Monday, May 27, 2013

Yup, silly season has arrived, a bit early..

Mai, 2013 - tout un mois / what a month!

          There is a popular theory that (in nordic countries anyway) spring or summer is the silly season. Decompression after a winter spent cooped up indoors with lousy weather. Or vestiges of the mammalian mating season.. At any rate, the theory seems, some years at least, to hold true. This spring is one of those years.

          On the federal scene, political zaniness has gone into Warp Drive. True, the Haperites appear as tunnel-visioned and narcissistic as the Chrétien liberals ever were. But I've always felt that they were born for something bigger. And maybe we are just starting to see that today..

          It all began innocently enough when an audit revealed that four senators (including a Liberal) had claimed re-imbursements for a secondary residence maintained in the Ottawa region, claims which were not justifiable. The actual sums of money involved were not significant: $90,000 for high profile Conservative Mike Duffy, for example. But the affair, somewhat unpredictably, has morphed into a mushrooming scandal, fueled by Conservative ineptness and / or (perceived) underhandedness.

           Initially, senator Mike Duffy, a very popular Conservative fundraiser, claimed ignorance of wrongdoing and quickly payed back the $90,000 auditors claimed he owed. Hoping of course, that the scandal would crawl off and just die under a rock. Critics, obviously, went ballistic: since when does repaying a theft exhonerate the thief from the crime? These folk wanted blood! (And Duffy, being a high profile type, made a tempting target - politics is a blood sport.)

           Then things went strange, very strange indeed. Nigel Wright, Steven Harper's chief of staff - now EX-chief of staff - "gave" Senator Duffy the $90,000 because Mike was short of pocket change. A noble act perhaps but most political pundits have admitted stupifaction at the political stupidity of such an act. It turns out that it may actually have been illegal as well. The RCMP is considering opening an investigation.

Strong grounds for criminal charges says ex-Mountie

              Legal niceties aside, "it does not pass the smell test", is probably the most cogent response I've heard so far. It doesn't look good, especially for a government elected on a platform of "Law and Order, transparency and responsible governement". It's starting to look like the same old political game again. Hence the apathy and cynicism of the young toward the politics in general which is always a danger sign for a democracy..

             So we have come to the point where gun totin', reformin' Clean Steven has to deal with his own Demons of Corruption (real or virtual). It's hard to say, I am happy or I am sad. I don't like Steven Harper, his ideology even less and his practice - his praxis - least of all. But personal preferences aside, it does seem that this type of Political Uncleanliness (for lack of a better term) has become endemic today. Observe, for example, the record breaking unpopularity of  President Hollande of France, down to 25% approval after less than a year in office. "his term so far been mired in protest and scandal"

Hollande's popularity - an all time low

           Yet, Hollande too was elected on a gun totin', reformin' agenda! True, he came from the Left of the political spectrum but the results seem pretty much the same: voter unrest, apathy, contempt for the political process. In France, as in Greece and other countries, political apathy and disengagement of the young is accompanied by the rise of extremist politics, from populist anti-immigrant parties to flagrantly racist political gangs to full blown "home grown terrorists" (radicalized Muslim youth or white supremecist neo-nazis). Fortunately, to date, we have not seen too much of this in Canada. 

          And let us not forget the incredible über-hypocrisy of the Chrétien Liberals with respect to their engagement on the Kyoto Greenhouse Gas Emission Accord.

" Canada has abandoned a long-standing reputation for environmental stewardship in favor of industry and, among other things, development of a controversial and emissions-intensive oil patch in Alberta known as the tar sands."

          When the Harper Conservatives finally pulled the plug, they were merely formalizing a policy of non-action on renewable energy instigated by the Liberals years before. Both parties play smoke-and-mirror games on environmental issues: they say one thing and do pretty much the opposite. The Conservatives are simply a bit more honest about what they are doing and their contempt for Nature as anything beyond a storehouse of "resources" to "exploit".

Canada and Kyoto Protocol adherence 

          Meanwhile in Québec, the Charbonneau commission grinds onward, investigating corruption in the provincial construction industry. This has led to several mayors being forced to resign in disgrace and the disolution of at least one municipal political party. Contracts with municipalities have been grossly inflated with kick backs to participating civil servants and political parties. And of course the Big Contractors grow fat, the Mafia takes its cut. 

New horrors from the Charbonneau Commission

         Thus residents of the Metro Montréal area overpaid for low quality asphalt used in road paving and repair. A cartel of contractors maintained prices well above fair market values, raking in a 30% profit margin when 8% was considered fair. 

         We wonder: will criminal charges follow these revelations? If so, what? One has no sense of what is coming next. One senses only we are living a time of flux, free falling. There is no proverbial "light at the end of the tunnel". There is only the sense of a "System" unravelling, unravelling, with unforeseeable political consequences..

         The disease we write of is not Canadian, of course. The whole world seems to be living a time of diminished leadership. Historical determinists will say that weak leaders are symptoms, not causes, of a bankrupt civilization which has lost its way. This may, in part, be true. At any rate, many commentators find modernity lacking in authenticity (the existentialists), in christian or humanist values, or common sense.

          Attempts to furnish correctives to the "disease of modernity" have not proven fruitful - not on the large scale, anyway. Western bourgeois societies have gone for "technological fixes" and "therapy". Such fixes may be "spiritual" in nature: Freud, the sexual revolution, feminism, the Drug Culture of the 1960s, New Age, religious fundamentalism.. or they may be "technological": psychotropes like Prozac or proposals for genetically re-engineering the human race so it will be more malleable to reason. Sometimes extremely radical, holistic political / social reforms are attempted such as the Communist and Fascist experiments of the 2oth century. To date, none of these correctives has produced lasting or convincing results. The craziness rises each year. So has the consumption of psychotropes, legal and illegal. Some commentators claim that the real problems we face - overpopulation and resource depletion - are not formulatable, cannot be encoded or communicated, within our present system of cultural values. This suggestion, I would argue, is not as radical as it might seem. Consider..

             Question: if environmental / demographic dangers are, in fact, real, why is the Green Party not ruling the country and by a big majority? It seems to me, there are only two possible answers here: 

1- the Club of Rome report: "The Limits to Growth" (1972) got it wrong. This is possible (but given empirical data and logical extrapolation of trends, not likely). Or

2- our current "democratic" Occidental civilization cannot formulate the correct set of questions to ask before we begin to address our real problems.

               Thus, we are, according to some serious thinkers, living a "civilizational crisis" (Edgar Morin: "La Méthode"), a time of transition from one mode of human-being-in-the-world to another. We are learning to use our powerful brains and the science / technology that emerges from them. The atmospherics, the zeitgeist are certainly fitting when compared to earlier times of transition / trouble.

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