Phil Burpee, Columnist, Pincher Creek Voice
Did I hear that right? Buck fifteen at the pumps in Calgary and on the way up? What? OK, sure - I got it - the jackmeisters are fiddling with our gas tanks again, all the while chanting their gleeful refrain - "Jack-it-up, jack-it-up, jack-it-up." Man, oh, man - 'deja-vu all over again', as Yogi Berra would have had it. Just when you thought it was safe to turn out the lights........BAM! BWAAAH! HA HA HA! WE'RE BACK!!! More blood-curdling horror from the smashing, crashing demolition derby that is the world of the Global Hydrocarbon Speculator. For he is at work amongst us again. And nothing so gets his saliva flowing as the prospect of armed conflict in the Middle East. This guy likes it hot - and nothing so titillates him as the sight of posturing politicians fiddling with the big thermostat. When the conflagration ignites, he's peeling down to his skivvies and chirping that old tune - "The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades." – even as the fireballs light up the sky.
Don't be fooled. There is no market-based rationale for escalating fuel prices. Production is steady, and, other than some minor shortage issues in the American north-east resulting from distribution glitches, there is no reason to see these prices rise - were it not, of course, for the aforementioned meddling of speculators causing a run on various options in anticipation of a hoped-for tightening of supply. These are, quite simply, men who are more than willing to make our lives miserable even as they not only await, but also seek to abet, the circumstances that will bring about those actual supply shortages. Nothing so pleases the venture capitalist in the oil markets as the imminence of war. And if he can lubricate that reality somewhat - so much the better. There is money to be made.
The last time these guys grabbed the wheel was during the 2008 financial crisis. Prices of crude oil shot up to around $200.00 a barrel, and then promptly collapsed briefly to $35.00 or so. Not only did this result first in a rapid spike in transport and therefore consumer costs (remember questioning the affordability of a Sunday drive?), but the sudden subsequent collapse severely dented the work of the hydrocarbon sector here in Alberta for instance, not to mention a domino effect of other enterprises, resulting in company closures and job losses. Not only is such volatility bad for business, but it makes it that much more difficult to nurture equitable social programming when the government of the day cannot properly anticipate the behaviour of fundamental elements of the economy. But what else is new? - the global economy pivots on oil, and until such time as that ceases to be the case, we will continue to suffer the vagaries of living within an unaccountable monopoly, and along with it, the constant prospect of cyclical extortion.
Let's have a look at how our political classes are managing the current geo-political weather systems. In the United States we marvel at the astonishing spectacle of Republican claimants to the Presidency dusting off the fondly-remembered jingoism of the late 1970s - who can forget those strident calls to ‘Nuke the Ayatollah!’? (If ever there was a good reason to avoid direct democracy, here it was - the mob at full throttle.) Yet today we see the entire roster of Presidential hopefuls, with the exception of Ron Paul, slavering once again at the prospect of bombing the 'Eye-rainians'. That bulge in the pants that Uncle Sam maintained for the immolation of the glowering cleric of yesteryear has chubbed up again with the promise of finally getting to blow the wheels off the Islamic Republic of Iran, on the pretext of denying them ‘the Bomb’. What mindless balderdash. Let us cast our minds back briefly to consider just how the Ayatollah Khomeini, and those subsequent, came to power in the first place.
What we now know as Iran is, of course, none other than Persia - an unimaginably ancient civilization of high poetry, architecture, literature and science. During the 1950s these venerable people were in the process of ousting a debauched and useless monarchical line and beginning to fabricate democratic processes of governance. This would not do for the U.S., for whom Iran had become an oil-rich client state, and so the CIA saw to it that appropriate order was restored in the person of Shah Reza Pahlavi, erstwhile Emperor of Iran. This jet-setting playboy was plucked from aristocratic obscurity and placed firmly upon the hastily reconstructed Throne. However, such was the lavish self-serving and vile tenure of this hack and reprobate, with countless disappearances of dissenters, and ruthless dollops of imprisonment and torture, that eventually a youth-driven secular revolution swept the aging despot from power, driving him to America, where he ended his days in opulent illness and misery. But even as the young democrats were celebrating their victory, a victory achieved entirely contrary to U.S. wishes, they suddenly awoke to find their revolution co-opted by a vengeful and sullen old cleric who emerged, fresh off the plane from Paris, to assume absolute control as the Supreme Leader of a suddenly theocratic state. The American puppet was supplanted by a dark and weirdly horrific parody of that puppet - but the strings no longer dangled in Washington.
Democracy can be a delicate seed. The celebrated novelist and academic Gabriel Garcia Marquez was once asked why it was that democracy seemed to be such a hard sell in Latin America - why haven't they just got on with it instead of constantly succumbing to fascist juntas and despots? His explanation was illuminating. He pointed out that modern Latin American political culture is not a product of Northern European traditions of reason and individual rights and popular representation, but rather a hybrid of two decidedly non-democratic organisms. The one is that of the Spanish conquistadores, such men as Pizarro, Cortez and de Soto, who were primarily Catalonian. These were ferocious military men whose families had been fighting the Moors for seven or eight hundred years, eventually driving them, and Islam, out of the Iberian peninsula, and whose allegiances rested firmly with the Roman Church and the King of Spain. They also had a lust for power and gold. The other organism was the stratified infrastructure of the Aztec, Maya and Inca empires, for whom absolute subjugation to the god/priest who occupied the throne was paramount. The very idea of democracy is alien to the deepest mindset of most Latin peoples. It should come as no surprise that it has been slow to germinate – especially thanks to Del Monte and Dole and other skull-cracking foreign stakeholders.
Likewise we see today a blush of hope embodied in the dramatic turmoil of the Arab Spring. But not unlike Tehran in 1979, even as the invariably young and secular revolutionaries crack open the strongholds of their respective despots and dictators, themselves invariably clients of the West, they are unceremoniously shouldered aside by religious factions that avoided the actual confrontations of popular uprising, yet now present themselves as champions of democratic process, even as their underlying ethos and rhetoric belie a firm intent to realign governance with faith-based, theocratic mechanisms of power and jurisprudence. And the young, feminist revolutionaries are reminded of their duty to cover themselves accordingly, and to thusly remove themselves from public life.
You can't win for trying.
We here in the Free West look for all the world like the monkey with his hand stuck in the Smartie jar. " Mmmmm........all that candy......gotta have it all.........if only I could get my hand out!" It's an embarrassing show. From the deepest roots of our civilization, which engender and celebrate logic, the Socratic method of scientific discovery, reason, discourse, evolution of ideation and a general reverence for dispelling the darkness, we are left with the disturbing suspicion that not one of these abiding tenets motivates the minds of our leaders today. Take a quick scan of our Ministers of the Crown in Ottawa these days - such names make you want to wince, so many wedgies hoiked up between the butt-cheeks of our national life - McKay, Oda, Clement, Oliver, Touews, Ambrose, Kenney - jeesh! Do they go to school to learn how to be that dim? And meanwhile the Chinese and Russians and Singaporeans and others in increasing numbers are looking at our model and finding it wanting. What good is empowering the people when the people's representatives pay not one whit of attention to popular desires - or indeed even seem to understand what those desires might be? Might as well dispense with the whole charade and just get down to business.
Ezra Levant, that quisling attack-puppy for Sun newspapers, tells us that we can fix all this by stripping and toxifying the boreal forest and fracking the entire American interior and contaminating its watersheds from the Rockies to the Mississippi, from Montana to Mexico. These oil products will be of an 'ethical' nature, not having been derived from countries inclined to totalitarianism. And so the oil will go, on the one hand, to the very nation that brought about the geopolitical mess that caused the glut of 'unethical' oil in the first place, and on the other, to the very state that most sublimely represents successful totalitarian capitalism on the other. Nice.
I am confused. It makes my head hurt to try and figure it all out. TV and online Culture (a loose term) certainly don't have the answers - just a mindless junk-pile filled up with the deconstructive marketing of Charlie Sheen and endless bursts of barely-concealed tween porn. Flicking on the Tube or logging on just saps whatever's left of your brain. The options are few, and not very encouraging. It's enough to drive a man to drink. But if driven to choose between a bottle of cheap whiskey and the blandishments of modern pop and news culture - well, I think my allegiances are clear. I hearken back to that unarguably wise axiom of yore - I’m sure you remember it: -
"I'd rather have a free bottle in front of me than a pre-frontal lobotomy."
February 25, 2012