Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Crimea, Ukraine, and Western Hypocrisy. . .

I am glad that I am not the only one who is weary of the hypocrisy of Western nations in their reactions to the situation in Ukraine. Yesterday and today one of my favourite bloggers, Montreal Simon, mentioned the pattern of hypocrisy in of his postings. (Here and here) Once again the West has managed to outdo itself in its remarkable ability to say one thing and do something different.

The hypocrisy began at the beginning. The West's reaction to what was clearly a coup by a diverse group of left and extreme-right activists. They overthrew an elected president and then portrayed the president as the villain. Now I am no big fan of Viktor Yanukovych but let's face it, he was the elected president, and he was elected, I should add, with a significantly larger majority than our own prime minister and his Con-men cabal. But Harper was quick to recognize the overthrow of a legitimate president. Does it make you wonder how the Conservatives would react if tens of thousands of activists showed up on Parliament Hill, many of them armed, and demanded that Harper resign. We all know the army would quickly be called out and if the crowds fought back against their removal from the hill the way the crowds fought back in Ukraine, they would be gunned down. And if you have any doubt about that, look at the only concerted effort on the part of protesters since Harper took office - those at the G20. Thousands were corralled, beaten, arrested on no charges or trumped-up charges. And those crowds weren't even a genuine threat to Harper's power. Any real threat from the streets to Harper's status as Prime Minister would be met with swift and brutal violence.

But the West's reaction to the coup was just the tip of the hypocrisy iceberg. Hypocrisy was stepped up into high gear when Russia began to act in Crimea. Now, there is no doubt that Russia had signed an agreement to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine. And their unilateral actions were deeply problematic. However, the claims by the West to this effect, ring entirely hollow to anyone who has been paying attention to recent history. At least Russia had a long-standing interest in, if not partial claim on Crimea. The West, on the other hand, routinely engages in or supports unilateral, self-interested, military actions in foreign nations. The West's invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were two of the most recent examples. Russia used the tired old line that they had to protect Russians in Crimea and that justified their actions. Well this is exactly the excuse the US once used to justify their invasion of Granada in 1983 and their invasion and carpet bombing of Panama in 1989. If a school-yard bully beats kids up in the playground every day, one surely treats with suspicion their moral indignation when another bully does the exact same thing.

Then there is the West's reaction to the recent referendum in Crimea. They tell us it is illegal and that any kind of vote taken during an occupation has no democratic or moral authority. However, the West did exactly this in both Iraq and Afghanistan (again just to mention two recent examples). Apparently, if we are to judge by their actions, the West thinks that voting during occupation is a perfectly suitable route to democratic decision making. So why the blatant double-standard? Well it is clear that men like Harper are not interested in democracy, legality, sovereignty or any other high-minded principle of justice. In fact, quite the contrary, while he is busy touting such principles in Ukraine with crocodile tears, he is busy undermining them here at home. As with all such politicians, Harper only likes democracy, or revolutions when they offer the results that he favours. Thus if the Ultra-right overthrows a President in Ukraine in favour of a more pro-Western government, then we hear heart-felt appeals to the people's cause. If a vote is taken in occupied Afghanistan it is a 'step toward' democracy. But if it is taken in Crimea under Putin's watchful eye, it is illegal.

The fact is clear to anyone who knows anything about Crimea, the largely Russian population would probably have voted for secession given the events in Kiev regardless of presence of Russian troops. But interestingly, the Ukraine constitution doesn't allow for the people of any one region to vote on separation. Rather, any such issue has to be approved by the entire nation. I wonder if Harper is going to be consistent and come back to Canada and enact a similar law to wave in the face of Pauline Marois? I doubt it.

Consistency has certainly never been a trait of politicians. And the power of hypocrisy has certainly been on dramatic display in recent weeks concerning events in Ukraine. The people of Ukraine overthrew a legitimately elected President. But far be it for me to question a revolutionary moment. Maybe he needed to be overthrown, I can't say, and not being Ukrainian it is not my place to say. However, when you play the game of realpolitik you can't complain too much when others play it too. And when you turn your back on a gangster like Putin don't be surprised if you get shot from behind. But let's not buy the moral indignation of Western nations who seldom (if ever) come to the defence of democracy for anything but self-interested reasons. If anyone is expert at condemning foreign invasions and oppressions while simultaneously undermining their own democracies it is men like Harper and Obama. For them, the Russian invasion of the Crimea is aggression while the Western invasion of Afghanistan is a humanitarian mission. Those of you who are old enough will remember what the codename for the US invasion of Panama was - "Operation Just Cause." If that is not a fine moment in political irony I don't know what is.  



Sunday, February 23, 2014

Harper's war of attrition. . . .

I haven't blogged much lately because politics has become increasingly frustrating and difficult. Furthermore, there are people blogging with similar opinions to my own who can be more effective in inciting emotions or gathering useful political information. And as far as blogging on art and literature, I have been too busy with my own work to expend the intellectual energy necessary to write interesting material in this regard.

I appreciate bloggers like Montreal Simon who can continue to write biting and insightful material even in the face of our horrific government.

Speaking about it rationally is fairly simple. Good governance requires certain basic elements - commitment to the fundamental principles of democracy, the desire to foster dialogue, a basic commitment to an effective civil-service and the good programs that they need to deliver, a commitment to giving a voice to the voiceless and providing care and protection for society's most vulnerable, a strong commitment to the constitution, a respect for fairness and the democratic traditions of the House of Commons, a respect for the judicial arm of government and the necessary roll it plays, and a commitment to protecting the environment for future generations. Our government has no commitment to any of these. In fact, it actively undermines all of them. There is not a single element of good governance to which this government is committed.

At a rational level it is as simple as that.

But as with most forces of evil, there is something more at stake here - a gestalt of the Harper regime. With the introduction of the so-called "fair-elections act," it is clear that this government is not simply a bad government but a treasonous one. This act is nothing less than an effort to enshrine into law the ability to engage in electoral fraud and is in my mind a basic act of treason because it is an effort to actually undermine the principles of the constitution.

Such a treasonous act undertaken by the government itself is something that requires more than rarefied political discourse. People have to be woken up to the dangers of an encroaching fascism, to a government that is attempting to gradually replace our democratic system with an autocracy in which any democratic processes have been rendered exercises in futility, and where, by extension, the government serves a narrow corporate interest and a small percentage of wealthy patrons.

It is difficult to live in a society which is inching gradually toward autocracy as many of the citizens seem to blithely ignore the coming danger. There is a certain nonchalant attitude taken by many to the dangerous and insidious actions of a government that is falling into fascism. They have trouble believing that it "can happen here" or that our traditions can be subverted and perverted by a bunch of men dressed in suits. But not every coup is a violent one and sometimes what is best in a society is lost in a quite war of attrition.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Gags are not Transparent . . .

We all come into contact with confidentiality rules as third party associates. We talk to lawyers, doctors, and psychologists, from whom we rightly expect confidentiality. We even have, naively, certain expectations of confidentiality with certain online corporations, sites, and servers. However, these kinds of confidentiality agreements serve very clear purposes; we understand what they are for and what they are supposed to protect. Furthermore, the confidentiality arrangements used by doctors or lawyers are designed by professional associations and are intended to protect the professions themselves. We all understand, for example, that the legal system wouldn't work without some significant form of client-lawyer privilege.

However, when our legislators begin to write hugely broad confidentiality agreements for their employees, we should sit up and take notice. When a large group of public employees are asked to sign an agreement that says they won't reveal anything about what they see while on the public payroll, alarm bells go off in my head. It is one thing for a professional association to create their own confidentiality rules, it is entirely another when employees are compelled to sign such agreements. This is because a mandatory agreement like this can easily be used not simply to protect confidentiality but to scare and intimidate employees into maintaining extreme obedience.

Looking at the big picture, one has to ask "what exactly are these agreements intended to protect?" If the goal is to protect very sensitive material relating to security, then they should be written very specifically to reflect that intent. But they are not. Anyone looking at such agreements, particularly the one now being proposed, is struck by how broad they are.

There is a huge problem of corruption in politics everywhere. And it doesn't require an insightful mind or political knowledge to understand why. The problem is that the people who create the rules that are supposed to protect the nation from corruption are written by the very same people who benefit from that corruption. We might as well have a group of millionaires write our tax code or the oil companies write our environmental protection rules. (Of course, with Harper in office, some might say that this is already happening.)

The gag rules that this government is going to impose on civil servants is not intended simply to protect security issues or sensitive personal information. Rather, they are intended to create an atmosphere of fear among civil servants with the long term goal of insulating the government and allow its favoured members to break the law without fear of discovery or prosecution.

Almost every major political scandal emerges into the public eye because someone bypassed official channels and went public with the information. Though few people have talked about it, the only reason the recent Senate scandal occurred is because someone fed emails to the media. Even the events of Watergate and the depth of Nixon's malfeasance were only known because one man went to the media.

If we want to improve our political institutions we should be looking at how to make them MORE transparent not LESS. We don't need to worry about MP staffers writing books about personal information relating to what they have seen in the back-rooms of government. Rather we need to start asking what our MPs need to so badly to hide from citizens. But once again, our political class is simply reacting to public scrutiny aimed at the depth of their corruption, and attempting to shore up the avenues of possible leaks of information relating to their malfeasance.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Criminals are Running the Show. . . .

There was something profoundly surreal about Conrad Black interviewing Rob Ford. This is what the Canadian Rightwing has been reduced to - a drug-addled Mayor being interviewed by a convicted fraudster. It would be laughable if it weren't so serious.

Ford, who has now transformed his career into dropping media bombs, made the bizarre claim that Police Chief Bill Blair had cooked up the entire investigation concerning Rob Ford, Sandro Lisi, et al., for reasons of personal resentment. This is the model of the new right in Canada - always blame someone else for your problems. But just how bizarre can the blame-game become? Well pretty bizarre apparently. The very idea of a ultra-rightwing Police chief undertaking a major investigation involving huge resources and lots of officers just to smear a rightwing mayor for personal reasons is, prima facie, absurd. However, even if we were to admit the possibility of such a turn of events, then the question arises; "if this was Chief Blair's plan, why has the Mayor not been indicted?" A close examination of the facts suggests that far from pursuing the Mayor, the Chief's investigation seems to have shielded the mayor from the possibility of prosecution.

But this is the topsy-turvy world of the New Right in Canada - criminals interviewing criminals, police-chiefs with dubious human rights records investigating corrupt politicians, Lawyers hiding e-mails to hide PMO conspiracies, one rightwinger bribing another rightwinger to keep quiet, rightwing Senators interfering with audits conducted by rightwing insiders to keep things quiet, a rightwing Premier who has just enacted a wildly unconstitutional law trying to prevent freedom of speech attending Mandela's memorial.

The rightwing in this country has truly degenerated into a massive organized crime syndicate that is suffering from the kind of infighting that would make a good Mario Puzo novel.

Curiouser and curiouser. . . .

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Innocence is in the Eyes of those who Decide who to Investigate. . . .

Is there anyone out there still naive enough to believe that Rob Ford would be in jail if not for the fact that he is a rich and influential white man? The sad fact is that despite all the talk by Chief Blair about the Toronto Police treating everyone equally and the professional standing of his investigators, it is simply unrealistic to believe that Ford has been treated like anyone else who comes into the surveillance of his force.

As with the release of the last round of court documents, yesterdays revelation are being met in the mainstream media by interviews with lawyers, all of whom assure us that there is nothing in these documents that warrant the arrest of Rob Ford. And you know what? On the face of it, the lawyers are correct. But lawyers deal in convictions, and evidence, and indictments. With the exception of the occasional stand-out, like Clayton Ruby, lawyers are not trained in and seldom engage in political analysis.

To really understand what has happened here we need to look beyond the simple evidence presented in these documents. As disturbing and compelling as these wire-tapes and witness statements are, they probably don't serve as any kind of criminal case against Rob Ford. Though, Ford obviously has important ties to countless criminals, and has engaged in various kinds of criminal behaviour, the demands of criminal indictment and conviction are often high, as they should be.

But here is where the politics come into the equation. The question is not "why wasn't Rob Ford indicted?" Rather, the question is: "Why wasn't Rob Ford investigated?" It is clear to anyone who has even the vaguest experience with police and the law, that if Rob Ford was not a powerful, rich, white man, the events observed by the police would have quickly blossomed into an all out investigation into every aspect of his personal and professional life. Did you notice that all the people whose phones were tapped in this investigation were racialized? Even Sandro Lisi, the whitest guy in indicted in the police investigation has what many people might still refer to as an "ethnic" identity. The one guy that the police didn't really investigate was the guy at the very heart of the entire series of events - and, surprise surprise, he is a rich white guy.

The simple fact is that the Toronto police did just enough investigating to create the appearance of objectivity and fairness, but de facto protected the Mayor from indictment by never actually investigating him. Let us take, as a mental exercise, the idea that, say, Olivia Chow, or even Councillor Cesar Palacio, were mayor and they were caught up in a similar police investigation. I think you would have to be monumentally naive to believe that he or she would not instantly become the subject of an intense personal investigation into every aspect other their lives. Their phones would be tapped, their finances would be investigated, and eventually their offices and their homes would be treated to complete searches.

I think it is pretty clear that it is not lack of evidence or probable cause that has prevented Rob Ford from being indicted. It is the simple fact that the Toronto Police never actually investigated him. If not for his position as a rich, rightwing, wasp, Rob Ford would have been treated like anyone else - he would have been investigated. Here is a guy who the police knew was involved in the use of illicit drugs, whose closest associate appears to have been dealing drugs and strong-arming people in Ford's interests, who has been the subject of numerous domestic disturbance calls, whose various family members have been involved in selling and using drugs, and who has been arrested in a foreign country for drug possession. And yet the police never really investigated him at all. It doesn't pass the smell test folks, and it is further evidence of the basic unfairness or our criminal injustice system.

So the next time some yahoo from so-called "Ford-nation" tells you that Ford has been indicted of anything, and that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, just point out that someone who is never investigated and can curry police favour - can never be proven guilty because he will never be brought up on charges. Only those who the Police are willing to see as criminals will ever be looked at by them as criminals.

(Interestingly enough the same goes for Stephen Harper)

Friday, November 29, 2013

Harper, Conspiracies, and Camel's Backs . . . .

In light of the 50th anniversary of the death of Jack Kennedy, and the media discussion that the event motivated, I want to open this post with a few words about so-called "conspiracy theories." The simple fact is that while many people belittle any talk of a conspiracy concerning almost anything, there is a simple and understandable motivation for such ideas. When any "official" explanation is not believable or stretches the boundaries of credibility, people look around for other possible explanations. Such is the case with the Kennedy assassination. There are so many strange coincidences, so many difficult to believe twists of fortunes, so many rules broken by officials in the lead up and and the aftermath of the assassination, that it leaves people with the feeling that the official explanation is, at the very least, wanting. This, coupled with the fact that the Warren Commission was almost uniformly unwilling to even address many of the problems, drives people to call for new pieces to the apparently unfinished puzzle. And so people suggest possible answers - some wild and even more unbelievable than the official story, some cogent and serious.

And so today we have a similar type of situation in our parliament. Almost everyone, with the exception of the most blindly partisan, simply don't believe the official explanation of what happened in the PMO. It is just not credible that successful PMO lawyers with excellent professional reputations would orchestrate an illegal effort to bribe a sitting Senator all the while hiding it from their boss, the most controlling PM in Canadian history. And as Harper bobbed and weaved over the past month, changing his story gradually to fit the gradually exposed story, people found the official explanation less and less believable. Couple with this, the apparent fact that half a dozen PMO associates were actually privy to the facts, and that people who have been virtual lapdogs of the PM were involved in a cover-up, and people are looking for a more believable story. And that story, invariably, involves the PM knowing about almost every facet of the conspiracy and cover-up.

But the real story here is not really a PMO orchestrated conspiracy and cover-up, so much as it is the fact that this seems to be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back of the public's tolerance of Harper and his cabal. The best expression of this moment was expressed by Andrew Coyne in his most recent column. Keep in mind that for quite a few years Coyne was nothing short of an apologist for Harper regime's worst aspects and scandals. Coyne tells us that the real problem for the Conservatives is

" . . . . the general impression that we are being governed by a gang of thugs - secretive, high-handed, unprincipled gusting to unethical, and openly contemptuous of such quaint notions as democratic accountability - an impression that grows more baked in each time the Prime Minister dodges a question in Parliament, or worse, sends in the clownish Paul Calandra to answer in his place." 

With friends like this, Harper certainly doesn't need enemies. Perhaps most importantly, Coyne points out that Harper seems to be in complete denial that anything is wrong or that he needs to change his attitude and his course. This problem is, unfortunately not unexpected, and easy to explain. The fact that more and more people seem to be realizing is that Harper is not the clever, strategic politician that some thought he was. Rather, he is simply a control freak who benefited from an unusual set of circumstances. Harper's actions have never been part of a strategic plan but rather the natural expression of a man with a disturbing, narcissistic personality disorder. He cannot change strategy now because he has no strategy, and he surrounds himself with people who have the same kind of angry, dismissive personality has himself. Thus we are treated to people like the "clownish Paul Calandra" whose only political instinct is to insult anyone who might disagree with him and his holy fuhrer. This is a brittle kind of politics that always ends in a disaster of one sort or another.

The only political scandal in Canadian history that really compares to the Senate/Harper scandal is the so-called "Pacific Scandal," involving another Conservative Prime Minister. Though John A. Macdonald would eventually recover from his scandal, we can safely say to Harper "you ain't no John A. Macdonald!" Furthermore, we live in different times, times of extreme exposure and ones in which all facets of life are significantly sped up.

Conspiracies aside, it is not the Senate Scandal that will sink Harper or tarnish his historical reputation. Rather, Harper will be a dark note in Canada's history books because he is a sick, narcissistic thug who has poisoned the well of Canadian life.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Organized Crime of the Harper Regime . . . .

The Harper/Senate scandal is fast becoming a tragic-comedy. In many Western democracies, this Prime Minister would have already been forced to resign. Practically every mainstream media commentator (even the rightwing ones) now seem convinced that Harper probably knew practically everything about this conspiracy of bribery and cover-up. The emails from Nigel Wright that say "I want to talk to the PM before everything is considered final," and the next one written an hour later saying "we are good to go from the PM," establish pretty clearly that Harper played an active part in bribing a sitting Senator. (This is the second time that it has been demonstrated that Harper is involved in bribery - recall the Cadman affair) And, as it usually is, the cover-up is as bad or worse than the initial wrong-doing. It is pretty clear that the Prime Minister was part of an orchestrated cover-up in the Senate, a cover-up that involves altering a financial audit.

As politicians go, it doesn't get much worse than this folks. The only thing comparable in Canadian history is the so-called Pacific Scandal.

One of the things that strikes me as curious about this scandal is this - though it is clear now that the Prime Minister lied to the House and all of Canada, even without his confession of direct knowledge of the details of the bribe and cover-up, his best-case scenario is that he instructed his top aides not to inform him of any illegal details. In other words, the Prime Minister oversaw the orchestration of profound malfeasance even if he didn't know the details. The Disaffected Liberal nicely compared this situation to a Mafia Don who oversees illegal events without ever actually taking a direct part in them.

Another thing that strikes me about all this (and the Rob Ford scandal) is the way that it illustrates the inequalities in our system. Nigel Wright, Benjamin Perrin, and the other are wealthy individuals who can use their wealth and power to protect themselves from the law. Even with guilty verdicts there is almost zero chance that any of these wealthy individuals will spend time behind bars, and even if they do, they can emerge afterwards still wealthy and still connected. Yet our prisons are full of individuals who never abused power (because they never had any) and are guilty of petty crimes that come out of their severely limited options and poverty in youth. If a guy like Rob Ford had not been born wealthy he wouldn't be mayor today and there is a very good chance he would be in prison as well. This is not to say that working-class people never get ahead. Rather, it is to say that wealthy people are more or less immune from paying the prices in life and society that others are routinely forced to pay. And in many cases the crimes that the poor pay for are significantly less significant than those committed by white men in suits.

Like a godfather of organized crime, Harper has orchestrated an continual undermining of democracy in this country. Countless members of his circle are convicted criminals, awaiting trial, or simply deeply shady. He has overseen bribery and seemingly countless incidents of electoral fraud. And yet he goes merry along in his chauffeur driven limo, and, like a loyal Mafia family, his caucus gives him standing ovations every time he opens his mouth. His closest Ministers know full well he is crooked and have approved, and been involved in his corruption. They know that they can't oust him because at the very least they will be admitting to being culpable in his corruption.

And like most Mafia Dons, Harper will retire comfortably while other fools, sorry idiots who have failed to understand that in Harper's case loyalty only moves in one direction, pay for his crimes.