“The best hope for getting government officials to begin to act more responsibly appears to be educating the public to the point that they become well-informed and angry.”
—Dr. James E. Hansen (the lead climate scientist and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Science)
What’s Behind Decisions Such As This?
Yesterday it was announced that Translink would be working with IBM to install a new system of fare gates and scan cards (http://www.vancouversun.com/Company+selected+build+operate+TransLink+faregates/3954093/story.html) to ensure that all passengers pay the fares they owe for riding the system. The report, which I saw originally on Global TV News, stated that the contract would be worth $171 million and that the resulting system would allow them to avoid the annual $6 million loss in fares not paid. A quick calculation tells us that the system would therefore pay for itself in 28.5 years. Does this make a lot of economic sense? Even Global TV’s web site (http://www.globaltvbc.com/translink+fare+gates+make+economic+sense/3685676/story.html) seems to express a pretty negative opinion of the outlay, though they give Ken Hardie the space to say that he feels it’s a good idea because Translink isn’t going to have any direct capital outlay because of the contributions made by the Federal and Provincial governments, and he is quoted saying that the free riders are stealing from the taxpayers who fund the system. While I don’t think it’s great policy for people to avoid paying fares, I also see the proposal from IBM and Cubic Transportation Systems as a way for those two companies to plunder the public purse with poor hopes for a valid return to the taxpayer. The other concern that arises stems from the nature of the fare cards, what information will be embedded on the card, how much information will be gathered by the card readers and what will be done with that information. Our Canadian authorities don’t have a sterling record of being truthful about the collection of information and about what it done with it, yet another reason to block this proposal immediately. Perhaps all BC Transit systems should be run entirely on taxpayer subsidy, with no fares collected at source. This would save considerable effort, time, and even money by not having any money change hands within the rider interface and would encourage greater ridership, relieving stress on the road system as people chose to leave cars at home. It might spoil a good gig for parking lot operators, tow trucks and parts of the Translink bureaucracy, but the benefits to the public in terms of reduced traffic and cleaner air would be well worth it.
More Same Old Same Old in the Nation’s Capital
Whatever will we do with several squadrons of F-35 Stealth Fighters? Buy them! Brilliant: we spend $16 billion on toys that are already over budget and behind schedule, then we fly them out to intercept Russian Bears that come too close to our airspace, we take them to air shows and show them off in loud and expensive feats of derring-do, and crash one or two a year just for the heck of it. That’s the best case. More likely, we go looking for a use for these things: they’re supposed to be good for close support, so we have to find a war, send in some troops, and then we can support them closely. This war business, unfortunately, costs more money and tends to wear out airplanes, costing even more when Lockheed-Martin-Marietta eagerly sells us replacements. It also tends to annoy the people in whose country we’re carrying on our little war, and the expenditure on these playthings keeps us from investing in both infrastructure and social programs. But, you know, we’re in the process of reducing the deficit through austerity. We haven’t had much debate on this in our somewhat moribund parliament (they’re scheduled to get back to work January 31), but this will arise as part of the upcoming budget, though it isn’t likely to be cut out of the herd for a focused discussion. However, it may be a part of what triggers an election sometime this spring, at the end of which, it seems unlikely that the lot of Canadian citizens will be much improved, given that the Liberal Party’s strings are pulled by pretty much the same people as those who direct Tory policy.
Same Old Same Old in the Nation’s Capital
So we have a new Minister of the Environment, Peter Kent, who, right out of the gate, states that his first priority is to clean up the tarnished image of the Alberta Tar Sands. In typical Ottawa fashion, he doesn’t really care to deal with the tarnished environment or the ongoing damage being done, but wants the world to think of the project as sustainable, responsible and environmentally sound. It matters little that it is not anything of the sort, or that it’s unlikely to ever be anything of the sort.
Then our Finance Minister decides that the general concensus on fixing pensions is not what he wanted. so he will continue to work on a system of private pension accounts to be run by the banking establishment in this country. Hands up if you trust Flaherty or the banks with your pension. This is eerily reminiscent of the pressure being brought to bear on Wall Street to privatize Social Security in the U.S.
This is one of those items that fall into the category of “‘Nuff Said!”:
Used with the kind permission of the author.
For more of Clay Bennett’s sparkling and provocative work, see the link below:
Veterans: A Disposable Commodity
2010 11 08
Is it at all ironic that Veterans are demonstrating to retain benefits just as we come up on the annual paroxysm of gratitude for the efforts of those who fought on Canada’s behalf in conflicts around the world and spanning several generations? I missed Don Cherry this past Saturday, but might I be right in assuming that he would have been quite excessive in his zeal to have us all honour the troops? Of course, this rhetoric is no longer really over the top, so common has it become, and even when Cherry steps up to back veterans in their quest for equitable post-service dealings, he misses an opportunity to do the members of the armed services the ultimate good turn by insisting that Canadians only be sent abroad on missions of demonstrable constructive benefit to the local population as well as to the international community as a whole. He might also insist that these missions be defined with a degree of rationality and transparency that has thus far been lacking in our forays abroad over the last decade. Notwithstanding the futility of our current mission, it simply doesn’t wash that we would ask our people to take enormous risks to life and limb, to endure desert sand, scorching heat, enemy fire and hostile populations, seaparation from family and friends, disruption of careers and Tim Horton’s doughnuts only to return home to a pat on the back, a battle ribbon and a financial settlement that might or might not be equal to the needs of the veteran in question. Nickel-and-diming those who have done our dirty work is not fair and equitable, nor is it much of an inducement to new recruits and, in the end, it runs contrary to the spirit of good governance as imagined by Canadians in general. Perhaps we ought to refrain from spending the 9+ billion dollars on the F-35 and use some of what we save to build a program for veterans where they will be truly looked after, where career counselling and training become part of a support package that follows up on medical and emotional needs and where those having difficulty are afforded a reasonable living at the expense of taxpayers. If the expense is so staggering, it might give politicians a bit of a reason to contemplate the consequences of their actions before sending troops off to be killed and maimed. And as a benefit of the cancellation of the F-35 contract, we might be able to rebuild some of the social safety net for all Canadians.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…
January 2, 2009
Thanks to the CBC web site for the roster and background information.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The folks who brought you the current economic mess tell us they’re fixin’ to fix it, but it really looks more like the fix is in. Finance minister Jim Flaherty is consulting the best and brightest minds in the country to come up with a way to kick-start the economy, to put it back on the growth rails and to get those dividends and capital gains flowing again as we build to the next bubble.
Flaherty’s choices make clear what his intentions are as every single member of the blue-ribbon panel comes from the world of business and finance, without the slightest taint of labour, organized or otherwise, or of civil society, following closely Calvin Coolidge’s famous pre-Depression dictum that the business of America is business, very much in keeping with the cozy relationship that our Prime Minister has cultivated with the neo-conservative crowd in Washington.
Heading up the posse is our own Carole Taylor, who has most recently served as Finance Minister in the Campbell cabinet here in B.C., whose clear mantra has been to follow the creed that tax cuts are good and that nothing should be held in common.
She is ably seconded by none other than B.C.’s favoured son, Jim Pattison of the Pattison group, characterized by the CBC as being at the helm of “a sprawling empire” that is “one of the largest privately held Canadian companies.” Mr. Pattison has never been known to be terribly generous where others are concerned, preferring to squire such notables as G.H.W. Bush and Oprah Winfrey around on his yacht.
We also get Paul Desmarais, Jr., currently chair of the executive committee of Power Corporation and scion of a family that has cultivated political connections with a series of prime ministers and others of major political standing.
He is joined by James Irving, President of J.D. Irving which controls large swaths of business interests in Atlantic Canada.
Our next rising star is George Gosbee, CEO of Tristone Capital, Inc., which is a Calgary-based investment bank catering to energy clients. He also heads the Alberta Investment Management Corporation, a Government of Alberta fund, which gives yet another glimpse into the cozy relationship between business and politicians.
Isabelle Hudon is the President of Marketel, a Montreal marketing company, who will perhaps bring her retailing and marketing experience to bear in selling the program of this panel to the Canadian electorate.
Ms. Hudon will also be working with Mike Lazaridis, founder and co-CEO of Research In Motion, who has sold untold numbers of Blackberry wireless devices to business folks all over the world.
We will also benefit from the wisdom of Jack Mintz, former head of the C.D. Howe Institute, one of the great apologists for the philosophy of market primacy, Ajit Someshwar, native of Mumbai, and CEO of CSI Consulting, whose specialties are information technology and management consulting. and the team is rounded out by Annette Verschuren, who does duty as the Division President for Home Depot Canada, after stints with the Cape Breton Development Corporation, the Canadian Investment Development Corporation and Michael’s, the arts and crafts stores of which she was president and co-owner.
These are all people who have proven their ability to succeed in business, and some of them in government (thought under business-oriented régimes), but some might be left asking themselves how they’re going to be able to help those who lose their jobs, those who lose their homes, those who will need social services when they have failed to do so in their careers thus far. The current economic crisis touches not only business large and small, but the whole of Canadian society, and Flaherty shows his colours all too clearly in ensuring that those voices that represent constituencies other than business will continue to be held out of the dialogue. It is especially interesting to note that there is no representation of the environmental constituency when there is a clear opportunity to work on what has been a dismal record on the environment while reconstituting an economy that can function for the betterment of all Canadians while moving that same economy to a footing that will include the notion of sustainability.
Reflections On The Old And New Year
December 30, 2008
The New Year is upon us, and though the dividing line is perhaps somewhat arbitrary, it can never be wrong to take a minute to stop and reflect on where we’ve been and where we see ourselves going. The year past has brought many changes, many of which have had negative consequences and some of which indicate a most uncertain future, but, as Steven Harper remarked in the face of some of the economic havoc that has spilled out in the latter months of this year: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”
It was interesting to see how much comment was occasioned by Gwynne Dyer’s recent visit, particularly the rather dire predictions about the course of human society in the face of environmental crises. It may be that the economic turmoil that we face currently is a more immediate concern, but it seems rather clear to many that the economy and the environment are intimately connected. Dyer spoke at the ADSS in the early ‘90’s, his primary focus being armed struggles all over the world, but towards the end of his lecture, he insisted that he be allowed a couple of personal reflections based on his wide-ranging travels and long observation, the first being that the generation represented by the students present would be the first in North America who would not be better off materially than their parents’ generation, and second, that there were a billion Chinese, not to mention hundreds of thousands of Indonesians, and another billion in India, who had access to enough Western culture to see how well we live, and that they would largely aspire to the same level of material wealth. He went on to point out that there just wasn’t the capacity in our closed environment to produce enough cars and fuel and whatever else we enjoy for all those in the “developing” world, likely meaning that scarce resources would be a source of much conflict. Looking at what has happened in the world in the intervening fifteen or so years, it seems that Dyer was able to read the signs and that we’re starting to see the consequences of carrying on with business as usual, projecting economic growth endlessly into the future.
It is also instructive to see how our elected representatives have reacted to situations of major crisis: we have seen assistance to banks, insurance firms, and to the auto industry, with the idea from Milton Friedman economics that taking tax dollars from the general public and filtering it through our large corporate institutions will somehow extricate us from our current difficulties. We all have sympathy for those in the financial sector and the auto industry who have felt the sting of economic retrenchment, but we have to ask ourselves if it makes a great deal of sense to trust the entirety of the well-being of our society to those who created a good deal of the bubble that has burst around us.
It is perhaps time for us to begin to build smaller, more local economies, working to ensure than no one is deprived of the opportunity to make a contribution. There is a great fear of the idea of redistribution of wealth, but after thirty years of redistribution upwards, might it not be time for some recalibration that would leave more wealth in the hands of those who generate it in the first place? Perhaps we need to think more in terms of succeeding as a society than entirely as individuals, even when personal success can involve toxic excess, as has been the case with much of the corporate and financial sectors over the last ten years.
Success and well-being can also be defined in ways other than material consumption, and perhaps this is as good a time as any for us to step back and examine our assumptions about what makes for a fulfilling life. We can all fill in our own blanks, but we surely have to account more accurately for the consequences of the choices we make, especially in a World that now has roughly three times the population of the middle of the last century, and some of whose citizens consume two to three times as much material and energy as did the affluent in North America at that time.
Returning to Mr. Harper’s pronouncement about predictions, it is time for us to assess whether it really is all that difficult to foresee the consequences of our choices if we are willing to look broadly and deeply at the signs that surround us. So my wish for the New Year is that we continue to succeed, but in a manner that is more caring through a mix of the spiritual, the social and the rational.
What Do You Say To Your Relatives?
It always amazes me to watch our “leaders” at “work”: these people are a pretty good indicator of how far we’ve strayed from the idea of living together in society. There’s no secret that I’m a lefty, but not for doctrinal reasons. My one fundamental political belief is really a social belief, and that is that there must be equity in all aspects of life or there will, in the long run, be no life. There are hints of this embodied in the platform of the NDP, but their provincial régimes belie their rhetoric in almost the same measure as that of the Liberals, who pretty much admit to campaigning from the left and governing from the right. Harper has hidden behind a screen of religious righteousness and what he calls sound fiscal policy, but he has continued to take tax revenue from individual citizens and use it to support programs for monied corporations, about as far as one can get from being a Christian, and his stand on the continuation of the mission in Afghanistan is proof positive that his Christian posturing is hypocrisy personified: we are, as a nation, sanctioning killing and maiming for the interests of the oil lobby and any building being done is at the behest of the military to improve combat effectiveness, despite whatever bleatings have come from the mouth of Rick Hillier or Walter Natynczyk about humanitarian aid, meaning that we are contravening some of the most basic tenets of Christianity, little things like, “Thou shalt not kill,” or, “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” or, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s goods.” As Garrison Keiler said, “Going to church no more makes you a Christian than sleeping in your garage makes you a car.”
Of course Dion and crew might have led Harper to believe that he could carry on as though he had a majority government by supporting the government through regressive budgets, trade negotiations, and the extension of the mission to Afghanistan all through the spring. Then, as now, they are poor and have little stomach to tangle with the Conservatives with their huge war chest and media connections, but where once there is no principle, it is unlikely that any will develop.
It would be comforting to think that Dion and crew had grown a conscience since the spring, but it seems more likely that this coalition is based more on political opportunism than it is on a sense that a revised government of Canada will be able to assist Canadian citizens through a time of great stress and rework our economic structures to avoid recurrences of the dishonesty, greed, pillage and short-tern thinking that has landed us in our present pass. Still, one side of me says that we are more likely to muddle through with the little compassion and sense that the coalition represents than we are with the outright hostility that Harper and his crew have shown toward any measure that contains a whiff of redress for the abovementioned sack of the economy and the social structures that have made Canada a fine place to inhabit. Of course, the other side of me says that we ought to let Harper pull the whole house of cards down, especially with him under the wreckage, and start all over under some new assumptions.
A couple of other thoughts about coalitions versus elections: first, I don’t find elections onerous, and I suspect that the media wouldn’t be playing this angle so frequently and strenuously were a coalition in power. Elections don’t have to cost $300 million, and only do so because they are paid for out of contributions, and lavishly funded so that parties can trot out broadsides of not-particularly honest advertising that ends up being a bonanza for print and broadcast media. Were it not for this expense and the sickening circus of half-truths and vicious attacks that have nothing to do with the substance of governing, there is a possibility that Canadians would feel differently about being consulted about their preferences, choices that are, by the nature of politics, very limited and most often ignored once a party gets elected.
Harper Plays Politics
PM’s first gambit in the parliamentary game with the resumption of the session is to throw the gauntlet down in front of the massed opposition: he will cancel funding for federal political parties through the government’s coffers. It has been pointed out in reports on radio and television that the Conservatives stand to lose the most funding, but that they are also in the best position to withstand the expense of another election, while the opposition parties are all pretty much in the poor house. This raises a number of issues, the first of which is the role that money plays in our parliamentary democracy. Money seems to speak louder than the will of the voters because it is used to convince the voters to cast ballots in a way that works against their best interests. Harper loves to cast himself as the leader best positioned to weather these tough economic times, while he is in reality the person with the deepest responsibility for creating the circumstances that have lead to the current fiasco. Secondly, we have to ask ourselves why it is that an election is such an expensive affair, a $300 million party, if rreports from the last tilt were true. Where does all the money go? I have a hunch that most of it goes to the broadcast and print media in the form of advertizing contracts, paying for spots and column inches that are aimed at enhancing each party’s reality distortion field. Were we to eliminate the distortions and outright lies and allow only the position papers to be printed/broadcast and this to be done on the basis of publicly funded equal time broadcast, the level of expense would be much less extravagant, though perhaps not so good tof the bottom lines of the media consortia who are the beneficiaries of the multi-million dollar bonanza in each election cycle.
Second point is that Harper is not governing here: this is a ploy to make the opposition either toe his policy line or be blamed for being spendthrift with the public’s money, and it would seem that it’s an easy sell with the Canadian voting public.
The third point is that the opposition, in particular the Liberal Party, are mostly to blame for the success of the ploy. Throughout the spring, they propped u the Harper minority in case after case where the Conservatives rolled out legislation that was contrary to the interests of Canadians and dared the Liberals to bring them down. In each and every case, the Liberals caved in and supported Harper. Will they continue to do so? If memory serves me well (it’s still usually pretty reliable), the NDP is the only party to actually remain faithful the the idea of an opposition that continues to oppose. Both the Bloc, and especially the Liberals, have proven that they have no platform, only a series of policy statements that they are willing to sacrifice on the altar of political expediency.
Emerson’s Appointment to BC Transmission
David Emerson has been appointed to be the CEO and head the board of directors at BC Transmission, part of the fractured and mostly-privatized former BC Hydro. Emerson has been a big wig in the forest industry, after which he moved into federal politics, where he was elected in 2004 as one of the Liberal Party’s star candidates in BC and held portfolios as Foreign Affairs Minister and Minister of International Trade. He was re-elected as a Liberal in 2006 and promptly crossed the floor to hold a post in the cabinet of Stephen Harper’s Conservative cabinet, and declined to run in the most recent elections, perhaps sensing the resentment of those who elected him as a Liberal to forestall a Harper government, only to find his coat quickly turned to suit his own interests and those of the big business lobby, whose welfare in paramount in Mr. Emerson’s scheme of things. Hence the lack of surprise that he should be handed a plum post in the local energy sector as a go to guy in the process of converting BC energy production from a community organization into a source of profit for large corporations who have been granted the majority of generation permits since the provincial government prohibited the publicly held BC Hydro from creating new sources of energy under its own auspices. Emerson will fit right in with those doing their best (and with great success) to ensure that the few will profit from the assets that rightly belong to the general citizenry of BC, and his appointment speaks to the level of cronyism and corruption that reigns in the governance of the province.
Bretton Woulds: The G-20 In Inaction
There is an old song by Richard Newell, alias King Biscuit Boy of Crowbar sort-of fame, called “You Done Tore Your Playhouse Down Again” which comes to mind frequently in the current climate of economic upset as the chickens of greed come home to roost. The leaders of the World’s twenty largest economies are converging on Washington, D.C. today to set up some sort of apparatus to re-establish some semblance of order in the world’s trade relationships, but this may be more about appearing to be addressing the problems than about actually bringing about a great deal of change in the way the markets are actually governed.
President Sarkozy of France apparently expressed some interest in an overhaul of the financial system without, however, actually positing what that might resemble. Outgoing U.S. president Bush talks about not throwing the baby out with the bath water. Our own Stephen Harper notes that the Canadian banking system appears to be weathering the storm better than others and that we should hold ourselves up as an example of how a well-run and well-regulated financial system can stand up to world crises. He also seems to feel that problems of this nature can best be addressed by relying on the regulatory regimes of individual countries.
Relying on Einstein’s notion that we can’t solve current dilemmas by applying greater amounts of the same thinking that created the dilemna in the first place, there should be room for some fresh thoughts on how our trade relations might be structured. The problem with relying on regulatory mechanisms in individual states is that capital is allowed to flow freely and without fetters wherever it wishes to go, and experience has taught us that it will eventually find its way to the jurisdiction of lowest regulation and greatest influence. In fact, a good part of the current difficulties result from capital playing a disproportionate role in the formation of fiscal policy in most jurisdictions, a result of the willingness of elected or installed officials to feather their own nests by bowing down before the golden calf of free-market fundamentalism. At minimum, there must be some restraint on the influence that capital can exert on governmental affairs, and likely some level of common regulation across all jurisdictions.
That Canada’s finances have better weathered the storm than those of other countries is a proposition that bears some scrutiny, and whose degree of acceptance will depend to a great extent on the perch from which it is viewed. Canadian investments have evaporated at about the same rate as they have in the U.S., but we have fewer banks and more regulation than in some other places, so our financial institutions may be better prepared to absorb the shock, though we won’t really know until all the fallout has fallen out. Canadian financial institutions are tied into the World system, and, while they may not have written a lot of sub-prime mortgages, it would be surprising to learn that they hadn’t acquired large quantities of the same asset-backed commercial paper that has been the downfall of vast swaths of the financial community. So the banks and insurance companies may be well-placed to weather the storm, as may also be our deficit-free federal government, but that doesn’t mean that parts of the population haven’t already felt considerable pain, and it seems more than likely that that same segment of the population will continue to feel the pain, and that their pain will be deeper and more wrenching than that felt in the heart of the financial community and of the government that represents that community first and foremost. Our budget surpluses have come at the cost of large reductions in public services and of a tax system that largely favours the acquisition of wealth through capital manipulation over labour. Openings have been created for private, for-profit health care, regulatory régimes have been cut back, often with fatal consequences for ordinary citizens, and trade agreements have been written to ensure that there be no brake on corporate profitability, even where the public health and welfare may be compromised by the creation of these profits. Our infrastructure is, in many cases, old and falling into disrepair as tax dollars cease to flow to public coffers because of tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations, and the reduced expenditures are increasingly being spend on security and the armed forces, then frittered away in repressive schemes at home and pointless and costly wars abroad. Canadians may feel somewhat smug about our preparedness for hard times, but that smugness would be more due to what they’re being told by their leaders and the media than to any actual set of factual circumstances.
At this weekend’s summit, there is likely to be a lot of rear-guard posturing to ensure that the current and past beneficiaries of the the social pyramid continue to maintain their position while at the same time putting on a face that will calm the bewildered masses into thinking that everything is under control. It is also likely, as at most summits, that the words spoken in closed-door sessions will have little to do with the sound bites issued by the attendees or with the final communiqué issued by the whole of the committee. Beyond that, there are a legion of academics and press experts already spinning all angles of the summit to ensure that the appearance of something being done works to assure us all that we have been right to put our fate in the hands of so august and just a group of leaders. And yet I can’t help but be reminded of the following King Biscuit Boy lines when I think of the drunken orgy of consumption led by the people who pull the strings behind these same leaders:
Your eyeballs look like a roadmap,
And they’re lookin’ in two different ways,
You got your wig in one hand and your teeth in another
And you haven’t looked this good in days.
I asked you to take out the garbage can.
You took out the garbage man.
You were last seen heading down Highway 97
With a bottle of gin in your right hand.
Victory Speech, and then…
So we’ve elected a person of colour to the presidency, this person being a dynamic, educated and eloquent individual who has mobilized a huge network of volunteers and an unprecedented sum of campaign money. This person has spoken of a direction that invokes visions of a more caring and balanced society than has been the legacy of the Nixon/Ford?Bush/Clinton/Bush era, and has benefited from a sense that our whole global society has gotten seriously out of kilter.
In his victory speech, Obama was careful to temper the enthusiasm of his supporters for the change of which he has so ardently spoken with a hint of the realism that must inevitably settle in once he is invested in the White House and takes stock of the resources with which he will be left. He conveyed the sense that there will need to be a sense of cooperation and of willingness to work and to sacrifice in order to set the United States and the World economy back on a footing that will allow for progress. That his speech was compelling is borne out by the interviews with people leaving Grant Park who spoke of feeling that there was proof that they could do anything, and by the sense of hope and anticipation so clearly mirrored in the speech and countenances of those shown on news coverage.
Much of the imbalance that has crept into society is the result of the empowerment of greed, of the creed that we are free to explore our own goals, even at the expense of other individuals and, indeed, at the expense of society as a whole. If we are going to implement a new way of doing business in North America and around the world, we must take to heart the crux of Obama’s election night speech: that this is a victory for those who worked to engage the process of change, and the message is that we can’t let go now, It is entirely conceivable that those who worked to elect Obama may find themselves mobilizing again to ensure that the rhetoric of the campaign gets matched by the deeds of those that the campaign put in office. Not only is there no peace for the wicked, there can be no rest for the virtuous for the simple fact that there are still forty-odd million who fall into the categories of either the depraved or the dupes of the depraved, those who voted for a continuation of the devastation of the last three decades, especially the heightened campaign of sleaze, rapaciousness and dishonesty of the last eight years, and that bloc still wields enormous power, much of it using the resources of its victims to do damage to those from whom it steals.
Too many people, both old and young, expressed the feeling following Tuesday night’s events that they could do anything, almost in the sense of the fairy godmother visiting with the promise of great wealth and power, and it’s easy to draw that conclusion from the published narrative of the Obama family, and while that may be the case for a few, it would put those few into the same clan with the people who elected and empowered the Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush régime. Our aspirations have to be rethought and retaught: our ideal should ensure that everyone have enough, particularly in terms of opportunity, and that we should all benefit from prosperity and share whatever misery there is to go around. It is unlikely that we will achieve that level of mutual support and consideration, but if we can accept the ideal of mutual support and consideration, we are likely to improve immediately on many people’s prospects, and certainly on our own outlook for a peaceful and fulfilling life in society.
When wrong is done, generally we try in our society to isolate the perpetrators in such a way as to prevent the same harm being repeated. The present fiscal crisis illustrates the selective application of this notion, in that, not only have the perpetrators been left in place and continued to reap the rewards they had allocated to themselves for anti-social behaviour, but these same people and institutions have been awarded major quantities of government cash, which means that those who pay the bulk of taxes will be called upon to shoulder this burden. As usual, the pain won’t be spread too evenly as lower- and middle-income families working wage earners and small business will be called upon to pitch in to a much greater degree than the investor class, the wealthy and the large corporations.
This is only the latest in a series of decades-long measures to ensure that our whole economy runs on the trickle-down principle, where wealth generated at any level is poured back into the economy through the filter of the financial hierarchy. Trickle-down is an apt metaphor, given the amount of what is poured through the filters and the amount that actually returns to those whose labour and living drive such a large part of productivity. It is Robin Hood in reverse, where the poor get to bail out the rich.
A more reasonable proposal might be to actually tax investment income at the same level as labour and to close up all the loopholes that allow both corporations and wealthy individuals to avoid paying for the infrastructure from which they benefit disproportionately. There are also many budgets that could stand some trimming, primarily defense and security, where so much money is spent for so little return to the broad population. Reinvestment of increased revenue and savings in program spending could then produce repairs and upgrades to infrastructure, improvements to health care and education, and the restructuring of the energy system to encompass renewable energy technologies and the retrofit of existing structures as well as the building of new energy-efficient housing, office and manufacturing space.
The question arises about the invasive nature of government: why not just leave that money in taxpayers’ pockets? The government will always be invasive to some part of the population because it will constrain some group or another from the fulfillment of its dearest fantasies, and yet a true government of, by, and for the people will inevitably provide what everyone needs in just measure. Government in the aforementioned circumstances has not thus far, and is not likely any time soon, to grace the face of this planet, but such a government would represent the combination of our collective resources to be brought to bear on those most pressing needs of the society. There are direct and indirect benefits for all in society when we invest in ensuring that the totality of the population is provided with the necessities of life and with the opportunity to go beyond the bare necessities through education and work. The recycling of currency from bottom to top keeps more liquid circulating because those at the bottom of the pyramid can set aside less for rainy day securities or for flight of fancy purchases than those closer to the economic pinnacle.
The futility of giving taxpayer funds to private financial institutions should be evident, not only because it’s clear that the private financial superstructure was at least complicit in, if not largely responsible for, the present crisis. Not only are we rewarding the perpetrators and perpetuating a system of fraud and of inequality that is destructive of society, we are flogging a dead horse by trying to apply more of the same thinking that landed us in our present predicament. By the same token, inviting the leaders of the world’s twenty largest economies to a summit seems to hold out only the dimmest of hopes for any real relief for the citizens of those countries, not to mention those who won’t have any representation at the table. The people who sit in judgement are the same crowd who created the mess in the first place and, while they may have good ideas on how to pull the world out of an economic tailspin, they are unlikely to implement those ideas because they would first have to admit they were wrong about what would benefit humanity, and then they would have to implement policies that run contrary to their need to monopolize wealth and power among as narrow a spectrum of the population as possible.
The irony of giving money to financial institutions is that, were that money to be put into circulation through redistribution, a large amount of whatever was distributed would almost immediately be circulated through those same financial institutions, though it would be more in the guise of the financial institutions serving citizens rather than the current case where we all serve a financial hierarchy through the instrument of our government.
As we head into a difficult part of the “business cycle”, this redistribution needs to be accomplished by rewriting tax law to eliminate a good part of the inequality that exists in most Western jurisdictions, and to use the revenue generated to rebuild crumbling infrastructure, with the proviso that the new construction be built to reflect the changes that are taking place in the energy and envrionmental landscapes, and the reconstruction needs to be done without the intervention of private profit. Eventually, there will have to be a determination made that certain fields of endeavour are societal necessities and should not be subject to the kind of speculation and profiteering that have characterized so much of government procurement for the last several decades, with health care, education, basic housing, transportation, clothing and nourishment being good candidates for being declared off-limits to profit, while entertainment and luxury items could be alotted excess resources and then be subject to market forces.
It’s interesting that some Western jurisdictions have been more successful than others at keeping inequality within what might be considered reasonable bounds, these being countries that have a large public sector and a progressive income tax structure. Life may not be perfect in Finland, but there is considerably less poverty, people have access to education and health care and the fabric of the social safety net is better tended than in North America, and yet there is also a flourishing private sector: while fewer people fall through the cracks and out of the general care of society, there are also people who enjoy considerable wealth.
There is a lot of panic in some circles about redistribution of wealth, a phenomenon that has been happening increasingly over the last several decades without much complaint from the powers that be because the redistribution has gone from the bottom to the top, but should anyone suggest that the trend be reversed, the howls begin through the press organs belonging to those who have been the beneficiaries of the wealth pipeline. Taxes become an obscenity, and an obscenity they are as long as the government to whom they are paid doesn’t work for the well-being of the broader population. When the citizenry makes the government work for the good of the whole, taxes should be perceived as an investment rather than an expenditure: it’s unlikely that that will be the case as long as people are willing to accept the passive role that current institutions have encouraged them to embrace.
People need to come to the aid of their fellow citizens and their communities, not to send hundreds of billions to prop a financial system that has done them dirt and is in the process of bringing a load of grief to the whole planet almost inconceivable a short while ago.
A Lyric For Our Times and A Link To Go With It
What I hear in my head when I look at current events:
There’s some pretty trivial things that crop up: when I see someone light up, I seem to hear either Commander Cody’s version of Smoke. Smoke, Smoke (That Cigarette) or Captain Beefheart’s All You Ever Do Is Blabber And Smoke. Other times there is more substance, as in the current financial crisis, which has often brought to mind Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave, from Dave Mason’s Alone Together album, the next line being: “Or we wouldn’t be in this mess today.” This works well with a bit from Jimi Hendrix’s Up From the Skies from Axis: Bold As Love: “and the smell of the world that is burning … maybe it’s just a change of climate.”
So here is a link to an article that expresses much of what’s been coursing through my feeble brain of late. It’s from the one and only George Monbiot via ZNet, though it’s been cross-posted widely.
Speaking of the twin financial and ecological crises, Monbiot states:
“The two crises have the same cause. In both cases, those who exploit the resource have demanded impossible rates of return and invoked debts that can never be repaid. In both cases we denied the likely consequences. I used to believe that collective denial was peculiar to climate change. Now I know that it’s the first response to every impending dislocation.”
It’s worth reading the whole article.
Forest Revitalization à la Pat Bell
It’s interesting that Pat Bell, our current forest and range minister, has promised to revitalize the forest industry, and this in the face of collapsing markets in the U.S., traditionally our staple market. He says he’s looking to China to absorb all the capacity we have, without stating the obvious, that all this capacity will be for raw logs.
Underneath Bell’s plan (as with that of his predecessors going back to the previous New Democrat administration who removed the tie between fiber and jobs in the jurisdiction) amounts to stringing a stout chain along the 49th parallel from Fernie to the sea, with a southward salient to take in southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, and dragging it north until he hits the end of his bailiwick at the Yukon border, then lining up the bulldozers along the Alberta border and pushing everything west until it all falls into the Pacific where it can be boomed up and towed to China. Of course, this means selling out the real estate, gas and oil, the electricity infrastructure, and why not take the folks who live here, who will be making Chinese wages anyway, and so might do better to do their shopping in China rather than have to ship all the processed materials back here?
Hyperbole aside, the reinvigoration proposed by Bell amounts to the same kind of corporate socialism presently rearing its ugly head as the liability for Wall Street’s greed is being transferred to the backs of the taxpayers, including Canadians whose banking system is part of a world financial system teetering on the edge of collapse. Those who want work in processing wood, get ready to leave B.C., to leave Canada, and perhaps North America. There will be profit, but for the few, the proud, the rich.
I didn’t watch the McCain-Obama debate last night, and have been ducking a lot of the coverage of both American and Canadian national elections. This has little to do with the apathy attributed to many voters on both sides of the line, and much to do with the coverage of elections in general all over the world. Increasingly, media coverage is focused on trivia, personalities, polls and the stumbles and peccadilloes dredged up from candidates’ pasts, and bypasses voting records, legislation proposed and enacted, and the general direction of government. Issues, in the infrequent instances where they come to the fore, are treated in isolation and generally with a minimum of analysis as to the implications of a pro or counter stance. In reality, most of the issues are closely tied to each other as part of an overall direction of government, but this doesn’t ever seem to enter into the media consciousness, hence it evades the general public consciousness.
In effect, we see that there are polls that show that health care is of primary importance to Canadians, replaced shortly afterward by polls that show that leadership is the big issue, then, when the banking system heads for Hades, the economy takes over. The war on terror is never too far from a mention, but we can put it to bed with an announcement that our mission in Afghanistan will definitely end in 2011. There is much discussion of whether one party’s leader is likely to fritter away our hard-earned freedom from deficits, or another leader is likely to sit on his hands as the environment degrades to the point where the planet will no longer be habitable, but little real discussion of the real state of affairs and what really needs to be done about it. The epitome of this bafflegab was committed by the CBC last week when, in a segment from a gimmick called Assign Us, a reader asked why it was that there was so little substance in the media coverage relating to issues and solutions, and so much discussion of personalities and tabloid-style stories. The questioner’s intent seemed clear: deliver us some real coverage. Instead, we got a long and involved, mostly CBC-centric, litany of how ever it has been thus without any hint of remediation, in other words, more of same, dodge the question, keep the entertainment value high, avoid the real and pressing underlying issues.
The issues are mostly closely intertwined: the environment is in sad shape because we’ve been so focused on growth that we forgot that we live in a finite environment and that we have clearly overstepped the bounds of good stewardship. In the course of the search for growth in an abstraction, the economy, we have allowed, or caused, the creation of an economy that embodies inequity that denies our stated belief in some form of equality, and from this inequity stems the crisis in health care, where those most endowed by the machinery of the economy take so much out of the commonweal that there isn’t sufficient remaining to tend to the needs of those who are the least beneficiaries. A part of the transfer of wealth from the general population to the investor class happens through the cultivation of war and police industries, policies to which the country is led to subscribe through fear of crime and through the idea that we are fighting terrorists overseas so that we don’t have to fight them here, hence our extended, expensive and futile mission in Afghanistan, our cooperation with the U.S. establishment in the war on terror and the war on drugs, and our reinvigorated expenditures on expensive military hardware. These expenditures divert taxpayer money from social programs, from health care, from education, from research, from consumer protection and inspection functions, from substance abuse remediation and social housing.
It can be difficult to develop much enthusiasm about an election when the outcome seems to promise little in the way meaningful constructive direction, where politicians are no keener on educating the electorate than are the general run of the media, and where the electorate is generally content to live with the hollowed-out appearance of debate that characterizes our current political and social discourse. We each have to ask ourselves what we already know and what we need to know to face the unprecedented challenges that are upon us even as our leaders continue to play the same game in the likely vain hope that they will be able to keep themselves in office long enough to do some good while they perpetuate the processes that created the unprecedented challenges in the first place.
The Tax Man Cometh (Well Maybe)
I got my first job outside the house when I was thirteen , and have filed an income tax return in every instance where there was even a possibility that it might be required, often in the expectation that I would get back some of the money I had paid to various jurisdictions. Particularly as my income increased and I saw the tax bill increase, I would question the necessity of paying so much until I looked at what I paid as a percentage of what I earned, as well as the services I got for my trouble, and came to the conclusion that, flawed as the tax system might be, and flawed as our governments might be in the ways they dispose of the income we send them, it’s a reasonable deal to just pay up.
Then I saw again, as the April 30 filing deadline approached, the advertising from Dio Guardi Tax Law (http://www.taxamnesty.ca/), inciting those who may not have been so punctual in doing their fiscal duty to contact them to stand between them and the not-so-friendly folks at Canada Revenue. The televised spots are almost comical, in a rather B-movie way, in their depiction of the revenooers as sunglassed and dark-suited, almost underworld-like dervishes who could engage in all manner of nefarious strategems to extort taxes and penalties from the unsuspecting delinquent. What they promise is to intercede on your behalf to ensure that you pay as little of what you owe and that you suffer as few penalties for delinquance as they can possibly arrange, presumably because they have some magical leverage with Revenue Canada, so that you and Dio Guardi will profit from CRA’s loss.
This may all be quite plausible, or in fact, completely true, but it’s a sad commentary on how we see ourselves, our government and our obligations as citizens.
Here is a quote from the DioGuardi site:
“Under sections 238(1) and 239(1) of the Income Tax Act, not filing a return, filing more than one year late if tax is due, or failing to declare taxable income from any source, is criminal tax evasion.”
But are not Dio Guardi encouraging this very practice? Are they not enabling and facilitating the evasion of taxes after the fact?
How Democracy Works
I’ve been a francophile most of my life, though with considerable reservations with regard to some of the less savoury manifestations of French culture in the world, particularly that kind of jingoism and militarism that accompanied the expansion and contraction of the Empire and which continues to exist to this day. But there have always been counterweights to this narrowminded cocorico nationalism in the writings of a broad band of thinkers over the centuries and that, along with some of the culinary, musical, architectural and other artistic manifestations have made France an object of interest for several people I know.
This is all in aid of explaining why I tune in to “Frog News”, usually Le Journal Télévisé de France 2 à 20 heures which TV5 is kind enough to rebroadcast at 3:30 each afternoon, and which they also stream on the Net (http://jt.france2.fr/) so that I can keep up with the news if I happen to miss the appointed hour. I also have a regular look at a couple of French newspapers on line, Le Monde, and Libération most often, though I find that both papers tend to favour a point of view too close to what we see in our Canadian mainstream media for me to feel that I’m really getting the whole picture.
The only reason this comes up is that this week, the French Legislature, both houses, had a little meeting at Versailles (the precedent is ominous) to consider constitutional changes, in particular the legislative assent for France to ratify the Treaty of Lisbon, thereby signing France onto the EU constitutional bandwagon. This would not be much of an event other than the fact that French voters rejected the EU constitution by a significant margin in 2005. This vote was a tense affair, with the Right solidly behind it, the Extreme Right opposed, the Socialists all over the map, and the Extreme Left opposed. The proponents touted the necessity to unite Europe to keep member states from engaging in various levels of unpleasantness right up to and including war, and to ensure that trade was allowed to operate freely within the EU borders. The opponents pointed out the favoured status of capital and the lack of upward harmonization of labour and environmental standards, saying that, in effect, the EU constitution was a neo-liberal blueprint to make Europe and its member states more competitive in World markets on the backs of working people. Fifty-five percent of voters said “no” to the treaty.
It was inevitable that the question wouldn’t go away, but there was a dilemna about how to approach the question, particularly for those who really wanted to see the EU constitution enshrined right across the trading bloc. The election of Nicolas Sarkozy to the French presidency, along with a large majority of UMP representatives in the Chanbre des Députés handed the Yes folks their solution ready-made. The discussion took place at Versailles, the legislators reconvened in Paris and passed the ratification on Thursday. France 2 consecrated less than three minutes to the final vote and a like amount of time of the preliminaries. Liberation had an article posted about halfway down the index page of its site and this has since disappeared into the back pages. Le Monde has no reference to it on the index page of its site as of Saturday.
In the article in Libération, there was an interesting exchange between one of the few Socialists who voted against ratification, addressing the lack of a second referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon, words to the effect that: “At one time, there was an expression that went Vox populi, Vox Dei, but the process here would better be titled vox capital.” The feeling amongst the UMP majority seemed to be that this would be neater than a referendum, and that there wasn’t the attendant risk that the treaty would again be rejected. The justification from Sarkozy was that he had been plain that this was his intention when he was campaigning for president, and that those who elected him must be supporters of the treaty, and that’s enough democracy for him.
These events are important to us as an object lesson; few of us are aware or even care much what happens in so far away and so strange a place as France, particularly when it comes to the somewhat perplexing and unhealthy practice of politics, but this is pretty much the same way of imposing unpopular structure on an unwilling populace that has been practised by a succession of Canadian governments. Brian Mulroney was elected in 1984 to get rid of Trudeau for good and to bury the rump Liberals represented by John Turner. With a huge majority in the House, Brian gave us the Free Trade Agreement, so named to give the idea of capital ascendency an aura of motherhood goodness. The selling job continued, and Mulroney got re-elected and gave us another little surprise, the Goods and Services Tax, a way to move the tax burden from manufacturers to society as a whole, particularly to the lowly consumer. Brian left us in mid-stream (actually close to the end of a mandate, knowing that his party was likely to take a pasting over which he was loathe to preside) and, in a replay of the Turner shellacking, Kim Campbell took the fall as voters chose to dump a seemingly tired, corrupt and spent Tory-led parliament. They chose to reinstate the Liberals who ran on a platform of abrogating the Free Trade Agreement (morphed into NAFTA with the inclusion of Mexico) and the scrapping of the GST. Chrétien also promised to scrap a deal to buy new helicopters for the Canadian Armed Forces, a deal that had engendered a good deal of criticism for its costliness and the lack of transparency in the bidding process, and scrap it he did, only to come back to it a couple of years down the road, having already paid a hefty penalty to back out of the original contract. Otherwise, Chrétien kept none of his promises and, with Paul Martin sitting in the Finance portfolio, proceeded to slash social spending in a paroxysm of Thatcherite zeal and a continued restructuring of the tax system to favour those already quite blessed by the joys of riches. And when Chrétien was shown the door, leaving for the Paul Martin coronation, Martin, without so much as a pretence of consulting either the voters or their elected representatives, signed us on to the Security and Prosperity Partnership, an agreement between Martin, George Bush and Vicente Fox to move all of North America onto a true commercial footing with reduced restraints on how business would be done, and where policy direction would come from the North American Competitiveness Council, whose members, stragnely enough, are all from the business community, and which shows no representation from civil society, the environmental movement or labour.
The same phenomenon can be seen at the provincial level where British Columbia and Alberta have “reduced internal trade barriers” by instituting the Trade, Investment, and Labour Mobility Act (TILMA), with neither a referendum, nor, in this case, recourse to the elected legislature. These actions are not those of an open, honest and transparent democracy that has been promised by so many politicians, this is rule by fiat, and the ties between big business and government resemble the same kind of corporate rule the Mussolini called fascism, without wanting to put too fine a point on it.
What is the alternative? In France, Lionel Jospin spent five years as Prime Minister, supposedly as a counterpoint to Chriac’s “business friendly” policies. It didn’t make much difference as corporations posted record profits and closed factories in France, and the British fared little better with their “labour” government under Tony Blair who, in many cases managed to out-Thatcher Margaret herself. At one point, Germany (under Schroeder), France and Britain all had “left-wing” governments, but the process of governing didn’t seem to move much to the left, with the possible exception of Jospin’s 35-hour work week. Voters seem to get a little confused by the labels. It’s telling that in last years presidential elections, Segolène Royal, the Socialist candidate, had expressed open admiration for Blair and his views on trade and government. So it’s not too surprising to see most of what’s left of the Socialist horde in the French legislature vote for the Treaty of Lisbon when said treaty is pretty hostile to the well-being of labour. François Mitterand was President for fourteen years and managed nary a dent in the armor of the business community. Money went elsewhere, just as it did in BC during the reigns of Harcourt, Clark and Dosanjh, a ten-year span where some people may have made out like bandits, but where the majority of the citizenry had to make do with the crumbs that fell off the table as social programs were cut back, despite the reputation of the NDP as being the party of big taxes and big spending. So, in the face of political groups that are only paying lip service to social justice, the question remains, is there an alternative?
What’s the point? Wake up, make some noise, ensure that your fellow citizens are aware of how their business is being done. If we’re still, as a majority, willing to sit still and follow the lead set out by Gordon Campbell, Stephen Harper, Chrétien, Mulroney, Martin, Harris, Klein, Stelmach, Charest and the rest, then those of us who think things should be otherwise may just have to accept the consequences.
Parliament Prepares To Get Back To Work
Having dispersed to their ridings for a strenuous six-week stint of glad-handing, turkey-bingeing, ribbon cutting and general hibernation, our elected representatives are wending their way back to Ottawa to begin the next session of Parliament and, for those who view the House as a slightly more engaging and convoluted reality show than the networks generally offer, this promises to be a really cherry session. For me, the most exciting part will be to watch Stephen Harper as he continues to work to hide is real agenda of deconstructing Canada for the greater benefit of the North American Competitveness Council, and to watch Stéphane Dion as he squirms trying to look green while fronting a party that started much of Harper’s agenda. There is the small matter of a budget, the first in a decade or so that may feature a deficit in the context of an economy that managed to eat itself before many Canadians managed to get a bit of the boom, and of the Adventure in Afghanistan, wherein John Manley dutifully delivered a report that (surprise!) sets rather silly conditions for a continuation of a mission started by Paul Martin and from which politicians, by and large, seem not to want to cut and run. The general sentiment on the part of the Canadian public, if we can believe any polls (these could only be believed because they run contrary to what the central political and business establishments want), appears to be that we should never have been there in the first place and that we should skeedaddle out of Kandahar as fast as out little LAVs can take us. Sure, Rick Hillier and his cheerleading squad, led by our own darling Rock-‘Em-Sock-‘Em Don Cherry, assure us that Canadian soldiers are as good at killing people as the best in the world, but there remains the fact that none of our stated motives for being embroiled in this mess stands up to any kind of reasoned scrutiny and so, good at military games as we may be, we should bring our army home where they can look after civil functions, or get back to promoting peace in areas where the people genuinely want us to be.
Will Dion’s wavering combine with Layton’s and Duceppe’s actual opposition to bring down the government, or will Dion keep telling us that the Canadian people don’t want an election (read: the polls don’t favour us) and prop up the most destructive government that this country has known (Martin, Chrétien and Mulroney are just barely off the hook)? Wrapped up in the budget issue will also be initiatives to curb climate change and to move to a more sustainable economy, though it seems likely, with Baird still in the Environment portfolio and Harper in the driver’s seat, that there will be more smoke than fire, that Rome will continue to burn while the CPC and friends fiddle with the Tar Sands and profit margins. Under the radar, there is still some concern about how our health care system is (not?) functioning, while Brian Day of the CMA works like crazy to get his string of private clinics up and paying from the public trough. Harper’s Billion Dollar Baby, the gift of our own money to remediate the damage done to communities marginalized by the offshoring of jobs and the general business-friendly booming economy, gets delayed in the run-up to a possible election, and then grieved as an illegal subsidy by interests in the American manufacturing and timber lobbies.
Perhaps Canadians may start to see through the charade of our current economic and political system, and perhaps they will develop some enthusiasm for creating a more positive and inclusive way of doing directing our society. In that vein, here is a quip from Paul Hawken, whose books on sustainable business point to ideas that we might want to consider:
“We know how to transform this world to reduce our impact on nature by several fold, how to provide meaningful, dignified living-wage jobs for all who seek them, and how to feed, clothe, and house every person on earth. What we don’t know is how to remove those in power, those whose ignorance of biology is matched only by their indifference to human suffering. This is a political issue. It is not an ecological problem.”
There are many good ideas out there, including Hawken’s; I’m about halfway through Lester Brown’s Plan B 3.0 which details in some depth the crises that we face on a global scale, but which have direct consequences for us in Canada, and which also highlights possible directions for overcoming these difficulties. It’s interesting to note that much of what stands out as material for solutions is already within our grasp, and that’s the kind of encouraging sign that should help to keep people from throwing up their hands and saying that they can do nothing as a mere individual.
Primaries in the U.S.
A belated update, post-South Carolina…
Things seem to be shaking out. Kucinich has quit, Obama has won another, I haven’t heard what Gravel is doing (it probably matters little), and Edwards seems to be getting closer to acknowledging that he’s not a serious contender, although he plans to play a role at the convention. August seem far, very far away. So we’re left with an African-American and a woman as a choice. It might lead one to wonder whether the Republicans have set the Democrats up for failure, given that there is probably a portion of the electorate that will not vote for either a woman or a person of colour, and not all of them are Republicans. I have some of the same feeling that I had when Segolène Royal became the PS candidate in the French Presidential elections last year (never mind that she’s a Blair Socialist) where I suspect that part of the reason she lost was that she was a soman, and that a psrt of French society is just not prepared to see women fill the premier roles in their governments. Scandinavia has shown us that it can be otherwise, and that not all women heads of state have to be Thatcherites (as I suspect Angela Merkel would like to be). The Royal nomination had a whiff of inevitability that seemed to be driven more by press and polls than by a sense of what her party really wanted, and the election was fought much more on personalities than on substantive issues. Does this all sound terribly familiar? It’s interesting to note that France 2 did a piece yesterday on Olivier Besancenot, the leader of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire as being the person who best embodies the ideas of the French Left. Is this true? Of is this a move by the French press to marginalize the entire left by labelling them Communist Revolutionaries?
(Please excuse any hyperbole or unsavoury metaphors …)
Now that the silliness is truly under way, and in light of how we as Canadians are affected by what takes place south of the border (especially with Harper’s New Government falling all over itself to engage in some gluteal osculation on the shrub and his minions) I guess I might just as well join the fray. I will pass on any individual comment on the Republican pack, choosing to see them all as somewhat off base people who don’t really understand democracy or the separation of church and state or the violent disconnect between their platforms and anything that resembles a program that would support life on this planet beyond the end of this presidential mandate. They differ by degrees only, and their understanding of democracy serves mainly to subvert and/or circumvent any real democracy.
The Democrats, for the most part, come close to falling into the same category. Hilary, we must keep in mind, was so enamoured of change that she worked for Richard Nixon in 1960. She voted for the war in Iraq, for the Patriot Act, has tagged along with continued crisis in health and education, failed to work to prevent media concentration or to preserve Net neutrality, and has generally fallen into the camp of those who represent Wall Street and Miltonian economics. With Obama, the screen is a little more stragegically placed. He talks a lot about this being the time, about how change is in the wind, without ever saying what that change might be: should we be thinking thoughts similar to Reagan’s “Morning in America” pronouncements?With both of these candidates, we have to wonder whether or not the US will abide by an election that places a woman or an African-American in what is supposed to be the pinnacle of power (don’t tell that to Dick Cheney!), even if Hillary has all the credentials to put her on an equal footing with Margaret Thatcher, and Barack may turn out to be more of a Clarence Thomas than a Martin Luther King. Edwards talks a good line, but his underlying policies still won’t address the imbalances created by so many years of Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush monkey-wrenching at the innards of both the mechanism and the intended effects of the Constitution.
If you have considerable time resources, have a look at the video links below. Neither Kucinich nor Gravel has a snowball’s chance in deepest perdition of getting elected, likely because people are afraid of real change, and because either one of these gentelmen tells more truth in the course of either of these clips than Bush The Younger, Clinton, Bush The Elder, and Reagan totalled in their twenty-eight years at the helm (assuming that Pelosi will keep impeachment off the table, and assuming that our current resident of Pennsylvania Avenue stays true to form). There is a particular comment of Gravel’s about Obama raising expectations and not being able to deliver on those expectations (or was it Mr. K.?) that speaks volumes about the low voter turnout of the recent history of elections. Too many disappointments lead to apathy and a sense of disenfranchisement.
Dennis Kucinich has a few words…
What Makes Dennis Run
Mike Gravel also has a few words…
Mike Gravel Rates Democrat Opponents
And big thanks to IWT Real News Network, who, of course, could use some support to het a full television network.
Here is a thought or two about what life looks like for many of us…
I can recall having this thought on several occasions over a period of a couple of years in the period 1997-99, having this sense when someone asked me how I was, usually responding something like:”Fine, how about you?” or something equally innocuous. The real sense was that my own personal life was just ducky, that I lived in a harmonious house with a wife and stepson about whom I cared deeply, that I had a career that was rewarding in many ways, that my personal financial situation was more than satisfactory, and that I had the time, resources and motivation to engage in a variety of personal pursuits. But I also sensed that as I looked progressive farther away from my own personal world and got out into a wider world, the picture got less and less rosy, that on a macro scale, dishonesty and greed, as well as a lust for power were creating circumstances such that large parts of humanity wouldn’t be able to enjoy the same engagement and peace of mind that I felt. The more I read, and the more broadly I read as I delved into these questions, the more the divergence became apparent. So here is Matthew Taylor’s column that set me back on my heels for what I percieve to be his efforts to downplay the perilous circumstances in which we find ourselves, or to dismiss them altogether. Taylor’s background sheds some light on how he might arrive at these conclusions, and the comments posted at the end of the article are at least as interesting as, and often more perceptive than, the article itself.
A dangerous gap exists between our personal experience, which is mainly happy, and our view of a society in decline
the following bit comes from an article in The New Statesman at:
Why Life Is Good
Progressive ideology relies on the capacity of human beings to live fulfilled lives in a just and co-operative society. That people whose beliefs imply optimism seem to spend most of their time wallowing in pessimism is one reason that leftists sometimes lack personal credibility (another reason being that egalitarians so clearly enjoy being very well-off). But miserable idealists need to make a New Year resolution to look on the bright side. Pessimism is becoming an impediment to progressive politics. It is 50 years since J K Galbraith coined the phrase “private affluence and public squalor”; today, the dichotomy is between private hubris and public pessimism.
It is pessimism of a particular and pernicious kind. People are not generally negative about their own lives. In fact, we systematically exaggerate the control we have as individuals. As Malcolm Gladwell, among others, has shown, we tend to give our conscious minds credit for many reactions that are in fact instinctive. Other studies – of what we say has made us happy and what has actually increased our levels of contentment – show that we have a huge capacity to rationalise our life choices. When we are forced to make a choice between limited options, we are as likely to end up claiming the choice as our own as we would if it were unconstrained. And the more we like a future possibility in our lives, the more inclined we are to believe it will happen. The human mind is hard-wired to be personally Panglossian.
In contrast, we are unduly negative about the wider world. As a government adviser, I would bemoan what we in Whitehall called the perception gap. Time and again, opinion polls expose a dramatic disparity between what people say about their personal experiences and about the state of things in general. Take attitudes towards public services. In a recent poll, 81 per cent of respondents said that they were happy with their last visit to hospital. Yet when the same people were asked whether they thought the National Health Service was providing a good service nationally, only 47 per cent felt able to declare it was so, and most think the NHS is going to get worse.
RIP Oscar Peterson
Last Monday, I was saddened to learn of the passing of Oscar Peterson, one of my favourite musicians. Even if I weren’t a fan of jazz, I would have to have admired the staggering technique that he demonstrated and the seeming ease with which he achieved such stellar results. He himself said in interviews that it was mostly due to hard work and persistence, but there had to be a serious dose of inspiration to go with the perspiration. I only had occasion to see him once, playing with Joe Pass at the concert hall at the University of Victoria, in 1979, when he was in the midst of his tenure with Pablo Records and working a lot with Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, Joe Pass, Milt Jackson, Toots Thielemans and others of that ilk. A local music teacher has arranged the tickets for those of us who were interested, and there must have been a dozen of us down for the weekend: the show didn’t disappoint. Said music teacher leaned over and remarked to my seat naeighbour that there certainly wasn’t a lot of white space on the pages from which these two were playing. Of course there was no written music, but it was a telling comment on the pyrotechnics from both players, who nonetheless managed to interact sensitively, to present a range of dynamic and feel and to fully engage the audience musically as well as technically. It was one of those shows that would either inspire of discourage other prospective players. I think for most of us, it was more inspiration than disincentive, even if the bar was set well above anything thatany of us were ever likely to achieve. Sometimes it’s just good to know that that level of attainment actually exists.
Peterson’s friend and fellow pianist Oliver Jones is reported to have said that Oscar’s passing is a terrible, terrible loss, and while it’s always sad to see a legend leave this life, I thought of his being 82 years old, of his having recorded several dozen albums, of having played thousands of concerts, of is having played with many of the best in his field, of his having achieved an appropriate degree of fame and fortune, including recognition by many beyond his chosen field, not to mention the satisfactions of family and friendship. I find it much easier to let go when someone has led a life as beautifully fulfilled as seems to be the case with Oscar Peterson. I was reminded of the day back in December of 1969 that I heard that “Magic Sam” Maghett had passed away: he was thirty-two and had just started to get the success and recognition for which he had worked for more than a dozen years. Even though he was unlikely to scale to musical heights achieved by Peterson, it seemed sad for such a relatively young man to pass from a heart attack right there on the verge of fulfillment.
The Cone of Silence
It’s been all trial news all the time, with brief respites while the New Government took a few moments away from stalling the Bali talks to override the regulatory commission so that AECL can continue to run its reactor with cooling issues (there’s never any shortage of pecadillos to discuss!). The last week or so, it’s been hard to dodge coverage of the happenings in New Westminster relating to Robert Willie Picton and the six murders of which he’s now been convicted, but there were breaks from that so that Heather Hiscox could keep us up on speculation about what would happen with Conrad Black, and in each case, enormous resources were deployed to report what takes little time or resources to report, resources spent discussing endless minuteae and speculating in a way that adds nothing to the actual news value of stories that have essentially already been told. It’s as if nothing else worthy of discussion is happening in the World.
Surprise, surprise! In a Vancouver courtroom, David and Aneal Basi and Bob Virk are being tried for charges of corruption relating to the RCMP raids on the legislature back in December of 2003. We’ll soon be at the four-year anniversary of the raids themselves, and I believe the trial is still at the stage of preliminary hearings, largely due to some interesting stalls on the part of the prosecution, incomplete disclosures followed by avalanches of heavily redacted documents, and now testimony behind doors closed not only to the public and the media, but, it seems, to the defendants and their representation as well. This reeks of the “state secrets” justification put forward by the US government in its dealings with the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The Legislature Raids are a matter of public record, they concern our government, and there should be no secrets in a trial that sheds light on an affair that concerns all of us. But there are few cries for redress of the situation.
Perhaps there are no cries for redress because few people are acquainted qith the facts of the case, and that would be easy, given that there seems to be no significant coverage in broadcast media, the the coverage in the print press has been scanty and tended to avoid some of the underlying issues. Were it not for Bill Thielemann, BC Mary, and Robin Matthews, it’s likely that the whole mess would have gone down the memory hole and been forgotten along with so many other government misdeeds.
Wait! Here’s a link to a National Post story from BC Mary’s blog (it’s enough to give you a sense of what might be at stake here:
BC Mary’s blog:
Robin Matthews writes for Vive Le Canada:
Bill Tieleman’s blog:
A Perspective On Gas Taxes
This is letter written by a local blogger I happen to know well…
Dear Ms Bader,
(B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation)
I recently read your column titled “Say No to Gas Tax Hike” published by Westcoaster.ca
Your views are shared by many, but as with many major societal changes, change comes slowly, and reluctantly. My purpose is not to argue about man-made climate change, scientific proof will be many years in the future.
CO2 emissions are simply a symptom of a much greater and fundamental problem. The Human Race transitioned to fossil fuels in the 18th century…. the reason why oil prices are so high and we are building giant Natural Gas import plants is because we are nearing the end of our fossil fuel endowment which we started using 200 years ago.
According to Natural Resources Canada, take away the Oil Sands, and Canadas conventional oil supply is already past its “peak” production and Natural Gas will peak within 4 years. After being some of the largest exporters in the world, Mexico, the UK, Indonesia are also declining in their production, and exports… Russia is set to decline within 5-10 years, and Saudi Arabia, the largest of all… may have peaked this year. Now if you say ‘we have oilsands’, you’re right… but it takes millions of cubic feet of NG… in fact the energy from a barrel of tarsand synthcrude is only 2:1 compared to the energy used to produce it. Conventional crude is about 16:1.
And our 3 million barrels a day by 2020 will only satisfy 3% of projected world demand by then.
The bottomline is that $80 oil is only the beginning… crude oil is 70% of the price of gas at the pump. So when oil hits $100, $125 (equal to the ’70s high), or $150… in the next 5, 10, 15 years, how much will gas be then? The Loonie will rise right along with it… hitting our exporters even harder. 1% more in gas taxes will be nothing in comparison, even raised more overtime. Our economy, if it is still completely dependant on fossil fuels for its energy needs, will suffer every step of the way…
If on the other hand we gradually raise gas taxes, yes there will be economic hardship… but
IF INVESTED PRUDENTLY, those taxes and other incentives can be used to wean our economy off of fossil fuels and increase our efficiency drastically…. while at the same time leaving that much more for us to export to other needy oil importers (mainly the US).
It is my hope that the Canadian Taxpayer federation will be one of the champions of this strategy because in the end… the less fuel we use, the less tax we pay, both to the gov. and to our Environment.
The basis of my argument is not scientific consensus, it is mathematical certainly. For more on this phenomenon, and specifically how it affects oil exports from the worlds largest supporters, please go here:
“Declining net oil exports–a temporary decline or a long term trend?”
(I wrote Chris to tell him that my take on the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation is that they mostly care about not paying taxes, and it would be anathema to them to even consider a society investing something through the government and that might be meant to serve the common good. The problem with his letter is that it makes entirely too much sense.)
Look After It : September 24, 2007
I’ve crossed paths with older objects lately, not on the order of medieval castles or Roman ruins, but bits and pieces of what used to be everyday life around the Alberni Valley as well as generally in North America. In part, this is because we’ve had a parade of visitors from other parts of the province, the country and the continent come through our house this summer, and the presence of people from elsewhere encourages us to get out and see what there is to see locally, to hike local trails and to participate to some extent in local cultural gatherings. This begins with what looks to be a 1920’s vintage Ford truck driving down Kitsuksis hill and finishes with the fly-by of the Martin Mars over Victoria Quay as part of the opening of the Salmon Festival. Along the way, there was a show and shine event that was part of the Thunder In The Valley race meet, and the obligatory trip to McLean’s Mill Historical Site via the Alberni Pacific Railway. The Fall Fair parade provides a view into the same phenomenon. As we move farther into what looks like an uncertain future, it’s always interesting and rewarding to have these historic anchors, these reminders of a past that held out more hope and less uncertainty than the present that confronts us.
Each of these encounters was the occasion for some reflection on why we surround ourselves with bits of our past and how those objects influence our present actions, as well as our capacity to plan for the future. The first thought that leaps to mind is that those objects that stand the test of time for durability or meaning show a level of quality beyond what we find in the objects that presently surround us. I have a pen that my grandmother gave me in 1967 and, despite having to retrieved it from the driveway following a snowfall or the garden fence when I went straight from work out to the yard one time, despite being dropped innumerable times, sat upon and otherwise abused, it still works if I keep the ink supply in order. It is demonstrably a quality item, and it has meaning as well: my grandmother was a one-of-a-kind rebel, painter, thinker and gambler and this pen is my tangible connection to her.
Herein lies another key: we make meaning through objects, either physical or cultural. Our particular community defines itself as a logging community, even though a small minority of its citizens make their living directly from the forest, and the forestry infrastructure business has shrunk along with the rolls of direct forest jobs. This is a fairly common phenomenon in resource-based communities where the resources run out or the major industrial process shifts production elsewhere. However, the artifacts of our community still reflect a preoccupation with forestry, the Hayes trucks, the Martin Mars, the Allis-Chalmers grader, the steam donkeys, the McLean Mill itself and the railroad that feeds the Mill. In an era of throwaway articles, we have ample examples of “bygone” technology that continues to function, and which, in some cases, functions as well as, or better than, more recently-developed tools. As we have become a society that throws articles away at the least malfunction, we seem not to have entirely lost the sense that there are some things that ought not to be dsicard, but that should rather be tinkered with, repaired, modified and coddled back to life.
The final thought that came unbidden while watching the Ford truck come down the hill and that has occurred to me on previous occasions when I see long lines of spotlessly restored cars, or a flotilla of polished and varnished wooden boats gathered in a harbour, or when I see footage of some ancient aircraft put in flying condition: wouldn’t society be healthier if we treated animate beings as well as we treat our inanimate objects?
Here Are Some Recent Pictures of Artifacts In Local Circulation
(All Photos are copyright Dan Schubart 2007)
Dismissive and Dishonest: Those Who Claim to Represent Us
A video clip shows our Prime Minister being very dismissive of the demonstrators at the recent SPP meeting in Montebello, Quebec, portraying as a lunatic fringe splinter group those standing up for the principles of Canadian democracy, of open debate and a clear definition of issues, costs and benefits while he sits with the corrupt and less-than-elected leaders of our SPP partners and the North American Competitiveness Council to divide up the spoils of the entire hemispheric economy. Harper’s whole being exudes condescension and contempt and shows an utter unwillingness to throw light on the concerns of Canadians who see our nation slipping increasingly into the grasp of a corporate minority that stands to benefit from the downward standardization of regulations, the emasculation of governments at all levels, and the disenfranchisement of citizens in general.
Then, in the context of this contempt, the Surêté du Québec inserted black ops provocateurs into the midst of the demonstration to foment violence and discredit those who stand for an open and democratic Canada. Early denials were negated by what appears to be clear evidence of the SQ people sharing equipment with their battle-dressed brethren, and by the lack of any record of detention of any of the “protesters”. A YouTube video put paid to the denials and the SQ finally owned up that they had, indeed, sent in phony protesters. Questions remain as to whether the SQ was operating on its own, or whether the operation was planned in concert with the RCMP and/or American security personnel on duty at Montebello, and what might have been the role of the Prime Minister in sanctioning the infiltration of a peaceful demonstration. It seems that the Canadian electorate is unlikely to find out, given Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day’s denial of the need for a public inquiry, in effect saying that the government has the right to do whatever it darn well pleases without any sort of public scrutiny
Stephen Harper was elected largely to remove the corruption and deception that his predecessors represented, particularly in relation to the Sponsorship Scandal, but he has proven throughout his tenure that he is cut from the same cloth of deception and misdirection as the Martin and Chrétien governments, that he is willing to spend billions on defence boondoggles and promotion of a rosy view of the ineffective and deadly adventure in Afghanistan, that he is a willing shill for the American War on Terror, that he wants Canadians to be afraid the better to control their options, and that he places no premium on honesty and forthrightness. What he is saying to the citizens of Canada is that they will never know for sure that their government is acting in a manner befitting the values of most Canadians, that citizens will never know whether the fringe elements from the political extremes are throwing rocks, or whether the attackers are hired guns from the ranks of police forces, and certainly that it is perhaps a risky business to express an opinion other than that expressed by Mr. Harper and his friends in the NACC and in Washington, D.C. The current administration has, either by commission or by omission, shown clearly that it is unworthy of the public trust and needs to be removed.
No oil? Canadian Renewable Fuels Association to the rescue?
So here we are at http://www.greenfuels.org/, where we are told that we have made in Canada solutions to possible shortages of oil and to the increasing emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, with a chance to watch the television ads and to thank the Prime Minister for promoting Canadian ethanol use instead of gasoline, and biodiesel instead of the old petro diesel. This comes with big “thumbs up” signs for Jobs, The Environment, the Economy and Me. This has to be good stuff. Actually, it’s a good way for big Agrindustry to dispose of “spare” stocks of grain and to keep prices high while they continue to run down soils, expend big energy on mega-farms, constrict biodiversity through germplasm patents and genetic manipulation, continue dousing the landscape with noxious chemicals and take control of the majority of the food supply. Follow the links on the CRFA site to the About Us heading and you see that there are some pretty heavy hitters here, notably Archer Midland Daniels and Suncor Energy Products (they of the Tar Sands), Shell Canada (they of the Tar Sands, the Niger Delta, and the like), and Monsanto. There is a disturbing overlap between those belonging to this association and those involved with the CCCE as outlined below. In other words, we’re going to try to solve our grave problems with the same sort of thinking that got us into the mess in the first place, contrary to the best advice of Einstein.
Speaking of programs to promote biofuels in the UK, noted climate change chronicler and critic George Monbiot recently noted in an article from the Guardian:
“…they are a formula for environmental and humanitarian disaster. ” He continues: “Since the beginning of last year, the price of maize has doubled. The price of wheat has also reached a 10-year high, while global stockpiles of both grains have reached 25-year lows. Already there have been food riots in Mexico and reports that the poor are feeling the strain all over the world. The US department of agriculture warns that “if we have a drought or a very poor harvest, we could see the sort of volatility we saw in the 1970s, and if it does not happen this year, we are also forecasting lower stockpiles next year”. According to the UN food and agriculture organisation, the main reason is the demand for ethanol: the alcohol used for motor fuel, which can be made from maize and wheat.”
This looks again like the rich will pre-empt the food stocks and use grain that might otherwise feed hungry people to fuel their vehicles.
Bob St. Peter Published an article from Common Dreams (http://commondreams.org) entitled “You Can’t Eat Gasoline” on March 9th of this year, from which the following passage:
“Then there is all the corn that is turned into sweeteners, plastics, and increasingly, fuel for our cars. Surely if the reason for chemicalizing, industrializing, centralizing, and genetically modifying our food supply is to feed the world, then the benevolent folks at Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, ConAgra, Monsanto, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and the U.S. Treasury must be working day and night to ensure that all people are fed before converting coveted grain into soft-drinks, take-out containers, and gasoline. Surely.
Take ethanol as one example of Big Food’s insincerity. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 18 to 20 percent of the total U.S. corn crop will be diverted to the production of ethanol; By next year it will be 25 percent. The demand for ethanol has driven the price of corn up by nearly 70% in the last six months, sending shock waves through the food system. In Mexico, the price of tortillas has tripled since November. In the U.S. the price of corn-based chicken feed has risen 15 percent. Clearly those who are already hungry or marginalized by a market-based food system are going to be most affected by this diversion of food for fuel. The folks who will be most harmed are the same folks Big Food claims to be working for.”
Patricia Grogg wrote in the Inter Press Service (http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=36823), mirrored at http://www.commondreams.org/headlines07/0307-06.htm, an article wherein is outlined a plan by Cuba and Venezuela to produce fuel from pland wastes left after sugar production. Her article offers this perspective: “Other experts participating in the forum on Cuban state television were insistent on the danger posed by the global biofuels fever to developing countries, as industrialized nations “talk of substituting one (energy) source for another, without changing their current patterns” of high consumption.
“What they are considering is a scheme in which most of the biofuels are produced in underdeveloped countries in Asia, Latin America or Africa, to be exported to the industrialized world,” said Ramón Pichs, of the World Economy Research Center (CIEM). According to this model, developing countries would provide large areas of their cultivable land and cheap labor, and suffer a negative impact on food production and the environment, he said. According to Pichs’ calculations, filling a car’s five-gallon tank with biofuel for two weeks would consume the amount of grain that would feed 26 people for a year.”
What we see is a group of leaders, including G.W. Bush and Lula Da Silva of Brazil, looking to do deals that don’t take into account the needs of the hungry in developing nations as the resources of poorer countries are exported to richer countries so that mostly North Americans and Europeans can continue to live a profligate lifestyle.
If you actually take the time to watch the advertising material from the CRFA, you’ll see that they even promote the use of large SUVs as long as they are fuelled by ethanol. It’s clear evidence that this is a group posing as part of the solution to climate change and finite fossil fuels, but which in reality represents the fast-buck Freddies that have greased the ways on which we’re sliding to a nasty end. Don’t buy it.
Junk Culture: Don’t Step Outside the Accepted Parameters!
“And the Records Department, after all, was itself only a single branch of the Ministry of Truth, whose primary job was not to reconstruct the past but to supply the citizens of Oceania with newspapers, films, textbooks, telescreen programmes, plays, novels — with every conceivable kind of information, instruction, or entertainment, from a statue to a slogan, from a lyric poem to a biological treatise, and from a child’s spelling-book to a Newspeak dictionary. And the Ministry had not only to supply the multifarious needs of the party, but also to repeat the whole operation at a lower level for the benefit of the proletariat. There was a whole chain of separate departments dealing with proletarian literature, music, drama, and entertainment generally. Here were produced rubbishy newspapers containing almost nothing except sport, crime and astrology, sensational five-cent novelettes, films oozing with sex, and sentimental songs which were composed entirely by mechanical means on a special kind of kaleidoscope known as a versificator. There was even a whole sub-section — Pornosec, it was called in Newspeak — engaged in producing the lowest kind of pornography, which was sent out in sealed packets and which no Party member, other than those who worked on it, was permitted to look at.” (The emphasis is mine.)
—George Orwell, 1984
There has been considerable consternation with the lack of real news appearing in the mainstream media, and with the cheerleading for policies such as the Iraq war, warantless spying, provisions of the Patriot Act, environmental degradation, tax breaks for the wealthy, No Child Left Behind and a host of other assaults on a pluralistic, secular and egalitarian society. One of the most popular forms of cultural expression is music, and it seems increasingly that this form of expression and its general dissemination is being dominated by a small number of corporate entities whose politics coincide with those of the current administration.
What this means is that any musical work that contains a message not consistent with the corporate structure is simply kept off the mainstream airwaves, recieves no airplay and hopefully is consigned to the dustbin of musical trivia. It is left to word-of-mouth networks and the alternate press to continue to give voice to musicians who challenge a system whose primary purpose is to generate income for those already on the wealthy side of the income divide.
There are numerous jokes circulating about the repetitive nature of the lyrics of country songs, the missing horse, the woman who left, let’s party. Ditto blues lyrics, beyond which there is a considerable body of content that, were it not for historical context, would be almost totally offensive. Why is it that we have laws against violence and eventual murders, but that many a classic of popular music contains lyrics that recount, presage, intimate and sometimes glorify those same transgressions? Beyond the objectionable texts, an awful lot of popular music expresses little beyond a desire to find love, and much of that love boils down to lust. Love and lust are important enough, but I find myself wondering how many love songs we need, and whether the songs actually help us along in our quest for acceptance, for romance, for sexual fulfillment.
I would particularly recommend having a look at the footage on the Before The Music Dies site about how hit records are made. It’s something that’s been bothering me for a bit, and which eerily reflects the above quote from Orwell. It’s part of the same eerie feeling I get sometimes when I’m caught in a shopping mall, that being that they all have the same stuff, the same people, the same air, the same ambience.
Here is the site of the largest of the airwaves conglomerates:
Here is a link to an organization that opposes concentration of media ownership:
This is a site promoting diversity of music. It has some interesting footage about the making of hit songs as well as material critical of current music industry policies:
This is a link to a 2004 Project Censored story about Clear Channel and criticism of the effects of its dominant position in the industry:
The Dixie Chicks, darlings of the country music establishment as long as they dealt with traditional themes, came in for a firestorm of negative attention when they criticized the current administration and its march to war in 2003, a prime example of the often not-so-subtle pressures brought to bear on non-conforming artists.
As an afterthought, I remember hearing Arthur Lyman’s instrumental version of “Love For Sale” when I was a young gaffer and really enjoying it. A mere couple of years ago, I looked at the title and thought about how it might be construed as having to do with prostitution, then thought no more about it until I actually heard Billie Holiday’s version, and read about the stir it caused upon release.
Those same lyrics:
Still working on the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association.
March 10, 2007
A report this morning on CBC News sent me scurrying to the Web to check it out and to share the news with others who share some of my concerns about how the world functions. It seems that Tom D’Aquino and his friends at the Canadian Council of Cheif Executive Officers have chosen a blue-ribbon panel on climate change from amongst their ranks
I’m overjoyed to see that the heavy hitters from the business community are finally taking notice of the fact that we face a crisis of unprecedented proportions. It’s odd in some ways that the “Liberal” government in BC and the Conservative New Government in Ottawa managed to beat the CCCE to the punch, even if only by a matter of weeks. Surely it’s good that this sector of the community is finally on board. Now we can start the party.
Oops! not so fast, it seems. The list of participants on the panel from the CCCE includes people from the following enterprises:
E.I. Du Pont Canada Company (chemicals)
Shell Canada Limited (petroleum)
Imperial Oil Limited (petroleum)
Direct Energy (petroleum)
Teck Cominco (mining)
General Electric Canada
Ultramar Ltd. (petroleum)
Canadian Oil Sands Limited (petroleum)
Suncor Energy Inc.
GreenField Ethanol Inc.
Canadian Pacific Railway Company
Do we begin to get a sense of where the discussions might be going? Tom D’Aquino, speaking on CBC radio this morning said that the panel was uniquely positioned to ask the tough questions that governments seemed unwilling or unable to tackle, but it seems that a lot of the hog-tying that’s gone on has been at the behest of people like the CCCE who probably have more influence in Ottawa and at the provincial level than any other group, and that they’ve been willing to trump the wishes of the Canadian public at many turns in the interest of solidifying and extending their wealth and power. This is very scary stuff because, despite the bleatings of long-term committment to the welfare of the planet, the actions of this group and of its members have yet to demonstrate the concern to which they lay claim. This looks just too much like the foxes lining up to tell the rest of us chickens how to run the hen house. It’s also a little scary that these characters don’t join anyone else’s discussions or even invite a great deal of participation from other groups, aside from a few chosen academics who seem to be there mostly for window dressing. If you think the IPCC report got watered down a bit, just think of what telling insights the serious environmentalist might be able to get through the final stages of reporting out of this group.
March 1, 2007
Does This Look Familiar?
Here is a link to a story about public infrastructure and public-private partnerships:
The article generally reflects what is happening here in B.C. where the Campbell government is forcing all provincial agencies to run projects worth more than $20 million through their appointed competition council which is actively promoting P3s as the only way for government to do business. Notice that investment banks are key players, and the stress in the article that corporations’ only reason for existing is to make profits for its shareholders. The ploy is to starve the government by reducing corporate taxes, then pleading that the government doesn’t have the resources to renew older projects or to build new projects and so has to have recourse to the private sector to get the job done. Schulman quotes Frank Busalacchi, the secretary of Wisconsin’s Department of Transportation: “The public sector’s responsibility is to ensure that we make wise choices with our citizen’s resources.” He goes on to say that the two functions are usually incompatible, and to urge that this debate get more public exposure. It just sounds all to familiar, and points up the connections between the ideology of the Campbell and Bush governments. I suspect that Stephen Harper is right in there.
New Leaders, New Directions
This weekend marks the selection of a pair of political leaders, Stéphane Dion to head the Federal Liberals and Ed Stelmach to lead the Alberta Conservatives. While there is some good news in both these selections, there is an underlying notion that trumps any potential good. The good news is that there is a face to the Federal Liberal Party and a general willingness to tackle the disaster that has been the government of Stephen Harper, who seems to be working not only to subvert the values and policies that make Canada what it should be, but also the dissolution of the country itself. Ed Stelmach was third in the last round of voting behind one candidate who was clearly stamped by the character of the outgoing premier and another who represented the radical right wing of the party. It is generally seen as a triumph of common sense, of the middle of the Tory road.
There is a force behind much of what every government of Canada has done since the mid-1980’s, a force that continues to drive much of the economic, hence political and social, agenda of this country at all levels of government. That force is the Canadian Council of Chief Executive Officers who represent some 150 of the most significant corporate players in the Canadian and North American markets, players who control assets of three trillion dollars, according to the article on Wikipedia.
“The Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE) is an association of Canada’s business leaders committed to the shaping of sound public policy in Canada, North America and the world.
The non-partisan and not-for-profit organization was founded in 1976 as the Business Council on National Issues to enable public-spirited leaders from every region and every major industry to devote their time and energy to addressing key issues that affect the country as a whole. Strongly committed to effecting economic, social and political change, the Council has repeatedly broken new ground with its ideas and has played an influential role in most of the major policy developments in Canada over the past three decades.
The members of the Council include the chief executive officers of some 150 leading Canadian corporations and Canada’s pre-eminent entrepreneurs. These companies administer C$3.2 trillion in assets, have annual revenues in excess of C$750 billion and account for a significant majority of Canada’s private sector investment, exports, research and development, and training.
As Canada entered the 21st century, it became clear that “national issues” increasingly had global dimensions. Addressing the key challenges facing the country therefore required a much greater degree of global engagement on the part of Canadian chief executives.
In 2001, the Council decided to expand its mandate. Reflecting the need for a clearer identity worldwide, it also changed its name to the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.” (from the CCCEO site )
This group has been actively (and proudly, it seems) promoting the North American Security and Prosperity Partnership. This is one of those titles that’s hard to dispute: who doesn’t want security and prosperity? Yes, we all do, just the way we thought Free Trade was a good idea back during the Uruguay round of trade negotiations in the mid-90’s. But like Bush’s Clear Skies and No Child Left Behind intitiatives, there hides considerable controversy behind the Motherhood and Apple Pie names.
This is an intitiative to further strengthen business ties between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, with increased harmonization (another of those words: there isn’t a lot of harmony in this for most folks) of customs, labour and environmental standards so as to promote the free flow of goods across increasingly invisible borders. The business community wants to do business, which is all well and good, but they want to proceed without the nasty meddling of governments whose electorates might want to ensure reasonable wages and working conditions, who might want to ensure that there exists a high level of protection for the environment, who might want to ensure that the supplies of food and water aren’t controlled by a small minority of greedy people, who might want to ensure that no citizen need be without the social safety net that is meant to protect people from the vicissitudes of the invisible hand of the market. Business, as represented by the CCCEO, wants to short-circuit the electoral process.
I’ve really enjoyed being a Canadian for the last 38 years, having spent the first 18 in the U.S. I came here because my family moved here, but I made a conscious decision to take out Canadian citizenship at the first available opportunity so as to fully participate in the rights and responsibilities of the the community in which I live. If it were the will of the majority of Canadians to erase the border and join in the festivities in the U.S., I would either go along or move along. But the majority of Canadians aren’t being consulted on this, much the way they were sold on the Free Trade Agreement and the GST. Note that the first visible signs of this, for those who haven’t been lurking around the CCCEO site, was when Paul Martin, Vicente Fox and George Bush got together to discuss the outlines of the NASSP in Waco, Texas, in 2005. Several meetings have been held by interested parties since, including a little gathring in September of this year in Banff. Did this get much publicity? No. The press is owned in its quasi-entirety by those aligned with the CCCEO and its partner organizations in the U.S. and Mexico. They likely don’t want us to sniff out too much of this before they’ve got the sales pitch worked out and can present this to us as inevitable.
This procedure is underhanded, dishonest and undemocratic. This is not the Canada I want, and I see it as my right and my responsibility to oppose this in any legitimate way possible.
December 5, 2006