Saturday, April 30, 2011

Gilles Duceppe has class if you ask me. . . .

Once again, I am impressed by the straightforward attitude of Gilles Duceppe. Even though he has the most to lose from the new popularity of the NDP, when Duceppe was asked what he thought of the Jack Layton story that emerged yesterday, Duceppe simply brushed it aside and said Layton was not charged or even accused of a crime, therefore it has nothing to do with the campaign.

In this political atmosphere, that is class.

Does our Prime Minister believe in the Law???

I have now watched the exchange between Harper and CBC reporter Terry Milewski a few times. Despite what Harper suggests, Milewski is not asking the Prime Minister to answer a hypothetical question. Rather, he is asking him to answer a simple legal question. To wit.; would he abide by the decision of the Governor General?

Harper's reply that he won't "reply to speculation," can be translated as Harper saying "I won't speculate on whether I will obey the law."

That is our Prime Minister. He is not willing to speculate on whether he will obey the law.

Answer the Question Mr. Harper. . . .

As I, and other progressive bloggers, have been saying for years now, Harper has no respect for the Law or the constitution. Not that long ago, when the idea of an opposition threatened, John Baird made cryptic remarks to Don Newman about what the party might do to prevent another party taking power. Now we have Harper's abject refusal to say whether he would abide by a decision of the Governor General to give another party the opportunity to form a minority government.

The failure to say, in a matter of fact way, that as Prime Minister he would be bound by the most fundamental law of the land to abide by a ruling of the Governor General, is tantamount to an admission of treason.

To all those conservatives who have suggested for the past few years that our fears of Harper are purely ideological and exaggerated, how can you possibly not see now that Harper considers himself above the law? If any other party leader did not answer this kind of question Conservatives across the country would go bat-crap crazy. It is time to call this man out. He clearly has no intention of abiding by hundreds of years of parliamentary tradition or our constitution. Now we must ask him the question, if he actually lost an election would he willingly give up power??

Answer the question Prime Minister! Will you abide by the law or won't you??? It is a simple, straightforward question and the people deserve an answer.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Ignatieff has done well, and so has Jack Layton. . . .

I have been reading the Liberal Bloggers very closely over the past couple of weeks and have watched their reaction to the supposed surge in the NDP and the failure of their own party. And I must say for the most part I am deeply disappointed. There are a few Liberals Bloggers who have acted with grace and dignity. They are willing to accept the failure of the Liberal Party in this election, if indeed it occurs (which I am not convinced will happen). The better Liberal Bloggers are even still willing to shift the onus of strategic voting onto their own party.

For the most part however, the Liberal Bloggers have been acting like genuine rogues. Dr. Johnson said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, but we can adapt this to present conditions and say partisanship is the last refuge of a scoundrel. They are angry at the very idea that the NDP would call them on their five year record of supporting Harper's government and they act as though it is untoward for a political opponent to campaign. They have attacked the NDP with as much vehemence as they have attacked Harper and acted as though the NDP has run a corrupt and awful campaign. They have begun to call the NDP names like 'socialist' etc, with the same kind of marginalizing tactics that the Conservatives have traditionally used.

But for the most part the NDP has run a clean, positive, and respectful campaign. Yes, they have pointed out that the LPC has supported the Harper government on many occasions. This is not a negative campaign, just a fact, and one that arguably demonstrates a closeness that many voters are uncomfortable with. The only thing that upset me about the NDP campaign was the attack on Ignatieff for his voting absences in the House. This struck me as too personal and not reasonable given that Ignatieff has been trying to rebuild a party brand, an effort that surely took a great deal of time and effort. But I am not overly partisan. I am willing to say this was a wrong-headed strategy and I wrote to Jack Layton personally criticizing him for this.

The saddest thing about the Liberal attitude is that it belittles a very good campaign on Ignatieff's part. Ignatieff has been treated harshly by fate and doesn't deserve this given the decent campaign he has run. He is eloquent, solid, well-spoken, good on his feet, generally respectful, remarkably energetic etc. Given the campaign he has run, Ignatieff deserves to be much higher in the polls and I have nothing but respect for him. He has said a few things that have been untoward, and a few of his candidates have been a little problematic. But that is true of every party. Unless you are going to act like Harper, then you are bound to have some problems on the ground. (And even with all his micro-management some of Harper's people have screwed up badly and corruption has emerged during the campaign.)

But the NDP has captured people imagination and if that pans out on election day, they will have quite a few more seats than they did. But Liberals should recognize the difficulties faced by the NDP in this process. They have nowhere near the resources of the other two parties, and when the campaign started they figured they had little chance to go over, say, fifty seats. As a result it is not surprising that some of their candidates would not be as politically sharp as those in parties that have had long records of success. But no decent Liberals should suggest that the NDP doesn't deserve any success because of this. The voters will decide that point. Anytime a party finds sudden success, it is bound to hit some potholes along the way. Over time they will deal with that or, if they don't, they will pay for it with voters.

I don't know. Indignation can be good if it is directed at genuine malice or corruption. But anger from Liberals at the NDP is sadly misplaced. If Ignatieff bounces back and has lots of seats and prevents a Conservative majority, I will be glad to cheer him on. If the NDP has a hundred seats I will cheer them on and expect a lot of shaky times as they adjust to that new found success. It is sad that more Liberals can't take the same attitude.

Not to lose, is the Strategy of a Loser. . .

This article in the Globe (shame on them for endorsing Harper!), asks "Will Harper Regret the Strategy of Running Not to Lose?" It is an interesting article that makes some very cogent points.

As I was reading the article it struck me how similar this strategy has been to recent events in high profile Chess tournaments. Realizing that the game had reached an almost inhumane level of complexity, chess masters began to play a very defensive game. Playing such a game makes it very difficult for your opponent to win because you concentrate on building a highly defensive position that is difficult to assail. It is a little bit like old time war in which a Lord (read Harper) and his forces could hunker down in a Medieval Battlement and it would become extremely difficult for an attacking army to score a victory.

To add to the attractiveness of this strategy, contemporary chess tournaments have a scoring system which guarantees a point (or a half a point) for a draw, and thus a player can conceivably win a tournament without ever having won a game. This actually led Bobby Fisher, one of the greatest, most innovative chess players ever, to suggest new rules for the game of chess to save it from the defensive corner into which it painted itself.

The problem with this set of circumstances should be obvious. It lowers the level of play overall and inhibits innovation, as well as rendering the overall effect boring for players as well as observers. In politics the result is essentially the same. Now, many of us may not mind politics being a little bit boring. After all, the most effective government is bound to be a little boring because success seldom generates controversy to the degree that failure (or even perceived failure) does. However, the reduction of innovation and the lowering of government's effectiveness is surely a major concern. And this is precisely what Harper and his 'playing not to lose' strategy has sought to do. By minimizing their public political plan to a couple of policies around which they believe their base can rally, such as prisons and fighter jets, Harper seeks to do the very minimum possible in order to appeal to just enough people and not be publicly so offensive that it will be counter productive. A corollary of this strategy has been to legislate in stealth as much as possible while in power and alienate as many people from the process of democracy as possible. The problem is, of course, that this is a strategy for running a campaign, not for running a country.

Real leader stand out front of the crowd with new ideas, innovative spirits, but also with human compassion and a love of engagement. A real leader does not live by scripted events, nor does he or she avoid of the press and the people. The strategy of a real leader is not to avoid losing but to go out on a limb to win! And the goal of winning for a real leader is not to win for him or herself, but for those very people that they lead.

Campaigning not to lose is already the greatest loss you can suffer. It means you have lost the very reason that you sought to run in the first place.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ha, Ha . . . . . . .

Bite me Tory hypocrites!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Thanks to Buckdog)

A brief glimpse of Tory Hypocrisy and Hyperbole. . . .

One need not be a particularly astute political observer to know that the Conservatives, as a general rule, only like democracy when it gives them the results they desire. It is no surprise then that as the NDP surges in the polls, Westerners suddenly begin to talk about separatism again. One Tory blogger, who gives away his own level of intelligence by displaying Glen Beck on his site (a man too mad even for FOX TV),  predictably talks of "catastrophe," and "chaos" and "disaster." Ho-Hum. Pretty standard stuff I guess. He also mourns the prospect of federal employees having to be bilingual (OH, the Horror of it all!), and the "rape" of Western Canada with the procedes given to Quebec. (Really, is that all?) But then this Tory Blogger brings out the big guns of separatism!

But "unlike Quebec that uses it just as a threat for blackmail, western Canada namely Alberta would actually act." Now, putting aside the atrocious grammar and punctuation, it is some pretty heavy stuff wouldn't you say? 

But "Chasing Apple Pie" (That really is the blogger's name), is apparently not the only one who harbours such opinions. One of his commentators, the aptly named "Clown Party," is even more ominous in his commentary. "I have said many times," the Clown tells us, "if the coalition gained power we would have an Eastern and Western Canada, just like North and South Korea." Wow, the rise in the NDP will not only result in chaos but in a die-hard communist state. It is a good thing the Clown warned us about this one or we might have become part of the axis of evil.

Meanwhile, another Tory blogger echos Sun TV and suggests that Jack Layton has the same politics as Russian Revolutionary leader Lenin. 

Honestly, this is fun stuff. I love it. I find it amusing that Tories believe that anyone who favours a economic system which is more concerned with average people than with rich bankers is the same thing as a Russian Bolshevik. But let's face it these people seem to have never read a history book, nor do they seem to have any understanding of political theory or its practical application. 

But the grandest irony of all is that while they suggest that the NDP will be soft on separatism, and therefor dangerous to national unity, they also talk of the need for Alberta to rise up in a separatist fervor.  Which is it Tories? Is Separatism good or bad? I guess just like democracy, for Tories separatism is only good for them but not for the other guy. 

Why I don't vote for the Green Party. . . .

I have a lot of sympathy for the Green Party on many issues. I essentially believe that Canada should have little or no standing military, we should have a much stronger education system, I think you might as well legalize marijuana at this point, etc, etc. I also believe that the Green Party is right that there is an environmental crisis in this country and the world in genreal.

However, I would not vote for the Green Party for the very simple reason that they believe that a 'market' approach can solve the environmental crisis. In other words, the Green Party is essentially a socially liberal, financially right-wing party.

This is the problem in a nut shell. The Green Party believes that they can shift the tax burden away from income (both personal and corporate) and put the majority of taxes onto the consumption of Carbon. There are two basic problems with this. One is that it would badly hurt rural and low-income people. It doesn't matter how much you attempt to compensate this portion of the population in the short term, they will ultimately suffer a great deal more than wealthy people. That is just the way it is, whether the Greens like it or admit it. The second problem with this tax shift approach is that it is by definition self-defeating. The objective of such a policy is to lower the amount of carbon products that people consume. (This is where they think the "market" forces will kick in). However, in this plan if carbon usage is reduced radically so is the government's taxation revenue and you are going to be forced to shift the taxes back to income anyway.

 I don't believe in letting the so-called market solve the problem for which it is responsible in the first place. The answer to the environmental problems is to regulate producers of carbon and carbon producing products, to make huge investments in alternative energy, and to heavily regulate the production and use of chemicals in general. Corporations have demonstrated again and again that they will not be environmentally responsible unless they are forced to be. And alternative producers in advanced technological markets simply need help because the entrance requirements (in financial terms) are simply too high to depend on so called innovation and entrepreneurship.

And let us not forget that environmental organizations and activists have consistently given the NDP higher marks for their environmental policies than the Green Party.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Stop the Fear-Mongering folks. . . .

To all those hacks out there who love to spread fear concerning the financial "chaos" that they say would be caused by having the NDP anywhere close to power. Take a look at the records. Provincial NDP governments have a good record of balancing budgets, and in terms of numbers actually a better percentage record than Conservative governments.

And just for the record the present Finance Minister left his job as the Finance Minister of Ontario with a 5 Billion dollar deficit, and that was during good financial times. And he has gone on to oversee the largest federal deficit in history. So haters just need to get a grip on themselves and stop the lying and fear-mongering.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A pre-mortem, post-mortem. . . . .

I have said a number of times that the Liberals are going to lose this election because they failed to present themselves as a meaningful alternative to the Conservatives.

But there are, I think, other significant reasons that they have failed to make any traction with the electorate.  One is that, just like they did with Dion, the Liberals let the Conservatives define Ignatieff's image from the beginning. I think it is pretty clear that it was blindly foolish for the Liberals not to immediately fight back on the question of Ignatieff's image. I suspect that the Liberals were doomed from the start just as they were when the Dion didn't call the Conservatives out at the beginning of his tenure as leader. Ignatieff then spent a couple of years telling us how bad the Conservatives were and how he was going to put a stop to them but he kept acquiescing. No one likes someone who claims that they are going to stand up to a bully and then walks away at the last minute.

Another big issue was, I believe, that the Liberals party seems to be totally oblivious to the issues of personal image. Ignatieff lacks charisma, for sure, but he also presents people with a rather harsh and difficult appearance. I guess the LPC didn't have money put aside in their budget for a personal image consultant. Because if they had they could have trimmed his eyebrows, put glasses on him and made him gain a little bit of weight. Etc. This kind of thing may be meaningless in some senses but it is simply a reality in a world of TV and Sound-bytes.

Finally, I think the Liberals would have faired much better if they had been more open to cooperation with the NDP. They should really have presented this election as a sort of national emergency similar to WWII, in which cooperation is temporarily necessary to save the nation. They could have created an entire narrative about the dangers of Harper and Baird actively undermining the constitution etc. In this way the Liberals could actually have stolen the narrative of fear from the Conservatives and Harper would have had a hard time getting it back. It is not the most classy way to win an election but I bet it would have worked.

Having said all of this, I think talk of the demise of the Liberals Party has been greatly exaggerated. They won't win this election, but there are a number of scenarios that could easily bring them back. The biggest problem they have is that Harper has managed to steal the centre (if only in people's perception) and has worked to bring the country to the right slowly and by stealth. This is what he said he wanted to do in a number of speeches in the 1990s. The Liberals simply have not found a way to react to this. But if Harper were to win a majority and shift farther right on important issues, the Liberals could easily rebound by default of regaining the centre.

Give me a Break already with William And Kate. . . . !

Can someone tell me why the Flat Earth Society has withered and died but the British Royal family lives on? I mean they are both equally antiquated and ridiculous institutions! Watching all the hubbub about the royal wedding, any vaguely rational person must scratche their head in wonder at how silly it all seems.

I have heard the rather tired and hackneyed arguments defending the monarchy, but they are all as ridiculous as the monarchy itself. Some people claim that the monarchy is supposed to act as some sort of model or inspiration for the people. And of course, societies do seem to need people to whom they look for inspiration and stability. However, people should occupy these social positions should do so by merit not because of some antiquated, historically oppressive institution. Frankly, I gain inspiration from people who work hard to achieve things at a personal and social level. Great philanthropists, great writers, charity workers, inventors, feminist activists, these are the kinds of people who deserve our respect and should serve as our role models.

One other argument that people make to defend the monarchy is the idea of tradition; that is to say that  they tie us to history and help us maintain some sense of continuity. Well, that would be a fine argument if the Royal Family was in anyway a positive model of tradition. Some traditions we dispence with because they are a negative rather than a positive image of our past. We don't still have public hangings, don't keep slaves. But these were once 'traditions.'

No, the whole thing is hopelessly ridiculous and must be dispensed with.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Who would really be handing Harper a Majority????

I must say that I am baffled by the arguments that many Liberals are putting forward in which they condemn Layton and the NDP as somehow 'handing Harper a majority.' For one thing it seems a distinctly anti-democratic argument, very simpilar to the one put forward by the very same Liberals against the Conservatives for telling the country that the "election is unnecessary." But at a more basic, rational level the argument seems odd because the NDP and the Liberals are, by many accounts equal in the polls. And if the Liberals and the NDP are even in the polls then the argument can in fact run either way. NDP supporters could just as equally complain that Ignatieff should stop campaigning so hard and let the NDP win, or else he could be "handing Harper a majority." In other words, not only is the argument being put forward by many Liberals distinctly anti-democratic, it is very clearly logically flawed.

The real fact is, and the one that Liberals should be upset by is this - if Harper were to win a majority while the Liberals and NDP (and other parities) have significantly more popular support, it is a flawed political system that hands Harper the majority, not any particular party that is only rightly taking part in the democratic system. It is the system that is flawed and unjust, not any specific political party. But unfortunately, few Liberals are willing to make this argument because they have, historically, benefited from the injustices of our first-past-the-post system. The Liberal Party of Canada has often held absolute power without actually enjoying a majority of popular support, and they don't want to change it because they are hoping to enjoy that power again at some point.

I call on Liberals to finally put the blame where the blame belongs - squarely at the feet of an antiquated political system rather than with people who are trying to exercise their basic political rights.

Marxism and the Continued Cold-War Rhetoric of the Right. . . . .

Am I the only one who is amazed by the Conservatives who condemn fairly mainstream centrists and mild leftists with epithets such as "Marxist" and "Communist" because they are vaguely critical of the extremes of neo-liberalsim and afraid of the implications of a Prime Minister who refuses to adhere to the rules of our constitution? Has the level of knowledge and discourse fallen this far, or are these just the ignorant wackos on the conservative end of the spectrum? I would like to opt for the explanation of ignorance because anyone who is twisted enough to know anything about Marxism and freely use the label to characterize Liberal Party bloggers is absolutely beyond the pale of regular political discussion.

This is not to imply that defining Marxism, for example, is an easy or uncontroversial matter. I spent years studying Marxism and still find the question to be a fairly thorny one. Some people emphasize the Sociological aspect of Marx's work, and I am somewhat sympathetic to this idea. Though he did not originate the idea, Marx was a very important promoter of the notion that people's personal a social behaviour is a result of their socio-economic context of their lives. This idea has permeated so deeply into our collective minds that it seems almost obvious today. The idea can be found to varying degrees in German and English philosophers before Marx, but his work on economics and class gave new power to the idea and it is now an inescapable part of our social and political consciousness. Even deeply conservative thinkers use such notions today.

Others emphasize the Economic aspect of Marx's work. I have never been fond of this approach for many reasons. I am fairly distrustful of the methodology of Economics for one thing. For another, it doesn't seem to me that Marx did much strictly 'economic' work. His economic ideas always seem inexorably intertwined to his politics and so, like many leftists, I don't think economics as a separate study really means much except in the way that capitalists use it to disguise the political implications of economic issues. (One could say a lot about this subject particularly in regard to the 'labour theory of value' and the notion of so-called 'surplus value,' as well as Marx's complex notion of 'Alienation.')

Some are more interested in the idea of Marx as a philosopher of history. This is indeed an interesting topic. Marx's notion of history as a motion pushed forward by conflict between social and economic classes is fascinating. I am putting this in very simple terms here because I obviously cannot discuss the complex issues of Hegelian dialects etc., but I think most people get the point. I think, whether they realize it or not, most people who are attracted to Marxian ideas are attracted to this aspect of his thinking. And as compelling as it can be, as time has gone by I lost my attachment to such a historicist notion for many reasons. Traditional rationalism has lost most of its appeal to me and this historical model seems to be a mental construct that we thrust onto historical events. History and the social order seem much more random and chaotic than this to me now.

And then there are, of course, more complex aspects of Marxist theory such as the philosophical outlooks of thinkers like Lois Althusser. We obviously cannot discuss these in this context because there is just too much to say and investigate.

Anyway, in the complex web of all of these notions of Marxism, not one of them would make any Liberal bloggers I have read, a Marxist. Because simply being influenced by the impact of Marx's thought on simple sociological analysis does not make one a Marxist. Surely to be considered a Marxist one must adhere to some degree to idea that history moves forward through class conflict, that the capitalist order is a historical phenomenon which is by no means "natural," that capitalist development leads to the possibility of a different, more cooperative social and economic order, that as a system of production capitalism begins to become a fetter on itself, that is to say at some point many aspects of Capitalist production will lose their promotion of efficiency and innovation. These are the kinds of things that make one, in any sense, a Marxist. However, the idea that one is a Marxist because one is critical of the arbitrary use of state power, the dangers of an anti-democratic tendency in our executive branch of government, etc is patently absurd. Even a commitment to a semi-socialist, mixed economy, does not make one a Marxist, or even a 'socialist' in any serious sense.

Ironically, many of those who carelessly throw labels like Marxist and Communist around as a political strategy, claim to be concerned with the power of the government and the so-called nanny-state. Of course, this is largely a fantasy. Modern right-wing governments actively overspend, consistently create larger state structures, and are fully in favour of legislating moral behaviour when it offends their particular sensibilities.

It is very unfortunate that many in this country continue to use to the inflammatory (and meaningless) discourse of the cold-war in attempting to marginalize anyone who believes in social democracy or is cautious of political groups that seem to have little regard for constitutionalism. The fact is that capitalism as it now exists is nothing like the innovative, free-market system that it was, say, a hundred and fifty years ago. Already, we have a profoundly regulated, partially socialized economy. And if a party in Canada actually ran on a strong 'capitalist' and socially right-wing agenda they would have significantly less of a chance to win than the NDP does today. The vast majority of people have accepted some 'socialism,' extensive regulation, and a progressive tax system. Thus to try to marginalize people as 'socialists' or 'Marxists' is not only usually factually wrong but deeply disingenuous.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

This Just Demonstrates that the Liberals deserve to Lose.

I must admit that I shouldn't be surprised by the atrocious Liberal ad against Jack Layton. Common sense should suggest that after years of such ads used against them by the Conservative Party, the Liberals would know better.

This ad could have been crafted by the worst elements in Harper's cadre. Proof positive of what so many of us have been saying for ages now - the Liberals really are just the flip side of the Conservative Party. Ignatieff will lose and he deserves to lose. He has supported the Conservative government over and over on issues vital to workers and families. During the election campaign he has tried to portray himself as far left of where he is, and now the Liberals are using typical Conservative tactics as soon as they see a threat from a party that actually has alternative policies to the Tories.

And for all those Liberals hacks who have the gall to incriminate the NDP in the process, it just won't do. Yes, Layton and the NDP have been critical of the Liberals but that critique has been soundly based in real policy issues. Fact: the Liberals are the party that really started the entire corporate friendly tax approach in the 1990s. Fact: the Liberals have consistently supported the Harper government on issue after issue including a number of anti-union and anti-labour issues. These have been the thrust of NDP criticisms of Ignatieff and the Liberals. The Liberals can run from the their record of supporting the Conservatives but it is the job of the NDP and others to keep this record in people's minds. But this latest Liberal ad is just a typical Conservative-style fear-mongering ad that has nothing to do with reality. The Liberals can no longer accuse the Conservatives of being the party of fear-mongering because they have fallen into line as I expected they would.

If you wake up after the election and find a Harper government or a Liberal one, will it really make any difference? Not nearly as much as the LPC would have you believe.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Liberals vs NDP. . . .

The tone of some Liberal bloggers against the NDP as it begins to rise in the polls is remarkable. They call NDP supporters names and suggest that they are inherently 'hypocritical,' 'disingenuous,' and even 'cozy with the Conservatives.' This is amazing to me. I believe that I am never a blind partisan. I have been very critical at times of Layton especially in the days when he failed to condemn the invasion of Afghanistan. And it was rather opportunist of Layton to only turn against the Afghan invasion when it became apparent that the vast majority of NDP supporters were getting upset about the policy. But while I am more than glad to criticize any party when it is appropriate, I also understand that a basic level of pragmatism is expected in politics. But for Liberals to suggest that the NDP is somehow more hypocritical or cozier with the Conservatives than the Liberal party has been is so patently absurd that I just find it amazing that they would have the nerve to level such charges.

But as expected these accusations are bound to be on the rise now that the NDP has shown some life in the polls. But the Liberals really need to look at themselves for their failures, and not at the NDP. The fact is that the Liberals have moved so far right under Ignatieff that it is not surprising that people are looking for alternatives. Even Liberal heavyweights like Warren Kinsella (who is willing to work for Sun Media) have complained about this.

It is time that the Conservatives stopped characterizing the NDP as a socialist party, and that the Liberals stopped attacking the NDP for simple political expediency. Even if one rejects their policies, the NDP is a moderate, centre-left party with policies that are by no means socialist. They are a long way from the NDP of the 1970s and they don't call for the mass nationalization of industry. Rather, like most modern social democrats, the NDP supports a mixed economy in which universalism in healthcare and education  are basic principles, and in which the people and the government are not simply at the behest of Bay Street and large corporations. There is nothing particularly radical about these beliefs. In fact modern Neo-Liberal conservatives are considerably more extreme than the NDP because they really represent the colonization of our social and political institutions by corporatism. And the Liberals are not far behind the Conservatives in regard to this outlook. Furthermore, regardless of what Liberal bloggers say, the NDP caucus has generally acted with more decorum and dignity in the House than either the Liberals or the Conservatives. And this is, I believe, reflected in Layton's overall positive image.

Most of all I am disturbed by the tendency of so many Liberals to attack the NDP for even being in the political process because, they suggest, NDP supporters are just playing into Harper's hands by splitting the vote, as though they are actually doing it intentionally to help the Conservatives. It is ironic that the Liberals would slay the NDP for taking part in the democratic process given the criticisms they have levelled at Harper for saying that we "don't need this election." Granted, vote splitting can be a real concern under circumstances in which you have an extreme right party that threatens to take power. And I, for one, support strategic voting where it is appropriate. But it is fundamentally wrong to criticize the NDP for simply taking part in the process of democracy. The same is true of people who vehemently criticize the Bloc for it very existence. Regional parties are a reality in many parts of the world, and they have a perfectly legitimate right to exist. We may object to their divisive nature an disagree with their policies, but to act as though they have no right to represent their constituents is fundamentally undemocratic.

Democracy is a messy business and something for which we must continually struggle. In an era of globalization and corporate power, parties like the NDP are essential to maintaining healthcare, education, democracy, social justice, and equal opportunity. I truly believe that the Liberals have failed to defend these principles in recent years and some people, at least in Quebec, are finally looking toward a party that might stand up for what is right. If Liberals are really upset by their failure to gain traction with many voters maybe they should look to their own leaders for failing to create policies that are really alternative to the incumbents.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Will our Constitution Survive?

I think it is sad that the majority of Canadians don't understand the basic workings of their own government. This ignorance speaks to a major failure of the education systems across the country as well as to the apathy brought on by relative prosperity.

But while this ignorance is sad, and somewhat dangerous, it is no less than morally repugnant that the Conservative Government would exploit this ignorance for party political gain. This combination of ignorance and partisanship demonstrates that the democratic freedoms which we take for granted are extremely tenuous and can give way at any time. If the citizens of a nation are unaware of their rights and responsibilities, and equally unaware of the processes and limitations of their government, they cannot be called upon to defend themselves or their institutions.

We must demand, above everything else, constitutional accountability from our elected officials. Because regardless of a party's particular beliefs or policies, if we cannot depend upon them to stand up for the constitution, then all the rest can be swept aside like gossamer.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

We are Winning the War. . . .

Whenever I would get down about the world and the difficult struggles to make human society better in the face of those who would keep us down, my father would always remind of something.

"Remember," he would tell me, "the forces of conservatism may win many of the battles, but we progressives have always been winning the war."

And he was right of course. Despite the best efforts of conservatives we progressives outlawed slavery. Despite conservatives' efforts, women won their democratic rights. Regardless of conservatives, we progressives won the right to organize, have safer workplaces, and the right to a minimum wage. Thanks to progressives gay people have the right to marriage in many places and these rights will continue to increase. Despite conservatives' efforts we have the right to vote and the Great Writ. Despite what conservatives want, we are slowly winning the war of civilization. Sometimes it feels like one step forward and two steps back, but we are winning the war for rights, equality, fairness, justice, and democracy. The conservatives win their share of battles but the very fact that your children don't work in coal mines for 16 hours a day the way conservatives wanted to keep them, means we are winning the war. And we will continue the fight.

I miss you Dad, but I am still fighting, and your grand-daughter will keep fighting after I am gone.

Liberals vs Tories, some ideological and historical observations. . . . .

I have written a fair degree lately about the differences (or lack thereof) between the Liberals and the Conservatives. I haven't elaborated a great deal on specific policy issues in part because I really think that policies are often over-emphasized in that kind of debate because the Liberal party so often campaigns from left of Centre and governs from right of centre, and the Cons thus far have done their most damage in non-legislative ways. I think the most important areas of overlap between the Cons and the Liberals are environmental policies, foreign policies, Israel (at least with Ignatieff as leader), tax policy, and though the Liberals have made a big deal about healthcare, neither party has a very solid record of defending universalism on this file. The Liberals have also supported the Conservative government on a number of important labour issues over the past few years. These are all important issues in which I feel that the Liberals are so far right that I don't particularly trust them over the Conservatives. On the other hand, the Liberals have made some efforts on a number of issues that have been important. Their efforts for universal childcare was something the Cons would never have done, as well as their efforts in the Kelowna accord, and let's face it if the Liberals had not been in office from the early 90s to mid 00s we would still be fighting for gay marriage in the courts (and I think the Cons may have attempted to use the so-called notwithstanding clause to stop gay marriage).

But regardless of all of these differences and similarities, there is an important conceptual difference between most Liberals and most Conservatives that I think should not be overlooked. And that difference is that in my personal experience Liberals usually engage in actual political discourse while Conservatives just have no interest in discourse. Conservatives ruthlessly pursue a corporatist, and reactionary agenda regardless of any notion of facts, and their agenda often completely contradicts their stated moral positions. Most Conservatives have no interest in a society of equality, justice, freedom, or prosperity. Instead they want society to reflect some twisted notion of social Darwinism. Most of them naively believe that if they pursue a Conservative agenda they will have a society that is more or less a 'meritocracy' and that those who are not worthy will get more or less what they deserve. Now, besides the fact that Conservative policies are not at all about social Darwinsim, merit based achievement, or their greatest fantasy, the "free-Market," rank and file Conservative supporters are deluded into believing this spin, while the wealthy and conservative leaders are just laughing at the naivety of their supporters who have been more or less duped into supporting an agenda that talks about 'freedoms,' 'markets,' and a 'natural order,' while pursuing policies that ensure that the rich get richer and the entire social order and legal system favours those who already have money and power.

But you cannot talk to Conservatives about these issues because most don't even have the vaguest idea what is actually going on; they don't begin to understand the social and economic relations of society, they have little notion of the modern history of conservatism, and, despite their fervent support of it, they haven't the slightest notion of how their treasured 'market' is actually working. On the other hand, I think many small "l" as well as large "L" liberals understand many of the basics of the social relations under which they live and function. Most liberals understand that there is no such thing as a "free-market," that the economic system as it exists heavily favours those who already have wealth and power, that a modern government has to go to fairly great lengths to ensure anything like equality of opportunity, and society only works because of a fundamental human cooperation. And even Liberals who don't entirely endorse these positions, can discuss them with a degree of enlightenment and interest. I have even heard a powerful and wealthy man like Paul Martin discuss such issues with what seems like a genuine interest in justice and equality. On the other hand, even a vague suggestion of these issues elicits ridiculous charges of Bolshevism from hopelessly misinformed Conservatives. This discursive and ideological difference between Conservatives and Liberals should not be overlooked even by the most radical among us because it addresses the important differences in outlook from way back in the days of English Whigs and Tories.

When one looks back to the late 18th century when the modern political identities were created and defined, the pitch battles between the great Charles James Fox and William Pitt demonstrated something essential about the difference between liberals and conservatives. Something that was central to Fox and the Whigs was that they knew that the revolution in France had come about because when people are treated horribly and live in wretched conditions they will eventually revolt. Fox knew that you  simply could not keep supporting the system of exploitation and suppression without some serious political and social results. Pitt and the ensuing generations of Toryies really seemed to believe that the inequalities in society were a result of some kind of natural order or natural selection and they thought that they could maintain that order more or less forever. This didn't begin to change until the Red Tories led by George Canning (known as the Canningites) realized that reforms were at the very least necessary to the survival of Britain. Historically "red" Tories have been those Conservatives who have understood the ideological issues that I outlined above. And so-called red Toryism has occasionally become the dominent form of Conservatism in Britain, Canada, and other Commonwealth nations. Anyone who is familiar with men like Rab Butler and Harold Macmillan understands this basic issue.

In other words, there are, I believe, important historical and ideological differences between Liberals and Conservatives. Unfortunately we are now in a period of extreme Torysim and the Liberals have more or less gone along with the swing of this pendulum so the similarities between the two parties seem particularly distasteful to many on the left. But this pendulum swings on a regular historical basis and things will change again and the differences between Liberals and Conservatives will seem more significant and important, and the 'people' will benefit.

For my part, I continue to be far left of the Liberals and even left of the NDP. However, I think these historical and discursive issues need to be understood and talked about so that people can maintain, in Gramsci's words, an optimism of the will.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Harper Promises 5 Billion to fight Jackalopes. . . . . .

At a hustings stop in Alberta this morning, Prime Minister warned that if the Canadian people failed to give his government a majority, the ensuing instability in the nation would result in an dangerous influx of Jackalopes in Canada.

"The Socialists and Separatists, have no regard for the dangers of a Jackalope invasion," Haper told the cheering crowd. "During our time in government, there has been only a handful of Jackalope sightings in Canada. However, the instability that would come with another minority government would surely embolden the Jackalopes who have remained in hiding until now, ready to pounce upon Canadian farms and towns, thus ending our way of life." The speech was delivered with an unusual amount of passion for Steven Harper, who is not known for his expressive style. "A vote for the Liberals," Harper continued, "is a vote for a serious Jackalope invasion."

When asked by one reporter what plans his government had for dealing with the imminent influx of Jackalopes, he made a major policy announcement that included five billion dollars for new drone planes to  monitor areas of high Jackalope activity. When another reporter asked Harper to respond to claims by the opposition parties that Jackalopes don't in fact exist, the Prime Minister replied that "most Jackalope encounters go unreported and it is another example of the opposition ignoring a major problem faced by Canadians." Haper then went on to point out that the leader of the New Democratic Party was known to be Jackalope sympathizer.

NDP Surge?

It is interesting to see the NDP running so high in the polls. There is little doubt in my mind that some of this support will leak away as we near the election, primarily because many people are rightly afraid of the very idea of a Harper majority.

There are many possible reasons that pundits could give for any growing popularity in NDP support. Some may say it is purely an electoral phenomenon. And maybe this is true. We certainly need to see some increases in the size of the NPDs popular vote during a couple of elections before we can say that the NDP is a new force in Canadian politics. However, growing support in Quebec is a good sign for anyone who would like to see the NDP play a more significant role in the Canadian political landscape.

If the NDP results (in votes if not in seats) do begin to show a marked improvement, I believe this will be the result of three major factors. One is that many people are just fed up with the two primary parties and believe, rightly so, that any real change in politics is going to have to come from a new force on the scene. Despite all the abuses the Conservative Party have perpetrated in recent years, their primary political opponent has said almost nothing about political reform. From any normal observer's point of view it really looks like, despite all of their complaints about political abuses of the Conservatives, all the Liberals really want to do is get power so that they can once again enjoy the kind of unchecked power that the PMO affords. The second issue is that people are finally waking up to the fact that, despite what the Conservatives would have us believe, the NDP is hardly the radical socialist party that many people thought it was. And the third issue is that the LPC and the CPoC are, as a group, occupying all of the space from the centre to the right. Though the Liberals continue to pursue some policies that are soft-left-of-centre, they also hold certain policies that are so close to the Conservatives that there is little or nothing to distinguish them. In other words the NDP are the only real alternative at the moment to the two primary parties which operate more or less like an oligopoly.

In other words, despite all the talk of unifying the "left," the truth is that the LPC is over all closer to the Conservatives than they are to the NDP, at least on many of the issue that count for many people. This might change after the election and the Liberals feel compelled to look long and hard at their identity. But the fact is that for the past 15 years or so the Liberal Party has become a Party of Corporatism no less than the Conservative party. And if Harper were to gain a majority and not suddenly shift right with an effort to outlaw abortion, bring back the death penalty, and scrap the Canada Health Act, then the Liberals would have even more trouble distinguishing themselves fromt he Conservatives.

Of course, if Harper were to gain a majority and then actually make these ultra-right legislative changes, then you can disregard everything I have said here because the Conservatives would be utterly wiped out in the next election and the Liberals would once again own the political landscape. In these circumstances, the NDP would once again shrink away to the 12-15% area.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Corporatism. . . .

To some basic degree I have always understood the corporatist mentality. After all, one only has to read Fredrick Engles' The Condition of the Working-Class to know to what inhuman lengths capitalists will go to make profits. Children working in coal-mines for 16 hours a day, women chained to weaving looms, it is all there. And people today who think that capitalists wouldn't do the same thing today if they could are naive. After all, they do, in fact, do many of the same things in the Third World today. And corporatism is even worse than traditional capitalism because it removes people further from the point of exploitation so they can be more easily indifferent to the immoral acts of the drive for profit.

So in theory it is pretty simple: capitalists will exploit people to the point of death to make money and if they feel some pangs of ethics they will either construct an elaborate ideological justification for what they are doing or they will remove the factories to far off countries where they don't have to think about the degree of exploitation.

What has always amazed me is not that capitalists do this sort of thing, what I find curious is that they have been able to sell a corporate agenda to so many average people against whose interest this ideology so obviously acts. They have done this through a rather complex combination of lying and misrepresentation. They have trained an army of technocrats who, at every turn, tell us the most outrageous lies about globalization, taxation, unions, the actions of large corporate bodies, and roll that labour plays in the creation of wealth.

A century and a half ago republicans and leftist naively thought that universal suffrage would solve many of the problematic and exploitative aspects of capitalism because they thought that people would elect representatives who would act in their interests. The problem is, however, that over time, the rich and powerful trained their economists and technocrats to essentially convince people that they HAVE to choose certain kinds of economic policies and that a more cooperative society is simply impossible. As a result, much like war, many of the most exploited have been cheerleaders in their own exploitation.

But it is all a lie. A very large, elaborately constructed lie. All the wealth of a nation, of the world, comes from the labours of people who make things and grow things, not from people who push papers around. And if all those people decide to create a cooperative society in which 90% of the wealth isn't in the hands of 10% of the population, then that is precisely what they can do. We are many, they are few.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Where do we Stand?

Brian Topp has said in this article, more effectively and in greater detail than I, what I have been saying. It is very difficult for Ignatieff to fight this election when he is so politically close to his primary opponent on so many issues. Of course, I am not sure that most voters are really seing it this way. I don't believe most Canadians sit around and think that carefully about the similarities between Harper and Ignatieff in substantive policy terms. Instead what I think is that Ignatieff simply doesn't have enough to sell to Canadians to pull them away from the incumbent party, and as we all know under many circumstances incumbents have a genuine advantage. I think over the years the Liberal Party has shifted to the right far enough to give us little to distinguish between them and the Conservatives. Now, don't get me wrong, Ignatieff has made important points about process and these issues have, I am sure, swayed some voters who are disturbed by Harper's blatant disregard for the rules of the House and freedom of information. And in the long run these could be very important issues for the continuation of our democracy. But the past couple of years have demonstrated that many Canadians don't understand how our system is supposed to work and have little interest in finding out. Thus, it is just unlikely that the Liberals would be able get enough prospective Conservative voters excited about these kinds of issues to sway the vote.

I am not sure if this has significantly affected the NDPs position. They have gone up substantially in Quebec and BC but I am not sure if their poll numbers are regional issues or not. I know that people are saying that Jack Layton has a great deal of personal appeal in Quebec.  I think probably there are many prospective NDP voters who just don't see the Liberals as a real alternative to Harper and are smart enough to know that, despite what the Conservatives tell us, the NDP is in no sense a radical socialist party. On the other hand, there are also many NDP voters who are deeply afraid of a Harper majority. So these two groups must, at least in part, cancel each other out. But I suspect that overall the NDP vote will go up significantly, even if their seat count doesn't.

Finally, if Ekos latest seat projection is correct then I can't see Mr. Harper maintaining the office of Prime Minister.

Harper Conservatives are infected with the Whacko Virus. . . . .

I have seriously come to believe that there is something wrong in this country; something bizarre and mysterious. In a place where corruption and illegality has little or no effect on the popularity of a government, something is, well. . . . just off. I have come to believe that irrefutable evidence could emerge that Harper was guilty of child molestation and it would have no impact on his popularity.

Of course, there are among his followers a die-hard group who are so stupid (sorry but there is no other word for it) that they think that the CBC is run by a sinister group of Bolsheviks and that Jack Layton follows a communist ideology. Of course most of these people have no idea what Bolshevik means and would be utterly incapably of articulating what communism, or even socialism, really are. These are the kind of people who, in the US, say that Obama wasn't born in America but that he is the head of some kind of international socialist conspiracy to take over the US in the name of Karl Marx. You can't argue with people like this because they are either too misinformed or they are so far gone that they have lost all reason.

In Canada there is a core base of these kinds of whackos and they would follow Harper no matter what he did. It is irrelevant to them to what degree he undermines democracy because at heart they don't really believe in democracy anyway. Sure, they like it when it goes their way, just like they believe in the courts as long as they are making decisions with which they agree. As far as these people are concerned, democracy is only something to be manipulated in order to further the corporate agenda. And if their leader does something wildly illegal or immoral, the Bolshevik conspiracy forced him to do it. On the other hand, if he were accused of doing something really terrible, they would simply believe that it is a conspiracy to discredit him.

Even though these hard-core crazies constitute only a portion of Conservative support I have come to the conclusion that their ignorance and stupidity have infected many traditional conservatives like a virus. Less and less do Conservatives care about facts such as real crime rates. Less and less do they care about whether their government proposes to spend billions upon billions on untendered  fighter jets with a dubious record. As long as it is a Conservative who feeds into their lingering beliefs in communist conspiracies and wants to privatize everything, it doesn't matter how corrupt, how dishonest, how evil he is, their support will remain unshaken. Historically this is exactly the attitude that leads eventually to tyranny. And it will lead there again.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Another Thought Experiment. . . .

Does everyone remember John Baird's famous words to veteran CBC reporter Don Newman on the eve of the last time that the Conservatives almost lost power? Here are his exact words:

"We'll go over the heads of the members of Parliament; go right over the head, frankly, of the Governor General; go right to the Canadian people." 

No one knows exactly what that meant at the time and still no one is sure. Was John Baird advocating the mobilisation of his supporters to violently maintaining his government?? Actually I cannot think of any other reasonable explanation.

Thus, if the Conservatives were to win another, reduced, minority in this election and yet were unable to gain the confidence of the House, what would happen? The legal process would be for the GG to the next largest party in the House and ask its leader to attempt to form a government. Now, if this happened and it was Ignatieff to whom the GG went, (which is a reasonable assumption), and Ignatieff was able to gain the confidence of the House, what would Baird and Harper do?? If the quote from Baird above is any indication,  it would be reasonable to assume that the Conservatives would attempt some unconstitutional move to prevent Ignatieff from forming a government. Would Harper and Baird barricade themselves in the Prime Ministers Office, refusing to leave and calling on their supporters to storm Parliament Hill to prevent the change of government?

Of course, none of these things would probably work. The GG can technically dissolve parliament and swear in another Prime Minister without any word from the sitting Prime Minister. The only way that Prime Minister William Pitt managed to get away with ignoring a vote no-confidence in the 1790s was because King George III was sympathetic toward him and refused to dissolve parliament. I don't believe that our current GG would ignore the constitutional tradition in this manner. But the whole thing would be quite a spectacle.

And the truth is Mr. Baird that unless you have more than 50% of the popular vote, the people have already spoken and you don't have the support of the majority.

Pink Toenails, Fox News Whackos, and Gender Identity. . . .

 J. Crew president and creative director Jenna Lyons took some time out with her son to paint his toenails.

The kind of thing lots of people do with their sons and daughters.

However, Fox news pundit Dr. Keith Ablow condemned this supposedly innocent act and suggested that this was a typical example of our culture's tendency toward "psychological sterilization." Really, I'm not kidding! I wish I were, but I am not.

So I took a few minutes out to have a little fun with my daughter and she painted my toenails.

So far I have no burning desire to put up a poster of Judy Garland or go see a lavish Broadway show. (Not that there's anything wrong with that). Also, so far my daughter doesn't seem confused about my gender identity, but I will keep you updated.

Harper's done a lot of SH**. . . . .

Anyone who has not yet seen this, needs to see it. Shit Harper Did.

Image courtesy of

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Thought Experiment. . . . . .

I believe that all that has to happen in this election for us to finally be rid of Harper is for voters to hand him a significantly reduced minority in which the LPC and the NDP out number the Conservatives. Under these conditions Harper will be unable to endlessly bribe the Bloc with Quebec goodies in order to pass legislation. Thus Harper, not known even by his supporters for being cooperative and conciliatory, will be unable to pass his precious corporate tax cuts and his government will fall shortly after being elected which means the GG will be compelled to give the Liberals a chance to form government. To maintain this government the LPC will not need any kind of formal coalition because all they would have to do is govern with a modicum of cooperative spirit and they would surely be able to keep the government together for several years. Now given Harper's apparently psychopathic hatred for the Liberal Party I don't believe that he would be able to abide the position of Leader of the Opposition in the face of a LPC government led by Michael Ignatieff. Furthermore, I believe that once out of power the real depth of Harper's wrongdoing would be properly exposed with court cases, a number of convictions, and possibly even an Independent Inquiry. Harper and a few of his closest associates like Baird would be finished in national politics and the national nightmare of a PMO that is attempting to destroy our national democratic institutions would finally be over.

Though I am not a Liberal, I believe under these circumstances the Liberal Party would move to strengthen the various independent government oversight positions in such a way that in the future the Conservatives would not so easily be able to manipulate the few checks on power that presently exist in the Canadian government. Though the Liberals have, in their time, suffered from a great degree of arrogance and patronage, they would surely realize that the weak independent oversight in the government was almost the undoing of their party and the country as a whole. Meanwhile the true picture of Conservative corruption coupled with the power vacuum that would exist in the Conservative Party after years of extreme centralization would mean that it would take years for the CPC to rebuild.

This thought experiment would only be meaningful if the voters are smart enough to give the LPC and the NDP a larger number of seats than the Conservatives. If not then all bets are off.

Sound-Bytes and Political Teeth. . . .

The only real 'soundbite' in the debate seemed to belong to Jack Layton when he mentioned the "crooks" in the Senate. Once again I was surprised by the failure of Harper's opponents to properly attack him with quips that would stick in people's minds. "Why do you hire Criminals for the PMO and have prostitutes for dinner at Sussex Drive?" Harper's teflon style seems to be continuing despite his absolute corruption and dishonesty. I have a theory about this and it has to do with the idea that the opposition has just let itself be bullied for so long that they have become incapable of fighting back with the kind of spirit necessary to win.

On the other hand it may be a real issue of policy that is standing in the way of the LPC. One of the big problems for the Liberals in this debate is that for many years now they have bought into the entirely erroneous neo-liberal idea that lowering corporate taxes leads somehow to an improved economy. This outrageously counterfactual lie was a fundamental cornerstone of Paul Martin's politics and until this election the Liberals have continually touted this lie as fact. It is for this reason that it was almost impossible for Ignatieff to "win" the debate. When you essentially adhere to the economic approach of your opponent it is very difficult to tell him that he is wrong in any kind of memorable way. If Ignatieff didn't belong to a party that touted this economic lie he could have properly called Harper on the issue of giving billions to corporations. But I think to most Canadians it just sounds like an empty critique to say  "don't let the Conservatives give billions to Corporations, let us do a few years from now!" And the simple fact is that no matter what most Liberals and Conservatives say, the two parties are not that substantively different on the economic file. And until the public is really fed up and has reached that inevitable 'throw these bums out' moment, the Liberals will have no way to win an election because they are just too close to the Conservatives on their basic economic outlook.

The UK is a good model for this problem. Tony Blair essentially brought the Labour Party so close to the Tories that there was little between them in terms of economic fundamentals. But Blair was doing this at the tail end of seventeen years of Tory rule. The fact is that Blair hardly had to distinguish himself from John Major on any particular issue because the British public had reached that level of boredom and exhaustion that they were simply ready to get rid of the Tories regardless of policies. As long as Blair had not been perceived as completely whacko he was a shoe in to win the election in 1997. Ignatieff simply does not have this advantage because the Conservatives have not been in power that long and people have not reached this vital moment of political boredom. Thus to really have a chance in this election he would have needed to actually offer a strong fundamental alternative to Harper's regime. But the fact is, the most you can presently say about the LPC is that is is trying to promote a "kindler, gentler" version of the same kind of pro-corporate agenda that the Harperites represent. And this just isn't enough. If Ignatieff could have stood up in the debate and said "the economic advantages of lower corporate taxes is just a Conservative lie designed to shift money and power to Bay Street," I think some people, (particularly young voters) might have payed attention. But the fact is that most Liberals I hear and read actually buy the neo-liberal lies of corporatism, and for this reason they will not win an election until people are just fed-up with the incumbent party, which is still a few years away. Four years of a Harper majority will do the trick. After that, a sufficient number of people will be fed-up and others will see a "kinder, gentler" version of the Conservatives as a desirable thing. But time and hardship  will be the only things that will sell the Liberal Party which is presently little more than 'Conservative-lite."

In the end I think we can safely say that Ignatieff had no good sound-bytes because his policies have no teeth.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How Bright is Ignatieff?

As I understand it Michael Ignatieff is something of an intellectual. But as I have watched him through the past few years in his public persona one would never know it. I have known some very bright people, and been involved in academic circles and to be honest Ignatieff simply doesn't come off as all that bright. Now, granted the public political atmosphere in  this country is not very intellectual and hardly lends itself to the process of carefully considered discourse. Furthermore, Mr. Ignatieff's primary political opponent is essentially selling fear as the primary mode of political thought, and it is very difficult to fight fear in public or private discourse with sophisticated and reasoned arguments. And yet still there seems to be something of a disconnect here. When Ignatieff answers questions about burning public issues he doesn't seem to frame these questions with the mind of an intellectual. I am not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing, of course. If Ignatieff were completely incapable of talking about things in a straightforward manner, then he would be of little help to a political party. However, there are other public figures who are intellectuals or academics who I find come off as much brighter than Ignatieff in their public appearances and also much more effective. Gilles Duceppe and Jim Stanford are two such people. To me Duceppe, regardless of one's politics, comes off as very bright and is very effective at using his intelligence to make people like Harper look, well . . . stupid. Standford, on the other hand, is very good at distilling a complex political or economic point and making it clear and understandable. And I often see him sweeping away right-wing ideology that is disguised as fear-mongering.

I don't know Ignatieff's work very well and cannot speak to how bright he might really be. Academic 'stars' like Ignatieff are, in my opinion, often way overrated and not nearly as bright as they are made out to be. (Except perhaps in some French cases such as Derrida, Sartre, or Roland Barthes) But obviously, regardless of what one thinks of his work, he is certainly a far cry brighter than Stephen Harper. What I suspect is that Ignatieff's intelligence simply does not translate well into the public forum or maybe he tries too hard. I have seen him answer important questions from reporters with the opening quip "Yeah, but. . . " Not the most effective way to come off as bright even by Canadian standards. I think that if Ignatieff were effective at melding his private intelligence with his public persona, he would be whipping the floor with Stephen Harper. Perhaps he has tried too hard to not seem like an intellectual and in the process has lost what advantage he might have had. I don't know for certain. I don't think that the problem is that one can't be an intellectual and still gain popularity with voters, because I think Duceppe is very bright and has at times been very popular. Unfortunately, Ignatieff's looks don't do him any favours because he lacks a sympathetic appearance. He also lacks a kind of public charisma. However, if charisma were a prerequisite to getting elected most of the Conservative cabinet would never have been elected to anything. 

Perhaps the debates tonight will give us some answers to these questions. Maybe if Ignatieff does at some point become Prime Minister he will become much more effective and contribute to improving public discourse in this country. I just can't help thinking, somewhere in the back of my mind, that if Ignatieff were really bright he would have found a way to destroy Stephen Harper. Because in elections it is not necessarily your politics that really matter, it is what you do with your politics. 

It is said that when asked who the best football coach was, Bum Phillips, the coach of the Houston Oilers said without hesitation Paul "Bear" Bryant. The reason, Phillips said was because "He can take his'n and beat your'n he can take your'n and beat his'n." I suspect that if Ignatieff were really as bright as people think we would be able to apply this coloquial assessment to him too. 

The Creeping face of Pottersville. . . .

I love these kinds of stories. Criminals with prostitute escorts having diner at the Prime Minister's house. Harper has indeed reduced us to a Banana republic and it gets more like Pottersville all the time.

And all the upstanding, law-abiding citizens who vote for this government, apparently don't really care about corruption or criminals and prostitutes chilling with their Prime Minister, as long as that Prime Minister represents their party. Next time some some self-righteous, supposedly moral, Conservative lectures you on ethics, morality, or the law, LAUGH IN THEIR FACE!

We've Come Full Circle. . . . .

"These guys can't even tell the difference between right and wrong."

                                                                                      -Stephen Harper.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Can you Trust John Baird?

So speaking of the G8 draft report that is making such a big impact on the political narrative today, John Baird came out today to deny all charges of wrongdoing. But amid his quickly organized talk to the media John Baird talked about "seeing a later draft of the report." Really? Few people seem to be picking up on this but Mr. Baird should never have seen such a draft. Copies of these drafts are ruthlessly guarded and numbered and only certain people would have access to them and that would not include the government House leader.

There are sure are a lot more questions than answers in this election.

When Voting is Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Vote. . . .

Ignatieff has felt compelled to defend the fact that he voted in the UK at some point in the past. My question is simple: why would he defend himself? Only in the context of the Harper government can voting be characterized as wrongdoing. I lived in Britain for some years in the 1990s and because I was born in the UK I was entitled to vote. By virtue of the fact that the results of the elections affected my life, I voted. And surely only a Harper Tory could criticize anyone for taking part in the democratic process! We all know that the Conservatives don't won't people to vote here or anywhere else but Ignatieff should not legitimize the Conservative's anti-democratic tendencies by 'justifying' voting.

If Mr. Ignatieff was living in the UK and was entitled to vote, the only thing he should have to defend is if he had failed to exercise this democratic right.

Question of the Day. . . . .

Exactly how much corruption can this Harper Cabal be guilty of before Canadians start paying attention?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

One more scandal that Harper supporters don't care about. Did Harper orchestrate the election in an attempt to get through an election before this came to our attention? Tories cared about what Shelia Fraser had to say when they were in opposition but when they are in government she is is part of a Liberal bias in the Civil Service. In fact she was once their hero. From hero to zero in one government.

And you thought corruption had gone out of style! Harper and his regime have brought a whole new Chic to nefarious government wrongdoing. Shame on anyone who votes Conservative in this election.

New Proposed Tory legislation. . . . .

News Item -

Having realized what a terrible thing it is that Michael Ignatieff lived and worked in the US for some time, the Conservative Party of Canada has promised to bring forward legislation that will make it illegal for Canadians in the future to live abroad.

During a stump speech in Unity Saskatchewan Stephen Harper told his rural supporters that "No true Canadian would live abroad and when people do go to other countries they return with dangerously liberal ideas." The audience cheered upon the announcement of the proposed legislation and shouts of "Keep Them Home" could be heard reverberating through the quonset hut on the farm of Alesky Kowalczky, an immigrant from Eastern Europe.

"If Ignatieff was a true Canadian he never would have gone to live and work in the US,"  Mr. Kowalczky said while holding up a Conservative Party sign. "This is another good step forward by Mr. Harper to stop the spread of outside ideas which brought notions like socialsim and the telephone."

When asked about the irony of the fact that he had come here from Eastern Europe, Mr. Kowalczky asked the reporter what "irony" means.

Brian Mulroney, former Conservative Prime Minister, was unavailable for comment as he is presently living in Palm Beach Florida.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Henry Mintzberg, Economist, Check him out. . . . . .

Excellent interview with Henry Mintzberg on The Sunday Edition this morning in case anyone missed it. You can listen to it here.

Mintzberg is an interesting professor of Management at McGill and you can get some great information on his web sight here. Read his material, it is worth it.

He focuses on the neo-con fantasy concerning lower corporate taxes and the way that the political agenda has tilted toward corporate power in the last 20 years or so.

One of the most interesting things he said in this morning's interview was when he talked about the Conservative effort to get people to see corporations like people, with the same kinds of rights. He points out that if corporations really want to be treated like people then they should be treated like people when it comes to criminal activity. If Pfizer, for example, is convicted of breaking the law then, like an individual they should be stopped from functioning in society for a time, like a prison sentence. He suggested that he would be very surprised if any corporation would, under these circumstances, want such rights status. Indeed!

He went on to say that he wasn't against corporations but that he was against corporations being involved in his government. Through their influence, corporations have framed the tax code and successfully lobbied to change many regulations in their interests. Mintzberg roughly divides society into three parts, political, private, and social (something like civil society in modern parlance). His work suggests that balance has tipped way too far toward the private and it needs to tip back toward the social, in which the political system acts in the interests of the social body at large and not in the interests of faceless corporations that have colonized our political body.

Good stuff Mr. Mintzberg!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

What is really Passé? ?

I had to laugh today when I read a comment on a news feed that claimed that recent polls showing the Conservative support relatively solid and the NDP apparently drooping shows that "Conservatism is in and Socialism is Passé."


What this comment really demonstrates is that, apparently what is really "in" with some people is just plain ignorance.

If you really still believe that the NDP is a 'socialist' party then you really don't know what is going on. Furthermore, the number of votes for the Conservative Party actually went down in the last election. The inability of the CPC to form a majority government even in the face of their abandonment of many of their more socially and fiscally conservative policies speaks volumes about contemporary politics. Incumbency is usually an advantage in the British parliamentary system for up to eight years or so, after which the landscape inevitably changes. The CPC will continue to have a slight advantage for another couple of years and then things will change.

But overall, you have to be profoundly ignorant to imagine that the Canadian population is becoming more conservative, at least in social terms. While there is no doubt that, largely due to media concentration, the neo-liberal economic agenda has become more or less mainstream, (and I believe this will change radically in the next two decades as people begin to realize just how bad it has been for average people), overall there is no question that social conservatism is what is really passé at the moment. The majority of people now accept same-sex marriage, no Party (even the CPC) are now willing to talk about restricting abortion in Canada, fewer people each year are attending church in Canada, and have you met any teenagers recently who are against pre-marital sex? And, despite what most Conservatives think, most people actually want a justice system that is interested in reform and not just mindless punishment which just leads to recidivism.

Here in Ontario the last elected Conservative Premier (Mr. Harris) had absolutely no interest in social conservatism, despite the fact that many of his MPs were serious social conservatives. Harper has all but abandoned his real social conservative agenda, at least in public terms. The very fact that most of Harper's socially conservative efforts have been made by stealth, demonstrates that the majority of people are becoming less conservative rather than more conservative.

And of course, the icing on the cake is the fact that, as almost always proves to be the case, the present conservative government spends money like a bunch of drunken sailors. Conservatism is passé and recent political events demonstrates that fact quite well. Enjoy your time in the sun conservatives because  your days are numbered and a same-sex couple will soon be moving in next door.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Another Cute Cairo Video. . . . .

This is a cute video of Cairo at her sister's house.

Harper and the Principles of Democracy. . . . .

Even if we are advocates of the idea of democracy, we know that as political system it faces serious challenges, and these challenges are deepening as years pass. One of the central challenges that we face is to make people understand that democracy is not simply the process of ensuring that people can vote for their representatives but that agendas and discourse must not be the sole purview of any one group or class. In other words, democracy is not a fixed 'state of affairs' but a gradual motion toward open discourse. The problem is, of course, that we live in a system in which money plays an ever greater roll, controlling the perceived possibilities and limiting pubic discussion. An obvious result of this process of 'limiting' is that the agenda of different political parties tend to converge as they all begin to more or less assume the 'truth' of what certain people claim are the very narrow limits of political and social possibilities. This problem is enhanced by the process of globalization as the 'room for manœuvre' for independent states grows smaller in the face of capitalist pressures.

A good example of this limiting of discourse is found in the public's perception of questions such as social programs or public pensions. As right-wingers and capitalists generally seek to privatize all social services as well as pensions, a perception is fostered that government services are 'inefficient' and that the system cannot afford decent public pensions. This maybe (and generally is) distinctly counter-factual, but in politics perception counts for much more than reality.

Meanwhile, right-wing parties seek everywhere to eliminate limits on election spending, realizing of course that those with more money will be able to control political discourse through media control. It is a fairly simply equation summed up by the famous dictum that those who pay the piper call the tune.

As alternative opinions are effectively marginalized many people turn away from the democratic process and others simply become alienated by the apparently petty bickering among primary parties who, despite what they say,  just barely disagree on many central issues. This is where a contemporary right-wing leader like Stephen Harper finds a particular advantage. Already well served by the corporate control of the majority of media outlets and the alienation of many voters, a man like Harper can further push his advantage by leading a new movement of contemptuous and obnoxious politicians who generally undermine citizens' faith in the political process. By further alienating potential voters from the process, the right gains an even greater advantage as the core support of the traditional right-wing maintains the greatest commitment to voting. Politicians like Harper advance their advantage by muddying the legal waters of government rights and powers as well as fostering ignorance about the constitutional fundamentals of the state. Thus when the Harper regime wilfully ignores basic principles of Government responsibility concerning the powers of the House of Commons, they are doing so not just to control information but to intentionally confuse the public concerning what the government responsibilities are. And when John Baird tells the country that they will bypass the Governor General, he knows he is talking about wilfully breaking the most basic laws of the nation, but he does so to confuse the public concerning the constitution and thereby sewing the seeds for the gradually wearing away of the basic principles of democracy.

Thus the very principles of democracy that were so long fought for by so many people are significantly undermined as more and more people turn away out of disgust, media manipulation, and ignorance. Democracy is a delicate system, the safety of which can only be ensured by gradually reducing the undue influence of a priori advantages of money and power. Unfortunately we are now on a down turn in the fight for democracy and men like Harper are leading the charge against democracy's principles.

Reward this Government, and one more stone from the edifice of democracy that people have strived so hard to build will be taken away, and eventually the whole thing will come crumbling down around us.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Couple of Campaign Questions. . . .

One question I have that no one seems to be asking in the media is: "How exactly are Conservative operatives getting access to the facebook pages of people who attend Conservative rallies??Very few people have totally open facebook pages so unless those individuals friended those operatives then the only way that they could have gained access to such pages is by hacking the accounts of those people. Maybe these young women did have totally open Facebook pages but this seems strange given how much talk there is of maintaining a modicum of privacy on Facebook. Why is no one asking this question??

Another thing that I find interesting is that yesterday the Liberals rightly fired a candidate named Andre Forbes for suggesting that Natives are lazy. Conservatives jumped all over this story obviously. However, at least the Liberals immediately fired him! The Conservatives are fine with their people saying that Natives are lazy as my own candidate Pierre Poilievre said on CFRA radio. By the way he also used the phrase "Tar Baby" in the House of Commons. No one fired Mr. Poilievre for these remarks! He didn't even receive a dressing-down by his party leader. I am no big supporter of Mr. Ignatieff, but if one is looking for the party of bigotry and hate, one need look no further than the party presently in power.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Cairo Playing. . . .

Just a little video I made of Little Cairo playing. It was my first imovie attempt and I was just trying to see how it works. But Cairo looks cute.

Harper's Magic Act Politics. . . . .

Anyone who is even vaguely aware of politics has witnessed and even commented on the Harper political strategy. It is a strategy that he employs in office as well as in his campaigning. The strategy is now being referred to as the "bubble-boy" approach, but I think I have a more inclusive definition.

Much of Harper's strategy centers around essentially cutting the government (both MPs and the Prime Minister) off from the people, from House, and from the media as much as possible. Don't talk to people if you can avoid it, shun the media, and if issues or scandals arise try to simply ignore them, and if necessary divert attention by blaming someone else, or when things get really bad suggest that other people/parties do the same stuff so it doesn't really matter anyway. Another control strategy in dealing with any controversy or scandal is to keep repeating the claim that "people don't care about that" until many people really don't care. I call that the "these aren't the droids you're looking for" strategy. In other words, tell the people what they think and a certain percentage of people will believe you no matter how far fetched the idea is.

When governing, Harper essentially limits himself to either governing by stealth or only pursuing those legislative strategies for which he and his cronies can whip up fear and anger like terrorism, prisons, weapons etc. Governing by stealth essentially amounts to doing as much as possible through non-legislative means such as ending the long-form census, cutting funding to any organization that promotes education and knowledge etc. And his fear-based legislative agenda amounts to whipping up the public concerning problems that don't really exist in a significant way in terms of social impact and making the public think that these issues are dangerous, pressing, and real concerns for fear.

So what these approaches amount to overall could be called "Magic Act" politics. Harper runs politics much like a magician deceives an audience. It was well summed up by magician/comedians Penn and Teller in their classic explanation of How Magic Works.

First you Palm, which means to hold and object in an apparently empty hand. The Harper regime employs this strategy all the time when they continually hides things from the public, including the costs of their own programs and the opinions of their MPs.

Second you Ditch, which means to secretly dispose of an unneeded object. And of course we have all seen the Harper regime ditch ministerial aides or young women at their rallies.

Third you Steal, to secretly obtain an object you want. We all know that the Harper regime steals, like when they stole your money in the In and Out Scandal. They also constantly attempt to steal information about their political opponents such as when they bugged an NDP caucus meeting.

Forth you Load, to secretly move an object from one place to another. Again, the In and Out scandal comes to mind, moving money around in the hope that no one will see it.

Fifth is Simulation, to give the impression that something that hasn't happen actually has. Remember when Stockwell Day told us that there were lots of crimes out there going on that weren't being reported and that is why we need to spend billions on new prisons? Classic simulation.

Six is Misdirection, to divert attention away from what you don't want people to look at. This is the central core of Harper's strategy, constantly divert people's attention from your own corruption by blaming others or suggesting your opponents sympathize with terrorism etc. Without misdirection the Harper regime would have fallen long ago.

Seventh is the Switch, to replace one object with another. This is a simple form of the old 'Bait and Switch.' This has been central to the Harper regime from the very beginning. Their most notable bait and switch was to point to the corruption and lack of accountability of the last government and suggest that they would be different. Of course, when they switched places it turned out that they were more corrupt and less accountable.

Like a cheap magician, the Harper regime is essentially attempting to convince you that they are doing something that they are not. They are not governing in a meaningful way, they are simply playing tricks on people in order to stay in power and give as much money as they can to their friends and large corporations.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Very disturbing. . . .

Further evidence, if you really needed it, that Harper is just a follower of the US right-wing. Both ads are very disturbing and it is even more troubling that Harpers' team would so blatantly copy this ad as though no one would notice.

As Dr. Johnson so famously said, 'Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel!" And the Harperites are a certainly a bunch of scoundrels.