Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Year in Review: Canadians No Longer Have Reason to Feel Smug

There was a time when Canadians could feel a quiet pride about their country: peacekeeping roles with the United Nations, generous social programs, young Canadians cavorting around Europe with Canadian flags stitched onto their backpacks.

We were the quieter, gentler version of America.

Well, this year all those notions got dumped.

Over the last twelve months, we witnessed an unprecedented number of political scandals: Senators bilking taxpayers, corruption left, right, and centre in Quebec, and then there was spectacle of the crack smoking mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford.

I think the reason his antics got so much media play around the world, especially in the US, was that the world experienced a great deal of schadenfreude seeing Canada embodied by such a crass individual, a long way from the Dudley Do Right image that we had cultivated over the years.

Indeed, it is difficult to maintain the holier-than-thou attitude when our past sins of the wide spread systemic abuse of First Nations children in our residential schools and our present disregard for the environmental consequences of extracting oil from the tar sands, a practice that has earned Canada the label of an environmental rogue nation in the world press, are repeatedly brought to mind.

Even our traditional practice of making ourselves feel better by comparing ourselves to the Americans brings little solace since third world conditions have taken hold, for example the bankrupt City of Detroit, and are continuing to spread amongst a beleaguered people.

WTF Canada, get your shit together, make some New Year resolutions, do something.

Let's not waste another year pretending that we are some how morally superior to our neighbours.

Just like everyone else we have our fair share of problems, and the first step in meeting these collective challenges is admitting that they exist and that they are there for everyone to see.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Merry Christmas America: You've Been Scrooged

As the holidays draw nearer, it appears that, judging from president Obama's speech on economic inequality last week, he finally gets it: America has been scrooged.

I think that this year enough people finally honed in on the fact that while many Americans stuffed themselves at the dinner table on Thanksgiving and then went on a spending binge the next day after, commonly known as Black Friday, there was something amiss.

Lo and behold, in all this glorious consumption, the people who had to work on the holiday in the retail sector as wage slaves, making it possible for those better off to gorge themselves on the savings, are not being paid enough so they to can partake in the spirit of giving thanks for the bounty of material wealth.

In fact, companies like WalMart, run by the richest family in America, have taken to organizing charity food drives for their workers who have difficulty putting a meal on the table for their families given their abysmal wages.

Scrooge would have approved, that is the Scrooge before he was visited by the ghosts of Christmas.

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Hopefully, families in need won't have to go without food at the end of December because they decided to put a turkey on the table with all the accompanying dishes, thereby using up all of their remaining food stamps which were recently reduced in number by a vote in the Grinch-like US Congress.

Looking at how firmly entrenched is the practice of scrooging the common folks in America, it would take a miraculous intervention by a benevolent spirit on a massive scale to remove the chains around the hearts of those who run things.

But lets stay real.  Nothing of the sort is going to happen.  Changes of heart like that only happen in the wonderful world of fiction.  In the real world, the monied folks in America will continue to shirk their social responsibilities and take comfort in the fabulous wealth that the Good Lord has arranged to have come their way.

Merry Christmas America.  I hope that someday the Spirit of Christmas will descend and remain upon you, from the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans.

God don't forsake America.

The top 1% already has.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Canada's Rob Ford Is Far Too Canadian

In other words, just dessert Canada for not taking care of your political institutions.

Take a look around: an out-dated voting system, scandal in the Senate, documented voter suppression through robo calls, rampant corruption in the province of Quebec, and a big, fat, crack smoking mayor of Canada's largest, world class (but not for the right reasons) city -- Toronto.

Yet Canadians are so nice.  How did they end up being led by such a pathetic lot?

They couldn't be bothered to do much if anything to change the status quo.

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Let's face it.  Most Canadians couldn't give a shit about the way they are governed.  As long as they can make the payments on their mortgage, cars, credit cards and make believe that hockey is their game, they'll let someone else to do the heavy lifting.

Inappropriate behavior brings about unpleasant consequences, and in the case of Rob Ford, Canada is looking at the consequences of neglecting the development of its political institutions. 

We still employ the same methods of governance that predate the harnessing of electricity, the commercialization of the internal combustion engine, and the rise of information and communications technology.

As a result, we are the joke.

Like it or not, Rob Ford is far too Canadian and the world has taken notice.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Play Football

That's it.  After forty years of watching NFL football, it's over.  I cannot in good conscience watch another game, especially knowing what I know about the league and the devastating effects playing the game can have long after the players have hung up their cleats.

I loved football and I loved to watch the show.  Following in my father's footsteps, I played the game from an early age until high school, when fortunately for me I decided to switch sports and took up rowing.

My father was not so lucky.  He went on to play professional football, suffered a number of concussions, one of which ended his career.  I had the unenviable task of watching him decline both physically and mentally, most probably suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease that attacks the brain to bring on memory lapses, personality disorders, and progressive dementia.  He died prematurely, like most professional football players, at the ripe old age of 56, some twenty years less than he could have otherwise expected to live.

Personal family tragedy aside, what has really turned me off the NFL is how it treats its players and how it exploits its fans.

Half of the owners of NFL teams are billionaires.  Together, they make over 8 billion a year from football operations, yet they are incredibly cheap bastards. I guess that's how they became billionaires.

Repeatedly, the owners hold their loyal fans hostage by threatening to move the team if taxpayers don't come up with the cash to build a new stadium at public expense.  Moreover, the league is exempt from anti-trust legislation and, get this, was determined to be a non-profit organization.  WTF?

When it comes to the players, it is a plantation mentality that rules, which is not surprising since 70% of the players are black.  Keep in mind there are no African Americans who own a NFL team.

Essentially, the players are cannon fodder.  The average career lasts three years.  Long enough to incur long-term debilitating injuries, but not long enough to qualify for disability insurance, which is only in effect up to five years after a player retires from the game, a detail that disadvantages the players since the long-term effects of playing the game tend to show up later.

In short, the owners transfer the health costs of treating the broken shells of former players to the taxpayers.  Having to deal with the pain and the disabilities, many former NFL veterans are unable to hold onto a job and fall into poverty, leaving the state to pick up their medial bills.

What's worse is the league has been in a state of denial over the long-term consequences of repeated head injuries associated with CTE and only recently settled out-of-court with the former players who had filed against a class action suit against the league.  The settlement, a paltry $750 million, which may seem like a lot but in reality is the revenue generated by only 8 televised Monday-night games. This works out to be only $150,000 per former player named in the suit, not nearly enough to cover the long-term care that many of the former players will need.

All in all, the players get screwd by the owners, the fans pay dearly for having the pleasure of watching the violence-ridden spectacle, and the owners are laughing all the way bank.

No wonder NFL football is by far the most popular professional sport.  The league is quintessentially American in the manner it conducts its affairs.

But count this boy out.  The air waves are glutted with sports programming, and I have decided to boycott the NFL and watch something else.

I encourage you to do the same.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Catastrophic Climate Breakdown: Ho Hum, We All Got ADD

Over the last few days, I have watched with great interest how the media and people I know reacted to the latest release of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that updates its prognosis for the planet.

As you can well imagine, there wasn't much of a response nether in the traditional media, nor in my personal network, despite the report's apocalyptic content.

Unfortunately, the report got swallowed up by the media attention surrounding the series ending episode of "Breaking Bad" and the imminent shut down of the US federal government.  Dramatic climax in rather meaningless narratives once again trumped the possibility of a slumbering population's awakening to the documented evidence that if humanity doesn't do something significant soon to curb its green house gas emissions, we could render the planet inhospitable for humans.

Maybe an earth devoid of humans would be a good thing.

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In any case, we missed yet another opportunity to connect to the one big, inescapable, motherfuckin, meta narrative that will in the not-so-distant future come back to bite us in the ass.

Doesn't register, no matter what tone of voice I use.

It's as if the entire North American population suffers from a collective case of attention deficit disorder, easily distracted by stuff that really doesn't matter and failing to attend to the stuff that really does.

In the words of Neil Postman, we are literally "Amusing Ourselves to Death".

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Note to Self: Canadians Really Like First-Past-The-Past Voting

Truth be told, I was a political activist that worked for about ten years trying to get the voting system changed so that each and every vote cast in an election would count and that the composititon of our elected legislatures would reflect accurately the manner in which people had actually voted.

It was the democratic thing to do.

Now that my days of a political activist are over, I have started to think it was nothing more than a wild goose chase that attracts delusional optimists.

Deep down, Canadians really like the first-past-the-post voting system because it allows them to be what they truly want to be -- Canadian.

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Democracy, after all, is very messy.  Try to find a consensus with all those opposing views.  Good luck with that.

Also, it is very time consuming: keeping up on all the issues and going to meetings.  Who has the time?  Trying to live the Canadian version of the American dream is very demanding.  A house in the burbs means two incomes, two cars, daycare, and a day planner. 

What Canadians really want is to go about doing what it is they do without being burdened with having to get involved in the collective decision making process other than every once in while having to cast a ballot. 

On second thought, looking at the plummeting participation rates during elections, it appears that even showing up to vote is too much of a burden for about half the electorate.

And that's the beauty of the first-past-the-post voting system.  It reduces the complexity of politics to a simple choice between the red or the blue party.  Collectively, we are empowered to throw the bums out if we so desire because, in reality, what we do when we are voting using the first-past-the-post system is decide whether or not to give the ruling party another mandate.

What could be easier?  Minimum engagement yet with maximum effect.  It takes less than 40% of the popular vote to form a majority, and a 50% popular vote for the party in opposition effectively reduces the former governing party to a handful of seats. 

That will teach the bastards a lesson they'll never forget.

Fuck democracy.  I'm a suburbocrat and the less time I have to put up with the bullshit that passes for politics here in the Great White North, so much the better.

I have better things to do like clean the pool, mow the lawn, clear the driveway, wash the dishes, whip up a meal, get an oil change, remodel the kitchen, take the dog for a walk, drive my son to his hockey practice, watch Netflix, and put on weight.

After a hard day's work, I got enough on my plate, thank you very much.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Burbocracy Drives North American Politics

The most tangible cornerstone that lies at the heart of the American Dream, at the heart of middle-class life, is the chance to own your own home.     (Barack Obama)

Before I get started, here's a quick glance at the history of political geography.

During the classical period, politics referred to a set of human activities circumscribed by a polis, an urban centre and it's outlying regions in proximity to the city walls. According to Aristotle, a man should be able to walk across the polis in about a day.  This meant that chances were that a citizen would be able to recognize a good number of his fellow citizens, bringing about a network of "weak ties" between them, and this formed the basis of democratic rule.

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With the rise of empires, the basis of political rule was a hierarchical order backed by military force.  The vast majority of people were subject to imperial rule, and the art of politics was largely the ability to advance one's interest during a time where life was nasty, brutish, and short.

Over time, empires gave way to nations, and citizens within a circumscribed territory regained some influence over who would govern them and the political agendas to be followed, butter or bullets.

In North America, during the second half of the twentieth century there was a great migration to the expanding housing developments on the fringes of the city limits that required a car to get around.  At first, sometimes referred to as the good old days, a family could afford to buy a house in the burbs with only one breadwinner, but by the time I bought my first house after graduating from university, it would require two salaries to get a piece of the American dream.

In my opinion, we would do well to forget Jane Jacobs and ignore the retro-urbanists who blather on about the creative class.  What drives politics in North America and in its ever expanding sphere of influence around the world is people's overwhelming desire to buy the biggest fucking house in the most expensive development that they can afford to live in, with a set of wheels that matches the house.  According to the latest census statistics, approximately 70% of Americans and Canadians live in the burbs.

What do you think brought about the near collapse of the global financial system and the subsequent Great Recession?  Nothing less than a giant Ponzi scheme in which "subprime" mortgages for houses were pawned off on people who could never afford to live in them, and the debt was then sliced and diced and sold to clueless investors as Triple A grade securities according to Wall Street's rating agencies.  When it came to light that many of these securities were worthless, the scam came to an end, the global economy tanked, and the future of an entire generation was cast into doubt.

Speaking about the lost generation, much has been written about the millennials as being different in their political views as compared to previous generations.  Certainly, their access to suburbia has been hindered by a weak economy that does not produce a sufficient number of good paying jobs and their level of personal debt, but I wonder if the prognostications of the rise the new left is not somewhat premature.  Yes, it will take them longer to gain access to the cornerstone of the American dream, the house in the burbs, but once they're in, slowly but surely their political beliefs will reflect where they live, and the Occupy Wall Street moment will be eventually captured in a film or in a sit com that they can watch nostalgically on their big, flat-screen, HD television, while sipping on a glass of Chardonnay, the kids sleeping soundly upstairs.

Remember, since rural regions are overwhelmingly conservative and the urban areas are predominantly progressive, they effectively cancel each other out.  As a result, it will be the suburbocrats that will decide the outcome of the next round of general elections.

How will they be swayed?  Tax deductions for home renovations?  State-subsidized child care?  Tougher sentences for dog owners who don't scoop the poop?

It's anybody's guess how the votes will be bought, but at the end of the day and when all the votes are counted, suburbia will remain North America's promised land.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Will the Collapse of the Middle Class Bring About Democracy in America?

As the twenty-aughts gave way to the twenty-teens, it became readily apparent that the recovery from the Great Recession was not working its way throughout the entire population.  As was the case before the onset, the top 1% of revenue earners continued to take the lion's share of the nation's economic gains while the rest of the nation struggled to recoup their mounting losses.  Moreover, a college education, widely considered to be the gateway to the middle class, also became prohibitively expensive, thereby extinquishing the hope for a great many to live the American dream.
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Essentially, many two-income families can no longer generate enough income to retain a semblance of a middle class lifestyle, especially those families where one of the breadwinners lost a job with health benefits and subsequently fell ill.  In short, the economic well-being of the majority of Americans has become far more precarious, and the American government, both at the state and federal level, has been unable to adequately respond to the plight of its ordinary citizens, choosing instead to support the principles of corporate wellfare.  For example, big banks and automobile companies were bailed out with public funds while millions of Americans who were left to fend for themselves lost their homes through foreclosure as a result of predatory lending practices.

For delusional optimists like myself, these turn of events could appear as the harbinger of a populist response in America that would take back political power from a corrupt political elite to redistribute it among the nation's citizens in order to form a goverment, in Lincoln's words of, by, and for the people.

Fat chance! 

Americans no longer have the ability to self-organize.  The march on Washington that gave Martin Luther King his captive audience for his famous, "I have a Dream" speech happened fifty years ago.  Now, the hordes mob the WallMarts in order to get the best deals on Black Friday, trampling to death any unfortunate employee that might get in their way.

As well, the meritocracy robs those would benefit from the democratization of America's political institutions of its potential leaders.  Moreover, the protestant ethos of people get what they deserve has been, for the most part, internalized by the population at large, including those, through no fault of their own, that were born into unfortunate circumstance.  Even the victims of social inequality blame themselves.

Finally, other than some folsky image of a New England town hall meeting and some warm fuzzy feelings linked to the republican ideals expressed by the founding fathers, most Americans cannot imagine what it would mean to take part in democratic governance.  They have been and will continue to be ruled by a plutocracy, and unless there is a severe external shock to the standing order, for instance, a collapse of the global economy or catastrophic climate change, things will move forward pretty much as they always have in what the American political class, read the top 1%, refers to as "the greatest nation on earth."

Americans wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Hey America, Wake up and Smell the Methane

This week, I watched the premiere of Josh Fox's documentary film, Gasland II.  Very troubling.  The story line confirms that America has lost its moorings and has veered off in a new direction, casting off the poor lost souls who have the misfortune of standing in the way of corporate America's insatiable desire for profits.

The film continues to tell the tale of how hydofracking -- an extraction process in which holes are drilled deep into the earth and then a cancerous cocktail of fluids is then injected at high pressure in order to fracture the bed of rock and liberate the natural gas trapped in the shale -- is poisoning the ground water and in the process ruining people's lives.

Again, we are treated to the mind blowing image of a homeowner igniting water, this time flowing out of a garden hose.  Obviously, some type of gas, probably methane, has seeped into the waterline. 

You would think that this image would be sufficient to alert the authorities that there is something seriously wrong with the fracking process, but not in America, home of the brave -- and Dick Cheney.

With the help Vice-President Cheney, who incidentally is the former head of Haliburton, the company that pioneered hydrofracking technology, the US Congress adopted the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which included a provision that prohibited the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Sound familiar?  It should.  This is the same procedural ploy used in the adoption of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 that stipulated that the exchange of financial derivatives, like credit default swaps, labelled as "weapons of mass destruction" by billionaire investor Warren Buffet, would not be regulated as futures under the Commodity Exchange Act or as securities under the federal securities laws.  As a result, it was just a matter of time before fraudulent trading practices in derivatives became common place, leading to the collapse of the financial sector, and the subsequent global recession.

Indeed, it appears that the best way to enable companies to engage in potentially socially destructive behavior in America is to adopt a law that contains a provision that prevents the regulatory agency responsible for regulating the targeted behavior from doing its job -- so much for the rule of law.

To date, this ploy has worked like a charm for the oil and gas companies when it comes to fracking.

First, the companies that use the hydrofracking technique are not required to reveal the components of the chemical concoction that they inject into the ground as would be the case if they were subject to the Safe Drinking Water Act.  Consequently, the cancer-causing substances found in poisoned water supplies cannot be traced back to the offending companies.

Second, having captured the control of the political process as a result of  intensive lobbying and the Supreme Court ruling that removed limits on what corporations can spend during an electoral campaign, the oil and gas companies have neutered the one federal agency, the EPA, that has the wherewithal to assemble the necessary scientific evidence that, if not sufficient to convince legislators to take the appropriate action, at least can be used by the aggrieved citizens in a court of law.

Third, since the burden of proof lies with the plaintiffs to demonstrate prejudice against them and not with the fracking companies to demonstrate that their practices are safe, people living in the affected areas have little choice but to accept whatever settlement the fracking companies offer (on condition of signing a non-disclosure agreement) and to move elsewhere.

In the film, a Texas State Assembly representative goes on record to declare that the treatment received by what are most often hard-working, white, homeowners in rural America is no different in kind to what the Indians received as America moved westward in its land grab.  Effectively, they are being run off their land with no recourse to either a political or judicial process.

This turn of events, combined with the massive fraud perpetuated by America's financial sector upon the population at large and corporate America's decision to move offshore both production facilities and profits offshore, makes one wonder what kind of place is reserved for ordinary Americans in the New American Empire?

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Friday, June 28, 2013

In America, the Rules of Empire Trump the Principles of Democracy

Once again the US procedural republic adds another padlock to the door that would lead the nation onward on the road to democracy.  As has been the case over the last few years, it is the US Supreme Court that has decided to enact the rules of empire at the expense of democratic values. 

This time around, the Court’s decision to render unconstitutional the section of the Voting Rights Act that demands states with a history of discrimination against minority voting rights to submit their plans for changing voting practices, most notably electoral boundaries, for preclearance flies not only in the face of Congress that has voted to extend the Act four times over the last forty years, but also the disturbing results from last year’s congressional elections.

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In defending the controversial decision, Chief Justice, John Roberts reasoned that the country has changed and that “Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”
Could Justice Roberts possibly be referring to the Congress put into place by the Great Gerrymander of 2012, where the Democrats received more votes for the House of Representatives, yet Republicans won control of the House by a 234 to 201 margin?

Without question, gerrymandering is a major form of disenfranchisement.  For example, in the seven states where Republicans redrew the voting districts, 16.7 million votes were cast for Republicans and 16.4 million votes were cast for Democrats.  This elected 73 Republicans and 34 Democrats, which accounts for the reversal of electoral outcome for the general election, the House majority for the Republicans, and the gridlock in Washington.

Effectively, the Supreme Court decision has effectively made a bad situation worse, but this should not come as a surprize.  The Robert’s Court is also responsible for the infamous Bush v. Gore decision that stayed a judicial recount of the votes cast in Florida, thereby allowing George Bush to steal the election in which he had less of the popular vote and most probably fewer votes from the electoral college – an inconvenient truth that needed to be suppressed by all means.
This is the same Court that also rendered limits on the amounts of money that corporations could spend during elections to be unconstitutional in the equally infamous, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.  Remarkably, the Roberts led court found that spending limits to be an infringement on the right of corporations to engage in free speech, (how corporations ever acquired this right, normally  limited to humans, speaks volumes about the political nature of the US Supreme Court ) turning what should be an exercise in democracy into a jaded fundraising and marketing campaign.

Taken together, these three seminal decisions smack of empire because, when stripped to its essence, empire is nothing more than the political embodiment of unchecked greed, and if there is one thing that can reign in the insatiable appetite for wealth, it is the collective will of the majority of Americans; hence the need to undermine democratic outcomes, especially electoral results.

Presently, the greatest threat to America’s corporate plutocracy is the demographic change occurring in the population at large.  In short, the growth in the number of Blacks and Hispanics in the US is rising, while the number whites relative to the population at large is shrinking.  This does not bode well for the Republicans since Blacks and Hispanics overwhelmingly vote for Democrats.  In fact, this demographic shift makes it more and more difficult to elect a Republican candidate to the presidency. 

As a result, in order to prevent a reversal of the flow of wealth extraction in the United States – wealth flowing from the poor to the rich changing direction so that money flows from the rich to the poor – the best that the Republicans can hope for is to control the House of Representatives.  Combined, the Shelby County v. Holder (Voting Rights Act) and the Citizens United decisions increase the capacity of America’s top 1% to do so and to consequently forestall democratic rule in the US from occurring anytime soon.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Brian Gibb (313-500? ppm)

We live by numbers and some more important than others.  Some don’t change often so we keep them in our head: age, date of birth, height, weight, phone number, address, various PINs, salary, and our own social insurance number.  Others vary on a daily basis so we check them regularly like temperature, rainfall, humidity, and wind speed, which are useful to know before setting out from the house in the morning.  Others are fairly abstract: stock market indexes, interest and exchange rates, commodity prices, levels of unemployment, and the latest polling results, which upon hearing may or may not tell us something that we want to know.

Yet, there is one number that everyone should keep in mind – the level of CO2 in the atmosphere.  This is the one number that above all others tells us what life is going to be like on the planet.

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Years from now, when people look at the title of this blog, they’ll be able to deduce that I was born shortly after researchers started to record CO2 readings at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.  The second number is a guestimate of the concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere when I die.  Looking at these two numbers, people will have a fairly good idea of what the climate was like during my life and the nature of the climate change I experienced.

They will also know that I lived most of my life during the Age of Stupid, the period of time when despite the warnings from the scientific community, people were hell bent on pumping as much CO2 into the atmosphere as they could by burning as much fossil fuel as they could.

Finally, they will conclude that I lived long enough to see the beginning of the Age of Remorse, the period of time when people realized the error of their ways, but which came too late because the conditions leading to the Great Die Off had been irrevocably set into place.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The New Empire Is American as Apple Inc.

In his influential blog post, Empires Then and Now, the former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal, Paul Craig Roberts, muses about the nature of the New Empire.  According to Roberts, "the New Empire is different.  It happens without achieving conquest . . . In the New Empire success at war no longer matters.  The extraction takes place by being at war."

In other words, the rules of empire have changed.  Previously, as explored in the aptly named book, The Rules of Empire: Those Who built Them, Those Who Endure Them, and Why They Always Fall, Timothy Parsons maintains that "Empires needed permanently exploitable subjects, not rights-holding citizens to remain viable." 
But as Roberts deftly points out, "Washington’s empire extracts resources from the American people for the benefit of the few powerful interest groups that rule America. . . The American empire works by stripping Americans of wealth and liberty." Effectively, the boundary between citizen and subject has become blurred.

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To push Robert’s analysis just a bit further based on my reading of The Rules of Empire, rights-holding citizens in America have, for the most part, lost the advantages that citizenship traditionally bestows within an empire and have become permanently exploitable subjects.  In short, it is the hard-working, tax-paying American who picks up the bill for the Wall Street Bailout and the continued funding of the monstrous military-security complex.  On the one hand, he or she has become the guarantor of his own economic exploitation; and on the other, he or she enables corporate America to behave as if their corporations were incorporated on the moon, thereby absolving them of any social responsibility to any terrestrial inhabitants, including those in the United States of America.

Essentially, by extending America’s military might around the world -- more than 1000 strategically-located military bases – the American taxpayer creates the means by which Corporate America can rule global trade indirectly.  Without America’s military might the rules of commercial exchange would not be so favorable for corporations owned and directed principally by Americans.  This explains why a financial transactions tax, sometimes better known as the Robin Hood tax, has yet to be implemented in any meaningful way.

One might expect that the average rights-holding American citizen would ultimately benefit from such an arrangement, this is not the case, unless the said rights-holding citizen happens to be a chief executive officer of an American-directed multinational corporation -- like Apple Inc. 

At last week's US Senate hearings, it was determined that despite being the company with the highest net worth in the world, an estimated $185 billion in 2013, Apple Inc. paid little or no corporate taxes on $74 billion over the last four years.

As reported in the New York Times, Congressional investigators found that some of Apple's subsidiaries had no employees and were largely run by top officials from headquarters in Cupertino, California.  But by officially locating them in places like Ireland, Apple was able to, in effect, make them stateless -- exempt from taxes, record keeping laws, and the need for the subsidiaries to even file tax returns anywhere in the world.

Evidently, the New Empire is being directed by the Boards of Corporate America's expatriated companies that reap the benefits of having achieved success in American markets, selling goods and services to Americans, employing workers educated in America, supported by a regulatory framework made in America, but who are now taking their money and running to embrace a limbo-like status that severs the civic ties between their corporate rights-holding status and the citizens at large.

Even though they owe the very existence to the legal charter granted by the citizens in which state they were incorporated and now enjoy the rights normally accorded to citizens, again enshrined by the publicly-funded justice system, these expatriated companies, like Apple Inc., have seceded  from the Union.

Indeed, many would identify corporations like Apple and General Electric with the United States but in reality they fly their own flags, and by their corporate behavior demonstrate that their primary allegiance is to their shareholders and not to the American citizens at large.

Saddled with a mountain of debt, witness to a crumbling infrastructure, hoping to eek out a meager existence from social security benefits, millions of Americans can only hope for a better future, while the financiers and members of the corporate executive class amass Great Gatsby-like fortunes in the absence of any empathetic bonds with their fellow citizens.

At the same time we witness the decline of the old American Empire founded upon the spirit of republicanism, we behold the rise and ascension of the New Empire anchored in the belief of unfettered individualism.

Indeed, a new, revised motto should be inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty:

Keep your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of this teeming shore.  Keep these, the homeless, tempest-tost from me, while I slip out behind the golden door.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Oh Canada, How Long Will You Remain an English Settler State?

The latest statistics from the National Household Survey indicate that one out of five Canadians was born outside of the country.  The report states that "Canada is a nation with an ethnocultural mosaic as indicated by its immigrant population, the ethnocultural backgrounds of its people, the visible minority population, linguistic characteristics and religious diversity.”

So, given this demographic trend, the question that needs to be asked is how long are we going to hold onto a system of governance anchored in our days as a Dominion?
Our head of state, Queen Elizabeth, is, for an ever increasing percentage of the population, a foreign monarch.  As the Canadian population becomes more and more diverse, does there come a point in time when the continued cultural grounding of the nation’s identity in one particular group identity become antiquated?

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For example, when Canada celebrated its centennial anniversary in 1967 and I was a school boy living on the prairies, we would rise and sing “God Save the Queen” to begin the school day.  Back then, it seemed like the right thing to so.  Today, I can’t imagine any school board in Canada requiring that their students sing Britain’s national anthem.  Times have changed.

So, what happens when, in the near future, Queen Elizabeth’s reign comes to an end?  This is the twenty-first century.  The Commonwealth brings about little if any stirrings of patriotic sentiments.  As a result, wouldn’t it seem rather odd that Prince Charles would become our new head of state?

Oh Canada, our home on native land.    

Monday, May 6, 2013

My Democratic Dreams Were Shattered by Those Who Pilfer the Public Purse in Quebec

Apparently, what I want, I can't have.  I would like to live in a democratic state where I could participate meaningfully in the political decisions to be made. Living in Quebec, however, the most corrupt province or state in North America, my democratic dreams are just that, wishful thinking totally out of touch with the banal reality that surrounds me.

Lately, however, thanks to two public inquiries, the Bastarache Commission that looked into the political influence in play when naming judges, and the Charbonneau Commission that is presently investigating the link between the construction industry and the occult funding of political parties with public funds, I now know why my participation in the electoral process and my subsequent court challenge of the voting system was doomed from the start.

In short, for the last thirty years Quebec general elections and many of the municipal elections have been rigged.

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At the municipal level, engineering firms would find themselves a willing candidate, hire a political organizer, funnel the necessary funds for the electoral campaign, and then recoup their investment when the newly elected municipal council would award the contracts for public works to the engineering firm that in effect had chosen who would become mayor.

At the provincial level, the same engineering firms would oversee a process in which individuals would make the maximum donation ($3000) to the political party leading in the polls, and then reimburse the "donors" who had lent their names to the companies that were by law prohibited to make the donations.  The "donors" were then rewarded by a receiving a tax credit for their fraudulent participation in the scheme. The political party that "won" the election would then subsidize the public works projects put forward by the municipalities.

As witnesses to the Charbonneau Commission continue to expose the workings of this system of corruption and collusion, it is now estimated that approximately 80% of the funding for municipal elections and 70% of the funding for provincial elections came from illegal sources.

In other words, the fix was on.

For those of us who were candidates in those elections, in my case I was a candidate for Quebec's Democratic Action Party in the 2003 general election, a candidate for Quebec's Green Party in the 2007 general election and a by-election in 2008, we were played as chumps; we played by the rules that we thought were in place and contributed to the appearance that a fair election was taking place.

Looking back at my participation in the process, I feel that I have been duped.

The real-politick of the situation is that despite the media's depiction of Quebec elections being a clash of personalities and ideas, they were, in reality, just a manifestation of the bourgeois desire to dip into the public purse.

What makes matters worse is that from what I can tell most Quebecers are largely indifferent to what has transpired.

That they have been played for fools doesn't seem to rile them, certainly less than when university tuition fees were raised modestly.

I guess people here have gotten used to being exploited by a domineering class, first the church, now the business-directed political class.

Bread and Circuses are enough to keep the people happy.

Go Habs Go!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

It Ain't About the Economy; It's About Politics

At the outset, when I first began this blog, I wanted to bring to the reader’s attention some of the cultural myths arising from our political economy that we usually take for granted and, as a result, don’t give much thought to, ascribing to them instead, the status of received truth.

Unfortunately, we have dropped the adjective, “political” from the term “political economy” and refer to the subject simply as economics, as if it were indeed a hard science, bereft of human desire, emotion, and irrationality.

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This tell-tale omission brings to mind the admonishments George Orwell made in his essay, “Politics in the English Language”, in particular his claim that political prose was formed “to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
The pure wind I have in mind is our political penchant to treat the concept of “the economy” as if it were real and not simply an aggregation of selected statistical data.  This reified entity then becomes subject of all types of conjecture concerning what to do to improve its performance. 

At the moment, the “economic” debate is focused on whether to introduce austerity measures in order to reduce the debt that strangles economic growth – it’s hard not to use metaphors that reify the subject when speaking about the economy – or to continue with deficit spending as a kind of fiscal stimulus that will “jump start” the economy and bring back healthy economic growth, like giving an electric jolt to a severed frog’s leg in a high school biology lab.  Maybe it’s time to give the invisible hand a jolt.

Dropping the figurative language to reveal human intention, it doesn’t really matter whether the prescribed course of action is able to achieve the intended results in the selected data sets.  What’s really at issue is whose ox is going to get gored.  Those who propose austerity measures want the poor of today to pay; those who propose fiscal stimulus want to off load the tab to future generations.

As I have said in a previous blog, sometimes you just have to say “fuck the economy”.
If we are ever going to get our economic house in order (sorry, I couldn’t help myself), spending must be balanced by adequate revenues.  In other words, if you don’t got the money, you gonna have to make due with what you got; if you want more, you gonna have to come up with the cash; and nobody wants to pay more than they have to.

Like I was telling you, it ain't about the economy, it's about politics.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Like Lobsters Caught in a Trap, Americans Are Held Prisoners By Their Procedural Republic

The news coming out of the USA last week was pretty bleak: another senseless act of indiscriminate violence at the Boston Marathon, where two home-made bombs were detonated amongst the spectators, killing three, including a young child, and maiming hundreds.

Yet, against this backdrop of blood running in the streets, the US Senate was unable to adopt a law that would have made it mandatory to perform a background check on any individual wishing to purchase a semi-automatic weapon. The vote was taken only after a few months after a lone gunman went on a rampage in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, also ignoring the fact that more than 90% of Americans favor the implementation of background checks.

It wasn't the case that the motion didn't have the support of the majority of senators, the vote was 54 in favor and 46 against, but in yet another weird twist of the American political system, a simple majority wasn't sufficient to adopt the legislation.  In short, it takes 60 votes in the Senate to avoid a filibuster by the opposing political party that effectively defeats the motion.  Instead of letting the minority opposition engage in eternal delaying tactics, the bill was simply dropped.

For the American nation this means that in all likelihood it can expect to witness another mass killing within its immediate future.  Like lobsters caught in a trap, Americans are held prisoner by their procedural republic, a political system that tries to pass itself off as a democratic republic, but in reality is nothing more than a plutocracy.

In fact, because the composition of the American Senate gives an effective veto to states comprising as little as 12% of the electorate, because the entire electoral system is built on the first-past-the-post voting system that discrimates against third-party candidates, because the electoral districts for the House of Representatives are gerrymandered, because it is an electoral college rather than an electotate that determines the outcome of the presidential election, because corporations have the right to spend without limits during electoral campaigns, because voter registration practices effectively suppress voter turnout, the US cannot be considered as a democracy.  In a democracy, it is the many that govern the few; in a plutocracy, it is the few that govern the many.

Taken together the above-mentioned procedures also prevent any meaningful change to the American political system and consequently to the society at large.  Essentially, the US is stuck, despite its incredible technological development, with a social operating system from the 17th century, a way of thinking that dates to the Protestant Reformation and the Pilgrims, and a value system that perpetuates the belief that people get what they deserve, where the rich can wallow in their wealth while the destitute must endure their suffering.

For those at the top the food chain, this hierarchical social system must be maintained at all costs, which includes maintaining the largest military force in the world at public expense and turning a blind eye towards the suffering of those families that are touched directly by the deaths of the appropriately 20,000 Americans killed each year by fire arms. Indeed, the plutocrats show as much concern for their fellow citizens as they do for the lobsters whose fate is to be boiled alive before being served on a plate.

Yet, it costs very little prevent the masses from making any meaningful systemic change. Conservatives need only control only one of the Congressional legislatures or the presidency to bring the entire political system to a standstill.  Since control of all three elected offices is rare, the condition of institutional lock-in has come about. Traditional media sources and social networks may rail at the apparent injustice that regularly surfaces across America, but to no avail because the system is extremely resistant to substantive change.

Like lobsters caught in a trap.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

As Public Virtue Collapses Around Me, All I Can Do Is Watch and Write

I live in Quebec, Canada’s only French speaking province.  Here, the socio-economic system was crafted to be extremely resistant to institutional change.  It is what it is.  Most of the people have been duped into believing that they live in a democracy, so I take it is beyond their capacity to come up with an effective response to the realization that they live in the most corrupt province in Canada. 

C’est la vie.
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For my part, I thought change could come through the courts.  I was sadly mistaken.  Trying to point out to a judiciary whose members were often chosen on the basis of their political allegiance, clearly identified by the history of their political donations, that the voting system is fundamentally anti-democratic and an affront to my democratic rights was like trying to explain to fish that the water around them was tainted.  They simply don’t get it, especially when the fish in question have far more food than they could ever possibly eat.

I think that the entire population in Quebec has become resigned to the fact that life here is guided by the principle of take what you can get, and don’t worry if what you do is suspect because most people here really don’t give a shit as long as they got their share.
Let’s face it, the City of Montreal was run by the mob and governed by a mayor who pretended that he had no fucking idea what was going on; judges in Quebec turned to political party bagmen in hopes of getting promoted; and electoral financing laws have been openly flaunted for the last 35 years, with public money being kicked back to engineering and construction firms and the political parties that dole out the contracts.


And don’t give me the French bullshit, c’est comme ├ža.

During the Renaissance, Niccolo Machiavelli and his contemporaries observed that when public virtue in a society is absent, corruption becomes widespread.
Some things never change. 

As a result, I’m better off taking care of my own, enjoying the fruits of empire, and posting the occasional blog.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Triumph of The American Matrix

The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games. … Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts. … A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.    (William Gibson, Neuromancer)

When I was in elementary school, there was a quaint map of the world hanging in every classroom courtesy of Neilson Chocolates.  I often found myself gazing at the map awestruck.  The British Empire of which the Dominion of Canada was part of was in pink, comprising 25% of the earth’s land mass.  Feelings of imperial pride would rise whenever I thought that the sun never set on the British Empire and that somehow I shared in the glory of building something marvellous.

But by the time I made it to high school, these maps were no longer to be found.  The British Empire was no more and I was living in a bright and shiny nation called Canada that now had its own flag and had just celebrated its one hundredth birthday.

Little did I know at the time, there was another empire coming into being that would surpass the territorial reach of the colour pink on the Neilson’s map and, in fact, would sever the traditional link between empire and territory.
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Economic Apartheid Runs Rife in America

I first entered into the American Matrix when I went to see the film Star Wars.  This was no mere movie.  Going to see Star Wars at the time was a global phenomenon that marked the passage into a world that fuelled the imagination of a fantastic future written, produced, and marketed by Americans.

The real force of the film and its sequels, besides the spectacular special effects, was the four billion dollars in world-wide box office receipts and the twenty billion dollars in merchandise sales.  Last year alone, the Star Wars franchise raked in three billion dollars in licensing revenue.

Essentially, what makes the American Empire exceptional is its incredibly seductive soft power.  Without question, the USA still possesses the military might that the rest of the world cannot match and it still controls the way the rules of the global political economy are written and enforced.  The tools of traditional empire are at its disposal.  But what sets it apart is that the vast majority of the world’s inhabitants consent to enter into the American Matrix with the hope of obtaining some version of the American dream.  Play by the rules, in other words accept the notion of the rule of law laid down by Americans, and if you work hard, you too can have some of the stuff that characterizes an almost out-of-this-world material wealth that many Americans seem to enjoy.

Whereas the Brits would hold out the promise of the Christian version of the after-life to entice the conquered peoples to accept British economic domination, the Americans bring a secular science fiction future in the here and now so to convince the world’s peoples that the American way allows for an approximation of heaven on earth.

I know.  As a knowledge worker living in the second decade of the twenty-first century, despite being born into the working class, I am surrounded by affordable luxury that provides a lifestyle that surpasses the material comfort of European royalty living in the nineteenth century.

A house, central heating, central air conditioning, spa, household appliances, two cars, health club membership, yearly vacations, pension, disposable income, food and wine from around the world, an electronic entertainment system that brings an incredible array of cultural performances into the comfort of my own home, the Internet, and several mobile computing devices are all part of my middle class lifestyle.

You could say that I live on the right side of the digital divide, enjoying the fruits of empire.  All this comfort comes about because, along with the vast majority of people around me, we go about our business following the cultural script that the American matrix advances: go to school, get a degree, get a job, get married, buy a house, have some kids, change jobs, retire, enjoy the good life as long as you can, grow old gracefully, leave something for the kids.  And also because we happen to have the good fortune to live in a sparsely inhabited country, extremely rich in natural resources, that shares the longest undefended border in the world with the USA, the most powerful nation on earth.

Deviations from the central script are allowed, but don’t stray too far or you will be bitterly disappointed.  The matrix is very robust and resilient to systemic change.  Why press for democratic reform when you can simply get away from it all by catching a cheap flight to a sun holiday destination?

Don’t get me wrong.  I would gladly take a deep cut to my material comfort in order to be able to participate meaningfully in the political process, but I happen to live in an empire not in a democratic republic.  Either I content myself with casting my habitually wasted vote or I move elsewhere and become a citizen of a country that values democracy.

One other thing to keep in mind is that you don’t actually need to live in the USA to enter and find a comfy place within the American matrix.  In fact, more than half of the American population can only access the cheap entertainment portion of the matrix without being able to realize the product placement in their own lives.  Despite living in close proximity to the cultural elites that built the matrix, the majority of Americans live on the outside, looking in, hoping that one day their fortunes will change.

In a world brought forward by the marriage of free flowing capital with technology, supported by a massive global work force, quality of life is affected but not determined by the nation state where one resides.  Finding a lucrative place within a production chain of either goods or services can be just as important and in many cases even more important.

Even in the richest nations, low-skilled labour barely offers a living wage, and if it does, one’s life will be just a pale comparison of the lives lived by the more fortunate.

In the matrix, hell is receiving constant status updates on Facebook from friends that are having awesome adventures while you worry about whether the electricity is about to be cut off.