Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Canada gets nastier

Yesterday, someone pointed me to a recent G & M article observing that Canada is becoming, well, in the words of the article, a lot less like Ken Dryden and a lot more like Don Cherry. I found this interesting because I'd read/viewed a couple of things in the last few days that had me thinking along the same lines.

1) The first item was a blog post by Tasha Kheiriddin argues that much of the blame for the "present crisis" lies with "the 99%". She argues that "when people think it’s perfectly OK to take out mortgages they can’t afford, ... , you reap what you sow."  And there follows the obligatory tale of how she pulled herself up by her bootstraps so screw all those greedy lazy people who could make it work if only they'd try. Ultimately, according to her, everyone is equally responsible for our present crisis. The criticism is flawed for a few reasons, let me note a couple.  For one thing, it misrepresents the mortgage crisis. Yes, by definition almost, many people took on bad mortgages, but to present this as a reflection of pure greed or indolence or stupidity completely ignores the context. As a matter of fact, it was the actions of the banks that created a huge price bubble, a bubble that was downplayed by many experts including Greenspan and every mortgage broker in the country. People were regularly being reminded that housing prices were historically incredibly sound. It was the price bubble, not simple greed or stupidity that caused people to take on bad loans. People were led to believe that housing was becoming increasingly unaffordable and were willing to grasp at straws because of concern that they'd lose the opportunity forever as house prices continued to appreciate and that they were likely to be able to soon refinance on better terms. This is exactly the BS that mortgage brokers and realtors throughout the country were pushing, backed up by a plethora of financial experts. This isn't to deny personal responsibility; but to present this as simple greed or thoughtlessness is to completely ignore what was going on. Secondly, the crisis in which we find ourselves isn't just a simple matter of greed by everyone. In fact, the point that these people are making is that wealth has dangerously accumulated at the top and that this doesn't bode well for economic recovery or deficit reduction unless we implement fundamental changes. Truisms about everyone being greedy completely miss the point. If "the 99%" stopped being greedy it would do nothing to fix anything, it might actually hurt things insofar as it would result in less economic activity.

2) The second item that left me concerned about the tone of debate was a CBC "interview" of an OWS participant, Chris Hedges, by CBC's Kevin O'Leary. In it O'Leary says to, the very articulate and coherent, Hedges, "Listen, don’t take this the wrong way, but you sound like a left-wing nutbar." and then later quibbling with Hedges over whether he'd said 'nutcase' or 'nutbar'.  To be fair, Hedges denounced "corporations" in general when he apparently actually meant investment banks, so there was some confusion but nonetheless, is this really what journalism on the CBC has come to? 

(Parenthetically, I observe that Hedges gives credit to Canada for maintaining regulations on the banks, a point frequently made. Canada also regularly gets credit for the Herculean deficit elimination effort they mounted in the 90s. Both those things happened under Liberal governments, it's too bad they've been reduced to a tiny shadow of their former selves.)

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Carlin and the American Dream

George Carlin's 2005 classic on the American Dream ("you have to be asleep to believe it") has been making the rounds again recently. In it he rails against the fact that the country and the politicians are bought and sold by the big corporations. It's a (very depressing) comedy routine so his case is overstated, or at the very least I'd like to conclude something other than his complete despair, but it's also easy to find ample evidence of the way the moneyed are able to exert influence that significantly undermines real democracy and reform. Here are two recent examples:

1) The Montgomery County Council recently considered a resolution asking Council to spend less on wars and more on social programs. This is hardly a controversial position. Polls show, for example, that a majority of Americans believe the US should not be involved in Afghanistan. The Council was prepared to support the motion 5-4. But for some mysterious reason, after LockMart, as we affectionately refer to them in these parts, began talking with county officials, the resolution was withdrawn for "lack of support".

2) Another example involves my home and native land. It seems Trans-Canada has been using lobbyists to get close to State Department officials who have been cheerleading their efforts to get approval for a pipeline from the tar sands deep into the US, possibly circumventing environmental regulation scrutiny,  and helping them find loopholes to avoid public scrutiny over attempts to make the line exceed usual pressure constraints.  In the end, their money and lobbyists have given them far more access to the public officials who make the decisions than the pipelines opponents have had.

A more glaring example, of course, was the health care legislation that this administration pushed through. The efforts to appease the medical insurance and pharmaceutical lobby first ensured a result that was far less effective than it might have been had we simply found a workable compromise between intelligent liberals and conservatives unimpeded by corporate interests. 

(note also his prescience wrt Social Security)

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Hitler comparison?

I'm not inclined to shed any tears for Hank Williams, Jr. losing his ESPN gig, but it irks me a little that most news reports are claiming that he compared Obama to Hitler or even that he was saying Obama was like Hitler.  If one watches the interview (link), (which will also confirm that Williams, Jr. is a bit weird and creepy and not very articulate), what he says is that Obama golfing with Boehner is like Hitler golfing with Netanyahu.  That's not a great comparison, but it in no interesting way says that Obama is comparable to Hitler or like Hitler. If I were to say that hot is to cold as black is to white, or as sweet is to salty it would be odd for anyone to infer that I was claiming heat is like sweetness or comparable to sweetness except insofar as both have opposites.  What Williams, Jr. did was completely different than the sort of actual Hitler comparisons that we've observed at Tea Party rallies in which Obama was portrayed with a Hitler moustache or some such.