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.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Some Literary First sentences, just for fun. . .

On the day after the HarperCons finally made their utter hypocrisy TOTALLY clear by voting down a motion to ensure that MPs are able to speak freely in the House, I thought I would say to hell with all that crap and post something a little different.

So here are a few literary first sentences from great books. See how many you recognize before you cheat with google. The easiest ones come first and they get a little harder as they go on. I leave little hints after each sentence.

- "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a great fortune, must be in want of a wife." (This sentence is often considered by literary theorists to be intended ironically, though I am by no means convinced.)

- "Call me Ishmael." (A simple beginning to a very complex work.)

- "To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth." (This book is undervalued in my opinion.)

- "Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes." (This should be easy.)

- "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth." (Do you catch his drift?)

- "For a long time I used to go to bed early." (A short beginning to a very long work.)

- "I was ever of the opinion, that the honest man who married and brought up a large family, did more service than he who continued single, and only talked of population," (A complex beginning to a simple work.)

-"In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains." (Predictably non-committal)

- "The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as 'an immense accumulation of commodities,' its unit being a single commodity." (Intense scholarship.)

- "I want a hero: and uncommon want. . " (You have to love this.)

- "What is a poet?" (Very good question, or is it?)

- "Philosophy, which once seemed obsolet, lives on because the moment to realize it was missed." (My favorite opening to a book that I don't - and almost no one else - understands.)

- "If it be true, and it can scarcely be disputed, that nothing has been for centuries consecrated by public admiration, without possessing in a high degree some kind of sterling excellence, it is not because the average intellect and feeling of the majority of the public are competent in any way to distinguish what is really excellent, but because all erroneous opinion is inconsistent, and all ungrounded opinion transitory; so that, while the fancies and feeling which deny deserved honour and award that is undue have neither root nor strength sufficient to maintain consisten testimony for a length of time, the opinions formed on right grounds by those few who are in reality competent judges, being necessarily stable, comunicate themselves gradually from mind to mind, descending lower as they extend wider, until they leaven the whole lump, and rule bey absolute authority, even where the grounds and reasons for them cannot be understood." (Whew! Now how did a book that started like that become one of the most influential books of art criticism?)

- "A screaming came across the sky." (And you'll probably scream if you try to read the whole book.)

- "I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies." (That's not funny.)

- "There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surrounding." (I guess it kept quiet about it.)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Liberal Party vs the Harper Party, can you tell the Difference. . . . ?

It has become commonplace among those on the left of centre to lump the contemporary Liberal Party of Canada in with the Conservative Party. And this tendency is clearly rooted in a certain degree of truth. Though the Liberals talk a good game on the environment, for example, when they were in power they did little to move Canada's economy toward more sustainable development. The twisted notion that lowering Corporate taxes will be "good" for the economy was, and continues to be a hallmark of Liberal Party thought, despite the overwhelming evidence that it is simply a falsehood. The simple fact is that the LPC has been, and continues to be, a fundamentally neo-liberal political party and in that sense they share certain basic beliefs with the Conservative Party.  This seems clear to me and those who deny it are either foolish or far too wrapped in their own ideological blanket to be worthy of serious political discourse.

However, despite their common ideological beliefs, I think that there are difference between the LPC and the Harper Party. The most obvious difference that comes to mind here is concerning their basic democratic attitude. Though the Liberal Party was clearly guilty of centralizing power in the PMO and using certain vagaries of the British Parliamentary system to their advantage, they were not guilty of wide-spread election fraud (which only the naive believe the Harper Party has not done), they never destroyed centuries of tradition by proroguing parliament specifically to avoid losing power, they were never held in contempt of parliament for failing to reveal their budget numbers (something the Harper Party does on a regular basis), they didn't cut their PMs or Ministers completely off from the Press and the public, and though they used some significantly negative advertising in their time, they didn't turn government into a full-time attack machine to be used all the time against anyone who opposed them. In other words, while the Liberals sometimes violated the spirit of our democratic traditions, they didn't (like the Harper Party has done) turn the government into a machine of war waged against every aspect of our democracy. Indeed, the Liberal Party often mischievously (perhaps too soft a word) exploited the system to their advantage, but they never attempted to destroy the very system itself.

On other important issues there have also been significant differences between the LPC and the Harper Party. Let's take up the issue of the environment again. While the Liberals were clearly guilty of a failure to act properly on climate change, as well as doing little to promote an alternative energy economy, they were not guilty (as the Harper cabal is) of systematically dismantling already existing environmental protections. On the issue of foreign affairs, the LPC displayed a relatively balanced approach to many international issues. Though I would still consider the LPC to be part of the neo-colonial (economically colonial) movement of Western Power, they also had, in their day significantly countervailing tendencies with their party as well as listening to diplomats and civil-servants who were interested in some degree of real international justice.

All of this brings us to the basic economic approaches of the two parties, and this is where things get a little murky. While I agree that both the LPC and the Harper Party have been similar in their neo-liberal outlook, there is, even here a difference that some might consider meaningful. The difference I speak of is this - I think many in the LPC continue to believe that neo-liberal corporatism will actually bring about greater prosperity, while I think it is clear that the Harper Party pursues neo-liberalism as a strategy to impoverish the majority in order to increase the relative wealth and power of the minority. It is in this sense that the Harper Party of Canada is a 'third-world' style political movement. Harper and his cabal want to increase corporate power and wealth in order to crush the majority of people into poverty and subjugation. Third-world elites have been doing this for generations. These elites understand that when the majority have no wealth or power, when they are subject to continual economic instability with few rights and no unions, when they have little information and less education, then the wealth and power of the elite is significantly increased. On the other hand, though I am certainly not a Liberal Party supporter, I think that most of them actually (and naively) believe that a pursuit of corporatism and neo-liberalism will eventually lead to an increase in generalized prosperity. And most Liberals also know that regular "market forces" don't necessarily function in certain areas of the economy. I think that this explains why Paul Martin (a significant capitalist in his own right) pursued universal childcare. In other words it seems to me that even though most powerful Liberal Party members pursue what I would define as a corporate agenda, they at the very least understand that an outright corporatist economy is a dangerous thing (either to the people or to the establishment which can be overthrown by a restless and poverty-stricken citizenship)

Though I have, at least once, voted strategically, I could never vote for the Liberal Party out of political commitment. I believe that corporatism will lead to social and environmental disaster and that any politician worth her salt should oppose corporatism and look for socialist and collectivist alternatives. But as a self-confessed leftist I also think that, at the very least, the LPC's relative commitment to not "muzzling" every scientist and civil servant, and keeping some degree of democracy in our system, means that they could represent a significant improvement on the Harper Party, if for no other reason than that I believe that the more public space exists for discoure on important issues the greater the chance that alternative will open up. I might be wrong, only time will tell.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Temporary Foreign Workers and the Semi-Slave economy. . . .

Jim Flaherty, that inconceivably incompetent buffoon who calls himself a 'finance minister,' keeps telling us that the Conservatives needed to expand the 'temporary foreign workers' program because there are 'labour shortages' and there are many jobs 'Canadians just wont do.' But of course this is another in a long line of Conservative lies. Notice that they never tell us what these jobs are, because there are no such jobs. And if there were it would be simply be because capitalists don't want to pay real wages. But when the optics get bad the talking heads of the Con-artist government shifts gears and tell us that this program is intended to bring in certain 'skilled labourers' which are not presently in our job market. Well they can't have it both ways. Either the program is intended to fill McJobs or it is intended to for skilled labour. Which is it Flaherty??

The answer is, of course, that it is neither. The real purpose of the 'temporary foreign workers' program is to push wages down by bringing in workers who have no rights, can be paid less than Canadian workers, and will be far too frightened to rock the boat. In other words, the purpose of the program is to further increase economic, social, and political inequality.

There are plenty of workers in Canada to fill the jobs that are available. And if wages in certain industries are too low, the solution is to raise the wages not to import semi-slave labour into our country.

It stretches the limits of credibility to listen to the CON-artist government express indignation at the Royal Bank controversy, when in fact that is exactly what the Con-artists expanded the program to achieve. Let's say it in as simple a way as possible - Flaherty and Harper want foreign temporary workers to take your jobs! This means fewer unions, lower wages, fewer workers rights and more profits for capitalists.

Of course, like most capitalists, Flaherty, Harper, and their ilk are tragically short-sighted because the longterm impact of such an effort is a bankrupt economy and a rise in socialist belief and activism. But then no one in their right mind ever accused these guys of genuine socio-economic understanding.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Thatcher's Capitalist Revolt and the Impending Disaster. . .

I know one is not supposed to speak ill of the dead but Margaret Thatcher was an awful, terrible, scoundrel of a person. But as bad as she was, she was really just one of many leaders of a global movement, the goal of which was, and continues to be, the destruction of democracy  and the shift of society's wealth and power away from the majority and into the hands of a small minority. You see the elite of the capitalist class was on the defensive for a long time as unions and activists struggled to create greater economic and political equality. The process of globalization and the corporate control of the media made the capitalist's job relatively easy and today governments all over the world are more or less at the behest of big capital, creating the illusion (or should I say 'fostering the lie') that society can't afford decent wages, good education and health-care, and adequate pensions for the masses. Meanwhile, the elites hord more and more wealth and the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider.

Changes in the socio-economic system tend to be gradual, sometimes to the point of being difficult to notice. They come in fits and starts and each event in isolation does not always seem to be connected to the wider picture. Think of the movement from capitalism to feudalism, it was expressed in everything from the twelfth century peasant revolts to the 18th century French Revolution. But with the emergence of capitalism came the inevitable countervailing force of social-justice activism. And thus was set in motion a continuing struggle between those who seek to keep wealth and power away from the majority and in the hands of a select few on the one hand, and those who seek to spread political and economic wealth widely across society on the other. The attacks against unions by the likes of Tatcher (or idiots like Tim Hudak who want to destroy the Rand Formula) is part of that war. The goal of these people is essential destroy and mechanisms that average people might have to leverage the collective power to get a decent share of society's wealth. They figure that if they take away people's unions, their pensions, their education, their healthcare, etc., they will be kept so busy with the struggle of everyday life and so convinced that society can't afford general prosperity that they will simply let the rich get richer while the rest of us struggle to keep our heads above water.

There are two essential problems with the Tatcher/Reagan globalization of capital. One is that it is based upon the assumption that people will just let it happen. But the not only does the struggle continue, it is gradually shifting gears as more and more people become acutely aware of the inequalities and injustices in our society. But, perhaps more importantly, the flaw with the neo-liberal agenda (as it is sometimes called), is that it leads to economic disaster. The fact is that inequality is, in the end, bad for business. Such practices as union-busting, privatization, out-sourcing, environmental deregulation, etc., all point toward the gradual decrease in generalized wealth, health, and happiness. And the result is social breakdown and economic decline. Anyone who denies this decline is simply lying to themselves or the rest of us. Even if you seek to turn citizens into nothing more than obedient workers and machines of consumption, you will end with an empty economy. You cannot simply discard people forever, because all wealth ultimately derives from labour.

Though it is popular to say that "Tatcher won," in the final analysis the capitalist revolt led by people like Tatcher is doomed to failure. It will end either in complet social disaster or a massive growth in socialist belief and activism.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Racism goes Blithely On. . .

I recently wrote a blogpost on racism toward Canada's Aboriginal people. I only received a couple of comments, one of which was depressingly racist in nature. I have since blocked that commentator's source-feed and as a result the comment is no longer visible (though my reply is still there). As a general rule I don't believe in giving racist opinions a platform on my blog, they can go to the mainstream media if they want that platform. I only accepted the comment because it so beautifully illustrated the degree to which racism is alive and well in Canada. And of course, unlike old-boy, redneck racism of the past, most modern racist discourse attempts to hide itself behind supposedly 'rational' arguments and so-called real, but difficult to hear, "facts" about the oppressed group. But, like most such discourse, this comment had a number of what poker-players would call "tells;" clues that hidden behind the supposedly "rational" discourse are opinions that are racist because they do one of several things - they paint an entire race with a wide brush of opinion and are therefore bigoted, they blame the oppressed group for their own oppression, they attempt to invoke some kind of 'reverse-racism' claim (they say that if we do anything for one particular group of people but not for everyone that is another form of racism), they ignore the long history of injustice and the cultural scars that that creates and claims that we just "have to start from where we are," or (perhaps most tellingly) they create an apologist discourse in which the say something to the effect that "well, all the pain and suffering is too bad but that is just how history goes."

It is this last opinion that I often find most shocking. I have heard this kind of argument for much of my life and always find it depressing. I once heard if from an in-law and it caused a rift that was never healed. This in-law said essentially the same thing that the commenter said - to wit: "well it was a war and "we" won because we had better weapons and technology (read - we are superior)  and that is just how history goes. It is too bad but that's just the breaks."

Besides being deeply offensive to any civilized person, this "might makes right" argument is, I think, inherently racist because it puts an inherent value on a 'race' of people based upon one particular standard - the military one. But one also knows that this approach is racist because it is such a disingenuous opinion, an opinion that one generally only ever hears from the colonial victor. If someone invaded your country and took everything you had just because they wanted to, it is unlikely you would adopt the opinion that says "oh well, I guess they are just superior to us and we should consign our culture to the 'dust-bin' of history. So it goes."

To make matters worse, this particular commentator not only invoked the "right makes right" argument but had the gall to say that the European colonization of Canada was more "humane" than most such efforts and that we adopted a "live and let live" attitude toward the Aboriginal people. This blithe and outrageous opinion implied that the native people should essentially be thankful that we, as colonial conquerors, were so tolerant and humane because we could have been much worse!

The comment in question was also filled with the typical reiteration of the myths that 'natives have an easy ride,' that 'they get everything for free,' and that they get a great deal more from government programs than the rest of us do. These claims are part of the systemic racism that infuses our culture because they simply are not true, and yet they are constantly reiterated as though factual.

But the last and most poignent tell in the whole comment came at the end when the commentator said, rather pathetically, "I just want my fair share." What a small, childish, and sad sentiment. For generations we have been stealing money, land, rightful royalties, and basic human dignity from the Aboriginal people of the region we call Canada. We have destroyed not only a way of life but the actual lives of hundreds of thousands of souls. Only a diminutive spirit would have the gall to think that the worst part of this legacy of hate and violence is that they, as a non-native Canadian, are being robbed of some supposed 'hand-out' that is going to an Aboriginal person.

So it goes.