Monday, January 31, 2011

Would Harper Give Up Power Willingly?

I was posting a comment on Accidental Deliberations' blog post this morning which was about the issue of the so-called 'coalition' and it got me thinking about his issue again. This is the great boogie-man that promises to be dragged out continually in the next election by the CP who are desperately trying anything to demonize the opposition which they are happy to label with any epithet from "taliban friendly" to "treasonous." So besides questioning people's patriotism and calling them names, the Harper regiem will continually bring up the threat of a 'coalition' that could replace his government after the next election. The Conservative strategy is born out of both a real fear on their part and the hope that the prospect of a coalition will frighten voters away from the Liberals. The Conservative fear is based in part on their own actions in the past when they formally 'reminded' the GG that when a presiding government loses the confidence of the house, the GG can ask the opposition to attempt to form a viable government rather than have to call a new election. And given that Haper has already presided over two minority governments, if he failed to get a majority in the next kick of the can and then loses the confidence of the House, it is reasonable to assume that the GG would offer the opposition an opportunity to form a government if there was reason to believe it could be viable.

However, given all these variables we would do well to remember John Baird's rather cryptic comments on the last time there was a threat that his government would loose power. Harper and his cronies made what was, ironically, essentially a treasonous suggestion that they could "go over the head of the Governor General." They also blatantly said that it would be "illegal" for another party to form a government if they hadn't won the plurality of seats. This is, of course, boarders on treasonous in as much as they knew for certain that this wasn't true and they were attempting to misrepresent the fundamental operations of the government in order to maintain their own power.

Anyway, what strikes me as interesting now is that if you put all the pieces together, it is not at all clear that, despite warning us of the dangers of a 'coalition' (formal or informal),  they would actually give up power if they were faced with the prospect. Baird's words surely leave some doubt in any reasonable mind. As I have said before, Prime Minister William Pitt lost a vote of confidence and simply ignored it. He stayed in power because in the Parliamentary system there is no clear way to oust a Prime Minister if he simply refuses to go. The Parliamentary system is based upon conventions rather than straightforward statute and if a Prime Minister simply ignores convention it is not clear what the opposition can do about it. For a dissolution of the House to take place the PM essentially has to "ask" the GG for the dissolution.  Without this request the dissolution dosen't take place. If Harper lost a vote of confidence and didn't request a dissolution of the House there is really very little the opposition could do, at least in the short term. It may seem odd, but one doesn't need to be a constitutional expert to understand the the opposition's options would be very limited. If a PM refused to abide by a vote of no-confidence the first thing that an opposition party could do is ask the speaker for a ruling of contempt. But even if the speaker granted this ruling, the possibility for any legal action based on such a ruling are vague and could be a long time coming. Furthermore, short of the speaker instructing an officer of the law (and which one he could instruct is unclear) to arrest the Prime Minister, a contempt order would be purely symbolic. In the long term, of course, it would be difficult for the PM to rule without the explicit support of the GG. But given Haper's long history of manipulating the system regardless of the legality of his position, it is not beyond the pale to imagine that Harper could convince the GG that the opposition was acting illegally or in bad faith. Let me say that I don't think this would happen because David Johnston has demonstrated that he understands that the Government is independent of the PMO. In the long run a vote of no-confidence would force Harper to dissolve parliament at some point, short of martial law. However, I do believe that Harper might ignore a vote of no-confidence for a while in order to attempt to sway public opinion toward the notion that an opposition party forming government without the plurality of seats would constitute some kind of coup, thereby hoping that the GG would call an election rather than offer the opposition a chance to govern. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if the CP already has TV spots ready for just such an eventuality which would attempt to demonize the opposition as attempting to illegally takeover the government.

Over all, I simply believe that it is irretrievably naive to think that, given his history, Harper would simply ask for a dissolution of parliament if he genuinely thought that the GG would offer government to the opposition party. The present Conservative leadership is a ruthless group of people and they have demonstrated this time and time again. If there were any conceivable way for them to hold on to power they would take it and run with it, so to speak.  

Idle speculation at this point, but prior to any such event a few people speculate idly about these kinds of things and everyone is still surprised when it happens.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Harper, legacy or no? . . . .

Lately a lot of people have been talking about the legacy, or lack thereof, that Harper has bestowed upon this country after five years in power. One article in the Ottawa Citizen suggested that Harper has left a significant, though slightly imperceptible, legacy of pushing this country to the right. I believe that this is demonstrably fallacious if we consider basic right-wing policies. The Harper government has not demonstrated any particularly conservative fiscal strategy. Even before the recession arrived this government had spent like crazy, eating up the surplus and then taking us to the largest deficit that we have ever seen. Though they have cut some taxes, they have raised taxes in other areas and overall the average working person have certainly not seen any significant savings. Some might claim that the Harper Government has demonstrated conservative policy by cutting corporate taxes, something that they continue to harp on. But let's face it, this was a pattern began by the previous Liberal government. Furthermore, there is no conceivable way that one can claim that this present government has been more "fiscally conservative" than the Chretien\Martin government. Meanwhile, though there has been a lot of talk by the Harper government about a tough on crime agenda and supporting the military, not much has yet come to fruition in this regard and we will have to wait and see if they really produce 'conservative' results in this regard. And over all the Haper Conservatives have left the 'social' agenda more or less alone.

And since the Conservative actually received fewer votes in their second minority than in their first, and since their support is presently lower than when they called the last election, I don't see how one argues that they have pushed the country to the right.

What the Harper government has in fact done has not been to push the country more to the right, rather they have pushed the country away from democracy. They have undermined the ability for average citizens to challenge the arbitrary power of government, they have undermined adult literacy reenforcing the anti-democratic principle that a less educated populace is easier to control. They centralized power in the office of the PM and, by never bringing the Prime Minister in contact with the people or the media, they have distanced the most powerful office from the people at large. Without question, they have made the government more secretive and less accountable. And worst of all they have poisoned the political atmosphere of the nation and made an attack mode of government more acceptable and now more inevitable. They have raised personal attacks to the new normal and as all people who live by the sword they will eventually die by the sword.

But none of these things are 'right-wing' per se. These kinds of anti-democratic moves have been made by political parties of all stripes. These kind of things are about power not about policy. Though if Harper manages to stay in government for another few years they might take advantages of these anti-democratic moves to enshrine some major right-wing policies such as the death-penalty, restricting abortion, privatizing the health-care system (more than the Liberals have already done), eliminating universal education etc. But it is not clear that he will ever be able to do these things. At a fiscal level, the Liberals under Chretien and Martin pushed this country far to the right of what it was in the 1970s and even to the right of Mulroney. The Liberals moved with the times on social issues, but then so have the CP.

We have to counter this media fed perception that Harper has moved this country to the right. He dosen't deserve this credit. The Liberals did that for him. On the other hand, Harper has done something much worse than pushing the country to the right, he has pushed the country away from democracy and away from a reasonable and rational political discourse. And when the next Liberal government is sworn in (which is, regardless of one's political stripes, inevitable) the Conservatives will be the first to condemn all the anti-democratic mechanisms that they created in the first place. In other words, the Harper government has made us all losers, regardless of where you stand on any given policy. Unfortunately just as most Liberals don't recognize or are unwilling to admit that the present Liberal party is to the right of where the Tories once were, most conservatives are too blind to see or too partisan to admit that this government is destroying our basic democratic institutions and that conservatives will be as much victims of these moves as anyone else.

Hockey Players, Politicians, and arbitrary standards. . . . .

Does anyone find this strangely amusing as I do.

One of the most Popular Canadians continues to be this guy who, as people tell me used to play hockey or something. (I don't follow sports)

Some former Hockey Player

As I understand it this former hockey player holds an US passport, lives and works in the US, has American Children and an American wife. Bully for him, I guess. I care about his nationality as much as I care about his hockey playing. That is to say, not a whit.

Now as I understand it the man below also holds a US passport. He, however, presently lives and works in Canada. (I have heard a rumor that he is some big federal politician but I have yet to confirm these rumours)

Some politician (allegedly)
The amusing part comes when I found out that the former hockey player (who apparently was quite good at the game) was given the honour (if honour it is) of being the general manager of the Canadian Olympic hockey team some years back, and continues to be involved in that group that Canadians find so important. Big deal I guess. But then I was reading some conservative blog posts and they were telling me that this politician guy shouldn't be a political leader because he used to live in the US. 

Now from what I can understand from the guy below, Conservatives like this whole Hockey thing. (Maybe that's because they seem to hit each other an inordinate amount). 

Former Hockey guy (or Mobster,
can't tell which)

So what lessons can we draw here. Apparently, Conservatives like, even worship, hockey players that have, or currently do, live and work in US. But vilify politicians that currently live in the Canada but have lived in the US. 

Apparently if political parties joined the NHL then Rush Limbaugh could be our Prime Minister. (Oops I just gave several Conservatives an orgasm!) 

All this leaves us with one question: what about this lady? 

Conservative Politician 

As I understand it this lady used to by my MP and is currently your Minister of State for Seniors. But she was born in Illinois! Leaving us with this question; do conservatives maintain a double standard or does this woman play for the NHL?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Thinking of Chaplin. . . . .

Charlie Chaplin was one of my favorite people of all time. He was brilliant, funny, innovative, creative, versatile, and one of the great teaches of happiness that has ever lived. If you get a chance to read his autobiography I highly recommend it, it is full of good, funny, sometimes sentimental stuff and makes you laugh and cry. He ends the book by talking briefly about his love for his wife Oona with the wonderful quote that "perfect love is the most beautiful of all frustrations because it is more than one can express." Chaplin said many insightful things but I just thought I would share the following quote from the great dictator because it reminds me that there is good in the world.

"I don't want to be an emperor. That is not my business. I don't want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible - Jew - Gentile - Black Man - White. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other's happiness - not by each other's misery. We don't want to hate and despise one another. In this world there room enough for everyone and the good earth is rich enough to provide for everyone."

Besides being a great comedian and filmaker, Chaplin was a wonderful musical composer and his tune Smile, to which someone later added lyrics, is one of the great melodies of the 20th century. My favorite Chaplin film is Limelight, a "talkie" as they used to call them, made in 1952, and it tells the story of a once famous clown who has fallen on hard times but is still wonderfully happy and optimistic. He saves a young girl who is attempting to commit suicide, nursing her back to health, teaching her to enjoy life again despite his own hardships. It reminds me so much of my father who always tried to enjoy life right up until he passed away. Two days before my dad died I went out and found two great model airplanes for him and even as sick as he was he looked at them as though he were a little boy again revelling in their detail and talking about how they reminded him of being a kid.

Of course Limelight was also one of my dad's favorite films and we enjoyed it together more than once. Thanks Charlie Chaplin for all the laughs and tears you brought to me and my father. Both of you are sorely missed.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Reply to a Comment. . .

I feel compelled to reply to the comment made by Doconnor to my last post because this goes to the heart of what I have been trying to say. Furthermore, I believe it is motivated by a philosophical misunderstanding that not only doconnor makes but is rampant in our culture. Though I am sure that doconnor and I would agree on many things politically speaking and I appreciate his/her comments, we are operating in different paradigms. First of all and most pressingly, I think doconnor makes the mistake that many people make and which the work of philosophers of science like Feryabend attempt to correct, which is that he conflates so-called "facts" with "science" as though the two were the same thing, which of course they are not. Science is an ideological construct that attempts to organize a picture of the world which is more or less consistent and under the rubric of science there are many, often conflicting methodologies for doing this. "Facts," on the other hand, are a simple form of 'truth' claim. And of course, using Habermas' forumla in his monumental work "Theory of Communicative Action," there are other kinds of 'truth claims' such as normative and dramaturgical ones. Thus, to also follow Habermas, all three types of truth claims operate on different levels and continually operate together in order to function in the world. Obviously one can never entirely separate claims of fact, for example, from normative claims. They are interdependent. Now it is a common misconception, to which I believe doconnor is falling victim here, that assumes that pragmatic (think Rorty) or 'post-modern' operative philosophical approaches (think Derrida or Foucault) are attempting to circumvent 'factual' claims, which they are not. Rather, the real issue here is that all claims of 'fact' are (and think Nietzsche here)indelibly (and a priori) coloured by our normative judgments, many of which are assumptions of what the Germans call Lebenswelt. Seen in this light, 'science' is an entirely different matter and must be seen in an ideological light (here think Althusser). An effort to see it otherwise is bound, I believe, to fall into the worst kind of scientism.

Now, in this light, I think I can show why doconnor's statement that one can have "fact without ethics" is false and misunderstands the nature of epistemology and the interactions between different kinds of truth claims. Philosophers who are variously referred to as "rationalist" or "objectivist" or under some other rubric, have failed since Montaigne to understand the relationship between so-called rationalist standards and what one might call 'pre-rationalist' judgements. Montaigne's skepticism goes to the heart of this epistemological discourse. One cannot have "facts" without 'ethics" (and I use ethics in the broadest normative sense here) because our normative, non-rationalist, assumptions and judgments predate our perception and understanding of 'facts.' I think even the work of THomas Kuhn demonstrates this. First of all, many people, if not most, will be unable to see certain "facts" until they have colonized the lebenswelt.But second, there is a more subtle and complex issue at stake, which is for 'factual' claims to be in any way organized and meaningful to us as thinking beings, we must assume an entire structure of normative and ethical assumptions. In other words, while it is clear that one could not make normative claims without assuming certain 'facts' about the world because norms assume an external world in which to operate, it must also be said that you could not have facts without normative structures. (This is not, of course, to claim that the physical world of 'facts' doesn't exist without our judgements of it. Rather, it is only a claim that the two are co-dependent. A tree may have a physical reality whether or not we recognize it as such but it would have no "meaning" as a tree without an entire normative structure from we observe it.) Since the advent of the Enlightenment, Western rationalist philosophers have been, in Feyarabend's words, operating in a Conquest of the Abundance of the world. But regardless of what rationalists (or even scientists) believe they are doing, facts are not instructive, we cannot derive an ought from an is, and facts will only be widely accepted as such, or socially meaningful, when they properly relate to or are integrated into some kind of normative structure.

The problem with having this argument, and I have had it for twenty years with philosophers as well as scientists, is that it is paradigmatic in nature and in recent generations a paradigm has formed which is profoundly different from, and often hostile to, this position. Just as Odysseus was completely baffled by Achilles' paradigmatic rejection of the system of honour when he left the battle of Troy, people who are steeped in the contemporary rationalist paradigm will simply be baffled by such a position or falsely believe that it is a naive or an overly metaphysical kind of philosophy. It is always difficult to converse across paradigms, because people find it difficult to imagine that there are other meaningful world-views than their own. And the left has been just as guilty of this as any other group. But even more significantly, it has become very difficult to question the Western rationalist and scientific paradigm because people who adhere to it are so certain that they simply see the world "as it is" and everyone else is confused or deluded. Just as people on all sides of the political spectrum are hostile to anarchistic ideas, so most people are hostile to ideas that they think are relativistic or overly pragmatic. But all societies are dependent upon certain kinds of 'myths.' A member of the Aztec society would think you were deluded or insane if you claimed that the Sun was no more than a ball of fire. And most members of the capitalist society think you are similarly crazy if you say, for example, that competition is unhealthy. We have not reached (and I am not sure we can) the social position that Habermas thinks we have, in which people recognize conflicting ideas as meaningful positions that are all subject to discursive redemption.

So are we trapped in a kind of paradigmatic 'double-bind' or can we find a way to relate to each other? I am not sure. I am fairly confident, however, that the great philosopher Max Weber has been sadly overlooked in recent times and that the technocratic, scientism which grows out of Western rationalism is leading us to an iron cage of teleological efficiency and rational control that is widely misunderstood even by people who think that they live with a different worldview than the prevailing capitalist one. Herein lies the rub.

Free to Make our Future. . . . .

We are, in modern times, often caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the ideological demands placed upon us. On the one hand we know that capitalism has, for want of a better expression, led us down the garden path of near destruction, both through war and environmental disaster. On the other hand we know that many religious people are so bigoted and offensive in their beliefs that the power of what should be a redemptive force often offers little more than inevitable social conflict. Meanwhile, scientists, who often naively believe that there work represents some ‘objective’ and eternal truth, are steeped in ideology, use methodologies that are shockingly anti-creative, and have more or less become the handmaidens of big capital. Even if one accepts, for example, the recent model of ‘global warming’ and seeks to institute technological solutions to some of our major, and profound, problems, not only does the so-called ‘market’ preclude many of these solutions, but scientists are so lost in a technocratic paradigm that they don’t even realize the real inevitable necessity for ethics as a guiding principle to all or our actions both social and personal. The simple fact, going back to a blog I made a few days ago, is that ‘facts’ are not instructive, or to use the words of David Hume, you cannot derive an ought from an is. You could have all the “facts” in the world but the only thing that will really guide our behavior are our ethics. All of our “oughts” come from ourselves not from some objective standard derived from facts about the world. We may find some technologies that help us solve some of our problems, but it is we who must decide to take the ethical actions. In other words, normative or scientific necessitarianism (and I am not using that term in its strictest philosophic sense) are just constructs of a technocratic consciousness. We may determine that certain actions are necessary for our survival, for example, but only our ethically motivated decisions will determine if we take those actions or opt for others. I reject biological determinism and do not believe that we must be held captive by claims of technocrats. One of my favorite adages is one used by the anarchists in the ’68 student revolts and it sums up the real potential of our race – “Be realistic, demand the impossible!” 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Death Penalty and Not-So-Hidden Agendas. . . .

Predictably, the blogosphere lit up over night with Harper's admission that he favours the death penalty. Obviously we all knew this and it was hardly a surprising revelation. Besides being a conservative (supposedly) Harper is an evangelical Christian and most Christian sects have a long history of loving revenge killing and retribution regardless of the shocking degree to which this contradicts the most basic ethics of their supposed founder.

And since it is not surprising that Harper likes the idea of killing people, the only real question on the blogosphere should be whether he is being honest about his claim that he wouldn't make an issue out of it regardless of what the next government looked like. Now, given Harper's fairly straightforward record of misrepresenting what he will do in office, the question is begged; should we believe him? He said he wouldn't appoint senators. Oops! False. He said he wouldn't tax income trusts. Oops! False. He said he would make the government more open and accountable. Oops! False. He said he would have more free votes. Oops! False. He told us he would never run a deficit. Oops! False. He said he would never raise taxes. Oops! False on several counts. He assured us that he would run government in a more respectful fashion. Oops! False. He said he would abide by fixed election dates. Oops! False. He said he would respect the will of the House. Oops! False.

I don't care what your political sympathies, if you go around claiming that Harper has been honest or consistent, you are blindly partisan or simply misinformed. You may still support him based upon a kind of pragmatic formula, but it is demonstrably fallacious to claim that he has been honest about what he would do. So, what would Harper do if he won a majority? Would he revisit the issues of Capital Punishment and\or abortion? I don't know. I suspect we would soon find that a couple of his MPs would bring forward Private Member's Bills attempting to bring back the death penalty and outlaw abortion just as he did with the gun registry law. Then he would make a lot of noise about how they were private members bills, and the chips would fall where they would. This would allow the blind partisans of the CP to claim that these issues were not part of a 'secret agenda.'

And through all of this, where do 'most' Canadians stand on these issues? Well, to be totally honest, in the case of the death penalty, I don't think it is a strong argument to say that the 'majority' supports it and therefore we should reinstate it. First of all, recent stats suggest that the population is now fairly evenly split on the question of capital punishment. But I also think that if the majority support the death penalty, they are simply wrong about the issue. Besides the ethical issues, there are international issues at stake as more and more countries that once used the death penalty are abandoning it and lobbying for others to do likewise. Furthermore, there are some seminal issues in which the legislative bodies have to be ahead of the curve from the population in general. This was certainly the case in relation to civil rights in the US where the majority of the southern population supported segregation and Johnson used federal power to override those in favor of racist policies. Let's not forget that not that long ago the 'majority' of people thought interracial marriage should be illegal and that homosexuality should be outlawed.

Despite the rhetoric, I don't think the so-called 'hidden' agenda of Harper has ever been very hidden. Years ago Harper gave various public speeches saying that the right-wing needed to change the agenda in Canada slowly, making us the proverbial frog in the slowly heating water. If you have paid attention, it should have been fairly clear that Harper's political goals were not related to any particular legislative policies but related to overall goals of changing the system as a whole. Therefore,  Harper was really seeking to create less accountable government, to undermine the judicial system, to pick away at civil rights, and undermine many basic tenets of democracy. These issues were never hidden and have all unfolded in a fairly straightforward and predictable way. Harper has always sought a less democratic system in which the wealthy and corporations have a lot more power, the people have little ability to challenge the arbitrary power of government, and those with money call the tune. It is these parts of Haper's political goals about which he has been consistent rather than any one particular policy. If he were to win a majority will he pursue the policies of reinstating  the death penalty and outlawing abortion. I don't know, but I hope we never have to find out.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Kindness, Compassion, and Socialism. . . . .

I have been missing my father a lot over the holiday period and reflecting on our many times together and our important conversations. We were probably closer than any father and son I have ever known and the hole that he has left in my life is immeasurable. He taught me a lot over the years and I hope I taught him too. Perhaps the most important lesson he taught me was what matters more than anything in life is kindness and compassion. All the rest is secondary to these most basic things. And though I have not always been able to practice this, it has been fundamental to my worldview.

It is the basic issues of kindness and compassion that have inspired my commitment to Socialism. When I was quite young I read Albert Einstein’s ethical defense of socialism and, despite years of studying Marxism and Politics, I think socialism requires no other defense regardless of what the right-wing, and even some on the extreme left, say. I will always believe that the ideal of socialism is a morally correct path and that a cooperative society, in which everyone has access to housing, healthcare, and education, is the ethical ideal. Ironically I have had numerous arguments with people on the left who have claimed, largely thanks to the work of Engels, that socialism is not a moral position and requires no ethical approach. The position is to me quite patently absurd for the simple reason that facts are not instructive. It doesn’t matter what ‘rational’ discourse that one has, in the absence of ethical principles, such discourse means nothing. One could have all the facts about human behavior or the physical world and these would mean nothing without our ethical beliefs to guide them. With this in mind I have stymied a number of self-styled Marxists in this argument by asking the simple question: if I could convince you with a rational argument that capitalism is a more effective or is a ‘natural’ or ‘inevitable’ system, would you abandon your commitment to socialism? Of course, when they are being honest, the sheepish reply is always no.

And experience has taught me that those people who try to abstract the principles of human society and attempt to defend greed, competition, and self-interest with some theoretical notion of what people ‘inherently’ are by nature, are really just trying to defend their own twisted desires. 

In the end, only kindness and compassion matter in all things, whether it is the big political questions or the small daily problems.

I miss my dad, but I will try not to forget his most important lesson. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Energy Production and Left-Wing plots. . . . .

Sometime over the weekend as I was schlepping one of the kids around in the very cold weather, I was listening briefly to the right-wing radio station as I sometimes do to hear just how twisted and ignorant many people continue can be. Here in Ontario there has been some controversy surround the efforts of the present Liberal government's to promote various alternative energy sources and this was the topic of the conversation. On the heels of the last Tory government privatizing power in the Province, people's electricity bills have increased dramatically over the past few years. Of course, instead of just making the whole thing public again, the Liberal government is watching the prices go up with rather devastating results, particularly for the elderly and those with small incomes. I have argued before that areas of the economy that are vital to society such as health, education, and power, should not be private. It seems fairly clear that the so-called "market" is not an effective way of supplying these things, nor is it a very effective way promoting innovation in these sectors, particularly in the late stage of capitalism. Take the issue of power usage, whether in your home or in transportation. The massive costs of entry into the field of, say, car production for example, means that the market cannot effectively respond to the need for more economical and environmentally friendly vehicles. The fairly obvious collusion between the oil companies and the car companies have served to maintain the average mile per gallon of vehicles at more or less the same rate for more than thirty years. The improvements that have taken place have been shockingly small and the real improvements have largely been in the luxury car market. But while there has been a radical failure of governments to invest in public transportation or to compel the big car manufacturers to improve their vehicles' carbon foot-print, the cost of such efforts for newly formed private corporations makes a real 'market solution' almost impossible. This goes for electricity as well. The effort to create electricity manufacturing and infrastructure is far too high to allow for 'free market' solutions, and for any real innovation to take place we require hugh public investment. Thus while the Liberal Party in Ontario is failing to invest properly in public energy, they have attempted to make large investments in promoting the development of alternative energy production. Now some have claimed that these investments have been partly an effort to line the pockets of various Liberal friends who are in the business of wind and solar power. This may or may not be true, but either way this investment is demonstrably necessary.

But here is where the funny part of the story kicks in. So this right-wing commentator on the radio keeps saying that Ontario shouldn't develop its own power, whether alternative or not, because there is much cheaper power available right next door in Quebec and he tells us that we should just purchase this cheaper power. The irony is missed on himself and his right-wing audience because Hydro-Quebec is a publicly owned corporation, so purchasing cheaper power from Quebec is apparently this right-wing radio commentator's way of telling us that we should be using Public Power!

But there is also something else that is funny in the whole thing. This right-wing commentator tells us that all this expensive investment in alternative energy sources is not about 'making cheaper power' but is all about, by the energy minister's own admission, "green-house gas production" So, the commentator's conclusion is that it is therefore "all about ideology." And he actually thinks this constitutes an argument - if the dire need to prevent harmful pollution is the motive for changing the way we produce energy, then it is "ideology." This is like saying that the need to improve, say, school lunches is 'ideological,' or the need to have food and water inspectors and regulations is 'ideological.'

The right-wing can be amazingly simplistic in their arguments which often consist of labeling anyone who doesn't agree with them as part of a left-wing plot and then leaving it at that.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Stephen Harper vs William Pitt . . . The Smackdown. . . I Mean, The Love-in

William Pitt the Younger

Stephen Harper the Elder
As I have said on other occasions, the recent wave of Right-wing politicians who largely take their political strategy from the playbook of Karl Rove, bear a striking resemblance to the towing figure of English politics, William Pitt (the Younger). Pitt was the Prime Minister of Great Britain for 17 years and also served as Chancellor of the Exchequer. There are, of course, many important differences between a man like this and men like George Bush or Stephen Harper.

Pitt began his political career as a Whig and only switched when he began to see a chance for himself in power. Pitt was a scholar, and was said to be an exceptional orator, a powerful wit, and was known as warm and personable. I would say that besides Bush's down-home folksy charm, none of these descriptions fit Bush or our rather un-illustrious leader. But there are some compelling similarities between the two men. For example, before Pitt rose to the office of Prime Minister he was a strong advocate of parliamentary reforms that sought to limit the potential power and corruption of the government and the Prime Minister. But just as Robert Oppenheimer's optimism fell at the first hurdle, so did Pitt's faith in reform; just as our own Prime Minister slid easily and seamlessly from the leader of a populist party advocating all kinds of reforms to a secretive and paranoid PM who will seemingly stop at nothing to defend his personal power.

 Pitt has the distinction of being the only British Prime Minister who lost a vote of no-confidence but still refused to dissolve his government. Pitt was able to take this unprecedented step because he had the support of King George who wasn't willing to let Charles James Fox become Prime Minister. Though Harper has not ignored a vote of no-confidence, his record in this regard is very suggestive. He was willing to close down parliament to avoid a vote of confidence and when the threat of a loss of confidence loomed, his primary spokesman, John Baird made cryptic remarks about not abiding by any such vote.  I don't think either Harper's supporters or his detractors would be surprised if he ignored a vote of no confidence if there were any way that he could perceivably achieve that step.

Another interesting similarity between men like Bush, Harper, and Pitt is the way that they use a politics of fear and division. Pitt was always looking for a petty political advantage to exploit in order to destabilize any potential opponents. He seemed to have loved the intrique of Westminister politics and painted his opponents with any brush if it would work to his advantage. Just as Harper has his lapdog John Baird to rally the troops behind a flag of fear, Pitt had Edmund Burke to do his ideological dirty work. Of course, comparing Baird to Burke is like comparing Sarah Palin to Einstein, but you get the picture. Through the talents of Burke, Pitt created a fierce anti-French, anti-Jacobin sentiment in England and managed to convince people that a foreign-inspired revolution was brewing in the streets of London. Through this ideology of fear Pitt managed to marginalize the opposition and set the stage for another thirty years of nearly unbroken Tory power. Though Harper can only dream of such an opportunity for fear-mongering, the modus operandi is the same - label the opposition as terrorist sympathizers, foreigners, or in a secret cabal with separatist types who seek to "illegally" take over the country against our perceived will.

And just as Prisons and harsh penalties are an important part of the Harper hype, Pitt was eager to prosecute any dissenters, put as many people in prison as possible, and was the Prime Minister under whom England began to send prisoners to Australia. This strategy grew out of the fact that England was suffering under the weight of increasing dissatisfaction among the working-class and terrible economic conditions. But like Harper, the last thing that Pitt wanted to do was to address the issues behind crime and dissent, instead he wanted to use crime and dissent as wedge issues to further sow the seeds of fear among his supporters. Pitt was not always successful, as we see in his failure to successfully prosecute the great dissenters of the London Corresponding Society. Had Pitt had his way, Thomas Hardy (no relation to the novelist), John Thelwall, and John Horne Tooke would have been prosecuted as spies and sent to Australia or even executed. But luckily the British system of justice still maintained some autonomy. And now recall Harper's treatment of Maher Arar, an entirely innocent Canadian who was sent to Syria with Canadian help and cooperation to be tortured. Recall that as leader of the opposition Harper could not be vociferous or vitriolic enough in his unconsidered condemnation of Arar in the initial phase of Arar's terrible ordeal. Instead of being concerned that a Canadian who had not been charged with any crime might be a victim of foreign torture, Harper waxed on about how Canada had an open door to 'terrorists' like Arar. Harper was forced kicking and screaming to admit Arar's innocence and only exonerated Arar because he knew he could effectively blame a previous government for the ordeal and he knew that people had forgotten that while the previous government had worked to free Arar, he had unceremoniously condemned him out of hand. Once again putting the instigation of fear for political gain in front of the law and justice. William Pitt would be proud.

I could go on but there is just too much material to deal with. In the early years of the 19th century the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote a now famous essay concerning William Pitt. To simplify a little, the essay, which is often hailed as an important precursor to Freudianism, attempts to demonstrate that Pitt's lack of compassion and his ruthless political style were by-products of a twisted childhood that lacked love and affection. I look forward to such a work on Harper who appears nearly inhuman in his lack of compassion and warmth. And in the future watch for the actions of Harper's children who received hand-shakes instead of hugs from a ruthless father. Divide and conquer, marginalize genuine debate and any opponents through Mccarthy-style baiting, undermine and disrupt any institutions which might expose your intriques such as freedom of information or federal watchdogs. These are hallmarks of Harper's leadership and lessons that he learned well from William Pitt.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Politics and Fashion. . . . .

The older I get the more I think that the swinging of the political pendulum is a little bit like fashion; it doesn't matter how ugly things get as long as they are perceived as fashionable most people just don't notice. That is why we look back on bad fashion much the way we look back on periods of bad politics. We ask ourselves how so many people could have supported fascism just like we ask how could so many people have thought shoulder pads or platform shoes looked good. And the answer is more or less the same, while people are caught up in the bad politics or the bad fashion it is very difficult for them to see their way out of it. People just grow accustomed to seeing things in a certain way and it just sort of looks fine to them regardless of how terrible it is. After a while social or political relations begin to simply look like a "natural" order to people and they can't imagine things being any different. Marx wrote a lot about this problem in German Ideology. And fashion is a kind of microcosm of this fetishism of relations. Just go and tell a young teenager that they will someday laugh at the very things that they now think are 'cool' and you will see fetishism in action. Most of them can't imagine that the things that they think are fashionable are just ephemeral and will soon give way to something else.

And in politics it seems to be much the same. For a while people just grow accustom to certain generalized beliefs no matter how false or fabricated they may be. And masses of people support some leader who is just horrendously awful because the paradigm hasn't shifted. Then once it shifts everyone asks 'how could we have supported that jerk for so long?' This process happens from the very worst dictators like Hitler and Stalin to the rather run of the mill liars and crooks like Nixon or Mulroney. Some times this realization occurs quickly and sometimes it takes years. If the particular leader is associated with a general paradigmatic shift it can take a long time for people to realize he was terrible. But I think the more blatantly terrible a particular politician is, the more quickly history makes its verdict after they are gone. Again, this is much like fashion. If the fashion is subtle like pleats in your pants it take quite a while for people to look upon it as 'unfashionable' and even when they do, they don't feel that strongly about it. However, if the fashion statement is particularly strong like, say, tight-fitting red leather jackets a la Michael Jackson, people react pretty strongly and fairly quickly. Maybe this is because the worse a fashion statement was, the more embarrassed people are that they once thought it was cool, and so the quicker and more vocal they are in their effort to distance themselves from it. This obviously happens in politics. After full disclosure of Nixon's nefarious escapades, no one wanted to associate themselves with this embarrassing chapter in American history and Nixon quickly became the most reviled president in history.

We are in the midst of one of these events today in Canada. Our current Prime Minister will eventually be considered the very worst one this country ever had. People will eventually see him for what he is; a conniving, underhanded, power-hungry, hypocritical, crook. They will see that he ushered in a systematic effort to control every aspect of government with unprecedented secrecy and obfuscation. But at the moment he is much like huge bell-bottoms in 1975, ugly and awful but still more or less fashionable. But the paradigm will shift. . . . just wait for it. And then those who once supported his anti-democratic regime will quietly pretend they were never any part of it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Poverty, Wealth, and Statistics. . . . .

It is not surprising to find that it is not only the Conservatives who are quick to attack any statistical report the results of which they don't like. Other partisans play the game too. Witness Aaron Ginsberg's rather vociferous attack on the report on poverty in Toronto by U of T Professor David Hulchanski. Now given Mr. Ginsberg's stated bias against all things academic, and Professor Hulchanski's obvious credentials and commitment to poverty reduction, I tend to give the Professor the benefit of the doubt. And if you read Mr. Ginsberg's blog carefully one can see that even his argument is not as solid as he projects, given that a full understanding of the issue could only come with a very detailed analysis of comparative costs of living from the 70s to now. However, neither Mr. Ginsberg nor myself could fully develop the argument for or against the professor without a more detailed analysis.

What strikes me as very interesting is that a Liberal would take the time to attempt to discredit an academic report, the only purpose of which is to bring attention to the issue of poverty. Given that Harper is a genuine threat to democracy in this country, I think that there are significantly more important issues with which to grapple. One of the focuses of this and other reports like it is to add to the realization that since the 1970s the riches portion of the population has an ever increasing percentage of society's wealth - and this goes not just for Canada but almost all Western Countries. Most Conservatives disregard the significance of this changing social balance because they claim that all that really matters are 'real' rates of poverty. However, beside the fact that there is no objective, trans-historical standard for measuring poverty, the percentage of wealth that is controlled by the richest group is actually very important. The Conservatives deny this for the fairly simple reason that they tend to have a one-dimensional view of power and democracy and they fail to understand that wealth translates into social power. Even if a society had no discernable poverty at all, the amount of a society's wealth that is controlled by the top, say, ten percent of the richest people or families is very significant because if the richest have a high enough percentage of the wealth they will much more effectively control the political institutions, the media, and media's agenda. It is not poverty per se that matters, it is the over all social equality which allows people to have an equitable stake in the how society runs that really counts.

Given that even in Canada the richest ten percent control a majority of the country's wealth and that many people do not have enough wealth to meet their basic needs, let alone to be active and fulfilled citizens, I really think Mr. Ginsberg's attack on Professor Hulchanski is misplaced and counter-productive. And if one has a bone to pick with academia and its various methodologies, there is significantly more dubious and harmful work being done by academics here and abroad.  Moreover, I have seen significant evidence that the discrepancy between the richest and the poorest in this country and elsewhere has dramatically increased in the past two decades. Furthermore, I know empirically that the percentage of people's incomes taken up by their primary expenses (housing, food, and transportation) is much higher today then it was in 1970. And perhaps more significantly (and something that few people talk about) the majority of people actually work much harder today, carry much higher debt, and have less leisure time than they did 50 years ago, a fact that impoverishes all of us.

Was there problems with Professor Hulchanski's report? Probably. Is there something deeply wrong with people who worry more about nit-picking at a statistical methodology than the real issues of poverty and wealth in society? Definitely!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Liberals, Conservatives, and Judicial power. . . .

I have obviously never been a ardent supporter of the Liberal Party, particularly in recent years as the LPC has moved considerably right of many of their traditional positions. However, I have supported a number of Liberal policies in recent years, their universal childcare program being one of these. But despite my suggestions that under its present leadership the LPC is in some ways difficult to distinguish from the present Conservative Party, I think it is beholden upon me to point out that there are some important ways in which the parties differ, and as someone on the left I don't mean to belittle these differences. One of the primary things that distinguish the LPC and the CP is that there is a significant element in the CP that opposes institutions in this country related to human rights that I think are vital. Go onto the Blogging Tories site on any given day and one finds writers who speak out, in a fairly vociferous voice, against the Charter of Rights.  These right-wingers some how believe that the Charter is a implement of State oppression and they stamp their feet and nash their teeth at Trudeau for saddling the country with this document. I have looked carefully but have never been able to find a clear (or even mildly coherent) argument of how the Charter oppresses us, but these commentators repeat this claim over and over. Now it seems to me that despite any shortcomings that the Charter may have (and any written document has shortcomings), its intentions is to protect us, particularly those most vulnerable among us, from the arbitrary power of government and the potential arbitrary power of social majorities. This is one of the reasons why I think that Harper's cancellation of the Charter Challenges legal program was one of the worst, and most undemocratic things he has done. It is a mystery to me how this anti-Charter position jibes with the libertarian streak in the CP because anyone who is not hopelessly naive about government surely knows that we need protection from its arbitrary power. But more than this, even libertarians should know that a society must possess some basic protections for minorities from the whims of majorities. Without a document like the Charter a majority could, for example, outlaw marriages between people of different races and there would be de facto little that could be done.

The element of the CP that rails against the Charter seem, in many cases, to be the very same people who moan about so-called "activist judges," an entirely fabricated notion that appears to be a rallying point for right-wingers. Again, what right-wingers mean when they talk about "activist judges" is that there is an imaginary left-wing plot to thwart the will of the people. What is really going on, however, is that the judicial branch of government is actually doing its job. And despite the condemnation that right-winger heap upon these institutions, they are always the first to hide behing the Charter or judicial decisions when they find an advantage in them.

The LPC, for all of its turn to the right, still seems to be committed to basic democratic and human rights which the Charter and the judicial branch of government are meant to protect. By all means, these institutions are not perfect and from a left point of view one could mount a powerful critic that these institutions do not protect people enough. But the vein of the CP that opposes these kinds of institutions is, I believe, a serious danger to democracy, to human rights, and to the arbitrary power of governments and the potential tyranny of the majority.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hate, Violence, and Lessons of History. . . . .

Terrible events have a tendency of focusing people's attention. As I said yesterday, it is not always a matter of cause and effect, people see something that causes people to look at what has been going on and where they have been going. A health crisis, or a food crisis, or violent event, all of these kinds of events can cause people to reexamine how things have been going and why.

Now, personally I don't think we really need a terrible event to remind us that the right-wing has poisoned the political atmosphere in North America with vitriolic, hateful rhetoric that belittles democracy and belittles all of us. We should not forget our history lessons. Fascism in Europe (and we are not just talking about Germany here) gradually moved in against the back-drop of angry, hateful speech in which the right blamed the left for everything from moral decay to tooth decay. The vocal advocates of Fascism often tried to hide behind respectability and political legitimacy but when you look back you can see the gradual decay of genuine political discourse and the rise in scapegoating the vulnerable and systematic lying in the public sphere. And let us not forget that in many cases the vocal right-wing opponents of everything and everybody on the left, were not the ones who eventually took up arms and organized the worst events of fascism. Some people just set the tone that legitimized the more radical voices of hate and violence.

Make no mistake, people like John Baird, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Pierre Poilievre, and Glen Beck are the ones that are poisoning the political atmosphere and setting the stage for a shift in the paradigm. Today such hateful speech influenced one sad, unbalanced man. But history has demonstrated that such rhetoric can eventually pervert an entire generation to acts of terrible violence. No matter what these people say or do, we must continue to stand for a more compassionate, more cooperative, more humane society. Jean-Paul Sartre once said that we have two options for the future of our race, a form of Barbarism or a form of Socialism. The statement is more clear today than it was when the great existentialist first said it. The barbarians may be at the gate but the only method we have to struggle against them is a cooperative and compassionate society. In the 1930s, it took too long to realize where the anger and hate of the right-wing was leading. Let's not let it happen again.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Attempted Gifford Assassination. . . . .

As questions swirl in any rational person's head concerning the question of political assassination, the Tea Party Movement's regular use of violent discourse, Sarah Palin's folksy, down-home use of gun metaphors, we will inevitably hear copious right-wing commentators tell us the obvious untruths - that there is no connection between gun control and gun violence, that just because Sarah Palin used the symbols of gun-sights to target progressive political opponents, this doesn't mean their discourse of violence had any thing to do with the attempted assassination of a progressive legislator who was, in fact, one of those that Palin "targeted." And these right-wing commentators will be smug in the knowledge that there is seldom a direct cause and effect in such events and in such issues in general. Conservatives can oppose gun-control, promote the use of guns, or use a constant and consistent discourse of anger, hate, and violence, and we are still hard pressed to create a direct causal link. But this is because most social phenomena simply don't work this way. In the lead up to the Revolution in France, for example, there was a systematic abuse of power by the French aristocracy. Aristocrats routinely beat or even raped their underlings over whom they had near total control. But we cannot find any direct relational cause between individual acts of aristocratic abuse and the storming of the Bastille. The real causes of the Revolution in France were distal rather than proximate. The Gordon Riots in London were acts of terrible violence directed in part at Catholics in England who had been demonized by Lord George Gordon, the leader of the Protestant league. Yet, despite Lord Gordon's inflammatory discourse against the nation's Catholics, we cannot establish a cause and effect relationship between his provocative  speeches and articles and the violence that ensued. But anyone who doubts that there is a causal relation gives empiricism a bad name. Now over two hundred years after the Riots history makes those connections obvious. Similarly, individual efforts at gun control may have little discernable or immediate impact on the number of gun crimes. This is because such efforts are cumulative and the real impact is a gradual shift in ideology. As guns are more controlled and more difficult to get fewer people purchase them and negative associations arrise with gun-ownership. Given the complex overdetermination of social phenomena, I can not demonstrate a direct line of effect between Sarah Palin's provocative discourse and the attempted assassination of Congress Woman Gifford. But as the right-wing discourse of hate and violence heats up and conflict increases, no doubt history will make the links that we cannot empirically make today.

The Goebbels effect. . . . .

A dishonest politician is one that consistently fails to do the things that he or she said they would do and often does the very opposite. This is obviously graded on a curve because it is in the nature of being a public legislator that decisions have to be made 'on the fly' so to speak. Things will change and a good elected official will react to the changes so it is inevitable that some promises will not be kept and occasionally a politician will have to do something that appears to contradict their basic political outlook. However, you will know a dishonest and conniving politician by this sign; they consistently do the opposite of what they said they would do or of their stated principles.

But on this curve of dishonest public legislators there is a class above the rest; these are the politicians are the ones who not only consistently do things that they claimed they wouldn't do but consistently and publicly claim that they are doing things that they are not or are not doing things that they are. I call this the Goebbels factor; politicians who simply say things over and over that are blatantly untrue in an effort to simply misrepresent the facts and create a counterfactual image of what is really going on. This Goebbels factor transforms a dishonest and conniving politician into a dangerous one. And this is precisely the class of politician that the present leaders of the Conservative Party of Canada falls into.

A good example of this Goebbels factor in action by our government concerns the issue of so-called accountability. If you have paid even the vaguest attention to events over the past four years you know that despite running on claim that they would increase openness and accountability in government, Harper has done the exact opposite. There has never been a less accountably and more secretive government in this country than this one. And people are taking notice of this globally where Canada's freedom of information process has become something of a joke. So the Harper Government has done the opposite of what they claimed they would do; pretty standard stuff really. But Harper and his cronies go the extra mile; they continue to blatantly ignore the facts and speak in public as though they have increased accountability and openness. Even diehard Tories have to know that the power of the PMO has increased, that the Government Ministers are less accessible, less powerful, and less open than they were, and that freedom of information has become a joke. But all that dosen't matter, Baird, Poilievre, and other just say in public (when they are allow to speak at all) that their government has increased openness and accountability. And the Goebbels strategy is, to a degree, effective because when you hear a message over and over - the facts begin not to matter and perception becomes reality.

The Harper Government has increased taxes in many areas and for many people - but they consistently say that they have been a tax-cutting force. They consistently claim to be fiscally responsible yet they spent like drunken sailors before the recession came, squandering the surplus and being thus totally unprepared for a recession that everyone knew was coming. Then they sent the country into the red like no other government with money targeted for Tory ridings. The Harper government claims that crime rates are getting worse when all indicators are that they are improving -- but that doesn't stop them from planning to spend billions on prisons while reducing rehabilitation programs and consequently increasing recidivism rates. The Harper government claims that they are in favor of the 'market' and for responsible government spending, yet they are planning to make an untendered purchase of unnecessary war planes worth billions. The Goebbels effect in action. Watch it and be afraid.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Right-wing hostility. . . . .

Look at any internet story, particularly from a news-source such as the National Post or CTV, and read the comments under the story. Now if the story is concerned with some vaguely progressive issue, such as the environment or the NDP or Trade Unionism, the comments are truly shocking. Many of the comments are downright abusive, they belittle any people involved in progressive work in ways that suggest that they don't just disagree with their political outlook but that demonstrate that they are consumed by hostility for these people. This, in itself is rather bizarre because most of the people that are working hard for a progressive cause do so out of a basic commitment to the cause and gain very little at a personal level from their work. While a handful of high profile individuals like, say, David Suzuki or Jack Layton, gain notoriety and a certain degree of prosperity from what they do, most environmentalists or union activists toil in anonymity and get almost nothing from their mostly voluntary work. Even if you think they are wrong about their various causes, their failure to acquire personal gain from their activism suggests that at the most one could consider them misguided. But many right-winger (particularly these ones I have been writing about who constantly leave comments on these news-stories) are so hostile that it is difficult to read the comments.

I suppose to a degree this has always been the case. If you look back at the debates in the British public sphere surrounding the issues of Slavery in the colonies or Catholic emancipation, you find a similar hostility. And yet the people who fought for these causes stood to gain very little from these struggles at a personal level. But conservatives went crazy in support of slavery and fought tooth and nail against catholic emancipation and smeared and attacked their political opponents with vehemence that bordered on psychotic. I find it absolutely amazing that people who are basically fighting for good have historically been treated so badly.

The real question to me is always - where does this hostility come from? But after thinking about it for many years I have come to the rather obvious conclusion that there are many reasons that people are hostile to activists who are working to improve the lives of people in general. Some people are just so steeped in ignorance about both the historical as well as the contemporary issues, and they are aware, at some level, of their own ignorance. This awareness generates a powerful hostility to those who they perceive to be better informed. Sometimes they think that activists are luckier, more prosperous and better educated them themselves and this makes them angry and they take their anger out on anyone who  fits into this perceived group. I believe that some people realize that they are not themselves very nice or compassionate people and it really bothers them that others actively pursue a better way of life for people in general.

In retrospect, of course, this kind of attitude appears rather silly. Most British Tories actively supported slavery in the colonies and were vehement in their attacks on the anti-slavery activists, calling them 'ignorant,' 'misguided,' and even 'anti-Christian.' It wasn't until Earl Gray ended a long period of Tory rule that Slavery throughout the Empire was ended. But few people talk about the historical efforts of left-wing activists because we take most of their work for granted. Few Conservatives today want to be openly hostile to anti-slavery activists or the suffragettes, or even the trade-union activists to whom you owe the five day work-week. Today Conservatives like to forget that it was their side that consistently opposed almost every democratic right we take for granted. And they continue to oppose anything worthwhile in this way by being openly hostile to those who would struggle for justice, peace, and better environment. Go ahead, right-wing commentators, attack the trade-union movement, they have become an easy target in recent years. But without them you would still be chained to machines with no rights, no work-place safety regulations, and no way to fight back. Go ahead and attack the environmental activists, but without them your entire race will die out. Go ahead and attack justice reformers, but without them you would have no legal rights whatsoever and you would be at the behest of arbitrary state power.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

To Blog or not to blog. . . . .

I enjoy the blogosphere, and I enjoy blogging. However, we should admit that for the most part we all blog for ourselves. It gives us an outlet for our feelings and frustrations. Some blogs do, of course, provide the occasional tidbit of useful information, and there is even the occasional revelation that might have an impact, however small, on the political culture. But most of the blogs are just us ranting a bit and talking among ourselves. And most of the blogs are fairly respectful, though there is an inordinate degree of down-right hate-speech on the Conservative Bloggers, but then most of them don't believe that the category of hate-speech should exist anyway so it probably doesn't matter to many of them.

The problem is, of course, that there is very little in the way of real political debate in this country so it is natural that blogging would be reduced to a series of partisan rants. I don't know if the reduction of political debate is simply a temporary swing of the pendulum or an unfortunate and permanent effect of the ability of modern politicians to obfuscate the truth and spin their partisan hype in a milieu of unprecedented technological speed. Perhaps it is a combination of both.  I think that the most unfortunate political development in the past couple of decades (at least in Canada) is the gradual, and almost universally unacknowledged, deterioration of democracy. As many of the gains made in the West during the long post-war boom are slowly slipping away and the gaps between rich and poor begins to widen dramatically, democracy is suffering badly. Not only are fewer and fewer people informed about and involved in their most basic democratic institutions, but money plays a bigger and bigger part in elections and legislative agendas.

And many of us do blog about these issues and the impacts that they have on us as individuals and on society in general. However, when the majority of the population refuses to even acknowledge most of our basic democratic deficits, or has simply given up caring because they think that the problem is unsolvable, staying motivated is difficult. Here in Canada we have a government that has radically undermined the democratic institutions of the country but many are so ignorant of how our institutions really work (or are meant to work) that they just don't understand what is going on. Others are so blinded by partisanship that their leaders could do almost anything and they would continue to support them. One of the saddest and most blatant examples of partisanship in recent years has to be the tendency of Conservatives to face any and all charges of corruption and lack of accountability with the universal, school-yard jibe that "the Liberals did the same thing!" Really!? Is this what debate has been reduced to? Meanwhile the media and the people go crazy if some single mother is caught cheating 50 bucks from welfare but the governments can handout literally billions in corporate grants and subsidies and executives can make seven figure salaries and barely anyone bats an eyelid.

But we keep blogging. However, as I said, it is mostly in an effort to achieve cathartic satisfaction rather than an effort to save Western Capitalist democracy from its own rather dramatic failure. The sad truth is that if new technologies began to make a real political difference, the internet would be shut down so quickly it would make your head spin.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Thought for the New Year. . . .

I have an opinion, I have held it long, that human life will not always be so tiring. I think people will see, will have their eyes open to discern when their friends, their neighbors, are breaking down, dying from very tiredness, and then they will help each other.