Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Big Three

Everyone I think who was born and raised in Southern Ontario, or many of the America's Great Lake States can intrinsically feel the importance of the automotive industry. The Big Three North American produces are GM, Ford and Chrysler. They have in many ways shaped the 20th century in almost every respect. Ford introduced mass production and refined efficiency that allowed for a great manufacturing boom.

The automotive industry shaped a way of life, they gave us access to a freedom of movement that was unheard of in the past. The predominance of the car in our society has changed our infrastructure, our cities, our culture, our way of life and where we live. These have been for the positive and the negative, for all the freedom there is urban sprawl, for all the employment there is pollution.

The dynamic new landscape of globalization has been felt particularly strongly through the auto industry. When globalization rears its head because a factory is moving to a far away land its impact is felt particularly hard when a plant is shut down and hundred lose their jobs devastating a community. There's another side though, and that's foreign competitors coming to North America, one only has to look on the road to see all of the Hondas and Toyotas to see what's happening. North America used to be a reliable market for the auto industry, but now the consumers look for what's cheap, and what works.

The auto industry is now in serious crisis. They have their hands out again, seeking money to stay afloat while the world economy loops about in its tailspin. On one hand I think from a business point of view it would simply be best to allow these companies to declare bankruptcy and go through the painful process to restructure themselves. They suffer terrible inefficiencies, and if they are not fixed they will merely return to our governments' capitals, hat in hand. The downside is the economic maelstrom that would unleash. So many individuals, families, communities, regions, and countries are dependent upon these manufacturers that if they fell the fallout may be incalculable.

I throwing good money in after bad, it's a bad idea as an individual and worse as a government. These Big Three need to prove that they've found a realistic solution to their problems, possibly be simplifying their operation, is it really necessary for GM to have twelve brands (Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Daewoo, GMC, Holden, Hummer, Opel, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn, Vauxhall)? What are the real differences between a Buick, Chevy, Pontiac or Saturn car, it just costs more in marketing.

If the auto industry fails it would be a truly incredible and awful sight for the ramifications on life in North America. It's something that paying now merely delays it for another day, but that day may inevitably come sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Our Land

It is American Thanksgiving soon, and about a month ago Canadian Thanksgiving past. Thanksgiving never struck me as a particularly important holiday, but it has gained importance in my life and the lives of my peers because it is the first major holiday on the academic calendar that allows most students to venture home. This has also led to the infamous "Turkey Dump," a phenomenon where college students grow weary of their long distance relationships and break up over Thanksgiving.

I have very much moved off the topic I wanted to discuss. Thanksgiving is about really one thing, the colonization of North America by Europeans, obviously at the expense of Native North Americans. The policies enacted under a variety of governments over a string of centuries has really only made matters worse. Policies ranged from war to active genocide, starvation, exploitation, deportation, and social engineering schemes. The legacy of our provincial and federal governments are deeply marred by our treatment toward Native peoples. It is a mark that should shame Canadians.

While I'm deeply troubled by our historic relations to the Aboriginals I have a greater concern about our contemporary relationship with Native issues. At the moment Natives live on these horrible social arrangements called reserves where according to their original intention they are supposed to eek out a living as their ancestors had in the 17th century. This is backwards. In countries across the world it is not the goal of government policy to keep aboriginal groups tied to a time and a place that is outside the modern world.

Instead of integrating Native people into our society, we've excluded them, and our attempts to integrate them have done more harm than good. If we place people in the relative wilderness and expect them to govern themselves can we really be surprised when E. coli breaks out, or there is corrupt governance.

I don't have a solution, not really, but my feeling is that the reserves are not it. How are Natives suppose to end up anywhere but the bottom of society unless they relinquish ideas about maintaining a standard of living contemporaneous with European contact? Maybe it would be best for the Canadian government to repeal the Indian Act, abolish the reserve system, divide the land between the tribe, over them the same tax benefits, and pay each Native a hefty sum, and wish them luck.

How long do we compensate Aboriginals for their land? If Canada survives that long, in 500 years do we still make noise about how we took their land, how this is theirs by rights. How long before their land is our land, Natives and new Canadians included? I think it may be time to change things and for us to acknowledge the reality of what the 21st century looks like.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Writing the Last Chapter on 2008

This Tuesday millions of American citizens will go out and vote. Record turnout is predicted, which is a positive since their turnout has been on a progressive decline for many years now. On Wednesday (one assumes there will not be a repeat of the 2000 election fiasco) we will know who the next leader of the free world will be.

Polls indicate that it will be Barack Obama who will win, not only does he lead nationally (a fairly irrelevant number) but his total lead in individual states leads to an electoral victory well over 300 points, when only 270 are needed to win. The Democrats are projected to have about 250 seats in the House, and 55-60 Senators. While we must stagger at the nature of American democracy in many respects there are some things that I'm glad we are not a part of.

The most disturbing thing about American elections is that there are only ever really two parties. With the exception of the 1912 election when former-President Teddy Roosevelt ran as a Progressive candidate no national third party has one any electoral votes (ignoring the typically racist southern-minded of the mid-20th century). Ross Perot came close in 1992 but failed to achieve this goal. There are two non-Republican, non-Democratic Senators at the moment, one is Joe Liberman, who is the former-Vice Presidential nominee for the Dems in 2000, he got booted out for his cozy relationship with the Republicans. And there's Bernie Sanders, a social democrat from Vermont, which is fine if you're from Vermont.

So really this democracy is an osilation with two political parties, which on many issues aren't that far apart.

The electoral college is another thing. It massively increases the voting power of individuals from populace states, and disenfranchises the losing candidate's voters. A voter in Pennsylvania has a vote seven times 'heavier' than a voter in Montana. Pennsylvania has 21 electoral votes, Montana 3. The states operate on a first-past-the-post system to determine the winner (except Maine and Nebraska), who ever receives the most votes wins all the electoal votes, so even if the state is split 50-50, the electoral votes break 100-0. Republicans in Washington D.C., or Democrats in Utah never really get to express their choice for President.

Perhaps most worrying of all are the dramatic reports on the failure of automatic voting machines and other mechanical and programming failures of such technology. Some are from conscious sabotage, but most is machine error, like a report of one that would record the votes opposite of what they were, McCain votes for Obama and Obama votes for McCain. Clearly the numbers we see on the screen could be entirely irrelevant.

While the American idea of democracy is very attractive with their deep passions, entrenched democracy, and active vibrant debate (most of the time) there is still a deep flaw and on Tuesday as Americans pat themselves on the back, I'm going to be keeping that in mind.