Category Archives: Corruption

Are these senators representative?

There are three aspects that I want to consider about the four Canadian senators who are under scrutiny at present over claims for allowances for second residences.

Do senators have any kind of ‘obligation’, ‘duty’ or ‘responsibility’ to the public?

‘Should’ senators have to pay back taxpayers’ money/public funds that they obtained via claims that turn out not to be true or valid? Do those who aspire to the highest public offices in the country demonstrate any kind of ‘obligation’ to the people who pay their salaries, pensions, benefits, perks? Obligation raises related terms such as duty and responsibility. Yet, the language of obligation, duty and responsibility, the ‘should’ as it were, only appears more archaic or obsolete when mentioned in the same sentence as the present government (it is not necessarily restricted to just one party, though the Conservative government appears to be especially resistant to such arguments).

‘Should’ there be a ‘penalty’?

The second aspect is raised by the respective Conservative and Liberal party leaders in Senate, who ‘represent’ two of Canada’s three largest parties, saying in their joint statement that their peers ‘should be required to repay immediately all monies … with interest’.

Returning money that does not belong to you cannot be a ‘penalty’ (i.e. a punishment) since you end up where you started — i.e. without money you didn’t have to begin with (although, perhaps, if you hadn’t been caught…).

The only ‘penalty’ raised here is the interest to be paid on the amount claimed. Will they be charged ‘credit card’ or ‘pay-day loan’ interest rates on the sums they obtained? That would definitely be a ‘penalty’ for most Canadians, but probably not for those so well connected to the corporate and political elites, would it?

These senators, if guilty, have betrayed the public’s trust and further instilled distrust of both the politicians that appointed them as well as Senate itself — and, indeed, of many other democratic institutions, even those unconnected to Senate.

A ‘penalty’ worthy of the meaning of punishment ‘should’ at least mean that the senator is stripped of his/her position, title, salary, benefits, pensions, the way that so many working Canadians in the private sector have been stripped of their jobs, pensions, salaries, wages and benefits because of the same political parties — to which these senators are affiliated — which, when in government, passed laws that enabled corporations to ransack pension plans and let CEOs get paid bonuses, even when their companies were declaring ‘bankruptcy’ (Nortel?). Shouldn’t senators be treated the same as everyone else? Or are they ‘above’ or ‘exempt’ from the law?

The third aspect that one should think about is whether Senate or senators are ‘representative’?

Even though they are ‘unelected’, I would suggest that these senators (all senators in fact) are ‘representative’. Of course, they are not ‘representative’ in terms of being elected by citizens voting in a democratic process. But, they are very much ‘representative’ of the values, attitudes, beliefs, idea(l)s, perspectives of those who appoint them. Indeed, they are representative of the political parties of which they are members, regardless of whether the party rejects them when they are under public scrutiny.

Otherwise, you should ask: ‘Why were they appointed in the first place?’

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Filed under Corruption, Cronyism, Parliament, Pork Barrel, Uncategorized

What we might learn from Weimar….

They say that you always know when a political discussion or argument is degenerating — and quickly. It’s when your opponent (or perhaps you have done so on some occasions yourself?) sinks to invoking the name of ‘Hitler’ or ‘Nazis’ to discredit some left- or right-wing political leader, group or party (depending on your political leanings). These over-the-top comparisons are a sign that there is probably little point in continuing to engage in a debate with such an individual.

Equally, in the USA during the 1960s the hippies and anti-war protestors were apparently fond of using the term ‘fascist’ to refer to the establishment, the Democratic Party, the police and so on. Later, when people used the term to refer to leaders like Thatcher or Reagan or Mulroney, I always objected pointing out the historical meanings associated with the term that had represented a particular political movement (and moment) of the 1920s and 1930s, of which Nazi-ism was but one permutation.

(Of course, there has been a rise of neo-fascist movements and parties since the Second World War, and these have organisations have invoked or acknowledged their historical predecessors or identified with them in some way.)

Yet, there is a danger in throwing out the lessons of the Weimar Republic when we avoid mentioning Hitler’s name. It’s not that I think calling one’s opponent or their hero(es) Hitler or similar names is a useful tactic — I don’t — but that this attitude has meant that it is almost impossible to get beyond the detritus that exists about Hitler and his henchmen.

There were lessons that Weimar has for democratic societies that remain unlearnt, for the most part. First of all, there is confusion about how Hitler came to power in January 1933. The most frequent question that I remember from my undergraduate course on ‘inter-war Germany’, which frequently evolved into debates with my classmates, was whether the Nazis ‘seized’ power or used the system against itself? (I assume that it remains a question in history classes that focus on the Weimar Republic to this day.)

From what I could determine from my readings (and what I believe I argued for) was that they had used the system against itself, passing laws forbidding demonstrations, restricting rights and freedoms, establishing the first concentration camps (but for political prisoners first, before Jews and other so-called ‘sub-humans’) and so on.

That, in essence, the Nazi Party used ‘legal’ means to undermine the Weimar Republic, turning the democratic state into the authoritarian (or totalitarian) state.

I also remember being introduced to articles that argued that had the Weimar Republic had the same system of first-past-the-post governance as Canada/UK/Australia/New Zealand/USA, Hitler would have actually come to power one to two years earlier than he did. This argument clearly contrasted with the Allied re-organisation of West Germany after the war in which Parliament was restricted to political parties that obtained at least five percent of the popular vote before they would get representation. The argument by the Allies was that all those small parties, of which the Nazis (NSDAP) had been only one, had been a threat to the stability and longevity of Weimar.

Yet, what the Allies (and others) did not recognize, or at least did not take into account, in their reshaping of the political structure of West Germany, was that all kinds of local, regional and national elites (political, business, cultural), the judiciary (for the most part), elements of the military and police (although there were exceptions to the rule, such as Berlin, where the police force had not been supportive of the Nazis) as well as the suburban and rural middle classes had supported the Nazis. Many of those who supported the Nazis did so for reasons of ‘security’: that is, they feared ‘democracy’ more than they did fascism or Nazi-ism. Indeed, it was the SPD, the German socialists, who were the only force that fought to defend the Republic from the Nazis and the German Communist Party (KPD), which attacked both the SPD and the Nazis (but that is another story).

Democracy is a ‘messy’ form of governance but the rise of forms of ‘fascism’ or authoritarianism, which exploit the ‘weaknesses’ of democracy have to be opposed. It’s not encouraging in a democracy when we are expected to bow down to ‘bureaucratic correctness’ rather than encouraged to stand up and speak for ourselves and for others who are disadvantaged under the system. See, for example, the kind of twaddle peddled by critics of Idle No More or Occupy Wall Street about the ‘correct’ way to protest or ‘register’ disagreements with the system. What I remember from my courses and from my own studies of this era, and which I think is important to be aware of, is how a democratic system was used against itself.

Are those who undermine or exploit the ‘weaknesses’ of the Parliamentary system, and/or use exploit the ‘letter of the law’ (rather than keep to its ‘spirit’), to advance their own political party and/or corporate power, against the public interest and the public generally, guilty of a form of authoritarianism? Or of usurpation of power won at the ballot box? Fascism was one historical form of authoritarian or totalitarian power, which exploited the weaknesses of representative democracy. When fascism comes again, it won’t necessarily be dressed in black or brown shirts and hob-nailed boots. It could quite easily come dressed in expensive suits, sipping Chardonnay and beaming with a big friendly smile.

Postscript: I forgot to add that we shouldn’t forget about the judiciary’s collusion with the Nazis, as well as the military’s and support from the academy.

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Filed under Corruption, Democracy, Dictatorship, Elections, History, Parliament, Politics

Should you (the 99%) pay for parties for the 1%?

Since 31 July 2011, the largest province of Canada, Ontario, has cut the ‘Special Diet Allowance’ of $250 for people on welfare. Welfare rates have been cut by 55% since the Progressive Conservative Party got into power in 1995.

As a result, people who have exhausted their unemployment benefits (E.I.) and their savings and are forced onto the dole, have very little to live on – even if they didn’t have to pay rent, it would hardly cover the rising cost of food, electricity, gas and so on. They represent the poorest of the 99%.

So, while the Liberals under Dalton McGuinty try to penalise the poor and the unfortunate, whom Tim Hudak’s Tories are probably itching to put the boot in as well, rich corporate executives and their wholly-owned political allies reap the benefit of taxpayer-funded parties (ie ‘entertainment allowances’). That is, the 1% get to party and we get the bill!

And poor people, who are trying to exist on incomes that are below subsistence in a first-world city (and provincial capital), Toronto, and have those meagre incomes cut even more, there is nothing forthcoming.

My modest proposal is that these ‘entertainment’ expenses that big business executives claim (at taxpayers’ expense) should be cut by 50% (as a starting point) and turned over to those most in need: the poor, the homeless, the unemployed (whose jobs have been shipped overseas), as well as putting it towards cutting student debt and funding daycare and long-term daycare. (I would also propose that this would not include small businesses and the self-employed under a certain level of turnover.)

Since the provincial election on 6 October 2011, where the Liberals were returned with a minority (53 seats), can we expect any change for those most in need? Although the Tories hold 37 seats, the New Democratic Party (NDP) holds 17. The anti-democratic rhetoric of both federal and provincial Tories has made McGuinty ‘nervous’ about anything that can be called a ‘coalition’ and so bends the way of Hudak and Harper.

This is unfortunate as the bankrupt model of neoliberalism continues to act as a ‘Robin Hood’ in reverse – putting money into the hands of those who need it least: the 1%. That is why today 15 October 2011 some of the 99% have awaken and taken to the streets of more than 950 cities around the world in over 80 countries.

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Filed under Corporate Welfare, Corruption, Cutbacks, Democracy, Economics, Elections, Politics, Poverty, Uncategorized, Wages, Welfare, Youth