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Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

This is critically important.

Iisaak Forest Resources has applied to the BC government for permission to helicopter log on Flores Island, and public consultation is open only until February 18. Flores is one of the last pieces of wild we have in this province – an island of old-growth forest and amazing white sand beaches just off Tofino and home to the national Chief of Canada’s Assembly of First Nations, Shawn A-in-chut Atleo.  Some years ago, the Wilderness Committee and the Flores Island band worked together to to create the Wildside Trail, an incredible hiking destination through some of the most beautiful land on the planet. (more…)

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I’ve been getting back to readings in political theory and analysis lately, feeling a little need for brain-food. Some Terry Eagleton, some Slavoj Zizek, debates around “The Common Insurrection” (which will form a post of its own in the days or weeks to come). It’s a welcome change of pace, I’m finding, and jazzing me up to perhaps even get a little writing done one of these days. The most recent book is The Idea of Communism, a collection of essays based on conference proceedings from a 2009 gathering in London which brought together many of the bright lights of contemporary radical thought to talk about, well, the idea of communism. (more…)

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I have been meaning to get something up here the last few days, and actually started a few posts that are waiting half-done in my drafts folder.

Today, however, there is only one thing: the Egyptian revolt, the resignation of Mubarek, the celebration and hope. And the wondering, “what next?” (more…)

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Transit and Tories

Thinking on the news, after a bus-ride to work with a large coffee and a couple of Vancouver’s free dailies.

During the together-portion of our commute, Meg and I chatted about the idea – floated by Translink and fought by city councilors in the burbs – that local bridges could be made toll-zones to fund the regional transit authority.

And then, as I left my girl and hopped on bus number two, I find in the paper a little piece featuring Larry Frank’s thoughts on the matter. Larry is a prof at UBC, one of the world’s top public transportation experts, and a guy I know quite well. So I was pleased to see that his comments were pretty much in line with what Meg and I had been discussing.

Short version? Tolls may not be a bad idea, and can be an important piece of a two-prong agenda – to finance infrastructure and upkeep for an expanded public system while driving up the cost of cars and so encouraging more folks to drop them as commuter vehicles. The key, though, is whether this really is the objective, or whether in practice the result would be a cash-grab with no substantive improvement in services.

I am all about public transit. I don’t drive, I don’t ride a bike. So I get around mostly on my own two feet or on the network of buses and skytrains that cross-crosses the city. And I like it, for the most part, cause I get to read and drink coffee on my way to and from work rather than sitting in exhaust fumes. Transit is also one of the few really public, really collective, experiences we have left – a place where a wide diversity of folks from all different communities come together. And while that occasionally has its challenges, more often, I think, it engenders conversation and provides a super-important experience in community.

I would like nothing more than to see an end to the automobile in the city core, at least during regular working hours, and a vast, well-kept transit system. It’s an incredibly important public service, a major infrastructural means to build a coherent city, and quite simply a requirement if we are to continue living in settlements of this size while weaning ourselves off oil. Obviously, then, I also think transit should be completely and universally free of charge.

Where I get frustrated with the transit system, then, is when we see cuts to service and increasing fares, and the transition of our bus networks away from public service and to a private enterprise model . And here’s where I worry about the toll thing. Will this really achieve what it can? Or will it mean simply more costs for us with no real benefits? Would this really, in practice, be about better service and less cars? Or would it end up as simply one more step to the universal marketplace?

Me, I’d like to see this thing given a try, but with a few more specific components:

Tolls, yes, but tolls earmarked for expenditure on a combination of expanded services and decreased fares. These two have to go hand in hand if we are really to make transit an attractive choice for people, and to keep it meaningfully ‘public’.

Rather than a minimal toll all the time, a high toll during working hours and no toll on evenings and weekends when folks are less likely to be driving alone and more likely to be heading somewhere off a major transit route.

Introduce toll-waivers for car and van pools and for folks who can demonstrate that the vehicle is a fundamental requirement of their jobs. Tolls are another form of taxation, yes, but if part of the goal is to get folks out of cars, a global tax ain’t gonna do it cause people will be paying anyway. Target those who drive un-necessarily, and we’ll more likely see the effect we’re looking for.

Something along those lines, I can certainly get behind.

And now, news item two.

Brian Mulroney. Y’know, this guy represented all the very worst when he was in power. His was Canada’s big push to the right as he showed us a Canada that danced hand in hand with Ronald Reagan, cozied up to Margaret Thatcher, sold its sovereignty in the free trade deals and brought neoliberal austerity into every home. Fucker.

But there’s nothing like the Conservatives to make me miss the Tories.

A few weeks ago, I was visiting my folks and watching the TV news, and caught a bit of an interview with Mulroney in which he chided Harper et al for entirely failing to protect Canada and fundamentally misunderstanding that Canada is not the US. The line was to the effect that, to be conservative in Canada means to be right of centre fiscally and left of centre culturally, and by failing to see that Harper was doing significant damage not only to his party but to the whole country.

Hmmm. Kinda interesting. But knowing that there’s no love lost between the current PM and the old one, I presumed that much of this was just an excuse for shots at Harper.

But today the paper reports on a big celebration party in Montreal last night – a party to commemorate Mulroney’s election 25 years ago and a chance for conservatives in this country to put on a united front. And Mulroney? Well, the paper doesn’t indicate any public attack on Harper. But what it does cover is really far more interesting. Brian Mulroney, architect of Canada’s neoliberal plan, wades into the US health care debate, with this to say:

“The attacks on President Obama are often bitter and mean-spirited and his approval ratings, his popularity, are sinking like a stone. Still he fights on…Fifty years from today, Americans willrevere the name ‘Obama’. ..He chose the tough responsibilities of national political leaders over the meaningless nostrums of sterile partisanship…”

Huh. How bout that.

Brian Mulroney, you sure as hell fucked this country over, and you bear no small responsibility for the fact that we today have to fight to maintain our own public health care.  Still, I gotta admit it. When I look at our political spectrum today, I kinda miss you and the old Tories.

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Party-Poopers

I have refrained from writing about the political soap opera unfolding the last few weeks for a couple of reasons.

One, though I have been interested to watch the general developments, this has clearly been a battle among politicians and little else. Some real signficant things at stake? Certainly – not least of which is the right to strike of public service workers, something all the more important in my daily life because Meg is not only a federal government employee but one who has been spending the last two years bargaining with these mother-fuckers, and signed a tentative agreement in good faith only to have Harper deliver a largely-symbolic (given that the deal was signed) but no-less-offensive-for-that shit-kicking just days later. However, despite the very real cuts and the very real attack on workers, the ‘crisis’ itself was put together entirely by political parties for political parties – and its alot harder to get excited about toppling a government when that toppling has no other purpose but to install a pretty much equally-offensive government.

Two, it’s also been pretty uncertain from the beginning whether this Liberal-NDP coalition would manage to hold itself together long enough to accomplish anything. So, there’s a certain reluctance to jump into debate on the sea-change before us when there’s not much hope the storm will actually amount to anything.

And now, here we are the Monday after the government manages to hold on, Governor-General Michaele Jean having permitted parliament to be shut down awhile so all the various players can cool off. And after all the promises of rallies coast to coast and a mobilization of popular support to ensure Harper’s neo-cons are tossed first thing in 2009….well, it all appears to be falling apart. Yeah. That didn’t take much now, did it?

Yes, Stephane Dion is stepping down as head of the Liberals. The knives are out once again for the next head-man to take his place at the head table. And assorted MPs – among them BC’s own self-proclaimed progressive Liberals Ujal Dosanjh and Hedy Fry – are suggesting they might just support a Conservative budget after all.

Done. Finished. We had our fun, now let’s all get out there and shop for Christmas.

Y’know, I’m not a big fan of the Liberal Party. But I have actually been impressed with Stephane Dion this last week or so. I mean, here’s a guy that got the crap beat out of him by his own Party because…well, really I think because he didn’t look enough like a politician. Dion’s an academic, a sociologist, and his quiet, thoughtful manner was quite simply not suited for the game of prime-minister as currently played. But I actually thought he played a good role in this coalition talk. Indeed, I’d suggest that Dion was pretty much the ONLY Liberal who could have brokered this deal and held it as long as he did. He’s a peace-maker, a compromiser. He’s discredited as leader, and so able to step forward and lead without threatening the sharks all around him, the Raes and Ignatiefs. And he quite openly and quite explicitly articulated a vision of the Liberal Party as a progressive-centre rather than a right-centre, as it was under Paul Martin.

Yup, I admit it. I was kind of liking Dion. I was kinda thinking the Libs might have finally decided to veer back toward the centre rather than playing footsie with the Conservatives. And even today I still think that if this had ever been possible, Dion was precisely the guy to make it happen – because is more academic than politician and because he was done as a Party leader.

So, kinda feeling bad for the guy today. Not feeling bad about the collapse of the coalition, which really was pretty much doomed to fall apart as soon as the G-G turned ’em down. But feeling bad for Dion, who – however far his politics are from mine – had just about the best chance to do something good in Canadian government in many many years, and who lost that chance not because he had no vision or had no skills to make it happen, but because the sharks in his own Party saw a chance to sharpen their teeth on his neck. Yup. It may be Canadian politics, but it is politics nonetheless.

A final confession. Last week Meg and I actually went out and attended a rally to support the coalition. Tossed together by organized labour, but designed to ensure labour was officially invisible and all the speakers were politicos, it was actually not a bad little event, all things considered. A couple of thousand people, some real and some manufactured shock at the locking of parliament, lots of vitriol thrown at the neo-cons. And it actually brought out a good cross-section of folks – not only the labour mucky-mucks, but a fair number of anarchists and other radicals who figured, like we did I suppose, that if this is closest we’re getting to overthrowing a government this year we might as well at least show up.

And we did. And that was fun. And we all got a moment to imagine a very Canadian coup and how much fun it would be if the Libs, the NDP and the Bloc all got together and ran their own little parliament for a week or so – a little guerrilla theatre on the national stage. And it sparked a great night of beer drinking and political chatter down at the WISE.

And I guess, at the end of the day, that’s really all we could have hoped for.

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Well, what a fascinating debate last night between the two contenders for the US presidency. Both start the evening with the rhetoric of the evil large corporation while both are explicitly articulating strategies to strengthen capital. This much not surprising. But what we did see last night was an open argument about exactly what kind of capitalist strategy ought to be followed – Obama referrring repeatedly to the Great Depression and setting himself up as the neo-Keynesian, McCain spouting the market-market-market line and hinting that his opponent is a communist in disguise.

Fascinating. McCain started fairly early with this tack, indicating Obama’s plan is to ‘take your money so he can spread it around’ – a theme he kept up, in just those terms, throughout the debate. But more, he suggested, “the whole premise of Senator Obama’s plans is class warfare“.

Wow! Now I’m interested! I’ll look up from the Monopoly game (yes, ironic, isn’t it?) I’m playing with Mica to jot this down and turn up the voume so I can take notes as this progresses.

And so goes McCain throughout the debate, suggesting that the fundamental problem with the economy remains that government spending is too high, that the market is not given enough free rein – in short, that the solution to the crisis is more market freedom and less oversight. OK, so this is pretty typical neoconservative stuff. But he’s not even smart about it. Talk about missing the point – as folks are getting thrown out of their homes because the real estate market and the rest of the economy is so driven by speculation and imaginary dollars, McCain actually says that as individual mortgages are sorted out the crisis will be over, not because anything is altered but because, “if homes go up in value, then we’ll be creating wealth”. In other words, imaginary dollars and speculation is the answer to the crisis of imaginary dollars and speculation! Wow – couldn’t make this stuff up! Someone needs to take Economics 101.

OK, so McCain is sticking to traditional laissez-faire with a substantial dose of just-plain-stupidity, and Obama is the great danger because he proposes something smacking of Keynianism – which, though it saved capitalism’s ass in the past, remains to the free-marketeers Marxism through and through. So the focus of the rest of the debate, from McCain’s side, is the radicalism of Barack Obama – his similarities with ‘radical environmentalists’ and the ‘extreme wing of the pro-abortion lobby; his connection to former Weather Undergrounder Bill Ayres, his support of low-income-voter-registration outfit ACORN, and his dubious foreign policy plans. On this front, it’s no longer about Iraq or Afghanistan, but Latin America. Obama, he sputters, won’t support free trade with Colombia, “our best ally in the region, but wants to sit down with Hugo Chavez”. Yup. I’m with armed thugs and partners in the drug-war/ counter-insurgency plan, Obama’s with the new leftism of Latin America. (Oh, and on this, by the way, Obama’s actually pretty good, noting that Colombia kills trade union leaders with impunity and so, no, he won’t enter into a trade agreement with them.)

OK, so McCain’s nuts, we know. But this is interesting because it really is gloves-off on what strategy is best for capital at the present time. And Obama, in response to all of these, doesn’t bother with defending himself anymore, but instead largely accepts the charges against him and simply argues that laissez-faire failed and capital needs a new plan along the lines of the New Deal. Countless times he refers to the Depression, the crisis that brought Keynesianism around in the first place. Countless times he says, yes, the way to rebuild capitalism is to spend, to invest in social and physical infrastructure. In fact, he goes so far as to say that his bottom line is “we need to raise wages”. It is Keynes reincarnated. Speculation don’t work in the long run. You don’t make money from nothing. Get money into workers hands, make sure they’re earning enough to keep the market afloat, and that’s your best way to restore some sustainability to capitalism.

Hmm. A week ago, these guys were talking in code, dancing around questions of the crisis by sticking largely to the specifics of the government bail-out. Now, however, it’s a new game. Now, it’s capital’s right versus capital’s left, laissez-faire vs Keynes, market market market versus a dangerous new socialism. Gettin’ more and more interesting by the day. Especially when you toss in the international side of things, and the latest news that a special summit of the EU is leading to calls for, in the words of the French Prez, “a new form of capitalism“.

Like the politicos across the water, Obama’s no commie, obviously and regrettably. However, he is clearly is a new kind of Keynesian, and though it seems he was afraid to be too open about that up to this point, seems to be he’s getting the sense that the US might just be ready for another New Deal, and he might just be able to survive the red-baiting that comes with the territory. McCain, for his part, obviously thinks the old ‘reds-under-your-beds’ nightmare still gives people the shivers – a notion that so far appears entirely misguided, as he’s getting no traction whatsoever from any of this.

But fascinating. Capitalism is as intriguing a beast as it is brutal, and it’s not often its internal strategic debates get fought out on TV. But that’s what the confluence of election and meltdown has given us, and I increasingly can’t turn away.

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Election-ing

Well, I’ve done it. Voted. Dropped my little card into the slot and participated in this grand myth we call representative democracy.

I’m in Vancouver-Kingsway this time, so the big decision facing me was:

vote NDP as a strategic move to keep the seat from going to the Liberals;

vote for some incarnation of the communists, just cause its worth encouraging smaller parties to continue to show up and it’s worth reminding the NDP that some of us find their social-democracy too much to stomach;

spoil the ballot, cause without a Work Less Party candidate I can’t really vote for anyone and feel good about it.

So, I walked in with Mica at my side, I showed my ID and voting card, I took my little scrap of paper, I reviewed all the candidates and the process with Mica and talked about the need to mark with a clear X and nothing more, and I cast my vote.

Don Davies, New Democrats? Sorry. Can’t do it. Many reasons I don’t care for the NDP, but this year top of my list is the bullshit positions on Israel they’ve taken. Sorry – equivocating on Israel is like equivocating on apartheid in my book, and I want no fucking part of it.

Spoilt ballot? Yeah, I’ve done this before. But ultimately I would prefer to have my vote actually counted.

So, two communist-types on the list. The Marxist-Leninists and the old CP. Now, I don’t particularly care for any stripe of party-centred commie, prefering my Marx with a healthy dose of anarchist politics. But the CP candidate here is Kimball Cariou, and he’s certainly been active a long time, engaged with the community, working like hell on anti-war stuff, and alot better than most other Marxist party types at working with the broader activist community. So, Kimball, you get my my vote. 162 votes for ya last round, I figure I can do my part to help that go up this time. 

And it’s done. Any internal debates about how to handle this election are now in my past, and I can just sit back and watch the train-wreck that is election night.

God, to think that next month I’ll be back in that booth again for the civic round. But at least when that comes around I’ll have a few names I don’t mind marking down. The Work Less Party will be on the ballot, and COPE candidates will get my vote just because they’re not Vision. But still, the whole game, the whole experience of this alienated democracy really is starting to get old.

Bigger cages, longer chains! as the chant goes…

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