Monday, 19 October 2015

The Conservative track record … or: I might have been born at night but it wasn’t last night… (October 19, 2015)

In spite of a looming recession, the use of tax dollars to bribe Canadians to vote Conservative (a bribe many families will have to pay back via taxes after election)

In spite of recession Conservatives ensure that Canadian taxpayers will pay tens of millions extra due to lengthy election campaign

Currency in free fall

Didn’t see 2008 or 2015 recessions coming – denied their existence

Prime Minister opposes Senate but appointed 59 Senators

Prime Minister refuses to take responsibility for the appointments he has made

‘1984’-like use of Foreign Affairs to remind people, via quotas, about the threat of terrorism

Prime Minister is anti-drug and tough-on-crime – except when it comes to pal Rob Ford 

Contempt of Parliament

Disdain of Elections Canada

Disdain of Provincial Governments

Scorn for citizens of Alberta and Ontario (not respecting their recent electoral choices)

Trivializing electoral fraud

Appointment of Mike Duffy

Appointment of Pamela Wallin

Appointment of Patrick Brazeau

Appointment of Don Meredith

Opposition to omnibus bills – except Conservative omnibus bills 

Proroguing Parliament

Dean Del Mastro – parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister

Nigel Wright – chief of staff to Prime Minister

Tom Flanagan (see writings on Aboriginal issues) – Harper campaign manager

Tom Lawson – Chief of the Defence Staff

Claims to love democracy but secretive Saudi Arabia arms deal

Claims to love democracy but embracing and expanding trade with China

Always pro military except when it comes to veterans and serving women

Always pro family – although a very specific configuration of family – home owners with children… or better yet sports-playing children.

Generally oblivious regarding Aboriginal issues  (Stephen Harper: “These milestones remind us of a proud national story rooted in the great deeds of our ancestors and in a centuries-old constitutional legacy of freedom.”)

Overt contempt for media, scientific information, statistical data and legal rulings that do not conform to Conservative ideology

Against long gun registry and long-form census but otherwise very much in favor of government surveillance

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Hypocrisy II (November 10, 2013)

It has always been a trait of the right to dismiss left-leaning folks as radicals or dreamers.   The notion being that ‘progressive’ ideas about health, justice, the environment and economics are just too ‘out there’ to work in the real world.  While there is often merit to these critiques, recent events in Canada have clearly demonstrated that nobody operating within electoral politics has a monopoly when it comes to inconsistencies and hypocrisies.  Perhaps we are all dreamers – and maybe there is dirt behind all dreams. 

Those of us with long memories will recall that Toronto mayor Rob Ford was one of those simple-solution right-wingers who claimed to be tough on crime.  I guess the police are good guys until they are sifting through your own garbage.  But what is even more striking to those of us who can remember the recent past is that Ford also took the standard conservative stance on drugs.  In 2005 Ford stated, “You have to get these people (drug users) into rehabilitation and if they don’t go, well, then you just enforce the law.  If it’s illegal, you arrest them.  That’s the bottom line and if they have to dry out in jail- great.”  I guess that was when it was ‘them’ rather than Ford himself.  Plus, assuming the mayor didn’t generate the crack himself, surely his recent admission suggests some sort of tie to organized crime.  As well, I wonder if Ford’s ‘law and order’ backers want all of the people out there fighting addictions to merely ‘apologize’, ‘take time off’ or ‘get help’.  

Now why would Ford’s supporters who, at least in theory, admire the mayor’s stated views not be calling for his resignation?   Is it because Ford is a wealthy elite rather than a low-income kid that his admission of drug use is somehow a quaint character flaw rather than a serious social and crime problem?   Is class (that dirty word – a phenomena the right-wing elites claim doesn’t exist) really the issue here?  And why is our tough-on-crime Prime Minister silent about his old friend?  Obviously a good chunk of Ford supporters are Harper supporters so it seems likely the Prime Minister doesn’t want to alienate potential voters by being overtly critical of Toronto’s still somewhat popular mayor.  In the name of keeping some key voters on board the hard line on law and order can take a back seat.   I wonder if Harper would be so silent if the mayor in question had ties to his political opponents? 

And I’m not going to even get into Ford’s supposedly ‘hold the line on spending’ policies – which are, for one willing to take the time to look, similar to the federal Conservatives, more about reallocations rather than reductions.  What the question is here is why can’t conservative politicians live up to the goals and ideals they claim to cherish?   Is it straight-up hypocrisy?  Are the eye-catching objectives and promises simply unrealistic in the bright light of day-to-day living?   Or is ‘fiscal belt-tightening’ along with ‘law & order’ something the Conservatives merely want other people to practice?  You know, ‘them’.   

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury (November 3, 2013)

On the electoral politics front here in Canada, we have been living in pretty interesting times of late.  Who would have guessed, even a few weeks back, that a newspaper such as the Sun would have editorials in the same week calling for Rob Ford and Stephen Harper to step down.  If that is the view of the friends of the Conservatives one can only imagine how their enemies feel. 

For all of the Prime Minister’s straight-shooter/man-of-the-people reputation he is remarkably unable to justify or even acknowledge any of the decisions he has made lately.  In the style of a television crime boss, rather than accept any responsibility for his action, when facing scrutiny the PM opts to dig up dirt, real or imagined, on his opponents.  On the one-hand, we are morally superior to the other parties and on the other, we engage in precisely the same type of shifty behind-closed-doors dealing.  This Grade 2 ‘but Timmy does it too’ tactic is neither credible nor inspiring.  The order of the day: deflection, deflection, deflection.  And if Harper truly believes in the vacuous notion that government should be operated as a business, perhaps he should take responsibility for those he has appointed – both those in the Senate and in his own office.  Some CEO!   Reminds me how the Conservatives always attack the Liberals and NDP on economic issues, while a quick look to the past reveals that if the Conservatives had had their way with respect to deregulating financial institutions, Canada would be in the same bind as many other struggling countries.  No need to mention that I guess when you have a flashy media-friendly (if barely existent) ‘action plan’. 

And while the Harper administration talks about reeling in spending they are not even credible on this front – their supposed forte.  This very week a Toronto Star headline read ‘Harper’s Office Spends More As Rest of Government Holds The Line’.  Wait, isn’t it the crazy, spendthrift, unionized public service that is wasteful and in desperate need of trimming?  That’s what we’ve been told.  Still, I guess there is no need for data when ‘common sense’ is on your side.  The same Star piece goes on to speculate, “What the numbers suggest is that in Harper’s world restraint is virtue … to be practiced by others.”  And what about the Globe & Mail headline from earlier this summer that noted ‘Federal Deficit Balloons Despite Harper Agenda’.  A short, but interesting, read.  You don’t even have to have a long memory, or be a political scientist, to realize the Harper administration is not serious on this topic.  The ideology is not so much about saving taxpayer money, as it is to reallocate existing funds to specific Conservative-friendly sectors and programs.  This is the contemporary (sans Progressive) Conservative reading of fiscal responsibility.

As incredulous-laugh inducing as he often is, the Rob Ford fiasco feels more like a tragedy than a joke.  If the mayor of Toronto does indeed have problems there is no shame in admitting and acknowledging them.  Still, it is his willingness to ignore the needs of the city over his own personal issues that is so astounding.  Part of the mission of a politician is to bring people together with an aim of consensus building and compromise.  Current issues aside Ford has been a remarkably divisive politician.  As with all contemporary conservative politicians Ford is marketed and sold as ‘salt-of-the-earth’ and ‘one-of-us’ rather than as the elite he truly is.  You need to do more than coach a sports team or drive your own vehicle to dispel what is at core a sense of privilege and superiority.  If anyone needs more proof that the Conservatives have a class-based sense of entitlement they need go no further than recollect recent comments made by Wallin and Duffy in the Senate.  Imagine, these poor souls might temporarily lose their salary … and benefits!  Gasp!  One feels we are not far from hearing one of our illustrious Senators say of the public ‘let them eat cake’ 

While I can’t help but feel somewhat gleeful this week as the Conservatives implode and start eating their own, I’m also constantly uneasy.  What is the larger story here?  As the conservatives in this country have made a case for occupying the moral high ground in recent years it is perhaps not surprising that some in the right wing base are shocked by the recent activities of Ford and Harper.  But to me such personal failings, artificial populism, dodgy handling of issues and hypocrisies are not the problem – or maybe they   are linked to something else.  It is not a ‘few bad apples’ or some ‘poor choices’ but how the Conservatives present a hollow and bankrupt market-based ideology.  Units replace people. What is sellable?  The very ‘do as I say not as I do’ and ‘lets operate government as a business’ attitude demonstrates an ideology that is class-oriented, divorced from citizens and ultimately a void.  Harper is friends with Ford, appointed Duffy and Wallin and claimed he was going to clean up the Senate for the same expedient reasons – to raise funds and score easy political points.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Terry Glavin – ‘Stephen Harper is right not to trust the history establishment’ (Ottawa Citizen, February 13, 2013)

Of course the title of Terry Glavin’s recent editorial begs the question: what history establishment?  Who could he possibly be talking about?  Oddly enough he is not describing himself or the much-championed, prolific and ‘decorated’ Jack Granatstein.  No the problem is those pesky universities who fail to understand that history has a proper, obvious and ‘common-sense’ canon.  While Glavin notes that there are some useful aspects to ‘cultural’ and ‘social’ history, he is hard pressed to name any.  The trouble, apparently, is that contemporary historians see themselves as activists.  
One need merely have a cursory look at depictions of Canadian history books to know this is nothing new – and didn’t start in the demonic New Left 1960s.  As with most histories you can read a lot by noting absences.  It is pretty amusing the much-praised, and theoretically neutral, Granatstein is so praised by Glavin.  Why even mention that the unbiased common-sense historian works under the umbrella of the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute – a not so subtle ideologically-driven think tank with both a ‘mission’ and set of ‘corporate goals’.   Among a long list of what the organization wants to achieve is “To develop relationships with the media such that they will routinely contact CDFAI.”  Mission accomplished!
It is interesting that Glavin seems to want Canadian history to be both non-activist and positive in outlook.  The notion seems to be that being positive is both common-sense and ideologically neutral.   Reflecting back on the 1990s, Glavin notes, “Most Canadians weren’t aware that Canada is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t teach even a vaguely positive history of itself to its children.”  No ideology in that statement.  While the argument is that students were learning ‘faddish’ rather than real history, my experience with university students in the 2000s suggests otherwise.  I was most often disappointed by what I took to be tidy and linear conceptions of the past.  As I note that some undergrads were reading Granatstein, perhaps he shares some of the blame.
The editorial favourably cites recent comments by the prime minister regarding what are taken to be key anniversaries.  Harper is quoted as saying, “These milestones remind us of a proud national story rooted in the great deeds of our ancestors and in a centuries-old constitutional legacy of freedom.”  By employing words such as ‘story’ and ‘great deeds’, it’s no wonder some folks fear the worst with respect to upcoming changes at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.  Harper’s words also demonstrate a particular obtuseness given the Aboriginal issues that were coming to the surface at the time he made these comments.  Of course, given Harper’s long-standing relationship with Tom Flanagan, any astute student of Canadian history already had a sense of the prime minister’s take on such issues. 
Speaking of history - one can’t help but note there is nothing new in this editorial.  It is the same dull story on offer: My conception of history is neutral and correct and all else is activism, or worse, some fancy academic trickery.  What I have is good sense and what you have is ideology.  All of the standard and predictable conservative lines.  Thus folks such as Glavin and Granatstein must paint those who challenge their positively conventional conceptions of the past as an “establishment” or “orthodoxy.”   Imagine some of those crazy university nuts are more committed to nuance than Canada.  If only those duped and brainwashed students had access to the Ottawa Citizen and Granatstein’s books all would be well.   If only such non-establishment publications were widely available. 

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Conrad Black – various UK interviews – October 2012

 “… I’ve been persecuted half to death.  I don’t have any shame.  I’m proud of what happened.  I’m proud of having been in a US federal prison and survived as well as I did… Let me tell you something, I’m proud of having gone through the terribly difficult process of be falsely charged, falsely convicted and ultimately almost completely vindicated without losing my mind, become irrational, ceasing to be a penitent reasonable person and actually being able to endure a discussion like this without getting up and smashing your face in, which is what most people would do if they had been through what I have been.”

“99.5% of prosecutions in the US are convicted – the whole system is a fraudulent fascistic conveyor belt of a corrupt prison system”

 - Conrad Black speaking to Jeremy Paxman (BBC Newsnight, October 22, 2012) 

Perhaps Conrad Black is not known for his subtle demeanor or firm grip on reality, but many of his recent comments seem even more beyond rationality and sound judgment than usual.  At the core of some of these blustering and caustic statements seems to be an attempt to rehabilitate a somewhat tarnished public image.   If Black is to be believed, and I have no idea if he should be, he has been wronged by an American justice system that is corrupt to the core and aggressively out of control.  He has repeated countless times that he is innocent and would not have been convicted anywhere outside of the United States.  And even if we take the former newspaper baron at his word when he claims to have been wronged, his tactics for expressing this belief have ranged from simply hostile to outright fanciful. 

What is particularly funny is that this type of ‘I was wronged by the system’ defense is just the type of thing right wingers claim to despise (although this has not prevented the lazy right wing media in both the UK and Canada from parroting Black’s sketchy ‘the entire US legal system is corrupt’ arguments).  I guess it is all about maintaining order and being tough on crime until one of your ideological brethren run afoul of the law.  And when Black claims to be the victim of a “smear job” one has to wonder precisely who is out to get him?  The government?  Former business associates?  The dreaded left-wing media?   The entire legal system?  All of the above? 

What is most astounding is that when Black makes his claims (of being innocent and his right to remain in the House of Lords) he thinks nothing of evoking the names of such figures as Mandela and Thoreau.  In his interview with Paxman, Black, without a trace of irony, states, “I put myself in the camp of Henry David Thoreau who said that in a society that routinely sends innocent people to prison, the place for innocent people is in prison.”  Are we to assume that Black’s personal problems, and potential injustices against him, have taken on such an epic proportion?  Funny I just never think of Black as a martyr.

It seems fairly clear that Black’s main defensive tactic is to have a strong offence.  When it came to recent interviews the idea was to show who is in charge – who is controlling the message by speaking the most forcefully.  In the case of the Paxman interview this involved belligerence, name-calling and uttering thinly veiled threats.   But somehow, even is this era when public bullying is increasingly under the microscope, such hostile and quasi macho behavior is accepted (or expected?) from Black. One can’t help feel that by agreeing to be on certain shows this whole situation was constructed to give Black a soapbox as, protestations aside, there was no way he was expecting an easy ride in some sectors of the UK media.  What better way to show you are back on top than to put some of those uppity and pretentious reporters firmly in their place.  This is heroics through cantankerous sparring and a simplistic critique of the “ghastly American justice system that any sane English person knows is an outrage.”  By this logic might (even the hollow and hectoring variety) equals right and there is no such thing as bad publicity.  Black isn’t so much arrogant as simultaneously cunning and oblivious.

Of course Black is no stranger to re-writing history – from the exaggerated and glorified activities of Margaret Thatcher to the would-be noble actions of Richard Nixon.   As with Black, Nixon was just another decent and gifted public figure who has been wronged.  In a recent editorial Black notes that, “He (Nixon) was one of the country’s 10 or so most talented and successful presidents,” adding, “The impeachment counts, except for the grey area of payments to defendants, were defamatory claptrap; the congressional proceedings were a partisan crucifixion; Woodward and Bernstein are self-serving myth-makers.”   One presumes that Hollinger would never have employed such tenacious journalists. 

As with his own story, our not so trusty editorialist believes that the combination of selective details and forceful speech will result in the reevaluation and redemption of Nixon.  One is left to wonder how Black feels about the late president’s stance on crime.  Perhaps I have a selective memory as well but doesn’t the genesis of the ‘war on drugs’, and the subsequent explosion of convictions and incarcerations (which Black now so vehemently decries), date back to this period?  Maybe the ever-selective and one-dimensional Black just doesn’t see a connection between his heroes such as Reagan and Nixon (not to mention some of the rhetoric that came out of Hollinger newspapers) and the prison industrial complex.   

Sunday, 8 July 2012

David Warren – ‘Our moral software is pre-installed’ (Ottawa Citizen, July 8, 2012)

“For two generations or more, the vanguard of the Left have been working tirelessly, through every government department or other agency they’ve been able to infect, on re-coding our moral software.  They hope to replace the old, back-ward, out-of-date human, through social engineering, with what we might call ‘the new Soviet man’ – collectivist, feminist, multiculturalist, homophile, and so on.” – David Warren       

If I have it straight, the aim of David Warren’s current editorial is to make comparisons between technology and ‘progressive’ politics – both of which are presented as dead end moral vacuums.  What is most disturbing about Warren’s editorial is that he equates what he imagines to be left-wing politics with a virus – something debilitating and corrupting which runs counter to our true natures (as if this innate ‘moral software’ is something we can define and all agree on).  I can’t help but be disturbed by the use of words like ‘infect’, ‘recoding’ and ‘social engineering’– as if the left are unleashing some sort of sinister global disease to corrupt our timeless moral selves.  Blame things on those newfangled ‘homophiles’ – because surely history shows that homosexuality didn’t exist until quite recently.  This is the kind of inflammatory language is latched on to by right-wing extremists who also pine for some sort of imaginary hand-picked past golden era.     

But if the problem is, as Warren suggests, only two generations old, does this mean the ideal historical point of morality (as if such things can be defined by periods) is the Second World War?   If we are undertaking the dubious idea of talking about time periods, this epoch was clearly the worst of the worst.  Was that when technology was ok?  Bombs, poison gas, machine guns?  Not only the era of war, but also the period of pre-civil rights – is this the past Warren would have us return to?  And if those supporting multiculturalism, feminism and collectivism are trying (however unsuccessfully) to prevent the reoccurrence of this dark period I say more power to them.  And if we are talking about environmentalists (the true conservatives out there), again Warren should be embracing the current period rather than thoughtlessly deriding it.  Was everything better two generations back?  Really?  And going even further back, are we to assume churches and ancient regimes knew nothing about ‘social engineering’?  Perhaps Warren isn’t the student of history he claims to be. 

In solidarity with Warren I’m a bit of a technology skeptic myself.  I’m so old-school I actually purchase print newspapers (much to my dismay helping to pay Warren’s salary).  I suspect I’m the last person in my city to not own a cell phone, and I generally question the need for endless development.  I would venture that I trust the endless expansion of capitalism (which is what we are really talking about) even less that our editorialist.  Warren seems to question the uses of technology but not really.  For instance he mocks computers and software but doesn’t seem to question, or analyze, how his own product gets to market.   Perhaps newspapers in their current form have been here since the dawn of time.  Perhaps all newspapers have been benevolent?  From this muted standpoint the technology I use is ok but the stuff other folks employ is bad.  It is just like the right-wing take on immigrants – immigration was ok up until the point when my family got here. 

What is interesting is that Warren always excluded himself from the topics of his editorials.  Yes, he will give personal anecdotes, but somehow he is above the fray of the subject at hand.  This is why he has no need of ‘value judgments’.  Ultimately there is no questioning of his preconceived notions – those ideas he merely considers natural and timeless.  In his worldview there is only black vs. white, right vs. wrong or past vs. present.  If all is ‘pre-installed’ there is no need to question or even think.  From this tidy perspective, in a time of countless church and corporate-related scandals, it is less complex to blame education, technology and the so-called progressives for all of our contemporary ills – a type of automaton logic.  What Warren takes to be moral certainly I take to be simplistic binary positions.   Perhaps I’m merely jealous that I don’t have all the answers – easy or not.  Maybe, when it comes to potential solutions, I’m as skeptical about the past as the present and future.  I guess, knowing a bit about our history, I will lean toward the side of progressive rather than regressive. 

Sunday, 24 June 2012

David Warren – ‘A voice against passive collusion’ (Ottawa Citizen, June 10, 2012)

In his June 10 editorial David Warren picks up on a phrase he read in a Terry Eagleton interview – the expression being ‘passive collusion’.   For Warren this axiom summarizes what it wrong with contemporary society.   According to his line of thinking, ‘passive collusion’ is what we get when we have the combination of humanism and a neo-managerialism.   Warren wonders, “Why does (Eagleton) not see the relationship between the ‘neo-managerial ethos’ we both utterly detest, and the triumph of what is wanly called ‘secular humanism’?  That, whether in its ‘socialist’ or ‘capitalist’ manifestations, the whole progressive project consists of  managing people as an atomized mass, while exploiting the innate human propensity to passive collusion?” 

Most of this sounds good to me – at least on the surface.  Of course one can’t help but wonder where the evidence is for the so-called ‘triumph’ not to mention the ‘innate’ part.   Of course with respect to contemporary society it seems that one could (and Warren has) made the case the problem is a decline in deference and a fracturing of beliefs and societal norms – which to me is the very opposite of ‘passive collusion’.  Warren’s thinking seems to be that people should think for themselves yet somehow not be curious and skeptical individuals.  More generally, as far as I can tell, we can’t even decide on what the key problems are let alone potential solutions – again the very opposite of ‘passive collusion’.  

Even the possibility of us being an ‘atomized mass’ suggests something other than collusion – passive or otherwise.   Plus, generally, it seems to me that Warren isn’t really a fan of those opting not to collude – for instance some of those very ‘incomprehensible’ students and professors he so loves to ridicule.  Even Eagleton, who generally receives praises in this editorial, can’t, according to Warren, be a real Marxist or literary critic because he is capable of thinking for himself.  As is typical of this style of punditry Warren paints himself as a rebel yet has the most conventional of views.   Parrot-flock chatter indeed.   

In typical fashion Warren builds a column around the writings of Terry Eagleton but displays that he clearly doesn’t know much about the topic.  For instance if Warren had made even the most minimal of enquires he would have discovered that Eagleton had indeed covered similar ground – although one has to say that Eagleton’s writing has a great deal of more depth and nuance (not to mention humour).  Recently speaking specifically about capitalism, the British literary critic noted, “A society of packaged fulfillment, administered desire, mangerialized politics, and consumerist economics is unlikely to cut to the kind of depth where theological questions can even be properly raised, just as it rules out political and moral questions of a certain profundity.”

While Warren chides Eagleton for not making the connections (which if Warren had bothered even a cursory look he would have discovered) one can’t help but feel that it is our not-so-ambitious editorialist who is failing to make links.  While I have no bone to pick with religion, if I was asked to come up with an example of ‘passive collusion’, ‘atomized masses’ and ‘neo-managerial ethos’ the very first thing that would spring to my mind would be the Catholic Church.  To call this history, or at lease the vein of it linked to abuse, shameful is an understatement.   While the acts are appalling it’s the endless cover-ups which are truly toxic.  Perhaps if Warren had done a bit more digging he would have unearthed the following Eagleton passage: “Yet it is most certainly Christianity itself which is primarily responsible for the intellectual sloppiness of its critics.  Apart from the signal instance of Stalinism, it is hard to think of a historical movement that has more squalidly betrayed its own revolutionary origins.”  Meanwhile, for Warren, always yearning for simplicity, it is just easier to take befuddled potshots at students, professors and universities. 

It is particularly telling that Warren avoids the opening topic in the sole Terry Eagleton piece he draws from.  In the Oxonian Review interview Eagleton answers a number of questions about Why Marx Was Right – his book which makes an interesting companion to some of his critiques in Reason, Faith, and Revolution.  Perhaps this is just a step too far for Warren.  Still, if he doesn’t want to be seen purchasing Why Marx Was Right, he could always check it out from his local library – assuming, of course, that libraries are not a part of the sinister ‘nanny state’ he endlessly rails against.   So while Warren’s on-going tirades against the ‘nanny state’ may provide some sort of antidote for neo-managerialism, they also seem like a viable recipe for an atomized mass.  

“The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security – they can buy all these things for themselves.” – Joseph Stiglitz (former Chief Economist of the World Bank, professor of economics at Columbia University)