Back in the Day

Back in the day, all weapons, armaments, and explosives were very hard to come by and protected from mass distribution by treaties which banned the proliferation of arms. To a large extent those treaties are now ignored. It would seem that gun-runners are now having a field day as the wild west is evidenced on all continents. Even the entertainment culture appears to include violence and lawlessness as a raison d’etre and includes scenes of carnage like those depicted in Paris, France mid-November.

Back in the day, all weapons carried identification information such as the manufacturer’s name, production serial numbers, and date of manufacture. The same controls applied to the ammunition used in the weapons. Special licensing and other restrictions were imposed so that the distribution of killing machines was under strict control. Nowadays such controls are so fraught with loopholes and dispensations that the so-called rights of manufacturers to produce and sell is called a freedom to be religiously upheld and cherished. The same arguement is trotted out by gun owners and their cohorts as if possession were a security blanket. So weapons and ammunition are easily available to the mentally challenged, criminals, the careless and those who harbour religious fanaticism.

Those jurisdictions, which introduce and legislate tough controls over possession, storage and/or use of weapons, receive brickbats from every quarter. The police forces, world wide, are facing an impossible task of trying to uphold laws which are easily circumvented. While one state manages to curtail and control some sales, a neighbouring state may have an open season on sales. Proliferation is so rife that the forces of law and order are fighting an uphill battle in order to stem the tide. Police often find themselves out-gunned and under siege. Who would want to be an officer of the law under such conditions?

How often have we heard that “Enough is enough.” I would go much further and aver that enough is more than enough, much more. The damage is done and it’s time for a new anti-violence regime to be heard loud and clear. If a car manufacturer produced a vehicle which killed people there would be all hell to pay; just ask GMC or VW. Let’s apply the same logic to those who manufacture arms and ammo. It is now possible to identify weapons from codes built into their firing mechanisms. Using modern technology ammunition could also be coded so that identification is safeguarded. In this way the illegal acquisition of armaments could be traced at each stage back to source and if laws are enforced, remedies would be handed down to make the perpetrators face justice.

Realising that some political goodwill would be required to bring such a regime about, the naysayers will gripe about amendment rights, freedoms, hunting, sports, and the plethora of usual excuses. It is long past time for the political class to grow some cohones if not spinal tissue and do what is not only politically right but morally defensible.
Scenes such as those from Paris will be repeated unless we show leadership and international cooperation in order to curtail the international proliferation of arms and bring the perpetrators to justice.


Sanity Once More

It’s getting to be a habit, a very welcome habit to my tired eyes and ears. The announcement that the US is not only talking to Iran but has actually joined an international partnership to reach a deal which limits the proliferation of nuclear weapons, is a joy to all who value peace, tact, and diplomacy. The announcement follows on the heels of an opening dialogue with Cuba leading to a partial normalization of relations there, too. The trifecta is complete with the announcement from the Hillary Clinton campaign that all Americans should be automatically registered to vote on attaining the age of eighteen and that she will push for such registration. Other progressive actions seem to be surfacing to the benefit of the citizenry and to the relief of minorities. Although there is a long way to go, such moves are so welcome that sanity is seen to emerge.

Elected representatives quickly forget that all of the accusations levelled at Iran can and should equally be levelled at the US. They say Iran can’t be trusted but the Iranians remember how the US was instrumental in usurping Iran’s democratically elected government and installing the Shah, a terrorist puppet regime, in its place. They say Iran is a sponsor of international terrorism by supplying arms and support to some of Israel’s neighbours. Is the US conscience clear in every Central and South American nation on the same topic? The US considers it appropriate to tap into the communications of nations on every continent. The latest known victims are Brazil and Germany. Republican and Democrat spokemen alike castigate Iran for actions that the US has repeatedly modelled. The good news is that Iran has risen above the US paranoia and their people rejoice in the outcome.

When Israel acts as the aggressor, creates apartheid conditions and destroys homes and infrastructure in Gaza, they are praised in the US as freedom fighters. They receive funding and armaments from the parent source and do not discriminate in how those arms are used. On several occasions the UN security council has condemned Israel as war criminals and for crimes against humanity. Yet those resolutions do not see the light of day because the US exercises its veto. Despite three years of negotiations (culminating in the day old agreement to limit Iranian nukes) there is not a peep about putting the same screws to the Israeli stockpile. The hypocrisy continues. When will Russia, China and the US trust each other enough to really show leadership in nuclear disarmament?

The thawing of relations with Cuba has been dealt with elsewhere but the third item regarding voter registration requires an airing. The governor of Wisconsin recently announced his running for president in the 2016 election. Part of his platform was a boast that his state now requires government issued photo ID in order to vote. By so doing he has effectively cut the voter rolls for those who can’t obtain a government issued photo ID. A Student card is not good enough. Neither is utility bills, shopping cards, and any of the other myriad ways usually accepted as proof of identity. He is not alone in imposing such restrictions. It is a measure of insanity to make voter registration and ID difficult in a democracy. That is why Hillary Clinton’s announcement was so welcome. If enacted it would cut across the voter registration and ID fiasco and bring a standard requirement to all states for every election.


Are Mass Shootings Trending?

To call the most recent tragedy in South Carolina a hate crime – as some media types have done – or to treat it with inward looking labels of intolerance, man’s inhumanity to man, racial bigotry, severe prejudice, class bias, etc., is to cover the ordeal with soft soap and furnish a snow job. The mass shootings that have made startling headlines not just in the USA but around the globe all seem to be aimed at those who can’t fight back; church-goers, school children, students, all unarmed and unprepared for gun violence. It follows that the perpetrators are not just mentally unstable and lacking human decency but the lowest in the ranks of cowards.
A similar class of cowards is being recruited by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Given that they are armed with American weapons granted to Iraqi forces and then abandoned, it would seem that a new wild west scene is being opened up with some delight in the Middle East. The question arises as to how the ISIL recruits are to be treated when they are eventually brought to justice. Those same recruits are labelled terrorists and guilty of public beheadings (to mention but one international crime).
As in the original wild west, law enforcement – using brave souls, the rule of law and posses – eventually brought some order to the west. Would the “eye for and eye” old testament justice suit in the Middle East? Why are those perps who resort to gun violence against the unarmed in churches and schools not labelled homeland terrorists? Are they not every bit as guilty of terrorism and crimes against humanity as their ISIL brethern? Semantics? Perhaps. The children of Sandy Hook and the congregation at the Emanuel church felt terrorised!
It is variously reported that the perps are recruited via internet sites such as KKK, Aryan brotherhood, etc. and that there are some 800 such hate groups plying their poisonous doctrine world wide via those sites. Are they not all offering a route to terrorism? Free speech mantras are one thing but such freedoms surely carry some responsibility and accountability to recognise that not all free speech is good or welcome. So much is known to law enforcement entities about those groups at federal, state and local levels that it should be a no-brainer to shut them down permanently. Just as ISIL is treated by the international community, so too should like remedies be levied against our homegrown terrorists.
The ranks of cowardice also extend to the legislative branches of government. To make armaments available to the mentally unstable and registered felons sans background checks and to offer the nonsensical audacity that the availability is a right is to invite chickens to come home to roost.
In the 1950s and 60s, the UK was forced to face up to racial profiling and prejudice. The national conversations that followed brought stringent laws to bear on all cases of discrimination in the workplace and in rentals and sales of properties: People of colour were offered the same rights in public as their local born citizens. Perhaps a similar round of conversations is long past due in the home of the brave.

Despite Netanyahu’s pre-emptive strike

It was with some surprise and a smidgen of disbelief that I listened  to the local news and learned that not only was a nuclear deal with Iran in the offing, but the military was not involved. There were no boots on the ground, no aerial bombardment, no collateral damage, no killing of innocents, and no damage to schools, hospitals, churches, and civilian infrastructure. No f****** semper fi! Those tactics that the US and NATO had used mercilessly and with impunity since world war two were mysteriously absent. Hoo-bloody-ray!

So many pundits were against any sort of deal with Iran that such an event entered the realm of impossible. Those pundits showed their brass necks by noting at some length that Iran was not to be trusted. A short course in recent Iranian history would have taught them that any animosity on Iran’s part would have shown that Iran had multiple reasons for mistrust of US and NATO and their clients. Have the Israelis always treated Iran fairly? Did Iraq have US backing for its military adventures in Iran? Did the US shoot down an Iranian civilian aircraft over Iranian waters? Did agents of the US usurp the democratically elected government of Iran and install the Shah as their puppet?

US and NATO spokesmen have a terrible habit of rewriting history boasting that they are the good guys. War crimes do not apply to them and international criminal courts are only recognised when it’s to their advantage. Even the present incumbent in the White House regards the US as the shining city on the hill and its systems and players as exceptional. The naive might ask, ‘exceptional in what way?’ Surely not exceptionally violent, exceptionally aggressive, exceptionally greedy, exceptionally hypocritical, and the list of negative character traits goes on? How about exceptionally paranoid on a daily diet of media inspired fear?

It’s the Iranians who have reason to be paranoid. They had been caught between a theocratic rock and the hard threat of nuclear annihilation. Their choices were hell or hell!

Has the US and NATO actually listened to the oceans of criticism arising from their decades of misadventures and decided to seek a better solution for foreign policies? There are 47 so-called republican traitors who adamantly adhere to the previous bullying tactics and would disrupt the administration’s attempts at joining the human race and the side of good hearted folks world wide. Freedom of speech is good. Freedom of speech with accuracy and responsibility is better. Hopefully those brain addled clowns will always be in a distinct minority whether they are charged as traitors or not.

While today’s news is uplifting, it is not yet cast in stone having a 3 month respite to dot the I’s and cross the T’s. It does however, auger extremely well for the future of diplomacy. The reasoned talk, debate, tact and courtesy, as shown to a world wide audience, has exemplified that there is hope yet for the future of the human race. Mr. Netanyahu’s pre-emptive strike in his dubiously illegal, certainly discourteous, speech to the US Congress, may have earned him a few votes on the extreme right of Israeli politics but it earned him little, if any, brownie points with the larger audience. Just imagine the furore if Mr. Obama had been invited to address the Knessett behind Netanyahu’s back!

Dare we imagine that as Iran foregoes being a holder of nuclear weaponry, that all other nations will follow their lead? Will Israel and the US, to mention but two such candidates, also follow UN resolutions on nuclear proliferation? If the world is safer when Iran toes the line, doesn’t it follow that further safety is ensured when all nations do the right thing?

But why stop with nukes? The UN has resolutions on its books relating to the proliferation of all arms. Where is the leadership to take up those challenges? Surely there is a strong desire in China, Russia, and the US to make all nations safer? If those nations led the way, the other nations such as Israel, France, Britain, Italy and Germany would be obliged to follow suite. What a gift that would be to the peacemakers; to see the supply of arms dry up. Police forces would begin to sleep soundly once more and smiles would come back into fashion.

Today’s news was huge. It was not only welcome in our household, it removed a large cloud of cynicism from my shoulders and restored a large unit of trust in my fellow humans. Thank you.


The Big Buy-In

Note: this was originally posted to Calum’s “View from the Shore” blog. We’re resurrecting it here because J references it in his Reading Virtual Minds books

Whether we call it a bail-out, a buy-in, or simply a rescue package for the Wall Street banks and financial institutions, is neither here nor there. In the end, the US taxpayer is left with at least 850 Billion smackers to add to a smothering ocean of debt. Complicating this troubling situation are the intricacies of an election campaign rife with falsehoods, half truths, shaved factual information, all delivered with the straight face of noble sincerity. Accusations of mendacity have been leveled against each of the four principals still left in the election race. What are we to think?

Those of us fortunate enough to stand back and view proceedings from afar have a smug awareness of events which those in the melting pot may have missed, they being too close to the action. Adages such as “the chickens are coming home to roost”, “you reap what you sow”, “we told you so”, and a plethora of Presbyterian saws do not really help the present situation although we would do well to keep them in mind for future adventures. Arabs and Presbyterians share the common wisdom in that we should “neither a lender nor a borrower be”. That commonality is not shared by those who are taught to seek instant gratification. Thus do usurers thrive and multiply out of control.

The financial unease in US financial markets is causing queasiness in Asian, European and Australian markets too. Although through the 1980s, the Japanese learned the hard way that over-leveraging and over-extension of financial vehicles causes extreme distress down the road, the lessons of that history have not really hit home as they should. Another adage would have it that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them to their deep regret. The toxic loans which deregulation of financial markets ushered in are in lock-step with pseudo corruption as rules governing financial instruments become less responsible and less accountable relative to previously stable practices.

The big buy-in need not have come to pass for the writing was on the wall, in plain sight, for all to see. Some 10 years ago Joseph Stiglitz, former head of the World Bank, made those warnings public in a widely read and oft quoted book. Other authors, such as Naomi Klein, have added to the drum beat of warnings, although those warnings were pooh-poohed as conspiracy theory, pinko economics, or worse.

In days past when financial institutions were regulated so that investor and depositor accounts were protected by rules, there were formulae in place which spelled out conditions for financial transactions of all kinds. The folly of relaxing such rules ala Glas-Steagal is now evident. Under those conditions there was no such dog as a sub-prime loan, deposit free mortgages, bait and sell tactics, unexplained small print, bundling of mortgages, exotic derivatives and the plethora of financial instruments which take risk, gambling, and leveraging to undreamed of heights. The mathematical formulae which may have worked well in academia with Dr. Milton Friedman had no success in practice. We now find that putting lipstick on those pigs doesn’t clean up the act. Wrapping a dead fish in fancy paper does not prevent it eventually from stinking to high heaven .

Given a truly free market those who sold such toxic products would have met their come-uppance. By running their companies into the ground through over leveraging (as at Lehman Bros.) and greed (as with CEO remuneration) they have proved that Stiglitz, Klein, and even those who still hold on to Keynesian principles had it right. Free markets have shown that freedom must be a two way street by extending the freedom to all parties and not just to those in the ivory towers. The big buy-in will now try to shut the barn door after the horse has gone. Those who master-minded this orgy of greed bought insurance through donations to their political yes men. So the markers were called in.

All this was possible because the master-minds had a seat at the table when NAFTA was nursed into existence behind closed doors and attempted to extend their influence through the WTO in secrecy, and more recently the non-transparent Doha negotiations. The Chicago school under the mesmerizing tutelage of Milton Friedman was so seductive in offering such elegant theories couched in utopian, beautifully perfect reasoning that even smart people came under its spell. What worked so well in theory was an abject failure in practice world wide, no matter where it was put into practice.

As regulations were relaxed and eroded, the Mexican peso fell followed by the South Asian currencies such as the Baht. Rescue efforts by the tax-payer worked to some extent but the lesson remained unlearned as the rules were not tightened and governments cow-towed to the wishes of the financial institutions. Nations whose checks and balances prevented chaos and disaster, blindly went along with the flow and the monetary world became a wild west casino in open season.

As Donald Rumsfeld remarked at Milton Friedman’s 90th birthday party,” Ideas have consequences”. Unregulated ideas often have disastrous consequences. Such was the case with Yeltzin’s USSR bringing about the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the break-up of the Union, and plunging ordinary folk into poverty. Good ideas in economic theory have great difficulty maintaining goodness in practice. Similar disasters occurred in Mao’s China, in Pol Pot’s regime, in Pinochet’s Chile, in Mulroney’s Canada, and in Thatcher’s UK.

The wholesale acceptance of the gospel according to Friedman, with it’s hallowing of free market tenets, has now brought consequences to the US that were unthinkable at the turn of the 21st century. The widening gap between the very rich and the impoverished has grown in every year since Reagan first pronounced that “debt doesn’t matter” and the graduating MBA class at UCLA were told that “greed is good“.

Although debt may not matter to some, the servicing of debt matters to all including our children and grandchildren. Although the cheering MBA wallahs felt at one with their mentor Ivan Boesky, some would opine that greed is a character flaw and excessive greed is despicable. The consequences abound and the question arises whether or not the lessons of this history will be part of future curricula.

The hypocritical west which held the Left accountable for irresponsible policies in the USSR and elsewhere will balk at holding their own neo-liberal fat cats to the same standards. Capitalism as practiced in the US is every bit as loathsome as Stalin’s communism. Stalin brought about the demise of some 20 million of his fellow countrymen. What price will the neo-liberal capitalism of the right exact? Truly democratic and socialistic nations are leading the way to benefit their people and yet we trash their efforts as pinko economics.

As the class warfare continues unabated, as the ownership society becomes a homeless society, as the wealth to poverty gap widens exponentially, as more and more of the world’s wealth accumulates in fewer and fewer hands, as the everyday existence of ordinary folk becomes more and more difficult, each strand of the so-called American dream becomes shredded. Those who control the purse strings control our lives. The neo-liberals have done this by defunding the Left.

The current US administration has taken this activity to impossible lengths leaving a legacy of such massive debt and so many deficit budgets, that future governments will be hard pressed to service the debt. By raiding the national treasury and leaving the cupboard bare they ensure that the changes promised in election campaigns will be nigh impossible. The call of “Yes we Can” will become a sorry “No we can’t”. ‘Change we can believe in’ will come up hard against disbelief!

By defunding the Left, the improvements needed in health care, education, housing, policing, emergency services, the armed forces, and the 101 services which people need, will wither on the vine. In their place expect more privatization with its unregulated profit margins. Privatize everything. The neo-liberals will jump for joy as Grover Norquist’s wish comes true and socialism finally drowns in its own bathwater.

Milton Friedman’s legacy, designed to produce profits at each turn, will continue to make its mark and do so with such remarkable frequency that it will justify its continuation and expansion. So much will it do so that the millions left behind will be glossed over as losers by the compliant media. The maxim that government should just get out of the way and let the market work will rule until the corporate world needs socialism and demands corporate welfare. Forgetting that they themselves, the so-called experts, wrote the rules for their demise, they come begging cap-in-hand for some government bailout, a rescue package, spun to be a tax-payer buy-in with no tax-payer input, choice, or discussion. And that’s where we came in.

NAFTA on Steroids

Note: this was originally posted to Calum’s “View from the Shore” blog. We’re resurrecting it here because J references it in his Reading Virtual Minds books

As a harbinger of the demise of democracy on this continent, if the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was not bad enough, its new and improved cousin, The Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), rubs salt into that wound. The blight of out-sourcing, off-shoring, de-regulation, laissez-faire over-sight of business and the diminishing adherence to labour law, lax environmental restrictions, under funding of social programs can only find increased support in the SPP. The rights, freedoms and healthy initiatives surrendered under NAFTA will not be re-instated but will be accelerated downward to banana republic status, if not out of existence.

The privatization of Canadian institutions such as the military, the RCMP, the CBC, the health service, the judiciary as well as other government services, all fall within the realm of possibility under the auspices of the SPP. Canada, as an example of a workable social democracy, will be flushed out of existence and replaced with an inferior form of statehood managed from within the DC beltway.

Having already held meetings in Mexico City, and Waco Texas, the three amigos have just met in Montebello, Quebec on August 07. Guarding the three ne’er-do-wells were the US Army (yes US grunts on Canadian soil), the RCMP and the local constabulary, Le Surete du Quebec. No buses, vans or cars carrying more than two were allowed within 5 kilometres of Montebello Castle where the fiasco was played out. Canadian NGOs hoping to host teach-ins and provide information panels were forbidden from renting a local hall 6 kilometres from the venue of the talks. Police statehood rules. It says something when our elected leadership fears those who elected them.

The three nations involved in this exercise in fascism are Mexico, the USA, and Canada. For over two years now, this business-led initiative has met secretly, developing and honing its plans and allowing very little but the most bland and innocuous information to leak. Heavily funded by its corporate masters, the busy little beavers promoting the SPP, have found ways to circumvent legislative bodies, and impose their elitist edicts by feeble and non-binding regulation rather than by law. The Canadian quarterback on this team is Mr. Tom D’Aquino, CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives. The other participating nations have similar business round table organizations and a similar agenda which easily gains access to the inside track in the corridors of power.

There is no public debate in the SPP negotiations. There is no legislative discussion as to the pros and cons of the process or its results. There are no independent committees receiving inputs from all the other stakeholders. It would seem that the CEO fraternity knows what’s best for all the people of North America and all other inputs are just not relevant. The rich elites have hankered after power down through history and now seem to have bought access to the golden ring. Is this a new form dictatorship? Instead of a nation-based empire are we now seeing the rise of a corporate fascist empire of global proportions and reach? What can we do to stop it dead in its tracks? Maggie Thatcher would invoke the TINA syndrome meaning there is no alternative. She was wrong then and they are wrong now.

While we still go though the exercise of an electoral process, it hardly seems relevant to continue down that road. No matter which party comes into power, no matter how much money is raised, no matter what the various political campaigns promise, the end result seems to be, that the loyalty of politicians is bought and paid for before the final votes are tallied. Even accuracy in reaching a tally is being questioned. Just as the American Democrats are but less well-groomed Republicans in opposition, when the balance of power shifts, the ordinary voter sees no difference in action or fact.

The complicit mass media provide only the information that the corporate gatekeepers allow. That misinformation so often is leaked by the party in power to further its own ends. Independent research and due diligence are no longer a hallmark of what passes for journalism. The same bland similarity is present in Canada. Tories change places with Grits and the band plays on. The same venal behaviours continue unabated. In Canada the CBC can’t be trusted anymore just as in Britain the BBC is similarly tainted. They are both subject to financial masters who can dictate their editorial slant with a threat of privatization and appointments to decision- making roles.

The SPP is a NAFTA-plus initiative. The partnership fuses economic integration and security integration reflecting the US paranoia post 9-11. The SPP is not a treaty but an executive-to-executive pact arrived at in a series of secret pow-wows. It is not a single agreement but a series of moves to fully integrate all three countries into what has been called the North American Community, (NAC) much like the European Economic Community, (EEC), now the (EU), European Union. While the big three meetings get the shallow media attention, a vast background of actors in each country, prepares the ground and smooths the way on an on-going basis.

The big differences are that the SPP has no grass roots involvement. Whereas the EEC was brought into being with full transparency, and individual nations debated the issues and held plebiscites or referenda on specific topics, the SPP received its launching in-camera. Some European nations sought exclusions, for example to currency or political integration, but no such allowances are made for North Americans.

While the Europeans allowed for debate by trade unions, by professional organizations, in open forum discussions, in TV current affairs programming and the like, on this continent it’s the CEO way, or the highway. While in Europe, labour law was upheld and respected, social programs were enhanced to the highest individual nation’s norm, professional etiquette was promoted and a consensus was sought to protect the best and upgrade the rest, in the US-led process the opposite is the case. Ditto the approach to international treaties, pacts and conventions. While the EU has strengthened its institutions at home and abroad, we seem to be dismantling, privatizing and politicizing ours.

Should an NAC come into being, the question of currency will arise. Each country has a central bank which operates as a state institution and sets its own monetary policies. With political union, eventually monetary union will arise. In fact, the Amero is already being bandied about as a replacement for the dollar-dollar-peso format now in place. Has anyone thought out how the ocean of US debt will be handled? Who knows? Will the currency be privatized as federal, provincial and state debt is privatized? The odds are that the US Treasury Department will surrender none of the international clout it now holds in majority positions with the IMF and World Bank; which is much the same as its veto power at the UN.

While the peoples’ representatives are kept in the dark those who represent the business community have a seat at the table. Through the creation of a North American Competitiveness Council (NACC), not only is business party to the proceedings, but their guidance is welcomed and prioritized in driving the SPP agenda. Along with the security and prosperity issues, there are some 300 initiatives awaiting confirmation. The goal is to completely integrate the three countries, politically, legislatively, and economically into a seamless continental market in which the least restrictive business environment rules. That means seeking out and accepting the most lax regulation and applying that across the board. A misbegotten NAFTA on steroids!

So if Canada has laws to protect its remaining sovereignty and national interests, if Canada has regulations which enforce stricter food security, if Canada has limiting rules about exporting resources such as oil, natural gas, water, trees, etc., those would all have to be diminished to meet inferior standards in the other countries. If Mexico has restrictions on oil exports to protect its own national interests, but the Canada does not, guess which nation will prevail? We can also expect smart cards containing finger print, retinal scans, blood type, perhaps even DNA markers for travel.

There are specific SPP initiatives which gave cause for alarm. Air passenger no-fly lists are rife with blacklisting of innocents, racial profiling, invasion of privacy, false information and faulty criteria for judging high-risk travelers. Once on a no-fly list it is almost impossible to get off it. No-fly lists are shared with other western countries which do not re-investigate for accuracy or pertinence and the national spooks and police forces are complicit in condemning the innocent. The case of Canadian citizen Maher Arar, who was rendered for torture to Jordan and Syria, aptly illustrates the madness which paranoia brings on.

Even though the US remains a rogue state in violating international treaties, systematically violating the Geneva Conventions on torture, and codifying those crimes into the notorious Military Commissions Act, our Canadian government has been silent on the issue. Why are we at the table with international criminals? What part of ‘Accessory before or after the Fact’ do we not understand?

Even though it takes the energy of one barrel of oil to produce four for the US market, there are plans to expand the Alberta Tar Sands project five fold. Given that this project is one of the greatest sources of air, water, and soil pollution on the continent, the plan is to go ahead. Although the US holds the right to maintain a strategic reserve of fossil fuels, Canada has no such reserve and must actually meet US needs first. As the Brits are prone to murmur, “Which arse-licking Tory bastard allowed that to happen?”

Even though Canada can’t meet its own energy needs with west-east pipelines, all future pipeline plans are for north-south projects to ship tar sands bitumen to the US for processing. Of the 18,000 value-added jobs to be created, none will go to Canadians. The folly of such plans is so obvious, but whether they will be discussed or not, we will never know. It seems that in order to maintain a cross border flow of goods, Canadian governments will not only bend over backwards, but give away the store in the process.

Health, safety and environmental standards are also up for revision downwards. It was recently reported that Canadian lists of toxic food additives and pesticide maximum-residue limits would be relaxed. The US sees such restrictions as trade barriers and business irritants and so they must go. There is no mention of seeking the best-in-class, revising standards upwards, being the best that we can be; no sir, the slide is to the bottom.

Given the above, we see a process of harmonization downwards by stealth. We see an incremental process of baby steps which take NAFTA to a new low. In the process, Canada’s, America’s and Mexico’s ability to apply their sovereign rights and democratic jurisdictions, are subjected, perhaps even suborned, to the whims of the CEO cabal. The fifth estate is AWOL.

About a century ago we saw a similar grinding down of good common sense by the corporatocracy and its culture of unbounded greed. The resulting laissez-faire state of governance terminated in the crash of 1929 and threw the entire world into a depression lasting over a decade. Graduates of MBA schools conveniently forget the lessons of history and its doesn’t take a PhD. in chaos theory to see that the repetition of those lessons is not far off.


Mr. Obama, The Republican

Note: this was originally posted to Calum’s “View from the Shore” blog. We’re resurrecting it here because J references it in his Reading Virtual Minds books

Pre-emptive notions for dealing with The Taliban in Pakistan and open admiration for Reagan’s contributions to the political scene were the first clues that Mr. Obama was not the liberal that mass media pundits made him out to be. As we look closer at policy positions that have been enunciated, a real sense of deja vu looms.

What we see is a landscape in which the differences between red and blue political factions are blurred. Where an earlier Mr. Obama had held and espoused very leftish views, a more recent take shows centrist or even right wing ideologies being injected into the mix. He has moved a long way from positions held as community organizer. The tactics of being in an election campaign may play a big part in that epiphany and may even be reversed at a later date, but for now disappointment for early supporters lurks very close to the surface.

As a pacifist and one who believes in the efficacy of government- run social programs, I see many of the positions espoused by the Obama campaign as straight out of the Reagan-Thatcher-Mulroney playbook. Folks have been persuaded to view socialism as a dirty word much as Republicans view the term Liberal. The fabricated abhorrence of pinko-commie type programs down through decades — via various shades of McCarthyism — demands that socializing the recent costs of corporate malfeasance is equally despicable.

The corporateocracy, being in its ascendancy until now, has always managed to privatize profits often subsidized by the taxpayer. The denizens of main street are but pawns to be manipulated by small print, to nurse corporate greed to untenable heights. Some MBA schools foster greed as a virtue euphemistically referring to competition, pulling boot straps and the American way, while ignoring fairness, human rights, labour law, the environment, and world wide devastation that US-led policies have wrought.

The Dr. Milton Friedman MBA mantra of disaster capitalism seems to be “privatize the profits and socialize the costs”. By joining the bailout crowd, hurriedly supporting Bush initiatives without hearings and sober second thought, blurring red and blue ideologies, Mr. Obama seems to have taken ownership of this line of thought.

How can the US, the so-called bastion of so-called free markets, ever again dump on the USSR, North Korea, China, or Vietnam? The very strategies which allowed these so-called rogue nations to survive are employed by both campaigns to salvage what’s left of their political donors. The US corporate world has honed the instruments of usury to a fine edge and floated that vessel on a rising and deepening ocean of debt. As more and more debt was added, the ocean levels have risen to overwhelm financial institutions as well as their unschooled, “bait and sell” victims on main street.

Mr. Obama saw fit to vote for a series of corporate bailouts and a document steeped in earmarks which do nothing to ease the basic problems. This action shows a remarkable use of double standards, an abandonment of the principles eloquently stated over the last 18 months, support for no-change business-as-usual and a high degree of hypocrisy. That another 1.35 trillion is to be added to debt without thought to servicing that debt adds to the madness. The backroom boys who control the campaign donor purse strings are present on both sides of the aisle.

Aside from the financial fiasco — a republican character flaw down through history — Mr. Obama has followed the business-as-usual format in offering unconditional support for the State of Israel. In mentioning nuclear non-proliferation, he always manages to exclude both Israel and the US from participation. The large number of UN resolutions which Israel has ignored as well as the destabilizing actions by the Israeli armed forces in the genocide of Palestinians as well as in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon are conveniently forgotten. Israeli expansion of settlements into Palestinian owned farm lands is never mentioned. As a Christian so-called, Obama must know that there are biblical commandments to which he should pay attention and adhere, but doesn’t. To obey commandments selectively is also a republican trait.

It took some 500+ years for the US and several other members of the G8, to arrive at their present cultural sophistication, to develop their education systems, their judiciaries, and their social programs. It is extreme hubris, hardly fair and a gross mistake, for the US et al to assume that our political format and social systems can be imposed militarily on nations or regions which have a different 500 year history. Yet this is a path which Mr. Obama seems to favor. The legacy of the neo-cons and their project for the 21st century seem to be intact. The term US values and national interests is a euphemism for oil and business resources no matter who is hurt or how those values are stolen.

The extreme wings of both political parties advocate lower taxes, and smaller government, knowing full well that when services now performed by government are privatized, the additional costs add to the national debt. Taxes can only be lowered when services are cut or downloaded to state and municipal levels, both of which also wish to lower taxes. This house of cards, each one an IOU marker, will eventually crumble. Mr. Obama has offered lowering taxes for 90+% of taxpayers knowing full well that the only way he can do that is described earlier in this paragraph. In that way too, he is a republican. He is making a mockery of the “Yes we can” campaign promise, in effect shooting himself in the foot by defunding the Left via lowering taxes.

Taxes are a citizen’s membership fee to join society and partake of the benefits of membership. Membership brings more than the right to vote and claim citizenship. Membership also entails helping the society to build, to improve, and to collectively look out for our fellow citizens. Taxation is a privilege to be enjoyed by rich and poor alike. The conventional wisdom in all election campaigns, of going after lower and lower taxation is a recipe for disaster which can only lead to the destruction of society as we know it. Mr. Obama should be careful what he wishes for. In most cases, those who earn more use more of a society’s services and should have no beef at paying for those additional privileges through higher taxation.

As do the Republicans, Mr. Obama remains silent on a wide swath of issues. To what extent does he believe that corporate welfare should be allowed? Is the current series of bailouts a ‘one of’ situation never to be used again? Has he put in place a bottom line position on who benefits from the series of bailouts? When does he intend to address the massive, record breaking infusions of capital from central banks world wide and what is the plan for repayment and stabilization? How does he plan to reverse the movement of bad debt from the public, back to the private domain? What steps will he take to stop the bleeding and begin to fund the Left again?

As the stock markets become irresponsible and unaccountable, what will he do to remove the casino gambling attitude from investments? The US has some 10,000 banks. After the meltdown in Japan, the Japanese banking industry was reduced to three large banks. Will this scene also play out in the US where banks, like the multi-national insurance giant AIG, will be too big to allow to fail?

Those who claim to be ignorant of economics will take an easy route and demand that government get out of the way and let the market work. We now know that unregulated markets do not work and they have no decision making powers. Markets are stupid, uneducated, unsophisticated, rubes, easily manipulated by those in charge. Congressmen who do not have the necessary expertise to challenge the high flying financial gurus go along with the vote sometimes without even reading the legislation. Will Mr. Obama follow in those footsteps as he did last week to create more business as usual?

Stumbling from economic bubble to bubble via the high tech bubble, the housing bubble, etc., the economy which some would offer as science based, is shown to be a roller coaster and a circus. As government abdicates its responsibility to regulate the economy we enter another bubble of laissez-faire events which Naomi Klein called the shock doctrine of disaster politics. Those prevalent attitudes also have a history, culminating in the events of 1929.

Just as those events produced a crisis which brought about change over the objections of the upper class, the current crisis will also show America’s class structure in sharp relief. Like the Republicans, Mr. Obama doesn’t seem to address the serious divisions already evident in society. His call for lower capital gains and taxes is so republican. As folks have been persuaded to join the ownership society and take stock in the casino of contemporary capitalism, hope has been shattered.

Mr. Obama has not offered universal access to every level of superior education. As the US lags behind most other industrialized nations in educational norms, he has not taken a leaf from those advanced nations, in order to upgrade US schools. Mr. Obama has not offered to break the vice-like death grip of HMOs in the field of health care. Again socialized medicine as practiced in many other nations is universally available to all, is cheaper to run, and has superior outcomes. Similar failings are seen in dealing with the environment, energy policy, policing, out-sourcing, off-shoring, and a long list of other social programs all of which would benefit the entire population. Is that because Mr. Obama is a republican, perhaps unknowingly?

Mr. Obama has not taken the bull by the horns and asked the American people to grow up and start living within their means. He has not educated his audience to the obvious benefits of left wing policies. He has not shown that government run social programs are good, egalitarian, universal, and cheaper. He has not shown that other nations have practiced socialism for decades without the wheels falling off and that the vast majority of the planet’s population are ready for a steady dose of socialism to bring stability back to our societies. He has not shown that on every measure of happiness in a civilized society the Republican brand is inferior. He has not shown that he is willing to take on those in positions of privilege and suffer the gauntlet of their scorn and derision. Is that because he is a republican? I think so.

Should Mr. Obama ever find the intestinal fortitude to set aside his republican tendencies and do the right thing, his popularity and legacy will surpass FDR and the greatest of US presidents. He would also serve as role model for the rest of the world who have so admired things American right up to the days after 9-11. His modeling and his mentoring have the potential to set the entire world on a better course so that the people of the planet receive a greater share of the bounty that is still possible. Perhaps, just perhaps, with clear thinking, oration and charisma, he can show the leadership not only to expose the republican extremists for their errors and make them accountable, but guide his nation to truly be a shining city on a hill.


Beware the Ides of October, Mr. Obama

Note: this was originally posted to Calum’s “View from the Shore” blog. We’re resurrecting it here because J references it in his Reading Virtual Minds books

It would be first order conspiracy theory to suggest that the republicans have deliberately engineered the sub-prime financial chaos as a ploy to take a dive in the tenth round, and throw the election to Mr. Obama. The inane ravings of the McCain-Palin ticket holders are so bereft of substance that one can but assume that a smoke screen is being launched to hide the more evil machinations in the financial sector. By mounting a campaign of character assassination both directly and through surrogates1, and by avoiding pertinent issues, the McCain-Palin folks are going out of their way to alienate the electorate in obtuse and puzzling ways.

One step further down this track takes us to wondering why one would consider taking a dive, after 20 months of effort aimed at winning the White house and the presumed most powerful post on the planet. Could it be that things financial are in such dire straits, that nothing short of capitulation in the presidential race would bring peace of mind and individual survival to a septuagenarian POW? The corollary would suggest that by winning the White House, with the insurmountable problems on the horizon, the democratic candidate will actually inherit such onerous burdens as to be the ultimate loser.

I have heard no national media interviewer or pundit ask either candidate what part that derivatives play in the sub-prime financial stew. I have heard no candidate address the connection between insurance and those same derivatives or how those instruments could bring the world wide financial system to its knees. Articles appearing in The Chronicle Review2, Safe Haven3, and Comer4, have spelled out the dangerous undercurrents in those murky waters. It may well be that our friendly media are trying their best to protect us from the inevitable. Yet by doing so, they under estimate our intelligence by hiding details, and deny our strength by shielding us from the truth.

That inevitable scene builds on the implosion of previous highly esteemed banks and finance houses. Mergers and acquisitions of ranking names in corporate finance are coupled with bankruptcies, break-ups, divestings, write-offs and all of that activity is given front page treatment and rightly so. But what was it about those giants of finance that brought them to their knees and eventual collapse? How is it that the mighty have fallen? What are we not being told?

So let’s back up a little and suggest that the sub-prime loan and mortgage situation is what really started the erosion. Predatory, unregulated lending to those who didn’t understand what they were getting into, a culture of rampant greed, the political dream of an ownership society, and a supervisory regime which didn’t monitor, police or check on the activities of the finance houses, are all happy contributors to the nightmare to come. When the no-deposit, sub-prime teaser loans were later ramped up to market rates or above, individuals were dispossessed and millions were foreclosed. That explanation is certainly plausible.

If we back up a little more we hear Reagan’s gift to economics. “Debt does not matter!”5 with no sourcing or evidence to back up his edict. VP Cheney also took up that cry when questioned about increasing layers of national debt. Bush didn’t understand the question and talked about terrorism, forgetting the terror that he himself and his perverse ideology generates. Those attitudes along with the rushed deregulation of financial markets in 1999 — just as the congress was going to end of the year recess — allowed competition and risk to explode beyond what had previously been deemed prudent. Those attitudes certainly added to the erosion of confidence in the system.

Backing up just a little further, it is noted that the gold standard underpinning the currency was abandoned. The only thing which now underpins currency world wide is the prudence and reputation of governments and their central banks. Those qualities are somewhat lacking as we see governments handing over the reigns of power to the corporatists, the weak and ignorant being manipulated into leadership positions, the ordinary working man and woman being ignored, and their plight neglected. Calls to make government answerable to the people are trashed, and derided as pinko, commie rubbish or worse. Fuel has been added to the fire over the last seven years with no one on duty to douse the flames.

If we go back further to the late 1930s and early 1940s, when J.M. Keynes6 was laying out a framework for the stabilization of financial markets globally, the US Treasury Dept. took the attitude that the US would not be dictated to by a “Limey”. Fifty to sixty years of erosion from Keynes’ prudent positions, which advocated a win-win situation for all the participants — including the poor and the weak — have taken us to edge of the precipice we now peer over. Some are already heading down the slippery slope. Where Keynes advocated balance and fairness in international trade, the US had to have competition and winners and astronomical profits to be increased each year.

The positions then held by individuals were also held by corporations, companies and small business. Loans to replace equipment, meet payroll, upgrade processes, or buy new raw materials and stock, were available for the asking. A previous record of meeting payments and a history of honoring credit was sufficient collateral to keep the funds flowing. Suddenly loans dried up and credit worthiness was not honored. Businesses large and small found it increasingly difficult to acquire funding through loans of any kind.

The banks, long held to be storehouses of ready cash wouldn’t even lend to each other. If banks don’t trust banks, what are we ordinary mortals to think? Central banks then stepped in, releasing unheard of massive sums to improve the liquidity in the monetary system.

Some European countries have stepped beyond socialism and actually nationalized some of their banks. Others have shied away from that dirty ‘N’ word by taking an ownership position in their banks like the US has. Who would have thought that the fallen angels of socialism would actually rescue the hides of those responsible for the debacle in the first place? Did the obvious failure of the contemporary model change anything on Wall Street? (Answer: No!) CEOs still net multi-million dollar salaries, and receive decadent bonuses for running their companies into the poorhouse. In many ways its business as usual; Alice in Wonderland at the Mad Hatter‘s tea party.

Some have compared the current dilemma to the stock market crash of 19297 when the stock market went belly up and folks lost their life savings. Company directors jumped from buildings rather than take the severely punishing embarrassment of facing stock-holders. No one is jumping this time around. They don’t have to with a pseudo-socialist government in the White House.

Others think the comparison is more apt to the depression of 18738 — where a parallel set of circumstances which mirror the present — created a dire situation that took 4 years to turn around in the US and 6 years in Europe. The 85 billion dollar bailout of AIG is but the thin end of the wedge. AIG went through the 85 billion like a hot knife through butter and came back to the well for another 37 or so billion. Who is minding the store? Where is the accountability? Even in the most lax of socialist heydays, such largesse to a private enterprise was unheard of. The US government doesn’t have that kind of money to throw around. Why are companies allowed to get ‘too big to fail?’ Why is responsibility in park and accountability checked at the door?

Just as the housing bubble caused distress for millions, the previous high tech bubble had a similar outcome. Elsewhere on the planet there have been bubbles in commodities such as wheat and spices. The South Sea Bubble been particularly notable9. In every case the losers are those on the bottom rungs of the stock market hierarchy, while those who control the scams of capitalism get a free ride, pass go and don’t go to jail. Deregulated markets have but un-enforced rules. The vast majority, the world’s poor are left out of the loop and left to fend for themselves in a collapsing world not of their choosing and in which they had no say.

If you were under the delusion that AIG was just an insurance company then you may well be excused for assuming that the bailouts would have fixed the problem. But AIG was also in the derivative trading business under its subsidiary AIG-FP. Their financial products service makes it a huge player in the credit-default swaps. These are derivative securities that allow banks, hedge funds and others to insure against loans gone toxic. They were a prominent and highly competitive player at home and abroad accepting more risk from borderline clients or worse.

AIG-FP was not the only player although it did service an international slew of clients. At the heart of credit derivatives is an assessment of risk in order to minimize loss in the event one of the toxic loans going bad. If the risk is assessed too high, then higher premiums have to be charged just as with teenage drivers with several prangs on their records have to cough up very high premiums.

Competition enters into the mix so that one company which has assessed risk competently may be undercut by several competitors all of whom offer reduced premiums. The assessor’s competence is now drawn into question by his colleagues who rue the loss of a client. Additionally they lose the fees and their inflated bonuses. Competition in this way forces ever more risk into the equation because it’s unregulated while seeking reduced premiums for an expanding client base.

Competition forced mortgage companies to take risks and government encouraged those who could not afford it to enter the home ownership market. Such is the case with the sub prime mortgage fiasco (AIG). Should one risky policy go bad, a large company can recoup the loss by spreading it across a large client base. However, when a series of toxic loans fail and the insurers has to pay up over and over again, the insurers very rapidly finds themselves with their backs against the wall, overwhelmed and with no way out. Teaser rates and small print baited the ignorant and the unschooled, while banks and finance houses — who should have known better and seen disaster looming — allowed the system to gear up and then grind to a halt when the true mortgage rates kicked in.

As US-led corporate trade initiatives allowed more and more US manufacturing to go off-shore (with the Bush administration’s blessing and encouragement) loyal American workers suffered. US providers were left out in the cold as more and more US corporations fed their addiction to greed by importing foreign made goods and services and out-sourcing work to cheaper labour markets. US high flyers avoided paying for the homeland services that they used as foreign tax havens were allowed to be used.

Similar tactics were employed in Europe, Canada, and Australia, so much so that local workers were laid off by the millions. Without the jobs to support the local economy, the other sectors of the economy were soon hurting. Unfortunately, some see the situation worsening before it recovers. The sub-prime mortgage derivatives amount to some 3 trillion dollars while credit derivatives which include the sub-prime derivatives and all other exposures amount to some 63 trillion!

And just to give some perspective to the magnitude of the problem, that figure surpasses the total global economy. Every organization that lives on credit, including local households, will feel the pinch as credit dries up. With a complete meltdown, how can the man in the street come to grips with a financial over-extension to 63 trillion? It would be disingenuous of the financial advisers of each campaign to keep this information under wraps. Yet they will have to face up to it sooner or later and put rules in place to ameliorate an untenable situation.

The more prudent high flyers, those who sought to put aside something for a rainy day, will be able to survive nicely. Just as Carnegie and Rockefeller put their nest eggs to work to buy up good companies at fire sale prices in the 1870s, there will be winners who see profit in other’s misery. Just as Yeltzin’s henchmen and insiders made out like bandits as the USSR collapsed and left its citizens in poverty, there is a strong possibility that ordinary folk will need more than a belt tightening to survive what’s ahead.

But belt tightening is definitely part of the solution. The Hollywood and cowboy lifestyle is now passé. In everything we do, we must think of more efficacious ways to reduce our dependencies; on money, on oil, on electricity, on eating out, on entertainment, etc., etc. We need to find ways of sharing and being our brother’s keeper collectively and communally as we rescue the planet and our lifestyle. Instruments of credit have not always been our friends and we should take immediate steps to abrogate their influence by moving to being a budget conscious, cash society.

As the election campaigns of each candidate seem to merge and differences become blurred, the old republican and democrat ideologies will have to take a back seat to a new reality. Neither party has acted as an independent broker as they nursed the present situation into being. The Dennis Kuciniches and Ralph Naders have been trashed as dingbats for so long, that some will now have to eat crow, and start paying attention to the real world that Dennis and Ralph have defined. Prophets in their own country, they have suffered enough brickbats, and deserve serious attention for their contributions.

Mr. Obama, beware the Ides of October.


Notes

1 Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History

2 Does the Financial Crisis Affect How Economic Theory Should be Taught?

3 How Central Banks Destabilized the World’s Economies
Volatility Extreme
The Financial Crisis Will Soon Abate, But The Real Crisis Will Soon Begin
Is the Stock Market Crash Over?

4 COMER is The Committee For Monetary and Economic Reform

5 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wRMNhqKnBg&feature=related#
http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080723102019AAnAm7K
http://caps.fool.com/Blogs/ViewPost.aspx?bpid=24746&t=01003216687383103284

6 John Keynes

7 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wall_Street_Crash_of_1929
http://www.pbs.org/fmc/timeline/estockmktcrash.htm
http://www.stock-market-crash.net/1929.htm
http://www.money-zine.com/Investing/Stocks/Stock-Market-Crash-of-1929/
http://www.nytimes.com/library/financial/index-1929-crash.html
http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/Bierman.Crash

8 http://chronicle.com/temp/reprint.php?id=477k3d8mh2wmtpc4b6h07p4hy9z83x18
http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Panic-of-1873
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Depression
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/181213/Panic-of-1873
http://jcwinnie.biz/wordpress/?p=3415
http://walterjonwilliams.blogspot.com/2008/10/1873.html

9 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Sea_Bubble
http://www.stock-market-crash.net/southsea.htm
http://www.historyhouse.com/in_history/south_sea/
http://www.investopedia.com/features/crashes/crashes3.asp


DeRegulate Voting?

Note: this was originally posted to Calum’s “View from the Shore” blog. We’re resurrecting it here because J references it in his Reading Virtual Minds books

The voting process was set up as a social service. In these days of ascendancy for neo-liberal thought which looks down on socialism as four letter word, isn’t it time to de-regulate the process and let laissez faire voting rule? Some would even say that the resulting chaos would be no different in outcome than what we have recently come to expect.

As a young tad growing up in a far away land, I always looked forward to election day for it meant a day off from school which was used as a polling station. The schools were sited to be within walking distance in the catchment area for children, and even more accessible for adults of voting age, making them ideal for a leisurely stroll and some of socializing, as one took time to perform a civic duty. This worked out well in both rural and urban school districts and had the added advantage of lowering the costs of the election process itself as well as instilling in the minds of children that something important was happening. The voting process was set up somewhat reluctantly as a social service.

This aura of national importance given to elections was less evident in my adopted Canada. No school holiday was in the offing and the notion of partisan politics in the classroom, much like religion, was taboo. Teaching staff and the election officials just do not go there. Local private halls belonging to fire departments, legions, service clubs and the like were pressed into use, with the cost of leasing private facilities in every community, large and small becoming increasingly enormous. More importantly, the positive attitudes provided by holding the election in schools were not shared in the other venues.

In this age which calls for less government there is perhaps a reason to de-regulate the cumbersome apparatus of election officialdom. A national census held every ten years and sometimes at five year intervals should be sufficient to amend and update the voter rolls. Under the auspices of the national statistics bureau, e.g. Statscan, it should be a simple process to check a voter’s residence and eligibility to vote. If de-regulation can work for the much bigger business of international trade and become acceptable to governments large and small world wide, surely its not too much of a stretch, or is it, to extend the philosophy to the election process?

Given that all tax payers have a right to vote on how their tax dollar is spent, all the ID that should be required is a municipal, state, on federal tax receipt. To demand further proof of eligibility is getting perilously close to taxation without representation, a distinct no-no in a democracy. If more proof of eligibility is required, government should be providing it, for many voters do not drive, hence no driver’s license, and many do not travel abroad, hence no passport.

Even when valid ID is offered, if any part of the ID does not coincide exactly with the official data base it is not accepted. If photo ID or biometric indicators in so-called smart cards are required the onus should be on election officials to make every effort to ensure enfranchisement promptly and politely, as a free service. To spring such demands on an electorate late in the process is not just unfair, it gives rise to blatant bullying and discrimination against those who can’t defend themselves. Isn’t de-regulation needed here? Privatization beyond the provision of hardware and software electronics is surely called for, isn’t it?

With de-regulation, the private sector could get involved by providing streamlined and accurate systems to augment or even replace the burden of paper ballots and the great potential for human error. Voting machine manufacturers have the ability to provide user-friendly touch screen systems. The security problems and privacy issues previously experienced by computerized systems in which hackers played havoc with the speed and accuracy of the results have long since been ironed out by the financial sectors. Businesses and banks make millions of transactions daily so that everyday business is now carried out safely by ATM machines and internet transfers, without over sight or supervision. The day might well come when voting will have the same unmonitored convenience and simplicity if properly de-regulated. Right?

Certain practices at election time gives cause for alarm. Our population has increased since the last election and we can expect a greater turn out than last time even if the percentage remains the same. It behooves our election officials to make allowances for those increases and put in place equipment, facilities and practices which cater to increased turn out and allow a smooth, seamless process to proceed. In previous elections we heard rumours of an unequal distribution of ballot boxes so that districts likely to vote for one candidate received more resources than necessary and voted with ease. Others, likely to vote for a different candidate, were short on ballot boxes and had to wait as many as four hours in inclement weather in order to perform their duty. Not at all an inducement to participate in the democracy.

There were also rumours of vote rigging by partisan zealots, a practice which takes several different forms. Some voting machines were deliberately programmed to give a pre-determined result. So certain votes were dropped or changed and simply cancelled, all without transparency and a clear explanation of what had happened. The manufacturers insist that the machines are not at fault, but local technicians had no problems adjusting the software to meet the wishes of their partisan mentors. Academics, who have made a study of the machines, have many reservations as to their efficacy and suggest that election officials should be demanding the same tested security standards as are demanded by banks in ATM machines with a paper trail receipt.

Certain voters were disenfranchised if they had a recent change of address even though there is a 90 day rule to protect them. The excuses of armed services personnel, ambulance drivers, airline crews, and many others who had to work away from home base on a temporary basis were not accepted. It’s all very well to say that they should take advantage of mail-in ballots, provisional ballots or early voting allowances, but that does not meet all of the needs. There are vile rumours abroad that votes cast using those vehicles were deliberately trashed and not counted.

Some are not allowed to vote if they have a felony conviction against them or on parole. Others if they are incarcerated awaiting trial even if later found innocent, but in some jurisdictions those convicted are allowed to vote from jail. The inconsistencies in voting rules are astounding and worthy of overhaul and standardization. Stealbackyourvote.org suggests that many people have been disenfranchised because of the plethora of inconsistent regulations governing the process.

Purging voters from the voter rolls is another partisan tactic used to reduce the numbers of those who subscribe to a different set of values. This tactic is prevalent in swing ridings likely to affect the outcome of the election. Typically the purging occurs very close to the election and happens behind closed doors, in secret. No explanation is given for the opaque process and often the reasons behind the purge are not known until voting day, when the voter is turned away from the booth. If purging is to be tolerated it will be better countenanced if it is standardized, uniform, consistent, non-discriminatory and openly fair. The process should be on-going, with publicly available lists and a defined process for individuals to challenge inclusion on the lists of the purged.

Changing the electoral boundaries in the process known as re-districting so that one party has an advantage over another is another popular tactic. Without rhyme or reason people registered with one party are grouped together into one riding leaving that party in a minority position in all the neighboring ridings. Although there are rules in place governing this re-districting of electoral boundaries, they have been mostly ignored.

The question at the top of this piece is asked mostly tongue in cheek. Rather than de-regulate the election process, there is an urgent need to tighten up the regulations so that voting becomes fair for all. The anomalies which gained air time on internet programs, have now been taken up by print, radio, and television programming. It may be too little too late, but this time around millions are aware of the potential problems and willing to speak up in defense of democracy.

Certain jurisdictions have been named as complicit in using faulty voting machines, illegal purging of voting rolls, questionable ID checking practices, voter fraud, registering of fakes identities (using the names of family pets, farm animals and the dead), discarding legally cast votes (from mail-ins, provisional voting, early voting, intimidating voters (partisan henchmen at polling stations), raising election day hurdles (lack of personnel, and equipment, and long waits) and failing to notify voters of voting status such as purging.

Discrimination against the poor, minorities and immigrants is no longer taken to be conspiracy theory. The class warfare waged at election time is blatant discrimination of the most evil kind. Education of the middle classes so that they know what their rights are, should be an on-going task. They must learn how to check that their voting machine records the vote they cast. If purged from voter rolls, they should check early to learn that status and how to reverse it. They should check that their ID documents are a perfect match for the official database material. They should beware of being accused of faking ID, residence address (even if foreclosed), citizenship, etc. If they have a felony in their history, they should seek advice on its affect on voting. They should be prepared to be subjected to intimidation. In order to negate any adverse surprises on voting day, they should seek early confirmation that their voting eligibility is intact.

The above paragraph describes the major ways in which a vote can be stolen. Let us now turn to ways in which that theft can be prevented. Get out early to check that your registration, and eligibility to vote, are in good order. Ensure that all your ID information is perfectly consistent and matched to the voter database. Vote early at a fully staffed polling station and if any doubt exists, demand adjudication. Arrive at the polling station in a large group; (Jesse Jackson recommends five), to give added support against intimidation. If at all possible, do not mail in your ballot for mail-in ballots have been known to disappear. Vote unconditionally in a straight forward process with no ifs, ands, or buts; and do not accept provisional voting forms. Plan to spend voting day working and helping others through the process.

As a postscript; some voting registration carried out by third parties, such as ACORN, have fallen into disrepute. Although the registration of dead people, farm animals and family pets, e.g. in no way guarantees them a vote, it does add to the cynicism surrounding the democratic process of voting. This is one area where the heavy hand of government is needed at every level to ensure the integrity of the system.

Resources for this article


An Orwellian Reversal

Note: this was originally posted to Calum’s “View from the Shore” blog. We’re resurrecting it here because J references it in his Reading Virtual Minds books

There are defects in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) but American critics of the deal which strongly favors Canadian business and governance interests are mad as heck and shouldn’t have to take it any more. Along with their friends in Mexico, the Americans have just cause to revisit the NAFTA negotiations, review the terms, and propose corrections to make the deal more palatable to their own interests. Canada’s unilateral changes to NAFTA when things are not in their favor, is just too much by far. The fiasco of Canadian tariffs imposed on US softwood lumber exports to Canada is a prime example.

Before delving into the nuts and bolts of just what’s involved, it should be kept in mind that the main beef from an American point of view, is the severe loss of American autonomy over its traditional government functions to say nothing of the erosion of sovereignty. The FTA and NAFTA ceded to the Canadians major federal and state powers that those governments had exercised and built up over decades to give a distinctive culture. Some of those powers were often used to influence market forces detrimental to American interests.

What with the federal and state governments hogtied by NAFTA, laws, programs and policies have now been altered to serve Canadian interests. American independence is steadily being eroded and a war has already been fought over that. If this trend continues, NAFTA with the persistent urging of business, politicos, and the left wing media, will form a basis for even deeper integration with Canada. So much so that the US will be transformed into a feudal vassal-state whose Lord of the Manor rules from Ottawa.

Lest you feel that we are crying wolf or claiming that the sky is falling, consider some of the powers that FTAs have transferred from the US to Canada…

  • Control over American oil and gas.
  • Control of American water resources.
  • The right to obstruct exports with countervailing or anti-dumping duties.
  • The power to force Americans to sell woodlands to Canadian interests.
  • Abolish the American Wheat Board and socialize Medicare.
  • The right to demand that our cultural policies in publishing, broadcasting, films and recordings be consistent with Canadian interests.
  • National treatment and proportional sharing terms that lock Americans into supplying Canada with most of US oil and gas resources.
  • The right of Canadian corporations to directly sue the US government for non-compliance with these trade concessions or for laws or policies which threaten their profits in future.

However, even if Americans were to attempt to renegotiate the terms of NAFTA there are good reasons why revisiting that scene would fail to alleviate the problems that NAFTA is causing for the US and its citizens.

First of all, ask yourself what would be the object of that exercise? Repatriation of the powers that have been ceded to Canada would require major amendments to almost every chapter of the agreement. Canada would never willingly agree to those amendments because they would eliminate the one-sided benefits that the Canadians now enjoy. Would the US negotiators be willing to let Canada keep some or most of those powers? If so, we have an exercise in futility. If not, Canada would never agree to reopen the agreement.

Secondly, even if Canada was to agree to relinquish some of the rights and powers conferred on it by NAFTA, would it not demand some substitute concessions in exchange? Canada’s negotiators would look for compromises on both sides so that the American negotiators might well be faced with Canadian counter-proposals that would give away equally damaging rights and powers to replace those yielded.

Thirdly, Canada has an economy 10 times as large as the US and so they can argue as they did last time, that NAFTA is not an agreement among equals. So the US, in seeking unrestricted access to the larger Canadian market, has more to gain and so concessions should be weighted in Canada’s favor. This demand would be difficult to resist.

Fourth, any renegotiation of NAFTA would produce an amended treaty that would have to be approved by the Canadian Senate, the House of Commons, as well as the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. Any changes favorable to the US would be opposed by the powerful Canadian industrial lobby that now benefit so handsomely from NAFTA’s pro-Canadian bias. There would also arise a tsunami of protectionist pressures making the likelihood of parliamentary approval remote. The Canadian Council of Chief Executives know which strings to pull.

Fifth, ask yourself what US negotiators could possibly offer Canada as an inducement to reopen NAFTA? Remove all barriers to the Canadian socialization of Medicare? Accelerate the sale of US woodlands to Canadian lumber companies? Socialize CBS and the other 4 main TV networks? Scrap the US wheat Board? If we add those few remaining scraps of our independence into the mix, the Canadians might come back to the table; but at what price? Would any US government making such unpopular concessions ever get re-elected?

The bottom line here is that there is no way the US could persuade Canada to surrender the powers it has gained from NAFTA. Any minor changes would be cosmetic at best and we have seen that brand of sham dressed up as a victory before. The alternative to renegotiation, which is obviously doomed to failure, is to activate the 6 month notice to abrogate the agreement without penalty. There is no point in upholding an agreement which is so flawed and such a burden on the American people. NAFTA would be replaced by much the same conditions that worked under GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) now called the WTO, (World Trade Organization).

With the weight of NAFTA lifted, the US could once again breathe easier. It would be re-armed with all the rights and powers, the autonomy and independence it had ceded to Canada for decades.

Author’s Note: This piece drew heavily on the writings of Mel Clark in the Jun 2006 Monitor publication of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.