New Clothes for the Emperors

The Works Progress Administration in Ohio presents The Federal Theatre for Youth in "The emperor's new clothes" LCCN98517057

Brad Wall, Premier of Saskatchewan, in his 2017 budget, appears to be in the process of selling what seems, to an unapologetic sixties leftist like me, every remaining good thing in that province to private corporations.

Naomi Klein’s prescient book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, would shed some keen insight on this, unfortunately worldwide, trend. And the seismic shift in Saskatchewan, and possibly soon in Ontario, has happened on our watch!

As for Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, more hurt than help here, appears keen not only to leave all of Harper’s anti-democratic buckshot legislation, squirrelled away in over a dozen omnibus bills, in place, but more than that, to contribute his own pro-corporate slavish sauce to the mix. At this very moment Trudeau’s trying to figure out how to slyly dress his cabinet to keep the alt-right from going with someone like Kevin O’Leary.

The clothes of the Emperor (the proper name for any Prime Minister or Premier with a majority) are all but gone, and so many of his promises are in tatters, but he cuts a dashing figure in boxing trunks, doesn’t he?

Pierre must be spinning, and, simultaneously shrugging, in his grave.

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Donald Quixote and Sancho Trudeau

img_1643 Credit: Dewet on Flickr Creative Commons: Attribution/Share-Alike

Miguel Cervantes, in a brilliant, caustic reaction to the addiction in Spain in the early 17th Century to a huge crop of silly, chivalrous romances, published Don Quixote de la Mancha (Part 1 in 1605 and Part 2 in 1615). It is considered by some authorities as one of the first, and possibly the very best, novels ever written. Cervantes had a keen nose for farcical BS.

The knight-errant, Don Quixote, having read way too many such trashy stories, loses his mind and decides to take issue with almost anything he encounters in the desolate flatland of Spain called La Mancha. Suffering constantly from delusions of grandeur and hallucinatory visions, he sets off to right all imaginary, unchivalrous wrongs, accompanied by a tired old horse, Rocinante, having persuaded a humble neighbouring farmer, Sancho Panza, to be his squire.

As a Canadian surveying the political scene in February 2017, the comic analogy described in the above photo has burrowed rapidly into my consciousness. Where the metaphor breaks down a little:

Sancho Panza possesses a sharp, entertaining sense of burlesque, whereas “Sancho” Trudeau is comparatively dull-witted and a trifle narcissistic.

But, does the darkness of the surroundings ever work…

The Scary Big Picture

It increasingly appears that the US, facing eventual economic decline, is desperate to consolidate its One Superpower Forever role, no matter what misery has to be inflicted on the rest of the world to do it.

Trade Deals, such as the TPP, with Investor-State Dispute Settlement Agreements (ISDS agreements) that allow corporations to sue governments, are one aspect of the American hegemony’s struggle. These have been encountering some difficulty in being ratified. And Donald Trump has threatened to tear up NAFTA, a trade agreement that already favours the U.S.A. over Canada. NAFTA’s  ISDS agreement section is Chapter 11. Google that to see that the U.S.A. has never lost one of these dispute settlements.

World-Wide Military Goals:

There are three main military aspects to the ugly struggle to stay on top:

  1. NATO: This European military tool, NATO, disguised as an international alliance of willing, like-minded states.
  2. Levant: In their exploitation of the Levant the US partners with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel and jihadists it arms.
  3. Its Pivot to Asia, which I will not address here.

Uncle Sam seems to me to be preparing for all-out war to consolidate its hold on the planet. I shall discuss NATO first.

NATO: First, let me mention an article called NATO Aggression: Is There A Way OUT? by Christopher Black, an international lawyer based in Toronto. Published in the journal New Eastern Outlook, it uses great economy of words to shed new light on the macabre, complicated entirety of the NATO situation, down to the Continue reading “The Scary Big Picture”

For Our Grandkids

DSCF0097a.jpg
Granite Ridge, Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario

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Head down. Bum up.

A delightful, irreverent, Aussie phrase for unthinking submission to the status quo, blind faith in the “experts.” I got the expression from a great CBC Ideas Podcast called It’s the  Economists, Stupid on the scary B.S. and hubris of this pseudo-science.

Sometimes I picture a worker bending over in a field… or something more bawdy… The powerful like us that way.

Come on folks! We owe some difficult work to our grandkids. We all must do more than trust the “news” fed to us by any mainstream paper, radio station or channel to be accurate. Should we trust respectable sources like the New York Times, the Globe and Mail, the Guardian? The CBC? PBS? BBC?

Hell, no! We need to use alternative sources of news.

Why alternatives? While the traditional sources will point out some negatives about political figures and policy through their token liberals, on some of the huge issues of geopolitics (like, for one, the US/NATO/Ukraine/Russia debacle) even the most respected media are presenting the neocon-approved side almost all the time. They were wrong in unison with Bush and Cheney on Iraq’s WMD; only Canada’s PM, Jean Chretien, was brave enough to disagree publicly in 2003. And there are many more abject failures that most of us aren’t aware of – Libya, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Honduras, etc.

Not to do some fact-checking as an elector is failing to fulfill your duty as a citizen – your duty to your grandchildren and future generations.This is because our democracy is on life support.

Never before in history has so much been asked of the average citizen.

Check my blogroll for some of the truly alternative news and opinion sources.

The respected MSM are all singing essentially the same tune as the tabloids – though the harmonies may be more complex – a few more flat 9ths and a smattering of augmented 5ths, perhaps. They distract us with cute human interest stories, advertising, endless repetition of items sanctioned by the powerful and  not even daring to mention other key viewpoints on hugely important issues. They serve the tiniest fraction of the population: the 0.0001% who corporately control all US presidents and everything else on our planet.

Many billions are spent every year on false news to keep the corporate ball rolling.

In the U.S. they offer Americans the choice between Democrat and Republican, which really means “You can have your choice of two candidates in November, neither of whom will rock the deadly neocon destroyer skippered by the super rich.” Significant differences are basically imaginary. Neither  the erratic Donald Trump nor the closet neocon, Hillary Clinton, will make the world a better place. You can have strawberry or vanilla, but it’s ice cream only, folks, and there are only two flavours.

And Justin Trudeau just may turn out to be on the wrong side of the two biggest issues, for me, in Canada: punitive trade deals like the TPP (bad) and true Proportional Representation (good).

***

What politics do I read?

  • Tweets and their linked articles. Following the Arab Spring got me started.
  • Following the farcical, phoney, Dutch-led, America-run (let’s face it), investigation into the MH17 incident devoured my time for over a year and still brings me back to Twitter. Ukraine, one suspect of the shoot-down, has a veto over what gets published!
  • Robert Parry, via consortium news.com. Parry won awards in the 80’s when he exposed Reagan’s Iran-Contra scandal and one in 2015 from Harvard for distinguished investigative journalism. He still has CIA contacts who give him the scoop on stuff.
  • John Kerry… just kidding…
  • Noam Chomsky. In the 80’s I discovered him on US exploitation of its Central and South American back yard.
  • Naomi Klein of no-logo and BDS fame, and a recent convert to environmentalism.
  • The New Republic, thought-provoking for more than  century (since 1914).
  • Lots of other stuff.

 

To what do I listen? CBC podcasts, particularly three:

  • Writers and Company, the wonderful in-depth interview skills of Eleanor Wachtel interviewing so many of the great writers.
  • Ideas, on every night from 9 PM until 10, hosted by the great Paul Kennedy
  • The Sunday Edition, with its illustrious, long-time host Michael Enright.

These three, at their best, almost make me feel guilty, glancing sometimes over my shoulder in fear of the Orwellian thought police. Try them; you’ll like them. The link to CBC Podcasts is also in my blogroll.

 

What do I watch on TV?

  • Almost nothing. It is not the best, or the healthiest, use of my time (it makes me curse). Mainstream TV news is entertainment and, much worse, propaganda, increasingly styled à la WW II.

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So for the sake of your grandchildren, get off your intellectual ass and find alternatives to the easy stuff. We OWE our descendants a better chance at survival.

 

 

 

 

My Short, Essential To-Do List for Our 42nd Parliament

Brampton - October 4, 2015
Brampton – October 4, 2015

1. Trans Pacific Partnership

First and foremost, the TPP likely needs to be killed dead. Wikileaks has been revealing details of the secret TPP from time to time since at least 2013. There are many very serious threats to the people of Canada and the other eleven countries who signed the deal this October. (See list below for just some threats). These threats are enabled by the extraordinary power given to foreign corporations (mostly in the U.S.) by the deal’s Investor-State Dispute Settlement Agreements (ISDS Agreements)  to sue nations for expected future profits if their legislatures enact laws or operate public institutions that are deemed to affect their profits.  Canada has first hand experience of these lawsuits since it has been involved with the U.S. and later Mexico in NAFTA. This legal, but immoral, right to sue has cost Canada and Mexico, but not the U.S., millions in lawsuits. The TPP is incredibly more pervasive and involves 12, not just 3 countries. More and more Canadian businesses and institutions, such as small farmers and the CBC are directly under attack from the TPP – a much larger group than under NAFTA, which at least had some provisions to protect our water and our farms. It is very likely that Canadians ourselves, and likely even most MP’s, will not see the details of this deal.

The argument that Canada is better in than out of this deal sounds powerful, but deceives us. This deal will provide very few Canadians with good, stable jobs that offer a package of benefits. NAFTA at least protected our auto industry but other U.S. firms no longer had to manufacture or do research here in order to sell in Canada. Shortly after the free trade deal with the U.S. in 1987 Caterpillar closed its plant in Brampton, Ontario and fired 90% of its workers. Ten per cent went to North Carolina with Caterpillar’s manufacturing. Bye bye. Trade deals that began in 1987 between Canada and the U.S. and expanded to include Mexico in 1994 have not preserved quality manufacturing jobs.  Canada’s manufacturing as a per cent of GDP, and the good jobs with benefits that go with it, has fallen from 24% in the 1960’s to about 10% in 2015. As for Canada’s pathetic decline in research and development this article in the Tyee is worth reading. With the TPP the victims in the 12 TPP countries will be the general population. The winners will be those highly placed in the foreign corporations who conjured up this deal in secret. The poor in all twelve countries will become destitute, except for a small fraction of educated English speakers who will form a small lower-middle class.

In years past, Canadians and others aware of this grave corporate threat took to the tear-gassed streets and successfully defeated monster trade deals like the MAI. The ‘better in than out” choice is a false one. Rather, all 12 countries should present this deal accurately to their electors; then its defeat would be certain.

Some issues with the TPP:

Investor-State Dispute Settlements, as mentioned above, allow foreign corporations to sue countries and cities for billions of “lost future profits” if they enact legislation to protect health care, the environment, jobs, wages and democracy and these actions affect their “sacred” right to profits forever.

Temporary Foreign Workers: Foreign corporations that procure TFW’s probably will be able to sue for lost income if Canada cuts numbers of TFW’s permitted to work here. This is already being done in a case about McDonalds. And Canadian Seafarers are threatened and fighting back. TFW’s are themselves abused and are already being inappropriately used to prevent Canadians from making a just wage.

BGH: American milk and meats use Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH), suspected of being associated with cancer. We probably will be exposed to this?

Food Safety: Canadian standards on food safety will likely be further weakened by the TPP.

Labeling: Will Canadian products still be identified in supermarkets? I doubt it.

Public services: Wikileaks revealed that TPP pushes for the elimination of publicly funded institutions like the CBC and Canada Post. These leaks are notably absent from discussions even on the threatened CBC!

Bank Deregulation: Will banking regulations be weakened?

Privacy: Canadian privacy, already blown away by C-51, will be further jeopardized by this agreement, which will force internet service providers to track our activity.

Job Losses: Canadian jobs will likely be lost in large numbers to workers from countries with lower wages, labour standards and non-existent unionization.

2. Bill C-51

Clayton Ruby, a distinguished lawyer and activist who has been practising law since 1969, believes Bill C-51 should be completely thrown out and rewritten. It is a catch-all list of vague but serious offenses that can be gratuitously applied to acts that are really quite innocent. It permits dirty tricks. It can turn an innocent article or speech, by abuse of its ill-defined powers, into an “act of terrorism.” Justin Trudeau cannot invent a system of oversight to guard against abuses possible with such a plethora of vague possibilities that have not been properly classified. This article gives some excellent examples of how irretrievably defective this bill is. It must be rewritten into something that can be easily and clearly reviewed by whomever are given the responsibility of oversight.

3. Truly Proportional Representation; Not PR-lite!

There are only two types of proportional representation currently used that are truly proportional: Party List Proportional Representation and Mixed Member Proportional Representation. Tom Mulcair has suggested one of them: Mixed Member Proportional Representation, used by Germany and New Zealand. Party List Proportional Representation is used by over eighty countries worldwide. See my post on PR here.Justin Trudeau should confer with his counterparts in parliament and pick one of the above systems. There are various minor ways in which different countries have modified the two choices. The Canadian people must be educated about the importance of replacing our FPTP system with whichever system will ultimately be selected. This is the job of parliament. The committee that looks into selecting PLPR or MMPR (MMP) should be composed mostly of members from the parties that proposed this reform: the NDP, the Liberals and Elizabeth May.

Note: Instant Runoff, also known as Alternative Vote is NOT proportional representation! It will betray the continually frustrated supporters of the Greens and the NDP- the very people that gave the Liberals a majority despite receiving less than 40% of the popular vote.

Since 68% of Canadian voters elected to vote for a party that included electoral reform in its platform, parliament has total authority to pass legislation to enact it.

There must not be a referendum on this! It is time Canada moved confidently to a truly proportional system. Parliamentarians on October 19th were given a strong mandate to do this for us.

No need to re-invent the wheel. Beware of attempts to dilute, adulterate or corrupt this very important reform of our electoral system.

By the way, if the TPP with its ISDS agreements is ratified, our improved electoral system will mean nothing, since foreign corporations will hold us to ransom and voting will be a farce, because our leaders will be no more than puppets. That’s why killing the TPP is numero uno – the sine qua non.

4. Other Stuff

There are many other important tasks for what will be a truly busy four years. Ferreting out and removing the bad bits squirreled away in Stephen Harper’s many, huge, undebatable omnibus bills will be an unenviable task. And the Liberals must act to prevent existing infrastructure of public institutions like the CBC from being sold:

  1. Harper reduced Canada’s protected lakes, rivers and waterways from 2.5 million to a mere 159 in Bill C-45.
  2. Dozens of laws in over 10 Huge Harper omnibus bills have decimated the powers and rights of our indigenous peoples. What I call “buckshot legislation.”
  3. CBC infrastructure must be preserved by immediately dismissing most of its  current Board of directors, 80% of whom are Conservative Party contributors appointed by Harper. These party hacks plan to sell all CBC buildings!

5. Hopeful Congratulations to Justin Trudeau

All the above being said, I’ll admit I’m nervous about Mr. Trudeau’s recent cautious avoidance of the term Proportional Representation, his voting with Harper on C-51 and his unequivocal pro-trade stance. But he really seems to be setting out an ambitious agenda for the first half of his mandate. I have not been this hopeful for over a dozen years.

Congratulations, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. You have already changed the world’s perception of Canada for the better. You have slain Cerberus in grand style. You hold the future of my grandchildren in your hands. You can be greater than your father.

On October 19 – Vote to Repair Our Broken Democracy

I am working very hard to defeat Stephen Harper on October 19 and bring to Canada a voting system that eliminates the voter alienation that our current, outdated, First Past The Post (FPTP) system causes.

Some form of Party-List Proportional Representation is used by over 8o countries in the world, including Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Brazil, South Africa, Israel, Poland, the UK (for their EU representatives), Spain, Russia, Croatia, Albania and Austria. Two countries, Germany and New Zealand, use another good form: Mixed-Member Proportional Representation, known as MMP.

There is an excellent, more complete list of countries that use Proportional Representation at proportional-representation.org.

Only a few major Western countries, slow to wisen up, still use FPTP: Canada, the U.S. Congress, India and the UK House of Commons.

Liberal Position: “Make Every Vote Count.”

We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.

As part of a national engagement process, we will ensure that electoral reform measures – such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting – are fully and fairly studied and considered.

This will be carried out by a special all-party parliamentary committee, which will bring recommendations to Parliament on the way forward, to allow for action before the succeeding federal election. Within 18 months of forming government, we will bring forward legislation to enact electoral reform.

Note: I would prefer Justin Trudeau to come out firmly for MMP or Party-List Proportional Representation. His latest position has too much wiggle room, and some of the forms of PR are less proportional than MMP and Party-List Proportional Representation.

NDP:

From the Huffington Post:

Mulcair favourably references Germany and New Zealand, which have both adopted proportional representation. Specifically, the two nations use mixed-member proportional representation, the same system favoured by the NDP.

Note: Tom Mulcair’s preferred method, abbreviated as MMP, is used by only two countries. The vast majority use Party-List Proportional Representation.

Green Party:

From the Huffington Post:

The Greens want Canada to replace the current first-past-the-post electoral system with a form of proportional representation.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May said the existing electoral system allowed the Conservatives to form a majority government in 2011 with less than 40 per cent of the vote.

Note: Considering only 60% ov eligible voters voted, Stephen Harper has ruled like a dictator with only 23% (that’s twenty-three per cent!) of eligible voters marking their X for Harper on a ballot.

The Good News:

All three parties say they are committed to eliminating the FPTP system!

Proportional Representation is in the platforms of all three parties. They do not have to call a referendum on it. If Harper loses his majority, a coalition of the above parties with a combined majority of seats in Parliament can pass this and thereby fix our broken, unrepresentative, currently dysfunctional democracy in which only 61% of voters felt it important to vote.

This is NOT undemocratic, folks; we elect our representatives to govern for us. They will have an obligation to keep their promise to us after a careful review, done with the help of citizen expertise and input, that is finished within a year.

Some Concerns:

Changing how we vote is complicated.

It will take a genuine commitment to bring in a true, fully proportional form of voting, and not some watered-down alternative.

There is a risk that one of these parties may reverse its position and renege on its promise. Rest assured that every right-wing talk show in the country will try to turn voters against this change. It requires courage from the leaders.

Faced with cold feet or heavy propaganda from the media, one of the leaders may decide, as some provinces have done, to “consult the people” without properly educating them, as some provinces have done. In some cases the process required a 60% majority to move to Proportional Representation – a kiss of death if ever there was one when one considers the sad lack of sophistication out there on this complicated issue.  No cynical or cowardly referendum nonsense, please.

Proportional Representation must be at the very top of the new government’s agenda. All parties must set to work immediately and make the compromises necessary to bring in serious change. They must continue to relentlessly focus on this issue while managing the other important things that arise.

Past History:

In 1979 Pierre Trudeau proposed switching Canada’s system to Proportional Representation to the NDP, but both the Liberal caucus members and the NDP caucus members rejected it.

In 2000 the Law Commission of Canada, headed by Nathalie Des Rosiers, studied and recommended the MMP system in a 200 page report. It was not acted on by the Liberals.

In 2012 Stephane Dion proposed Proportional Representation in a New Brunswick speech.

In 2013 Joyce Murray, a Liberal leadership candidate who came second to Justin Trudeau, proposed Proportional Representation.

In February 2014 at the Liberal Convention a resolution was passed recommending “an electoral system including, without limitation, a preferential ballot and/or a form of proportional representation, to represent all Canadians more fairly and to allow Parliament to serve Canada better.Note: Beware of the ambiguous term, Preferential Ballot. This is a name for something that could be used in real Proportional Representation or something else in a voting system called the Alternative Vote, which is very similar to the current FPTP system and can even, in some cases, produce a less representative result.

Confused?

I don’t blame you, but remember that PR systems are used in the most enlightened countries on the planet and outnumber FPTP in progressive countries by about 90 to 4.  (See above) I want to believe that Canadians are smart enough to be taught something new and better. The FPTP system is keeping voters away in droves and the last four years under Harper’s ruthless hand have gone a long way towards destroying the Canada that those of us who care for our democracy, our environment and our children’s healthy and productive future still remember and love. We must learn to think seven generations ahead, like our First Nations did, before we vote on October 19. Choose wisely. Don’t wast your vote on an excellent candidate if that vote can, just this year, elect the most likely candidate to defeat Harper. With luck none of us after this October will have to hold our nose with one hand and make our X with the other – ever again!

More and more Canadians are catching on every day. Let’s keep our political leaders’ feet to the fire until they get it done.

Open Letter To Justin Trudeau: “L’heure est venue, si t’as compris.”

Justin Trudeau writes, in a contribution-soliciting email that I received today:

It’s time to turn the page on seven years of Conservative policies that have left too many Canadians behind. Together, we can build a strong middle class and grow our economy so that everyone can share in Canada’s prosperity.

It is well-known by now that growth as we know it is unsustainable. I hope you will speak honestly with Canadians about this reality when the time (hopefully) comes for you, Tom Mulcair and Elizabeth May to be the next government. You have a powerful team there. I hope change comes before it’s too late.

I’m sure you realize that it is irresponsible to grow our economy at all costs. We need to make this limitation clear to all classes of Canadians and come up with a plan that conserves the things without which life itself is unsustainable: our air, soil water and our interconnected biodiversity – the disrespected, often invisible, things upon which all life depends.

I am very concerned that we will not make it to the next election without Harper having signed secretly-negotiated trade agreements that will limit our ability to protect our environment and our health. Even NAFTA needs to be amended to remove the restrictive parts of its Chapter 11, which give American and Mexican corporations the right to sue Canada for lost future profits if we bring in a law to protect our environment, for example, and that law has a negative impact on their revenues. In one classic NAFTA case in 1997, Canada had determined that a gasoline additive made by Ethyl Corporation was a potential carcinogen. This chemical, MMT, was banned in the United States. It was only used in Canada! Canada removed MMT from our gasoline. Ethyl Corporation was entitled under NAFTA’s Chapter 11 to sue for “future profits” – $251 million dollars. Canada, faced with a very expensive lawsuit that we might lose, settled out of court. Canadian taxpayers paid millions to the American corporation and permitted the additive to be used. This is just one example.

No one in Parliament looks ahead seven generations when making a decision as our native peoples used to do.

By the time the next election rolls around the destructive laws contained in huge un-debatable omnibus bills that attack our native peoples on numerous fronts may be un fait accompli. Our First Nations’ genuine rights to treaty and unceded lands (disrespected by us settlers for centuries) may be our collective last defence against pipelines and the permanent, polluting destruction wreaked by  largely foreign resource extraction corporations, whose “moccasins” have never walked our forests. In fact, corporations, though they don’t even have feet, and are, unlike us humans, immortal, have – and this must change – all the rights of a human being and then some! These powerful, ruinous rights, called “Legal Personality” or “Corporate Personhood,” must be quickly taken away. I hope you, Tom and Elizabeth will make this a priority.

It is a sad reflection on Canadian stewardship when millions of hectares of land, water and trees are surrendered to foreign corporations. The profits from these destructive activities don’t even stay in Canada; they are spirited out by means of transfer pricing, a sinister tool by which corporations avoid paying taxes owed to the country whose resources they are exploiting.

If, by sheer good fortune, the powerful, hugely punitive trade deals like CETA and the TPP agreement have failed to be passed before the 2015 election, I call on you to defend the rights of our native peoples and all Canadians to a clean environment. Please do not subject us to trade agreements that are even more powerfully punitive than NAFTA.

Look around. Smell the tobacco and the sweetgrass.

As Félix Leclerc put it, in an admittedly different, but nonetheless patriotic, musical context:

l’heure est venue, si t’as compris