Monday, January 31, 2011

The Coming Fall

No real major guidelines for the post this week, though I am going to talk a bit about the Federal Election speculation that is continuing to gain a lot of ground.

With Parliament back in session, we can go from a game of they said/we said to an attempt to ask a valid question and receive an answer. All signs are pointing to the opposition parties being unable to support the Conservative budget that will come down in March; which, unless an opposition coalition is formed in the aftermath, would lead to an election.

I'd like to explore the reasons why we're heading to an election, if the readers will indulge me.

Yet again, the Conservative Government has closed the door on negotiations. They've talked numerous times to the media about working with Parliament, but each time an opportunity to do so comes along, they posture and bully the opposition.

The Conservatives seem to have the idea that being in government means that their decisions and thoughts take precedence over the other Members of Parliament. While this mindset would hold true in a majority government, it does not work in a minority government. Look to the UK, for example.

In their minority government they have a coalition of Conservatives with Liberal Democrats; and in the recent months, the Liberal Democrats have voted with the government to remove a freeze on tuition rates and increase them. This is despite the Liberal Democrats being opposed as a party to a raise on tuition rates, and they even campaigned on this issue.

Why do I mention this?

I mention it because it shows a compromise. As it stands, our government is unwilling to compromise, especially when it comes to key ideological planks in their platform. After all, would stimulus spending even have passed through the House if the opposition parties didn't all vote in favour and basically force the government to act?

Getting back on track, the Conservatives continue to refuse to acknowledge the concerns of the opposition. Right now, business tax rates sit at 18% and the Conservatives want to lower that rate to 15%. The opposition is saying now is not the time, given the economic woes that continue to abound, to lower the tax rate by 3%.

Now, I think that's reasonable. Given that the tax cut isn't major, as say dropping it from 18% to say 12 or 10%, there's no real need to push through a 3% tax cut. Yet, the Conservatives refuse to budge.

The Liberals and NDP have said that they will read the budget and then decide whether or not they could support it; but both have also said that they will oppose it on the grounds of this tax rollback. The NDP have given a bit more leeway, given that if other key concerns are addressed they could support the budget.

The Bloc on the other hand, has made a series of demands that will never be met (including compensation payments for Quebec for adopting the HST years ago), so we already know the Bloc will be voting against the budget.

Harper has said often that the opposition is forcing an election, when it truth it is the Conservatives themselves that are forcing this election. If the Conservatives, like a good majority government (think Pearson), were willing to make compromises and work with the opposition parties (and much like Pearson, that means passing through policies that the opposition have come up with) then this election could be avoided.

But since that means acting outside of ideological driven beliefs, the Conservatives are unlikely to reach across the aisle and actually find common ground with the opposition. As such, when we Canadians go to the polls, keep in mind that it was the Conservatives who forced this election by refusing to make concessions; not the opposition parties.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Bit of a Rant...

In between readings and relaxing, I sat down this evening to watch a movie called Battle in Seattle. Some of you, will likely be familiar with this movie. For those who aren't, I'll attempt to explain.

The movie is a blend of fact and fiction revolving around the World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Seattle in 1999, which saw massive public rallying, as well as a massive amount of civic crackdown from police and politicians. The events in Seattle helped create things we see at conventions now a days, such as the 'protest zone' about 2 - 3 kilometres away from the meeting, and so forth...

Now, I was rather young individual in 1999, so my memory of the events that unfolded is practically non-existent, which was one reason why I was interested in watching this particular film.

And now that I have, I can't help but shake my head a little.

Granted, it's primarily a work of fiction when it comes to the interaction between characters and their stories, but the events they're set around are factual, and I think well presented. Anyways, it got me thinking as to the core values of my own beliefs, which is what this post is going to be about.

It's going to be generalized, so if you're looking for specifics, I'm afraid you won't see them in this post.

For as long as I can remember, I've always been identified on the left of the political spectrum. Growing up, I had a fixation with world history, and was particularly interested in the history of the Soviet Union. As I grew up, learning more about these issues, I found myself beginning to form the tenants of my political beliefs that have stuck with me to this day.

To be painfully truthful, in my youth I could and in sometimes did, identify myself as a communist; in that I believed in the power of the state to improve the lives of individuals. Of course, over time as I grew to better understand political philosophy, I realized I wasn't a communist but rather a socialist.

To be even more brutally honest, there was my brief flirtation as a Liberal Party volunteer; but when I stood back and examined them closely, what I saw I didn't like. I didn't see a party that I thought was a champion of human rights; I didn't see a party that encouraged democratic reform that is desperately needed in this country; all I saw was a party that calculated the most popular options and ran with them, hoping that this brand of populism would be enough to form government one more time.

After coming to that realization, I realized the Liberal tent was not broad enough for my ideals. And of course, I was happy that I hadn't wasted my money on a membership for a party I didn't want to belong to.

After that, I realized that there was only one party where someone like myself could see the social change I wanted to see; and that was the New Democrats. So, for the first time in my life, I bought a party membership, started attending executive meetings, joined a Young NDP group, and even ran for office under the banner; unsuccessfully, though...

I'm going to perhaps be more personal in this post than I originally thought, so I wouldn't blame anyone for stopping at this point; but for those who continue, perhaps you'll gain a better understanding of this young New Democrat, and why he takes the time to put up blog posts that he isn't sure anyone but himself reads...

Anyways, getting back on topic.

As I watched Battle in Seattle, I found myself thinking about my own beliefs. Would I be so bold as to join a protest of that scale? Would I continue to stand there, demanding my public right to assembly peacefully, despite knowing that I would get pepper sprayed, assaulted by police officers, and very likely arrested?

I was shocked when I thought about it and discovered that my answer was no. I would like to explain that, if I can.

I've never considered myself much of an activist; I mean, I care very deeply about many issues, and have given time to some of these issues, but social disobedience has never been my medium. I've always been an insightful letter to the editor, or direct contact with local politicians, kind of guy.

I do imagine that there are some issues that would spur on the activist within me, but even then, I find it hard to imagine that I would break out of my preferred method of spreading the word for social change. Some may call this cowardice, or lack of commitment, or even condemn with an innocuous word like 'pragmatism', said in such a way as to make it a negative thing.

Despite my lack of desire to take to the streets, I can assure you that many of the things that people protest against drives my blood its boiling point. I don't lack anger, or disappointment, over the way things are done on a national or international level, I just have a different means of expressing it.

So, to make my point slightly less convoluted; I think what I'm trying to say is that activism is what we make of it. Some of us have the ability to take to the streets and make the world hear our message; some of us don't, but that doesn't mean we don't contribute to the cause in other ways.

I feel as though I've strayed off topic a little, so I'm going to try to get back on the rails.

I think when I look at the world, I've still kept one thing from my youth that will never change: And that is my very negative view of the capitalist economy.

Now, before cries of Marxist and Communist begin, allow me to attempt to explain my problem with it before you condemn me.

The problem I've always had with the capitalist system is that it is a system of dreams, and more importantly, a system of shattered dreams. Capitalism stresses the idea that wealth is the most important thing in the universe; as long as you have wealth, why should you care about anything else?

And the most important part, is that ANYONE can be wealthy. Anyone can take an idea and make millions of dollars off of it. Anyone can start at the lowest possible spectrum of their career chain, and end up at the top of it. Capitalism is a system that suggests that you get out of it what you put into it; that if you work hard, you will be rewarded.

I want everyone to think about that last part for a moment.

Capitalism is based on a philosophical fallacy; it suggests that life is fair, but at the same time also reminds us that life is not fair.

Truly think about it. How many people have risen from the mail room to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company? How many people have become President of the United States without being a wealthy person, or a person of influence, prior? How many people have worked in the same career for 10+ years, working their damnest, only to be laid off through no fault of their own? Or to work for the same place for 10+ years, and not have access to a pension plan or other benefits?

This is what capitalism considers fair.

People don't want to denounce the system because we've all be taken in by it. We've all been lulled into a sense of security by the siren's song that promises that one day, we will be the ones with the wealth. That one day, the system will help us become insanely wealthy and because of this, we should accept the system until our day comes.

Well, I know many people who have waited, and their day never came, and I know some people now whose day will never come. Capitalism promises us everything, yet it never delivers for the majority of us.

To borrow an argument from Marx, and yes I know the cries of Marxist come across stronger now, the division of labour within capitalism ensures that those on the bottom stay there for the benefit of those at the top.

And this is true in global economics as well.

Companies do not care about the betterment of humanity; they never have and they never will. There is a litany of examples of companies putting profit before people:

The refusal of easing on patents of pharmaceuticals for poorer/developing countries; which in turn allow easily defeated diseases, like leprosy, to prosper because people cannot afford medication. And just because it's true, a lot of these diseases affect children, in some cases more, than they affect adults.

The flooding of foreign markets with cheaper goods than the ones produced in that country; which in turn, leads to debt and destitution for those industries in developing countries. After all, is a person in Ghana going to spend $3.45 on locally produced produce, or will they spend $2.50 or lower on the same produce that has been imported?

We're all savvy shoppers here in the Western World, so I think we know the answer to the above question.

Capitalism has convinced the Western World that our 'excess' is our right; that we have the right to consume disproportionate amounts of the world's resources, and in many cases produce a high rate of 'spoilage' where those goods aren't even consumed, simply because we make ridiculous amounts of money.

Consider for a moment, what someone who makes $500 million dollars a year can do with that money. Most of us run out of ideas somewhere around the $1 million dollar mark; we have the thought of "Oh, I'd buy a house, a nice car, maybe a boat...A new snowmobile, or ATV...I'd spoil my family a little, maybe give my siblings half a million each...I should donate some of it to charity...Invest some of it...And oh, I've only spent $5 million dollars..."

The fact of the matter is, no one and I literally mean NO ONE needs $500 million dollars a year. No one needs $50 million dollars a year...

Dare I say it, no one needs $10 million dollars a year.

Now put the shoe on the other foot. Think of all the good that could be done with that sort of wealth being put to use in the right places.

Being used to buy and supply prescription drugs to the Third World. Being used to help foster and promote education for children, not only in the Third World, but here as well. Being used to ensure that every senior citizen has a roof over their head, food in their stomach, and the ability to pay to heat their home. After all, senior citizens worked hard in this system, why should they get rewarded with poverty after working so hard their entire life?

The core of what I'm saying is this: Capitalism has made a deity of greed. To borrow a phrase from Gordon Gekko, 'Greed is Good.' And yet, all this greed accomplishes nothing. You can have $50 million dollars, but you if don't have anything to do with IT, why have it?

This has been the founding principle of my political beliefs all my life. I can't wrap my head around why some people should have everything, and others should have very little or nothing at all.

And yet there are people who will defend to the death their right to make as much money as they can. The only irony is a lot of those people are people who are stuck in this system near the bottom of the economic food chain; all because they still believe that this system will eventually reward them with a nice sum of money.

The sooner we're able to ditch that illusion, the ultimate exportation of the American Dream, the better off the world will be.

Why can't people work together? Why can't we see a common need and do something to fix it? Why is it when it comes to protecting even the most vulnerable among us, such as children, we fail to act?

Politicians in this country and others, love to hide behind children. Our budgets are designed with our children in mind. We have to protect our children from this kind of behaviour. We have to do it, for our children.

Yet there are children in this country and province who are starving. There are children in this province who don't live in a safe home, or even a home. And there are children in the Third World who are dying on a daily basis; yet these politicians who preach at the altar of the Church of Children, do little to back up their populism.

Perhaps I've just become jaded at an early age, 23 is still early (right?), but I am beginning to doubt our ability to come together as a species and put behind these petty squabbles and this moronic lusting for greed and wealth, and actually accomplish something good for those among us who need a helping hand.

Despite that, I still have hope.

I know that I likely won't live to see Third World debt relief; I likely won't see the end of poverty and starvation across the world; I likely won't see humanity finally putting away the things that divide us and embracing the things that unite us.

Part of me weeps for this, but again, I still have hope.

I may not live to see that, but I know I can and will live, indeed I will dedicate my life, to helping lay down the groundwork that will one day make those things possible. And that alone is something to be hopeful about.

There is an old Aboriginal saying; 'We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.'

We live in a generation where greed and selfishness is rampant, as I'm sure I've stated above, and as such we've lost sight of this simple truth. Perhaps I'm being hypocritical here, as I've condemned people who pander to the idea of our children, but I actually mean this.

Everything we do today, has an impact on the next generation. Denying climate change because it's inconvenient to us and to company's bottom lines, means that the next generation will live in an ecosystem that we couldn't imagine, and we forced it upon them by doing nothing.

Studies suggest that the next generation will live shorter lives than their parents, due to bad diets and lack of exercise, and yet we are against regulations that limit advertising to children and tell them why this hamburger is the best thing for lunch, as opposed to a healthier alternative.

I'll be honest here too, I'm guilty of being a bit of a glutton. It's one of my vices, and I am attempting to work on it, though it is a struggle.

Everything we do today will affect our children; and for a society that seems to want to protect them, we're doing everything in our power to make the coming generation pay for our sins...Simply because we couldn't be bothered, because doing something would upset our corporate masters.

But, as I said, I'm hopeful about the future. While I hope against hope that I'm wrong and I will live to see the social and economic changes that guide humanity to a better future, I accept that the least I can do is my part to make that future happen.

I can only hope others join in making it happen.

And to end on a quote I've used before, because it works perfectly with this subject...

"Courage my friends! 'Tis not too late to build a better world."

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Blanket Post

Well, first things first: Happy New Year; I hope the holiday season gave everyone a good chance to spend time with family and friends, and that good times were had.

Now, moving right along and into the heart of the issues.

I know I promised to focus on Saskatchewan in my first post of the New Year, and I shall indeed cover that, but I must say that a few Federal issues have popped up that are worth talking about. As such, we're going to have a bit of a double post.

So, let's start with what's been going on around Saskatchewan.

Primarily, the peak of my interest, has been focused on the eminent ruling coming on Saskatchewan's same-sex marriage laws. I've spoken about this before on the blog, so brief recap:

The Saskatchewan Government, led by Minister Don Morgan, issued a court challenge in regards to Saskatchewan's marriage laws. Effectively, the Saskatchewan Government wanted to know whether or not they could arrange for marriage commissioners to have the right to refuse to marry a couple based on their own personal beliefs. This stems from the case of Orville Nichols, who lost a Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal case, when he refused to wed a same-sex couple.

Well, come Monday morning, Saskatchewan will have it's answer.

As I've said, I've talked about this in length before. This proposal seems to be stuck a few centuries back, and really, I don't understand why our government is wasting tax dollars on legal fees to determine a case like this.

The bulk of the matter is this: Marriage commissioners are not religious in nature; they are civil servants who are responsible for upholding the laws of the province they serve. As such, since same-sex marriage is the law of the land in Saskatchewan, marriage commissioners are responsible for upholding this law and officiating over same-sex marriages, if a same-sex couple comes to them to be married.

It's pretty clear cut, I think, yet it would seem that the Saskatchewan Government doesn't see it that way...That or they're just being blinded by ideological standpoints and biases which have no place in attempting to change Saskatchewan law.

That being said, I can only hope that Saskatchewan's judges are able to see it this clearly as well, and uphold Saskatchewan law; and uphold the rights of same-sex couples throughout Saskatchewan, by rejecting this proposal and ensuring that marriage commissioners fulfill the office they've sworn to uphold.

Well, for the moment, that's all I have that's Saskatchewan based. So, let's move on to the Federal scene.

We'll start with what I think was important, though not necessarily shocking, in that Canada is falling behind in Access to Information requests; and when compared to other Parliamentary Democracies (UK, New Zealand, Australia, and Ireland) Canada ranks dead last.

The reasoning for this is a bit two-fold:

1.) Canada's access to information requests still exist in a paper system, as opposed to one which can be accessed electronically. As such, people who request information must still submit paper payment (cheque, money order, etc.) and wait, with shipping time added into that wait time.

2.) As I've mentioned before, the Harper Government seems to be doing everything possible to avoid access to information requests.

The study found that of the 35,000 requests made in 2010, only 16% (5,600) those requests were actually given full disclosure, as opposed to 40% of requests receiving full disclosure ten years ago.

Furthermore, only about 56% of requests are fulfilled within the legislated 30 day time period, as opposed to 70% ten years ago.

Despite being elected on a platform of transparency; (And I covered this extensively on my last post before this one) the Harper Government has failed massively in regards to access to information. It is true they expanded the number of institutions which fell under the act, and opened up more access to information attempts, but they have done nothing to decrease delays in the system and they have taken censorship to the extreme when they have released documents.

Afghanistan is a particular example when it comes to Access of Information requests, given the Conservative's poor track record in releasing information on this issue.

And now, a bit of a budget update.

Word is buzzing that the Harper Government's coming spring budget is going to be a source of contention, and may indeed bring down the Harper Government and launch us into an election. And when you get snippets like this, you begin to understand why.

Word is out that the Harper Government is dead set on pursuing corporate tax cuts in their budget.

Now, Harper is taking the general Conservative quote: That lower corporate tax rates mean more foreign investment, which in turn creates more jobs, and which in turn means higher times of prosperity for the nation.

Effectively, trickle-down economics in work.

However, let's take a moment and think this true.

Look at Saskatchewan, where we have been bleeding full time jobs, but gaining part-time jobs. And this is going on in a time when Saskatchewan politicians, and some Federal ones, are claiming that we're in a good financial period, sound economic footing, and any other platitude you want to say 'we're doing good'.

The Federal Government is running a massive deficit, and this is predicted to continue for a very long time. And yet, despite saying they're going to work towards canceling the deficit and running back on a surplus, they are taking no real action to do this; and corporate tax cuts show that.

By cutting corporate taxes, the Harper Government is robbing Canada of income that we desperately need. So, what happens if the corporate tax cuts go through?

Well, that's a tricky question.

Conservative history suggests that we give tax breaks to people and organizations that don't need them; then we cut services that we think are a waste of money, but that Canadians actually use and need, in order to balance the books.

So, a cut in service is one option.

The other option, which is less likely because it's vastly unpopular, would be a slight raise in the tax on middle-class/lower-class earners, in hopes of financing the cuts for the upper-class earners.

That's more of an American solution, but that doesn't mean we couldn't see something like that here...Though it would likely be the death knell of the Harper Government; so I don't think we'll see that.

Effectively, we're not seeing sound and prudent financial management. Rather, we're seeing financial policy blindly dictated by ideological preference. In other words, we're not getting the policies we need for the times we exist in.

And hopefully, Parliament grows a backbone and stands up against measures in the upcoming budget that will weaken Canada's position both nationally and internationally, and then gives the people a chance to 'throw the blighters out'.