Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Byelections

I have not read any of the commentary on the results of the four by-elections last night but I do know that the Liberals won three of four.

So, if the MSM is true to form many of the political pundits in this country will be claiming that the Liberals had a terrible night last night.

I have stated many times before in this space that by-elections really do not have any predictive power for what will happen during the next general election but it does my heart good to know that that media pundits will always find a way to make any result look bad for the Liberals, regardless of the outcome.  It injects a certain constancy and predictability into an otherwise chaotic life.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Is Freedom of the Press obsolete?

A provocative question to be certain.

However, I believe it needs to be asked.

One of the key requirements for a healthy democracy is a well informed citizenry.  It is quite simple. If they are well informed about what is happening in their country citizens will be better equipped to keep those who would govern them on the the right path and they will be better equipped to make certain that their governors are working for the greater good.

The opposite is true.  If they are not well informed then citizens are very vulnerable to the words and actions of charlatans who are only in politics for their own very narrow self interests.

The key function of the media or the press is to provide citizens with the information to help them discern fact from fiction.  To help them identify the charlatans, avoid electing them and safeguard their rights and freedoms

For more than a couple of decades the main stream media has failed in this very important task.  They long ago gave up any semblence of informing their audiences of what is really happening in the world preferring to "inform" their audiences of faux scandals and fake controversies in the effort to make profits.  Infotainment has replaced real news and we and our democracies are much poorer for it.

That was bad enough but currently many in the main stream media have begun to act more like propaganda vehicles for individual political parties instead of objective observers of events.  This is not a favourable development for democracy.  Propaganda, its latest incarnation being faux news, by its very nature is a direct threat to democracy.  Propaganda is what autocrats use to legitimise their rule.  Propaganda is what those who would curtail our rights and freedoms use to convince us to allow them to do just that.  

Freedom of the press was created as a method of keeping our governors honest and to prevent them from setting themselves up as kings.  It was created to safeguard democracy.  If the press is no longer willing or able to perform that function then the whole concept of a free press is called into question.   If the press is going to become an enabler of those who would take away our democratic rights then the concept of a free press might need to be eliminated all together.  At the very least controls may need to be applied.

Of course, that does create the paradox of attempting to safeguard democracy by eliminating or severely curtailing a key democratic right.  How to square that circle creates a real conundrum.  One that I cannot solve in this space but there must be some big thinkers out there who could explore it.

However, it should be noted that with modern information technology there should be no real need for a media filter being placed over what governments do anymore.  A more robust use of the internet by government departments to inform citizens of what they are doing would go along way towards providing them with the information they need to keep their governors honest.  The same is true of those arms-length governent organizations set up to oversee governments.  They now have the ability to report directly to the citizens of their countries without relying on the media.  They should begin making much greater use of this capability.  There are a great number of details that would need to be ironed out to make certain that government organizations do not use this media in a self-interested fashion but it is doable.

The western democracies are being eroded away.  It is not happening quickly but it is happening.  A ban on what certain women can wear here, the right for labour to organize there, ever so slowly the rights that our forefathers fought for are melting away like the glaciers of the world. The press, the one institution that could help us to prevent and reverse that trend, is failing its duty at best and contributing to the erosion at worst.  

It is time to begin rethinking the sacred nature of the concept of The Freedom of the Press.


Friday, August 11, 2017

China Speaks

I read in the news today that the Chinese government made some public statements that they would remain neutral in any conflict between the United States and North Korea provided the United States did not initiate hostilities.

I was wondering if China would make these kinds of statements or not and now I know the answer.

Of course, China will not get involved in an armed conflict with the US even if the Americans initiate one with North Korea.  There is no way that China will endanger itself by getting into an armed conflict with another, bigger nuclear power to protect North Korea and/or Mr. Kim. It is not going to happen but they had to put that out there to provide the cooler heads, in Washington, with some ammunition to talk Mr. Trump out of attacking North Korea.

In private, I am certain that the Chinese government has told the North Korean government that they will be on their own during any conflict with the US and that they might even be telling Mr. Kim to tone down his rhetoric because the US is currently being lead by an moronic, unstable and unpredictable sociopath who cannot be trusted not to do something very stupid.  All of the Presidents before him were known quantities and predictable so Mr. Kim could twist the nose of the United States with virtual imputiny.  That is no longer true.

There is probably alot of diplomacy taking place behind closed doors at the moment. Although it is not beyond the realm of possibility I would be surprised if all of the heated talk we have been seeing in the past few days amounts to anything besides that.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Donald Trump and North Korea

Donald Trump has made some rather imflammatory remarks in recent days threatening North Korea with "fire and fury" should the North Korean government choose to attack the United States or its interests with nuclear weapons.

Predictably those who oppose him have come out against his statements, accusing him of warmongering, being unhinged and otherwise spouting the standard stuff that Mr. Trump's opponents have been spouting for almost three years.

Mr. Trump is an ass and he really has no business being in the Whitehouse as far as I am concerned but in the case of his statements to North Korea he is correct.

It is not a secret that North Korea possesses nuclear weapons.  The number is unknown but it is not very many.  It would now appear that they have perfected a vehicle that can potentially carry them great distances.  It is still an open question as to whether they have been able to reduce the size of any nuclear warheads so that they can fit on those missile.

Regardless we can probably now consider North Korea to be a nuclear power and it is questionable if it can be trusted not to use them.  In that situation it is appropriate for Mr. Trump to remind Mr. Kim of North Korea that it is not the only nuclear power in its region.  It is appropriate to remind Mr. Kim that any use of nuclear weapons would result in him being the leader of a nuclear wasteland instead of a country, assuming he survives any nuclear counterstrike by the US.  

The only effective method for controlling the use of nuclear weapons is the threat of a swift counterstrike by another nuclear power.  During the Cold War it was called Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) and it is probably one of the biggest reasons we all came through that period with our lives and our civilization intact.  

Reminding Mr. Kim of the AD part of that acronym is not a bad idea.  It is true that Mr. Trump has done so in his usual ham fisted manner but the fact he has done it might just prevent real disaster, although it will probably lead to some more serious sabre rattling before this all dies down.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Book Review: Wages of Rebellion

I recently completed the book Wages of Rebellion:  The Moral Imperative of Revolt by Chris Hedges.  He is a Pulitzer Prize winning author and this particular book is quite interesting.

The book is provocative and Mr. Hedges is obviously a radical thinker in the sense that he not only believes the status quo is untenable but that we should be actively working to replace it.

The basic premise of the book is "the disasterous economic and political experiment that attempted to organize human behaviour around the dictates of the global marketplace have failed".  Instead of creating wealth for all as promised the global marketplace has created a "tiny global oligarchy which has amassed obscene wealth".  As a result of this situation there is a great deal of anger and unrest percolating below the surface, amongst ordinary citizens, which is one economic, political or natural disaster way from creating a level of unrest and instability sufficient to create the conditions for revolution.

He goes on to argue that the usual tools and mechanisms that can be used by ordinary people to keep the oligarchy in check, such as the courts and the government, have been completely co-opted to serve the new economic and political system of Corporatism and the oligarchy.  As well, he argues that this is not new and that it has been happening for most of the last century.

He spends much of the book pointing out different groups and movements that could have lead an effort to break the power of Corporatism who have been systematically broken by the courts, governments and a compliant mass media.  He points out that every movement from the Black Panthers to the Occupy Movement have been neutered so that they either disappear completely or become nothing more than a nuisance to the Corporatists.

He indicates that the only way to break the power of the Corporatists is revolution.  To replace one ruling class, that is steadily eroding our political and human rights, with another ruling class, which hopefully will restore those rights.  The author does admit that revolutions are a messy business and the replacement of the old order is not always better than the old order.  

Despite this the author does seem to be calling for just such a revolution.  

My thoughts is he is right an he is wrong.

Like alot of "radicals" who have called for revolution and the complete change in how humans organize themselves politically and economically Mr. Hedges has identified the problems with the current system very well.  I cannot argue with his basic premise.  The current system certainly is broken, it has lead to a tremendous amount of inequality and it has demonstratively lead to great unrest in the Western industrialized world.

However, like all "radicals" past and present the solution to the problems they identify are not grounded in fact.  They do not take into account human nature and the reality of the situations that we find ourselves in.

The author points to several historial revolutions as examples of successful revolutions and he is correct.  However, what he seems to overlook in these examples is the revolutionaries had a ready made alternative to the status quo ready and waiting.  The French and American revolutions had Republicanism to replace absolute rule.  Lenin and Trotsky had their brand of Marxism to replace abolute rule and capitalism.  

Is there an alternative to Corporatism?  The simple answer is no.  Corporatism grew out of Capitalism and no historical revolution has ever caused a society to go backwards. Capitalism as envisioned by Adam Smith is as dead as Communism and neither one of them is coming back.  Without an alternative for revolutionaries to rally around successful revolutions are not possible.

A second barrier to revolution is the fact that the Western world is largely democratic with a long and deep democratic tradition.  All of the historial revolutions have seen the replacement of autocratic and despotic regimes with something else.  Most of the time that something else was not much better but at least one lead to democracy, which spread to the rest of the industrialized world.  

I believe that democracy will prevent revolution but it will not prevent unrest and political extremism.  Mr. Hedges rightly points out that the current system has created a great deal of anger and unrest amongst ordinary people.  That is objectively correct and we are beginning to see the results in many places with the rise of right wing extremism.  From Brexit, to the election of Donald Trump to the near election of Marine Le Pen extreme right wing politicians are tapping into the anger and unrest to advance their view and their agenda.

This is troubling but in democracies there is usually a pendulum effect in politics.  Society will move from one end of the political spectrum to the next and back again several times within the lifetime of one individual.  As well, if that pendulum swings a great distance in one direction it will swing a similar distance in the other direction once that swing begins.  So right now the pendulum has swung far to the right, which makes it virtually guaranteed that it will swing a similar distance to the left once society begins to move in that direction.  Right wing extremism will be replaced with left wing extremism.

For those of us in the political centre the coming years will be very uncomfortable.  We will be just as leary of the left wing Donald Trump as the current right wing Donald Trump. We will be just as uncomfortable with the left wing Stephen Harper as we were with the original.

Wages of Rebellion is an interesting and provocative book that is very much worth the effort of reading, regardless of your particular political bent.  It very accurately describes the current situation and the fact that it is untenable in the medium to long-term.  However, I find his call for revolution to be premature.  Without something to replace the current system it will be virtually impossible for revolutionaries to be successful.  As well, although I agree with him that the current system puts a great deal of pressure on democracy we cannot yet right off the ability of democracy to correct the situation.  The next decade or so will probably be messy and chaotic but just like Corporatism evolved from Capitalism the next method in which we organize ourselves economically and politically will evolve from how we currently do that.  Corporatism will die like Capitalism did but what replaces Corporatism will still resemble both to a certain extent.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Explaining my Politics

I had a conversation today with someone and they asked me why I was a Liberal.

My response is I am not a Liberal but I am a liberal.  More specifically, I am a pragmatist. Most of life is about solving problems and when it comes to solving problems you are better served to identify the problem and find a solution that fits it instead of attempting to fit the problem to a preconceived solution.

This is true of governments.  Their job is to come up with solutions to problems that will serve the greatest good.  How they actually do this does not matter.  So, for example, if a issue needs a more conservative approach to be resolved then that should be the approach they take.  The same is true if a problem would be best resolved by an approach that would be considered liberal or socialist.  

Looking at the political landscape in Canada today the only party that comes close to matching that requirement, federally, are the Liberals.  The same holds true for Ontario.  

The most likely alternative to the Liberals, in Canada and in Ontario, do not meet my requirements. They are much too dogmatic.  That is, they care more about adhering to their narrow ideology than solving real world problems that would serve the greatest good. 

I am of course referring to the Conservative Parties of Canada and Ontario.  They are a great representation of the decent into dogmatism that has become a feature of modern conservatism in the English speaking world.  In fact, I would go so far as to state that I believe the conservative movement, in its current form, is as great a threat to our freedom, lives and livelihood as Communism was during the Cold War.  Indeed, conservatism would be the greater threat as it has much more credibility than Communism ever did.

Some would consider that statement inflammatory but you just need to look at the problem solving approaches of the old Soviet Union and modern conservatism to see the parallels.

During Cold War the Soviet Union had a very difficult time producing enough food to feed its entire population.  For decades it had to buy surplus grain from Canada and the West despite the fact the area of land it had to produce grain and other foodstuffs almost equaled that of the Western world combined.  Really, looking at the amount of farmland they had the Soviet Union should have been able to feed itself and have a great deal left over to sell to the rest of the world.

So why could the Soviet Union not feed itself?  Simple, agricultural decisions that would usually be taken at the individual farm level were taken by a bureaucrat at a central location. Farmers in the Soviet Union were not allowed to think for themselves and to take decisions that were in the best interest of their farms.  They had to implement the decisions, about their individual farms, that were taken somewhere else, often in a place very far away from their farms.

The ideology of the old Communist Party of the Soviet Union was the primacy of central control of all aspects of the economy.  Factories and farms had to be centrally controlled from the centre because that is what Lenin and Trotsky said way back in 1917 and to stray from that ideal, even a little bit, was considered to be heresy.  So, the Soviet Union stuck to Communist dogma for decades and had to buy grain and other foodstuffs from the West, almost every year, in order to stave off famine.  It should be noted that the lack of ability to feed itself took up alot of the time of the Soviet leadership but they could never come up with a solution that would work and adhere to Communist dogma at the same time.  When they had to choose between the two options they chose to stick to dogma everytime, until Mr. Gobachev came along.

The irony is if they would have relaxed that control just a small amount they would have probably solved the problem.  The agriculture industry in the West is not a true free market by any sense of the word.  That sector is the most controlled and subsidized economic sector in the West.  However, individual farmers are allowed to make decisions regarding their own farms and that is the crucial difference.

So how does this relate to modern conservatism?  The parallels are evident.  The Harper government pursued a "tough on crime" agenda throughout its time despite the fact that there was increasing evidence to indicate that crime, violent crime in particular, was falling long before they came to power.

Mike Harris decided to deregulate the electricity industry in Ontario because modern conservatives firmly believe that any form of regulation is bad.  Every industry expert that did not work for the industry or the Harris government stated that deregulation would lead to higher prices but the Harris government believed otherwise and went ahead with it. It should be no surprise that high electricity prices are now a big issue in Ontario. 

I would also point out the deregulation of the Hog industry in Ontario which lead directly to the death of several people in Walkerton, Ontario.

Climate change is real and humans are contributing to it.  The evidence is clear.  Yet conservatives either deny that fact outright or they play down its potential impacts.  There might come a time when global warming and its resultant impacts on our climate will become an existential threat to the human species yet conservatives refuse to even acknowledge that there is a problem.

To place more importance on ideological purity than on evidence and fact will inevitably lead to disaster.  You can only ignore a problem or attempt to apply the wrong solution to it for so long before it becomes unmanageable.  When we do it as individuals it can lead to great personal hardship.  When governments do it they can do unspeakable harm to the people they represent and the society that they are morally and legally bound to protect.

Modern Conservative governments attempt to fit problems to reconceived solutions  They place ideological purity over finding the most effective solution. Liberal governments are generally more pragmatic.  They will usually weigh the evidence and facts before taking a decision on how to solve a problem.  That is why I am a liberal.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Omar Khadr

With the news that the Omar Khadr legal settlement has been enforced the Conservatives and their supporters have worked themselves into quite a lather. 

Naturally, they are blaming Prime Minister Trudeau for this but they seem to forget that Mr. Trudeau really did not have any other option. To let the case go to trial would have been most irresponsible on many levels.  If Mr. Harper would have won the last election it would have been his government that would have had to reach and implement a settlement.  I am certain that the Conservatives not mentioning this fact is just an oversight and that they are not trying to spin this situation in the worst possible way in order to attempt to take political advantage.  

Taking the politics out of the situation we need to look at why a legal settlement was needed to begin with.  Generally speaking when the defence in a civil legal process decides to settle it usually means that they do not believe that they can win if the case goes to trial.  The settlement is a way to mitigate any damage of a loss by limiting any payout and there is usually a stipulation in any settlement agreement that they are not admitting to any wrong doing.

So why would the Candian government need to agree to a settlement?

Omar Khadr is accused of killing an American soldier when he was 15 years old.  When he was captured the Americans incarcerated him in their prison in Guantanamo Bay.

After many years they finally released him, he returned to Canada and he proceeded to sue the government of Canada.  Did he have a case?

Well, there are several UN resolutions and other international protocols, of which Canada is a signatory, which states that child soldiers generally get involved with wars as a result of brainwashing, drugs given to them by those who would have them fight or straight up coersion.  As a result, these same international agreements indicate that in most cases child soldiers are not to be held responsible for the action they are forced to take.  Instead they are to be rescued from their situation and measures are to be taken to rehabilitate them and reintegrate these children back into the respective societies.  Of course this did not happen.

None of the international agreements on child soldiers are treaties or international laws. They are really just statements of good intent.  So, if Canada did not want to follow them in this case they could have made a good argument as to why.

However, that would leave them with two other options.  Treat the 15 year old Mr. Khadr as a regular soldier or treat him as a terrorist, which means treat him as a criminal.

For both choices Canada would have been compelled to treat Mr. Khadr much differently than he was actually treated.  

If Mr. Khadr was treated as a soldier then, after his capture, he would have had the right of the protection of the Geneva Conventions.  This is a treaty on how countries are to conduct war, including the treatment of prisoners of war and Canada is a signatory to that treaty.  It is stated in the Conventions that the torture of prisoners of war is forbidded.  Mr. Khadr was sent to Guantanamo Bay where he was tortured.  Mr. Khadr is a Canadian citizen, by birth, so when the Canadian government found out the US Army was torturing Mr. Khadr they were legally required to protest to the US government and begin a process to have Mr. Khadr removed from the situation where he was being tortured.  Instead, the Canadian security agencies actually sought to benefit from his torture.  

If Mr. Khadr would have been treated like a criminal then he should have been sen to the United States or he should have been repatriated to Canada and forced to face the criminal justice systems in either country, which amongst other things, includes the presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law.

Considering all of that Mr. Khadr's lawyers probably believed that they had a strong case that the Canadian government violated international and domestic laws.  Shamefully, they may be right.

Many argue that Mr. Khadr was a terrorist and terrorists should not enjoy the same rights as the rest of us.  The problem I have with that argument, and that I have always had with that argument, is that if you allow governments to deny basic human and legal rights for some where do you draw the line?  Not everybody has the same definition of terrorist so the line becomes rather fuzzy.  As an illustrative aside I was looking at an American news aggregation site a few days ago and there was story in their that some elements of the Trump Administration would like to define some environmental advocacy groups in the US as terrorist organizations.

In general I find the reaction to terrorism to be an over reaction.  

For over 40 years the West was threatened by the Soviet Union and its vassal states.  They had millions of men under arms, sitting on the border of Western Europe, and they had thousands of nuclear weapons pointed at us.  The Soviet Union was a politically powerful state and it and its Communist ideals were an existential threat to our way of life.  What was our reaction?  We strengthed our democracies.  We made our democratic institutions more robust.  Any politician who would have suggested otherwise would have been lynched (politically speaking of course).

Some of the more liberal estimates of the number of terrorists out there is 100,000, if you are only counting the Muslim terrorists.  That is 100,000 out of over a billion.  They have no major government that supports them, they have no heavy weapons and they can barely move from their places of origin.  Crucially, they have absolutely no political power.  Indeed that is why the resort to terrorism to begin with.  They are not an existential threat to our way of life.  They can kill a few of us but they cannot bring down our democratic institutions or our society.

What is our reaction to them?

A large portion of the populations of the western democracy have collectively and figuratively wet their pants and they are demanding actions from their governments to protect them. Governments, which in the history of civilization have never given up an opportunity to grab more power for themselves, have been happy to oblige with increasingly draconian laws which erode our basic and legal rights.  

It is ironic that the Soviet Union could not convince us to give up our rights and freedoms despite 40+ plus years of effort to do so.  However, the actions of a relative handful of religious extremists, in less than half of that time, have some parts of our society demanding that the government take those rights and freedoms away from us because they see terrorists under their pillow.

Fortunately, our democratic institutions are much stronger than that and the Omar Khadr settlement has managed to demonstrate that nicely.

One final note, I read today that the family of the soldier that was said to be killed by Omar Khadr is looking at going after some of the money that he won in his settlement.  That is interesting.  The only way they will be able to do that would be to launch a wrongful death lawsuit against Mr. Khadr in a court of law.  It is another irony in all of this that Mr.Khadr might be forced to finally defend himself and his alleged actions in a court of law, not because any government is making it happen, but because the family of his alleged victim might make it happen.  Mr. Khadr might have come full circle.