The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: progressivism

Too Good to Last

A Bernie Sanders action figure prototype is seen in a photo illustration taken in the Brooklyn borough of New York February 25, 2016. A Brooklyn product design company, FCTRY, created a prototype for the 6-inch (15-cm) tall plastic version toy of the U.S. Senator from Vermont and started a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of raising $15,000 to fund production. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid - RTX28MRJ

IT WAS ONLY A MONTH AGO WHEN ROLLING STONE magazine declared in a feature article titled, Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders: The Good Fight, that “Hillary and Bernie have waged campaigns full of vision, ideas and promise – and have shown us the best in American politics.”

Most of America seems infatuated at the worrying spectacle of the Republican primary campaign – a fascinating intrigue unlike anything seen in recent memory. Any policy pronouncement has tended to come wrapped in some kind of slam against an opponent or a simplistic concept bearing little understanding of its complexities.

While all this was going on, the Democratic Party debates were fluid and probing affairs full of substance and intriguing ideas – just as Rolling Stone stated. For policy wonks, there was much to chew on.

For those of us interested in civility and respect in politics and public life, the Democratic contest was a bit of fresh air. In the early months of the primary campaign Bernie Sanders was given little chance. But then he came marching out of obscurity with millions of young supporters and talk of a political and social revolution that easily matched the spirit of middle-class families while at the same time decrying the immovability of the political establishment in Washington. Yet he refused to slam Clinton over her burgeoning email scandal and reminded anyone who listened that on her worst day she would still be more fitted to the presidency than Trump on his best day. It was kind of fascinating.

Until these last few weeks – something has changed and it’s discouraging. The very first promise Sanders had pronounced as a candidate caught America’s attention: “I’ve never run a negative ad in my life. I hate and detest them.” He then committed to run a campaign devoid of such subterfuge. It was precisely the kind of commitment that drew so many to Sanders and his revolution.

Those were the days when Sanders used to stop his supporters from booing Clinton at rallies; now he permits a growing chorus of negative voices against the former Secretary of State. The fascinating evolution of an older man transforming into a populist giant only to run the danger of looking cranky and somehow diminished might eventually be seen as one of the many tragic casualties of this election season.

Hillary Clinton has occasionally shown a propensity to be a practitioner of the darker political arts, as when she increasingly turned negative in her battle with Obama for president eight years ago. Her team began this election season viewing Sanders as a kind of noble distraction – an elderly politician who meant well, believed in change, and who shared many policy similarities to Clinton herself. The media paid him little attention and he was more of a small bother to her than anything else.

In ironic similarity to the early dismissals of Donald Trump, he nevertheless began showing political traction that eventually became a populist momentum. Far from being a nuisance, Bernie Sanders had become a clear competitor, and eventually a target for Clinton’s attentions – perhaps an understandable evolution from someone who once regarded a certain young black Illinois senator, named Barrack Obama,  as hardly worth the bother, only to see him surge to eventually win the nomination and then the presidency.

The Democratic race had been both a bracing and inspirational contest to many of us. The possibilities of a woman at last gaining the highest office in America, or of a rugged no-nonsense populist tracking towards perhaps the same outcome were intriguing and a clear alternative to what was developing among the Republicans. To see it descend into the kind of negative politics millions of people detest is saddening. For it to be a dynamic influence for improving the world, politics has to keep as far away from the same old, same old as it possibly can. Both Clinton and Sanders have to claw their way back to a sense of fairness and respect.

Perhaps, as Albert Einstein once offered, “Everyone should be respected as an individual, but no one idolized.” In an election season in which idolatry has risen to new heights, it would be helpful if both Sanders and Clinton were reminded us why a dignified politics is good politics.

Can Canada Afford Its Dreams? Follow the Money

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IT’S BUDGET DAY, AND ONGOING POLLING SPEAKS to significant amounts of support for the new Trudeau government. The new PM himself has hinted that he is prepared to help lead a reinvigorated progressive movement internationally. It’s still early days, but it’s difficult to deny that the initial impressions of Justin Trudeau internationally have been favourable.

To be one of the leaders of global progress, however, Trudeau has to show that his ideas work at home, and on this particular budget day that will be a tall order. We’ll hear the usual spin from politicians, economists, media pundits, and interest groups on the budget’s effects. People will debate the size of the proposed deficit, the effectiveness of investment in infrastructure, and how Canada has to get its productivity moving again.

Yet, as with the recent meetings of the World Economic Forum in Davos, all this maneuvering will be taking place against a backdrop of staggering global financial inequity. Just as in Davos, where the world’s elite heard directly from Oxfam that 62 people now control over half the world’s wealth (more than the poorest 3.5 billion people), Canada has to come to terms with the harsh reality that much of the great wealth created in this country goes to fewer and fewer people. While today’s budget will mostly involve tinkering, it’s likely that the fundamental flaws on inequity on how we handle our finances will go unaddressed.

Oxfam’s revealing study was the work of Deborah Hardoon, Sophia Ayele, and Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva. One of their main subjects of research was the increasing disconnect between workers and their earnings. In advanced nations, like Canada, the national income going to workers is falling, while that going to owners and elite executives is growing. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us who have watched average wages remain stagnant at the same as corporate profits mushroom.

In the poorer countries, the same trend continues. Between 1990 and 2010, in many developing nations learned that some 40% of their workforce saw their wages grow more slowly than the national average – a tragic reality that left 200 million people mired in abject poverty despite the growing wealth of their respective nations.

Then came the intriguing revelation in the Oxfam report that $8 trillion dollars of global generated wealth remained untaxed because it was diverted to offshore savings accounts. Much of this was from countries like Canada and the United States – revenue that could have been put towards alleviating poverty or increased worker wages in advanced nations. This has remained the financial backdrop for successive Canadian governments.

We’d be making a great mistake to assume that this vast inequity in our wealth is only taking place in poorer regions of the world. It’s a reality that continues to cripple worker wages in Canada and to rob citizens of the vital investments required to prepare ourselves for a fairer economic future. Canada was built upon the model of effective wealth sharing – the only method possible to adequately manage such a large nation with a relatively small population.

This is crucible working its way through the global financial system at the time that Canada’s new government is laying out its first budget. To lead a global progressive movement means to come face-to-face with this one great conundrum: how to work toward income equality when the financial trends are heading the other way, burgeoning the gap between the rich and the poor? Countries shouldn’t become victims of their own wealth, but, indeed, be liberated by it. Budget 2016 is likely to be more about the former than the latter.

It will take a remarkable amount of courage, ingenuity, and popular support to lead a global movement that will reverse current trends. Mr. Trudeau has some time to develop that leadership by showing that it works at home. People in Canada and around the world are dissatisfied following a decade or more of austerity and the lack of investment in people and in the planet. They are eager for change and it’s this reality that has provided a window for progressivism to take on its onerous task. But should we tinker, the downward slide will continue, affirming Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith’s observation: “Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey. Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.”

Millennials Put the Positive Back Into Politics

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My article in today’s London Free Press, for April 25, 2015.  You can link to the original article HERE.

“I’M NOT A PARTISAN LIKE MY FOLKS WERE,” she said in reflection. “I just want politics to work and I don’t see why it can’t. Most of us want the same basic things, right?” Interestingly, the older generation isn’t all that partisan either, and, as we saw in the last column, they are checking out of the “gotcha” form of politics as fast as anyone else.

Yet the emphasis on making things “work” is perhaps the key desire of my 41-year old friend’s generation in their view of politics. Part of a cohort called the “MIllennials” and born in the span between the early-1980s to the early-2000s, they are increasingly making their talents, frustrations, resources, and energies felt on everything from consumerism to community values.

Younger generations of Canadians are, at once, clearly more passionately individualistic and yet fervently communitarian than any group we have seen in decades. Research has revealed them to be more socially tolerant, more comfortable with racial and ethnic diversity, and most welcoming to new immigrants than generations that preceded them. These values undergird their attitude to towards community, public life – and politics.

The Millennials have watched as fundamental Canadian values have suffered decline in recent years, regardless of which government was in place at all levels. As a result, they want to take risk, to do good, and to invest in their communities, families, and countries in ways that will last. Social media has permitted them opportunity to vent their frustrations and their aspirations, often in negative ways, but also in a fashion that is constructive, collaborative, with innovation as one of the key drivers to future efforts.

Robert Kennedy would have felt at home with this restless generation because he once tried to elevate younger Americans past historic prejudices and limitations through his own presidential aspirations. “Few will have greatness to bend history itself,” he reasoned, “but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of those acts will be written the history of this generation.” That’s exactly what the Millennials are committed to and they’re determined to blow past historic limitations that have refused to yield control to a more equitable world. They harbour few illusions, but they are driven by hope.

Will they collectively apply themselves to remaking the present form of politics that has grown hyper-partisan and angry? Research reveals they are, but we have to look no farther than our own city of London to spot the evidence. The youth of our present city council is now familiar, yet in numerous nomination battles waged over the last number of weeks an entirely new generation of candidates has stepped forward, saying they are ready to press for change and are confident enough to believe they can deliver it.

In an era where an increasing number of Canadians has given up looking for politics and cookie cutter politicians to solve our greatest challenges, the Millennials are acknowledging that we can’t adequately handle those tasks without a politics that matters. Yes, they are skeptical of the standard politics that puts party above principle and confrontation over collaboration, but instead of checking out they are checking in, and in that reversal might come the reformation of Canada’s political structure before it is too late.

Our nation’s history has witnessed reformed minded generations before, and Canada moved progressively ahead as a result. Those generations melded their aspirations to public service and better communities with the possibilities of politics. They would have agreed with Michael Sandel’s observation that, “when politics goes well, we can know a good in common that we cannot know alone.”

In troubling fashion, large portions of Canadians no longer hold to that bond between values and a beneficial politics that could deliver on them. But many of our younger citizens, tired of waiting for political change, have opted to change things themselves by challenging the very culture of modern politics. The fate of the next great political consensus is now in their hands and they simply won’t accept the tribal mentalities that so characterize the present political class. Just as their great example of business ingenuity is Apple as opposed to General Motors, their politics will become about their communities as opposed to political camps. They are fighting to bring together active government with innovative public policy and community service.

It is yet to be seen if the old and partisan political order can fend off the Millennials in its desperation to retain power, but should the new generation find ways of bringing Canadians back to a more relevant politics, then they will have already triumphed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Populist With Punch

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SOMEHOW THE COUNSEL OF THOMAS JEFFERSON doesn’t seem too dated anymore: “The end of democracy and the defeat of the American revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed interest.” It’s an insight Elizabeth Warren would readily adhere to over two centuries later. And who can blame her, given the troubling rise of Wall Street again.

The crippling economic crisis of only a few years ago, largely precipitated by Wall Street’s incompetence, was supposedly a wake up call to all of us. Those initial attempts at regulation to keep it from happening again have been the object of numerous complaints from financial executives who claim that such constraints only serve to keep the economy from effectively recovering.

For financial institutions, however, the times couldn’t be better. The federal government forwarded Wall Street hundreds of billions of dollars of new capital, and trillions of dollars of credit were made available to keep capital flowing. At the height of this spree, the Fed was buying $85 billion in bonds each month, in what became a massive windfall for Wall Street. All of it happened without Wall Street having to significantly change anything in how it operated. Even worse, the market for risky financial practices is booming again. Huge bonuses to CEOs continue to rise. It’s now assumed that any urgent and necessary reform will have to come after the next great crash.

But don’t tell Elizabeth Warren that. For her the time is now and the need for political reform to effectively match any kind of economic change is essential before it’s too late. Here it is in her own words:

“I know everyone is wringing their hands about the recent election. What went right, what went wrong, what we could have done better, what we need to do now, and these are all very important questions. But one thing has not changed: the stock market and GDP continue to go up, while families across the country are getting squeezed harder and harder. Dealing with this problem requires an honest recognition of the kinds of changes we need to make if families across the country are going to get a shot at building a secure future. This is not about big government or small government. Rather, it’s the deep down concern over who government works for. Say what you like, people across the country, everyday folks with bills to pay and kids to raise, know that this government does not work for them.”

This isn’t new stuff, but it’s powerfully presented and courageously proclaimed. To the great discouragement of many, Warren has opted not to run in the upcoming race for the presidency. Many Democrats, fearful of another elitist candidate like Hillary Clinton or other challengers, are pressing her to jump into the race; she refuses. And the Republicans? Well, Elizabeth Warren is their worst nightmare – a populist with punch. For now at least, she is contented to align herself with the citizen side of politics and in doing so she is gaining some remarkable credibility in an awfully pessimistic time.

She’s come by her financial perspective honestly. A former Harvard Law School professor, she’s an expert on how Wall Street and the financial industry is, in her words, “destroying the middle class.” That intelligence sees her rapidly becoming the most articulate voice in Washington D.C. In fact, Vanity Fair finished a column on Warren titled The Woman Who Knew Too Much.

Another title would also have been appropriate: “The Woman Who Experienced Too Much.” Read her book, A Fighting Chance, as I did over the holidays, and you’ll immediately pick up the narrative of a young girl (Warren) personally witnessing her normal middle-class family decline in income, stature, and hope. A sad tale, it is also the story of millions of families who looked to government for a sense of balance and who came to the understanding that they were alone. It was that experience, unfolding over difficult years, that lit the fire of challenge that eventually wound its way to the U.S. Senate. That mix of the personal, the passionate, and the principled, is what makes her a modern force to be reckoned with – her story is like that of millions.

At a time of record corporate profits, a time when 14 million Americans are out of work, when millions have lost their homes and, according to the Census Bureau, the ranks of those living in poverty has grown to one in six, Warren has turned this development into a just cause. She has become the living embodiment of advocate Elie Wiesel’s observation that, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” And protest she does – a voice to the voiceless, an oracle to the outcasts, and an enemy to the elites. But she’s intelligent enough to know that unless millions of others follow suit she will remain a voice crying in the wilderness.

Questions

As stated in yesterday’s post, I feel no need to question the protesters of the Occupy Wall Street movement as to their reasons for taking their concerns over financial injustice to the streets. They have effectively shown that some citizens are taking notice and are reacting by speaking out. What will become of all this we aren’t really sure.

Columnist Chantel Hebert wrote a strong column in regards to these protests that I think must be addressed. The title of her piece gives you the idea: “Want Real Change? Hit the Ballot Box Instead of the Streets.” Try as we might, it’s a logic that can’t be argued with. Consider what she writes as she extrapolates on her argument.

The typical profile of the voter who repeatedly goes missing in action at election time corresponds to the demographics of the Occupy movement in Canada … Younger Canadians dominate both groups … If voters aged 18 to 35 cast a ballot in the same proportion as their elders, the outcome of elections could be different … According to polls, the younger segment of the electorate is strikingly more progressive.”

So here is my first question, sincerely asked: If a good many of those who diligently participated in the demonstrations decline to vote, how will they bring about the change they seek?  Many in the Occupy Wall Street movement are urging governments to consider more financial regulations and to enact programs that build the middle class and provide opportunity for poor families. That’s a valid pursuit. But how will they become the change they seek if they refuse to participate in the system granted them? What if they don’t show up and the seats remain empty? Just blaming politicians isn’t good enough anymore. The cat’s out of the bag and citizens are calling for change. Again, how will they achieve that if they stand apart?

Just for the sake of argument, and for my second question, let’s consider what would happen if the voter turnout were reversed and more Canadians entered the ballot box. Wouldn’t they split the vote among the progressive opposition parties and end up roughly with what they have now? Stephen Harper hardly acquired a mandate yet received a majority. In real political terms this is sufficient; in the minds of the demonstrators it’s a travesty. What’s the answer? Can Canadians who feel something akin to what the protesters are sensing bring themselves to vote for just one opposition party, generating enough numbers to put a progressive government in office? Somehow it just doesn’t seem likely. In the U.S. there are two choices (almost three if you include the Tea Party), but in Canada there are more and the vote split under the present circumstances will always favour the Conservatives. How will the protest movement address that discrepancy? Unknown at present.

My third query is directed at the political parties: Are they willing to put their agendas aside and combine their forces to put progressives back in office? That’s a tough question and doesn’t seem likely at present. Party loyalty is a powerful thing and doesn’t relinquish its grasp easily. The Greens, NDP, Liberals, and, in Quebec, the Bloc contain strong progressive elements, but until the parties figure out how they will deal effectively with the vote split, the status quo will be maintained.

As I stated earlier, these questions are sincerely asked because I certainly don’t have the answers. It is a sad irony of our modern era that people can take to the streets, all the while ignoring the very ballot boxes that could well bring about the shift they desire. I can only see three scenarios that can correct our present predicament: 1) wait until the present government fully sags under the weight of its lack of preparedness over our overwhelming challenges; 2) get those of the progressive side to vote in great enough numbers to win the day; or 3) urge the opposition parties to combine their forces in time for the next election.

The political opposition must now determine if the protesters are of great enough number to offer them full support. And those demonstrating in the streets will have to somehow cobble themselves together enough to exercise their voting franchise in a manner that carries the day.

As present the Occupy Wall Street and its derivative movements have made a compelling point about the collective disenchantment with the present system. But they have done so by demonstrating outside of the very political venues that they so distrust. Fair enough, and it makes sense in simple terms. But how do you bring about political change by refusing to vote or refusing to vote together? Perhaps that’s the greatest question of all. In Hebert’s own relevant observation: “The argument that Canada’s entire political class is disconnected from the people resonates within the Occupy movement. But if that’s the case, it is hard to think of a time when Canada’s mainstream parties have been more ripe for the taking by a populist movement.” How will that be done if we don’t join together and vote? Just asking.

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