Friday, November 29, 2013

Harper, Conspiracies, and Camel's Backs . . . .

In light of the 50th anniversary of the death of Jack Kennedy, and the media discussion that the event motivated, I want to open this post with a few words about so-called "conspiracy theories." The simple fact is that while many people belittle any talk of a conspiracy concerning almost anything, there is a simple and understandable motivation for such ideas. When any "official" explanation is not believable or stretches the boundaries of credibility, people look around for other possible explanations. Such is the case with the Kennedy assassination. There are so many strange coincidences, so many difficult to believe twists of fortunes, so many rules broken by officials in the lead up and and the aftermath of the assassination, that it leaves people with the feeling that the official explanation is, at the very least, wanting. This, coupled with the fact that the Warren Commission was almost uniformly unwilling to even address many of the problems, drives people to call for new pieces to the apparently unfinished puzzle. And so people suggest possible answers - some wild and even more unbelievable than the official story, some cogent and serious.

And so today we have a similar type of situation in our parliament. Almost everyone, with the exception of the most blindly partisan, simply don't believe the official explanation of what happened in the PMO. It is just not credible that successful PMO lawyers with excellent professional reputations would orchestrate an illegal effort to bribe a sitting Senator all the while hiding it from their boss, the most controlling PM in Canadian history. And as Harper bobbed and weaved over the past month, changing his story gradually to fit the gradually exposed story, people found the official explanation less and less believable. Couple with this, the apparent fact that half a dozen PMO associates were actually privy to the facts, and that people who have been virtual lapdogs of the PM were involved in a cover-up, and people are looking for a more believable story. And that story, invariably, involves the PM knowing about almost every facet of the conspiracy and cover-up.

But the real story here is not really a PMO orchestrated conspiracy and cover-up, so much as it is the fact that this seems to be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back of the public's tolerance of Harper and his cabal. The best expression of this moment was expressed by Andrew Coyne in his most recent column. Keep in mind that for quite a few years Coyne was nothing short of an apologist for Harper regime's worst aspects and scandals. Coyne tells us that the real problem for the Conservatives is

" . . . . the general impression that we are being governed by a gang of thugs - secretive, high-handed, unprincipled gusting to unethical, and openly contemptuous of such quaint notions as democratic accountability - an impression that grows more baked in each time the Prime Minister dodges a question in Parliament, or worse, sends in the clownish Paul Calandra to answer in his place." 

With friends like this, Harper certainly doesn't need enemies. Perhaps most importantly, Coyne points out that Harper seems to be in complete denial that anything is wrong or that he needs to change his attitude and his course. This problem is, unfortunately not unexpected, and easy to explain. The fact that more and more people seem to be realizing is that Harper is not the clever, strategic politician that some thought he was. Rather, he is simply a control freak who benefited from an unusual set of circumstances. Harper's actions have never been part of a strategic plan but rather the natural expression of a man with a disturbing, narcissistic personality disorder. He cannot change strategy now because he has no strategy, and he surrounds himself with people who have the same kind of angry, dismissive personality has himself. Thus we are treated to people like the "clownish Paul Calandra" whose only political instinct is to insult anyone who might disagree with him and his holy fuhrer. This is a brittle kind of politics that always ends in a disaster of one sort or another.

The only political scandal in Canadian history that really compares to the Senate/Harper scandal is the so-called "Pacific Scandal," involving another Conservative Prime Minister. Though John A. Macdonald would eventually recover from his scandal, we can safely say to Harper "you ain't no John A. Macdonald!" Furthermore, we live in different times, times of extreme exposure and ones in which all facets of life are significantly sped up.

Conspiracies aside, it is not the Senate Scandal that will sink Harper or tarnish his historical reputation. Rather, Harper will be a dark note in Canada's history books because he is a sick, narcissistic thug who has poisoned the well of Canadian life.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Organized Crime of the Harper Regime . . . .

The Harper/Senate scandal is fast becoming a tragic-comedy. In many Western democracies, this Prime Minister would have already been forced to resign. Practically every mainstream media commentator (even the rightwing ones) now seem convinced that Harper probably knew practically everything about this conspiracy of bribery and cover-up. The emails from Nigel Wright that say "I want to talk to the PM before everything is considered final," and the next one written an hour later saying "we are good to go from the PM," establish pretty clearly that Harper played an active part in bribing a sitting Senator. (This is the second time that it has been demonstrated that Harper is involved in bribery - recall the Cadman affair) And, as it usually is, the cover-up is as bad or worse than the initial wrong-doing. It is pretty clear that the Prime Minister was part of an orchestrated cover-up in the Senate, a cover-up that involves altering a financial audit.

As politicians go, it doesn't get much worse than this folks. The only thing comparable in Canadian history is the so-called Pacific Scandal.

One of the things that strikes me as curious about this scandal is this - though it is clear now that the Prime Minister lied to the House and all of Canada, even without his confession of direct knowledge of the details of the bribe and cover-up, his best-case scenario is that he instructed his top aides not to inform him of any illegal details. In other words, the Prime Minister oversaw the orchestration of profound malfeasance even if he didn't know the details. The Disaffected Liberal nicely compared this situation to a Mafia Don who oversees illegal events without ever actually taking a direct part in them.

Another thing that strikes me about all this (and the Rob Ford scandal) is the way that it illustrates the inequalities in our system. Nigel Wright, Benjamin Perrin, and the other are wealthy individuals who can use their wealth and power to protect themselves from the law. Even with guilty verdicts there is almost zero chance that any of these wealthy individuals will spend time behind bars, and even if they do, they can emerge afterwards still wealthy and still connected. Yet our prisons are full of individuals who never abused power (because they never had any) and are guilty of petty crimes that come out of their severely limited options and poverty in youth. If a guy like Rob Ford had not been born wealthy he wouldn't be mayor today and there is a very good chance he would be in prison as well. This is not to say that working-class people never get ahead. Rather, it is to say that wealthy people are more or less immune from paying the prices in life and society that others are routinely forced to pay. And in many cases the crimes that the poor pay for are significantly less significant than those committed by white men in suits.

Like a godfather of organized crime, Harper has orchestrated an continual undermining of democracy in this country. Countless members of his circle are convicted criminals, awaiting trial, or simply deeply shady. He has overseen bribery and seemingly countless incidents of electoral fraud. And yet he goes merry along in his chauffeur driven limo, and, like a loyal Mafia family, his caucus gives him standing ovations every time he opens his mouth. His closest Ministers know full well he is crooked and have approved, and been involved in his corruption. They know that they can't oust him because at the very least they will be admitting to being culpable in his corruption.

And like most Mafia Dons, Harper will retire comfortably while other fools, sorry idiots who have failed to understand that in Harper's case loyalty only moves in one direction, pay for his crimes.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Conservative Ignorance and The Ford Brothers. . . .

I don't believe that all rightwingers are dimwitted or even evil. There are still a few rightwingers around that take a relatively rounded view of the society. I disagree with many of their ideas and beliefs but there are some that are honest enough and have enough intellectual integrity that I could at least converse with them about real political and social issues. I was very impressed with the stance taken by Conservative Senator Hugh Segal concerning the bill that he managed to have defeated not long ago which attempted to subject Unions to more financial scrutiny than almost any other institution in society. Segal spoke eloquently about the role that Unions can play in a society and the need to balance corporate power with the ability of workers to defend themselves and the environment. Joe Clark has spoken about the need to defend democracy and the sovereignty of MPs.

However, the modern nasty, divisive, mean spirited, shockingly deceitful, corporate style of rightwing politics is nothing but sickening. The continual hypocrisy of men like Peter Mackay, for example, is disgusting. While he has established his entire career on a lie, and continually reeks of corruption, he has the gall to continually preach to others about their actions. Suggesting that Trudeau's effort to have a rational public discourse about a substance that most Canadians think should be legal (and is already approved for medical use) amounts to "pushing" marijuana on "kids," is appalling. And comparing Trudeau's actions to Rob Ford's, as Mackay has done, is simply to expose himself for the peddler of deception and bombast that he really is. But we have almost grown accustom to the bombastic hypocrisy, the conscious deception and negativity, that is the contemporary federal Conservative party.

But if you really want to see the ignorant, know-nothinism of modern Canadian conservatism one need look no further than Rob & Doug Ford and their supporters. These guys will stop at nothing to hide their malfeasance. They bully, and lie, and misdirect everyone and everything to attempt to keep a light from shinning on their corruption. But then, as I was listening to Toronto talk radio, something I do regularly to keep a eye on what people are saying, I was treated to the ultimate example of the ignorance that lies behind the Ford phenomenon. A typical "Ford Nation" supporter called in to praise Ford, and in the process the caller complained about the continual deficit spending of the previous mayor, Mr. Miller. "We had to suffer from years of deficit spending with Miller the socialist," the caller said, "but Ford has run a surplus." Even the radio host, a well-known conservative and one time supporter of Ford, laughed and quickly informed the caller of his error, pointing out that not only didn't Mayor Miller run a deficit but in Ontario it is against the law for municipalities to run deficits. The caller seemed unfazed by his total ignorance of the facts and quickly went on to an anti-union rant. To say I was shocked by the raw stupidity of this Ford supporter would be a lie. And I honesty don't think he was willfully spreading lies because the ignorance in his voice was too authentic to be forced. This is just how modern Canadian conservatism has become; it is relying on a shockingly ignorant core at its base to promote a total lie - the lie that conservatives are fiscally responsible, that the left is not, and that the right really cares about the "little guy."

Meanwhile, the Ford brothers rail at the "elites" and "liberal intercity rich" who they say are corrupting our political system. And few people raise an eyebrow at the fact that these two wealthy-born bullies are worth millions. And the mainstream media watch the circus created by the Fords, never doing a single story on the total lie that is the Ford record. And people in the public gallery laugh at Ford's antics and outrageous comparisons of himself to Kuwait, while the ignorance of the conservative base goes merrily on.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Ford and Linguistic Irregularities. . . . .

I am certainly not the only one who despises Rob Ford and everything he represents politically. But I have come to realize that I am also not the only one who has come to consider Rob Ford a deeply troubled individual. After watching his mother and sister, I can't help thinking that this guy must have had an upbringing that was hardly conducive to raising an empathetic, compassionate human being. In fact more than once I have now heard someone mention fetal alcohol syndrome in relation to much of Ford's behaviour.  And it certainly seems clear that appears to suffer from some sort of behaviour disorder. One of the things I have increasingly noticed is the strange irregularities in Ford's use of language. People noticed this bizarre behaviour in particular when Ford first denied the existence of the legendary "Crack" video. Ford's word usage during his media scrum on Wednesday is a good example of his strange linguistic tendencies.

"I have never had a prostitute here," Ford said in relation to one of the more salacious allegations. The insertion of the word "here" would surely strike anyone as strange. Instead of denying ever associating with prostitutes, we get this odd grammatical structure which could easily imply that he has in fact had prostitutes in places other than city hall. In the next sentence Ford tells us that he is "very happily married at home." Once again we get a strange grammatical insertion. The common phrase is, of course, to simply say that one is "happily married." Why might one insert the words "at home?" Does this imply some, probably subconscious, kind of distinction between his home life and his life outside the home? There is a common theory that when people are attempting to misrepresent the facts they offer linguistic "tells" that unintentionally reveal the nature of their misrepresentation. Is there something here?

Of course, we might simply assume that Ford was speaking nervously, or that he has rather sloppy grammar. The sloppiness of Ford's grammar cannot be questioned. In the same scrum Ford says, for example, "that is outright lies." The confusion between singular and plural here is indicative of Ford's speech. Another grammatical confusion that continually creeps into Ford's speech is in his verb tenses. "That's why I told you guys yesterday," Ford said, "be careful what you wrote."

There are, of course, a number of learning disabilities associated with grammatical errors both written and spoken. The most common of these are put under the umbrella of so-called SLI or Specific Language Impairment. It was common at one time to talk of George Bush Sr. in relation to SLI because of his tendency toward rambling disassociated sentences. He would commonly halt in the middle of one sentence and begin another, fail to finished the second, and return to the first. And we don't even have room here to talk about George W. Bush's shocking grammatical deficit. (It is interesting too that the younger Bush was often considered to be a sufferer of substance abuse problems.)

It is often thought that grammatical fluency and eloquence are prerequisites to political success. Obviously within a populist framework (even a minimal one) this eloquence is less necessary. However, without some populist sentiment, grammatical incompetence will generally hurt most politicians, or public figures in general, to some degree or another. One would hope, of course, that in an age of sensitivity to the full spectrum of learning disabilities, people who have linguistic challenges would not be overly hampered in their pursuit of success in whatever field. I suffered from an orthographic processing disorder growing up, and I only overcame it through serious dedication to reading despite my challenges. And even without specific challenges, most of us would hate to have our every word scrutinized in the public field.

Still, some of these strange linguistic tendencies of Rob Ford's are bound to elicit public interest. When someone has publicly lied on many occasions, everything they say is naturally treated with skepticism. So when Rob Ford says to the nation "I have never had a prostitute here," we can't help but wonder, "where does he take his prostitutes?"

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Lying rightwing and the Lies they Tell. . . .

I suppose that when it comes right down to it, what bothers me most about the new-right in this country (and most countries) is that their entire political strategy is essentially based upon lying and cheating. We have seen this throughout the Harper years. Not only has time demonstrated that his party has been involved in electoral fraud from the beginning of his time as leader, but everything about his government is a lie. Of course, Harper routinely attempts to hide information whenever possible, and his complete failure to give the House of Commons the information it asked for concerning various program costings led to his government being held in contempt for the first time in English parliamentary history. Another way that Harper tries to hide information is through omnibus bills - a practice that he condemned as undemocratic when he was in opposition. But he is an even better liar than he is a hider. He continually lies about almost everything, from his government's treatment of veterans to his bribery and extortion of MPs (Cadman) and Senators (Duffy), from his gagging of scientists to his trade deals - Harper is a liar. It is the very essence of his political life. The newest lie is his government's lie concerning the supposed deficit. They claim that they will soon be in a surplus but you can bet, based on past behaviour, that this is a very simple lie. They know that they have very little chance of being elected if they present a deficit budget in the next election year and so they are cooking the books. How do I know? You ask. Well, his incompetent finance minister (shudder) has done it before. Before he was a federal finance minister Mr. Flaherty was the Provincial Finance Minister in the last Tory government in Ontario. His government ran their election campaign on the claim that they had a budgetary surplus. They bleated it from every pulpit they could find. But it turned out to be a bald-face lie. When the new government got access to the books they found a five billion dollar deficit! Five Billion dollars. Flaherty is a liar just like his boss, and the Tories are taking a page out of their provincial counterpart's book. The only comfort we can find in this is that they lost the election and were caught lying. Now if only it was a crime for politicians to lie to the public.

Meanwhile in Toronto,  lying is a way of life for the Mayor. He has lied about so many things that it is hard to keep track. People say that his addiction is a disease. But Mayor Ford's real disease is pathological lying. While he tries to get people to ignore his past lies, he is busy spouting the new, even more blatant lie that he has saved the taxpayers of Toronto a billion dollars. It is amazing that he has the gall to continually repeat this lie, but that is what liars do I guess - they lie. As Edward Kennan of The Grid points out  - the fact is that "Torontonians are paying more today in taxes than they were the day that Ford was elected. And the city is now spending more on programs and services than it was under David Miller." In an excellent article entitled Rob Ford's Billion-Dollar Lie, Kennan finally puts paid to this continual claim by Ford and his supporters that he has somehow stopped the imaginary "gravy-train" and saved the tax-payers lots of money. Kennan breaks down Ford's bogus claims in some detail and shows specifically where he is lying. "To recap," Kennan writes in his summation, "the city's surplus this year is smaller than Miller's was in 2010. City spending has gone up about $200 million per year under Ford, and he's increased the taxes and fees Torontonians pay to the city by about $200 million per year as well. We can debate whether taxes and spending could have or should have gone up more, and we can debate whether this is the best way to measure the city's health. But there is really no debate about one thing: Ford's billion-dollar boast is a flat-out lie."

But this is the way of the right. They could never hope to win elections on the truth so lying and cheating has become their primary political mechanism. The only real question is why do so many continue to believe their lies?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Defending the White Poppy. . . .

Unlike the writers at the Huffington Post, I don't believe that you can "win" debates with simplistic aphorisms issued on Twitter. And unlike Brett Wilson, I don't believe that simply calling people "morons" constitutes actual political argument. And I don't believe that the people behind the so-called white poppy movement are morons in any sense of the word. But people who question patriotism and patriotic rituals have always been prime targets for those with emotionally charged nationalistic feelings. Such people are irrationally offended by those who have the gall to call into doubt the rituals that are connected with our history as a national or international entity. But I will not be silenced by the likes of Brett Wilson, a man who claims that our involvement in past wars defended our freedom, but who takes that freedom so lightly that he genuinely seems to want to silence those who would disagree with him.

First of all, let me say that, despite what Brett Wilson (or anyone else) says, my reasons for wearing the white poppy, as well as my objection to the red poppy are not based upon my belief that the red poppy somehow celebrates war. Rather, I believe that there are more sophisticated, historical and political issues at stake here. Now, I have heard a number of vet in recent years object to the red poppy campaign, as well as the contemporary nature of Remembrance Day, because of the political nature that it seems to have taken on. One such vet was well quoted by Mound of Sound in his blog today. These kinds of objections to Remembrance Day are significant. There is no question that an a good argument can be made that contemporary politicians have taken advantage of Remembrance Day, politicized it in a way that robs it of the purely honorary essence that it once seemed to have had. However, though I have had veterans in my family, I am not a veteran of an orthodox military event. Thus, my objections take a different kind of form.

Let me address the most controversial nature of my objections to contemporary Remembrance Day. I understand that these opinions might be considered provocative, but they are not, I believe unreasonable. I believe that the wars of the last hundred and fifty years or so have almost all been essentially bogus. Instead of being about "freedom" or democracy they have mostly been creations of wealthy classes which are designed to accumulate profit and jockey for global economic position. To fully develop this argument would require a great deal more space than is available to us here. But a number of radical thinkers have developed such arguments in the past and these include writers like Franz Fanon, Howard Zinn, Eric Hobsbawm, Bertrand Russell, E.P. Thompson, Jean-Paul Sartre, and many more. It is for this political and historical reason that I believe that the white poppy makes sense - in my mind it still honours the veterans, but not as victims of foreign wars, rather as victims of our own political and economically powerful classes that have used men for generations as cannon fodder in struggles for economic dominance.

Leading off this political argument is another important objection I have to contemporary Remembrance Day rituals. It is this, public discourse never tires of telling us that it is to our Veterans that we owe our so-called "freedoms" and "democracy." The various wars that were more or less spin-offs of the supposed battle between 'capitalist' and supposedly 'communist' nations were, I believe largely manufactured by political classes that were once again defending their economic power. Many of these were colonial-style wars fought in the "third-world" in which the people were victims of a global economic war that had nothing to do with democracy or freedom. The war against fascism might be said to be a war that defended our "freedoms" and "democracy," but even this war was, according to Roosevelt (one of its greatest proponents) entirely preventable. The rise of fascism was largely supported by the economically powerful in most nations (including England and the US) until they had no choice. In other words, fascism was (even according to most the economically powerful) a natural extension of capitalism. And those who really opposed fascism (like Roosevelt himself) had a very big job getting the economically and politically powerful to support the war. And perhaps most importantly, the rise of fascism (at least in Germany) was in large part a direct result of the Treaties of Versailles which failed to consider the longterm impact of war reparations. The upshot of this argument is that I believe that the people we really owe thanks to for our "freedoms" and democratic rights are the activist (many of them trade union activists) who spent their lives fighting for democracy, and human rights against the rich and powerful who did everything they could to limit democracy and human rights in our own countries. The wars of the past hundred and fifty years or so had little to do with democracy or human rights. While the soldiers of the Western allies, for example, were busy fighting World War One, their governments were actively suppressing democratic and human rights movements at home. The rights of universal suffrage, the rights to a safe workplace, the rights to minimum wage and pension, the rights of minorities to be equal before the law, etc, all these rights were not a result of fighting in foreign wars, but were the result of generations of activists fighting their own governments and wealthy classes. Here is the simple fact, if it were not for trade union activists not only wouldn't you not have the right to vote, your could still be shackled by your employer and children could still be forced to work 16 hour days.

Thus, bluntly put, I believe that Remembrance Day is little short of a kind of collective scam designed to bestow legitimation on wars that were not about freedom or democracy but were about making money and profit for a very elite economic class. I wear the white poppy as a protest against the common nationalist scam that have been most of the past wars and role that Remembrance Day plays in covering up this scam. It is actually an age old story - the powerful want us to believe that the wars we fight are "very sadly necessary" but noble in their righteousness. Because if people stopped believing this they might actually look closely at the causes of the wars and the class system that they all to often protect.

No one, least of all Brent Wilson, is compelled in anyway to agree with me. However, if such really believe that past wars were fought to defend our "freedoms" then they should be the first to defend my right to say such things and wear the white poppy even if they disagree. However, more importantly, to disregard these arguments out of hand is, I believe intellectually dishonest. While Brett Wilson and his ilk seem to be perfectly content throwing around simplistic aphorisms in defence of mindless patriotism, I feel disposed to study history and interpretations of that history by intellectual giants who prefer talk about the negative effects of reactionary, nationalistic, jargon.

There was a period in my youth, after the Vietnam War, that the majority (or a good sized minority) was skeptical about the motivations of Governments and elites to be involved in foreign wars. These times seem to have slipped away and people have forgotten even recent history. Brett Wilson's simplistic patriotism will not silence me, nor should it silence the white poppy movement because if my analysis is even partially correct than it is incredibly important that we make that discourse public, and if my analysis is entirely wrong then silencing the white poppy brigade would be the ultimate insult to veterans who supposedly fought so we could say whatever we want.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Bad and the Ugly. . .

Let's face it, Rob Ford is a bad guy. And the level of support that he receives from a certain bloc of rightwing voters is a clear sign that many on the right have absolutely no problem with bad people. In fact, there is every reason to believe that they actually like nasty, mean-spirited people. It reinforces their hateful view of the world. For all their talk and bluster, the people of the Ford phenomenon demonstrate that many on the right don't care about family values, about drug abuse, about racism, sexism, homophobia, civil behaviour, respect. What the rightwing care about is money and their perceived handling of that money. And I very consciously use the word "perceived" because even a superficial examination of politics and fiscal responsibility will demonstrate that the right is no more responsible with public money than anyone else. In fact, a pretty good argument can be made that the right is significantly less responsible in the long and the short term.

Rob Ford is clearly a crack-head. The release of the ranting video of yesterday shows that. Ford was not drunk. Anyone who has any experience with cocaine knows that that was a crack rage. Ok, so he is a crack-head. We all falter. If he really is addicted to crack he will need help getting off it. But what is significantly more important than his substance abuse is that Ford is a bad man. He is a mean, bullying, sexist, homophobic, abusive, narcissistic, liar. These are the things that should preclude him from being mayor. And the fact that I continually hear so-called "Ford-Nation" supporters on the radio and the internet saying what a "likeable" guy he is, is a clear demonstration of what they find likeable. Furthermore, the so-called "gravy-train" that Ford ran in opposition to was a creation of his own imagination.

On the national stage we have a similar situation, in spirit if not in detail. Harper is not a crack-head. But he possesses the same kind of mean-spirited, lying soul that haunts Rob Fords. Harper would step on anyone, break any law, rape the spirit of democracy, abuse the power of office, to further his agenda. And that agenda is to maintain himself in power and divert the nation's wealth from average people to the rich and the corporations. It is clear to anyone with half a brain that Harper himself orchestrated an extortion and bribery of Mike Duffy. Of course, HarperCon supporters will say there is no evidence, that their guy is honest and upright. But secretly they know and are actually proud that their leader is a lawbreaking liar, because they like the idea of having a bad man abusing the law to support their twisted cause. In the House of Commons they make lots of noise concerning the innocence of their leader, but they smirk slyly in the knowledge that they are part of an outlaw cabal screwing the people of the nation, destroying the environment, and selling our children's future to foreign corporations. Why? You ask. Because they are bad people, it is as simple as that.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Confusing world of The Right . . . .

I admit to being fairly baffled by why anyone, beyond the very rich, would follow modern rightwing ideology. I comprehend traditional social conservatism, though I profoundly disagree with it. And get the traditional Toryism as first expressed by men like Edmund Burke. Their attitude was, simply-put, that change is fine as long as it is slow and cautious and takes into consideration national traditions. I can see, to a degree, why certain people, regardless of their economic status, might be attracted to these traditional types of conservatism. However, modern, so-called neo-conservatism is an entirely different kind of animal. I know our citizenry is breathtakingly ignorant, and that fact stands as the only real explanation for why anyone other than the wealthy would buy the new, twisted form of conservatism. But contemporary events demonstrate that even when the hypocrisy of modern conservatism is laid bare, people still seem to hold fast to their ignorance.

In the States we have the so-called Tea-Party crowd. These people are deeply confusing to anyone with a sense of history or economics. The Tea-Party gang continually talk in glowing, almost reverential terms, about the 'founding fathers.' But even a brief reading of US history demonstrates that this historical group were racist elitist who had little or no real interest in freedom, let alone equality. Beside the nagging question of slavery, one must surely be confused by the fact that none of the 'founding fathers' were really democrats. In fact no one with a significant voice in the US revolutionary era advocated universal male suffrage (let alone female suffrage), with the notable exception Thomas Paine. Besides touting the greatness of George Washington and gang, the Tea-Party gang hold Ronald Reagan as their great hero. But again, a short examination of events will demonstrate that despite his reputation, Reagan was no friend of the 'little-guy' or smaller government. The Reagan-Bush era ended with much bigger government than that with which it began and Reagan oversaw the impoverishment of the American middle-class as well as the real power of the US as an powerful exporter nation.

Here in Canada, we have our own version of the Tea-Party and why anyone would support them is equally confusing to me. People like Harper talk a lot about freedom and smaller government but they never actually fight for those things. Instead, they always raise deficits, do little or nothing to shrink government, and continually advocate for an increase in the power of the police-state. Meanwhile Harper's economic strategies seem designed to radically increase the power of large, always unaccountable corporate structures, a decrease in the spending power of average citizens, a continual down-loading of services to the provincial and municipal levels (where they always cost more), a disregard for impending environmental disaster, and the transformation of Canada into a third-world style raw-resource nation with a huge disparity of wealth. Now, I understand why the rich would advocate such an economic course. After all, it is a very simple, though usually unacknowledged fact, that a reduction of economic power of the majority brings, at least in the short term, a commensurate increase in the real economic power of the wealthy. Any study of a third-world economy will show that this is true and it isn't difficult to see how it works.

But then we come to the most confusing of all Canadian political phenomena - Rob Ford. Here is a mean-spirited, bumbling, intellectual challenged guy with a long, demonstrated history of lying, with obvious ties to drug-dealers and gangsters, who still garners a shocking amount of support from average voters. Despite continually criticizing so-called 'elites,' Ford was born with a silver-spoon in his mouth and has never really had to struggle for anything. Meanwhile, Ford's brother Doug, who was rumoured to be a significant drug dealer long before the Globe and Mail reported on the fact, seems to be his bully-boy minder and has now, himself, regressed into a paranoid landscape in which even the Chief of Police is part of the left-wing conspiracy against the Ford family. It is not just that Rob Ford has various substance abuse problems (which seems clear), but that he continually lies to the public that put him in the job, all the while viscously attacking anyone who opposes him, particularly blaming journalists who have a long history of uncovering corruption and malfeasance, two of the things that Ford is supposed to stand against. All the while, Ford has done very little during his time as Mayor in a city which, despite what he continually maintained, was in pretty good shape as large American city go. And as all this goes on, polls indicate that Ford has a very good chance of being reelected.

What the Ford phenomenon seems to tell me is that, as in the US, there is a certain percentage of our population that wallows, even celebrates, in their own ignorance. This group of people seem to have no real interest in the future prosperity of their own nation or community. Rather, they simply use the political field to express their own anger and paranoia, feeling as though they have struggled and gotten a raw deal and they want everyone else to suffer for it. This group has little or no interest in the real rates or causes of crime, no interest in the future of their children or grandchildren, no concern for environmental destruction, and no interest in the actual honesty or honour of their politicians as long as those politicians are expressing an anger and paranoia similar to their own.

The lesson is, of course, that while the actual ideology of neo-conservatism is concerned with creating a corporate state where the majority are uneducated and impoverished, this ideology is really a marketing ploy designed to pray on the ignorance, paranoia, know-nothingism, of a small voting bloc who are quick to forget that their political heroes ride in limousines while decrying the elite, and have no problem writing $90 thousand dollar checks to bribe Senators while simultaneously blaming everyone else for corruption.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Senate Reform and Pandering to the Base. . . .

The Conservative Party under King Harper has always been aware, I believe, that Senate reform is essentially a non-starter without the cooperation of the Provinces. However, they continually touted the idea of reform as a way of whipping up support among their base. It was looked at as essentially a win-win for the CONParty because they knew that they could portray their failure to enact Senate reform as one more example of the "establishment" being in a confederacy against them. Despite being in power for many years, and wielding that power in a particularly centralizing and ruthless way, as well as having overwhelming media support for much of that time, the Conservative base still laps up the fantasy that there is a establishment conspiracy against them. The Government's failure to reform the Senate feeds well into this narrative. They made an issue of something they knew they couldn't really do anything about (without a genuinely open and cooperative relationship with the Provinces), and then hold this issue up as a way of demonstrating their supposed "outside the beltway" position in the political establishment. Meanwhile, Harper, who once insisted he would never appoint an unelected Senator, stacked the Senate with a bunch of people who had no business being their in the first place, and this barely registered was problematic with the base. Then, in a final irony, Harper tries to take credit for cleaning up the Senate by trying to get rid of the corrupt Senators who he appointed in the first place. The fact that anyone in the Conservative Party at all continues to support King Harper is a sad indictment of the general intelligence of the Conservative base.

And now, in what might be a new drama in Conservative know-nothingism, the HarperCons have begun to float the idea of a referendum on the Senate. Obviously no specifics have been discussed, and we will have to wait and see if anything comes of such an idea. However, once again such a notion would play into the ignorance of the Conservative base. This is because, there is, in fact, no actual referendum process in the Canadian political system. The government could, of course, organize a referendum on anything from legalizing drugs to outlawing hot dogs, but the results of such a vote would be in no way binding on the government, and could not be used to justify actions which were contrary to the constitution. There have only been three national referendums in Canada. One was used as a justification for conscription in WWII. One was the so-called Charlottetown Accord. And the other was on the question of outlawing alcohol. In this example, the people chose prohibition by a small percentage but Wilfrid Laurier simply ignored the results.

In other words, the HarperCons could hold a referendum on, say, eliminating the Senate; they could win by a huge majority; and it still would be nothing because as every legal mind in the country seems to suspect, the SCofC will soon rule that you cannot make significant changes to the Senate without provincial consent. But imagine the bluster that the HarperCons could express concerning the undue power of the Courts if they found themselves in this situation. Of course, as usual, the HarperCons have acted in an entirely backward fashion. If they had really wanted to have something to brag about with their base, they should have had a referendum BEFORE asking the top court to make a ruling that everyone pretty much was sure of to begin with. Now if the Court rules as expected and makes it clear that unidirectional Senate reform is a non-starter, a referendum will be obviously pointless.

The fact is that the HarperCons are not really interested in real Senate reform. They are, of course, interested in talking about Senate reform ad nauseam because it plays to their base. But if they had ever been interested in doing anything about the Senate Harper would have long ago convened a First Minister's meeting and begun an open and cooperative dialogue on the issue. But of course Harper has never had an open and cooperative dialogue with anyone so we don't have to worry about that. Instead, the past seven years demonstrates that while talking Senate reform to his base, Harper (like almost all previous PMs) simply wanted to use the Senate as rewards program for his cronies. And his appointments to the Chamber of Sober Second-Thought have been, arguably, some of the very worst ever made.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Harper's land of Parody. . .

It is amazing that a columnist like Andrew Coyne, a guy that was for a long time remarkably supportive of the HarperCon agenda, could call a Harper convention speech a "a parody of a parody of an empty cliché." This kind of reaction by one of the most important right of centre national pundits to what should be a major speech by a Prime Minister surely sounds the beginning of the end for Stephen Harper's regime. Harper has reached that point once reached by the Liberal Party, that tipping-point where public perception of the government has become overwhelmingly negative and corruption is the first thing that comes to mind when people think of the leader and the government.

But Harper's downfall will be of his own making. Because like so many similar leaders, Harper has little or no ability to adapt to circumstance. He is a one-trick-pony. An actor who can only play one part; the angry, self-righteous, victim of a left-leaning media, nasty opponents, or (and this is a new one) a conspiracy among his own. Harper has no idea how to react to what is wrong because he doesn't even know something is amiss. Harper's similarities to Nixon are numerous and have been often observed. But the most important similarity between the two is not their paranoia or their secrecy, but their narcissism. Just as Nixon believed he was beyond reproach, somewhere deep inside Harper he thinks that, because of his political status, anything he does must be legal and right. Therefore, he can't effectively react to what is wrong because if he is in charge nothing could possibly be wrong, at least concerning his actions. This is the kind of attitude that led to Nixon's famous remark, the affect of which was that nothing he did could have been illegal because he was the president and therefore is actions were always a priori 'legal.'

Harper cannot change tack. He is like a sailor who thinks he is above the wind. But his narcissism doesn't allow him to see that he reached power through an historical chance. He was elected ostensibly because he wasn't leading the Liberal Party. But his pathological conceit has allowed him to slip into the very same kind of arrogant pattern that destroyed the Liberals and brought the former Conservative government to the brink of disappearance.

Thus Andrew Coyne, despite his past support of Harper, is exactly on mark concening Harper's speech last night. Indeed Harper has become a parody of a parody of an old cliché. Harper is a parody of Chretien who was a parody of Mulroney, and his is spouting clichés instead of real political ideas.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Seven Year Harper Blues. . . .

Watching the Senate scandal slowly unfold has been a strange experience for those of us who have always despised Harper and his government. One the one hand, we are gratified to see a scandal that finally seems to be sticking to this despicable man. On the other hand, we are weary of continually pointing out scandal after scandal of this corrupt, anti-democratic, fiscally irresponsible government and can't help but wonder why it has taken so long for Harper to significantly drop in the polls. Just the other day I was making a list of the scandals of this government and even I was surprised by how long the list has grown. Yet, like the bizarre, ideologically blind members of so-called "Ford Nation," Harper's followers seem to have an almost supernatural ability to overlook, or happily justify actions from their party and leader that they claim are anathema to their ideology. I am fairly certain that if a Liberal or NDP government had had this many scandals there would have already been genuine uprisings in the streets. But conservative followers have not only tolerated Harper's malfeasance, they have employed a double-speak in which an action they would condemn in others they actively celebrate in their leader.

So it goes.

However, as I look at this thing unfolding, it occurs to me that such a scandal was, to a certain degree, inevitable. But the reasons for this inevitability are complex. You see, Harper has never been a popular leader. Instead he has relied on a strange, difficult formula to gain and maintain power. This formula has been a combination of disaffecting many voters, small-scale but consistent electoral fraud, ruthless control of his caucus, surrounding himself with startlingly incompetent and ineffectual yes-men who don't even vaguely understand when he is doing so they follow him blindly, finding every possible way of limiting public and political debate or discourse, continually attacking political opponents, and in large part legislating by stealth. Such a strategy requires a serious degree of control for any leader. The problem is that Harper is not really a leader. Rather, he is a dictator, and dictators are notoriously incapable of taking ownership of their mistakes. Harper's personality requires that he makes ALL the decisions. But his personality also makes him incapable of seeing anything as a mistake. Thus, if something goes wrong, it must, by his reckoning, be someone else's fault. And since everyone makes mistakes, and control freaks who refuse anyone's counsel end up making more mistakes than most, this situation leads to an inevitable problems. In other words, a guy like Harper, unable to face up to his shortcomings, inevitably throws people under buses. And eventually you either run out of people or you betray the wrong ones.

Harper's years in power have been a litany of scandals and corruption. But since his political formula has meant that he could win power and maintain it with a small portion of the electorate (and an even smaller portion of the citizenry), he has ridden out scandal after scandal with little concern for what most people think. However, the reality of this is that Harper only has to lose a little bit of support and anger just enough people to cause them to vote again and he will lose power. And this seems to be finally happening. It is a simple truism, piss off the wrong people and you will cause your own demise. All that needs to happen is that a small portion of the conservative base stay home, and a small portion of swing voters finally abandon the Harper cabal, and he could suffer a huge defeat.

For now we will have to wait for 2015 because, like his buddy Rob Ford, Harper is totally incapable of admitting mistakes so nothing but an all-out caucus revolt will drive him from office before the next election.