Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Market Illusion and Right-Wing Hypocrisy.....

Today in Ottawa a number of so-called pirate cab companies were indicted on charges of operating illegal taxi services in the City. I find this quite amusing. Do you think any mainstream right-wing commentators will complain about these indictments with the suggestion that in a ‘free-market’ anyone should be able to run a cab company if the clients are out there to pay for the service? I don’t think you will hear any such complaints from right-wing ideologues. Instead they will quietly ignore this remarkable, but incredibly common, contradiction in their ideology. This is because they don’t really believe in a ‘free-market’ at all.  A real ‘free-market’ would be one in which anyone could practice as a taxi driver, or a physician for that matter, and it would be up to the buyer to determine whether the person selling this service is legitimate and trustworthy.

The fact is that, with the exception of a few extremists, no one really believes that markets can self-regulate or function at any practical level without extensive regulations and control. But right-wingers constantly want promote the idea (and the illusion) that somehow they are committed to a free-market. Instead, what the right-wing is committed to is extensive regulations that are targeted at aiding certain kinds of companies, producers, and service providers. And this selectively regulated market approach is designed to make big money for big capital and leave average people to wallow in poverty.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Where do we go from here.....?

The more I see, the less I believe that we have learned. The cynical malaise of our age seems to be deepening as the poisonous evil of right-wing ideology seeps into all aspects of our society. Portraying itself as various aspects of perceived ‘goodness,’ the right-wing ideology that prevails is the worst kind of evil; that which degrades the weak and vulnerable in the name of God and Country. Feeding off fear and prejudice, while attempting to line the pockets of the rich and powerful on the backs of average people. Though they try to hide behind patriotic or quasi-religious slogans, they constantly show their hateful and malevolent hand in each negative ad, each angry speech, and each slip of the tongue which reveals their racists or intolerant attitudes. And these attitudes are slowly colonizing each corner of our daily lives until we don’t know where hate begins and politics ends. At each stage of history the members of the establishment, those with wealth and power, declare wars on alien nations and on their own people, and they do so in the name of order, decorum, goodness, family, and the nation. And the radicals, who are constantly demonized and marginalized, work tirelessly to counteract the terrible effects of the prevailing ideologies in the ultimate and continuous struggle that, though largely thankless, is the only thing that has brought real civilization to the world. 

But I am now in my forty-fifth year, and let’s say that I am lucky enough to live for another thirty years. Do I see any end to this cycle of malevolence and hate? Not really. I want to but I don’t. Weber saw it more than a hundred years ago. As rationalization of society increases we are trapped into an ‘iron-cage’ of control and bureaucracy.  And the evil men and women who are eager to exploit this process of rationalization in the name of goodness, live prosperous lives and hold many of the positions of ‘respectability’ despite the evil at the core of their agenda.

Oh Shelley where are you when we really need you? I hope the English graveyard in Rome where you rest is a quiet and cheerful spot!  

I want so much to be an optimist! I want so much to see the magic and beauty of the world. 

Hoover and todays leaders

Anyone who has not read Kevin Baker’s article in the new Harper’s Magazine should go out and get it immediately. Mr. Baker makes a brilliant comparison between President Hoover and the new President of the United States. Baker shows much the two men have in common at a personal level in a way that is quite compelling. He then demonstrates that Hoover failed because he was too steeped in the economic paradigm in which he was brought up. While Hoover, quite contrary to public perception, made serious and innovate efforts to deal with an economic crisis that the majority of people didn’t even understand. But Hoover’s failure was rooted in his inability to step into a new paradigm, to find structurally new ways of dealing with what was happening. Baker then shows how Obama, despite his radical rhetoric, is making the exact same mistakes. Obama is simply unable of stepping into the new frontier of economic thought that he needs to in order to really deal with the problems he is facing. He is surrounding himself with small-minded party politicians who represent small constituencies and have no courage to make real changes. Instead of stepping into the realm of political conflict that he must in order to make changes, Obama is attempting to play a political game of cooperation and reconciliation that will lead into cosmetic changes in systems that require serious overall.


How similar are our political problems here in Canada! Ignatieff, is a man who has no serious vision for dealing with the problems we are facing. Harper has poisoned the political well of Canadian politics and corrupted the entire system with hate and ultra-partisanship. The Conservatives walked Canada right into this economic devastation by squandering surpluses on tax cuts that helped no one but the prosperous. They then tabled a budget which was just another joke. It promised lots of temporary spending, most of which will never go out to the people who need it, and more permanent tax cuts which mean nothing to average working-class and middle-class people. But the Liberals watched it happen and voted for it. Then Ignatieff made a lot of noise about holding the government to account on several important issues, but let the Harper government walk away without a single genuine concession, unless you call another committee of white men with suits real progress.

All that we have learned is that Ignatieff, even if he becomes Prime Minister, will fail because he has no genuine ideas. He is working within the same paradigm as Mr. Harper and thus he cannot step beyond the very politics that he claims to be opposing.

The depression of the 1930s almost brought capitalism to its knees and led in Europe and elsewhere to fascism. Capitalism saved itself by the actions of men like FDR who were willing to shift the paradigm away from the politics that had reigned since the previous depression in the 1870s. But in the present crisis it appears that no leaders are stepping out on the limb that must be traversed in order to shift modern politics and economics into a new era.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Iran and our own Democracies.

The events is Iran are tragic and profoundly unjust. However, we in the Western ‘democracies’ love to point to democratic failures elsewhere and have little inclination to turn a critical eye on our democratic processes. We imagine that we have more or less perfect democracies and that we could never be subject to the kind of oppression that the people in Iran are experiencing. But we shouldn’t be so smug and events in Iran should give us pause to consider our own situation.

In the last General Election in Canada a little less than 60% of registered voters turned out to vote. The Conservatives won about 40% of those votes. This means that about twenty-five percent of registered voters voted for the ruling party. Now given that a certain percentage of adults are registered or cannot register to vote, this means that we can conservatively estimate that perhaps 20% of adults in Canada voted for the ruling party. Now if the Conservatives had won few more seats they would be a majority government and rule as a de facto dictatorship with less that quarter of the people supporting them. (Keep in mind now that given Harper’s complete disregard for the courts in cases when they decide against his agenda when I say a de facto dictatorship I don’t think it is hyperbole) Now such a circumstance must be treated with suspicion and to say that this is democratic is surely questionable. This is particularly disturbing when one considers that all of these candidates were chosen by unaccountable local constituency offices and many of them were parachuted in by the upper management of the party.

Now, as undemocratic as our system is at a practical level, we should keep in mind that if millions of people had massed in Ottawa at Parliament Hill suggesting that the will of the majority is being ignored in the organization of government, our Prime Minister would be even quicker to call out the army to disperse such crowds that the Iranian clerics have been. Anyone who doesn’t believe it is irretrievably naive.

So while you are watching the terrible events unfold in Iran, don’t be so quick to feel comfortable and superior in the nature of our democracy. We have plenty to work on here in our ‘democracies’ and we should get to work. 

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day and Technology

Happy father’s day to all the fathers out there, and you know who you are.

For all those who doubt that all the technological advances are producing wonderful, useful, and productive outcomes, consider this amazing piece of technology that I heard about on the radio this morning: it is called the Sky Caddy. It is a hand-held Global Positioning device which allows golfers to determine to the inch how far they are away from each hold on the course as well as all the various hazards. Who needs to worry about Cancer, Global warming, human starvation? Why bother using our technological advances in the pursuit of solving such lofty problems when we can make global positioning caddies for golfers?

Have a good day everyone.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Excellent . . . Another Committee!

Lots of Nortel Workers, many with decades of service, have been laid off without severance pay and with their pensions lost. This week a number of Nortel executives are getting big bonuses. And while this is going on did the leader of the opposition choose to do something? No, instead he decided to do what politicians do best; strike up a committee.  It is like something out of Monty Python. I am just amazed. Anyone who thought that Mr. Ignatieff’s MO was different from the standard politico can now see the light. Just what the unemployed in Canada need: another committee of Liberal and Conservative MPs who will spend three months of per diems to decide . . . absolutely nothing. Meanwhile more people will become unemployed this summer and more people will lose their homes while Ignatieff enjoys his life of comfortable prosperity.

Here’s an idea: instead of going on the BBQ circuit, Mr. Ignatieff should be compelled to spend the summer months living in social housing on four hundred dollars a month. Maybe then he would understand that what people need are not more committees. What we need is genuine people of action to lead in troubled times.  

I suspect that the scenario will play out something like this: this committee will be entirely unable to come to any kind of agreement and their report will reflect this. This indecision will not derive from any genuine ideological difference but will exist because Ignatieff see EI as a wedge issue and has already instructed his MPs what they are permitted to decide. Ignatieff will then make a big show out of his attempt to find compromise with Harper’s government and will make his argument concerning the need for an election. The Liberal will probably win and when they get into power we will see that their policy stance (where it can get out of a committee) is almost indistinguishable from the Conservatives. They will not reverse most of the horrendous legislation that Conservatives have brought in and we will have seen, once again, a quiet shift to the right in Canada. And Harper will resign with a huge pension and a high paying job in the private sector.

Politics has become something like professional sports; two teams of rich men fighting it out but whose victory or loss means very little to them since they will be wealthy whether they win or lose. Only instead of meeting in an arena they met at a committee tale. Maybe we should make this dubious EI committee meet on the lawn of Parliament and we could set up bleachers and sell peanuts and beer. And after three months of cheering, the spectators can go home just as empty and unfulfilled as when it all started. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Summer Election ..... Not!

We all know there won't be an election this summer so why don't the MPs all go home and the media stop talking about it so we can all get on with summer? And on that subject can someone tell me why the media and the politicians keep telling me that "no one in Canada wants a summer election" ?? It is as though a summer election would mean we would all have to spend the next two months doing hard labor in Leavenworth prison or something. I don't know about most other people but I can take a ride down to the local voting station and vote in about ten to twelve minutes from when I leave the house to when I return. So what, exactly, is the big problem? 

Anyway, back to the election that is not going to happen. If people are just willing to put aside their partisan fever they would surely see that the Liberals still look like a spent force politically. They have no serious political ideas or alternatives to the Government, and to be honest, there is very little to choose between the Harper Conservatives and the Ignatieff Liberals at a substantive policy level. The Harper Government has done some terrible things but Ignatieff would not reverse most of them, instead his own Government would just take advantage of these cuts in freedom of information, court challenges programs etc.. .. etc. The only real differences at this point are stylistic ones. And though these can be important, most people in Canada don't seem to mind that Harper is a Machiavellian madman and therefore don't care if there is an election or not. 

Instead of an election, the Liberals will once again vote for the Harper Government as it has done for years now and we will go on for another year or so. Honestly, I think the Liberals and Conservatives should merge into one party. They could be called the Liberal Conservative Party of Canada. It is kind of catchy don't you think? 

Perhaps the 'people of Canada' don't want an election because even if the government changed, most people understand that it would make surprisingly (and tragically) little difference. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Harper's a Bully: Ignatieff's a coward!

Well, for all those Liberal rumor-mongers who spend the last month condemning Jack Layton at the merest suggestion that he might vote to keep Harper’s Government alive, it is time to eat your words. Because while the NDP has consistently voted against this Government in matters of confidence, the Liberal Party has proven once again that it is little more than a rubberstamping committee for Stephen Harper. Harper must be in a constant state of political orgasmic ecstasy. He surely can’t believe his luck; to have three spineless and weak opposition leaders in a row is a political dream come true. It would be laughable if it were not so pathetic! We watched the Liberal polling numbers go up over the past few months but now watch the numbers begin to creep the other way until the Liberals are back in the 20s again. The reason, of course, is simple. Harper operates in politics like a bully. But there is one thing people dislike more than a bully, and this is someone who acts as though they are tough enough to stand up to the bully only to back down at the very moment of conflict. This creates a kind of visceral impulse of disgust which lowers the would-be hero to a state lower than the bully. Being nasty and hostile is always distasteful in politics, but being cowardly is surely worse. If I were a Liberal today I would be hiding my head in the sand and ripping up my membership card. 

PS. A number of Partisan hacks have tried to leave comments on this posting suggesting that Layton tried to make a deal with Harper, and that Layton is a weak hypocrite etc etc.... as though in the absence of any actual deal between the NDP and Harper, Liberal hacks just make one up out of thin air! It is pathetic! I am not Partisan in any sense, I am no fan of Layton and have always made a point of criticizing him where critique is due. But this fact is simple: the NDP, whatever you think of Layton or NDP policy in general, is the only party in the House that has consistently voted against Harper in confidence matters. IT IS A SIMPLE FACT! The rest is spin. 

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ignatieff is a Dion Clone

Today Ignatieff showed that his just as weak, hopeless, and dithering as Dion. The Liberals are pathologically afraid of Harper for some reason and now they have just shown again that they have no balls and Ignatieff will go the way that Dion did. Soon his public image will be seen as weak and useless. 

At least another year of Harper's frightening and dictatorial rule. 

Friday, June 12, 2009

My first day of Summer

This afternoon I took some of the very small amount of time in which I am not taking care of Cairo to sit at a beautiful spot that I know close to home where the Jock river meets the Ottawa river. There is a nice grassy area right up at the river side where it is nice to put out a chair and look at the scenery and while away an hour or two. It was an almost perfect day with the temperature in the mid twenties and the sky full of puffy, white summer clouds.  The weather has been so grey and miserable lately that it felt liberating to sit in the sun and feel it warm my skin. There were two men fishing a short distance away and I enjoyed the sounds that their lures made as they hit the calm waters. After an hour or so a Mallard duck mother swam up with five ducklings in tow and they climbed the riverbank some eight feet away from where I was sitting and they joined me in enjoying the summer afternoon. I watched for some time as the ducklings preened themselves while the mother duck kept a vigilant watch for any potential trouble. After a quarter of an hour a man came up to the riverside with a large, friendly black lab, causing the Mallard to vacate her grassy resting spot and take her ducklings back into the river. The man with the dog was an odd fellow. He wasn’t simply strolling along with his dog, but he marched along as though he had some very particular goal in mind. It quite surprised me when he waded several feet into the river and took out some trash which he had obviously spotted from the shore. He hauled the garbage out with a clear-minded resolution and placed it into a trash receptacle which stood on the grass. Then, with equal resolution, he picked up a stick and threw it into the water for his dog to fetch. The Labrador jumped eagerly into the river but quickly abandoned the effort, leaving the man looking somewhat embarrassed as though his dog’s failure was his own. The man and his dog then wandered off and I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of the afternoon.

When I opened my eyes they dropped on an interesting, and oddly pertinent passage in the book I was reading. The passage, which was from the periodical The Spectator by Joseph Addison, read as follows:

“True Happiness is of a retired Nature, and an Enemy to Pomp and Noise: It arises, in the first place, from the Enjoyment of one’s self; and, in the next, from the Friendship and Conversation of a few select Companions. It loves Shade and Solitude, and naturally haunts Groves and Fountains, Fields and Meadows; In short, it feels everything it wants within itself, and receives no Addition from Multitudes of Witnesses and Spectators. “

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Shelley, poor sailor, great poet

Percy Shelley, one of the greatest poets of the English language, was plagued by problems regardin water. He was entirely incapable of swimming yet, like so many of his contemporary poets, he had a romantic attraction to water and spent much of his time finding enjoyment and recreation in its mysteries. When he was young he loved to make paper boats and watch them float on rivers and lakes. He would even rip pages out of books if no other paper was at hand to make his folded watercraft. There is one story of him making a boat out of a five-pound note because he could find nothing else to use.

There was one occasion which is often recounted in which Shelley was watching Byron and Trelawney swimming and he so longed to join them in their recreation that he simply dove in the water without even removing his clothing. Being unable to swim and apparently having no natural buoyancy, Shelley simply sunk like a stone to the bottom of the pond without even struggling. His two friends looked on for some moments utterly shocked at what Shelley had just done and waiting for him to bob up to the surface. When he didn’t move from the bottom Trelawney jumped in and rescued him. Shelley simply remarked that if his friends had left him for a few more moments he could have decided on the question of the after-life.

When he moved to Italy Shelley began to take up boating as a serious hobby. His first dangerous experience was with a small canal boat which capsized and Shelley was only saved by his friend Edward Williams. Then when Shelley and his family moved to Lerici he purchased a small coracle which was extremely unstable, causing his wife and friends to constantly worry that he was going to drown at any moment.

Of course, Shelley did eventually drown after he purchased a small, hardly sea-worthy,  sloop. When Leigh Hunt came to Italy on Shelley’s recommendation he sailed his sloop from the Gulf of Spezia to Livorno where he disembarked and spent a couple of days with Byron and Hunt in Piza. Despite the poor weather and warnings from other, more experienced, sailors Shelley set sail for home with his friend Williams and a young Italian sailing mate. Trelawney watched as they sailed into the distance, never to be seen again.

Sometimes I feel like Shelley was lucky. He had produced great poetry, he had loved, been loved, known great writers, seen amazing things. And despite carrying a heavy emotional burden in his outlook on life, it didn’t drag out too long. He didn’t have to contemplate death for a long time, he just sunk beneath the waves and was gone. It was painful and terrible for those he left behind for certain. But for him this difficult experience was over.  

A cycle of Cynicism

For a few days now I have not written anything on my blog. Somehow it just seems superfluous. I feel like the young Alvy Singer character from Woody Allan’s Annie Hall. His mother takes him to the doctor because he’s depressed and won’t do anything. When the doctor asks the boy what’s wrong he replies that “the universe is expanding . . . and if the universe is expanding, someday it will break apart and that will be the end of everything.” When the mother exclaims in a worried and angry voice that “He has stopped doing his homework,” the boy says blandly “what’s the point?”

This is how I feel lately. Everything seems rather pointless. Politics most of all. With ‘sexy’ isotope shortages and nasty and crude incompetences everywhere, it all just seems ridiculous. In the next year or so I believe that the Conservatives will finally be pushed from office and it will be a satisfying day when it finally comes. But the ones who lose their seats will have big fat pensions and good jobs in the private sector. Harper will be prosperous and will live to be an old man and die in bed. And others will take the place of the present government, and though they will be the lesser of evils, the same pattern will begin all over again with the regularity of the change of seasons.

I still believe, of course, that things can change for the better. But most of them change so slowly that it is difficult to even notice. Thus cynicism is an easy disease to succumb to. But cynicism is a chronic disease which goes through cycles of extremity. Sometimes one is laid up in bed and at other times you can almost function normally. The Rota Fortunae revolves continually and my cycle is down at the moment. 

Friday, June 5, 2009

To Hell with Politics . . . Here's a fun poem for Cairo

I saw a piggy flying

Above my treehouse roof,

I’d like to show him to you but,

I haven’t got the proof.


Then I saw a polar bear,

Driving in a car,

I tried to follow on my bike

But he drove too far.


I saw a zebra in a mall

Shopping for a friend,

Everything I say is true,

I swear it’s not pretend.


I saw a penguin on a bike,

He juggled as he rode,

He threw a baseball and a shoe,

A chicken and a toad!


An elephant was in the park,

Going down the slide,

But pachyderms are much too big

To play on such a ride.


My friends say that I make things up,

Like Rhinos playing fiddle,

They say that I exaggerate,

Well … maybe just a little.


But some of what I say is true!

Some sheep were playing ball,

And I could swear I saw an ape

Make a cell-phone call.


But then my mother set me straight

As mothers often do

“Yesterday,” she said, “there was

A break-out from the zoo!”

Monday, June 1, 2009

Harper treads water

It is utterly amazing to me that, in the face of such terrible conditions and remarkable incompetence, the Conservative Government still maintains a respectable showing in the polls. I have been thinking a great deal about this and trying to determine what might explain such a situation.

Many die-hard conservatives will, of course, simply contend that Canadians are more committed to conservative principles than ever before and that is why the Harper Government maintains a certain degree of popularity despite so many difficulties. I believe we can dispense with such a claim immediately for two main reasons. First, because on many issues, particularly social ones, the Canadian population is, over time, slowly becoming more liberal. Second because Harper’s Government has demonstrated that it will abandon any principle in order to gain and hold power, so the public can’t be holding on to any particular principles which it shares with Harper or his cronies. Harper has abandoned accountability, the rule of law, transparency, the freedom of individual MPs to serve their constituents, his claim that he would never appoint Senators, all his claims to populism, his legislative opposition to gay marriage, and of course his claim that he would never run a deficit. It is hard to believe, therefore, that Canadians are supportive of Harper’s principles since it is not clear that he has any. And one need not argue that Harper has only temporarily abandoned these ideals until he gains a majority, because principle’s jettisoned for expediency (even temporarily) are not principles at all.

Thus I don’t believe for a moment that the Canadian public has simply become more Conservative and that is why Harper’s Government maintains a decent poll showing. I think we must look elsewhere for a convincing explanation of this phenomenon. When you think about it the Conservatives are actually playing a pretty simple game; in times of generalized uncertainty the right-wing is often fairly successful because it trades on basic fears of crime and instability. This was certainly true in Europe during the 1930s. All Harper has to do is maintain a public image of strength and sow the seeds of fear in people’s minds and he will not drop too far in the polls.

However, another contributing factor in the Conservative’s continued popularity is Liberal incompetence. In times of uncertainty, when people want strength, the Liberals have exuded a consistent image of weakness. While blustering constantly about how terrible Harper and his government have been, they have failed at every opportunity to oppose them. And an Opposition that doesn’t oppose cannot create an image of strength in people’s minds. This has, thus far, been a deadly combination for the Liberals; weakness in opposition, uncertain times, and a Prime Minister who, though sinisterly Machiavellian, has kept his public image of strength. And until the Liberals can change this, nothing that the Conservatives do, in and of itself, will make a real difference. Fifty Billion Dollar deficits, racist comments, abandonment of principles, a finance Minister who doesn’t know a Loonie from a lug-nut; none of this will really matter. Until the Opposition actually becomes and Opposition we can rely on the Conservatives maintaining 30 to 35 percent in the polls.

Of course the incredible hypocrisy of Jack Layton (and keep in mind that I am closer to the NDP than the Liberals) is now presenting the Liberals with a new opportunity to show some backbone. If the NDP are going to take up the role of keeping the Harper Government alive the Liberals can finally start to vote against Harper for the first time. Six months of a strong opposition, coupled with a completely incompetent Government will surely tip the polls enough to lay waste to Harper once and for all.