Monday, May 31, 2010

The Ideology of Libertarianism

Rand Paul, the tea party Republican candidate for Senate in Kentucky, Is a libertarian. He is not a racist. Libertarianism isn't explicitly racist, but this ideology got him into trouble recently because he explained to Rachel Maddow, that he was against certain provisions of the Civil Rights Act, namely those that forbid businesses from discriminating.

It's been pointed out now, many times, that if it wasn't for the Civil Rights Act, southern businesses on their own would not have stopped discriminating against blacks because they would have been penalized by white patrons if they had.

Both Ayn Rand and Barry Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act not because they were racist but because they saw it as unwarranted restrictions on individual property rights.

Barry Goldwater lost the 1964 election to Lyndon Johnson, but after Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act, Republican strategists realized that they could take votes away from Democrats in the South. After Johnson decided not to run for a second term, Republicans such as Nixon, Reagan, and Bush kept winning the Southern vote by emphasizing “states rights” and “small government”. In fact, both these policies were little more than code for keeping blacks in their place.

Now, if you have less government involvement in the economy, then in Southern whites' eyes you have less social services for black people. You have less regulation of Southern businesses and less desegregation of school systems.

In the late forties President Truman tried to enact a universal medicare system but was defeated by Southern Democrats, who rejected the idea of equal access for blacks and whites to medical services. That's why the United States is alone among other industrial countries in not having universal medicare.

This is where libertarianism comes in. Libertarians are for a much reduced role of the state in the economy. They believe that a legal system that prioritizes protection of property rights replaces the need for government regulation. These ideas dovetail nicely with the Southern Segregationists who don't want the “big government” ie., the federal government and the Civil Rights Act, telling them what to do.

It's true that Libertarians aren't usually racists. A while back, about thirty years ago, I was a libertarian. And I and the libertarian friends of mine, and the authors I read, were not racist.

But no libertarian I know of considers inequality a problem. Inequality isn't a problem because the market reflects reality and rewards hard work and excellence. The poor are poor because they're losers who don't try hard enough. Government programs that “help” the poor should be abolished because they only encourage people to be idle and lazy.

Southern whites were privileged. They benefited from underpaying and discriminating against blacks,  just as they benefited from slavery before the Civil War.   Only government intervention changed the situation and gave blacks a chance.

Another thing that Libertarians never seem concerned about is the rising power of corporations and their perversion of the legal and political systems to serve their interests. You may note that all the think tanks that support libertarian views like: the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, Freedom Works, the Fraser Institute, etc., are heavily funded by big corporations, especially, but not only oil companies. You will never hear these Institutes calling for government to balance or compensate for the disproportionate power of corporations.

Lastly, I've never met or heard of a libertarian who doesn't dismiss global warming as a fraud. These three problems” inequality, disproportionate corporate power, and global warming are all denied or ignored as problems by libertarians. When they deny that these are problems they are letting their ideology blind them against seeing the evidence.

I know they are problems. Inequality leads to social breakdown, political corruption, poverty, and exploitation. Corporate power leads to more political corruption, and the stealing of and destruction of common resources. Global warming will lead to more extreme weather events and the breakdown of ecosystems that support human life as well as other kinds of life.

. The huge amounts of money earned by corporations, and CEO's perverts and corrupts our political system. Our governments are turning away from the public interest and doing the bidding of giant corporations. In fact the global economic system is fixed to favour corporations against the common people in many ways.

Government can be changed to become more responsive to the people and protect the public interest. Libertarians don't recognize a public interest. It' s ultimately a narrow self-interested perspective of the economy. "I want what works to get me rich and the hell with everybody else." Ayn Rand called it “the virtue of selfishness”. We need to go in the opposite direction.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bike to Work Week, May 31-June 4 2010

The bicycle is one of the greatest human inventions. It is the most efficient self-powered human mode of transportation on the planet. It is eminently practical, with baskets, paniers, and trailers available to carry extra loads. At the same time bicycles afford a qualitatively better form of physical exercise- than most other kinds because cycling is fun, it's low impact and achievable even by people who are overweight.

In the sixties schoolyards were full of bikes. It was a major way of getting to school and university. They were affordable for everyone. They still are. There are twice as many bicycles as cars on this planet right now. However, bicycles are underutilized at this moment whereas cars are overutilized. Think BP and TarSands.

The idea behind bike to work week, is that if you get out and try biking to work during the first week of June, you might take it to the next level, and bike to work all summer. And then who knows. These things can snowball and influence other people's behaviour.

The first bicycles were invented in the the early part of the nineteenth century. The standard looking bicycle as we know it – the kind with equal size wheels and a chain and sprocket - was developed around 1885.

Bicycles were one of the first mass produced consumer goods. The same principles that were first used in manufacturing bicycles: machine standardization of parts, assembly lines, mass marketing and advertising were later put to use in the development of the automobile and aviation industries. The Wright brothers were originally bicycle mechanics.

The very best thing about bicycles is that they are fun to ride. And they are fun to ride for a wide range of ages and abilities. Bicycles come in all shapes and sizes. The kind with tassels on the handlebars that girls like to ride. BMX trick riding. Mountain bikes. Commuter bikes. Racing bikes (we used to call them 10 speeds). Recumbants, and tricycles for the elderly.
There's a bike for everyone, and, in general, bikes are still pretty affordable.

Bicycling is such an elegant way to travel. It's silent, but it's social. It allows you to feel the wind through your hair, breathe the fresh air, and splash through big puddles, if you feel like it.

Bicycles are not as big and dangerous as cars. You don't need insurance to ride one. Once you learn the rules and learn how to balance they are safe.

By riding to work each day your body will be in better shape. Riding up the hills will make your leg muscles stronger and your heart fitter over time.

One of the things that stops some people from biking to work is the issue of sweat. There is several things you can do about this problem. Taking a shower at work is great if you have the option. Otherwise you can dress in layers and shed layers progressively before you warm up so that you never get to the point of sweating. Make sure that your windbreaker, or rainjacket has underarm zippers and leave them open all the time. Or you can follow the lead of hundreds of millions of Chinese and ride an electric bicycle – no sweat.

The more bicycles on the road the more room there is for everybody and the quieter the traffic. Bicycles improve the quality and atmosphere of a city. Just look at Vancouver and Victoria.

Next week is Bike to Work Week. Some organizations such as Northern savings credit union have consistantly put out the riders year after year. Forestry is being seriously downsized so they're not a contender this year (and that's a whole other story worth telling isn't it?)

Perhaps you or someone else in your organization would like to bike to work next week. Please check out the website for information and inspiration.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Get Out Migration a wild success

What did Alexandra Morton's Get Out Migration accomplish? Why do wild salmon migrate? They go to such huge efforts and for so long a journey. A journey that takes up most of their lives. And then they come back to the stream where they were born in. They come back and make the forests green and feed all the critters.

They have sustained first nations all along the coast. Salmon are sacred. They literally bring this coast alive. We cannot take them for granted.

And yet our governments have looked the other way as salmon farming corporations have despoiled our coast and threatened the wild salmon. The DFO has abandoned it's raison d'etre to protect our wild fisheries just as it betrayed the East coast cod fishery a generation ago.

Humans can migrate too. And that's what we did in the thousands on May 8th , to join with Alexander Morton in Victoria to tell our governments to get the Norwegian Salmon corporations out of our ocean. It was a beautiful day as thousands marched in the streets of Victoria to the Legislature buildings.

It was a joyous occasion as speaker after speaker spoke of the importance of getting the salmon farms out of the ocean and into closed containment.

It's not rocket science. Industrial farming requires the concentration of food product which attracts parasites such as sea lice from the wild. This kind of farming requires heavy doses of chemicals to control the parasites and if this kind of farming is done in the ocean in open net-pens, the sea lice and the chemicals are allowed to spread out and harm the wild fish and other critters.

Putting farmed fish into closed containment protects them from most sea parasites so they require less toxic chemicals. And separating them from the ocean prevents parasites from spreading back into the wild where they are especially dangerous to salmon smolts – the young salmon.

When I listened to the speakers at the legislature I was most impressed by what the first nations elders had to say: Wild salmon are our lifeblood. We can't survive without them. They are a part of us.

The elders have been trying to tell us these things for hundreds of years but it's only now that biology has come to understand these connections. Maybe now we can listen to the wisdom of the elders.

Alexander Morton and the people of the archipelago did not march in vain. We, the people can make a difference. Here's one thing we can do without even leaving the comfort of our homes. Write to the Federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Gail Shea and tell her to get the Norwegian salmon farms out of the ocean: . Write to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and tell him we need a BC minister of Fisheries: Write to MP Fin Donnelly and tell him what you think of his bill to remove salmon farms from the ocean:

We don't have salmon farms in Prince Rupert now, but if we don't let government know what we think of open net-pen salmon farms, they will stand by as Norwegian fish farm corporations take over the whole coast and drive the wild salmon to extinction. We can make a difference.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"Stepping Stones": The Best Kayaking Book Ever

Make no mistake about it, this is one of the best if not the best sea-kayaking book ever written. Nigel Foster, who builds kayaks, has his own school of kayaking, has written books and produced videos on sea kayaking is one hell of a good writer.

Stepping Stones of Ungava and Labrador has got everything that I would want in a kayaking tale about northern labrador: apt, succinct descriptions of the people met and the land and seascapes traversed by kayak; A brief but eye-opening look at the interaction of Europeans and Inuit of Labrador over the last three hundred years; And to top it all - a sea-kayaking adventure that'll have armchair travelers biting their knuckles in suspense.

That's what makes Stepping Stones such a good kayaking book. He describes each day of the trip as it unfolds, the people, the adventures, the changing weather, encounters with wild life. He says just enough to give you a good idea of each day. And then he weaves in the historical background, and brings it alive when they run into Inuit people who were part of that story.

I've read lots of Farley Mowatt, but I wasn't aware of the forced abandonment of Inuit villages in Labrador that went on in the middle of the last century. This is a chapter of Canadian history that deserves to be better known and Foster does an excellent job of talking about it and describing some of the people he met who were caught up in it.

I consider myself to be a fairly proficient kayaker, but after reading Foster's description of an incredibly dangerous crossing of Hudson Strait, I'm glad he was there and survived to tell the tale and I'm in the armchair reading about it.

Picture seven knot tidal currents. Seven knot tidal currents! And the kind of steep breaking waves that occur when the wind blows against such a current. When the tops of the waves break the sound is like an explosion.

Now imagine it's so foggy you can hear these "hay makers" all around you but you can't see them until they're breaking over you and your kayak and filling your "drytop" with ice cold water. Imagine that kind of crossing for twelve hours. It's easily the scariest description of a kayak crossing I've ever read.

According to Foster, it took him three years to psychologically recover from that experience. That crossing forms the climactic chapter of the book although what it describes is something that he did almost twenty years before in 1981.

The story that "surrounds" the description of this crossing is his daily log of an ambitious kayak trip that he and his wife Kristen took following the Labrador coast from Ungava Bay to Nain in 2004. There's less suspense, and less adventure in their contemporary trip than in the 1981 crossing but Foster does such a good job of describing each day's journey and weaving in historical references that the whole story becomes that more satisfying a read.

If you're considering kayaking the northern Labrador coast you might think again after reading of these kayakers' hair raising encounters with Polar bears. When it comes to encounters with polar bears I appreciate having that experience passed on to me in one ripping good tale by a true master of the kayak. Thanks for sharing Nigel.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Joining Alexandra Morton's Get-Out Migration

Thank you George Baker for bringing to my attention Alexandra Morton's march down Vancouver Island to protect the wild salmon (prdnews Apr 23). Your article inspired me to buy plane tickets to go to Vancouver Island and join the “Get-out Migration”.
I called friends, my family... I found one other person from Prince Rupert who wants to go. Anybody else out there in Prince Rupert? Give me a call I'm in the phone book.

Up here in the north, it may seem as if that whole salmon farming thing is over. There's a moratorium here. We won. But let me tell you something. It's partly because of Alexandra Morton that we got our moratorium. She did the science, she publicized the issue, she took the salmon farming companies to court, and she has been a relentless voice in defence of the wild salmon.

“We will lose our wild salmon if government continues to carelessly put farm salmon before wild salmon.” Here's a person of great integrity standing up to the Norwegian Fish Farm Corporations, and calling the government repeatedly to account for their failure to protect wild salmon.

There's not many people like Alexandra. She knows that letting the wild salmon die is wrong to the very core of her being. “Salmon embody the essential unity of mountain, forest and stream.” She says.

Meanwhile the government sits on the evidence that open-net fish farms kill salmon smolts and does nothing. The government's view is that salmon are not sacred. They are a stream of income. And if farmed salmon yield a bigger stream of income then wild salmon then so be it.

The character of the north pacific coast, the ecosystem the identity of the people who live here – that doesn't matter to the federal or the provincial governments. It's all about money. But of course no politician has the guts to admit that out loud.

Bill Vander Zalm will be up here in a couple of weeks flogging his American style anti-tax campaign. Who has the integrity? Who is standing up for what's really valuable ?

Look what's happening in the United States. The big banks and the investment firms brought the global economy to the brink of disaster, and then got the government to bail them out and gave themselves million dollar bonuses. And recently the Supreme court took away all limits to corporate contributions for election campaigns. It's official, the U.S. Government is for sale to the highest bidders.

Back in BC we have a government that pretends to be green, but like our American neighbours, really just listens to the sound of money. It's only people with integrity like Alexandra who have made the fish farming moratorium possible. But let's not take the absence of fish farms here for granted.

Money talks and government listens, but government also listens if sufficient numbers of people make their feelings known. When you get down to it it's either we the people or it's the corporations. If we don't join together and make our voices heard they win and the wild salmon go extinct.

What's important to you? Do you fish for salmon? Do you smoke and can salmon? What would it mean to you if there were no more wild salmon?

Before I moved to Prince Rupert salmon didn't mean much to me, but after living here almost twenty years I see things very differently. I'm going down to Vancouver Island to support Alexandra Morton and to tell the BC government to get the Norwegian salmon farms out of our ocean.

Come and join us. Or, even if you aren't planning to go, go to Alexandra's website And check out the progress of the get-out migration. E-mail a comment of support, sign the petition. Show Alexandra and the BC government that Prince Rupert cares about wild salmon.