Thursday, 27 May 2010
Good evening - I have not blogged in some weeks. Chalk it up to chaos and disorder in real life. It happens from time to time. Plus, it's summer. People want to party and go on vacation, not talk about the issues, right? Wrong. The media and the blogosphere are ablaze with controversy, anger, and hot issues (summits & oil spills, just to start) and the government at home's perpetual spin and the excuses-why-people-don't-care calendar it exploits to propound its dim, cynical vision for the country (xmas, olympics, spring, NHL playoffs, cottage, summer, back to school, repeat, we're focussed on the economy, you hate our troops, W E A R E R O B O T S who are not allowed to talk about anything else) seem finally to be wearing a little thin.
Rather than just rant and rave like I usually do, I am proposing a series this month that I conceived during my time off. Since our country (or at least, the politicians who represent it) seems to enjoy nothing more these days than giving lessons and talking-tos to other countries while actively encouraging the apathy and complacency of its own citizens to reach previously unforeseen heights, my series will focus on comparing Canada to some other countries it has parallels with (in my humble opinion). They may be a bit of a stretch for some but if you want to reinforce your preconceived notions, you could always go read the paper or watch CP24
This first one is a bit stale - from late May - but I have refurbished it
It's funny - I was pondering the title of this posting for a couple days when yesterday I find out the jersey that Paul Henderson was wearing when he scored the famous goal in the 1972 Summit Series is for sale. Not that I'd be buying; it seems like something that would only in the price range of a Russian oligarch. One of these guys like Roman Abramovitch whose main achievement, besides buying professional sports teams, sailing on aircraft carrier-style yachts off the Côte d'Azur, and dating much dumber and younger trophies, is having been in the right place at the right time. The place was Russia and the time was the early nineties. And in the frenzied chaos of the aftermath of communism, many of the country's enormous assets were sold to guys smart enough to be in the loop and capitalist under the soviet economy at bargain basement prices. When the dust had settled, something like 90% of the country's wealth was in the hands of 40 guys.
Why bring this up now? Well, things have just fallen into place. Last week in my facebook status, I mocked the Canadian government's crusade against the global bank tax. They argued against it, saying the "Canadian" approach worked best. And the Canadian approach is, well, an impenetrable oligarchy whose distinction from the government can become, well, fuzzy. And somebody I know, whose challenge I appreciated and whose opinions were thought out and well articulated, said to me regarding my comment that Canada had changed into the USSR. I said, what do you mean? He said CEOs were economically productive in the grand scheme of things and people should turn their populist anger on Lebron James and Brangelina's salaries instead. Not a bad point about the double standard, but then this bomb comes out. There it is, people. The top 10, the top 100, sliced, diced, and chronicled for your amusement by the Globe and Mail, who in my opinion have done the public an excellent with this very thorough executive compensation series.
There are people making absurd amounts of money in this country. Not, for the most part, Russian Oligarch levels of absurd, but far bypassing any human being's talent. The argument is always that they need to be compensated for their "top talent", whether its with public money or publicly traded money. Sure, they're salaries are always some pithy amount like a million dollars but add stock options and golden handshakes and the rest and these people make tens of millions, often on the way to billions. And this, I'm told, is the only thing that works. 40,000 years of human existence, but this is the way that it's always been.
So what I'm to understand is, fifty to a hundred white guys (no, there's maybe 1 brown guy, 1 chinese guy and 1 white woman now to show "diversity", we've come so far with that glass ceiling thing) are responsible for orchestrating all of it. The whole kit and kaboodle. The massive, building crescendo of Canadian consumer and real estate debt (big five banks), plundering resources from remote areas in Canada and in some of the poorest countries in the world where there are few to no white people (Toronto & Vancouver based, TSX listed resource companies), perpetuating telecom and media monopolies who inspire the national past time of bitching about them yet manage to keep acquiring and consolidating (Bell and Rogers and friends), and the cozy consumer staples - agribusiness (Metro, Loblaws, Sobeys) sector who sell the 99.9% of the populace that doesn't shop at Whole Foods and Pusateri's their grub.
In Russia, big, bad evil corrupt Russia, these sectors are all cornered by 1 monopoly each. In Canada we have 2 or 3 giants who pretend to be in competition with each other. In Russia, the political boss controls all of what get's said and authorizes the monopolies, talks to them regularly and probably has quite a heavy hand in running them. All very behind the scenes and unspoken, of course. In Canada the monopolies are also authorized, and talk to government regularly and receive government's authorization to keep doing what they're doing. That's why the federal finance minister asks the CEO of the biggest insurance company to go on a cross country tour (presumably to chat up some initiatives of his) and the biggest province's budget is now created by TD Bank, to name two examples. In both countries part of the population believes a ruthless small-man control freak leader is directly responsible for their perceived economic well being and to hear them tell it, stays up half the night worrying about it. And both countries have big, industrial, belching black resource extraction open pits (asbestos in the Urals + tar sands) way up their where nobody can see them or take any responsibility for them. Other than the monopolistic-oligarch interests which control them. This is changing, in this country.
The corporate culture of Russia has not, could not have been expected to, shed the baggage of control plan economics after only 25 years of "capitalism". And while our small business owners do not have to pay bribes to burly guys in black t-shirts named Vitaly, we suffer the same problems of too weak of a tax base that has been further weakened by cheap political posturing. Read this rap on the cost and headache of doing business in America, so-called world capital of capitalism and "champion of small government". The U.S. government gave out more money in the first three months of 2010 than any other time in its history. We are not far behind. This "small, reform" government hands out goodies and entitlements like nobody's business. And when talk moves to hitting up the monopolies for some of what they take from us (which is everything), who rises quickest to their defence? The government.
I'm reading Jane Jacobs The Nature of Economies right now and she talks about how an economy is successful, even though none of it is accounted for, when it follows the intricacies of something like the human body or nature. Adam Smith, capitalism's founder, understood that in 1760. But unfortunately, his ideas have had the very monopoly he warned against on the modus operandi of the market for 350 years, and a perverse version of it is killing different societies in different languages. Two of these societies are called Canada and Russia. Where a tiny kleptocracy continues sapping the population of the fruits of its innovation and productivity in the name of "growth" and "management".
Saturday, 22 May 2010
One of my favourite quotes is Winston Churchill's: "Study History! Study History!" There he sat on the poster in one of the classrooms I passed through during my academic career, hunched over his chair and staring at me with his no-lipped frown and single cocked eyebrow, stuffed into his black suit, the words loud and big in quotes underneath him. It was an impressive image that has obviously stayed with me. Ok Winston, I will. You look like you know what you're talking about. And this is an eminently quotable quote. Not like that stupid one about Russia being wrapped in custard wrapped in bacon or whatever; I think that one was at the end of that day's bottle. No, but seriously, people like to quote this guy. But they don't like this quote very much.
The huge bailout that was orchestrated by Henry Paulson (U.S. Treasury secretary at the time, former Goldman Sachs big cheese) and Ben Bernanke (Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve) in the fall of 2008 is now, with the passage of time, being revealed to be the utterly hopeless and bogus undertaking that it was. The chickens are coming home to roost, so to speak, or however that expression goes. The bailout actually did nothing but grant a repreive of two years, well, until now, before the fundamental issues which necessitated it had to be faced. America is in the exact same situation it was two years ago, which is overextended and deeply indebted because of wars, no health care, speculation and greed, and now it has a couple trillion more dollars of debt to show for its "recovery" efforts.
This is where the title comes in.
Because someone did study history. Ben Bernanke did. He is a student of the Great Depression, you see. His phd thesis argued that the depression would not have needed to be so long and so painful had the federal institutions of the time more capacity to intervene. In other words, bet on the future, lend money to banks that they don't have and you don't have to prop them up, pretend everything's going to be okay, say a hail mary and hope for the best. Interesting argument, but in any case its no longer being argued anywhere where it will affect anything. It's immaterial at this point because that is what he and Paulson went ahead and did. For good measure, with the benediction of Bush, to whom this made perfect sense, coming from the seasoned, neatly bearded economic scholar. In Paulson's taped confessions after he left office he says Bush routinely threw his hands up in the air at these meetings and said "Whatever. Do what you have to do. You guys are the experts.", but this I don't think I need to mention other than for the purposes of comic relief. It goes without saying by now that this stuff was not exactly in his intellectual weight category and not anything he could be personnaly held responsible for, especially when crash landing his way through the last months of his term.
But Bernanke was hailed as a visionary and a genius for it. His second term was confirmed by the Senate not long after and Time Magazine even named him person of the year. I'm not trying to be sarcastic about Ben Bernanke, I have no axe to grind with him personally. The issue I have is with the history he studied.
How can you compare the 1930s to now? Like seriously. Maybe 20% of the population at the very most was alive at all in that decade, and 80% of them were probably still infants. The cause of the depression decade was excessive speculation, like now. What did the government do? How did they respond? Infrastructure that needed to be built was built, unlike now. (Our stimulus gets us more lanes on highways to nowheresville suburbs and assorted pet projects in government held ridings). They enacted legislation to protect consumers, which up until then was non-existant. And other than that, people did something they don't know how to do now. They waited. They struggled. They did the best they could each day. And then a massive war started and all hands were needed on deck, flooding the economy with the jobs that it had been missing for a decade. It convieniently added women to the work force en masse, so that was using a previously dormant 50% growth trump card right there.
So in other words, demand was created by external forces: timing, circumstances, changes. Things changed on their own. They were not artificially manufactured to stay the same by government bailouts. Those sullen, sunken-cheeked newsboy-looking guys you see in breadline photos were not thinking about cash for clunkers, 42 inch plasmas from best buy, and ho ho hold the fucking payments on their living room sets from Leon's. And they were not being told like we are, however subtly, that it was their duty as citizens to buy new cars and couches and big screens even when were broke and, for the most part, still agree to do. The juxtaposition is to show the fallacy of comparing the recession of 08 with the depression. There is no comparison.
No, as students of history we can look at a much more recent period: 1980. The oil crisis was over and petroleum was cheap again, and Reagan told America to go blow its load for the next decade, so to speak. Sorry for the vulgarity but this is a much better comparison. The economy had been fully converted to consumer-and-debt based, manufacturing was shipped out, and urban sprawl was about to embark on its most massive push yet. These factors are much more in keeping with our times than 70 or 80 years ago. Thing was, Reagan had political capital to squander and American households still had some room to manouever. Now they don't. Everybody is maxed out. And America's recklessness has created real estate, asset and stock market bubbles everywhere else in the world that will pop when it does. I'm sorry, capitalism, but you're out of room and you're out of answers.
But instead, those years are remembered fondly by many people. Because they were good years. Life is way better for more people now than it was in the depression. And there was some stuff in the past thirty years that I can't deny was cool; internet and ipods and cheap plane tickets, to name a few. All I'm saying is there's a massive bill we have devilishly managed to postpone payment forever on, and the time has come to pay that bill, whether we like it or not. I'm not being smug, I'm worried and not looking forward to it either. If you've found a new source of confidence, please let me know.
Friday, 21 May 2010
Well, it's been awhile. The purpose of this posting is for lacking credentials to get back on side and, more importantly, to get its mutha-effin groove back. I have been busy lately, on the road here, quitting a bullshit job and starting a new better one there, and drinking beer, eating crap, and watching hockey as befits spring's transition into summer in between. All this has left my brain precious few cells and even less time to get down the thoughts, interpretations and analysis of our crazy 2010 world into the form of semi-coherent postings on here. I confess I did start two postings about passing, flickering issues in the news, but I'm happy now that I didn't go through with publishing those, because a better idea has now finished gestating in my brain.
And that idea is well, well, well. I've appreciated all the feedback I've gotten over the past six months that I've been doing this. But I don't censor myself and my opinions can be, well, offensive. I'm sorry. But those well, well, wells are reserved for all those people who have to resort to calling me a marxist or a communist to discredit me, to all the Kevin O'Leary types out there who continue to complain about big government spending and expansion and high taxes while snapping their suspenders over the luck they had in the corporate world and investing. For the economist and the globe business section and the wall street journal and MSNBC, I ask you what you have to say for yourselves. You are all moribund dinosaurs.
Why? For all your credibility and expertise, you stopped discussions in economics in plain language some time ago. Now you use the same words, like small scraps of dirty toilet paper trying to wipe an infintesmally bigger pile of shit. I want you to know that many of us know that none of you know what the hell you're talking about, and you are fooling some of the people some of the time at best. You talk about recession and recovery and the stock market and the housing market like they're as predictable as the ocean's tides or a baby's first steps. Thus we hear things like "markets experience their biggest drop since the recession on fears of the euro's stability" and "canadian banks cut their mortgage rates just as they are starting to raise them amid fears that the volatile euro could erase the recovery." as if those sentences had tangible meanings or were confirmations of some predictable outcomes. Go on the news sites where you read these headlines. Read the reader comments and look at the resounding amounts of thumbs up. Quickly you realize a large, smug, complacent part of the population is still convinced that government encouraged real estate speculation will propel them to ever higher heights of prosperity. They are convinced that the G20 has it all under control and Japan and Greece's poor economic performances are due to mismanagement and cronyism. In a large part they are, but more on that later. I'm saying now they should watch bragging about the low rates they got and the people living in their basement. They are really convinced by the illusion that somebody has everything all under control.
Well, it's not. It's actually totally out of control, which is why it cannot continue. If a "market in fragile recovery" like this one means a guy like me has to mortgage his life away for half a million dollars for an old crumbling house in a decent location or a huge, shittily-built developer house in the middle of nowhere, we got problems. My other option is to sign off for a mere three hundred thousand and take a tiny, shittily-built developer shoebox in the sky that comes with annually escalating maintenance fees even after I've paid it off. Do you see what we've done here? Why are we playing this stupid game?
Because it's become the fashionable, à la mode status symbol. In Canada, people shamelessly suck on their parents' teat until they have enough money to buy a house, sacrificing life experience, thrills, indepedence and pride. I wouldn't be making judgements on people's life choices if they were motivated by something more than a hollow, misguided desire to get into an overpriced real estate casino game. No matter your age, it draws a sympathetic "It's ok, hang in there"-type of response at a party whereas when you say "I'm renting" it roughly equates to "I'm transmitting leprosy to you right now", moreso the older you get. After all, according to Macleans, our new national past time is real estate: talking about it incessantly, buying it, and becoming experts on it. Who needs internet porn when you've got MLS?
I've got myself all worked up here again and you're asking: "Why are you so angry?" I'm not. But I think many people seem take the current situation for granted and choose not to see the factors at work because they are hard to define and understand. Other situations have factors that are easier to find and blame them on. The Japanese economic situation can be partly attributed to the men, yes they were all definitely men, still are, who ran the country and alas, allowed levels of speculation as stupid as North America's to occur. The Greek one can be attributed to a collective lack of responsibility and restraint in its social policies especially and the fraud its politicians were committing by fudging its books and placing their state in the common European currency. (Here's a sidebar question for us plebians, though. Why does Greece drag Germany down but New Mexico doesn't drag New York down? Actually, we just think of NY as rich. The states of New York and California have both been bankrupt for almost two years. Why doesn't that affect America's currency?) The gulf oil spill can be attributed to British Petroleum. The decline in the quality of Pink Floyd's music coincides with the departure of Roger Waters. Do you see what I'm trying to get at? That is my question. Do you make the connections?
We humans, when something goes bad, are evolved to search for and recognize causes, factors, responsible parties and then use our moral compasses to assign blame, failure and consequences. A government has a leader who fires lousy ministers, and who himself gets turfed in elections if he fails. Corporations have wildly overpaid CEOs who take the fall from the board of directors and shareholders when they underperform. Of course, the politician is often kept in power just the same by an indifferent and/or ignorant electorate and the CEO still gets a golden handshake beyond what most of us will ever earn in our entire lives but that's beside the point. The point is that even these terribly flawed structures are accountable on some level. We have names, faces, and quotes that we can use our imagination on to get riled up over and turn against them with. It's called the court of public opinion.
Yet capitalism failed abysmally on a global scale not even two years ago, not just for the three billion people it fails daily but for everyone, even us rich country folks, and here we are again all back to chugging the same damn koolaid. We have heightened awareness, fearlessness, the new decade on our side but all we can come up with is the koolaid that our numbers can keep going up in the west, year after year, despite higher and higher levels of consumer indebtedness and consistent failure to produce anything of value. Ability to drink kool-aid comes from one thing: confidence. It's where the expression comes from: Jim Jones' followers though he was god so they had the confidence to drink the koolaid that literally killed them. But consumer confidence, a murky and opaque thing that is impossible at best to measure, is what our entire economy is based on. And it in turn is based on shareholder confidence. And shareholder confidence is now based entirely on governments promising to print money and back countries and banks, even bankrupt ones, into infinity. Barack, still like him but he's a pretty big koolaidholic too, trying to pass reform that's going to make it easier for the government to come to the aid of banks à la Henry Paulson 2008. No doubt he's got the 7000 banks on the FDIC insolvency watchlist in mind, lest they threaten the sacred "recovery" cow That's why our own Canadian government can give countries shit for "being too indebted" but warn them in the same breath not to "withdraw their stimulus" and "threaten the recovery". Recovery towards what? More and more bubbles which will require more and more public debt to restore confidence? Where will it end? That structure is ridiculous, it's unsustainable, and perhaps it's most frightening aspect is it has no names and faces to hold accountable. This makes it perfectly incomprehensible to each one of us, from the bum on the street to conspiracy theory reading basement pot smoker to esteemed economist on the TV panel. All of the government-sponsored (meaning, sponsored by us, everyone) "recovery" is now threatened by a group of nameless, faceless investors who decided because of the Hellenic state to pull their money and are waiting for another trillion dollars of public money to come through, this time from Brussels so they can continue to fabously enrich themselves, like Fabulous Fab at Goldman, from speculation.
Friday, 7 May 2010
In 1999, at the height of their now regrettable popularity, Limp Bizkit released a duet with Method Man called "N 2gether Now". Each line of the catchy chorus was followed by a cheesy played-back sample of the words "Shut the fuck up". Whatever the rest of the awful lyrics to that song were, there was nothing memorable about them. Not surprising considering the backwards-red-yankees-baseball cap wearing moron singer who created them. Add the terrible, amateurish DJ scratching that was unfortunately common in rock at that time, and you have two good reasons why the ditty is evermore cringe-errific with each passing year. We can be grateful 11 years later that the lot of it has long been mercifully chucked into the "Pop culture's utterly worst abberrations" dustbin of history. Used CD store employees across North America will disdainfully hand you back your copy of the album, incredulous that you'd be silly enough to expect them to take it, even for free. They learned their lesson 10 years ago when they accepted everyone's copies and subsequently failed to sell a single one. This whole episode is clearly painful for anyone who remembers to bring up. And I wouldn't have, except I heard those words again, the "hook" of the lame tune as it were, in the media last week.
Shut the Fuck Up.
You're not actually allowed to say that on the radio. You'll have to insert a cuckoo clock or a fart noise to block the expletive or they won't play it. Against the law in Canada and America and enforced by a regulatory bodies, the CRTC here and the FCC there, who ensure the airwaves are kept clear of excessive potty-mouthery.
Yet the words came directly from the government, a Conservative senator. A highly esteemed woman, it appears, to have been the recent recipient of an appointment to the Red Chamber, which pays 133,000$ a year and a pension for life once mandatory retirement kicks in at 75. Apparently, this government's choice for the role of the wise old grey owls who are supposed to be the tut-tutting, modest, prudent voice of reason in this country's political system (they'd better be, at that wage) are people with Fred Durst-like levels of vocabulary and sophistication. Then again, they also appointed a functionally illiterate person to the same role (no disrespect to his hockey achievements). But this is not about appointments to the senate, which everyone agrees in its current form is pretty much indefensible. This is about the first time we've hear, what we know is the government's attitude and response to any and all dissent, unfiltered and unaltered.
The question, from many groups, was what is a Woman's Right to Choose in the third world in 2010?
The Conservative Senator's Response was Shut the Fuck Up.
Here's another example. Last year, over at Rights and Democracy, the non-partisan organization set up by Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in 1988 to promote, well, rights and democracy, there was conflict over the supposed non partisan mandate. The organization's President, Rémy Beauregard got told the four words so harshly that he had a heart attack and died. It was because he had dissenting views and the board did no less than plan his ouster right before his eyes. Over Israel, of course. The democracy promoting organism was paralyzed by an internal putsch.
Beauregard didn't want to shut the fuck up. And when he died, Conservative MPs told his widow to do the same as her dead husband. It's what anyone who criticizes Israel now has to do in Canada. Stephen Schleinberg, Vice President of B'nai Brith, Professor at Concordia University, and no Zionist slouch himself, explains the government's distaste for dissent and the infiltration of his originally community-minded Jewish charitable organization by ultra right wingers like Frank Dimant, who have converted it into a Conservative shill, in this excellent article. He is a man whose views are probably similar to the governments' and his colleagues' at B'nai Brith in many ways but who has dared, like any reputable person would, to question their objectivity and committment to free speech and found himself cast out by them.
Toronto asked why it was shut out of the government's stimulus plan. John Baird, the infrastructure minister, told the country's biggest city not to Shut the Fuck Up, but to "Fuck Off", for filling out the governments application wrong, even though it talks about the stupid plan like a broken record. More than likely the flight off the handle was permitted by the chief because the votes for that city are written off and the government prefers to hand out gifts in regions it already owns to solidify its support in them.
The irony with this one is it involves the government's other reflexive response to dissent, the Economic Action plan. This documents conversations that occurred where I live when a citizen asked their Conservative M.P. "So why exactly does the government feel it does not need to release these documents?" You'll see that he literally responded: "So, do you need some information about our economic action plan?"
These are all small and subtle issues which when separated are written off by the public as too complicated or inconsequential. But put them together and you see a pattern of a country, its people, its institutions, its safeguards, being told all the time every day to shut the fuck up. Look at some bigger issues like the nation's finances. The parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page, and the Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, have both been very brave in defending their independance and the integrity of their roles in the face of threats, intimidation and dismissal of their claims by the government. Page routinely calls the government out for its rose-coloured glass economic predictions and hiding or understating costs for policies it holds dear, like draconian law-and-order crime legislation (six months jailtime for 1 pot plant!) and tax reduction (is a year ever going to go by under this government without yet another corporate tax cut?). Then there is the environment, the principle issue of this decade. But what do you think the Minister of Petroleum, oops, I mean environment responded when asked if whether the huge disaster in the gulf meant maybe we should chill out on the crude extraction. This time, it was a spin-loaded, friendly answer. We'll call it shut the heck up, but it amounts to an STFU to the environment. We're quintupling the oil sands and ramping up offshore, damn the torpoedoes
And despite all that, it is still possible, it could still happen that we get a...
Conservative Majority Government
I'm beginning to think it would really be the best thing. Yes, I said it and, no, I won't be personally contributing to it, financially or with my ballot. But I want to be put out of my misery as soon as possible. Let's just convert to a full-blown conservative utopia for five years. I don't think I can handle the shitfest of another minority on either side.
Because Michael Ignatieff is not like the Vancouver Canucks and Montreal Canadiens. I don't want him to beat his stronger, faster, favoured adversary because unlike them he does not inspire any affinity or patriotism in me, and also unlike them he has no chance. He misses the mark so much and is so irrelevant and incoherent that you do tend to want to answer his press quotes with a nice STFU. And to use another hockey analogy, our country needs to hit rock bottom politically before it can rebuild with high draft picks. (i.e., not the current used up crop of opposition leaders)
With a majority, on the other hand, it would probably be decided at the end of five years that the Canadian tradition of parliamentary majorities ending after a period of that duration is some kind of liberal scam. The Conservatives will then unanimously pass a bill making elections the exclusive prerogative of the prime minister's office. After all, parliament sitting makes the market unstable; Harper said it himself on TV. So maybe instead of the house sitting we can just have endless prorogues. We can, can't we? That precedent's already been set in these minority years.
A majority could pave the way to the stacking of the Supreme Court à l'américaine to overturn abortion and gay marraige. The now stacked-senate would be able to rubber stamp a war on drugs and continued unfettered pillaging of the oil sands and the nation's resources, blocking any limits or controls on them. They could also rid us of any useless remaining think tanks, development agencies, boards or public broadcasters, basically anything that doesn't report directly to the government or serve its political interests. We have four consolidated corporate media monopolies in our vast land and they serve the government's interests quite well; the public broadcaster, on the other hand, is terminally infected with vestiges of the old liberal establishment. So out it goes. And the racist exclusion of aboriginals from their land, their rights and their resources will continue. Aboriginal rights is a liberal priority. That's why we are one of four nations who refused to sign the U.N. Treaty declaring the rights of aboriginal peoples to self determination. And so on and so forth with more unrestricted garbage and bullshit that they do in the name of our country, Canada.
Each real and potential thing that I've chronicled does not raise the ire of the public on its own. But with a majority, and the few limits placed on their power with a minority which they mostly ignore anyway permanently removed, I believe the government would f&?k up enough shit up that people would finally get pissed off and wake up. As it stands, the lack of public interest in the facts about why this government is bad for us sadly means that we do deserve to be told to shut the fuck up.
Saturday, 1 May 2010
A couple of weeks ago, I posted an email I wrote to the ministries of transport and finance about how angry I was at the cancellation of funding for transit for Toronto. I was elated several times in the period that has since lapsed to see the reinstatement of this funding being actively campaigned for on TTC vehicles and property and at rallies in Toronto. But of course, this has not been met by any official response from our provincial government, although I am eagerly anticipating the written reply to my email my local MP's office told me I could expect. If the decision is changed to the right one, the one in favour of the public interest, you can be sure it will be staged and aloof, the government deciding it is generous enough to grudgingly concede us lowly transit takers what it took away in this huge miscalculation. And it is in no hurry to do that, knowing the car driving, suburb dwelling folks who vote and read the paper do not have this front and centre on their radars.
So in light of this waffling inaction, you can imagine my disbelief this week when the government changed course within TWO DAYS on the 2010 decade edition of sex ed it was planning on rolling out in classrooms. The jubilant triumphalism of religious conservatives rang out loud and clear in the halls of public opinion about how their grassroots tactics backed their nanny state opponent into a corner. This wishy-washy, whiny government of ours buckled its knees and kowtowed to the religious lobby, ducking away from the hellfire and brimstone threats of Harper buddy Charles McVety and the irrepressible Elizabeth Witmer, former education minister and still sitting MPP in this area. Our kids are NOT to be told about reality, do you hear me?! This is a 1955 Leave it to Beaver episode we're living in, and even you and the majority choose to acknowledge the reality that it's not, WE say and decide that it is.
So our kids will NOT be learning about the myriad possibilities of human sexuality from responsible, trained, well-paid adults, they'll be learning about them on their own by visiting youjizz and xtube and ordering $9.99 XXX movies on their parents' satellite dishes and firsthand in the back alleys and empty houses of their neighbourhoods. IS THAT CLEAR MR. PREMIER? Don't ever THINK about touching this issue EVER again.
Why can't we get this kind of action on an issue that actually matters? (wimpy voice) "Please Mr. Premier, a few pennies for our transit system'. I'm not so much bothered by the irrelevance of the evangelical lobby's constant obsession over the same three things (gays, sex and abortion) that have little significance to anybody but themselves as by what a colossal waste of time and energy it is. Let's put aside some divisive issues for a minute that they still need some decades to wrap their pious skulls around, like the environment and consumption-based economy, and ask this: If they were to focus those formidable energies, that incredible power they seem to have to obtain the ear of governments, and focus them on three things everybody can agree exist and are bad: war, poverty, and famine, how much better off would we be in this country and the world at large? That's what I want to know.
Deux Poids, Deux Mesures
I really like this French expression which means different treatment for different priorities. Sort of like George Orwell in Animal Farm when he wrote all animals are created equal but some are more equal than others. I would now like to take some time to talk about social unrest in Greece and Iceland due to those nation's financial problems, and the rejection by their populations of the responsibility for those problems. These nations are portrayed in the media as basket cases and examples of risky behaviour and corruption to be avoided by us ultra-scrupulous North Americans. They do not and will not apply this scrutiny and critiquing to North America even though many of the same problems exist here in different forms.
Greece is the worst. A whole blog and website could be fully dedicated to the chronicling and documenting of rotten corruption and fishy business in the halls of power in that country, and a summary is attached here for your convienience
How to make sense of it? The government swears it's cutting spending and clamping down to appease international investors and secure a bailout, but demonstrations of a violent nature have been regular there for some time now. Last year the place was riotous was for months over the police's killing of a 15 year old boy. Lately the demos over the economy have involved molotovs and serious confrontation. I think ongoing tensions might be due to a sense of frustration in the population, restive over their relative powerlessness to the parasitic middle class that bankrupted the country through the public sector and led to its having the lowest birthrate in Europe. No wonder then young people have it in them to act out and cause social unrest. What is truly pathetic is seeing the government and a police state try to legitimize itself in the international 24 hour news cycle by punishing a population for things which it cannot understand and has no direct connection to. It shows how the whole model of people supporting the system by being 1)consumers 2)taxpayers 3) sheep 4)cattle and 5) citizens, in that order is ridiculous. How can people expect to feel connected to things like the G20 and the byzantine structure of international finance and commerce which governs them?
Simply put, if you ask them to, they won't. Which is why Iceland voted 83% in a referendum not to pay back Britain and the Netherlands, who had to bail out their own citizens that invested in bogus 6% interest Icesave accounts. Yes, the bank was set up in Iceland. Yes, it was unscrupulous Icelanders who didn't know what they were doing running the bank. But how much sympathy can you have for things that mean nothing to you? Why do you want to invest your money, which amounts to your time and your energy, in things that have nothing to do with you? When the question was put to them, Icelanders answered they didn't. I am convinced that if all the auto sector and financial bailouts had to be approved in referendum by taxpayers, they too would have been overwhelmingly rejected, just as any tax increases are unpopular and criticized even when they are necessary to right a nation's financial ship. Many people are unable to grasp finance at the personal level, and a very much smaller precious few, I believe, at the macro government-global level.
Which leads to my last point. Here at home, the media is now in full blather mode about growth, exuberant consumer spending and recovery, and the nation and its businesses' finances are indeed in relatively good shape. Over the past ten years, however, the individual consumer has become a trainwreck. Canadian households are now indebted to the tune of 95% of their economic output and 67% of Canadians would be in serious trouble if they missed one paycheque. These are the same people who buy the Conservatives garbage about their sound economic management and hector Greece and Iceland on comment boards to buck up and pay back. What they don't realize is they've created a vast unknown for themselves, and they will more than likely not have access to any recourse with the means to prop them up should everything go to shit at some point. Western governments have created things like the IMF and the World Bank and sweatshops which sap the little cash and productivity developing countries have out of them. These countries don't have the option to print money and bail themselves out like the US treasury, or declare bankruptcy like the North American consumer citizen. What is clear is this unbalanced set of rules and lopsided structure will not be able to continue when everything goes to shit. Which it will.