Is This Progress? This Is Progress.

What Is Kaputall?

Oxford defines Kaput as "broken and useless; no longer working or effective" - similar to our unbalanced economic system. This is a page dedicated to the intersection of capitalism and social, political, and environmental problems.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Here We Go Again

In November I wrote about the violence that rocked Ferguson. I am dismayed to see that we are, a mere six months later, staring into the same gaping inferno. Of course it is not surprising that we are failing as a society to have a rational discussion about institutional racism in the United States. It's impossible, especially when we have the mainstream media focusing on looting and everyone else throwing one-liner opinions out on Twitter. Something has to change.

I am currently teaching an English course and we are reading the obligatory novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. I remember reading this novel when I was in high school and I wanted to prepare my students for seeing why a novel like this is truly relevant, so we discussed Michael Brown. Little did I know that, in the span of a month, there would be three black murders at the hands of police.

Baltimore is the latest example and by far the most distressing. After the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, the city demanded answers and justice. When they were rebuffed, the residents jumped into action and tens of thousands hit the streets. Despite the fact that the vast majority of those demonstrating were doing so peacefully, the media coverage has been focused on people throwing rocks, burning police cars, and looting stores. All this coverage serves to promote the idea that the protestors are all self-serving ingrates who are out to let their id go wild. In other words, the protest is unmerited.

But who are the privileged to say that the protest is invalid. Especially when the judgments are made based on the actions of the very small opportunist minority. Wealthy white Americans may have their sensibilities offended to see store fronts demolished, but let's not lose sight of why this happened.

The murder of young black men by police is pandemic in the United States. When this demographic is targeted at such obscene rates, and when there is little done by the justice system to correct it, Ferguson and Baltimore are the predictable results.

I don't want to see inequality continue to take more victims in America. From Ferguson to Baltimore, America has a race problem. Moreover, it has a problem talking about its race problem.

We don't need more Detroits - more cities hollowed out by the disappearance of opportuinties. Baltimore is speaking the language of the unheard:

"When you cut facilities, slash jobs, abuse power, discriminate, drive people into deeper poverty, and shoot people dead whilst refusing to provide answers or justice, the people will rise up and express their anger and frustration. A riot is the language of the unheard"

We need to develop the capacity to have a meaningful discussion about what's going on in America. Because until then, there will only be more violence, destruction, and disharmony.

Friday, 24 April 2015


From the shores of Lybia venture countless migrant vessels, each overflowing with hopefuls seeking a new start in the Old Continent. In the years since the Arab Spring movement transformed a dozen countries, many have opted to leave the Middle East and North Africa for a better life in Europe. This new demographic phenomenon is gaining exposure around the world, largely through media coverage of the Syrian Civil War and the recent sinking of several migrant ships in the Mediterranean.

For decades the Middle East has been viewed as a conflict zone, worries of interstate violence against Israel topping the list of concerns. For a decade terrorism became the new buzzword, and since 2011 the game has changed dramatically again. This time it's the advent of new conflicts that are far removed from international borders, a hybrid of terrorism, war, and genocide that is quickly becoming an unfathomable humanitarian crisis. Take for example ISIS, whose incredible growth in the past year has taken the world by surprise. The fear that has been struck into the hearts of westerners has been impressive, but the real victims of ISIS are the inhabitants of the region.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise that the rates of outward migration from the Middle East or North Africa are mammoth. For many who have wanted to leave their homeland, there has never been a better time. From their perspectives, Europe is a land of promise, akin to the appeal of America during the late nineteenth century - a beacon of hope. People are willing to drop everything and risk their lives to restart in Europe. And so hundreds of thousands arrange passage across the Mediterranean.

Much like the beacon of hope that America has been viewed as (think of Ellis Island), Europe offers liberty and promise to those fleeing poverty and persecution. However, the Europe they find is, in various measures, largely xenophobic, particularly toward Muslims.

Take the seaside town of Catania, in the south of Italy. The town has been flooded by those rescued from sinking migrant vessels. Some villagers are frightened that they will have to take care of these huddled masses, responsible to clothe them, protect them, feed them, and police them. It's not surprising that the question of Italy absorbing these migrants has been met with widely polarised reaction.

Italy has been forced to take in the vast majority of migrants. Moreover, it has also been responsbile for surveying the deadly waters. The programme, which Italy cannot afford to run, has not gotten financial support from the EU despite significant pressure from both the Italian government and wider public opinion. It was cut significantly last year when, during an eight month period, approximately 3100 people died attempting to cross the sea.

As far as humanitarian crises go, this exodus from North Africa and the Middle East is among the largest in the past century. It's impacts will be far-reaching. It is not the time to be idle. If the European Union does improve search and rescue operations in the coming weeks we can expect the death toll to be appalling. Let's consider that today marks the centeniary of the start of the Armenian Genocide. Let's learn from our long history of inaction.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The Federal Budget

The much-anticipated 2015 Federal Budget was released yesterday. For seven years we've waited for a balanced budget, and, at least in name, that's what we got. Finance Minister Joe Oliver announced yesterday that we should expect a surplus of about $1.4 billion next fiscal year. This certainly puts the Conservatives in a good place for the upcoming election, but what is the real economic impact for Canada?

Oliver's budget brought in a slew of new, rather tangible, measures. These include changes to the tax rate for small business, renovation tax credits, and doubling the annual contribution caps for TFSAs. The catch with all this is that none of proposed changes are supposed to come into effect for some time (most after 2017). The implication is, evidently, that if you want these measures you'd best vote for Harper in October.

These changes are expensive. In the case of the TFSA there is significant data that this will cost billions to manage. When combined with poor oil revenues, the picture of the Canadian economy is rocky at best. In fact, some economists have indicated that this budget almost looks like a recession budget.

But what about this surplus? Ever since Oliver announced that he would be delaying the release of this year's budget, there has been talk about whether or not it would reverse the trend of the last seven years. The messaging of the government recently has been consistently hinting toward a surplus, but the announcement fell a bit flat with only $1.4 billion offered up. To some, the fact that it is a surplus will be enough, but with all the expectation built up over the past two months, to some this will be disappointing.

The sum is rather pitiful when you consider that much of this revenue comes from asset selling (such as shares in GM) or by cuts to the public sector. Tom Mulcair is right to consider the budget to be an economic sleight of hand. Projections for the next years will likely not come to pass since there is an election in way. Moreover, these numbers are very much contingent on the performance of the tar sands in a market with low oil prices. There has also been criticism that the federal government intends to use the contingency fund which the opposition argues is meant for emergencies, not routine shortfalls.

In an election year, we can't overestimate to what decree this announcement is all about politics over policy. Oliver has dangled some shiny things in front of voters and we are ramping up to a big decision.The budget should have Canadians concerned, asking tougher questions about what our economic situation is. In some way, the announcement should also provide clarity on which demographic groups the Conservatives are targeting for the fall.