Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Oct. 10: a good question from a reader...

saved me for today. There really isn't a whole lot to say about today's moncton times and transcript that I haven't said before. So I'll deal with what there is, then get on to the question.

The Reuters report on Syria (NewsToday) has some oddities. It has a report of a suicide attack by a rebel fighter in Syria. Now, suicide attacks usually come from what our press likes to call 'extremists'. (Western pilots who kill hundreds of thousands of civilians are never called extremists.) Anyway, human bombs are usually from the Jihadist elements of Islam. Now, the rebels are supposed to be on our side, according to Reuters, and are fighting for democracy. There seems to be a contradiction here.

There is no mention of a report that appeared in the British press - that the mortar shells landing in Turkey, and provoking Turkey into a response, appear to be bombs supplied to the rebels. not those used by the government forces.

And, of course, Reuters is still drawing its casualty figures from the Observatory for Syrian Human Rights - without mentioning that the "observatory" is one man, a storekeeper who lives in Britain, and who gets all his information from the rebel side.

Today's editorial shows almost human intelligence. It comments favourably on the Anglophone East school district's programme to make graduation possible for dropouts. It also adds that it should be made available to adults who did not complete high school.

I fully agree. I know it works. I know its good for the individual. It's good for our whole society. It's good for our economy. But -

The editor suggests the programme should be financed by cutting education budgets in other areas. Please. A little sense, here.

With children paying hundreds of dollars for supplies, and with schools wasting time selling chocolate bars and pizzas to keep operating, our schools are already shamefully underfunded. Here is a programme that is economically beneficial to the province. Why should we be such fatheads as to weaken our schools to carry it out. Couldn't we, instead, be a little less generous to big business? Or, couldn't we look into the pockets of those business barons who pay less tax than any of their brethren across Canada?

Alec Bruce has an interesting column on entrepreneurs. That's tricky because it's an emotionally loaded word ever since senior business execs have started to wrap themselves in it. It's become a standard word to use in attacking strikers, critics of super-big business, and usually used as a sort of blessing, a sign of virtue.

But it covers a very wide range and, in reality, your local convenience store owner has very little in common with the Irvings or McCains or Ganongs. In fact, the two groups have almost nothing in common.The small entrepreneur has almost everything in common with the rest of us. The big entrepreneurs have no such links.

On the op ed page are the easily excited  Eric Lewis, and Brian Cormier who is something like Miss Manners as she would be if she never said anything at all useful.

There is, of course, no mention of contamination under Highfield Square or of what game the city council  and the land-owners are playing on us.

Now to the interesting question from the reader. What is democracy?

Well, it starts with a principle. The people have the right to decide who will govern them.
That sounds clear. But it isn't.

Until the 1920s, women weren't people so far as democracy was concerned. In the US, slaves weren't people until after the civil war - and long after then, even to the present day, all sorts of games have been played to deprive African Americans of the vote.

In the early US, Canada and Britain, it was common to restrict voting to those who owned some property.

In Britain and Canada, we have a House of Lords and a Senate that nobody votes for - though both have the power to govern.
One  could go on at great length about this sort of anomaly. At what point do you decide that a nation has or does not have a democracy?

Another problem is that making any intelligent choice of who is to govern us, we need information. It has to be complete, unbiased, honest. (Well, not everyone will agree with that.)

In any case, most North American news reaches us through a relatively small number of news agencies owned by wealthy people. Not surprisingly, they are filled with the biases they want us to have, They are commonly dishonest. And they withhold essential information. The worst of the lot may well be Fox News. But even the most prestigious ( such as the New York Times) have some very bad days, indeed.

Radio news, with the exception of CBC, is generally pretty thin gruel. That's because few radio stations have adequate news staffs. They find it cheaper to get their news from the newspapers. In any case, they, like the newspapers,they  never present news that might annoy the boss or advertisers.

War news is particularly untrustworthy. For more on this, there is an excellent book called The First Casualty. Most war news is either lies or heavily biased or  has big, big gaps. Have you ever seen a report in the TandT of how many people have been killed by drones - and what proportion are innocent civilians? (Hint, think big. Think close to 90%).

Most North American News is nothing but manipulation, hysteria, loaded language - and big gaps where there should be essential information.

Then there's honesty. That's always a problem in any system dealing with people. Usually, elections are won by the party with the most money - or almost as good as the most. The only people who can give you big money are the very, very wealthy ones. And they don't do it for enthusiasm for democracy. They do it to buy power.

Historically, we have tried to limit that by putting restrictions on how much individuals and corporations can contribute. But we haven't been very effective and, anyway, the rules are loosening. In the US, they scarcely exist any more. That's why the US is fighting the most expensive election in history.

Only two parties can run with any hope of winning. Both are financed by pretty much the same people in oil, Wall St. and the defence industries. For all the emotion and debate we see,, it doesn't matter who wins. Both sides are owned by pretty much the same people.

Canadians aren't like that? Don't kid yourself. John A. Macdonald was not only on the take, he was, while prime minister, on the boards of railways that received huge government grants, and was President of Manufacturers' Life. Harper is profoundly influenced by Canada's big money.

For over a century, Canada had a protective tariff. That what because big business wanted one. Brian Mulroney switched that to free trade. But it wasn't his idea. Canadian big business wanted to switch to free trade because it no longer needed protection, but did need access to the American market. It wasn't Brian's idea. The big money contributors to the party told him to get on his horse, and get a free trade deal. So he did.

Democracy, like all human creations, is flawed. Like almost all human activities, it is influenced by manipulation, lies, manufactured fears, greed, amorality.

What democracy we have is always a compromise of some sort.

So at what point do we decide a democracy is not really a democracy at all? You will never find two people to agree on that.

I would say that in the US, democracy is dead because it no longer matters who Americans elect. George Bush was Obama, and Obama could, very soon, be Romney. These are all just puppets.

New Brunswick is not a democracy. It is effectively owned by a few, wealthy families. It's information by news media is beneath contempt. And most of its people, accustomed to this abuse for at least two centuries, simply accept it and vote for two parties that are really the same party.

The principle sounds good. And it is good. The people have a right to decide who will govern them. But the devil is in the details.

good for the provincial economy.
good fro


  1. Although you gave an excellent definition of democracy Graeme, I would encourage Anonymous who thinks that democracy is essentially voting every 4 years and belonging to a political party, to read this, and about inverted totalitarism :

    "(...) inverted totalitarianism aims for the mass of the population to be in a persistent state of political apathy. The only type of political activity expected or desired from the citizenry is voting. Low electoral turnouts are favorably received as an indication that the bulk of the population has given up hope that the government will ever help them." (
    Andie C.

  2. Theres a book on inverted totalitarianism that was written as well by sheldon wolin. worth a read.