Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Few More Words on William Hone and justice. . .

My most recent ebay book acquisition is the The Trials of William Hone. This book is an account of the three trials to which Mr. Hone was subjected for the publication on his part of several books which were deemed dangerously subversive against the government and crown. The book is very interesting and a full PDF version can be viewed or downloaded at Google Books. My particular copy is a thin quarto volume bound in one quarter leather. It is fairly poor condition and the front board is dethatching at the hinge making it difficult to read without breaking the binding. But there is something magical about reading a book published in 1817. The book even contains an advertisement for a subscription that was raised for Mr. Hone to cover the costs of his legal problems.

The book is interesting and worth reading on a rainy day while watching the funeral of Ted Kennedy. Mr. Hone did not mount an elaborate defense. Instead of defending his most radical political views or attacking the injustice of the prevailing system of power, Hone simply said that his works were parodies, works of art like the prints of Gillray. Fair enough. Hone lived in a time when even the simplest freedoms, like the freedom of expression had to be constantly struggled for. When even simple threats of the government or crown creates a threat of prosecution, it is hard to imagine how one struggles against the dire poverty of child-laborers or the basic rights of workers to a safe workplace and a decent living wage.

But the conservative forces that attacked Mr. Hone are the same with which we grapple with today. And one does not need a wild imagination to understand that the conservatives today would love to turn the clock back to a time when workers had few rights, when social and economic inequity were legally as well as systemically ensured, and when average people were unable to struggle and speak out against basic injustice. 

Today Ted Kennedy's funeral takes place. Despite his immense wealth and power Kennedy always struggled for the rights of workers and was a voice for those who had no voice. He did this in a country where real left-wing politics is not even possible. I don't know if Ted Kennedy knew of William Hone but I am sure he would have considered himself to be part of the same tradition. 

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Process of Democracy. . . .

Many people, including some so-called experts, talk of democracy as a political ‘system;’ something that we either have or don’t have. I have thought for a long time that democracy needs to be thought of as a process, a working toward. In other words, democracy should be thought of as a verb rather than a noun. This is important because there are many who are, in a rather Western-centric way, smugly satisfied that we live in a finished democracy. And people who think this way are perfectly satisfied when elections occur, elections (keep in mind) that are already made severely problematic by the influence of money, and a party wins the most seats even with only say thirty-five percent of the votes cast, then this party has some kind of inalienable right to dictate the entire legislative agenda of the nation. They imagine that this is democracy, end of story. But this cannot be. If democracy is a process, a working toward ever greater degrees of fairness, justice, and a society’s self realization, then this can hardly be the end of the story. We must work ever vigilantly for our political institutions to express the will of the people. But just as important as this, the ‘will of the people’ must be ever more expressed and expressible. And by expressible I mean that we must work ever harder to lessen the degree to which power determines what can be expressed. If those with a great deal of money and power are able to narrow the field of expressible possibilities then we are working away from our ideals rather than toward them. And in recent years not only has the field of political discourse narrowed  (largely in the interests of those with a corporate agenda), but even in the very institution of legislative power a mockery has been made of the idea of democratic expression. At every corner of the country our present government has made every attempt to shut down discourse, to narrow its field, and to rob it of its meaning. From closing down the Supreme Court challenges program, to the erasure of almost all adult literacy programs; from a handbook for Committee chairs instructing them on how to shut down committee discussion, to the proroguing of parliament and convincing the nation that the expression of the majority could be a coup, the Harper Government continues to reverse the process of democracy and to move away from the very ideals that democracy aims toward. Just like the concept of justice, democracy is a difficult and abstract concept, but the right-wing’s consistent effort to move away from both is becoming more and more clear. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Shame on Canada . . .

In Canada we have a government that attempts to use the courts to avoid living up to its basic human rights obligations. What a terrible shame. Stephen Harper is distroying Canada's international reputation and showing that it has no respect for Canadian or international law in the Omar Khadr case. 

Friday, August 21, 2009

Al-Megrahi, compassion and international justice. . .

I understand that many people are upset and offended by the recent release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds. As anyone who has followed the event knows, there is troubling evidence that the dying man is not in fact the perpetrator of the terrible crime of which he has been convicted. But this in itself would not be justification of his release until a court was willing to order a new trial. However, even if Mr. al-Megrahi was not dying, such a reexamination seems unlikely given the powerful political implications of the case. As I understand it however, the protocol for release on compassionate grounds is fairly straightforward and, given the circumstances, the court in Scotland felt that this was the correct legal call.  

Given the vitriolic attacks on al-Megrahi  and the almost universal condemnation of his release, it seems to me that a lot of people are wholly unaware of the actual meaning of the word ‘compassion.’ To act in a compassionate manner is, almost by definition, not easy. It is easy to have sympathy with your son or daughter when he or she falls and skins a knee. Compassion is easy when a loved one is stricken down by a debilitating disease or someone losses their home as a result of terrible flooding. But real compassion, like genuine forgiveness, is seldom an easy matter; if it were it would have little meaning. Surely the most vital lesson of Christianity is that those whom we perceive to have committed acts of evil are not themselves evil but have merely lost the true guidance of goodness that we all require to act in a ethical manner.  And if we are to truly bring goodness into the world then we must demonstrate to others the very conduct of goodness that we strive to promote. It is only through the cultivation of our compassion can we ever hope to do this. Gandhi said that you must ‘be the change that you want to see in the world.’ And given the terrible record of brutality that Western nations have practiced on many people in the world for many generations there is a remarkable irony and hypocrisy in our indignation at the release of one man. If true international justice prevailed many of our own leaders would be serving time in international prisons for various misdeeds. Western nations routinely laud the beauties of democracy while practicing the most atrocious militaristic follies. Christianity preaches compassion while perpetrating inquisitorial brutality. Here is a perfect opportunity for us to practice the real compassion that we have so long preached.

If Mr.  al-Megrahi did not commit the crime of which he was convicted then his release is not an act of compassion but an act of justice. If he did do such a terrible thing then we must hope that his release teaches him and, more importantly, ourselves that there is another path in life, a path of righteousness that expels the darkness from our souls. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Stephen Harper feigns ignorance . . .

Now our illustrious Prime Minister is trying to avoid taking any blame for the Suaad Mohamud situation by suggesting that he and his government didn't know anything about it. Thus the Prime Minister feels that he has chosen the lesser of two evils: admit total ignorance of what what is going on rather than admit that his government is inherently racist, lacks all compassion, and is in bed with dubious foreign governments. Only there is a problem here. By claiming ignorance Stephen Harper just announced to all Canadians and the world in general that he and his senior staff don't read newspapers or watch the nightly news. Because obviously if one read the paper regularly and watched only a couple of news broadcasts a week you could not have missed the story of Suaad Mohamud. So which do we really prefer, a Prime Minister who is a cold, uncompassionate, self-serving, racists, or a Prime Minister who doesn't bother keeping in touch with even the widely broadcast news stories?? 

Take your pick....

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Protests, Obama, and the Long Waves of Capitalism

I find this recent trend of people carry guns at anti-Obama rallies disturbing and fascinating. When I was growing up in the States during the Vietnam war I always thought the US was just a short trip away from chaos and recent events confirm this belief for me. The problem is that there is very little room for the US governments to maneuver because there is an element in the US that is so far right and so crazy in their beliefs that if any government tries to make significant changes in the US there is a serious risk of generalized violence breaking out. And this group, though relatively small, is so vocal and threatening that the majority of people in the US who do actually support, for example, a single payer healthcare system, are largely bullied into silence. (Note the interesting metaphorical similarity here in Canada of people on the right who bully and red-bait anyone with an opinion that is perceived as slightly left.)

Whether any of these recent events will result in any actual violence against Obama or any of his supporters I do not know.  I certainly hope not. However, what I find strange about all this is that Obama is not really very radical. Outside of the US none of Obama’s policies would be perceived as radical and even within the US Obama has really proposed very little serious changes to how the US government operates. Yet these right-wing extremists are coming out in droves to protest with guns in threatening ways as though Obama were actually the reincarnation of Eugene Debs  or something.

Meanwhile, out of pure necessity the US is consolidating the power of the State to act as an economic force. I read a statistic the other day which if true is amazing: twenty percent of salaries in the US now come in one way or the other from the government. There is no doubt a serious change in formation. The model of capitalism that neo-conservatives ushered in after the long boom is falling apart and a new model of capitalism is forming. Russian economist Nikolai Kondratiev developed a theory in the early 20th century concerning the ‘long-waves’ of capitalist development. I wonder if economists in the US are taking a new look at the work of Kondratiev?  Interesting times….

Monday, August 17, 2009

Partisanship past and future . . . Clarifications

My recent post on partisanship elicited a number of strong comments, a couple reasonable and justified and a couple of offensive wing-nuts who actually think a group of Jewish trade-unionists run the world. (These comments were justifiably rejected)

As a point of clarification I want to say that the quote that I used to suggest a troubling trend in political discourse on Liberal blogs was in a blog that subsequently contained a number of reasonable points concerning the recent NDP convention. I didn’t name the blog simply because I found the unfortunate words at the beginning of the blog to largely nullify any reasonable discourse because such poison language can hardly be the foundation of a real political debate. It is hardly reasonable to say to someone “you are a no-good, dishonest, lying, stupid, weasel” and then say “but here are some of your good points.”

Though the blogger from whom I took the quote had a number of cogent points later in his post, not only was the possibility for meaningful discourse poisoned,  but it was never my intention to get into a wider debate about specific policies of the NDP some of which I agree with and some of which I do not. My blog is very seldom about policy issues. Though I have attacked specific policies of the Conservative Government, usually when I address politics I am talking in wider terms about political philosophy and the various paradigms in which we operate. One of the reasons that I seldom engage in policy debates is that the people with whom I disagree are working in a different paradigm to the one in which I operate and for policy debates to be meaningful it would require far more space and time than a blog offers.

I have been accused of actually misrepresenting myself as non-partisan because my blog appears on a NDP blog site. First of all, I was completely unaware that I appeared on any NDP related site and have never seen this for myself, but given the nature of the Web I guess it is possible. Second of all, I say to the one or two readers out there who actually read my blog that I have never been a member of the NDP, I would never shy away from criticizing the Party if such criticisms seem warranted to me, and If my blog does appear on an NDP related blog site this should not be interpreted as evidence of some kind of party affiliation.

Finally, my recent post was intended only to address what I see as a growing trend of poisoned discourse in relation to partisanship in Canadian politics. I am certain that I have also been guilty of this at times, and for this I express my regrets. I have always reserved my harshest words for the Conservatives because I think that beyond simply matters of policy the party in its present manifestation represents a serious threat to human rights and democracy in Canada.

Yours in the struggle.


William Hone and our radical heritage . . .

I bow to the great unsung hero William Hone, one of the indispensables. William Hone was a British writer, journalist, and bookseller who made a great contribution to the struggle for freedom of the press. Born in Bath in June of 1780 Hone joined the London Corresponding Society when he was only sixteen,  where he joined a group of people devoted to political justice and freedom of expression. He eventually started his own journal called the Reformists’ Register and was actively prosecuted by Lord Liverpool’s government which continue to be paranoid about potential Jacobins and the threat of political unrest. Hone defended himself against the charges despite exhaustion and illness and walked away a hero of writers and journalist when he was acquitted on all charges. Hone was a good friend to many writers of the age including Thomas Hood, Robert Southey, and Charles Lamb. Hone is remembered for a number of amusing books including The Political House that Jack Built, The Queen Matrimonial Ladder, and the Man in the Moon. He also published a Year Book and a Table Book full of amusing anecdotes. Hone’s work is accompanied by hundreds of illustrations by the great George Cruickshank with whom he had a long successful relationship. Unfortunately Hone spent several years in prison for debt but with the help of friends he continued to write and publish and was eventually released. Hone died at Tottenham at the age of 62 and is buried in the Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington.

Hone was one of many, largely forgotten authors and activists who struggled for justice and freedom against the forces of evil. And like so many of these men and women he lived a difficult life and never received the recognition that he deserved. So much that we have as a culture, so many of our freedoms, privileges, and comforts are a direct result of people like Hone who toil in relative anonymity and are condemned by the rich and powerful as dangerous radicals. At any time in history you can look around at the so-called radicals and you can see the future. 

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Partisanship past and future . . . Continued

Here is a good example of the outrageous, deeply ignorant, ad homonym, and for the most part completely wrong, criticism of the NDP coming out of Liberal blogs. 

The New Democrat Party are sanctimonious, arrogant, pious, inflexible, uncooperative, self-serving, beholden to union interests, trapped in the 1960s, white, cowardly, anti-business, and anti-fiscal responsibility.

Now this stuff could just as easily have been written by a Conservative blogger and when it comes to this kind of ignorant and abusive behavior I really think it is below comment or contempt. (I won't even point out the glaring grammatical error but I will let you find it for yourself). I think the 'trapped in the 1960s' comment is quite amusing, particularly given the slow death that Capitalism is suffering as we speak. 

But most significantly this little snippet reminds me of the similarity of many Liberals to the Conservatives not only in content but in style. And that, my friends, is the real rub. It reminds me of someone I know who hates her mother and has slowly become exactly like her. The Liberals are growing ever closer to the Conservative party and it almost seems as they strike out against the NDP as a kind of veiled self-loathing as a result of their own failures both in terms of their image and in terms of substantive political discourse. For years now the Liberals have been telling us that the Conservatives don't play well with others and yet this blog abuse of the NDP has become endemic. The Liberal Party was once an important and vital political institution in Canada but alas, no longer. 

As I have said many times, I belong to no party, and will criticize any political policy, strategy, or style with which I disagree. But in the age in which people have been slowly blinded by a huge lie of (so-called) market ideology, there are many cases in which the NDP has been the only party that has stood up and talked about the various failures of this market. And many Liberals have shown incredible hypocrisy by defending universal healthcare in light of the debate in the US while at the same time excoriating the NDP which is the party of universality in this country. So it goes . . . 

Partisanship past and future....

The degree of partisanship in Canadian politics continues to amaze me. And this partisanship is increasingly coming from the Liberals directed at the NDP. And I am not talking about genuine political discourse here, I am referring to sophomoric, offensive, personal abuse as one recent relatively high-profile blogger making remarks about the size of Jack Layton’s penis. Of course, not everyone is engaging in such effrontery but it is becoming disturbingly common, and sadly widespread from a party that has, in recent years, seen the political atmosphere poisoned by the ultra-partisan Harper government. And even when the more rabid partisans are not making ridiculous criticisms of Layton, or some other NDP Member of Parliament, I find it amazing that so many Liberals are continuing to belittle the NDP as a party of crazy left-wing quacks. This really is getting wearisome, particularly in light of recent global events.

First of all, the NDP is not really very left-wing: Oh that it were! Second of all, how much more evidence do we need that Western Capitalism is not, in its present model, anywhere near as effective as its adherents would have us believe?  Most members of NDP are actually pretty middle of the road social democrats who just believe that a regulated market economy can be fairly effective in various ways but that so-called market forces are not effective and don’t belong in certain other areas such as healthcare and education. Many NDP supporters also understand that there is a pretty strong, hardly secretive, coalition of banks, big-business, arms manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies etc, who have for a long time now and continue to promote a certain ideology in their interests and continually attempt to undermine the promotion of social solutions, as they are at present in the US debate over healthcare. Now, given the fact that Capitalism has demonstrated its feet of clay so spectacularly in recent years, many of the policies of the NDP have never been so relevant and important. It is very amusing that so many of the social policies that most people find essential to our society were promoted by parties like the NDP but people continue to berate such policies when they are perceived as new ideas. The vast majority of the Canadians today support a universal medical system, universal  basic education, the right to collective bargaining, legislation to ensure safe working conditions, etc etc. Yet there was a time not that long ago when all of these policies were berated by many as crazy left-wing ideas that were communistic in nature and not practical.

The continual attack by many Liberals on the NDP portraying them as a bunch of wing-nuts who have no idea about realistic politics just make the Liberals look more like the self-righteous, bullying,  hyper-partisan Conservatives. And the funniest part of the whole thing is that where the NDP now stands on the political spectrum is very close to where the Liberals stood 35 years ago. So when the Liberals criticism the NDP of today they are, in a very real sense, insulting the former generation of Liberals. Now don’t get me wrong, the NDP continue themselves to be far too partisan for my tastes. It is remarkable that during this weekend’s convention the NDP has talked a lot about the need to build on the political strategies of Obama. Yet many of them don’t seem to understand that Obama’s primary strength is that he almost never sounds partisan, even when he is pushing a partisan agenda. Jack Layton, on the other hand, sounds partisan almost every time he opens his mouth.

In the early 19th century Percy Shelley laid out what was at the time considered a dangerously radical agenda. He called for universal suffrage (including women), the elimination of hereditary privilege, the right for people to form trade unions, a just and fair legal system, etc. Today almost everything Shelley fought for is considered to be essential to a modern democracy. But in his day Shelley was berated as a crazy radical who was evil and dangerous. So it goes.

Rise like Lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you-

Ye are many they are few.



Thank you Shelley! We vow to continue your struggle and pass it on to our children! And we will never abandon our future to the petty, little soulless people who seek to enchain the human spirit and reduce our lives to nothing but money and profit. 

Saturday, August 15, 2009

That Hideous Force....

Once again the government of Canada has acted reprehensibly, irresponsibly, and perhaps criminally, in the treatment of one of our citizens. Suaad Mohamud, a Canadian citizen was detained in Keyna with the assistance and cooperation of officials of the government of Canada. And, in an act that has frightening overtones, the Canadian government handed official documents over to the Keynan government to aid in their false accusations and abuse of this woman. And what is Stephen Harper's response to this abuse of power? It tells people to be more careful when traveling abroad!!! And to add insult to injury this comes on the very day that another Canadian court tells us that the government has abused Omar Khadar's rights and failed to live up to its United Nations obligations concerning the status of Child Soldiers. All the while the finance minister and a large group of his cronies are spending millions of dollars travelling in China trying to boost their financial prospects while ignoring the epic abuse of rights that happens there everyday.

Stephen Harper is presiding over the sell-off of Canada, both literally and metaphorically. Everything that compassionate and responsible Canadians hope that we can stand for is being dismantled and stripped away. And a thoughtless, malevolent, evil regime is taking its place. It is that hideous force that seeks to take away our humanity and replace it with a society of millions of slave-like workers without rights or dignity, working at the behest of a small group of uber-wealthy who live in ridiculous prosperity. 

Tomorrow, a Shelley poem reminding us of how little progress we have made. 

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Friendship, Facebook, and Cynicism.

Well, it has happened a few times now: I have connected with someone on facebook that I haven't seen or spoken to in many years, in one case almost 30 years, and it really is something of a let down. But the main reason that it is a disappointment is not, as one might think, simply because the person is not as interesting as I remember but because in almost every case the person seems to just want to say 'Hello' and leave it at that. It is as though people just want to know that their old friends are still out there somewhere and still alive and then they want to go about their business. In some cases they don't even seem to want to know what you have been doing for the past ten or twenty years, as long as they can confirm that you are still there and have a heart beat. I have thought a lot about what this means lately and, having just written a book on friendship, I have come to a tentative conclusion. I think it is indicative of the fact that our friendships are no longer about intellectual, and I mean that in the broadest sense, connections. People in their forties, particularly if they have children, are very busy with their daily lives. If they have friends at all it is usually one or two people with whom they occasionally share a beer or a small diner party, or at most share one common interest, usually sports. I am realizing that most of the people I knew in my youth who used to enjoy sharing an intellectual bond have almost entirely lost interest in such things. Perhaps this is an inevitable result of some people getting older. In youth people tend to look forward, they like to think about how the world was, is now, and might be in the future; and they even like to think about how they might contribute to the possible changes. Peter Sloterdijk, in his great book, Critique of Cynical Reason, builds on a traditional Marxist idea by suggesting that we live in an age of 'enlightened false-consciousness;' that is a time in which people know the system is haywire, they know the elite are working against the general interests, but they are just too cynical to care, or have abandoned the idea that they can do anything about it. Modern friendships seem to reflect this idea and many people seem no longer interested in bonding with others for the intellectual stimulation and personal growth. More bread and circuses I guess. 

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Slavery

The healthcare reform 'debate' in the US has become comic to tragic proportions. Never before have I seen a population so actively promoting their own exploitation. There were, of course, African Americans who fought for the South during the Civil War but that was a long time ago now. However, if you think about it, the situation is not that different now. The African Americans who fought for the South were, for the most part, poorly educated, heavily oppressed, victims of slavery. Many of the fools actively opposing healthcare reforms which would be in the interest of the vast majority of Americans are poorly educated victims of a new kind of slavery; a slavery to an illusionary market which makes billions in profits off of the hardships of average people in the interests of a small elite. Not only are tens of millions of Americans uninsured or uninsurable, the number one reason for bankruptcies in the US stems from out of control healthcare expenses. Billions of dollars in healthcare costs in a for profit system are skimmed off for wealthy individuals and companies, and yet people are actively opposing a system which would guarantee that everyone is insured and that when people are most vulnerable they will not fall victim to greed and exploitation. And the American system is what some fools, like Harper, want to bring to Canada. 

What a sad, wretched race we are. 

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Harry Patch and the Futility of War

I have not written in a while because of personal reasons but I thought I would write a quick note to honour Harry Patch, the last combat veteran of the First World War. Now those who know me know that I am not in the habit of paying tribute to soldiers and have always been vehemently anti-war. But Harry Patch was one of those rare men who had served in war but was willing to speak out against war and was even willing to suggest that soldiers are little more than pawns in the political games of the state. This is particularly important because few people are willing these days to speak out against WWI, a ridiculous war of Western Imperialism. With this in mind he made sure that there were no weapons (even ceremonial weapons) at his funeral and the anti-war song Where Have All the Flowers Gone was sung at his funeral. It really must have angered men like Tony Blair and Stephen Harper who, despite their transparent rhetoric, love war and are turned on by the idea of Western Nations imposing their will on others. 

We truly are a wretched race who let devils in suits systematically destroy the hopes of human dignity. But Harry Patch spoke out with historically significant credibility. Thanks  Harry . . . Rest in Peace.