Tuesday, November 30, 2010

By-Elections by the book. . . . .

People like to analys elections. They like to put various kinds of spin on the events that have to do with the perceived context of the events, the strengths or weaknesses of various leaders and/or candidates, the particular moment in the economic picture, these are the kinds of things that people talk about on the day after an election. But sometimes I just like to remember a basic principle; voters are simply wrong a lot of the time. We can recall countless occasions when voters have just elected the wrong people, period. From one extreme to another, bad, dishonest, cruel, self-interested, even evil people have sometimes been intensely popular and often they've been elected with landslide support. The reasons for this phenomenon are sometimes complex at the local and contextual level, and sometime painfully simple at the wider distal level. Many people are habitually misinformed about specific issues and an even higher number of people simply don't understand the basic economic and social relations of the society in which they live. In many cases people are simply duped by a socio-economic ideology that they think favours their interests but really favours the interests of a small elite. In other cases people are just bad themselves; they lack basic compassion and concern for others so they elect people that they think reflect their own harsh world-view.

People like Mussolini and Hitler are electable because negative, destructive policies always have an advantage. Just as it is easier to destroy than to create, it is often a simpler matter to sell fear and anger, to scapegoat the poor and the vulnerable, than it is to promote a positive long-term approach to building a better society. Moreover, people are so indoctrinated by basic elements of capitalist hegemony that they have trouble imagining a different kind of society. They have been told so often from early childhood that poor people are shiftless and lazy that these idea are steeped into their subconscious mind and they cannot think in a different paradigm.

And so it will continue for the foreseeable future. People will vote for bad people because many of them are bad and profoundly ignorant. And until circumstances change drastically or people decide that they want a more compassionate, more educated, and more widely prosperous world, they will only face the future kicking and screaming.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Missing My Father. . . . .

As the holidays draw near I find my disposition growing more melancholy as I face my first Christmas without my father. I endeavour to keep my spirits up but it is difficult. My father was one of the most generous and well-intentioned man I have ever known. Though he had his failings, as we all do, he was always quick to confess them to others and never ignored a chance to improve himself. My father knew that the real demons in the world are the ones inside of our own hearts and tried hard to forgive others for their weaknesses as well as forgive himself.

In the eight months or so since he has passed I have grappled with a depth of sadness that I have never known. Since I was quite young my dad tried to remind me that when he finally was gone it was important not to dwell in sadness. He would remind me of one of his favorite poems, Remember by Christina Rossetti. The last few lines are the ones that my dad was always quick to remind me of.

If you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had, 
Better far that you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad. 

As important as this sentiment is, it is difficult to adopt in one's actions. For, each time I think of these lines, they remind me of my father's generous spirit and the importance that my own happiness played in the thoughts of my father, and that itself makes me sadder than I can express. Fortunately, the irony of this would not be lost on my father.

Not a single day has passed in the preceding eight months that I have not wept like a child; and a child I am.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Police Violence goes Merrily on. . . . .

So once again the Ottawa Police are under a cloud and an investigation begins into the violent conduct of some of the officers. It seems that almost every couple of weeks in this country there is another video or revelation about the violent acts of police officers. Why is that? Well, I contest that there are simply too many incidents for this to be a few bad apples in the bin. The officers are so often violent because there is a terrible culture of violence in the police departments in this country. And this culture goes to the very heart of the departments, with chiefs and recruiters, whether knowingly or not, promoting this culture. It is rooted in the kinds of people that departments recruit and the kinds of policing that they practice. And the culture is perpetuated by the fact that there are almost never consequences for officers who are caught practicing outrageously violent behaviour. There is no real independent investigations of police violence in the entire country and the police almost never come down on their own. And to make the situation much worse there is a prevailing perception among many citizens that when police are caught on tape practicing political oppression and violence, the victims of the violence 'probably deserve it.' So there is really no public pressure to change the culture of violence. Just this week the Police have been cleared of wrong-doing in the G20 incidents. This is much like the government of Burma clearing their military for the wholesale killing of Buddhist monks. We all know that the G20 is another typical example of the operation of a police state, but like all police states they will not blush or flinch about their outrageous oppression, wrongful arrests, wrongful incarcerations, and total suspension of civil rights. And I know that there will be people out there who simply reject the comparisons, sure in their beliefs that everything is different here. That is just naivety and the blind belief (surprisingly common in even the worst police states) that one's country could never be guilty of oppression. Even at the height of his madness, Stalin had a remarkable number of genuine supporters. The road to dictatorship is often gradual enough that many simply fail to notice and it is usually accompanied by a shift in ideology that justifies the worst abuses in many peoples' minds.

It is time for a federal law that mandates genuine arms-length investigations into cases of police violence as well as community input into processes of recruitment. A good friend of mine who had been in trouble with the police once visited me when I was living in Leeds in Yorkshire. We stopped to ask a police officer for directions to somewhere and my friend was genuinely shocked at how friendly, personable and helpful the Bobby was to us. It was a completely different experience than he had ever had here in Canada. I told him it was because most of the English police departments practiced community policing efforts which radically effected the kinds of recuits they got and the ways in which they interacted with the public. The British police can, or course, be as brutal and violent as other police forces, but efforts at community policing is a very good start to undermining the police-state on the ground where most people live.

Make no mistake, if the power of the state to trample civil rights goes unchecked, eventually none of us will be safe - even the ones who think they are good, law-abiding citizens.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Coming Soon. . . public executions. . . . .

It's always the same story isn't it? Politicians, particularly right-wing ones, talk about a devotion to principles like democracy, accountability, and transparency, and then they get elected. Then they demonstrate over an over again that they have no interest in any of these things. Instead they are interested in their own power and in pushing through their agenda regardless of any principe whatsoever. The truth is, of course, that the right has no interest in democracy or any valuable part of it. They are interested in money and power.

Harper was against an appointed senate but was happy to stack it with his cronies. But even if this move were somehow justifiable based upon the fairly simple fact that anyone who understood the Canadian political system knew all along that one could not simply eliminate or significantly change the Senate without the general agreement of the provinces, and you just aren't going to get that in the present situation, the blatant use of the Senate to completely undermine the will of the House is not justifiable on any standard, least of all the claims of principle that Harper has made in the past.

But watch carefully, no Conservatives will come to the defence of democracy. And they never do unless they are in opposition. This is how we know that the right has a bankrupt ideology. Democracy never comes into their minds as long as they are getting what they want. Harper could instruct the police and army to round up opposition leaders and put them to death in public hangings and the Blogging Tories would barely register the event. Instead we would see Pierre Poilievre on CTV saying "I have seen no evidence of public executions. But if such events are taking place you can be sure that the Liberals are behind it."

And, by the way, I have no doubt that as long as the Police were only executing NDP and Bloc opposition members, Ignatieff would quietly let the whole thing pass.

So it goes.

Freedom and Opportunity. . . .

Please excuse the length of this post. I hope it is worth it.

I was listening to the right-wing radio station this morning, as I sometimes do in order to keep a sense of the pulse of the ideological twists and turns of the capitalists, and was amazed once again by the simplicity and, frankly, stupidity of the arguments I found there. They had some guest, another in a long line of such guests, who was chimping for his book about how terrible the welfare state is. And of course, to hide the basic weaknesses in his argument, he applied, as such sophists always do, evocative words that are meant to sway people based upon nothing but rhetoric. This particular sophist was suggesting that we have moved away from a society of “freedom” to, what he called . . . . wait for it. . . . . a “handicapped” model of society. And, predictably, he attacked the Scandinavian model as the ultimate “handicapped” society.

What such people, and I will not call them ‘thinkers’ or ‘theoreticians,’ depend upon is that their evocative rhetoric will be so powerful that it will rob their listeners of their most basic levels of common sense. This is precisely why that great radical Thomas Paine, the first modern radical, by the way, who really hinted at the modern social democratic state, titled his most famous book “Common Sense;” because he saw so little of it in the Tory reaction of his age. Of course one need not be particularly bright or even informed to understand the remarkable absurdity of this bizarre contrast between a model of “freedom” and a model of “handicapped” societies. This is because the so-called “handicapped” societies are, on any international standards, the most prosperous and best ones to live in. Countries like Norway and Sweden have the highest standards of living, the lowest poverty rates, the highest rates of literacy, some of the longest life expectancies, the highest rates of education, etc etc. And the application of more so-called ‘free-market’ standards consistently lowers these living standards whenever they are applied.

But of course we do in fact have a model of freedom that these rhetoric-loving capitalists can point to if they wish. The “freest” society in the world at the moment is Somalia. This East-African nation has no operating government. There are no taxes, no environment or labour laws, in fact, no restrictions on business whatsoever. And, of course, like all countries that have adopted a real model of ‘freedom,’ it is a life of absolute chaos, poverty, and desperation. But these lovers of freedoms, these people who want us to give up all our social system, never talk about such realities of ‘freedom.’ This is indeed their Rubicon.

But if one does engage in an argument with such sophists they will, of course, attempt to get out of their theoretical double-blind by quickly suggesting that the market that they treasure so much does in fact require that the state fulfill one particular function, and this function involves policing, justice, and incarceration. Here is the best irony of all! The first place that their model of freedom breaks down is at its very opposite – incarcerating people who don’t adhere to the proper model of economy. One really has to abandon common sense not to understand that this application of ‘control’ on the ideal ‘freedom’ model is just an arbitrary application meant to maintain the wealth of those who have the most. As Derrida’s great standard of deconstruction demonstrates, the argument quickly falls prey to it very first contra example. If the presence of tens of thousands of police, thousands of judges, and countless prison cells are not a “handicap” on their freedom model, then what is? Well, of course, feeding poor people or preventing mulit-national corporations from putting red-dye five in your food – this is where the handicapping begins in this bizarre model. Because when these people talk about the strong and the weak they don’t really mean it. Their model is not about the strong, it is about the economically privileged.

The truth is, of course, that the entire notion of “freedom” versus “handicapping” is an absurd rhetorical device that has nothing to do with reality. Time and time again, and it is demonstrably simple, what leads to general prosperity are various forms of wealth distribution that ensure high levels of generalized education, access to medical care for everyone, and these are predicated not on freedom but on legislative standards concerning housing, labour, and commodity production and sales.

At a very basic level, capitalists and right-wingers usually misrepresent the very notion of freedom. If freedom was only about ‘doing whatever you want’ it would be a very empty concept indeed. This is because in fact the only possible outcome of such an ideology is chaos and violence. At some level of course, right-wingers know this and so they construct an elaborate defense of what is in fact a tightly controlled system that favors not the ‘strongest’ but the most economically advantaged. The result has nothing to do with generalized freedom or prosperity but is system whereby those who can exercise the greatest degree of control over the monetary unit have the freedom to control others. For the concept of freedom to be meaningful at a social level it must surely be guided by the promotion of ‘the greatest degree of opportunity to be fulfilled for the greatest number of people possible given the social wealth existing at any given time.’ Freedom, in other words, from this perspective is a social concept, because to have real meaning it must have a general application. A system that simply allows the strongest, whether physical or financial, to prevail will inevitably result in the extreme freedom of a few and the general subjugation of the many. This is demonstrably so from its application in 19th century British industrialism and colonialism to the state of Somalia today.

However, the social ideal of freedom is the ideology upon which social democracy was de facto founded. Social democrats didn’t seek to destroy the market per se, but rather to remove market forces from some sectors in order to ensure that, while personal incentives and skills could still have meaning, they would have meaning within a context of the greatest possible degree of generalized opportunity. The result of this ideology is that the absolute freedom to control others wielded by the financially advantaged is reduced in favor of generalized opportunity. The ability for social democracy in Western nations to achieve this goal has been significantly thwarted by globalization and the neo-liberal economic model. But everyone from socialists to social democrats understand that ultimately freedom must be a collective enterprise or it simply will not exist in any meaningful way for the vast majority of people.
The true “handicap” on human society and human endeavor is not social democracy or government welfare programs. Rather it is the power of the economically advantaged to be able to subjugate the majority of the population (at a global level) and, by robbing people of a generalized opportunity, undermine not only freedom but the social and scientific possibilities that would result in increased opportunities for the majority. We are all handicapped by a system that does not ensure opportunities for everyone and thus, in the long run, the greatest freedom for all.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A-Type personalities and the death of hope. . . .

It is interesting that yesterday when I wrote a blog on my opposition to the war in Afghanistan, Tony Blair decides to call the war a "Religious Conflict." Tony Blair, a man who seems to have no real idea where he stands, changes his story a great deal to suit the changing situation and the changing evidence. He initially tried to sell Briton's military involvement in the Middle East (Involvement which has been going on for generations of course), with talk of weapons of mass destruction and the evils of Saddam Hussain. This despite the fact that England had been a long time supporter of Hussain and had been supplying Iraq with weapons for generations. So what if the English empire had conquered and subjugated millions of people in the Middle East and elsewhere. So what if British companies had made millions of dollars from the Iraq-Iran war. Suddenly Mr. Blair wanted us to believe that he and his military were a force of altruism. But it is an easy sell. People love war and will buy almost any spin in the pursuit of military adventure. But of course, when the accusations of WMDs turned out to be false (something that many people knew because they simply had to listen to Hans Blix), Blair must sell the war as a religious conflict, curiously throwing his hat in the ring with over a thousand years of Crusading States who, motivated by both religious fervor and the excellent profits of colonial wars, have subjugated the people of the Middle East.

But if you have been paying attention to the long history of oppression and struggle you know that radical organizations find their constituency among the dissatisfied, the oppressed, the hungry, and the hopeless. Radical Islam was not 'created' by us in the West, just as Christian Fundamentalism and Puritanism was not 'created' by oppressive religious laws in England. (Keep in mind that Unitarians did not gain legal status in Briton until the Doctrine of the Trinity Act in 1813, which also effectively legalized Islam too. And Catholics did not gain this status until the Catholic Relief Act of 1829) Radical religious groups are not 'created' by oppression, hunger and hopelessness, but they are fed and maintained by these conditions. Radical Islam would have much less appeal and currency if the West didn't have a long history of carving up the Middle East in its own interest, of supporting dictatorships that are pro-Western, of utterly failing the people of Palestine, and of enforcing their will with military might. But instead of correcting past mistakes Western leaders like Blair continue to support non-democratic processes in the region, invade countries for fabricated reasons, and fail to use their real influence to stop illegal settlements in the occupied territories and create a viable Palestinian state. Tony Blair and those of his ilk are the very best recruiters that radical Islamic organizations could ever have. And talk of a religious war is like a call to arms for many people who watch the West treat the Middle East like its own private playground of colonialism. Meanwhile, frightening ignorance in the West, even among the so-called Left, means that there is very little opposition to these terrible events, and by buying the spin of men like Blair over and over (largely because so many testosterone filled Westerners secretly love war because it feeds their sense of power and superiority) we are condemned to watch as A-type personalities with narcissistic psychosis guarantee that peace is a pipe-dream.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Neo-Colonial Missions continue. . . .

For a number of reasons I have never been a supporter of the Invasion of Afghanistan. The claims that the invasion was about human rights etc. has never been credible. Various Western countries, the US in particular, actively supported the Taliban Government for many years while people in the West complained about the condition of Women’s (and general human) rights in the country. The West largely ignored these issues until it became strategically important for them to talk about them. Furthermore, the West still actively supports countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait which continue to have atrocious records in this regard. The claim that the invasion was about nation building and democracy is similarly incredible.  Besides the fact that the West actively supports other dictatorships in the area, the country of Afghanistan is today significantly more corrupt than it was before the invasion and is de facto no more democratic. Then, of course, there is the old standby claim that the invasion of Afghanistan was somehow about the events surrounding 9/11. This is patently false since everyone who has credible knowledge of the region has said again and again that the real training camps of so-called Islamic terrorists were all in Pakistan anyway. Furthermore, the military invasion has increased regional sympathies toward the Taliban and been a recruiting boon for radical Islamic organizations.

It seems to me that the real reasons behind the war in Afghanistan are related to geo/political power in the oil rich area as well as ratcheting up weapons production which is a remarkably effective way of diverting tax money from the middle-class to the wealthy in the form of lucrative government contracts. The remarkable amount of funds that has been spent on the war could have been much more effectively used in social programming at home and abroad in ways that genuinely could have reduced the appeal of radical Islamic organization worldwide.

Now, as though to confirm that Afghanistan has nothing to do with democracy, the government and the official opposition have made it clear that Canada can extend its mission without regard for the House of Commons. Not that it would matter much anyway since the Conservatives and the present Liberal leadership both adhere to the same paradigm about global power, development, and the role of the government to act as an institution to grease the wheels of corporate predominance.

And so the killing goes merrily on while the builders of light and heavy weapons, military accessories (such as vehicles and parts), the builders of oil pipelines, and other corporate interests, make fortunes and the sons and daughters of the West, whose only crime has been to blindly accept the spin of our governments, toil and die.  

While there is no doubt that a few well intentioned Westerners have been able to do some good in Afghanistan despite the real reasons for the invasion, much more could have been done elsewhere with the same amount of funds while a genuine effort to solve the issue of Palestine would have gone a long way to undercut the constituency of radical Islam.

I often call for Canada to leave Afghanistan but this call is meaningless really since the overall efforts of the Canadian government in support of corporate power and profit goes on unabated and generally unrecognized. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Franzt Fanon lives. . . . .

All this talk of war and remembrance and the overwrought reactions that I have received to my rather unpopular positions has reminded me of the great Frantz Fanon. Fanon was born in Martinique and was trained as a psychiatrist in France. He became an anti-colonial activist and writer whose book The Wretched of the Earth inspired generations of anti-colonial activists and helped to define post-colonial thought. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote an introduction for Fanon's famous book and warned his fellow Europeans that the history of colonial and neo-colonial exploitation would eventually give rise to terrible violence if the words of Fanon were not heeded. Well they have not really been heeded, though the Western Powers have done their best to hide the real relations of exploitation.

Read his books. Neo-Colonialism is real and we are part of it. Of course, like real colonialism it comes with its own pre-made excuses about 'goodness' and development, but it is all spin. I once had a CIDA official in San Salvador sit right in front of me and calmly admit that foreign development funding was almost exclusively about developing markets for Western companies. Of course, it wasn't the kind of thing that he would admit to in front of Third World media people but it was the reality that he worked in for many years.

Each generation spins its exploitation and military effort and every war has its own excuse.

Unpopular Positions . . . .

"The history of progress is written in the blood of men and women who have dared to espouse an unpopular cause, as, for instance, the black man's right to his body, or woman's right to her soul." -Emma Goldman.

If you have been reading my blog lately you know my thoughts on Remembrance Day and Western Military conflicts. If you feel strongly that I am wrong or crazy - just don't read my blog.

I make no apologies for these opinions despite numerous offensive comments that I have been forced to delete from my blog. That's ok. I don't mind being a voice of practical reason amid a sea of blind patriotism and naivety. Because nieve is what the majority of people are regarding military conflicts. I can't say it enough - most wars are conflicts fought for the most part by working-class people in an effort to secure the money and power for the elite. The elite sells these conflicts through patriotism and false claims of altruism.

In World War I (which was quite blatantly a fight of the European powers to jockey for position in the global struggle for colonial territory) the first country to exit from the conflict was Russia and it withdrew ostensibly because the soldiers just started walking off the line. The Communists encouraged the soldiers to leave because they rightly understood that the war was not about freedom or altruism but was about the ruling-classes of Europe securing their wealth and power. It was the first reply to the modern question "what if you held a war and nobody came?"

I come from several generations of socialists on my father's side and I am proud of it. The socialists, trade-unionists, and feminists are the reasons that we enjoy most of the rights we do. They brought about universal suffrage, the forty hour work week, and the legal protections for workers. If it was not for the socialists, trade-unionists, and feminists most workers even here would work under conditions of a third-world maquiladora. If you want to thank anyone for your freedom thank generations of tireless activist who have defended your rights against those who really want to take them away - capitalists and conservatives right here at home.

My father's uncle fought in the First World War. He was an avid socialists and was disgusted by the war and the officers who waged it with workers as cannon fodder. He lived those terrible conditions that so many talk about. He was gassed and suffered from the after effects all his life. Years after the war my great-uncle admitted to my father that he and his fellow soldiers shot and killed their officer. The officer was a Captain who was a public school-boy and came from a very rich family, was brutal and constantly talked a load of rot about the King and greatness of Briton. He treated the men under his command as little more than cattle who were there to do the bidding of the aristocrats who orchestrated the war from well behind the lines. So they shot and killed him, and it was something that happened a lot more than anyone wants to admit.

I am not, nor have I ever been, a pacifist. But neither do I buy the patriotic spin of the colonial wars (and neo-colonial wars) that our governments engage us in.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My Reply to Anonymous . . . .

Dear Anonymous – Thank you for your comments.

1. I don't believe I am over thinking it. Rather, I believe that the majority of people are under-thinking it. I would prefer any time to ‘over-think’ an issue than to wallow in blinkered ignorance as so many do.

2. Of course Remembrance Day affords you the opportunity to remember how you wish - in theory. However, a thorough understanding of the nature of hegemony should make it clear that it is only in theory. For one thing, it is difficult for anyone to avoid the full effect of ideology particularly given that the vast majority of Canadians have little comprehension of the history of these events. (It is much like the English who are amazingly unaware that Guy Fawkes Day is the celebration of a man who sought to return Catholicism to Briton.)

3. The charge of Ethno-Centrism is not false. If you think that having many different immigrant groups involved in Remembrance Day necessarily means that the overall event cannot be infected with ethnocentrism, then you really don’t understand ethnocentrism. Though technically the word ethnocentrism is rooted in the concept of “ethnicity,” in its modern usage it often applies to culture in the more general sense. Thus for example, the British Army in imperial India used thousands of native Indians who were educated in the British tradition and stood up for the English Empire. The inclusion of native Indians did not mean that the British rule in the Sub-Continent was not ethnocentric. In the context in which I am speaking of ethnocentrism it refers to way Western powers have engaged in foreign wars in places like Iraq for example and the background ideology of these military conflicts has been distinctly imperialist. The fact that certain minority groups in counties like Canada buy into this ideology does not change the nature of the relations. Many blacks fought for the South in the American Civil War, it doesn’t mean the South was not a racist state.

4. My crisis is not, as you claim, existential at all (though I a will also admit to having certain existential crises). I also admit to having problems that go way beyond the celebration of this particular event. Finally, I admit to being “out of touch” with the majority of Canadians, if by “out of touch” you mean that many of my sentiments and opinions are radically different from most people. As I said, I relish in my historical company. Many of the progressive activists in history have not shared the prevailing ideology. The suffragettes were radically out of touch with the majority of people as were the Abolitionists for centuries. So what? I prefer, in the words of Gandhi to be a ‘majority of one.’ Rather than being ‘existential’ as you say, my issue is a profoundly felt political imperative which objects to centuries of Western militarism and imperialism and its overarching tendency to celebrate military prowess even though it sometimes disguises this celebration behind a curtain of solemnity.

5.Concerning your comment on funding the healthcare of people who have sustained horrendous physical and psychological wounds – by all means. But once again, this is a typical example of our failure as a culture. We are a very rich nation which talks a good story when it comes to running a war but fails time and again to support the veterans who fight the wars. If you look at the history of this phenomenon from, for example, the end of the Napoleonic wars, it should be quite obvious that my contention concerning the wars being largely economically motivated is correct. The French fought to keep the British traders and manufactures out of the continental markets, and the English fought in turn to maintain their markets. When the English soldiers returned from the continent after the various wars with Napoleon, there were suddenly thousands of homeless, poor, out of work men (many who were physically and emotionally scarred) and the English state did almost nothing to help them. Instead many committed suicide or turned to crime. Similarly, more Vietnam vets have committed suicide since the end of the war than died in the conflict. Meanwhile, here in Canada, as a nation we could afford to take care of these men and women through state sponsorship, as Pat Stogran has been pointing out for many months. But he is leaving his post and the Government, though they love to talk about their support for the military, is under a terrible cloud because as he has said they have not supported the veterans. And since our government has the money to alleviate the physical and psychological wounds of the soldiers they have sent into harm’s way but they are simply failing to do so, and since the tens of thousands of civilian victims of our wars abroad usually live in a context in which no one can afford to help them, I prefer to concentrate my efforts there.

6. I am proud to say that I will never simply casually, or without question, accept the hegemony of the certain ideological paradigms. Doubt, challenge, question, these are my bywords, and I celebrate Antonio Gramsci.  And I have spent years studying history as well as political theory to reach the conclusions I have. “Over-think” it? I think not. 

My Problems with Remembrance Day. . . . .

Each year I struggle with the question of whether it is worth expressing my feelings concerning the increasingly fervent attitude which grips the nation surrounding Remembrance Day and my own increasing discomfort not only with the nature of the holiday itself but with the degree to which it has become socially unacceptable to voice any kind of opposition to this frighteningly ideologically driven event. And given the blind fervency with which people engage in this occasion, and the remarkable vitriol with which any kinds of objections are subjected, I have always been hesitant to say anything. My mother, who has never been a particularly political person, is American and lived through the McCarthy Era as well as the activism of the 1960s and the strong objections to the War in Indochina. But when the US invaded Iraq in 2003 she quickly realized that it was so socially frowned upon to voice objections to the War that she simply kept her mouth shut in social situations. The problem is, of course, that when one can no longer object to the actions taken by your government, regardless of whether it is regulated silence or silence brought about by social pressure, we have lost the very essence that our democracy is supposed to represent. And when any ideology becomes so ardent that it brooks no contradiction, that ideology no longer deserves to be defended.

In the post Vietnam era there was a relatively long period in which objections to foreign military enterprises and even the existence of a standing army itself were widely tolerated. This is because the terrible events in Indochina demonstrated fairly clearly to many people the real ideological nature of most international conflict, and people were not so willing to buy government spin concerning the supposed altruistic motivations of military exercises. After the US government had dropped more tonnage of ballistics onto the countries of Indochina than had been used in the entire Second World War, doubt concerning military altruism was easier to come by. This situation has gradually changed and with massive ideological efforts as well as small strategic endeavors such as “embedded Journalists,” doubt concerning the philanthropic motivations of Western military enterprises is on the wane. It appears that an increasing percentage of people, even on the left, are willing to buy into the idea that the West has altruistic goals concerning international relations and that Military efforts are a legitimate way to pursue these goals. Even as far back as the time of radicals such as Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft there was a growing objection to standing armies and a critical view to the real ideological and imperialistic motivations behind military efforts. And even though Mary Wollstonecraft was writing over two hundred years ago, in our current atmosphere her anti-militarist stance would seem outrageously radical and irreverent to many today. In fact militarism has now become so entrenched in our ideological worldview that any objection to the military is treated not only with derision but as though it were an act of treason.

However, I don’t think one must adopt the wholesale rejection of all military conflict nor must one believe that most wars engaged in by the West in the past century have been distinctly imperialistic, in order to have serious problems with the way in which Remembrance Day is currently be celebrated. Increasingly Remembrance Day is becoming an ethno-centric celebration of our own military prowess, rather than a reminder of the horrors of war and need to pursue peace as the real goal. Even if one were to believe that the wars of the past century have all essentially been efforts to “protect our freedoms,” an idea that frankly flies in the face of even the most casual reading of 20th century history, surely one must be concerned with our failure to properly honor those who have died in wars. Even if you believe that you owe the fallen soldiers a debt of freedom, isn’t our debt to them the assurance that we will doggedly pursue peace? But more importantly, given that the victims of wars are overwhelmingly civilians (sometimes at a rate of a hundred to one over soldiers) our Remembrance Day celebrations are in stark contrast to the realities of war. It is simply factually wrong and morally bankrupt to ignore the fact that even if we think the wars we have had have been justified overall, the West has engaged in terrible atrocities such as the fire-bombing of Dresden.

I personally believe that the vast majority of wars in which the Western nations have engaged (like most wars) are aimed at increasing the wealth and power of the economic elite. And I further believe that this position is defensible and demonstrable through rational discourse. However, one needn’t take this radical position to deeply object to the ideological nature that Remembrance Day ceremonies have taken on. Far from ‘remembering’ we have created a ceremony of mass-forgetting. We are forgetting the countless civilians that are dying in war (often at our own hands), we are forgetting the horror felt by the victims of rape and torture and the terrible scars that such events leave at a personal and cultural level, and most ironically we are forgetting the way in which the soldiers are themselves victims of an economic elite who need cannon fodder in their efforts to secure global markets and geo-political power.

Furthermore, I will not apologize for a position that is soundly defensible and I relish in my historical company. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pink Assault Rifles. . . . .

Well here is the AR-15 DPMS Panther Lite Personal Assault Rifle, in the limited edition pink,  just in case you are looking to replace your worn and battered weapon. I don't know the price tag but surely no price is too high for such a chic killing machine.

You know, you can go to counsellors and doctors, you can struggle with personal pain and even take Prozac to attempt to overcome your depression and melancholy. . . . but this will still be there and the professionals will just send you back into the society that made you sick in the first place.

It's worse than you think. .

So it goes.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Corporate Agenda rolls merrily on . . . . .

I am amazed that generation after generation of saps buy into the right-wing ideology of theft and abuse. They actually believe what the right-winger tell them while getting their pockets picked for almost nothing in return. War is the most spectacular example of this ideology in action. War is about, and has always been about, money, getting it away from average people into the hands of the rich and powerful.

The war in Iraq is one such war. The whole ordeal was about taking billions from average Americans and putting it in the pockets of huge corporations like Haliburton where it eventually found its way into the hands of rich executives who make million bonuses on top of multi-million dollar salaries. And if you still think it was about democracy then just look at the fact that not only have rich Americans made billions but the ruling class of Iraq also benefits in kind. The legislative house in Iraq has not even sat as a body in two years and hasn’t passed a single piece of legislation, all the while many of the legislators are earning over twenty thousand a month.

The US health care system is another such example. Foolish Tea Party Americans carry signs of Obama as disguised as Hitler and rail against communist conspiracies all the while knowing almost nothing about the actual health-care system. Instead of real knowledge they listen to Fox News hacks who make up information as they go along. And many Americans actually think these Fox News bozos are average folks like themselves who are just interested in ‘protecting their freedoms.’ Poor fools. The people from Fox news are not like them. They are wealthy servants of a multi-national corporation who vacation in the Bahamas and drive hundred thousand dollar luxury cars, all the while fabricating false information for a gullible American public who will believe almost anything they say. And one of their main fictions is to tell Americans that the health-care reforms are socialist plot that will involve mass-executions of elderly people. But all they are really interested in is protecting other multi-national corporations like Pfizer and Kaiser who would stop at nothing to continue to make billions of dollars while millions have no health-care at all. So Fox News keeps telling Americans that any reforms are unnecessary unless it is a reform to ‘open’ the market even more so that their friends can make even more money.

And people keep buying it over an over. They sell them war by wrapping themselves in the flag and creating some spin about altruism. But it is money they are after. But people buy it and send their sons and daughters to defend Wall Street and continue to shift money from average people into the pockets of the rich. And they sell them the rest of the corporate agenda with talk of freedom and market forces while shifting billions into the hands of oil companies etc. So people become willing participants in their own large-scale defrauding. Canadians are no different. Remember when Reform Party Yahoos went to Ottawa with talk of not taking the pensions and having free votes in the House? Conservatives listened to Harper’s spin and now they have the most centralized and centralizing government in Canadian history that is nothing but a secretive cabal who are also busy diverting money from average Canadians to multi-national corporations. And many Canadians wave the flag in their own exploitation.

So in the US, with talk of a grass-roots take back of their government, the fools have elected dozens of right-wing ideologues who are actually funded by wealthy corporatists who really want nothing to do with average people taking back anything. And the Tea Party hacks will further the Corporate agenda with billions in grants and Tax breaks to big corporations and the ramping up of weapons spending, taking money out of the pockets of the very people they were supposed to represent and putting it in the hands of those they pretended they opposed. The Gap between rich and poor will get ever wider, more people will go without health-care, the average people will suffer while a group of them let government further into the nation’s bedrooms and talk about freedom because they can own as many guns as they want. And all they while the executives at Haliburton and General Dynamics will be laughing all the way to the bank.

The corporate agenda rolls merrily on and Dick Cheney fiddles while the people burn. . . . 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Republican...no Democrat . . . no Republican . . . no Democrat.. . .

Americans are protesting against the mess that is their country by returning to power the very party that was the most responsible for creating the mess in the first place. It is a beautiful irony, and a painful one. But even as a devoted left-winger, I certainly cannot blame the Republican party for the entire mess in the US economy and society in general. The timidity of the Democrats is certainly an important part of the equation.

Roy Rogers used to say that he didn't belong to any organized political party, he was a democrat. Though it was a jest, it was a very profound one. Because the real problem in the US political system is that there is no organized political system, just a series of very small, self interested constituencies that elect hundreds of individual representatives who are desperately trying to jockey for position in their small fiefdom by pleasing this or that group while needing, out of absolute necessity, to gain as much corporate money as  possible for their reelection. The problem of money has been made even worse by the fact that the Supreme Court has eliminated the all limits on Corporate funding.

This problem of atomization of political culture in the US is fundamental to the system and makes it almost imposible for major social legislation to take place. For example, even though the majority of Americans are in favor of a government run health care system, such legislation cannot happen because  the Democratic Party does not form policy and then carry that policy forward with any kind of party discipline. In the 1950s my mother, who is not a particularly political person, wrote an essay in high-school about this very problem, and things have just gotten worse since that time.

Of course, this kind of atomization favours a corporate agenda because such an agenda does not happen in a large publicly visible way. Rather, small tax changes, small changes in regulations etc., are the ways that a corporate agenda gets carried forward. Social legislation, on the other hand, requires large public processes.

And the whole problem is made worse by the fact that real change is not even on the radar of the political culture. There is no left-wing in the US. There is only the right-wing and those that the right calls "left" with derision and hyperbole. Any country where major television and radio spokespeople call Barak Obama a marxist can have no significant left-wing movement. There are a few people talking about solutions such as Ariana Huffinton who has argued for public funding of elections as a way of putting an end to the corporate dominance on almost every issue. But for the most part the real problems of the US political system don't appear to be publicly understood by most, let alone talked about. Instead, a certain portion of the US voting public just keep vacillating between one party and the other as if the party that is not in power is suddenly going to change the way that they function in office and fix the problems that they have been perpetuating for generations.

Last June (2009) Kevin Baker wrote an article for the New Yorker which demonstrated that Obama and the Democrats were going to lose because they were being to much like Herbert Hoover; they weren't being bold enough to make the changes necessary to fix what was wrong with the US. He argued that FDR made real and bold changes in how US society worked which lead in part to the great post-war prosperity. Whether this is true or not, or whether post-war boom was even just given the problematic foreign policies of the US, is not something I can address here. But I think it is clear that over a year ago Kevin Baker predicted that Obama was not being nearly bold enough, and time has confirmed that prediction. And tonight we will see the US voters once again voting for the same old thing and they will get the same old result.