Joe Hill

November 19, 2017

Today is the 102nd anniversary of the murder by execution of the great Wobbly songwriter and martyr Joe Hill.

A minute’s silence, and then back to the work that still remains unfinished.

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This Is Class War

November 7, 2017

It is not often that the rough edges of the class war show themselves on our consciousness; they are generally far better hidden than this. But the disgraceful rhetoric concerning homeless shelters — in Marpole, and GW, and elsewhere — is one such rough edge.

“Oh yes, we support these Warming Centres and longer-term homelessness solutions; of course we do,” declare the faux liberals, but then add: “But ONLY if we get extra security for our homes and our schools.”

Why do they think they need that? Why do they consider that a group of homeless people they don’t know requires additional security? Why do they think these homeless people are more criminal and potentially violent than any other group in the neighbourhood?

Where are the police statistics to show that these ideas are based on facts rather than just bloody-mindedness?  Are they basing their ideas on Trumpian “alternate truths,”  perhaps?  The Big Lie wins, is that the plan?

The only basis for this scaremongering is class war.  Somehow, really poor people shouldn’t have all the rights and assumptions of innocence that we should give to, say, a middle manager or storekeeper; and certainly none of the rights and privileges of the really rich should percolate downward. Moreover, the really poor — unlike any other economic class — need to be subject of intense surveillance and narrowing of opportunities even though the vast percentage of crime is committed by people resident in housing, against family members, neighbours, and the community: not by the homeless.

This alternate narrative is followed relentlessly by the media: local crime buys eyeballs, and eyeballs buys advertising dollars and thus produces profits. Commerce is simple. Human interest is profit-driven.

This is class war.  It almost invariably leads to authoritarian, and sometimes totalitarian, regimes.  It is time the real liberals spoke up against the Big Lie narratives, and in support of the Warming Centres and other homeless remediation strategies, however imperfect they may be.

 


Surviving the Reformation

October 31, 2017

Exactly 500 years ago today, a German priest named Martin Luther is said to have nailed a statement to a church door in Wittenberg. That seems doubtful. What he did do on this day was send his 95 Theses to his Bishop. They were a detailed list of complaints about the Catholic Church doctrine of his day, complaints that would have him excommunicated three years later.

Luther’s basic position was that salvation came solely from the grace of God — from simple faith and belief — and required no good deeds on the part of the believer. His other important statement was that the Bible needed to be read and understood by the common people in their own language rather than interpreted by the priests.

Over the next few hundred years, hundreds of millions (without exaggeration) of human beings were killed in an effort to prove one side of the argument was more right than the other. We see the same things still happening today in the doctrinal disputes between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam. And that doesn’t even count the countless millions more killed in disputes between different religions.

Looking back over these terrible and terrifying centuries, I am ever more convinced that “religion” began as, and has always continued to be, an effort to control others and take power over them. It may be that some sects started with generous desires but always — always — they devolve into political struggles for power.

It is very hard to argue that “religion” is a worthy end in and of itself.


Why I Oppose Proportional Representation

October 27, 2017

I wrote this soon after the last Federal election. Given current discussions in Victoria, I think it a good idea to republish it.

* * * *

Pressure to change our electoral system from first-past-the-post to proportional representation grows immediately after each election. And it easy to see why those with a hierarchical bent complain.

  • In the last Federal election, the Liberals scored 40% of the vote but gained 54% of the seats, while the Greens took 3.4% of the vote and were rewarded with just 0.3% of the seats;
  • In 2011, the Tories achieved 40% of the vote and they too took 54% of the seats.  The Liberals, with 19% of the vote, received only 11% of the seats. In that year, though, the NDP got 30% of the vote but 33% of the seats.

Those in favour of proportional representation argue that the number of seats in the Federal parliament should be, more or less, equal to the proportion of votes received. The results under such a system would have been as follows:

  • 2015 (338 total seats):
    • LPC 135 seats (184 taken):
    • CPC 108 seats (99):
    • NDP 67 seats (44):
    • GPC  11 seats (1)

So long as one is not opposed to coalitions (which I certainly am not), these results — which could be repeated for all the elections  we have had — seem to cry out for proportional representation to make the system “fair”.  But wait. There is no such thing as a free lunch, so what are giving up to create “fairness” in a Federal parliament?

What we give up — and the key reason I oppose PR — is the right to choose our own local representative. And here’s why.  Under a Federal PR system, each party (party not electors) creates a list of 338 candidates (one for each available seat), numbered from 1 to 338.  When the votes are cast as in 2015, the top 40% of the Liberal list are declared elected, along with the top 32% of the Tory list, the top 20% of the NDP list, and the top 3.4% of the Green list.  Note that none — repeat NONE — of these candidates is attached to a riding.

It is probable that regional (or provincial) lists would be part of any PR system chosen. In other words, my vote in Vancouver East would be combined with all similar votes in the region or province, and seats are then allocated on the basis of the parties’ regional or provincial lists.  Still, once again, there is no local representation.

This is OK only if you believe the abstract Federal level is the most important. However, if you believe like me that true democracy is being able to choose the actual person you want to represent your neighbourhood, then your rights are stripped completely away by PR. Thus I oppose it.

The creation of party lists takes power away from the individual voter and puts it ALL into the hands of party executives; their friends and cronies will always appear at the top of the lists, and the risk of corruption (say, getting a high number on the list due to one’s wealth rather than one’s desire for public service or ability) will always be just around the corner. Thus I oppose it.

I believe that the first-past-the-post system (with all its faults) more closely matches local opinion to representation. I also believe that many of the issues with the current system would be resolved or mitigated by introducing a preferential voting system. In other words, no-one can be elected without achieving 50% of the vote in the riding. This would be achieved by allowing voters to label candidates with first and second preferences.  If a majority is not reached on a first ballot, the lowest vote getter is eliminated and his/her second choices are distributed. This continues until one candidate reached 50%+1.

So, let’s amend the current system to fix errors, but keep the fully local basis of election,


Censorship is Censorship. Period.

February 3, 2017

I am deeply disturbed by the attacks on free speech aimed at Milo Yiannopolous, especially the outrageous situation at Berkeley (given its Free Speech history.)

Let’s be clear: I hate Milo Y’s ideas and I would be happy if he and all his followers dropped dead tomorrow. Personally I would never waste any time going anywhere to listen to him or his ilk speak and I certainly would not spend money on his upcoming book.

But if I have the power to shut down someone’s speech because I find it disturbing or dangerous, that guarantees that at some other time someone will have the power to shut down what I say for the same reason.

Suppression of ideas is a key component of fascism.  None of us can be free to express ourselves unless everyone has the right to express themselves whatever they want to say.

Anything else is self-serving and hypocritical.


And Chaos Reigned …

February 3, 2017

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R.I.P. Nat Hentoff

January 7, 2017

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One of the important figures of our age, jazz critic and fierce defender of an absolutist First Amendment, columnist Nat Hentoff has died at 91.

The world is much less without him.