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.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Everybody Knows But Not Everybody Gets It

The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows    (Leonard Cohen, Everybody Knows)

Last weeks publication of the Panama Papers, a leak of more than two terabytes of documents detailing the creation of off-shore shell companies and their dubious financial transactions only provided us with the details of what everybody knows: the rich don't play by the same rules as you and I when it comes to paying their fair share of taxes.  Tell us something that we don't know.

Nevertheless, heads have begun to roll.  Days later the people took to the streets in Iceland and the Prime Minister was forced to resign.  Those pesky Vikings.

Somehow, I don't see the same thing playing out in Russia even though hundreds of millions of dollars were paid to one of  Russian President Vladimir Putin's closest friends and confidents.  As you can easily imagine, taking to the streets in Moscow is a much different affair.

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Here in North America, we simply shrug our shoulders and continue going about doing our business.  Most of us don't give it a second thought while we dutifully fill out our tax forms that determines how much we owe or the government owes us.  But we should.

For the last forty years, we have been subjected to the neo-liberal rhetoric, telling us that we have been living beyond our collective means, that we have to become more productive (do more for less pay), and that we must be prepared to take more individual responsibility for our lives.  During this same time period, the standard of living for the middle and lower classes has dropped significantly while the top one percent of revenue earners has continued to increase their take of the national income.

You would think it would be a relatively simple task of connecting the dots between lower taxes on the rich and corporations, moving manufacturing to low wage, low regulatory foreign countries, and funneling profits to off shore tax havens so to escape higher domestic taxes in order to see the emerging pattern for the population at large in North America is one of getting screwed.  The proposed Trans Pacific Partnership, for example, a deal that both Canada and the United States agreed to before releasing the details of the accord to the public, is just the latest instance of the super rich using elected governments to advance their personal interests at the expense of those who cannot move their assets and change their income sources at will, the so-called 99% of the population.

Considering that the United States is presently witnessing a presidential campaign in which the stakes of the election include the possibility of electing a candidate, Bernie Sanders, who would make it his business to put an end to the corporate domination of the political sphere in the US, you would think that much more of the electorate would see this election as a once in a lifetime opportunity to reign in the powers that care little for its well being.

Saldly, this is not the case.  What is unfolding in the American main stream media is an unparalleled smoke and mirror show designed to divert the electorate's attention away from the real issues that should be the focus of attention of the political debate.  Most of the media attention is focused on the outrageous performance of Donald Trump, a loud, boorish man of wealth who seems intent on showing Americans how stupid they really are because, left to his own devices, he could become the Republican candidate for the office of the President of the United States.

Do Americans really want to have a man who announces that he is going to build a wall between the USA and Mexico and will get the Mexicans to pay for it as the Commander and Chief of the most powerful military force in the history of humanity?  I don't think so.

Indeed, the narrative that the corporate-owned media is spinning raises the spectre of having a buffoon running the country, thereby paving the way for their preferred option, the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.  Much to their chagrin, however, the democratic socialist candidate, Bernie Sanders, has an outside chance to upset Clinton and win the Democratic Party's nomination, in spite of the overwhelming bias of their reporting in favor of Clinton.  Such a result would constitute a serious setback at the corporate sector's insatiable appetite for ever-growing profits.

What is truly amazing is that Trump is able to reach out and gain the support of the disenfranchised members of the white underclass, while Clinton is doing the same in the minority underclass.  Simply put, this large segment of the electorate is focused on identity politics and can't see the forest for the trees when it comes to the real issues that affect their well being.  Economic concerns should be front and center, but unfortunately the race card is being played so that both segments will not embrace the candidate who would most probably do the most for their benefit.

Seeing that so many Americans are incapable of critical thought and are easily swayed by emotional appeals to their base instincts, it seems unlikely that a populist candidate like Bernie Sanders could become President of the United States.  There's just not enough well-educated Americans who can connect the dots in order to change the tide of their nation's recent history.

I may be wrong.  Here's hoping.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Bernie's Plan B: Run As An Independent

Watching the Democratic primaries, it seems unlikely that Bernie will receive the nomination to be the Party's candidate in November's presidential election.  Not that he isn't a worthy candidate and not because he couldn't win the election.  Simply put, his politics do not hold favor with the elite who run the party and its financial supporters. 

Essentially, mainstream democrats are quite comfortable with the status quo.  It has served them well, allowing them to accumulate wealth, educate their children, and have access to quality health care when it is needed.  That these societal benefits are not extended to everyone is a cause for concern, but not a sufficient cause to begin making qualitative changes to the American political economy, namely raising taxes on the wealthy, reducing military expenditures, and enacting effective regulation of the environment and financial markets.

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For heaven's sake, let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Yet, that's exactly what Bernie intends to do if elected.  He intends to create a much more egalitarian American society, where all Americans, regardless of their race, sex, age, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation have a fair chance of attaining the good life.  Presently, the good life in America is more or less reserved for the members of an exclusive club, largely determined by birth, but certainly by income, which is why the wealthy liberal elites of the Democratic Party don't want him to become President.  Bernie would tear down the systemic barriers that prevent the vast majority of Americans from joining the ranks of those who enjoy the so-called American Dream, and in the process raise taxes at the expense of the top 10% of revenue earners in the US.  It's one thing to administer social programs for the disadvantaged; it's quite another to reduce the wealth gap between the classes.  Hillary's supporters will have none of the latter.

Which raises the question why is Bernie seeking the nomination of a political party that, for the most part, does not support his political views?  His support is largely with independents and with the under 30 age group who have yet to identify with either of the mainstream political parties.  Bernie is a progressive, and the Democrats haven't supported a progressive since Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s.  In fact, the Democrats have put into place a primary process which includes super delegates who are chosen by the party to vote in order to prevent a grass roots candidate like from Bernie from winning the nomination.  So much for democracy.

So, don't be surprized that at the end of the day of the Democratic National Convention, Bernie falls just short of winning the nomination.  What comes next could be historic!

Bernie should run as an independent candidate.  He has all the momentum.  Thousands attend his rallies.  He has the capacity to raise the millions necessary to run the electoral campaign, and he occupies the moral high ground.  His policies speak to the masses.  He represents their interests. 

Moreover, the mainstream Republicans are in disarray.  They will not support the demagogue, Donald Trump.  Most likely, they will field their own candidate, which will throw the presidential election wide open.  A multi-candidate election is an election that Bernie could win because he has sufficient strength to garner the necessary votes in many of the key states to obtain their electoral college votes, which are the votes the actually elect the President of the United States.

Even if he doesn't win the election, he would re-animate the progressive movement in the United States and give the American people the political vehicle they need to represent their interests in a political system in which their plight is largely ignored.

Voting for Hillary is voting for the lesser of two evils, but why is this the choice?  The two party political system has been used for centuries in Anglo-American countries that use it to divide and rule the population in the interest of the monied classes.  If ever there were a moment in which the majority of Americans need to break out of this political system, the moment is now.

So, here's hoping that Bernie becomes the next President of the United States, preferably as an independent progressive. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

America's Quiet Revolution

By now you probably noticed that things are not quite right in the land of Uncle Sam.  A lot of people are angry and "they ain't gonna take it any more".  So much so that the financial-media-congressional complex is losing control of the country.  In short, the dispossessed underclass from across the political spectrum are refusing to follow their marching orders handed down by the ruling elite of both the Democrats and the Republicans.  Imagine the Republicans choosing Donald Trump as their candidate for the presidency and the Democrats choosing Bernie Sanders.  The former is a demagogue while the latter is a self-declared democratic socialist.  What's up with that?

I think that the majority of Americans have finally woken up to the fact that they have been exploited mercilessly for the last forty years.  They now know that the economy is rigged for the benefit of the super rich, the .01% of the population.  For the great many, the economic recovery from the Great Recession has brought little if any relief, while the top of the top have received 80% of the newly created wealth.  Now the shit has hit the fan, and the underclass is about to take matters into their own hands.

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It's not as if the groundswell of discontent has fallen into  and file and manifested its support around a single cause or a single leader.  The USA is just far too diverse for that to happen.  Instead, there are two opposing forces within the underclass that are pushing forward their champions to advance their particular interests.  On the one hand, we have the Trump supporters, who are, for the most part, less educated and less likely to embrace the ethnic, cultural, and social diversity that now characterizes America.  On the other hand, we find the supporters of Bernie Sanders, who are better educated and more likely to be comfortable with the relatively new cultural and social mosaic that they find in America's urban landscapes.

What they both have in common is that they been shut out of the American dream.  In fact, the wealthy elite have turned their backs on the common folk, what Christopher Lasch wrote about in the 1990s in his prophetic book, The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy.  By offshoring production in low wage countries with lax labour and environmental laws, the wealthy elites impoverished the lives of millions of Americans who can no longer rely on the possibility of providing for themselves and their families from wages earned in the manufacturing sector.  At the same time, the elites successfully lobbied for lower taxes which reduced the tax base supporting post-secondary education.  This in turn drove up the cost of a university education, forcing millions of students to take on crushing debt loads of which many will never be able to pay back.

For both camps, the future is bleak since the previous social scripts of either working hard on the job or in the classroom have not panned out.  Those without a higher education are trapped toiling away in low paying, dead end jobs.  Those with are bouncing back and forth from one contract to another in the gig economy.  Neither group has much hope to improve their lot if the status quo remains in place.  Consequently, both the supporters of Trump and Sanders have moved to overthrow the power structures within the established political system.  Simply put, the Tea Party is trying to take over the Republican Party, while the Occupy Wall Street movement is trying to do the same within the Democratic Party.

As could be imagined the members of the establishment are aghast.  Their worst nightmares could possibly come to pass: either a loose canon like Trump becoming the commander and chief of the most powerful military force in the history of humanity, or a democratic socialist like Sanders raising taxes on the wealthy and reining in the activities of the financial sector.  These are the choices?

From the perspective of the elites, it is clear that Hillary Clinton is the best bet to perpetuate the status quo.  However, despite the US Supreme Court ruling allowing for massive spending during the electoral campaign from the corporate sector, this financial might is offset by Trump's billions of dollars of personal wealth and Sanders amazing capacity to raise millions of dollars rapidly from the public at large.  This time around corporate cash cannot guarantee the result of the presidential election.

How this is all going to turn out is anybody's guess.  One thing is for sure, however, the USA is presently morphing into something new.  Traditional constituencies are breaking apart and a new order is on the horizon.