Which view of the “Death Tax Repeal Act of 2015” is really “immoral”?

Need more proof that the Republicans in the U. S. Congress are really, really, out of touch with the lives of most Americans?

The Huffington Post reports that the House of Representative has voted to repeal the 100-year old estate tax — best viewed as a retro-payment for the government protections, infrastructure, and (in some cases) subsidies that have helped the 0.2% of the population who would ever have to pay the tax to acquire (and in the case of inherited riches, retain) so much wealth in the first place.

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Let the market save the wilderness?

The previous two posts have dealt with the Harper government in Canada, in particular, and with the doctrines of neoliberalism, in general.

This post focuses on another arm of the neoliberal beast: “New Conservation.”

The traditional conservation movement is being challenged by a new species of “environmentalist” with the goal of reframing conservation efforts by replacing “conserve” with “manage.”

The core of this approach is the idea that the only way that we can motivate the level of political and financial support needed for conservation is to give up on trying to save the earth, the animals, the plants, or the climate because they’re intrinsically worthwhile or valuable. Instead, their argument goes, it’s only when we frame the struggle for survival in terms of entirely human goals and needs that success will be possible.

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“Do no science, Hear no science, Speak no science”

41ngqcmfv3l-_aa324_pikin4bottomright-5722_aa346_sh20_ou15_As Donald Gutstein usefully explained in Harperism, there are several kinds of liberalism, and their differences are crucial to the ways that governments seek to operate.

Laizzez-faire” liberals were in favour of expanding personal rights and liberties, but they believed that government should remain “hands off” on the economy. (Adam Smith’s famous “invisible hand.”) In contrast, New Deal liberals saw government as an active shaper of economic opportunity, security, and relative equality.

Libertarians distrust government in all but its most basic function, which is simply to keep someone else from messing with their personal wealth and privilege. Then there are the neoliberals, who are often confused with libertarians but who demand that government play an active role in the economy. The neoliberal idea of a perfect government is one that supports and facilitates the free market.

Another must-read book is Chris Turner’s The War on Science (the source of this article’s title) which shows with alarming clarity that one of the worst consequences of the radical neoliberalism practiced by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in Canada is his government’s systematic dismantling of the fact-based science that had long characterized Canada’s public policy.

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Control the conversation, control the country

Canadian author Donald Gutstein is a friend of one of the members of our regular Monday morning ideas group, and recently we met with Donald to discuss his important book, Harperism: How Stephen Harper and his think tank colleagues have transformed Canada.

Unlike other books on Canada’s most conservative government, Harperism focuses on the political philosophy at the foundation of what to many is an alarming reversal of our country’s traditional role as an advocate of social justice and environmental responsibility.

It’s not that Harperism ignores these changes. On the contrary, Gutstein explains them in terms of the “neoliberalism” at their heart. This focus makes Harperism important far beyond Canada’s borders, for neoliberalism underpins the successful imposition of “free market” ideology into the policies of most of the world’s titular democracies.
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Courage is one thing, heroism quite something else

Several years ago, I wrote a Remembrance/Veterans Day post in which I expressed admiration for the aged veterans of WWII, people whom I came to know through sharing a cardio-fit group with them.

Although my own father had been a combat vet in that war, he and I never spoke about it. When I was young, he was still too traumatized to talk about the war. And when I grew older, he and I had a distancing conflict over my decision during the Vietnam occupation to refuse induction and leave the U.S. permanently. It was through my years on the next recumbent bike to survivors of my father’s war that I came most fully to appreciate their humble but crucial parts in preserving Western democracy, in what is rightly called the last war to ensure freedom.

So it is with a large dose of respect and sympathy for the individuals whom this day honours that on this Remembrance Day I have to agree in large part with David Masciotra’s provocative and hugely controversial Salon article, “You don’t protect my freedom:  Our childish insistence on calling soldiers heroes deadens real democracy.”

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All the Uzis you can shoot!

OK, America, you’ve done it again.

Considering that you’re the country of my birth, where I lived until my mid-twenties, it shouldn’t be this easy to shock me.

The latest tragedy is today’s headline story of a 9-year old girl killing her gun instructor with, and this is the first shocker, a fully-automatic, live-round Uzi. You know, the Israeli submachine gun that’s designed to shoot Palestinians, not Americans.

When I read about this sort of thing, it reminds me just how far I’ve drifted from the “values” of my homeland. To be fair, I never much wanted to shot (at) things when I was a teenager. I’m sure that this lack of blood lust contributed to my eventual decision to tell Richard Nixon what he could do with his “Greetings from the President of the United States” letter, and a little while later my exodus from the land of the free-at-any-cost.

There are several more levels of shock and dismay in this story.

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It’s hard to wring out the truth

“Flight MH17 went down over territory controlled by self-defense forces of the autonomous regions …”

 

“There are now thousands of mosques throughout Europe. With larger congregations than there are in churches. And in every European city there are plans to build super-mosques that will dwarf every church in the region. Clearly, the signal is: we rule.”

The first passage above refers to the crisis in the Ukraine. The second comes from a speech urging support for Israel in the Gaza conflict.

They are very different in content, but they share at least two characteristics. First, both passages come from material sent to me by e-mail. Second, and much more important, both are carefully crafted to reflect the political biases of their creators.

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Rolling Dunderheads

This is a belated Fourth of July musing. I don’t live there any more, but it’s hard not to look back at an accident that you were lucky enough to pass safely by on the interstate.

I didn’t write a July 1st article, even though I’m a long-time Canadian citizen and feel very lucky to live here. It’s just that most Canada Day celebrations have become too much like what I left–marching bands, swaying flags, troops with big guns and uniforms. Enough nationalism and glorification of the military already, if you ask me, which you didn’t, but that has never stopped me before, so why should it now?

Some of my Canadian friends and acquaintances look a little bit askance (politely askance, of course; after all, they’re Canadians) when I tell them that I don’t celebrate Canada Day because it’s too much like the Fourth. They are keenly aware of all of the differences between our three cultures (Canada has at least two), so they can’t see the creeping similarities. (Thanks for that, Mr. Prime Minister!)

But I digress. Here’s the point that sparked this little diatribe:  How much harm is being done to the public weal by the current venom of American politics?
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Longer prison sentences for African-Americans have the characteristics of an epidemic

Sometimes the best way to grasp the real nature of a problem is to look at it from an unconventional angle. It appears that the U.S.’s incarceration rate imbalance — many more African-American than white inmates per capita — may be one of these issues.

Many reasons have been given for the “race gap” in American prisons, some of them quite extreme. On the right, there are whites who cling to the long-discredited notion that blacks are somehow categorically inferior in one or more crucial ways, from dedication to family values to intelligence. On the left, some activists and commentators have called the U.S. prison system a new kind of slavery, through which an entire cohort of the population is controlled and disenfranchised.

I have to say that, while I have no patience at all with the first analysis, I have some sympathy for the second. There’s too much history behind the “new slavery” interpretation to dismiss it entirely out of hand.

One well-known claim is that blacks are given longer sentences than whites for similar offenses. In this view, jail is much more likely for a young black crack smoker than for a middle-aged white cocaine snorter. Same drug, different sentences.

That’s the claim, but how accurate is it? And if it’s true, are there measureable effects of the different treatments blacks and white receive in the courts?
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