Age of Double Standards

Today’s New York Times had an article about genetically modified  salmon and how close it was to our tables. A few inches away (on my screen) was an article about the Canadian scandal over the security costs of the G8/G20. And of course there are the articles about the damage being done to the Gulf as a result of the current oil spill and the need for offshore drilling. What a strange world we live in.

On the one hand we have governments lavishing vast amounts of money so they can be ‘safe’ (and presumably the societies they are supposed to be serving). Even though the security agency for that same government says there is little info to suggest anything beyond the usual protests is planned. And on the other hand those same governments are prepared to take the word (and perhaps a brown bag under the table) of industries to do something, for which they will expect to profit handsomely, but for which the demonstration of safety is merely their assertions that it is ok.

Interestingly enough one of the latest moves seems to be to use police intimidation to silence protest about the deployment of wind farms. This goes well with the quiet passage of an Ontario act to resurrect a 1938 law allowing police to arrest anyone they felt like if they were close to the security fence for the same G8/G20 conference. This includes children, it seems.

With many things the burden of proof has shifted from showing that something was safe to demonstrating conclusively that there was the potential for harm. And all the while the governments take the side of the industry in obstructing the groups trying to raise awareness of the hazards. Wind turbines are close to home, genetically modified foods, medicines, medical machinery — there are unfortunately many examples.

And closely related to all this are the decisions that end up increasing costs for services. In Canada the government wants to shut down the prison farms (and sell off the land) and instead of the prisoners working to feed themselves, food is likely to be purchased (rumor has it from Mexico). And of course the whole ‘get tough on crime’ in an age of declining crime rates that is projected to double the cost of incarceration. Gee, who do all these changes benefit?

Somehow it seems that governments are siding more and more with industries against their own populations — this was, I think, the situation in the US back in the days of the robber barons and is still the case in many parts of the world. Tangentially, we can sight the case of the Canadian Parliament not wanting the Auditor-General to examine their expenses (as happened in the UK with disastrous results). And the recent ‘entitlements are entitlements’ testimony. One rule for the nobles and one for the serfs… familiar?

I guess that these are all problems of power corrupting. The more expensive it is to campaign for political office the more likely one is to beholden to corporations to fund the campaigns. And the less likely the government is going to respond to the interests of the citizens in whose service the government sits. Besides, listening to ‘the people’ is so time consuming and difficult — they have so many issues that may conflict with each other and where our corporate ‘friends’ want to make money. Which is more interesting, helping our ‘friends’ make money and crafting a comfortable retirement? Or crafting an inclusive vision for the future that will benefit the society at large? I wonder — which path do our leaders(??) seem to be following?

Here We Go Again

The article in today’s New York Times about vast riches in Afghanistan cleared up a mystery (in my mind at least) about why we are at war there. With the cat out of the bag, so to speak, maybe there will be a little focus to the exercise. Heck, I always thought it was about oil, but perhaps minerals are more useful.

The problem that this seems to clarify is it is all about control of the mineral wealth and who is going to get rich from it. Will it be the Taliban? The current government? US corporations? China? Or in the end will the country get carved up between Pakistan and Iran? It is too depressing to contemplate.

If we look at the many other examples in the world where vast riches have been discovered, the model is too clear. The local population ends up being little better off, the countryside is laid waste (might be hard to tell), and a select group becomes incomprehensibly rich. If the locals are really, really lucky then maybe some of the money will go to improving their lot — like some places in the Middle East. But more likely it ends up in Swiss banks and the elite gets to build compounds that make Versailles look like a shack.

So I feel sorry for the poor people of Afghanistan. I am sure they just want eveyone to go away and leave them alone. Pity that is not going to happen — especially now.