Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hardy and Hardy. . . .

I am not surprised that Harper was so quick to agree to a meeting with Mayor Ford. They are, after all, cut from the same cloth; buffoonish clowns, agressive haters, bigots, tyrants, and fools. Of course rather than Laurel and Hardy, what we have here is Hardy and Hardy.

Can you imagine another mayor getting a face to face meeting (particular on a day's notice) with our elusive Prime Minister? Now, I am not suggesting that gun crime is not a problem but it is a certain that other communities suffer from problems that are even more significant from the perspective of death and harm. I am certain that more people die each year in Winnipeg from addiction related issue and prostitution related crime than die in Toronto from gun violence each year. Yet I don't see our aloof PM rushing there do discuss the issues. And this is to say nothing of the countless native communities in this country where suicide, malnutrition, addiction, poor housing, poor healthcare, and an education vacum are destroying entire generations.

But the rightwing in this country is not concerned with the real suffering of real people whose lives could be saved and savoured with the right help and opportunity. Rather, they are concerned with making sure the working people of this country are quiet and obedient drones. Harper and Ford don't mind if you die quietly of alcohol or asbestos poisoning, or if you are a native prostitute who is quietly murdered on some backroad of a far-flung community. As long as you don't die in a hail of noisy bullet where the media is sure to show pictures on prime-time.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Northern Gateway and Rightwing blindness. . . .

I seldom comment on provincial politics - particularly a province in which I no longer live. But BC politics has become interesting in the past couple of years and, for a couple of reasons, our political eyes keep turning to the province. The first reason that BC seems more interesting these days is because it seems to be slowly but surely rejecting the provincial as well as the federal rightwing. The NDP at both levels is riding high in the province and I hope that this is a bell-weather for the rest of the nation. The other thing that has been interesting lately has been the machinations concerning the Northern Gateway Pipeline. At all levels in this country the rightwing has abandoned all environmental conscience and wedded itself to the petro-state. "Alternative" is a dirty word (pun intended) where energy is concerned in the rightwing culture of Canada and it seems that they would do anything to further the cause of big oil. As a result of this pro-petro stance the BC Liberal Party (whose name is a perversion of the very notion of liberal) embraced the Northern Gateway Pipeline project early on. However, with reelection looking like a dwindling dream for the Liberals, they have desperately tried to look more pensive where the pipeline project is concerned. As everyone knows, Christy Clark has tried this week to look as though she is not simply a lapdog of big oil by making certain fiscal and safety demands on Alberta if they are to be allowed to pipe oil through to the BC coast.

From a rightwing position Christy Clark is in an almost impossible position. If she capitulates to the oil interests and endorses the pipeline then any small chance she had for reelection is gone. On the other hand, if she goes too far in embracing environmental concerns she will lose very base of her party - big business. And from the rightwing in this country, like Ezra Levant or the editorial board of Sun Newspapers, nothing short of total capitulation to big oil will do. Just the fact that this week Ms. Clark talked of revenue sharing and more safety concerns sent the right into conniption fits of mouth-frothing madness. In today's Sun the editors called Clark a "spoiled" child and said that she was acting "against the greater good of the country."

Now, regardless of one's politics this editorial seems to verge on madness, lacking entirely in reasonable arguments of any kind. First of all, it seems perfectly reasonable that BC should share in oil wealth if their province is a conduit to the extraction of that resource - particularly if they are shouldering environmental risks. If the Northern Gateway pipeline led to an environmental disaster, BC would be on the hook for most of the immediate clean-up, to say nothing of the longterm effects. But the bigger issue, and the one that should trouble most Canadians is the assumption on the part of the Sun that anything that puts limits on the ability of big oil to do anything it wants is somehow, by definition, against the national interest. In fact even if one accepts that excessive petro-development is in the national interests, the way in which the various Conservative Governments are pursing that development is in no way in the national interests. If the Harpercons and the government of Alberta were really interested in the futre of this country (and still wanted to excessively exploit Canada's oil resources) they would be putting a great deal of energy into developing a solid and strong refinery sector rather than looking to be a third-world style economy of pure raw-material extraction. They would then ensure that a substantial portion of such resource funds went to development of alternative energy industry which would place Canada in a good position for future generations. Yet somehow the Sun Media corporation believes that extracting resources, selling them to the highest bidder, allowing investment to gradually drift aboard, and ignoring the future, is somehow in the national interests.

Now, all of this largely ignores the fact that petro-development is a dead-end, and that pipelines have a depressingly terrible accident rate. But even if we take it from "their" point of view, the rightwing and their media lapdogs in this country are pursing a hopelessly flawed strategy of development and as today's Sun editorial demonstrates they are incapable of seeing through their own ideological fervor to some reasonable position.

What is interesting, however, and what inspired this blogpost, is the fact that causes like the Northern Gateway Pipeline project are quickly becoming catalysts for the environmental cause as well as hubs around which opposition to rightwing, neo-liberal agendas are gathering.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Whimpering of Stephen Harper. . . .

Political strategies are, I think, subject to 'sell-by' dates and the whims of fashion. Though some elements of strategy are perennially useful, others change from decade to decade or era to era. What works in one time and place may not work in another.

Many people are now realizing that Prime Minister Harper's political 'sell-by' date is itself fast approaching. Up until now Harper's strategy has been fairly straightforward - disenfranchise as many people as possible (through fraud or demonizing opponents or generally destroying the faith in the political system) and then maintain a core support who would vote for him under any conditions. This has been effective for a while, in part due to a voting system that in no way reflects the will of the people and to a sympathetic media and a troubled period for the opposition. Harper hasn't needed to be personally appealing or sympathetic until now (traits often very important for political success on a large scale) because circumstance has played into his basic divide and conquer strategy. But even the most die-hard conservative (if they possess any real political analysis) would have to admit that times are slowly changing. Prolonged and deepening economic and social crisis begs for sympathetic leaders with a human touch and Harper is severely lacking in this area. I have always said a successful politician is a flexible one. This means as circumstances change a successful politician has the ability to adapt with them. The problem is that Harper and his cronies are adaptability-challenged. Harper appears to be a petty, tyrannical, dictator because he is one and he won't veer from this not only because he can't but because like all petty, tyrannical, dictators he simply thinks he is right 100% of the time. 

The new times that are emerging are going to demand, at least for a few years, leaders who can make discourse and consultation a central pillar of their mode of operation. And as the looming First Ministers' Meeting demonstrates, discourse is completely foreign to Harper's political being. For a man like Harper discourse and democracy simply get in the way of his agenda. The problem is that when people feel that their lives and futures are adrift they want to feel not only that their leaders are competent but that they are sympathetic to the crises in their lives. But a Prime Minister who is so isolated that he won't talk to the Premiers let alone to the average people is going to quickly wear out his welcome even with his core voters. This, coupled with a growing sense that Harper is not nearly as fiscally adept as he has tried to portray himself, spells big trouble for the man. 

Politics is a bit like parenting - sometimes you need to be strong and aloof, and at other times you need to be a sympathetic shoulder on which to cry. A parent who is incapable of taking on that latter role will  not only alienate their children but will eventually end up with a household in crisis. And in the final analysis, the sympathetic/empathetic role is considerably more important because though it may not necessarily promote a-type, over-acheiving kids - it will instil the kinds of values that are, in the long run, most important to a good and happy life  - and a society with proper values. 

As the economic and social times darken Harper is a bit like a parent who faces an injured child but only knows the methods of harsh discipline. When your son or daughter is lying in bed with a fever and you have nothing to offer them but a raised voice from the other room telling them they are lazy and they should get their ass out of bed - you have failed as a parent. When your country is in social and economic crisis and people feel as though their futures are threatened and you, as a leader, have nothing to offer but the claim that everyone who opposes you is a terrorist financed by foreigners - you have failed as a leader and your number is up. 

This is the way a political career ends - not with a bang but a whimper. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Our Madman Prime Minister. . .

The rise of the Harpercon regime has largely been the direct result of a media that has utterly failed to do its job in any meaningful way. Of course, we occasionally see a green-shoot of truth in the mainstream media about the insane cabal that is our government, but overall there has been an active will of denial on the part of the newspapers and television in Canada.

The story is, of course, fairly simple, to wit; Harper is a religious madman who has taken control of our government and now actively seeks to destroy our government, our environment, and our country in general. Take a quick read of this article which is one of those rare moments of truth in the media. The very fact that this could be seen as a "news" story (and remember that the root of the word "news" is "new") after this man has been in office for over six years. Our Prime Minister belongs to an ultra-rightwing, bigoted, radical church that most Canadians would find frighteningly cult-like. But, here is the rub - most Canadians don't even know because the media isn't doing its job, and there is no sign that it will start anytime soon.

All of this begs the question - do the majority of Harper's peons who obey any of his orders realize what they are involved in? And if so when will Canadians wake up and take their country back by any means necessary?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Please Keep your Mouth Shut Nazanin. . .

For those of you who didn't catch it on CBC, Nazanin Afshin-Jam, the spouse of our own Minister of Defence, was interviewed the other day concerning Iran. Now, other than being born in Iran, Ms. Afshin-Jam has no particular qualifications concerning politics or human rights, unless of course you count her participation in the Miss World Contest. This kind of thing is all that you need in the Harper circle to qualify as an 'expert.'

Now, all joking aside (because I wouldn't want to insult other participants in the Miss World Contest), Ms. Afshin-Jam's interview was a exercise in pure stupidity. Every allegation that Afshin-Jam threw at the State of Iran is found clearly in embryonic form in the government of her husband. Wide-spread election fraud, the monitoring and demonization of opposition, the extension of the military as an arm of government, the manipulation of the media, a concerted attack on democracy, etc. It was the absolute height of hypocrisy for the wife of a Minister of Defence who has attempted to make the military an extension of the Conservative Party to go around criticizing foreign governments while she shares a bed with a man who is personifies everything she claims to despise. This is the kind of hypocrisy that I find deeply offensive and I hope someday that her husband enjoys a nice stay in a Canadian prison for the very offenses that she has laid at the door of Iran's political leaders.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Liberal Race begins. . . .

 I am not a Liberal, and I actually think that the party, with its near wholesale adherence to neo-liberalism and corporatism, has outlived its historical significance. In terms of economic ideology the Liberal Party of Canada is really just a partner of the Conservatives with a few tweaks here and there. And though some people might consider these tweaks to be very important, in the big picture the two parties amount to more or less the same thing where structural economic questions are involved. The majority of Liberals, like the Conservatives, fail to acknowledge the growing inequalities in Western Capitalism, and even if they recognize the issues they are loath to come up with any meaningful solutions because such efforts would interfere with their overall neo-liberal economic outlook.

None of this suggests that I don't believe that the LPC can get reelected. With the right leader and a change of mood in the nation, the Liberal Party might return to power and be a slightly more democratic, more accountable, and a little more humane version of the present government.

One of the first Liberals to throw her hat into the ring, so to speak, of the leadership race is constitutional lawyer, Deborah Coyne. It is great to see an accomplished and articulate woman vying for the job of national leader and I wish her luck despite our ideological differences. Though having more women in politics is by no means a panacea for our political problems, it is an important step towards justice and equity, and it certainly couldn't make things worse than they are now!

Having said this, there is something rather inauspicious about Coyne's opening statement of intent as published today in the Hufffington Post and elsewhere. "I want," Coyne tells us, "to appeal to all those Canadians who are uncertain where they fit into Canadian politics, but want to talk about what kind of nation we are building." I can think of no more "Liberal" statement than this. While I am committed to dialogue and thought, politics in troubled times must start, in some sense, with significant and powerful ideas about what is going on. There is something problematic about beginning from a position of 'uncertainty.' It is not the politically 'uncertain' that a Party must appeal to, this is far too wishy-washy a word. It is the political committed but disengaged that must be appealed to.

And despite my concern about Coyne's uncertain beginning, she seems to want to address the real issue at hand, and for this I give her credit. "I see a growing public unease," she tells us, "with the degree of inequality in our society." The problem is that this is where the issue seems begin and end for Coyne. The rest of her statement amounts to little more than platitudes about Conservative mismanagement and political apathy.

As far as I can see there are two overwhelming problems facing Canada, and all other nations. One is the impending disaster of the environment, the other is the impending disaster of Capitalism. There other important issue, of course, but unless a political party faces these two issue head-on and with radical and powerful ideas, all the other issues will soon mean nothing at all. And these two issues are inexorably linked. Even by its own standards, capitalism is sinking and if it doesn't "retool" and begin to create a model which properly distributes economic and social power more evenly, it will continue to sink beneath the surface. Meanwhile unless we make huge commitments to new, more sustainable technologies, environmental disasters will become so overwhelming that everything will collapse.

I like Coyne. She is intelligent, coherent, and seems to want to make a difference. But simply paying lip-service to our dangerous inequalities will mean nothing in the long run and failure to properly talk about the environmental dangers that we face is folly at every level.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

What's up with That?

Though I understand being critical of certain unions and certain union decisions (after all one should never fail to be critical where necessary), all-out union bashing continues to baffle me. Now, besides the fact that we owe many of our rights and privileges in no small part to union activism over the past one hundred and fifty years, the facts seem to clearly indicate that our prosperity is intimately connected to union membership in general. All the time I see rightwingers bash unions and tell us that they kill economic growth, that they kill freedom etc. And yet during the long post-war boom when prosperity in Western nations was at its height, union membership was also at its height. The facts are pretty clear - the countries with the highest unions membership enjoyed, in general, the greatest prosperity, the greatest social and economic equality, and were consistently the highest on all living indexes. Now, while connection isn't causation, at the very least the facts clearly show that high levels of union membership DOES NOT kill prosperity and clearly DOES increase economic equality over all, (which any decent economist will tell you encourages prosperity). And as union membership has gone down in Western nations, real wages have decreased and economic equality has tanked.

I have yet to see a single rightwinger (from the highest level economist to the lowest, uneducated bigot) address these simple facts. They never do because they know that there is no way out of it and the facts only get in the way of their ideology. Union membership in the West has reduced over time for a number of reasons - but the primary reason is that corporatists have used the globalization of the economic system to kill them so that they can make more profit on the backs of average working people. But as economic relations become clearer all the time, people are catching on slowly and over the next 25-50 years we will see real, old style revolutions that aim to correct the process of huge disparities in wealth and power. I am sure that the outcomes of some of these events will be bloody and horrific but their inevitability grows out of the recalcitrance on the part of the rich and powerful to recognize that they just can't have everything and that a healthy society is an equal one.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

No Justice Here. . . .

One more scumbag gone, how many left to go?

Bev Oda is an example of real human trash. She told bold-face lies to the House of Parliament, she actively supported a party that made the supposed government gravy-train a central issue and then was one of the most indulgent of Ministers, she supported a government that has systematically undermined the postion of women in society, she supported a government that exists by fraud and lies, and destroys any vestige of democracy that it can. Bev Oda is a rat among an virulent colony of rats that spread their plague of tyranny wherever they can. Goodbye and good riddance to bad rubbish.

The kicker is that there is no satisfaction in seeing her resign because she can now retire on a rich pension - the kind that most Canadians can only dream of. I wish everyone had a nice prosperous pension on which to retire - but there is something maddening about watching a person like Oda retire comfortably when she was part of a government that once condemned MP's pensions as nothing short of corruption, and a government that is doing their level best to destroy pensions for every decent person.

Goodbye Bev Oda, now if only there was some justice in your departure!

I have an idea - lets walk on Ottawa - force these bastards from office and then make all of them work with no protection in Quebec's asbestos mine and then deny then any healthcare. Now that would be sweet justice.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Bouazizi and the Struggle. . .

I have never heard the full story of Mohamed Bouazizi until this morning when CBC replayed a story from earlier this year on the first anniversary of Bouazizi's death. It is a deeply touching tale. For those of you who have forgotten or can't place the name, Mohamed Bouazizi is the fruit vendor who immolated himself as an act of protest against his mistreatment by government officials in Tunisia and, through his act, set off the entire Arab spring. It is a remarkable act of courage and desperation, the saddest part of which is the fact that Mr. Bouazizi can never know the impact that his sacrifice had and how he helped others by solidifying feelings of opposition against tyranny.

As I have said here before, the Arab Spring is, symbolically speaking, a strangely mixed blessing. On the one hand it is great that people stood up to tyranny and worked to change their society, attempting to foster greater democracy and undermine the arbitrary power of government. On the other hand, it is sad that to recall just how long it took for the mass of people to stand up and say "enough!" People have been struggling for a long time in the Middle East to bring greater democracy to their nations, and many have given their lives over the past few generations. But revolutions against tyranny can never really succeed until average people take to the streets en masse. If the numbers are small governments can continue to intimidate, imprison, and kill the opposition. But if tens of thousands take to the streets even the worst tyrants can lose their nerve and if enough 'average' people object even the police and the army are reluctant to support tyranny.

It is amazing to me that the Canadian people have not taken to the streets in the tens of thousands as Harper and his cronies have dismantled our democracy, our international reputation, our hallowed House of Commons, and our environmental protections. It has been a sad lesson to me in the speed and ease with which a country can go from democracy to fascism and tyranny. I started as a cynic and have quickly become and full-on misanthrope. The thing is I knew, at an intellectual level, that these things happen, but the emotional lesson is considerably more visceral and painful. It has been one of the three great political lessons in my life - the others being the time I spent living in El Salvador where realized the emptiness of most traditional "revolutionaries," and my close exposure to inner-workings of the union movement where I saw that many in the unions are, in reality, no more interested in justice than anyone else.

I don't know if Canada will wake up to the destruction of its democracy and put a stop to it. Maybe this is the beginning of many many years of third-world style tyranny. Maybe it will take the complete destruction of our rights, our democracy, our environment, and our prosperity before we have our own Mohamed Bouazizi stand up and inspire people to change. I admit to being a misanthrope. But at an intellectual level I don't believe people are "bad" per se, they are just so hopelessly self absorbed that they can't see the forest for the trees.

And thus, though I spend my whole life very close to the abyss, I rely on one thing - Gramsci's lesson that we must, even in the face of total disappointment, maintain an optimism of the will. In the meantime, I honor Mohamed Bouazizi, his family, and the courage of all the underdogs.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Thinking about Canada Day, (From a Leftist Perspective) . . .

People are, as expected, whooping it up today in celebration of Canada Day and it is even the topic for Cross-Country Checkup. People are talking about their thoughts and what they are celebrating today. Others, such as those in the "Twitter-verse" are sending out an important anti-Harper message today.

I came to Canada in the mid-seventies from the US and since coming I have lived back in the US for a number of years as well as living in England (where I was born) and in Central America. And I must say that this year Canada saddens me quite a bit. I am not a big fan of "patriotism" in general. I think it consistently blinds people to the darker, more lamentable, parts of their nation. But I also think that, despite many problematic issues (such as treatment of the indigenous people) there has been much to celebrate about Canada. However, this is a rather sad year because many of the things that I have, over the past few decades, found worth celebrating are quickly disappearing. Many of these things that I find valuable were largely unknown to most people, such as the programme to support Charter appeals. This programme was one of the important programmes that helped to limit the arbitrary power of government. Our current government, which seeks to be able to use whatever power they choose, put paid to all that pretty quickly. Other programmes, particularly those which were intended to increase gender equity at all levels, are also gone. Canada was once a world leader on Environmental and Peace issues. Now our country is more or less an international embarrassment on these issues. Instead of celebrating past wars (which in this case was little more than a boarder skirmish), we used to celebrate our contributions to peace-making and constitutional innovations for freedom.

Today were are quickly becoming little more than a petro-state that is increasingly bigoted and war-mongering.  Among the issues that depress me the most is frighteningly one-sided position that our government takes on the conflict in Palestine. Since I came to Canada economic and social inequality has increased dramatically and it gets worse every year. All of these things depress me and on Canada Day I feel more like mourning than celebrating.

There are a few things that I am still proud of. I am proud of the Quebec protestors who have faced consistently poor public opinion and police brutality. They are standing up for the principles of equality that we should all be standing for. I am proud of the people like David Suzuki, a man with whom I don't always agree but who struggles for sound principles with energy and fearlessness. I am proud of all the environmentalists who are trying to save this country and the world despite momentous opposition from the rich and powerful. I am proud of many of the leftwing bloggers who keep us informed. I am proud of the union activists who struggle for the rights of workers here and abroad. I am proud of the people who work tirelessly to help all of those who are most vulnerable.

Harper and his cronies have been working hard to destroy Canada and all that it means. Others are struggling for justice and equality and they will keep on fighting. On Canada I chose to remember and celebrate those indispensables.