Sunday, December 14, 2008

Banana Republic

Sometimes I drink too much and it interferes with my recall. There have been a few blackouts, and my recollection of situations is sometimes suspect. And at Christmastime, there's more spirit than sense, so things may be worse than usual. It could be that this is just my pink elephant. Instead of bugs, my hallucinations take the form of government coups.

So call me crazy. But didn't Jean prorogue parliament for seven weeks? Didn't she just send everyone home? Parliament is not sitting, isn't that so? Wasn't that a problem because it meant that there could be no action on the economy?

I was a bit surprised to find that we were gonna bailout the auto sector, anyway. 'Cause, you know, fuck it. Who needs a sitting government anyway?

I met a lovely woman last night from Iran. I was faced with trying to explain the actions of a government that I do not support, taking actions that I do not understand, manipulating a system that is supposed to prevent this sort of thing.

Let us set aside the bailout. It may or may not be a good idea. My thoughts on the situation are no secret and conflicted and complicated. That's not the issue. Really.

What really chaps my ass is this: Harper was afraid of the Opposition and was about to be fired. He called a time out. No parliament. No government. No legislation. That was the deal. So if the CPC can pass legislation and give some money to the automakers without a sitting government, this is bad fucking news.

This is disturbing and the precedent is dangerous. Apparently, we need not bother with the distractions like elections or constitutional law. We can just get on with the business of government.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sexual politics.

The Minsters of Finance and Heritage, pictured with the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.

I was going to hit at Harper for his latest switcheroo on the appointment of 18 neocon sympathizers to the Senate, but to be honest, it doesn't have much impact unless it's accompanied by a list of his crimes and misdemeanors, and I really don't have the energy right now to fisk a man's entire political life. And to be honest, it's just a dick move that's sure to be added to the greatest hits compilation of a man who has built his career on dick moves. He was probably a dick when he was studying economics, he was almost certainly a dick when he worked at the National Citizem's Coaltition (a misnomer true to the whole "conservative" ethos), and he has been a dick as head of the weirdest and youngest political party in Canada. Oddly enough, Harper, according to Wikipedia, left the Progressive Conservatives because of the economic policies of Mulroney, which resulted in Candada's kickass debt and integration with the US. He has apparently had an epiphany.

I want to explore the phenomenon that gets a dick like this elected.

First, I apparently need to debunk some illusions about Canadians. We're supposed to be neat, polite, helpful and cooperative. We are big into the UN, proud of peacekeeping, and don't litter. We are respectful of nature, not necessarily because we love it, but because we know it can fucking kill you. We're supposed to walk a fine line between our twin parentages of England and France, constantly in the shadow of our big brother to the south, and we have neatly obliterated our history of genocide. We are, in short, like the quiet guy on your street that turns out to be a serial killer.

Because apparently we have either one of two things: a dom streak or a sub streak. This is the only way I can make any sense of it. I have to put it into a kinky sexual context.

The submissive fits our outward personality quite neatly. We are all the things listed above, plus obedient. We do what we're told, and are grateful for the opportunity. It also explains our support for the UN (an unsuitable top, to be sure), and our toadying (particularly recently) to the US. Dubya is one hell of a top. He even likes torture.

The upshot Canada being a bottom is that we like to be told what to do, punished when we step out of line, and keep asking for more. Harper is a pretty good top. He's pushy and belligerent, he's antagonistic and mean, and he's "tough on crime" (I get a little thrill just typing those words). He likes soldiers and body armour. He likes "cutting". He's stoic and capricious.

I have just figured out what Steve can do when he leaves politics. You thought he looked stupid in that cowboy hat? Wait'll you see him in leathers.

When Canadians vote for the CPC, they are finding their own dom among them. They seek to be punished for a hundred years of Liberal rule or something. They are signing up to get their spankings, and they are loving it. You can tell because they voted for him again. The problem is this. The safe word "non-confidence", doesn't work. When we say "non-confidence", he's supposed to put down the paddle and undo the handcuffs. He's supposed to remove the ball gag and get us a glass of water.

He's not supposed to walk out the door and leave us tied up for six weeks.

Our bottomness has bitten us, and we are powerless to do anything about it.

I think, though, that here is where this explanation falls short. It's the powerlessness of being a bottom that appeals. It is relinquishing control, and being subject to the whims of a much stronger person. It also tends to appeal to people who have a great deal of control over things: they like to relinquish the decision making, and being subject to the whims of others is arousing. Historically, Canadians have been a lot of things, but "in control" is not one of them. Sure, we managed to kick the shit out of the locals when we arrived, but not only did we have biological warfare, alcohol and gunpowder on our side, we weren't even Canadians yet. We were still British and French, and those two societies have not been known for going around being nice to other people. Ask the Indians and Algerians if you have any questions.

Canada has been historically support staff. We've not been CEOs, we've been Board Members. We've not been quarterbacks, we're defensive linemen. We're not Superman, we're the Wonder Twins. In essence, our entire history has been as a bottom, and when you're a bottom in real life, you like to get on top, which brings us to the alternate theory.

Harper is our projection as a dom. We didn't elect him to dominate us, but to BE us, as we be a top for a while. Harper has his whip, and he doesn't colour our bums, but the bums of... who, exactly?

To answer that, we need to have a look at conservative mythology. The problem with this is that you have to at least buy into conservative mythology to accept the following premises, but if you accept the traditional "left/right" dichotomy, you are halfway to accepting these myths.

  • Communists are bad.
  • Gays are bad.
  • Liberals are bad.
  • Human rights stifle free speech.
  • Frenchies are bad.
  • Europeans are bad.
  • America is good. All the time. No matter who they kill.
  • Greed is good.
  • Social programs are bad.
  • Politicians are bad.
  • Government is not the solution, but the problem.
  • Except when it comes to punishing small criminals. Then it rocks.
  • Progressives are anarchists.
  • Tradition is good.
  • Human rights are for sissies.
  • "Human rights" is just a way to make white people, particularly men, feel inadequate.
  • The environment is bad (or simply a way to make money).
  • God (particularly our god) is good.
  • Athiests are actually in denial, or actively on the side of the devil.
I've heard variations of all the above, and while the last two are more prevalent in the US, I've been accused of the same thing. Here in Canada. Right. Where the Constitution recognizes that "Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law". People I had assumed were in the centre all have their pet prejudices. My uncle is a huge corporatist, and a big fan of NAFTA. My friend the history teacher digs the tough on crime schtick. A student was shocked--shocked!--when I suggested that she could pluralize the word "god".

You need not buy into all or even any of these memes. There are others about artists, Natives, Blacks, immigrants, Catholics, politicians, lawyers, social workers, activists, students, youth in general, Cubans, unions, and a bunch that I've missed. All you need to do is recognize that some part of the Canadian population has been in charge for far too long, and it's their turn to be on the bottom. Harper manages to spank someone almost daily.

Sometimes it's just a generalized spanking, like when he closes Parliament Hill in a pique, or whips us with his "transparency and accountability", and then tries to fire the guy who suggests that maybe Harper should be more transparent and/or accountable. He spanked us with an election last August. Sometimes he spanks specific groups of people. He managed to spank environmentalists from Bali without even going himself. He spanked minorities and poor people when he cut funding to legal aide. He spanked the Liberals like when he hit us with his "senate reform" which means filling it with neocons instead of Liberals, independents or Dippers. He spanked tradtional conservatives by spending his surplus. He spanked women when he tried to end their recourse to the CHRC for pay inequity. And he spanked the politicians when he tried to cut their funding.

He even managed to spank Natives while it looked like he was caressing them. By apologising for genocide, he took some of the teeth out of the criticism. "That'll teach them Indians to go around looking all decimated and shit." And he's somehow managing to spank Afghanistan with democracy.

The rest of us don't even have a safe word. We can't make him stop.

He's one hell of a top, and Canadians like to see someone with a spiked collar in charge. Steve weilds it masterfully, either hitting us seperately, dividing us and making some other part of society the bottom for a change, or he spanks us all, and the doms thrill in a little S&M way. It's all very perverse, while somehow refraining from perversion.

It is this division and the persistence of these myths about liberals of all kinds, "libruls", that allows a bully like Steve to stay on top. People still use the word "pinko", and people who are concerned about the environment are moonbats. The decay of the family is blamed on the gays and women are viewed with suspicion. I doubt anyone would say it out loud, but I'm sure that there are some who think things started to go wrong when we took the chains off the Negros, and if not then, certainly when we let them marry whites. The affluence and emptiness of the system is not the problem. It's those assholes who want us to treat people like equals.

Steve's success relies on two things, and both of these rely on myth. First, he needs to victimize each and every Canadian, pointing out that they are the bottoms, and it's time the got on top. He doesn't need to do it himself; he's got people who will. Lorrie Goldstein is a good example. The entire editorial board of the National Post. CTV and its affiliates. John Baird. My nemesis, Michael Coren. My uncle. Ordinary Canadians have been getting screwed, goes the narrative (see list above), and it's time they did some screwing. He then needs to villify other Canadians (see list above). These people are responsible for your misfortune. You lost your job 'cause of unions. Your marriage is failing because gays have infected it. Ecoterrorists threaten your petro dollars. They hate our freedoms.

The third thing he needs that he can't control is our willingness to seek easy answers. He can take this for granted. Every time I'm called a fag, godless, a secularist or a "librul", I win a phyrric victory. I have won the battle, but I know I will lose the war. The world is not divided into good and bad, left and right, black and white, or bottom and top. It's complicated, and the right thing to do isn't always the right thing to do. Ambiguity is hard, and bottoming is easy. Topping is easy, too. It's vanilla that's hard.

I have no prescription. No suggestions.

No safe word.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Nice guys finish last.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating, since I'm dedicating so much thought to this thing. I am not a Liberal Party supporter. I am accustomed to having them on Canada's political landscape, and they have governed the nation for most of its history, so I am a little saddened to watch their race to the wilderness, but I personally have nothing invested in them. In fact, federally, I think I voted Liberal once, and it was one of those votes against the Tories.

But Stephane Dion is a guy I found interesting. He was chosen to lead the Liberals, it seems, in spite of all the things that made him a good leader. He is intelligent, thoughtful, passionate, compassionate, partriotic, forward-thinking, a constitutional scholar, and environmentally conscious, as well as being, as far as I can tell, a genuinely nice guy.

He was clearly unfit to lead a Western Democracy.

That says more about our moral bankrupcy than it does about Dion.

However, the departure of Dion is a good thing for Greens. Politically, if not socially. Dion's carbon tax was weak, and it made too many exceptions, but it was the first time the carbon tax was foisted upon the consciousness of the average Canadian. I mixed blessing, to be sure. All of a sudden, people who resist action on carbon economies had a dirty word to fight with. The CPC cemented their support in the prairies by pointing out that the Libs hated them, and wanted to destroy their livelihood. On the other side, anyone who wanted environmental action and was sceptical of the chances of the Greens or the NDP could vote red and say they were helping.

The exit of Dion and his green policies do two things. It makes the Greens the only option for those truly concerned with sustainability. That was always the case, but the perception now meshes with reality. It's good for the Green Party. Though our numbers went up, I am sure that we lost protential votes to the Libs. It's bad for Canada. We are already way behind on out Kyoto commitments, and a Liberal Leader who does not have environmental action as a priority is unlikely to force (yes, force) the CPC to do anything at all. They were deniers until recently, and they still get a lot of support from Alberta.

The departure of Dion signals something much greater than the dismissal of environmental concerns from the Canadian zeitgeist. It reveals a deeper flaw in our system, not just the political system, but society as a whole. Apparently, though the rest of the world has tried on the neocon style of government and found it ill-fitting and prone to wear, Canadians are hell bent on having our turn in the fitting room. We are out of sync with the rest of the world.

Our reputation is about to take a big hit. My wife thinks I was joking the other night, but emigration is more and more appealing.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Independent study project.

I am disappointed with the Liberal Party of Canada.

What bugs me most, I think, is that the lessons they need to learn are so readily available. Pop culture has more instruction on how to deal with bullies than any one person could possibly need, yet the Libs need it and are not getting it. So I have a homework assignment for every Liberal and liberal in this country.

At some point over the next few weeks or so, you are to rent the 1987 high school comedy Three O'Clock High. Take notes. Be prepared. Your final exam is on January 27. If' you're really strapped for time trying to figure out how to circumvent the democratic process and your own constitution, then you can find the plot summary on wikipedia and catch the final battle here. I'd embed it, but if you really care, you'll follow the clickthroughs. I can't spoonfeed you everything, you know. If you're interested in watching the whole thing, I think it's been partitioned and posted in its entirety on YouTube. It starts here.

The parallels are not absolute. For instance, Buddy Revell is alone, and while Big Steve doesn't seem to have any friends, he has lots of toadies. And I'll admit that the fundamental lesson in pop culture is flawed, in that the little guy rarely wins, even if he does have brass knuckles. But watch that fight and learn the following lessons:

Jerry is not alone.
His friends support him and put themselves at personal risk on his behalf. This might have been a useful lesson for you to learn several years ago, before feeding Paul Martin and Stephane Dion to the media, the public and the CPC after mortally wounding them. His girlfriend takes a hit, Jerry's friend jumps on Buddy, the authorities come to offer support, and Jerry's little sister and the principal offer advice and encouragement.

Buddy is alone.
As I said before, Big Steve does not appear to have many friends, but he does have toadies. The thing with toadies that they are not particularly loyal, and not very inclined to take a hit for the big guy. For further confirmation, check the fight scene in A Christmas Story. When the Opposition Parties told Steve to go to hell late last month, you may not have noticed that suddenly Steve looked very lonely. I saw dozens of Conservatives condemning your actions as undemocratic, craven and opportunistic, but I hear no one from the government benches say how awesome this economic statement was, and that you guys were idiots for not going for it.

The crowd was supportive.
Canadians don't want Steve in charge. Sure, around a third of us do, but most of us don't. Look at that crowd: they're on cars, hanging out of windows and standing on the roof. Everyone is cheering, none of them for Buddy. And the whole school is there: the sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, dickheads, cheek by jowl, screeching for blood. There's the implication that any blood will do, but I'm not sure that's necessarily so. Everyone likes to see the bully get it.

However, remember that this is not fiction, and it takes more than simply being the good guy to win.

Stephane Dion is a good guy. A smart guy. Compassionate and passionate. He his not very articulate, but neither was Chretien. He has vision and a conscience. You guys let him burn. And as soon as Buddy was finished with him, you stood over him and started trying to figure out who was going to start managing the store.

They guy you picked, without consulting the members of the Liberal party, which strikes me as a terribly undemocratic thing to when you're actually being accused of being undemocratic, has some flaws. For one thing, he's even more "intellectual" than the guy you just roasted. He's also made a few errors in judgment. Errors which are eerily like those of the current beleaguered Prime Minister. Errors which will allow them to say, "See? He's just as bad as us. But even more smug and all "intellectual"."

That'll work.

Look at what you're doing. Chretien ruled the party like a despot, I know, and he very effectively hamstrung any pretenders to the throne. The man who succeeded him was capable, but uninspiring. You let him hang. When it came time to replace him, you chose a man who was idealistic and good natured. You let him hang. You have now appointed a man who is smart (usually), has been living in the US for a long time and comes off as smug. You have appointed a slightly more evil-seeming version of Stephen Harper. When he is trounced in the coming election, you'll let him hang, too.

I realize that messiahs are a little thin on the ground these days, but you're going to have to come up with something. You also really ought to elect them next time. You know, just to keep up appearances.

The left is not unified. If you'll recall, the Reform Borg assimilated the Tories a few years back, and we could use the Liberals to block for the rest of us. I was hoping, in fact, that this coalition would open the door to a rule change that would let some of the other guys in. Crowning Iggy has likely spiked the coalition and electoral reform.

Thanks a lot, guys.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Tell me about yourself.

I've spent the last several posts questioning the beliefs of conservatives, and debunking the myths they hold regarding progressives. I've been forced to make some assumptions about their beliefs, however. I simply don't understand them; I cannot get inside the conservative mind. And so I am forced to speculate about what they think.

I've berated them for their renditions of liberals, trying to stick to the representations they present, rather than imagining what they think. I'm not 100% sure that I've been successful, and so I'm going to ask.

I'm pretty sure that some self-professed conservatives will read this either on Blogger or on Facebook. And so I pose a question:

What do you actually believe?

I need to know. Not because I want to belittle the right, but because I want to understand them. I've asked a friend, but so far he seems reluctant to answer.

Help me out, here.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Another salvo in Canada's culture war.

Michael Coren is my Grendel. My Green Knight. My Magneto.

Actually, he's none of those things, because while those villains were respected, conflicted and complex, Coren either has become a caricature to me, or he really is that simple, deluded and desperate.

It's probably more accurate to say that he's my Bizarro.

I'm sure that he's a smart man in his own way, but clearly his cognition is impaired. By what, I have no idea. Maybe it's a brain injury. Speaking as a blad man, I can say that Coren's head is kinda shaped funny. I doubt that's it. I figure it's partial paralysis. It's no secret, and not insulting, to note that faith must disengage reason. The Holy Trinity is confusing and contradictory, for instance, so believing it requires that parts of the brain be shut down.

Transubstantiation is another good example. It's bread. To believe that it literally becomes the flesh of Christ is to suspend reason, if only temporarily.

And I've dealt harshly with conservatism before, noting that the persistence of the ideology has less to do with its validity than its simplicity. So there's reason to believe that it's not necessarily faith that impedes Coren's logic circuits, but conservatism. I must note, however, that none of this prevents him from being more widely read, more widely respected and wealthier than I.

He's a week behind in his analysis, which is likely due to the vagaries of his Sun Media deadlines, and as such, he has little to add the the discussion, except the usual batch of insults at pointy-headed liberals. Coren is nothing if not consistent. He can take anything, literally anything, and make it the latest skirmish in the culture war that most of us aren't interested in fighting.

Last week, a report by an academic regarding the Human Rights Tribunal was actually about those poor Christians who are so put upon by Canadian society that they worship in secret, shamefully behind closed doors, constantly afraid that the ever-so-stylish Gay Brownshirts (with their dashing ascots, matching belts and shoes, and neatly pressed trousers) will bust in, and start dragging them off to face the injustice of the Human Rights Commission, convicted of thoughtcrime. Catholics, their churches razed and their masses conducted in hushed tones with guards posted at the doors, fight bravely for their freedom of religion in a society so lost and godforsaken that only 80% of the population identifies themselves as religious, some of whom aren't even Christians, and they labour under the yoke of the agnostic minority.

Coren is, however, up to speed on Canada's political crisis, and, quelle surprise, he parrots the same objections that the CPC has been spouting for ten days. Not content to be able to add nothing new to the discussion, Coren reaches back for some good old-fashioned liberal bashing, and reiterates his basic tired thesis. I say this knowing full well that I repeatedly take his columns apart, and thus am moderately guilty of the same sin. My irony detector is working perfectly well, thank you.

However, Michael needs a spanking. So let's get started.

Stealing power no way to go

There's no need to wait as the title is the best place to begin. The coalition is not "stealing" power. That implies that Steve owns it. He does not. Thank you. Next?
In 20 years of writing columns and hosting radio and television shows in this country I have never known such anger and received as many e-mails, phone calls and letters as over the attempt by the defeated political parties to usurp the democratic process, overthrow the elected prime minister and replace him with arguably the most unpopular and least impressive Canadian political leader since the Second World War.
Ignore for a second Coren's repeated accusations about the "liberal bias" of the media, which he discredits with the first 15 words. This statement might be technically true. I have no idea how much mail he gets. Nor do I care. But there are several assumptions contained here that nonetheless get me reaching for the Tums, muttering, "Jesus, not again."

First, the democratic process has not been usurped. Our system of elections is odd, unfair, quirky and unreliable, but it's the best we've got, and it allows for this sort of thing. As I've said before, I'm not a fan of the policies of any of the coalition parties on the whole, but everything they've done is legal and above-board. Second, the Prime Minister is not elected, and saying it over and over does not make it so. Third, the list of unimpressive Canadian political leaders from the last 60 years is a long one, and I doubt that Dion even cracks the top ten. Off the top of my head:
  • Ernie Eves
  • Kim Campbell
  • Preston Manning
  • Stockwell Day III
  • Joe Clark
  • Peter MacKay
  • Stephen Harper
And that's only the conservatives (in various incarnations, and only in my lifetime). The Liberals, the NDP, and the Bloc have more than their share of duds.

But here's what really galls me about that paragraph. It is the appeal to populism. What Coren is saying is that he got a lot of mail about the situation, and according to his unscientific sample, Canadians hate the coalition. The problem I have is not the number of Canadians who might agree with Coren, but the fact that he uses those numbers against the rest of us. The majority mattered seven weeks ago (when it elected too few Conservatives to hold onto power). It does not, unfortunately, matter now.
People who have never voted Conservative in their lives are promising to support the Tories and diehard Liberals are abandoning their party because they see all this as a battle between the interests of the country and the ambitions of politicians. There is tangible resentment out there and it proves once again how the elitists of the left simply do not understand the greatness and resolve of the Canadian people.
Those first two statements may be true. Again, I have no way of knowing. The problem I have is that, again, the appeal to the numbers. The fact that there are lots of people who hate the coalition is irrelevant. Again, law and precedent are on their side. The second statement is not only nonsense, in that it makes no fucking sense, but it doesn't have anything to do with anything. It's just Coren's overall thesis: liberals are poopie heads. It's also a red herring. He implies that liberals aren't like "ordinary Canadians". It's a weak xenophobic argument, but it keeps getting traction. It further underlines the fundamental weakness of conservatism.
We are not fools. We know that Stephen Harper acted rashly and probably should have waited before trying to abolish public funding for political parties.
Gee, Mike. As my grandmother used to say in less enlightened times, that's mighty white of you. This is something that conservatives all across the country are doing. By admitting that big Steve made an error, they are trying to claim the moral high ground. It goes like this: Obviously, this was a mistake, but-- And it doesn't matter what follows the but, because the idea is to make them look chastened and contrite, so that coalition supporters will look like power-hungry assholes. It also assumes that party funding should be cut, which is problematic for reasons I'll get into elsewhere, and it assumes that it is that particular dick move that fired up the other guys: not the right to strike thing, not the equal pay thing, and not the fundamental idiocy of cutting government spending during a recession.
Most Canadians, however, do not support the separatist party receiving 80% of its finances from taxpayers and they also know that the Liberals traditionally were the party of big business and are in financial trouble for the first time because they do not enjoy mass support and are on the verge of bankruptcy.
Whether or not the Bloc gets that much of its money from the feds is misdirection. It's a statement designed to get the reader seeing red so they can't see the weakness of Coren's position. It's also a made up statistic. Coren has no way of knowing whether or not it's true. The fact that it might be is irrelevant. Remember my post on bullshit? The veracity of the claim does not determine whether or not it's a lie. This is a lie, even if it's true. And the second half of that sentence is incoherent in addition to being irrelevant. Furthermore, it's another cheap shot designed to associate "big business" and "Liberal" in the reader's mind. This is useful because corporations are evil, stupid welfare moms these days, and tying Stephane Dion to the CEO of GM is helpful in villifying him.
This, by the way, is one of the reasons why they charged $90,000 to any person who wanted to be a candidate for party leadership, thus disqualifying most potential contenders. They are selecting a new leader, of course, because they agree that Stephane Dion is not fit to be Liberal chief. Not fit to lead the party but, according to these same Liberals, fit enough to lead the country -- at a time of severe financial crisis.
Right, Mike. We get it. They're broke. The minimum amount required to run for leadership is a necessary evil, I'd wager. Yes, it's essentially undemocratic (requiring any deposit at all to run is undemocratic, but welcome to modern democracy), but those leadership races are expensive, and most of the contenders from the last time still owe money. This is a way to make sure they've got the scratch. Coren also implies here that he gives a shit. He doesn't. The Liberals could nominate Jesus Christ, and Coren would probably convert to Judaism, so that he could still hate the Grits. The party leader/PM thing is a cheap shot at Dion. The Liberals were essentially told that Dion is not fit to lead the country, and since they want their leader to be the PM, they are choosing a new leader.
None of this has anything to do with an economic stimulus package but everything to do with desperate politicians who, though told repeatedly by the electorate they are not required in government, see an opportunity to steal power and run the country.
He's quite right that it has nothing to do with an economic stimulus package, because THERE IS NO FUCKING ECONOMIC STIMULUS PACKAGE. If I may be so bold, allow me to suggest that that's part of the beef with Big Steve. Coren also lies about Canadian government in this paragraph. They are in government. You can tell, because they (until Big Steve locked the doors), showed up every day to yell at him. In fact, they make up better than half of the government, which is how they are able to tell him take his economic statement and his resume and look for another position. He also once again calls this stealing, which implies ownership.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating. Coren is a liar.
The Liberals were told twice in a row that they had lost and the NDP have been told at every stage in its history that Canadians do not want them as federal governors.
This is all framing. Yes, the Liberals did lose votes in the last election. They lost seats. Interestingly, the CPC also lost votes in the last election. Coren would call this irrelevant. It's also another misdirection. Their standing in the last election gave them enough power to kick Big Steve to the curb. Canadians gave the the opposition parties enough power to rule if they banded together. There's simply no way around that.
But none of this seems to matter when dog politicians sniff the bones of governance.
Besides being a shitty thing to say, it's also hypocritical. No one has thirsted after more power in Canadian history than Big Steve. He has sealed the PMO, brooks no opposition, and has his caucus afraid to say or do anything without his okay.
So ambitious are they that they shake hands with the devil and form a coalition with people who are the prostitutes of Canadian politics, who detest the notion of Quebec existing within Canada and will sell their votes and seats to anyone who has the cash or the influence.
The Bloc's stance on separation is quite icky, but it is less evil than stripping women of their right to seek equal pay for equal work. Calling them "prostitutes" is nonsense. Legislation passes or fails because of their votes. They are in the government whether you like it or not. Furthermore, the CPC in its various incarnations has proposed to ally with the Bloc twice. Presumably, they were less devilish then.
The separatists despise Dion, the NDP detest the Liberals and everybody knows that Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff are waiting and watching for the chance to thrust their knives.
They apparently despise Dion less than they despise Big Steve. The internal power struggle of the Libs is another misdirection. It just means that once they decide on a new leader, that guy will be PM. Sound undemocratic? So's letting some pushy dickhead who seems to be mistrusted by most Canadians be the PM. Again, it's the system we've got, and while I'd really like to see a new one, we got what we've got. And those knives in Dion's back can be recycled when the government falls in January.
The Governor General is not to blame, but a former CBC journalist and Liberal appointee married to a hard line Quebec separatist might not be the best person to guarantee the dignity and integrity of our constitutional future.
Quite right, though not for the reasons Coren would think. He wants Big Steve to be in charge, so the GG is a horrible remnant of an archaic tradition. The problem is that she has set a precedent that is dangerous. Coren would, of course, disagree. Now that she's prorogued, I'd wager that Coren thinks the GG is a noble link to our past, and a gentle reminder of Mother England.

As for another election, the wasting of $300 million while people lose their jobs and homes is an open, bleeding wound.

Is this what Canada has come to? Tiresome mediocrities oiling their way through Parliament in the pathetic hope that they will sit in an addled and discredited cabinet.

So what's your answer, Mike? An election might be the only way out of this mess. You're right that it's too soon. But calling the money spent wasted is dangerous. Democracy is worth whatever it costs. Mike would suggest that democracy in Afghanistan is worth the lives of 100 Canadians. Democracy here comes cheap at $300 million. I don't even know where to begin with the second paragraph. It's just name calling.
In the name of all that is good and Canadian, pray on your knees that all this is put right.
The last sentence is pure nonsense, containing nothing, except a call to inaction. Pray? What will that do? To be honest, I want god to stay out of it. The divisions are deep enough without religion.

I don't know how this guy keeps getting published.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Working on your follow through.

Allow me to make a detour in order to make a larger point.

Much of the loud horrible screeching coming from the CPC and the conservatives these days comes in the form of misinformation, empty rhetoric or lies. A perfect example is the parallels that have been implied between our electoral system and that of the US. The right is claiming that Canada elected a Prime Minister, and taking away his keys to Sussex is somehow undemocratic, illegal or just plain mean.

Now, I'll reiterate that I voted for no one in the House. I supported none of the parties that currently make up the our Parliament. I did not give a mandate to anybody who currently has been sent back home for Christmas. Having said that, I support the coalition, and not just because it is the lesser of two evils. The idea of cooperation is compelling to me; I just like to see people who disagree get along.

But to return to the CPC. This coalition has been called a coup. We have been told that they have no right to seek power without an election. We've been told that we elected Harper as PM. They keep repeating "undemocratic" as if a) it makes any difference, or b) it were true. They have benefitted from the alchemical nature of first-past-the-post parliamentary voting laws, and now those same laws are biting them on the ass. Now they're undemocratic. I've mentioned this all before, provided links that elaborate, and have supplied adequate snark, I think, to effectively negate these arguments.

Doesn't matter, as we've seen. The memes persist. The ideas are deeply entrenched, and much of it can be laid at the feet of the US.

That is not to say the US is to blame. They elect their state officials in a way that is vaguely similar to ours, but much longer, noisier and more expensive. The differences that matter, however, are more subtle. The average American voter casts a ballot for president. Canadians do not cast a ballot for PM, except in a few ridings. And even then, the ballot is not to elect them PM, but to give them a seat in the House, where the job of PM is decided. With me so far?

So the claim that Canadians elected Stephen Harper PM is wrong in several ways. First, he didn't run for PM, no matter what you think. He ran to be the MP, and then was given the job of PM because his friends had the most seats. However, and this is important, they did not have MOST OF the seats. So Canadians didn't elect Harper even based on the fact that they elected a lot of his friends. They didn't elect enough of them to make his job unassailable. And furthermore, the alchemy of the electoral process gave the CPC 46% of the seats (not enough, I remind you) because they got 37% of the vote. That means that the other three parties combined received 54% of the seats from 56% of the vote (the Greens got 7%).

By any objective measure, the coalition is a better reflection of the will of the people.

But, heavily influenced by the US system (the only explanation that makes any sense besides blind partisanship in the face of conflicting evidence), conservatives across the country are freaking out, using pretty inflammatory language and accusing the coalition of treason.

Now, considering just how influential the US system is in shaping the ideology and the interpretation of the law for our own conservatives, I have three questions:

First, were you a supporter of the McCain-Palin ticket?

And second, if so, how is it okay that one half of that team was literally getting into bed with a separatist, but not okay that our liberal parties are figuratively doing so?

And finally, though clearly precedent and history are not your strong suits, why is it wrong to ally with the Bloc now, but it wasn't in 2000 or 2004?

Take your time. This one's tricky.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Cheap shots

I've got nothing cogent to add. Nothing that'll influence the arguments either way. So I'm going to be childish, instead:

Thursday, December 04, 2008

I don't usually like math

Yeah, I know what I said. I won't change anyone's mind with my fact-checkery and coherent-argumentism. But I just can't leave it alone.

A friend of mine is pissed because Stephen Harper was elected Prime Minister of Canada, and the Opposition is subverting the will of the people. Allow me to provide the facts.

Harper was elected, as I've said before, MP for Calgary Southwest. In fact, Canadians in five ridings (actually, in any riding where the leader of one of 22 parties was running, but for the sake of my sanity, we will limit to the ridings where the five major leaders were running) had a chance to elect a potential Prime Minister. That's 5 of 308 (16%). In one of those five ridings, the leader lost.

Let's look at some numbers.

Harper received 38 548 votes on election night. That's 73% of the vote in his riding. Pretty damn impressive. It's nearly 0.003% of the total vote in Canada. Clearly Harper has a mandate.

Okay, that's not fair. Let's look at something else. The other four leaders ran in four other ridings.
  • Dion received 25 095 votes, or 62% of the vote in his riding.
  • Layton got 45% of the vote in his riding: 20 323.
  • Gilles Duceppe snuck a majority in, too, with 47 975 votes, or 50%.
  • Elizabeth May lost to Peter MacKay, getting 32% of the vote (MacKay got 46%).
Of the votes cast in the ridings party leaders sought, Harper got nearly 17% of the vote. Clearly a mandate.

Wait. Still not fair. What about the votes actually cast for the party leaders? Harper did very well. Not quite 32%.

Here it is. Harper was not elected Prime Minister. He did very well in his riding. In fact, he did better than any other leader in their respective ridings. I wouldn't be surprised to find that he did better than almost any other candidate in the country.

I voted for none of these party leaders. Only 52 996 Canadians were given the opportunity to vote for our esteemed Prime Minister (0.004%). Only 227 107 Canadians were allowed to vote for a potential Prime Minister (0.016%). We didn't elect this jerk.

The Green Party of Canada received 940 747 votes and elected no one to the House. In Alberta, the CPC received 820 855 votes and sent 27 members to Ottawa. It sucks pretty seriously, but those are the idiosyncrasies of parliamentary democracy. Every time I mention it, it's pointed out that this is the system we have, and those are the breaks.

When the Opposition loses confidence in the Prime Minister, they can form a government and seek to govern. This is the system we have, kittens, and those are the breaks.

I don't like this system. It distorts the results of the vote and disenfranchises vast numbers of voters. The CPC seems like a bunch of whiners now that the rules are working against them and they've cut and run.

A house divided, northern edition.

I am certain that there's nothing I can say that will change anyone's mind about anything. Certainly not about Canada's Parliamentary cockfight. You can find a constitutional expert (or someone who claims to be) to support your opinion, no matter what it is. And even if you recognize that the coalition is perfectly legal, you may not recognize its legitimacy. There are a buch of reasons for this, but the two I've seen the most are that the coalition is a bunch of sore losers, trying to steal power without earning it, or that they are traitors for entering into an agreement with the Bloc.

You may support the coalition for reasons that have nothing to do with the constitution or the whimsy of parliamentary democracy. My gut reaction was to support the coalition simply because Harper's an asshole. Since then, after a great deal of consideration, I've found other reasons to support them. Listing them here adds nothing to the discussion. You can find them all over the place.

What I do know is this. Six weeks will not help. It will help the CPC get a budget together, but it seems unlikely to me that the budget will pass. It will give the CPC caucus a chance to choose a new leader, but they are unlikely to do that. Harper only owns short leashes. It might give the coalition time to fall apart, but that seems unlikely to me as well. They planned to hang together for 18 months. Six weeks isn't that long.

It gives both sides time to launch the campaign for the hearts and minds of Canadians. The CPC has a lot more money, so they'll be running TV ads using words like traitor, power grab, and democracy. They might say coup. They'll probably rerun some stuff saying how goofy Dion is. They will issue talking points to the bloggers. The MSM editorial pages will be full of invective against those nasty socialists and separatists. It'll be ugly.

The coalition has a lot less money. What have they got? The majority, tradition and law. Any ads they can muster will contain words like democracy, Bush, confidence and economy.

Ads on neither side will contain any substantive evidence for their position. And rightly so. It won't make a damn bit of difference. The trenches are deep and the positions are entrenched.

What bothers me most is division that this is exacerbating. In the US, things have gotten ugly in the afteremath of a contentious and tight presidential election. Old rivalries and prejudices have taken off their hoods. New prejudices have come to the fore, highlighting the culture war. The religious right scrambles desperately to prove Obama's illegitimacy as president, while gloating and screeching in fear about gay marriage (I don't know how they do it.)

Up here, the debate feeds on Canada's own boogeymen. First is the GOP-like behaviour of the CPC. The CPC aren't your father's Tories. They're neocons. Then there's the separatists. We thought that spectre was safely exorcised, and the Bloc now supports a different government (the govenment has included the Bloc for years, but now they might be allied with someone). There's also the vaguely socialist-like stance of the NDP. Accurate or not, the image is there, and we're being blugeoned with it. And finally, there's the meme which has been swiped from Rove's playbook. We're being told that Dion isn't a "leader". Whatever that means.

The divisions are real, though essentially superficial. These issues should be taking a backseat to other, more pressing issues, like the environment, poverty, and our fatally flawed economy. But this is what's shaping debate.

This will get worse before it gets better. I can promise you that. And the Canada that emerges will likely be very different from this one. I can't say whether it'll be better or worse. The CPC might make overtures to the others and patch things up. The coalition may or may not survive. The GG may just prorogue the government again next year because the CPC will fall. We may have another election as the Libs choose a new leader (and probably the CPC, if the government falls).

This is ugly. I know my wine and turkey-fuelled discussions will be interesting over Christmas.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Nearly three months ago, Stephen Harper broke his own election law and asked the Governor General to dissolve Parliament. The voters were furious. So mad, in fact, that they gave Steve a strengthened minority.

During the election, the CPC constantly took the low road, running on Dion's funny accent and his idealism, releasing their platform in the final week of the campaign. The voters were disgusted with this tactic. So disgusted, in fact, that Dion's Liberals got the lowest voter support in history.

As the election results were released, the voting public was indignant that we spent a few hundred million dollars and came up with essentially the same result. So indignant, in fact, that they are now convinced that Harper has an overwhelming mandate.

The CPC said there was no recession. Then they said there probably would be one, but they had a plan, but they didn't say what the plan was. They assured us that they were the "steady hand" we needed during times of crisis, and the Liberals would be a disaster. When their "economic statement" included nothing but pissant ideological spending cuts, the public was annoyed. They were so annoyed, in fact, that when the other parties objected, the public insulted them, and suggested they were afraid of losing their meal ticket.

Canadians have not been represented by a government that reflected the majority of the vote since 1984 (PCs with 50.3%). Given the opportunity to once again be represented by MPs whose parties combine to give them 53% of the vote, Canadians are appalled.

The new Parliament convened and quickly degenerated into bickering, partisanship and name calling. The voters were appalled. So appalled, in fact, that when three of the four parties agreed to work together and form a coalition, the public screamed "Coup!", "Treason", and "Power grab!"

People of all political stripes who have lamented Stephen Harper, his ideology, his contempt for other parties, his disregard of his own legislation, his frightening support for Dubya, his disdain for the arts, and his lack of compassion for Canada's most vulnerable citizens, are horrified that political opportunists might "seize power" from him.

I honestly don't get you people.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Just the facts, ma'am.

When he announced his candidacy earlier in 2003, MacKay told reporters "I want to make something very clear. I am not a merger candidate."

But less than five months after becoming PC leader, MacKay announced he had struck a merger deal with the Canadian Alliance.
I understand that Stephen Colbert once claimed on air that "reality has a liberal bias", and I guess that must explain the phenomenon I'd like to explore today.

What seems to characterize those on the right more than anything else, more than religiosity, socio-economic class, education level, income or profession is the penchant for untruth. Politicians, activists and commentators of all persuasions are prone to error, for the are only human. We are all tempted to spin the facts, highlighting some and relegating others to the shadows. We even have a tendency to obfuscate, because, quite honestly, the world is not left or right or black or white.
Harper said "that is just panic" and the opposition would raise taxes and put the government into a deficit. Dion's ideas "will take us into a recession, not around one," he said.
However, to come right out and say something that's untrue, it seems you've gotta be a conservative. We're none of us saints, as a wise man said to me once, and I've been known to lie. But to do so repeatedly, publicly and brazenly, tilting right seems to help. There are essentially three things that could account for the tendency. First, they are very, very stupid. They have no idea what's going on, and they don't know what's right or what's true. I have to dismiss this, unfortunately, because even if it's true, they seem to be willfully resistant to education. Second, they might be insane. They simply do not relate to the world the way it really is. The problem with this thesis is that it's useless, and probably detrimental to the conversation we're forced to have with them. And it's unlikely that "Conservatism" will be added to the DSM anytime soon. So the only option remaining is that they are simply bad, or selfish, or insensitive. Put simply, they're all a little bit evil, so lying is to be expected. I suggest that the real answer lies somewhere in a Venn diagram encompassing the three options.
Even though Conservative Leader Stephen Harper vowed during the 2006 election campaign not to touch income trusts, Flaherty was faced with the prospect of losing hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue. His decision stunned the market, and billions of dollars of investors' holdings were wiped out.
Maybe it can be explained another way. Maybe there's a tic, a sort of mental spasm that is engaged by conservativism. I know that mythology plays a part in any ideology: you've got your holy trinity, you've got your free market, you've got your 72 virgins, you've got your dialectic, you've got your golden rule. And I know that it's hard to give up the mythology, because it weakens the ideology. And without ideology, organizing shit gets tricky. The world is a big, scary, complicated place, and having an ideology helps one keep things together. It gives one stereotypes, narratives, categories, and communities. It sorts, categorizes, and defines. It gives one purpose: god's will, socialist utopia, amassing a fortune or helping others. It gives one enemies: infidels, welfare moms, capitalists, gays, illegal aliens, secularists or rock musicians.
"Harper lied when he said he wanted to clean up politics in Ottawa," Duceppe said in French.

Duceppe pointed to several incidents: the ongoing investigation by Elections Canada into allegations the Conservatives exceeded by $1.3 million the legal limits on campaign spending in the last federal election, in 2006; the so-called Bernier-Couillard affair, in which Quebec MP Maxime Bernier resigned as foreign affairs minister in May after it was revealed he had left confidential government documents at the house of his then girlfriend, Julie Couillard; and accusations that the Tories attempted to bribe the late Independent MP Chuck Cadman in May 2005 to vote down the Liberal minority government.
Conservative ideology is simpler than most, so maybe that's why it's so pervasive. All you have to do is hate things: socialism, secularists, liberals, activists, gays and politicians. There's no need to think about new things, because tradition is the guide, and there are talking heads to tell you what you think. The things that are wrong with the world are, in many ways, attributed to sin, even if the conservative in question is not religious. It's the sin of naiveté, or of coddling people, or of socialism. However, this does not explain the lying. Not alone, at any rate.
Harper has insisted Canada's economic fundamentals are strong and said his party is the strongest to handle future economic uncertainty, while saying all Dion offered was his "risky" carbon tax plan.
But the lying is inherent in the philosophy. It's even in the name. They are "conservatives", but they won't conserve anything. They don't save money anymore, they don't save the environment, they don't save people. They don't even stand for traditional values. They lie all the time. The basic untruth of their position does not hide behind rhetoric, and it does not lurk in the darkest areas of their souls. It comes right out and lies to you from the beginning. The label is misleading.
At the moment there are problems in the Canadian economy, but we aren't in a recession," Harper told reporters during a campaign stop in Kitchener, Ont.
There are bigger issues at hand, of course. There's the fact that the voter is an ennabler. There's no reason for them not to lie, to be honest with you. Lying got Peter MacKay the Tory leadership and then the deputy leadership of the CRAP. It got Mike Harris elected and reelected. It got Jim Flaherty his job in the PMO. It got Steve his job as PM. It got him reelected. It seems to work, and that's the fundamental problem I have with this bullshit. If they lied, and then everyone said, "Hey asshole! That's a lie," I'd have no problem with it. But they lie, and when you call them on it, people are genuinely surprised.
The federal government is not considering any bailout plans for Canada's banks and other financial institutions, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Friday, as a massive and unprecedented package was being prepared in the United States.
This despite the fact that everyone says that politicians are liars.
"If you want a government that is tough on environmental crime, then you should re-elect a government that is tough on crime generally," Harper said.
There is no easy way to fix this. "Conservatives" will continue to lie because they can and because they have to. There's no there, there, to borrow a clever line from Stein. The ideology is bankrupt. It has no ideas. It runs on fear: homophobia and xenophobia, the fear of socialism and the fear of reason. It resists new information and cannot abide scrutiny. It reacts with hostility when challenged becasue it has no other weapon.
Harper, who railed against Liberal patronage in the 2006 election, later failed to deliver on a campaign pledge to put an independent commission in charge of vetting cabinet appointments.
It has been clear for centuries that human rights progress, yet they resist. It has been evident for the last hundred years or so that capitalism is a flawed system, but they worship the golden calf. It is obvious to anyone who looks that corporations cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of the public, but they continue to privatize government functions. To miss the fact that there is no such thing as a free market requires an obstinancy that is nearly admirable, and they stubbornly refuse to see it. The idea that growth can continue unchecked forever is contrary to common sense, but they rely on it.
A Conservative government would not need to cut spending to keep the government from running a deficit, leader Stephen Harper said Saturday.

The economy is not going into recession, and "our plans are more than affordable," he said while campaigning in southern Ontario.

A reporter asked about possible cuts because a weakened economy could cut tax revenues, and the Tories have promised to keep the government in the black without raising taxes.

But Harper said the economy is not going into a recession, and the prospect of program cuts is a "ridiculous scenario."
Conservatism might have meant something once. I recall that it once meant smaller government and reduced spending. However, I can't tell. The first conservatives I can remember are Reagan and Mulroney. Not particularly good examples of "traditional" conservatism. But ideology is not the issue. There is a basic problem with facts. Conservatives can't use them, so they ignore them or make them up.
Last week, the Conservatives issued a statement questioning whether Moore and NDP incumbent Tony Martin violated the Canada Elections Act by hitting the hustings together in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

"This canvassing appears to be a violation of the Canada Elections Act, which clearly states that only Canadians can actively participate in a Canadian election," a Tory statement read.

But in a letter Monday to an online newspaper in the Sault, Moore said it was the Conservatives who initially invited his film crew to go campaigning with Tory candidate Cameron Ross.
There is a wonderful essay about the nature of truth and the character of lies entitled "On Bullshit". Harry Frankfurt proposes to begin a philosophical study of bullshit, and requires first that a working definition be agreed upon. The essay is his attempt to come to terms with bullshit, what it is and more importantly, what it isn't. What he decides may be useful here.
Flaherty also said he has "absolutely no concern" about the health of Canada's financial institutions and added the government was not looking at any plan to bail out banks, as have other countries such as Britain, Ireland and Iceland.
Frankfurt differentiates between lying and bullshit not by relying on veracity. In fact, it is possible to lie and still be telling the truth. Lies of ommission are a good example. Or stating something that you believe to be false that turns out to be true. That would be a lie independent of the veracity of the statement. And so it is intent, not veracity, that defines lies and bullshit.
The federal government's $25-billion takeover of bank-held mortgages to ease a growing credit crunch faced by the country's financial institutions is not a bailout similar to recent moves made in the United States and other Western countries, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said Friday...

...Flaherty announced the new measures in an attempt to assuage concerns over the burgeoning global financial crisis and defuse criticism that the Harper government was ignoring the spreading lending crisis.
Lies are intended to decieve. It certianly looks like conservatives are constantly lying, always trying to distort the reality around them. But I'm not sure that's so. It may be possible that cons don't actually recognize truth. I'm sure they understand it as a concept, but the relationship between what's real and what's described must be, for them, tenuous at best. There are parallels to schizophrenia that can be drwn from their perception, I'm sure
The opposition has every right to defeat the government but Stéphane Dion does not have the right to take power without an election.
-Prime Minister Stephen Harper gives the nation a lesson in parliamentary democracy from the foyer of the House of Commons (November 28, 2008)

As leaders of the opposition parties, we are well aware that, given the Liberal minority government, you could be asked by the Prime Minister to dissolve the 38th Parliament at any time should the House of Commons fail to support some part of the government’s program. We respectfully point out that the opposition parties, who together constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise this should give you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority. Your attention to this matter is appreciated.
-From a letter to then-Governor General Adrienne Clarkson signed by all three opposition leaders: Gilles Duceppe, Jack Layton and Stephen Harper (September 9, 2004)
It seems that, at first blush, the Cons are lying. But bullshit is characterized not by deliberately misrepresenting the facts, but by consistently disregarding them. So there are certainly elements of bullshit in their constant stream of, well, bullshit. But how are we to know? Do they lie? Do they care?
Flaherty acknowledged that the U.S., Europe and Japan are in recession and that private-sector forecasters expect negative growth in Canada in the fourth quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009 — meeting the definition of a recession.
The simplest way would be to ask them. But given their track record, it would certainly be unreliable. Besides, it would almost certainly be taken as an attack, and met with hostility. There is little hope of truly understanding if the Cons are lying to us, or merely bullshitting us, or if they even recognize a difference.
Pierre Poilievre, Harper's parliamentary secretary, told CBC Newsworld the opposition parties are focused on power while Harper is looking at the economy.

"We have a prime minister fixated on the economy and a group of Liberals, separatists and socialists fixated on taking control." he said.
So what I suggest is this. Forget about motivation. While it is an interesting diversion, we gain nothing from the analysis. Whether their statements are lies are bullshit, they remain untrue. And that, my friends, is the point. We have history on our side. We have reason on our side. We have reality on our side.
The catalyst for this remarkable state of affairs, in which the opposition parties say they are planning to unite to bring down Harper's government and replace it with one of their own, is Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's economic update – a bizarre document that bears no relation to either reality or any of the current prime minister's recent statements.

In that update, Flaherty downplays Harper's fears of a lengthy economic depression, ignores his stricture not to cut back at a time when governments should be doing more and singles out seemingly random targets in an effort to solve problems that don't exist.
All they've got is bullshit.

*PTGHWAC to the CBC and the Toronto Star. Thank you for maintaining your archives.

My prescription for Canada

I was asked on the London Free Press website what I though would be best for Canada. Here's my answer:

My diagnosis is somewhat controversial, but it is not really radical. The economic crises of the last half century or so have been in large part precipitated by resource limits. This is not to say that there have not been other factors, but the major crises have either been preceded by a spike in commodity prices, or are a result of natural limits placed on growth by the fact that resources are limited. The "real" (for lack of a better word) economy, that based on transforming stuff into other stuff, has real and actual limits that simply cannot be exceeded. Because growth is the single most important thing in a capitalist economy, we have invented ways to grow our economy despite natural limits: knowledge based economies, financial economies, speculative economies and deficit economies.

In the 70s, oil prices rose, precipitating a recession. In the 90s, the recession was triggered by the collapse of a virtual (pun intended) industry. The current recession has been triggered by making money off of bad debts, spiking commodity prices, and I would suggest the first tremors of the peak oil earthquake.

On the government side, traditional wisdom is that we inject public money into the private sector in order to stimulate spending. Infrastructure projects, social spending and business loans are the way we weathered recessions and depressions in the past. The odd thing with the "economic" plan is that it is an anti-stimulus package. It reduces government spending in a time when governments would traditionally be spending more. I'm not advocating for traditional plans, either, but what struck me most about the Cons "plan" is that it ignores history, and would serve to deepen the recession. It gives Naomi Klein a little additional credibility, but serves to do little else.

What government needs to do is essentially a restructuring of our economy, and thus our society. Any other plan to stimulate the economy is simply prolonging the inevitable. To use an almost cliched analogy, capitalism has been on life support since the 20s. Government spending kept capitalism alive in the 30s, helped pull it out of the depression during the war, and then helped stimulate the growth of the middle class during the second half of the century by offering tax cuts and incentives to corporations, reducing taxes on the middle class, and passing laws to guarantee livable incomes.

First, increase spending to social programs, including welfare, job training, guaranteed incomes, child care, health care, transit and infrastructure. This will not only serve to stimulate the economy, it'll ease the transition for those who are caught by the pinch. Second, pass stricter anti-monopoly laws, to prevent companies getting too big to fail. Ontario is dependent on the auto industry, and that is hardly recession-proof. If your meal ticket fails, you starve. We need to diversify. Third, take protectionist measures wherever NAFTA will allow you. Canadian industries and businesses need to get a little wiggle room. Besides, international trading that requires transport is about to get very expensive, and we'll just be preparing for the inevitable.

The feds should also look to helping new startups. Our economy will relocalize in the future as oil becomes scarcer, and we need to be ready. Furthermore, with increased labour costs, business will need a little more help. Guaranteed loans and tax holidays for small businesses would be a good idea.

This is where I'm probably going to lose you. It's counterintuitive in a traditional sense. Start a hefty carbon tax, and reduce income taxes, first by raising the allowable tax-free income, and then by lowering taxes on the middle class. Require true cost pricing, demanding that producers pay for disposal of their goods. It's essentially a subsidy to manufacturers, and it fosters our comsumerist society. Any additional income generated by the carbon tax and not lost by reducing income taxes should be used to "green" our economy, our cities and our habits. Encourage green manufacturing, our infrastructure development should be railroads, not roads.

We should also start localizing our government. A federal government is necessary, but more power should be given to provinces and municipalities, in addition to more funding. Our tax burden should shift from the feds to the cities. And municipalities need more revenue streams. Currently, all they've got (largely) is property tax and then transfers from upper governments. What should happen is that municipalities collect taxes, and transfer funds up. We should also change the way property taxes are calculated to discourage sprawl and encourage population density.

A coalition government would make electoral reform less scary. We can use this example to demonstrate that proportional representation can work, and further highlight the inadequacies of FPTP. It might also "set an example", to borrow Flaherty's phrase, showing that the government is working together to help each other out. Coalitions would give voters more confidence in their leaders. We might get more people involved, increasing the odds of getting real, inspiring, dedicated leaders.

If we make it through this recession, we'll just have time to gain a little wealth before the next one, which will be worse. The system is broken, and resuscitating it yet again only delays the inevitable. I'm not saying we need to become communists, but something in between or completely different is probably the answer. Our government has been coddling business for a century. I'm suggesting they are smarter about the businesses they coddle.

We have an opportunity to do great things. We are at risk of losing sight of the bigger picture, and recognizing the pattern. We are simply repeating the mistakes of the past, delaying the inevitable, and making the coming crash even worse, and we're fighting over whether or not the Bloc should be allowed to help form a government.

There it is. You asked for it.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Don't usually get tagged with memes, but Adrian, The Atheist Blogger, tagged everyone who read his blog. So here it is.
  1. Grab the nearest book.
  2. Open the book to page 56.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the text of the next seven sentences in your journal along with these instructions.
  5. Don’t dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST.
The closest book was an alphabet book that my daughter read six times today, because it has fuzzy bits and pop-ups. It doesn't have 56 pages. The next closest book was the one I'm reading: The Twilight Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko. It's obviously translated from Russian, which is not usually not a problem, though some of the idiom gets a little clunky occasionally. It's the third in a series that began with The Night Watch, which was a good flick, and became a pretty good movie. You can actually watch it here.
Unless perhaps someone saw the letter posted three days ago. There's not much chance they'd remember, of course...

What a fool I was! I even slapped myself on the forehead. Sure, it's no disgrace for an Other to forget about modern technology, Others aren't very fond of complicated technical gizmos. But I was a computer hardware specialist.

All of the grounds of Assol were monitored by video cameras.
Not very revealing or indicative of the series as a whole.

As for tagging, I'm not gonna follow through. Feel free to call yourself tagged if you read this, have a blog, and get the urge.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Harper and Flaherty are flip-floppers.

Apparently, the Cons are not deaf to reason. They have reversed their stance on cutting funding to political parties.

I was wrong. It didn't work. It was recognized as a cheap ploy. This may have restored some faith in the voters of Canada.

My criticisms on the "economic update" still stand. As Rick Mercer put it, the Tory stimulus package will come:
  1. too late,
  2. way too late, or
  3. just in time for the next election.
We can blame Peter MacKay for this. He's the one that fed the Tories to the Neocons.

Retail therapy

Dalton McGuinty, much like the Dubya before him, has urged his constituents to hit the malls.
Many people are "feeling the pinch" during the current downturn and are worried about their jobs and savings, he acknowledged.

But if they refrain from buying holiday gifts, for example, they could "unwittingly" add to Ontario's economic troubles, McGuinty said.

"I know we've got to take steps at home and we've got to be prudent and we've got to be careful and that's understandable," he said after visiting a pharmaceutical firm in Pickering, east of Toronto.

"But if you don't buy that car -- even though you can actually afford it -- if you don't buy that fridge, if you don't shop at Christmas time, it can actually put us in a bit of a downward spiral."
Obviously, the opposition has some objections to this recommendation, particularly NDP leader Howard Hampton.

Opposition parties pounced on McGuinty's remarks as further evidence the premier is "out of touch" with ordinary people who fear they'll soon have to join the unemployment line.

The premier's advice is "just as crass and bizarre" as U.S. President George W. Bush telling Americans to "get out there and shop" after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, said NDP Leader Howard Hampton.

The criticism is hardly unwarranted, but it's also off-base. Under the current economic system, the only way to get out of a recession, or to slow the onset of one, is to spend. We need everyone rowing in the same direction, or growth stalls. The way we've got things wet up, a stall means a downturn. Growth, constant and without limits, is the only measure of economic stability, let alone success.

Hampton's right, in that people facing layoffs or pay cuts and rising interest rates need to keep their eyes on the future. But he's missing the bigger picture. McGuinty's advice, like Bush's after 9/11, is economically sound. What Hampton, and most of the rest of his critics, I'm sure, will miss, is that this recession is another symptom of a system that is fundamentally flawed.

Our current economic system is flawed in several key ways:
  • It relies on a prosperity gap that is untenable, and also unpleasant, so we've done our best to send poverty overseas, and have done a helluva job.
  • It fails to recognise the natural limits of a finite planet.
  • It has been artificially sustained for nearly two centuries, by government support, the distortion of the market by advertising, the ghettoization of two thirds of the planet, and the artificial savings granted by cheap petroleum.
Buying more shit will not fix any of that.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Democracy is bad for the economy.

Canada's elections are messy and expensive (and recently, pointless). They're nowhere near as messy, expensive and pointless as the last three US elections, but they're pretty bad.

For one thing, in the last election, we had twenty-one registered parties. Yeah. Twenty-one. One was a joke, but the argument has been made that they all are (there is some truth to that). In most ridings, the most you'll see is six or seven. But I'll bet there was a place in Canada where the ballot had two sides.

Our parties have also learned the worst possible lessons from elections in the past and in other locations. Treat the voter like mushrooms:
  • Our current leading party, the Cons, never once gave a coherent policy plank, intelligible election promise or pointed to a past success (except for a successful cut to the GST, which, while successfully cut, has not apparently had any effect on anything, except the operating capital of the government). At least, not while I was paying attention. The other parties were not much better, but the Cons were the worst. They ran on Stephane Dion's funny accent and carbon tax. They occasionally hinted that they had a plan to deal with the rapidly approaching economic clusterfuck, but they never told us what it was (still haven't).
  • The Liberals ran like they didn't really want to be there, and they were only killing time until they could scapegoat one intellectual idealist and replace him with either an intellectual or an idealist.
  • Jack Layton ran on Harper's pact with Satan. Steve is an evil guy (not like supernatural evil, but callous and vaguely sociopathic), and while I like to bash him, I like to temper my vitriol with an occasional suggestion.
  • The Bloc, while it has some interesting policies, also ran on Harper's pact with Satan. Unfortunately, they only run in Quebec, which is an odd thing for a national party to do. They'd probably fair pretty well in places like Newfoundland, where their entry into the Dominion was questionable, and New Brunswick, which also has a large francophone population.
  • The Greens ran on the Chicken Little platform spiced up with the Harper-Satan combo. I believe in the platform, and I believe that the sky is really falling, but unfortunately, we're easily dismissed, partially because if things are as bad as I fear, then we're probably fucked anyway, and sustainability is hard. And also probably because we aren't very good at the mudslinging.
What we had was a little over a month of insults, name-calling and bullshit, cleverly disguised by neckties (though Harper stayed away from the necktie, perhaps as a double-distraction), indignation, and resignation that politics has sunk so low in Canada. But what are you gonna do? Sex sells, but fear really moves product.

The thing is that spreading all these non-platforms, inciting all this fear and fostering all this paranoia costs money. So the government reimburses our parties for some of their expenses if they reach a certain threshold of votes, and they pay you $1.95/vote/year, so you can keep the machine going in order to fund your next round of vapid soundbites.

Last month we spent nearly $300 million on an election, winding up with a slightly strengthened Con party in charge (I have no fucking idea how, we just did.). We used airtime, nonrenewable resources, horrifying amounts of trees, and millions upon millions of volunteer hours and casual labour, and we are slightly worse off than we were before. The economy continues to flop about like a wounded animal,and we still have no real plan to deal with that. However, it's time to tighten our belts, people.

Let's cut out that stipend to the parties.

It'll save nearly $30 million.

The Cons pissed away the surplus that they were left with three years ago by the Liberals. So we can't increase government spending without going into a deficit, which, as we have seen in countless instances around the world, conservatives just don't do. There are billions of dollars going to Bay Street and billions of dollars in loans going to automakers (maybe). There are billions of dollars in corporate welfare, and lots and lots of tax refunds for oil companies, but the electoral process really needs to tighten up.

You may be losing your job while CEOs eat caviar off of $1000/night call girls. You may be losing your pensions while upper management collects bonuses the size of lottery jackpots. You may be losing your car while cabinet ministers have a limo and driver. You may be losing your house while banks record slightly less than record breaking profits. But don't worry, those asshole politicians are losing their gravy train. That's right, no more fat in the electoral process.

Set aside that this is petty and shitty for a minute. Try to forget that Finance Minister Flaherty is the man who constantly reassured Ontario that he could cut taxes, increase spending and balance the budget. Ignore for a minute that on paper this hurts the Cons most because theys stand to lose the most. I don't even want to talk about how anti-democratic this is.

I want you to focus on the fact that this is blatantly political, an obvious cheap shot, and deeply, deeply cynical.

The Cons have no plan for recovery. To those of us paying attention, Flaherty has no credibility as a finance minister. They have no wiggle room, having spent it all. Their ideology has just proven to be corrosive to the economic system they claim to worship. They just lost their best friend next door. They bet they could win an election before we copped to the recession, but we were paying attention (though they did win). Our resource-based economy, which is supposed to be sort of recession-proof, starts to stutter when demand for resources declines. Canadians are a little more choosy with out boogey-men, too, so you can't blame the gays or the atheists for this one. But you know who you can blame? The one group that everyone in Canada distrusts, dislikes and disapproves of? I mean, besides Americans?

Politicians. Those evil, nasty, parasitic politicians.

A recurring theme on this blog is my constant incredulity. I can't believe the gullibility of the electorate. I can't believe the chutzpah of the neocons. I can't believe the hypocrisy of those on the religious right. I can't believe the resistance of the general population to the changes that are necessary.

And here, I can't believe the sheer ballsiness of a politician implying that politicians are to blame for this mess. They are, of course, partly responsible, but it takes a special kind of balls to come right out and say it, even though he isn't really. And I can't believe that he thinks it'll work.

I also can't believe that it probably will.

He's not saying this is flawed economic policy. He's not saying it's a flawed tax system. He's not saying it's a symptom of deeper societal problems. He's not even saying that the idiots who persisted in making shitty products or approving shitty loans or creating money out of nothing are at fault. He's not saying that rebates and incentives enabled those idiots to ignore market realities.

He's implying that it's the electoral system that is at fault, and the elected (and unelected) need to pay for it. And many voters are gonna buy it.

The electoral system is deeply flawed. The party system is deply flawed. The election funding rules are deeply flawed. There are ways to fix this. Maybe. I don't think this is it. This simply cuts off small parties, and will wither many of them away. This will destroy the Liberal Party (probably the real motive). This will hamper the NDP and the Bloc (also nice perks).

This will not stimulate the economy. This will do nothing to prevent the next recession. This will not broaden our economy, to make it more recession-proof. This will not prevent one forclosure, one job loss, one trip to the food bank, or one stress-induced heart attack or stroke, or one fight over the dinner table.

It's obvious, it's cheap and it's transparent.

It'll probably work.

Monday, November 24, 2008


There are intelligent conservatives. There must be. I mean, they write books, they own the media, and they're in charge. So they've got to have something upstairs. However, I look at commentary on politics and economics by conservatives and it is very clearly at odds with everything: history, recent history, current economic realities, and even common sense. I try very hard to understand where they're coming from, but I just can't do it.

There are a couple of conclusions that can be drawn from their opinions. One, they are insane: schizophrenic in the sense that they are detached from reality, and live in a fantasy world where corporations act in the best interests of everyone and nothing is provided by the government. Two, they are not as smart as I'm giving them credit for. They are just really, really lucky. Or three, and this is most likely, they are lying. All the time. About everything. They don't believe the things they say they do, they don't read the stuff they say they read, and they don't actually behave in the way they want us to think they do.

I've found evidence for this all over the place. My last two blog posts are about this very phenomenon. I've got a new one, courtesy of our friends over at Christian Worldview Network, written by Shawn Akers. This is a fine specimen, not only at odds with reality, but internally inconsistent as well. Entitled "Donkeys, RINOs and PUMAs, Oh My! Can We Please Be Conservative Again?", it starts with the standard paranoiac bullshit about liberals owning everything: the media (hah!), the schools, the courts, Public Radio (really, they say this like it means something), and the respect and admiration of other nations.

It's a funny thing with conservatives in America. They don't give a shit what you think unless you agree with a liberal, and then you're a commie, a socialist, a totalitarian or European.

It doesn't take long before Akers starts actually dismissing reality, as opposed to simply misrepresenting it:
And then there are the rarest creatures of them all, those elusive phantoms, the genuine Republican elephants, who stare incredulously into the hollow eyes of the great grey beasts that have overtaken their party and ask – “hey, who invited the RINOs, and where did they get those fake trunks?” It seems that only now the true conservative Republicans are beginning to realize that while they slept, they lost their souls. Indeed, they can scarcely call themselves “conservative” anymore, because there is very little left to conserve.
The religious right co-opted the Republican Party (or was rather co-opted by) in the 1980s. Before that, they were more libertarian than conservative, and while they disagreed with the Dems on several things, there were no great rifts in beliefs. So who do you think Akers is talking about when he talks about "genuine Republican elephants"? Oddly enough, elephants are supposed to have long memories. And I've written in the past about "conservative" being a misnomer, because they don't stand for the conservation of anything worth conserving.
In practice, there is very little left of the founding principles. The Founders simply would not recognize the eternally-evolving ethereal cacophony of politically correct juris-imprudence that the left now calls the Constitution. One can imagine the disbelieving reply of a Signer of the Constitution: “A fundamental right to brutally take the life of an unborn child? . . . A fundamental right to have the state steal from one citizen to give to another? . . . The ability to tax a church into oblivion if it dares speak out against a political candidate? . . .The power to force the removal of the Ten Commandments from the public square? . . . What?. . . In the Constitution we wrote?. . . Heaven forbid!”
Again, Akers is not reading from the same play book as the rest of us. The Constitution actually contains instructions for changing it. The founding fathers (who have become as mythical as god himself) knew that the document they were writing would not be relevant for all time. So they made allowances for it to evolve. The questions he imagines the founders asking are ridiculous. And again, I cannot fathom how abortion rights are the most important issue facing the US right now. Your priorities are skewed badly if that's your number one issue.
Whatever is left of the Constitution, there is even less left of traditional morality. Indeed, in a mere forty years, the ideological fires of Haight Ashbury have melted down every communication of objective morality into prima fascia evidence of “hate speech.” Sexual misconduct between people of different genders is glamorized through every medium of entertainment. Sexual misconduct between people of the same gender is not only tolerated but is increasingly celebrated by society and sanctioned by governments. And, if you do not like the gender God assigned you, you can always disagree with Him and decide to be the other gender or some combination of the two; increasingly, the law will accommodate.
The traditional morality thing really chaps my ass, though. Traditional morality required forced conversions, allowed slavery, allowed lynching, forced women to stay home, denied them the vote, and allowed white folks to kill every other colour at will. It's called progress for a reason. There's also the whole issue that morality is concerned only with sex. I still can't understand why conservatives are so interested in other people's genitalia.
Likewise, there is certainly little or nothing left of the limited government and financial stewardship that conservatives have so vocally championed. In recent years, Republicans have spent public funds at a rate to be envied by even the most indulgent Democrats. They seem to have forgotten that the monstrosity of government bureaucracy can swing the socializing hammer of nationalization as effectively through disingenuous bailouts as it can through the direct theft of private property. To the outside observer, it would appear in many ways that we are all Democrats now – fighting merely over whose unstable positive law will rule the day and which special interests will reap the stolen fruits of redistributed property.
Akers begins well enough here, but again can't remember what happened less than 20 years ago. Clinton ran surpluses, Reagan and the Bushes ran deficits. It's clear to most people that democrats are more prudent fiscally than the GOP. Except this guy. And he seems to equate "Democrat" with "Communist", which is no surprise, but is still inexplicable. And I don't understand how giving all the money on the planet to corporations and to an infinitesmally small segment of the population is "Socialist". Again, Akers is ignoring reality. I have no idea how they get away with it.
The appearance is misleading, however, as the core of America remains open to reason.
If this is true, then Akers' days are numbered, but I'm not holding my breath.
Up until the very day they painted the map blue, even Democrats would admit that America is a center-right country. The one thing the American People will not tolerate when choosing leaders, however, is cowardice. Increasingly, leaders are elected when they unapologetically stand for something greater than themselves – even if the electorate does not necessarily agree with their positions. Why else would a nation that overwhelmingly favors protecting traditional marriage between one man and one woman elect a president who impenitently supports the “gay” agenda?
I don't even know what this means. But cowardice can mean a lot of things, like sending thousands of people to get killed, and not having the balls to do it yourself. Cowardice is also the inability to admit you made a mistake. Cowardice is caving to your friends when they're trying to get you to do something stupid. Cowardice is doing what is easy rather than doing what is right. Cowardice is making your children pay for your SUV, your war and your brand new bureacracies. Cowardice, in many ways, well describes Dubya's performance in the White House.

But the best is yet to come:
If it is to remain relevant, much less experience a renaissance, the Republican Party must become the new progressive.
Progressive is the opposite of what Akers wants. He makes me think of Inigo Montoya: "You keep using that word. I don't think it means what you think it means."
It must shelve its clever electoral strategies and muster the courage to be faithful to its principles even if polling data says to lie, or at least equivocate. It must decide what it believes and unapologetically speak the truth with compassion. It must apply its principles impartially, governing itself before attempting to fix the other party. If it is going to lead, it must lead – and lead the nation not to where it has been but to the blessings of liberty found only when government limits itself to its original purpose: securing the unalienable Rights that the Creator has granted to each and every person.
And that finally is what made me annoyed enough to write this. Akers is a lying bigoted motherfucker who wants to take rights away from people, and he claims to be protecting human rights. I am utterly gobsmacked by the inability of some people to see their own duplicity.
If it leads in this way, the people, hungry for the mature substance of truth rather than the superficial sweetness of socialist confections, will follow. If not, it will fail because conservative counterfeits will never be as attractive as utopian lies.
Akers and people like him have no respect for you, your intellect or your rights. They have rewritten history to cast progressives in the role of villains. They hide their prejudices behind a mythological being, and they ignore the consequences of their own actions. They are destructive, dangerous frauds.