This morning I was going to attend “Election Insights Breakfast” at the University of Toronto to hear what the experts have to say about the elections on both sides of the border. I haven’t been sleeping that well lately – my brain seems to be in overdrive with all the stimulation of a big university, big city stuff; talks, panels, interesting conversations that inspire me to think what needs to and can be done… It is a bit overwhelming after having lived some time in a dark box (the word ‘intellectual wasteland’ came to mind first but that would be a bit too harsh). So I didn’t set the alarm and decided that this week can be my ‘listening to wise indigenous women’ week instead of trailing male (almost exclusively white) experts on elections (this one is not the only panel on the topic on campus but so far, I haven’t seen a single woman as a panelist or discussant)

So for my ‘listening to wise indigenous women’ week, it’s been pretty good: Monday night I had the opportunity to hear two pioneering Native women actors in a conversation: a mother-daughter team of Gloria Miguel, the cofounder of the Spiderwoman’s Theatre and Monica Mojique, the cofounder of the Turtle Gals Ensemble. Last night Lee Maracle was talking about no less than global feminism. Both events were well attended and judged on the discussions that followed, highly inspiring. As far as I am concerned, people in the audience felt inspired and even awe-struck simply because they were listening to uplifting personal stories – stories that were able to make connections to other people, other people’s experiences, issues and feelings.

I probably wouldn’t have heard such stories at the “Election Insights Breakfast” this morning. I guess the reason I signed up was to hear what my new colleagues had to say about the so-damn-exciting elections in the south of the border and well, less exciting one here in the home turf. Thanks to a kind invitation of a colleague, I ended up watching the first presidential debate (my first ever I only realize now!) a couple of weeks ago and ever since I’ve been hooked.

I want to vote Obama for the Canadian prime minister too! (And I’m not the only one – late September poll says 42 per cent of Canadians would vote him while Harper would get only 29 per cent if he was racing against Obama.) But my problem is that no matter how much taxes I pay and how badly I need a doctor and especially and above all, how badly I want to get rid of Harper and his neoliberal anti-Aboriginal politics, I can’t vote even in the north side of the border!!! I can’t vote Obama, I can’t vote Olivia Chow – I can’t vote anybody except some fool in the upcoming municipal elections in Finland. Lately, I’ve been thinking whether I am now an immigrant (I started filling up the forms for the landed immigrant status but quickly gave up because they want to know what you’ve been up to since you were 18) – and for some reason, the idea doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t feel like an immigrant, I just feel like a Sami in a big city. But perhaps it’s the elections which makes me an immigrant? Whatever it is, the fact that I can’t vote makes me super-frustrated.

So let’s talk about the economy again. More trouble in paradise – Iceland is in receivership, and only year ago it was the best place in the planet to be and live according to the UN Human Development Index. They are lending billions from Russia – who could have believed a world would come to that? Brits are planning to turn their rose bushes to potato fields, again taking example from Russia where just few years ago Moscovites had to rely on their dacha gardens to survive the winter.

We are all so worried and stressed out because now also the well-off are suffering. Day after day the papers have photos of distressed Wall Street folks holding their heads. We didn’t give a damn when the neoliberal market economy was doing rounds in the global South, in the form of Structural Adjustment Program or Free Trade Agreements. In Iceland, some young punk wants to know who is to blame for the mess: “Someone should be prosecuted, they have sucked Iceland dry, taken the money and ran, and left us totally in the shit.” In his recent book, The Subprime Solution, Economist Robert J. Shiller points finger to Alan Greenspan for he solved every problem by reducing the cost of borrowing.

Also British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is now calling for a punishment for reckless bankers and of course, I don’t think many of us would disagree. But never mind, while receiving massive payoffs, the bold-faced CEOs aren’t taking any responsibility. Lehman Brothers’ CEO Dick Fuld “blamed the Federal Reserve, naked short-sellers, a “systemic” lack of confidence, media sensationalising and inconsistent regulation.” Another CEO, Robert Willumstad of AIG, is quoted saying “Looking back on my time as CEO, I don’t believe AIG could have done anything differently. The market seizure was an unprecedented global catastrophe.”

In the article, Andrew Clark points out: “This shrugging of expensively tailored shoulders is pretty unsavoury stuff. It begs a simple question – where does the buck stop in business if a chief executive can keep a straight face while disclaiming all responsibility for the collapse of a major corporation?” A former chief accountant at the Securities and Exchange Commission, Lynn Turner is quoted telling the House oversight committee that AIG’s attempt to blame accounting rules was “like blaming the thermometer for a fever”.

While looking for a scapegoat, however, I have a gnawing feeling that we also need to look in the mirror. Didn’t we all (the middle-class, well-to-do folks in the global North) benefit from the ride and enjoy the party while it lasted? Look at all the stuff around us we accumulated. It wasn’t Alan Greenspan who delivered them to our living rooms, garages and storages. It wasn’t him who maxed out our credit cards (although he no doubt made it easier).

But what does “the End of the American Order” mean? People around the world have lost faith in the US and its unilateralism several years ago. Now nobody buys American advice on economy either. According to the Globe and Mail (Sept. 4), just a few months ago Mr. Paulson was jetsetting around the world offering his mantra of “an open, competitive and liberalized financial market.”  His conference circuit is over now and people are angry because they’re suffering from a problem created in America.

French Prime Minister François Fillon is quoted saying “The world is on the edge of the abyss because of an irresponsible system” at a recent EU gathering to discuss the economic crisis. My visceral reaction is that now they’re finally seeing and admitting it. At the same time, I’m thinking what a hypocrisy: why nobody said that before it all went down the toilet? Where were the world leaders warning about the irresponsible system before the crisis hit home? Shouldn’t we all now be celebrating presidents like Evo Morales and his foresight and analysis of the destructive nature of global capitalism? Does anyone remember what he said at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues meeting in April? Are Bush and all the European leaders now sending Paulson and their other cronies to take lessons from his nationalization program?

P.S. Interestingly enough, on Thursday morning at CBC’s The Current, Anna Maria Tremont discussed the issue of immigrants not voting in Toronto. Based on that discussion, my deep desire to vote doesn’t make me an immigrant either.

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6 thoughts on “out-of-reach elections and Free market hangover

  1. hi Rauna, thanks for your interesting post with lots of good comments and rightful outrage at the state of affairs. I remember readings at least 3 or 4 years ago, a very detailed analysis of why the US money machine will bring about a world economic crisis, but for the life of me, I can’t remember who wrote it, as I’d like to re-read it!

    One note: from my own experience, going down to Toronto to live to do my PhD classes, this city is so INTENSE, so full of GREAT stuff to do, that it can completely overwhelm and exhaust a person. It is crucial to not do too much, NO MATTER HOW INTERESTING or how much you feel, I must attend this, I must go there, Oh! this looks interesting…….trust me. Step back. Toronto and its wonders of mind stimulating people and doings will continue to expand, but you cannot. Step back at times. Very important. Sisterly advice from one who has been there.

  2. I read Chris Carlsson’s Nowtopia blog the other day and found his witty comment about the bailout as “everyone’s problem” to fix yet profits are not “everybody’s” poignant:

    “The U.S. is basically a one-party state in which the media is dutifully the propaganda arm of the government and the corporations that own it. One political Party represents Capital and War and two factions within it (Dems and Repubs) fight for effective power within that logic. Other points of view are systematically exluded through ignoring or ridiculing them, and always dismissed as “unrealistic” or “irrelevant to most people,” in what quickly becomes a self-fulfilling dynamic. The One Party reliably uses the power of government to assure that the personal friends and business associates of the politicians with their hands on the levers of power get the goods, either through tax breaks or government subsidies, and always through institutional support via regulatory and financial bureaucracies. When things go bad (as they are doing) the government rushes to bail out the failed wealthy, arguing publicly that “we’re all in it together”; precisely the opposite rhetoric it uses when its cronies are getting rich during periods of expansion and profitability.”

    http://www.nowtopians.com/

  3. Indeed – I recently listened to a Democracy Now show (Oct. 2) on how the Republican and Democratic parties secretly control the presidential debates. DN talked to Open Debates founder and executive director George Farah who told how the Obama and McCain campaigns jointly negotiated a detailed secret contract dictating the terms of all the 2008 debates. This includes who gets to participate, as well as the topics raised during the debates. As Amy Goodman points out, “it would be a very different debate about the most important issues of the day, if [the] third party candidates were included.”

  4. Rauna,

    Great post about the rarity of wisdom. You never know where you will find it. But we know it when we hear it.

    And we know it when we don’t! Here’s a timely quote, as we watch the Republican’s crumble in self-parody:

    I would still invade Iraq even if Iraq never existed.
    – “Bush: Now Iraq’s a moderate fiasco,” Press-Telegram, Monday, August 21, 2006

  5. Hi Rauna

    You have very intelligently commented on aboriginal issues and politics. You have captured what I have felt as well and I look forward to reading more. It was nice to meet you for the First Nation House Magazine article. I look forward to see the Magazine in it’s published form.

    Rob

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