Monday, August 29, 2016

Life, Liberty, and the Sociopathic Pursuit of Wealth

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

(The United States Declaration of Independence)

Well, it has been decided.  Donald Trump will be the Presidential Candidate for the Republican Party and Hillary Clinton will be the candidate for the Democrats.  I know.  It's so easy to say that "these are the choices?"  Yes, they are and it says miles about what kind of nation the United States of America has morphed into.

The nation was indeed founded on lofty ideals arising from the Enlightenment, extending to the early settlers primarily from Britain, but the rights were not extended to the indigenous peoples and the African slaves.  It would take a bloody civil war during the nineteenth century and the struggles of the civil rights movement of the twentieth to arrive at some semblance of all humans being created equal although many members of the indigenous, feminist, and LGBT communities might disagree.

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Looking closely at the aforementioned unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, it seems clear enough that one has the right to be alive and to be free to do as one wishes within the existing legal framework, but it is the pursuit of happiness that raises the most concerns, especially how it is presently pursued in the United States.  To be happy requires, at the very least, that one's basic survival needs: food and water, adequate shelter, clothing, education, and the possibility of earning a living are met and in a manner in which that one doesn't have to worry from one day to the next if they will be.  That being said, it is evident that millions of Americans have reason to belief that their pursuit of happiness has been seriously impeded by social structures that favor one segment of the society, the rich, at the expense of the majority of Americans.

To be sure both candidates represent the interests of wealthy Americans who desire to focus their pursuit of happiness on their pursuit of wealth.  In fact, both candidates are multi-millionaires.  In the case of Donald Trump, he inherited his wealth from his father and has continued in his father's footsteps as a real estate developer.  In the case of Hillary Clinton, she was born into a family of more modest means, but yet somehow managed to team up with her husband, the former President of the United States, Bill Clinton, to parlay their public service careers into a multi-million sum of net worth.  In other words, one was born rich, the other got rich.

Essentially, they represent two sides of the same coin, the sociopathic pursuit of wealth.  By that I mean that they embody characteristics often associated with sociopaths: narcissism, lack of empathy, a belief that they are exempt from societal norms and rules, and engaging in intentional deceit to advance their self interest.  Taken together these characteristics bring forth an attitude of indifference with regard to how their behavior might have negative consequences for others.

Of the two candidates, it is much more apparent that Trump manifests sociopathic tendencies.  He is unabashed in his efforts to promote his name and image -- to such an extent that some journalists are saying that he is not a serious candidate and is only using the Presidential campaign as a means to promote his name and the Trump brand.  Given his outlandish statements, for example, telling people he intends to build a wall between the United States and Mexico to keep out the drug dealers and rapists and will get the Mexicans to pay for it, it doesn't seem out of the realm of the possible that he is testing the limits of what he can say and do as a candidate in order to cash in on his exploits at a latter date.  Moreover, his crass comments about minorities clearly demonstrates lack of empathy and his refusal to make public his personal financial records show a blatant disregard for the public's right to know sufficiently the background of the person they are contemplating voting into the most powerful political position on the planet. 

Of course, his economic plans include reducing the taxes of the most wealthy and improving the economic lot of white, lesser educated, males by implementing xenophobic social and economic policies.  Less immigrants supposedly means more jobs for white people, not necessarily good paying jobs with benefits, but jobs nonetheless.

With Clinton, the sociopathic tendencies are not as readily apparent, and she exploits the constant opportunity to redirect attention concerning important questions about her character and behavior towards the easy target, Donald Trump.  Repeatedly, members of the public raise the question of how could the Clintons become so rich as politicians supposedly employed by them to advance the public good.  It is well known that she was paid princely sums to give speeches to associations from the financial sector on Wall Street, but she refuses to make public the transcripts of the speeches.  Perhaps, the so-called speeches were little more than bribes attached to services rendered and to be rendered at a later date.  Likewise, what are the connections between the Clinton Foundation and the US State Department, of which Hillary Clinton was the Secretary of State?  It appears that donations to the Foundation opened doors within the Obama administration.  Answers could be forthcoming but unfortunately people who could shed light on what was happening behind closed doors end up dying under mysterious circumstances before they have the opportunity to testify.  Similarly, important and troubling questions about how the integrity of the Democratic Party Primaries leading to Hillary's nomination as the Party's Presidential candidate remain unanswered to date although a number of lawsuits alleging electoral fraud have been launched, the President of Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was forced to resign, and a few people who worked on Clinton's campaign have also met their untimely demise. 

Although Hillary appears to be much more liberal in her social views, her economic policies favor the pursuit of wealth by the rich liberal elite, those educated at Ivy League universities, like Hillary, Bill, and Obama, who parlay their social connections in the financial, legal, technology, and entertainment sectors to do very well for themselves in the neo-liberal order they helped to create.  It should be noted that Hillary is already more than half way to her goal of raising one billion dollars for her presidential campaign.

Looking forward to the Presidential election in November the average American has very little to hope for.  Both candidates represent the interests of the already and the soon-to-be rich.  For those on the outside looking in on the spectacle of the ostentatious display of wealth that the modern-day Gatsby-like personas love to put on, good luck to you.  However, if you believe that your vote could make a difference and you are thinking that maybe it is in the best interest to limit the damage that either one of these sociopaths could inflict upon America, you should consider voting for a progressive candidate in the Senatorial or Congressional elections.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The U.S. Presidential Election: A Drowning Man Will Clutch at a Dragon

Well, it's done.  The Republican and Democratic Parties have nominated their candidates to become President of the United States of America, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  Really? These are the choices? The sociopath who can do the least harm?

In some ways, they both appeal to the same constituency, the super rich.  Neither of the candidates promise to do anything that would upset the unbridled pursuit of wealth that America is famous for.  Why would they?  They are both multimillionaires.  Both have increased their wealth using suspect practices, Trump in the real estate market and Clinton with her dubious charitable foundation.  Given their histories, neither will make wealth distribution an important feature of their political agendas.

Where they differ is in their outward appeal to wealthy Americans.  Trump is the candidate of the military-industrial complex.  Might makes right and in so doing a lot of profits for military contractors.  Hillary, on the other hand, is the candidate of the financial-media-entertainment-technology complex.  Fortunes are now made distributing infotainment and no one knows this better than the Clintons.

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Where they also differ is in which segment of America's rapidly growing dispossessed they can find electoral support.  Trump's appeal is with the down and out of the white underclass, those who have been pushed out of the comfort of a middle class lifestyle and are now forced to compete for jobs in the low paying service sector with people of color, immigrants and Afro-Americans.  On the contrary, Hillary, as a woman vying to be the first female President, appeals to the people of color as someone who has overcome the obstacles that society has put in her way to attain her version of the American dream.

In reaching out to both sectors of America's underclass the Presidential candidates are asking those who are having difficulty keeping their heads above water to reach out and grab the tail of a dragon because after giving either one four years at the helm of the nation, the lot of the underclass won't be any better, probably worse, while whoever goes on to become President will quickly forget the plight of the majority of the electorate as soon as he or she takes the oath, involve America in yet another senseless military conflict, and make sure that his or her cronies are well taken care of.  In other words, same as it ever was.

What makes this election different, however, is the rather large number of traditional supporters of the two grand political parties that don't want to have anything to do with either candidate.  On the Republican side, there are a great many who see the nomination of Trump as the death of their party, prompting former President, George W. Bush to muse publically whether he would be the last Republican President.  For the Democrats, a very large segment of the progressive wing has come to the realization that the Democratic Party is no longer a viable option to advance their political causes and won't vote for Hillary if it means increasing the possibility that the neo-fascist Trump will become President.

In offering these two candidates to the electorate, both parties have shown very clearly the failings of the two-party political system.  Moving forward to November, the media will focus its attention on what promises to be a campaign filled with personal attacks, a veritable tele-reality affair, which might play in Trump's favor, but in the end, regardless of the outcome, the real losers will be the vast majority of Americans.      

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Decline of the Anglo-American Empire

The revolt of the elites in the West and most notably in the English-speaking nations has been going on now for the last thirty-five years.  Essentially, the members of the moneyed class have decoupled their futures from those with whom they share a geographic and political community. 

In short, the Washington-Westminster consensus entails a neo-liberal agenda of cutting corporate and personal income tax, deregulating financial markets, reducing investments in social programs, moving manufacturing to where labor and environmental laws are lax, encouraging predatory lending to the disadvantaged, and extracting wealth from the real economy to be re-invested in off shore tax havens. 

In doing so, the elites have left the common folk in the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) behind to fend for themselves in a beleaguered society that no longer has the sufficient resources and economic opportunities to maintain the quality of life that previous generations enjoyed.

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Before, throughout the post war period, there existed an inclusive social contract that embodied the belief "that we (those of Anglo-Saxon descent and their close cousins) were in this together."  No longer.  Now, there exists a "sink or swim" worldview in which those with the good luck of being born into well-off families are gliding quite well through the turbulence that incessant globalization has brought about, a middle-class struggling to keep their heads above water, while the poor are drowning in hopeless despair.

What has changed is that the callous treatment previously reserved for members of visible minorities has now been expanded to be applied to the vast majority of those who represent the racial bedrock from which the Anglo-American Empire drew its strength -- the English in the UK and white Americans in the US.  Both groups, having grown accustomed to preferential treatment, resent the decline in their living standards and are now pushing back, refusing to follow the leadership of their ruling elites.

Recently, much to the chagrin of Westminster and the City of London, those who felt very strongly they were being left behind (the English outside of London) and wanted to change Great Britain's trajectory voted to take the UK out of the European Union (EU), causing an immediate 10% devaluation of the national currency and a 120 billion dollar decline in the value of the companies listed in the national stock exchange. 

I think the Westminster crowd now realizes that what goes around comes around.  Because of the push back from the underclass, not only has the UK reduced its economic exchange with the largest trading block on the planet, it also now faces a very real threat that Scotland will leave the UK in order to maintain its ties with the EU.  Far from its imperial glory of ruling over the British Empire, Westminster might have its territorial reach reduced to the puny territorial expanse of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland -- a far cry from the sun never setting on the Empire.

The tectonic plates are also shifting is the US as the two-party political system seems to be coming to an end.  Most notably, in the run-up to the Presidential elections, white Americans have abandoned the leadership of the Republican Party to nominate the xenophobic, trash-talking, demagogue Donald Trump.  In doing so, they have repudiated the economic program that has left them behind as compared to the very well off, the upper 1% of the population.  Instead, they have embraced the vilification of those of different skin color, in particular Mexicans and Arab Muslims, who, apparently, are responsible for the hard times that many Americans are now experiencing as a result of the stealing jobs from white Americans by immigrants.

Things are almost as bad on the other side with the Democratic Party.  Coming into the Party's National Convention in July 2016, the favorite, the former Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, still has not secured the Party's nomination as Presidential candidate, in a campaign that has been marred by widespread electoral fraud and voter suppression.  Indeed, the vast majority of the under 40 electorate has turned its back to Hillary and would rather support the candidacy of the declared Democratic Socialist, Bernie Sanders.

Faced with unmanageable debt loads incurred while pursuing a post-secondary education, combined with limited economic opportunity in their immediate future, millions of millennials are now pushing for substantial change to America's political economy, including a living wage of $15 per hour, single-payer health care, free university education, and a substantial reduction of military expenditures.  They may not get their wishes granted in this election cycle; however, over the next twenty years, because of their demographic weight, they will inevitably change the trajectory of the American military-industrial-congressional complex.

How this will play out on the world stage remains to be determined.  Will the US remain as the world's only super power?  I doubt it.  Faced with growing divisions within, the US will be forced to turn its attention and more of its resources to domestic matters.  During this period of internal preoccupation, other world powers, military, political, and cultural will exert greater influence and bring to a close the hegemony of the Anglo-American Empire.

Unless, of course, the US decides to embark on yet another military campaign to rid the world once again of some regime accused of possessing weapons of mass destruction, supplied by the same elites who stand to gain financially by selling to the US government the arms necessary to neutralize the new perceived threat to global security.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The United States of Fear

It is extremely odd to come to the realization that the citizens of the most powerful nation humanity has ever seen, the United States of America, are very much afraid.  Indeed, fear permeates the lives of the vast majority of Americans at many levels.  They fear being attacked by terrorists.  They fear being attacked by crazed gunmen with automatic weapons.  They fear being shot by strangers.  They fear being shot by people they know.  They fear getting sick.  They fear being able to pay the medical bills.  They fear losing their jobs.  They fear growing old.  They fear their families falling apart.  They fear not being able to get a good education.  They fear not being able to pay off their student loans.  They fear immigrants speaking foreign languages.  They fear these immigrants taking their jobs.  They fear homosexuals living close by.  They fear giving up their guns.  They fear having to pay taxes.  They fear falling into poverty.  They fear their country losing its place in the world.  They fear going to hell.

Living in such a climate of fear, no wonder Americans call their country, "the land of the brave."  With all that fear, you have to be brave just to get through the day.  But, it doesn't have to be that way and that's something that most Americans simply just don't get.

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Yes, life is full of uncertainty.  At times, we can be dealt a bad hand.  We can fall sick, lose a job, be in an accident, have a marriage come to an abrupt end, or in other words, "to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."

Given life's inherent risks, it makes sense to try to mitigate them -- for everyone.  It's not rocket science.  Progressive countries all over the world have figured it out some time ago: extract a portion of the money that circulates in the economy and use it to pay for health care, education, pensions, child care, periods of unemployment, a guaranteed income for those who cannot work, the public infrastructure (public buildings, roads, bridges, railways. airports) and pay civil servants to run the system effectively and efficiently. 

It's never perfect.  There are always things that can be improved.  However, for most of the people, most of the time, it works pretty good for those who are fortunate to be born in one of the nations that have chosen to go that route.  I consider myself extremely fortunate to live in Canada.

So, what's up in the United States?  How is it possible that with all that wealth. all that military power, they are unable to do something as simple as prohibiting people from owning automatic and semi-automatic weapons?  You know, the ones repeatedly used in the tragic mass shootings that regularly occur there.

Fundamentally, it is the fear factor, the fear of the slippery slope.  Starting with a ban on automatic weapons, other rights will surely be transgressed.  Indeed, all that talk about the necessity to protect and advance the common good might mean that wealthy individuals and corporations might be asked to contribute more to the common good.  Heaven forbid, at least the Heaven and the God that fundamental right wing Christians believe in.

Instead of calling it the American Dream, it should be called the American Nightmare.  Instead of pursuing the American version of the good life, most Americans are simply trying not to succumb to one of the fearful demons that lie in wait, lurking to heap misery on the poor, the sick, and the abandoned.

It's as if life in America has become a giant zero-sum game, with most of the wealth and the well being money can buy going to a very small number of players, while misery engulfs the increasing number of losers ill-equipped to compete in a game in which the rules are rigged against them. 

It doesn't have to be that way, but the rules of the game need to be changed.  Yet, those who control the corporate media would have you believe that any change to the status quo would be dangerous, embarking on a perilous route leading to an uncertain destination.  Better the devil we know.

Looking at how the Presidential election is shaping up, it appears to be nothing more than a campaign based on fear: the fear of the other, the immigrant, the terrorist, the homosexual as mongered by Donald Trump, or the fear of letting him assume power, as mongered by Hillary Clinton.  In the end, the status quo remains.

Looking from afar, I observe that Americans have become so paralyzed with fear they have become unable to extricate themselves collectively from the mess of things they have created.  America's trajectory is not about to change, and I fear that it will continue to drag down the rest of humanity.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

There Is Something Rotten in the State of California, New York, Arizona, Nevada . . .

William Shakespeare
Oh my God, what's that smell.  It stinks to high heaven.  Incredibly, the stench from what's now going on during the US primaries is making it's way all the way up to Canada.  Take a whiff.  Something is rotten to the core.  It is the smell of a corrupt society.  If Yogi Berra were still alive, he might say that it's Deja Moo all over again.  We have seen this bullshit before, in Arizona, in New York, in Nevada, and now on a massive scale in California.

You would have to be completely na├»ve not to believe that the Democratic primaries are being manipulated to produce a fraudulent result.  Blatant electoral fraud is going on at a massive scale.  Voter suppression is rampant.  Citizens are having their names purged from the voters list, are being given the wrong ballots so that they cannot vote in the presidential primary, and there is significant evidence that patches have been installed on many of the computers that tabulate the votes so to flip votes for Bernie Sanders into votes for his rival, Hillary Clinton.

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Moreover, the media is refusing to publish the results of the exit polls in the previous state primaries.  Exit polls serve as a measure of how people actually voted.  The media's refusal to publish the polling data indicates that the data called into the question the validity of the published electoral results.  Conveniently, there were no exit polls for the California, which is extremely odd since it send more delegates than any other state to the Republican and Democratic National Conventions.  If that were not enough, the newswire, Associated Press, announced the day before the primaries were to be held that Hillary Clinton had already clinched the Democratic Party Presidential nomination, a clear attempt to lower the participation rate for Sanders' supporters.

Finally, what the fuck is up with President Obama endorsing Clinton before the results of the California primary have been declared official?  I guess he would know better than anyone else that the fix was on.  Most probably, the FBI investigation into the possibility of Hillary having engaged in illegal behavior with regard to her emails while she was Secretary of State has been derailed.  It would look very bad for Obama to endorse a candidate who has been charged with having committed a felony, which calls into question why would he be so quick to endorse her when she has not yet been cleared of the accusations of improper behavior.

The strategy is straight forward.  Bury Bernie as quickly as possible, so the momentum of moving forward to confront the media clown, devil incarnate, Republican Presidential candidate, Donald Trump will make people forget about the electoral fraud and focus their attention on the media's melodramatic presentation of the US Presidential election.  Clearly, this is an instance of the tail wagging the dog, America's liberal elite aided by its financial and media friends controlling how the electoral process will unfold for the population at large.

However, the shit has yet to hit the fan.  Considering the number of Americans who know realize that they have been duped, building a security fence around the arena in which the Democratic National Convention might not be enough.  Maybe, they will need a moat, water cannons, and tons of tear gas to repel the peasants storming the Bastille with pitchforks in hand. 

Will cooler heads prevail?  I sincerely hope so.  Yet I can't help but feel that what's about to be played out will not be pretty.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Canada Is Cool Once Again

Our Prime Minister Justin.  Check out his tattoo.
Before coming out and saying so, I had to wait a bit.  I had to make sure that the Trudeau-led Liberals were the real thing.  There are times when electoral expectations are not met, and we find out that the new boss is not really much different from the old one.

By now, I think all Canadians realize our new government is much different from the previous one under Stephen Harper.  During Harper's majority government, I often found myself is some uncomfortable situations when travelling in Europe, having to explain what had happened to Canada.  It is difficult to put into words how we had lost our collective mojo.  We had become as cool as a cardigan sweater.

Of course, that's all changed.  Sunny ways have pushed back the dark days of Harper.  It all begins with our newly elected Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.  Is this guy cool or what?  Obama didn't have a choice but to invite Justin to join him for a State Dinner in Washington.  Obama knows cool when he sees it.

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Since then, we have seen Justin holding a couple of pandas in his arms, greeting Syrian refugees at the airport, and inadvertently bumping a female Member of Parliament when trying to rescue a member of the opposition when he had been surrounded by members of another party who were attempting to prevent this member from voting on an important piece of legislation.  Shortly thereafter, Justin, in the epitome of what it means to be Canadian, apologized for his "unruly" behavior, and promptly received a standing ovation.  Only Canadians can understand how his gesture captures who we are.

But I have a confession to make.  During the recent electoral campaign, I sent a photo of Trudeau after he was jumped upon by young woman (also porting a tattoo) during a Gay Pride Parade in Vancouver, and wrote to my Mexican-American friend that Justin was simply way too cool to become our Prime Minister.

Canadians proved my wrong.  (OK, it was our stupid electoral system that gave him a majority government but that's what it is designed to do.  I'll get to this in a bit.)

Now, we have the coolest leader in the G20, the only one who has a visible tattoo.  The Americans are drooling.  Poor devils, they are soon going to have to endure a Presidential campaign featuring a contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, which is like being forced to listen to a radio that has only two stations, one for polka, the other for Japanese speed metal.  These are the choices?

Now, don't get me wrong.  Canada is not cool because Justin is our Prime Minister.  No, Justin is our Prime Minister because Canada is cool.

Now that I am older and having traveled a bit, I realize the Great White North is a cool place to live, and not only during the winter.  We have it right, a balance between freedom and social measures to make the notion of freedom meaningful for everyone: single payer health care, decent public education, affordable post-secondary education, an advanced mixed economy, but, more importantly, a social milieu that respects the fundamental human rights articulated and defended by Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  I live in a place where prejudice in whatever form is not accepted, whether it be based on colour, race, gender, sexual orientation, or religious belief.  Moreover, we have moved as a society to realize that our cultural restrictions of our Judeo-Christian past are no longer applicable in the 21st century.  People can marry their same sex partners, smoke marijuana if they chose to, and, if of sound mind, end their days with the aid of physician.  In other words, we care for each other without imposing our beliefs upon others.  That's very cool.

In closing, I have another confession to make.  I had been thinking about this post for a couple of weeks and I was going to entitle it: "Canada Is Cool, Except When It Comes To Sharing Power".  The reason?  Well, after promising to change Canada's electoral system, it appeared that the Trudeau-led liberals were going to continue to the practice of stacking the important committee looking into electoral reform so to give themselves absolute control of this legislative process even though they had not won a majority of votes during the last election -- a glaring anomaly if one is sincere about democratic reform.  However, the representation on this committee was changed.  It now reflects in a much better way the diversity of political views in Canada.

Again, I was overly pessimistic.  Maybe, I had lost my cool.  Maybe, Canada had attained a level of cool and I hadn't noticed.  Maybe, it took a new leader to show us how cool we had become.

Sunny ways, Justin, sunny ways Canada.  I stand on guard for thee.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Deja Moo: The New York Democratic Primary

Never be deceived that the rich will allow you to vote away their wealth  (Lucy Parsons)

Well, the Democratic primary in New York has come and gone and Hillary won.  What a surprize!!!  Tens of thousands of people flock to see Bernie Sanders live compared to the couple of hundred who attend Hillary's event.  Yet, Hillary wins going away.

Do my eyes deceive me?  No.  It's just another case of using the rules of voting to gain advantage.

In New York, the primary is closed, meaning that you have to be registered months in advance as a Republican or a Democrat in order to vote in the primary.  All the independents and all the recent converts to Bernie's cause were shut out.  Imagine that.  And to add insult to injury, more than a hundred thousand registered Democrats in Brooklyn, Bernie's home town, had their names mysteriously vanish from the voters' list, a troublesome occurrence to say the least, causing the state's comptroller to demand an audit of the Elections Board, a classic example of too little too late since by the time the investigation wraps up, Hillary will probably be in the White House.

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Different day, same old bullshit of voter suppression.  In Arizona, they reduced the number of voting stations, forcing people to stand in line five hours or more in the dessert heat if they wanted to vote.  In both cases, these voting irregularities swayed the results in favor of Hillary.

So, what is playing out in the Democratic primary is a grass roots movement, primarily made up of young people, challenging the system by mobilizing with great force to demand fundamental changes to the American political economy, and the old guard that uses its control of the voting procedures to engineer a result that is more favourable to their interests.  If I were a betting man, I would place my money on the old guard to win this contest.

Given that this electoral contest has been rigged in advance, I think its just a matter of time that this wave of progressives come to the realization that to get to the place they would like to go, they just can't get there from here.  The way is blocked.  The rich are not going to let the population at large vote away their wealth, and the two party political system is set up to protect the status quo at all costs.

In the end, it all depends on how Bernie is going to react to his defeat.  Will he accept the bitter result or will he say, "Fuck this", I'm going to run as an independent"?

I think it would be a historic move that would bring to an end the two-party political system in the United States.  Surely, the specter of Donald Trump as President will be used to encourage people to choose the lesser of the two evils: the more popular (Hillary) of the least popular presidential candidates of the major parties since records have been kept.

It won't be until the summer before Bernie makes his decision, and in the meantime I guess I'll have to sit tight and watch this pathetic rerun of an electoral script to see if there will be a surprize twist to what appears to be a predetermined ending, bought to you by the good people of Corporate America.