Is This Progress? This Is Progress.

What Is Kaputall?

Oxford defines Kaput as "broken and useless; no longer working or effective" - similar to our unbalanced economic system. This is a page dedicated to the intersection of capitalism and social, political, and environmental problems.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

On Complicity: 2015 In Review

As is my New Years tradition, I'll be posting about a dangerous trend. In 2015 I observed a general sloughing off of responsibility, specifically as it relates to Syria. Media coverage this year has focused on the xenophobic reaction of the west to developments in the Middle East, rather than looking at the relationship as significantly more influenced by the role of western powers.

It's easy to look at events like the Paris shootings and blame the Middle East. An oft-misunderstood region of violence and division, the Middle East and Islam are seen as the hotbed and forces of radicalistion respectively. However, this ignores the roles played historically by the Ottoman Empire, by the various pacts before and after the First World War, the creation of Israel, and American and Soviet intervention during the Cold War.

It has been easy for western countries to forget (conveniently) about their past imperialist histories in order to posture as victims. It fits in with cultural values (or presumed cultural values) about openness, multiculturalism, and secularism.

If we look back to the 1930s, the parallels with antisemitism are significant. Surveys from the period show that the vast majority of Americans were opposed to welcoming Jews facing persecution in Europe. Canada was no better having refused the St. Louis, a ship full of refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. In 2015 we have seen the majority of American governors oppose the resettlement of Syrian refugees. Thankfully in Canada the process of welcoming 25 000 Syrians is well underway.

What's not being talked about is why there is such a need to fight against not only intolerance, but also incorrect assumptions about complicity.  #notallmuslims has been a rallying call, responding to voices from Donald Trump to #jesuischarlie. Moreover, Mosques and Muslim leaders have been forced to go on record condemning the actions of terrorists associated with their faith. While these acts show that Islam is not monolithic, it does strike me as peculiar.

Why are we not exploring this from the other angle, looking at the west and complicity? Why are we not asking our leaders to condemn the actions of their forebears? Why do we continue to support Saudi Arabia and Isreal? Why are the incursions into the Middle East ongoing?

This reminds me of one of my favourite historical debates. Who shares responsibility for the Holocaust? Hitler and his inner leadership? The military and the SS? Everyone in Germany? People outside of the Third Reich?

There is no clear answer, and I feel that in twenty years we will be looking back at this period asking the same questions. It's easy to look back an contemplate how horrific actions came to be. How did supposedly ''good'' people not resist? Mass movements, and in particular mass movements centered on hate and violence, do not appear at random: they are generated incrementally.

Let us wake up to what is going on so that we can reverse the tide of hatred and fear. Here's to 2016.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Funding Caps

158 groups have provided the funding for fifty per cent of the money raised for the campaigns of all the Democrat and Republican candidates in the US primaries. There is something patently wrong with the rules governing how money can be contributed to campaigns in America.

Having worked on several NDP campaigns, I'm aware of how controlled contributions are in Canada. It is understood that anyone making that substantial of an infusion in a political movement is essentially looking to make an investment. Self-interested individuals and groups making contributions would, in and of itself, be irrelevant if everyone were able to attain equal influence. When those who are ultra-wealthy are able to donate massive sums and outspend the remaining 99 per cent of the population, they are eroding democracy.

Modern democracy relies on constant cash. Big money in politics is a problem in every sense of the word. However there is a seeming lack of interest in changing the way this works. Consider as well that in the United States anyone can start a PAC and the funding regulations for these are truly the wild west.

Given that we are in the middle of the American primaries and that the ability of a candidate to endure is based on cash, how money is donated in the next six months or so is going to have a massive impact on the who will be governing come November.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Peak Islamophobia

Islamophobia is at peak levels in many western democracies, and the extreme conservative views on Islam in France and the United States are remarkably similar. I'm going to address this trend by comparing the relative scope of Islamophobia in modern French and American politics.

These two states make for excellent comparisons because both nations are experiencing key election activity at present. Moreover, both countries have a large, disaffected conservative population with an intention to voice itself as loudly as possible.

In France this movement is represented by le Front National, a far-right party led my Marine Le Pen. The FN is made up of a wide variety of interests, including anti-immigration, social conservatism, and euroscepticism. The party generally polls well as a protest vote, but has had minimal success until recently. Regional elections took place in France earlier this week at the FN fared much better than normal, sweeping 6 of the 13 regions and finishing first overall in popular vote.

In the United States this movement is represented by the Tea Party and by Republican front-runner Donald Trump. Despite his use of brash language, his broad employ of false information, and his continual scandals, he looks to be pushing through quite well. We are a ways from the caucus and ultimately the primaries, but Trump proven to have found an audience with which his message resonates, even when suggesting something as completely outrageous as ''banning all Muslims'' from American - whatever that even means.

The similarities between these two movements are honestly quite striking.

To start, I have to address the fact that they are both taken so seriously. This is surprising because they are representative of such political extremes (and ones that are normally not the centre of attention). However, the reaction of moderates and progressives only serves to galvanise the resolve of these extreme right wing movements, especially in the wake of recent events such as the attacks in Paris and California.

In both instances there is an impressive development of cult of personality. Le Pen and Trump are seen as saviours who have the answers to complex political, economic, and social problems (not far off as fascists go from Hitler). Moreover, they are seen as the purveyors of truth, speaking out against rigid climates of political correctness. In this way they get to be renegades or mavericks fighting against the system while simultaneously benefiting from representing elitism. Both the FN and the Tea Party receive broad popular support from ''average'', ''hardworking'' citizens while also appealing to the upper class with their political views.

In both instances the broad support comes from advocating for xenophobia (specifically Islamophobia). There is a limited interest in promoting inclusion or valuing diversity. The FN and the Tea Party base their policies more broadly on a combination of fear and historical nostalgia. The fact that France or America could ''resume their greatness'' is symptomatic of this.

In both instances the movements are likely to win votes in the short term but not be able to govern. Le Pen and Trump represent the protest vote, the desperation of people who feel left out of mainstream politics, and ultimately who can only unite their voices in opposition, not in the establishment of a particular coherent policy direction. 

Despite the fact that these movements are inherently incapable of governing, it won't stop them from making notable and nefarious impacts on national politics by influencing the general discourse. What's perhaps more of a problem is that there are no signs that the FN or the Tea Party will be going anywhere anytime soon.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

That Time of Year Again

It's no secret that depression is often at its worst around the holidays. The constant messaging about family, prosperity, and happiness is heartwarming when it affirms your circumstances, but can be devastating when people are having a difficult time. Yesterday the CBC reported on the rise in rates of depression, calls to crisis lines, and suicides in Alberta this year. Falling oil prices have led to an employment crisis and the social impacts are predictably grave. Various stakeholders have called for increased funding for frontline agencies, but, as I will argue in this post, I don't feel that is ultimately more than a very short-term solution.

The impact of environment on mental health is often neglected, or at the very least it is not appropriately acknowledged. I find this rather frustrating, especially given the prevalence of solid research that substantiates that unemployment, poverty, poor job security, inadequate housing, etc all have large impacts on an individual's mental well-being. This is amplified signficantly when you add in other intersecting identities related to class, race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

While, at least in the short term, providing more access to frontline services (for example counselling or a distress line) will have a measurable impact, the reality is that it's a question of firefighting when people are already at that point.

I'd advocate for an alternative policy that is designed to ensure that quality housing and stable employment are priorities. Moreover, we need to mitigate against income inequality as it is a principal driver and reinforcing factor of social inequality.

Programmes that advocate for living wage eliminate the problem of low-paid work (something that has been an ongoing discussion in Canada for the better part of a decade). Programmes like guaranteed income (recently adopted by Finland) help with impermanence in the job market. Higher personal taxes will help fund the first two programmes while also allowing the state to provide more frontline social services.

In the interim, we need to ensure that we do what we can to support those whose holiday seasons may be less bright than our own. Let's take care of one another.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Paris Climate Talks: Talking About Real Threats

COP21, the climate conference happening this week in Paris, is an event that has captured the world's attention and has momentarily reignited our interest in the fate of the planet. There are mammoth pressures on the international community to cooperate in search of a meaningful solution. The rhetoric of the last chance is admittedly high, but I'm convinced it's a fair assessment given our situation.

In this post I would like to explore why climate talks continually fail to inspire us to change our lives meaningfully while, in the name of security, socieities have been transformed because of the threat of terrorism.

In December 1997 the Kyoto Protocols were signed by delegates from 192 countries. The spirit of collaboration in the interest of our collective future was impressive, and was the next logical step after the Earth Summit in Brazil five years earlier.

Despite the initial zeal, Kyoto ultimately has proven to be a failure. The United States did not ratify the agreement, Canada has since rescinded, and the vast majority of signatories have non-binding agreements. In fact, while some countries have managed to decrease their carbon intensity, there are shockingly few examples of countries that have actually reduced their emissions.

Thus, it was with great flair in 2012 that delegations arrived in Copenhagen. Howevever, the divisive question of the times: how could wealthier countries, and developping countries come to an agreement? The outcome of Copenhagen was nothing tangible. The stakes are high for Paris.

With so little having been achieved, it strikes me as remarkable given the focus (in roughly the same span of time) placed on combatting terrorism internationally.

Both climate change and violent extremism are potentially cataclysmic phenomena. And, for all intents and purposes, are very similar in the sense that they threaten the ways of life of billions. Both have different effects on different societies; both require coordinated action; both require concessions and negotiations to combat; both are dauntingly complex and multifaceted; both have been overwhelmingly handled with rhetoric.

However, there are also numerous differences when it comes to these threats. Modern liberal democratic societies (refer to a previous post) have been able to mobilise change toward greater security by manipulating fear responses. The exhcange of civil liberties for greater protection is presented as a fair deal and hardly more than inconvenient. Moreover, terrorism has been met as a challenge, replete with more than enough emphasis on revenge and justice. The responsibility of dealing with terrorism fits perfectly into existing hierarchies (political and military).

To compare with the question of climate change, virtually none of these criteria are fulfilled in mainstream discourse. It is very challenging to deal with a threat that goes largely unacknowledged, forgotten, or constantly questioned on the base of its legitimacy. There also lacks the sentiment that failure to do anything about threats to the environment is irresponsible or endangers the population, something which is constantly part of the narrative about terrorism. Concerns that green technologies are a money pit by those with political influence ensure that the status quo continues.

Leadership in the fight against terrorism comes from countries like the United States and Russia who unabashedly promote military intervention abraod and greater securitisation at home. However, our leaders in the fight against climate change are not centre stage pontificating about the threat and their action plan (aside from this week, where they will undoubtedly be drowned out by larger economies).

Unfortunately COP21 is about as all or nothing as I can imagine. I can only hope that there will be enough recognition of this threat to produce an agreement of substance.