Friday, March 29, 2013

The Nanaimo Letter and the On-Going Racism. . .

As I have written here before, and as many others realize, racism against Aboriginal people is one of the only areas where it seems that open bigotry is still accepted in out society. Racism is regularly directed at the First Nations people, and far from being ashamed of their opinions, the racists seem to spout these ideas with pride - the same way old people do when they rehash that seemingly immortal opinion that "kids just don't want to work nowadays!"

The ugly head of racism reared its head again this week when the daily paper in Nanaimo BC published a letter condemning the First Nations people as essentially primitive, shiftless and lazy. The letter is distributing in itself but the responses are perhaps even more troubling. Typical of racists, the letter-writer and the commentators would not identify themselves as racist (bigots almost never do). Instead, they aggressively defend their opinions as "difficult - but hard-hitting - truth." However, far from being a "hard-hitting truth," many of the opinions expressed here are based upon a deep misunderstanding of what racism is and how history has worked.

First of all, one of the primary issues the letter-writer and his supporters fail to understand is that it is 'by definition' racism to judge a whole people based exclusively upon your notions of what is valuable. The letter-writer devalues the Aboriginal people of Canada because of their supposed lack of scientific "discovery." This is a common opinion among racists. At the height of the US war with Iraq I once had a conversation with an American who, in the classic colonial fashion, justified the invasion of the Middle East with the opinion that they hadn't made a significant contribution to science. I was stupefied by both this person's ignorance of the facts as well as his antiquated notion that one country's perceived "primitiveness" was a justification of colonial destruction.

The whole notion makes me wonder if the writer of the letter in the Nanaimo paper has children and if so whether he values them on a scale according to their interest and achievement in science class. The fact is that we should apply Kant's categorical imperative to nations as well as individuals. We can avoid racism if we value people not as means to an end but as ends in themselves.

One of the other disturbing aspects of the letter and the comments to it is this widespread racist notion that the target group is somehow getting 'extra' help, cannot stand on their own, or are essentially just a bunch of lazy social pariahs. In the letter the man says "let them stand on their own account like the rest of us do." But of course, the truth is that the rest of us don't. The facts are fairly simple, the power and wealth of Western Capitalism was built largely on the backs of slaves and victims of brutal colonialism. Even today, much of our material wealth in a country like Canada is the result of cheap goods produced in countries which were 'underdeveloped' as a direct result of colonial power. Far from "standing on our own," many of us stand on the backs of generations of brutalized victims. If the racists in Canada really want the Aboriginal peoples to "stand on their own account" then they should begin by giving them back most of their land and, at the very least, living up to the original agreements signed by the crown and compensate them for the generations of resources and money that has been stolen from them. Even if the governments actually lived up to the treaties and properly compensated for what is being stolen from the First Nations people today - much of our resource wealth would have to be shifted over to them, leaving us less wealthy and them considerably more prosperous. You see, what the racists in this country fail to understand is that the theft from Aboriginal peoples in Canada is not just the stealing of land in some distant past, but it is an on-going tragedy and injustice. And thus far from "standing on our own account," we continue to raise ourselves on the backs of others.

The fact is that there are values to be found in all peoples from spiritual to scientific. And if racists really valued "rational" discourse they way that claim they would, at the very least, understand that someone's prosperity is based to an overwhelming degree on their position in society, their color and the wealth of their parents. Far from being equal (in opportunity or any other sense), we live in a context of great inequality at every level. And people rise not when they are force to "stand on their own account" but when they either oppress others or, what we should be working toward, when they are nurtured, given educations, opportunities, and their fair share in the social wealth.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Liberal Vote Info Arrives. . . .

Like many people, today I received my form in the mail for voting in the Liberal Leadership race. I have voted strategically for Liberal Candidates a couple of times in my life and so I didn't mind taking part in their experiment in democracy. I don't know if the experiment will amount to anything but I figure that any effort at bringing more democracy has got to be worthwhile.

I continue to suspect that Justin Trudeau will be the next Prime Minister. I certainly could be wrong (and I have been before), but to me it just looks like things are trending that way. Of course, die hard, arrogant Conservatives glibly talk about making (metaphorical) political mincemeat out of Trudeau. But for a number of reasons (some of which I have already stated in past blogposts) I just don't see it that way. Sure, Trudeau has less experience than those in the Harper war-room, but many times in politics it is just a matter of who is no the right side of events that comes out on top. And history just seems to be on Justin's side.

Despite the historical hatred that many in the West have for the Trudeau name I think (from the voter acquisition point of view) he has a lot more positives than negatives. Many older people will vote for him for pure nostalgia's sake. And overall I think many voters in Canada are hungry for a Prime Minister with youth and charisma. After years of a Prime Minister who seems to live in the Shadows and never comes into contact with average people, I really think voters will react positively to a young, charming guy like Trudeau who, I very much suspect, will be something of a return to a bygone era of apparent openness and accessibility. Whether he will REALLY be open and accessible is a different question, but his past actions suggest he will at least give that impression to voters. And once Canadians get a return to a leader who actually talks to the media and answers unvetted questions from reporters and actual people, they will suddenly see what they have been missing and it will change the game. I really believe that there will come a time when a vast majority of Canadians will look back at the Harper years with horror and see it as a kind of national nightmare. And regardless of the real man behind the public image of Trudeau, I think that people will breath a sigh of relief at the image of a young, apparently open, charming, talkative guy being PM.

As for all the talk of Trudeau not have any substantive policies, that is just silly. Politicians haven't generally presented substantive policies in the public eye for years. Harper came to power with a view vague platitudes and a ruthless campaign of telling people he was "different" from the Liberals. If a lack of meaningful policies precluded someone from becoming a successful politician, Harper would be managing a corner-store now.

Anyway, I will place my vote (for whatever it is worth) in the Liberal Leadership race, and we shall see what transpires. It seems clear that Trudeau will at the very least win this part of his battle. And if he does become the twenty-third Prime Minister, let us hope, at the very least, that he will end that part of the Harper years which has been a systematic and ruthless effort at the destruction of our democracy and House of Commons.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Empty Rhetoric of Martha Hall Finley. . .

Today on Power And Politics Evan Solomon interviewed Martha Hall Finley (perhaps my least favorite of all the Liberal Party leadership candidates). Finley was at pains to say that she is not one of those Liberals who think that the LPC should in any sense shift to the "left." Instead, she bragged at some length about how she is a "pro-business" candidate who is staunchly in favor of "free trade." Obviously aware of the dangers of essentially being a Tory candidate in a red scarf, Finley then made a few remarks about a national child-care program and responsible social system.

The problem is this - it seems to me that a growing number of Canadians (and people everywhere) are realizing that "free-trade" is little more than a code word for increasing corporate power. So-called free-trade agreements seldom have much to do with trade being more free (and nothing to do with the ability of the commodity of labour power being more free), rather these agreements are simply a way to create a layer of power above provincial and federal governments that allow multinational corporation to force governments into certain kinds of policies. Gradually through trade agreements we are seeing the emergence of a supra-government of international corporate oligarchy that can systematically destroy social welfare structures and confine governments to an ever smaller group of legislative possibilities.

It is taking time for people to wake up to this fact, but waking they are. And Martha Hall Finley is demonstrating that she is little more than a corporate stooge ready to do the bidding of a relatively small group of multinational corporations. Oh yes, she can talk all she wants about a national childcare program but she knows as well as the rest of us that such are empty words. When you are committed to de facto eliminating corporate tax revenues, allowing the complete rape of the land and rivers, handing over federal powers to international bodies that have no accountability and act in the interests of the largest economic powers, then all talk of social responsibility means less than nothing.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Joyce Murray Follow-up. .. .

Earlier today I engaged in a small thought experiment in which I asked Joyce Murray for an explanation of her participation in the cabinet of Gordon Campbell. My language was intentionally provocative because when it comes to human rights issues in particular I think we often need to be a little provocative. I continue to stand by my blog because I still believe that an explanation should be forthcoming (though I am not holding my breath).

With the exception of one Anonymous and spirited comment in my defence, the comments were negative. However, I don't believe the comments were very cogent for the most part.

Kyle H. had a nice little, tongue in cheek comment which suggested that I was "stupid" for judging Murray "solely" on her past actions. I wasn't. Fortunately, Kyle is blessed with clairvoyance and judges people on their future actions. Not being fortunate enough to have such skills, I am generally forced to judge people on their past. Too bad really.

All kidding aside, all people are judged on their past actions, perhaps doubly so in politics. This is not to say that people can't or don't change. They do, of course. However, when it comes to questions of associating with deeply problematic people (ideologically speaking), change needs to be clear and publicly addressed. As far as I know, Joyce Murray has never condemned the many (horrible) faults of the Gordon Campbell government, though I am certainly open to updates in this regard.

One comment suggested that Gordon Campbell is not really very right wing. I will let others judge on that issue generally (though this is a great site). As for me I think it is clear that Campbell and Harper are cut from the same political cloth.

Beside significantly increasing child-poverty in the province, Gordon Campbell was a terrible Premier in general. Let me just site one important issue that took place while Joyce Murray was in Campbell's cabinet - the passing of Bill 29. This was a radical and outrageous attack on the principles of collective bargaining and an attempt to tear-up contracts that had already been signed. As such it was a genuine attack on human rights. It took five years and millions of dollars in legal fees and person hours for the Hospital Employees Union (HEU) in BC to take Campbell's government to court but eventually HEU won a very decisive victory in the supreme court. The Court determined that the entire spirit of the Bill was illegal and extended the ruling to suggest that it is unlawful for governments to interfere with the bargaining process (a decision that both Harper and the Ontario Liberals have ignored - instigating more legal battles that will take years). This Bill was typical of Campbell's attack on rights, on labour, and on women (since women were overwhelmingly the ones who suffered for his illegality). Now Joyce Murray was not the Labour Minister in Campbell's cabinet but she lent her support to what was an illegal, immoral, and profoundly anti-democratic effort. If Murray has changed, or regrets her association with this, then let her say so.

As for bluegreenblogger's claim that I was specifically claiming that Murray's past associations "trump" her present merits. This is rhetorical nonsense. The issue here is clear - to wit:

Joyce Murray is campaigning to replace Harper because she thinks his policies and his style are bad. However, Murray chose to sit in the cabinet of a man who shares many of the same policies and certainly the same political style as Harper. This simple inconsistency demands explanation  It is a simple as that.

PS. I would just like to say that I appreciate being contacted by someone from the Joyce Murray campaign. She made a spirited defence of Murray's environmental record and the simple fact that she took this effort to reply to one insignificant blogger is arguably a great defence of Joyce Murray's political style and intentions and certainly puts on mark in her favor.

My Open Letter to Joyce Murray. . . .

Dear Ms Murray

Like many Canadians of all different political stripes, I got involved in the new open leadership process of the Liberal Party of Canada. Though my politics are considerably left of the LPC, I was still eager to support this experiment in democracy. In addition to my political curiosity at a new process of leadership election, I was also compelled to support you for the position of leader. My inclination to lend you my support had a number of motives including the call from environmental activist David Suzuki. Furthermore, I think gender equality in politics is important to our future and the last thing we need is another white man in a suit leading a federal political party, particularly at a time of such diversity. The concepts of political compromise and cooperation, as well as sustainability are also very important to me and you have been the only candidate for the Liberal Party leadership that has really discussed such issues. Even if my personal politics tend toward being significantly left of the present incarnation of the Federal Liberal Party, I would see the election of a leader who promotes greater democracy and cooperation as a good thing for all Canadians, regardless of their political positions.

However, despite these important issues I must admit that I am in something of a quandary regarding the leadership race. I admit to being deeply disturbed by the fact that you once sat in the cabinet of Gordon Campbell. With the exception of the present Harper Government, I consider the Liberal Party dynasty of Campbell/Clark to be the closest thing to a criminal organization in Canadian Politics today. The BC Liberal Party's concerted attack on organized labour, their disregard for collective bargaining and human rights in general, as well as their shocking distain for protection of the environment make the current Liberal Party of BC a fundamentally anti-democratic party that is so wrapped up in the current global corporatism (which is, at its core, both anti-human and anti-humane) that any association with this government really should render someone unfit to serve in a political capacity. Just as I believe that the entire Federal Leadership of the Conservative Party belongs in prison rather than the House of Commons, due to their attack on democracy, the environment, and human rights; I aslo believe that the BC Liberal Party and those who have served in it belong on trial for what constitutes various crimes against humanity.

Thus, though I would like to see a woman at the helm of a Federal Political party, and though you speak well (and I hope honestly) about political cooperation and reform, as well as sustainability, I suspect that I will be compelled to disengage from the Liberal Party's new experiment in democracy given your close political association with a criminal such as Gordon Campbell. Campbell and Clark represent everything that you claim to distain in politics, they play dirty politics at every level and have a depressing disregard for political, human, and labour rights. Though the political line of scrimmage has admittedly shifted to the right over the past generation,   this shift cannot stand in our way of pursuing principles that have long been recognized as important not only in Canada but internationally. The current attack on such things as the Rand Formula, (by Federal Conservatives as well as BC Liberals) demonstrate a disregard for the very rights we should be standing up to protect. Speaking up for sustainability and cooperation is all good and well, but such a political effort must include recognition of the various ways that multi-national corporations (with the assistance of political parties) are attacking the environment as well as the rights and future prosperity of working people. Environmental sustainability means nothing without the recognition of workers rights and prosperity against the backdrop of ever expanding corporate profits. Thus, if you really believe in the principles you so glibly pontificate about in the public sphere, you surely must condemn leaders like Campbell and Clark who are diametrically opposed to such principles. Furthermore, before we can believe that you really stand for such principles you must explain to voters how you could sit in the cabinet of such an immoral anti-democrat.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

We Miss You Roy . . .

This anniversary of the death of my ol' dad seems to have arrived and passed in a strange, dreamlike state. As the time passes it seems more and more unreal that he is gone.

My dad and I were partners in the crime of being misfits. The great bond that we shared is that we never really fit in anywhere, and so we spent a lifetime commiserating over out mutual outsider status.

I have fallen a very long way since Roy left us. But I struggle along.  I cannot open a book, draw a single line, or write a word without an internal nod to all that he taught me and all that we shared. He was the most thoroughly human man I have ever known. Almost entirely self-educated, he weaved through his intellectual weaknesses with a genuine joy for learning and a real pleasure of reading and writing. The heights of his joys were great, and the depths of his lows were genuine anguish. But through it he just loved being alive. The sound of the breeze on a summer day, the color of the sky on an autumn evening; these brought him inestimable pleasure through even his darkest moments. And for that I admire him.

I miss you Roy, every single day.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How Embarrassing Can This Get?

I find the idea that Jim Flaherty is pressuring financial institutions not to lower mortgage rates sadly amusing. I have always said that the conservatives don't really believe in "free-markets." Their real commitment is to well controlled markets manipulated in the interests of the rich. I guarantee that if mortgage rates were at 15 or 16 percent Flaherty wouldn't be making any calls of pressure to financial institutions telling them to lower their rates. And if people were losing their houses all over the place, the HarperCons would tell us that it is unfortunate and all but such events are just market corrections and interference would only make things worse.

Let's not forget that this is "deficit" Jim Flaherty, the man who, despite claims that he opposes deficit spending on principle, appears to be congenitally incapable of balancing a budget. When he was minister of finance in Ontario he left a five billion dollar deficit even in times of relative prosperity. And then, on becoming the federal finance minister, he told people not to invest in Ontario out of personal spite at the Liberal government that threw him and his incompetent cohorts our to office.

This government really is beginning to look downright embarrassing  And as I watch them scramble and squirm they are finally looking like the typical scandal-ridden government that is on its way toward real humiliation at the box office. As everyone who is familiar with Canadian politics, government lose elections rather than oppositions winning them. And watching the Prime Minister chimping it up for a disgraced MP who has been kicked out for what is clearly criminal activity is almost pathetic. And what pushed it over the edge toward just plain embarrassing was listening to a PM say that a disgraced MP who illegially bought an election which he won by only 79 votes was the "best PM" the province has "ever had."


I once stood in a used car lot and the salesman told me that the Chrysler minivan was "the best product ever made." I knew at that moment never to buy a car from that guy. Would you by a used car (or a disgraced MP) from this guy?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Thugs, Mugs, and Golden Tugs; Tell me why I don't like Monday. . .

A few thoughts on a chilly March Monday. Only two days from spring yet we are expecting 20 to 30 meters of snow. So it goes.

Today in the HuffPost we have an article in which Bill Gates tells us that capitalism has gone off its rails. Of course, billionaires like Gates, Soros, and Richard Branson need to believe that Capitalism, in Branson's words, has "lost its way," because it this kind of global instability and inequality is what is at the heart of capitalism then these guys have chosen the wrong side of history.  I would humbly correct the titans of industry and tell them that rather than losing its way, capitalism has just entered a new phase. The globalizing phase of capitalism represents a whole new opportunity for international exploitation of workers and the environment. As political borders mean less and less and politicians become the servants of multinational corporations, it simply becomes more and more difficult for people to oppose the worst abuses of capital. In a time when capitalists (at least in the Western, capitalist nations,) depended upon their own working-class as both producers and consumers, it gave the working-class a position from which to fight against their exploitation. Now we simply have a race to the bottom as capitalist to global labour market in a war of all against all. As far as the rich are concerned, capitalism has found its way rather than lost it, and the way it toward environmental distraction and growing inequality everywhere. And we are, to use the old English phrase, their mugs (those who will be their victims).

Meanwhile the group of incompetent, ragtag, thugs that we have the misfortune to call a Federal Government are continuing the raping and pillaging of our nation. Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget officer, talked recently about the thuggish intimidation he suffered at the hands of the Harpercons who will do ANYTHING to silence critics and turn people away from the facts. This government is little more than a petty, thirdworld-style dictatorship which is precisely what they claim they despise. They lie, they cheat, they silence, they marginalize, and they seek a world in which a small, wealthy minority have complete power over a desperately impoverished majority.

And today Harper and his buffoons think (boy is that an exaggeration  that all we need is the right kind of pipeline technology and a few Golden Tugboats and we will have no danger of the complete destruction of the BC coastline in a historically large series of oil spills. They conveniently overlook the fact that the billions of dollars that they supposedly are going to spend on safety constitute huge sums of corporate welfare (many, many times more than is spent on average people who really need help).

The irony is, of course, that it is technology that has, in large part, caused us to enter than new phase of capitalism I spoke of. As technology increases, individual entrepreneurship becomes less and less a central mechanism of capitalism. The entry requirements for more and more markets become too much for individuals to become meaningful players (it would take literally billions of dollars to start a new car company for example.) The simple truth is, if you understand what is going on, the so-called market plays less and less a part in the working of capitalism as governments become de facto working-partners of the richest corporations.

But then, most people don't understand what is going on.

So it goes.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

ESP, Fuhrers, and a Naked John Baird. . . .

I can predict the future. I am no psychic, just of a practical turn of mind, politically speaking.

I predict that Justin Trudeau will be elected leader of the Liberal Party! Yes, I know, pretty bold of me eh? But wait, there's more. I also predict that after his elected leader the Conservative Party will launch a series of attacks on him.

Ok, ok, so I won't get any interesting odds on my prediction from a bookie. Everyone in the country who is not currently in a coma probably shares this prosaic prediction.

But here is where the predictions will get interesting, as well as the odds. The real question that is on everyone's minds is what happens next. What kind of attack with the Conservatives mount and how will people react. Presumably the Conservative attack dogs have something more up their sleeves than digging up a couple of old Trudeau quotes about Albertans running the country.

"But what could it be?" we all wonder. Will they attack Trudeau for who is father was? Probably a bad bet. Will they attack his good-looks, or suave demeanour? Inexperience?

Who knows. But we can be sure that they will find something to go after.

But then the question becomes how will people react. I thought that the Conservative attacks of Dion would backfire. And they did to a small degree. But Dion was an awkward, milquetoast of a guy and let's face it he was a rather easy target. The attacks on Ignatieff showed no backlash but then there was something slightly sinister and troubling about the Professor and the public never really took to him.

The game has changed since the last round of Conservative attacks. For one thing they have never had to go after a young, suave, good-looking, well-liked Liberal leader. They have not have to attack a leader while they in a majority position. And let's face it a minority gives a government the excellent excuse of a potential impending election to attack the opposition. But most importantly, the Conservatives have now become an embattled government, one that is now a story of corruption as much (if not considerably more) as the one they replaced. Personal attacks by the Conservatives on a young, well-liked, well-spoken guy like Trudeau whose policies seem at this point to be not, in fact, very different from the Conservatives themselves, could be a very dangerous prospect.

We can be sure that they will attack, they can't help it, it is in their DNA. And as it becomes evident that they are in some political struggle, they will only get more desperate and dangerous to themselves. Oh man, I wish I really was psychic but I guess I will have to just watch it unfold with the rest of the mortals. But if I HAD to make a prediction, I see a shirtless John Baird swinging from the chandeliers in the House, Flaherty mumbling to himself, while the fuhrer himself goose-steps up and down the aisle doing his best Charlie Chaplin imitation from "The Great Dictator."

Friday, March 8, 2013

Harper and His Cabal, When Men get Desperate. . .

I haven't watched the thursday political panel on The National for a while but I caught it yesterday and was somewhat surprised by what I heard. The conversation was further evidence that the political mood is changing. Chantal Hébert said that it seems clear now that even Harper and Flaherty can no longer believe that their government is in anyway transparent, and that they must surely understand that their cabal is considerably more opaque that any previous government. Andrew Coyne took up the conversation from there and suggested essentially that Harper is gradually becoming something of a liability to the Conservatives as he paints himself further and further into a corner. Coyne said that there is a core of support of about 30% below which Harper probably can't drop and an upper level of about 40% above which he could never go. Now, while Coyne is correct that Harper, like most autocrates, has a core of support below which he can't drop, I am fairly certain that it is considerably lower than 30%. I believe that it is probably closer to 20% than 30%. In fact, the latest Nanos survey puts Harper's government very close to 30% and if one follows the graph he is still dropping. But wherever you put the core support of Harper and his cabal, Coyne is correct that there is growing voter fatigue with what, even Conservative supporters must understand, is the most secretive and nefarious government in our history. Furthermore  Coyne is correct that this voter fatigue is on the upswing and it will eventually become an insurmountable problem for Harper and the Conservative Party if he continues down this path of secretiveness and aggressive attacks of everything and everyone that opposes them.

I am fairly certain that even a few months ago we would not have heard this kind of matter of fact talk from a guy like Andrew Coyne. This change has come about, I believe, because like Christy Clark's Liberal government in BC, Harper's government is on that downward swing towards unpopularity. And while Harper's stonewalling, secretive style has been relatively effective while he was not perceived to be the leader of a corrupt government of patronage and pork, now that his government is in fact becoming associated with exactly this, his style is becoming counter productive. In other words, a secretive, aloof personality might be perceived as strength in a righteous leader, but in a corrupt one such traits are bound to be perceived  as weak paranoia. And though Coyne didn't use these words, it was exactly this phenomenon to which he was pointing.

In a case like that of Christy Clark, it is probably too late. It dosen't matter what she does at this point because everything she does will be perceived as a desperate effort to cling to power. But Coyne was suggesting that Harper still has a chance to recover if he changes his tune now. The problem is that one surely has to doubt if Harper could change this basic MO of his entire political life. To believe that such a change is possible one would have to believe that Harper's secretive, aloof, and aggressive style is a political affectation adopted for strategic reasons. However, most of us are convinced that these traits are central to Harper's very identity and that as he slowly loses support and an election loss looks to be inevitable. Harper will only get worse as his paranoia takes over his political life.

It is this very point which seems to have motivated Steve Pakin's latest article in which he suggests that Harper might soon resign rather than face a gradual decline into ignominy. While I appreciate Pakin's thoughts on this subject, I think he is overlooking the degree of darkness in Stephen Harper's soul. I am not convinced that Harper has the ability to favor the interest of his Party over his own interests. Niether am I convinced that Harper will ever willingly give up power, even if he lost an election I suspect that Harper and his cabal would seek to keep power through some illegal move, particularly if he lost to someone whose last name is Trudeau.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Aboriginal Peoples, Stockwell Day and Nauseating Racism. . .

If you had the misfortune of seeing Stockwell Day on Power and Politics this evening then you are probably as nauseated as I am. The so-called "Power Panel" predictably addressed the report by Howard Sapers from the Office of the Correctional Investigator concerning the relationship of Aboriginal Peoples to the Injustice system. Howard Sapers, with language not nearly strong enough in my opinion, rightly pointed out that there existed a "systemic discrimination" within the system against aboriginal peoples.

Perhaps even more predictably, my blood began to boil as the lightweight Evan Solomen questioned Stockwell Day concerning this issue and the former leader of the Canadian Alliance told Canadians that it is all a simple matter of "personal responsibility." Day told us that Aboriginal people are in prison at a greater rate because they fail to take personal responsibility for their own lives. Having learned at least a little bit from his years of gaffs in public, Day was careful to make a comparison between different native communities rather than between aboriginal communities and "white" ones. He told us that in those communities where natives have taken 'personal responsibility' they have a much lower crime rate and if only all the communities would adopt this simple solution all would be well.

Day, of course, was careful to avoid addressing the simple issue that by and large those Aboriginal communities which have particularly lower crime rates are those few which are significantly more prosperous, for one reason or another, that others. Thus Day avoided the real implications of his typically conservative opinions, to wit: there are essentially only two choices to explain the fact that Aboriginal peoples represent a much larger portion of the prison population than they do within the general population. Either, A: Aboriginal peoples are inherently more prone to criminal activity than other groups in our country or B: there is a social cause to the high Aboriginal Crime rates. Now option A is inherently racist, but option B is a revelation that no conservative ever wants to admit. Thus Day attempted, unsuccessfully I believe, to thread the needle between these two and so talked about how some Aboriginal Communities have "taken responsibility" while others have not and thus are experiencing greater crime rates.  However, the racist implications should still be glaring regardless of Day's soft-shoe effort. It doesn't matter how carefully Day might construct his comparisons, the fact is that the implications of his position are that native people are in prison because they will not take personal responsibility for themselves and if this failure is not the result of social-economic inequities and centuries of oppression then it must be simply due to the fact that aboriginal peoples are inherently criminal in their outlook. There is simply no way of escaping this racist conclusions of Day's position.

There is, of course, a grand irony with Day's evasion of the real implications of his own opinons, and that is that he doesn't even address the issues behind the Howard Sapers report. To avoid the implications of the problem of 'systemic discrimination' Stockwell Day talked around awkwardly in circles. However, the real issues that Sapers' report points to are that aboriginal peoples not only have uncharacteristically high rates of incarceration because of chronic underfunding of health and eduction for Aboriginal peoples but also because working-class and racialized people are always disadvantaged in legal systems which favor those with the economic power to avoid indictment and prosecution within the system. People with less economic power, whether that is a result of racism or simply economic inequalities, always have higher incarceration rates in part because they can't afford the expensive lawyers etc. Furthermore, this says nothing about the fact that the laws themselves are designed to criminalize certain behaviours while ignoring much so-called "white-collar" crime, such as the fraud in which our own Senators seem to be routinely engaged.

The Conservatives will obviously never publicly admit the racist implications of their opinions and policies. Furthermore, they want us to believe that there are never any social roots of crime, nor that the government policies ignore certain kinds of activity in which richer, more powerful people are engaged. And of course, no one, even more liberally minded people want to admit that if you are rich you have a much greater chance of avoiding serving time in jail for crimes which send poorer people to prison for years.

The simple fact is that if you don't realize that the Injustice system is systemically discriminatory then you just aren't paying attention. And if you can listen to Stockwell Day for more than a couple of seconds without feeling sick to your stomach, you are either not too bright or you have a very strong constitution.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Chavez, Corporatism, and the Continuing Struggle. . .

The life of Hugo Chavez reminds us of many of the difficulties facing the world in our generation.  Chavez was a man who saw that capitalism had led in Latin America to structural poverty for a large swarth of the population and though there was, in the latter half of the 20th century, a degree of development in most Latin American Countries, this development showed no sign of raising this consistently poor class above the level of wretched poverty.

The latter part of the 20th century saw a significant structural shift in the international capitalist structure. The process of globalized corporate capitalism, though still in development, has imposed important changes in politics everywhere and has been significant for both 'conservatives' and 'liberals.' Globalizing corporate capitalism has actually put paid to much traditional conservative ideology. Because the model of capitalism changed and the transnational corporation has become the central model of wealth and power, so-called conservatives abandoned their traditional fiscal conservatism and instead their political efforts have become concentrated on increasing the wealth and power of large corporations. This effort demanded a policy effort which seeks to shift huge amounts of money away from the general population and into the hands of a small group of corporations and ultra-rich. Thus supposedly conservative governments from the late-seventies onward have actually abandoned their supposed fiscal responsibility and today we have a Conservative government in Canada which is the most deficit ridden in the country's history. For more liberally minded people, the model shift in capitalist development has meant attempting to protect the social structure and rights that were gradually gained in the first parts of capitalist development. However, so far this has been a sadly losing effort and the radical increases in economic and political power over the last thirty years has demonstrated our losses.

Of course, the damaging effects of globalizing capitalism has not gone unanswered and Hugo Chavez was part of a new generation of what one might call 'semi-socialists' who are looking to mitigate the effects of corporate power and structural inequalities to which it is leading. But the life of Chavez demonstrates just how difficult this struggle is, and will continue to be.

Changing a prevailing power structure is certainly never easy. To paraphrase Marx, the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling. In a system in which big money controls most of the conduits of ideas and ideology, it is very difficult to make people understand the nature of the power structures that surround them. It was this way in feudal Europe where a shocking percentage of the population actively supported their own oppression, and convinced that it was divinely derived and the best of all possible worlds. Fighting the structure of modern corporate capitalism is similarly difficult. Corporations and the rich can effectively limit and control political discourse and in many cases specifically control electoral outcomes. These challenges have led to such efforts as the occupy movement in the 'first' world and to more radical and powerful efforts in the developing world. Chavez was part of this radical movement. Regular democracy means little in circumstances in which a rich and powerful elite control the discourse and the structures of the state and the economy. In countries like Venezuela these challenges are made even more problematic by an absence of generalized education and the ideological structures of elitism steeped in generations of inequality.

The rich and powerful of the world, those that represent the corporatist ideology fear men like Hugo Chavez more than anything else. Just as the feudal lords feared agricultural reformist leaders like Gerrard Winstanley and the 19th century capitalists feared men like Feargus O'Connor, the corporate capitalists of the 21st century fear men like Hugo Chavez because they are not content to let the system of inequality keep going unchallenged.

If the leaders of Western nations learn anything from Hugo Chavez it should be that people will not let inequality go unchallenged indefinitely. Over the past thirty or forty years Western Democracies have seen more and more inequality and one might say that we are witnessing the creation of a structural underclass and new ruling class. But where there are inequalities there are people willing to fight against them. And if the rules of the game is stacked against them, they start to break the rules. People can fuss and whine all they want against such struggles, they can attempt to marginalize leaders like Chavez, but the struggle will continue none the less.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Lies, Damn Lies and Political Lessons. . . .

Among the interesting political events of the week is the leak of the BC Liberal Memo which outlines their very crass and opportunistic plan to win quick votes through the wooing of the so-called "ethnic vote." What I find interesting about this event is similar to the sudden release by the Ontario Liberals of thousands of formerly unknown documents concerning the controversial cancellation of two energy plants.

We can truly say that other parties in Canada are not learning from the dangers of forthrightness displayed by Former Prime Minister Paul Martin when he announced an independent investigation into the so-called Sponsorship Scandal. Nor have they learned from the past six years of obsessive secretiveness of the current Conservative Government.

If the BC and Ontario Liberals had properly learned their contemporary political lessons they would never have acted the way they did. Instead of releasing the mysterious documents concerning the cancelled energy plants, the new Premier of Ontario would have had them quietly destroyed. Then refused to talk about in or out of the Legislature. And if the BC Liberals had just called their federal hero, Stephen Harper, for advice they would have quickly blamed some hired lackey for writing the memo, fired him/her, and then said to the media that there is no story here because it was all the fault of this peon who had already been fired. Again, end of story. If the government of Harper has demonstrated any political truth it is simply that the media cycle is shockingly short, it is easy to blame someone else, and that if you just keep quiet for a few days the media will quickly lose interest. The scandals of the current Conservative Government make the previous Liberal Government look like a bunch of honest guys. Yet Harper still retains power for the simple reason that a policy of blame and ignore in today's media milieu is remarkably effective.

Now for the real question - should be we glad that other governments or parties are not learning this simple lesson, encouraged that the simplistic but effective strategy of Harper's dishonesty has not taken hold? Or should we be concerned that this means that since Harper is the only one willing to undertake this horrendous strategy, we will never see the end of him?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Harper's time has finally come. . . .

Something has happened to the Harper government over the past few weeks and it must be deeply upsetting to those few caucus members who are not infected with the blind sense of self divinity that affects Harper and ministers. You can feel it in the subtle shift in the discorse in the blogosphere and other media. It is a change that will be felt more and more over time.

Despite being deeply unpopular with a large portion of the population, Harper has managed to eek out election victories by gaining just enough voters above his conservative core support. He has mostly done this thanks to a significantly divided opposition and by creating the illusion (through governing by stealth) that he is in fact occupying the political middle ground. But this political shift that we are seeing is going to rob Harper and his cabal of that little extra that has kept them in power.

The shift that I am talking about is that moment in so many longterm governments in which there grows a general perception that they have become nothing more than swine feeding at the government, pork-barrel trough. Once this perception is generalized among voters it is very difficult, if not impossible to shake loose. With the "scandal" in the Senate concerning a Prime Minister who said he would never appoint a Senator, we have, I believe, reached this point. To see the once "Reform Party" type Stephen Harper, who one authored an article entitled "Our Benign Dictatorship" which suggested that the only reason that the Liberal Party was in power was because of a dysfunctional political system, stand up in Parliament and, without blushing, defend his patronage appointments, was truly a moment to behold. It was the moment of full-circle, monumental irony. For years Harper has taken advantage of our "dysfunctional" political system to enact his every whim. Now he has become the essence of what he and his supporters have always claimed to despise - a patronage loving, pork-barrel Prime Minister whose partisan corruption has now, finally, become part of our accepted political discourse.

It is ironic, of course. Because for those of use who really understand what is going on, it is the terrible anti-democratic, pro-war, ultra-secretive, fiscally irresponsible, system-destroying tendencies of this government that has made them unfit to govern. But the sad truth is that if the past seven years have taught us anything it is that a significant swath of Canadian voters don't actually understand their own political system or pay attention to what their government is doing. It is only when the government tips over the point of pork-barrel perception that that important swing group of lazy voters finally abandon a government.

The Senate has always been an overpriced do-nothing organization that costs us many millions of dollars. Oh yea, Harper has made some of the worst, most blindly partizan appointments to that body. But even if Senator Duffy is (sorry about this) the ideal poster boy for pork barrel, there is really nothing new here. This story is as old as the Senate. But all that doesn't matter because what really matters is that without even realizing it, Haper has tipped that balance and has reached that moment when he has gone from being a "maligned but committed" Prime Minister to just another pig waddling up to the trough.

Watch it, the centre has now spun out of control.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Flanagan, Harper and Keeping Things on the DL. . .

Like most people, I don't feel sorry for Tom Flanagan. He was the author of his own demise and given his ego and big mouth, the only surprise is how long it took him to self-destruct.

Flanagan's self-destruction seems to me to be a microcosm of how the current generation of rightwingers in Canada are gradually cutting their own throats. As usually happens, these politicos have been riding a wave for too long now and if scandal or incompetence doesn't get them then they get themselves as a result of typical arrogance and over-confidence.

But while over-confidence of some politicos seem to grow out of the the comfort of power, the current cohort of Canadian conservatives are prone to self-destruction because they are inherently convinced of their own rightness and wisdom. While my experience is that the left has, if anything, been too self-reflective over the years, and "liberals" are, because they inherently occupy the centre of the political spectrum, always waffling back and forth within an admittedly narrow spectrum, the modern conservatives are dangerously convinced that they can do no wrong.  And when circumstance proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are, indeed, wrong, they simply lie about it or blame someone else. [It sort of reminds me of that old academic story of an idea's development (I can't remember off-hand who originally said it), that a new ideas goes through three stages - first people attack it as being beyond the pale, then the critics admit that it is true but is prosaic and self-evident anyway, then the critics admit that it is true and that they thought of it first.]

Anyway, I have been familiar with Tom Flanagan for a long time and I even audited a few of his classes at the U of C back in the early 90s. I have always found him to be an arrogant wing-nut, a man who is often wrong but never in doubt. He is a racist blowhard whose political theories verge on laughable (if they weren't so dangerous) and he has never been reluctant to share his opinions. These elements of his personality made Flanagan's fall inevitable. Anyone who is that foolish but convinced of his own wisdom that has regular access to an audience, is going to eventually over-reach himself. And by addressing what is, arguably, the most sensitive issue in society, Flanagan was bound to orchestrate his own demise. Ironically, it was, typically, not really the issue that brought him down but his inability to speak about the subtleties of an issue that destroyed him. Having sat in classes with Flanagan when he was twenty years younger and surprisingly a little more cautious about how he said things, my experience suggests that, if one were being generous, we might suspect that what he really wanted to say was probably lost in his typically rightwing glibness. At the heart of Flanagan's discourse was, perhaps, the legal question of the efficacy, expedience, and import of prosecuting people who consume illegal material verses those who are actually involved in the production of illegality. One might argue that it is not unlike the question of dealing with those who consume an illegal product like, say, heroin versus dealing with those who produce it an distribute it. Now, no matter how sensitive an issue is one might need to address this basic legal question, particularly in circumstances of limited legal resources. But it would be impossible for someone as glib and impertinent as Flanagan to actually discuss such an issue. Rather, Flanagan always has a knee-jerk, extremist reaction to any issue. Flanagan never actually wants to discuss an issue, rather he just wants to pontificat as loud as he can to anyone who will listen.

In other words Flanagan doesn't know when to properly tailor his discorse or just keep his mouth shut. And in the end this is why Flanagan split with Harper. If Harper learned anything during his time in public life it is to say as little as possible and even if one has controversial  (some might say offensive) opinions, keep them on the DL. And this is why Harper has always jettisoned political alies who he can't control, and also why his government is a grand exercise in keeping everyone around him quiet. And even those close to Harper who are regularly in the media spotlight are continually coached and controlled concerning government message.

Flanagan fell from grace because he is a man full of deeply offensive opinions who is convinced his is a scholar and a genius. It was inevitable that he would shoot his mouth off in a way that would undermine any authority he may have had. Other Harper allies like Brazeau and Duffy are similarly obsessed with their own perceived wisdom and authority. Meanwhile, other allies are just headed to jail.

If Harper has learned how to keep quiet himself, the offensiveness of his opinions and the opinions of his alies eventually slips through the cracks with catastrophic results. Today Tom Flanagan is rightly suffering from an appropriate backlash to a lifetime of offensive opinions. And as the screws come gradually looser on Harper's political machine, it won't be long until the whole generation of modern Canadian conservatives is similarly in the public dog-house.