Archive for the ‘DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT’ Tag









John Chuckman


Something troubling is quietly underway in the Western world, that portion of the world’s governments who style themselves as liberal democracies and free societies. Through a number of avenues, people’s assumptions about the role of government are being undermined as their governments evolve towards a pattern established in the United States. No, I do not mean in building a neo-Roman marble repository of sacred founding writ and adopting three wrangling branches of government with empty slogans about freedom and justice for all. I do mean in the way governments, however elected and organized, regard their responsibilities towards their citizens and the world community.

Of course, the United States in many matters often prods, cajoles, or threatens other states to follow where it leads, such as with votes at the U. N. or whether a country should send at least token forces for one of America’s colonial wars to lend appearances of international effort. Despite America’s poor economy and declining relative future prospects, it still has many resources for pushing others, much like the profligate grandson of a magnate whose once great family fortune is in decline but still large. Still, a good deal of what is happening results from new forces which only reinforce America’s imperial tendencies.

People in the West often elect governments who turn around to do things voters did not want done, and they realize they being lied to by their governments and corporate press, but they pretty much feel helpless to remedy the situation. London saw the largest peace march in history just before Tony Blair secretly threw in his lot with the criminals who hit Iraq with the equivalent in deaths and destruction of a thermonuclear bomb on a large city. Special interests increasingly dominate the interests of government because they increasingly pay its campaign costs and extend other important favors. Citizens in many places feel the meaning of casting a ballot has been diminished as they watch their governments ignore extreme injustice, hear their governments make demands and threats over matters which do not warrant threats, see themselves become ensnared in wars and violence they never wanted, and generally feel their governments are concerned with matters of little concern to them. That, if it needs to be said, is not what democracy is about. And where do we see governments making reforms to remedy the situation threatening democracy? Almost nowhere.

It might at first seem an odd thing to write – considering the influence Israel exerts in the Western world (what other country of 7 million is in the press virtually each day?) and all the favorable press it receives (every major newspaper and broadcaster having several writers or commentators who see their duty as influencing public opinion on Israel’s behalf, and The New York Times submits all stories about Israel to Israeli censors before publishing) – but Israel is an inherently unstable state. No matter how much money is poured into it for arms and force-fed economic development, it cannot be otherwise. Its population is hostile to the people with whom it is surrounded and intermixed, living something of a fantasy which shares in equal parts ancient myths and superstitions and white-picket-fence notions of community with no neighbors who do not resemble each other. Its founding stories also have a fairy tale quality, heroic with a mythical division of good and evil, always ignoring the violence and brutality which cannot be forgotten so easily by its victims and the manipulation of imperial powers which defrauded others as surely as any phony mining stock promotion. Its official views and the very language in which they are expressed are artificial constructs which do not accurately describe what they name, words like “militant” or “terrorist” or “existential.” Its official policy towards neighbors and the people it displaced has been one of unrelenting hostility. Its leaders in business and government almost all securely hold dual passports, hedging their bets. Its average citizens face a hard time in an economy shaped, not for opportunity and economic freedom, but for war and the policing of millions of captives and unwelcome residents. None of this is indefinitely sustainable, and modern Israel is a highly artificial construct, one neither suited to its regional environment nor amenable to all the powerful trends shaping the modern world: globalization, free movement of peoples, multiculturalism in immigration, and genuine democratic principles, not the oxymoron of democracy for one group only.

It is the many desperate efforts to work against these hard realities, almost like someone screaming against a storm, which have unleashed the forces now at work on the Western world. Israel, as just one example, against the best judgment of many statesmen, was permitted and even assisted to become a nuclear power. The thinking being that only with such weapons can Israel feel secure and be ready to defend Jews abroad from a new Gotterdammerung. The truth is, as is the case with all nuclear weapons, Israel’s arsenal is virtually unusable, except, that is, as a powerful tool for blackmail. Israel has blackmailed the United States several times, the latest instance being over Iran’s nuclear program, a program which every reliable intelligence source agrees is not aimed at producing weapons. More than one Israeli source has suggested that low-yield nuclear weapons are the best way of destroying Iran’s technology, buried deeply underground, a suggestive whisper in American ears to do what Israel wants, or else.

Analysis suggests that what Israel truly wants is the suppression of Iran as a burgeoning regional power so that Israel can continue to perform the powerful and lucrative role as the United States’ surrogate in Western Asia along with its always-held-quiet, numerous dealings with that other great bastion of democracy and human rights, Saudi Arabia.

There have been many unanticipated, and extremely unpleasant, results from just this one matter of Israel’s nuclear weapons. Take Israel’s relationship with the former South African government and that country’s own drive decades ago to achieve status as a nuclear power. We do not know all the details, but we know from now-published documents that Israel once offered literally to sell nuclear warheads and compatible missiles to apartheid South Africa. We know further that South Africa did achieve its goal, there having been a rush, secret program to remove its weapons when the apartheid government fell, Britain’s late weapons expert, Dr. Kelly, possibly having been murdered for the detailed information he possessed on the disposition of South Africa’s fissile material. We know further that there was a nuclear device tested at sea, likely a joint Israeli-South African test, its unmistakable flash having been recorded by an American satellite. Just this one aspect of Israel’s behavior worked directly against the aims and wishes of many in the West, supporting both apartheid and proliferation of nuclear weapons. Further, in order to accomplish these things, large efforts had to be made at deception and secret dealing with a number of governments whose intelligence services would certainly have come across trails of evidence. Those are rather weighty matters for governments to decide without the knowledge of voters.

Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons acts both as a threat and a stimulus to other states in the region to obtain their own. Iraq tried to do so and was stopped, twice. Finally, America used, as a pretext for a bloody invasion which killed at least half a million, Iraq’s nuclear weapons when it was clear to all experts by that time that Iraq no longer had any working facilities for producing them. It violently swept Iraq off the region’s chess board to please Israel, much as today Israel wants it to do with Iran. Countries which have seriously considered, or once actually started, working towards nuclear weapons in the region include Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, and Libya, and in all cases their motives involved, at least in part, Israel’s arsenal. The United States today is in the midst of a massive, years-long campaign to cleanse the Middle East of what its rulers regard as undesirable elements. What determined these undesirable elements? The chief characteristic was whether they respect the general foreign policy aims of the United States, including, importantly, the concept of Israel as favored son of the United States in the region with all the privileges and powers accorded that status.

Certainly the selection had nothing to do with whether the countries were democracies, and certainly it had nothing to do with whether the countries recognized and respected human rights, John Kerry’s pandering or Hillary Clinton’s histrionics to the contrary. America pays no attention to such niceties when it comes to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, and many other places of strategic interest to it, including Israel. The values given lip service in the American Constitution and at Fourth of July picnics have as much to do with foreign policy as they do with the muffled screams from Guantanamo and the rest of the CIA’s torture gulag or the horrific invasion of Iraq and the systematic, large-scale use of extrajudicial killing.

There is elaborate machinery which has grown up around the relationship between America and Israel since 1948, when President Truman made the fateful decision, reportedly against his own best private judgement, to quickly recognize the government of Israel and extend to it the then-immense prestige of the United States in the immediate postwar period. That machinery – its chief features being highly-organized and well-funded special interest campaign financing, assays of every elected or appointed American official for his or her friendliness to Israel as with regular junkets for new Congressmen, and the most intimate and regular access by both lobbyists and Israeli officials to the highest officials in Washington – is now part of the political landscape of the United States, taken for granted as though it were the most natural thing in the world. But it is not natural, and, over the long term, it is not even in keeping with the interests of the United States.

Being enmeshed in that decision-distorting machinery, rather than simply demanding Israel return to the Green Line and support a reasonable settlement, is what ultimately produced 9/11, the war on terror, the invasion of Iraq, systematic extrajudicial killing, the consignment of tens of millions of people to tyranny, including the people of Egypt and Palestine, the dirty business of the engineered civil war inflicted upon Syria, and swallowing America’s national pride many times as with the Israeli attack on an American spy ship, Israel’s seizure of neighboring land, and Israel’s incessant espionage on its greatest benefactor. And some of these avoidable disasters had further internal effects in rationalizing the establishment of many elements of an American police state.

The nature of this relationship itself demonstrates something about the unstable nature of Israel. America has many allies and friends who do not behave in these ways because it is simply not necessary, but Israel is constantly reaching, trying to improve or enhance or consolidate its situation, trying to seek some greater advantage. It assumes in its external affairs what appears a completely amoral, results-at-any-cost approach, from stealing farms and homes and water to stealing secrets, playing a long series of dirty tricks on the world along the way, as it did at Entebbe or in the Six Day War or in helping South Africa or in releasing horrible malware like Stuxnet or in abusing the passports of other nations to carry out ugly assassinations – all secure in the knowledge that the world’s most influential nation is captive to the machinery, unable to criticise or punish. The trouble is that such acts endlessly generate new hostilities every place they touch. It cannot be otherwise, yet Israel and its apologists speak only in terms of rising anti-Semitism to shut critics up, a practice which generates still more hostilities since most people don’t like being called names and the act of doing so only increases awareness of the many dishonesties employed to keep Israel afloat.

The nature of the American-relationship machinery has proved so successful in shaping policy towards Israel that it has been replicated in other Western countries. Only recently, we read the words of a former Australian Prime Minister warning his people of the machinery there now influencing government unduly. In Canada, traditionally one of the fairest-minded of nations towards the Middle East, our current, extremist prime minister (an unfortunate democratic deficit in Canada making it possible to win a majority government with 39% of the vote) has trashed Canada’s traditional and respected position and worked steadily towards establishing the same backroom-influence machinery. So now we experience such bizarre events as a federal Minister suddenly, much like Saul struck along the road to Damascus, blurting out some sentence about Israel, unrelated to anything else he was saying or being asked by reporters present. Our 39% Prime Minister himself has assumed the exalted role of Canada’s Don Quixote in the fight against Anti-Semitism, despite the fact that genuine anti-Semitism almost does not exist in our tolerant country. But prominent apologists for Israel have in the past complained of Canada’s balanced policies not favoring Israel enough, and our Don Quixote has ridden to their rescue. Of course, along the way, his party will enjoy a new source of campaign funding, adding yet a new burden to Canada’s existing democratic deficit.

No one I think entirely planned from the beginning this set of outcomes. It really has been a matter of innumerable adjustments, accommodations, and opportunistic maneuvers which no one might have predicted in 1948, those days which were, at one and the same time, joyful for many Jews staring back into the utter darkness of the Holocaust and tragic to a people having nothing to do with those murderous events, who were stripped of property and rights and dignity, a situation which has only become worse since what they quite understandably call Nakba. But the corrosion of democracy in Western governments afraid of ever saying no to Israel and too willing to add to party political coffers in exchange for favorable words and acts is real and palpable, and it is going to do nothing but become worse. The situation is best characterized as a race for the bottom.


Posted June 5, 2014 by JOHN CHUCKMAN in Uncategorized

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John Chuckman

We have the oddest form of government these days in Ontario. Almost every week there is something new, often new in the sense of bizarre or absurd. You might regard it as a form of circus. Dalton the Magnificent, in the blue-white glare of batteries of spotlights, sometimes appears in tights and gleaming sequined little pants bowing to the crowd from the high wire. Other times he appears as ringmaster in white jodhpurs and boots, cracking his whip and making announcements about coming acts.

I think Dalton must have a fellow high-wire man posted on the roof of Queen’s Park whose full-time job is launching trial balloons. The variety of these has been remarkable, almost all of them falling limply to earth as the gas seeps out. My favorite so far was for replacing the trillium as Ontario’s symbol. Yes, that’s right, replacing the trillium, a symbol as well established as the maple leaf is for the nation, an affectionate symbol of spring’s coming to the province each year. Where, other than as part of a circus, would this idea be thought worth suggesting? It was quietly dropped, but you have to ask yourself how it ever saw the light of day, particularly from a government supposedly working, sleeves rolled up, late into every night to solve a massive set of problems with which Ontario is saddled.

Sometimes, Dalton feels the need to step forward boldly in his full ringmaster’s costume with silk hat and red cutaway coat, draw his pistol, and shoot down one of these trial balloons threatening to create a serious hazard. He did this for the one about the possible need to restrict public-sector wages. Bang! and Dalton’s smoking gun was re-holstered.

During his first months most of the new announcements were about election promises he would not be keeping. These included everything from his written pledge not to increase taxes and a promise to halt a huge development on the Oak Ridges Moraine to controlling private tolls on Highway 407 and preventing increases in electricity rates. The odd thing about these promises was that almost none of them was necessary for Dalton’s election. Polls had shown the people of Ontario so tired of the right-wing excesses of Mike Harris that, even though Harris had retired, they were ready to hand power to the Liberals.

But for some reason, Dalton just went right on making promises. His behavior suggests an obsessive compulsion to promise, perhaps not altogether different to the obsessive compulsion of some people who bankrupt their families while madly playing at Ontario’s shiny new gambling palaces.

Recently we had an announcement about higher results on the Ontario literacy test given to all grade-ten students. Naturally, the praises of the Magnificent One Himself were fulsomely included as having brought forth this fruit. You could almost see him in tights and sequins bowing and throwing kisses to the crowd. But even a brief analysis shows the claim as ridiculous, revealing the threadbare elbows and seat bottom of Dalton’s shimmering costume.

I have heard Dalton’s Minister of Education answer questions. Nothing fresh or interesting seems likely ever to have clouded this politician’s mind. Warm slogans and pat harmless phrases seemed to be the extent of his intellectual resources. These were all delivered in a tone you might expect from an announcement about a new desk calendar at a convention for business-form designers. The people asking questions might just as well have typed them into a computer equipped with a random-access collection of the minister’s clichés.

But there are more fundamental reasons for regarding Dalton’s words on literacy with the same hopeless cynicism that readers of Pravda in the old Soviet Union must have experienced countless times with each new announcement that some production target in the latest five-year plan had been met early or exceeded.

The tests in question were administered in October, 2004, and here was Dalton, elected near the end of October, 2003, taking credit for an improved result. I hope readers have some appreciation of the time lags that are necessarily involved even when governments have good ideas. What amazing programs did Dalton create, legislate, and put through the slow and cumbersome educational administrative apparatus, all in time to influence daily classroom practices of thousands of teachers almost instantly after his election? The claim was embarrassing nonsense to anyone who understands the workings of government and a huge bureaucracy like Ontario’s public schools.

Actual knowledge of the test itself deepens the cynicism. Anyone without a personal stake in Ontario’s professional public education establishment who has seen these tests knows they are ridiculous, a holdover from Mike Harris’s pathetic efforts at reforming education.

It would take considerable political courage to eliminate this pointless test. After all, if you poll the public (as The Globe and Mail did a while back) on some simple question about students needing to be literate, you will naturally get an overwhelmingly positive response. But the nature of this test and the way it is administered makes it a poor measure of literacy.

I became familiar with the test and the practices around it through the experience of our student from China. Although an extremely bright young man – he since has been accepted and given a scholarship for a difficult program at University of Toronto – he failed the written literacy test.

So how does Ontario’s educational system manage to pass a student like ours? The failed student attends an extra one-term special course, upon completion of which he or she receives a pass in literacy. It’s the kind of thing we used to call a bird course at university, although a still better adjective might be Mickey Mouse.

Our student managed to pass the course. Actually, considering the nature of the material involved, it is hard to see who would not. It did, however, mark something of an educational watershed for him. The class was so mind-numbing, containing mainly academically-weak students and a teacher who typically drifted off leaving students to do worksheets, that he dreaded attending it.

We saw his assignments. The truth is our boy’s grasp of English grammar was probably as good as the teacher’s. He just had a vocabulary problem, and nothing in the course helped him with that.

The test isn’t even objective in nature, leaving a great deal of room for discretion or questionable judgment in the marking. The marking is itself a bonanza for teams of teachers who get put up in hotels in Toronto and receive a handsome daily rate of pay to mark the test. But even were the test an objective machine-readable one, what would be the point of it? Teachers would only teach to the test to get students passed regardless of their understanding.

My wife tells me that forty years ago, a time of demanding grade-thirteen tests in Ontario, it was common for teachers to answer a student’s question with something along the lines of, “Don’t worry, that’s not on the test.” Some readers may have heard of the scandal in Chicago’s public schools not very long ago, desperate to improve their dismal academic results with tests, when it was discovered some teachers and principals were actually drilling students to memorize the correct answers.

If a student can pass a demanding course like Ontario high schools’ English 4U, then any sensible person would regard him or her as literate without an additional test. If courses like English 4U have been dumbed down too much in some places, they need to be toughened up. A test like the current one for literacy has no effect towards this goal.

Energy is the field in which Dalton has made his most daring jumps and flips on the high wire. He has copied the abusive American practice of pushing ethanol into gasoline. Why do I call it abusive? Because ethyl alcohol has an energy content about half that of gasoline and it is expensive to make. You don’t make any environmental advance by doing this, you only raise everyone’s costs while assuring people they’ll travel slightly less far on each fill-up and somewhat diminishing the public’s financial ability to take other meaningful environmental measures.

Then why has the U.S. government encouraged ethanol for many years? Because it provides a hidden subsidy to corn farmers as well benefiting firms like Archer Daniels Midland who process the stuff. The taxes that apply to other motor fuels are forgiven, at general taxpayers’ expense, in order to boost the incomes of corn farmers. And this is all Dalton’s initiative will do, yet we hear it tiresomely discussed as an environmental program.

Dalton’s promise of greatest potential consequence was the one to close all of Ontario’s coal-fired electricity-generating stations (about a quarter of the province’s capacity) over just a few years. This promise, if kept (and there are fleeting signs of Dalton’s recognizing the costly immensity of what he has promised), literally puts Ontario’s economic future at risk. Plentiful, dependable electricity has always been one of the attractions of Ontario for manufacturers. Now a quarter of existing capacity is to be shut down at the same time that economic growth dictates new capacity. Southern Ontario’s residential home-building industry alone has been booming, and all those homes require electricity.

Dalton is closing the coal-fired plants because of people’s concern about gases and particulate matter in the air. These are legitimate concerns and need to be addressed, but arbitrarily closing Ontario’s coal-fired plants by a certain date is not the way to go about it. First, Southern Ontario is downwind of more than a hundred coal-fired plants in the American Midwest. Closing Ontario’s plants will not clean the air. American states like Maine have precisely the same complaint about the Midwestern plants.

New types of gas-fired plants have some attractive environmental aspects. But Canada’s time of an over-abundance of gas in Alberta is coming to an end, especially with huge amounts of it committed to new extraction and upgrading facilities in the tar sands to produce synthetic crude oil. Gas prices are high.

Briefly, many months ago, Dalton talked about forty-billion dollars worth of new nuclear plants. That likely did not go down well. Nuclear plants in Ontario do not have a happy history. Some of the nuclear capacity built not all that many years ago is undergoing expensive refit. The nuclear talk receded, and we’ve been getting instead a lot of happy-child-with-a-daisy stuff about green energy. The ugly truth is that all the green projects Dalton’s government is undertaking amount to little more than demonstration projects. They cannot begin to replace the capacity of large coal-fired plants or provide for future growth.

Many so-called green projects are not all that green, although they all are expensive. Take wind-generation of electricity for example. There is nothing green about a gigantic wind farm on the shores of a lake, regularly killing flocks of birds. These are gigantic, ugly industrial projects that create miles of sterilized shoreline. The single wind turbine Torontonians see at the Exhibition grounds is not even full size, and you literally need forests of such machines to produce substantial amounts of power. Just imagine thousands of much larger ones spreading like a metal-and-concrete desert along the shores of our irreplaceable Great Lakes.

Some advocates cite places like parts of Europe, Germany for example, using this form of energy far beyond what we are doing. One fact these critics always neglect to mention is that Germany finds these machines economic because gasoline there costs twice or more what we pay. Substitution is an important principle in energy economics, and the high cost of petroleum products in Europe is reflected in other energy prices. So the high cost of things like wind power are not nearly so apparent as they would be here. Moreover, the Green Party in Europe, a powerful group there, does not like nuclear power, and that leaves not a lot of options.

If you really want to clean up the air in a place like Toronto, you must do something about all the cars that choke it with chemical fumes each day. There are ways to do this, but they all have implications for the urban sprawl that is fueling the economy of Southern Ontario. They may even have implications for the auto industry. We have yet to hear the bowing and dancing Dalton say anything much on this important subject.

The nuclear option, probably the only realistic one for replacing coal-fired capacity, is now the cause for new releases of trial balloons. Do the people of Ontario truly want a large addition to the province’s nuclear capacity? And do they understand that these plants will almost certainly be built and run largely by American firms?

No one understands the full-cycle costs of nuclear power. We have inklings that it is very expensive when the costs of permanent disposal of nuclear waste is taken into account. I wonder whether the people in Toronto – who couldn’t wait to close an ordinary garbage dump, instead sending fleets of trucks loaded with their garbage over two hundred miles to Michigan every day (talk about air pollution!) – welcome the idea of high-level nuclear waste being shipped regularly and buried somewhere in Ontario for thousands of years. You really cannot separate this problem from the idea of new nuclear capacity, although I’ve yet to hear Dalton on the subject.

Nuclear has other disadvantages, too, which must be considered. Remember the recent great blackout caused by an American firm which had not properly maintained its lines? (Perhaps one of those same firms which Dalton’s plan might bring here to operate). In some parts of the province, especially parts of the GTA, it took days to restore power. That is because nuclear plants, like those just east of the city, take a relatively long time to bring back online.

Dalton’s crackerjack marketing team is now making noises about a new form of public-private partnership to provide future improvements in Ontario’s infrastructure. Just exactly what they mean is not clear. What is clear is that the ringmaster took his pistol to a relatively minor public-private arrangement, carried over from the Conservatives, involving hospital equipment. When it came to the tolls on privately-controlled Highway 407, Dalton blasted away for weeks, loading and emptying his pistol so many times the barrel glowed. When all the noise stopped and the acrid smoke cleared, the tolls stood just where they were.

Now, after that performance, just who is going to be interested in signing up with his government on infrastructure improvements? What costly incentives is Dalton’s government prepared to give companies to get them interested? We know his minister, coyly teasing us with suggestions around this latest brainstorm, cannot intend anything like the deal for Highway 407, and he doesn’t appear to mean the traditional method of financing large public projects, bonds or debentures, instruments often purchased by the kinds of institutions, large pension funds, to which he referred. Maybe Dalton will come out shooting yet on this one.

I very much regret that the Prime Minister even partially rewarded Dalton’s shabbiest performance to date, his toe-scrunching weeks of whining about a $23 billion gap in Ontario’s financial arrangements with the federal government. Dalton only discovered this monstrous gap after the Prime Minister made concessions to Newfoundland over revenue sharing. Apparently inspired by Danny William’s success at playing petulant, destructive child taking down the national flag all over his province, Dalton thought he had found a winning formula by calling into question the country’s traditional financial arrangements.

This is what passes for provincial statesmanship now in Ontario? Where is the memory of people like John Robarts or Bill Davis, who, Conservatives though they were, several times on important matters displayed the genuine trait?

When John McCallum told the public that a good portion of what the Prime Minister had agreed with Dalton was not new funding, Dalton got upset enough to describe his words as “idiosyncratic.” My bets are on McCallum who has a doctorate in economics and who generally knows what he is talking about. He holds a portfolio one can’t see Dalton managing for a month. Idiosyncratic? That is an odd word for a politician to use, especially one standing there in tights and sequined little pants.