Sunday, February 26, 2012

My Log 290 : Global attack continues on workers, and unions, as the European Community tries hard to prove the cruelty of capitalism

A View from Federal Hill with David Harvey. Cr...David Harvey Image via Wikipedia

As the evidence mounts of a persistent, global attack on working people and the poor, my mind falls back on an interview given a year or so ago by the brilliant British Marxist urban geographer, David Harvey. Commenting on the global economic meltdown, he said capitalism could solve its many crises, but only by setting up the scenario for another inevitable crisis.

He traced the various stages of the handling of the meltdown, and said it had reached the stage where the argument had become as to who was to pay for it. Would it be the financial mavens who had created it? Or the workers. And Harvey prophesied that what we could expect in future was a relentless attack on unions and the organized working class throughout the world.

Hardly were the words out of his mouth before the streets of Paris were filled by hundreds of thousands of workers protesting against the attempt to make them pay with cuts and austerity measures designed to lower their incomes.

Since then we have seen an intensification of this attack on the working class in every sector of economic life, and in every part of the world. The European response has been particularly egregious, with the troika of the United States, the European Community and the International Monetary Fund zeroing in on an effort to impoversish further the workers of the smaller European countries (whose workers have already had to make concessions and reduce their standard of living).

David Cameron’s stringent austerity measures in Britain have already led to a further depression of the British economy, and similar results are underway in some of the European countries, with particular reference to Greece, which seems to have been chosen as the poster boy for a demonstration of the relentless cruelty of the capitalist structure that appears to have been the whole purpose for the establishment of the European Community.

In Canada, the worst is yet to come, but most of this government’s initiatives seem to have been designed to follow the global pattern, with useless and unnecessary measures such as the crime bill and the proposal to imprison more and more people in bigger and better prisons; such as the flirting with reductions in the Old Age Security, totally unnecessary according to most experts; such as the extravagant expenditure on new US fighter planes that apparently aren’t expected to work properly,;and such as Public Safety Minister Vic Toews having said anyone who is not in favour of internet censorship is with the child pornographers --- all these are signs of a government we have, somehow to try to get rid of as soon as possible.

Ah, well, what else is new? In a nation which once had corporate taxation of more than 90 per cent, the United States, politicians are vying for the distinction of which of them would cut the current corporate rate of 39 per cent furthest. Obama is preparing to cut it into the 20s, and Romney, if he is elected, can be depended on to do what he suggests, cut it even further.

Mezantime, if readers feel so inclined, they might like to take a look here at an amusing illustrated video of a statement by David Harvey on the many fanciful reasons given for the Crises of Capitalism. Be my guest.
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Saturday, February 25, 2012

My Log 289 : Parlous state of world gets me down --- temporarily, I hope

I find to my surprise that it is already more than three weeks since I last wrote something in this log. That could be explained perhaps by my longish spell under the weather, in the way of health, with, first almost two months dominated by a detached retina and the long process of its being corrected and returning to more or less normal, followed by some sort of throat ailment, and also by, more recently, my having visited my son in Austin, Texas, for eight or nine days.
It could also have had to do with the increasingly parlous state of the world, which seems to have become alarming in almost every sense. Economically, the world seems to be recovering, if at all, extremely slowly from the destruction yielded by the handful of wealthy oligarchs in the United States, none of whom seem to have suffered in any way for their crimes. Instead they were promoted by Obama to positions of maximum influence over the US economy, something that, surely, none of those millions who supported Obama so enthusiastically in the last presidential election could have imagined as likely.
In other words, this new world under the hegemonic control of the ethos of capitalism has turned out to be almost as disastrous as those of us who have always had hope for a better world might have prophesied. With even the Chinese having joined this capitalistic conspiracy, what hope is there left for a decent world? Even in Europe, which in recent years has been a slight beacon of hope for at least the decencies of the welfare state, a ruthless triumvirate of the United States, the European Community, and the International Monetary Fund is imposing austerity measures that seem to be designed to reduce Europe’s smaller and weaker nations to abject poverty. For reasons that are beyond normal human understanding, they seem to have it in especially for Greece, the cradle of our civilization: to my mind, the Greeks should tell them all to stuff it, resign from the Eurozone, and rebuild from the bottom up, just as Argentina did with relatively spectacular results.
And talking of Presidential elections, the Republican party primaries, now underway, have become so bizarre as to sicken any one with even a modicum of hope that the world might, gradually, be growing more just, more equal, more tolerant. As some commentator or other remarked recently, only a brain-dead political party could contemplate even the remote possibility that a man like Rick Santorum could be put forward as its presidential candidate. The more one reads about this race, the more one hears these people speak their appalling inanities, the more distressed one is bound to become. Where did those hopeful, eager days of our youth, when we hoped for a world free of international hatreds and so on, where have they gone? The sort of thing that is going on in Afghanistan right now, with people demonstrating and even killing people because someone has burned copies of the Koran seems like a template for the modern world --- religious fanatics everywhere, it seems, sowing and harvesting their dreadful crops of hatred, intolerance, obscurantism, superstition, and the other proud achievements of religion.
Okay, I think it is time for me to spring out of this mood of despair, and bounce back into the progressive mainstream. At least the All Blacks won the World Rugby Cup some months ago, and this weekend Wales have beaten England, always a welcome event. Maybe I can build from there, and come back next week with something more positive to say about our accursed world.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 30:  U.N. Secretary-Gener...Image by Getty Images via @daylif

Link of the Day, Feb 7 2012: Hillary Clinton (a strong candidate for the post of school marm to the world) says the Russian, Chinese veto of the Security Council resolution on Syria is shameful, deplorable, and a travesty.

Nothing, of course, like the more than 160 vetoes cast by the United States over the last few decades. Here is a partial list of them, from a Web site published in Arabic and English by the Arab Studies Institute, “committed to discussing the Arab world on its own terms.”

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Friday, February 3, 2012

My Log 288 : Nagging sense of déjà vu in watching CBC documentary series on native Canadians

I watched “8th Generation”, the admirable CBC series on contemporary Canadian Aboriginal life, but with a nagging sense of déjà vu.

This series, expertly anchored by the youthful Wab Kinew, may not have had this effect on most viewers, to whom the subject would have been more or less new.

But I began to write about Canadian native people in 1968, to make films with and about then, to write books about their history and lives, and so many echoes came forth from these programmes of things that people told me more than 40 years ago, or conclusions I came to at that time, that I couldn’t help but be moved by a kind of sadness.

There certainly was something winning about the young people, their energy and hopefulness, their sense that if only they could get an education, they need not relive the traumas that have afflicted their parents. But I think I have to convict the programme’s producers of being too optimistic, of painting too rosy a picture, of in certain cases, not telling quite the whole truth.

For example, the way they described the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, signed by the governments of Canada and Quebec, with the Cree and Inuit people of northern Quebec in 1975, had more than a tinge of euphoria. To hear them tell it, this was a sort of model agreement, one that could be followed by other native groups around the country to their advantage.

In actual fact, it was an agreement that was brutally enforced by the governments, to such a point that the First Nations involved had no option but to sign what they were offered, and hope for something, because if they had refused to sign, they would have got nothing, nothing at all, and would have found a $16 billion hydro project being build across the length and breadth of their traditional lands, whether they liked it or not.

Like every other agreement that has been made with native groups in the last half century, they had to agree to the extinguishment of their rights and titles, which are, oddly enough, protected in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms --- in other words by the Canadian constitution.

The governments of every stripe have been adamant on this extinguishment as the bottom line for every agreement they have made. Why is it necessary? The evidence suggests it is not. When Toronto’s “tiny, perfect Mayor,” David Crombie, briefly strayed into federal politics, and was made Minister of Indian Affairs by Brian Mulroney, his first action on taking office was to ask 64 questions of his civil service, dealing with the actual way Canada’s government had fulfilled its constitutional responsibility as trustee for the interests of the native people. Those questions were never answered.

Of more relevance to this article, Crombie also struck a task force to advise him whether this extinguishment policy was necessary. The task force after an exhaustive investigation of the subject, advised him the extinguishment policy was not really necessary.

Within three months Crombie had been removed from office, generally supposed to have been undermined by his senior civil servants, who bristled at the idea that Canada might sally forth into the Indian world on a basis of genuine trust with its native partners.

When the James Bay Agreement was negotiated, the federal government’s need not to alienate the Quebec government took precedent over their constitutional responsibility to defend the interests of the Indians in Quebec. In fact, no Agreement would have been signed at all, if it had not been for the judgment in favor of the Aboriginal people made by Mr. Justice Malouf in the Quebec Superior Court, a judgment ordering Quebec not to trespass on the Indian lands, a judgment so powerful that the federal government put pressure on Quebec to enter into a serious negotiation with the native parties to the dispute.

To describe what arose from these negotiations as some sort of model for others to follow would be to pile injury on top of insult. On the other hand, there are lessons to be learned from what has happened since, For example, in recent years the Crees have knuckled under to the governmental pressures, have signed agreements with both governments, have been given many millions of dollars for their new obedience, and have managed to obtain for themselves limited powers of government that at least give them the illusion of having influence over the greater part of their traditional lands (so-called Category Three lands), and have been able to settle into a role as a sort of regional government that is far beyond the powers given to other native groups across the country. The cost of this --- what they have had to surrender in return for their millions of dollars --- is that they have had to sell their cherished, wild, magnificent Rupert river, to Hydro-Quebec, which is now engaged on the work of modifying it, and, in essence, destroying its intrinsic, irreplaceable qualities, Environemntal groups who have tried to save the Rupert have found the Crees, this time, to be on the side of the government, not that of the river. That is a sorry thing.

None of this downside to the James Bay Agreement made it into “8th Generation,” the CBC film.

Another thing that rang a bell with me was the that the younger generation have heard enough about Indian problems, and are more interested in getting on with solutions to these problems. That is a conclusion I came to in about 1970, when I realized that by writing about their problems all the time, I was somehow missing something that was going on in native communities. (It was Harold Cardinal, head of the Alberta Indian Association, who identified at that time what he called “the problem problem”, that is, since most people identified “Indians” with “problems”, to keep harping on about their problems was merely to feed this particular stereotype.) I began to ask the young men who could speak English and were willing to translate for me to take me to their old people, where I found these aged and highly experienced, wonderfully skilful people were more than willing to keep me talking all day, so long as we were talking about things they thought were central to their lives. But then here, again, although I was glad to hear it mentioned, I had a certain sense of sadness this week that this was still worth mentioning after all these years.

Of course, there is a paradox at the centre of modern native life in Canada, and it is one that struck me forcibly forty years ago. I met so many young or youngish native people who were angry that they had been taught to despise the very fact of their Indianness, and were wondering how that had happened (the answer to that: they had been through a process of brainwashing, designed to destroy everything that meant anything to native people).

So it had become obvious that the first task at that time was for a new leadership that could revive the indigenous values on which they had been raised, and that the government had exerted every effort to destroy. It seemed to me that over the 1970s, 80s and 90s, that task was undertaken, and had been achieved to a considerable degree. What was also needed, going in lock-step with the revival of their indigenous beliefs, was a better education, so that they could confront the government machine that was trying to put them through the wringer. This was, and still is, the paradox: on the one hand, they needed to become more proudly native, embracing their values; on the other, they needed to embrace white man’s education just to enable them to defend themselves against the white man’s governance machine.

This is why, when many people seriously try to understand aboriginal people and their lives, there still is such a tendency to laud those who are more successfully assimilated to the white value system. This seems an almost inevitable consequence of where these people are at nowadays: this CBC series of films placed education at the centre of the desiderata for a beter native life. Ipso facto, they have a difficult road to travel between becoming successfully integrated into Canadian society, complete with their graditional values; and the assimilated future held out to to them by their improving mastery of white man’s education.

They need wise leaders to chart these courses. The CBC series revealed a great deal of self-awareness among their younger people, a necessary ingredient as they make this difficult journey.

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