My latest: Some “rage. Some “machine.”

Rage Against The Machine.

Okay, fine. But where was the rage? In particular: who is the machine?

So, Rage Against The Machine is playing across Canada this Summer – Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City. And Toronto.

In the unlikely event that you’re not familiar with them, they’re a Los Angeles rock band, one of the biggest in the world. They’ve been around for a couple decades, and have sold millions and millions of records. And, notably, they style themselves as revolutionaries.

Their revolutionary politics are revealed in some of their hits. On ‘Killing In The Name,’ they sing: “You justify those that died by wearing the badge, they’re the chosen whites.” On ‘Take The Power Back,’ they sing: “The present curriculum, I put my fist in ‘em. Eurocentric every last one of ‘em.” On ‘Know Your Enemy,’ they sing: “I’ll rip the system. Mind of a revolutionary, so clear the lane.”

“Put my fist in ‘em.”

Anyway, whether you’re hoisting a revolutionary fist or not, it can’t be disputed that Rage Against The Machine are pretty clear about their politics. At their Canadian shows, the band displayed big all-caps messages behind them as they played. “SETTLER COLONIALISM IS MURDER” was one. Another: “LAND BACK.” Statistics about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, as well.

During their Canadian tour, too, the band has arguably put their money where their mouths are. They’ve made some donations to Indigenous and environmental groups.

So, in their lyrics and whatnot, Rage Against The Machine is preoccupied with revolution. Fine. But then there’s the issue of their other actions, their other deeds. Because that stuff is a bit of a problem.

At their Toronto show, at an arena named after a multinational bank, there were a lot of things on display that didn’t seem very revolutionary. Their actions and deeds, there, didn’t seem very consistent, either.

Their merch tables, for instance. Long lines snaked around the arena, with hundreds of mainly guys – unshaven, portly guys, wearing Metallica and Genesis shirts and flip-flops – cheerfully waiting to buy Rage Against The Machine stuff.

There were lots of T-shirts for sale, at $50 each. Ball caps for $40. Long-sleeved shirts were bit more, at $65. You could get posters, too, listing the Rage Against The Machine tour dates and not much else, for $65, which seemed a bit steep for a piece of paper.

The big-ticket item, however, was the Rage Against The Machine hoodie. Those were going for one hundred dollars. One hundred bucks! Given that mass-produced, one-colour hoodies cost less than ten bucks to manufacture…well, you can do the math. The revolutionaries are making a lot of dough on those hoodies.

The attendees, too. Some of them paid as much as $300 to be there, and nearly 20,000 were, over two nights. You can do the math on that one, as well. The band’s not saying, but that’s millions and millions of dollars, folks. (The aforementioned Indigenous and environmental groups, meanwhile, were donated $75,000. Total. Together.)

At one point, during a bit of a break, the band displayed footage of a police cruiser on fire. People in the crowd cheered. Not cheering were the dozens of uniformed Toronto police that were present at the show. Someone insisted that the police be there; we don’t know who. We do know, however, that Rage Against The Machine didn’t bar them from attending.

Rage Against The Machine can’t be blamed, one supposes, for playing in an arena where beer was $14, a slice of pizza was $9, and where a bit of “ultra premium” liquor will set you back $24. But perhaps someone had placated them by giving them some “collector” soft drink cups ($11).

Anyway, at one point, the hypocrisy was thicker than the dope smoke, and this writer couldn’t take it anymore. I made my way to the exits, passing a merch table as I did so.

I couldn’t make out the label on the T-shirts, so I bought one: fifty bucks. No cash, only credit cards (natch).

Do you think that Rage Against The Machine T-shirt was union-made? Do you think it was a fair-wage T-shirt? Not on your life. It was from a sweatshop in Bangladesh.

Hit the doors, head shaking.

Rage Against The Machine?

They are the machine.


My latest: inflation, causation

Why is it so much more expensive to live?

And, yes, we all know inflation is the highest it’s been in four decades – and, yes, we know that the cost of borrowing has ballooned to levels unseen in nearly three decades. We know all that. The media and the talking heads tell us that stuff all the time.

But why?

What we aren’t being told, a lot of the time, is this: what’s the main reason for everything costing so much? What caused it? And who, if anyone, should pay a political price for prices going up?

Ten things about the cause, all related. But, before we relate them, know this: there isn’t a politician alive who isn’t a bit panicky about the cost of living. They know that a mob of voters – torches and pitchforks and nooses at the ready – may soon come looking for them.

But those metaphorical hangings – for Messrs. Trudeau or Biden, or even Messrs. Poilievre or Trump – wouldn’t actually be fair. (For other sins, maybe.)

Everything costing so much? The politicians didn’t do that. Covid did.

Ten points. Here goes.

1. Covid-19 is the culprit. Politicians – and I’ve worked for plenty – are a species familiar with downturns. But not a downturn like Covid’s: it was huger than huge. It was gargantuan. And they just weren’t ready.

2. The virus prompted lockdowns everywhere. That shuttered factories and manufacturing. Billions of people became virtual prisoners in their own homes – and they started shopping, virtually and energetically. That overwhelmed manufacturing, and is why you started to hear about “supply chains” for the first time.

3. China is a vicious dictatorship – but it is also the biggest manufacturer in the history of the world. We in the West stupidly let that happen, and we are accordingly at the mercy of China – which has the toughest lockdowns in the world, and is accordingly throttling manufacturing. Which is the China-related reason everything is more expensive.

4. When goods and services are hard to get, prices go up: that’s a truism of capitalism. Some firms started to take advantage of that, and jacked up prices higher than they needed to. That, too, is a capitalist reality: greed.

5. Politicians like to get re-elected. They know that bankruptcies and worried voters tend to impede re-election. So, they let fly trillions of dollars in stimulus spending. They had no choice. But experts now suggest they spent too much – see the stories about CERB fraud, for instance – and thereby kickstarted inflation, big time.

6. Central banks were Nervous Nellies. They needed to raise interest rates before they actually did so, because money had become basically free to borrow – thereby stoking the inflation that is always caused by too-big demand and too-little supply. They waited too long.

7. Central banks, like the Bank of Canada, are like all religious converts: they’re always trying to make up for lost time. But now the fear is they’re doing too much, too late. And they may well father a new disaster: a deep global recession. We may be in one already, in fact.

8. Pile on top of all that chaos and misery something else: Russia’s Satanic war on Ukraine. Ukraine isn’t just an ally: it is a key component of the global food supply. That’s hurting us all. The war is also relevant to what you pay at the pumps: the insane cost of oil and gas is partly due to government taxation, yes. But Vladimir Putin’s war has hammered global oil supply, and sent prices into the stratosphere.

9. Politicians, as noted, want to get re-elected. They know voters don’t like lockdowns, so they started to ignore their own medical experts. But politicians, as also noted, just weren’t prepared for the pandemic. And neither were central banks: the tools they usually have to stop inflation aren’t working now.

10. Tomorrow, Statistics Canada will release its report on prices in June. It is expected to report that inflation is higher than it has ever been, perhaps closer to an astonishing ten per cent. Meanwhile, no one is predicting, anymore, that the cost of everything is going to start going down.

Politicians deserve some of the blame for this mess. So do central banks. So do “experts.” So do greedy capitalists.

But the main culprit for how bad things are, how expensive things are?

It’s the goddamned virus. Still.


My latest: JC, come back

Where have the political leaders gone?

The federal ones, that is. The national ones. The ones who are supposed to be leading this country, and other countries.

National leadership — in Canada, in the United States, in Europe and in myriad democracies around the world — seems to have disappeared. With the exception of the extraordinary Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Ukraine, it feels like Western nations are adrift, rudderless and leaderless.

If you don’t believe it, try a test this writer popped on various political and journalistic friends over Colonnade pizza in Ottawa last night: Name one national leader, apart from the aforementioned Zelenskyy, who has not appeared diminished in recent months and years.

There isn’t one. Consider the evidence.

Joe Biden facing open calls for his removal as the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer, alongside carping about his age and mental acuity, all made on the record in the Democratic house organ, the New York Times.

Boris Johnson, forced out of power in Britain by hubris and serial scandal. France’s Emmanuel Macron, barely surviving an electoral challenge by the fascist right — and then losing control legislatively.

And here in Canada, of course, Justin Trudeau’s government is unable to provide even the most basic of services — functioning airports, timely passports, and a coherent fiscal policy. His main opposition, meanwhile, has slid into the maw of internecine warfare, alt-right lunacy, and conspiracy theories.

What makes all of this a bit shocking — and places it in stark contrast — is how state and provincial leaders are faring. Here in Canada, our premiers are meeting in British Columbia and acting as a united non-partisan group on health care — led by impressive premiers like Francois Legault, Doug Ford and John Horgan.

In the United States, it is much the same. The stronger leadership is increasingly seen at the state level — most notably California’s Gavin Newsom now actively challenging Florida’s Ron DeSantis with attack ads, thereby foretelling a possible future presidential contest.

So, in Canada, an unhappy nation turns its eyes towards Ottawa, and wonders if we will ever again have a strong national leadership. Because, at one time, we did.

A poll recently conducted by Leger for the Association for Canadian Studies suggests that things were once better than they are now. The Leger survey, published by Postmedia, found that 41% of Canadians had a positive view of my former boss Jean Chretien, who was our prime minister from 1993 to 2003.

It has been almost three decades since Chretien was in power. But he still remains by far our most respected prime minister — most popular in Ontario, at 45%, but also favoured 42% in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Atlantic Canada, and around 40% in Quebec and Alberta.

Wrote the National Post: “(Chretien) is a more popular — and far less polarizing — figure than other prime ministers of the last few decades, including (Stephen) Harper.”

“While Harper, who governed for roughly a decade between 2006 and 2015, is popular in Alberta, with 51% having a favourable view, his popularity collapses elsewhere … All told, just 35% of Canadians have a positive view of Harper, while 45% have a negative view.”

What distinguishes Jean Chretien from other prime ministers, perhaps, are the two things that seem to be most lacking at the national level nowadays.

One, voters do not feel like they are in control of their own lives anymore. Buffeted by war, pandemics, inflation and a looming recession, they feel that countries have become unmoored from stability and predictability. So they want national leaders who know how to lead — and are in control.

Two, voters have a reasonable expectation that they will get the services their tax dollars pay for. Here in Canada, the near-total collapse of basic federal services has enraged Canadians from coast to coast. And the Trudeau government seems completely incapable of doing the one job they were hired to do.

Leaders who lead, service providers who provide service: Voters do not ask for much. But they want that much.

Will we ever see again the likes of Chretien or Harper? It seems unlikely.

National leadership is a calling.

But it is no longer calling the best and the brightest.