Wednesday, February 24, 2010

New Books this week. . . .

This week's books in the mail - 

The Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth. This is one of the most interesting documents in English Literature. Ms Wordsworth had a renown intellect and her journalistic records, particularly during the years when Samuel Coleridge was the close friend of her and her brother, have been invaluable not only to academics but to anyone with an interest in Romantic literature. The saddest part of reading Dorothy Wordsworth's journals are the realization that if not for the misogyny of the society in which she lived or the sexism of the men closest to her, she may have matured into great writer. 

Charles Lamb and His Contemporaries - by Edmund Blunden. This is a book that came from Blunden's Clark Lectures in 1932 and is an excellent little text on Lamb. Blunden wrote a great deal about the Romantic writers with a great deal of insight and understanding. And of course Blunden as a renown poet and writer in his own right, and he passes his skill with words on to his criticism as well, making it exceptionally readable and always enjoyable. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Prufrock. . . . .

From The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. . . 

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells;
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question . . . 
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

This has always been one of my favorite poems because it is a stroll through the human condition; it is a free association, a Flâner through the world without the demands of purposive-rational action that motivates most of our actions today. The poem also reminds me of the degree to which people walk around as though dead in a dying culture. 

I encourage you to read it and enjoy it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mossad hit squads. . .

It is something we all know already; something that has never been in doubt; the Mossad is using professional assassination squads to kill leaders of any group or party that opposes the continual, and illegal moves of the State of Israel to take all of the Palestinian land for themselves. Surprise, surprise! Let's not forget that these are the people that invented modern terrorism in guise of the Stern-Gang and other groups. It is remarkable to me that those who blindly support Israel and condemn their opponents as terrorists forget the history that led to the formation of the State of Israel. 

These are the same people that condemn almost every Palestinian group as terrorist, forgetting or ignoring the fact that Israel continually builds illegal settlements on occupied land, pushing Palestinians families off their land and keeping them penned like cattle in terrible refugee camps with no hope for the future. If that is not a form of terrorism, I don't know what is. This is not, and never has been, a religious issue. It is a simple issue of a paramilitary state hungry for power and land which will stop at nothing to get it, including using a warped biblical argument that God promised all the region to the Jewish people. Sadly there will be no peace in the Middle East until the people of Israel admit that Palestinian people are entitled to a state of their own or equal participation in the State of Israel. I think a one state solution is best - a state that treats all the citizens of the region equally, a state in which everyone is a stakeholder together in prosperity, peace and democracy. But if the wounds run too deep and a two state solution is the only one possible, then it is not difficult. Go back to the original UN boarders, give a right of return to the refugees, and put just a fraction of the money that the West has put into Israel to make a Palestinian state viable and prosperous. But the State of Israel has always been just as terroristic and intransigent as the worst of the Palestinian groups and they won't even entertain the possibility of the elimination of the illegal settlements. 

Settlements require compromise and if you are unwilling to compromise then you can hardly condemn others for their intransigence. And if you are willing to rob people of their land and hire assassination squads and build one of the largest militaries in the world then how can you reasonably condemn others for using any means at their disposal to defend their interests. Only when the West is willing to admit that the expansionist moves of the State of Israel are as much moves of terror as missiles and bombs that anyone will be able to move forward to any kind of real peace negotiations. 

The next political error?

As has consistently been the case, in good times or bad Harper and his conservative bullies have never been able to resist any chance they have to be hyper-partisan and to stick it to their opponents in the House. They obsessively hate the fact that other parties exist and they are particularly angry that, because they are forced to work with a minority, the opposition has the ability to set certain terms in the legislative process. After all, nothing bothers a tyrant more than checks on his tyranny. 

So given their history of 'bill in mouth' disease, what will they come up with in the throne speech, which we will hear soon, to further poison the already toxic atmosphere that they have worked so hard to create in Ottawa. We know there will be something. One of the greatest moments of political irony I have ever witnessed was the one where Stephen Harper told the country that the opposition was intransigent and was unwilling to make Parliament work and therefore he was 'forced' to call an election. Harper is desperate to destroy democratic processes in any way that he can in pursuit of his elusive majority and the highest weapon in his arsenal is the creation of a toxic atmosphere that alienates a large segment of the population from the political process completely, thus leaving himself with a core of right-wing voters, making his political demise much less likely. 

Just over a year ago Harper's proposed poison pill was the elimination of the dollar seventy-five per vote funding that political parties receive for each vote they get. This was a blatant attempt to undermine political diversity in the country. This would have happened because the more MPs a party has, the more financial incentives they get to do their work in and out of parliament as well as receiving the greatest incentive, and the one that is in a sense priceless, which is the built in advertising that they get from having a high profile in the House. Even its strongest advocates agree that the First Past the Post system has some problems and the largest of these is that it can leave huge portions of the population completely unrepresented in the Legislative process. The per vote grant is a very small way of trying to correct this problem because a party that receives, say, ten percent of the vote but no representatives can still do some of the work necessary for a political party to continue to contribute to the political agenda of the country. There is talk that Harper may attempt to revisit this poison pill one more time in the next Throne Speech. 

But Harper definitely has something of a dilemma. And that dilemma is that he has done so many small things to undermine democracy and stick it to the opposition that he has very little left to do that would not be so obviously provocative and anti-democratic that it would not bring down serious voter anger upon his head. The last stupid move that Harper made was the prorogation of parliament which created something of a political storm. 

But I am sure that Harper will come up with something to further poison the political atmosphere in Ottawa. The irony is that most of Harper's anti-democratic moves have been small, quiet, behind the scenes moves that few people notice and even fewer understand. Because of this, it has always been Harper's big, public, stupid mistakes that have continued to mire him in a minority position. And any real conservative would understand that not only is he not really a Conservative (only an opportunist), but that if Harper cannot deliver a majority when his had the sponsorship scandal and Dion as opposition leader, he probably will never be able to deliver one. However as a tyrant, Harper was smart enough to completely gut the Conservative Party of any decent potential replacements which makes it nearly impossible for the Conservatives to get rid of him without placing themselves back into the proverbial political wilderness. 

But they will come up with something, either an intentional poison pill or an ill-considered stupid, bull in a china shop sort of move that will send us once again into a political fire-storm. What will it be? 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What's wrong with decent pensions???

I can only conclude that people are even more ignorant and reactionary than I usually think they are. In the past few days the media has been talking a lot about public service pensions on the heels of a meeting between Stockwell Day and the two largest unions which represent federal employees. Over and over I have heard media commentators as well as many in the public (via talk radio, blogs, and letters to the editor) who are harping on about how 'rich' the public sector pensions are and how the public servants live 'high off the hog' and how they need to be cut because workers in the 'private sector' don't have such indulgent pensions. 

Now, putting aside the fact that the public servant pensions are not all that rich and in some cases barely livable, and the fact that MPs like Pierre Poillievre qualify for much 'richer' pensions, (and in his case at the age of 32), so what if they were very good pensions??!! Why do people react to a decent pension for some people by saying 'let's cut those suckers!' If were accused of a minor crime  in a Banana republic and the judge decided on a whim to have you hanged and your accomplice set free, would your reaction be to call for your accomplice to also be hanged or for you to also be set free???? The injustice is that fact that a majority of working people in this country don't have a decent pension, not that a few public sector employees do! Instead of buying into the Conservative propaganda that public servants are a bunch of lazy know-nothings living like kings off taxpayer's dollars, people should be actively working to join and strengthen unions that encourage and commit to pensions, or to work to make some form of universal pension that will ensure everyone a good life in their elderly years. If Conservatives had their way no one would have a pension except those rich enough to create their own private pensions and as soon as you are too old to work you might as well just die. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Against the grain. . . .

I understand that I run against the grain. Most of the political sympathies and values that our society seem to hold dear mean very little to me. I don't like sports. I think competition is generally a bad thing. I think fashion is silly and childish and people shouldn't worry about how they look. I believe in being as straightforward as possible with people in social situations short of being thoughtless to the point of hurting their feelings or touching on issues that might be very sensitive to them. I think capitalism is failing badly, as is democracy. I don't believe that the "people" are always right, nor the customer.  I don't support the troops because I believe that standing militaries are just a tool for a ruling-class to pursue more wealth and power. I have little respect for most so-called "professionals" because they are generally self-interested, power-hungry people who know a lot less than they pretend to yet portray themselves as more or less infallible. I don't think politics should be treated like a school-yard game but should be pursued based on fundamental ethical beliefs. I think any true Christian would, by ethical necessity,  be a socialist. I think your real political views are more evident in the way you treat people than in the party you support. I hate school uniforms because they are just another way to try to make people conform. I think kids should wear anything they want to school short of shirts with racist or sexist slogans which is  really just a form of bullying. I believe that Raphael is a greater painter than Michaelangelo, and that Shelley is a greater poet than Wordsworth.  I believe that most of the traditional art forms (painting, the novel, most music)  are essentially dead because technologies have inexorably shifted human creative endeavors. I think that specialization is destroying the human imagination and that technocrats are undermining the full flowering of human society. I think scientists are never objective and that science doesn't depict 'truth' but is just a mechanism of control and prediction that is as much under ideological sway as anything else in society. I don't think science will 'save' us from anything and that imagination is more important than knowledge. I believe that fairies and sprites are as real as my toyota. I think that schools should emphasize music, art, and literature with as much zeal as they do mathematics. I believe that empathy is more important than intelligence and that the economy should serve human needs and desires not the other way around. I think if the human race is to survive and more forward then we must learn to cooperate on a grand scale and learn the importance of compassion and love.

Ok, so I know I run against the grain and most people find my beliefs bizarre and incomprehensible. But even though most people don't share my values and sympathies, there are some things I will never understand, like how anyone voted for Richard Nixon or how any one, anytime, under any circumstances would vote for Stephen Harper. Not because these men's beliefs differ from mine but because they don't believe in anything but their own ambition. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Olympic protests and the Black Block. . .

Many people have been very upset by the so-called Black Block protesters at the Olympics. These self identified young 'anarchists' show up many of these international events, often wreaking havoc with their militant and sometimes violent tactics. They are a very loose affiliation of activists who have some very basic, gut-reaction objections to the inequities of modern capitalism and the power of what they consider to be an international ruling capitalist class that effectively controls much of thee agenda through a rather strong strangle-hold on the media. Thus they often target international meetings which they see as a reflection of this elitist control of democracy, media, and resources. Their basic strategy is fairly simple: create a certain degree of chaos on the street through mildly violent action, thus attracting media attention which, despite a large degree of corporate control still reports on these actions. 

Of course one can largely agree with the analysis of these people concerning the injustices of the international relations of  production and distribution without agreeing with their tactics. But the argument is not at all as clear as one would like it to be. Those who opposes such actions contend that they fail to progress the cause of greater international justice and democracy because they alienate many of the people who could be converted to the cause. ON the other hand, many of these anarchists would argue that without such actions there would be little or no coverage of the opposition to these international events, leading people to believe that these is no real problems with the international bodies such as the G20, the IMF, the World Bank etc. 

To a certain degree both these arguments are correct. In the face of a media controlled almost everywhere by a small group of corporations which, naturally, pursue a certain narrow corporatist agenda, it is near impossible to proliferate the debate concerning the corporate roots of global inequities and injustices. However, there are many who, if they really knew what was going on, would be profoundly opposed to much of what is really happening in the pursuit of international profit. But many of these people are just turned off by the sight of youths dressed in black breaking storefront windows and fighting with police. 

However one feels about these people and their actions, it would be folly not to take what they have to say seriously. There is an ever growing opposition to the inequities of the international economic system. These people are informed, often well educated, energetic, and committed. This is exactly the constituency of many of the worlds great revolutions. They are struggling for the same things that inspired those who fought the French revolution in thee 1789 and in many ways the goals of their cause are becoming ever more popular. In the years preceding the Revolution in France there was a tendency among the ruling class to ride in ever larger and more extravagant coaches as the desrepenciee in wealth become more pronounced in French culture. Today the differences between rich and poor are steadily growing, and the ultra-wealthy drive ever more extravagant vehicles and Wall St. and Bay St. Bankers and investors are making money that normal people can hardly imagine. 

And perhaps even more importantly many average people are feeling alienated by a system that is supposed to be democratic but is increasingly rarified and controlled by a political and economic elite. The very institutions that were supposed to guarantee the voice of the people are becoming more or less the 'playthings' of the rich and powerful who are able to manipulate them in their interests. This tendency causes a vague feeling of unease among people which, though they cannot necessarily express it in clear and rational discourse, slowly undermines the system's legitimacy. I believe the fairly strong reaction to the recent prorogation of parliament is a small example of this unease. The people in the so-called Black Block are just one of the most obvious expressions of this sentiment. But just as Parkinson's disease may begin with a very small tremor in the hand, social movements which lead to major social upheavals begin with a ragtag group of malcontents. Disregard them or condemn them if you will but you do so at your folly. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Humphrey and history

In 1967  Hubert Humphrey travelled to Germany. During that visit some s0-called 'hippie' trouble-makers had plans to bomb him during a speaking engagement. The Police thwarted the attack which turned out to me nothing but a bomb full of pudding. Not much retribution for a guy who had taken such an active part in the Vietnam war where US forces killed literally hundreds of thousands of souls. 

Today a NATO rocket killed 12 civilians. Sadly a fairly small event in a long war where thousands of civilians have died. When I was growing up in the States, politicians and people never tired of telling me that the war in Vietnam was a morally just war in service of Christian good. They demonized the people they were fighting in Vietnam so their deaths would somehow not really count. History  has rendered its verdict. 

Do you think the parents of the children that have died in NATO bombings care whether their children were killed by this side or that side? I doubt it very much. I think they just mourn for their children who have been sacrificed to decades (perhaps centuries) of struggle for power between ruling classes who care little for the people in their thirst for money, gold, oil and influence. 

Friday, February 12, 2010

Haiti and the Olympics. . . .

The estimated death tole from the Haiti earthquake is now two-hundred and thirty thousand souls. That TWO HUNDRED and THIRTY Thousand. 

So let's spent the next two weeks on the edge of our seats with bated breath wondering who can slide down a hill faster than anyone else. 

Our race continues in its infancy. 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Happy Birthday Charles Lamb

I forgot to post this yesterday. Charles Lamb was born February 10th 1775. Thank you Charles for all the pleasure you have brought us through your work and life. Long live St. Charles! 

Ghost-like, I paced round the haunts of my childhood.
Earth seemed a desert I was bound to traverse,
Seeking to find the old familiar faces. 

Monday, February 8, 2010

Ideology and Weltenschauung. . . .

I have been thinking about my last post and how political analysts like Rex Murphy are shying from ideological discourse. This tendency has been growing for some time now in Western nations, particularly since the end of so-called soviet socialism. This has been a fairly conscious and concerted effort to undermine opposition to capitalism and western power by creating the image that the system we live in is somehow 'natural,' inevitable, unavoidable, and somehow rationally based. (The analysis of this phenomenon goes back, of course, to Marx) Capitalists, and the advocates of the prevailing paradigm want to instill in people that our system is not driven by ideology but only by necessary and technically based decisions. This effort manifests in people the delusion that we live in a pure technocracy where our leaders are not driven by their ideologies but by unavoidable decisions informed by technical experts. This has not only been driven by extreme right wingers, it has been driven by many people including some on the centre-left. But in recent years we have had a federal government that is working of the highest principles of this model as once practiced by leaders such as Margaret Thatcher. And if Rex Murphy's column quoted in my last blog is any indication, this move is working well here in Canada. The import of Murphy's analysis is that - since all the decisions of the government are, in the broad sense, necessary and driven by forces which are not in our control, then Harper's failure to get a majority must necessarily be a result purely of technical-strategic mistakes on his part and if he could just create a better public image, he would easily win his coveted majority. 

But I agree with the great French philosopher Louis Althusser, everything is, to a large degree, ideologically driven.  There are of course certain 'life-world' (Weltenschauung) assumptions that we share that stand somewhat above the fray of common ideological debates. But the rest is ideology. And it would be in the interest of any prevailing power structure to convince the population at large that we exist beyond ideological structure and our Prime Minister and his cronies are desperate to do just this. But the poverty of such analysis should be obvious to anyone who genuinely pays attention to the broad picture of how our society is developing. 

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Rex Murphy the simpleton. . . .

Like most semi-rational people who watch politics and have some sense of non-partisan analysis, I find Rex Murphy a nauseating simpleton. This article   is a further extension of his simplistic analysis which so many people find frustrating. 

Mr. Murphy's analysis assumes, like so many partisan Conservatives, that the only thing that stands between Harper and a majority government is his occasional strategic error which trouble many voters because they think that it speaks of some hidden agenda. Murphy, like many Conservatives, think that Harper has learned a lot during his tenure as PM and that he has modified his view significantly and that if he just refrained from making these occasional silly errors in judgment he would be cruising to a majority. 

The problems with such an analysis are multi-fold. The primary problem with such an analysis is that it over-looks the painfully numerous attacks that Harper and his government have perpetrated against the principles of democracy. Now, whether these attacks demonstrate an inherent 'nasty' side to Harper's personality is a debatable point, but I think it is clear that a very large majority of Canadians object strongly to the ideological import of these attacks. Wearing sweater vests will not make up for this because it is not really a question of 'image' it is a question of ideology. 

In other words, Murphy and his ilk, imagine that people are frightened of Harper's "hidden" agenda when in fact it is the more obvious agenda that he has been openly pursuing that is the problem for many people. The so-called tactical mistakes that Harper has made like the recent prorogation of parliament do indeed turn off a number of people who might otherwise vote for the Conservatives because they make people feel as though Harper is mean and power-hungry and, in this case, involved in a real coverup. But for many people it has helped to remind them of Harper's basic ideological offensiveness. Rex Murphy writes almost as though no one really objects to what is a troublingly Americanization of politics in Canada and an ideological agenda that seems to be undermining the parliamentary tradition at the most basic level. There is no doubt that Harper's nasty ultra-partisan streak makes selling this ideology that much more difficult.. But at the heart of this matter is a basic ideological struggle between Harper's Machiavellian, centralizing, pro-big business, anti-democratic, in-humane capitalist agenda on the one hand, and those who oppose that agenda from various points of view on the other. Mr. Murphy, and many others, are unable to acknowledge this because, for one - you can never be totally straightforward with such an agenda but you have to sugar coat it with ideological double-speak, and for another - many of them don't even understand the ideological import of their own beliefs. They are fooled by their own propaganda and believe, for example, that Harper is really concerned about crime when the crime rate is slowly going down and the so-called 'tough on crime' agenda is just a blatant calculation to win votes of a population that is obsessed with crime because of a sensationalizing media. 

All I can say is the fact that someone with Rex Murphy's simplistic and shallow analysis can be a major media spokesperson suggests that we are not that far away from the Sarah Palin world of politics. 

Friday, February 5, 2010

Strategy and morality. . . .

I find it strange that people boast about their leader being a brilliant or formidable tactician in the field of politics. In making this claim these people are often willingly reducing politics to nothing more than a game. Yet we all know, the qualities we claim to desire, and should desire, in our representatives are honesty, straightforwardness, respectfulness, courtesy, commitment, compassion, etc. But when we boast that our party leader is admirable because of his ability to out maneuver other duly elected representatives, we are simply confirming that our leader has dispensed with the admirable principles that we claim to stand for. The application of strategic consciousness to the issues of politics clearly undermines in most cases the moral qualities that we seek to implement in our system. Of course this is not necessarily true all the time. Gandhi, for one, applied strategy in order to achieve his political goals. But he was always straightforward about his strategic process. His approach would be to say we are doing x to achieve y. He didn't pretend, for example, that he was engaging in the great salt march in order to have better relations with the British colonial government. He didn't claim to fast in order to encourage people to eat fewer somosas. No, clearly strategy can, if made with honest disclosure, be a principled thing. But it certainly is not so in the recent examples of our politicians. 

People have bragged in the past about Stephen Harper's strategic prowess. But in every case of his supposed genius, it is being applied in a dishonest way and with the goal of shutting down real political discourse. He didn't say, I am breaking my own election law because this is a good opportunity for me to acquire a majority. He didn't say I am proroging parliament in order to avoid a legitimate vote of confidence. And recently he didn't say he was proroging parliament in order to buy himself time on the Afghan issue. Yet we all know that was what was going on. That is not strategy, that is just dishonesty. When people brag about their leader's strategic genius the litmus test should not be "does this effectively undermine my political opposition?" The question they should always ask themselves is; is my leader being honest and straightforward in the pursuit of his political goals? 

One thing to consider is the psychology of this process. Only if you are being honest about your goals can you be honest about the outcomes. Many people observed that George Bush seemed congenitally incapable of admitting he was wrong or had made a mistake.. This is generally because he was seldom honest about his political motivations so an admission of error would make no sense.  Stephen Harper cannot, for example, admit that he made a mistake proroging parliament because his stated goals (choose which every one you want among the several that he has used) were an effort at  're-calibrating his budget agenda to better serve Canadians.' Admitting that he was wrong would make no sense within this context. An admission of error could only come if he could admit that there was some incongruity between his goal and the outcome. Instead what you find men like Bush and Harper doing is continually shifting the grounds of their stated goals in order to try to avoid admission of error. Bush of course famously invoked 911 before he invaded Iraq, when this became problematic, he invoked 'Weapons of Mass-Destruction,' and when that failed he attempted to make it all an issue of human rights and democracy, and then toward the end when all else failed you would occasionally hear some vague reference to 'stability in the region' etc. And of course, Harper has recently done the same thing with prorogation. Because he will not admit publicly what his actual intentions were, he is forced to constantly shift his stated intention. 

Gandhi's great salt march was a way of highlighting an immoral law, and a method of inspiring a people. It was clear direct and honest. Indeed it was a strategy but its goal was not to undermine Gandhi's political opponents through trickery. Gandhi was not taking advantages of loopholes in the law and then misrepresenting his actions as something they weren't. It is about time we stopped admiring politicians simply because they sometime outmaneuver their opponents and start admiring politicians who state their goals clearly and portray their strategic moves honestly.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A few thoughts on reform. .

I think one of the primary political problems facing our country is fairly straightforward, albeit difficult to solve. It can be expressed this way: we live in a society in which compromise and coalition building is becoming ever more necessary but our political institutions continue to exist in the traditional paradigm of excessive centralization of power which not only doesn’t foster compromise but actually exerts pressure in the other direction. The problems of our society are increasingly complex and require greater input from more people and a greater willingness on the part of our politicians to listen carefully to a multitude of opinions and act with greater concern for the various forces and elements of society. However, the traditional power-centered system of our politics is fostering individuals who have very little interest in compromise and simply crave power.

Given this problem, the first question we need to ask concerning any potential political reform is; to what degree will this change promote the kinds of positive changes which will promote a new politics and undermine the old politics?

It follows therefore that this is the question we need to ask with regard to any potential Senate reform in Canada. I am not particularly in favor of Senate reform at the present time because there is no clear vision of significant reforms that will promote a new compromise politics. On the other hand, I also don’t support the NDP policy of simply eliminating the Senate because such a move will just further the concentration of power in the PMO which is the most pressingl example of the problem with the present political paradigm.

The Conservative party has made a lot of noise about reforming the Senate but since we know, a priori, that they have no interest in creating a new compromise oriented political paradigm, we also know that their reforms would not score high on the above question to which we must subject our potential reforms.

Most models of an elected Senate would do little to change the prevailing political circumstances in the country. Let’s say that we have an equal Senate along the lines of the US Senate. Since we would have to have fewer Senators than MPs (because an upper house of 300 plus Senators would simply be too unwieldy), we could guess that we might have, let’s say, ten Senators from each Province and Territory. That would give us 130 Senators. However, since the electoral boundaries would have to be, in most cases, smaller than those for MPs, third parties would be even less represented than they are in the House of Commons and the vast majority of Senators would be Liberals and Conservatives. If votes in this Senate were whipped, party votes then the situation would be largely the same as it is now. The only cases in which it would be different would be when the majority party in the Senate was different than that in the House. This could happen, and if the elections were staggered it could happen on a regular basis. This is the only case in which this type of Senate might promote more compromise because it would generate a situation in which governments would be faced with getting little or nothing done unless they learned to compromise. But there would certainly be nothing built into this institutional structure that would guarantee that this would happen.

We desperately need political reforms in this country; reforms that decentralize power and promote more varied inputs and greater representation. We should absolutely resist any reforms to the Senate which fail to create institutions which embrace and represent these reforms. So far the reforms that have been talked about would simply further entrench powers in negative ways. And I don’t think eliminating the Senate does us any favors either since at the very minimum it does occasionally undermine the arbitrary power of the executive and it creates a group of representatives who are not subject to the continuous whims of electoral politics. As things stand now Ontario and Quebec are resisting any Conservative reforms to the Senate largely because they stand to lose power in a Senate which has equal representation from all the provinces and territories. And attempt to push through reforms without the consent of the provinces risks a serious constitutional crisis. This is the simple fact that the Conservatives overlooked when they campaigned on reforming the Senate. It was foolhardy of Harper to say he would not appoint Senators and going to reform the Senate when any such reforms would require all provinces consent. It was the same foolhardy and politically meaningless promise that the Mayor of Ottawa made when he said he would ensure a zero tax increase when he knew that such a move would require the majority of the city councilors. But Mayor O’Brian is much like Stephen Harper; they both exist in the traditional paradigm of power centered politics and have a pathological need to wield absolute power.

Any significant reforms to the Senate should include an entire package of reforms that lessons the power of the executive branch of government and which extends the ideal principles of democracy. The Conservative have absolutely no interested in the extension of democratic principles so nothing they say about Senate reform should be of interest to true democrats. I am still waiting for a party to have some actual vision on this issue. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The good old days. . . . when children worked in factories. . .

People who long for some abstract golden age of society are always a frightening amusement to me. In recent years there has been a very clear 'dumbing down' of society; a tendency that Conservatism has long promoted, in part because of their own antiquated and philistine opinions, and in part because they know that an ignorant population is much easier to exploit. Undermining real education, particularly at the secondary and post-secondary level has been a key element in the dumbing down of the population. Ironically they have often hidden that processes behind a so-called 'back to basics' education campaign, but even this is largely about ignorance. They don't actually want people to be educated, they want people to be 'trainable,' particularly for playing the role of obedient employee in a third-world style economy. The so-called 'tough on crime' agenda of Conservatives is another prime example of this dumbing down. Even ignoring the fact that crime has gone down over the past few generations (at the same time as there has been a strategy which the Conservatives say is a coddling approach to criminals), the fact is that the only real way to deal with crime is to undercut its social causes as treat criminals with efforts at reforming their behavior rather than throwing thousands in brutal jails where they train to be even more hard-bitten criminals. Anyone who knows anything about sociology and criminology understands this. But once again the Conservative effort is to push all reason aside and exploit the crime issue to prey on people's ignorance and primitive chest-thumping tendencies to create a more subjugated, uneducated, controlled, and ignorant population in order to design an economy in which people are afraid to assert their rights and can be more effectively exploited. 

The fact that such a strategy is working can be seen in the apparent growth in support of the death penalty in recent years at the very same time when violent crimes are going down. But what I don't understand about this attitude is why people are so prepared to tout their support for the dark-side of our history. I suppose it is just another aspect of the general tendency toward ignorance. If you go back to England of the late 18th century there were over 200 crimes for which you could receive the death penalty. Yet crime was significantly more rampant than it is today. Why? Because of huge inequalities in wealth, total lack of universal education, the absence of the most basic rights in terms of employment standards and democracy, etc. The huge number of crimes and criminals did not go down because of harsher penalties, they went down because of universal education, increases in equality of wealth, and the institution of basic human rights. 

Yet many people are not only ready to call for a return to the past they brag about their philistine opinions and their desire to create a system of revenge rather than justice. But I will say it again, it has always been, and always will be, radicals who have pushed society forward into a better future. People who have struggled for written constitutions, basic employment rights, the elimination of slavery, the right to universal education and health care, have all been radicals. Meanwhile Conservatives have consistently fought against these things since time immemorial. 

If you believe in the death penalty, at least have the courage to argue for all those things which accompanied it; no right to Habeas Corpus, the return to slavery, the elimination of universal education, the elimination of basic democratic rights, etc.  If you want to return to the good old days when children worked in factories at least be honest about your ignorance.