Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Coming Second Great Depression?

Here's a troubling prediction by Chalmers Johnson, author of Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, reported in an AlterNet interview:
If you had asked me what I think actually will happen -- and again, I cannot foresee the future -- the economic news encourages me in this thought. I believe we will stagger along under the fa├žade of constitutional government until we're overtaken by bankruptcy. Bankruptcy will not mean the literal end of the United States, any more than it did for Germany in 1923, or China in 1948, or Argentina just a few years ago, for 2001 and 2002.

But it would mean a catastrophic shake up of the society, which could conceivably usher in revolution, given the interests that would be damaged in this. It would mean virtually the disappearance of all American influence in international affairs. The rest of the world would be greatly affected, but it would begin to overcome it. We probably would not.

That's what I think is the most likely development, given the profligacy of our government in spending money that it doesn't have, in borrowing it from the Chinese and the Japanese, and the defense budgets that are simply serving the interest of the military-industrial complex.
Since the American and Canadian economies are intertwined, I doubt Canada will be much of a safe haven if this economic apocalypse fulfills itself. It would be interesting to see if and how the domestic politics of the European Union would change in reaction to the immigration of North American market-dominant minorities to the EU...

The First Openly Godless Member of Congress

Representative Pete Stark is the highest-ranking politician in American history say publicly that he doesn't believe a "supreme being" -- but believes that real political courage is saying, "Let's tax the rich and give money to poor kids."

Read more on the AlterNet.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

What It Means to Be a Leftist in the 21st Century

Professor, culture critic, and social justice advocate Cornel West addressed a panel at the 2007 Left Forum in New York last weekend. West is a professor of religion and African-American studies at Princeton University and has been described as one of America's most vital and eloquent public intellectuals. He has written and co-authored numerous books on philosophy, race and sociology. His most recent book is "Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism."

Below is an excerpt from a transcript of his speech:
What does it really mean to be a leftist in the early part of the 21st century? What are we really talking about? And I can just be very candid with you. It means to have a certain kind of temperament, to make certain kinds of political and ethical choices, and to exercise certain analytical focuses in targeting on the catastrophic and the monstrous, the scandalous, the traumatic, that are often hidden and concealed in the deodorized and manicured discourses of the mainstream. That's what it means to be a leftist. So let's just be clear about it.

So that if you are concerned about structural violence, if you're concerned about exploitation at the workplace, if you're concerned about institutionalized contempt against gay brothers and lesbian sisters, if you're concerned about organized hatred against peoples of color, if you're concerned about a subordination of women, that's not cheap PC chitchat; that is a calling that you're willing to fight against and try to understand the sources of that social misery at the structural and institutional level and at the existential and the personal level. That's what it means, in part, to be a leftist.

That's why we choose to be certain kinds of human beings. That's why it's a calling, not a career. It's a vocation, not a profession. That's why you see these veterans still here year after year after year, because they are convinced they don't want to live in a world and they don't want to be human in such a way that they don't exercise their intellectual and political and social and cultural resources in some way to leave the world just a little better than it was when they entered. That's, in part, what it means to be a leftist.
Read more on the AlterNet.

Globalization as a Religion?

From Zack Exley's What Progressives Can Learn from Evangelicals?:
Globalization isn't just an aggressive stage in the history of capitalism. It is a religious movement of previously unheard-of proportions. Progress is its underlying myth, unlimited economic growth its foundational faith, the shopping mall its place of worship, consumerism its overriding image, 'I'll have a Big Mac and fries' its ritual of initiation, and global domination its ultimate goal.

Quebec defines Canada

People are always delighted or horrified to discover that I am a (pragmatic) Quebecois sovereignist since 1992. I've come to believe that, with a sovereign state, the people of Quebec will be better equipped to foster their own economic, social, and cultural development. Sovereignists are generally not in opposition to federalism as a concept, since many of them support world federalism, but they are opposed to the present federal system in Canada and do not believe it can be reformed in a way that could satisfy what they see as the desire of Quebecois to govern themselves apart from the rest of Canada in all respects. Personally, I've come to see Quebec sovereignty as a path to implementing a bright green vision of a radically democratic society.

That being said, I was very pleased with reading the following column from Lawrence Martin of the Montreal Gazette which might explain both Quebec and Canada to my readers, most of whom I assume are Americans:
Quebec has come a long way since the vassal days. Of all the provinces in the federation, it's the big winner again this past year, gaining -- this from an Alberta-based Prime Minister -- the magnificent nation-status concession.

It's galling to some. They rightly ask -- for all it receives -- what does Quebec ever give back? In the formal sense, the answer is not much. But in another sense, the inadvertent one, the answer is everything.

Canada is a remarkable story for the degree to which one province has been able to define it. Our status as a progressive, liberal, culturally tolerant nation -- a beacon to the world -- owes itself in large measure to Quebec.

The pillar of the right has been Alberta. The pillar of the left has been Quebec. In the battle of the two magnitudes, we all know which side triumphed. Benefiting from having the ship's captain so much of the time, Quebec values have most often become those of the federal government's.

We can count the ways. On the economy, it is Quebec that has nurtured the country's dirigiste, economic mindset. It is the most statist of our big provinces. And our Quebec-based prime ministers have fashioned their national economic policies with their political home base in mind.

In foreign affairs, the power of Quebec was much on display when public opinion in that province kept the country out of the Iraq war and the U.S. missile defence program. Quebec has been our most pacifist province, and the making of a mindset that has favoured multilateralism over militarism.

Our tolerance and multiculturalism have flowed chiefly from a history of cohabitation with Quebec francophones. On social values, Quebec has been in the vanguard on gay rights, freedom of choice, opposition to capital punishment, etc. The Charter of Rights, of course, was Pierre Trudeau's.

One can scarcely imagine how different a country would have emerged had it been Alberta pulling the levers of power in Ottawa over the past four decades. In the United State, the more liberal northeast has lost its foothold and the consequences have been evident. Not here. At least not yet.

For the country to change, the aging Quebec model needs be toppled. But that model, like Europe's, is a stubborn one. Anyone who thought its comeuppance would coincide with the arrival of Conservatives in power has so far been mistaken. At no time in modern history has Quebec faced the combination of a Western Conservative prime minister and a "conservative" Premier (Jean Charest being a former Tory leader in Ottawa).

Mr. Charest came to power four years ago with the intent of moving the province off its statist traditions: lower taxes, reduced labour power, fewer subsidies to industry, less deficit and debt. His mini-revolution never got off the ground. In the end, he had to buckle to public opinion and become a status quo premier.

In Ottawa, the arrival of Stephen Harper presented a historic opportunity for redress of chronic Western grievances over the surfeit of Quebec influence. Would it be the flip of the 1960s? (That was when French power began to take Ottawa by storm -- and never really let up.) But Mr. Harper has not sought to overtly stack the deck with Prairie power.

With his approach to the courts and to foreign affairs, he is challenging the Quebec model, in some respects. But like Mr. Charest, he has been constrained from going too far by political considerations. For someone who once opposed special status for Quebec, he chose with his nation-gambit to give Quebec the most special status imaginable. That an Albertan could make such an enormous bow to that province without his home base up in arms is remarkable. There's been hardly a whimper.

Despite people flowing west, economic power flowing west and Conservatives at the helm, the old Quebec model holds. The province -- the federal Liberals have elected yet another Quebecker as leader -- continues to cast a spell. Like it or not, it has defined modern Canada.

Monday, March 19, 2007

On a Sick Planet, Hospitals Must Go Green

"It's a sad irony of modern living that the health care industry -- the largest single industrial sector in the US economy, and one that generates 2 million tons of waste per year -- adds to the toxic load in a polluted environment that is, in turn, making people sick.

Chronic diseases and conditions now affect more than one third of the US population, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In spite of medical advancements, scientific evidence shows an increase in asthma, autism, learning disabilities, birth defects, childhood brain cancer, endometriosis and other chronic conditions that are linked to toxic pollutants.

Historically, the health care industry has been part of the problem. In 1995, for example, medical waste incinerators were the number-one source of dioxin (the most potent carcinogen known to man) and were responsible for 10 percent of mercury emissions, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

"Of all the ways to fill hospital beds, burning medical waste shouldn't be one of them," declared protest posters in demonstrations across the country, while advocates pushed for stricter pollution-control regulations and urged hospitals to switch to safer alternatives. A decade later, more than 5,000 medical waste incinerators have closed in the US, and fewer than 100 remain. Thousands of hospitals are also phasing out products that contain mercury.

Which brings us to the good news: Even as it has contributed to the problem, the health care sector has demonstrated it can be a large part of the solution.

"As an industry with massive buying power, and one that values health as a core part of its mission, the health care industry can and is shifting the market toward healthier and more sustainable products and practices," says Laura Brannen, director of Hospitals for a Healthy Environment, a non-profit that works with hospitals to eliminate mercury, reduce waste and choose less toxic products.

Imagine, for instance, cancer treatment centers built without materials linked to cancer. Pediatric clinics free of chemicals that trigger asthma. Hospitals that serve fresh food grown by local farmers. Imagine the health care industry at the vanguard of a new sustainable green economy that is compatible with living systems. This vision is starting to take root at major hospitals and health care systems across the country."

Read more on AlterNet.