Monday, April 30, 2012

Poison Discourse part II. . . . .

My last blogpost concerning the poisoning of our political discourse, and the abusive and vulgar response that I received from its chief antagonist, has reminded me of the (usually unmentioned) toxin that is continual put into our political system by so many of the politicians and political commentators - political machismo. It is easy for people to retreat from meaningful discourse and instead treat their political adversaries to a steady diet of vulgarity and abuse. When someone calls out a government or a political commentator on some piece of corruption or a toxic diatribe it is much easier to turn those accusations back upon them then it is to actually deal with the issue in a meaningful and thoughtful way. We continually tell our children about the terrible effects of bullying, but how serious can they take us when it is the very modus operandi of our reigning political order.

When someone is concerned about accountability in military expenditures or operations, accuse them of being a terrorist. If someone calls you on your political actions or style, seek to abuse them or bully them into silence. It is silence and obedience that macho tyrants are looking for and if they can't get it through intimidation they will inevitably fraud, and it is a quick step to real violence.

The roots of genuine violence are found in the socially sanctioned behaviours in which people, powerful and influential people, engage  on a regular basis. The swagger of the politician and the ruthless vulgarity of the political commentator are the macro-manifestations of the machismo and violence that go on in our playgrounds, on our streets, and most unfortunately in our homes. We de facto sanction violence when we ritualize it in our sporting events and when our political class operates in a continual mode of macho abusiveness. And this machismo extends into our prevailing ideology of ruthless competitiveness and the brutal attacks not only on political opponents but on our very ecological system. The reduction of dialogue is, in fact, a road-marker on the path toward real violence. It is little wonder that so few women are willing to actively engage in our political system, and that many of the ones who do so and are successful, are themselves imbued with the swaggering machismo that has become the hallmark of our politics in general.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mr. Kinsella and the Poisoning of discourse. . . .

For a long time now we have grown accustomed to the Conservative Party poisoning the political discourse of the nation. It has become so commonplace for the Harpercons to feed the nation pictures of opposition leaders with birds pooping on them or as representing sinister foreign forces that we hardly blink an eye when we see another starkly personal and negative add from our sitting government, thus lowering the standards of politics and the expectations of people, particularly young people who are abandoning the political system in droves.

Of course, poison politics is obviously not the sole realm of the Conservative Party. But the more that a governing party in particular uses Karl Rove style politics, the worse things will get at all levels of our political culture. Poison slowly creeps in at every level of political discourse and it infects us all, particularly when it is subtle and sinisterly noxious.

In recent months it has become clear to me that one of the nation's most famous and recognized Liberal bloggers is gradually being recognized for the negative, toxic discourse in which he engages. The blogger (and he likes to say that his blog site is not a blog site at all) is, of course, the notorious Warren Kinsella. While continually arguing for more political cooperation between the Liberal Party of Canada and the NDP, Mr. Kinsella seldoms tires of aiming his toxic discourse at the very party he seems to want to woo toward a merger.

I actually find the discourse of Mr. Kinsella considerably more offensive than that practiced by the Conservatives because one generally knows where the Conservatives (bloggers as well as professionals) are coming from. Mr. Kinsella's discourse is, however, considerably more subtle and attempts to portray itself as either purely defensive or indignantly justifiable. In one of today's posts we have a typical example of Mr. Kinsella's language. In the face of a looming budget vote here in Ontario Mr. Kinsella is indignant that Andrea Horwath, the leader of the provincial NDP, has the gall to attempt to influence government policy, a practice that I suspect he would be equally swift to defend if it were his party trying to pursue their interests in a generally accepted and traditionally practiced political strategy. Asking for certain policies or spending strategies to be included in a budget in order to receive support for the budget is more than simply common practice during minority governments, it is good practice which encourages discourse and compromise. Mr. Kinsella, however, choses to use the language of criminal activity in relation to this practice, suggesting that Ms Horwath is "issuing randsom notes" to force the government to accept her demands. Language is a powerful thing and the portrayal of the NDP as kidnappers and criminals is profoundly toxic, particularly when we consider the parliamentary traditions and the particular kinds of demands that Ms Horwath is making. Even the Globe and Mail (no particular friend of the NDP) portrays Ms Horwath's actions in a proper light saying "Ms Horwath has taken pains to convey that she prefers to influence policy rather than force another election."  While the G&M is using fairly neutral discourse, Mr. Kinsella's discourse is precisely the kind that has poisoned our political atmosphere. He is not attacking a particular policy of a sitting government or a divisive or unacceptable political strategy, rather he is using language that portrays a perfectly acceptable practice, (and one that he would surely advocate if his party was on the other side), as no less than criminal.

Don't get me wrong, there are times when inflammatory language can be justified and is even, perhaps, necessary, and I have certainly fallen victim to the occasional outburst. However, what we are talking about here is a conscious and concerted effort to discredit a political opponent for actions which Mr. Kinsella would certainly not oppose under different circumstances. And even if one does oppose such actions on principle (which I have never heard anyone do), these are certainly not immoral or unseemly types of actions.

For most people, none of this comes as a surprise. Kinsella is one of many political operatives whose style and approach has always been thus. And such people tend not only to belittle all opponents regardless of the intent or style of those opponents, they also wave off such criticisms with remarks like "if you can't stand the political heat, get out of the kitchen." And this is what such people have reduced our political culture to - a discourse of criminality for any and all disagreement.

We will never heal our political culture as long as such practices are ubiquitous and accepted. And we will never move forward with a society and and a political system that works. When governments and parties practice anti-democratic and abusive strategies and policies, by all means leave no stone unturned when dealing with their abuse. But when people are actively looking for compromise with policies that clearly seek to help the more vulnerable in society, it is nothing short of immoral to paint them with a brush of criminality.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Why I don't Believe in a Merger. . . . .

I don't think I am naive. Nor am I ignorant of contemporary or historical political issues; I have made a careful study of political philosophy and tried to stay abreast of global and national socio-economic struggles. And yet, I cannot, for the life of me, imagine why people like Jean Chrétien and Warren Kinsella keep talking about a merger of the Liberal Party of Canada and the NDP. I understand that Liberals are frustrated. After all, they were in power for a long time and it seems inexplicable to many of them that they are not only out of power but seem to be continuing to wallow in third place with little sign that they can stage a comeback. However, the Liberal Party of the twenty-first century is a far cry from the one of a generation ago.

Over the past twenty years the LPC gradually adopted the principle philosophy of so-called 'neo-liberalism,' the idea that society de facto exists to enhance corporate prosperity. Essentially building on the 'trickle-down' economics of the early eighties (a philosophy that even George Bush once called 'voodoo economics'), many in the Liberal Party essentially dreamed that if they reorganized government economic policies in ways that encouraged greater corporate freedom, lower corporate taxes, fewer corporate regulations, etc, the result would be more prosperity for everyone.

One of the first significant actions in this regard was NFTA which increased the ability corporations to function and trade but did little or nothing to increase the freedom of average working person to sell their wares (labour-power) or buy and sell across borders. This document is symbolic of the real attitude of the LPC in general, an attitude that increasingly lets multi-national corporations call the real economic shots. Now, I am the first to admit that even those rich and powerful Liberals such as Paul Martin who adopted a neo-liberal economic agenda, are still concerned with the 'human-face' of capitalism. As someone in the far left, I admit that I was impressed by Martin's efforts at universal child-care as well as his efforts to address some of the outstanding issues facing the Indigenous people with the Kelowna Accord. However, after the rise of the Harpercons, it became increasingly evident to many that what separates the LCP from the Conservative party is not the abyss that some would have us believe. Years of seeing the Liberal Party vote time and again with the Harper Government made the Liberal Party look increasingly irrelevant. Talk by Dion and Ignatieff to support certain policies such as child-care, pharmacare, and some level of control on carbon usage, did little to sway voters because, I think, the harm was already done; few left-leaning Liberals (or swing-voters) were buying anything that the Liberal Party was selling, and blue Liberals began to abandon the LPC for the Conservative Party (many in fear of an NDP government).

I also admit that, despite the Vitriol of men like Kinsella (who schizophrenically denigrates all things NDP while at the same time telling them they should merge with the Liberals), I still believe that overall the LPC believes in democracy and, unlike the Harper government, they have some respect for the traditions of Parliament. However, despite these principles, I think that a significant number of people have permanently left the Liberal party for the NDP simply because they are becoming more and more aware of the huge inequalities of wealth that have been created under the guidance of the Liberal Party. A fact that no reasonable person can deny is that over the past forty years real wages of the majority have stagnated, and while corporate taxes have gone down. all they have done is line their own pockets. No matter what your political stripes are, we need to face up to these deep economic challenges, but while the COnservative Party ignores (or even denies) these issues, the Liberals show no inclination that they want to deal with them. Now, while the NDP is, arguably, continuing to fail to come up with creative solutions to social and economic inequalities, at least it acknowledges the issues and is talking about the importance of facing up to them.

Though some form of cooperation is possible, a merger between the LPC and the NDP is a non-starter simply because, at a philosophical level, the LPC has more in common with the Conservative Party than it does with the NDP. We can't talk of merging the 'left' because there are not two "leftwing' parties to merge in the first place. The NDP has indeed moved toward the centre over the past generation, but the other parties have moved as well. For the LPC and the NDP to merge would mean either that the LPC would have to abandon their neo-liberal agenda or that the NDP would have to significantly adopt such an agenda. It was easy for the Progressive Conservative Party and the so-called Canadian Alliance Party to merge because they were essentially the same party. The Alliance Party had already abandoned the populist principles that had inspired the creation of the Reform Party and there was then almost nothing separating the two parties anyway. However, the Liberal Party consists of many who are fairly close to the NDP and many who are Conservatives in all but name so merging the Liberal Party with any other party is an absurd notion. It is, as they like to say, a large tent. The problem is that in an era in which the top few percent of the nation's wealthy control the vast majority of the country's property and money. our society is become one of greater and greater extremes. While the Conservative Party wants to increase society's disparities, and increase the power of corporations, and the NDP hopes to do something to increase social and economic equality, it is not at all clear what the MO of the Liberal Party really is. They can continue to attempt to label the Conservatives as radically rightwing but it is a hard sell when most of the general policies being pursued by the present Conservative Party were de facto began by the Liberals. They can continue to attempt to portray the NDP as radically leftist but that is becoming an increasingly hard sell too. Since when is it radically leftist to want to follow generations of law and precedent in recognizing the right to free collective bargaining? The fact is that in a world of extremes there is nothing particularly radical about the NDP and years of NDP governments in Saskatchewan and Manitoba have demonstrated this.

No, I see little to convince me that the NDP should merge with the LPC. And the fact that abusive partisans like Warren Kinsella use vitriolic language to abuse the NDP and its members does little to help the situation.

This is not to say that the LPC is inevitably going to fall into the dustbin of history. We presently have a terribly incompetent, financially irresponsible, extremely corrupt government. And many people may come to their senses and realize that voting for this government again is like signing the death warrant of their nation. Many of these people might look to the Liberal Party because they still believe in the neo-liberal agenda but will look for a party other than the Conservative party to support it. But for those who want to continue to see a publicly funded health-care system, properly funded education, some more serious environmental policies, the NDP is their only real option.

(PS. I believe that the past decade or so of the Provincial Liberal Party in BC is substantial evidence of the real ideology of contemporary Liberals. I had largely taken it as read that the BC Liberals was just a party of convenience but have been surprised again and again when people outside of BC are quick to defend the BC Liberals and its policies which are the epitome of neo-liberal corporatism. )

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lying is Government Policy. . . .

Yesterday Andrew Coyne (once the great apologist for the Harpercons) tore a strip of Peter MacKay and the Government in general so long and so deep that if these events were taking place a generation ago we would see the entire cabinet resign in disgrace.

Coyne demonstrates that MacKay (and the government in general) has straightforwardly and systematically lied to the House of Commons and to the public about the largest government procurement in living memory. "This isn't some campaign slip of the lip," Coyne tells us, "or the usual political weasel words .. this isn't even the case of ministers misleading parliament, which used to be a resigning offence. THis is a government document on a straightforward question of fact; the kind we can expect to believe."

In other words, not only have ministers been lying to you and your MPs, but the government has begun to systematically fabricate false information and publish it as authentic. When a political animal like Andrew Coyne suggests to the nation that their government has gone from playing political volleyball with important issue  to systematically falsify information, you know we have witnessed a seismic shift in our federal political situation.

Much of the nation has forgotten that it was the government's failure to reveal these costing facts concerning the F-35s that compelled the opposition parties to hold this government in contempt (the first time such a thing has occurred in our democracy). And when they were held in contempt they berated and ridiculed the opposition not only for being overly partisan but for actually lying to the public. Now we see what every careful observer knew all along - it is the government that has been lying all along.

Andrew Coyne leaves his primary question unresolved - how, indeed, do we react when we find that our government has made lying a central core of their policy making??

I don't know the answer to this. What I do know is that our political system lacks the mechanisms to ensure accountability and no party suggests that they are going to fix this in the future. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Systematic Abuse. . . .

I am surely not the only one to notice that while every government is bound to fall prey to one kind of scandal or another, our present government is continually involved in scandals that involve some kind of systematic abuse of democracy and parliamentary process. Of course, the sponsorship scandal was not good, but any time you have millions of dollars floating around (whether in the private or public sectors), someone will eventually try to put their hands in the till. But at every turn, this government is systematically attacking, thwarting, and undermining parliament and democracy. From their handbook on how to shutting-down committees, to refusing to obey parliamentary edicts, to silencing government watchdogs, to shutting parliament, to suppressing the vote, to disregarding procurement processes, to labelling all opposition some form of treason, to outright lying to members of the House, this government is not simply scandalous, but is itself treasonous. Harper and his bullies have demonstrated again and again that law doesn't matter, what matters is power and the effort to hold on to it. This is why so many commentators, even ones outside of Canada, have been so ready to compare Harper to Nixon, because they both demonstrated a criminal, and arguably psychotic, will to power and seemed willing to do anything to maintain it. The whole thing would be comical if it weren't so frightening.

One presumes that such systematic illegality would eventually catch up with any government. However, as the Harpercons have demonstrated, if one can manipulate the voting system effectively enough, so-called democracy is no guarantee that you will not be governed by a dictatorship.