Friday, April 29, 2011

A Post-Easter Trinity Post

The fundamentalists are on the march again. It's not surprising, times of crisis invevitably bring about an upsurge in wackos as the true believers emerge from their caves to reveal the secrets revealed to them and only them. The coming week will bear witness to a triptych of delusion, a true masterpiece that deserves to be hung alongside Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights in the Prado. For those of us on the flipside of delusion however, where reality rules supreme instead of royalty, theocracy or right-wingnuttery, the scenes out of London, the Vatican and Ottawa serve to remind us of how easily the masses are convinced to continue down the path of self-destruction.

Another crisis, another royal wedding. The parallels between today and 1981 are striking. Another conservative government pushing through a right-wing agenda provided with the perfect diversion with which to distract its population of Daily Mail readers. Kate Middleton will wed Prince William Friday in a choreographed ceremony of pomp and circumstance to rival that fairy tale marriage between Diana Spencer and Prince Charles nearly thirty years ago. Panem et circenses serving once again as cover as the ideologues in power push through an agenda to cure the nation's economic woes by doubling down on the same policies that caused the crisis to begin with.

The main difference to be found is in the rhetoric employed by Margaret Thatcher then and David Cameron today in order to justify implementing policies to further shift the wealth of the nation towards the top. While Thatcher may have referenced Francis of Assisi when she moved into 10 Downing Street, "Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope", she generally took on a confrontational tone with those who opposed her. Cameron on the other hand, due to the nature of his coalition government with the Lib Dems, employs a much more subtle divide and conquer strategy.

While Thatcher thrived on confrontation, Cameron's PR spin doctors (courtesy of the Murdoch empire) have him cloying on about a fictitious Big Society. Whether or not you believe that Thatcherism sowed the seeds of the UK's current economic distress, her policies failed to decrease the size of government while shifting the tax burden down the income scale, setting the scene for the explosion of income inequality seen today. Cameron and his Eton buddy-turned chancellor of the exchequer George Osbourne are proposing to build on this while shifting ever more wealth into the hands of the corporations and other elite. Of course, you won't hear this from their mouths in the UK, however, their minions will tell potential investors on the other side of the pond exactly what they are planning - We are making cuts that Margaret Thatcher, back in the 1980s, could only have dreamed of.



Whoops, where was I? Right, wedding. Royal. Buck-toothed balding guy and his commoner bride-to-be. Why does the public still eat up this pablum? Who cares what it costs when the working shmoes can get an eleven day holiday by simply taking three vacation days thanks to the magic of the calendar. Besides, won't the expense be offset by the benefit provided to the economy from all the tourists who plan on flocking to the British capital to take in the event? Well, in a word, no. The firm, or royal family as they are known, cost the public about £38.2 million a year, or 62p a person to defray expenses but the wedding will cost the public an awful lot more than that. Extra policing and overtime alone is estimated at more than $35 million. Add in the cost of all that extra holiday time and the costs begin to skyrocket, economists are "suggesting that it could knock something like a quarter percent off growth." That translates into a potential loss to the economy of about $50 billion.

But it's worth it right? After all, instead of watching depressing stories of British missiles raining down death on Libyans or Taliban terrorists escaping from prisons in the graveyard of empires, we get to see a princess crowned. Another aspirational lesson in which we learn that if we just believe enough, we too can have the fairy tale ending. Or not. Guess what Britons? There's only one royal family and you're not part of it, nor will you ever be. Kate will become your sixth Queen Catherine carrying on a tradition that should have died centuries ago but somehow didn't. She'll hopefully avoid the fate of Catherine Howard and probably won't have the impact of Henry VIII's first queen, Catherine of Aragon. After a 24-year marriage cursed by the stillbirths and early deaths of several sons, Henry was so desperate to have the marriage annulled that when the Pope refused to give his consent he broke away from Rome and founded the Church of England.

Ah, that church thing, the Brits are still sticking it to the Vatican, this time the royal wedding is stealing the thunder of the beatification of John Paul II. There doesn't seem to be a problem with the fact the church waved the manadatory five-year waiting period for JPII's beatification, or that maybe he shouldn't be beatified at all, no, the problem is that the Holy See's big event isn't selling enough tickets. When the date was announced in January the royal wedding date had already been set for months yet Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, former head of the Vatican's saint-making department, said he expected more than two million faithful to show up for the event. Based on that prediction, Vatican and Italian tour operators booked entire hotels in Rome and its surroundings. Enthusiasm has been tempered a bit since then, predictions have fallen to the 150,000 range despite the Vaticans best efforts to make the event go viral by setting up a beatification website, Facebook page and Twitter account.

In typical unthinking fashion, Santo subito! - Sainthood now! is the chant today just as it was then on St. Peter's Square in 2005 during JPII's funeral. Granted, he was an extraordinary man and a decent enough pope in many ways. More than a moral and symbolic force again totalitarianism, he toured his homeland giving Poles the courage to resist Soviet domination. Even after the collapse of communism, he offered a prescient warning about capitalism, "The excessive hoarding of riches by some denies them to the majority and thus the very wealth that is accumulated generates poverty." The first non-Italian pope since the renaissance, the former actor and factory worker was a skiing cardinal, a mountain-climbing poet, a kayaking philosopher, a singing author. By capturing the world's imagination he was in a position to not only influence the world outside the walls of the church but that within as well and that is where he sadly failed.

Imagine if Grima Wormtongue who whispered counsel into the ear of King Théoden to poison his soul in The Lord of the Rings coveted little boys instead of the kings niece Eowyn. Such a character would most properly be based on the Rev. Marcial Degollado, the founder of the Legion of Christ, who was formally accused of pedophilia in a Vatican proceeding yet remained John Paul’s pet. Despite nine different people accusing him of abusing them as children, the soon-to-be-blessed refused to investigate thus allowing the church's wound that is peodophilia to continue to fester and ooze pus to this day. Instead of reform and healing we get the former bishop of Bruges serenely admitting to abusing his nephews on TV and rationalizing his atrocities, "I had the strong impression that my nephew didn’t mind at all," 74-year-old Roger Vangheluwe said, smiling. "On the contrary. It was not brutal sex. I never used bodily, physical violence." He said he abused the second boy for "merely over a year".

Revalations of the game of hide the pedo-priest from parish to parish or the effects of the regressive stance taken on social issues and the part played in the spreading of AIDS particulary in Africa are slow evolving stories and exactly the reason for the five year waiting period before beatification. Calm rationality replaces emotional passion and allows us to weight decision properly instead of making rash choices. Instead, Pope Benedict chose to speed up the process, the third of four steps in cannonization, the path to sainthood. It was JPII himself who cheapened the whole process, beatifying almost 1,400 people, more than the total of all his predecessors since Pope Sixtus V (1585–1590).

The final panel in our tryptich features the creepiest image of all, that of a democratic nation lulled to sleep by an egomaniacal authoritarian bent on turning his country into the mirror image of their southern neighbour. I mean, it's not even the government of Canada anymore, it's the Harper government. Canada, my birthplace, has enjoyed a reputation surpassed by few nations. In fact, to those not paying attention, the word Canada still brings to mind an image of unspoiled wilderness and friendly, peace-loving people. This has been slowly eroded over the past five years by the Harper minority-government yet many seem prepared to give him and his party a free pass based on the fact that they are the only choice to ensure a stable government conducive to economic growth. The main selling point seems to be that under his stewardship, Canada was able to sail through the financial crisis relatively unscathed. This is of course a joke, a monkey could have (and would have) done a better job, being capable of giving a green light to the exploitation of resources to be ripped and burned out of the earth in order to satifsy the insatiable appetite to the south while ironically benefiting from the sound foundation provided by the financial regulations that Harper's corporate puppet-masters will have him tear down in the event of a Conservative majority. Meanwhile, the world is beginning to pay attention, sharply rebuking Canada for it's Afghanistan atrocities by denying her a UN security council seat (which of course Harper blamed on the Liberal party!) and naming the Great White North the worst environmental offender in the world.

A closer look reveals the self-destructiveness of his evil mix of policies, neo-con on the social side and neoliberal on the economic, all sold to the public through lies, deceipt and cover-ups. Oh, by the way, that's why there's even an election at all, Harper's became the first government in Canadian history to be found in contempt of parliament. While Mr. Harper likes to tell Canadians what they care about, this little detail should be enough to reveal the undemocratic nature of the man, especially when combined with his unprecedented usage of an obsure parliamentary trick, proroguing government, not once, but twice. On both occasions Harper requested and was granted permission from the governor general, the Queen of England's representative in Canada (she is after the true head of the Canadian government), to shut down parliament as he was set to lose confidence votes. Yep, sounds like a democracy to me, one where if you don't like the possible outcome, you just change the game.

The financial press lauds Harper's economic program because it consists of lowering taxes on their corporate masters and shifting the tax burden to the people. Meanwhile the illusion of fiscal responsibility is nearly maintained by lowering environmental standards and subsidizing the oil giants to rape and pillage the ecosystem in a mad scramble to burn up the planet as quickly as possible. Following the American lead, the sheeple are being sold the same old bill of sale, lowering taxes on the corporations and the rich while gutting regulation will lead to economic prosperity. If people would just take the time to read the fine print they'd realize their wealth is simply being handed over to the wealthiest 1%. Canada will have cut corporate taxes virtually in half over the past 10 years once the current program is complete. The super-rich in Canada have enjoyed a decline in their tax rate of 11 percentage points while 95 per cent of Canadians averaged a decrease of 1 percentage point. In a bid to improve Canada's competitiveness, or what should be called trying to win the race to the bottom, Harper wants to lower the already-reduced corporate tax rate from 18% to 15% at a time when Canada is sporting a record $56 billion deficit. We're not competing with the US, where the rate is 35%, we're trying to compete with already broke and IMF controlled Ireland, Albania and Uzbekistan. Oh, and this tax break won't apply to 95% of the 2.2 million businesses in Canada, only the big boys on Bay Street.

Social policies? Let's see. Cut funding to the arts. Check. Cut funding to women's shelters. Check. Watch as your country falls from 6th to 24th in child mortality. Check. Spend like drunken sailors to build prisons for all the folks who fall on hard times and through the growing holes in the social safety net. Check. Add the US style get tough on crime costs to the nearly $30 billion for a bunch of F-35s without engines and then act surprised that more cuts are necessary to plug the budget deficit especially while cutting revenue earned on corporate taxes. Check. Ignore abuses of the health care system to encourage the development of an American style for profit game of life and death. Check. Orwellian surveillance laws to ensure the populations docility? Check. This seems to be what many people want as they continue, Candide style to believe that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds, somehow nothing can go wrong following the US down it's suicidal path of destruction.

Truth is far stranger than fiction, yet none of this surprises anymore. How could it be surprising that billions of people would be interested in a wedding that has nothing to do with them or pilgrims are fainting like school girls at a Justin Bieber concert over the sight of a vile of a dead Pole's blood - it all explains how people could vote for the likes of Stephen "I'm not quite as bad as Robert Mugage" Harper. The fundamentalists are still firmly in control driving us ever faster towards judgment day.