Saturday, February 26, 2011

Where's our revolution?

For a person who believes in democracy the recent events in the Arab world is very heartening. Leaving aside the idea that nothing will really change in these countries you cannot but be moved by seeing all of these people coming out and demanding changes and a more powerful voice for themselves in how they are governed.

In all cases these people are revolting against a rich and priviledged elite in their countries. These elites control all of the levers of power and they make decisions for the benefit of themselves, often shafting those who do not share their elite status in the process.

Upon looking at these events and who the main protaganists are in them I could not help but see many parallels between their societies and ours. Western society also suffers from the same inequalities that the Arabs are fighting against. There is a rich and priviledged elite that countrols much of the economy and has many friends within the governing class of our societies. You just need to see the reaction of governments to the 2008 financial meltdown to see that, both the immediate reaction and their reactions in the aftermath. The financial meltdown was caused by recklessness amongst the rich and powerful, whose greed caused them to make decisions that almost brought down the entire global financial system. It was criminal really but did they suffer any consequences. Of course not, during the crisis they were bailed out with taxpayer funds so that none of them even had to sacrifice their wealth and lifestyles to pay for their folly. Since then we have seen that they have not even suffered medium or long-term consequences because governments have ignored their culpability in the events of 2008 and instead seem to rewarding them and going after ordinary people instead. The corporate tax cuts proposed by the Harper government and the removal of collective barbaining rights in Wisconson are two example.

This in itself is bad enough but what is really maddening and mind boggling is the reaction of ordinary people to all of this. They are poorer because of the actions of the wealthy elite in Western society but they are siding with them against ordinary citizens in most cases. You just need to see their reaction to the fights by the unions on Wisconson and in other juristictions where governments have been trying to reduce union rights to see that. The wealth elites in Western society are building up their wealth and power to the detriment of ordinary citizens and those very same ordinary citizens are cheering them on. It really is mind boggling and it puts paid to all of those Economics textbooks that state people make decisions based on their own economic interests.

The problem is we all believe that because we can vote in actual free and fair elections we are not really in the same position as the Arabs. On the surface that is true but looking deeper it is very apparent that a wealthy and priviledged elite are using their power and influence to protect themselves from the most harmful consequences of their actions and to further their ability to gather wealth to the detriment of ordinary citizens.

So, when are those ordinary citizens going to realize this and demand change? If the Arabs can do it certainly we should be able to.

The Conservatives are not unassailable

With the release of some "bad news" polls recently I have been seeing some doom and gloom amongst some Liberals. They seem to believe that the Liberals cannot win the next election.


First of all do not worry about the polls because they are not predictive. If they were, John Turner, Kim Campbell, Ernie Eves, and Paul Martin would have all won majority governments. Sitting governments always do better than the Opposition in between elections but that often hides an underlying weakness that only manifests itself during an election. As well, do not actually look at the polls themselves but at the reactions of the various players on the Canadian political scene to these polls. Neither the Liberals or the Conservatives appear to be reacting as they should be considering what the public polls are saying. I find there is more enthusiasm for an election amongst the Liberals than the Conservatives, which is strange considering what the public polls are saying. Then there is the media. The last time the public polls were saying the Conservatives were leading by the current margins they were all saying that Stephen Harper would engineer his own defeat to go for his majority. We have not seen that reaction this time. They are not saying boo about it this time.

Second, as I have stated in this space before governments have life cycles and they tend to permanently lose support as the life of the government progresses. It is a function of the government having to piss people off in the course of governing and the fact people eventually get tired of a government and begin looking for a change. I recently went on a business trip to Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary. When the people I was meeting with found out I was from Ottawa many of my private consersations did turn to politics and of the dozen or so people that I talked to about it none of them had anything good to say about the current government in general and Stephen Harper in particular. It was surprising really. If people in Edmonton and Calgary are stating they are not liking Stephen Harper very much it stands to reason that such an attitude would be much more widespread in areas of the country that are not the Conservative Party bedrock. By no means are my observations "scientific" and these folks are not likely to vote Liberal in any case but it still significant and it could be an indication that the Conservatives have passed that point in the life of a government when they are vulnerable to the desire for change amongst the electorate hitting critical mass.

Third, the Conservatives have been dogged by controversy and scandal since the 2008 election. The Oda Affair and the charges laid in the "In-and-Out" scheme are just the latest. By themselves they do not do significant damage but taken together they tend to add up and a government tends to die a death of a thousand cuts because of them. As well, they are election campaign gold for Opposition Parties.

Fourth, the Conservatives are on the wrong side of several issues right now and that could hurt them during an election. From corporate tax cuts, to F-35s, to prisons the Conservatives have taken positions that could cost them significant support during an election and despite their seemingly big lead it would not take much of a shift away from them to the Liberals to put them on the Opposition benches.

Fifth, Michael Ignatieff appears to be enjoying himself on his tours of the country. I know many have dismissed these tours but they are allowing Mr. Ignatieff to gain much needed experience in retail politics, which was sorely lacking in Mr. Dion during the last go round. Mr. Ignatieff spent his life communicating with people and we all know that being a good communicator can make a big difference in election campaigns. Just look to JFK, Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan to see that in action. If Mr. Ignatieff combines his communications skills with an enhanced ability to play the retail political game he will be hard to beat.

The Conservatives are vulnerable and they are certainly not unbeatable. Of course, it would take a good campaign by the Liberals and it is still an open question if they can come up with such a campaign. However, as it stands now the next election will be a crap shoot for the government and there is a strong possibility they could come up snake-eyes when it is all over.

Friday, February 11, 2011

No substantial change in Egypt is coming

The upheaval in Egypt is great if you love democracy. A long suffering people, victimized by a powerful and arrogant elite, has risen up to fight it. They have finally had their first real substantial victory in forcing the President to resign, which will also preclude the President's son from replacing him as planned.

So who will replace him?

That remains to be seen but one of the most powerful forces in Egypt after the current ruling elite is the Muslim Brotherhood and if there is a free and fair election held in Egypt within the next few months they would probably win the government.

As Muslim parties go the Brotherhood is not overly radical. They really do not care about what is happening outside of Egypt and its immediate surroundings. Over the years they have really just fought to have what wealth Egypt has to be more evenly distributed. However, they are openly Muslim so they will immediately frighten the US government. Although there are many in the US government who would recognize the Brotherhood as being non-threatening to US interests in the Middle East they will be quickly overwelmed by the voices of bigotry in the US which will force the Obama Adminstration to act in ways that will not be in the best interests of ordinary Egyptians.

Hosni Mubarak was the tip of ruling elite in Egypt. He was sacrificed by them in the hope that his removal would turn down the temperature in that country enough for them to hang on to their current status and the wealth that comes along with it. They will be working behind the scenes over the next few months to retain that status, regardless of what is happening out in the open, and the Obama Administration will be working with them to help them succeed.

The uprising in Egypt is a spontaneous expression of anger and resentment but it is unorganized. The same cannot be said about the focus of this resentment. The ruling elite in Egypt is very organized and it will eventually prevail. Certainly they will allow the appearance of real change in Egypt but with the assistance of the US government it will go no deeper than appearance. In five years ordinary Egyptians will still be in the same position they were before the uprising, nothing will have change for the better for them.