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Updated: 49 min 48 sec ago

Could Scotland Block Brexit?

Sun, 06/26/2016 - 12:43
Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, says the UK can't leave the EU without the consent of the Scotland's parliament. Sturgeon added that the odds are slim to none of the Scottish parliament approving such a legislative consent motion.

p.s. I'm still on hiatus. Just spotted this and thought you might want to see it.

Scotland Reacts

Fri, 06/24/2016 - 12:33

Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has announced there'll be a second independence referendum in the wake of yesterday's Brexit vote.

Deep Breaths. The World Didn't End - Not Yet.

Fri, 06/24/2016 - 12:11

If there was ever a time to revive the iconic 1939 poster it just could be now. Then, Britain faced Hitler, the Nazi horde and six sometimes terrifying years of world war. Now, Britain faces Brexit. That should lend a bit of perspective.

The simple fact is that today and for a while to come you'll find a lot more headless chickens running around than chicken heads. The unexpected always triggers panic and hyperbole among those taken by surprise.

As a general rule, the more vested one is in the status quo, the more traumatic the event. Those with least to lose can be less fearful, even welcoming of change. Societies rent by brutal austerity and soaring inequality can become societies primed for change sometimes bordering on upheaval. Out with the old, in with the new. Screw me? No, Screw You!!

Sure it's a spin of the wheel. Sure it's scary. The more cosseted the more fearful and angry. One Liberal pundit declared the Brexit vote a victory for the "economically illiterate, racists, nativists, anti-traders, separatists and isolationists" before proceeding to declare the sky fallen and British virginity deflowered. Oh well. I guess he missed the "Keep Calm" part.

Will the British vote herald the end of the European Union experiment? Possibly but not of itself, not entirely. The EU, as it is currently constituted, is rife with problems that present the precursor(s) of instability. It's like a sporting league that took on too many new franchises. It lost the old "natural" fit of the pre-expansion union. The centre weakened and populist movements, rightwing and left, rose across the union in poor states and strong.

Academics will have years of work ahead analyzing the vote, the fallout and the causes and blunders. All we have today is the usual "oh, crap" moment. This is the moment tradition cedes to Team Vanquished to moan and wail and spread recriminations and fear mongering and, true to form, that's exactly what they've done. It's so predictable.

Look, British army sappers are not deployed in the Chunnel setting demolition charges. I'm almost positive that the trains and the ferries and freighters that ply the cold waters above them are still carrying people and goods between the UK and Europe. Planes continue to fly.

Sure this is an upheaval event of some sort, duration and impact unknown and, for now, unknowable. It's great stuff for those into casting bones and reading entrails. The thing to remember is that Brexit is just part of an increasingly dysfunctional world that is entering upheaval or on the cusp.

Our old and once comfortable modes of organization - political, social, economic, even environmental, the lot - have been in decline for years and are reaching marginal utility.

Over a decade ago, John Ralston Saul quite convincingly proclaimed the collapse of globalism. He wrote that the neoliberal experiment had failed miserably yet we would remain in its hold until our leaders came to their senses and introduced the next great thing. In recent months even the very temple of neoliberalism, the International Monetary Fund, admitted its failure. There are some who argue, plausibly, that the Brexit vote was an angry response to neoliberalism, one that may soon spread.

Is upheaval inevitable? Sure it is. I was reminded of this yesterday when I received the annual "heads up" email from the highly respected, scientific NGO, Global Footprint Network announcing Earth Overshoot Day 2016 will fall on August 8th. That means that humanity's voracious appetite for renewable resources is outpacing the Earth's capacity to replace them faster each year. From August 8 we will be in a state of Overshoot, meaning we will be consuming our planet's dwindling reserves of renewables - air, water, biomass. When I first learned of GFN six or seven years ago, Overshoot Day fell in mid to late October. Now it's the beginning of August. See where it's heading, how fast it's progressing? This is real Thelma and Louise stuff.

The 80s are over and they're not coming back. We're into a new era that will open with discontent, destabilization and upheaval - that we will ride out in some form if we're very lucky. This new reality isn't just a matter of politics and economics. It's also a function of physics, biology, botany, and climatology. Of course it's going to be different. How could it be remotely the same?

P.S. I'm taking a break for a while to do a couple of online courses and catch up on a mountain of overdue reading. I may stop by, from time to time, but it will be infrequent at best. Have a good summer.

Who Is Guaranteed to Win the American Elections This November?

Mon, 06/20/2016 - 12:36

As Chris Hedges sees it, this election is in the bag. There's only one possible outcome. Corporatism wins, again, hands down.

During the presidential election cycle, liberals display their gutlessness. Liberal organizations, such as, become cloyingly subservient to the Democratic Party. Liberal media, epitomized by MSNBC, ruthlessly purge those who challenge the Democratic Party establishment. Liberal pundits, such as Paul Krugman, lambaste critics of the political theater, charging them with enabling the Republican nominee. Liberals chant, in a disregard for the facts, not to be like Ralph Nader, the “spoiler” who gave us George W. Bush.

The liberal class refuses to fight for the values it purports to care about. It is paralyzed and trapped by the induced panic manufactured by the systems of corporate propaganda. The only pressure within the political system comes from corporate power. With no counterweight, with no will on the part of the liberal class to defy the status quo, we slide deeper and deeper into corporate despotism. The repeated argument of the necessity of supporting the “least worse” makes things worse.

Change will not come quickly. It may take a decade or more. And it will never come by capitulating to the Democratic Party establishment. We will accept our place in the political wilderness and build alternative movements and parties to bring down corporate power or continue to watch our democracy atrophy into a police state and our ecosystem unravel.

Electoral Reform and Referenda

Mon, 06/20/2016 - 12:23

Most of us seem to support ending the First Past The Post electoral system. Our multi-party reality means that it is possible for one party to win a hefty majority of seats with what can be little more than the largest minority of votes. Governments elected by two out of five voters effectively rule over the three out of five that did not support them.

With a benevolent, open and democratically-minded government prepared to heed views other than its own the outcome can be, if not ideal, at least bearable. Recent experience has shown us that will not always be the case and then the government can become tyrannical. We don't want a repeat of the Harperian era and the best way to achieve that is voting reform.

It would be great if there was one, perfect solution to FPTP? Flip the switch from A to B. Yet there are more than one option and varying permutations of each. The choices present a confusing array of strengths and drawbacks, the perception of which may be further clouded by political persuasion.

Should the choice be based on which party each system allegedly favours? Should the choice rest with a slate of core benefits offered by the competing systems? Should we modify not just our votes but the composition of the legislature itself to accommodate both elected and appointed law makers?

Then there's the debate over whether proposed voting system change should be put to a referendum. Should eligible voters get to choose how they will vote?

The referendum idea sounds great. What would be more democratically empowering that to allow voters to decide how they will vote? Yet it is an idea fraught with drawbacks.

A huge problem is the decision-making process itself. How do people tend to vote on referenda? Presumably the viability of the choice has some bearing on the state of mind of those casting votes. How well informed are they of the issues and the choices? How many options should be on the ballot? Do the voters really understand what they're voting for or what they're effectively rejecting? What other factors are influencing their votes? To what extent can the referendum outcome be skewed by collateral factors? What percentage of the eligible public will even turn out to vote? Should a minimum percentage turnout be required?

There's a major referendum in three days hence. British voters will go to the polls to decide whether their country should remain in the European Union. What is pertinent to our debate is not what is at stake or the possible outcome but how public opinion has shifted in the runup to the vote.  For quite a while the "Stay" camp held a comfortable lead. More recently the "Leave" side pulled ahead by several points. Now, with the balloting just days away, the polls show "Stay" edging out "Leave" by a thin margin.

Is this no-yes-no pattern endemic to referenda? Are voters fickle? Do they go from bold change to play it safe as voting day nears? Is the outcome of any referendum at least partly pre-determined?

British Columbians wrestled with electoral reform in 2005 and again in 2009. In the first referendum, a 57.69% majority voted to change to a Single Transferrable Vote system. Tantalizingly close, but no cigar. It was close enough, however, to lead to another FPTP/STV referendum in 2009. This time the STV camp was hammered, dropping to just 39.09% support. FPTP was upheld by 60%. Turnout was 55%. What a disappointment that was.

Ontario's 2007 voting reform referendum saw FPTP do even better, over 63%. It seems to have been more thoroughly analyzed. The voting public seemed poorly informed and the major newspapers opposed reform which must have had some influence on the outcome. The LeDuc report (post-mortem) went further: 

"The political advantage in referendum campaigns, particularly those dealing with unfamiliar issues, often seems to rest with the NO side. Those opposed to a proposal do not necessarily have to make a coherent case against it. Often, it is enough merely to raise doubts about it in the minds of voters, question the motives of its advocates, or play upon a natural fear of the unknown." 

Does this dynamic explain why Mulroney's referendum on the Charlottetown Accord (deservedly) failed and why the Brexit vote seems just days away from also going down to defeat?

There are a good many of us who argue that something as fundamental as voting reform should be a question for the citizenry to decide. Yet the evidence suggests that a fair referendum with a suitably informed electorate is almost impossible to achieve. It's a stacked deck.

Maybe the only way forward is to have Parliament implement some form of proportional representation or STV. Let the voters have two elections under the reformed system to get familiar with it and then have a referendum on whether to keep it or find something else.

Meanwhile, eyes on Britain this week.

Oh, I Don't Know, I Suppose They Think Slavery Isn't Good Enough for Them.

Fri, 06/17/2016 - 07:00
Young Americans are giving up on capitalism. That's the angle of an article from Foreign Policy. The report paints a grim but familiar scenario.

Imagine that you’re twenty years old. You were born in 1996. You were five years old on 9/11. For as long as you can remember, the United States has been at war.

When you are twelve, in 2008, the global economy collapses. After years of bluster and bravado from President George W. Bush — who encouraged consumerism as a response to terror — it seems your country was weaker than you thought.

In America, the bottom falls out fast. 

The adults who take care of you struggle to take care of themselves. Perhaps your parent loses a job. Perhaps your family loses its home.

In 2009, politicians claim the recession is over, but your hardship is not. Wages are stagnant or falling. The costs of health care, child care, and tuition continue to rise exponentially. Full-time jobs turn into contract positions while benefits are slashed. Middle-class jobs are replaced with low-paying service work. The expectations of American life your parents had when you were born — that a “long boom” will bring about unparalleled prosperity — crumble away.

Baby boomers tell you there is a way out: a college education has always been the key to a good job. But that doesn’t seem to happen anymore. The college graduates you know are drowning in student debt, working for minimum wage, or toiling in unpaid internships. Prestigious jobs are increasingly clustered in cities where rent has tripled or quadrupled in a decade’s time. You cannot afford to move, and you cannot afford to stay. Outside these cities, newly abandoned malls join long abandoned factories. You inhabit a landscape of ruin. There is nothing left for you.

Every now and then, people revolt. When you are fifteen, Occupy Wall Street captivates the nation’s attention, drawing attention to corporate greed and lost opportunity. Within a year, the movement fades, and its members do things like set up “boutique activist consultancies.” When you are seventeen, the Fight for 15 workers movement manages to make higher minimum wage a mainstream proposition, but the solutions politicians pose are incremental. No one seems to grasp the urgency of the crisis. Even President Barack Obama, a liberal Democrat — the type of politician who’s supposed to understand poverty — declares that the economy has recovered.

America's young, the 18-29 year olds are turning against capitalism, at least the predatory capitalism that is the hallmark of neoliberalism.

According to an April 2016 Harvard University poll, support for capitalism is at a historic low. 51 percent of Americans in this age cohort [18-29] reject it, while 42 percent support it. 33 percent say they support socialism. The Harvard poll echoes a 2012 Pew survey, in which 46 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds had a positive view of capitalism, and 47 percent a negative one. While older generations had a slightly more positive take on capitalism — topping out at 52 percent for the oldest cohort, citizens over 65 — youth had a markedly different take on socialism. 49 percent viewed it positively, compared to just 13 percent of those 65 or older.

Does this mean that the youth of America are getting ready to hand over private property to the state and round up the kulaks? No. As many of those who reported on the Harvard survey noted, the terms “socialism” and “capitalism” were never defined. After meeting with survey takers, John Della Volpe, the director of the Harvard poll,told the Washington Post that respondents did not reject capitalism inherently as a concept. “The way in which capitalism is practiced today, in the minds of young people — that’s what they’re rejecting,” he said.

American youth seem to be rejecting modern predatory capitalism that preys on their generation. What they seek is some restoration of New Deal democracy, what I like to call progressive democracy. 
Things older generations took for granted — promotions, wages that grow over time, a 40-hour work week, unions, benefits, pensions, mutual loyalty between employers and employees — are increasingly rare.

As a consequence, these basic tenets of American work life, won by labor movements in the early half of the twentieth century, are now deemed “radical.” In this context, Bernie Sanders, whose policies echo those of New Deal Democrats, can be deemed a “socialist” leading a “revolution”. His platform seems revolutionary only because American work life has become so corrupt, and the pursuit of basic stability so insurmountable, that modest ambitions — a salary that covers your bills, the ability to own a home or go to college without enormous debt — are now fantasies or luxuries.
You do not need a survey to ascertain the plight of American youth. You can look at their bank accounts, at the jobs they have, at the jobs their parents have lost, at the debt they hold, at the opportunities they covet but are denied. You do not need jargon or ideology to form a case against the status quo. The clearest indictment of the status quo is the status quo itself.

The crushing reality depicted in this article breathes life into Chris Hedges' contention that America is in a simmering, pre-revolutionary state. He argues that it's not a matter of if but when and then how bad will it be. Remember the Arab Spring uprisings were a result of several forces but youth disaffection was one of the most powerful. Sanders and Trump have shown that their country has a broad-based discontent that, when properly led, could be the kernel of open unrest that takes hold and spreads. 
Neoliberal capitalism with its hellspawn of globalism, inequality and oppression never was the "trickle down" cornucopia of prosperity and ease. It was, instead, a "trickle up" phenomenon where wealth was gradually sapped from the working classes, winding up in the laps of the 1%. It only took just 30 years for America to reach the point of economic feudalism.