In the harbour
1. Co-op Atlantic
The board of directors for Co-op Atlantic voted last week to recommend that its food and gas retail and wholesale operations be sold to Sobeys. Member-owners will vote on the matter by May 12.
Co-op Atlantic was founded in 1927 in Moncton, and quickly expanded to the rest of the Maritimes. It was part of a broader movement that was best articulated in the Antigonish Movement. Here’s how the Coady Institute explains the background:
The Antigonish Movement arose out of a search for solutions to chronic socio-economic problems that plagued the Maritime Provinces from the late 1880’s onwards. Regional out-migration continued unabated for decades into the 1920’s as young people left farms in favour of industrial jobs in local centers or elsewhere in North America. On the coasts, a small number of fish merchants and companies kept fishermen and their families in semi-feudal bondage. After World War I, labour strife frequently ripped apart industrial communities as workers and militant unions battled corporations that were intent on extracting profits from their undercapitalized and inefficient mines and mills. One technique was to squeeze workers’ wages and burden them with debt.
Sound familiar? Change a few of the particulars and that paragraph describes our situation today. Out-migration continues as young people seek better employment options in points west, and while we don’t have the company store anymore, debt defines our society. Vinnie the loan shark has been corporatized and now rules the world, sending his thugs after governments and regulators everywhere. For the poor, it means payday loans, car loans, rental furniture and even instalment payments (and interest) on court fees. For the middle class it means a bloated housing market, car loans, and mountainous credit card debt. For university students, it means a lifetime of debt bondage.
In the 1920s and 30s, the response to rapacious capitalism was self-reliance and mutual support, most notably expressed in two institutions: the credit union and the co-operative store.
We’ve given up on mutual support. Now it’s every man and every woman for his- or herself. We delude ourselves into thinking prosperity will come by turning Halifax into a “world-class city,” whatever that is. We dream that wealth will come not from communities investing back into themselves, but rather through the benevolence of Money From Away, a true sucker’s game.
But imagine if the money squandered on pie-in-the-sky world-class delusions was instead used to support cooperative enterprises and small start-ups. Imagine a significant annual provincial investment to build an off-market housing stock owned cooperatively by residents.
Imagine the entire provincial budget being deposited in credit unions to give a solid financing base for economic development projects decided democratically by members, rather than by scamsters in suits. Better yet, imagine a provincially owned bank.
Alas, the game is long lost. Hardly anybody values credit unions and co-ops anymore. Even the people who run the institutions seem incapable of expressing their social value. Credit unions feel like just another bank, while cooperatives chase corporate “charity” for their operations.
Will anyone at all care when the last co-op employee dons a Sobeys vest?
Good-bye to the co-op. Good-bye to the notion that people can control their own destiny.
2. Hope Blooms
Hope Blooms is the program that has kids grow herbs and such and manufacture salad dressing, which they then hawk at the Farmers Market.
We’re all supposed to look at Hope Blooms uncritically because think of the kids! So I know I’m stepping into treacherous territory here, but… Does anyone else see something fundamentally flawed about this equation?
The group received $40,000 in November 2013 from the Dragon’s Den to make the greenhouse a reality, and Jollymore said producers from the CBC show will be filming a follow-up piece during the opening Friday
They are also hoping to double their 6,000 bottles of dressing a year, which means a dollar from every sale could add up to $12,000 in the kids’ scholarship fund.
Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s invaluable — really, we can’t put a dollar figure on it — to have kids learn about food, food security, nutrition, the work ethic, and even the basics of marketing and sales.
But $40,000 would pay for three-and-a-half years of their projected profits. And the profit goes into a scholarship fund for tuition rates that are soaring through the roof. Tuition and books at Dal right now run about $10,000 per year depending on the program, plus another $10,000 for lodging and food if you live in the residence halls. So we’re talking, what?, one student for two years?
There is a propaganda system at work. It involves framing the way we look at the world, which institutions matter (banks) and which don’t (co-ops), how we fund things (personal student debt) and how we don’t (publicly financed universities). And everything is corporatized, such that we can’t see that, say, revenue brought in from splashing advertising on public buildings comes at a cost.
The propaganda machine is a god with multiple arms, the Durga of Capitalism. Those arms reach this way and that, getting into everything we do. One arm is the “business section” of the newspaper; noticeably absent is the labour section. Another arm is the daily stock market conditions read on the CBC, while the daily atmospheric carbon count is left out. Another arm is corporate advertising campaigns in the form of “charity” on social media, inducing thousands of hapless tweeters to shill for insurance companies in order to fund charities that compete against each other instead of demanding higher corporate tax rates to pay for needed services. Another arm is the promotion of entrepreneurship as the sole route to economic success, leaving aside the possibility that people can simply be paid decent wages for a job well done.
Yet another arm is the glorification of rich people on TV, with shows like Dragon’s Den framing how we look at and consider the world. The message is that wealth is the highest good, and all social value comes from investing and squeezing profit from… well, that part’s left out. One can’t criticize Durga.
Hope can’t bloom if it’s plucked and commodified, sold off to the highest bidder.
As I said above about co-ops, it appears the game is lost. The financiers control everything, capitalism is ascendent, Durga has a hand in every pocket. So, well, good luck kids. Hope Blooms is a decent organization, well-intended and teaching needed skills. You’ll need every leg up you can get to battle the monster. I just hope along the way you learn exactly what you’re fighting.
Expenses of cabinet ministers and their executive assistants should be put online, says Michael Gorman.
One of the goals laid out in the Ivany Report — Goal #14 — is that “gross business revenues from tourism will reach $4 billion (approximately double the current level)” by 2024.
Yea, maybe. Who knows? That has almost everything to do with the state of the American economy and the value of the loonie compared to the US dollar, and almost nothing to do with rearranging the bureaucratic deck chairs on the ship of state, but sure, have at it. The Liberal government has created the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency to replace the old Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, with the notion that putting the golf dude in charge of things will cause Americans to flock here.
I fear for the effort, however, when I read LeRoy Peach, a former board member of the Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation, describe how the goal can be obtained:
The Nova Scotia Tourism Agency has partnered with the Canadian Tourism Commission to expand tourism from the U.S. As well, it plans to utilize Google extensively.
I was pleased that there will be a sub-campaign this year — golf promotion — including a clever slogan to advertise the world-renowned Cabot Cliffs course near Inverness: “Play Cabot Cliffs before the world does.” I will.
The solution to all our problems is better SEOing and sloganeering.
By and by, say tourism revenues don’t double by 2024 — does someone lose their job? Or will that be an excuse to give the golf dude more money?
3. Cranky letter of the day
I would like to express my disappointment over the cancellation of Cape Breton University’s volleyball program.
The national exposure gained from a successful athletic department provides a huge benefit to a university. It can have a positive effect on student enrolment because prominent athletic programs gain valuable media exposure.
Our athletic program is very prominent throughout the country.
The CBU volleyball team has student athletes from across Canada. These students, who love CBU, return to their home provinces and tell their families and friends about CBU and Cape Breton.
The exposure also helps solidify institutions as cornerstones of their communities. CBU is a cornerstone of our community.
Almost every junior high and high school on this island has two female volleyball teams. We are the only district in Nova Scotia that runs a successful elementary school volleyball league. Cape Breton club teams win provincial championships every year.
For those many kids who dream to be a Caper, their dream is gone.
The Caper summer volleyball camp is the most successful among Atlantic University Sport camps. Athletes from across the Maritimes attend. Many former campers are now at CBU.
I know every volleyball coach on Cape Breton Island. They’re all dedicated individuals who care deeply about their programs and athletes. They all work extremely hard to help their athletes reach their potential. I can’t count how many times I have seen them sitting in the stands with their teams to support the CBU women’s volleyball team. What do they have to look forward to now?
Athletic programs also provide non-tangible benefits, such as health and wellness promotion. Formal sport participation provides exercise, but it also encourages the development of intramural sports, allowing students who are not high-end athletes to participate.
Apart from academics, a sense of community and entertainment is central to universities and student retention. University sport programs entertain crowds. Students and community members flock to games on campus. Athletic teams increase student satisfaction, whether a student participates in a sport or not.
The CBU volleyball team has the largest attendance among AUS teams and possibly among Canadian Interuniversity Sport teams.
The players and their parents may no longer support CBU if the volleyball program is cancelled.
Universities are struggling to make ends meet. But some universities have chosen to cut athletic department funding, resulting in teams being lost — mostly women’s volleyball teams. Other universities placed their women’s volleyball teams in the small college league.
Someday, the women who are impacted are going to notice the discrimination at their universities. I will support them.
Announcing the cancellation of the CBU volleyball program after the athletes left the university was a gutless and classless act. Facing them earlier would have given them the opportunity to be together and support each other.
Those involved should be ashamed. I am ashamed to call myself a former Caper because of this.
Robert Young, Sydney
District 7 & 8 Planning Advisory Committee (4pm, Room 201, Central Library)—two planning applications are before the committee. One is an eight-storey apartment building on Maynard Street. The second is a six-storey apartment building off Lady Hammond Road.
Legislature sits (4–10pm, Province House)
No public events.
Umair Haque has written a wonderful essay headlined “The Asshole Factory” about the state of the modern economy. Some excerpts:
What is Mara’s job like? Her sales figures are monitored…by the microsecond. By hidden cameras and mics. They listen to her every word; they capture her every movement; that track and stalk her as if she were an animal; or a prisoner; or both. She’s jacked into a headset that literally barks algorithmic, programmed “orders” at her, parroting her own “performance” back to her, telling her how she compares with quotas calculated…down to the second…for all the hundreds of items in the store…which recites “influence and manipulation techniques” to her…to use on unsuspecting customers…that sound suspiciously like psychological warfare. It’s as if the NSA was following you around……and it was stuck in your head…telling you what an inadequate failure you were…psychologically waterboarding you…all day long…every day for the rest of your life.
Mara’s boss sits in the back. Monitoring all twelve, or fifteen, or twenty people that work in the store. On a set of screens. Half camera displays, half spreadsheets; numbers blinking in real-time. Glued to it like a zombie. Chewing slowly with her mouth open. Jacked into a headset. A drone-pilot… piloting a fleet of human drones…pressure-selling disposable mass-made shit…as if it were luxury yachts…through robo-programmed info-warfare…like zombies…to other zombies…who look stunned…like they just got laser blasted, cluster-bombed, shock-and-awed…
It’s bananas. The whole scene is like a maximum-security mental asylum designed by sadomasochists in a sci-fi movie. If Jeffrey Dahmer, Rasputin, and Michael Bay designed a “store” together, they couldn’t do any better. Her “job” will begin to drive her crazy—paranoid, depressed, deluded—in a matter of years if she continues doing it. No human psyche can bear that kind of relentless, systematic abuse.
Now. Note what all the technology and bureaucracy that wonderful, noble company has invested hundreds of millions in doesn’t ask her to do. Learn. Think. Reflect. Teach. Inspire. Lead. Connect. Imagine. Create. Grow. Dream. Actually…serve customers. Heaven forbid. It just beats her over the head, over and over again, three times a minute, every twenty seconds, with how much she hasn’t sold; hasn’t made; hasn’t produced. For her shitty .0003% commission. According to the quota that’s been set for her. By her boss. For his boss. For their boss. And so on all the way up the food chain.
The economy doesn’t make stuff anymore. That much you know. So what does it make?
It makes assholes.
The Great Enterprise of this age is the Asshole Industry.
The Great Enterprise of the Age of Stagnation is the wholesale manufacture not of great, world-shaking, ground-breaking ideas, inventions, concerns…but of bigger and bigger assholes.
The chain-store; the mall; the hypermarket. The corporation; the firm; the partnership. B-school; law school; med school. The boardroom; the backroom; the trading floor.
These are, by and large, Asshole Factories. They don’t make people. Capable of great things. Who create and build and touch and soar. They make assholes.
They are designed to disinfect us of our fragility. To cleanse us of our flaws. To disinfect us of weakness. Love, grace, mercy, longing, forgiveness, passion, truth, nobility, dreams. Their objective is to stamp all that out; to eradicate it; to erase it. To replace it with calculation, ruthlessness, self-concern; gluttony; cruelty; anxiety, despair. By using the most sophisticated technology ever made to subjugate, oppress, and goad us into being little torturers ourselves.
When you think about it that way…is it any wonder that society seems to be stuck? That the economy seems headed into oblivion? That life for so pretty much anyone under the age of 35 and/or worth less than $20 million or so appears to be going…nowhere?
In the harbour
Resolute, general cargo, Houston to Pier 42
Grand Benelux, car carrier, Salerno, Italy to Autoport, then sails to sea
Acadian sails to Saint John
The first cruise ship of the season, Amadea, arrived this morning. Reader Phyllis Larsen sends the photo above, and notes “How weird is this? Cruise ship arrives same day snow forecast!”
Wait, what? Snow?
In Italy, the law requires schools to serve organic pasta with extra virgin olive oil. In Canada, we need charity for some kids to make a bit of salad dressing to offset their brutal tuition and all the while we dish out tasteless junk food in the school cafeteria. The lesson learned is not about this or that enterprise but the sad thrust of a society where we are told the cost of everything but the value of nothing.
Tim, re-read my note: I didn’t say you were attacking them, I said you were attacking Capitalism using them as a springboard and I felt that was ill-conceived. I said you were cranky and careless with your critique of Hope Blooms. This was in response to your allegation that there was something “fundamentally flawed” about how Hope Blooms was managing their Dragon’s Den money. That $40 000 was granted to Hope Blooms specifically to build a greenhouse to grow herbs to make salad dressing, to raise money for kids. Fundamentally flawed? I call that honouring an agreement. Which is what we keep asking our politicians to do.
I’m writing from Copenhagen. Denmark is one of the highest-taxed countries in the world. But, from my conversations, Danes are fine with that. Most trust the government. They understand that taxes are the price of civilization and the common good. They don’t look to capitalism or silly schemes for salvation. We Canadians could learn something.
Using Hope Blooms as a spring board for an attack on the captalist propaganda machine is like Bush using WMDs as a reason to attack Iraq. Doesn’t hold water no matter how much smart talkin’ you do…
Whatever issues you have with the show Dragons Den aside, these kids and Jollemore have managed to invest in a greener future while putting away a little money for disadvantaged kids. You should be celebrating the fact these intelligent local kids managed to suck a little blood out of that big capitalist propaganda monster, and that they are taking that money and doing something good with it.
I’m sometimes a bit startled, Tim, at your willingness to take jabs at the smallest chink in anyone’s armor. If a children’s charity needs to be critiqued because there is an issue, then critique it. By all means. But Hope blooms isn’t the enemy. There is no scandal here, no mismanagement, no lack of transparency, no secret backroom dealings. Just kids helping their community. In the future please direct your amazing mind at the real monsters and quit this cranky, offhand possibly meanspirited noisemaking.
“Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s invaluable — really, we can’t put a dollar figure on it — to have kids learn about food, food security, nutrition, the work ethic, and even the basics of marketing and sales….
“Hope Blooms is a decent organization, well-intended and teaching needed skills. You’ll need every leg up you can get to battle the monster. I just hope along the way you learn exactly what you’re fighting.”
Yea, I’m really attacking Hope Blooms there.
For all the good that Hope Blooms and similar programs accomplish, it’s worth asking why we need massive volunteer efforts to help a few kids afford over-priced tuition and have better school lunches. Like food banks and charity fund raisers, these programs are necessary, and their accomplishments are worth celebrating, but we should not lose sight of the systemic problems that make these programs necessary in the first place.
Is it that I am now in my 70s? Or that I’m currently writing a paper about ideologies in the present moment? Whatever — I weep for the loss of our Co-op stores but more for the dominant belief that bigger is better, privatization is the way to go, university students need to pay for their (rapidly declining) education, schools ought to be efficiently disconnected from their small communities — and the list goes on. You express it so well, Tim. The spirit of Frs. Moses Coady & Jimmy Tompkins, adult educators, agricultural reps, and the memory of NS folkschools (bringing communities together, cooperatively and with purpose) hover round my head this morning.
The parallel you drew with NS in the early 20th century is astounding.
Kudos for today’s bang-on rant, Tim! Problem is you’re mostly preaching to the choir. It’s too bad the EXAMINER didn’t automatically pop up on the screens of our trougher bureaucrats and politicians every morning!
RE Co-op Atlantic and Credit Union Atlantic, they shot themselves in the foot many years ago by falling for the Capitalist Agenda by apeing capitalist institutions. I had to flee Credit Union Atlantic because of their high-handed and sometimes predatory attitude toward depositors and mortgage holders; and the Co-op stores sealed their fate by overextending silly private branding and abusing their members. The final straw for me was when the CEO of Credit Union Atlantic suddenly turns up as a TORY party leader — explains a lot about CUA’s little-guy antagonistic, über-capitalist attitudes and policies.
Any suggestions for an alternative to CUA?
The postal credit union gets good recommendations. I’m at CUA now, but might move over when I can get it together enough to move all my accounts.
I was a big bank user for years, until I moved over to a Credit Union. All I’ve come to realize is that, for the most part, they are now indistinguishable from the big banks. I guess they liked the higher fees and such as much as everyone else.
It’s only 10:10 am and my head hurts. You have provided an extraordinary amount of information and commentary this morning and I couldn’t really argue with any of your assertions. I would just add one thing in regard to tourism. My understanding is that the new CEO of the new Nova Scotia Tourism Agency is the old deputy minister of the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism. Reminds me of what Bill Ritchie in a pro-N S Film op-ed said the other day about Nova Scotia’s economic woes. To paraphrase, he said we are in the habit of rewarding failure. The upcoming tourism debacle is just another example of this problem. Trade Centre Limited is another. Sadly, sometime soon the new/old head of tourism will be demanding that his salary be doubled because he is now “private sector”. And yes, we will probably reward is failure for a second time.
Credit Union Atlantic is the only financial institution to give us a mortgage. The others wouldn’t look at us cause we didn’t have a down payment.
Also, the Resolute is a cable layer, not a general cargo vessel.