Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My Log 300: Keep eyes skinned for ALEC or his brothers --- a corporate entity deisgned to write our laws for us

American Legislative Exchange CouncilAmerican Legislative Exchange Council (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many years ago when I was freelancing around the National Film Board, a little film ran through my hands that dealt with the movement in the United States devoted to destroying the union movement. The footage for this film had been shot by a young leftist couple, earnest but seemingly incompetent, who had produced some incomprehensible mishmash that I was asked to try to make some sense of. The conclusion of myself and my editor was that the young couple should get a day job, forget films. Famous last words: since then, this man has become one of the most successful producers of privately sponsored films and film series in Canada!

However, all this came back to mind with an interesting article by Paul Krugman in the New York Times on March 25 about something called ALEC --- the American Legislative Exchange Council --- which, he said provides template legislation to state and other legislators across the country of a right-wing nature. Specifically, Krugman says ALEC provided the template for Florida’s ridiculous Stand Your Ground law, under which anyone can shoot anyone else who he or she thinks might be threatening him or her, the law under which this black youth Trayvon Martin was recently murdered.

Similarly, Krugman says, ALEC has provided more than 50 bills that have passed into law in the State of Virginia, wholly written, in essence, by this corporate-funded and controlled agency dedicated to preserving and enhancing the private, anti-government bias in American society.

ALEC, says Krugman, is funded by such corporations as EXXON and the Koch Brothers, but has managed to keep a low profile, and was only recently exposed by some good investigative work by the Centre for Media and Democracy. Let’s hope no one in Canada is trying to emulate this success, although, with the encouragement of the Harper government, it would surprise me if we are to remain aloof from this kind of thing.

Not too subtly put, ALEC seems to be interested in making sure that dissenters end up in jail, that the prospect of getting them into jail is made easier for the network of Correctional Officers, lawyers and right-wing legislators who are always at work, burrowing away among the cherished, constitutionally-protected rights of American citizens.

The film we finally got out at the NFB is called Who Needs Unions? It is based on one particular lawyer who takes assignments from companies around the nation and lectures them on how to ensure that their workers never flirt with unionization, and, if they are already unionized, instructs the bosses on how to get rid of the unions. We’ve seen the results of this sort of thing when companies have quit Canada to take up work in places like Indiana or Virginia that don’t allow their workers to unionize.

It is an awesome thing to realize that in these countries that we consider to be free for most activities, the Wealth Owners --- as I insist on calling the people who run everything --- are always at work specifically trying to undermine and abolish the freedoms we take for granted.

We need to be on watch for something like ALEC popping up in
Canada. Tom Flanagan and his boys from the right-wing Western think-tanks are surely preparing the ground for something like this. After all, we know that a global attack on unions and the working class is already underway, and we see the results of it with every strike that is forbidden or ordered back to work, and we see it in the huge propaganda offensive being waged in the newspapers and other media against the rights of workers. Instead of shrinking from workers and the unions that protect them, this is a time we should be rallying around them and their right to organize as a matter of freedom of association, one of the supposed cherished qualities of our way of life.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

BEIJING, CHINA - MARCH 09:  China's Chongqing ...BEIJING, CHINA - MARCH 09: China's Chongqing Municipality Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai (Right) makes an obeisance to a delegate after the third plenary meeting of the National People's Congress (NPC) at The Great Hall Of The People on March 9, 2012 in Beijing, China. China's Chongqing Municipality Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai said he was surprised to learn that his ex-police chief had run off to a US consulate during the the National People's Congress Chongqing group meeting today. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)US Secretary Gutierrez meets with Chinese Mini...Bo Xilai (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

. Link of the Day (2): March 27 2012: The estimable Pepe Escobar tells us what’s behind the sacking of Bo Xilai from the nine-member committee that runs China. He had been running the world’s biggest conurbation, with 31 million people, Chongqing in Sichuan province, and had a Mao-inspired programme for more equality. Nix on that, says the ruling oligarchy. Another revealing commentary from Al Jazeera.

. (“….cohesion, consensus and stability had to be the unified message, as China's fragilities are increasingly exposed: how to lift tens of millions more Chinese from an agrarian dead end, how to get decent healthcare for

. these tens of millions, how to fight multiple instances of party corruption. There's no question that Deng-inspired, modernised China has hurled a

. massive strategic, ideological and political challenge at a still-dazed and confused West.

. (“China is home to an immensely sophisticated, ancient civilisation. It harbours an ocean of humanity, and it has been modernising for only three decades (which is only a minute by Chinese standards). The Bo episode was

. just a minor detail. We will only have a clear picture where China will be in 2020 after next autumn, or by the spring of 2013. But make no mistake: stability, as Buddhism tells us, is an illusion. China's leaders are now riders on the storm.”)

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New Haven, Connecticut viewed from an airplane...New Haven, Connecticut viewed from an airplane en route to Bradley International Airport (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Link of the day: March 27 2012: A US editor and lecturer gives some pointed lessons about the land of the free: John Stoehr of New Haven reflects on the militarization of the US state, and the crushing of dissent, on Al Jazeera.

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

My Log 299: A weekend subject to the CBC’s (right-wing) commentariat: why are we subjected to this?

9Français : Thomas Mulcair le 23 avril 2011 à M...Français : Thomas Mulcair le 23 avril 2011 à Montréal lors de la campagne électorale fédérale (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I spent the weekend watching the NDP leadership convention, and marveling at the implacably right-wing tone of the CBC’s elected commentariat.

As I said in an earlier post, I voted for Peggy Nash, on the grounds she was the most left-wing of the candidates, with a local second for Paul Dewar, a nice fellow, and Thomas Mulcair third. So, apparently, by the third ballot, my vote was cast for Mulcair, and I was hoping he would win it. I watched half of it on CPAC, anchored by the plodding Peter Van Dusen, and the CBC, for the first day under command of Evan Solomon, and for the Saturday orchestrated by the CBC pillar of the establishment Peter Mansbridge.

One thing I noticed immediately about Mansbridge that many others may not have noticed was that he was allowing himself many jokes, sardonic in tone for the most part, about the whole enterprise, as if the NDP was not really something to which so notable a figure as Mansbridge should lend his authority. I never remember ever hearing this tone from him before, certainly not in the many leadership contests for the Liberals and Tories that I have heard him performing.

So that was a slightly jarring element, not noticeably compensated for by the fact that every hour or two he seemed to feel the need to straighten up and fly right, as it were, pulling himself up and trying, as he put it, “to see things in perspective.” At these moments he tried to give an objective overall account of what we had been watching, whose seriousness made its absence in his previous behavior all the more striking.

Mansbridge was presiding over the full range of what I can only call the CBC’s Commentariat, that phalanx of mostly conservative commentators that they push at us night after night, week after week, month after month. The only one missing was the hapless Kevin O’Leary, the uber-conservative millionaire entrepreneur with whom the CBC apparently has been conducting a passionate love affair ever since they heard him pronounce over and over on Dragon’s Den that nothing matters but money, only the money counts, where is the money, and how can I make money out of this?
So entranced were they by the revelation of this constricted view of life that O’Leary began to crop up on all sorts of programmes, such as the Lang and O’Leary Exchange, others whose names I have forgotten, and the peculiar exercise in colonialism, Redemption, Inc, in which he decided to pick half a dozen ex-convicts, and give them a second chance, as the programme put it, by offering $100,000 (“of his OWN money,”) to whichever of them could convince him they had the royal jelly of entrepreneurship. Each week, the culminating sequence was surely one of the most peculiar ever screened by the CBC --- a sequence in which, having chosen his failure, O’Leary shuts himself in a room with the guy (or gal) and lectures him or her like a district commissioner in the old colonial empire days.

Well, thank heaven, O’Leary didn’t appear at rhe NDP convention. But all of Mansbridge’s other pals did: the so-called Issues panel, with its relentlessly establishmentarian bias; the Insiders, some political operatives who purported to tell us the unvarnished facts about real politique; and then some of Evan Solomon’s pals from the Power and Politics sessions on the late afternoons of every day. As this paragraph might suggest, palsmanship is the prevailing mode of CBC political broadcasting.

These latter were particularly objectionable in the circumstances, especially one called Ian Capstick, a baby-faced political operative, formerly employed by the NDP apparently, whose fatuous opinions about the quality and value of various speeches was forced down our throats for reasons that remain obscure to me still. Why the hell were these people constantly telling us what they thought? Are we idiots that we cannot be trusted to watch proceedings, judge them, and make up our own minds?

Particularly egregious were the comments on Thomas Mulcair’s final speech: quite misleading in their emphasis, and judged according to some standard imposed by these commentators that probably no one else shared.

On CPAC Van Dusen and his colleagues kept taking phone calls from people watching the programmes, many of whom commented on how refreshing it was to have the proceedings straight, without the intermediary of this horde of doubtful commentators provided by the CBC, and subtly designed, as almost all political programming on the CBC is, to denigrate anyone left of centre.

( I should add here a word of praise for an excellent production on

CPAC by Peter Van Dusen of a history of the NDP, screened just after the result was announced, with particular reference to the work of Jack Layton, a documentary in which he leaned heavily on the well-informed and particularly interesting comments of James Laxer, who might have introduced a note of realism into the CBC’s coverage, if he had been asked).

Anyway, we came through it all. Some people stood out heroically, notably Charlie Angus, the NDP who has been such an effective defender of the people of Attawapiskat. And there were some memorable moments: while the commentariat droned on about how tough it was going to be for Mulcair to repair the damage caused by the election, Mulcair himself was embracing Libby Davies, deputy-leader of the caucus, and announcing she would remain in the same position, even though she supported one of the other candidates. Thank heaven for that: Libby is one of the ornaments of the House of Commons, a great lady and an effective MP.

Now, all I am hoping for is that Mulcair will chew up and spit out Stephen Harper over the next three years, and sweep into power in the next election. Don’t bet against it.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Log 298: History tells us Broadbent is talking nonsense: Mulcair could be the man to take on and get rid of Harper

Thomas Mulcair, who seems to have the old leaders of the NDP shitting their pants, came to Ottawa the other night to meet supporters in a pub. He arrived to applause from the faithful, made his way around the room, shaking hands, and eventually came to the table where I was sitting beside the wall, having withdrawn to the least noticeable spot available. He shoved out his hand towards me, which I had to shake, and asked me my name. I told him. He said, “Were you a journalist?” I admitted to the heinous crime. “I was delivering the Montreal Star when you were writing in it,” he said. And moved on.

So at least I know he has a prodigious memory.

The ridiculous statement made recently by Ed Broadbent, attacking Mulcair with what might be called some viciousness, in this context, seems to confirm that he is the front-runner in the race. He is obviously a very smart guy, he has presence, gravitas, and seems to be the kind of guy who could take on Harper and beat him. What more would we need in a leader?

Well, there is the old, troubling problem that always faces social democratic parties, which is, faced with the implacable hostility of the media and the Wealth Owners, do they turn themselves into their political enemies in an effort to get elected? The history in the English-speaking world is clear enough: without doing that, social democratic parties have seldom had the popularity to get elected.

The great triumph of the British Labour Party in 1945 was one such occasion. But the fact was that this party, founded in 1905 by the trades union movement with the purpose of defending the rights of workers, had in its forty years of existence fallen under the control of a group of university-educated nobs who tended to lack the iron in their souls that a really revolutionary political leadership really needs to get things done.

Here, a brief history lesson might be of advantage in helping to judge Mulcair. The British Labour Party always had a radical left-wing made up of the solid core of the more radical workers and their representatives, and of left-leaning intellectuals. In a country like England, the so-called “embrace of the duchesses” was never far away, always a potential menace, and Ramsay Macdonald, when he had the opportunity in 1931, showed that he had fallen for it, betrayed the movement, and besmirched the name of democratic socialism for a generation.

Brave souls laboured on in the run-up to the war, and when Labour swept all before it in the aftermath of the war --- which most Englishmen thought was fought for social democracy --- the government they formed under Clement Atlee contained quite a number of people who had already quit the Labour Party at least once, formed themselves into a coherent left-wing group, and HAD BEEN READMITTED to the party. So, their most effective minister, Aneurin Bevan, a Welsh miner, pushed through their national health service against overwhelming odds and in 1960 died as a genuine working-class hero, a man of remarkable gifts; their chancellor of he exchequer was Stafford Cripps; others, such as Harold Wilson, later a Prime Minister, were in prominent positions.

In Canada the history has been somewhat different. Canada, even those sections of Canadian society with progressive prejudices, never has had the advantage of a huge working class of politically active people. The CCF was a rural protest movement. (I am not denigrating that: many years later, when I was on a book tour across the country and taking phone in messages from listeners, I can testify that the most intelligent bunch of callers I ran across were in Regina, whose farmers were still fully aware of global politics, and knew what they were talking about, a legacy of the CCF movement’s success.)

When the CCF sensibly merged with the union movement to form the NDP in the 1960s, the imperatives of democratic socialist parties that had shown up in other countries (the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand all had exhibited the same characteristics) became evident in Canada. The Lewis family followed Tommy Douglas in establishing a dominant position in the party, and one of the bad effects of this was that when a group of brilliant intellectuals and leftists rose in the party to challenge them, the son, Stephen Lewis, at that time head of the Ontario DNP, drummed them out of the party. AND THEY WERE NEVER ALLOWED BACK IN.

Thus, Canada’s NDP, from the point of view of the left, was emasculated at a fairly early stage.

I mention all this because of the hand-wringing that the left --- myself included --- is engaging in over the possibility that this former Liberal, Thomas Mulcair, might ruin the leftist credentials of the NDP. From my point of view, they already lie in tatters. It hardly seems worth it, to agonize over the possibility that he might change the party and drag it to the right. He could scarcely drag it further to the right than such leaders as Harcourt in BC, Blakeney and Romanow in Saskatchewan, Schreyer and Doer in Manitoba have already done.

Even so, they were, and are, better than the other parties.

So my message is that we should accept Mulcair if he is elected, and work with him to get rid of Harper, come what may, and, as they say, the devil take the hindmost.

The essential thing is to change this government. A Mulcair-led government would be so much better than this Harper mob that the mouth positively waters at the prospect.

I have some worries about him myself. For example, he is said to be likely to follow a sort of Harper-Obama line in abasing himself to Israel, although to any modern progressive it is undeniable that the once-admired state of Israel has turned into a harsh apartheid state that is cruelly oppressing its subject peoples. No doubt where we should belong in such a confrontation.

Even so, I will shed no tears if Mulcair wins the race and emerges as our new leader. At least he is someone we can rally round in our effort to change the government.

Monday, March 19, 2012

My Log 297 : I come to the defence of the OCtranspo service, their drivers and employees

A westbound #97 bus near Lincoln Fields StationImage via Wikipedia

I know this isn’t my usual style, but when I read in the newspaper today that OCTranspo is inundated with complaints, I feel like coming to their defence.

I have a very short acquaintance with the Ottawa buses, although I have lived here since 1977. In fact, until last December you could count the number of times I have ridden the buses on the fingers of one hand. But in December I was stricken with an affliction that required me to go several times to hospitals and doctor’s offices, and since I had given up my car two years ago, I had no other way except to take the buses (taxis these days being understandably very expensive, now that taxidrivers are, at last, on a living wage, thanks to the activity of their vigorous union).

I was nervous when confronted with reaching the Ottawa General hospital, but beforehand I phoned one of a few numbers I found for OCtranspo, and asked them how would I get from downtown Slater street, where I live, to the General at such and such a time on such and such a day. A very helpful woman looked up the timetable for me, told me which bus to catch, at which time, and said it would get me there, with a change at Hurdman station, at exactly 10.01 (or some such time).

I caught the bus, having taken the precaution of asking the driver if he was going to Hurdman, where the second bus pulled up in less than a minute, and I was deposited in the grounds of the hospital at 10.01 on the dot.

Later I had to take buses to other hospitals and offices, and each time I phoned the same number for advice, was given the facts by cheerful, polite people, and the bus got me there as promised, on the dot.

I had to go to the airport, and having had this success with the buses, when someone told me an OCTranspo bus ran to the airport, the fare was the usual $3.25, and by taking it I could save on the $30 taxi fare that I usually paid, I could hardly believe my ears.

But once again my informant looked up the timetable for me, told me to be there to catch the 97 Airport bus at 12.58 (or some such time) and exactly half an hour later the bus would deposit me at the airport, which it did, arriving on the dot, just as the schedule promised. On each of these journeys the bus didn’t delay even a smidgen of a minute, but collected its passengers, and then whizzed along rapidly on its way to its destination. On the way back, I had to wait about five minutes for the bus to leave, and then I was delivered on Albert street, close to my house, after all along the way observing the driver deal courteously and expeditiously with a bus that at times became crowded with women and their baby carriages, old people and their ailments, and teenagers hiding behind their earphones.

My conclusion on the basis of this experience is that Ottawa has a wonderful bus service --- I am now able to understand how it has been given such warm accolades over the years (as I remember) by bus service professionals from across the continent --- with polite officials and drivers helping people at every stop, on time almost invariably, and keeping to a schedule which seems designed to deliver passengers in the shortest time possible.

I think this is worth saying, because I never remember hearing anything good being written or said about the service by the Ottawa public in all the time I have been here. Even in today’s newspaper the report says that 2,344 complaints have been received, an average of 75 a day, against five interventions favorable to the drivers. Some of these whingers should try being a driver for a couple of days….
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Friday, March 16, 2012

My Log 296: Call me an old-fashioned weirdo, I don’t think governments should be encouraging gambling

Slot machines are commonplace in casinos.Image via WikipediaHorse RacesHorse Races (Photo credit: pandameixiang)Gambling_BaliGambling_Bali (Photo credit: Jeda Villa Bali)

When I was a very small boy my Dad once took me to our local village racecourse and gave me 2/6, or half-a-crown, as we used to call it (or about 30 cents in currency converted) for me to spend for myself.

Somehow or other --- no doubt with the help of an adult --- I placed my half-crown as a bet on a horse. The horse, of course, lost. And I have never bet on anything else in the 80 years since. Being bitten once with that precious money --- the first I had ever had that I could call my own --- taught me a lesson; that gambling is a mug’s game. I have never even bought a lottery ticket.

(I should add, simply to add some colour to this piece, that horse racing is almost like a religion in New Zealand, where I was brought up, to such an extent that every small village has its own race track, and its own race horses, trainers, jockeys and owners. The annual “races” were certainly one of the stellar events of the year, and in our village, Wyndham, on the Southland plain in the far south of the South Island, the “races” vied with the annual agricultural fair as the biggest event of the year.)

As I am living through my ninth decade, I think I can say that one thing on which old-fashioned political progressives like myself are almost all agreed is that no government should do anything to encourage gambling. Of course, I should blush at expressing so old-fashioned, so outré an idea. But you can spare me the blushes on my behalf. I was well into my adult life before our governments decided they were so strapped for money that they needed to build casinos where their citizens could gamble legally. I first heard of this in the 1960s, I believe, when gambling dens in London were legalized.

A few years later, proposals were launched for Canadian cities to copy some American cities --- Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Reno --- spring to mind --- which virtually owed their existence to their casinos, and to the huge sums of money that poured into them. Also, I might add, to the tens of thousands of gambling addicts whose activities in the casinos had ruined their lives and that of their families. And of course to he mobsters who ran them.

I wrote articles in Montreal opposing these ideas, offering the undeniable truths that casino gambling was always loaded in favour of the house against the gamblers, and was largely controlled by gangsters, who were attracted like flies to a jar of honey. But I was whistling in the dark, as they say, and while Cuba kicked out the casinos and the gangsters who ran them, all over North America and Europe casinos were built, many of them owned and operated by provincial or municipal governments, or, more recently, by Indian reservations.

It has always seemed to me a bitter irony that the economy of native people, having been totally destroyed by government actions over the years, should lately have been rescued by their being offered the opportunity to run this dreadfully damaging operation, a gambling casino.

Okay, I know one could make similar arguments about alcohol, for example. It is undeniably true that the more easily available liquor is, the more alcoholics are produced whose lives are ruined by their inability to handle the demon drink. I find it hard to make a rational excuse for my adopting different attitudes to these two addictive pursuits, except that alcohol has attained a certain level of general tolerance among the populations that gambling has not.

Okay, okay, I know I am an old fuddy-duddy. But in all my travels around the world I have never been in a casino, and I seriously doubt I ever will be in one.

I’m just against government-sponsored gambling, and don’t think we should build a casino in Ottawa.
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Thursday, March 15, 2012

My Log 295: Two excellent CBC docs tend to ignore social and political influences on our lifestyles

English: Swedish runners Arne Andersson (left)...Haegg and Andersson, great white milers Image via Wikipedia

When I was a kid in New Zealand taking part in athletics, as we called them (track and field over here), the high school teacher who coached us after school used to tell us that black runners were superb in sprints (after all, Jesse Owens was the best ever sprinter), but they were hopeless at long distance.

There seemed to be some proof in the record of what he said, for while Owens and his many black successors over the 100 metres were pre-eminent, in the longer distance the two great runners of that time were Swedes, Arne Andersson and Gunter Haegg, who had taken the 1500 metre and mile times away down below anyone before them had ever attained.

This makes us to laugh today, because black athletes from Kenya and Ethiopia (and you can throw in Sudan, Namibia, Rwanda, Burundi and other previously unheard of countries) now dominate virtually every long distance race to such an extent that white runners have been virtually cut out altogether.

Last night the CBC screened two interesting documentaries, the first of which, The Perfect Runner, was screened as part of the Nature of Things series, the second, about anxiety, in the Doc Zone series.

I really enjoyed the approach taken by the host of the running movie Niobe Thompson, who set the whole thing in an historical context, went back to the very dawn of civilization when human hunters could outrun the animals they lived on, and suddenly brought it forward to the Ethiopian village of Bekoji, where most of that country’s world-beating distance runners have been spawned, coached by a mere local school teacher, who has shown the world something about human capabilities. Then Thompson actually took part in a 100 kilometre race across three mountains in the Rockies, designed to prove that essentially running is the most natural activity for human beings. He wasn’t unfortunately, able to finish, but a woman ultra marathoner did finish.

I paid more attention to the documentary about running than to Ric Esther Bienstock’s on what the moderator described as “a society living on the edge” of its nerves.

Both took science as providing the final answers, although both might have usefully considered political and social conditions in explanation of their subjects. I mean all these poor people who are suffering from anxiety to the point of being mentally ill are the victims of capitalism, this raw, violent cruel economic system to which we are all subject. And it is a curious fact that only when the African colonies were given their political independence did they emerge as the world’s greatest runners. Although Ethiopia was not a colony, its first international running success came only three years after Ghana was granted its independence, ushering in the new African world. No one ever heard of Kenyan runners while they were still groaning under the colonial yoke. Unless I missed something, capitalism --- either in its brutal North American form, or its colonial form --- wasn’t mentioned in either movie, which would have been better if they had taken this aspect of life into account.

As it happens I have just spent most of my last year writing a book that provides something of relevance to this subject. Sheila Van Bloemen and her late husband Michael were two young Canadians who created in London a remarkable coffee house in the 1950s, a place that became a sort of epicenter for creative people and dreamers during the 1960s. By the 1970s, their café was such a wild success that they felt it was choking them, and they got rid of it (the café is still functioning as a successful business in the Old Brompton road) and went to live in Tito’s Yugoslavia in 1972. Sheila is still living there in the same house she managed to buy when she first went there, and in her description of her life in the book I have helped her write she bears eloquent testimony to the superiority of the lifestyle she found here. No one had any money, so there was no need for anyone to be anxious, she says. People were companionable, shared willingly both their miseries and their contentments, and the collective decision to ensure that everyone was supported by everyone else added another level of what might be called societal contentment, as distinct from the North American society described in the CBC movie last night where so many people are living on the edge of their nerves.

In fact, the failure of these two movies to even mention social and political influences seems to me to suggest that the modern media operate in a miasmic fog of self-censorship that softens the edge of all political criticism in almost everything that is produced. Media practitioners know only too well that to express political and even social dissent does not keep them on a profitable and successful career path.

I worked for long enough in this media world to know that no one is really free from these influences imposed on them from above, all designed to protect the world-view of the wealth-owners and their corporate world. No doubt the producers of these documentaries would refute that hey were responding to any such influences. Which, in itself --- remember, I have experienced all this myself --- is just another aspect of what I am talking about.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My Log 294: Two films show us the terrifying power of Nature, and warn us not to abuse it

Tsunami Photo - UnknownTsunami Photo - Unknown (Photo credit: astanhope

There’s something about these tsunamis that has totally gripped me. I suppose it could be that I have been convinced for a long time that if we keep abusing the Earth, or Nature, as we might call it, eventually Nature will strike back. I may have been influenced towards that thinking by my contacts with the indigenous people of Canada, whose fundamental beliefs are built on the assumption of respect for other creatures, and for what they call their mother Earth, respect for the Earth’s rivers, mountains, grasses, winds, rocks and trees. Respect for everything, because, according to their beliefs, every thing has in it a spirit, very similar to what we regard as the spirituality of human beings.

I have known native hunters who told me that you cannot expect just;to take from other entities on this Earth: you also have to give back something. So these people would hang the skull of a rabbit or the paws of a bear they had just eaten, in a tree as a matter of respect for the animals that gave themselves to them to eat, and for the tree which would carry the message to the animal.

In this context, one can see most of the works of industrial human kind as an abuse of Nature, and unfortunately much of it is egregious and offensive. Of all our works, I personally would say the most offensive to Nature is nuclear power, something that, once released, will remain in the environment for thousands of years, something that cannot be adequately stored because we have no storage vessels that we can depend on lasting for thousands of years.

One cannot see the pictures taken of the recent tsunamis without being impressed by the overpowering force of Nature, when it is aroused. Of course, volcanoes have shown us something of the same power; and hurricanes; but nothing equals the destructive power of these tsunamis, which are a force no human can expect to survive, except by good luck.

I am writing this because it is just a year since that malevolent black water swept in along 200 miles of the Japanese coastline, smashing before it towns, villages, humans and all their works. Two programmes screened by the CBC last week paid eloquent testimony to the force of this natural event: the way people talked about it said all that needed to be said:

“The things we were seeing were completely unimaginable,” said one man.

“All we could do was just watch,”said another, who had managed to find higher ground. “We were just speechless, shocked, we just felt it was the end. I could see my house, and I had lost everything.”

“I was not expecting Nature to be so dreadful,” said a fisherman. “It was horrible. We did not know what was happening. I don’t know what to say.”

A man who had taken shelter in a school watched as the water rose around him, sweeping everything before it. Then when fire broke out in what remained of his town, he said, “It was like being in hell. We thought it was the end of the town.”

Fifty years ago, a huge tsunami devastated Chile, and the people in Japan, always conscious of the possibility of tsunamis because of the frequency of earthquakes, had built retaining walls, 17 feet high, that were expected to defend them from any wave. But this wave was bigger, three times as high as the retaining walls, and the movies taken by the amateur photographers who decided it was their duty to record what was happening clearly showed how inexorable these waters were. One group was standing in what they thought was perfect safety above the whole thing, behind a retaining wall, but within a few seconds not only had the waters begun to creep along behind the wall, but they had suddenly turned into raging torrents, deep and powerful, that had carried half the town down towards these people, who niow began to doubt that they were really safe.

Well, I don’t know what good writing about this does, except it gives me a chance to reaffirm my belief in the insignificance of human beings. While I wasin Texas visiting my son recently he showed me a film called The Making of the Earth, which, he said, had influenced him more than anything he had ever seen. It detailed the various phases the Earth had passed through since it was dragged out of the gases in the universe some four and a half billion years ago, (at which time it was an unimaginably hot place), and finished with a firm prophesy that within 15,000 years another ice age, similar to the last one --- that ended 10,000 years ago --- would overtake the earth, completely wiping aside all the works of human kind, all our fabled cities, all our sciences and so on.

To an agnostic like me, all of these things prove the i impossibility that there is somewhere a benevolent God overseeing all this stuff.

A very moving film shown by CBC last week was called Children of the Tsunami, and it had interviews with dozens of very composed Japanese children who spoke in extremely pertinent sound bytes. Here the vulnerability of nuclear power wazs established by little boys and girls who said, “If there is an exclusion zone, it means there is something bad in there, and you cannot go in.” You can say that again, kid, but these kids were restive at having to wear masks, and not being able to go outside to play. Is that a real life? They knew, as did their adults, that the preparations made 50 years before against the possibility of a major tsunami were completely inadequate.

Although the Japanese had been warned of the effects of radiation by being the only nation to have suffered such explosions on their soil, the adults of these children had let them down by building nuclear power stations in areas vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis. Though quite a few people in these films did seem to put their faith in God, or in prayer, none of them, surely, could have expected any help from that quarter. Not against his revenge of Nature, showing us we should be more careful.

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Monday, March 12, 2012

My Log 293:Secret industry-govt committee formed to combat climate change initiatives

English: This map shows the extent of the oil ...The vast extent of Alberta's oil sands Image via Wikipedia

I was watching a programme on the Canadian oil sands on Al Jazeera recently when someone said: “You know, the biggest challenge to progress on climate change is coming not from China, not from the Middle East, not from the United States, but from Canada.”

Whoever it was made the statement kind of laughed incredulously, as if to say it was virtually incomprehensible that Canada, always known as a good guy in international relations, should suddenly have joined the list of villains. Not just joined the list, but have emerged as a leading villain.

An access to information request has now revealed the extent to which the government has not only joined the villains, but is taking the lead throughout the world in opposing efforts to deal with climate change, according to an excellent story in The Toronto Star, by Martin Lukacs, the indefatigable Montreal resesrcher (who has also taken up the cause of the Barriere Lake Algonquns, and their struggle to get the collaboration of the governments that are still oppressing them today, as they have been doing for the last two hundred years).

Lukacs writes that in 2010 the federal and Alberta governments struck up a secret committee to coordinate the promotion of the oil sands with Canada’s most powerful industry lobby group, a committee that brought together the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) with deputy ministers in charge of natural resources and the environment, from each of the governments. The purpose of the committee is to synchronize their lobbying in face of the mounting outrage around the world against Alberta’s crude oil from the tar sands that has come to be known as “the dirtiest oil in the world.”

The Al Jazeera documentary pointed out that the tar sands is today the world’s biggest industrial project, so it is hardly surprising that it has attracted the enthusiastic support of two rigidly capitalistic governments, since there is no room in the capitalist economic system for anything but profits, the fate of the world being a value that has no presence in a profit and loss account.

Apparently the Canadian government is working hand-in-glove with the oil industry to undermine policies taken in the United States and Europe that could in any way curb the expansion of the tar sands. Lukacs quoted a Greenpeace campaigner, Keith Stewart as saying that while Canadians agree “that oil may run our cars for now, it shouldn’t ever run our government.”

Of course, it always has, let’s face it. Years ago, during the reign of the Liberal government, I used to make a habit of writing that the industry minister of the time, Anne McLellan, was incompetent to be a federal minister because she was so evidently in the pocket of the oil industry. (On my web site at that time, McLellan shared top villainy with John Manley, the industry minister, who, I believed, had allowed the Chamber of Commerce to rewrite Canada’s Competitions Act, without any reference to the union movement, and so could be said to be in the pocket of big business. This has since been confirmed by Manley’s appointment as director of the Council of CEO’s, the successor to the group that was once headed by Thomas d’Aquino.)

One shot in the Al Jazeera documentary, which followed the flight across the oil sands project of a small plane, illustrated the immense size of the disruption this project has created to the natural world. The shot seemed to go on and on, showing beneath the plane an absolutely vast project that --- also according to evidence produced largely by native people whose lives have been disrupted ---- has already resulted in an immense increase in the number of cancers identified that can be attributed to the substances the project releases into the waters of the Athabaska river basin.

Another conclusion of the Al Jazeera documentary is that obviously the federal government has decided the oil sands are to be the basis for the expansion of the Canadian economy into the future, a conclusion supported by the assumption by the Petroleum Producers’ organization (CAPP) that the Alberta monstrosity will contribute $84 billion annually to the Canadian economy for the next 25 years.

Our federal government, the Harper government as they like to call themselves, has already obviously become the obedient handmaiden to the oil industry, which would account for their withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, the only globally-binding agreement for emissions reduction.

Efforts to establish a so-called “Fuel Quality Directive” in Europe have been delayed by Canadian pressure, which has also been brought against United States efforts at the state-level to introduce similar fuel efficiency standards.

That our government should be lobbying internationally against such measures surely indicates that Canadians should stop thinking of themselves as good guys in the global battle to reduce the war against nature, but instead that we have become a leading force for obscurantism and the naked drive for profit at all costs.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

My Log 292 : Loss of Dennis Kucinich from US politics a serious blow to sanity, but confirmation of the corruption of their system

English: Dennis Kucinich official photo. Dennis Kucinich Image via Wikipedia

I have always believed that American politics is berserk. My reason for this is that, according to my definition, since everyone in the American political spectrum supports capitalism, American politics can hardly qualify to be even called politics.

Ever since I was a kid, I have defined politics as a struggle between capitalism and socialism. In my world, even the great social change that shook America in the 1960s did not qualify as a serious political movement, because it never tried to challenge the fundamentally capitalist nature of American society.

Only when I read Howard Zinn’s remarkable book, A Peoples History of the United States, did I gain a full awareness of the immense struggle, the unending struggle, that ordinary people have always conducted in the United States against the governing elites, who have controlled the nation since the first colonies were established.

It is only a short step from this attitude of mine to the belief that American politics is irrevocably corrupt. The fact that a recent governor of Illinois has been given a long prison sentence for his corruption is so unsurprising that it passed with hardly a ripple on the smooth surface of their political system..

All this is by way of deploring the loss of Dennis Kucinich in a Democratic primary that was forced on him by the so-called re-districting or jerrymandering of the electoral district in which he has been such a distinguished member of the House of Representatives since 1996, and a failed candidate for President on a couple of occasions. Since his candidature on both occasions seemed the only serious one to challenge the verities of capitalism, it came as no surprise to me that he garnered only one per cent of the vote.

He has now bitten the dust because a right-wing governor of Ohio, determined to get rid of Kucinich, jerrymandered the district in which he was elected in such a way as to force him out of office, virtually. Another fairly progressive member, Marcy Kaptur (she was featured in Michael Moore’s film, Capitalism, a Love Story) was forced into a race against Kucinich, in which all the indications were that she would have the advantage. This is how it turned out, unfortunately, and that means the end of one of the only two members of Congress who could have been called a socialist (the other is Senator Bernie Sanders, the redoubtable Democrat from Vermont).

Here is what John Nichols wrote in Common Dreams yesterday about the loss of Kucinich:

“A Congress without Dennis Kucinich will be a lesser branch. It's not just that the loss of the former leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus will rob the House of its most consistent critic of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and one its steadiest critics of corporate power.

“Kucinich has since he arrived on the Hill in 1997 been one of a handful of absolutely engaged members. When issues have arisen, be it domestic or international, low profile or high, Kucinich has been at the ready - often with the first statement, the strongest demand and the boldest plan.”

That this voice for sanity in the insane world of US politics should have been forced out of office by a reactionary governor manipulating the boundaries of his constituency so as to get rid of him, may be terrible. But it simply confirms my belief in the corruption of the US political system.

Meanwhile, under the Harper government, we are making giant strides towards adopting the worst features of the US system. Woe is me!

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Monday, March 5, 2012

My Log 291: A somewhat rambling approach to a decision as to the next NDP leader: I am for Peggy Nash first, Thomas Mulcair second

NDP President Peggy Nash at the West End Food ...Peggy Nash Image via Wikipedia

I have recently rejoined the New Democratic Party, hoping to have a vote for the new leader. It seems to me the party is poised at perhaps the most important point in its history, with its recent huge success in Quebec, and the urgent need to consolidate that victory. Only in this way can they hope to dislodge Harper at the next election, whenever it may come.

I have heard a few of the NDP leadership debates, and am impressed with most of the candidates, who seem to be articulate, earnest, well-meaning, and, one hopes, politically astute.

An article in this morning’s newspaper criticizes the NDP for the fact that someone has established a web site denigrating Thomas Mulcair. I suppose it is in the nature of a leadershiop campaign that the various candidates will hope to maximize their attractions by pointing out deficiencies in other candidates. But, as the writer says, it would certainly be better if this were kept to a minimum.

I have been somewhat surprised to find figures such as Ed Broadbent and Roy Romanow entering the lists --- very early, as well --- in favour of Brian Topp. I had never heard of him until he entered this race, and so far as I know he has never been elected to anything, which would make him a rather doubtful candidate to lead the party.

God knows the NDP has had some poor leaders in the past. I remember my astonishment at the election of the unproven Audrey McLauchlan, who turned out to be a dismal failure. I supported Alex McDonough, who arrived in federal politics with an excellent record as leader in Nova Scotia, but she turned out to be less than stellar, also.

So I am far from claiming any blinding insight into what makes a good leader. In fact, I admit I am the wrong guy to make these kinds of judgments, because my inclination is that politicians should stick to their last, should not compromise on their principles (if they have any), and I am not sure these rare qualities actually make an effective political leader.

My inclination is always to favour the most leftward leaning candidate, although I know that in social democratic politics all history tells us that the party is irrevocably caught in a trap constructed by the fact that the ground rules, by and large, are established by the wealth-owners ---- their ownership of the media of information, for one thing, militates against any honest left-leaning politician being able to stick to his or her last. They have to compromise just to get into the political racket, which has resulted in my telling myself over the years that I have seldom known a politician I would be bothered writing a letter to. (I joined the party to get Jack elected, and wrote him six letters almost immediately, but never got a response of any kind, which cooled my enthusiasm.) The whole business is a battle by progressives to find a way of working their principles into legislation that will benefit the disadvantaged in our society, a task that is made almost impossible by the fact that anything they suggest is likely to be denigrated persistently by the media.

So I cannot claim that my preference for Peggy Nash as the new NDP leader is more than a sort of knee-jerk preference from a lifelong leftist, more or less whistling in the dark, based on my knowledge that union-trained politicians can be remarkably effective. I also like Paul Dewar, but would prefer that the leader be fluent in French. Diefenbaker may have proven you can win the nation without winning Quebec, but it is a rare thing, and not a position that I think should recommend itself to the NDP.

If not Nash, then who? My preference would be for Thomas Mulcair. Admittedly, he is a former Liberal, and I always tend to dismiss politicians who change parties in this way, but we are in parlous times: our primary objective must be to remove Harper and his dreadful government, at the next election. So, while many people have taken against the suggestion of one candidate --- Nathan Cullen --- that arrangements should be made with the Liberals and Greens, in advance of the next election, on a riding by riding basis, which would ensure the defeat of Conservatives, who, after all, won a majority with only 39 per cent of the vote, this seems to me to be just plain commonsense, and it suggests I should moderate my kneejerk reaction against any candidate like Mulcair, who has had a previous political life as a member of another party.

Okay, then: I say Peggy Nash, 1, Thomas Mulcair 2…

I very much like young Niki Ashton, a brash kid who has come forward and given a splendid account of herself, preparing herself for real leadership in some sort of future NDP government.

I discount the media-spread rumours that the NDP under its interim leadership has lost ground: with the election of one of these formidable politicians as leader, the stage will be set for a battle royal against Harper and his half-witted and disreputable gang, which there might be some real hope that our side could win.

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