Friday, December 13, 2013

Gags are not Transparent . . .

We all come into contact with confidentiality rules as third party associates. We talk to lawyers, doctors, and psychologists, from whom we rightly expect confidentiality. We even have, naively, certain expectations of confidentiality with certain online corporations, sites, and servers. However, these kinds of confidentiality agreements serve very clear purposes; we understand what they are for and what they are supposed to protect. Furthermore, the confidentiality arrangements used by doctors or lawyers are designed by professional associations and are intended to protect the professions themselves. We all understand, for example, that the legal system wouldn't work without some significant form of client-lawyer privilege.

However, when our legislators begin to write hugely broad confidentiality agreements for their employees, we should sit up and take notice. When a large group of public employees are asked to sign an agreement that says they won't reveal anything about what they see while on the public payroll, alarm bells go off in my head. It is one thing for a professional association to create their own confidentiality rules, it is entirely another when employees are compelled to sign such agreements. This is because a mandatory agreement like this can easily be used not simply to protect confidentiality but to scare and intimidate employees into maintaining extreme obedience.

Looking at the big picture, one has to ask "what exactly are these agreements intended to protect?" If the goal is to protect very sensitive material relating to security, then they should be written very specifically to reflect that intent. But they are not. Anyone looking at such agreements, particularly the one now being proposed, is struck by how broad they are.

There is a huge problem of corruption in politics everywhere. And it doesn't require an insightful mind or political knowledge to understand why. The problem is that the people who create the rules that are supposed to protect the nation from corruption are written by the very same people who benefit from that corruption. We might as well have a group of millionaires write our tax code or the oil companies write our environmental protection rules. (Of course, with Harper in office, some might say that this is already happening.)

The gag rules that this government is going to impose on civil servants is not intended simply to protect security issues or sensitive personal information. Rather, they are intended to create an atmosphere of fear among civil servants with the long term goal of insulating the government and allow its favoured members to break the law without fear of discovery or prosecution.

Almost every major political scandal emerges into the public eye because someone bypassed official channels and went public with the information. Though few people have talked about it, the only reason the recent Senate scandal occurred is because someone fed emails to the media. Even the events of Watergate and the depth of Nixon's malfeasance were only known because one man went to the media.

If we want to improve our political institutions we should be looking at how to make them MORE transparent not LESS. We don't need to worry about MP staffers writing books about personal information relating to what they have seen in the back-rooms of government. Rather we need to start asking what our MPs need to so badly to hide from citizens. But once again, our political class is simply reacting to public scrutiny aimed at the depth of their corruption, and attempting to shore up the avenues of possible leaks of information relating to their malfeasance.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Criminals are Running the Show. . . .

There was something profoundly surreal about Conrad Black interviewing Rob Ford. This is what the Canadian Rightwing has been reduced to - a drug-addled Mayor being interviewed by a convicted fraudster. It would be laughable if it weren't so serious.

Ford, who has now transformed his career into dropping media bombs, made the bizarre claim that Police Chief Bill Blair had cooked up the entire investigation concerning Rob Ford, Sandro Lisi, et al., for reasons of personal resentment. This is the model of the new right in Canada - always blame someone else for your problems. But just how bizarre can the blame-game become? Well pretty bizarre apparently. The very idea of a ultra-rightwing Police chief undertaking a major investigation involving huge resources and lots of officers just to smear a rightwing mayor for personal reasons is, prima facie, absurd. However, even if we were to admit the possibility of such a turn of events, then the question arises; "if this was Chief Blair's plan, why has the Mayor not been indicted?" A close examination of the facts suggests that far from pursuing the Mayor, the Chief's investigation seems to have shielded the mayor from the possibility of prosecution.

But this is the topsy-turvy world of the New Right in Canada - criminals interviewing criminals, police-chiefs with dubious human rights records investigating corrupt politicians, Lawyers hiding e-mails to hide PMO conspiracies, one rightwinger bribing another rightwinger to keep quiet, rightwing Senators interfering with audits conducted by rightwing insiders to keep things quiet, a rightwing Premier who has just enacted a wildly unconstitutional law trying to prevent freedom of speech attending Mandela's memorial.

The rightwing in this country has truly degenerated into a massive organized crime syndicate that is suffering from the kind of infighting that would make a good Mario Puzo novel.

Curiouser and curiouser. . . .

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Innocence is in the Eyes of those who Decide who to Investigate. . . .

Is there anyone out there still naive enough to believe that Rob Ford would be in jail if not for the fact that he is a rich and influential white man? The sad fact is that despite all the talk by Chief Blair about the Toronto Police treating everyone equally and the professional standing of his investigators, it is simply unrealistic to believe that Ford has been treated like anyone else who comes into the surveillance of his force.

As with the release of the last round of court documents, yesterdays revelation are being met in the mainstream media by interviews with lawyers, all of whom assure us that there is nothing in these documents that warrant the arrest of Rob Ford. And you know what? On the face of it, the lawyers are correct. But lawyers deal in convictions, and evidence, and indictments. With the exception of the occasional stand-out, like Clayton Ruby, lawyers are not trained in and seldom engage in political analysis.

To really understand what has happened here we need to look beyond the simple evidence presented in these documents. As disturbing and compelling as these wire-tapes and witness statements are, they probably don't serve as any kind of criminal case against Rob Ford. Though, Ford obviously has important ties to countless criminals, and has engaged in various kinds of criminal behaviour, the demands of criminal indictment and conviction are often high, as they should be.

But here is where the politics come into the equation. The question is not "why wasn't Rob Ford indicted?" Rather, the question is: "Why wasn't Rob Ford investigated?" It is clear to anyone who has even the vaguest experience with police and the law, that if Rob Ford was not a powerful, rich, white man, the events observed by the police would have quickly blossomed into an all out investigation into every aspect of his personal and professional life. Did you notice that all the people whose phones were tapped in this investigation were racialized? Even Sandro Lisi, the whitest guy in indicted in the police investigation has what many people might still refer to as an "ethnic" identity. The one guy that the police didn't really investigate was the guy at the very heart of the entire series of events - and, surprise surprise, he is a rich white guy.

The simple fact is that the Toronto police did just enough investigating to create the appearance of objectivity and fairness, but de facto protected the Mayor from indictment by never actually investigating him. Let us take, as a mental exercise, the idea that, say, Olivia Chow, or even Councillor Cesar Palacio, were mayor and they were caught up in a similar police investigation. I think you would have to be monumentally naive to believe that he or she would not instantly become the subject of an intense personal investigation into every aspect other their lives. Their phones would be tapped, their finances would be investigated, and eventually their offices and their homes would be treated to complete searches.

I think it is pretty clear that it is not lack of evidence or probable cause that has prevented Rob Ford from being indicted. It is the simple fact that the Toronto Police never actually investigated him. If not for his position as a rich, rightwing, wasp, Rob Ford would have been treated like anyone else - he would have been investigated. Here is a guy who the police knew was involved in the use of illicit drugs, whose closest associate appears to have been dealing drugs and strong-arming people in Ford's interests, who has been the subject of numerous domestic disturbance calls, whose various family members have been involved in selling and using drugs, and who has been arrested in a foreign country for drug possession. And yet the police never really investigated him at all. It doesn't pass the smell test folks, and it is further evidence of the basic unfairness or our criminal injustice system.

So the next time some yahoo from so-called "Ford-nation" tells you that Ford has been indicted of anything, and that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, just point out that someone who is never investigated and can curry police favour - can never be proven guilty because he will never be brought up on charges. Only those who the Police are willing to see as criminals will ever be looked at by them as criminals.

(Interestingly enough the same goes for Stephen Harper)

Friday, November 29, 2013

Harper, Conspiracies, and Camel's Backs . . . .

In light of the 50th anniversary of the death of Jack Kennedy, and the media discussion that the event motivated, I want to open this post with a few words about so-called "conspiracy theories." The simple fact is that while many people belittle any talk of a conspiracy concerning almost anything, there is a simple and understandable motivation for such ideas. When any "official" explanation is not believable or stretches the boundaries of credibility, people look around for other possible explanations. Such is the case with the Kennedy assassination. There are so many strange coincidences, so many difficult to believe twists of fortunes, so many rules broken by officials in the lead up and and the aftermath of the assassination, that it leaves people with the feeling that the official explanation is, at the very least, wanting. This, coupled with the fact that the Warren Commission was almost uniformly unwilling to even address many of the problems, drives people to call for new pieces to the apparently unfinished puzzle. And so people suggest possible answers - some wild and even more unbelievable than the official story, some cogent and serious.

And so today we have a similar type of situation in our parliament. Almost everyone, with the exception of the most blindly partisan, simply don't believe the official explanation of what happened in the PMO. It is just not credible that successful PMO lawyers with excellent professional reputations would orchestrate an illegal effort to bribe a sitting Senator all the while hiding it from their boss, the most controlling PM in Canadian history. And as Harper bobbed and weaved over the past month, changing his story gradually to fit the gradually exposed story, people found the official explanation less and less believable. Couple with this, the apparent fact that half a dozen PMO associates were actually privy to the facts, and that people who have been virtual lapdogs of the PM were involved in a cover-up, and people are looking for a more believable story. And that story, invariably, involves the PM knowing about almost every facet of the conspiracy and cover-up.

But the real story here is not really a PMO orchestrated conspiracy and cover-up, so much as it is the fact that this seems to be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back of the public's tolerance of Harper and his cabal. The best expression of this moment was expressed by Andrew Coyne in his most recent column. Keep in mind that for quite a few years Coyne was nothing short of an apologist for Harper regime's worst aspects and scandals. Coyne tells us that the real problem for the Conservatives is

" . . . . the general impression that we are being governed by a gang of thugs - secretive, high-handed, unprincipled gusting to unethical, and openly contemptuous of such quaint notions as democratic accountability - an impression that grows more baked in each time the Prime Minister dodges a question in Parliament, or worse, sends in the clownish Paul Calandra to answer in his place." 

With friends like this, Harper certainly doesn't need enemies. Perhaps most importantly, Coyne points out that Harper seems to be in complete denial that anything is wrong or that he needs to change his attitude and his course. This problem is, unfortunately not unexpected, and easy to explain. The fact that more and more people seem to be realizing is that Harper is not the clever, strategic politician that some thought he was. Rather, he is simply a control freak who benefited from an unusual set of circumstances. Harper's actions have never been part of a strategic plan but rather the natural expression of a man with a disturbing, narcissistic personality disorder. He cannot change strategy now because he has no strategy, and he surrounds himself with people who have the same kind of angry, dismissive personality has himself. Thus we are treated to people like the "clownish Paul Calandra" whose only political instinct is to insult anyone who might disagree with him and his holy fuhrer. This is a brittle kind of politics that always ends in a disaster of one sort or another.

The only political scandal in Canadian history that really compares to the Senate/Harper scandal is the so-called "Pacific Scandal," involving another Conservative Prime Minister. Though John A. Macdonald would eventually recover from his scandal, we can safely say to Harper "you ain't no John A. Macdonald!" Furthermore, we live in different times, times of extreme exposure and ones in which all facets of life are significantly sped up.

Conspiracies aside, it is not the Senate Scandal that will sink Harper or tarnish his historical reputation. Rather, Harper will be a dark note in Canada's history books because he is a sick, narcissistic thug who has poisoned the well of Canadian life.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Organized Crime of the Harper Regime . . . .

The Harper/Senate scandal is fast becoming a tragic-comedy. In many Western democracies, this Prime Minister would have already been forced to resign. Practically every mainstream media commentator (even the rightwing ones) now seem convinced that Harper probably knew practically everything about this conspiracy of bribery and cover-up. The emails from Nigel Wright that say "I want to talk to the PM before everything is considered final," and the next one written an hour later saying "we are good to go from the PM," establish pretty clearly that Harper played an active part in bribing a sitting Senator. (This is the second time that it has been demonstrated that Harper is involved in bribery - recall the Cadman affair) And, as it usually is, the cover-up is as bad or worse than the initial wrong-doing. It is pretty clear that the Prime Minister was part of an orchestrated cover-up in the Senate, a cover-up that involves altering a financial audit.

As politicians go, it doesn't get much worse than this folks. The only thing comparable in Canadian history is the so-called Pacific Scandal.

One of the things that strikes me as curious about this scandal is this - though it is clear now that the Prime Minister lied to the House and all of Canada, even without his confession of direct knowledge of the details of the bribe and cover-up, his best-case scenario is that he instructed his top aides not to inform him of any illegal details. In other words, the Prime Minister oversaw the orchestration of profound malfeasance even if he didn't know the details. The Disaffected Liberal nicely compared this situation to a Mafia Don who oversees illegal events without ever actually taking a direct part in them.

Another thing that strikes me about all this (and the Rob Ford scandal) is the way that it illustrates the inequalities in our system. Nigel Wright, Benjamin Perrin, and the other are wealthy individuals who can use their wealth and power to protect themselves from the law. Even with guilty verdicts there is almost zero chance that any of these wealthy individuals will spend time behind bars, and even if they do, they can emerge afterwards still wealthy and still connected. Yet our prisons are full of individuals who never abused power (because they never had any) and are guilty of petty crimes that come out of their severely limited options and poverty in youth. If a guy like Rob Ford had not been born wealthy he wouldn't be mayor today and there is a very good chance he would be in prison as well. This is not to say that working-class people never get ahead. Rather, it is to say that wealthy people are more or less immune from paying the prices in life and society that others are routinely forced to pay. And in many cases the crimes that the poor pay for are significantly less significant than those committed by white men in suits.

Like a godfather of organized crime, Harper has orchestrated an continual undermining of democracy in this country. Countless members of his circle are convicted criminals, awaiting trial, or simply deeply shady. He has overseen bribery and seemingly countless incidents of electoral fraud. And yet he goes merry along in his chauffeur driven limo, and, like a loyal Mafia family, his caucus gives him standing ovations every time he opens his mouth. His closest Ministers know full well he is crooked and have approved, and been involved in his corruption. They know that they can't oust him because at the very least they will be admitting to being culpable in his corruption.

And like most Mafia Dons, Harper will retire comfortably while other fools, sorry idiots who have failed to understand that in Harper's case loyalty only moves in one direction, pay for his crimes.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Conservative Ignorance and The Ford Brothers. . . .

I don't believe that all rightwingers are dimwitted or even evil. There are still a few rightwingers around that take a relatively rounded view of the society. I disagree with many of their ideas and beliefs but there are some that are honest enough and have enough intellectual integrity that I could at least converse with them about real political and social issues. I was very impressed with the stance taken by Conservative Senator Hugh Segal concerning the bill that he managed to have defeated not long ago which attempted to subject Unions to more financial scrutiny than almost any other institution in society. Segal spoke eloquently about the role that Unions can play in a society and the need to balance corporate power with the ability of workers to defend themselves and the environment. Joe Clark has spoken about the need to defend democracy and the sovereignty of MPs.

However, the modern nasty, divisive, mean spirited, shockingly deceitful, corporate style of rightwing politics is nothing but sickening. The continual hypocrisy of men like Peter Mackay, for example, is disgusting. While he has established his entire career on a lie, and continually reeks of corruption, he has the gall to continually preach to others about their actions. Suggesting that Trudeau's effort to have a rational public discourse about a substance that most Canadians think should be legal (and is already approved for medical use) amounts to "pushing" marijuana on "kids," is appalling. And comparing Trudeau's actions to Rob Ford's, as Mackay has done, is simply to expose himself for the peddler of deception and bombast that he really is. But we have almost grown accustom to the bombastic hypocrisy, the conscious deception and negativity, that is the contemporary federal Conservative party.

But if you really want to see the ignorant, know-nothinism of modern Canadian conservatism one need look no further than Rob & Doug Ford and their supporters. These guys will stop at nothing to hide their malfeasance. They bully, and lie, and misdirect everyone and everything to attempt to keep a light from shinning on their corruption. But then, as I was listening to Toronto talk radio, something I do regularly to keep a eye on what people are saying, I was treated to the ultimate example of the ignorance that lies behind the Ford phenomenon. A typical "Ford Nation" supporter called in to praise Ford, and in the process the caller complained about the continual deficit spending of the previous mayor, Mr. Miller. "We had to suffer from years of deficit spending with Miller the socialist," the caller said, "but Ford has run a surplus." Even the radio host, a well-known conservative and one time supporter of Ford, laughed and quickly informed the caller of his error, pointing out that not only didn't Mayor Miller run a deficit but in Ontario it is against the law for municipalities to run deficits. The caller seemed unfazed by his total ignorance of the facts and quickly went on to an anti-union rant. To say I was shocked by the raw stupidity of this Ford supporter would be a lie. And I honesty don't think he was willfully spreading lies because the ignorance in his voice was too authentic to be forced. This is just how modern Canadian conservatism has become; it is relying on a shockingly ignorant core at its base to promote a total lie - the lie that conservatives are fiscally responsible, that the left is not, and that the right really cares about the "little guy."

Meanwhile, the Ford brothers rail at the "elites" and "liberal intercity rich" who they say are corrupting our political system. And few people raise an eyebrow at the fact that these two wealthy-born bullies are worth millions. And the mainstream media watch the circus created by the Fords, never doing a single story on the total lie that is the Ford record. And people in the public gallery laugh at Ford's antics and outrageous comparisons of himself to Kuwait, while the ignorance of the conservative base goes merrily on.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Ford and Linguistic Irregularities. . . . .

I am certainly not the only one who despises Rob Ford and everything he represents politically. But I have come to realize that I am also not the only one who has come to consider Rob Ford a deeply troubled individual. After watching his mother and sister, I can't help thinking that this guy must have had an upbringing that was hardly conducive to raising an empathetic, compassionate human being. In fact more than once I have now heard someone mention fetal alcohol syndrome in relation to much of Ford's behaviour.  And it certainly seems clear that appears to suffer from some sort of behaviour disorder. One of the things I have increasingly noticed is the strange irregularities in Ford's use of language. People noticed this bizarre behaviour in particular when Ford first denied the existence of the legendary "Crack" video. Ford's word usage during his media scrum on Wednesday is a good example of his strange linguistic tendencies.

"I have never had a prostitute here," Ford said in relation to one of the more salacious allegations. The insertion of the word "here" would surely strike anyone as strange. Instead of denying ever associating with prostitutes, we get this odd grammatical structure which could easily imply that he has in fact had prostitutes in places other than city hall. In the next sentence Ford tells us that he is "very happily married at home." Once again we get a strange grammatical insertion. The common phrase is, of course, to simply say that one is "happily married." Why might one insert the words "at home?" Does this imply some, probably subconscious, kind of distinction between his home life and his life outside the home? There is a common theory that when people are attempting to misrepresent the facts they offer linguistic "tells" that unintentionally reveal the nature of their misrepresentation. Is there something here?

Of course, we might simply assume that Ford was speaking nervously, or that he has rather sloppy grammar. The sloppiness of Ford's grammar cannot be questioned. In the same scrum Ford says, for example, "that is outright lies." The confusion between singular and plural here is indicative of Ford's speech. Another grammatical confusion that continually creeps into Ford's speech is in his verb tenses. "That's why I told you guys yesterday," Ford said, "be careful what you wrote."

There are, of course, a number of learning disabilities associated with grammatical errors both written and spoken. The most common of these are put under the umbrella of so-called SLI or Specific Language Impairment. It was common at one time to talk of George Bush Sr. in relation to SLI because of his tendency toward rambling disassociated sentences. He would commonly halt in the middle of one sentence and begin another, fail to finished the second, and return to the first. And we don't even have room here to talk about George W. Bush's shocking grammatical deficit. (It is interesting too that the younger Bush was often considered to be a sufferer of substance abuse problems.)

It is often thought that grammatical fluency and eloquence are prerequisites to political success. Obviously within a populist framework (even a minimal one) this eloquence is less necessary. However, without some populist sentiment, grammatical incompetence will generally hurt most politicians, or public figures in general, to some degree or another. One would hope, of course, that in an age of sensitivity to the full spectrum of learning disabilities, people who have linguistic challenges would not be overly hampered in their pursuit of success in whatever field. I suffered from an orthographic processing disorder growing up, and I only overcame it through serious dedication to reading despite my challenges. And even without specific challenges, most of us would hate to have our every word scrutinized in the public field.

Still, some of these strange linguistic tendencies of Rob Ford's are bound to elicit public interest. When someone has publicly lied on many occasions, everything they say is naturally treated with skepticism. So when Rob Ford says to the nation "I have never had a prostitute here," we can't help but wonder, "where does he take his prostitutes?"

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Lying rightwing and the Lies they Tell. . . .

I suppose that when it comes right down to it, what bothers me most about the new-right in this country (and most countries) is that their entire political strategy is essentially based upon lying and cheating. We have seen this throughout the Harper years. Not only has time demonstrated that his party has been involved in electoral fraud from the beginning of his time as leader, but everything about his government is a lie. Of course, Harper routinely attempts to hide information whenever possible, and his complete failure to give the House of Commons the information it asked for concerning various program costings led to his government being held in contempt for the first time in English parliamentary history. Another way that Harper tries to hide information is through omnibus bills - a practice that he condemned as undemocratic when he was in opposition. But he is an even better liar than he is a hider. He continually lies about almost everything, from his government's treatment of veterans to his bribery and extortion of MPs (Cadman) and Senators (Duffy), from his gagging of scientists to his trade deals - Harper is a liar. It is the very essence of his political life. The newest lie is his government's lie concerning the supposed deficit. They claim that they will soon be in a surplus but you can bet, based on past behaviour, that this is a very simple lie. They know that they have very little chance of being elected if they present a deficit budget in the next election year and so they are cooking the books. How do I know? You ask. Well, his incompetent finance minister (shudder) has done it before. Before he was a federal finance minister Mr. Flaherty was the Provincial Finance Minister in the last Tory government in Ontario. His government ran their election campaign on the claim that they had a budgetary surplus. They bleated it from every pulpit they could find. But it turned out to be a bald-face lie. When the new government got access to the books they found a five billion dollar deficit! Five Billion dollars. Flaherty is a liar just like his boss, and the Tories are taking a page out of their provincial counterpart's book. The only comfort we can find in this is that they lost the election and were caught lying. Now if only it was a crime for politicians to lie to the public.

Meanwhile in Toronto,  lying is a way of life for the Mayor. He has lied about so many things that it is hard to keep track. People say that his addiction is a disease. But Mayor Ford's real disease is pathological lying. While he tries to get people to ignore his past lies, he is busy spouting the new, even more blatant lie that he has saved the taxpayers of Toronto a billion dollars. It is amazing that he has the gall to continually repeat this lie, but that is what liars do I guess - they lie. As Edward Kennan of The Grid points out  - the fact is that "Torontonians are paying more today in taxes than they were the day that Ford was elected. And the city is now spending more on programs and services than it was under David Miller." In an excellent article entitled Rob Ford's Billion-Dollar Lie, Kennan finally puts paid to this continual claim by Ford and his supporters that he has somehow stopped the imaginary "gravy-train" and saved the tax-payers lots of money. Kennan breaks down Ford's bogus claims in some detail and shows specifically where he is lying. "To recap," Kennan writes in his summation, "the city's surplus this year is smaller than Miller's was in 2010. City spending has gone up about $200 million per year under Ford, and he's increased the taxes and fees Torontonians pay to the city by about $200 million per year as well. We can debate whether taxes and spending could have or should have gone up more, and we can debate whether this is the best way to measure the city's health. But there is really no debate about one thing: Ford's billion-dollar boast is a flat-out lie."

But this is the way of the right. They could never hope to win elections on the truth so lying and cheating has become their primary political mechanism. The only real question is why do so many continue to believe their lies?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Defending the White Poppy. . . .

Unlike the writers at the Huffington Post, I don't believe that you can "win" debates with simplistic aphorisms issued on Twitter. And unlike Brett Wilson, I don't believe that simply calling people "morons" constitutes actual political argument. And I don't believe that the people behind the so-called white poppy movement are morons in any sense of the word. But people who question patriotism and patriotic rituals have always been prime targets for those with emotionally charged nationalistic feelings. Such people are irrationally offended by those who have the gall to call into doubt the rituals that are connected with our history as a national or international entity. But I will not be silenced by the likes of Brett Wilson, a man who claims that our involvement in past wars defended our freedom, but who takes that freedom so lightly that he genuinely seems to want to silence those who would disagree with him.

First of all, let me say that, despite what Brett Wilson (or anyone else) says, my reasons for wearing the white poppy, as well as my objection to the red poppy are not based upon my belief that the red poppy somehow celebrates war. Rather, I believe that there are more sophisticated, historical and political issues at stake here. Now, I have heard a number of vet in recent years object to the red poppy campaign, as well as the contemporary nature of Remembrance Day, because of the political nature that it seems to have taken on. One such vet was well quoted by Mound of Sound in his blog today. These kinds of objections to Remembrance Day are significant. There is no question that an a good argument can be made that contemporary politicians have taken advantage of Remembrance Day, politicized it in a way that robs it of the purely honorary essence that it once seemed to have had. However, though I have had veterans in my family, I am not a veteran of an orthodox military event. Thus, my objections take a different kind of form.

Let me address the most controversial nature of my objections to contemporary Remembrance Day. I understand that these opinions might be considered provocative, but they are not, I believe unreasonable. I believe that the wars of the last hundred and fifty years or so have almost all been essentially bogus. Instead of being about "freedom" or democracy they have mostly been creations of wealthy classes which are designed to accumulate profit and jockey for global economic position. To fully develop this argument would require a great deal more space than is available to us here. But a number of radical thinkers have developed such arguments in the past and these include writers like Franz Fanon, Howard Zinn, Eric Hobsbawm, Bertrand Russell, E.P. Thompson, Jean-Paul Sartre, and many more. It is for this political and historical reason that I believe that the white poppy makes sense - in my mind it still honours the veterans, but not as victims of foreign wars, rather as victims of our own political and economically powerful classes that have used men for generations as cannon fodder in struggles for economic dominance.

Leading off this political argument is another important objection I have to contemporary Remembrance Day rituals. It is this, public discourse never tires of telling us that it is to our Veterans that we owe our so-called "freedoms" and "democracy." The various wars that were more or less spin-offs of the supposed battle between 'capitalist' and supposedly 'communist' nations were, I believe largely manufactured by political classes that were once again defending their economic power. Many of these were colonial-style wars fought in the "third-world" in which the people were victims of a global economic war that had nothing to do with democracy or freedom. The war against fascism might be said to be a war that defended our "freedoms" and "democracy," but even this war was, according to Roosevelt (one of its greatest proponents) entirely preventable. The rise of fascism was largely supported by the economically powerful in most nations (including England and the US) until they had no choice. In other words, fascism was (even according to most the economically powerful) a natural extension of capitalism. And those who really opposed fascism (like Roosevelt himself) had a very big job getting the economically and politically powerful to support the war. And perhaps most importantly, the rise of fascism (at least in Germany) was in large part a direct result of the Treaties of Versailles which failed to consider the longterm impact of war reparations. The upshot of this argument is that I believe that the people we really owe thanks to for our "freedoms" and democratic rights are the activist (many of them trade union activists) who spent their lives fighting for democracy, and human rights against the rich and powerful who did everything they could to limit democracy and human rights in our own countries. The wars of the past hundred and fifty years or so had little to do with democracy or human rights. While the soldiers of the Western allies, for example, were busy fighting World War One, their governments were actively suppressing democratic and human rights movements at home. The rights of universal suffrage, the rights to a safe workplace, the rights to minimum wage and pension, the rights of minorities to be equal before the law, etc, all these rights were not a result of fighting in foreign wars, but were the result of generations of activists fighting their own governments and wealthy classes. Here is the simple fact, if it were not for trade union activists not only wouldn't you not have the right to vote, your could still be shackled by your employer and children could still be forced to work 16 hour days.

Thus, bluntly put, I believe that Remembrance Day is little short of a kind of collective scam designed to bestow legitimation on wars that were not about freedom or democracy but were about making money and profit for a very elite economic class. I wear the white poppy as a protest against the common nationalist scam that have been most of the past wars and role that Remembrance Day plays in covering up this scam. It is actually an age old story - the powerful want us to believe that the wars we fight are "very sadly necessary" but noble in their righteousness. Because if people stopped believing this they might actually look closely at the causes of the wars and the class system that they all to often protect.

No one, least of all Brent Wilson, is compelled in anyway to agree with me. However, if such really believe that past wars were fought to defend our "freedoms" then they should be the first to defend my right to say such things and wear the white poppy even if they disagree. However, more importantly, to disregard these arguments out of hand is, I believe intellectually dishonest. While Brett Wilson and his ilk seem to be perfectly content throwing around simplistic aphorisms in defence of mindless patriotism, I feel disposed to study history and interpretations of that history by intellectual giants who prefer talk about the negative effects of reactionary, nationalistic, jargon.

There was a period in my youth, after the Vietnam War, that the majority (or a good sized minority) was skeptical about the motivations of Governments and elites to be involved in foreign wars. These times seem to have slipped away and people have forgotten even recent history. Brett Wilson's simplistic patriotism will not silence me, nor should it silence the white poppy movement because if my analysis is even partially correct than it is incredibly important that we make that discourse public, and if my analysis is entirely wrong then silencing the white poppy brigade would be the ultimate insult to veterans who supposedly fought so we could say whatever we want.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Bad and the Ugly. . .

Let's face it, Rob Ford is a bad guy. And the level of support that he receives from a certain bloc of rightwing voters is a clear sign that many on the right have absolutely no problem with bad people. In fact, there is every reason to believe that they actually like nasty, mean-spirited people. It reinforces their hateful view of the world. For all their talk and bluster, the people of the Ford phenomenon demonstrate that many on the right don't care about family values, about drug abuse, about racism, sexism, homophobia, civil behaviour, respect. What the rightwing care about is money and their perceived handling of that money. And I very consciously use the word "perceived" because even a superficial examination of politics and fiscal responsibility will demonstrate that the right is no more responsible with public money than anyone else. In fact, a pretty good argument can be made that the right is significantly less responsible in the long and the short term.

Rob Ford is clearly a crack-head. The release of the ranting video of yesterday shows that. Ford was not drunk. Anyone who has any experience with cocaine knows that that was a crack rage. Ok, so he is a crack-head. We all falter. If he really is addicted to crack he will need help getting off it. But what is significantly more important than his substance abuse is that Ford is a bad man. He is a mean, bullying, sexist, homophobic, abusive, narcissistic, liar. These are the things that should preclude him from being mayor. And the fact that I continually hear so-called "Ford-Nation" supporters on the radio and the internet saying what a "likeable" guy he is, is a clear demonstration of what they find likeable. Furthermore, the so-called "gravy-train" that Ford ran in opposition to was a creation of his own imagination.

On the national stage we have a similar situation, in spirit if not in detail. Harper is not a crack-head. But he possesses the same kind of mean-spirited, lying soul that haunts Rob Fords. Harper would step on anyone, break any law, rape the spirit of democracy, abuse the power of office, to further his agenda. And that agenda is to maintain himself in power and divert the nation's wealth from average people to the rich and the corporations. It is clear to anyone with half a brain that Harper himself orchestrated an extortion and bribery of Mike Duffy. Of course, HarperCon supporters will say there is no evidence, that their guy is honest and upright. But secretly they know and are actually proud that their leader is a lawbreaking liar, because they like the idea of having a bad man abusing the law to support their twisted cause. In the House of Commons they make lots of noise concerning the innocence of their leader, but they smirk slyly in the knowledge that they are part of an outlaw cabal screwing the people of the nation, destroying the environment, and selling our children's future to foreign corporations. Why? You ask. Because they are bad people, it is as simple as that.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Confusing world of The Right . . . .

I admit to being fairly baffled by why anyone, beyond the very rich, would follow modern rightwing ideology. I comprehend traditional social conservatism, though I profoundly disagree with it. And get the traditional Toryism as first expressed by men like Edmund Burke. Their attitude was, simply-put, that change is fine as long as it is slow and cautious and takes into consideration national traditions. I can see, to a degree, why certain people, regardless of their economic status, might be attracted to these traditional types of conservatism. However, modern, so-called neo-conservatism is an entirely different kind of animal. I know our citizenry is breathtakingly ignorant, and that fact stands as the only real explanation for why anyone other than the wealthy would buy the new, twisted form of conservatism. But contemporary events demonstrate that even when the hypocrisy of modern conservatism is laid bare, people still seem to hold fast to their ignorance.

In the States we have the so-called Tea-Party crowd. These people are deeply confusing to anyone with a sense of history or economics. The Tea-Party gang continually talk in glowing, almost reverential terms, about the 'founding fathers.' But even a brief reading of US history demonstrates that this historical group were racist elitist who had little or no real interest in freedom, let alone equality. Beside the nagging question of slavery, one must surely be confused by the fact that none of the 'founding fathers' were really democrats. In fact no one with a significant voice in the US revolutionary era advocated universal male suffrage (let alone female suffrage), with the notable exception Thomas Paine. Besides touting the greatness of George Washington and gang, the Tea-Party gang hold Ronald Reagan as their great hero. But again, a short examination of events will demonstrate that despite his reputation, Reagan was no friend of the 'little-guy' or smaller government. The Reagan-Bush era ended with much bigger government than that with which it began and Reagan oversaw the impoverishment of the American middle-class as well as the real power of the US as an powerful exporter nation.

Here in Canada, we have our own version of the Tea-Party and why anyone would support them is equally confusing to me. People like Harper talk a lot about freedom and smaller government but they never actually fight for those things. Instead, they always raise deficits, do little or nothing to shrink government, and continually advocate for an increase in the power of the police-state. Meanwhile Harper's economic strategies seem designed to radically increase the power of large, always unaccountable corporate structures, a decrease in the spending power of average citizens, a continual down-loading of services to the provincial and municipal levels (where they always cost more), a disregard for impending environmental disaster, and the transformation of Canada into a third-world style raw-resource nation with a huge disparity of wealth. Now, I understand why the rich would advocate such an economic course. After all, it is a very simple, though usually unacknowledged fact, that a reduction of economic power of the majority brings, at least in the short term, a commensurate increase in the real economic power of the wealthy. Any study of a third-world economy will show that this is true and it isn't difficult to see how it works.

But then we come to the most confusing of all Canadian political phenomena - Rob Ford. Here is a mean-spirited, bumbling, intellectual challenged guy with a long, demonstrated history of lying, with obvious ties to drug-dealers and gangsters, who still garners a shocking amount of support from average voters. Despite continually criticizing so-called 'elites,' Ford was born with a silver-spoon in his mouth and has never really had to struggle for anything. Meanwhile, Ford's brother Doug, who was rumoured to be a significant drug dealer long before the Globe and Mail reported on the fact, seems to be his bully-boy minder and has now, himself, regressed into a paranoid landscape in which even the Chief of Police is part of the left-wing conspiracy against the Ford family. It is not just that Rob Ford has various substance abuse problems (which seems clear), but that he continually lies to the public that put him in the job, all the while viscously attacking anyone who opposes him, particularly blaming journalists who have a long history of uncovering corruption and malfeasance, two of the things that Ford is supposed to stand against. All the while, Ford has done very little during his time as Mayor in a city which, despite what he continually maintained, was in pretty good shape as large American city go. And as all this goes on, polls indicate that Ford has a very good chance of being reelected.

What the Ford phenomenon seems to tell me is that, as in the US, there is a certain percentage of our population that wallows, even celebrates, in their own ignorance. This group of people seem to have no real interest in the future prosperity of their own nation or community. Rather, they simply use the political field to express their own anger and paranoia, feeling as though they have struggled and gotten a raw deal and they want everyone else to suffer for it. This group has little or no interest in the real rates or causes of crime, no interest in the future of their children or grandchildren, no concern for environmental destruction, and no interest in the actual honesty or honour of their politicians as long as those politicians are expressing an anger and paranoia similar to their own.

The lesson is, of course, that while the actual ideology of neo-conservatism is concerned with creating a corporate state where the majority are uneducated and impoverished, this ideology is really a marketing ploy designed to pray on the ignorance, paranoia, know-nothingism, of a small voting bloc who are quick to forget that their political heroes ride in limousines while decrying the elite, and have no problem writing $90 thousand dollar checks to bribe Senators while simultaneously blaming everyone else for corruption.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Senate Reform and Pandering to the Base. . . .

The Conservative Party under King Harper has always been aware, I believe, that Senate reform is essentially a non-starter without the cooperation of the Provinces. However, they continually touted the idea of reform as a way of whipping up support among their base. It was looked at as essentially a win-win for the CONParty because they knew that they could portray their failure to enact Senate reform as one more example of the "establishment" being in a confederacy against them. Despite being in power for many years, and wielding that power in a particularly centralizing and ruthless way, as well as having overwhelming media support for much of that time, the Conservative base still laps up the fantasy that there is a establishment conspiracy against them. The Government's failure to reform the Senate feeds well into this narrative. They made an issue of something they knew they couldn't really do anything about (without a genuinely open and cooperative relationship with the Provinces), and then hold this issue up as a way of demonstrating their supposed "outside the beltway" position in the political establishment. Meanwhile, Harper, who once insisted he would never appoint an unelected Senator, stacked the Senate with a bunch of people who had no business being their in the first place, and this barely registered was problematic with the base. Then, in a final irony, Harper tries to take credit for cleaning up the Senate by trying to get rid of the corrupt Senators who he appointed in the first place. The fact that anyone in the Conservative Party at all continues to support King Harper is a sad indictment of the general intelligence of the Conservative base.

And now, in what might be a new drama in Conservative know-nothingism, the HarperCons have begun to float the idea of a referendum on the Senate. Obviously no specifics have been discussed, and we will have to wait and see if anything comes of such an idea. However, once again such a notion would play into the ignorance of the Conservative base. This is because, there is, in fact, no actual referendum process in the Canadian political system. The government could, of course, organize a referendum on anything from legalizing drugs to outlawing hot dogs, but the results of such a vote would be in no way binding on the government, and could not be used to justify actions which were contrary to the constitution. There have only been three national referendums in Canada. One was used as a justification for conscription in WWII. One was the so-called Charlottetown Accord. And the other was on the question of outlawing alcohol. In this example, the people chose prohibition by a small percentage but Wilfrid Laurier simply ignored the results.

In other words, the HarperCons could hold a referendum on, say, eliminating the Senate; they could win by a huge majority; and it still would be nothing because as every legal mind in the country seems to suspect, the SCofC will soon rule that you cannot make significant changes to the Senate without provincial consent. But imagine the bluster that the HarperCons could express concerning the undue power of the Courts if they found themselves in this situation. Of course, as usual, the HarperCons have acted in an entirely backward fashion. If they had really wanted to have something to brag about with their base, they should have had a referendum BEFORE asking the top court to make a ruling that everyone pretty much was sure of to begin with. Now if the Court rules as expected and makes it clear that unidirectional Senate reform is a non-starter, a referendum will be obviously pointless.

The fact is that the HarperCons are not really interested in real Senate reform. They are, of course, interested in talking about Senate reform ad nauseam because it plays to their base. But if they had ever been interested in doing anything about the Senate Harper would have long ago convened a First Minister's meeting and begun an open and cooperative dialogue on the issue. But of course Harper has never had an open and cooperative dialogue with anyone so we don't have to worry about that. Instead, the past seven years demonstrates that while talking Senate reform to his base, Harper (like almost all previous PMs) simply wanted to use the Senate as rewards program for his cronies. And his appointments to the Chamber of Sober Second-Thought have been, arguably, some of the very worst ever made.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Harper's land of Parody. . .

It is amazing that a columnist like Andrew Coyne, a guy that was for a long time remarkably supportive of the HarperCon agenda, could call a Harper convention speech a "a parody of a parody of an empty cliché." This kind of reaction by one of the most important right of centre national pundits to what should be a major speech by a Prime Minister surely sounds the beginning of the end for Stephen Harper's regime. Harper has reached that point once reached by the Liberal Party, that tipping-point where public perception of the government has become overwhelmingly negative and corruption is the first thing that comes to mind when people think of the leader and the government.

But Harper's downfall will be of his own making. Because like so many similar leaders, Harper has little or no ability to adapt to circumstance. He is a one-trick-pony. An actor who can only play one part; the angry, self-righteous, victim of a left-leaning media, nasty opponents, or (and this is a new one) a conspiracy among his own. Harper has no idea how to react to what is wrong because he doesn't even know something is amiss. Harper's similarities to Nixon are numerous and have been often observed. But the most important similarity between the two is not their paranoia or their secrecy, but their narcissism. Just as Nixon believed he was beyond reproach, somewhere deep inside Harper he thinks that, because of his political status, anything he does must be legal and right. Therefore, he can't effectively react to what is wrong because if he is in charge nothing could possibly be wrong, at least concerning his actions. This is the kind of attitude that led to Nixon's famous remark, the affect of which was that nothing he did could have been illegal because he was the president and therefore is actions were always a priori 'legal.'

Harper cannot change tack. He is like a sailor who thinks he is above the wind. But his narcissism doesn't allow him to see that he reached power through an historical chance. He was elected ostensibly because he wasn't leading the Liberal Party. But his pathological conceit has allowed him to slip into the very same kind of arrogant pattern that destroyed the Liberals and brought the former Conservative government to the brink of disappearance.

Thus Andrew Coyne, despite his past support of Harper, is exactly on mark concening Harper's speech last night. Indeed Harper has become a parody of a parody of an old cliché. Harper is a parody of Chretien who was a parody of Mulroney, and his is spouting clichés instead of real political ideas.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Seven Year Harper Blues. . . .

Watching the Senate scandal slowly unfold has been a strange experience for those of us who have always despised Harper and his government. One the one hand, we are gratified to see a scandal that finally seems to be sticking to this despicable man. On the other hand, we are weary of continually pointing out scandal after scandal of this corrupt, anti-democratic, fiscally irresponsible government and can't help but wonder why it has taken so long for Harper to significantly drop in the polls. Just the other day I was making a list of the scandals of this government and even I was surprised by how long the list has grown. Yet, like the bizarre, ideologically blind members of so-called "Ford Nation," Harper's followers seem to have an almost supernatural ability to overlook, or happily justify actions from their party and leader that they claim are anathema to their ideology. I am fairly certain that if a Liberal or NDP government had had this many scandals there would have already been genuine uprisings in the streets. But conservative followers have not only tolerated Harper's malfeasance, they have employed a double-speak in which an action they would condemn in others they actively celebrate in their leader.

So it goes.

However, as I look at this thing unfolding, it occurs to me that such a scandal was, to a certain degree, inevitable. But the reasons for this inevitability are complex. You see, Harper has never been a popular leader. Instead he has relied on a strange, difficult formula to gain and maintain power. This formula has been a combination of disaffecting many voters, small-scale but consistent electoral fraud, ruthless control of his caucus, surrounding himself with startlingly incompetent and ineffectual yes-men who don't even vaguely understand when he is doing so they follow him blindly, finding every possible way of limiting public and political debate or discourse, continually attacking political opponents, and in large part legislating by stealth. Such a strategy requires a serious degree of control for any leader. The problem is that Harper is not really a leader. Rather, he is a dictator, and dictators are notoriously incapable of taking ownership of their mistakes. Harper's personality requires that he makes ALL the decisions. But his personality also makes him incapable of seeing anything as a mistake. Thus, if something goes wrong, it must, by his reckoning, be someone else's fault. And since everyone makes mistakes, and control freaks who refuse anyone's counsel end up making more mistakes than most, this situation leads to an inevitable problems. In other words, a guy like Harper, unable to face up to his shortcomings, inevitably throws people under buses. And eventually you either run out of people or you betray the wrong ones.

Harper's years in power have been a litany of scandals and corruption. But since his political formula has meant that he could win power and maintain it with a small portion of the electorate (and an even smaller portion of the citizenry), he has ridden out scandal after scandal with little concern for what most people think. However, the reality of this is that Harper only has to lose a little bit of support and anger just enough people to cause them to vote again and he will lose power. And this seems to be finally happening. It is a simple truism, piss off the wrong people and you will cause your own demise. All that needs to happen is that a small portion of the conservative base stay home, and a small portion of swing voters finally abandon the Harper cabal, and he could suffer a huge defeat.

For now we will have to wait for 2015 because, like his buddy Rob Ford, Harper is totally incapable of admitting mistakes so nothing but an all-out caucus revolt will drive him from office before the next election.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Ignácio Brandáo, Muzzling Scientists, And Environmental Disaster. . . .

Read this -

     "Scientists. A minimal, marginalized lot these days. It's almost prehistoric the way we've become immune to the warnings science offers us. As soon as the System realized that the prognosis was bad, and would make them perhaps look bad in turn, voila; they started an intensive propaganda campaign in the press, fostering as much sarcasm as possible with respect to anything scientific. That was when the scornful expression 'scientific paranoia' came into being.
     Anything could be labeled 'scientific paranoia,' Being an illustrious, scientist of conscience became tantamount to being a Jew in Nazi Germany. Scientists were debunked, persecuted, and not a few of them went into hiding. Some continued their studies, issuing public announcements, denouncements. Desperately trying to engage public interest. 
      So most of the scientists were hunted down and silenced. Others accepted invitations to foreign universities and institutes and left the country. Some merely retired and went on to other activities. Research institutions languished and closed, as the new order grew in numbers and power."

This quote is from the 1981 distopian novel And Still the Earth by the Brazilian author, Ignácio de Loyola Brandáo (translation by Ellen Watson). This is one of the first significant novels to deal with the impending disaster of global warming. Water is disappearing and life, particularly near the equator, is becoming unliveable. It is frightening and disturbing.

This passage is eerily reminiscent of our own government's actions as it attempts to marginalize and muzzle scientists and environmental activists in order to continue its disastrous drive toward giving free reign to multinational energy companies.

Pick up the book. It was just reissued in English translation after more than two decades of being out of print.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Idi Amin, Pauline Marois and the Race Card. . . .

In 1972 Idi Amin said that he had a dream in which God told him to expel the Indian and Pakistani population of Uganda. It was a terrible act by a terrible man. I used to have a politically radical close friend from Uganda and he used to say that of all the things that Amin did, this was probably the worst thing he did for Uganda as a nation because it had the long term effect of crippling the economy. You see, South Asians only accounted for about one percent of the population but were involved in about a fifth of the nation's wealth production. But Amin knew that Indophobia was a powerful force in Uganda and it seemed that he believed that targeting the South Asians would appeal to his populist base and make him something of a hero in the country.

This is a familiar pattern. A politician takes advantage of racists feelings (sometimes these feelings are overt and sometimes they are quietly seething under the surface) in order to muster feelings of nationalism and bolster their own population. It is a strategy that never ends well and Amin's efforts (though an extreme example) are demonstrative of what such efforts lead to.

This is precisely what makes the recent efforts of the PQ so sad. It seems clear that Pauline Marios is attempting to use relatively quiet, but percolating, racist sentiments to rally nationalist sentiments and create a convenient wedge between Quebec and the rest of Canada. She obviously has calculated that this strategy is one that has a good chance of resurrecting separatism and perhaps finally creating those elusive "winning conditions" for an independence referendum.

But like the efforts of Idi Amin this cannot end well. Even if Marios manages to whip-up the nationalist feelings that she hopes to generate, she is making Quebec a pariah on the world stage. And unlike the situation in France where many radicalized communities have little opportunity to leave, Marois' efforts have a very good chance of motivating a mass exodus from the province. Now, since many (if not most) of the people who could leave will be non-whites, this event will not be mourned by many of those in Quebec who (though they would not admit it) harbour deeply racist feelings. But in the long term it will spell a gross impoverishment of Quebec, both economically and culturally.

I have never liked Quebec nationalism, or any nationalism for that matter. Nationalism in the face of the gross atrocities associated with colonialism are one thing. But Quebec (at least in recent years) has faced none of that. In fact since I came to Canada many years ago the relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada has been one of active accommodation. I have always insisted that while you can promote culture you cannot legislate it and Quebec nationalism has always fed on feelings of fear and racism. But when politicians (or anyone for that matter) start actively talking about "cultural purity" I get nervous. I don't know how many times in recent weeks I have heard Quebecers who support Marois' charter talk about racial purity and the so-called "watering down" of Quebec culture. And it is interesting that they would use this phrase, 'watering-down,' because this is a phrase so commonly used by white supremacists when they talk about protecting 'white' culture.

I don't know how this will play out but I know that the PQ and the BLOC have now placed themselves squarely in the camp of American Tea-Baggers and white supremacists who want to "protect" their so-called culture. The people of Uganda learned the hard way what you get when you play the race card for political gain, and I suspect that the people of Quebec will learn the same lesson.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Religious symbols part 2 . . .

I am genuinely at a loss to understand how people imagine that the proposed new legislation in Quebec which seeks to restrict the personal expression of government employees can be believable sold as 'secularization.' Here is the thing - if you believe that restricting the religious expressions of government employees contributes to the secularization of the state, you must necessarily believe the converse argument, to wit, that allowing these people to express their religious views through the wearing of symbolic religious items necessarily contributes to the opposite of secularization. In other words, you must believe that on the spectrum between a theocracy and an entirely secular state, the wearing of religious symbols in itself pushes a state further toward theocracy. But this is not even vaguely believable claim. If I send my daughter to school and her teacher wears a hijab, neither she nor I could possibly see this as the state promoting, advocating, or embracing a particular religious outlook. Even my daughter, at the tender age of nine, understand that the wearing of a hijab is a personal expression of religious belief. The state itself is not, in any meaningful way, made more secular if a government employee is restricted from donning religious garb and, conversely, a state is not made more of a theocracy if such people wear such symbols.

As far as I am concerned, the entire matter is as simply as that. The secular state is simply one that does not advocate a particular religious position. Though much of our traditional legal system has roots in certain Judeo-Christian customs and conventions, one might argue that we can more or less create and entirely secular state apparatus. But I see no argument that such a cause is helped or promoted by the restriction of purely symbolic clothing.

Conversely, within a predominately Christian population, I do see that a substantive argument that efforts to restrict religious symbols will inevitably target particular religions or beliefs. Overall, I continue to see no arguments that these proposed restrictions will contribute to secularization in any way. Instead, I have heard people throw around unsubstantiated assertions much like the religious believers that they are trying to restrict do in religious and philosophical arguments.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Quebec and Personal Expression. . . .

I have been so offended by the recently proposed legislation in Quebec that I felt compelled, despite a long silence, to speak up, if only for reasons of catharsis. First of all let me say at the outset that I believe that this legislation, supposedly intended to establish so-called Quebec 'values,' is, at best, racially incendiary and, at worst, actually motivated by fascism and racism. For years I have believed that, despite leftist apologism, much of the Quebec legislation that is supposedly intended to "protect" Quebec culture, is, in fact, racism in disguise. And the proposed "Quebec values" legislation confirms my worst feelings about the latent racism that has been gradually emerging from 'la belle province.'

Tonight on CBC the leftist commentator Ian Capstick was swift and assertive in his support for any legislation that outlaws any sort of religious symbol in publicly owned space. Though Capstick is essentially on the left, I often disagree with his arguments. Though he is sometime insightful, I find that Capstick is often pedantic and very seldom demonstrates a deep understanding, sophistication, or a concern for the 'big-picture' in political matters. And while I said that I often disagree with his "arguments," in this case he simply didn't present any. Instead, much like the religious ideologies that I assume he opposes, he simply made the basic assertion that he thought religious symbols had 'no place' in public places (by which, he confirmed to me, he meant publicly owned spaces such as government offices). But, of course, as we all know, an assertion in itself never constitutes and argument. And the problem is that in my thirty five years of political consciousness I have never heard a clear argument (let alone a convincing one) why individual professions of faith in the form of symbols such as, for example, a yarmulke, a cross, or a Sikh turban is in any way problematic. I understand that religious activism can be a problem. I understand that, in a democracy, we can't have the state sanctioning a particular religious belief. But nothing in my experience suggests to me that simple acts of religious self-expression in visually symbolic form, are problematic or threatening to democracy in any way. In fact, I am convinced that self-expression, in personal religious symbols, promotes democracy because it promotes discourse, diversity, and personal understanding between people. If my university professor, say, wears a yarmulke, I am in no way threatened nor is my learning experience diminished. provided he is an effective, open, and supportive teacher. If my doctor wears a hijab, it doesn't undermine her ability to give me proper medical care. And because religious communities are so diverse, these symbolic acts suggest little to me concerning the 'values' of the professor or the doctor. I may share fewer normative values with an atheist doctor or an agnostic professor. Admirable values are certainly not something that belong to any one group, whether religious or otherwise. I have met good Christians, good Muslims, good atheists, good Buddhist, etc; people who share many, if not most of my values.

But, perhaps most importantly, I believe that freedom of self expression is itself a profoundly  important value for a just and decent society. And by undermining such acts (whether they are in the form of restricting religious headwear or some other, secular, expression) the Party Quebecois is engaging in an act of performative contradiction. To outlaw simple, non-threating, acts of symbolic self-expression is a dangerous act of imposition that takes us, as a society, in the very opposite direction than most of us on the left want to go. Such an act is a thin edge of a perilous wedge. For, it begs the question, will we soon be restricted from political self-expression? I am not sure I see a significant theoretical difference between wearing a cross around one's neck and, say, donning a Che Guevara t-shirt. Both the shirt and the cross express certain ideological notions, basic beliefs that might have deep implications concerning one's normative values.

Thus, I contend that, restricting acts of self-expression in a university, a government office, or a hospital, is not only deeply problematic, it is a dangerous precedent. I want to live in a diverse society where people hold different beliefs and we can engage in acts of discursive redemption concerning those beliefs. If Habermas's Theory of Communicative Action taught me anything, it is that we build community through discourse not through the restriction of discourse. And acts of self-expression are essential to discourse. Furthermore, in many cases it is in our publicly owned spaces that are conducive to discourse and understanding.

The PQ is engaging in the kind of political strategy that is, I believe, always dangerous and eventually always fails. Ultimately you cannot protect or promote culture through acts of restriction. The promotion of culture is an organic process that grows out of a rich commitment to language, philosophy, and the arts. What is happening in Quebec is, I believe, a deep act of racism disguised as legislative reason. Ultimately the people who will pay will be non-whites and non-Christians who will become an easy target because of a legislative licence. Military Chaplains will still wear dog-collars and crosses. No one will ask a nun in a hospital to remove her habit. No one in the Catholic studies department at McGill will be compelled to remove their cross. All of this compels us to ask, what are the values that the PQ thinks are Quebec values and what are they really promoting? And, while we are asking questions, what does Ian Capstick think such legal restrictions on personal expression will achieve?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Thanks for the Support and please read my new Blog. . .

I would like to thank everyone for the remarkable and surprising support. It is heartening. Rather ironic to stop posting on the very week in which occurs what is arguably the biggest (as in most public) ethical scandal to clearly involve the Prime Minister.

Anyway, for a while I am going to turn my attentions away from politics and to one of my other interests, literature. I am going to start a new blog entitled Footnotes; Adventures in 19th Century Literature. You can see it here. Please visit me there if you have literary interests. (I hope to start posting at the end of the weekend) Well, Marx retreated into the British Museum after the disappointing events of 1848. I am no Marx and my personal library pales in comparison to the British Museum but it will be my own small retreat.

I have two books that I am just finishing on 19th century literature  one is about Mary and Charles Lamb and the other is a biography of Mary Mitford. But I hope to use my new blog to develop ideas for a longterm project on the large tapestry of interconnected friendship that existed between the authors of the English Romantic period. It is something I have been working on little by little over the past few years and I will continue to explore on my blog as the project slowly coalesces.

As for politics, I am sure I will explode back into this more political blog sometime in the not too distant future.

Thanks again for all the support.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Farewell to You All, I just Can't Do it Anymore. . . .

I have always been something of a reluctant warrior for the left. My reluctance was not motivated by lack of belief in principles because I really believe that corporatism and the rightwing ideology are spectacularly wrong and will lead to nothing but disaster. Furthermore, I believe that the only way forward for our race and our planet is a genuine pursuit of greater cooperation and equality. But my reluctance was motivated by the early realization that the majority of people not only tolerate their own exploitation and oppression, but they actually seem to revel in it. For reasons that I am sure I will never understand, the majority of people seem to actively court their own exploitation and want to cede power to those who will keep most people poor and powerless. And even when people work together to make things better, as when they form unions, they are surprisingly quick to create institutional frameworks that further solidify structural inequalities and  hierarchies.

Of course, on the other side of the argument, there has always been an indispensable group of tireless activists who have pushed back the tentacles of power and the only reason that we have any justice and generalized prosperity is because of these activists who have dragged the world forward despite the stupidity and reluctance of the majority.

But I feel like I have been fighting for a long time and on days like this I am looking into an abyss of depression and desperation. At least for now, I don't think I can fight any more. In my dark moments I just think that most people are stupid and probably deserve to be exploited and oppressed. If they can't act in their own interest (as the rich and powerful do all the time), I have to ask myself why I should bother.

With this in mind, I leave the rest of you to it, and wish you good luck. I am done.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Guatemalan Dictators, and Brutes of our Own. . . .

Yesterday the former dictator of Guatemala, Efrain Montt, was convicted of 80 years in prison for Genocide. The sentence is, in a sense symbolic considering that Mr. Montt is now 86 years old and very unlikely to survive any significant time in prison. But the sentence is interesting at least because it is one of the very few examples in which a nation is actually trying to come to grips with its fascist past. The sad fact is that Guatemala has seen a string of dictators and brutal militarists (the current president was an military officer under the Montt regime). Central America (and Latin America in general) is awash with former dictators and political murderers, almost none of which have been brought to justice. In 1954 the CIA orchestrated a coup in Guatemala and in 1973 they orchestrated another in Chili. But few (and certainly no one in the US) has ever been properly brought to account for these events. The sad truth is that Montt is a drop in the bucket.

As the years have past I have come to realize that, for the most part, nations really don't really want to come to terms with their past. Nations (and nationalists) want to wave flags and sing anthems and are very good at ignoring the negative aspects of their country's past. I was shocked with I visited Spain with my partner (who was born and raised there) and realized that not only was it a country that had not come to terms with the fascism of the Franco but the country is full of young people who think he was a pretty good guy. If good ol' George Santayana was right, then counties that fail to come to grips with their past are in real danger of slipping back into the fascism that their country once embraced.

I grew up amid the Watergate scandal and as I have gotten older I have been amazed at the way that people in the US have gradually rebuilt the public image of Richard Nixon. Now, as countries go, the US is surely one of the most rabidly nationalistic and as a result even the so-called left in the US is not eager to keep the memories of Nixon's crimes in the public mind because they feel that it hurts the nation in general. A couple of nations (including South Africa and El Salvador) have used national reconciliation commissions in an attempt to come to grips with their past while avoiding the logistical mess of bringing potentially tens of thousands of people to justice. But it seems almost that, as a general rule, countries want to ignore the anti-democratic, brutal, dictatorial elements in their past. And in many cases they are inclined to even vocal defend such misdeeds. (I think that there is little question that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney could, and should, have been brought up on charges of crime against humanity be we all knew that wouldn't happen.) It is not just that the victors write history but nationalists and so-called patriots simply don't want the "wrong" kind of history written.

And the saddest part of all is that Montt, his supporters (and his ilk elsewhere) actually believe that their crimes against humanity were not crimes in the first place, but that their deeds were harsh but necessary.

This brings us to our own dear leader. As far as I am concerned, Stephen Harper is a criminal. He has actively contravened the constitution, he has operated through electoral fraud, he has attempted to dismantle our democratic institutions, he is destroying the environment in ways that will be a terrible burden on future generations, and he has poisoned the political discourse in Canada to a degree from which it may never recover. But despite the fact that Harper makes the previous Liberal government (which he never tires of condemning) like a bunch of honest and honourable public servants, a good swath of Harper supporters believe that ANYTHING Harper does is justifiable and continue to hold to the untenable postion that he is an excellent Prime Minister.

I have no sympathy for a brute like Efrain Montt. But the truth is that this 86 year old man is little more than a scapegoat, a meaningless symbol for people to hold on to as though dictators and brutes really are held responsible for their murderous and anti-democratic past. As a general rule they aren't and perhaps never will be.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

E.V. Lucas and the Gradual decline of the Book. . . .

One of my very favorite writers is an obscure Englishman named Edward Verrall Lucas, usually known in print simply as E.V. Lucas. Lucas was the author of over a hundred and thirty books, a few of which are novels and biographies, many collections of essays, and quite a few excellent compilations of poetry and letters. Lucas was born in the Victorian Era but he lived well into the 20th century, making him one of those charming writers who bridged two very distinct eras, the first one the age of railways and second the age of World Wars. But to the end of his life Lucas retained the quiet charm of an older, quieter time and his work has an understated agreeableness and the occasional moment of real wisdom. I came to Lucas through my interest in Charles Lamb. Lucas wrote what is perhaps the quintessential biography of the great Lamb and it is worth reading for anyone who is interested in the literature of the Romantic era.

Near the very end of his life Lucas wrote a memoir of his literary interests entitled Reading, Writing, and Remembering. It is a remarkable work because even though Lucas was not a member of the upper-class and did not enjoy a classical Oxbridge education, the was not only amazingly well-read but he came to be personally acquainted with a surprising number of important writers of his time. One of the interesting aspects of this memoir is that even though it was written in the 1930s, Lucas was already mourning the decline of the book. Lucas writes "it is amazing how little the public desire to possess books. I am not referring to novels, which for the most part are designed to beguile only for a few hours and are thus fittingly enough obtained through circulating libraries; I mean the books to which one would like to return. As a case in point, I will take my own compilation of the flower of other minds, The Open Road, and I take it, I hope without offence, because it has been the most popular of my works. Since its publication in 1899, between eighty and ninety thousand copies have been sold. Glancing casually at a really successful book, the A B C Railway Guide, I note that the population of Wigan is 85, 357; so that the complete issue of The Open Road to date could be swallowed up in that one not very large town and not a single copy be left for the rest fo the world. The moral is, I fear, that if an author wants to be read, he must write for the Press." (p. 130) Now, in todays market (which has a much larger population than in Lucas' time) most writers would be thrilled to sell eighty or ninety thousand books in their whole career, let alone for one volume. But Lucas saw the writing on the wall, so to speak, and knew how things were unfolding. "Perhaps," he continues, "the habit of buying books will come back; but I wonder. The book has so many enemies, or at any rate, rivals, today. First and foremost, the newspapers and weekly papers, which do so much of the book's work; then the B.B.C., which saves one the trouble of reading. These are the competitors; the actual foes are the theatre, the cinema, bridge, dancing and the late William Willett." (Ibid., Willett was a man who became famous for the promotion of Daylight Saving Time in Britain) Though the competitors and foes to reading have changed considerably since Lucas' time, he was anticipating a serious change in culture. It is interesting to see a man who died when my own father was only six year old, complain about the slow death of the book.

On the other hand, some things don't seem to change. Lucas would eventually become the chief editor of the Methuen Publishing company, but in the last years of the 19th century he was still an aspiring writer. His first important commission came from George Smith (of Smith Elder) who invited him to compile a book about Bernard Barton, also known as the Quaker Poet, who had been a personal friend of Charles Lamb and whose daughter married the writer Edward Fitzgerald, a man who become known for being the first to translate Omar Khayyam into English. However, when Lucas was invited to write the book, George Smith asked him to write it for absolutely no money. Smith's actual phrase was "Silver and gold I have none." Needless to say, Lucas was bewildered by this invitation. He knew how much time and research was involved in such a task and he was also bemused that such a successful publisher would attempt to commission such a work gratis. "I was shocked," Lucas wrote, "to find such an attitude in an office which had done not so badly out of Thackeray and Charlotte Brontë, and whose head, George Smith, could from his own pocket finance that magnificent work, the Dictionary of National Biography, to which I am so devoted that I have had portable cases made fro the India-paper edition and never travel without them." It is, indeed, remarkable to think that one of England's most successful publisher would, at the beginning of the real golden age of books, attempt to convince a young writer to take up a major piece of research and writing with absolutely no renumeration.

All of this suggests to me that despite the many remarkable and best-selling books that we have seen over the past two-hundred and fifty years or so, books, as a cultural and economic phenomenon, have never really been on a sure footing. Remember this, books had long been the domain of the aristocracy and the leisure classes, and at the height of the Romantic period in Britain, only a handful of people made a decent living exclusively from writing books. The most successful writers of books at the time were Scott and Byron, both of whom were not forced to write by economic circumstances. For the most part the only writers who were making good livings were those who were writing for the ever increasing number of magazines and papers. Even Robert Southey, poet laureate and originator of the Three Bears fable, secured his living through continually writing for these periodical outlets. Of course, the number of books and writers increased as the middle-class grew and people looked for new forms of entertainment to fill their free time. But with the exception of a handful of very successful authors, writers have always been a bit like the early baseball players in the US; a group of people who did it for the love of the game, got paid nearly nothing while the team owners made fortunes. Meanwhile, the competitors and foes of books have only continued to multiply and have now reached ridiculous proportions.

Debate still rages as to whether a digital file that we read on a screen can ever really constitute a "book" in a meaningful sense. And the jury is still out on whether so-called 'print on demand' will breath new life into the ever beleaguered book. But the one thing that the memoir of E.V. Lucas has reminded me of is that in a world of many possible outlets and stimulations, the book has always been on the ropes, so to speak.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Shine is Coming off. . . .

The embarrassing attack by the HarperCons on any kind of thought and refection reached the height of folly this past couple of weeks and it seems to demonstrate a faltering government which seems to be incredulous at the thought that they will eventually lose power. First we have Harper's bizarre attack on reason in which he makes a clearly intentional linguistic association between sociology and criminal activity. Then came the embarrassing pontifications by Harper's pathetic lap-dog Poillivire in which he stood in the House and disparaged the very notion of intellectualism, and where he tried to replace argument with tautology by telling us over and over that the only cause of terrorism is terrorists.

Ok, so we have known for a while that this government hates facts. Facts can make certain kinds of policy seem necessary and prudent, and those policies might not reflect your ideological bent. The obvious solution? Close down all aspects of government which investigate facts in any vaguely objective sense, disparage all intellectualism and vaguely scientific ideas, promote a kind of old-fashioned (frighteningly crude) know-nothingism of the down-home rural kind, and then rule by constant appeals to fear. It is, if you will pardon the rather weary comparison, a classic fascist strategy. Fear sometimes works. But it usually has a fairly short shelf-life. People grow tired, and they eventually begin to want real answers. And the classic rural know-nothingism in which people eschew intellectuals has a limited scope of voters.

However, here is the dilemma facing the HarperCons. They have constructed their entire political identity around this fear and know-nothingism. They have lost sight of real old-fashioned policy-making in which people look at what is going on, look at possible solutions, and then sit down and get to work. When you function in a top-down dictatorial way for too long, the very notion of discourse, flexibility, solution-finding, and cooperation becomes foreign to you. In other words, you begin to believe your own BS until you can no longer function in any interactive way. This is precisely  what has happened to the HarperCons. They have promoted fear and ignorance so long, they have been so bellicose and hateful for so many years, they have spit bile at any and all opponents for long that they have lost sight of functioning as a normal political unit. In other words, the HarperCons have made a fatal political mistake - they have mistaken rule by fear and know-nothingism not as a political strategy but as real life. They have shouted for so long that they can't hear themselves (or anyone else) think. And so they continue to imagine that all they have to do is shout louder and more virulently and everyone will fall into line.

"Make some ads showing Trudeau dancing and takes some quotes out of context and we will be popular again," the war-room Tories say. And when it doesn't work they are incredulous. "Call our opponents some more names," they must be saying, "people will like us again."

But the shelf-life on their fear and hate is running out and they are familiar with no other strategy. They don't know how to intelligently engage potential voters with real policies or ideas because they have purged their party of anyone who ever had a real idea or any real integrity. Remember that fateful moment when Edward R. Murrow took down Senator Joseph McCarthy? The dreaded Senator McCarthy was a one-trick pony. He knew only fear and he depended on it for compliance. When the great Mr. Murrow metaphorically stripped McCarthy bare there was nothing there but a sad man yelling at a world that wouldn't listen. The only thing that made McCarthy anything was that he intimidated people and sewed fear into the hearts of a gullible nation. Once that was gone and people realized he was nothing but bluster, he became little more than a tragicomic figure.

And so it is quickly becoming with the HarperCons. They are yelling and poking fun at their new perceived opponent but people aren't listening. And because this is all they know, their only option is to yell louder and with more pathetic displays of school-yard obsession. And like all autocrats, Harper has now settled into power and even he cannot see that his constant barrage of scandals are piling up to rob him of all credibility, even from his core. "We lost three billion . . . . so what, we are still good money managers." Like all autocrats, Harper's ego has gotten so big that he simply cannot imagine a time when he is not absolute ruler of all he purveys. So he frets and fusses and when the emperor's clothes are finally gone, he won't have so much as a bath robe with which to cover up his long record of complete failure. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Smoke and Mirrors of Environmental Destruction. . .

It has always been obvious to anyone who pays attention to such matters that the Harper Party has, from its inceptions, orchestrated an all out attack on environmental regulations in an effort to create a third-world style petro-state. A central part of the HarperCon effort has been to remove the public profile of environmental issue so that as they eliminate regulations and become an international pariah and embarrassment on the environmental front, there is as little public discourse as possible on climate change and the other effects of an all-out corporate-oil economy. Muzzling scientists has been an important aspect of this strategy. The process is pretty simple; the less scientists talk about the negative environmental impacts of HarperCon policy, the less the media writes about the issue and the less people talk about such things in the public sphere. 

Of course, such a strategy is about message control and the real impacts of Harper's irresponsibility on the environmental file seethes and percolates beneath the surface. At some level Harper and his mutant dalek minions must surely know that there is no possibility of ultimate victory. In the end the environment will deteriorate, and the real impact of a carbon economy will be evident for all (even the blindly partisan) to see. The effects of Harper's environmental irresponsibility will cost our children many billions of dollars, generations of ill-health, and may in the end be irreversible. Even with a remarkable degree of media recalcitrance, the issues still burst out into the public sphere in dribs and drabs. But the destruction goes merrily on. 

But to the HarperCons all this is immaterial because they are not looking for 'ultimate' victory. They know that this is not possible because just as John Baird is a pompous  ignorant wind-bag, and Jim Flaherty is an incompetent buffoon, nature will catch up with the HarperCons and the effects of the carbon economy will be felt. You see, the goal of the Harper Party is essentially short term. While they know that they will be unable to keep the charade up forever, they also know that the longer they can hide the environmental destructiveness of the policies from the public the more money they can make for their friends in the oil corporations. They are not unlike a child who is pilfering cookies from the cookie jar while their parents are busy with something else. The kid knows that someone will eventually notice that the cookie supply is dwindling, but in the meantime the cookies are yummy and irresistible. Similarly, every time the HarperCons can muzzle a scientist, close a study facility, get rid of a regulation that protects our air, land, and water, the more time the corporations have to make a few bucks. So what if our kids die of cancer, our crops fail, our flora and fauna die off. By the time the citizens notice all of this the Conservatives who wreaked this havoc and destruction will either be dead or retired, and someone else will have to clean up the mess, literally.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Banana-oil Republic of Harperland. . . . .

We in the leftist blogging community have become something like forensic auditors of the slow debasement of democratic values under the HarperCon cabal. It seems that each week we have a new story of autocratic offensiveness to examine as Harper slowly but surely disassembles out democratic institutions. It is a very difficult thing to watch and blogging about it is one of the few outlets we have in the face of such outrageous and disgusting behaviour. But if we manage to save this country from the third-world 'banana-republic' that Harper and his peons are attempting to construct, many great blogs by my peers will form an excellent record of citizens attempting to protect the principles of democracy.

The latest outrage is, in some sense, the worst one. For years we on the left have been saying that the HarperCons are making a classic banana-republic move by making the police and the army de facto extensions of the Conservative Party. The close relationship between the HarperCons and the RCMP became evident even before before Harper sat in the Prime Minister's office. A month before the 2006 election the RCMP broke its own rules by admitting that it was investigating the office of the Liberal Finance Minister Ralph Goodale concerning a leak of budget information. Given the state of the opinions polls before and after this event, one could cogently argue that his move by the RCMP actually cost the Liberals the election and brought the HarperCons to power. Since that time it has become increasingly clear that the HarperCons are creating deep ties between the Conservative Party and the military (and quasi-military RCMP) in this country. And anyone with any honesty or sense must surely be concerned that Canadian democracy is now on a very shaky footing. This week the ties between the Cons and the RCMP was made evident for all to see as emails revealed that RCMP officers now must 'get permission' from the so-called Minister of Public Safety (a scary title in its own right) in order to talk to MPs. The wording of these emails, with their talk of organizing a common strategy between the RCMP and the government, is like something right out of a Latin American dictatorship of the 1970s and 1980s.

As the Harper Government slowly sinks into the morass of filth and corruption and desperately breaks their own standard of low behaviour in bullying, negative, and deeply misleading advertising, new questions begin to emerge in the mind of any reasonable Canadian. Questions like "just how far down the third-world dictatorship road will Harper be willing to go?" And even scarier questions such as "if, as the next federal election nears, their defeat seems certain, will they even hold elections at all, or will they manufacture some national crisis to avoid lossing power?" Such questions, which would have once seemed absurd in relation to Canada, now seem very real to anyone who is not blindly partizan. As the Harper Party gradually puts itself above the law and destroys the supposed independence of those organizations that hold the military power in this country, anyone with a thorough knowledge of history should be getting more than a little nervous.