Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Trudeau government, Year 1: the corruption of power?

                                                     Parliament, Ottawa
            There is a saying, attributed to various sources, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" which seems to apply to the Trudeau government in these its early days. No nothing truly scandalous. President elect Donald Trump is more entertaining for the scandal seeking.

            But consider the practice of $1500 per place fundraisers for the Federal Liberal Party. The opposition is arguing that these gatherings provide the super-wealthy with privileged access to Trudeau cabinet ministers and to the Prime Minister himself. Aside from the PM, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould have attended these exclusive fundraisers. Nothing illegal is taking place, of course, but what is legal is not necessarily moral.


           In this case the government has failed to adhere to its own standards regarding transparency.

             On Nov. 27, 2015, the Trudeau government released an 87-page document called "Open and Accountable Government" which says ministers and parliamentary secretaries 

 "must ensure that political fundraising activities or considerations do not affect, or appear to affect, the exercise of their official duties or the access of individuals or organizations to government.. There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties,"  (emphasis added)

             The problem is that during the election Trudeau and his team promised "transparency" - as, interestingly, the Harper government before them! They were shaking down votes by appealing to the voters' rising sense that world society (and Canada) are adrift and heading toward some ill-defined future cataclysm. Witness the sentiments expressed in the BRexit referendum which took the UK out of the European Union or the "stunning" populist victory of Trump in the recent American elections. One need hardly mention the rise of the populist Right in France, Germany, Austria, Holland, Scandinavia,..

           Trudeau reached out to a skittish populace and offered them consolation and comfort: we are on your side, we will prove it by standing above vested interests who place themselves above national interest and the Common Good. Not only must transparency be achieved but the appearance of transparency must be achieved..

          Trudeau has failed on this one. We are back to government-as-usual. The "fix is in" as Trump like to argue during his campaign. Big Money talks Big (at least, this is the perception people are getting..) Worse, when confronted with disquieting facts, Trudeau dodges by turning and pointing a finger at the Conservatives' lousy record of blurring the line between partisan politics and governance. When the pot calls the kettle black..

Trudeau defends fundraisers by attacking Conservatives' record 

                          controversial Light Armored Vehicle sales to Saudi Arabia

              Before the last federal election which brought the Liberals to power, Harper's Conservatives contracted to sell Light Armored Vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia despite the fact that the Saudi government has used such vehicles against dissident elements of its own civilian population and abroad. Such usage contravenes Canada' own weapons export regulations:

"Attacks on civilians – or even serious, reasonable doubt that the Saudis would use LAVs only for their stated military purpose – would raise red flags under Canada’s weapons export rules, which forbid weapons shipments “unless it can be demonstrated there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population” by the buyer."

Saudi LAV deal in a nutshell 

           One has to concede that the Feds were between a rock and a hard place on this one. If they refused to sign the deal the outgoing Harper Conservatives had negotiated, they would be held responsible for job losses in Ontario where the vehicles are constructed.

           One option that presented itself to the incoming Trudeau team: open the nature of the LAV deal to parliamentary (and public) debate along with the demonstrated Saudi record of human rights violations committed with such vehicles. This High Road moral approach would still probably lose them some votes in affected parts of Ontario but gain them votes elsewhere (in addition to confirming their commitment to probity and transparency).

            Unfortunately, the Trudeau government chose the Low (government as usual) Road and they did so in a particularly cheesy way. The Liberals claimed, falsely, that the Saudi LAV sale was a "done deal", put into motion by the defeated Harper government and their was nothing they could do about it. Nothing could have been further from the truth! In reality, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion signed export permits allowing the vehicles to be shipped. Without his signature neither vehicles nor their "spare parts" would have left the country.

"Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion has quietly issued export permits for the bulk of the shipments tied to a controversial $15-billion sale of combat vehicles to Saudi Arabia, a crucial green light for the deal that many thought had already been granted.

Mr. Dion approved six export permits on Friday covering more than 70 per cent of the transaction, newly released documents show – a decision that represents the most vital step in the Canadian government’s arms-control process. The Liberals have long said they could not interfere with what they described as a “done deal” arranged by the Harper Conservatives."

           Once again, a smell test failed. This does not auger well for a government barely a year into its mandate. People were voting for change when they voted Trudeau..

           Speaking of voters seeking change. Voters in the US revealed the degree to which the chattering classes inhabit a parallel universe by voting the "impossible" Donald Trump as their next president. The Trump presidency could pose some interesting existential challenges for the Trudeau government!

            For openers, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna recently announced plans to accelerate the phase out of coal fired electricity. Meanwhile, south of the border, President elect Trump wants to phase coal back in again. The two leaders seem out of phase on this one (note 1).


              Yet once again, Trudeau seems the prey of indecisiveness. He has argued that Canada need infrastructure (this is true, bridges and buildings in Québec fall down and kill people..) In a Keynesian attempt to stimulate a flagging economy, Trudeau has promised increased Federally-driven infrastructure development, some of it the renewable energy sector. Yet he has not really bitten the bullet yet. He has not made the messy, the politically incorrect - yet necessary - choice: choose renewable energy infrastructure development over oil pipelines and other forms of fossil energy. He is still clinging to mealy-mouthed "please everyone" platitudes about using pipeline revenues to finance the conversion to a green energy economy. We have left those days far behind! Today is the time of choosing, we have run out of time..


             Then there are the social value issues and questions of "style". Women make up a whopping 50% of the Trudeau cabinet. So far President elect Trump has not announced any female members of his cabinet. 

             In a similar vein, Trump, during the election at least, promised to build a wall separating the US and Mexico - and make the Mexicans pay for it! As part of his campaign, Trudeau promised to "throw the doors open" to Syrian refugees, one promise he has kept (note 2). Once again, the two leaders appear to be out of step. At this stage of the game, one can only guess what the outcome will be.. 


1- Some pundits have argued that Trump won't get far with his zombie coal strategy. Depending upon where you live, renewable energies are already a bit cheaper, the same price or within striking difference of coal fired electricity rates. Economics, they argue, will trump Trump's populism. When the rubber hits the road..


2- In a sense, Trudeau - like Trump - does not have much of a platform, few really new ideas, just government-as-usual with a few tweaks and some fancy spin. (This criticism applies to all, or most, governments and parties in the so-called "developed world", not just to Trudeau and Trump. The "System" is broke and too broke to fix. We need a new breed of popular - community based - leader to think outside all boxes and all existing political ideologies.) During their victorious campaigns, both Trudeau and Trump appealed to popular sentiment (emotions, public self images, nationalistic clichés..) Trump played the Angry White Man card (AKA: Hard Working Ordinary American card). Trudeau played the Compassionate, Tolerant Canadian card. Both lead to hasty ad hoc policy commitments which neither country is in a position to fufill. Just think of the economic impact of sudden massive tariffs on Mexican or Chinese imports on the standard of living of all those Angry White Men who voted for Trump! And here is a text that argues that Canada was not ready to accept the numbers of refugees Trudeau has attempted to resettle:


           Make haste, make waste!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Samhain 2016, the Dark approaches

        I sense a historical cycle completing itself. History's lesson is clear. An end is always the start of something new. We are the ripe fruit falling in the cold autumn night. Winter approaches, the Hard Days ahead.

        It is good to be able to accept imminent mass human die-off, but harrowing. Either way, accept or deny, you're damned!

        Damned if you deny for then you live a lie.

        Damned if you accept because it hurts! The Humanist Within is humiliated, frightened, dumbfounded, enraged.. Acceptance of imminent mass human die-off is also politically incorrect, to the highest degree, on the Left as on the Right.

         Acceptance of mass die-off brings Liberation, the heavy burden slipped off the tiring shoulders, worn out through years or decades of denial. 

          Acceptance brings the Power to move on, to serve and bless life without the burden of delusion and the false action it breeds. The most wicked deeds are usually done by wo/men who think they are doing good. The Romans said, "the highway to hell is paved with good intentions": Via ad Infernum consiliis bonis delapidatur.

          People today, on the whole, will not, cannot love and respect the earth and its life. If they could, our houses of government, our parliaments and senates, would be full of green parties, fighting like dogs to green human society and the earth, each promoting with vigor their way. Instead, the Silence, the Indifference is deafening..

           Since people cannot love and respect earth, by the Law of Karma (Causality), they will suffer, for they are part of the nature they destroy. Fools, they are mad..

          Perhaps we, humanity, will become wise through our pain: no pain, no gain!

          Is it possible to learn to use SciTech wisely? Or are our minds indelibly formed by the Darwinian crucible which forged them?

           Or will the tribal circle close again, more largely this time, to embrace the whole earth and the whole of humanity? Anything is possible in a Time of Transition..

            Charles Mann in his popular 1491 (Vintage Books, 2006) found possible sources of Enlightenment thinking on liberty, freedom and human rights in the New World cultures recently discovered by European colonizers:


 "Mann asserts that personal freedom has its roots in Native American culture.  Everything about Native American culture embraced personal freedom.  This can be seen in its insistence on parliamentary procedure, the advancement of women's rights as means of increasing discourse (The Five Nations were governed by women as well as the Great Law explicitly ordered council members to heed “the warnings of your women relatives), as well as the premise of the rights of the individual.. Important historically, these were the free people encountered by France and Britain—personifications of democratic self-government so vivid that some historians and activists have argued that the Great Law of Peace directly inspired the U.S. Constitution."

            By definition, the publics of democracies are king. We must either accept this proposition or reject it. There is no middle ground. To say, in excuse, that the publics of democracies have been duped by the greedy and the mad is both true and false.

            True: witness the deafening silence (at worst) or the hollow lip service given environmental issues in our parliaments. 

            False, for if we truly accept that in Democracy, the People are King, then it follows that the publics of contemporary democracies have let themselves by duped by the false prophets of Market Economics. Either the King is King or he is not. And if the People are indeed king, then we must accept personal responsibility for we, each one of us, are the People..

            In Times of Transition like these, many will find it easier to shirk the personal responsibility that citizenship imposes and look for Salvation in the Strong Man. As Neitzsche observed, wo/man is a herd animal. (But is that all we are..??)



Tuesday, November 15, 2016

history is myth?

Jacques Barzun and Henry F Graff: The Modern Researcher (Harcourt, Brace and World, NY, 1970), page 172, on the nature of causality:

          "The historical researcher is thus led to adopt a practical distinction about causality that has already commended itself to workers in physical science. They draw attention to the difference between causation that occurs in a long chain of events of various kinds and causation within a closed system. An example of the first is: the forming of a cloud, the  darkening of the sun to earth dwellers,  the lowering of temperature, people putting on coats, a thunderstorm bursting, a person taking refuge under a tree and being struck by lightning and killed. This chain of 'causes' is miscellaneous and each event in it unpredictable, not because it is not determined, but because it occurs outside any controlled or controllable limits. As against this, in the physics laboratory, an elastic body of known stresses and strains goes through a series of evolving states; at any moment a single definite distribution of measured stress and strains is the effect of the previous moment, which may therefore be regarded as its complete cause, as the cause.

         The distinctive feature of the first kind of causality is that there is no restriction on the events that may be related. It is open to the observer's insight to select, not causes in sense number two, but conditions that belong to the chain and have the merit of interesting him and his audience. It is for them to judge whether the resulting narrative is intelligible, consonant with the experience of the race, and useful in orienting the mind amid the welter of facts."

         During the heyday of scientific (or "scientistic") thinking, some thinkers believed that all knowledge of the world could be reduced to logic and mathematics. Some believed that the evolution of society was a deterministic, rule-driven process whose "Laws" could be derived through empirical study and logical analysis (Karl Marx). Today such ideas strike us as quaint or dangerous (note 1) It was even dreamed for a while that history would become a branch of science!

          The Modern Researcher is described as "the classic manual on all aspects of research and writing". It is that and more, one of those inspired "sui generis" - one of a kind, hard to characterize works. Not just a "how-to" manual on the use of index cards to keep notes, the authors also explore fascinating "philosophical" questions on the nature and goals of research and verification or on the nature of causality and truth.  

            In the above quote, what Bazrun and Graff are suggesting is, to my way of thinking, much more radical, than it first appears. It is instructive that they use the term "narrative" to describe what history is. The criteria used to evaluate history's story - "interesting", "intelligible", "consonant" with individual or collective experience, and "useful" (itself subjective, depending upon whose use) seem more "aesthetic" than "scientific" in nature. No longer is history seen as the description of something "objective", "out there" (which is how science views its work) but rather as an artistic endeavor of creating something new and vital from the raw, dead data that chronology provides. Thus, say the authors, each generation must create its own history anew. The work of the historian is never finished then..

           But more interestingly - more disturbing, too - if history is more akin to art, literature and myth than to science, math or logic, what are the criteria with which to judge history? What distinguishes good from bad history?

           The authors' words - originally penned sixty years ago - were perhaps a bit ahead of their time. Today, as dissatisfaction with science and its accomplishments grows, it is obvious that people are turning to "mythic representations" of the world. A crude form of the "Golden Age" - to which we must return to be saved - is echoed in Donald Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again!" The rising tide of ecological disasters taps into that potent Judeo-Christian Archetype, the End Days (Apocalypse). Sometimes, the Apocalypse is reduced to mere justification for the status quo. American fundamentalist "christians" claim that these disasters are "Signs" of the End Days. Environmentalist activists are then accused of doing Satan's work since God has planned for earth's near destruction. An interesting perversion and corruption of a religious myth if there ever was one! God made responsible for human stupidity and greed.. Blasphemy, I say!


1- historical determinism / fatalism / fascism: studies by clinical psychologists of fascist and fascist sympathizers during and immediately after World War II revealed that "authoritarians" tend to see the world in black / white, stereotypic ways, often with a rejection of the idea of free will and self-determination. (Authoritarian thinkers are found, generally, at both extremes of the political spectrum: Stalinist communists were as "fascist" ans authoritarian as any nazis.) Part of the worldview of the fascist or authoritarian usually involves

Substitution and Stereotypy -- superstition, cliché, categorization and fatalistic determinism (for example, the Nazi ideology's cult of "racial determinism", one does what one does because one's ancestors came from a certain part of the world).

See, for example, http://www.cepsr.com/clanek.php?ID=328

          Such world views are dangerous because they lead to false - or, at best - oversimplified - causal connections between events between, for example, being a bad person and being Jewish (Nazis), Muslim (islamophobes) or Mexican (Donald Trump during the 2016 US Presidential Election).

 robbed of their childhood? Not much happiness there (probably not much curiosity or sense of wonder either..) Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth League).