Sunday, December 30, 2012

Chief Spence and Our Quiet Racist Traditions. . . . .

Unfortunately racism is an incredibly powerful and shockingly nefarious thing. It seeps into people's blood and bones in ways that they don't even notice. Racism is not just a conscious and blatant force. Rather, like many aspects of human relations, racism often lies in the background of people's conscious feelings. I once saw an illustration of this kind of subconscious racism in my own father who was progressively political and very conscious of the evils of racism. He told me the story very honestly because it was a wake-up call for him and the notion of hidden feelings and ideas. My dad was trying to find a meeting room in a hotel and he accidentally walked in on some kind of large social occasion where a man was giving a speech. As he opened the door the room suddenly went quiet and all 100 or so eyes turned and looked at him for a moment. He smiled nervously and left the room to continue his search for the intended meeting. It only later occurred to my dad, who was a very shy and socially awkward guy, that he hadn't become shy and self-conscious when all those people had turned to look at him. It took him a while to realize that his lack of customary shyness on this occasion had been the result of the fact that the entire audience in question had been made up of Chinese people. Now my father would never have had conscious racist thoughts about Asian people. He would never had thought anyone was inferior to him based on his, or their ethnicity. However, on this occasion he realized that his customary shyness was held at bay because he was not as concerned about how a group of Asians looked at him as he would have been if the group had been white. My father told me this story in part because it reminded him that racism is not always something that we can see or entirely understand at first glance.

Perhaps even more problematic than these culturally generated racist feelings are the racist notions and ideas that we have inherited from popular culture that we don't even realize have racist import. This systemic or cultural racism is particularly problematic because people who do not hold racist views unintentionally express ideas that maintain racists social and economic relations. Racism and sexism are built into our social and economic system and if you doubt it ask yourself why there are so few women CEOs or why indigenous people make up between 20 and 30 percent of Canada's prison population while constituting less than 5% of the general population.

As I talked about in my last blogpost, I believe that racism has been central to colonialism. It is important for colonial powers to create racist feelings against those they intend to subjugate or destroy because it paves the way to exploitation or genocide. Without racism people would object to the treatment of a subjugated people and they might put a stop to it. English people, even progressive ones, bought the colonialist lie that the people of Africa and India needed to be "civilized" and that allowed the real intent of colonialism - the rape and pillage of the resources of the "third" world - to go along smoothly. The legal and systemic racist policies gain their legitimacy through racist assumptions about the subjugated. "They are too ignorant to guide their own future," "they need the civilizing force of our religion," "left to themselves they are shiftless and lazy and need to be taught the principles of hard-work " etc etc. . . . These are the kinds of stories that colonizers tell themselves to justify their power, their exploitation, and their genocide.

Since I started writing blogposts about Chief Spence and the Idle no More movement I have received quite a few implicitly and explicitly racist responses. I have not published them for obvious reasons. For one thing, our culture and media have spent generations peddling their racism, often unchallenged, everywhere one looks. I have no wish to provide them with one more forum, however small, for their ideas. But it is an exhausting process. Some people just repeat the commonly held beliefs that Indigenous Canadians are lazy alcoholics who have plenty of opportunity but no desire for prosperity. It amazes me that this old, worn-out idea is still so commonly rehashed. Others, who are more conscious of potentially racist statements talk about the "need" for adherence to the process and other such nonsense. I find this idea, perhaps, even more offensive than the blatantly racist notions because it is so insidious. For generations indigenous people have been treated with violence by governments, their treaties have been ignored and the racist courts have ignored their rights. And yet as soon as indigenous people stand up for themselves and their rights against these abuses every white person in sight seems to have climbed out from under the rocks to insist that the Indigenous people should "respect the law" or "abide by the process" or "be patient" or "renounce violence" etc etc .  . . .

It is pure hypocrisy to treat people with violence for generations, to take them from their homes and families and put them in schools where they are abused and robbed of their identities, to rig the courts so that their treaty rights are ignored, to create an economic system that is rigged against them, to ignore all their most basic rights, but then to insist that they work within that system, that they patiently respect courts and governments that have committed conscious genocide against them, and to call them terrorists if they adopt strategies that our government praises elsewhere. This is, perhaps, the worst kind of racism, because it is the racism of slow destruction with a legitimate face.

Racism is indeed a difficult and sometimes insidious force and we should all be careful about what we think, what we say, and what we do. Perhaps nowhere is fact more true than in our treatment of Indigenous people who have, perhaps more than anyone else, been subjected to racist abuse.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Racism, a colonialist strategy. . . . .

Stephen Harper is deeply afraid of Chief Spence - and he should be. He is not, of course, afraid of her as a woman and a mother. Rather, he is afraid of what she represents in the struggle of the Indigenous people for treaty justice. You see, the treaties that the crown signed with native people in this country demonstrate an implicit (and sometimes explicit) recognition that the Indigenous people were caretakers of the land and water in large parts of the country. And besides the fact that the constitution of this country recognized the natives as fundamental stakeholders in the founding of the nation, there is a moral recognition that they are genuine protectors of the fragile ecosystems around the country. Failure to listen to the Indigenous voices on environmental issues spells inevitable disaster for our future.

Of course, successive governments have done a remarkable job at marginalizing native people. Federal governments have continually failed to live up to their treaty obligations, they have made it nearly impossible for native peoples to live in traditional ways but they have also held them back from benefiting from the exploitation of their treaty lands. Couple this with the government's effort to take away the native people's language, family structure, and culture, our governments have kept native people living in horrible poverty, and robbed them of the kinds of educational and healthcare tools that would allow them to genuinely improve their situation. Perhaps the worst part of this process of marginalization has been the way that it has fed into shocking racism on the part of many Canadians against First Nations peoples. This mechanism has long been a primary function of imperialism. If you marginalize a group effectively, keeping them poor and uneducated, the average, white, ill-informed colonizer will see them has somehow responsible for their own degradation. This was a fundamental organizational operaton of Apartheid and was also central to how the slaves were treated in the US. And it is a strategy that has been remarkably effective in Canada where most people are shockingly ill-informed not only about the historically despicable treatment of Indigenous people but are amazingly misinformed about the state of Native people today. If you don't believe it find your way to a story about Idle no More or Chief Spence on the Huffington Post and read the comments. This is, generally speaking, a center-left news site and yet the comments on Native issues reflect blatant racism and a remarkable degree of ignorance. It seems that most Canadians really think that Native people are inherently shiftless and lazy, living high off the hog on government handouts while their chiefs drive around in chauffer-driven limos.

All of this brings us to the reasons that Harper is afraid of Chief Spence. He is afraid because he knows that not only are her actions threatening to demonstrate his lack of humanity, but her efforts (and the efforts of Idle no More in general) could begin the process of public education not only about how natives are being treated in general but how his environmental policies are raping the land and threatening the waters.

Overcoming the long-term effects of colonialism and imperialism is a very slow process. There are still many people in the States, for example, who think that African-Americans are lazy and their relative poverty demonstrates a lack of ambition and commitment. And it seems that in Canada bigotry against Native People has become one of the last socially acceptable kinds of racism. And men like Harper rely on that racism to continue his environmentally destructive policies. The Indigenous people are just standing in the way of his agenda of destruction and the last thing he wants is for people to begin to listen to them and really look at what is going on.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Chief Spence and the Way forward. . . .

I have not blogged much lately because it seems to me that there is a story that is so big that it has taken the wind out of my sails and muted me with its raw implications. That story is the Idle No More movement and the hunger strike of Chief Spence. In light of the injustice perpetrated against the Indigenous people in Canada and the slow death of Chief Spence in the face of Conservative indifference, all the other stories going on seem to pale in comparison. And though it is an inspiring story, it is also a frustrating one because it reminds us of just how much racism there is in the country against Indigenous people. It is so deep-seated and widespread that it one might argue that it remains socially acceptable. And it is a racism that has commonly been voiced by MPs in this country as it was a few years ago by the MP for my region, the sad and pathetic Pierre Poillievre.

But despite the racism and the indifference, this is a monumental event. I see Chief Spence as an important visionary in the struggle for righteousness. Though their struggles are different, I think Chief Spence is not unlike Gandhi, and her hunger strike has the potential to be the Salt March of the Indigenous people. Gandhi's great Salt March was an historical moment that changed the mood of Indians, their imperial overseers, and the world in general. And if Chief Spence perishes while Harper eats bacon, this event will also be monumental. Such an event will change the karma of Harper, his conservative government, and our entire nation. What the Salt March taught people was that it was not the English who were in charge, it was the Indians. From that moment onward, independence was inevitable because it was already a conceptual fact just waiting to be confirmed in the material world. The death of Chief Spence in the face of Conservative indifference would be the conceptual revelation that the Harpercons have no moral authority to govern. And more importantly, it would be the confirmation that the indigenous people are fundamental protectors of the land and the environment in this place we call Canada. This would be the first real step to people finally waking up to the fact that First Nations must be equal partners in the path forward. Their treaty rights must finally be respected and they must finally play an essential part in the future of out country as a whole.

When Chief Spence stands up for her people, she is standing up for all of us because she is standing up for our water-ways, our wild-life, our air, and our future health and survival. Chief Spence has, of course, the basic living concerns of her people in her heart as well - decent housing, education, food, healthcare etc. But while she speaks for her people she speaks for all of us in the face of government that is destroying our democracy, our prosperity, our environment, and our future. If she dies it will be extremely sad. But her strength is not only setting her free, it is setting us all free. We can be free to stand up and say NO MORE! We must respect our indigenous people, our environment, our democracy and our earth. Our power is our freedom.

Let that freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Alberta.

Let that freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of BC.

But not only that: Let freedom ring from the tundra stoneS of the Northwest Territories.

Let freedom ring from the Hamilton escarpment.

Let freedom ring from every hill and mole hill of Quebec. From every mountainside let freedom ring.

Chief Spence is setting us free. She is showing us the way. And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring from every city and every province, every house and every Tipi, we can all join together and sing "free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last!"

Thank you Chief Spence for your strength and vision!

Rise up against the corporate scum that would rape our land and imprison us. We are many, they are few.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Harper Revelation. . . .

Events in Canada are looking more and more like a Biblical Revelation with Harper representing a silver-haired beast who aligns himself with the great red dragon of the East. The Silver-hair beast has his minons wrench the fire liquid from the great northern landscape until it is made into a wasteland of black death and the fire liquid is then spewed forth into the east where it feeds the dragon which imprisons a billion people beneath its claws. This stuff writes itself.

Because, let's face it, Harper's political descent narrative is surely of biblical proportions. This silver-haired beast came from the West vowing to bring honesty to the halls of power but once ensconced in power became a bizarrely secretive dictator who not only seeks to manage information but to put an end to it altogether. He once portrayed himself as a champion of human rights and spoke out vociforously against the terrible Eastern Dragon and its terrible unGodly behaviour. Gradually he has warmed up to the Dragon and finally offers up a significant portion of his own nation to appease the Dragon's thirst for fire. Apparently it is easy to overlook the tearing talons of the dragon-beast as it kills its victims or imprisons them in factories. The silver-haired beast has indeed become everything he claimed to despise - a kind of anti-Christ Conservative whose follows seem more than comfortable supporting policies they once would have claimed represented the very essence of evil.

Of course, if we continue to follow a Biblical narrative, none of this can end well - you know, fire in the sky, giant locusts with human heads and lion's teeth, etc etc. . .

Who will rid us of this turbulent priest?

Friday, December 7, 2012

AbitibiBadwater. . . . .

You can bet that this story will not get anywhere near as much coverage as it should. For the Supreme Court to agree that Abitibibowater can absolve itself of the social responsibility of environmental clean-up is, in fact, monumental. This further solidifies the corporate society in which we now live. Though the Court claims to have upheld the principle of "polluter-pay," it de facto dispensed with that principle  because any large corporation will now be able to avoid paying for major environmental damage through the Companies' Creditor Arrangement Act. This could lead to serious disasters in the future, disasters caused by corporations for which we will have to pay.

The responsible way forward is now clear. Any major industrial undertaking should involve a significant pre-disaster payment to be held in escrow so that payment for the clean-up (and there are always clean-ups of one sort or another) is guaranteed. By I won't hold my breath.

Honest Disagreements and the problem of Harper. . .

Though disagreements can be difficult at times, I think the majority of us understand that honest disagreements are not only healthy but essential to growth and understanding. We have to weigh the options in life, think about the possibilities, consider not only the facts but the feelings and concerns of others. My father, may he rest in peace, taught me a great deal about the importance of honest discourse, especially in the face of radical disagreements. And to his credit, over the period of my adult life I watched my father change a great many of his ideas and opinions as a result of experience as well as through discourse. In fact I would say that my father really bucked the trend of aging people becoming more intractable and less open as they get older. It was, perhaps, his greatest gift - he taught me the importance of flexibility and compromise.

However, despite all that my father taught me concerning honest disagreements and the importance of discourse, this teaching falls flat in the face of much rightwing discourse. I have had many disagreements with rightwingers over my life that have been very basic differences of opinion on things like Gay Marriage, the death penalty etc. I have even had meaningful discussions about things as sensitive as sexism and racism. I think most of us at one time or another fall victim to some opinion without realizing the sexist or racist implication that our opinions might carry. In fact, in my last post I pointed to how Ian Capstick's support for certain kinds of immigration and refugee policies have implications that are, in fact, deeply racist. I am certain that Mr. Capstick doesn't believe that he is racist and that he even finds the prospect abhorrent.

Anyway, the point of this discussion is simply to say that we can have disagreements that are rooted in honest mistakes, errors in fact, moral or ethical differences, and the discussion of such disagreements can be, if we are honest and flexible, instructive and helpful.

The problem is, however, that not all disagreements are rooted in honest differences of opinion. This is where the rightwing ideology of a man like Harper comes in. If Harper honestly believed that his political approach would bring about a better and more prosperous society, then our differences of opinion would be just that - differences of opinion. The problem is that all the evidence (both contemporary and historical) suggest that this is just not the case. In other words that are other, unstated, goals behind contemporary rightwing rhetoric that make honest discourse impossible, to say nothing of unfruitful. As I have said here on this blog, and as a growing number of people are saying everywhere (in most cases much more effectively than I), the real goal of contemporary rightwing ideology is a massive shift in society away from generalized prosperity to an increase in poverty and weakness for the majority. The real "hidden agenda" of Harper and his cronies is not simply the return of the death penalty or greater restrictions on abortions (though I think those issue are real). The real "hidden agenda" is something much more abstract and sinister. Haper and his ilk actually seek to impoverish society, weaken people's democratic voices, and undermine many things that we have begun to see as basic human rights. And the reason for this goal is to substantially increase the power and wealth of the few (among whom he obvious considers himself). One needn't be an historian or development expert to understand that when the people are impoverished and weakened, the rich are necessarily more powerful and even richer. Though this is a huge goal, it is also one that can only be pursued subtly and in an rather underhanded manner. After all, people don't go around saying they want to make the majority  poorer and powerless, because let's face it you just would have no chance of getting elected. (By the way, this ideology of impoverishment of the many is actually at the heart of Harper's eventual goal of making guns more available. A society of rampant crime and violence makes the rightwing agenda easier to pursue because it makes people afraid and allows the government to increase the power of police.) In other words, what I am saying is that Harper does indeed have a "hidden agenda" and it is a large, if subtle one. The goal is to undermine democracy, impoverish the majority, and put an end to the very concept of equality.

The problem is, of course, obvious. We cannot have honest disagreements with people who are not being honest. Even under the best of conditions, disagreements can be problematic. Some people have better access to information, a larger platform for making their opinions known, or are simply better equipped to debate a particular issue. This is one of the many reasons that people on the left seek greater equality of opportunity, to remove as much as possible the relations of power that continually haunt our differences. But when those opposing you are not only richer and more powerful, but are simply not being honest about their actual goals, then the very notion of discourse becomes meaningless. We cannot face the Harper cabal on a level playing field of debate and disagreement because they not, in fact, debating anything. Rather all their political machinations are just a sideshow to divert attention away from what they are really trying to do.

If this scenario sounds familiar, it is because we careful observers have been watching the very same thing in Palestine for over 50 years. If Israel really wanted peace with the Palestinians, one could have a meaningful debate about how that might be achieved. However, for those in power in Israel, peace has never, per se, been the goal. Rather the goal is the eventual destruction of the Palestinian identity and the absorption of all Palestinian land into the state of Israel. They therefore are engaged in a continual process of diversion - a political sleight of hand - in order to take people's attention away from what they really want. So the discourses are dragged out indefinitely and even overwhelming compromises by men like Arafat are quickly turned aside, lest peace really happen and take away Israeli's excuse for their expansionism.

Unfortunately, all of this means that we cannot rely on meaningful discourse to defeat men like Harper, or bring peace to the Middle-East. Rather, we have to rely on the gradual exposure of our opponent's real goals and their continual failures in the normal political realm. We fight, in other words, in the margins, on countless fronts, until Harper's style exposes his real goals, until environmental failures become dangerously obvious, until his political mistakes and malfeasance expose his dishonesty to more people, until the very force of history undermines his decadent cause.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ian Capstick's Heart of Darkness. . . .

Ian Capstick, supporting his new macho, Mulcair-like beard, boasted tonight on the CBC Newsworld Power Panel, about how hawkish he is on immigration and refuge policy, talking up his friend Jason Kenney's new-wave of immigration controls.

Mr. Capstick, quickly and conveniently attempted to guide the conversation of todays "human trafficking" arrests away from any issues of race. The issues that he was so carefully trying to avoid are the obvious racist implication of mass arrests of Romani people, held more or less indefinitely and without bail or legal recourse by a government with a history of racism. Meanwhile, not a single person who organized the "smuggling" effort, has been arrested. (And you can bet that those people aren't Romani) And what Mr. Capstick doesn't want to talk about is the very simple fact that such talk will expose Kenney's policies - and Capstick's support of those policies - as what they are, to wit: strait-up racist.

Mr. Capstick told us that he doesn't want lots of people (he might as well have used the phrase 'hordes') coming into "his" country in nefarious ways. Typical talk of racists everywhere at all times is to hide behind patriotic rhetoric in their efforts of exclusion  The problem is, Mr. Capstick, that, let's face it, that's how we all got here. You might call it "my" country but we Europeans are only here because we stole all the land and indiscriminately killed all those who opposed us. And our governments continue to engage in a ruthless process of genocide of the first inhabitants, while you talk about defending the borders of "Your" country.

At the heart of Jason Kenney's legislative efforts has been massive increases in the Government's and the Minister's power to pick and choose who gets in and who doesn't, to increase their power to expel and exclude, to make the all-mighty dollar the only real criteria for immigration, and to cut off the rights of immigrants and refugees at every corner. And Mr. Capstick's new found hawkishness and machismo should be put in the historical context of a nation that exists on a policy of theft and racism. And until the Canadian government puts an end to the systematic genocide of first nations people, gives them a major role in deciding immigration policies, treats immigrants and refugees in a humane manner, and takes away the government's power to incarcerate and expel people at their own whim, I will continue to raise an skeptical eyebrow at talk of "my" country and hawkish immigration policies.

The problem is that systemic racism has often tried to hide behind a waving flag or  supposedly sober talk of protecting "our" borders or "our" culture. But as long as such talk is used to justify the abandonment of human rights, you've lost me. And you certainly lost me today Mr. Capstick.

I will side with Eugene Debbs - "While there is a lower-class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."

Friday, November 30, 2012

One Man's Freedom-fighter. . . . .

Perhaps the greatest irony of the Harpercon regime (and there are literally dozens to choose from) is the difference in attitude that they take toward the people who suffer under the yoke of the Syrian government and those that suffer under the yoke of the Israeli Government. Both governments have a profound democratic deficit and both nations are repressing millions of people with systematic violence. Yet for the Harpercons, the people of Syria are allowed (even encouraged) to defend themselves, while the Palestinians are afforded no such privilege and when they do attempt (in any small way that they can) to assert their rights, the Harpercons consider them to be nothing more than terrorists to be punished.

John Baird and Stephen Harper are buffoons who are attached to some strange dispensationalism which compels them to promote the expansion of Israel into all the land of the Palestinians. Meanwhile, the Israeli government has actively pursued a strategy of stalling any talk of peace while they gradually take all the land until the whole notion of peace talks will make no sense since their will be no land left in the region that is not entirely settled by the Israelis.

Until the people of Israel truly embrace the principles of democracy and commit themselves either to a viable Palestinian state or a shared state that is democratic and equal, there will be no peace. And as long as they oppose the whole world in blind, quasi-religious support for Israel, the Harpercons will be on the wrong side of history. But then conservatives have always been on the wrong side of history, while the progressives have dragged the human race into a better future despite the regressive attitudes of the rightwing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Political Deception and the Ford/Harper Nation. . .

The fundamental thrust of the contemporary rightwing ideology in our country, whether found in the form of the Ford Brothers or the Harper cabal, is multifold. While the overarching narrative of this movement is an entirely deceptive notion of "working for the people," (an ideological sleight of hand that variously uses the facade of populism or the 'sober,' steady-hand on the economic tiller), behind this illusory notion of public interest lies a sinister agenda of systematically reorganizing society and the economy away from all notions of political, economic, and social equality which grew largely out of the trade union movement in the first half of the 20th century. What is arguably most disturbing about this shift is not the drive toward greater inequality that emerges from the corporatist agenda per se, but the degree of blatant deception involved at every level of this effort.

The Ford phenomenon in Toronto involves the typically deceptive practices of much of populist politics from the Peróns in Argentina to much of the European fascism of the 1930s. Such practices almost always involve some appeal to "cleaning up politics," undercutting some vague and never specified "leftist" conspiracy, and a claim for the need to return to some kind of fiscal sanity in the face of a supposed history of left-wing waste and over indulgence. Inevitably, these claims are almost always universally false and don't stand up to even the most superficial factual exploration. However, the falseness of the rightwing, populist claims almost never disuades their practitioners from maintaining the charade. Perhaps the most blatant example of this in modern times has been the Reagan phenomenon. Despite the fact that by the time it had left office the Reagan administration had radically increased the size of government, increased overall taxes, exclusively delivered deficit budgets, and significantly increased the US's debt to GNP ratio, Reagan supporters continue to this day to blatantly lie about what Reagan achieved and what the administration's goals really were.

In the case of the Ford brothers in Toronto, these boorish slobs have sought to gain public support with continual appeals to a non-existant 'gravy-train' and fiscal irresponsibility of the previous (more left-leaning administration), while the real goals hidden behind these claims have always been (beside the obvious self-glorification) to both centralize power around a pro-corporate cabal and to gut the very notion of government as a meaningful provider of service.

This idea of a retreat from government as a provider has been central to almost all the efforts of the Harpercon regime. By gutting government services the Harpercons hope to create the illusion that government is essentially incapable (whether at a simple fiscal level or a more fundamentally ideological level) from contributing to making meaningful improvements to people's lives. While attempting to universalize this falsehood, the Harpercons have quietly shifted the tax burden away from  corporations and the rich and placed it squarely on the shoulders of the middle and working-class.

But besides the shift to a corporatist ideology, the rightwing (whether of the falsely-populist type of the Ford brothers or the more blatantly elitist type of the Harper regime) have used this political phenomenon which relies on a systematic appeal to a political style of deception, scapegoating, marginalizing, extreme secrecy, denial, trickery, information control, a lack of transparency, and just plain lying. And men like Ford and Harper rely profoundly on fear, public ignorance, a sympathetic corporate media, and the gradual breakdown of education standards. As the rise of fascism once demonstrated, an ill-informed, fearful public can be easily appealed to by strategies of scapegoating and lying.

Inevitably, most deceptive politicians eventually fall to their own dishonesty and hubris. The Ford conviction is a very typical example of such a fall. It was not simply the fact that he acted improperly in using his office to solicit funds (such malfeasance could easily have been overlooking in this case), rather it was the culture of denial and deception that really created the problem. He extended his initial mistake into a systematic refusal to face up to the problem and correct it. And this is a telling event for the rightwing in this country as a whole. When one relies heavily on deception and information control, the web of malfeasance usually becomes ever more complex until it comes crashing down on your head.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mayor Ford, Michael Coren, and Political Hypocrisy. . . .

I am very seldom shocked by the hubris and hypocrisy of the rightwing. That is not to say that the left is never guilty of hubris or hypocrisy, but that often shocks me because at the heart of the leftwing commitment should be a principled stance of honesty and democracy. The only real universal commitment of the rightwing, on the other hand, is greed and self-interest. Be that as it may, suffice it to say that given these dubious principles, it would be foolish to be shocked by very much of the rightwing malfeasance.

Thus, it certainly cannot be a shock to most people when the rightwing sycophants were appalled by the ouster of Mayor Ford of Toronto. Perhaps the most blatant expression of hypocrisy regarding the guilty verdict against Ford can be found in a Twitter post by rightwing pundit Michael Coren. Coren had this to say - "Democracy dies as leftists, union thugs, political judges remove a man who got almost half the vote."

The first thing that is striking about this Twitter post is found in the fact that Coren seems to imply here that receiving a large portion of the popular vote in an election somehow should excuse a person from obeying the law. I can't help but wonder if Mr. Coren has some cut off point in mind concerning insulation from legal proceeding. Perhaps Mr. Coren thinks that if one receives more than, say, 40.3% of the vote then you can just do whatever you want? Or maybe the standard is a little lower.

I don't know about Mr. Coren, but last time I looked, no one, not even people who received 100% of the vote are above the law. And that is exactly what we are really talking about here because not only was it clear (pretty much as clear as any court-case can get in this country) that Mayor Ford was guilty of a conflict of interest. But what seemed to be as equally important to the judge in the case was the fact that Mayor Ford repeatedly ignored demands to pay back the funds in the case.

But this is the rightwing all over. They talk about being tough on crime, but anytime one of their own is found guilty of anything it must be the result of a leftist conspiracy or a judge overstepping his or her mandate. The rightwing, at every level of government in Canada, seems to believe that it is above the law. And this belief has been repeatedly expressed by men like Mayor Ford. Now there may come a time when the rightwing in this country has so much control over the courts that it will be able to ignore the laws whenever they please. But for now, Mayor Ford's actions are as much restricted by the law as the rest of us. The fact is, that putting aside Mayor Ford's abrasive, bigoted, childish, lying, boorish, and ill-considered behavior at every level, he, like his federal friends and counterparts, has no regard for the rule of law when it comes to his own actions. Unfortunately, being mean-spirited doesn't prevent you from holding public office, but continually ignoring the law often does.

I understand Michael Coren's disappointment that one of the people with which he has a great deal of political sympathy has been pulled from office, but it was in NO way the fault of leftists, union thugs (this claim is simply mystifying to me), or political judges (except to the degree that any judicial position is, by its nature, political). No, Mr. Coren, every little thing about this case was the fault of one man - Mayor Ford; a mean-spirited, rightwing man who also happens to believe the law doesn't apply to him. And, Mr. Coren, even if the case against Ford was politically motivated, it is the height of hypocrisy for the rightwing in this country, which has adopted wholesale the political style of Karl Rove and will stop at nothing (and I mean NOTHING) to marginalize and oust anyone on the left, to suddenly feign some bizarre sense of righteousness concerning what they claim is political honesty. The rightwing is the faction that set the standard for personal attacks in this country, but they are the first to bulk if they reep what they sew.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Democracy, Corporatism, and the RIghtwing agenda. . . .

Public discourse is finally beginning to wake up to the fact that democracy is now in retreat all over the world. Despite the supposed democratization of many former dictatorships that took place in the 1990s and the more recent Arab Spring, everywhere you look the rich and powerful (and those that represent the growing corporate agenda) are formulating techniques to narrow political debate, to create a very small window of 'acceptable' policies, and wherever possible suppress the vote itself. Governments are getting large but also significantly less accountable, more powerful but with a specific corporate agenda.

The problem with democracy for those with a corporatist agenda is that it always has the potential of putting limits on corporate power. If 'the people' can decide to create public policies, those policies might not be entirely friendly to a society in which corporations are free to pollute all they want, can exploit people with no let or hinderance, pay no taxes, and offer no social safety net in the form of pensions and social welfare. From the corporatist point of view, democracy must be suppressed and curtailed at all cost, through trickery, control, and even illegal activity.

But to understand what is really going on, I think we need to have some sense of how the rightwing has changed and what the modern corporatist turn in rightwing politics is really about. With this in mind, I have jotted down a few thoughts on the subject of corporatism and the right. It is necessarily a truncated set of ideas but I think it offers some brief outline on the issues and gives some idea why democracy has become the enemy of the rich and powerful.

Understanding the nature of rightwing politics has, I think, become very confusing for many people in recent years. The right talks about smaller government but consistently expands the size and reach of government. They talk about lower taxes but in reality that idea seems to only be applied to large corporations and the very rich. They talk about more freedoms but they continually suppress democracy and extend the ability of government to wield arbitrary power in many areas of society. They seem to pay lip-service to libertarian principle but never seem to have any real notion of applying such principles.

What is going on here?

Well, I believe that the only way to really understand modern rightwing ideology is to understand the basic changes that have taken place in capitalism over the past century or so. The movement of capitalist ideology has been a movement from individualism to corporatism. And it is this change which is essential to the understanding of rightwing ideology in modern times.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. What must be understood, first and foremost, is that rightwing ideology has, at its core, a basic belief in social Darwinism. Now I am careful to stress the word “social” in that phrase because capitalists are not now, nor have they ever been, real Darwinists. Let’s face it, a guy like Mitt Romney wouldn’t last five minutes in a Mad Max, post apocalyptic world where the notion of survival of the strongest really applied. Capitalists have always believed that competition must be managed, not allowed to expand in a “natural” way. Adam Smith understood this very clearly. That is why Smith was at pains to make it clear that there was an important distinction between “Capitalism” and the “Market.” The market is an exchange of goods and services. Capitalism, on the other hand, is system in which the government regulates the system in order to protect existing wealth and set the terms for the creation of wealth. In other words, Capitalists have never believed in the so-called “free-market,” nor have they believed in a real system of competition. If you doubt the idea that the rightwing doesn't really believe in the 'free-market,' ask your self why they don't advocate for your individual right to  practice as a doctor without the proper training, or you are prohibited from selling food without complying with a host of  regulations.

Thus we can say that capitalists advocate an ideology of social Darwinism – a system of regulated competition in which those who already have wealth or are willing to comply with certain rules of the game can maintain their power and money. Policies such as welfare or collective bargaining, therefore are seen by the right as fundamentally to be resisted because they encourage equality (of both opportunity and living) and this is the very opposite to what capitalists want. But, of course, in so-called democratic societies the rightwing has continually been forced to temper these beliefs in social Darwinism because the public advocacy of such beliefs doesn’t win elections.

However, the process of successful social Darwinism has changed as capitalism changed and developed. As time passed, capitalism has gradually moved away from the single capitalist unit of entrepreneurship to the limited liability company and the corporation. As this process has happened, the corporation becomes the central focus of Capitalists and the rightwing in general. The corporation is the focal point for those social Darwinists who seek avenues to unhindered possibilities of wealth and power. Labor laws, increased union power, and technological advancements all made capitalist enterprise gradually more the purview of large corporations. Thus, if capitalists want to maintain the best possible atmosphere for their social Darwinist ideology they must make the corporation the central focus of all politics and social and economic policy. They continually attempt to legitimize the power of corporations by promoting the twisted notion that "corporations are people."

For these reasons, modern rightwing ideology should be called corporatism rather than conservatism. This change has been made more clear in recent years as so-called conservatives have, in most Western democracies, moved away from their traditional social issues. Rather, those who we have traditionally called conservatives have focused their entire attention on shifting the body politic toward servicing corporations and their interests. In this context democracy, and legislative bodies become a bothersome impediment to the maintenance and increase in corporate power. Stephen Harper’s hatred of the House of Commons and the processes of democracy are not simply coincidental quirks of his pathological personality. Rather, these are specific strategies toward finding ways of increasing corporate wealth and power. Similarly, attacks on unions and the principles of collective bargaining are about shifting social power in favor of corporations.

On the ideological front, the right continually harps at entirely false notions of so-called “fiscal responsibility” as they attempt to convince people that despite greater social wealth than ever before, we can’t afford as a society to pay people good wages and have decent salaries. As corporatism begins to colonize every part of society, people begin to entirely abandon Kant’s categorical imperative as people become nothing more than lifeless pawns in the service of corporate profits. And as people become increasingly dehumanized, they adopt the ideology of their oppressors and actually begin to act like the automatons that they have been treated as. 

So it is this shift toward a corporatist ideology that makes a concerted attack by the rightwing on the process of democracy an essential element of rightwing ideology. The rightwing wants to create a society in which the pursuit of wealth and power is the only conceivable social good and corporations are the vehicle for that pursuit. Thus they want to manifest the notion of politicians simply as administrators of a society of corporation interests rather than a group of public policy makers. In this context, the very idea of democracy must be severely limited and, wherever necessary, suppressed altogether. The less people think of government as a body that helps to create an educated, fulfilled, population that lives in a society with high degree of social, economic, and political equality, and the more people can be convinced that the purpose of government is only to 'administer' a corporate economy, the less important the very notion of democracy becomes and the more pointed the conditions of social Darwinism become for those who hunger to live a life of exploitation and power.

As I said, these thoughts are truncated, but I think the idea is outlined fairly clearly. Democracy will continue to be in retreat as long as people let the rightwing pursue its corporate agenda. As long as we let people like Stephen Harper suppress democracy, information, and public interest in meaningful politics, the more we will move away from a society of relative equality and meaningful prosperity.  

Friday, November 23, 2012

One Man's Terrorist is another's Freedom Fighter. . .

I was listening to News Radio 1010 in Toronto yesterday night and one of their many mindless, rightwing drones was rambling on about the situation in Gaza. As though the State of Israel dosen't have enough blind and ignorant support, this yahoo was lamenting that people aren't supportive enough of Israel's right to do anything it wants. He actually said this - "Imagine if Mexico were lobbing missils into El Paso! No one would question the right of the US to defend itself militarily would they?"

This is the kind of specious, misleading, and woefully incomplete comparison that is so aggravating about the conflict in the Middle East. It is just amazing, and entirely mystifying, to me that people are so wilfully ignorant and bigoted about this on-going tragedy. Of course people have the right to defend themselves. But why is it that so many people in North America seem to believe that the only people in the world who have no right to defend themselves are those who oppose Israel and US interestes??

For a complete picture, let me complete the comparison that the rightwing radio host so misleadingly left incomplete. Imagine that the US used its superior military might to systematically take over large parts of northern Mexico to build walled and gated communities for the exclusive use by US citizens. Let us imagine that the US took over much of Mexico's territory this way - in a slow process of illegal theft and that they pushed the rest of the Mexican population into smaller and smaller enclaves. Now lets imagine that what was left of Mexico was walled in and controlled with a debilitating embargo. Now let us say that the remaining Mexicans, living in appalling poverty and in what was de facto the largest prison in the world, had the gall to fight back by using the very limited and not systematically threatening use of out-dated missiles against the greatest military might in the world. Would we be saying "How dare those Mexican terrorists fight back from their enforced prison to assert their right to take back their own country!!" The very idea seems absurd but that is exactly what is going on in Palestine.

Most of the Palestinian land has now been taken over by daily acts of war by the hugely powerful Israeli State. These acts of war, in the form of illegal Israeli settlements, as well as the theft of Palestine's natural resources, have been going on for nearly two generations. It is the Palestinians who are defending themselves against a militaristic, expansionist state that seeks to take all the land and resources for themselves. This is not a religious issue, and the effort to portray it as one is simply a classic diversionary tactic. It is a political issue. It is the issue of one state with remarkable military might given to them by the worlds largest military power illegally taking the land of another people and then claiming that those people's effort to fight back is "terrorism" in an effort to further justify their expansionist efforts.

The map speaks for itself.

The UN agreement that created Israel promised a state for the Palestinian people. Instead of getting a state, what little land they have is being systematically stolen. The Palestinians are still waiting.

PS. I think an interesting contemporary post-script to this story is the recent remake of the terrible 80s movie Red Dawn. In that story a group of American youth organize a military effort to fight back against a foreign invasion. Apparently Americans civilians who take up arms against foreign invasion are heroes but anyone from any other country that does the same is a terrorist. In the Red Dawn story teenagers actually kill foreign soldiers. But when Omar Khadr did the same thing he wasn't a hero but a terrorist. What's good for the goose is, apparently, not good for the gander.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Will We Have a Haircut for a PM?

Today's new poll concerning the possible fate of the Liberal Party in the next election (if Trudeau were elected leader), demonstrates at the very least that recent talk of the death of the Liberal Party were greatly exaggerated. I have said for a while now that the Liberal Party under Trudeau could form the next government, and this poll confirms that many people feel this way. The unfortunate thing is that, despite Harper's pathological hatred for them, the Liberal Party really is not that different from the Conservative Party. Of course, part of the potential popularity for Trudeau is, I think, that people perceive him to be more "left" than the last few leaders. That, of course, means little since a) Trudeau's political goals are not clear yet, and b) Liberals are now famous for campaigning far left of where they end up governing. However, if Trudeau did end up leading the party more to the left (and given the contemporary political climate, how far right they have gone already, and the way Harper has positioned his party in public perception at least, it seems impossible that Trudeau could go anywhere but left, at least a little bit) it would probably be a good thing for many centrists in Canada who feel, (wrongly of course) that there has been no political home for them. For leftists, on the other hand, a renewed Liberal Party would be bad news since a new Liberal Government would mean status quo in terms of the real problems of economic inequality etc.

There is, however, one bright spot in this news for all of us who despise Stephen Harper. Few things would be as satisfying than seeing Harper defeated by the very party that he thought he had destroyed. And to give the occasion even more rich with narrative irony a greater satisfaction would be Harper being defeated by a guy with Trudeau as a last name. Of course, make no mistake, If Trudeau did get elected leader of the Liberal Party and Trudeau began to look unbeatable (despite the relentless, ruthless, and surely dishonest attack against him that the Cons would mount) there is NO WAY Harper would subject himself to that kind of defeat. He would either take drastic steps (and we all know the kinds of things of which he is capable) or he would resign. So despite it all, I doubt we will ever see Trudeau beat Harper in an election, alas.

Regardless of what happens my real hope is that the next government, whether it is Liberal or NDP, will actually bring some accountability to the House of Commons, that it will not continue the dangerously anti-democratic turn that has occurred under Harper, and that it will take a serious look at real, legal investigations into the many laws that the Harpercons have broken.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Idle Thoughts . . . .

Just Wondering . . . .

- The Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party consists of seven men. There are more than a billion people, don't you think they could have found a couple of women?

-How long to we have to listen to people suggest that Jason Kenney is a good model of the GOP to follow? I mean a) the guy is blatantly racist and sexist, b) the movement of recent immigrants toward the Conservative Party has been way over exaggerated, and c) Romney won a much larger portion of the vote in general than the Conservative Party did.

- How long do we have to listen to the myth that conservatives are the best money managers? First of all, over all, the NDP in Canada have delivered the most balanced budgets. Conservative Governments consistently run deficits, expand the size of governments, and only ever cut taxes selectively in ways that increase the financial burden on average people. If Harper told us that his cabinet ministers can fly, would the media believe that too??

- How long are people going to believe that the State of Israel is a poor defenceless  victim? Besides having one of the strongest militaries in the world and being the recipient of the majority of US foreign aid (particularly military aid), every time that Israel builds a house in the occupied territory (against international law and UN General Assembly directives, by the way) it is an act of war! Thus the claim that Israel is simply defending itself while it is actually engaged in a systematic and militaristic expansionist program on stolen land is wearing a bit thin.

- How long are people going to be stupid enough to believe that conservatives and capitalists desire generalized prosperity?? In a globalized economy, for example, in which we could never compete with countries like China for labour costs, the only way to greater prosperity for countries in the West is through significant technological innovation. And the way to achieve this is very simple, free universal post-secondary education and a significant shift in government resources toward new technologies. But most Western nations are doing neither of these things because the rich generally want more poverty at home because it means cheaper labour and a larger piece of the pie for them. Open a bloody history book once in a while.

- Why is Wayne Brady waisting his significant comic talents hosting "Let's Make a Deal" ??

- Why are the books that are nominated for the Giller Prize always simpering, bourgeoise, melodramas written in a hopelessly antiquated, 19th century style?

- Now that Hostess is going out of business, what will a world without Twinkies be like? Considerably less yummy I would think.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Sad Liberal Spectacle. .. . . .

As expected, Martha Hall Finley announced her candidacy for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. And, I am sorry to say, it was another sad, pathetic, spectacle of Liberal Bullsh*t and denial. Ms. Finley claimed that the Liberals need to attack Mulcair and the NDP where they are "weakest," on the economy. Another sad example of Liberal spin, and just plain wrong. The fact is that where Mulcair and the NDP are the strongest is precisely on the economy! And here is why -

The Liberals, very sadly, continue to fail to see that though we are indeed in a recession, there is something much bigger and more significant going on. Capitalism is at a crossroads and the problems need to be addressed. Furthermore, the Liberal Party continues to live in complete denial that it is, in large part, their policies that created the problem. Oh yes, the Conservatives are terrible, but the real underlying problems of the economy are largely brought to you by Jean Chretien and Paul Martin. (The problems go back, of course, further than this but it is the Liberal Party of the 90s that entrenched the structural difficulties.)

Liberals and Conservatives can argue all they want about the short-term solutions to bring the Canadian economy out of recession. But they refuse utterly to address the structural issues. Capitalism as an economic system will collapse completely unless we radically expand the social, economic, and political power which has contracted so much in the past 25 years. Power and incomes must be significantly redistributed in Western nations, and unless that happens this recession will simply be the tip of the iceberg of economic collapse.

Neither the Liberal nor the Conservative Parties even admit that we have a fundamental problem, let alone have any actual policies to address the issue. You can claim, Ms. Finley, that Mulcair is weakest on the issue of the economy but at least economic and social equality is on his radar. You and your Liberal cohorts, on the other hand have your eyes wide shut to the fact that it is precisely YOU who brought us here and you are not addressing the problem in any way, shape, or form! The Liberals can elect a new leader and then go happily on pretending that if you are a slight improvement on the political style fo Harper then you will happily come back to power. But this just won't do Ms. Finley! More and more money and power is gathering in fewer and fewer hands and only a significant reduction in corporate power and ruling-class wealth (relative to the rest of us) will save capitalism. Ignore this very simple issue at your own peril but what is going on here is exactly what every revolution in history is made of. Inequality is the downfall of a nation and the neither Martha Hall Finley nor the Liberal Party are coming to grips with the gathering storm. Reep the whirlwind Ms. Finley and wallow in your blindness, ignorance, and denial!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Testament to Incompetence. . . .

If anyone is a testament to the utter incompetence and mean-spiritedness of the Harpercon government it is this man -

I might even say that Jim Flaherty's power and worldly 'success' is ample evidence that if there is a God, she plays no part the daily order of our lives.

While he was the finance minister in Harris' and Eves' era in Ontario Flaherty left a 5Billion dollar deficit in a time of prosperity which he desperately attempted to hide from the voters. Figuring that such incompetence was a qualification to handle an even larger budget, Harper gave him the same post at a federal level. Now he has overseen the largest deficit in Canadian history while simultaneously cutting pensions, public servants, and important social services.

Jim Flaherty is a world-class fool and Tory times are hard times - ALWAYS.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

America Died. . . .

One time Saturday Night Live cast-member, and well-known half-wit, Victoria Jackson took her desperation out on her twitter followers as she watched the Romney presidential bid slowly go up in smoke. It seems that the comedian, who has garnered public attention for her anti-gay rants, was beside herself with grief at the thought of another four years of Obama. (Though unlike that other well-known wacko, Donald Trump, she didn't suddenly become an advocate for a rightwing insurrection.)

"I can't stop crying," Jackson wrote in one tweet.

"America died," she wrote in another.

And yet despite her shocking stupidity and always ill-considered political remarks, there is a very real sense in which the comedian is right in her assessment. America has died (or at least is quickly headed to the grave.) But the America that is dying is a specific America. It is the Main Street, predominantly white, male dominated America that is dying. It is the neo-colonialist, blindly corporatist, evangelical, bigoted America that is dying. It is the old time religion, racist, Norman Rockwell dream-land America that is dying. It is also the neo-conservative America that was hatched by Ronald Reagan and his supporters that is slowly coming to an end.

The jig is up. People are slowly waking up to the radical inequalities of corporatism and the racist white men who propagate this bankrupt ideology. The pendulum swings. Fortuna's wheel spins again. And the last gasp of traditional capitalism, and the bigoted men in suits that attempted to take us back to 19th century are finally in their death throes. The process won't happen over night, but it is on its way. The asking of questions is the first important step. "Why are the rich getting so much richer, while I am getting poorer?" "Why is there more wealth than any other time in history, and yet the rightwing is telling me we can't afford pensions or healthcare?" "Why does the rightwing continue to pursue an oil/arms economy when we are on the bink of environmental disaster?" "Why do rich, white, self-absorbed men like Stephen Harper and Mitt Romney live so distantly from the real experience of the vast majority of people." "Why do conservatives talk about freedom, smaller government, and fiscal responsibility while centralizing and expanding government power, running huge deficits, and making everyday life more difficult and expensive for average people?"

Your America is indeed dead Ms. Jackson. And I say good-by to bad rubbish! Time to move on toward a less corporatist future, an economy in which people matter, and remember - corporations are NOT people.  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Message for the RIghtwing. . .

A moment of frivolity -

My message for the Rightwing in the US today -

A moment of seriousness -

My message to the Rightwing in Canada tomorrow -

And this is when - 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

On Language and its Organic Use. . . . . .

Listening to a professor of "language" on CBC this morning complain about the "gradual extinction" of French, I was struck by a number of things. First of all I was quite offended by her use of the word "literate." In reference to the shocking decline of French in Manitoba over the last century, the professor said that a hundred years ago approximately 60% of Manitobans were French speakers and now she would be surprised if 2% of the population were "literate French speakers." Now, besides the obvious elitism of a professor making reference to who is "literate" or not, I must ask - when will people (even well educated people) understand that literacy is not a fixed state to be achieved but a sliding scale of challenges and abilities that all people face in language as well as other parts of our daily life?? To bracket certain people off as "illiterate" is socially and politically offensive because it is a powerful process of exclusion and elitism. However, the fact that a professor of language was able to pass off such a remark with, apparently, little thought or understanding of the real implications is quite typical of "educated" people in general in every language. But this phenomenon seems particularly pronounced in French. This brings us to what I believe is one of the unrecognized reasons for the decline of French not just in North America but worldwide. It is not, I think, controversial to suggest that French is a particularly "brittle" language, and its brittleness continues to be promoted by the culture and the establishment. The very existence of the so-called Académie française is a three-hundred year old testament to the brittleness of the French language. And the "enforcement" of "proper" French at every level of French society has helped to foster the very elitism of which that professor was so blatantly guilty. If there exists a body that officially defines what is "proper" and "improper" in language, then one can "test" for the notion of "illiteracy" and as a result one cannot avoid the social exclusion that comes with fixed ideas about literacy. The effect of such practices can be seen easily in French Language education. I have seen three kids through French primary education, two through French high-school education and my youngest daughter currently attends French immersion in the English school board here in Ottawa. Instead of being a positive experience for my kids in what is a wonderful and important language, the entire process of blind, rule-oriented enforcement surrounding French has done nothing to encourage the continued use and cultivation of the language. Ironically, my oldest daughter who left primary French education for an English Arts high school, is the one of the children who has displayed a continued interest in French and her language skills continue to improve in at least three languages. However, one of the reasons she left French education was the harsh and punitive ways in which it was being taught and enforced.

Let me say it point-blank - one of the primary reasons that French is declining is that when you create official rules and enforcement around language in a context in which people have access to a flexible and non-rule oriented language, the former is going to suffer and decline. It is as simple as that. Roland Barthes, one of the greatest of all French linguists, famously argued in the 1980s that all 'official' rule of French, particularly those of spelling, should be dispensed with in order to let French grow in an organic and positive way. Predictably, Barthes endured a lot of flack for that position. However, because no one could question his credentials as an important French philosopher, he was able to make such statements in a large public forum. My partner and her family are Francophones, and many in her family are teachers. Ironically, even though they are Francophones, they all teach in English schools. In fact my sister-in-law is a principle at a English primary school. Despite her official position, her English really isn't that great. Though she functions ok, her English vocabulary is fairly poor and the depth of her cultural understanding in English is minimal at best. Let's make it clear, if someone had commensurate skills in French they would barely be able to get a job let alone be a principle of a school. But the flexibility of the English language (and the relative cultural tolerance that this flexibility has fostered) allow for a very large spectrum of English speakers to function in a wide variety of cultural ways. I believe that this, more than any other factor, has promoted the use and expansion of English. People who come from a different linguistic base have surprisingly few fears about using and functioning in English because, relative to French, they don't face the kind of elitist alienation that comes from making grammatical errors.

I have never had a grammar lesson in English in my whole life. Though my teachers in primary school occasionally corrected some usage that was thought to be an error, the notion of "proper" grammar in English barely existed for me growing up. My parent's generation surely got more exposure to official grammar instruction. But more and more as time passed people abandoned such strictness. And they abandoned it largely because it is simply nonsensical most of the time. Take a rule that was once thought to be sacrosanct in English - the split infinitive rule. There was a time when students were severely taken to task for splitting an infinite. You were not supposed to use a phrase like, for example,  "to boldly go were no one has gone before." But the reason that this usage was frowned upon was simply because in the 18th century the protectors of English usage were generally well-educated British men who had all been forced to learn Latin in school. And of course in a so-called Romance language the infinitive generally cannot be split because it is one word not two as it is in English. The Latin infinitive for "to go" is simply "ire" and you cannot, therefore create a split infinitive because there is nothing to split. And because this was true in Latin (as well as in Spanish, French, etc.) grammarians thought that it was something that should be a "rule" in English. But today English speakers generally scoff at such absurd and arbitrary rules. Now, while there is no doubt that over time a person like myself begins to conform to certain generally accepted habits of usage, the flexibility of these habits of usage are everywhere to seen. I have had native English speaking professors attempt "incorrectly" to "correct" my grammar, demonstrating in the process that their own understanding of "proper" grammar was flawed at best. And I have taken classes from professors whose command of English was surprisingly minimal. But that didn't stop them from contributing to the educational process.

The conclusion is, I believe, fairly simple. If you want to keep a language growing, promote its beauty, don't enforce its rules. And if you want to promote equality, linguistic elitism will always stand in your way.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Let's begin to Change the rules. . . . .

It is ironic that the existence of the Harpercon government, with its secrecy, wild disregard for tradition and the law, and shocking lack of transparency, has made the basic problems of the Canadian political system obvious for all to see. I suppose that when you put someone in any job for which they either have little aptitude or for which they have ulterior (often semi-hidden) motives, their employment brings to the surface the administrative problems with that particular job. I once worked in a retail job where the manager was not only incompetent but was continually hiding from the owner much of what was going on. After the managers malfeasance was discovered the owners instituted a number of accountability processess which made the daily workings of the business much more clear.

We, as the owners of the Canadian political system, need to institute such measures to prevent another corrupt, anti-democratic, secret government like our present one from taking power. Here are some of the obvious and basic reforms we need to see.

- A whole host of accountability officers like the Auditor General and the Parliamentary Budget officer  who are appointed by consensus in the House and who have police-like powers to go directly into government offices and take the information they require. 

- Set rules in Parliament in place of those rules that now exist only by tradition. For example, the whole idea of prorogation needs to be eliminated and in place a set of legislative dates need to be established that cannot be changed.

-Legislative boundaries should not be determined by the government but by the consensus of board that is appointed by the whole House.

-All prospective legislation must be fully costed and those costs must be 100% publicly available.

-All proposed legislation must be announced IN THE HOUSE at predetermined times to eliminate the politics and spin of such announcements.

-Government reports must also be released at predetermined times for the same reason.

-The Prime Minister and his cabinet need to have regular press conferences in the presence of un-vetted  media, all of whose questions are not prescreened.

-The rules surrounding international conferences and bodies need to be clarified and the inclusion of opposition members must be included.

These are just a few small ideas which can begin the process of democratizing our system which has come increasingly under threat.

Unfortunately no party in the House is presently taking us these causes.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Haper's Big Sellout. . . .

If you haven't read this article by Michael Harris, read it. It is very interesting. Besides the partisan talk of Nathen Cullen, whom he quotes at length, there is something significant in what Harris is saying, and it is a sentiment with which I heartily agree. China could very well be what brings Harperland down to a heap of ashes and rubble. And the more one looks at the facts, the more bizarre Haper's infatuation with China becomes. (I can't help but wonder if there is something untoward in the relationship). For years Harper and the conservatives never tired of telling us how terrible the regime in China was, and now he has signed a deal so secretive and so dangerously unpatriotic that it borders on treason. Meanwhile Haper has spend a huge amount of his political capital on the idea of a pipeline that will cross the province of BC (which is almost universally hostile to it) and which will pump oil continuously to China. It seems clear now that there is a looming fight between the people of BC and the Harpercons which could end in a very ugly and dirty way, and which could possibly ignite a very real separatist movement in on the West Coast.

Harper has lost Quebec (and for all intents and purposes disregarded it), he is very quickly losing BC (and by the time of the next federal election that loss could be complete, Ontario is really feeling the pinch and a possible victory of the Tories in the next election there will, I predict, generation increasing hatred for the Conservative Brand, his support in the Maritimes is shallow at best, and Harper is certainly not making any new friends in the prairies. Harper has invested all of his political capital on what amounts to a new NEP despite the fact that the Conservatives told us all for years that the Federal government should butt out of energy policy and leave it to the provinces, and that new NEP is looking more and more like a wholesale selloff of Canada to China with no regard for our future economic, social, and environmental health.

Napoleon's Waterloo was really found in the fact that he could never be satisfied with being the leader of the French nation as a nation among others in Europe. Napoleon was driven by an almost psychotic hatred of England and his desire for France to rise above all others in its status and power. From a nationalistic point of view, it was a noble, if misguided, aspiration. Harper's Waterloo is strangely petty and bizarrely twisted in comparison. Harper's aspiration seems to amount to little more than turning Canada into a single raw commodity exporter in the interest of a foreign tyrannical power with no regard for anyone in Canada save a handful of very wealthy oil executives. But the coming fall from grace that Harper is facing will make the real Waterloo look like a graceful defeat.

After Napoleon was finally defeated at Waterloo, the British government held him on the ship HMS Bellerophon at Portsmouth before he was finally imprisoned on St. Helena. Where will the people of Canada hold Mr. Haper after they have taken dragged him from the office from which he tried to destroy Canada?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Sinking Liberal Fortunes. . . .

I think it is one of the great political ironies in Canadian history that Stephen Harper seems to actually believe that the downfall of the Liberal Party of Canada is a result of his strategic prowess. It must surely be clear now, to everyone except the blindest fools in the Liberal Party that its failure is a direct result of their wholesale adoption of neo-liberal (or neo-conservative, depending on your preference in terminology) economic policies. As Paul Wells very cogently demonstrates in his piece in Macleans, the Liberals (at both the Federal and Provincial levels) "blew their credibility as defenders of activist government." Their vaunted "Red Book" of the 90s turned out to be nothing but electoral rhetoric and, in the words of Paul Adams, the Liberal Party has been guilty of a "wilful refusal to differentiate its policies from those of the Conservatives."

The government of Dalton McGuinty is the latest Liberal organization that has sacrificed itself to this bizarrely self-destructive pattern on the part of Liberals all over the county. When push comes to shove, modern Liberals show their real colors by concentrating their attacks (just like conservatives) on the basic rights of collective bargaining and the working-class in general. As a result, if the polls are anything to go by, the Liberal Party in Ontario is looking down the barrel of complete political destruction.

Further credence to the idea that the Liberal brand has become meaningless is to be found in the fact that both the BC and the Quebec Liberal parties can refer to themselves as liberals without turning red with embarrassment or breaking out into peels of unrestrained laughter.

Of course, while the Liberal Parties languish as a result of their own ideological degradation  the Harper government is busy destroying the Conservative brand through a combination of political confusion and a rather rabid tendency toward tyranny, the depth and danger of which is now beginning to sink into Canadian consciousness.

The Liberal Party could rebound, of course. And they could rebound in spectacular fashion. But any lasting reassertion of the Liberal Party in Canada must involve a return to their political roots, and a place in which people see the Party as an actual return to a government that is not simply an all-out, viscous attack on the idea that government can play an important and positive role in making people's lives better. The Liberal Party once represented an ideology of a mixed economy, and a genuine commitment to some collective efforts. In the face of a growing consciousness of the increasing social and economic inequalities in society, (a phenomenon that Conservatives either deny or don't care about), it is increasingly important for a political party that is centre or centre-left to begin to address the real structural issues facing our society. The Liberals can either play a role in that or they can enjoy the dustbin of history.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dalton McGuinty and the legacy of inequility. . . .

The prorogation of of the Ontario parliament yesterday by Dalton McGuinty was probably not unconstitutional  the way Stephen Harper's was. Harper's act of prorogation violated the British parliamentary traditions because he shut down parliament specifically to avoid losing power with an impending confidence vote that he knew we was going to lose and a power sharing arrangement already made between opposition parties. McGuinty, on the other hand, was not facing a vote of confidence, and one could say that, at least technically, he still had the 'confidence' of the House, The opposition parties would not have pushed to bring down the Government this fall because a) they didn't want an election so soon and b)they had a good reason to keep the Liberal Party in power until they could suck as much possible political currency as they could out of the present Liberal scandal concerning the moving of two power plants.

All that being said, McGuinty's prorogation of parliament was arguably immoral in its political expediency. But the idea that Mr. McGuinty would act immorally should certainly not come as a surprise to anyone, and I am not sure that most political leaders would not have done the same thing. McGuinty is attempting to save his party from decimation in the next election by shutting down investigations into his party's scandals before the next election and give his party free time to choose another leader.

So it goes.

But it is not these things that really trouble me about the spectacular fall of Dalton McGuinty. Governments always fall into some degree of scandal after years in power, We have come to expect it. Whether a government survives its scandals depends upon the depth of the malfeasance and their ability to manage it. However what seems certain, and is demonstrated over and over again is that as a government loses control and begins to crash and burn, it looks around desperately for a scapegoat. And time and again that scapegoat is, of course, public servants. Dalton McGuinty and his Liberal Party cronies failed utterly to make any real efforts to save Ontario's manufacturing base. It was, admittedly  a difficult task and they got no help from the Federal government. But the Liberal also failed to promote new kinds of economic growth in Ontario and the few efforts that they did make (such as investments in wind power) were quickly mired in avoidable controversy. And so, in light of their failures, the Liberals did what so many governments seem to do - lay their own failures at the feet of the public servants and, wherever possible, the working-class. We live in a system of unprecedented wealth where the rich have never been richer, but Conservatives and Liberal everywhere attempt to divert attention away from the real roots of the structural economic and social inequalities and to suggest that the problem is simply that teachers are getting well paid and that is why we are in economic trouble. Conservatives and Liberals in this country will do almost anything to avoid a real discourse on economic and social inequalities, and instead they attempt to foster a discourse about the evils of decent wages and proper pensions.

But in the end, killing unions and ditching pensions mean only one thing for our future as a society; more poverty. Period. That is all there is to it.

Meanwhile there is little in the way of justice (even of the poetic variety) in seeing Dalton McGuinty fall from power as he engages in more unconstitutional attacks on the principles of collective bargaining. Because in their profound ignorance, the voters of Ontario will probably soon hand power to a guy who makes Dalton McGuinty look like a communist and a genius too boot. And who will suffer? The teachers, the healthcare workers, the scientists, the social workers, etc. And, most tragically, ALL of our children will suffer as the politicians further entrench the third-world style economic model of inequality and poverty.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Novelty, Hockey Strikes, and iphones. . . .

I supposed many people have always been obsessed with novelty. For some people the new is always better than the old. But, at the risk of sounding old myself, it seems to me that our era is more than any other infatuated with the lastest innovation, the newest thing. Sometimes this infatuation demonstrates the victory of form over content. After all, how many times do we find ourselves purchasing some new product, from iphones to kitchen gagets, simply because it is new, regardless of whether it really constitutes a meaningful innovation that will significantly impact on the way we do things. Even in entertainment we have become obsessed by 'newness.' I mean, for years now people have been purchasing the newest novels despite the fact that they almost never add anything to our literary experience. You could, for example, spend years just reading the novels written, say in the decade of 1960s. This obsession with the new is even more pronounced in other areas of entertainment. Hollywood pumps out dozens of movies a year with little interest in narrative innovation, but simply because the film-makers can make a more visually interesting action movie with better and better special effects. Though I have little interest in computer games, I understand this phenomenon is even more in evidence in this field. Some games makers, such as those who developed the Halo series, just keep putting out newer versions of their games with just enough changes to entice their game-addicted audience.

But these examples suggest that this obsession with novelty and newness is more often than not simply a superficial drive and that consumers are easily fooled by what are essentially minor, or even fake, innovations for an audience that will buy almost anything if it is simply marketed correctly. And this realization gave me an idea. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I really despise almost all professionalized sports, and Hockey in particular. Besides my moral and economic objections to professionalized sports, I find them remarkably monotonous. Year in and year out people watch their favorite sports teams play through their seasons, losing and winning in a parade of weary games that seem to turn into blur of tiresome repetition. So it occurred to me that this notion presents us with an easy solution to the present NHL strike. Since the majority of hockey fans simply watch the games on television, does it really matter what games they are watching? Why don't the officials of the NHL simply choose a season of hockey, one long ago enough so that it is not in people's immediate memory but not so old that the games look old, and televise all the games of that season as though they are happening now. News channels can get in on the harmless deception by reporting the scores of the games as though they are really taking place, complete with more in-depth analysis of the ins and outs of the match. It could be an ersatz hockey season with star-players and memorable goals, and a much anticipated playoff race.

This ersatz sports season could solve two problems in one go. On the one hand it would help all those people who are depressed about the strike, and on the other hand it would remind people that they really don't need novelty for the sake of novelty. And while we are at it, why don't we convince Apple to issue the "All New" iphone 6 but without any actual change from the iphone 5 except, say, a new color. And since there seems to be an inexhaustible supply of people who will buy anything new from Apple, they can make a whole bunch of money, a large portion of which they can donate to charity. It would be a win/win situation for everyone involved. All those consumers will get a new phone, Apple will make money and so will charities.

Tomorrow I will show you how to solve the problems in the Middle-East.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Our Political Legitimation of Bullying. . . . .

In the wake of the tragedy of the suicide of Amanda Todd, bloggers are understandably talking a lot about the question of bullying. What do we do? How do we put a stop to it, or at the very least prevent it from becoming so desperate that young people (and adults) take their own lives to escape the physical and emotional pain that bullying brings?

Bloggers are talking a lot about punishing the perpetrators through the law or, in the case of young offenders, through a process of public shaming.

But it seems to be that such approaches will, in the final analysis, do little to really address the problem of bullying. We live in a culture of violence and bigotry. Our Prime Minister and his underlings have made bullying their fundamental mode of operation, and they have spent millions trying to transform Canada back into a nation of war. Stephen Harper and his cronies continually use name-calling, lying, marginalization, and aggressive public bullying in an attempt to deride their political opponents and bring them down in the eyes of the public. How many times did a Conservative stand up in the House and refer to Jack Layton as "Talaban Jack" because he had the gall to question the Conservative policy in Afghanistan? How many times did the Conservatives belittle Dion with name-calling and bird-poop? How many whistle-blowers have the Conservatives derided with personal attacks to belittle them and draw people's attention away from their own short-comings. Never concerned with the actual issues of their opponents, instead the Conservatives marginalize and attack in an attempt to pray upon perceived weaknesses that have nothing to do with the actual politics at hand.

In other words, far from reducing bullying in Canada, Stephen Harper and his government have raised bullying to the status of nationally sanctioned behaviour. And this mode of behaviour is championed by Conservative supporters all over this country. It is legitimized in the eyes of many parents and made honorable through the process.

Putting an end to bullying will be a long and complex problem. But we cannot even begin the process until nasty, mean, lying, violence-promoters like Stephen Harper and his henchmen are publicly disgraced because people reject their bigoted evil ways. The way to struggle against such bullying is when the mass of people stand up against their violent words and actions. Until then, the bullies of young women like Amanda Todd will continue to see in their political leaders that bullying is the favoured behaviour.

Sorry Amanda, and rest in peace.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Obama's Predictable Failure. . .

I am somewhat bemused by the surprised being expressed by many people concerning Obama's rather poor performance in the presidential debates last night. Have people simply not been paying attention for the past four years? Let's face it, as much as I hate the Republicans and as much as I, like many, had great hopes for an Obama presidency, Barack Obama has been something of an ersatz president. He really has done so little in office that he has made Hoover look like a 'can-do' president. He never faced his Republican opponents head-on and he never used his early currency to push the envelope against the extreme corporate agenda of contemporary American politics.

The reason for Obama's failure as president is very similar to the reasons that the Liberal Party of Canada has failed so badly. The failure derives from the fact that Obama, like the LPC, is actually a proponent of the corporate agenda that is, ironically,  killing Western Capitalism while making life increasingly difficult for average working people. And the democrats, like the LPC under steerage of Paul Martin as Finance Minister, embraced this agenda in the 1990s. The Liberal Party, like the upper-echelon of the Democratic Party, embraced a neo-conservative economic agenda under which the purpose of politics has become to increase the wealth and power of large corporations and systematically undermine the economic and social gains made by working people during the long post-war boom.

One need only look at Obama's total lack of serious action taken against Wall Street. Millionaires and Billionaires on Wall St. not only got away with their systematic rape of the economy, but under Obama  they were more or less rewarded. And nothing significant has been done to stop the way powerful people can get away with almost anything at an economic level.

With all this in mind, it is entirely predictable that Obama would lose the debate. I mean, how does one oppose the agenda of the rich if you essentially agree with it? All you have at your disposal are platitudes. Now platitudes are much more effective when you are on the outside looking in. But when you been holding the reins of power and have failed to take any real action to change the increasing economic inequality, platitudes sound hallow. That is why the Liberal Party has failed so badly during the recent political cycle. If you have essentially been the architect of the economic inequalities and the corporate agenda, it is very difficult to argue against it.