I have, of course, seen this before in Mr. Layton who failed repeatedly to condemn the invasion of Afghanistan until the political wind shifted and he saw the condemnation of Canada’s role as politically expedient. )

If you cannot stand on principles Jack, why are you the leader of the NDP? You need to resign now. . . . (And while you are at it Mr. Dewer, you need to resign also.)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Last Roses of Summer. . . .

Well it wasn't much of a summer. Besides there being a lot of rain (the wettest July on record here in Ottawa), personal stuff prevented me from really enjoying the summer and I only got to take Cairo to the beach twice and that was in June. 

But the weather has been quite fine lately and my rosebush continues to produce beautiful roses. The days are dwindling now but I certainly enjoy the sight of nearly perfect red roses just outside my door. Cairo is back at school and I can feel a very slight chill in the evening air. 

Have a good fall everyone