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.