24 March 2016

A long overdue budget break for the CBC

 Of all the items in the new federal budget, the one that jumped out at me, and caused a whoop of delight, was the $675-million over five years of new investment in the CBC. For years, Mother Corp has been increasingly starved of funds—finally some much-needed relief.

The October election illustrated yet again the need for an independent voice in the mass media. The daily press, despite being treated with contempt for years by Stephen Harper, overwhelmingly supported re-electing his government. Their duty to their corporate masters reduced them to an unseemly masochism. The CBC is the only truly independent mass medium in the country—the others answer to and are the property of media barons.

But the struggle is far from over. The current CBC Board of Directors is stacked with Stephen Harper's partisan appointees. Nine of the eleven directors, including President and CEO Hubert Lacroix, have contributed to the Conservative Party. The Board must be reformed into a merit-based, non-partisan body.

The watchdog Friends of Canadian Broadcasting has vowed to "make sure that the government fulfills all three of its CBC promises—new funding, meaningful consultation and governance reform." I wish them luck and will continue to support them, and in the meantime rejoice for a revitalized public broadcaster.

23 March 2016

Barack Obama and the ghost of Che

An historical photograph.

Barack Obama, on his recent visit to Cuba, stands at attention for the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner. The president and his companions are standing at the José Marti Memorial in Havana where, across the street, on the wall of the Ministry of the Interior building, looms a mural of the legendary leftist revolutionary Che Guevara.

Who would ever have thought.

21 March 2016

A Dipper writes his party president re leadership

As one of those federal New Democratic Party members who feels we should stop floating across the political spectrum looking for a place to park that offers an election victory and get back to being social democrats, I believe we need a real social democrat to lead that effort. Consequently, I wrote the following open letter to the party president. Perhaps it will have some small influence at the April conference in Edmonton. Perhaps not.

Rebecca Blaikie, President
New Democratic Party

Dear Ms. Blaikie:

I am writing in regard to the current leadership of our party. I will be blunt. If Tom Mulcair remains as leader, I will find it difficult to retain my membership. This is not to criticize Mr. Mulcair. He has worked hard for the party and deserves respect for his efforts, but I simply do not believe he is a social democrat. His autocratic style of leadership (he has been compared to Stephen Harper on that score) is not appropriate for a democratic party, and he seems uncomfortable with the principles of social democracy.

Both these weaknesses were illustrated by his heavy-handed purging from the party of supporters of the Palestinians. These people have suffered generations of abuse. Ethnically cleansed, militarily occupied, more of their land colonized every year, they are a people social democrats instinctively spring to the defence of. Mr. Mulcair, it seems, lacks that instinct. The day I heard that Morgan Wheeldon, candidate for Kings-Hants, was forced to step down was the day I no longer felt guilty about strategically voting Liberal. (My candidate won.)

On the first page of the party's website, the logo reads "Tom Mulcair" followed, in smaller letters, by "NDP." I find this offensive. No man comes before the party and no man is bigger than the party, symbolically or literally. Social democratic principles must come before image and political correctness. The party has an opportunity to employ these principles in offering alternatives to a capitalism that, at least in it neoliberal form, is increasingly failing the 90 per cent. We need a true social democrat to lead that effort. With all due respect, Tom Mulcair is not that leader.

Bill Longstaff

20 March 2016

Mme. Arbour once again bemedalled

Last Thursday, Governor General David Johnston presented Louise Arbour with yet another award, the UNA-Canada Pearson Peace Medal, which honours outstanding Canadian achievements in the field of international service and understanding.

Mme. Arbour has led one of our country's most illustrious careers. In 1996, she was appointed Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. She became the first UN prosecutor to indict a serving head of state for war crimes.

She then served on the Supreme Court of Canada from 1999 to 2004, and as the UNʼs High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2004 to 2008.

She holds a long list of awards, including the Order of Canada, France's Legion of Honour and honorary doctorates from twenty-seven universities. She has served as President and CEO of the International Crisis Group and has been involved in the International Commission Against the Death Penalty and the Global Commission on Drug Policy. She is currently a jurist in residence, providing strategic advice to lawyers of the International Trade and Arbitration Group and mentoring younger lawyers.

According to UNA-Canada, "Her leadership is a model—professional and personal—for young men and women aspiring to making peaceful change in the world through the enforcement of law and justice for all." Indeed.

Be happy! ...today is International Happiness Day

Blogging about happiness may seem eccentric, but today is the United Nations International Day of Happiness, and happiness is good, so I thought it deserved a mention.

The day was inspired by a speech Secretary General Ban Ki-moon gave at a UN General Assembly meeting on Happiness and Well-Being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm. The meeting was an initiative of Bhutan, a country that rates national happiness above national income and has adopted a goal of Gross National Happiness rather than Gross National Product.

The Secretary General stated that the world “needs a new economic paradigm that recognizes the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development. Social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness."

The General Assembly subsequently proclaimed March 20th the International Day of Happiness recognizing "the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world and the importance of their recognition in public policy objectives."

This year, the International Day of Happiness is focused on Climate Action for a Happy Planet. I don't imagine the planet is too happy with us, but if we could all just start ranking its welfare over Gross National Product, we might cheer it up.

16 March 2016

Mister Trudeau and the impossible dream

Oh, if only the economy could grow forever. We could buy more stuff tomorrow and more the day after tomorrow, and in their time our children could buy even more, and our grandchildren yet more again. There would be no limits.

This is the future our leaders envision, the future they dream of. When they meet, the conversation about growth has one focus and one focus only—how we can have more.

This was apparent at the recent meetings between our Prime Minister and U.S. President Obama. Commenting on the seething anger among Americans at their political masters, Trudeau commented, "There's a danger that people will begin pulling back their support for policies that stimulate and support growth if we don't figure out a way of including them in the prosperity that's created by that growth." That he recognized the roots of Americans' frustration was good, but that he assumed growth must march ever onward was not good at all.

Endless growth is a lovely dream, but if we believe in it and act as if it's a possible dream, the result will be a nightmare.

There are limits. The planet is finite, and we are already using up its resources faster than it can replenish them. We are sucking it dry. If we continue to follow the impossible dream we will create a dystopian future, one where we will end up fighting, people against people, nation against nation, perhaps with nuclear weapons, over the remaining scraps.

The President was lavish in his praise of our Prime Minister, as were others. A spokesman from the Center for American Progress referred to him as a future "paragon of the progressive movement" and predicted he would become "a linchpin, if not the future leader, of that movement."

He has certainly, in a very short time, turned our country in sunnier directions on many fronts, but if he is to become a paragon of progress, he must lead on the most important front of all, the fight to end growth and live within our planet's means. This issue, like no other, awaits a leader. It is Mr. Trudeau's opportunity to seize, but first he must recognize the reality that growth presents.

15 March 2016

Hillary and the sale of foreign policy

Hillary Clinton remains the odds-on favourite to become the 45th president of the United States. While she has solid credentials as a supporter of working class Americans, she has also been referred to as "the political face of corporate America" and "The Wall Street candidate," and indeed she and her husband have been very lucratively associated with bankers.

Another association has also been very lucrative. Billionaire entertainment mogul Haim Saban and his wife have donated $5-million to Ms. Clinton's super PAC, Priorities USA, plus another $1.4-million to the Hillary Victory Fund. This doesn't include the $1.9-million the couple raised at a $2,700-per-plate fundraiser they held at their Beverly Hills mansion last year. If Hillary is, as expected, the Democratic nominee, many more millions will no doubt flow from the Saban trough. He has vowed to provide “as much as needed” to get her elected. He has also donated at least $10-million to the Clinton Foundation.

And what does Mr. Saban expect to get for his millions? Well, he's a good friend of Hillary's so perhaps he's just making a friendly gesture. On the other hand, he might be pursuing his favourite political project. Saban is an Israeli-American who describes himself as a staunch Zionist and proclaims, "I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel." Clinton has apparently assured him she is an unreserved supporter of his country and has pledged, in writing no less, to oppose the boycott Israel movement.

To be fair, perhaps Clinton has always been a supporter of Israel and her friend's generosity would make no difference to her Middle Eastern foreign policy. Maybe, but $26-million and counting suggests a large part of that policy has been bought and paid for.