Tag Archives: democracy

Bread and Circuses


The Roman empire faced an unexpected internal problem as it reached the peak of its power and wealth in the second century CE. Plunder and tribute filled its coffers, widening the gulf between rich and poor. Meanwhile, cheap slave labour was powering farms and mines, together with the construction of buildings, bridges, aqueducts and roads. Many Roman citizens were left unemployed, bored, hungry and restless. This was a politically dangerous situation.

So in 140 CE, the Caesars began creating make-work projects and distributing free grain. Over the next two centuries, writes Alice Schroeder in The Danger of Living on Bread and Circuses (Bloomberg.com, June 1/11), subsequent “emperors added holidays until, eventually, the Romans spent half their days attending gladiator games, public executions and chariot races. Disgusted, the satirist Juvenal accused his fellow citizens of selling out for bribes of ‘bread and circuses’ [panem et circenses]“.

This strategy of appeasing and distracting was successful in Rome – at least until 410 CE when the Visigoths sacked the city. And the strategy has been used elsewhere in history with limited success: in Spain with “bread and bullfights”, in Russia with “bread and spectacles” and today with “bread and games”. The “bread” of history, Schroeder reminds us, has been replaced with fast food restaurants, big box stores and warehouse wholesale clubs. The “games” have multiplied. Professional sports now occupies huge amounts of the public’s attention: football, hockey, baseball, basketball, golf, tennis, cycling – anything competitive that can entertain by arousing tribal loyalty and passion.

The electronic and digital ages have simply magnified this trend. “When entertainment dominates a society, it changes more than the culture; it also reshapes the economy,” Schroeder notes. “You can see that circuses are where the money is from the rise of digital entertainment, which has steered enormous amounts of discretionary income toward digital content and the devices that run it: laptops, televisions, gaming consoles, smart phones.” The problem, she suggests, is that this circus atmosphere shifts labour and energy from production to service, weakening the foundational economic structure of cultures.

Entertainment also reshapes the character of cultures, increasing their internal political vulnerability by drawing attention from important social and environmental issues to wholly manufactured and artificial distractions – the well-being of society is rarely improved when the public gets exercised by one team defeating another on a playing field or a hockey rink. But valuable attention and energy are diverted from matters that are important.

The “circuses” that presently distract from the important work of society are not a contrived and co-ordinated effort by the entertainment industry and corporations working in collusion with government. The professional sports industry makes money. The sponsoring corporations advertise and profit. The politicians have fewer people pestering them about matters of governance. The process is more inadvertent than engineered; it simply persists because it suits the interests of the few and it entertains the many. So it becomes a cultural habit that is deemed to be normal. The Olympics are only special because of their infrequency and the marketing acumen that promotes them.

The spectacular “circus” of the Olympics is so blatantly elaborate, extravagant and expensive that it should be its own worst advertising. The costs are staggering. Montreal spent 30 year paying off its $1.5 billion debt for hosting the 1976 games. The financial burden is a factor in Greece’s present financial crisis. The 2012 London Olympics are a similar exercise in outrageous superlatives, with overall costs expected to be $17 billion.

London’s security costs alone are approaching $1 billion. This will include, as a sample, 24,000 to 49,000 security personnel (the total, of course, is a secret), a helicopter gun-ship carrier on the Thames, a surface-to-air missile system in the city, 1,000 armed diplomatic and FBI agents, 55 dog teams, and an 18 km electric fence of 5,000 volts costing $125 million. The cost of protecting each of the 17,000 athletes for the 17 days of the London Olympics will be $92,500. This, however, is a bargain compared to the $15 billion Greece spent on the 2004 Athens Olympics, at a security cost of $140,000 per athlete. Fortunately, Beijing could afford its security costs of $6.5 billion. As The Guardian Weekly (March 30/12) duly concludes, these costs show that the modern Olympics are “society on steroids”.

This profligate spending on the Olympics could be dismissed as merely expensive indulgence if human civilization didn’t have critical structural and environmental challenges that need urgent attention. If societies everywhere could rouse themselves to give as much impassioned energy to the litany of social, economic and ecological problems plaguing the planet as they do to the Olympic gatherings, then our future would look more promising.

If our international environmental gatherings in Kyoto, Stockholm, Cancun and Rio were measured against the standards of the official Olympic games, they would be deemed abject failures, marked by the collapse of nearly all the sprinters within a few metres of the starting line. The comparison would not be so disquieting if we had not done all this before – back in the Roman Empire.


A Canada Day message for the Harper Government


I listen to the radio and TV news and see our country being devastated by the Conservative Government. We have lost the worlds confidence, in our governments thinking, actions and leadership. The government has disgraced the Canadian people on the world stage, the United Nations, the Peace process, and almost every normal way of dealing with the world. Instead of leading the world in the cleanup of pollution, the government wants to lead the world in polluting it and calling anyone, who doesn’t agree with them, radicals, terrorists, etc. etc.

The Harper government also loves to give away our money to rich and profitable corporations. When first elected, $19 billion in back taxes of corporations, foreign and domestic, gone. The $15 billion surplus the Liberals left as a cushion. gone. Rolling back the taxes, to 15%, of huge, very profitable foreign and domestic corporations, gone, billion dollars for a one day G8/20 meeting, gone and with the same breath telling the people, that paid out all this money, that they must cut back on all the services that Canadian people rely on and pay for. That is our money! We don’t give you that money to be given away! We give you that yo provide services for us, the people of Canada! You have no right!

I would like the people of Canada that don’t agree with the way our government is running/ruining our country and want to protest that fact peacefully and with no dialogue, only a general disgust with the Harper Government’s wicked ways. Please wear your Canadian flags upside down on Canada Day. By doing this small gesture, we can tell our friends and neighbours, that we care about Canada and we don’t like the direction the Harper government headed and we would like to change direction to a more calm and peaceful way of life. We can feel proud that we don’t stand for Harper’s, down with the people of Canada, attitude and “the Canadian people don’t care about the things we are doing” talk.

Please join me on July 1st and wear, your flag, pin or whatever, that has a Canadian flag on it, upside down as a very peaceful and silent protest.

Thank you.

If you don’t feel this way, HAPPY CANADA DAY!


Thoughts on Communism and Capitalism as “Occupy Vancouver” Approaches


“Although Communism may be dead in fact if not name, the conditions that spawned and nurtured it are very much with us today. Large corporations have replaced the noblemen, the dwindling middle class is no buffer between the haves and the have-nots, and the rich get richer. Not much different than 1917… Change, unpredictable change, is coming to your home and sooner than you think!”
This was part of an article I did for Strategic Culture Foundation which is an online paper; it was dated April 10, 2010.
Now we have Occupy Wall Street in Vancouver and I have no doubt that it will spread like wildfire. The question is: Will it be like a grass fire and quickly burn out or get some roots? Moreover, if takes hold, what does it mean for the environmental struggle, in BC especially?
At present, there doesn’t appear any structure let alone leader but I think we can assume that this will change. The more important question is not if it takes on an organizational set up, who will be the major “bosses”, for want of a better word?
This raises another question: will this be led by a Robespierre, a Lenin…or a Gandhi, Mandela. Martin Luther King or Lech Walesa? That is not only a key question for political purposes but environmental questions as well.
If the former comes to pass – and this could well happen – the approach it will take will be to try to topple governments. To the extent they succeed, the environment will never be more than a convenient issue according to the times. For a glimpse at what a communist government will do, one need look no further that the Soviet Union and modern China.
If, on the other hand it tries to gain power democratically, their obvious role will be to take on the issues that governments have failed in. British Columbia is just such a place and the environment just the issue. This raises yet another critical question – how will Adrian Dix and the NDP handle this?
I suspect very cautiously just as President Obama has. The support would be very helpful but neither the US Democrats want to face a hijacking which is a very real worry.
Hold onto your hats for we’re in for a very interesting ride!

Occupy Vancouver kicks off at 10 AM on Saturday October 15 at the Vancouver Art Gallery.


Government using intelligence community to monitor First Nations protesters, researchers say


From Metro – June 14, 2011

by Jessica Smith

Feds monitoring ‘aboriginal hotspots’

Government using intelligence community to monitor First Nations protesters, researchers say
Documents recently uncovered by First Nations researchers show the
federal government, along with the RCMP and CSIS, has been monitoring
aboriginal “occupations and protests” since 2006.

“A number of us who are involved in First Nations policy issues have
been looking at the criminalization of First Nations activists by the
government, for being involved in protests or political actions,” said
Russell Diabo, who first published the information in his newsletter the
First Nation Strategic Bulletin.

The documents, obtained through an access to information request,
include two presentations made by officials with Indian and Northern
Affairs Canada, the RCMP and Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, on
monitoring “Aboriginal extremism.”

The documents show that as of summer 2006, members of the Privy Council
Office, CSIS, Public Safety Canada, Indian and Northern Affairs and
other federal departments were holding conference calls to share
information about aboriginal protests and occupations.

INAC also began a “Hotspot Reporting System” to spread information about
“existing and emerging risks” to work with intelligence reporting
systems run by CSIS’s Integrated Threat Assessment Centre, Public Safety
Canada and the RCMP.

It included summaries of events in First Nations, including peaceful
pro-tests, highway blockades and seemingly unrelated events such as an
underground oil spill.   

They are described as reports “regarding activities that threaten public
safety in relation to issues relating to Aboriginal peoples in Canada.”
In some, the information is attributed to media and “public safety

Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (formerly INAC)
John Duncan did not respond to an interview request, but his staff sent
an email that acknowledged the existence of aboriginal “hotspots”

Read original article


Lawrence Martin: What Direction for Canada’s Troubled Democracy?


From the Globe & Mail – Feb 1, 2011

by Lawrence Martin

Will the Arab states cascade into the splendid embrace of democracy the way the Soviet states did two decades ago?

tumult in Tunisia and Egypt brings to mind two things. One is those
Soviet years when I was stationed in Moscow for this newspaper. Another
is the weakened state of Canadian democracy and whether we’re prepared
to do anything about it.

When Mikhail Gorbachev introduced the politics of glasnost
in 1985, everyone thought it was a ruse, just another blast of Soviet
propaganda. But that policy was what set the stage for freedom’s rise
and the Cold War’s close.

For the Arab states of North Africa and
the Middle East, there’s no grand political overseer who can loosen the
strings as Mr. Gorbachev did. What was remarkable was that he had the
entire Soviet police state apparatus at his disposal, as well as the
military. Despite deteriorating economic conditions, he could have
maintained a totalitarian lock on power. But he was enlightened enough
about the West to know how his system compared.

By coincidence,
the current upheavals take place a year after Canadians took to the
streets to stage, by comparison, their own trifling protests against, by
comparison, smallish abuses of their democratic system by their
government. Specifically, it was Stephen Harper’s government’s decision
to suspend Parliament in the wake of the Afghan detainees controversy
that sparked the protest. But that suspension was only one in a long
line of affronts in recent times.

There’s been so many that
Democracy Watch is calling for a grassroots Coffee Party movement.
Democracy Watch is a small group but, since its inception in 1993, it’s
been one of the most persistent in trying to hold Liberal and
Conservative governments to account. It isn’t government-funded, and it
isn’t easily intimidated.

Most everywhere it turns, it can see
which way our democracy is headed. On the question of openness and
access to information – our very own glasnost – Canada finished
last in a recent survey of five parliamentary democracies. On the
question of political morality, the governing Conservatives have made
personal attack ads, as Green Party Leader Elizabeth May lamented
Monday, the new normal.

The Conservatives had a plan – a good one –
to replace our rancid system of patronage appointments with a public
appointments commission. But it was scuttled. They had hopes our Senate
could be democratized. A good idea, too. But instead, it’s been filled
with Conservative cronies.

Owing to brutal partisanship,
Parliament’s committee system has become increasingly dysfunctional.
Watchdog groups such as the Integrity Commissioner’s Office have been
turned into lapdogs. The public service’s policy development function,
once significant, has been blunted. An unprecedented government-wide
vetting system instituted by the Tories has stifled free speech.

Read full article


UK Scandal Over Police Infiltration of Environmental Groups


From the Guardian – Jan 19, 2011

by Paul Lewis and Rob Evans

Senior officers say undercover operations need independent regulation as criticism mounts over the Mark Kennedy case

Police chiefs admitted today that their infiltration of undercover police officers into protest groups had gone “badly wrong” and called for independent regulation of spying operations.

Amid mounting criticism of police over the handling of the Mark Kennedy case,
Jon Murphy, who speaks on the issue for the Association of Chief Police
Officers (Acpo), also insisted that undercover officers were forbidden
from sleeping with activists to gather information.

Three official
inquiries have been launched into Kennedy’s seven-year infiltration of
the environmental movement after a criminal trial collapsed last week.
The row has also led to Acpo being stripped of its power to run
undercover police units.

Murphy told the Guardian: “Something has gone badly wrong here. We would not be where we are if it had not.”

said senior police officers would welcome an outside body monitoring
their use of undercover police officers. “We are left to regulate it
ourselves, and we think we do a good job of it,” he said. But he
acknowledged: “Sometimes things go wrong. It is a volatile area of
police work.”

Read full article


Toronto Star Video: G20 Police Brutality Victim


From the Toronto Star – TheStar.com – Jan 12, 2011

close-up above shows the face of one of the police officers
photographed at the scene of Dorian Barton’s takedown, left. The SIU
investigated the case but said there wasn’t enough evidence to lay
charges, in part because Barton couldn’t identify any of the officers
involved in his arrest. The police watchdog has said it will review new
evidence associated with the case.

Watch video