The Parallel Parliament

Glen Pearson

Photo credit: The Conversation

Inequality in the Fast Lane

Posted on December 14, 2017

In the midst of all the election hubbub following the stunning Democratic Senate win in Alabama, one Republican congressman used the occasion to call on the Republican Party to dump Steve Bannon, one of the early architects of Trump’s presidency.

Congressman Peter King is worried over where his own party is headed in recent weeks and although his speaking out against Bannon raised a lot of eyebrows, it was something he said only a couple of weeks earlier that carries much more significance. While the Republican tax cut plan was heralded by some in Washington, King was flummoxed by the nonsensical hurry to get it passed when it was, in fact, the deepest cut in corporate taxes seen in decades. “You’re rewriting a tax code for a generation, and you’re doing it in ten days,” King called out, concluding, “In 1986, it took two years to put together a tax reform bill.”

Something so vast, with clear implications on future generations, should have deserved serious thought and execution, especially at a time when corporate profits are at record highs. But Washington is anything but deeply contemplative these days – everything is action and reaction, often within the 24-hour news cycle.

Last week I wrote about how this new tax reform could well push the American economy into dangerous territory and the economies of many other nations along with it. One person responded to the article, claiming that the wealthy in America already paid too much in taxes and that it wasn’t fair. “Fair” is a relative term. What is fair about the 2016 Credit Suisse report estimating that there is roughly $256 trillion in total global wealth and that it’s growing more unequal by the day? “While the bottom half collectively own less that 1 percent of total wealth, the wealthiest 10 percent own 89 percent of all global assets.” Ironically, the Trump/Republican tax cuts will help that 10 percent even more, and after a few more years lower-income Americans will get no benefit from the cuts.

A nonpartisan group of economists that spoke out strongly against the tax cut listed 10 dangers, as outlined in New York Magazine:

  1. Less home ownership, with a chance of another housing market-fuelled recession
  2. An even more severe affordable housing crisis
  3. More manufacturing workers losing jobs to automation and outsourcing
  4. An even more beleaguered labour movement
  5. More Americans dying or going bankrupt for want of adequate health care
  6. Fewer non-rich people getting graduate degrees
  7. Lesser progressive governments at the state level
  8. Less research into rare medical problems
  9. More wealthy families sending their kids to elite private schools
  10. The extreme wealthy will gain even more control over government

Other economists have written their own lists of dangers, including the official Office of Management and Budget (OMB), but it didn’t seem to matter. As the New York Magazine concluded:

“And this, more than anything else, is why the true costs of Trump’s giveaway to the one percent can’t be measured in lost revenue alone: Vast economic inequality erodes social trust, stymies growth, and enables a tiny, oligarchic elite to exert so much influence over our politics they can get Congress to pass their preferred legislation before the public even has time to learn what it does.”

These rushed tax cuts will have their most pervasive effects on the poor, the poorly educated, women, newcomers, the precariously employed – not to mention the environment, research and democratic accountability. There’s a reason that Wall Street is in a state of jubilation these days as the Republicans, along with their president, just distributed to the elite economic order some of the greatest Christmas presents in a generation.

It was a number of years ago now that indigenous artist, poet and activist John Trudell wrote: “I’m not looking to overthrow the American government, the corporate state already has.” His words were prophetic then but are in full bloom now.

Only an outpouring of citizen activism can alter the destructive course the global economy is journeying down, led by America. We can be angry about it, rail against political leaders and financial barons, and scurry away from democratic engagement, but in the end the decision is ours. As Leszek Kolakowski put it: “In politics, being deceived is no excuse.” As another ethical voice put it years ago: “The opposite of justice isn’t injustice; it is silence.” We’ve all been quiet too long.

Graphic produce by Alina

Community Amnesia – Part 2

Posted on December 12, 2017

In our previous post the subject concerned what transpires in communities when news sources – traditional or online – are wiped out by corporate fiat. Journalists lose their livelihood, citizens lose their context, and communities are cut loose from their recorded history. But there’s more, and it’s devastating.

It’s not just about losing the stories that others won’t cover – social club luncheons, the doings of smaller community organizations, neighbourhood developments – but the lack of momentum for causes that are as equally important to society than any other big story.

Take poverty for instance. Sure there are the important stories currently gaining attention, like pilot projects for a Basic Income Guarantee, federal housing money for the next decade, a special benefit for children living in poverty. These are vital – not enough, but nevertheless moving the needle in the right direction. But they are news and not necessarily the narratives of those enduring the hunger, loneliness, frustration, isolation and marginalization of poverty itself. These stories usually emerged from community papers or weekly dailies and they were powerful in their effect. Poverty became about people and not just policies or economics. It is such stories that are likely to most effectively change the public mindsets regarding poverty – but only if they are published and told effectively.

Who else will tell the inspiring stories of the groundswell support for the development of urban agriculture, women coming together to consider running for politics, researchers invested in studies of subjects that will ultimately alter our quality of life as communities, or the accounts of those who have endured and triumphed in their lives despite great physical, emotional or mental obstacles, or who have endured the loss of loved ones? And what of the small startup community that, despite overwhelming odds against success, nevertheless band together, women and men of skill, to infuse community with a new sense of businesses opportunities geared more to the needs of the average citizen than the large box stores?

These constitute the historical domain of the smaller publishing houses and every one is a story that needs to be told for the sake of community optimism and economic renewal. They are exactly what citizens say they yearn for, and yet those same citizens want such privileges for free. History, community life, how we travel together as city dwellers, how we treat the land and how we fight the honourable battle against global warming – each of these costs – a lot – and to say we desire great outcomes without making great investments is a misnomer, a fallacy, and ultimately a tragedy to both community and democracy.

Some 69% of respondents in a recent poll published by Earnscliffe expressed a deep concern if the decline of news organizations like newspapers led to less local coverage. That’s not a surprise. The irony is that they don’t want to pay for it – real news or fake news, it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s free. This can spell the death knell for communities unless citizens fight for their own context, their own narrative, their own objective news sources.

That’s the essence of it. We have grown used to a brand of citizenship that sees its basic needs taken care of by others – companies, governments, family. But knowledge and how we appropriate it is now ultimately our responsibility as citizens. Spending our money on materialistic abundance while starving our brains, our hearts, our aspirations of contextual knowledge lived out in community life will only lead to the disappearance of history itself and loss of our own personal power. Enlightenment isn’t merely a gift; it is an expense, and right now too many of us don’t feel inclined to pay it.

Community Amnesia – Part 1

Posted on December 8, 2017

Today I lunch with a good friend and committed journalist trying to come to terms with the loss of his job because of the recent Postmedia-TorStar deal that closed a good number of local newspapers across Canada, including London. He is one of those people who is his writing; it’s how he chronicles his aspirations and struggles, his belief in community and his own place within it. There are many like him now wondering how to navigate their future. The communities are still here, but many of their dedicated storytellers are gone.

Such thoughts abounded when I came across CBC London’s Kate Dubinsky’s piece on what happens to the archives of such publications when they close down. You can read it here. She rightfully opened her piece by reminding us that such archives, “are a treasure trove of information about politics, culture and society.”

My friend, mentioned earlier, had reported on so many community events that tracked the daily life of how citizens live together, how politicians search for solutions, and how small businesses and organizations reinvent themselves for a new era. He frequently covered stories left unheralded by larger publications. Who covers such events now? Who tells the stories of how people cope in a modern age where survival has become more of a challenge? And what of the records of their writings? Where will they rest? How can they be researched if they are just filed away in obscurity? How will we learn of much of our community life when the writers and their works have just been severed from community wellbeing? Ms. Dubinsky’s article is far more eloquent than my meager words and deserve careful consideration.

My lunch companion is popular among community organizations and citizens wired into activism and collective conscience. He covered their stories when others didn’t, or couldn’t. He served as a lifeline between these diverse smaller communities. Social media quickly erupted in an outpouring of support for him, with frequent mentions of how his presence and writing would be missed. It was all quietly touching in its own way, but it was missing the point.

A local blogging friend of mine, Jay Menard, reminded our community last week that many of us offering condolences might be part of the problem. “You get what you’re willing to pay for,” he wrote, adding, “Instead of wringing our collective hands after the fact, maybe we should be more willing to reach into our collective wallets beforehand.”

And there it was: clear and concisely stated. The essence and future of democracy lies within its citizens, not so much their political representatives. In an era where politics no longer earns much cachet with voters, the only clear alternative to keep it accountable is an intelligent citizenry. That should be obvious. But in an era of fake news, fake journalists, fake truth – fake everything – citizens must stake a claim in the objective sources of their news and not just opinions. It remains a question of authority: who can be trusted to provide society with contextual evidence provided through effective oversight?

Will we pay for that kind of information, or will we continue expecting everything to show up on our screen without investment on our part? It’s an important question, but it is becoming clearer that citizens better understand what fake news is doing to the very society they are attempting to build.

Now because some mega-corporations completed executive decisions totally separate from the daily lives of their readers, it’s not only the narratives that are gone, but those that reported on them. One thing is becoming more clear: the more we lose such voices, the more we lose ourselves – our history, our mistakes, our collaboration, our successes to build on and our failures to learn from. It’s time to return to the place where knowledge is so priceless that we are willing to invest in its protection.

As feminist author and academic Carolyn Heilbrun put it: “Power consists to a large extent in deciding what stories will be told.” Right now, powerful and wealthy people are determining what we hear, and along with them are millions of other sources that flood our systems with nonsense. It’s time to reinvest in our ethical journalists instead of mourning their extinction. And that will take money – enough of it to give truth a chance.

Never Again Just Happened

Posted on December 5, 2017

As decisions go, the passing of the Republican tax cut bill could have the most profound consequences for any nation having economic relations with the United States, including, and perhaps especially, Canada. Nobel Prize winner and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote of how all the lies surrounding the initiative, “show the rot spreads wide and deep,” in the GOP. Krugman isn’t without his many critics, but there was something so manufactured, so devious about the tax plan, that he spoke honestly to what can only be termed as the greatest tax grab by the wealthy in decades.

Myths abounded, mostly exposed and exploded, by a bipartisan group of leading economists who consistently bit back at the fabrications. Will the cuts stimulate growth? Only 0.8% over a decade, according to the economists. Will cutting the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20% prompt corporations and businesses to raise workers’ wages, as Trump maintained? Perhaps, but largely the benefits will go to managers and executives, not the average employee.

Was Trump correct when he said the rich wouldn’t benefit? In perhaps the biggest untruth, the reality is that the greatest benefits will go to the top 5% of families, and by 2027 families with the lowest incomes will get no benefit at all. Will the highest benefit go to the middle-class? Again, no. No benefit will be derived to the middle-class by 2027, while the benefits to the top 0.1% will continue on.

Perhaps most troubling has been the rationale and language used by today’s GOP that carries strong ties to their counterparts 40 years ago during the Reagan era. Numerous Republicans have been saying that the only way to get the deficit under control is to cut the wages and benefits of public servants when in reality it is Trump’s tax plan that will create deficits unlike anything seen in recent memory. Already Republican voices are saying that deficits will only be exacerbated by social programs designed to help the neediest and vulnerable and that they should be downsized. And then there is the old refrain emerging of how it is time to starve government, conveniently leaving the wealthiest with less accountability and monitoring.

Many economists such as Krugman, or even the Congressional Budget Office, worry that the deficit created by the new tax regime of one and a half trillion dollars will relentlessly cut into growth, public health and overall prosperity. And an American economy dragged down by its own devices could take other economies along with it, while opening the door ever wider for Chinese expansion and domination. Despite claims to the contrary, Canada’s economy is irrevocably tied to the economic dynamism south of the border and it’s now likely that Donald Trump’s trickle-down rationale will inevitably reward the few at increasing cost to the many. This isn’t some form of regular seesaw battle between Democrats and Republicans, Left and Right, but is a marked departure, an outright open grab, from anything previous.

This last point is salient, and somewhat damning. It was only a decade ago that citizens and organizations, bewildered and troubled by the sheer greed that almost brought down the economic order, claimed, “Never Again.” From the Great Recession emerged the Occupy Movement, cries for financial reforms and regulations, calls for democratic renewal, the 99% and 1%, and a re-examination of trade policies. The majority of citizens, beleaguered following years of economic worry, eventually grew fatigued with such efforts and went back to their daily lives. But the reforms they wished for were largely ignored and within a decade the keys to the financial kingdom in America have been handed back to the very individuals and financial houses responsible for the debacle of a decade earlier.

This says something about the managers of the financial order and of citizens themselves. The former, shaken from their earlier experience of the Great Recession, are now back on their game with little reflection on what history should have taught them. The latter will only grow more alarmed as the populace becomes ever more divided in a turbulent economic era in which wealth moves ever upward and the true costs for deficits will be passed on to average family and smaller business. Our cousins to the south are about ready to endure a world of hurt, leaving this country with a cautionary tale it should heed. “Never again” just happened and we’d best get set for the fallout.

View this post in its original National Newswatch format here. 

A Village State of Mind

Posted on December 3, 2017

There’s no denying it – Christmas and a village just go together. There’s the original Santa’s Village, where the famous bearded man and his wife lived and toiled with the elves. There are replicate Santa’s Villages in over 40 countries, including our own province. Even Bethlehem, in the time of Jesus, is referred to by some commentators as a village. And the Whos from Whoville in Dr. Seuss’s famous How the Grinch Stole Christmas, lived in village that was ingeniously located on a snowflake. Every year around this time families begin digging out the boxes with the little figurines, which, when compiled together, become ornate or rustic villages placed on tabletops or on a piano.

So, yes, “Christmas and the village” go comfortably together in ways that “Christmas and the city” or “Christmas and the province” somehow don’t. The concept of “the village” is perhaps the perfect size if we wish to describe an apt environment for citizens coming together to celebrate, worship, shop, have coffee or even just stroll along the streets.

The people of the Wortley Village area and the Old South Community Association (OSCA) have understood and built on this magic for decades. It’s not just about the buildings or amenities. It’s about the people of this place – citizens and their families who moved to this area for some of the very reasons the Christmas and holiday season have become precious – family, sense of community, sharing, celebrating, dining and ultimately a sense of belonging.

As our world gets ever more globalized, there is parallel movement going on in which people seek a sense of place, a belief that not everything in the world is up for sale, including people themselves. There is the growing desire from people that they can pursue life as something bigger than just themselves. But for that to happen they require safety, understanding, a significant dose of common sense, and the belief that if they seek a world of fairness, then they have the backing of others.

Such is Wortley Village. It believes not just in prosperity but people. Instead of just talking about community it offers meaning. This village seeks to shun isolation in favour of inclusion and to downplay mindless consumerism in search for meaningful community. There are people among us seeking consolation, forgiveness, a sense of hope, of recovery and opportunity – all these things that our village already promotes and practices. And they just happen to be the values upon which the Christmas message itself has been built for millennia.

Being a villager isn’t about some kind of status; it is a state of mind that, for all of its opportunities, says that there is enough here for more, including those who are struggling among us. Most of us moved to this area because we wanted value; we now live in it in order to build on those very qualities.

“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love,” noted Hamilton Mabie. It just so happens that Wortley Village has already paid a downpayment for that kind of world and that we have already been working for decades towards building it. Saying Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, or Happy Holidays carries a special ring to it when said in the streets, shops and gatherings of a village. We in the Wortley Village have learned and been humbled by that awareness for decades. Wishing the best to everyone during this remarkable season.

This post was originally written as a column for the Wortley Villager magazine.

%d bloggers like this: