Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Budgetary Scam

Well, the Conservatives are back in power and here we go into deficit again. Coincidence, I think not. Everyone will tell us that it is not their fault and that a global situation has forced their hand. Not really. They have made so many tax cuts up to this point that they had no cushion for troubled times and they now have a structural deficit on their hands because of it. The Conservatives have always had an agenda to divert as much money as possible to big capital and have no real concern for the real system of public finance. Do the research for yourself and you will find that overall (including provincial governments) it is the NDP that has most consistently balanced budgets. This is because they, more than any other party, is truly concerned with their responsibility concerning public funds.

Anyway, all that aside, this federal budget is an unbelievable scam. This government has consistently claimed that they are putting money into things like infrastructure funding. But very little of this money actually gets spent, let alone spent appropriately. So pay little attention to the claims that this budget is putting lots of money into your municipal or provincial infrastructure. What this budget really does for the Conservatives is to give them the excuse they want to give more tax cuts, particularly to Corporations, and further hollow out the ability for the government to respond to social needs in the future. Any infrastructure spending included in this budget is temporary while the tax cuts are permanent. This means that the only way out of deficit spending will be to make cuts to social programs. But the economic downturn has provided a perfect smokescreen for the Tories to continue their gutting of the social system and further retreat from governance. Even economists, seldom friends of social spending, have said that permanent tax cuts will have very little benefit and will only serve to make it more difficult to get back to balanced budgets.

The federal budget is a scam! But the Liberals will once again establish their credentials as a gutless, hopeless, quasi-Tory, wannabe party, and they will contribute to the gradual destruction of a responsible State by voting for this budget.

So it goes.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Grand Party of Lies and Corruption

Is anyone amazed how quickly the Conservative Party abandoned their entire fiscal approach when political expediency demanded it? That was the fastest political reversal of fundamental principles I have ever seen! Harper’s entire political identity was built on the idea that deficits are always unnecessary, structural or otherwise, now he can’t embrace them fast enough. And the ironies don’t stop there. For years in opposition, the Conservatives told us that the Liberals were fiscally irresponsible for having budget surpluses, suggesting that this simply meant that they were taxing us too highly. But now, I dare say, everyone with an attention span of a five year old can see the advantages of those surpluses. If you have an economic surplus and things go badly, you have something to fall back on. It seems that Harper, who claims to know so much about macro-economics, failed home-economics in high-school.

Well now the conservatives can no longer hide it: capitalism isn’t the perfect self-regulating mechanism that they claim.

And by way of another interesting comparison of the Conservatives with the Liberals: this week the Conservative Party was in court trying to prevent Elections Canada from having access to their documents that might demonstrate that the Conservative Party was in fact guilty of Electoral fraud. Amazing! The Conservative Party is in court trying to prevent disclosure. This is the party that claims that they wanted to open up the government and make it more accountable. Keep in mind that, despite their consistent and ferocious criticisms of the Liberal Party over the sponsorship scandal, at least Paul Martin started an independent public inquiry into the facts. The Conservatives, on the other hand, would have sued the opposition party for suggesting in public that they did anything untoward, and then they would have sought a court injunction to prevent public discourse on the subject.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama and the discourse of Empire

What a strange moment to watch the inauguration of the first African-American president. I grew up in the US under the shadow of the War in Indo-China and the gradual end of segregation. It is a day I never thought I would see. Of course, we all know that this is not the end of racism, but it is a great symbolic victory for those who have fought so long and hard against it terrible scourge.

But what strikes me as particularly strange as I watch Barack Obama give his inauguration speech is the notable dichotomy that underlies his words. In recent days, as well as in today’s speech, Obama has talked a lot about returning America to its greatness. And those of us who have been so horrified by the Bush administration’s total disregard for the constitution and the rule of law, hope that Obama will reverse a great deal of what has happened over the past eight years. But as seductive as Obama’s speeches can be, let us not kid ourselves! The prosperity of the United States is not been built upon generosity and the promotion of human rights. On the contrary, anyone who has paid any attention knows that the US has continually undermined democracy when its outcomes has not adhered to its political and economic interests. We all know that US trading policies through institutions such as GATT have been designed to undermine the economic independence and prosperity of the world’s poorest nations. For generations the US economy was built with the sweat of slaves at home, and in more recent years US prosperity has been built on the backs of third world workers who, if they ever had the gall to assert their independent right to built their own economies based upon more cooperative ideals, suffered from US oppression or wars waged by proxy in the interests of Wall Street. In the past eight years the US has openly practiced terrible violations of human rights with the excuse of a ‘war on terror.’ But for the past two hundred years it has consistently violated human rights with other kinds of excuses and spin. From its support of the Shah of Iran, the carpet-bombing of Laos, to the mining of Nicaraguan waters, the US has built its prosperity on raw, ferocious, filthy power. Obama talks about rebuilding American greatness, but the only meaningful discourse would be talk of RE-Making America in the real spirit of truth and democracy.

Obama’s first chance to Re-make America would be to stop its closest military ally, Israel, from keeping the worlds largest prison camp in Gaza and pressure it into giving back the land it has stolen, and in the process ensuring that the people of Palestine can build themselves an independent and prosperous nation in fairness and democracy.

Whenever you feel yourself seduced by Obama’s talk of hope, remind yourself what the United States has really been and hope that it can be the first empire in history that can truly re-make itself into that which it has pretended to be.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Israel, Palestine, and Irrationalism

UN Security Council Resolution 242 has been argued over for forty years now. But I think to even a mildly disinterested observer it is clear that Israel is in the wrong here. The preamble to peace is simple; Israel must pull back from all occupied territory and dismantle all illegal settlements. If your neighbour took half your house and refused to vacate it for forty years, do you think you could ever live in peaceful coexistence with him? I think not. Almost every rational observer on the globe understands that Israel is consistently standing in the way of peace through the act of occupation. Only through abandoning its illegal occupations can Israel empower the process by empower those among the Palestinians who also want peace. There are some on both sides that will try to undermine the move to peace even if it were to arrive, but those will have no power in the face of genuine cooperation and empowerment. The worst tragedy is that so many people in a handful of the world's most powerful countries have so easily bought into the idea that a ragtag group of malnourished individuals in refugee camps are the aggressors who are responsible for all the conflict in the Middle East. It would be like the Roman Empire blaming the Visigoths for all the war on the northern frontiers. Come on, wake up!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Democracy and the General Will

Throughout the generations political thinkers have struggled with the tensions between public and private interests. Rousseau went to great lengths to stress the importance of the ‘general will,’ and the need for such a will to trump individual interests. For his time Rousseau was fairly radical in believing that a group of democratically representatives should elected who would pursue the general will. It has now become almost universally accepted that such representative democracy is the fairest and most attractive political system. However, in our rush to embrace various forms of democracy, we have failed to properly examine the problem of the general will. Instead people have rashly assumed that a government elected through some form of democratic process automatically represents the general will. However, this is by no means necessarily the case. Even if we assume that a general will can be said to exist (which is an arguable point in itself), for such a will to be manifest in an elected government, that government would have to be significantly free of undue influence both internally and externally. However, everyone knows this not to be the case. First of all, significant numbers of people simply don’t take part in the democratic process in many countries. But perhaps more importantly the democratic process itself is increasingly subject to the influence of moneyed interests, and as a result governments that are supposed to represent a general will really represent a fairly narrow interest of a relatively small elite. This problem is made even more difficult by the fact that international pressures significantly hamper what a national government is able to do regardless of its goals.

We are faced with a fundamental political problem. Democracy is the favoured way of forming and practicing a general will, but at the moment it seems unable to achieve this basic objective. Depressingly, this fundamental problem is not even on the political radar in most countries. And to make matters worse, when Western countries do not like the results of a democratic election they simply disregard the entire process. Hamas, for example came to power in an election that was promoted by the Western powers, but those very same powers refused to recognize the results because they had branded Hamas as a ‘terrorist’ organization. Elected governments all over the world have done questionable, and even evil, things. To call Hamas a terrorist organization while imagining that the US State is a paragon of virtue is irretrievably naive. Advocates of democracy must come to terms with this fact. In the meantime we have to advocate for the reformation of democracy itself so that it can, sometime in the future, truly represent a general will.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Trouble in Gaza

Why is the problem in Palestine made so complicated? Its simplicity is crystal clear to me. The Palestinians were forcibly pushed off of their land and compelled to live in exile refugee camps that, in the case of Gaza, amounts to a huge prison camp. Their children suffer from malnutrition and are deprived of even the simplest essentials of life. Their humanity has been systematically taken away by one of the most powerful military structures in the world supported with billions of dollars from the US government. They have fought back against these conditions in ways that we can always expect an oppressed, poverty ridden people to do; with everything from stones to rockets. It is, no doubt, dangerous to a small number of Israelis, but it is also rather sad and pathetic. Israel and the US may condemn the militants of Palestine for their sometimes deadly tactics but Americans and Israelis would do exactly the same thing if they were robbed of their homes and forced to live under such conditions.

There has always been a small number of Israelis who understand that peace can only come with a decent and prosperous Palestinian state with the original UN boundaries. But there is also a group of Israeli militants who believe that they have a God-given right to all the land of Palestine and in pursuance of this goal they do anything to maintain the conflict with the Palestinians in order to give them the excuse they need to slowly destroy the Palestinian infrastructure and eventually take all the land of the region. They sell this agenda the way fascists always do; through fear. And thus they have effectively convinced the majority of Israelis that they are the victims and that they have the right to do anything to fight back. Of course, on the other side there is a certain number of Palestinians who don’t want peace either because they need their own excuse to fight against what they consider to be an illegitimate Jewish state. But the only way to beat such militancy is not through militarism (which only feeds such madness) but through prosperity and peace. Take away the constituency of the militants and it will fade away. In other words all you need for peace is to make the Palestinians stake-holders in peace and prosperity and they will become partners with the Israelis in the struggle against militancy. This can be done with a genuine commitment from Israel; peace is in their grasp if they want it. This simply illustrates a truism that everyone should understand; that the more powerful party in a conflict always has the upper hand in the struggle for peace. Unfortunately the Palestinians, being the weaker and significantly more vulnerable, have no such power to bring about peace because even those among the Palestinians who want it cannot stop those militants among them, whose numbers continually grow through their conditions of live and lack of freedom.

It is a very simple lesson that union activists have understood since Robert Owen illustrated it so effectively; give employees a stake in the success of a business, make them feel as though they are part of the process, empower them and make them part of a collective effort for success, and you get loyalty, compromise, and prosperity.

There is no doubt that the individuals in Hamas who have shot rockets into Israel have killed individuals. But the militants of the Israeli state have attempted to kill an entire people.