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Are we Ready for Change?

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

Peace Arch (Courtesy of The Province)

The lines to enter the United States never seem to get shorter.

Canadians queue up patiently along the highways at the border to be vetted for entry into The States for their milk, cheese, gas and a few bits and bobs they can find in Bellingham. A Canadian invasion is gentle and always ends in the dairy section. 

Life is imperceptibly different on either side of “The Line” to the cheap-gas commuter. Just don’t speed, because the cops are ruthless down there.  

We watch CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC and tut-tut at the polarization that has evolved over time and take note that the Land of the Free isn’t so free anymore.  

The War on Drugs is tearing communities apart while the drugs themselves continue to ravage across big and small towns and cities; gun violence is at an all-time high.  

Day trippers from Langley and Surrey might not see the differences but head on down the I-5 a thousand miles and then inland a few thousand miles more and it will be ever-more apparent. 

The Black Lives Matter movement exists because seemingly, there are places down there where black lives don’t matter at all.  

For those who line up to cross into the United States at the Peace Arch crossing just a handful of metres from the salt water of the Pacific Ocean, they pass beside a white stone shed-like structure that straddles the border itself. It is, “The Peace Arch”. 

Dedicated in 1921 by the first sitting President of the United States ever to visit Canada Warren Harding revealed the inscriptions etched into the inside walls of the arch: 

May these gates never be closed” 

The iron gates mounted below the inscription are bolted open- as if to say that they never can nor ever shall be closed.  

Other inscriptions on the monument read, “Born of a Common Mother“, and “Dwelling Together in Harmony“. 

The former alluded to the United Kingdom as the primary source of our first immigrants and values while the latter was best described by Prime Minister Trudeau-the-Senior as a ‘mouse and an elephant’ living together, where the mouse has to always be wary of the elephant lest it be trampled. 

These three inscriptions best sum up the quixotic relationship we have with our continental brethren to the South. 

With the election of Donald Trump, things have changed. The United States banned certain Muslim non-residents. The USA has unilaterally withdrawn from global initiatives it was spearheading just two weeks ago. It is building walls to its (other) closest neighbour instead of leading the charge to tear them down- as Reagan did in 1989 in Berlin. 

The United States is retrenching itself, collapsing under the weight of its own corruption, delusional paranoia, and civil strife. 

Figuratively, those gates at the Peace Arch are inching closed. Yesterday it was to Muslims. We shall see what tomorrow brings but the newfound trajectory doesn’t look good for others yet to be a target of Donald Trump. 

The United States has changed. But really, has the rest of the world? Must it? 

Canada cannot afford to retrench the way the US has. Strategically we learned a long time ago our place in global affairs both politically and in trade: we are a Middle Power and a trading nation.

We must get along with others, playing the role of broker to ensure the balance of power remains balanced while trading to ensure our exports continue fuel our economy. It’s why we are as active as we are at the UN and why we sign all these free-trade deals despite parochial or populist views that they are detrimental to our well-being. 

As the United States goes through the painful contortions of a country so terribly out of balance we cannot help but start to notice that it is not the same “Peaceful light on the hill” it once was.  

It’s time we recognized there is opportunity in all this unrest. Business- especially international business- abhors uncertainty.  

Just as the banks and others are being courted by Paris and Frankfurt from London as a response to Brexit, so we should be letting businesses and NGOs in the United States that do global work that Canada is a great place to move their operations.  

After all, why should global trade stop just because the United States is having an existential meltdown?

As more and more unilateral immigration restrictions and punitive tariffs are enacted by Washington, and as violence escalates (and I believe all three of these will happen) then we need to be ready to respond to protect the global economy and the values we cherish and benefit by. 

The physical location of the United Nations may be up for grabs no less as a siege mentality seeps into every nook and cranny of the American psyche. Even those Americans with a global outlook will have to turn inward to counter the rising xenophobia as it rears ever more prominently in civil society there.  

Never mind that the “American Dream” is more attainable here in Canada. Some of the workers involved with business and NGOs in the United States will be moving for their emotional, if not physical safety.  

Eventually some of those same organizations these people worked for will have to move as well, so why not here? 

These physical, people-employing companies and NGOs will bring outside money and philanthropy with them- not to mention the jobs their fleeing workers left behind- the same jobs they will be looking for when they get here.  

Might this get the attention and thus the ire of Donald Trump? Probably. But by being steadfastly pluralist in our politics, liberal on human rights, free-minded on trade, while preservationist with the environment, and above all multilateralist in our approach, we can sell these Canadian traits to all our other trading partners looking to keep the trading door open with North America. After all, they still value these traits despite the biggest player now closing itself off from the world.

At the same time, we can reach out to Americans who still want to trade with the rest of the world. They can move here to take advantage of our excellent trading relationships we have fostered and no doubt will work hard to protect. We could be the new light on the hill.  

The United States is a big market, for sure. But 350 million people is still a fraction of the 6.75 billion people not in the United States to trade with. 

We must look past our convenient proximity of the United States to economies and societies that still desire trade and good global relations. For example, Latin and South America’s 500 million or so, including Mexico so squarely in Donald Trump’s sights, would be a great start.

The global genie is out of the bottle and won’t be put back in. By choice now, the United States doesn’t want to play at this level anyway so Donald Trump’s wrath upon us would be diminished considerably. 

Even with massive change that has happened in the past where whole empires collapse and new ones form. The same happens in wartime between non-combatants: trade and emigration continue unabated. 

But to reap the benefit in all this uncertainty, we must set out a strategy to let everyone know that the centre of gravity in international commerce and relations is shifting.  

Being at the nexus of the new Technology Revolution but importantly being the non-American centre in the Silicon Valley, Seattle, Vancouver axis is a good launching point. 

Being very international in our makeup and outlook, equidistant from Europe and Asia with some of the best international airline connections in North America already and a temperate climate to boot, we are perfectly suited to become the next modern Geneva or Venice.

I see a day where the lines past the Peace Arch will be longer heading North.  

Those lines will be filled with U-Haul vans and families looking to fulfill their dreams to live in peace and prosperity.  

We can react with our usual complaints of fast growth and housing shortages. Or else we can proactively strategize; ready ourselves and yes, encourage Americans and others discouraged by the retrenchment of the once great United States to come here and share their prosperity here with us.

Occupying Wall Street

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

I honestly don’t know how many people read this blog and quite honestly, given how infrequently I post, I’m not all that surprised. But I do want to say this:

The Occupy Wall Street movement that is slowly gaining steam in New York City is the change that I have been anticipating for much of my lifetime.

I have warned that a ‘revolution’ is coming. But on the other hand, I have called for change. I admit I have vacillated between embracing a world where the corporate agenda has lost its influence and ‘selling out’ to secure my economic future.

The revolution is upon us. It won’t be a Storming of the Bastille sort of revolution- or so I still hope. It’s going to be organic and more peaceful a la Gandhi; it will be in the numbers of participants, rather than in any violence that the change will take place.

Indeed, it will gain moral strength with every act of violence committed by those defending the status quo. Sadly, the defenders of the status quo is the role the New York Police Department is fated to play out.

REAL, deep and profound change doesn’t happen with a convenient sound bite or even a speech.

It happens because people vote with their feet. It may seem that what they are doing is unfocused right now. But as people slowly realize that their economic interests are being compromised by forces beyond their control and that all they have to do is stop what they’re doing and assemble to be counted, the momentum for change will accelerate.

We are not yet anywhere near a critical mass for spontaneous ‘revolution’ but I cannot help but keep my eye on this movement. Hell, I might even get on a plane and fly to New York to go see what is happening for myself. Seriously. This is the real thing.

Are we at all surprised it’s happening now? The largest demographic in the American population is the kids of baby boomers. They are unemployed, endebted and mad as hell. They see their parents retirement dreams vaporized. Their futures appear condemned to a losing battle against organizations that get rights but bear no responsibility for their actions. They see injustice everywhere and they have the time on their hands to affect the change they need to rebalance the wrongs.

And they make their flower-power parents look like kids making daisy chains in their sophistication and connectedness. To the establishment, they are truly dangerous and the first management tool to diffuse their frustration is extinguishment: to simply ignore them.

Clearly that is not working.

I have said many a time to people that I don’t believe that the China we are seeing right now is going to last: China has a history of being a very insular society- and the disparity between the rich and the poor is going to unleash a revolution that will inevitably turn China in on itself.

However, despite wishing for change on our shores, I did not see this coming- and I must say I am relieved to see it happening: The People of the United States are starting to wake up. They are starting to realize that no matter what they do, they lose in any equation that involves the government and corporate interests; that the economic disparity has become untenable, that they ARE the government so they can do something about it.

They are starting to foment and beginning to recognize the wisdom of the revolutionary values that made the United States the democratic and economic shining light for the rest of the world. There is hope for all of us after all.

For decades, I have not been able to reconcile two very different futures with the present reality: Is it going to be a socialist revolution or an Orwellian corporate agenda? Neither seemed possible as Americans are absolutely anathema to the former and yet the latter is completely unsustainable.

Today I realized there is a third way: The de-corporatization of capitalism in the United States: the return of the small-town shop-keeper. It is the kind of capitalism that actually employs people. It is small and it is humanist. It is simple and it is a more modest form of economic well-being that made the United States a great and prosperous country. And that modest strain of capitalism is about to begin anew.

The ‘Great Burnt Souffle‘ of American Corporate Capitalism is collapsing as the inflated paper value of the American economy slowly diminishes to the actual value of the destroyed assets that exist there today.

To get to that real value, it is going to take ten years. Using the words of the outgoing regime, we are going to experience ten years of “stagnant growth” while inflation eats up debt and the market absorbs trillions of dollars in paper losses.

But swing the pendulum will and out of the ashes of this gargantuan collapse is going to be America’s “new economy”: small, local, very hands-on but one that is above all, solid and tangible. Hard work will reap rewards; a person’s word is as good as a contract. Where “stagnant growth” will be seen to be an anachronism, if it is not viewed actually as a good thing.

Derivatives will be a long-forgotten term as economics will once again become a simple equation of supply and demand. Suppliers will have personal relationships with their customers. They will ask after their families because they will actually care. They will have to if they want their customers’ business.

And consumers will be careful with their money because they will have to be. There won’t be a lot to spare. But what money there is, will be hard currency- the foundation of a renewed, stable, and durable economy.

It is an economy and civil society where the middle class once again reigns and the corporate elite is shuttled off to Nantucket to live out their days reminiscing of personal business jets and far-flung beach-front resorts they can no longer afford.

If you believe my prediction to be naive and romantic, hold up a mirror: your belief reflects just how jaded you too have become in a world that is corrupted beyond recognition. Believe that this change is possible and this change will become possible.

Change is coming. Finally. And once again, the United States will be the democratic and economic shining light for the rest of the world.

If you are in the United States of America, will you be ready?

If you are on the outside as I am, how far are you willing to go to follow their lead?

The Price of Reaganism

Friday, March 27th, 2009

 

Thank you, Time Magazine and Whosdatedwho.com

Thank you, Time Magazine and Whosdatedwho.com for the picture!

post mortem of sorts here. Even for those who have been avoiding the news lately it has become hard to get through a week without some commentator exclaiming that “Reaganism is Dead!” That may well be the case but I wonder if we can’t take this further.

Yes, the President elected in 1980 proclaiming that “Government isn’t the solution; Government is the problem“, created a mantra of tax cuts and deregulation which, over time took America into the stratosphere of mismanagement and corruption. 

Those who inherited the Reagan ideals practically turned his vision into a caricature of the right-wing. Somewhere along the way, the Republicans in power forgot that regulations are actually needed to keep the economic playing field level, fair, and scrupulous while taxes serve to ensure domestic peace, public order and good government.

The America Ronald Reagan wanted United States to become is in tatters: from family-life to the CIA, it’s underlying institutions that gave it strength are crippled while its industrial might, financial empire, and foreign credibility, are virtually destroyed.

For those who are true Conservatives, it must be a real disappointment to find that their hero’s initial vision has been so badly squandered and the ideal America they hoped for lies in ashes, it’s fate nothing more than hopelessly awaiting resuscitation by none other than a bunch of liberal Democrats… again… just as it was after the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Somehow (and the reasons why I won’t get into here- many others speak to this point better than I), thanks to tax breaks and deregulation household incomes dropped while corporate CEOs became the newfound aristocracy. The rich got rich, the middle class got poorer, while the poor became destitute.

These guardians of the Reagan vision became so ungrounded in the reality of the Real World that despite tax-cuts to the ungrateful masses, when Wal*Mart got to be too expensive there was always another tax cut and the local ‘dollar store’ to help make ends meet. Indeed, only since the 1980s have food banks become prominent community ‘projects’ in a couple of the richest countries on the planet. If the population couldn’t eat bread, there was always cake!

And so, with yet another Trillion dollars on the table to buy up bad debt on the books of the very institutions that profited most by Reagan’s “Get Government out of the Way” stance, it is becoming very clear that the money that is being spent is the badly needed investment in American society that has been for so long put off.

Short term thinking always leads to long-term pain. Well it took 20 some-odd years but here we are. Multi-TRILLION dollar debts that will take not only our lifetime, but certainly the lifetime of our children and quite possibly the lifetime of their children to pay off. All of this for what?

Gluttony, greed, corruption for those who benefited from Reagan’s legacies and personal debt, poverty, and hopelessness for those who did not. If ever there was a time to remind us of the days of Charles Dickens, it is now- now that we can see the damage that has been done. If only the lesson weren’t so expensive!

Canada, right next door to the vortex of this illogical thinking- endless tax breaks and deregulation, has had a really hard time matching the focussed mantra streaming from Washington D.C. Following more closely to the European model of social support for its citizens, Canada has struggled with providing tax-cuts while still providing services, such as health care, that US policy makers have heretofore considered anathema to their goals and objectives.

So while the Bush-league supporters like Rush Limbaugh and the entire Fox News propaganda team struggle to keep their dream alive of an emasculated government and an ideological pathology that rewards the rich and punishes the poor, it is clear that world events have pushed the leadership of the United States government back toward a pragmatic course of reasonable regulation and fiscal responsibility (real revenue through taxation for the government to exist and be effective).

It’s unfortunate that the price-tag of this new-found pragmatism might even be seen to be so high with the enormous debt and emergency measures being undertaken. The real scandal is that those who pushed for and profiteered from the deregulation and now receiving the bailout money are just unwilling to see how it was really they who caused this mess. The sad part is that they are not going to have to make any sacrifices to right the ship.

Somehow we must understand and learn for all time though, that this debt is actually the price the United States must pay for its past- trying to get “government out of the way” and believing that “government was a problem” at all.

The measures being undertaken now by the leadership of the United States is a catch-up. It is the price to pay for delinquence built into the Reagan way. They are finally making up for crucial, valuable, and inevitable investments into its economy, society, and citizens, it neglected to do for almost thirty years. 

Welcome to a New Day, America

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

It’s 9:25pm Vancouver-time, Tuesday November 4th, 2008. Barack Obama has been declared the winner of the 2008 Presidential election. John McCain has conceded to him. President Bush has called to congratulate him.

The people of the United States have finally allowed themselves to be what they really are: an incredibly proud and diverse population with a long and difficult history. And tonight, they have broken through a barrier as a nation, and done themselves proud.

While Obama may be African-American, of the two leading candidates in this election, he is definitely the best man for the job.

So while race is a big deal for the annals of history, the man who was elected President tonight is like all those who preceed him in this office. He still puts his pants on the same way and faces the same steep learning curve as all the presidents who precede him. And above all, like all the presidents before him, he did not win the election because of the colour of his skin.

Among his impressive speeches of the past, Obama’s acceptance speech was nothing short of spectacular. Reaching out to both Democrats and Republicans, Obama set the standard for his upcoming four years. There will be mistakes and false starts. But he vowed to be everybody’s president.

And so tonight after his victory speech, as the President elect stepped off the stage in Chicago’s Grant Park with his running-mate Joe Biden and their families, we can for the first time in many weeks, go to sleep and sleep soundly knowing that this planet is much safer in his hands than it has been in the past eight years.

Thank you, America, for electing Barack Obama. It was absolutely the right choice. It’s been a long eight years. Welcome back. You have been missed.

Play

Hours to go…

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

The suspense is killing me. We have endured a record two-year election campaign and the end is less than five hours away assuming there are no shennanigans like there were in Florida that ushered in the past eight disastrous years.

Is Obama really poised to make history as the first african-american president or will Palin be the first woman veep? It’s looking like it’s actually going to be the former rather than the latter.

It is amazing to me that there is such a divergent ethos in the United States: one that thinks the country is on the right couirse, despite two unpopular wars, and an economy in the deepest dumps since the 1930’s and the other, promises change from the status quo and hope for the future.

There is disappointment around the bend, however, because no matter who wins the White House real sacrifices are going to have to be made- none of which has been mentioned by either candidate.

If McCain were to be elected, God forbid, the disappointment is that he represents none of the change he preports himself to be. He sold out to the base of the Republican Party and change will come in the form of White House stationery in addition to Obama’s challenges.

If Obama is elected, there is going to be none of the gravy-money sitting around for his pet-projects. The American government is awash in debt with the current annual deficit equalling about $3,300.00 for every man, woman and child living in the country.

The only solace that comes with Obama is that his and the Democratic party’s view of America and the world are real; they are based in reality. There is no “war almost won” for the Dems, or strong economic fundamentals. They also are refusing to buy into the fear mentality that has ruled the Republican-dominated Washington D.C. since 9/11.

In 2000 when George Bush stole the election I consoled myself by thinking,”How bad can things get in four short years?” Boy was I wrong.

Eight years later and we have seen the United States transform itself from being a leading country in all aspects of human endeavour to being a delusional, punch-drunk shadow boxer well past its glory after too many swings at the moths flitting about the light-bulb.

So it is with high hopes that after today we, the citizens of the planet, will have our world back after having it kidnapped by Bush, Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and the rest of the Republican gangsters.

It will be a happy day tomorrow if only because we have persevered through some of the darkest times in modern history under Bush.

The dark clouds are already rolling away as the dawn of a new day- and a new era- brings a powerful sense of optimism and hope that just wasn’t there even a couple of weeks ago.

Good luck, Barack. You’ve got a hell of a job ahead of you. The world is rooting for you.