Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Democracy in America: How the Big Lie Rolls On and On

I get democracy.  It is a set of political institutions that allows the demos, otherwise known as the multitudes, otherwise known as the people, to self-rule.  By its very nature it is opposed to the rule of the one (monarchy, dictator, emperor) and the rule of the many (aristocracy, oligarchy, plutocracy).

Essentially, we can trace the origins of democracy to the golden age of Athens.  In the words of John Dunn, one of the world’s leading political theorists: “what the term means is that the people hold power and exercise rule.  That was what it meant at Athens, where the claim bore some relation to the truth.  That is what it means today, when it very much appears a thumping falsehood: a bare-faced lie.”

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Thumping falsehood?

Bare-faced lie?

If this were the case, it seems that an incredibly large number of people have been taken in to believe that the United States of America is the world’s greatest democracy.

It takes a slick rhetorical sleight of hand to get that many people to fall for such a big whopper.

So how do they do it?  What’s the trick?

Well, dusting off the cover of a book on rhetoric, what do we find?

Here it is, synecdoche:  a figure of speech in which a part is used to represent the whole or the whole for a part.

Let’s see, in this case, holding elections, a small part and the least democratic of Athenian political institutions reserved for choosing military leaders, is substituted for all of the Athenian political practices that taken together locate power and rule with the people.

So, in other words, if a country like the US holds a lot of elections, it must be democratic?

Excuse me but that’s one mighty big leap of pretzel logic.

Yeah, but it works.

Through in lot of flag waving, asking for God’s benediction, images of virile youth ready to die for their nation and most Americans are more than happy not to insist that their meaningful participation in the process of governance does not extend beyond the time it takes to cast a ballot.

It’s part of the American dream.

You got to be asleep to fall for it.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Calling Out the Tellers of the Hell-monger's Tale

Enthralled by Mammon, the tellers of the Hell-monger's Tale seek to turn the planet from an earthly paradise into a living hell.  In fact, burning up the world's stock of fossil fuels would make most of the earth inhospitable for humans.

Spurred on by their insatiable greed, they spread their cancerous ideology each time they interpret the unfolding of events within their narrative frame that greed is good:

"Behold the word of the chosen ones: the economy must continue to grow unceasingly for in the absence of economic growth pestilence and plague will sweep the nation.

Damn those who would slow the wheels of economic growth!

Catastrophic climate change you say? Nothing more than heretical cant from the non- believers."

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As you can see, I like the biblical rhetoric of fire and brimstone.  There's something primal about  it.  It speaks directly to our mammalian brain by skipping any engagement of our higher cognitive functions.  It gets you by the balls, so to speak, and gives them a yank.

More than ever, it's time for those who oppose the scorched earth policies of unlimited economic growth to take off the gloves and get dirty.

You could flog the facts and have them read the pertinent information to be found at
http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/11/5-charts-about-climate-change-that-should-have-you-very-very-worried/265554/

However, each time you engage your opponents in a rational manner, citing scientific reports calling for limits to green house gas emissions in order to keep global warming less than two degrees Celsius by the end of the century, you lose.

First, most people can't sustain this argument long enough to come to the conclusion that they need to change their consumption patterns.  Second, and much more important, faced with the cognitive dissonance of being presented with facts that don't correspond to their narrative frames, most people, most of the time, will reject the facts and hang on to the frames.  Humans are biologically hard-wired to do so.

So, stop being so nice.  Forgo the facts and attack the frame by tapping into the treasure lore of figurative language to be found in Judeo-Christian texts.

Instead of saying something like, "present economic policies increase the probability that the increased green house gas emissions associated with greater economic activity will put into motion a cascade of effects that will lead to uncontrollable global warming and catastrophic climate change", say something to the effect, "hey, what you want to do is let the rich greedy bastards have their way, letting them turn the earth into a living hell in the process since they believe that they can buy their way into heaven anytime.  No fucking way."

This kind of talk quickens the rhetorical pace.  It is intended to be emotional.  It is intended to engage fast thinking and it certainly gets people's attention.

So, over the holidays do something out of the movie, Fight Club.  Pick a fight with someone who starts talking about the economy by calling them a Hell-monger and see what happens.

Ho, ho, ho.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

America Is in the Thrall of Future Shock

Observing what's happening in the US as Americans are only six weeks from electing their president, I am struck by a society in complete disarray.

A stalled economy, more than 40 million people living on food stamps, the lowest labor force participation rate since the end of the second world war, millions living in houses with underwater mortgages, real wages dropping for the majority of the population while the super rich are taking a greater share of the national income, elections during which corporations can spend unlimited amounts and states adopt legislation to suppress the vote, crazed gunmen that go on killing sprees, and the list goes on.

It's as if there is no glue that can hold the fractured population together.

The American dream is dead.

A university education used to be the way to a better future, but lately it has become a debt trap luring a younger generation into a wage slave existence.

All in all, I would say that America is a victim of future shock: too much change in too short a period of time.

In fact, the turn of the century brought about the demise of the American empire.

Securitization, off-shore jobs, lack of effective financial regulation, and tax cuts for the middle class and the rich combined with unfunded entitlements has left the US a mere shadow of its former self.

In the meantime, a dispirited population is pumped with the hype that it still lives in the best country of the world.

In what I find to be a pathetic spectacle, the hope for the future comes down to a cool black dude saying "yes we can" and a rich white guy who is doing everything in his power so that "no you won't."

Glad I live in Canada.


 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Notwithstanding the One Whacko, Quebec’s Collective Intelligence Prevails

Calling a general election during the summer months in order to avoid the anticipated turmoil of a government commission mandated to investigate corruption in the construction industry and dragging out the student strike so to make it a campaign issue didn’t go very well for the former Premier of Quebec, Jean Charest, and his Liberal Party.

In fact, he got spanked.  Twice.  In going down to defeat, his Liberal Party received the lowest percentage of the popular vote ever, and the man from Sherbrooke lost his seat in the National Assembly.

Now that the election is over and Jean has been put out to pasture, we can turn our attention to what is the most pressing political concern: cleaning up government.

We all know that Quebec’s political culture is rife with greed and graft.  Fortunately, we have the Charbonneau commission ready to begin its work in earnest.  The process of the investigation, the report of findings, recommendations to made, and legislation to be adopted will take about two years, more or less the life span of the caretaker PQ minority government.

In the meantime, the PQ will have its hands tied, unable to call a referendum on sovereignty or to adopt any controversial legislation due to its minority status.  In other words, the PQ has been given the task of simply managing the shop until we find out the extent of the problem.

Thereafter, we can then elect a government with the knowledge of how this state of affairs came about and with measures in place so that we don’t repeat the errors of our past.

At the moment, we have lost confidence in the political process and the political parties that would govern us.

For the sake of future generations, we must see the process of political reform to its end and take back the responsibility of governing ourselves.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

WTF Even My Strategic Vote Won't Count

Before I start my rant, it should be known that I have been a candidate for political parties that wanted to change the voting system on four occasions.  I have also been a militant for civic organizations that shared the same aim.  I have even gone as far as to organize a charter challenge concerning the constitutionality of the first-past-the-post method.  All to no avail.

That being said, I am still faced with the reality that, with regard to my so-called Charter right to effective representation and meaningful participation in the electoral process, as far as the Quebec general election goes, I am shit out of luck.

I have thought hard and long about how I could participate meaningfully in this democratic farce.  I even reached the conclusion that voting strategically to prevent the Liberal candidate from getting elected would make my participation somewhat meaningful.

However, according to the polls the Liberal candidate has a lead of about ten points, which renders even my protest vote null and void, ineffective, not worth the paper that carries my pitiful mark, absolutely fucking useless.

Cry me a river!

Don't you know that the iron law of oligarchy rules the land.  Democratic participation is just a facade.  What the game is all about is mobilizing enough supporters so that more votes are cast for one oligarch over another.  That's it.  No more complicated than that.  The winner takes all, and the political power is transferred from the population at large to a very small elite running what is essentially nothing more than an electoral machine.

Hey, wait a minute, if that's the case, I am little more than a fucking peasant living in the twenty first century.

Yeah, but look at all the useless shit you can buy.  Have fun.  Don't worry. Be happy!

Enjoy the spectacle as long as you can and be content with the fact that although you don't live in a democratic society, you can accumulate a lot of stuff, which, if you so desire, you can pass off to your children.

Fuck that, all I want is for my vote to count.

Well, in that case, you really are shit out of luck.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Three Ring Circus, a Horse Race, and a Pussy Riot

It's a funny thing living in the second decade of the twenty-first century.  There's such a wide gap between our technological reach and our social institutions.

On the same day, I can view the latest images beamed back from the planet Mars and learn that the young women from the Russian punk band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison for their performance of a prayer in Russian Orthodox Church to rid Russia of its president, Vladimir Putin.

I guess some people just don't get or appreciate performance art.  Check out the video at  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCasuaAczKY&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Here at home, I have the pleasure of watching the spectacle of Quebec's general election called during the summer before the much anticipated anti-corruption inquiry gets down to serious business.

This is politics as spectacle at its best.

As a prelude to the election, we were entertained by a student protest that had great visuals: stone throwing, breaking windows, police whacking unarmed protesters with night sticks, tear gas, and let's not forget those near-naked marches through the streets, followed by the widespread banging of pots and pans to protest the government's adoption of draconian law that makes it illegal for more than fifty people to assemble without notifying the authorities.

Once the writ was dropped, we have the three leaders of the main political parties making promises left and right to spend taxpayers money as if there were no tomorrow in the heaviest-taxed, most debt-ridden province or state in North America.

Like carnies, each leader tries to seduce us with promises of a job, lower taxes, a family   physician, braces or free school supplies for the kids, even parking spaces.

Then there are the leaders of the smaller parties that the media won't give the time of day clamoring for attention, but to no avail since the voting system relegates them to cameo appearances only.

Periodically, just in case our attention wanes, the latest poll appears to tell us how the parties are performing relative to each other

According to the pundits, the real race for the finnish line starts with the leaders debate.  I can hardly wait to watch the three consecutive televised one-on-one mud slinging contests and the be treated to the in-depth analysis of whether or not a knock-out blow was delivered.

At the end, we'll huddle around our 50 inch plasma televisions watching as the results of the 125 winner-take-all electoral contests are announced, all of us hoping that our preferred political narrative unfolds, uncertain because of the systemic distortions of the popular vote that the first-past-the-post voting system regularly brings about.

Personally, I'm a big fan of schadenfreude.  I'm hoping that I'll have the pleasure to see our former Premier eat humble pie as his government is defeated and he loses his own seat in Quebec's National Assembly.

Yes, that would be sweet, bittersweet, since Jean Charest will have left politics with not one but two fat pensions at taxpayers expense, while leaving us with a mountain of debt that will take generations to pay.

But hey that's politics in a settler state that still has a foreign monarch as its head of state nearly 150 years after confederation and uses an electoral system that dates back to the middle ages.

For God's sake Scotty, beam me off this backward planet!  I want to be surrounded by intelligent life.

And while you're at it Scotty, do something for the members of Pussy Riot.  They really deserve a better fate.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Economic Freedom of the Few Limits the Political Freedom of the Many

Politics is all about who decides on whose behalf. Inevitably, political decisions entail winners and losers.  In an ideal world, political decisions would be made by inclusive institutions that allow for a thorough analysis of the substantive issues in which the will of the majority prevails.

Sadly, this is not the case.

In fact, where I live the political system in place prevents people like me, who believe that effective measures to minimize catastrophic climate change must be undertaken quickly, from having effective representation in our elected legislatures.  Moreover, the federal court recently ruled that it is part of the Prime Minister's royal prerogative to unilaterally withdraw Canada from the Kyoto Accord, the only international agreement that attempts to prevent catastrophic climate from coming about.

In summary, the political system, in particular the voting method, effectively thwarts people like myself from having an effective voice in this nation's deliberative process and at the same time maintains the absolutist powers of the crown so to benefit those who would transfer as much of the carbon reserves in Alberta's tar sands into the atmosphere as possible.

What's up with that?

Well, the economic freedom of big money for one.  There is a ton of cash to be made from the extraction of oil from the tar sands and the negative impacts upon the environment are simply to be externalized.

That's as far as it goes.  No need to entertain economic arguments about short-term gains versus long-term costs or risk management.

Wealth extraction is the name of the game.

The rules favor those who want to be free to extract as much wealth as possible, and the rules are not likely to change anytime soon.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Democracy's Last Conquest: The Anglo-American Empire

Slowly but surely democracy is spreading and finding roots around the world. The latest countries to begin their path towards democratic governance are Tunisia and Libya. In both countries, democratic elections were held to fill the void left by the toppling of a tyrannical dictator.

Looking at a map of the world that demarcates democratic governance, there is clearly a trend since the end of the second world war for democracy to find its way into countries that were anything but. Central America, the former Soviet Union, and now North Africa have all experienced the incursion of what is becoming the only legitimate form of governance.

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Unfortunately, there is also the tendency for former and present day imperial powers, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, to pass themselves off as democracies by equating popular elections with democratic governance. In reality, they are nothing more than plutocracies.

As a result, the persistent presence of the democratic myth has taken in the vast majority of each country's respective citizens, making it such that those who protest the absence of truly democratic political institutions are marginalized.

In the case of the UK, the plutocracy is anchored in the wealth and privilege brought on by a steadfast adherence to tradition and custom rooted in time immemorial. It as though the British are stuck in the eighteenth century, unable to reform their unelected upper house, the House of Lords, more than one hundred years after declaring the intention of doing so. Moreover, the Brits actually refused to abandon the first-past-the-post voting system by way of a national referendum despite its well known propensity to distort the popular vote so that majority governments are manufactured for the benefit of a minority of the electorate.

In the United States, the plutocracy is supported by a political system that empowers the financial sector and the corporate class at the expense of everyone else. Despite the lofty enlightenment rhetoric of its founding fathers, the privileged persons who wield the most power are in fact the nation's corporations, which were, in fact, granted the legal status of a rights holding person by the US Supreme Court. Consequently, corporations can make unlimited financial contributions to political campaigns, which is tantamount to buying an election, thereby making mockery of the so called democratic process.

Fundamentally, both countries adhere to culturally held beliefs that stem from the Protestant Reformation, and as Max Weber pointed out the cultural consequences of Calvinism run deep. So much so that the religious belief in the divine separation of the Elect and the dammed manifests itself socially in the rampant inequalities that would have people believe that the poor and the oppressed are responsible for their lot and deserve their divinely ordained suffering. Wealth, on the other hand, is a sign of being favored by God.

Contrary to the perverse inequality of those who believe that they are members of the Elect, democracy is an ideology founded on a radical conception of equality: equality at birth, equality of rights, equality of the vote, and equality before the courts. This is not the ideology that supports the inherent inequality favored by those who desire an ostentatious display of wealth that suggests a divinely inspired sense of their superiority.

As Machiavelli so aptly observed at the beginning of the Renaissance, in order for the Republic to come about, men must love the Republic more than they love their souls.

This is certainly not the case in either country where the radical individualism nascent in widespread historical religious belief found the fertile ground of the radical individualism associated with Anglo-American capitalism.

Americans and the Brits may have become less enamored with their souls, but not with the status hierarchy that wealth brings about. The pursuit of happiness in each country is in reality the pursuit of wealth, and since this obsession is at the core of Anglo-American culture, any ideology that is inherently egalitarian like democracy must be avoided at all costs.

So, in the end, a combination of the myth of democratic governance and the cultural beliefs that require large inequalities make the Anglo-American empire impervious to real democratic reform with the exception of Australia and New Zealand, two countries that have transcended the limitations of the Westminster parliamentry system and Anglo-American culture.

A fish doesn't think about the water that surrounds it, and as long as there are fortunes to be made not a lot of serious thought will be devoted to bringing about democracy in either the US or the UK.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Canada's Lamentable Lack of Imagination

When I was a kid growing up, I thought Canada was cool. Canada's centennial celebrations made me believe that as a young country we were just coming into our own. A few years later, Paul Henderson scored the winning goal to beat the Soviets, which proved we were the best at something. We were at the top of the world.

Since then that bright future has faded. In all honesty, other than Henderson's goal, life here in Canada has been deadly dull. Let's face it, as a nation we lack both imagination and passion.

Ask yourself, what has been Canada's most memorable event since we celebrated Canada's one hundredth birthday?

The only exceptional event that I can recall is Terry Fox's attempted run across Canada. I'll never forget that young one-legged man with his hopping gait who set out to accomplish a dream that was as big as the country.

Unfortunately, trying to live the dream did him in, and I think that we never got or understood his message that regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in, we can dare to accomplish something extraordinary. I think he would have been disappointed to see how run-of-the-mill we have become.

We pretty much slog along doing things like they always have been done since our colonial days. Nothing really innovative. Nothing that would rock the boat.

On the political front, we are still a settler state that privileges the birth rights of two charter groups. On the one hand, we are still a constitutional monarchy that has the monarch of one of the charter groups as Canada's head of state, and on other, the desire of the other charter group to assert its collective sovereignty over the territory it occupies.

Talk about being trapped in a time warp. Even hockey has become dull.

No more Gretzky, no more Lemieux, just the boring dump it into the corner and then pass it back for a slap shot from the point, hoping that the puck will make it through the five opposing players who have collapsed in front of their net.

Wow, like watching the balls from Lotto 649 drop out.

We need to be jolted out of our collective stupor. Life is far too short and far too precious to be lived in its entirety always on the safe side.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Revolt of the Few and the Abdication of the Many Has Brought About the Collapse of the Middle Class in America

Years ago, in his book, The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy, Christopher Lasch foresaw the diverging interests of the corporate executive class and the shareholders they serve with the rest of America.

In short, the rise of Information and Communications Technology made it possible to increase profits by transferring production off shore and then importing the finished products back into the US market. At the same time, finance rather than manufacturing generated higher profit margins so that a company like General Electric, long a symbol of American manufacturing might, could generate more revenue from its off shore operations and, in particular, from its financial sector, than from building and selling stuff in the USA.

In this brave new world, there is no connection between Wall Street and Main Street. Instead, the elites of the transnational, global marketplace flitter back and forth between a host of global cities like New York, London, Paris, Singapore, Shanghai, and the like, in their eternal pursuit of the next big thing. The world is their oyster and the common folk are there to be shucked.

In many ways, there is nothing new in this turn of events. After all, as F. Scott Fitzgerald aptly wrote, "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me."

But what seems to be unique in the last thirty years is the manner in which the many, those university-educated members of the top 10%, abdicated from their social responsibility to mediate between the rapacious desires of the few and the needs of the multitude or the demos.

It as though they gave their blessing to the breaking of the Fordist social contract so they too could binge out on a splurge of conspicuous consumption. No one needed to wait for Alan Greenspan's admission that there was a flaw in his ideology to know that markets are not infallible and that left to their own are subject to collapse.

But standing up for the little guy takes time and energy and with all those payments to make who has the time?

Perhaps, the most glaring example of turning away from a harsh reality in order to embrace the latest in urban chic is America's love affair with Apple.

Americans love their iPads, iPods, iPhones, and iTunes. Can't get enough of them even though Apple is the poster child of the iEconomy, an economy where it takes a permanent underclass (46 million Americans live off food stamps) so that luxury can be affordable to what remains of the middle class.

Apple has a capitalization of approximately 600 billion dollars and is sitting on about one hundred billion dollars in liquid assets. Yet, at the same time it produces its swag using a number of work camps, many of them in China, run by Foxconn. Moreover, when it comes to retail, their sales associates make on average $ 25,000 per annum, which lands them squarely amongst the ranks of the working poor, while their tech people, euphemistically referred to as Geniuses, toil away for a measly $40,000 a year, a paltry salary surely indicative of someone who doesn't know their worth.

You would think that the world's richest company could afford to pay their workers a decent wage.

But ain't that America, little pink houses for you and me.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

More Than Ever America Needs to be Coherent in Its Electoral Response

Well America, taking a look at the recent stats concerning wage growth or the lack thereof and the stunning drop in the net worth of the vast majority of Americans, I think that it goes without saying that you have been screwed royally.

Between 2005 and 2010, the median wage dropped by 7% and on average people lost about a third of their net worth. During the same period, corporate profits soared; executive pay went through the roof; and you got stuck paying the bill for the biggest public bailout in history.

Come November, you are faced with a choice. Would you like to begin to repair the catastrophic damage that free market economics inflicted upon your collective well-being or would you like the situation to get even worse for the majority of Americans?

The choice is clear.

Either you re-elect Obama and give the Democrats majority control in Congress or you, your children and their children will pay the consequences.

After what you've been through, it seems to me that it would be inconceivable to elect Romney, a predatory capitalist if ever there was one, and to allow the Republicans to continue with their grotesque masquerade of protecting the public's interest in Congress.

Hey, to those of us looking in from the outside, it's obvious that you're stuck in an abusive relationship with a political party that knows how to push your buttons so that you make totally irrational decisions that are incredibly self-destructive.

But there is a way out. You can leave this destructive relationship behind by hauling your sorry asses to the polling station in sufficient numbers and voting in a manner that says fuck you to the Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to spend unlimited, undisclosed amounts of money in favor of those candidates that advance corporate interests at your expense.

Come on America, this is a historic occasion.

Given the entrenched power that the corporate plutocracy wields in America and the separation of powers within your system of governance, nothing less than a completely coherent response that is a clear repudiation of the socio-economic scam that has been played upon you is required.

Like the French recently figured out, give your President the tools he needs to get the job done.

Monday, June 18, 2012

With Upcoming Elections in Quebec, These Are My Choices. What Would You Do?

Democratically speaking, Canada is a third world country. Case in point, the upcoming general election in Quebec and my fairy tale constitutional right to effective representation and meaningful participation in the electoral process.

In our crown-in-parliament political system, elections must be held before the end of a five-year term. It is, of course, the royal prerogative of the Premier of Quebec to decide when. For all their bitching about everything British, les Québécois steadfastly hang onto the Westminster parliamentary system. Elsewhere in the Dominion elections are held on fixed dates. But not here.

Sorry, I digress.

For more than fifty years, either the Liberals or the Parti Quebecois form a government. It's one or the other. No exceptions. So where does that leave me?

Between a rock and a hard place!

I can't vote for the Liberals since a vote for them would be to endorse the most corrupt and inept government I've ever had this misfortune to live under. Likewise, to vote for the Part Québécois would be an endorsement of ethnic nationalism. I could vote for a third party candidate that has a snowball's chance in hell of winning, but what's the point, my vote is completely wasted, unless you call the consolation prize for losers, the 75 cent per vote state subsidy, a sufficient reason for going to the polls.

Fuck that! It insults my intelligence that each vote cast generates income for a political party, meaning that each vote is effective financially and carries equal weight, but when it comes to representation, I'm shit out of luck if I vote for a losing candidate. In other words, the political parties created an effective fund raising mechanism to help finance their activities at tax payer's expense based on the aggregation of votes, but when it comes to granting representation, it's a winner-take-all proposition in each electoral district.

What's up with that?

In what is surely a perversion of the concept of the constitutional right to effective representation, each political party is effectively represented in the financial scheme, but as a citizen, like hundreds of thousands like me, I am denied effective representation because I don't live in close proximity to a sufficiently large number of fellow citizens who share my political preferences.

To put this in perspective, one of my female colleagues at work voted in the last Tunisian election for the first time in her life, and her vote was not wasted even if she cast it in Canada. Tunisia uses a proportional voting system so all the votes are used in determining the distribution of seats, and my colleague is effectively represented even though she lives thousands of miles away.

Evidently, Tunisia has cast off its colonial status while Canada and Quebec cling to their colonial past, yet we consider Tunisia to be stuck in the third world.

Returning to my dilemma as a disenfranchised voter, I seem to have several options: I could abstain from voting; I could spoil my ballot by writing none of the above; I could try walking out of the polling station with my ballot in hand saying that I am withdrawing it from a unjust electoral process; I could try swapping my vote with someone from another electoral district where my vote had a greater chance of being effective; I could vote my wife's voting intentions; or I could move to a country that uses a proportional voting system.

These are my choices. What would you do?

Monday, June 4, 2012

The End of the University as We Know It?

The hallowed halls of learning are no longer the place they used to be, exclusive enclaves of learning that allowed those fortunate enough to attend to gain the skill sets and make the social contacts to climb the social hierarchy.

In short, maintaining bricks and mortar institutions, tenured faculty, and financially exploitive publishing practices to deliver post-secondary education is economically inefficient and cannot compete with the Internet delivery model.

Throughout the centuries, universities have grown around a physically situated knowledge repository known as a library. It made sense to locate professors, researchers, and students in close proximity to the information resources. Moreover, these cathedrals of knowledge could charge exorbitant fees to students desirous of securing their futures, which in turn allowed them to expand.

As post-secondary education became part of the post war, publicly-funded panoply of social services offered to the population at large, enrollment in universities sky-rocketed. Universal accessibility became the mark of a developed country.

However, thirty plus years of neoliberal politics has brought the existing university business model to a precipice. Even with generous student aid programs in place, the cost of maintaining traditional universities has outstripped the state's capacity to guarantee universal access to post-secondary education.

The return to the user-payer model of university access is effectively reducing the numbers of lower and lower middle class students who can afford to attend university, especially when current economic conditions make it very difficult for recent graduates to find employment that generates sufficient income to repay their student loans.

Rather than accepting entry into a wage slave existence, increasing numbers of potential university students are deciding that they simply cannot afford to attend a traditional university.

Fortunately, their future need not be bleak.

In a wired world, higher education can be delivered to millions at a fraction of a cost as compared to the tradition model.

For example, Stanford's recent experiment in delivering an undergraduate course on artificial intelligence simultaneously to the 200 Stanford university students on campus and to approximately 100,000 students on line demonstrated that advances in information and communications technology make the traditional practice of bringing together a group of students in a lecture hall to hear the words to wisdom delivered by a professor appear quaint.

What remains to be done is to develop an appropriate certification process that recognizes that courses delivered via the Internet possesses the same intrinsic value of those delivered in the hallowed halls. MIT and Harvard are working together to address this need.

In my opinion, what's missing in the debate surrounding the increase in student fees in Quebec and the rising levels of student debt in the US is the notion that affordable university education can be delivered to those who desire it if the university business model is altered to take greater advantage of the economies of scale that the Internet offers.

But this means a large scale re-engineering of the present model, which will likely mean the loss of a great number of teaching positions as more and more courses migrate to the Web and an end to the lucrative business of academic publishing in favor of open access models.

Imagine being able to choose courses for credit from renown universities like Harvard, Yale, MIT, Stanford, the London School of Economics, the Sorbonne and do the course work from the comfort of your home and the public library.

We have the technology. We just need the collective will.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Peace, Order, and Corrupt Government

Yesterday saw the convergence of two events: the 100th day of the student strike marked by a demonstration of more than 150,000 people in the streets of Montreal and the opening of public inquiry into the corruption of the construction industry and its links to the financing of political parties.

 
Apparently, the adoption of Bill 78 as an emergency measure to calm the masses and bring order to the province has little or no effect.  On the contrary, its repressive measures, which will be surely challenged in the courts, only seemed to galvanize the protests.

 
Unfortunately, in the flurry of media response to the students strike most of the attention is being paid to the particulars of the dispute: whether the rise in tuition fees is justifiable and if the restrictive measures concerning the right to demonstrate are reasonable.

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 A current theme that finds its way into many of the texts put forward by the pundits is that the students are out of line because they are refusing to abide by the decisions of a "democratically" elected government.

 
If I only had a dollar for every time a politician or a journalist misappropriates the word "democracy" to describe our system of governance.  Holding popular elections in no way guarantees that the ensuing government is indeed democratic.  In other words, popular elections are necessary but not sufficient.

 
In Quebec there are two considerations to keep in mind.  First, looking at the distortions that electoral system creates, the current Charest government only garnered the support of approximately 25% of the electorate.  Second, as we will soon find out, the financing of the major political parties is tainted by the systemic misappropriation of public funds dedicated for public infrastructure projects that find their way into the coffers of the political parties.

 
As a result, what is really at issue is the moral legitimacy of the Charest government. 

 
Democracy entails the two fold dynamic of ruling and being ruled.  As it stands now, Premier Charest wants to rule unilaterally without allowing his citizens meaningful participation in the process of governing other than going to the polls.

 
Given the perception of the widespread corruption of the political process in Quebec, especially in Montreal, the refusal of being ruled by the decision of a corrupt government is a rejection of the social contract of peace, order and good government.

 
Indeed, it is the absence of good government that brings about the repeated breach of social peace and order.  A call to respect the rule of law does little within this context since those who pass the laws are no longer perceived to merit the obedience of the public.  As could be expected and is now certainly the case in Quebec, the call for civil disobedience as a means to challenge the legitimacy of the present government grows louder every day that the strike continues.

 
What remains to be seen is whether a general election will remedy the situation.  If the millennial generation is in the process of rejecting the political system now in place, it may take more than a simple change of government to address the problem.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Gutting Canada's Environmental Laws Is Simply Part of Stephen's Gubernaculum

To the one who wears the Crown goes the right to do what one wants when one sees fit. 

In the case when the Crown resides in Parliament, this right is transferred to the Monarch's representative, the Prime Minister.  Although the Prime Minister must abide by the laws of Parliament, more or less, since he is effectively the one who sees over them, he is said to possess the Monarch's gubernaculum, the mysterious power reserved for the wearer of the crown that allows the Prime Minister to declare war without the consent of Parliament, sign international treaties, prorogue parliament, and put aside the section of the electoral law which stipulates that general elections will be held on fixed dates.

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Seen in this light, Bill C-38, known as the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act, but to others as the Environmental Destruction Act, is not some form of skulduggery but is simply a part of the Prime Minister's gubernaculum.  In other words, as long as he stays within the law of the land as one who governs with a majority in Parliament he can rule the land as he sees fit.

For example, building a pipeline quickly to transport the oil from the Alberta tar sands requires that federal law be modified.  It's that simple.  There's no need for discussion.  Let's make the modifications and get on with it.  All this talk of protecting the environment and respect for democratic principles is nothing more than trying to drum up support for a potential usurper of the crown.

Perhaps another Prime Minister would exercise his gubernaculum differently.  That may be the case, but that's talk for another day.

Peace, order, and good government that's what Canada is all about.

Democracy?  That's what pot smoking, Foucault reading, tree huggers, base their delusionally optimistic fantasies for the future.

We'll have none of it.



Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Revolution Won't Be Televised But You Can Follow It on Twitter

As the Quebec Spring unfolds and the students continue their protests in the streets, it has become apparent that there is a big disconnect between the generations with regard to how they use the mediums of communication.

Government dominates the airwaves.  Press conferences are convened; interviews are given; one to many messaging holds, and the government perspective is duly broadcast to an undifferentiated public.

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Protesters, on the other hand, make use of social media.  Many to many messaging reigns.  No one party can dominate the exchange.  In fact, the government is largely absent from the social media platforms as it tries like many of us to follow the unfolding of events in real time via Twitter and Facebook.

Even traditional media journalists set up their Tweet Decks so they can follow what's going on in the streets.

I think there is something profound going on here that indicates that the advances in Information and Communications Technology are bringing about fundamental changes to the way the body politic governs itself.

The masses can no longer be told what to think because they have largely tuned out from the traditional channels of communication: newspapers, television, and radio, in favor of getting information from networked sources.

As a result, the gate keeper function that traditional media plays in a society -- what gets said by whom on which topics -- is being swept aside by an avalanche of likes and retweets.

How this gets played out remains to be seen, but it shouldn't be taken for granted that the new emerging counter culture will be co-opted as easily as the baby boomers were.

Conspicuous consumption may give way to ecological concerns, economic growth to sustainable societies, and oligarchic rule to participatory democracy.

Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day.  Teach him how to fish and he will feed himself for a lifetime.  Give him a smart phone with an internet connection and he can participate in the sustainable management of the planet's fish stocks.


P.S.  Shortly after I finished writing this post, the Minister of Education appeared in a press conference and announced that she was stepping down from her post and leaving politics altogether.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Hold on There, History Ain't Over



Electoral results last week in Europe indicate that the idea the free market capitalism and its close cousin, liberal democracy, have yet to conquer the world, leaving humanity in an omega state in which we just work out the details.

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In fact, the imposition of austerity measures across Europe has woken the spectre of  ultra right wing nationalism.  In Greece, a neo-nazi party gained a foothold in the legislature by winning 21 seats, and in France, Marine Le Pen, the presidential candidate for the far right Front National, gathered 18% of the vote.

 
As my history teacher used to say, "a drowning man will clutch at a dragon."

 
But what I find more interesting is that the French elected a socialist president, Francois Holland.  Since the demise of communism, there hasn't been an ideological alternative to the pensée unique, the gospel according to Milton Friedman, his disciple Alan Greenspan, and the many followers of the dogmatic belief that if you let the greedy, lying bastards have their way, it will all work out in the end.

 
As we all know, the French have this particular way of doing things that can be best described as being quintessentially French.  They take the ideals of the Republic, liberté, égalité, fraternité, very seriously.  If I'm not mistaken, during the French Revolution they beheaded almost all of the members of their top 1%.  That would explain why there isn't much opposition to the imposition of a financial transactions tax, better known as the Robin Hood tax.

Already, the minions in the global financial sector are starting to squirm.  They are used to having their way.  It's one thing if a small country like Greece defaults on their debt obligations -- just boot them out of the Euro -- but it's quite another when the fifth largest economy in the world starts to stray.

In a few weeks, we will learn whether the socialists will have retained their control of the French legislatures.  If so, I can easily imagine the French telling their Anglo-American colleagues that when it comes to economic matters, mange d'la marde



Monday, May 7, 2012

Quebec Students Strike: A Momentary Triumph of Strong Democracy over Weak Democracy



Fundamentally, democracy implies being ruled and participating in the ruling process.  Benjamin Barber makes this point eloquently when he compares the instances of “strong” and “weak” democracies.  A strong democracy is one in which the citizens participate actively in self-government before, during, and after elections, whereas in a weak democracy, citizen participation is limited to the time it takes to cast a ballot once every four to five years.

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At the very best, the Westminster parliamentary system in use in Quebec and in the rest of Canada is an example of weak democracy.  I would go even further to say that since it uses the first-past-the-post voting method, this system falls into the category of oligarchic rule: in other words, democracy for the few.

Presently, there exists in Quebec a crisis of legitimacy with regard to the Charest-led Liberal government.  From all indications, there exists in Quebec a kick back system that uses monies allocated for public construction projects that is re-purposed to fund the campaigns of the major political parties.  In short, political power is based on fraudulent electoral practices.

Yes, measures have been taken to address the problem of electoral fraud, but that does nothing to mitigate the situation that the present government lacks legitimacy.

This is the political context in which the students launched their boycott of classes to protest a 75% increase in tuition fees.  Their point of contention is that if Quebec’s universities and colleges were managed efficiently, there would be no need to raise tuition fees.  Given what we know of how public monies frequently wind up in the pockets of well-placed supporters of the political party in power, their point is not at all far-fetched, and, in fact, has become the turning point by which the student boycott can be brought to an end.

Yesterday, the government and the student associations signed an agreement in principle that would see the rise in tuition fees remain in place, but a standing committee will be set up that will include post-secondary students to review the management of Quebec’s post-secondary institutions.  A moratorium has been put in place concerning the immediate increase in tuition fees, and any economies generated by the committee’s work will be used to reduce the obligatory administrative fees that each student must pay.  By striking this agreement, the government implicitly endorses the students’ point that it wasn’t necessary to seek additional funding at the taxpayers’ expense to improve the quality of post secondary education.

The red herring in the debate, that the traditional media swallowed hook, line, and sinker, was the level of tuitions fees, which are the lowest in North America.  People outside of Quebec forget that we are the highest taxed population, but the level of taxation is offset by the level of social services that we receive, like universal day care and affordable post-secondary education.

Some might argue that the students only bought themselves time.  Eventually, the hike in tuition fees will kick in and the administrative economies will not be enough to sufficiently offset the increases.

That may be so, but there are two huge victories for the practice of strong democracy.  The first is the realization that the people who are most affected by the decision of a weak democratic regime can mobilize and effectively challenge a dubious decision.  Good government does not exclude self government.  The second is that the recipients of a publicly provided service now will be active participants in the management of the educational institutions.  They are no longer captured clients that can do little more than wait for the next general election to express their dissatisfaction.

Unfortunately, it took the government twelve weeks to finally wake up to the idea that it could resolve the crisis in less than in twenty four hours if it possessed the willingness to include the students in a veritable negotiation.  During the violent protests, two students were gravely injured. 

All of this could have been avoided if there were democratic institutions in place that allowed for continued meaningful participation by the citizenry.

In a democracy, government is something that we do together, not something that is done to us.  

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Will the Quebec Spring Migrate South?

Students in Quebec have been boycotting classes for more than eighty days in protest of the provincial government's decision to raise university tuition fees 75% over the next five years. Images from the sometime violent demonstrations have been picked up by media sources around the world.

In the latest round, students have ignored court injunctions and maintained their picket lines, barring students and teaching staff from entering the colleges and universities affected by the boycott.

The battle lines have been drawn and neither side gives any indication that they will budge.

Over and above the question of whether the increase in tuition fees is justifiable, Quebec students pay the lowest tuition fees in North America, two larger interrelated issues are driving the conflict: the legitimacy of the government in place and the question of intergenerational social justice as the baby boomer generation offloads its fiscal disaster onto future generations.

Arguably, the entire Quebec political system is giant kick back scheme. After almost two years of constant public pressure, a judicial commission has been set up and seventeen investigations are now under the way, probably to no avail since the Premier Jean Charest appears to call a general election before the commission can begin its work in earnest.

Moreover, while colluding with the business class to milk the public purse, the government mismanaged the province's pension funds, loosing $40 billion from the value of the portfolios in one year alone, and are unable to control ever rising public health care expenditures, which are soon to comprise 50% of Quebec's budget.

In other words, faced with a dysfunctional political system that is being used to inflate government contracts for private gain and channels the lion's share of discretionary public spending to secure the quality of life for the aging segment of the population that has been quietly going along for the ride, a large group of educated, articulate, socially connected students refuse to have any part of the social contract that increases their debt load and subsequent tax burden.

Sound familiar? A similar social context brought about the Occupy movement in the US.

Looking at the prospect of the US Congress doubling interest rates on student loans in July, levels of student debt that surpass the nation's credit card debt, the inability to discharge any of the debt through bankruptcy, and unemployment/underemployment rates for recent graduates approaching 50%, it appears that America is prepared to sentence an entire generation to the status of wage slaves in order to pay down its massive accumulated debt.

In response, we may soon see the square red patch of cloth worn symbolically by a younger generation that engages in coordinated civil disobedience south of our border.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Big Lie Reigns Over Us


Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows
                                                                  Leonard Cohen

When I first started to write this blog, I was inspired by Vaclav Havel's essay, The Power of the Powerless, in which he asserts that we must refuse to live the lie and instead choose to live within the truth.

Yesterday, I learned that the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear our appeal of the Quebec Court of Appeal's decision not to grant an injunction that would have declared the first-past-the-post voting method unconstitutional because it violates our Charter right to effective representation and our right to meaningful participation in the electoral process.

In short, we argued that effective representation requires effective vote,s and since the first-past-the-post method discards most votes, it violates the Charter's guarantee that each citizen has a right to effective representation.

Our second argument flows from the first.  Because a large number of votes are discarded there is an institutional incentive not to vote for political parties that have little chance of electing a candidate in a particular riding.  This is not the case with the major voting systems in use around the world.  They all have mechanisms that either aggregate votes or voting preferences so that almost all the votes are effective.  The first-past-the-post is the only voting system in use in the developed world that doesn't have such a mechanism.

I can't say that I was surprised by the decision.  After all, if the Supreme Court were to hear our appeal, the judges would have to confront the inconvenient truth that the political system that we inherited from the British is inherently undemocratic.

It is well-known and well-documented that within the Westminster Parliamentary system, a political party will most often form a majority government with less than the majority of votes.  In Canada that now means a majority government with less than 40% of the votes cast and ,once we factor in the low participation rate, less than 25% of the electorate.

Supposedly, the Charter is inspired by the values of a free and democratic society.  Yet, by not granting us leave to appeal, the Supreme Court has dodged the issue with dismissive silence, which is another way of saying that we live in a liberal democracy, meaning in Canada we are free from the constraints that the principles of democracy impose upon a society.

In reality, we live in a liberal oligarchy, which in reality means democracy for the few.

But hey, that's something everybody knows.

Repeat the big lie often enough and you'll have everybody believing it.


















Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Have Another Doughnut America, Uncle Sam Wants You To Be Fat

The other day I was searching through the videos at Kahn Academy and I came across a series on the French Revolution. Intrigued, I decided to watch them.

As the chronology of events was laid out, the narrator kept coming back to the same point. In his opinion, one of the principle drivers of the revolution was that the people were starving, and this was the fuel that fired the revolutionary zeal.

Sometime later, I came across an article about the two French economists, Thomas Picketty and Emmanuel Saez, who have researched and written extensively on long-term income inequality in the US. The popular 99% vs. the 1% slogan used in the Occupy Wall Street movement can be attributed to their work.

In the article, the two influential economists raised the question, how is it that Americans put up with such high levels of income inequality, levels reminiscent of the Gilded Age?

Connecting the dots, I realized that the lack of a meaningful response from the masses can be attributed to the fact that in America the masses have become massive. Obesity rates have sky-rocketed. Depending on how obesity is measured, it now appears that as high as 60% of the popultion is obese.

The other thing to keep in mind is that there is social gradient to obesity, the poorer you are the more likely you will be obese in America. In other words, unlike the starving masses around the rest of the world and throughout history, poor people in America are much more likely to be obese.

That's a complete reversal of the social conditions at the time of the French Revolution and during the Great Depression in the United States. In short, in both instances food shortages were the drivers of social change.

Not so in today's America. Food is plentiful, cheap, and its production heavily subsidized by the US government. Unfortunately, if you eat a lot of the cheap processed food that is available in the US, you'll fall into the fat trap, and once you're in, it's extremely difficult to find your way out. Our bodies are genetically programmed to retain fat.

The other thing to keep in mind is that, as could be expected, obese people are less likely to be politically active: less likely to vote, and even less likely to show up for a political protest.

As a result, I think one of the major reasons why Americans put up with such high levels of income inequality is that in order to change this growing tendency in the US, a critical mass would need to mobilize. Unfortunately, those who would benefit most by reversing this trend are unable to get off their fat asses to even vote, never mind engaging in more meaningful political activity.

Looking at this phenomenon from a distance, it is utterly brilliant.

Turn the nation into one big fucking fat farm and you can rob the people of their collective wealth while they are sitting down in front of their big-screen, high-definition televisions, chowing down on an unlimited supply of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Oligarchic Rule Begets Crisis of Legitimacy in Quebec


In a democracy, there is a consensus that the rule of the majority is legitimate. Those who disagree with the will of the majority must respect the fact that they are in the minority and go along with the desires of the majority.

However, what happens when political decisions are made by a minority that has attained its status as the ruling oligarchy by fraudulent means?

Are those who disagree with the decisions made by an oligarchy that has obtained the power in such a way obliged to respect those decisions?

This is the nature of the social unrest that is fueling the violence of the university and college student strike in protest of a 75% rise in their tuition fees.

Keep in mind that from the Quebec point of view any comparisons to tuition fees in the rest of North America is moot since post-secondary education in France as in other European countries is free. Obviously, whether or not to charge tuition fees for post-secondary education represents a societal choice. As a result, how this decision gets made is of utmost importance for those who are affected, students, parents, and the society at large.

Remember the furor over the MacLeans magazine cover that touted Quebec as the most corrupt province in Canada. Well, the dust has settled and for most of us living here in Quebec there is little doubt that this indeed our reality. The only question that remains to be answered is how far and how deep does the corruption go?

From what we can tell so far, the entire political system is rotten to the core. Groups of individuals, including politicians (municipal and provincial), lobbyists, directors of engineering firms and construction companies, union representatives, and members of the criminal element actively collude to defraud the public under the guise of public works projects. It seems that members from each sector have a finger in the pie. At worst, public money is skimmed and then repurposed as contributions from the private sector to the political parties to finance their campaigns.

Needless to say, there has been a significant breach of trust, so much so that there exists amongst the population considerable doubt with regard to the legitimacy of Quebec's political institutions.

Consequently, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the segment of the society that has the least to lose over the short-term but the most to lose over the long-term refuses to go along with a decision made by a government which is perceived to be corrupt.

Why should they?

Rule of law is a pale substitute for government of, by, and for the people, especially when a self serving minority draws up the laws and then selects those who will interpret them.

At some point in time, it may occur to a sector of the population to contest more than just the decisions made by the ruling oligarchy and to contest the legitimacy of the political institutions that bring forward this particular power structure.

To do so would require a not so quiet revolution.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Baby Losers in Quebec Show Some Backbone


Ah, it is spring in Quebec and the university students in my town barricaded themselves in the main building of their university in defiant opposition to the court injunction that was granted that would prevent them from demonstrating on university grounds to protest a substantial rise in tuition fees.


Much to my delight someone in Quebec has finally has the balls to stand up and say “No” to one of, if not the most corrupt government in North America.

The same day that the injunction was granted, we learned that the former vice-premier of Quebec, Natalie Normandeau, was implicated in yet another political scandal plaguing the Jean Charest-led Liberals.

Engineering and construction firms held fund raisers on her behalf and she returned the favor by granting a 10 million dollar subsidy in support of one of their projects in clear opposition to the advice her ministerial officers had given to her. Hell, she even had the gumption to admit that she accepted tickets for her and her entourage to attend Celine Dion and Madonna concerts from one of the owners of the construction companies who is now facing charges.

Given these set of circumstances, it is not surprising that the present Minister of Education doesn’t garner a lot of support when she states that the students’ rejection of the increase in tuition fees goes against the desires of a democratically legitimate government, duly elected by the population.

Yeah right.

What’s really at issue in this struggle is not whether the size of the increase is justifiable based on comparisons with other states and provinces in two countries that have the some of the highest income inequalities to be found in the developed world.

What’s at issue is the nature of the decision being made and who is making the decision.

In short, the Charest government and its supporters have profited immensely from their control of their public purse and they are in the process of offloading the shortfalls in revenues arising from their incapacity to manage the affairs of the state effectively on a docile, gullible public.

In the previous budget, the Quebec government announced a regressive poll tax of $200 per person under the guise of a health tax, which people will be paying for the first time this year. There was hardly a peep from a society built to cater to the needs of the baby boomer generation.

But hold on. What about the question of intergenerational social justice?

Fortunately, it is the baby loser generation, those presently attending university and college and who are in fact the offspring of the baby boomers that are saying,

“Enough is enough, mom and dad. Although you might have sold out and are able to hold your nose against the stench of political corruption, we are drawing a line in the sand. We are not going to simply roll over while you stick us with the largest IOU in Quebec’s history.”

Spring time in Quebec. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Canada's Greatest Cultural Achievement: The Charter of Rights and Freedoms


Thirty years ago, the Canadian government repatriated its constitution, thereby officially ending our colonial status, and added what is our greatest cultural achievement to date, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

No other document, song, poem, novel, film, or play has had such a profound influence on how Canadians are allowed to live their lives.

It represents the triumph of reasoned principle over the moral sentiments of those who would rule over us.

In short, it supplants the supremacy of Parliament with the notion of citizens holding inalienable rights subject to reasonable limits.

After it was adopted and as each landmark case made its way to the Supreme Court, slowly the face of the nation changed. Most visibly, the state was forced to withdraw from the bedrooms of the nation. It could no longer limit access to abortion and outlaw the civil union of same sex couples and, in the near future, will most probably lose its capacity to prevent sex workers from plying their trade in a safe and secure manner.

Moreover, the Charter prevents those who perceive themselves as being morally superior from violating the rights of those who are less fortunate. For instance, prisoners have had their voting rights restored and drug addicts can gain access to safe injection sites.

With the Charter in place, those who believe themselves to be "saved" can no longer discriminate against those they believe to be "dammed".

Let us not be mistaken. The adoption of the Charter represents the triumph of civic humanism over the sanctity of religious belief as it applies to the public sphere. It represents the triumph of the Age of Reason over the Age of Absolutism. It is the cornerstone of peace, order, and good government.

With the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in place, Canada is a far better place to live.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Maybe Canadians Don't Want to Live in a Democracy


In writing a scathing article that comes out and accuses the Conservative Government of having lied to Parliament and then to the Canadian people with regard to the costs of procuring the F-35 jet fighters, Andrew Coyne ends his piece with an interesting observation: "it is about whether we live in a functioning Parliamentary democracy, or want to."

Well, elsewhere people would be morally outraged that an election was first precipitated and then fought on the basis of the government willfully withholding information concerning the largest purchase ever.

Not so in Canada.

In fact, the support for the Conservatives in the polls has hardly budged, which indicates to me that Canadians are profoundly disinterested in the manner in which they are governed. They would rather watch hockey.

After all, democracy requires engaged citizens who keep themselves informed and are prepared to hold their elected representatives accountable for their actions.

But this requires concerted effort and Canadians are notoriously lazy.

As long as we are left alone to lead our little lives, we don't care about how we are governed.

Go Leafs Go!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Millennials Are Changing the Face of Canadian Politics


Change the manner in which information flows and the power structures will soon follow.

Politics are changing in this country and for once it’s not because of the blasted baby boomers, although they have played a hand in bringing about the change because it is their offspring that is changing the face of Canada.

Unlike their parents, who are often technologically challenged, the Millennials have grown up with the Internet, and it is unquestionably an integral part of their social networks.

Mom and dad, on the other hand, grew up watching broadcast television, never ever fully realizing that they were the product being offered up to powers that controlled a consumer culture that effectively co-opted the counter culture of the sixties and repackaged it by integrating their values into creative marketing campaigns.

Yet kids are extremely hip to the follies of their parents.

The Millennials have taken the progressive elements of the baby boomer zeitgeist and stripped it of its crass conspicuous consumption.  This is not to say that the yuppie strain has been eradicated, but its effect has been sufficiently muted so the progressive tendencies of this generation stand out.

Remember this is the generation that elected Obama.  This the generation that created the huge wave in Quebec that brought the New Democratic Party to the status of official opposition, and in my opinion will elect the NDP in 2015.

It’s simply a question of cohort replacement.  As each year passes, they become a larger percentage of the electorate and they are much more politicized than their slacker predecessors, generation X.  At the same time, the older folk, who had the fear of God forced upon them, are dying off, taking with them the appeal of Christian identity politics and an overzealous respect for authority.

This is the first post-war generation that cannot be controlled by traditional broadcast media. 

It’s not that they have tuned out; they have switched platforms and, as a result, have gained collective control of what passes for communications.  For instance, the opinions expressed in their social networks carry much more weight than those heard on talk radio, or expressed by political pundits on television, or to be found in the op-ed pieces in newspapers.

Just as the industrial revolution ushered in a time of great social transformation, so will the digital information revolution, and no, it won’t be televised, but you can follow it on the web.