We went out to dinner with friends this weekend. We had a wonderful evening, but… I’d ordered a dish with jumbo prawns, which, I realized after the first bite, had gone off. I managed to spit it out without embarrassment and the waitress replaced the prawns. But the damage was done; I couldn’t eat.
Somehow, this was a metaphor for things I’d been thinking about: the power of our individual vote, the events in the Middle East, and sustainable economies, all of which have the smell of decay.
Let’s start with the Middle East. I read that John Baird, our Minister of Foreign Affairs, recently headed a junket to Libya with a planeload of Canadian business people, including representatives from Suncor, the oil and gas company, SNC-Lavelin, the giant engineering company, and Pure Technologies, a pipeline company. All three of these companies had already been doing work in Libya for Gaddafi. Now that he’s been conveniently dispatched, it’s back to business, with the Canadian government pledging $10 million to get rid of hand-held weaponry in order to “demilitarize” and “democratize” the country.
Noble sentiments. But what’s really going on is clear. Canada and the rest of its NATO allies are using military force to crack open these dictatorships in Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, etc. (that just happen to be close to the valuable resources we want), then allowing our corporations to scoop the vitals out of the shell, in effect oyster shucking someone else’s resources.
It’s no coincidence that Gaddafi, from 1969 to 1988, was recognized by Libyans as a hero who reformed the banking system, provided education for his people, spent on building a social safety net for his people and nationalized the country’s oil and freshwater aquifer reserves—and that this closed, socialist system wasn’t exactly embraced by the international business community, which wanted easy access to Libya’s resources.
From 1988 onward, there was considerable outside pressure to “liberalize” Libya to allow more private sector involvement, and that’s when Gaddafi began to go off the rails. Corruption and greed entered the Libyan development equation, and Gaddafi’s socialist dream spiraled out of control. By 2004, Gaddafi was behaving like a paranoid schizophrenic, alternately conspiring against the U.S. while groveling into submission, even offering to have one of his sons marry Chelsea Clinton. With Obama’s quasi-legal invasion of Libya the oyster was cracked. And now the shucking begins.
In more U.S.-complaint regimes, such as the Saudi Arabian royal dictatorship, none of this is necessary. The shells were opened long ago and the extraction continues unabated.
So if large corporations are able to use friendly governments to pry open access to new resources, what are they doing at home? Noam Chomsky, the famous linguist and political activist, writes convincingly that democracy is dead in the United States. Elections, he says, are bought and paid for by corporate interests, and cites a century of legislation favouring corporations—and working against the general population—as evidence. Barack Obama, for example, will be spending over $1 billion dollars, mostly corporate money, to get reelected in 2012. It’s no accident that Obama’s closest financial advisers were the same people who engineered the financial collapse of 2008 and whose former companies benefited the most from the government bailouts while millions of Americans lost their homes.
Canada is rapidly following America down the corporate rabbit hole. Political discourse is being dumbed down into PR-managed sound bites. Emerging Harper government policies focus on the reduction public freedoms (such as surveillance of all Internet correspondence), increased spending on crime control and punishment, increased militarization, scaling back on foreign aid and environmental protection, and the reduction of taxes and regulations on large corporations, especially in the finance and energy sectors.
In other words, our government is working more for the globalist corporate agenda and less for ordinary Canadians. And the former Liberal government had been moving in the same direction.
I think we all have choices regarding the world around us. We can turn on the flatscreen and watch ‘Battle of the Blades’ or some other diversion, we can blindly follow our governments and argue that they know what’s best, or we can actually try to understand the problems so we can at least respond in an open-minded and intelligent way.
The battle for real democracy is breaking the corporate-state alliance, much as our forebears fought to break the church-state alliance. Capitalism is not democracy. Capitalism successfully functions in totalitarian states such as China, and we’re well on the way toward becoming a totalitarian capitalist, corporate-controlled state here.
With so many environmental issues facing us, we need to move away from the runaway “growth” economic model toward the creation of a “steady-state” economy that moves away from profits, conspicuous consumption and the race for personal wealth and status. We need to focus on social equality, sustainability and energy-transition technologies.
We’ve seen these same solutions discussed since the 1960s only to witness our society move, astonishingly and dramatically, in reverse.
Meanwhile, and ironically, Atlantic Canada will be benefitting from the 30-year, $25 billion warship-building contract for the federal government. Frankly, that money would be far better spent on developing alterative energy than preparing to send our kids off to war.